Striking a Bad Cuord

“I’m a good mother,” I thought, as I pressed “place my order” on the Mini Boden website.

I was buying Myra-Jean some leggings to replace the ones she owns that are too short, too tight, or have holes in inappropriate places. Kids’ leggings are a constant challenge; they wear out in seconds, their sizing is bizarre, and, unlike other clothing types, you rarely find nice ones used. So I have to shop for them. Which I dislike.

This is mostly due to my inclination towards overwhelmedness. There are too many options; I don’t know where to go. I’m trying to avoid H&M, which used to be my go-to place for kids’ gear. They have great stuff, but their labor practices are an issue. Especially for Mike. Every time I shop there he asks me how it feels to buy clothes for a six-year-old that were made by…a six-year-old. It’s a real buzzkill.

So I’ve been shopping elsewhere, with varied success. MJ is tall and has the hips of a grasshopper (I don’t know if grasshoppers even have hips. But neither, effectively, does MJ.) She’s also extremely sensitive. If the elastic is too tight she says the pants are “choking her waist.” So much for Crew Cuts. If the seams are too thick she rejects the pants as itchy. Adios, GAP Kids. Where to try next?

One of my mom friends suggested Mini-Boden, so last week I ordered three pairs of leggings from them. One was a digression from my usual choices: a vivid orange “stretch corduroy” that I was almost certain MJ would reject. “Screw it,” I thought. “Returns are easy. Finding decent leggings isn’t.”

To my surprise, the corduroys were the biggest hit. Myra-Jean wanted to wear them immediately. Partly because of the color, and partly due to the novelty of the material. We tried them on briefly; they seemed fine. The waist wasn’t too tight; in fact, it seemed relaxed. The leg part was snug, but within acceptable bounds.

“You sure these are comfortable?” I asked?

“They’re awesome.”

We were running late. No time to waste. Off to school she went, day-glo legs blazing in the morning sun.

When I got home from work at the end of the day, MJ didn’t seem up for her usual jumping-on-the-bed routine. This was strange; she always hits the mattress at 6:30 sharp. Tonight she just sat listlessly on the edge of the bed and watched me change out of my work clothes.

“How was your day?” I asked her. “Great, bad, or indifferent?”

MJ wrinkled her face. “Indifferent.”

Surprised, I asked why.

“Those leggings,” she said, “can NOT be worn on school days.” It turned out they had fallen down all day. Especially when she bent over or squatted.

“And I squatted a LOT today, Mama. We had drama class!”

“Oh, buddy,” I said, taking her hand. “I’m so sorry.”

MJ made a pained face. “Two girls were laughing at me on the playground. They said my butt was showing. It was really awful.”

When things like this happen I want names and phone numbers. Not that I’ll do anything. Just so my rage can fester.

“Who were the girls?”

MJ named two kids I knew. One of whom she’d had play dates with. “I thought she was my friend,” she said sadly.

“Oh, honey.” I wanted to kill them. I also wanted to kill those pants. Corduroy leggings. Idiotic concept. What was I thinking?

There was nothing I could do but make sure it didn’t happen again. “I’ll return them tomorrow,” I said adamantly.

MJ raised her drooping head to look at me, horrified. “No!” she cried. “I like them. I just can’t wear them to school.”

I didn’t have the heart to contradict her. Not after the day she’d had. But man, do I have it in for those leggings. I haven’t returned them, but only because I can’t stand to touch them yet. They’re sitting on the toy chest in our hallway, where I can shoot them evil glares every time I walk past them. Call it a sartorial purgatory.

And I will return them. I may not be able to punish those little schoolyard rats, but I can sure as hell wreak havoc on the Mini Boden returns department.

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Post No Cards

When I need to mail a package, I generally go to the Glassel Park Post Office near my home. It’s filthy, has only four parking spaces, and sucks a tenth of my soul out every time I visit, but it’s in my zip code and I feel a weird fealty towards it.

Yesterday, though, with an envelope that had to be sent priority,  I decided to try a different branch. I was in Eagle Rock on another errand and thought maybe I’d have a more pleasant experience at their location. Maybe only a twentieth of my soul would be devoured–an improvement! Or maybe none would. Maybe it would be my first ever functional experience in an L.A. post office.

The parking lot had ample spaces, an immediate improvement. And the office itself, when I entered it,  was bigger and cleaner. But there was still an air of numbness; I felt, as I always do in these situations, that I could light my eyebrows on fire and no one would look up from their smartphones. Bureaucracies have that effect on people. So do smartphones.

Me, I try not to use my phone when waiting in line. It’s so cliche. Not to mention, I hear that microboredom is becoming a problem, and I don’t want to succumb. So I try to just look around, take in the scenery.

After running my eyes over the usual “suspicious contents” posters, racks of bubble envelopes, and passport seeking stragglers, I noticed a plastic fishbowl on the counter. It sported a sign that said:

Grow your business. Drop your business card into the bowl.

And that was it. A few cards sat listlessly in the bottom, waiting for an opportunity that seemed unlikely to come.

“Huh,” I said, as the person in front of me got called and I moved up to the front of the line. “I wonder how that works.”

So when it was my turn I asked the clerk–a stolid lady with a plaid shirt and a matter-of-fact demeanor: “So just how does it grow my business?”

She looked at me blankly. “I’m sorry?”

I jacked my thumb at the fishbowl. “Putting my business card in there. How does it grow my business?”

She leaned over and looked at the fishbowl. Although it had clearly been sitting there for a long time, she regarded it as if it were new. She made a frowny face, then shook her head.

“No.”

Now it was my turn to look confused. “No?”

She shrugged. “It does nothing.”

I nodded. “So, it’s just…there?”

She turned to the clerk in the next cubicle down, who, by now, had taken note of our conversation. “Lacy,” she said flatly. “What happens to the cards?”

Lacy was unhesitating.”Nothing. I don’t know why that thing is even there.”

I laughed, and so did they. And so did the person Lacy was helping. So that was good–I felt like I brought a little brightness to everyone’s day. Maybe broke up the microboredom just a micro-bit.

But I think I’ll go back to my regular branch. Clearly there is no such thing as a functional option.

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Pressing a Point

So I did get Mike to sit down and watch a “Grace and Frankie” episode with me. Two, actually.

And technically speaking he lay down.

You see, Mike has a bad back right now. Excruciating. He gets these from time to time, and it sucks. Having tried many cures with no success, he’s convinced that the only thing that actually has some palliative effect is to iron the sore part. As in, yes, like a shirt. Without the sprinkling first, of course. Don’t worry–it’s not as awful as it sounds. You do it over a doubled-up towel, so the heat is only mildly excruciating.

But of course, a man can’t iron himself. That’s where, in this instance, I came in. Mike asked me to do it for him–for an hour. That, apparently, is the amount of time required for this medieval technique to work.

“We could start after dinner…” he suggested.

“Sure,” I agreed. Then I had a thought. A rather opportunistic one. “But I was planning a ‘Grace and Frankie’ binge for exactly that time. It’s the final two episodes. You’ll have to watch them with me while I do it.”

Mike made a rictus grin. “Okey dokey.”

It was clear he wasn’t thrilled. But he really had no choice. Supper over, he lay down on the floor. It was awkward to find a way to see the TV, so he wedged his legs under the coffee table, propping his head on a couch pillow. I plugged in the iron and knelt next to his back.

“What setting should I put it on?” I had no idea if he qualified as linen,  synthetic, or wool.

“Start low and work your way higher,” he suggested, groaning as he adjusted his unnaturally crooked neck. “Slowly, please.”

So I did. It turned out the wool setting worked best. Having figured that out, I ironed him the whole time we watched the two episodes. They weren’t the best I’ve seen, but this was to be expected. There’s a cosmic law that says that whenever I get Mike to watch a show with me–especially one he’s skeptical about–it will be worse by many powers of ten than any episode I’ve watched by myself. His palpable doubt actually seems to torque the narrative arc.

“I swear,” I’ll find myself saying, “it’s usually better than this.”

To which he responds, “Of course it is.”

But he was pretty nice about “Grace and Frankie.” Maybe because I had a scalding metal plate against his scapula. Whatever the case, he even chuckled a couple of times, and only turned his head away completely in the last ten minutes or so.

“It’s just…my neck,” he explained, wincing painfully.

“I get it,” I said, working the iron into his shoulder blade. “I know it’s not personal.”

After the shows were over and the iron was unplugged he stood up stiffly, thanked me for my efforts, and folded himself up on the couch.

“Isn’t it a great show?” I asked.

“What? Oh, yes. Definitely.”

He qualified the statement a bit after that, but not terribly. Who knows–maybe his aches and pains just removed his will to fight.

Or maybe he realized he was wrong, but was too proud to admit it.

There’s a setting for that, too.

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Golden State

I can’t help it. I’m obsessed with the show “Grace and Frankie.” Perhaps I shouldn’t admit it in such a public forum. Many would deem it embarrassing. Although why should it be? It’s a great show. Amazing actors, clever script, lots of references to geriatric vaginas…it’s something new, and, as an eventual old lady, I’m glad it exists.

But it gets no respect. At least not in this house. Last night my husband came home and, finding me watching yet another episode, said:

“Wow. ‘Golden Girls’ again?”

I mean, damn.

Aside from genuinely enjoying it, I’ve got a specific reason for watching this show right now. Call it research. I’ve started writing a book that might be called a feminist screed (if I didn’t deem myself unqualified to be called a feminist). I’m doing it because, among other things, I despise the way older women are portrayed in our culture. The stereotypes, the insults and the broad dismissals are all deeply troubling.

So I find it refreshing to see these 71-year-old characters painted with a full and textured brush. Sure, I wish Lily Tomlin had had a little less plastic surgery, and yeah, sometimes the show’s discussion of sex within the AARP crowd makes me cringe. But methinks that’s just fear and prejudice talking; after all, ageism is one of the most pervasive and tolerated biases left in this culture. It’d be a miracle if it hadn’t infected me a little, too.

But I’ve decided to fight it. Everyone should. I want to face the fact of aging, not shun it. So I’ll go on following the story of Frankie’s yam lube, and Grace’s affair with the elderly married hottie, (who actually is pretty hot). And when Mike comes in I’ll nod before he can even say a word.

“Yes,” I’ll say proudly. “Golden Girls again. Wanna join me, old man?”

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Crying Fowl

Sometimes it sucks being a working mom. Like when you say to your incredibly excited daughter, who is dressed in her home-made Condor shirt and ready to leave for the zoo two hours before it opens:

“I wish I could be there today.”

And she says, simply, “Then come.”

It never gets easier.

“I can’t.” My voice is as cheerfully apologetic as I can make it.

“Why not?”

She knows I have to work. I’ve been working Saturdays since I went back to retail three years ago. This is not a practical question. It’s an existential one, and I can’t answer it to her satisfaction. “Because I have to sell diamonds to rich people” won’t do, that’s for sure.

“I just can’t.”

“Why don’t you call work and tell them you’re sick?” She says this like it’s a brilliant, unheard of solution.

“Because I’m not sick. So that would be like stealing from them.”

“No, it’s not.”

We clearly need to do some work on her moral compass.

“Honey, I have to go in. You’ll have a great time with Daddy.”

She’s not happy, and neither am I. But it’ll have to do. I’ll hear about everything tonight, in the half-hour we have together before she goes to sleep.

In the meantime,  I’ll imagine her at the zoo in her handmade shirt, holding Mike’s hand and skipping to the “World of Birds” show.

And I’ll try not to be too grouchy with the people, featherless and bland, who inhabit my world today.

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Back to the Vulture

Holy Carrion, Batman!

Tomorrow is International Vulture Awareness Day at the L.A. Zoo, and MJ is beside herself with excitement. She’s designed a tee-shirt for it and everything. She’s also fed all of her stuffed vultures to get them pumped up for an outing, as they’ll all be coming along. Thank goodness we had some extra coils of the rubber stuff we got with our new robotic vacuum cleaner. Normally it demarcates which rooms our Botvac can and cannot enter. But today a bit of it got snipped off and used as rotting flesh.

Me, I’m sorry I’ll be working. The look on MJ’s face when she sees a California Condor eat a dead squirrel will really be worth witnessing. Take lots of pictures, Mike!

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Stations of the Clock

Usually I discount passing crazes, but it just so happens that an article about a new one arrived in my inbox today at a particularly vulnerable moment. I’d just finished a conversation with Mike about the deplorable state of my office. I was contemplating how to fix it when the link came in.

Hmm, I thought, as I stared at it. “Bliss Stations?” Sounds moronic. Still, anything’s better than having to actually do something about this room right now…

So I clicked on the link. The article talked about creating an artist’s sanctuary in your home–a place where you feel joy, peace, and inspiration. A place filled with things you love. A place to dream without encumbrance.

The piece annoyed me–self-help stuff always does–but it also fueled my desire to get this office cleaned out. If I’m supposed to feel joy when I sit down in here I’ve got a long way to go. Right now I’m verging on a mid-level panic.

My office, it seems, is on a bliss vacation. The desk is chaotic, the walls peppered with carelessly curated artworks. A wan polyester curtain covers one sliding glass “wall,” unfiled receipts litter the floor, an old jack-in-the-box lurks in the corner. Instead of thoughtfully chosen, meaningful things on the shelves–history books, photographs, bits of memorabilia–there is macaroni art, a bunch of old video cassettes, and a Freddy Krueger Mr. Potato Head. (Don’t ask. It’s a “collector’s edition.”)

Front and center, hanging above my paper-swamped desk, is the big wooden clock that my dad gave me years ago when I got my first place. I had nothing in the way of furniture at the time; he had it left over from a film shoot and donated it to me. It was the first–and for a while only–thing I hung in my new, tiny studio in Venice. It looked appropriate, even nice there; and, ever since, I’ve moved it from apartment to apartment, house to house,  with a real sentimental attachment.

But something has changed since my dad passed away last year. I loved him, of course, but this clock–that keeps no time, mind you–isn’t him. It’s just a round piece of wood with some markings on it, and it’s really not speaking to me anymore. Or maybe it is, and I just can’t make the translation now that Dad’s gone. Without his spirit animating it, it’s just a thing, a bit of ephemera robbed of meaning. Or perhaps its meaning has simply morphed from the personal to the banal. Where before it reminded me of Dad’s support at a difficult time, it now speaks to me only in cliches:

“The end is near,” it intones. “Time is not your friend.”

I know, I respond silently. Your presence is an excellent reminder.

Is a clock in and of itself a thing of beauty? Perhaps, but this one has lived out its time on my wall. If this is going to be a bliss station I’ll have to begin by eliminating anything that doesn’t, well, bring me bliss. This means you, Killer Potato Man, and you, evil jumping clown. And everything that found its way here by chance.

So Dad, I love you. I miss you. But time’s up. The clock goes in the attic.

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