Chasing the Carrot (With Ranch Dip)

My nephew recently bragged about eating 35 chicken wings at an all-you-can-eat wing event at his local Hooters. I argued that 35 wings is the meat equivalent of about one-half of a chicken breast, and I suggested that I could easily eat 35 wings. I only stop eating wings because I get bored or feel a sense of shame, not because I am too full. I believe that the act of eating the chicken wing, especially with the constant napkin use, the dipping in the blue cheese, and the sweating from the heat, burns at least enough calories to offset the wing itself, so the activity could probably sustain itself in perpetuity until I get hungry and need to actually accrue some calories, and that is why they created French fries.

I don’t eat to live—I eat to fill dark holes of despair in my soul, so it would really be a step up to eat for cash and prizes. I recently watched the Nathan’s annual hot dog eating contest, and I was confident I could be a top contender, but I would never actually enter because I do not want to be shown on national television shoving wieners into my mouth. Also they weigh you and then display your weight on the screen, which would make it much harder for me to argue that the camera added ten pounds and about 45 wieners.

Maybe an eating contest would be like my version of The Bachelor. If they ever did a season of The Bachelor for the over-thirties, I could probably win because I am a great girl, and my default attire is usually dressy-casual-pool party, and I put out. But they will never produce such a show because people over the age of 25 are gross. My best chance for going on national television and humiliating myself would be on a show about food. Maybe Woman Versus Food where I try to conquer all the eating contests that Adam Richman failed. When I watch his show from the comfort of my home, while starving because I had a side salad for dinner, I yell, “Come on, MAN! You only have 37 bites left. Grow a pair, ok?” That could be my tag line. I would say it as the credits roll, and I am shown puking in a parking lot.

I sometimes make smart choices about food, and I exercise with a crazed sort of passion that more closely resembles the way an alcoholic has to have a drink than the way a healthy sane person tries to make time for a jog, so I am not overweight, but I never get too cocky because I know that I am always one emotional breakdown and three large pizzas away from buying all new pants. I have never made any claims to having a sensible relationship with food. I have very few sensible relationships, so I am not going to waste one on hamburgers. I will always choose the wrong hamburger—one that is completely unrealistic or on someone else’s plate. Maybe even a turkey burger. Or a truck driver burger.

When I am planning my next meal, I don’t just open the fridge and pick something out—I stalk my food first, and then make a decision based on vanity and impracticality. Yes, there is the rest of that turkey sandwich, but all the bread and mayonnaise is sort of fattening, instead I think I will make some stir fry, which requires going to the store first, and then washing and chopping vegetables for an hour, and then usually involves me getting bored and drinking two beers, eating the rest of the sandwich, and an insanely large portion of stir fry, feeling guilty, and then crying myself to sleep. The next morning when I open the fridge and see the stir fry leftovers, I just feel remorseful and dirty.

If I am already only using 10% of my brain, I am using at least 4% of that to think about my next meal and 5% to analyze what I did wrong with my previous meal, so I am probably only using 1% for everything else at any given time. When I am actually eating, my “thinking about food” brain usage spikes to max capacity, especially if I am eating pizza, and I have to remember how to decipher a pie chart. With pepperoni. 25% of the chart represents the amount of the pie that I should reasonably eat (equal to the amount that I will tell people I ate), and then after that the pie is divided into a rainbow of tiny pie slivers that reflect various levels of emotional instability as I eat more and more pizza. Then at the end the entire pie chart disappears because I ate it.

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Parenting Wins

The single most difficult moment in parenting happens right after your kid draws the gingerbread man card in Candy Land. When my son was little he would sob uncontrollably, and I would have to spend my entire afternoon rocking him to calm him down. My daughter just screams and then sweeps everything off the board like she is Godzilla terrorizing a sleepy fishing village. I have considered removing that card, but then I feel like I would be cheating them of a valuable lesson. Also, it keeps me from dying of boredom while playing.  As my kids near the candy castle, I wince each time they draw a new card, and then let out a sigh of relief when the card is a single orange square. When I draw the gingerbread man, I exaggerate how accepting I am of my fate. I shrug my shoulders and say that it is just part of the game, “Oh well. I can still catch up, or whatever, King Kandy is not really my type. ” It is very similar to the way I act when someone dumps me. “I totally understand. Good decision. There are still a few good years left before I just give up, move to Florida, and become a crack whore.”

A similar parenting danger zone is when we play a game and I win. This happens all the time because I am smart and great at games. Also I am 39. When my son was little I took him to a child therapist because he was so competitive and would get crazy mad whenever he lost. She played a game of Uno with him while I watched. She let him win. “Oh,” I said. When I was growing up my mom never let me win, and we weren’t playing games like Candy Land or Uno. We were playing Spades and Gin. She knew every card that had been played and what was still left in both of our hands. “You know the Ace hasn’t been played yet, right?” She would say. No, I did not know that because I was five. After my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I played a game of Gin Rummy with her and my mom. It was my mom’s idea, and I was not sure it was a great idea because my grandmother had spent most of the afternoon telling me to get the baby out of the bathtub, which was terrifying until I remembered we did not have a baby. My grandmother won, and then she lit a cigarette and fell asleep in her chair.

After you have survived watching your children deal with the pain of being a loser, everything else in parenting is easy, as long as you can get a good night’s sleep, which is never going to happen. Before you have a baby, people warn you about the sleep deprivation. I don’t blame them. It is sort of like if your friend survives climbing Mount Everest, and you mention that you are planning to attempt a similar quest, he doesn’t just say, “Meh. No biggie.” He shares his experience to prepare you for the physical and mental challenges. Maybe the impetus to share is based a little more on bragging than sincere concern for your well-being, and maybe he is a little bit of a condescending asshole, but he survived, and he earned it. However, what people do not tell you is that you may never actually sleep through the night again, the way someone who recently climbed Everest might not mention that there is not actually a bar with tank top wearing models serving ice cold Coors Light at the top.

Yes, sleeping with a newborn is tough, but as kids grow they just continually reach new milestones that interrupt your sleep. There is the crawling out of the crib stage, the bed-wetting stage, the scared of the dark phase, and then there is the stage after your kid learns about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse, and she is too terrified to sleep, or you really slip in the parental control department and your kid watches The Hangover 2 and has nightmares about one crazy night in Bangkok. Then apparently there is the stage where you don’t sleep because your kid is out driving around doing all the things you definitely did while driving around as a teenager, and you question how you could get that lucky twice.

In my house, we are currently in the nightmares and fear of abandonment stage. Earlier this week both my kids were in my bed in the middle of the night, like a couple of 50-pound newborn babies. My son had a bad dream. He said, “You know the conductor from Dinosaur Train?”

“Say no more,” I said.

My daughter whimpered in the background, “I can only sleep if I am with someone.”

“Say no more.”

I led them back to their rooms and spent time passed out in each of their beds. We all switched places multiple times, our three paths crossing up and down the hall like our own little disoriented trail of tears—mainly mine. Finally, as my daughter stood in the hallway holding her blanket, sucking her thumb, I just got up and shut my door. In her face. I found her the next morning in her brother’s room. There will come a time when I am no longer around, and they will have to take care of each other, and maybe that time is 3 a.m.

The next day I was tired, but that is just the parenting new normal. Maybe we will get through this stage soon, but there is just another one gearing up right behind it. I remember when my daughter used to bite people, mainly adorable little babies. She would grab their cheeks and then just go in for the kill. When she was in preschool they moved her up to an older age group class because those kids were better able to defend themselves. I told everyone she was just really advanced. I tried a lot of different methods to get her to stop: I removed her from the situation, I bit her back, and then I even resorted to something I like to call “deliberate ignoring.” This is my favorite style of parenting where I just pretend like nothing is happening. I like to think that it keeps the kids from getting attention from bad behavior, but also I am pretty lazy. Eventually she stopped biting, and we moved into a new difficult phase. I know that eventually my kids will not care about winning Candy Land. They will move onto bigger and better games, and it will be even more exhilarating for me when I win.

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Turtle Envy

I just moved into a new house in my same town. I started by moving the important things, like my ceramic zebra. Next, I moved all of my sharks’ teeth, most of the art work, and none of my clothes, dishes or beds. For a brief, beautiful time, my new house was only full of the things I really adore, like my collection of Martha Stewart Living magazines dating back to 1997 and my vintage tablecloth collection (all rectangular!) and none of the things that I actually needed like the files full of all the important documents that prove I exist or shampoo or underwear.  It was sort of like living in an Ikea showroom, but eventually I had to move all the stuff that makes an actual life, like my children.

There are things I have collected that I love for no practical reason. Moving them was fun, like being a museum curator, but then after that, moving everything else made me really question my life choices, like do I really need plates? Maybe it is just society dictating to me that I need blankets and rugs and every single thing in that damn closet in the bathroom. What if I only had one colander?

Moving has also made me realize that I have almost no skills that are helpful to the moving process. I am not especially strong. I can’t work a drill. I don’t have a truck, and asking someone to help with a move is one of the biggest favors a human can do for another. It goes like this: donating a kidney, giving someone the gift of life, and then helping someone move. If my kids ever ask me to help them move, I am going to tell them that I already did that when I single-handedly moved them from my womb into the world. I started to notice people were scared to look me in the eye, especially people with trucks. They would see me in the grocery store, waving my arms and sprinting towards them with my cart, and they would just pick up the pace and disappear down the dog food aisle. I thought about lurking around the front of Home Depot, like a hooker. Hey handsome is that your truck? You looking to have a really terrible time?

This move is also about starting over. I went through a divorce this year, and moving is really about creating a new life for me and my kids. And because of that there has been a lot more crying this time than I remember with previous moves. I had to keep reminding myself, “turn around, don’t drown” every time I went to pack another closet. It really slowed the process down. I am reading a book right now by Todd Snider about his life as a musician, and he was told to try and always be fifteen minutes away from being able to pack up and leave. I am about three weeks off that time frame.

Freedom is just another word for not having any solid white serving platters. In the transition, as items were displaced from their posts at the old house and before they were secured in permanent positions at the new house, I saw them as momentarily unnecessary. My attachment to objects (except for all my magazines and that matching set of ceramic owls and my collection of colorful aprons) was relaxed. When I loaded up most of my belongings into a friend’s truck—now I am eternally indebted to him, so I really hope he has excellent kidney health—he did some finagling with straps, said it should hold, and then looked at me with an expression of, “Right?” I said if anything falls out, like the coffee table, the mattresses, or me, then just keep driving.

Maybe I could go to Mexico and live in a dirt floor hut and spend my days doing peyote thinking about how happy I am I don’t have cabinets to fill. Then when the drug cartel raids my place, I will just spend fifteen minutes packing up my Martha Stewart Living magazines, my KitchenAid mixer (with attachments), my set of four gold-leaf champagne flutes, and my grandmother’s light-up ceramic pineapple, and I will be out the make-shift door!

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Making a Comeback

I have made a life out of second chances. I spent almost two decades somewhere along the spectrum of “going back to school,” which always begins with failing out of school, something I had perfected with the following method: apply on an impulse after an intense existential talk at two in the morning, spend hours planning the perfect schedule with a killer spreadsheet, never actually go to class, then repeat! I am also in the process of getting divorced and feeling hopeful about my future. My life is overflowing with wadded up pieces of paper that almost make it to the trash can (still perfecting that rim shot). When I pen my self-help book to reach out to other adult losers, I will probably title it, Second Chances are for Losers (Like You!) and then there will be a mirrored sticker on the front under the title. It will be a best-seller and will make an excellent Christmas gift.

Try first, figure out how to fix it later. My highly successful secretarial career was built on this motto. I started working in a law office when I was nineteen years old. My only real skills were painting sunflowers and making epic mixed tapes, but anytime I was asked to do something, I just said, “I can do that!” I can prepare legal documents. I can fix the copy machine. I can change your carburetor. This was before I had access to the Internet, so I couldn’t just find a YouTube video to teach me. I had to figure out how to screw it up all by myself.

Once my office hooked up to the internet and I got my first email account, I started to actually enjoy working, and by working I mean sending out emails to my friends and family. I also found that email was a helpful tool in my dating life. Any shyness or sense of self-control that I appeared to possess in person did not exist when I sent out emails. The email version of me straddles the very thin line between being unwaveringly confident and being a creepy stalker.  And being a cyberstalker is somehow worse than being a regular stalker. A regular stalker might be a dangerous psychopath, but at least she is getting out in the world, maybe occasionally aiming the telescope up to gaze at the stars or smelling the gardenias in the bushes she is using for cover, but a cyberstalker is mainly just home alone, probably eating an entire Papa John’s Pizza.

I should have been applying to potential colleges, writing the great American novel, or actually completing the work I was assigned, but I found it more rewarding to send out emails to my ex-boyfriend like, “Remember that time you diced a habanero pepper and then you forgot to wash your hands before you took a piss?” The next thing I knew I was making out in the cab of a pick-up truck. Now that I have started dating again, I am dealing with a whole new arsenal of electronic communications, and I don’t even have to be at work, which is unfortunate because I was rarely drunk at work. Now I can sit on my couch halfway through a magnum of champagne and think that I really should get in contact with that guy who dumped me six weeks ago. And I should totally send a picture. For me, “Send” is just another way to say “Fuck it.” Usually halfway through my internal dialogue about how I could preserve my self-esteem and not embarrass—SEND! Then if I start to feel remorseful, I just follow up with a winky face.

As dangerous as instant access is, there is always room for a second chance. For starters, maybe he never got the first message. I can respond honestly and just admit that I am a flawed human being who is trying to figure out what the hell she is doing, or I can send a more provocative message, like the emoji of a sideways pointing finger aimed at the emoji of a hand doing the “ok” symbol. I have also tried to learn the value of getting it right the first time. What if I was less impulsive and did not always need a second chance? Sometimes I try to give myself a moratorium on sending out messages, like maybe I should sleep on it and if it still seems like a good idea in the morn—SEND!

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Love at First Sight

I was recently introduced to the never-ending entertainment that is reading the personals on Craigslist. I thought Craigslist was just where you went if you wanted to sell your motorcycle and then murder the potential buyers, I did not know about the personals. First, I love how the site recognizes that people of all sexual orientations and gender identifications can be total perverts. I also love how urgent and ordinary the ads seem, “Hosting blow and go until 3 p.m. No recip required.” There is a certain level of confidence with an ad like that, which I admire. It is similar to the “limit one per customer” marketing strategy. The deal is so good he has to set limits. The one closeted congressman that shows up can’t handle a blow and go at 3:15. That would be anarchy. Also at 3 p.m. the host has to leave to start his shift at Pizza Hut.

Craig’s List personals do not even try to masquerade as commitment-bound. They are not Match.com where at least there is some curtain of mutual interest. Like you he is also into the outdoors. Like you he is also a non-smoker. Like you he is also into aerobics. Craigslist does not pretend to find subscribers deep emotional or spiritual compatibility like eHarmony. Like you he also denies the existence of dinosaurs. Like you he also thinks erections are shameful. Like you he also secretly masturbates to Joel Osteen Ministries videos. No, Craig’s List is more about a 49-year-old-man seeking a woman age 18-29 (negotiable!) with a small to medium sized chest for a long term relationship.  Like you he also thinks Cancun is romantic. Like you he also ends every text with a random series of adorable emojis. Unlike you he is not allowed within 500 feet of any place children congregate.

The most entertaining Craigslist personals are the missed connections. These are posted by the type of people who will romantically sprint through security checkpoints in a frantic race to stop their true love at the boarding gate where they will then, unfortunately, be arrested for terrorism. “I talked to the older man you were with today at Harbor Freight. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of you. I hope to hear from you, I was the guy with the full beard!” Like you he was buying a tarp, some duct tape, and a saw. I wonder how many missed connection posts ever actually connect. What are the odds that the girl is creepy enough to regularly check the missed connections on Craigslist? What are the odds that the older man was not her boyfriend? (Ladies, when was the last time you were in Harbor Freight with someone who you were not sleeping with?) Maybe the older man was her kidnapper and her smile was a plea for help. She is not going to respond to your missed connection because she is a sex slave now. You were her only chance.

The more realistic missed connections are the ones who say they hope the person they are describing will message them or “any others for that matter.” If a man can find a connection with “the woman he saw at the liquor store looking sick in her Bud Light pajama pants,” then he can probably connect with anyone. Like you he is also into ironic loungewear. The missed connections walk that fine line between love at first sight and heat seeking missiles. They are like the unmanned drones of dating, maybe there is a potential target in mind, but more likely the goal is to get anything in the path of destruction to go down.

This essay was published in the June 2014 issue of The Funny Times.

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TGIF! June 6, 2014

Notes from my week in writing:

I received a rejection email from a publisher today three hours after I submitted. I like to think that is some kind of record! The standard these days is for publishers to send out responses by email at generally inappropriate times, like on a Friday night minutes after my date cancels so it is very clear that I am both professionally and personally unworthy. Also, it is usually after a long wait, sometimes six weeks or more, so I don’t remember that I even sent the submission out, and I didn’t know there was a possibility for someone to tell me that I am not good enough on that particular day. Most publishers have a standard email that states something along the lines of, “Due to the high volume of submissions we are unable to provide further feedback about your work at this time.” With this, the confident writer in me thinks the feedback could be that my submission was not the right length, off-topic, or the writing was just too funny, crass, or poetic. The non-confident writer in me assumes that they would tell me I am way out of my league, my writing is amateurish, and I am a sad little person. Also probably that I smell and my teeth  . . . they noticed my teeth.

At least with these rejections there is enough elapsed time to assume that people may have actually read what I wrote and even deliberated. I usually like to think that my work sat in the “maybe” pile for at least some duration, but with a three hour turnaround I can only assume that it was an instant diagnosis of: You Suck. The editor even signed the email with, “Thanks anyway” and then her name. I have read and reread this closing numerous times trying to make it sound better, even with different accents, like British, Jamaican, baby, robot, but it always comes across as condescending.

I have a theory about publishing and life: it is better to be rejected than to have regrets. Rejection is like pulling off a Band-Aid—it stings but just for an instant. The more exciting the possibility, the more it pulls at the tiny hairs. But regret is like a back ache, dull and debilitating, and it lingers. I would rather be covered in Band-Aids that are ready to be yanked off my flesh with an ambush of “thanks anyways” than to be immobilized on the couch with a heating pad.

So I keep writing. I am working on a non-funny memoir about my Dad with the working title: “Judge Judy.” I am also working on a humor piece about crying, and how I am constantly doing that (it is hilarious!) I have some submissions out, but I am terrible at keeping track, so at any minute I could be bombarded with rejection, and thanks to my phone, I can get that rejection anywhere, like while I am driving.

I wrote a poem  . .

Pilfering

I reach for gold coins as they fall from pockets with gaping holes.
I step into the night.
I brush past someone I used to love.
I’m transported by a swirling of words,
above yellow windows framing lives,
families, lovers—dishes clink, blue screens flicker.
I hover outside enviously narrating.
I plunge into steam.
I take the path from here. Always from here.

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Nine Minutes in Heaven

With my new alarm clock, I don’t even have to touch the actual snooze button to get my extra nine minutes—touching anywhere on the top of the clock triggers the snooze, so I barely have to be cognizant of the fact that I have fingers or that buttons exist, which is good news. Even when the clock is hidden under the balled up t-shirt that I put over it when I go to sleep—as if it is a canary and can be fooled by the artificial darkness—it still senses my hand and turns off giving me another nine or eighteen minutes, whatever it takes. The makers of this clock are obvious enablers, toying with my snooze addiction, probably sending out negative subliminal signals that make me want to stay in bed forever, “Go back to sleep, dear. You are probably going to die homeless and alone anyway.”

 

Every morning I feel devastated about the start of a new day, especially since I am already twenty-seven minutes behind, but I don’t hate my life. I barely even hate my mornings. There is coffee. I get to eat something, which is almost always enough to keep me interested in showing up. I even describe myself as a morning person but mainly just by default because I usually go to bed at 9:30 p.m., so I cannot possibly be a night owl. What I really am is a lunch person. I am almost always awake for lunch.

 

When that alarm buzzes there is a fleeting moment of clarity about the meaninglessness of life that makes me question my will to live. This is one of many reasons I do not sleep with weapons under my mattress. (The other reasons are all closely related to the street scene in Indiana Jones where the swordsman demonstrates his impressive sword-handling skills and Jones casually pulls out his gun and shoots him. I am definitely not going to be the Indiana Jones character in this scenario, especially in the middle of the night, but I’m probably not the swordsman either. I am most likely the hysterical bar maiden hiding in a laundry basket with a monkey, but I still find it best it best to keep weapons out of the bedroom.)

 

Maybe it is the carnal act of sleeping—an act based on biological need—that makes me question my mostly artificial life choices, like why I shave my legs, straighten my hair, wear high heels, drive 30 miles to teach high school students to write poems against their will, rush to a gym where I ride a bike really hard in place, and then sit on the couch watching people cook food on television, while I try to convince myself not to eat that last piece of pizza. Holy shit. Push the snooze!

 

I started snoozing in high school. My mom bought me an old fashioned alarm clock in an effort to help me break the habit, one shaped like an actual clock with two giant bells on the top. The noise from the alarm was loud enough to wake up the entire neighborhood, so eventually I just stopped setting it because I was exhausted from waking up by blunt force trauma to my ear drums. I was late to school a lot, until I finally caught a break and graduated. In college, instead of organizing a schedule around my inadequacies, I kept optimistically assuming that I could change. My mom bought me one of those alarm clocks with a radio, but it did not have a good antenna, so my alarm would just be static, like a white noise machine. It took me nine years to graduate from college.

 

I have started setting my alarm clock back in time so that I am not late for work, even if I sleep an extra thirty-six minutes. Every few months, I set it back a little further, so eventually I will just be sleeping for a series of nine minute intervals continually for the entire night. The feeling of turning off the alarm and drifting peacefully back to sleep—covers pulled up to my chin—is one of the most euphoric feelings on earth. Every morning I become more addicted, and I think at least briefly that I may never be able to get up. Why bother? I could quit my job. My kids could figure out how to pour their own cereal. It would be worth it. After about forty-five minutes of snoozing, I usually check my phone to see if anyone texted or called me while I was sleeping, and maybe I just didn’t hear it even though I sleep with the phone inches from my head.

 

The good news is that from there my day can only get better. It is similar to the way I like to start the new year—with a massive hangover. When I give up snoozing—almost every single morning—I have already overcome a major hurdle. I will eventually swing my legs over the side of the bed, curse, and grumpily wander to the bathroom—fifty-four minutes later. When I get out of the shower, I will still hear the alarm buzzing because I never actually turned it off. Usually one or both of my kids are in the bed sleeping peacefully through the sound of the alarm, snuggled up under heaps of downy covers, little tufts of hair sticking up like middle fingers, mocking me.

 

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