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.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Booted Out Of Restaurant Cringe--Part II

The follow-up from last week....

Angry Cook took Marty’s phone call, and yelled while he crashed commercial pots against surfaces. He claimed Brendan (a.k.a. the worst kid ever) had been throwing glass salt and pepper shakers around his restaurant, repeatedly. Marty countered that there was no way the three adults at the table (me and my two cousins) would have allowed a one-year-old to pitch glass objects across the room. Angry Cook was nuts—maybe he had suffered some form of heat stroke in his sizzling kitchen. Marty accused Angry Cook of being a lousy businessman, and expressed how displeased he was to hear this outrageous story from an extremely upset wife, especially about a place we spent most Sunday mornings at surrounded by other noisy families. Angry Cook refused to apologize, defending his privilege to rid his establishment of our little menace. In the highlight of their conversation, Angry Cook said, “Why don’t you come down here and we can settle this like men?”

“Did you just seriously say that? Dude…get a hold of yourself! You are so out of control right now. I think you need help.”

While Marty argued with a lunatic, I called to get comfort from my dear friend, Tammy. I needed to speak to someone who would be even more outraged than me. Tammy is a passionate, loyal being. She is Brendan’s godmother-- this strengthened her fury. After telling our tale of restaurant booting, my humiliating cringe, I worried that she might leave her job to drive over and throw rocks at Angry Cook’s window—or worse. The best part about speaking to Tammy after such an incident is her amazing creativity with colorful words. If there were a Pulitzer prize for inventive swearing, she would win the gold category. The Angry Cook became a sad, little, sack of s%!@, a slab of meat, a piss-poor excuse for a man, a rancid &@$! cook, a bleeping speck of bacteria that should find his face in boiling fry oil.

Tammy was on fire, these admonishments flowing effortlessly.

The story spread. I received generous support against the Angry Cook. Ted, of the ferry and gas station cringes, vowed to take his children to the restaurant on a crowded Sunday morning and command them to behave like wild animals. Many in my neighborhood wrote off the luncheonette forever, despite the good food.

In the end, maybe the Angry Cook lost a little business, and I was fortified by all of the great people I am lucky to have in my life—including my little screamer, Brendan.

But a lingering problem….three years later, even when Brendan is quietly eating a grilled cheese out somewhere, I still cringe. My heart beats a tad faster. I am fearful of all swinging kitchen doors.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Booted Out Of Restaurant Cringe

When recalling cringeworthy circumstances, I’ve discovered an unsettling pattern— that of damsel-in-distress.

Around the time my younger son, Brendan, was smearing poop all over his crib (summer 2007), he got us kicked out of a diner. I’ve been in restaurant settings where parents have let their kin run around like rabid dogs. I’ve heard crying, screaming, stamping, smacking. I’ve seen kids throw fistfuls of food at their families, at passing waitresses, and at innocent customers. I’ve wished that children would be ejected from restaurants. But I never thought it really happened.

It was a muggy August day. Brendan had just turned one. He had a big drool-drippy grin with a few teeth, and a new habit of shrieking. It was an irritating yet happy cry-- an affirmation that he had vocal chords, and that his high-pitched yelp caused a reaction. I cringed each time he crowed. Strangers laughed or threw dirty looks. I fantasized about creating and marketing a baby muzzle.

I had no prototype yet for the baby muzzle when out to lunch that day with my kids and my two cousins. We were seated at my favorite place in town--a small luncheonette with hearty food. I had spent nearly every Sunday morning of my Brendan pregnancy there enjoying greasy, magnificent breakfasts.

We ordered. The food took longer than usual. Brendan squirmed in his high chair. SHRIEK. Shhhhhh!!!! My cousins distracted him with silly faces and crayons. I figured the food was coming, and the antics would end once his chubby mitts hooked around grilled cheese.

“Just leave your drinks and leave!” a loud voice bellowed behind me. I turned to see the cook owner, red-faced. Confused, I looked from him to my cousins, and waited for someone to make sense of the scene.

“Excuse me?” I asked.

“This is the worst kid I’ve ever seen. You’ve got to leave. Just leave your drinks and go.”

No one at the table moved. My cousins appeared baffled. Sure, Brendan had screeched here and there, but he was seated, giggling, happy, and hungry. We were all hungry.

The angry cook disappeared through the swinging kitchen door. Our waitress cringed. She avoided eye contact, mouthing that she was sorry as she wiped down the counter with a rag.

“Is he really kicking us out of here?” I asked, stunned. No one answered, except four- year-old Christopher, “But we haven’t had lunch and I’m hungry!”

The other customers watched as we shuffled out, cringing over their own dilemma: continue listening (uncomfortably) to the high notes of the famished baby or defend the group from mistreatment?

On the sidewalk, I wanted to vomit. As I buckled car seats and heaved a stroller into my hatchback, the humiliation gelled. I had just been hurled out into the street. My blood pumped crazily-- I could hear it pulse in my ears.

I punched the restaurant phone number into my cell phone and demanded an apology from the jerk.

“Apologize?” he snorted. “I’m not apologizing to you--- you need to go read some parenting magazines.”

I would have preferred a wasp fly into my car window and sting me.

I viewed Brendan in the rearview mirror and imagined visiting him at a baby reform school. He smiled and waved.

I argued with the mutant cook for a few minutes. Then I hung up and cried. I gulped and hyperventilated and batted tears and a runny nose with the back of my hand. I was a shitty mother who had a kid who needed a muzzle. I dialed my husband, Marty, at work. I’m not a big crier, so he immediately thought some horrible tragedy had occurred, like a car wreck. “What’s happened? Are you okay? Tell me….are you okay?” he sounded panicked.

I sputtered, cried, and huffed out the story. The line was quiet while I explained.

“What’s this asshole’s number?” he said, getting his Jersey-boy up. I wonder if he was cringing, weighed down by a wife who managed to complicate retail transactions in a quiet shore town. It was just about one year since the gas station incident….


Saturday, August 21, 2010

C.C.D. Sign-up Cringe

I recently enrolled my first grader for C.C.D. -- the Catholic equivalent to Sunday school or Hebrew school. It is the pre-requisite for receiving Holy Communion and Confirmation. For most people, signing up would be a mundane task…filling out a few forms at the local parish. For me, it caused acute cringe.

As I stood in front of the religious education secretarial desk last week, hesitantly handing over the forms, my heart raced and I felt faint. I couldn’t believe that I was signing Christopher up for a program that tortured me so as a child. My sixth grade self would be astonished—speechless-- horrifed. How did I turn into a grown-up who no longer enjoys rollercoaster rides and would force an innocent six-year-old down the plank to dreaded C.C.D? I am certain that 1983 Tracy promised that she would never exact this punishment on her offspring. I believe I shouted that each week at my mother as she drove me to my captivity.

My husband, Marty, doesn’t understand this dilemma. He went to Catholic school for twelve years, and never had to set foot in an uncomfortable classroom (it was always either too hot or cold at C.C.D. afterschool) at 4 p.m. for eight grueling years. He could ride his bicycle afterschool on Tuesday afternoons and laugh with his buddies until dinner time. He wasn’t a hostage in a metal seat.

My eight years of C.C.D. caused a condition called Post Traumatic Boredom Disorder (PTBD). I become symptomatic when entering any religious establishment. My brain chemistry has been permanently altered—mapped to fall into a boredom coma at church. I try to listen to the sermon. I really do. I attempt to enjoy the choral music. The problem is I revert back to that vexed sixth grader—I return to the stifling classroom at St. Mary’s on Valley Road. I can see the utilitarian clock above the blackboard, its hands never moving. I can hear Sister Kevin’s robed shuffle down the speckled hallway, her sinister face peering into the door panel. The PTBD is so debilitating it renders me unable to daydream in church. I am a person who can daydream anywhere. I have a daydreaming dependence problem. Church overrides it. A component of PTBD is pseudo-dementia. I can never remember the prayers, chants, or the order of the stand-up-sit-down routine.

The secretary at the C.C.D. office looked up at me, her face registering concern. I must have appeared woozy.

“I’m having a hard time with this,” I stammered. She shifted her head to the side in puzzlement. My throat felt dry as I continued.

“I really hated C.C.D. as a kid. It was so….boring,” my vocabulary returned to that of a sixth-grader. “I’m having a hard time thinking that I’m sending my son to this. C.C.D. turned me off to religion.” I exhaled. I had said it.

The secretary was kind. She assured me that C.C.D. had come along way since the 70s/80s. She whipped out the first grade workbook and showed me the creative projects inside. I tried to concentrate, but the PTBD was blocking comprehension. I thanked her and jogged to my car. There are few things that compel me to jog.

At home over dinner, I told Marty about my experience. He cringed. Bigtime. Due to twelve solid years of Catholic school and regular church attendance, he suffers from Catholic guilt.

“You really said that?”
“Yeah…I just couldn’t help it.”

His shoulders raised with a sharp inhalation of breath. I know what he was thinking. The C.C.D. secretary probably stamped “Heathen Mother” in our file. It was on its way in an inter-office envelope to the Monsignor.

Please feel free to share your C.C.D. experiences in the comments section!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Obsessive Compulsive Innkeeper Cringe

All jobs are not suited for everyone. In my case, I would be hopeless at a career working with animals. I often blame my uneasiness around four-legged friends on an ill-fated night of babysitting when I was thirteen. I was attacked by a psychotic cat-- great material for another cringe. But really, my hesitation around pets was evident much earlier. There’s a photo of me at eighteen months surrounded by a litter of new puppies. I’m screaming bloody murder. My father’s persistence to have me ride the pony at various fairs during my childhood would result in full-blown distress. I recently took my kids to a sad little rescue zoo and made the absurd decision to take a stroll through the attached animal adoption shelter. As vicious looking dogs barked and snarled from their cages, jumping so high that I thought they might clear their metal fences and massacre everyone, I lost the feeling in my limbs. I was still engaged in some type of hyperventilation and panic thirty minutes after our departure. Marty had to repeat, “Are you sure you’re okay?” as I gulped air from my passenger side window. No veterinary, circus, zoo, shelter, or pet-sitting jobs for me. I’m aware of my limitations.

This past weekend marked the fifth annual Wetherill Family Reunion. This three-generational gathering rounds up forty cousins, aunts, and uncles from across the United States. It’s a challenge each year to find a location that provides affordability, easy travel access for the majority in the Northeast, and fun/nice/scenic/private setting.

We almost nailed it this year. The price, location, and atmosphere were stellar. The drawback was one neurotic innkeeper named Randy. Randy is as ill-suited for the career of purveyor of human lodging as I am for lion tamer. Regrettably, Randy is not cognizant of his own limitations.

The sign posted at the front desk was the first clue to Randy’s issues. See above. People in violation of Randy’s rules faced expulsion. It was unnerving to sign your credit card receipt and accept your key with this word lurking over Randy’s shoulder. Perhaps expulsion could be an appropriate warning and consequence for some venues, say, Panama City, Florida during spring break. Randy’s place was one step above camping in fifteen immaculate units nestled by an inlet on the sleepy coast of southeastern Connecticut.

Randy was an enthusiastic concierge, describing many local activities and points of interest. It wasn’t immediately obvious, even despite the expulsion notice, that Randy was desperate to have guests off of his property during daylight-- the thought of having us use his pristine pool turned out to be debilitating for him. He mentioned the availability of kayaks for guest use with caution. If you want to use one of my kayaks, you must sign a hold-harmless agreement. He was quick to add: that means if you slip and fall and die, you can’t sue me. As I hugged and greeted my relatives, Randy insisted on personally showing Marty to our room. Marty was instructed on the proper way to open and close the shower doors to keep the floor from getting wet. Slide open. Slide closed.

Randy spent the weekend skulking around the corners and locking the pool gate whenever it was temporarily empty of swimmers. At first he feigned he needed to treat the water with chemicals. Our pre-arranged clambake event, provided by an outside caterer, really put Randy over the edge. He spoke to me several times about the need for all children to wash their hands thoroughly after eating shellfish because he was concerned about lobster entrails on his bedspreads. He also clarified, three times, that his picnic tables were to be wiped down, and that the clambake company would remove all garbage from the premises. Yes, I assured Randy as best as I could, taking notice that he was developing a tic when he spoke of dirty hands. Shortly after the clambake was under way, Randy ran to the pool gate and threw down the lock. He feared lobster claws and mussel slime floating in the blue oasis.

“I’m locking up the pool for your group. I might open it for someone else if they need it,” he mumbled as he walked up the hill back to his quarters. We were collectively confused—there were no other guests but us reunion kin.

The children gathered around the pool gate the next morning, antsy to enter. Some had their goggles on already. Randy stood above with his hands on his hips, pacing. He moved down the hill slowly with a grave expression.

“There are rocks in the pool,” he declared. “I can’t open it up until my guy comes to remove them.”

“The kids can jump in and get them for you,” one of my cousins suggested.

Randy’s whole body reacted. He recoiled. “Unless you want to pay me $10,000. for a new pool liner, you have to wait for my diver to come.”

My Uncle Bob answered for all of us. “No, No. Randy. We don’t want to pay you $10,000. No-sir-yee.”

At this point, more than a few of us were worrying about expulsion. It was the last day of our affair. It seemed prudent to pack up our cars and speed out of this peculiar little man’s cove.

“I sure hope you come back again,” Randy told me as we checked out. He even shook my potentially lobster-juicy hand. “You were a really nice group. The kids were all very well behaved.”

It was true. The fifteen kids had been quite good.

I thanked Randy and felt a stir of empathy for him, and of course, a pang of cringe. He really is in the wrong line of work, and working very hard at it. Given his limitations, he was getting by. He was doing far better than I would on the canine squad.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Another Cringe At The Same Station

….Continued from last post, At The Station That Night Cringe…..

There was no satisfying resolution to my gas hose mishap. My cringe would have had a stronger narrative arc (“good story”) if my money had been returned. I was out $120. and now uneasy about living in a town with public protection in the form of Porncop.

My only recourse was to tell my embarrassing story with the goal of convincing locals to boycott that particular station. One of the people I told was Ted, a friend I wrote about in a previous post entitled, Ferry Cringe. It turns out that Ted had a run-in with Mean Old Gas Man at that station too. However, Ted’s resolution was so satisfying that I have adopted it as the footnote to my own tale:

Mean Old Gas Man runs a sideline business on his premises—a gas grill propane tank exchange. A few years ago, Ted bought a new grill that came with a gleaming white virgin tank. Many hotdogs and hamburgers later, he went to the Shell Station for his first propane trade. Mean Old Gas Man took Ted’s perfect tank and handed him a rusted, chipped, and dented poor replacement. It appeared as if bowling balls had been thrown at the ancient vessel.

“I just gave you a brand new tank. This one’s shot.”

Mean Old Gas Man dismissed him with an impatient toss of hand. “Then you bring this one back and you get a different one. It doesn’t matter. So what?”

Ted had guests waiting for barbeque ribs in his backyard. He took the crap tank and hurried home.

A few weeks later, the crap tank ran empty. Ted returned to the station to exchange. Mean Old Gas Man wouldn’t accept the rusty tank! An argument ensued. The swindler denied that he had peddled the old tank weeks before. Ted called him a liar. Chest puffed out with righteousness, Mean Old Gas Man continued to refuse, adamant that he had never had the crap tank in his possession.

Ted got back in his car and drove to Home Depot. He purchased a spanking new white tank. He didn’t drive straight home. He pulled into the evil Shell Station, opened his driver door with the car still running, and stepped out. He grabbed the dilapidated crap tank from the backseat. Locking eyes with the Mean Old Gas Man, he extended his left arm. With one powerful motion, Ted hurled the crap tank up in the air. It rocketed over the hood of his car and bounced like a creaking bed across the pavement of the gas bays, sputtering and clanging as Mean Old Gas Man watched its trail.

Ted exited the station contented.

I like to think that a tiny current of my spirit soared with the flying crap tank.

Friday, July 23, 2010

At The Station That Night Cringe

……continued from previous cringe, Gas Station Cringe……..

Marty entered into research mode. He read up on the mechanics of breakaway gas station hoses, their costs, and what typically happens when fools drive off still connected. In most cases, the driver cringes, apologizes, pays for fuel only, and leaves. The gas station attendant usually reattaches hose to pump, muttering “asshole” under his breath. Transaction complete. My shakedown was irregular.

Marty called his childhood friend, Tom, who now works as a Connecticut state trooper. After Tom howled, he advised Marty to head down to the local police and request that an officer “facilitate” the return of money. Tom confirmed that the station had clearly been dishonest and felt that a visit from a cop should result in the swift credit of $120 to our american express card.

At around 7:00p.m., we took a family trip to our town police station. The family included me, Marty, 2 ½ year old Christopher, and unborn baby Brendan. As Christopher spread informational pamphlets with titles like, Signs of Domestic Abuse, all over the lobby floor, our lawman appeared.

He looked like a porn star portraying a policeman in a 1980s adult flick. I expected tinny Bowm Chicka Bowm Bowm music to mark his entry into the room. Forty- something, chip-on-shoulder, slightly graying feathered hair, Magnum P.I. bristly moustache, tight uniform. Porncop had never upped the waist size of his polyester blues since graduating from the academy some twenty years ago—a quick pursuit would surely bust seams. He greeted us with a bored gaze that expressed that we were interrupting real police business occurring behind the sealed door he just came from. He picked at his nails while Marty introduced himself and cliffnoted the shifty cringe down at the Shell.

Porncop glanced up to meet my eyes at the part about me driving off attached. The flicker of "dumb chick" registered on his mustachioed mug as a nonverbal mutter. Porncop raised his hand and cut Marty off before his summation.

“Well, let’s all go down there and check this out.”

Later, when we told the story to Tom the state trooper and my stepfather (a former NYPD detective), they both let out cries of incredulous shock-- amazed by Porncop’s procedural lapse. They insisted that the first chapter of Policing 101 includes: investigate rip-off claims individually—do not drag victim(s) to scene of alleged fraud.

I was already cringing. I did not want to go down there.

“Christopher’s tired. Can you drop us off before you go?” I pleaded to Marty.

“Aren’t you the one with THE PROBLEM?” Porncop snapped. “I need you there.”

At the station, I crouched down in the passenger seat, practically below the dashboard, as Marty, Porncop, and Mean Gas Man Owner argued by the pumps. At first, Marty and Mean Gas Man exchanged heated words. Mean Gas Man ran to the garage and grabbed a hose for show and tell. He pointed and yelled and threw the hose on the blacktop. Marty held pieces of paper and thrust them at Mean Gas Man, pointing at them and challenging the old man to read the information. All the while, other cars pulled up and received gas from the same pump I had used earlier that day. The pump that the old man was now claiming I had irrevocably broken. Somehow, my station wagon morphed into a tank that afternoon, permanently shredding a hose that is engineered to withstand extreme tugs.

A woman ran out of the mini-mart, the Mean Gas Man’s wife. She began to scream and shake, pointing to her husband’s chest. She protested he had a weak heart that could not withstand accusation. I slouched down further in my seat as I saw Marty pointing towards us. I caught some words and phrases, You should be ashamed to treat two pregnant women like that and Liar! and That's Bullshit! I could hear this through shut car windows.

Now Porncop was in the mix. His face was very close to Marty’s and there was bobbing and pointing between them.

“Why is Daddy yelling at that Policeman?” Christopher asked from his car seat behind me.

My cringe was about to jump out of my chest and break the windows.

“Ummm….Daddy’s just having a little disagreement with that policeman.” I offered, holding my breath. Just one of my eyes was cracked open.


“Why don’t we play I Spy?” I attempted to distract, hoping that one of the objects would not be handcuffs around Daddy’s wrists.

Fortunately, Marty stormed back to the car, arms swinging freely. Porncop had been useless. We found out later from another cop in town that the Shell Station is where Porncop gets his free coffee, newspapers, and whatever else.

Bowm Chicka Bowm Bowm.
Next week....Part three.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gas Station Cringe

My good friend, Elise, waddled over to the mini-mart to get us bottles of water. I write waddled because we were both eight months pregnant in the extreme June 2006 heat, and thirsty. When she got back and handed me the drink I chugged it, and forgot that my gas tank was presently being filled with fuel. The water felt so cool that it led me to turn on my ignition with pep, put swollen ankle to metal, and take off. (Note to non New Jersey folk: I am not so spoiled that I don’t pump my own gas. It’s actually illegal in the state.) The foreign station attendant screamed out in his native language as I felt the resistance of the hose breaking away from my car.

“Trace! The gas! You’re not done!” Elise warned, wide-eyed. Man, I was done. I lumbered out of my car and looked over at the mad gas man, holding a rubber hose in the air, still yelling.

At first, I just cringed. I was a total idiot. A big-bellied one. I looked around and hoped that no one besides Muhammad had witnessed my stupidity—not just anyone I knew, but anyone at all. Then I tried to process the incident. What had I just done? Was the gas station going to blow up? Was my car going to explode? Was I going to be handcuffed and arrested for reckless endangerment? I wanted to split, but stood confused.

An older man ran out from the mini-mart, waving his hands and chastising me in half English- half something else. The message was easy to decipher: stupid pregnant baffoonyou’re in trooouuuble.

The old man shoved the length of hose at me and pointed wildly to the end of it. He demanded $120 cash. There was an emphasis on CASH. I don’t have $120 in cash in my wallet, I protested. Elise and I pooled our money…but we weren’t even close. The man frowned and yelled some more.

“Should you call Marty?” Elise suggested.

Ahhh….Marty, my husband. Marty would never drive away from a gas station with the nozzle still attached to his vehicle. Calling him at that moment and confessing that I once again had lived up to Spacey Tracy (my father coined that nickname for me from the time I was old enough to forget things), seemed too cringe-prolonging. Plus, I feared that some form of law enforcement might arrive and cart me to jail to give birth. I told the mean old gas guy that I could pay him with a credit card. He scoffed, but finally ushered me inside to swipe my card.

120 Lottery Tickets. That’s what the receipt said. That was the first hint that I was somehow getting scammed. But at least I could get out of there. When I got back to the car, Elise told me that another worker at the station approached her and whispered that we were getting scammed: those gas lines are designed to break away, because, amazingly, I’m not the only moron to make the mistake.

Safely away from the scene of the cringe, I called Marty. He didn’t need the aha! 120 lottery ticket bill to know I had been taken. Not to worry, he told me, he would go down to the station that evening and get the money back. He had a few choice words for the proprietor…and he wasn’t surprised when I revealed which station in town it was. He always knew they were shady (expletives). Some intensely primal anger ignited inside Marty….the fact that his pregnant wife had been so mistreated needed rectifying.

To be continued….PART TWO next week….. entitled “At The Station That Night Cringe”

And then PART THREE…. “Another Cringe At The Same Station” the week after.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hot Todd Cringe

Todd is a handsome thirty-two year old construction supervisor who works with my husband. Todd is also an exceptionally talented self-taught craftsman. He was hired by our neighbors, Kendra and Rich, to renovate their second floor as a side job.

Mitsie lives across the street from where Todd is toiling. We all live on Church Street, which sounds very proper and demure. Mitsie’s eighteen year old daughter and several girlfriends took notice of the “hot guy” sawing on her neighbor’s front lawn. They liked his blondish hair and his well-developed tattooed surfer arm. If a guy like Todd had been working in my neighborhood when I was eighteen, my girl gang would have found many reasons to cruise up and down Church Street for views. We may have even feigned that we were lost (on my own street) and asked the hardworking man for directions.

“Who’s the hot guy on the Colburn’s lawn?” The girls asked Mitsie.

“Oh, he’s Marty’s friend, Todd. He’s fixing Kendra’s upstairs.”

Mitsie started to refer to Todd as Hot Todd.” The name stuck. Kendra followed. Yeah, Hot Todd is almost finished with the mouldings—they look great! Hot Todd is coming over again tonight—I think I’ll make spaghetti for him. Hot Todd is so nice.

A few Sundays ago, Mitsie walked across Church Street with her seven year old twin boys to enjoy a glass(es?) of wine with Kendra and let their boys play together. Todd was stationed out front, bent over his power tools. Mitsie asked Todd about his interest and availability for a project at her house. Todd agreed to come take a look. She called her twins to leave.

“Why?” they complained.

“Because “Hot Todd” is coming over to look at our fence.”

Her wine glass almost slipped from her hand. She used the other to cover her mouth, which was now surrounded in deep crimson. She bolted back inside and fell on the couch, enveloped in cringe. Her boys looked at Hot Todd curiously. Kendra retreated to her kitchen, feeling her own cringe coming on.

Like most good dirt on Church Street, the story traveled. Mitsie called me to confess the cringe the next morning. I told Marty who got a kick out of it, and promptly teased Todd at work. The legend of Hot Todd (and his phone number) traveled with the story—there was a cute, reliable guy available who could fix things. Church Street was abuzz.

Many on Church Street attended our annual Ryan Fourth of July shindig, as well as Todd. The ladies took cover from the 100 degree swelter in the air-conditioned kitchen. Their red solo cups were filled with wine and even deadlier concoctions like iced-tea flavored vodka (very tasty and refreshing - by the way). When Todd entered the kitchen, he was met with the giggles and shouts of tipsy suburban mavens—teenagers-times- two (or 2 ½). He was greeted as “Hot Todd” and women who hadn’t met him gasped, “Oh…you’re Hot Todd!”

Poor Hot Todd let out a pained cringe, quickly fetched ice for his drink, and escaped outside to the scorching heat.
Thanks for reading The Weekly Cringe. If you are not yet on my email distribution list, please write to me at Thanks, Tracy

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ferry Cringe

It took me roughly ten years to answer a simple, “New Jersey”, to the question, “Where are you from?” I spent a decade explaining my circuitous route to the garden state. My husband and other native Jerseyans regularly call me out as a snob. They protest that New Jersey is not as bad as it is portrayed on television. I say yes and no to that claim. Yes: I see women very similar to the Real Housewives of New Jersey all the time. If I drive just twenty minutes to a county park, I am surrounded by crass, heavily made-up loudmouth mothers, following after their spoiled brats with Louis Vuitton purses slung over their shoulders, kitten heels, and keys to flashy vehicles grasped by acrylic nails. Another yes: the turnpike is a lousy road and does reek in Elizabeth. No: there are lovely spots in New Jersey, and I am lucky to live in one-- one hour from Manhattan, and seven minutes to decent beaches here in Monmouth County. The acrylic nail ratio is low in my sleepy town. Lawns are green and kids ride their bikes to school.

Another plus to this location is the availability of ferry transportation to the city. Companies based out of local marinas ship commuters to New York City in just 45 minutes. My friend, Ted, rides the ferry to work.

Ted and his wife, Dana, were recently at a dinner party. A woman who Dana had met from the neighborhood had invited them to their home. Dana noticed that Ted seemed bristly at the gathering of three couples. He spent most of his time speaking to the host’s husband. He seemed to ignore the other male guest. It was strange.

“You kind of left that one guy out tonight,” Dana commented as they walked home after the party.

“Yeah, well, I pushed that guy once.”

“What do you mean, you pushed him? Like at hockey?” Dana withheld her initial cringe, hoping that the push was athletic even though this was an unlikely scenario. Ted is a burly six-foot-four ice hockey force—the snubbed dinner guest was slight with a pencil-thin moustache and foreign accent. He resembled the Pink Panther.

“Nah. I pushed him on the ferry.”

“What are you talking about?” Dana stopped to let her cringe flow. She felt dizzy under the streetlights.

Ted explained without apology. He had watched the guy blatantly disregard ferry boarding etiquette for weeks. Ferry commuters follow a simple system each morning. Two lines form on each side of the ramp, and passengers feed on one-by-one, alternating from the two queues. One from the left. One from the right.

The Pink Panther rudely charged on each time, failing to pause for the opposite line. It caused the cut passenger behind him to hesitate, followed by a bumping domino effect. A series of slight jolts often accompanied by spilled coffee. Ted was sick of this guy. He finally had the chance to right the situation. As Ted reached the platform one morning, Pink Panther was directly opposite. As always, the jerk darted ahead. Ted stretched his long leg forward and abruptly threw a Heisman jab to his left. Impact. The startled man swayed back and tap danced in place to steady himself. Ted moved ahead and found a seat, unruffled. He opened his newspaper with a satisfied snap.

“Ahhh…Ted! You can’t just go around pushing people….because then we end up like tonight-- having to feel awkward. I am mortified! This is a small town.” Dana was now cringing as she walked, as if there were little hot coals underfoot.

“I didn’t feel awkward. He’s the one who should feel awkward. He’s an idiot. And guess what? He now follows the rules.”

Sometimes a little jersey push is all it takes.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Baby Weight Cringe

It was a perfect storm of season, grief, and good baby. In November 2003, I would climb into my bed on cold afternoons while my newborn napped. I dreamed that my younger brother had not died two months earlier, and that he might show up at my door with a baby gift tucked under his arm, probably a Yankees onesie. I would rise to the stirs of the tiny man in his bassinet, feed him a bottle, and help myself to a sleeve of Ritz crackers. Ca-coosh, the sound of my diet pepsi can cracks open. The phone rings and I chat about how many bottles and how many poops there have been that day, all while curled up in the crook of a comfy couch.

Thanksgiving comes. Gravy, stuffing, pecan pie. Then Christmas. Cookies! These events add to the fat cell explosion party occurring in my postpartum body. A year or so later, I decide whether or not to buy clothes in a size that would have made my teenaged self dart in front of a moving train. I buy the size, figuring I will have another pregnancy sometime soon, so why try to lose now? And, yes, please give me a double scoop of the chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Thank you.

Another pregnancy—another baby boy. I was finally ready to reclaim my former size. I signed up at Weight Watchers and tried to digest the hard numbers that popped up on their fancy scale. I carefully counted points, and six months later I was down twenty-five pounds. Phew.

I pranced out on my front lawn one summer morning to water my flowers. I am on the way to the beach, so I am wearing a bathing suit. It’s going to be a scorcher-- the garden needs a good soaking. The neighbor lady across the street waves and moves towards me. This is odd; she has never talked to me before and I’ve lived on this block for more than a year. She has talked to my husband, though. He knows her whole life story. While he mows the lawn on Saturday mornings, “Judy” chats him up. I’m sure she tells him how great he is at weed wacking. She is pretty and flirty, and is excellent at talking to men. She’s that “it” girl who always had it. She’s the girl who sighs, “I’ve just always gotten along better with guys than girls…I just don’t know why.” Marty says she is very nice, and laughs when I snarl.

Judy flashes me her winning debutante smile.

“Congratulations!” she calls. “I see you’re expecting again!”

I release the clamp on my garden wand, and look down at my non-pregnant belly, covered in my new bathing suit that I just bought for my twenty-five pound lighter figure. CRINGE.

I want to turn the hose on her and spray her across the street.

“No,” I say flatly. “I’m just fat.”

She cringes a little bit. Not as much as she should. She sputters an apology and tries to change the subject. She retreats back home and I think, what kind of woman says that to another woman?

And I know the answer. The kind of woman who “just always gets along better with men.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Company Barbeque Cringe

From 1997 through 2005, I worked in Human Resources for a printing manufacturer. If an MBA student wanted to prepare a case study in the decline of a business, Smith (fake name) Printing Company during this time would be an ideal example.

In the fast and profitable 1980s, Smith had been a terrific place to work. There was plentiful business, good wages with annual increases, bonuses, fully-paid health benefits, and notorious company-sponsored parties. Back then, the annual summer picnic was held in the parking lot under a tent with music, beer, more beer, steak, and prizes like camcorders and giant television sets.

By my tenure, the annual picnic was reduced to a sad half hour event held in a shipping bay. The executives would remove their monogrammed links from French-cuffed shirts and grill frozen hamburgers for the steel toed boot-wearing disgruntled rank and file. These workers had seen their wages freeze, their bonuses stop, their friends laid off in waves, and growing chunks of pay extracted from their checks for healthcare coverage. They even lost free coffee in the cafeteria. The most hated executive had removed the machines as part of a cost-cutting initiative. Shortly thereafter, he upgraded his company car.

The tension at the watered-down barbeque was heavy—disdain oozed from the employees as they ate the lousy hamburgers and runny potato salad from Shoprite. Hardly anyone spoke. The more ornery men let their paper plates sit untouched. They didn’t want to accept the charity from the suited buffoons who had run the company into the ground and now jauntily manned the barbeque, trying to demonstrate their common-man macho grill skills. The whole scene was CRINGEWORTHY.

There was animosity from the workers towards both the executives and the sales force. The printing salesmen were a group of spoiled, elitist, wealthy jerks, with just a few exceptions. Their poor sales performance was a direct cause of the failing factory. The worst of the lot was a man I will call Freddy. Freddy was an insipid, pretentious, asexual, bow-tie-wearing fool. He loved to boast about his collection of 40,000 rare first-edition books, catalogued at his estate. I loathed Freddy. I had the misfortune of being assigned to a planning committee for the company’s 100th anniversary event (for clients to enjoy, not employees), chaired by Freddy. He treated the committee members like feudal serfs.

“Tracy,” he would whine, “could you please proof this copy and then type up accordingly?” He used words like accordingly often. I would take his messy cursive notes and dream of ripping them into confetti and dumping it all into the open sunroof of his big BMW in the parking lot. I had visions of depositing other refuse in that sunroof, all of which would be very unladylike to describe.

I was not the only one who couldn’t stand Freddy. My most senior boss, one of the executives at the grill named Mike, was not a fan either. Freddy was a strict vegetarian. I knew this because he ate rancid-smelling tuna fish sandwiches during our committee meetings. He would send an email to Mike every year before the barbeque to remind him of his dietary preference.

And every year, I would watch a very evil and satisfying routine play out.

“Hey, Freddy!” Mike would call to the vegetarian as Freddy guffawed with his sales associates congregating at the barbeque. “I’ve got your veggie burger coming up!” Mike would flash a wide grin at Freddy. That was my cue to slip behind the grill station. I would bite my lip as Mike mashed Freddy’s colorful vegetable patty with beef juice from the spatula. Mike would smile at me as he turned a hamburger on its side and let the meat fat drizzle all over Freddy’s lunch.

“Here you go, partner!” Mike would sing as he handed the plate to our enemy. We both watched as Freddy nibbled at his sandwich, delighted.

“How’s that tasting, Freddy?” Mike would call out.

“Delicious!” Freddy would answer.

I would cringe, just a little, as grease dotted the sides of Freddy’s thin lips.

Thanks everyone for reading my little blog. The readership is growing each week, which is great. Please feel free to forward to anyone you think might enjoy. If they send me their email addresses, I can add them to my distribution list. Thanks, Tracy

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Millennium Cringe

In late 1999, as the new century approached, there were two main concerns: Y2K crisis and New Years Eve planning.

A bigshot at my work had researched time zones and was spending a week on the island of Fiji so that he could be among the first people on earth to ring in the new era. There was a sense that the night should really stand out-- one’s whereabouts would hold historic and social significance.

A bunch of couples decided to plan a getaway. Our criteria: cheap price, open bar, not too far away from home. New York City was outrageously expensive. So, the Poconos, an area marketed to me in commercials throughout my childhood, “Have a fine winters’ time in the Poconos…”, would do. We would party and ski. It sounded promising.

I found a place called Shannon’s Inn and Pub. I ignored the fact that the website featured no photographs. There was an artist’s sketch of an Irish cottage, and a row of shamrocks surrounding information on a special “Millennium Package.” I focused on the terrific deal: two nights lodging, all meals, OPEN BAR, live Irish music, and two lift tickets at a local slope for under $350. per couple. I enlisted one of Marty’s friends who lived near the Delaware Water Gap to check out the place for me. Kieran is an Irish guy, who loves his ethnicity, and I believe my mention of the open bar and Irish band left him biased. He told me that he knew of the place—that it had a great, big, lively bar—and that it would be fine. His one caution was, “the place doesn’t look like much from the road.”

From the road turned out to be the main interstate that runs through the Poconos. The Shannon Inn looked to be a former Howard Johnsons located at the end of an exit ramp. The perch gave an excellent view of speeding eighteen-wheeler rigs. Kieran was being truthful about the bar. It was large and comfortable and they served Guinness and Harp on tap. The band was setting up when we arrived, with plenty of room for dancing.

The rooms were dated but clean. The group of us sat, sipping beers, and relaxing before the big millennium dinner party. We were laughing, and my friend Mary snapped a picture of us piled on the worn dresser next to rabbit-eared television set. We all look very YOUNG and cheerful in that photo. None of us had hit thirty yet.

When we entered the bar that night for the celebration, our youth was notable. The entire crowd consisted of guests in their late seventies, eighties and possibly nineties. Great grandmothers wore sequined gowns and great grandfathers wore suits that most likely had handkerchiefs tucked in pockets. It looked like a Christmas party at a nursing home. The AARP had definitely posted this great deal in their flyers. We youngins’ stood like stones, jeans-wearing stones.

“Oh my God,” I heard Mary say before she erupted into laughter that shook her entire body. It was awkward laughter that she couldn’t stop—and it was loud and hearty. I wasn’t able to laugh—my body was readjusting from the quake-like cringe that had just run through it. Our inability to move left us wedged in the queue of senior citizens waiting to sit for dinner. Cafeteria tables had been set up in the pub with place cards. The Ryan party was seated in between old people and the only other anomaly in the crowd, an Asian couple named the Hui’s with their pre-teen children, who all spoke little English.

The band played Irish music and a selection of tunes like In the Mood by Glenn Miller and Hey Good Lookin’, Whatchya Got Cookin’? I recall looking across the table at my friend Chris, as he miserably blew into a whistle streamer. An older lady had come by and put a plastic top hat on his head.

Dinner included grey meat, mashed potatoes and creamed corn. The octogenarian sitting next to us leaned over and whispered that she just loved creamed corn, but couldn’t digest it any longer.

We all had the impulse to head back to our rooms, and maybe even to leave the state of Pennsylvania that night. We tried to embrace a positive attitude—even understood that this would, someday, be an amusing story. But in the millennium moment, it was not so funny. The men in our party bellied up to the bar and took advantage of the premium pours. I joined the conga line with Mr. Hui at one point. Then I danced next to the corn lady for the Macarena. The band leader called out to congratulate couples on fifty, sixty, and even sixty-five years of marriage. The midnight countdown finally came; Auld Lang Syne played as the crowd exchanged chaste pecks. The guys approached the bar for one last beer before we ran back to our rooms. They were intercepted by a group of mature ladies. I watched one of them wrap her arms around Marty’s waist and stand on tiptoe for a kiss on the cheek. Maybe she was a bit tipsy and he reminded her of her husband fifty years earlier?

I went to use the ladies room and noticed that Mary had written Marty and Tracy Ryan on a bulletin board in the lobby. It was a sign-up sheet for The “Not-so-Newlywed Game” being held the following morning at 10 a.m. I scribbled over our names and then added hers with their room number.

The younger generation moved back to the rooms with the plan to continue drinking like twenty-somethings. But we were done. Smiling through the fossil hours had been exhausting. We started this millennium by turning in early, as spry older folks danced and sang along to the Unicorn song downstairs. I could hear it as I drifted off to sleep on a lumpy pillow.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Writers Conference Cringe

I registered for a one-day writers conference in New York City for the hefty sum of $275. It was held last Thursday. This fee provided the opportunity for aspiring authors to sit in the same room as two successful literary agents and receive feedback on their pitch letters and the opening two pages of their books. The fantasy outcome is that both elite agents will be so impressed with your material (the same material that has garnered a collection of rejection letters thus far) that they will beg you to sign with them on the spot. A fistfight might even break out between the two professionals as they vie for your talent in the dream.

I was worried the night before about how to dress. The internet told me I should wear what I would wear to an interview. An interview for what? The last time I hunted for a job was 1997. Really. I selected a skirt and jacket and packed my bag with copies of my pitch letter and story opening. I bit my fingernails while my printer spat out the pages and on the train into the city. It felt like I was masquerading as a writer, but I wasn’t sure what my costume should be.

Arriving at a mid-town hotel, I was directed to the appropriate floor for the event. The elevator dinged and I stepped out into a reception area. I thought I had mistakenly entered a Star Trek convention. No Vulcan ears or jumpsuits, but a definite freaky vibe. There was a range of ages, sizes, shapes, genders, and hairstyles. The unifying theme was eyeglasses: big round coke bottles, rectangular edgy academic frames, and kinds in-between. I realized that glasses probably are a typical writer accessory. I should have remembered my driving glasses so I could look writerly. A bun fastened with a pencil would have worked, too. I just looked like a displaced suburban housewife who remembered to wear sensible shoes.

The author-agent sessions were organized by writing genre. I approached the room designated for MEMOIR. My non-spectacled eyes imagined the sign read: NARCISSISTS. First cringe.

Inside, each author-memoirist-wanna-be read their pitch letters aloud and tried to accept, as graciously as possible, the constructive criticism from the agents. It seemed that no one had a winning letter. The agents politely told the 9/11 survivor, the cancer survivor, the obsessive-compulsive, the menopausal Christian humorist (what?), the illegal alien with border-crossing tale, the Korean war veteran, the mother of an autistic child, and little ol’ me that our pitch letters needed work. If we didn’t change them, we would face a writing career that begins and ends in the slush pile.

But then, a red-headed lady in her forties began to read her letter-- voice sultry. It was a good letter. Real good. Her story? Well, she was a normal married woman with a boyfriend, a cat, and money troubles that made her decide to become a “whore” (her word- not mine) for one year. Coincidentally, her starting nightly rate was $275- the same amount the rest of us amateurs spent for the conference. (FYI- with the help of Craigslist, she quickly advanced to $2000 per night.)

The listening group was silent. The whore was seated next to the menopausal Christian humorist, who was carefully biting the inside of her cheek, and taking cleansing breaths. The room then flexed with a collective cringe. Bottoms flinched in chairs, temples were rubbed, fingers clutched pens for doodling, and eyeglasses were propped up on the bridges of noses. We writer- strangers did not want to exchange any eye contact. Ceiling and floor tiles were studied, maybe even counted by the obsessive-compulsive.

One of the literary agents cleared her throat. “So, this…this is…your story?”

“Yes, yes,” Red nodded enthusiastically, her sundress strap falling over a freckled shoulder.

“My blog gets over 4000 hits per month.” she added with a savvy smile, and maybe even a wink.

It was time to break for lunch. I couldn’t wait to get back for her first two pages.

*Thank you all for your comments. They are very encouraging! And, please, if you want to receive an email notification when a new post is up--please email me at Thanks, Tracy

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Too Many Cousins Cringe

My husband’s parents were born in Ireland, and came to America in their late teens. My mother-in-law left seven siblings in County Galway and my father-in-law left behind ten brothers and sisters in County Carlow. These aunts and uncles went on to have sixty-five children—a very large number of first cousins to keep track of.

Marty traveled to his parents’ homeland only a handful of times during his childhood, and then one more time, with me, in August 2000. So, many of the many cousins, (with names like Sean, Matty, Liam, Declan, Michael, Micheal (not a spelling error here- pronounced Mee-hall) Enda, Fiona, Aiofe (Ee-fa), Martin (lots of Martins- pronounced Maaaarten!), Siobhan (Chi-vonne), Padraig (Padrick), and a slew of Marys, Patricks, Johns, and Toms are unfamiliar familiar-looking people.

We met most on the Ryan side in a pub called Blanchfield’s (“Blanch’s”- pictured above) in the tiny village of St. Mullins in County Carlow. Word had spread in the very green rolling hills that the American cousin, named Martin (Maaarten), and his wife were visiting. Like the raising of an Amish barn, near-clones of Marty started to appear and fill this lively place one night for a meet and greet. Pints of Guinness were passed over my head, and happily thrust into my hands. At many times during the surreal evening, I held two glasses at once, and had to figure out the most tactful way to manage my gifts. The tone was light and happy, loud with fast-talking brogues, interested eyes, and vigorous head nods. Marty and I felt like royal ambassadors— overwhelmed by the good-natured excitement extended to us, and touched that so many people had made the effort to come by to welcome us.

Back in New Jersey, about one year later, one of his Irish cousins on his mother’s side, Celia, was visiting America with her husband and children. We drove to a restaurant near my in-laws home to extend our welcome and hospitality to the kin. The venue was entirely less scenic than Blanchfield’s pub. We struggled through the congestion of rush hour traffic to arrive at a charmless chain restaurant. It stunk of old french-fry oil and the lettuce looked wilted on the massive salad bar. Welcome! Welcome to New Jersey.

Marty sat across from his cousin Celia and politely inquired about her mother.

“How is your mother?” he asked. He knew that Celia was the daughter of one of his mother’s sisters.

“She’s dead.” Celia answered matter-of-factly, as she smeared butter on a pasty dinner roll.

It was a colossal cringe moment. I saw my husband’s face turn redder than if he had spent a day at the equator without sunscreen. His mouth attempted to speak, but it just opened and closed, as he held his breath involuntarily. I saw my mother-in-law look as pained as if she was experiencing equator sunburn. Her head wobbled with a grave cringe; her hands flew up to her mouth. The cringe hung in the silence after Celia’s succinct response. I felt the hairs stand up on my own neck. I heard the sound of my brother-in-law’s chair move away from the table. Mike was headed for the restroom.

“Oh, Maaarten, you must just have me confused. My mother was Kathleen, and she died several years ago.”

Marty expressed sympathy with an even deeper blush. He took a bite of his Buffalo Blue Chicken Sandwich. My mother-in-law likely pulled rosary beads from her purse and rubbed them for strength under the table. The conversation moved on to lighter things: the cousins' daytrip to New York City and their sightseeing agenda for the remainder of their American holiday.

I excused myself to the ladies room. Mike had still not returned to the table. I found him, outside the bathrooms, leaning up against a payphone, gasping for air. Seeing me caused resurging laughter tears to rocket from his eyes. He could hardly speak—hysteria had fully enveloped him.

“Ohhh…you’re mean.” I whispered, pressing my lips together to prevent a contagious reaction.

“How’s mom?....She’s dead!” he repeated, holding his hand to his stomach, gulping in hiccup air.

Marty was behind us now—he too had broken away from the table, in a state of pure mortification.

“You suck,” he told his hyperventilating older brother, before ducking into the men’s room (to splash water on his face?)

The poor guy just has too many cousins.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Short Profiling Cringe

There has been a barrage of news reports, newspaper and magazine articles, political stump speeches, protests, and infuriated ACLU attorneys sparring in the last decade over profiling. Racial. Religious. I am certain there are thousands of blogs out there that discuss, at length and ad nauseam, all sides of the issue. I can see both sides. America should not become a police state, a country that assumes you are suspicious and subjects you to harassment because of the way you look or the way you worship.

But, I must come clean. When I am standing barefoot on airport security lines for visits to Nana in Florida, trying to control boys who are playing limbo under the queue ropes, watching and collecting our stuff as it gets x-rayed, and lugging carseats on and off the belt, I do wish they would pay more attention to passengers named Faisal Shahzad. I want an officer to say, “Ma’am, come here, you can skip this line. Jump on this beeping cart. We will strap your kids in and feed them candy until the plane departs. Then we will dose them with Benadryl. We have made a determination based on stereotyping that you are no threat.”

I feel that I am at some liberty to write this because I was a victim of profiling in 1988. I, five-foot-one, Tracy Lynn Wetherill, spent time in the back of a police car due to profiling. I was short-profiled.

I inherited my Pop Pop’s powder blue Oldsmobile Delta 88 in high school. It was a powerful beast, comfortable for the senior population it was marketed to. Soft, wide seats covered in blue velour. Lots of compartments for maps, Kleenex boxes, rolls of toll quarters, and guidebooks for my grandparents’ meandering road trips through New England. Peppy power windows, seats, brakes, and steering. It was also afflicted with a problematic “crank sensor” (which I still don’t know what that is) that later caused the car to randomly shut down at highway speeds. I became adept at coasting on shoulders.

Two state troopers pulled me over on a dark spring night because they did not see a head driving the Delta 88 on Route 100 in Somers, New York. The seat was electrically shimmied to the closest position, but my short frame still required a slouch to command the V8 engine. The police lights whirled. I was scared as I looked in my rearview mirror. I wasn’t speeding. I wasn’t drinking. I was just driving along. Profiled. Short-profiled.

There was the problem that I had a junior provisional license, and shouldn’t have been driving past nine o’clock. That’s how I ended up in the back of a police car with two huge, burly, hat-wearing state troopers. They made me abandon the Olds and drove me (in silence) up Cherry Street to my yellow house on Valley Road. I asked them if I was going to be arrested, and I saw the driver pass an amused look to his partner.

“Do you think you are going to get arrested?” the driving trooper asked.
“I hope not.” I answered with dramatically enhanced innocence. I ended up with just a warning.

There certainly was a measure of cringe as I slipped in the back of the police car. Fortunately, this is my only experience in a police vehicle. The serious cringe came when my mother answered the door at 195 Valley Road and found me standing between two troopers.

“Was she speeding?!!!” she yelled, my mother as accuser.

She claims, now twenty-two years later, that she did not yell this. But I remember the cringe like it was yesterday.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cringing On The Mothering of Boys

Happy belated Mother's Day.

People with tremendous impulse control wait for the gender of their child to be revealed at birth. They believe that knowing the sex during pregnancy results in no surprise for the parents-to-be.

Some common platitudes:

“You only have a few real surprises in life; enjoy the joy of the surprise!”
“Good health is all that matters.”

But we impatient folk still do experience surprise. It is just months earlier. Instead of hearing the doctor shout, “It’s a boy!”, when handing a goopy newborn over, we find out while a technician looks at a blurry, gray, ultrasound screen.

With our first son, my husband and I disagreed about finding out. Marty wanted to wait. See above platitudes. But since his belly wasn’t being stretched to the point of no return, my impatience prevailed. Marty presented a compromise: have the technician write down the gender on a slip of paper, and then we would ride to the beach and open it up there. If we had thought to bring background Bruce Springsteen music —it could have been a perfect Jersey shore vignette.

I stuck the folded paper in my pocket. Marty and I had driven separately to the office. In the parking lot, he put his hand out for it.

“No way. I know you will open it in the car.” He was right. I would have. I handed it over.

Marty’s patience paid a great dividend. I have a wonderful memory of opening that piece of paper (It’s a boy!) on the Spring Lake boardwalk, and immediately calling my brother, Scott, to report. The beach wind whooshed around my ears and I had to yell it more than once for him to hear me. Scott was elated, excited. My brother never had the chance to meet my son, so my persistence paid off too. Before Scott left this earth, he knew he was an uncle to a little boy named Christopher.

The second time around, we didn’t orchestrate a ceremonious oceanfront reveal. We found out in the bland doctors office. It’s a boy!, round two.

A cringe passed through me. A serious insecurity fizzle. This plurality made me THE MOTHER OF BOYS. I wasn’t sure if I could be any good at that. A theory formed in my mind as the technician zoomed in on her evidence: an excellent mother of boys should be a tall, strong, muscular, athletic woman—the kind of lady who can throw a kayak up on a roof rack, change a flat tire, drive stick shift, and whistle with two fingers in her mouth at sporting events. She is a woman who feels very comfortable in the bleachers screaming (at fishmonger pitch) things like “Good eye!” and “Now that’s getting a piece of it!” Even if my boys don’t turn out to be athletes, they might follow after their father and be interested in science. A proficient mother of boys should excel at creating science fair projects, shouldn’t she? I have a serious spatial relations deficiency; I struggle to make a paper airplane.

Even though I have not developed any rough and tumble qualities since boy #2, I don’t worry or cringe anymore, because these little males make me feel like a rock star. They are completely unaware of my miscasting.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Google-busted Cringe

Long before there was Facebook, there was simple Google-stalking. Come on, everyone has done it, especially the ladies out there. Bored, something triggers a thought about someone from your past. It could be the predictable old song trigger, or the unusual, like the sight of Cool Ranch Doritos in the supermarket that makes you remember someone’s bad kissing breath. Past romantic interests rate high on the “let’s just type his name into Google” list. Women like to engage in this type of snooping work in small groups, so we can all comment on how past partners look and if their wives are ugly, pretty, or so-so. So-so seems to be the most satisfying outcome.

I recall a friend staring, mouth agape, at the image of her high school crush.

“I swear—he used to be cute!”

I tend to be less interested in the old boyfriends I knew well. JohnBoy is married and has a nice family. I figured that. JimBob never married-- figured that too. And Lance, well, he won the Tour de France, again.

The aha moments come when we type in the name of a crush, like that guy who worked in the cube next to yours who always had a girlfriend, and you wished hadn’t. You throw in his name and his finishing time in a half-marathon might pop up. Damn, he still is in good shape. I bet he’s still cute. I wonder if he ended up marrying that girlfriend who always sounded whiney on his extension. Her voice was like Betty Rubble’s on the Flintstones when she called Wilma.

Young moms are susceptible to Google-stalking behavior. They have experienced a sudden, entire, change from the people they were before children. Thinking about that guy in the cube next to yours is really thinking about your old self and the independence you had, and didn’t even know it. You don’t want to go back to that place, but it is nice to check in with that girl once in a while. You’ve come a long way, baby. And when your girlfriend is showing you her past beaus, it facilitates interesting stories about life’s journey: funny, sad, reflective. You learn something new about your friend and what tidbits contributed to the way she is now.

So, it was cold and dreary and the kids were busy dumping bins of Legos all over the basement. My friend keyed in the name of an old high school boyfriend and told me a funny story about the time she caught him kissing another girl in a concert parking lot, and gave him a swift karate kick to the back of the knees. We don’t find much about him in cyberspace. I type in a name, the next-cubicle-guy’s name. Nothing interesting pops up. One more name. Nada.

Later that evening, Marty comes to me after using our home computer to research something like “tankless hot water heater systems” that he is considering installing in the basement with all of those Legos.

“So, Tracy, when you and your girlfriends are busy obsessively looking up old boyfriends’ names…could you remember to delete the search history? It’s only polite.”

Ahhhh….Google-busted! CRINGE.

“How would you feel if I spent my time looking up past girlfriends?”

Hmmm. My answer is not the one he expects. “I’d want to see what they look like!” An idea. I can Google-investigate his past flames.

“How do you spell that that one girl’s long Polish lastname with all those weird consonants?” I asked, looking for a piece of scribble paper.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Grateful Dead Concert Cringe

Marty in 1994 sporting a baja hoodie. All set.

Marty cringes that I have been to a Grateful Dead concert and he has not. He spent his college years enjoying the mellow sounds of The Dead, but had put off getting to a show. The untimely death of Jerry Garcia in August 1995 made the experience impossible. Poor Marty had Dead tickets in hand for Madison Square Garden dated September 1995. Sigh. On July 16, 1994, at the age of twenty-two, I was more familiar with Cherry Garcia ice cream than with the musical genius icon named Jerry Garcia. But there I was at RFK stadium in the throngs, almost accidentally.

On that summer morning, my friend and roommate, Karen, was expecting an ex- boyfriend and his buddies. They were driving through the night from Boston to Washington, D.C. to see the Grateful Dead. They had extra tickets for us. Did I want to go? An afternoon with potentially cute guys? Sure. Why not?

A foursome showed up at 9:30a.m. in a real hurry. And they weren’t particularly cute. Karen and I were whisked into their Pathfinder without time to grab a bottle of water or sunscreen. The ten-hour tailgate waited.

Have you ever been to a treeless field in Washington D.C. in July? It is soupy. We were hardly early. We rolled up to a car/truck shanty village, inhabited by followers who had set up camp for the previous shows and lingered. The air in that field smelled like body odor, pot, cigarettes, gasoline, and patchouli oil. We parked next to a middle-aged man splayed out, sleeping on the dry grass, with his head dangerously close to the rusty muffler pipe of his van.

I knew at a little after ten o’clock, that it was going to be a very long day. My combination of heredity and life experience left me unfit for the role of joyful Grateful Dead follower. I’ll explain. I was born to a woman with a host of sensory issues. I have come to realize that these sensitivities are encoded in my DNA, and I too suffer variations on them. My mother, Pam, is overly aware of smells and temperature. She is incapable of participating in an activity like camping, or camping's younger cousin, tailgating. I have no special childhood campfire memories. Pam would never be subject to sleeping in a tent, with heat, insect, and intermittently- bathed (stinky) campers in her radius. She sprints from the assault of body odor in a public place. She refused to do business at the local bank in my hometown because she sensed the carpet was musty. On a recent visit with her, she became obsessed with a foul odor of unknown origin in her kitchen, and took to throwing straight ammonia all over the place, hoping to rid the smell. Forget camping. Pam will not even watch a movie that she thinks may have “rough terrain” settings. This includes any war, jungle, or prison movie. The Grateful Dead RFK tailgate affair would definitely qualify as “rough terrain.” Pam would be running, screaming, and scaling fences to escape.

I am not a fan of bad smells and humidity (who is?), but my primary sensory issue involves an intolerance to loud, live music. I know this to be a family trait, because I have witnessed my mother’s Italian relatives at weddings sitting at their tables (which are always unluckily close to the band) with their hands clapped over their ears and excruciating looks on their faces. So I have this genetic defect. It makes me a very infrequent concertgoer.

But there I was. The Boston boys began to set up camp.

One guy, Tom, jumped out of the car and immediately stuffed his face into a Ziploc bag full of mushrooms.

“I’m GOIN’ SOLO,” he exclaimed, smacking his friends’ hands in a high-five salute, and venturing off into the Birkenstock-clad crowd.

We baked in the sun. Hot, skin-blistering sun. The humidity felt like wet blankets. The creases of knees cried. Karen and I took to walking around, trying to create a breeze. The beers got warm. People-watching lost allure above ninety-five degrees. Finally, the sun receded and we filtered into the stadium for the show. Tom was still goin’ solo. The rest of us found our seats and the guys in our group were delighted by each song, racing to scribble down the titles in a memo pad.

“CHINA CAT!....I knew it! I knew it!” Yup, knew it.” Apparently, the song list is a surprise each concert, and predicting the ones Jerry will belt out is great fun.

It was still so hot. And loud. Too loud. I had the sensation of someone sticking a knitting needle in my ear and moving it around. To the untrained Dead ear, every song sounded similar and uncomfortable.

And then someone jumps. From the upper deck. A hallucinating wackjob thinks he can fly and lands on several people about ten rows in front of us. There are screams and commotion. Security guards rush down, followed by emergency workers. Three people are carted away in neck braces on stretchers. I now feel nauseous. My minor fears of heights and crowds have been updated to include a fear of a human being or other large object falling randomly from the sky. Once the injured are out of the way, the crowd returns to happy swaying. Karen and I head for the air-conditioned car. She tells her ex-boyfriend that we will wait there until the concert ends. He looks annoyed. He has clearly wasted good tickets on us. Somewhere up in Jersey, a twenty-two-year-old Marty Ryan (who I haven’t met yet) would have loved that ticket. He’s probably cringing when he reads this, thinking of us idling in the cool car, as the concert lifts the spirits of masses inside.

Long after the concert has ended, Tom is a no-show. He is still goin’ solo, and may never find us for his ride home. I fear that he may be dead. Maybe he was the guy who jumped! An hour or so later, he shows up, exuberant, ranting like a wild man about his amazing GOIN’ SOLO experience. Karen and I are impatient, and not impressed.

“Get in the car!” usually mild-mannered Karen screams at him. I am certain Karen yells this frequently now, in the same frustrated distress, as she attempts to get her daughters to school in the mornings up in Boston.

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