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