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One is a very odd number.


One is a very odd number..

Pretty is.

February 23, 2011 7 comments

At 53, try as she might, she cannot remember a single day in her life when she felt attractive. Never mind pretty. Beautiful is straight out of the question. And, at 53 and fairly well-worn by life and circumstances, that day is not likely to dawn anytime soon.

Sometimes, when she is down (which is a lot) or tired (all the time) images of herself appear and move slowly in her mind, cycling through like a Powerpoint presentation.

There’s one from the day she was on the Poopdeck Paul kids’ TV show at age six. She wanted to wear her pink taffeta party dress but her mom said, “no, wear your blue plaid skirt and matching sweater.” So she did. Then she spent the entire time on the show – which featured a bowling competition – watching the other little girl competitors in their party dresses and staring at her own, plain outfit in the TV monitors. She bowled horribly and lost, then began to sob on live TV when Poopdeck Paul himself handed over the first place trophy and all the prizes to another girl who stood there smiling and victorious in HER pink taffeta party dress.

In another image, she is a gangly 10-year-old – all legs – getting her hair cut at a fancy Detroit salon. Her aunt had her own, personal hairdresser – an elegant, perfectly coiffed, silver-haired gentleman named “Prince,” as he was both formerly AND formally known. His  real name was Prentice. He owned his own shop – with his much older wife – yet he actually drove to his customer’s home, picked up the aunt in his ruby-red Cadillac, drove back to the shop and performed his once weekly magic on her hair.

That late summer day, she rode along with the aunt for her own hair appointment. She enjoyed the drive to the shop in the red convertible – loved the sun and breeze on a summer day, loved listening to the grown-up talk in the front seat as the Prince and the Aunt chatted and laughed, excited about getting her hair “done” at a real salon! Two hours later, she sat miserably the  back seat, quiet and unhappy, peeking up every other minute to look through red-rimmed eyes at her hair, as reflected in the rearview mirror. Prince had clipped her thick, frizzy brown hair incredibly short – Audrey Hepburn short – all around, leaving a half-inch row of bangs – Moe Howard of the Three Stooges-style – across the front of her head.

It wasn’t long and blonde and straight and silky the way she had imagined that a Prince could magically transform her hair. It was ugly and thin and short – scalped, nearly – and made her head look unbelievably tiny while at the same time forcing her body to look enormous in comparison. She spent the weekend in her bed, sobbing and hiding her head under a pillow, wondering if she could get by with wearing a stocking cap until she turned 14.

She couldn’t. Her bushy, unmanageable hair is far longer in the next image – taken at 14, the night of her eighth-grade graduation. It’s an image that exists in a real Kodak moment that rests somewhere in the bottom of a pile of old family photographs, hidden away for decades. It’s a fuzzy, Polaroid picture her brother snapped of her as she opened a graduation gift from their mother. The gift is a Louisville slugger baseball bat (she always was an avid Detroit Tigers fan). In the image, she is grinning broadly and thrusting the new bat toward the camera. Her hair is horrible – frizzy and out-of-place – but the rest of her is even worse.

She is wearing a pink knit dress adorned with gold buttons down the front and tied – somewhat unfortunately – around her pudgy waist. The dress is a size 18 to accommodate her 180-pound, body that is already riddled with stretch marks. Her rectangular, black plastic framed eyeglasses, which she must wear all the time just to make her way through her fuzzy world, are like huge scabs resting on her broad, blotchy, sweaty cheeks. In the photo, she looks like a mentally challenged 40-year-old as she brandishes the gift bat that could, in an instant she thinks, turn into a weapon to use against the boys who moo and bark at her every day as she walks down the street to school.

Just a week before graduation, her eighth-grade class had taken a day trip to a local amusement park. It was on an island in the Detroit River – Boblo Island – and the only way to get there was on a huge boat. A boy who was her good friend – the one who understood her humor and her intelligence and love for sports and her disdain for most people – said he would ride all the rides with her once they got to the island. Did she mind, though, that he really couldn’t let anyone see them together on the island? That they’d have to ride rides together “by accident” because he had promised Cindy – blonde, pretty, skinny Cindy who wore blue eyeshadow and showed off her tan thighs in white, short-shorts – that he would be her boyfriend that day and hold hands with her.

She couldn’t argue. What could she say? How could she compete? She was fat and pasty white. Her hair was kinky and frizzy in the early summer heat. She hadn’t worn shorts in public in four years. Sweat rolled down her face, diverting around the acne pimples and scars that dotted that sad landscape. The sweat stung her eyes and dripped onto the legs of her stiff jeans – her size 18 jeans. Burned into the image from that day is Cindy, flipping her long, pretty blonde hair and covering her lovely blue eyes with cool sunglasses. Suddenly, there is the boy – her friend – striding toward Cindy and quickly putting great distance between himself and his friend. She watches as they go off, hand-in-hand, whispering and laughing. Then she gets off the boat with his apologies ringing in her ears and sits alone on a bench for the next seven hours until it is time for the boat ride back home.

Other images flash by as her brain clicks faster through the Powerpoint. A humid summer day at age 15 and she is dressed in a bulky navy sweater and white jeans imprinted with large red and blue squares. Her curly hair is flat and dull, pasted down on her head with some sort of gel.  Her fat cheeks are imprinted with the marks from her glasses that no longer fit her face at all. She looks miserable and she is.

Here’s one from her first day on a college campus. She lumbers across the campus – alone – feeling ugly and out-of-place among scores of thin, pretty young women all looking like cast members from Charlie’s Angels. Dressed entirely in brown polyester, she’s looking more like a middle-aged cafeteria lady than a college coed. Sloppy Joes anyone?

There’s another from her wedding day: she is not a wedding gown person and that day – especially that day – she should have known it. She had dieted for months and was down to a size 12 but in her off-white, plain satin gown with a short veil held by a clumsy floral wreath…she still looked like a sad and graceless spinster trying to fool too many people. Shades of Miss Havisham.

There are many other slides in this Powerpoint. Shots of her, much younger, spending miserable days on the beach dressed like all the other old women while the tan, thin 20-somethings frolicked nearby. Jealous glances at Facebook photos of the cute new girlfriends – with their straight teeth, athletic bodies and smooth hair – of old boyfriends and classmates. Uncomfortable afternoons trapped in business meetings wearing last year’s business suit – fitting a little too tightly and bearing ragged cuffs and sagging shoulder pads.

She hardly ever looks at the text in the Powerpoint. Still, sometimes, because she is a writer and a thinker and can no longer bear to look at any more photos, certain words will catch her eye and draw her attention away.

Like this, from a love letter written too many years too late: “You are a wonderful person, full of love, joy, humor and beauty.  You can make a room light up when you come in.  There are people who literally owe you their lives.  You are one of a kind.”

Or this, whispered just yesterday: “I cannot imagine not being with you for the rest of my life.”

Or this emailed from a former coworker and friend: “You are brilliant and funny and competent…maybe too competent for your colleagues to understand. And sometimes, you have to swallow your pride and let them think THEY came up with idea. You can do that because you are an amazing person.”

Yeah, she’s not pretty. Never will be. But when she reads the fine print, she guesses that, in the end, she’ll do in a pinch.

With apologies to Hallmark, St. Valentine, and Corinthians…

February 14, 2011 2 comments

I used to think that I knew what love was.

I knew it as a naive, dewy-eyed pre-teen who had watched her parents’ loving and way-too-short marriage through the eyes of an 11-year-old…which is how old I was when my father died.

From watching Ann and Patrick O’Connor, I thought love was a husband who accepted his wife’s chronic asthma and bookended his long workdays spent outside toiling as a forester for the City of Detroit with stints making breakfast for his four children and later, long into the evening, scrubbing dozens of pairs of kids’ dirty socks by hand on a washboard because that’s the way his mother used to do it.

Watching them, I thought love was when Pat gently teased Ann about her “elephant” pajamas as she stood ironing school uniform shirts and blouses early one morning.  She looked less than sexy as she stood over the board, sweat dripping down her neck, her bed-head hair poking out in all directions, her baggy pajamas, covered with large, printed elephants balancing on orange circus barrels. Yet as he got ready to go to work, he walked to her side, whispered in her ear, gave her a long, deep kiss, then reached down and gently squeezed her backside, before walking out the door whistling.

I watched this love scene from behind the bedroom door, unwilling to interrupt their most private moment, but wanting more than anything to be right there, snuggled between them, soaking up their love like the thirstiest of sponges.

I thought I knew what love was, as I saw them, night after night, stretched out on their matching vinyl couches in the living room, watching TV as we kids sat on the floor, and knowing that when we went to bed, they’d pull out sheets and pillows and sleep on those same couches (because they never had their own bedroom in our home). They’d watch Johnny Carson together and share their only “alone time” of the long day.  That’s what love was, I told myself.

And I thought I knew what love was when I watched them have the only “fight” I can ever remember them having: Mom wanted to go to a Jerry Vale concert in Windsor at the Top Hat Supper Club. Dad said they couldn’t afford it. She put her head down and wept, quietly, while he put his arm around her and told her he understood her disappointment, but that he just couldn’t change his mind about spending money they didn’t have. That was it. No ill will. No angry words. No blame. No resentment. Just sadness and then resolution, and then, moving forward to another day. Together.

For Ann and Pat, it wasn’t about money, or travel, or gifts, or “working out” together, or “date night” or worrying about what top college we kids would get into, or stressing how much they had in their IRA…because they never even owned their own home. For Ann and Pat, it was about the sheer joy they found in simply being with one another…no matter what. To put it simply, Pat and Ann were, as a dear friend of mine recently said about his own love life, “dumbass happy.”

So, since all I knew of love back was filtered by the brain of an 11-year-old, when I became  an older-but-still-naive bride who did not relish the pomp and circumstance of a big wedding but had one anyway, I thought that “love” was pretty easy: all we had to do was follow what was written in the 1 Corinthians passage that was read at our wedding. It was a neat, little roadmap for a marriage, all wrapped up in a few beautiful lines.

You remember:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

And I thought, based on everything I was sure I knew about love, that it would be a cinch to make that happen in my marriage.

It wasn’t.

We tried. We really did. But love wasn’t always patient. It wasn’t always kind. It didn’t always bear all things, believe all things, and hope all things. And in the end, it didn’t endure all things. And when that happens, one tends to forget all about what one thinks love is.

Since our 20-year marriage ended nearly four years ago, I like to think I’ve relearned a bit more about what love…is.

Love is cooperative. It works out its problems together. It doesn’t say, “I don’t know what to say and I’m not going to counseling but you can if you want.”

Love is flexible. It accepts moodiness and the tendency to spend too much, to worry too much, to whine too much.

Love is dependable. It shows up when it says it will, does what it promises, and hangs around no matter how many unpleasant, nasty, miserable and scary things life conjures up.

Love is tolerant. It sticks around even when the other person is overweight and unattractive, or sometimes has messy hair, unshaven legs  and a fairly loud snore. No matter what, Love sees the beautiful soul and loving heart beneath the elephant pajamas.

Love doesn’t quit. It stays around, no matter how tough the going gets. It works long and hard to renew itself, to find every reason in the world to keep going…and no reason whatsoever to throw in the towel.

Love  is thoughtful. It is the husband in a 50-year marriage asking the intensive care nurse for a tweezers so he can pluck the stray hairs that have grown on his wife’s chin since she fell into a coma.

Love is fearless. It talks out its fears and weaknesses and seeks to learn and grow from them and never let them get in the way of living life to its fullest.

Love is deep; it is never superficial. Love is listening to the same story for the 1,000th time. Love is listening to whining, bitching and complaining…and thanking God that you are able to still hear the other person’s voice. Love is truth…and sometimes, its little white lies that make the other person feel better at exactly the moment she needs it. Love is acceptance…and talking the unacceptable things through to a resolution. Love is a partnership in which both parties have equal footing…even when one of them needs help getting up the stairs. Love is a fairly young man understanding that his wife’s devastating illness has robbed her of a normal life, so he spends every waking hour making her laugh and tending to her every need.

And mostly what love is, is really, finally for once and for all, understanding that in the end, love is simply all about being dumbass happy.

There’s an IV in my arm so it must be December.

December 8, 2010 5 comments

First Saturday in December and there I was again: hooked up to an IV, EKG sticky strips plastered all over me, oxygen running into my nose through one of those disgusting nose things, scared, feeling awful and worse, very badly dressed in the baggy, open-in-the back, dignity-stealing garment that screams “HOSPITAL! SICK! WEAK! VULNERABLE!”

I WAS in the hospital. And, as it turned out I really wasn’t sick or weak, but I WAS rather vulnerable. Earlier that day, I was working out at the gym when I had chest pain and shortness of breath. It kept happening after I stopped working out, so I went to the emergency room near my home in Issaquah, WA. There, they got two suspicious EKGs so they sent me by ambulance to the Swedish Cherry Hill campus in Seattle which is “all-cardiac, all the time.”

Two days, thousands of dollars of tests, 11 blood draws, 48 hours of cardiac telemetry monitoring, two IVs of potassium (not the lethal injection variety), six very bland cardiac diet meals, one massive allergic skin reaction to the sticky stuff on the EKG strips (I can provide photos), and one nasty thallium stress test (I now glow in the dark!) later, they told me the following:

  1. I did not have a heart attack.
  2. The stress test shows excellent blood flow to my heart, so it is an 85% sure thing (the best that non-invasive technology offers) that I have no blockages or other cardiac ailments.
  3. I have more stress in my life than 14 human beings collectively and need to reduce it immediately. If not sooner. Let me add that to my “to-do” list, won’t you, Doc?
  4. I take in too much caffeine and caffeine can cause wonky EKGs. I need to work on cutting out caffeine…but first, a cuppa Joe.
  5. I should be grateful for Obama healthcare; if I didn’t have it, I’d owe them my first-born son.
  6. Only I could be assigned a young male nurse who looked like he’d be much more at home playing World of Warcraft and Beer Pong than taking care of me.

Now, when most people think of December they think of holidays: peace, love, giving, Christmas, Hanukkah, 24 hours of The Christmas Story on TV, parties, caroling around the Christmas tree…the whole nine yards worth of holly and berries.

Me? When I think of December, I think first of call buttons, nurses, waiting for test results, bad hospital food, uncomfortable yet magically moveable beds, ambulances, disembodied voices calling out “code blues” in the ER, people waking me up in the dead of night to take my “vitals” and then telling me to “get some rest, now.” Because for me, December has always meant “hospital month.”

My first December in the hospital came when I was five and I had my tonsils out. Back then, it was a three-day adventure in the pediatric ward that ended with mega-doses of ice cream. With my luck, it stretched into eight days, thanks to a post-surgery hemorrhage leading to having my nose packed leading to an infection leading to no ice cream because I couldn’t swallow.

My most vivid memory of that visit was sitting in the window of the pediatric ward and watching the movie Lady and the Tramp on the large screen of the now-defunct Eastside Drive-In a few blocks away. How very cruel to position a drive-in screen pointed directly at the St. John Hospital pediatric ward where tiny patients could watch the movie but never hear it!

My next December in the hospital came at age 15 when I spent Thanksgiving and part of December in the peds ward being diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. By the time I was well enough to go home in early December, I had lost most of my hair, still had swollen joints and limbs, and was forced to walk with a walker (such an attractive option for a teenager in the 1970s!).

My first day home from the hospital, I wanted to visit my church to see the Christmas decorations. When the pastor heard some slight commotion in the otherwise empty church (I couldn’t travel alone so some of my siblings – the noisy troublemakers – went with me) he came to investigate. Despite my explanations, Fr. O’Shea just chased us all out of building, shoving me and shaking his cane at me. The walker that seemed so painfully obvious to me was apparently invisible to the crazy, old priest. Season’s greetings and wise men, indeed.

It was another December when I was in the hospital for the birth of my first child, Megan Claire. She was born more than three months early, though, so she died in December, too. I spent a lot of the month in the hospital that year – 1990 – trying in vain to keep that pregnancy going, to keep her inside me as long as I could. While I prayed for enough time for her to grow and for her lungs to be strong, I remember hearing the carolers walk through the hospital and wondering why their songs made me so sad during such a happy season. 

Beautiful little Megan was born on the night of December 13, 1990…so impossibly small, too small to survive. As Mike and I held her in our arms, saying hello and goodbye at the same time, the delivery room nurse told me through her own tears that she suddenly had an unusually strong sense of joy.  She felt this joy, she said, because she – she who barely knew me but because of what we had just been through together had come to know me like a sister – had experienced an overwhelming and amazing feeling of hope.

“I know that you will be back here…soon…and you will have  a strong, healthy child. Don’t ask me how I know that. I just know,” she told me as she gently prepared me to give up the body of my child and go into surgery myself.

Indeed, she knew. One year and 17 days later, after much worry, pain and even some laughter (one hasn’t lived until, while one is in her 12th hour of heavy labor, one’s husband points to the TV and says, “look dear, it’s the “Big Breasted Women” show on Montel Williams today!”)…I gave birth to Patrick John Andrzejczyk. He entered the world with a husky cry, a full head of curly, red hair and weighing enough for the delivery room nurses to wince as they helped me push out his 9 pound, 8-ounce, 23-inch frame without benefit of any pain killing drugs (for me…still not sure what the nurses were on).

Three years later, Patrick and I were to spend another part of December  in St. John Hospital. One morning, while  I was getting his baby sister, Erin, ready to go to daycare, Patrick was in the other room watching cartoons and eating breakfast. When Erin was ready, I went to get Patrick into his coat and boots. He was on the couch, sound  asleep. Or so I thought. After five minutes of trying, I could not wake him and his heartbeat was faint and breathing very shallow.

My sister Patty bundled up the baby and I grabbed Patrick’s limp body and we raced to the car. “Please God,” I begged as I drove like a crazy woman all the way to the hospital. “Please don’t let anything be wrong with my baby boy.”  I literally did a dead run with the unconscious 3-year-old in my arms, pushing past the security guard at the ER entrance and telling him to go to hell with his metal detector…my baby was sick!

Patrick spent the day in a 14-hour “nap,”  oblivious to the doctors administering a spinal tap (I watched them do it, but barely had the backbone for it). After many tests and more reassurances from the doctors, it was determined that Patrick had – in the span of five minutes – spiked a fever, had a febrile seizure, and when I found him, was already in the post-seizure slumber. He would be fine, they said.

We spent two days in the hospital that year, Patrick and I. He was sick and crabby and miserable. I was tired and stressed and rumpled (still dressed in the work clothes I’d put on the day before) but very, very relieved.

That night, the carolers came by once again, singing and bearing gifts for the poor children stuck in pediatrics in December. The nice volunteer held out a box filled with gifts from which Patrick and I could choose. Inside were toys, kid videos and games. Patrick’s chubby little hand hovered briefly over one gift before choosing a package of Hot Wheels cars. I looked into the box to see what he had elected to leave behind: a videotape of Lady and the Tramp. It’s amazing how the circle always closes.

All of these “December in the hospital” memories came flooding back to me today, as I spent the day off work, recovering and trying to “de-stress.”  Funny, there were no carolers serenading me this past weekend, I mused, as I recounted these December hospital memories to my now-grown son, Patrick, as we drove around in the car.

“It’s okay, Mom. “Here, we can listen to Handel’s Messiah,” he said, popping the CD into the car stereo. I looked at my nearly 19-year-old “baby,” and marveled at his kindness, his intelligence and good humor, and his patience at my retelling of ancient history. I chuckled as I watched the little boy-like love for all things Christmas that seemed to literally pour from the 6-3, 270-pound, curly-haired, man-son squeezed into my tiny car.

And then I smiled as I thought to myself: “Sometimes, you get to take some pretty cool things home from the hospital in December.”

Right to the point

October 6, 2010 2 comments

I’ve been in the workforce since I was 16 years old – that’s 37 years. Lots of jobs, lots of bosses – good, bad, indifferent, incompetent, unforgettable – and lots of war stories from the career front.

One of my favorite stories has to do with a boss I had back in Michigan about 15 years ago. He was the Executive Director of the Foundation at the hospital system for which I worked as the Director of Donor (money, not organs) Communications.

While charming and charismatic, he was not a nice man. Sociopaths are charming and charismatic, too. They are most assuredly not nice.

Eventually, he was fired for his incompetence after most of the senior staff had resigned in protest and the Board finally caught on to the guy’s terrible management skills, which bordered on psychosis.

While he and I worked together only a short time (a blessedly brief seven months before I quit – the only time I’ve ever quit before getting another job; I had to, since coming home and drinking four beers just to get through the rest of the day is an ill-advised coping strategy)…it was long enough for me to know that he was just “not right.” As in N-U-T-S.

This man, I’ll refer to him as “Cary” – ‘cuz that’s his real name, anyway – had weird habits, to say the least. The strangest was his practice of scrubbing down the office of whatever senior administrator had most recently resigned. He came in and literally – with bleach and a scrub brush – “wiped their existence” out of our office (his words!).

A far less threatening, but every bit as weird, habit he had was keeping hundreds of pencils – all in various shades of blue –  in jars and containers around his office. Blue pencils to match the carpeting in the office. They were in jars and in pencil holders and in cans and in vases. Blue pencils everywhere.

But, like Cary himself, the pencils were just for show. If you were in his office and tried to borrow a pencil, he would slap your hand – really, slap it hard. He kept them as decorations. They were never to be touched, certainly never to be used. They were never sharpened.

Never…until one day when I, fed up with his insanity, started sneaking into his office when he was out (calling on donors? drinking? buying bleach? reading the life story of Ted Bundy?) and began to slowly and systematically…sharpen the pencils.

At first, it was just one or two. Then I began to sharpen them by the dozen. After surreptitiously sharpening each Blue No. 2, I’d carefully place it back into the container, point down, so that the decorative properties were maintained and hopefully, Cary would never find out.

I told my best work friend in that office what I was doing. Soon, word spread and after a while, everyone was in on the secret joke we had on the boss. It ended up being a morale builder. It was a great bonding experience for the group: Us vs. Him, Administration vs. Rank-and-File. Sane vs. Certifiable. It was fun. 

Sadly, the office joke version of the law of diminishing returns came into play. And soon, the “sharpened” pencils outnumbered the “unsharpened.” Eventually, Cary discovered the prank. He was not happy. 

One day at an all-staff meeting (there were 40 of us in the two departments he “supervised”) he departed from the agenda and went on a full-froth tirade against the unknown “scum” who had dared to touch his pencils. For 20 minutes, he screamed and ranted and raved. He demanded that the guilty person identify him or herself immediately. Then he stood silently, fairly vibrating with anger, staring down the guilty parties in front of him around the room.

I waited a few minutes – just to enjoy the show – and then raised my hand. “I did it,” I said, proudly. “And I’d do it again.”

He stood there facing me, red-faced and angry, his eyes wide and the veins in his neck bulging and throbbing, his hands shaking. “Peggy, YOU did it? You sharpened my decorative pencils? Why, why?” he shouted.

“I had to,” I said, with a slight smile and a shrug of my shoulders.  “Most of the time, the pencils were the sharpest things in your office.”

Things I’ll never do before I die

September 23, 2010 2 comments

I watched The Bucket List recently for the 30th-something time. Other than the fact that I have a huge old guy “thing” for both Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson (yeah, I like the bad boys) that watching this movie satisfies, I always come away from that flick with a new bucket list of my own.

Only on my latest list, the things aren’t what I WILL do before I die…they are what I will be sure NEVER to do before I kick the bucket.

Public dancing of any sort: waltz, salsa, ballroom, tango, country line, swing, popping, waving, tutting or even the merengue. It doesn’t look good on Margaret Cho or David Hasselhoff and it sure as hell won’t look good on me.

Drive a SMART Car. There isn’t anything intelligent about sitting on top of a blender motor, wrapping oneself in aluminum foil, and then driving 65 MPH on the freeway.

Dye my hair blonde. It’ll never happen because if it did, in my mind’s eye, I’d see myself as the trim, lovely, ultra-cool, Tippi Hedren as she starred in Marnie, circa 1964. In reality, I’d look like Marilyn Monroe, as she starred in her autopsy photos, circa 1962.

Visit the Great Wall of China. So, to visit the Great Wall, I have to fly 13 hours, take a five-hour bus ride from the nearest nice hotel, walk all day and then take photos of a rock wall while being jostled by 1,000,000 other visitors and the locals, all angling for the best shot. Hmm. There’s a reason people build walls: they want everyone to stay on the other side. Consider me compliant.

Allow my grandchildren to call me pet names. Nothing says disgustingly-cute-yet-disrespectful like hearing a little kid pipe up, “I love you, MeeMaw!” Or, “Pop-Pop, can you give me a horsey-back ride?” Ugh. If I had ever called my Grandfather Ryan “Pop-Pop” to his face, I would have been spitting Chiclets for the rest of the day. Note to future grand-offspring: call me Peggy (or Grandma, if you must) if you want to stay in the will (and keep your teeth).

Eat kale. It’s green. It’s slimy. It has loads of vitamins and minerals and absolutely no taste. Pass me the garden hose. I’d rather eat that.

Watch the “Matrix.” I hate migraines. That movie is a $63 million migraine waiting to happen to me. Not enough Advil in the world to ease that cinematic pain in the brain.

Cheer for the New York Yankees. No way. I’d rather die. Or eat kale. Same difference.

Let a mime entertain me. The “work” of mimes, clowns and any incarnation of the Blue Man Group or Cirque du Soleil is “entertainment” in the loosest form of the word. I despise nonsensical, in-your-face entertainment – the calling card of mimes and clowns. Blue Man Group and Cirque du Soleil take that freakishness to a whole new level: bizarre, pointless, un-funny intrusions of my space bubble emanating  from grimacing, writhing, blue- or snakeskin-painted bodies. It is my long-held belief that Cirque du Soleil escaped from the LSD-soaked mind of Dr. Timothy Leary. I hope someone will taser it and send it back where it belongs.

Join a booster or fan club. Have you ever MET me?

Eat Turducken. Although the Food Network cooking shows make it look fun and tasty, this quaint little dish – consisting of a de-boned chicken stuffed into a de-boned duck, which itself is stuffed into a de-boned turkey – just can’t be on any of my menus. Let’s just say I make it a policy never to eat anything that has the word “turd” in it.

Tweet. Oh, sure, my workplace is connected to Twitter. I am not. People who have egos bloated enough to need to constantly remind others of every minute detail of their lives are the people who put the “twit” in Twitter. Besides, if I am ever doing something as fascinating and unbelievable as eating kale and watching the Matrix while wearing my Yankee cap and dancing the cha-cha on the Great Wall of China…I’ll be dead.

And I’ll need a helluva lot more than 140 characters to “tweet” about that.

I had this friend…

September 22, 2010 6 comments

When I was in the sixth grade, my best friend Margaret Kearney moved to California. I was devastated. I was shy and introverted and didn’t make friends easily…but Margaret was my true friend.

She was little and pixie-like and fun and lively and we hung out together after school every day. We whispered our little girl secrets, talked about crushes on boys, giggled a lot, played baseball whenever we could, and sang Monkees songs until we were hoarse. Best of all, we had a special bond that came from sharing our weird, old-lady name: Margaret. Then, she was gone.

So, that year, when I was 12, my mom soon tired of me moping around and made me call up other classmates to set up what we would now call play-dates. Back then, it was just a call to see if these “friends” would like to come over and hang out. I called three people. They all refused. I cried for two days. “That’s what I get for trying,” I yelled at my mom, who probably wondered how she had gotten me, a painfully shy, shrinking wallflower, in the midst of the other three rambunctious funseekers that were her other children.

Making friends hasn’t gotten a lot easier for me in the intervening 41 years. I have what can best be described as a “difficult” personality. I am rather direct and, some might say, I have a slight tendency toward the negative. In reality, I am a realist with lots of real-life experience in what’s real. Really.

Still, I sometimes envy groups of women I see out together enjoying “girls night out,” a special “friends” ritual to which I have never been invited. I’ve missed out on things like “girl talk,” and “playing cards with the girls.” When I was married, I had some work friends; together, we had no “couples” friends at all.  Even today, I am a little jealous of couples who dine with, travel with and can count on their close, “couples” friends to invite them to barbecues and bonfires and football games.

Sometimes, when I watch these friends couples, I feel a little like Barbara Stanwyck in the weepy old movie Stella Dallas: standing in the rain, wearing a cheesy dress, mascara running down my teary face, outside the restaurant window looking in at the shiny, happy couples enjoying the high life with their friends.

So, why don’t I have many friends?

Well, I am definitely not a “hope, love, faith, bubbles, rainbows, puppies, kitties, pink ribbons and Care Bears” kind of gal. I call a spade a spade…and a moron, a moron. I can be moody. I swear and complain and am sort of a Glass-Half-Empty-Old-Milk-Ring-on the-Bottom-of-the-Glass-Not-To-Mention-A- Big-Chip-On-The Rim-of-the-Glass kind of person. Some people find that off-putting.

And some people don’t. I like to call them my friends. And I have had friends.

I had this friend…

…who wrote a story about me in which she described my personality as “navy blue…with flashes of orange.” A shy girl, she also stood up in a high school class meeting and told the other juniors to be nice to me and help me out after I returned to school after a year-long illness. We shared a love of baseball and the Detroit Tigers, of books and movies, and of relishing our status as “nerds.” Never invited to a prom, we nevertheless dressed up in prom dresses and posed for prom pictures with our invisible dates. We had many happy times together…went on road trips across the country…drove to our shared urban university together every day for the first two years of college. Then she moved on…to grad school, marriage and a child, and a job a two-hour drive from where I lived, worked and had my own family. I’ve only seen her five or six times since 1992. I miss her a lot.

I had this friend…

…who loved hockey as much as I do. We played hockey on a women’s club team. We went to Red Wings’ games together for years. We traveled to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. We got all dressed up for the traditional New Year’s Eve Red Wings’ game every year for a decade. We got hilariously drunk together at parties on summer weekends at my sister’s house. She and I babysat a lot…watching the children of friends and relatives because we loved babies but didn’t have any of our own. We laughed at world’s skinny, pretty princesses together. We went on crash diets together with the unspoken desire of being skinny, pretty princesses ourselves…just for one day. It was one of my life’s most special moments when she called me to be present at the emergency C-section when she gave birth to her daughter. Then and now, I’d trust her with my life. She’s busy with her own life now, owning a business and taking care of her mom, her husband and daughter. I haven’t hugged her in two years and that hurts my heart.

I had this friend…

…who made me laugh the first day we met. I was wearing my usual tough-chick-doesn’t-need-anybody-screw-you-buddy look on my face when we were introduced. He was the new reporter/photographer at the weekly rag where I was the sports writer. Ten years older, he was witty and fun and just two hours after we met, he shattered my tough-girl facade when he read aloud a news story about a famous young starlet who had just been married. “To whom,” I said, feigning interest. “Leo Durocher,” he shot back, not missing a beat. A friendship was born.

Over the years, my favorite U.S. Marine and I had lots of interesting times: writing comedy scripts, poking fun at the world and spending too many Friday nights drinking rum and coke at the local drive-in, watching awful horror movies until 2 a.m., and then retiring to his house (full blessings from his wife and kids) to eat pizza, finish off the rum, laugh at Monty Python reruns and watch the sun rise. He’s divorced now and lives alone back in Michigan, working doggedly toward retirement. He emails me every now and then…but hasn’t been around in about a decade to give me a real belly laugh. I miss that and I miss him.

I had this friend…

…who seemed like he could see right into my soul. He’s told me things about myself that I never knew and it turned out that he was mostly right. Ten years younger and from a very different background, he was smart and funny and “got it.” Hanging out with him was exciting and dangerous and flat-out fun…things I could never be all by myself. 

We’ve laughed and bantered, argued sports and debated religion and guzzled copious amounts of pricey wine together. We’ve watched tons of our favorite sports, navigated many rough roads together at work, and had a blast traveling on business and coming back with the stories to prove it. He listened to me sing my one and only karaoke song – appropriately enough, Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” – and told me that when I sang, he could “hear my inner teenager.” We’ve danced to Sinatra in his living room at midnight on a school night and sang Kid Rock in his car on the way to the Tigers’ game. He has shared a shoulder while I cried about my children’s challenges. And I’ve held his hand while he cried about never finding his true love or real peace in his life. We’ve grown apart recently – I don’t really understand why- and it’s awkward. I miss him terribly.

But I do sense a pattern. And, thinking about these friendships then and now, I suddenly realize that once again, there’s a big hole in my heart where a good friend would fit perfectly. I wonder what Margaret Kearney is doing these days.

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