Thursday, April 7, 2011

Spirited Cringe

For northeasterners with Floridian snowbird parents, there’s an airline called Spirit. It’s less luxurious than a city bus. I’m five-foot-one (and one half!) and my knees graze the back of the seat in front of me. My husband’s knees rest under his nose. No snacks. Not even water unless you whip out a credit card. But the basic fare is cheap. Crazy cheap—I often wonder if Spirit Air is a front for drug running.

Spirit charges a la carte for checked luggage, carry-on bags and seat assignments. I’m not partial to any section on a plane, so I never opted to pay for seat position. It always just worked out when we checked in. No seat assignment presents a problem when the following variables exist: oversold flight, all seats assigned, two little boys stuck sitting alone, both kids simultaneously vomiting during flight.

I’ve changed my laissez-faire policy on seat assignment fees. Going forward, I’ll pay and pay.

The cringe started on a Wednesday afternoon in February when we drove into Atlantic City International. What international folk visit Atlantic City? Brendan, my four-year-old, complained that his stomach hurt as we parked. He un-clicked his seatbelt, opened the car door and puked on the pavement. There’s a moment when parents look at each other in these situations, facing up to the inevitable snafu. Then, they try to cheer each other up: maybe it’s something he ate or car sickness? He’ll probably be fine to fly. Yes, yes.

It’s been a dismal snow-slammed winter in New Jersey. Florida was so close.

At the gate, I edged through a packed crowd to appeal to the attendant. Can she try to switch our seats so that our children don’t have to sit alone? She hates me. I’m the cheap jerk who didn’t cough up the $10 to avoid this scenario, and now I’m making it her problem. The flight is oversold and she is busy begging passengers to voluntarily bump. She’s offering two flight vouchers for the trade. I look over and see Brendan sitting on the floor next to a potted plant, throwing up in his lap. Marty is standing guard like an accomplice to a robbery.

“When is the next flight we can get on?” I ask the harried Spirit rep. It was probably prudent to delay our trip. She sighs. “Sunday.” That’s no good. We’re scheduled to come home the next Tuesday. A generous couple offers to change seats so that at least one of our children can sit with a parent. I mop the terminal floor by Brendan with wet-wipes and think he might be over the worst of it. He’s content--even cheerful.

We board the plane and Marty sprints towards row nineteen—a seat near the back of the plane --with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest under his arm. I’m next to Brendan in row eight. Seven-year-old Christopher sits directly in front of me between two middle-aged men. The take- off and first fifteen air minutes are quiet.

“Hey, Chris. How are you doing up there?” I say, trying to peer through the space to see him. His freckled nose appears.

“I’m okay. Except I barfed in the barf bag.” He’s holding a sack of vomit and the two guys next to him, reading their newspapers, didn’t seem to notice. I beg the man next to me in the aisle seat to trade positions with my little hurler. He obliges.

Synchronized puking ensues. I’m sitting in the middle of two kids tossing their cookies, lunch, breakfast, last night's chicken nuggets. Their skin looks like pistachio ice cream. I’ve blown through my wipes and hand sanitizer. The people around me are both annoyed and sorry for us. Cringe!

An angel flight attendant, Julian, comes to my rescue. He brings a kitchen trash bag and packs of ice to stick behind their necks. “Have they flown before?” he asks me. I nod yes. Spirit’s fares to Florida have made them frequent flyers.

“I think this is more than air sickness, “Julian offers.


“I think you need some wine,” Julian suggests.

“Yes.” I agree. I down a mini-bottle of sugary Sutter Home like a shot.

Julian comes up the aisle to check on us. Chris is resting his head almost inside the giant plastic bag.

“Another wine?” Julian points at me with his fingers in a trigger gesture.

“Yes, please.” I answer like a person who has just come upon a water cart in a desert.

Now Marty, although shoehorned in row nineteen, is enjoying the Swedish adventures of Lisbeth Salander and Michael Blomqvist.

“Julian,” I ask my savior-friend, “My husband is the tall Irish guy in row nineteen. Can you clue him in as to what is going on up here?”

He smiled like a cat and sashayed up the aisle.

“Sir, Sir? Marty? I want you to know that your wife is handling two kids barfing their little heads off up there. I just want to tell you that Valentine’s Day is next week, and I’d suggest the purchase of a little blue box.”

When we finally landed, we waited for the other passengers to disembark. Julian teased Marty over the intercom.

“Sir, I’ve got the limo waiting to take your wife to Tiffany’s!”

I love Julian.

P.S. It was a quick twenty-four hour stomach flu, and our vacation proceeded nicely after the flight from hell.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Psycho Cat Attack Cringe

I bet you haven’t heard of too many people who have been attacked by a psychotic domestic cat. Well, hello.

It’s the reason, understandably, that I cringe when I see any feline. I more than cringe…I cross streets, hold my breath, remain a hostage in my car in my driveway if a neighborhood cat is slinking around ready to pounce. In my phobic mind, any cat is ready to strike. Me.

My attacker was a Blue Russian female cat named Mischa. How cute. It was 1984 or 1985, an era when it was standard practice for parents to allow twelve-year-olds to babysit for their young kids. They also drove their sitters home after enjoying three bottles of wine over dinner. I managed my own babysitting industry back then. I was booked solid on Friday and Saturdays at my rate of $2. per hour, swerving home in the passenger seats of my clients’ cars at midnight.

I put one of my little charges, seven-year-old Noelle, to sleep in her room and turned on the yodeling record that she faded off to each and every night. Her father was Swiss. The sound of yodeling is now a separate, but related, phobia for me.

“Turn the record over, Tracy!” she called from her bedroom when the yodellee-yodello needle bumped up against the center of the record.

I went and flipped it over on her Fisher-Price stereo. In the hallway on my way back to the TV, Mischa lurked, hissing. It’s a scary sound. I decided to shimmy on past Mischa, quickening my steps to clear her. That’s when the crazy Russian jumped on my back and added her horrible cat-fighting shrieks to the sounds of the Swiss yodelers. I ran around the first floor of that house like a lunatic, my bad perm standing on end, as she jumped at my back, swiping and screeching while the yodelers yodeled on. I flew up the stairs and found refuge in the bathroom across the landing, slamming the door behind me. Mischa continued to hurl herself up against the other side of the closed door—a total nutcase cat.

Now here’s the next cringe—and the reason why most modern parents don’t hire twelve- year- olds to care for the safety of their children. Noelle was up out of her bed downstairs, crying and confused.

“What’s happening?” she sounded absolutely miserable at the bottom of the staircase. I could barely hear her over my own heartbeat.

“Can you pick up your cat and put her in the basement?” I called, instructing the seven-year-old to handle the violent enemy.

“Ok,” she sniffled and did as told, luckily without injury. I wasn’t worth two cents that night.

My cat phobia was born.

Years later I visited Key West on vacation. One of the points of interest is the estate of Ernest Hemingway. We’d thought we’d check it out on a rainy day. As we approached the gated southern villa, I saw cats, many cats, milling about on the lawn. I stopped abruptly by the man in the ticket booth.

“Are there a lot of cats here?” I asked, panic-stricken.

The booth attendant, a tired old Queen, looked at me with the frustration reserved for extremely stupid tourists.

“Do you have allergies?” he asked with a sigh. “The home is known for its six-toed cats. They’re all about the property,” he obviously had this interchange all day with allergic patrons.

“No, I’m just really afraid of cats.”

He pushed his eyeglasses down on his nose to examine me and sighed again.

“Well, Mam, then this is NOT the place for you.”


Monday, December 20, 2010

The Twelve Cringes of Christmas

The Twelve Cringes of Christmas

1.The inflatable Santa-on-a-motorcycle eyesore that sits on the lawn across the street from me that I have an intense urge to pop.

2. Pine needles stuck in between your toes.

3. Unknowingly entering Toys ‘R Us on the “Buy 1 video game, Get 1 free” promotion day and feeling like you’re running with the bulls at Pamplona.

4. The male and female adult customers in the electronics section at Toys ‘R Us (most wearing NFL football jerseys as casual apparel) who know an inordinate amount of information about video games.

5. Extricating yourself from Toys ‘R Us to head over to another horrid location called Gamestop, to be assisted by a clerk there who is likely a serial killer.

6. The stomachache associated with eating too much raw cookie dough.

7. Twangy country remakes of classic Christmas songs.

8. Cutting the wrapping paper too short. Again.

9. Last minute add-on gift requests from kids when they’re sitting on Santa’s lap. (Yeah, Santa, I really want the Wii and think it’s coming because I’ve been great this year.)

10. Wondering if the UPS man thinks you have a shopping addiction.

11. Newsy notes in cards that include mention of children being on the honor roll. It’s the holiday version of the troubling bumper sticker.

12. The jewelry chain store commercials for their signature piece called something like “Everlasting Love Journey.” My favorite spot this year is from Kay Jewelers featuring a man and woman in a frightful snow and lighting storm ala romantic mountain chalet with bearskin rug. A lightning bolt claps. As the woman shudders from the window she has been gazing out of (looking like she is some sort of brainwashed victim), the man encircles her in his arms, murmuring, “Don’t worry, I’m here….and I always will be,” then, he immediately pops open the jewelry box to reveal the pendant that will adorn two million necks in 2011.

Happy Holidays to all. Please add your own holiday cringes in the comments section! I know there are a lot more out there!

Wishing you happiness and good health in the new year.


Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Little Table That Couldn't Sell Cringe

Since September I’ve been dabbling in the antiques and furniture restoration business with my friend Valery. That’s part of the reason my weekly cringe has lapsed into an every-once-in-a-while cringe. Not that I haven’t been cringing during this time-- I just haven’t been dutifully recording.

We purchased a vintage porcelain-topped kitchen table at an antique fair at a great price, assuming it would turn around quickly for handsome profit. We didn’t even need to fix, sand, paint or polish it.

But it sat in our “inventory” (two cluttered garages that increasingly irritate our husbands) unsold. Admired, but unsold. It seemed a dead horse. We listed it on Ebay and clicked the local delivery or pick-up option.

That’s when I became acquainted with Barbara from Santa Rosa, California. She bid on the table three times in a row, feverishly. Barbara was our only bidder. Boy, did she want this $75 table. At the close of the sale, I immediately received a phone call from her.

Barbara and I began to speak three times per day. I spoke to Barbara more often than to my mother and all friends and family combined for a one week period. The Santa Rosa number appeared morning, noon and night on my caller id. She was hyper-focused on the task of arranging shipping (at her cost) for the thousands of miles between us.

I quickly gather that Barbara is a woman who probably has eighty kitchen tables in her home. She is an Ebay addict and most likely a hoarder. She tells me that she has been seeking a green porcelain-topped utility table for years. She wants to drink coffee at this specific table in the mornings, while working at her canning food hobby. She is thrilled that she has “won” the table. Barbara’s Ebay profile indicates that she has bought and sold over two thousand items.

Barbara tells me of all of the flea market locations in New Jersey that I should check out. She has spent time traveling cross country hitting every flea market in the continental United States. The Cowtown Rodeo is her favorite. Yes, the Cowtown Rodeo is in New Jersey, located in a pocket of the state that is unknown to even the most ardent Jersey native.

Barbara discovers that the table will cost her roughly $350 to ship. I tell Barbara on our second chat that I am willing to forget the sale with no mar to her Ebay record. I understand that the exorbitant shipping fee makes this a ridiculous notion. Oh no, she protests. She wants the table. She needs it. She is going to make this work. There are many calls about whether or not I can unscrew the legs (no), and even if I could saw them off to reduce the shipping fee. She was prepared to reattach them on the west coast.

The sawing-off-the-legs conversation left me speechless. My farewell was always the same: Barbara, really, it’s no big deal if we cancel this sale. It seems unreasonable to pay $350 shipping for a $75 table.

She’s pumped when she calls two days before Thanksgiving. She’s found a great solution if I’m willing to help her. She can have the table shipped on a Greyhound bus for only $70. She will send me an additional $130 to pack the table and drop it off at a Greyhound terminal two hours from my home.

I’m about to tell Barbara that I’ve accidently lit the table on fire and it is no longer available. But, then, she mentions that the Greyhound terminal is in Atlantic City.

I call my “business partner”, Valery. We both love Blackjack. Drop off the table and earn $65 each for some mid-day table action. We’re in. I tell Barbara her table will be shipped on Monday and she wires our gambling funds to my paypal account.

After a two-hour journey with our big old package yesterday morning, the supervisor at Greyhound informs us that our box is too big. The acceptable dimensions Greyhound lists on their website do not apply to Atlantic City. Why? Unsure.

I’m aggravated. Not only is this messing up my gambling nooner, but how am I going to break it to Barbara that her little green table might never come to be? The thought of this heartbreaking phonecall is causing me cringe. I’m imagining that Barbara might decide to drive cross country for the table and want to stay with me.

I ask the supervisor what dimensions are allowed. We’re only three inches off. Valery and I rip the box from the table and begin to repurpose it. It becomes a work of abstract art in the Greyhound terminal, a vision of rough cardboard pieces affixed on an upside down form that looks like a cow carcass sheathed in bubble wrap.

Drifters laugh at our project. The supervisor watches in disbelief. We are two women on a mission, bending and sweating to meet and exceed our customer’s expectations. I’m running a circle around the brown heap with sticky tape. Barbara’s table is not coming home with us. The tattered monstrosity is sufficiently reduced, re-measured, and loaded into a cargo hold. California here she comes…

Our creative deed is rewarded by Lady Luck. Amazingly, the casino yields us $220 in combined winnings in just one hour of play. We head for the sunny Garden State Parkway to retrieve our children from school with lighter car and fuller pockets.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Losing It at Work Cringe

I cringe when I recall the time I completely lost it at work. My wonderful boss and mentor, Jill, took a sabbatical. Weeks later, another member of the human resources department, my dear friend Tammy, hugged me goodbye on the eve of her maternity leave. My role as the placid, behind-the-scenes-gal responsible for payroll and pension matters hastily expanded. My absent co-workers had dealt with disgruntled managers, workers and discipline. It wasn't my thing.

The managers now charged up to my office, barking about problems beyond the shop doors. Men in steel-toed boots lined my corridor. A red voicemail light never stopped blinking. The intercom system blasted, “Tracy Ryan! Please call extension 100!” In my eight years with the company as benefits administrator, pages for me were rare. Now they echoed through 200,000 square feet of machinery. Smiles grew infrequent on my thirty-three-year-old face. Blotches of frustration and a deepening frown line between my brows replaced them.

I appealed to upper management. I’m drowning, I told them. I need a buoy.

A temporary manager arrived in a smart suit. Jargon flowed from her lips, supported by gestures made with manicured hands. Amelia offered a wealth of meaningless organizational theory. Familiar with sterile corporate offices, she was green to the gritty demands of a fast-paced industrial facility. The P.A. system continued to drone for me, as Amelia artfully positioned a plant on her windowsill and gawked at the disordered stacks on my desk.

She heaped more on my suffocated inbox. Loopy writing covered post-it notes. Please handle this. Please provide me with a copy of... My buoy was a well-dressed lady who didn’t know how to swim-- her hands clasped around my neck.

“I’ll need you to write a memo ...,” Amelia directed me one afternoon, her mouth revived with lipstick.

I held my hand out like a crossing guard—STOP.

“Do you see my workload? Are you kidding me?” Blood swooshed around my ears.

Swearing ensued. A stream of f-bombs rose from my chest. I morphed into an expletive-hurling lioness. I hollered at this woman, calling her useless, ridiculous, and railing against the company with more vigor than the saltiest operator on the factory floor.

“Why are you cursing at me?” she blanched.

“Because I’m sick of this goddamn place and I don’t need you- a (bleeping) robot- giving me more $#@! to do.”

“How dare you speak to me like this.”

We stared. My adrenaline plummeted. I tried to apologize but my jaw opened and closed as if taffy stuck to my fillings. Amelia smoothed her neat hair.

The vice president summoned me, confused. He wasn’t certain he could believe Amelia’s report of my vulgar tirade.

“Did you really call her a useless piece of $&%#*^! @*($?”

“Yeah, I lost it.”

His expression indicated a curious mix of disapproval and excitement. He didn’t know I had it in me. I didn’t know either. I resigned a few months later, giving myself up to a try at stay-at-home momhood. It was time.
Please feel free to share your story of losing it at work in the comments section. Not proud moments...but they sure are funny sometimes.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Stalked By The Mary Kay Lady Cringe

I was behind a pink Cadillac at a stoplight yesterday and felt the charge of cringe. The memory of my first year in New Jersey (1997), which included an unlikely relationship with a Mary Kay Lady, washed in. The powder pink vehicle reminded me of the vulnerability that often accompanies transition.

I moved to New Jersey after becoming engaged. It was an exciting happy time, but also a big change from singlehood—being surrounded by friends and roommates in my familiar post-college territory of Alexandria, Virginia. My first NJ job as a recruiter for a staffing agency was as stimulating as a bad blister on the back of a heel. Each day was a chafing rub. I would battle traffic every morning wishing for a fender-bender that would keep me from arriving. The position involved matching underemployed mental health professionals with temporary stints at hospitals. It sounds altruistic, but really it was a high-pressure cold-calling sales job which I couldn’t have been less suited for.

Joan was a middle-aged former psychiatric nurse who was the number one go-to for any Psych R.N. position that needed filling. She was sweet and reliable. She liked to work per diem because her main source of income was peddling Mary Kay cosmetics. She spoke at length about the joy and financial reward the Mary Kay Corporation provided her.

I made the mistake of mentioning to Joan that I could use some new make-up. I didn’t realize that I had entered the dizzying frenzy of the Mary Kay machine. Joan immediately invited me to her house for a private consultation. She dipped my hands in some treatment, “Now you have satin hands!”, and applied a painter’s tray worth of eye shadow on my lids. I looked like I had been prepped to be a stage dancer in The Chorus Line. As she blushed my cheeks bright pink, she gushed about her love of her Mary Kay career.

“Sounds great,” I mumbled politely.

At the end of my consultation, I held a bag full of pink and white products, and a cassette tape.

“Please listen to this in the car on your ride home,” she whispered excitedly. “You are just the kind of beautiful young woman I would love on my team.”

On her team? I was glammed up and disoriented. When I arrived back at our apartment, Marty looked confused too. “You look…..,” he searched for the right descriptor, “…different.”

Ill-suited to be a fast-talking recruiter, I was even less fit to sell make-up. I never wore any. Still don’t. I am part of a small population of girls whose mothers actively encouraged them to wear more make-up in their teens. My mother urged me daily to put on a little blush and still pesters me today. In my early twenties, when I complained to her about not having a boyfriend for a while, her suggestion was to put on a little mascara.

The cassette tape was a flowery cult-initiation device. It described a woman’s ascent from broken down trailer-home to being seated at the boys choir concert in Vienna after achieving a top Mary Kay sales award. I passed the tape along to my friend’s husband, Rich, and he found it so entertaining that he listened to the tape regularly on his commutes.

The tape was only the beginning. Joan called me regularly. She really wanted me on her squad. She saw that I had what it takes in our one meeting. You see, Mary Kay is a multi-level marketing operation, and Joan is more likely to drive the pink Cadillac and listen to the Austrian choir when she gets a cut of every tube of concealer that her underlings sell.

I still needed Joan to hand out thorazine at psychiatric facilities, so I wasn’t very forceful about my lack of interest. I was vague. Joan sent me little notes at home. She told me I was beautiful and smart. She drew hearts on the edges of the paper.

It was getting creepy. I was being stalked by a Mary Kay henchwoman.

I finally broke the news to Joan that I would never pursue the Mary Kay dream. She told me how sorry she was and that she would always be there for me if I changed my mind.

I wonder if it was her in that pink Cadillac yesterday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Jacuzzi and Ice Cream Man Cringe

For over a decade, I have enjoyed the PBS series Antiques Roadshow. The premise involves antique appraisal experts touring the United States to visit conference halls where regular people line up with “treasures” in arms: furniture and pottery passed down from long-gone ancestors, garage sale finds, childhood toys. Everyone is hoping that for example, Aunt Pearl’s grandfather’s desk, is worth oodles of money. There have been notable episodes which featured a hidden revolutionary war document found behind an old painting, a rare (rather insignificant-looking) side table worth hundreds of thousands, and a Native American hand-carved bowl that looked like a shop project gone wrong worth $50k. The allure of the show is all about luck. Watchers daydream that they could have the same providence. The folks who line up in the Antiques Roadshow queue probably enjoy gambling. The part of the brain that lights up at the sound of coins ringing in a slot machine likely throbs on line at the roadshow.

Antiques Roadshow has often hosted programs at one of the largest annual antique outdoor fairs in America located in Brimfield, Massachusetts. Brimfield is antiques mecca. I have always wanted to go. In Brimfield, there are thousands of tents erected in a Berkshire Mountain Valley “brimming” with potential bounty. George Washington’s last will and testament (an unknown version) just might be located in the trap pocket of an old doctor’s satchel. In early September, I rented a cargo van with two girlfriends and headed north for five hours. I sat in a beach chair in the back, rumbling over the potholes of the George Washington Bridge. Even if I didn’t uncover George’s hidden documents, I planned to buy stuff and bring it home to sell at a profit. It was a business venture.

We arrived in the early morning and walked the fields for eight hours. We lugged small dressers, chairs, frames, stained glass windows, and interesting building salvage back to the white Unabomber van. Bushed, we headed back to the hotel we booked for the evening. We planned to visit the acres we missed the next morning and stock up again. That luck-seeking part of my brain was pumping.

At the hotel, we passed by an indoor pool and gurgling, empty hot tub. The chlorine frothed on top. I thought that the Jacuzzi looked inviting—a place to unwind from my day of furniture moving. My friends did not want to enter the public Petri dish. Suit yourself, I called, and changed into my swimsuit. The hot water felt good and I shut my eyes for a few peaceful minutes.

Then I heard the plunk of legs in the foam across from me. A man—a stranger—entering the tub. It’s a cringe moment. I’m suddenly in a bath tub with someone. He’s roughly my age and nods at me, then closes his eyes. I’m negotiating how quickly I can exit. It’s one of those odd social predicaments: do I jump up from the water like I’m physically threatened (which I wasn’t), stay as long as I wanted, or wait two cringey minutes and shove off? I pick choice #3 and scurry back to the room, where one friend is performing yoga stretches on the bed to ease the sciatica gained from carrying a porcelain-topped table across a field.

The following day we resume our treasure hunt. Mid-afternoon, we break at an ice-cream stand advertised with a big soft-serve cone ornament. Ice cream seems the perfect idea. I start to order and look up at the ice cream man. It’s my Jacuzzi mate. I say vanilla-chocolate twist, please, with a gulp. As I’m walking away, I’m wondering if the image of my flesh in a swimsuit pops into his head along with the thought that I maybe shouldn’t be stopping for ice cream.