Observations on the human condition

Speaking Ill of the Dead

A few years ago when Jackson was playing youth league basketball, he jammed his finger pretty badly and we ended up at the ER, and then we were referred to a hand specialist because it was a weird break. The bone at the tip of his finger had actually split, like if you took an ax to a log. There’s a name for that type of break but I Google image searched and couldn’t find an example, and now I’ve creased my brain with so many truly horrendous hand injuries and I’m not even done with my first cup of coffee.

Jackson’s break was small and it healed up well, but the hand specialist kept telling us to come back for what felt like unnecessary follow-up appointments. I began to feel like we were being milked for not only our precious time but for $50 copays. Did he need to finance his winter trip to Arugula, I wondered? (I mean Aruba, you knew that, but I left Arugula because it’s funny to watch someone’s mind crumble.)

Here comes the point! I titled this post for a reason! So this last Wednesday it was starting to rain, and everyone around here gets edgy now when a storm comes in because enough water could trigger another debris flow through the areas that burned in last December’s fires. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a video from the moment last January 9 when a couple of Highway Patrol guys realize that they need to get the fuck out of there:

I started this post feeling kind of jokey about the whole thing but now having watched that again I’m all choked up. It was so awful.

Because the place where I work is a hub for the Warming Centers, where people can come and sleep and eat and get out of the cold when it rains or the temperature drops below 40, people who need shelter tend to gather outside my office to wait for the shuttle bus. I am not supposed to let people hang out or stow their stuff or use the restroom, but I will occasionally make an exception. Wednesday a slightly addled woman showed up and I went outside to see what her deal was, and I ended up listening to a long, substance-fueled monologue about some recent not-great events in her life, including an ugly hand wound that had required stitches and antibiotics and a trip to (ah ha) the same hand surgery office that I’d taken Jackson to for his broken finger. Except now it has a memorial plaque in the waiting room with a photo of Jackson’s finger doctor, because he was swept away and died last January 9 in the mud slide, along with his daughter.

Then a cab driver got out of his car and came up and started arguing with the addled woman, accusing her of stealing $10 from him, and I wandered back inside. When I looked out again later the woman was sitting on her duffle bag and crying, and then my office mate, who is much kinder than I am, brought her out a cup of coffee and a candy cane.

A ball bounces up a Penrose staircase while a Shepard scale plays. The staircase is everlasting, and the Shepard scale creates the illusion of tones that steadily rise, but don't actually seem to get anywhere. This is a combined audio and visual illusion.

Whatever Makes You Different Makes You Pretty

I’ve been going through my drafts folder and inadvertently publishing ten-year-old posts about caulk and LeBron James, which is kind of a funny glimpse back into the mind of the person I still, basically, am. I saved the title of this post on September 19, 2007, and “whatever makes you different makes you pretty” was probably a notion that struck me while I was doing the dishes or photographing action figures pretending to talk about Downton Abbey. (I only have the dialog from that particular post I was paid to write for Babble.com, and sadly they’ve taken it down. I wish I had backed up the photos I took of the entire cast of Twilight action figures I once purchased so I could pose them talking, in character, with Hulk and Iron Man about the new maid who was lying about her past to Lord Grantham.)

My mom having a good time by a lake in Minnesota in the early 1950s.

As far as brain secretions* go, however, “whatever makes you different makes you pretty” has some merit. It might have come out of remembering the time when I broke my nose, and after it healed it had a bump in it. My mom wanted to pay to have the bump removed. I declined her offer, because I sort of liked the change, to be honest. I liked feeling that my face had been roughed up a bit, that pretty wasn’t as important as the lesson I learned about my own ego after being a showoff on a bike and having my face ground into a stucco wall. My mother’s own nose was scarred after a childhood run-in with a door frame, and she never seemed to mind the way it looked. She had a tiny bit of a pug nose. Maybe she owned that nose of hers, maybe she realized that was part of her work, not to be bothered by the scar from a split nostril. She also had one eye that was half blue and half brown.

If we listen to the Taoists, we’ll see that when some things become pretty, then others become ugly. If you start dividing things up into good/bad categories, all you’re doing is creating a lot of suffering.

* Uchiyama Roshi said,

“Thoughts are the secretions of our brains, the same way as stomach acid is the secretion of our stomachs.” The brain is a bodily organ with a job to do. It digests the impressions it receives the same way the stomach digests the food it receives. We don’t pay close attention to every little thing the stomach does to get on with its work, and we don’t need to pay close attention to what the brain does either.

But we’ve all developed the habit of being obsessed with the content of our thoughts. It’s not easy to break that habit. People often want to learn some special technique that will change that habit.

This is part of a larger discussion on meditation technique that I found really useful. It’s also useful if you’re working on impulse control, or just being a more peaceful person.

Anyway, I finished reading True Grit yesterday, and every time I think about the end I start to choke up. It’s so good, honestly. I might read it again as soon as Jack finishes it, because I pressed the book into his hands with the kind of silent gravity that made him look taken aback and assure me that he’d start reading it right away. Because he’s probably going to spend the day on the couch taking his antibiotics and watching football anyway, so he might as well turn off the sound and read a novel instead, right? Ha ha, yes, that’s the way husbands work. I just rolled my eyes so loudly I could hear cartilage crunch.

Fearless Inaction

I got into my first #BlackLivesMatter argument with a stranger! It was not #superfun.

The organization I work for has a sidewalk sign and we change the message every week. Usually it's a short, inspirational quote, but it's a liberal organization so I'm often on my guard in case someone walks into the office and has a problem with whatever's out there. It's not really my job to defend the organization and its views -- I'm not a member, I just work there -- but often the higher-ups have better things to do than argue with strangers so my job sometimes entails defusing cranks.

Unfortunately, when Mr. All Lives Matter called our office this week, I did not have on my Welcoming Hat of Patience and Respect. Instead my plumage was bright with righteousness and spread wide about me, and soon, as witnesses will attest, I was just talking over the guy and he was talking over me and we were getting nowhere.

And I hate confrontation. You really have to push me hard before I snap. But after a couple of fruitless minutes where I'm sure my heart rate doubled, my many years in customer service finally kicked in and I just shut up and let him rant. Normally that's a good technique to use with angry customers, to let them explain the depth and breadth of their problem unimpeded. And maybe he just wanted to be listened to by someone he perceived as the problem, or the enemy, or just ignorant and in need of educatin'.

The second technique that works with angry customers is to find something neutral to apologize for -- "I'm so sorry this happened to you," is almost guaranteed to get them on your side and to believe you're actually going to fix their problem* -- but since there was no way on God's green earth I was going to apologize for my defense of our beleaguered Black brothers and sisters, Plan C was just to wait until he said something I could reasonably agree with, which he eventually did. 

"Politicians are all crooked, they're not going to fix this!" he said, almost pleadingly, which allowed me to jump back in and say, "I agree, this is not something politicians can fix, the people have to do it." This gave us both the out we were looking for.

"You know, I learned something from you today," he said approvingly, "and I hope you learned something from me, too," though what he taught me was to get to the listening part a lot faster next time, and then tell him to put it all in a letter to my boss.

*Do not try this with me, Blue Shield, I see right through you.

The best thing to counteract all the office drama was the fact that, because I work in a historic landmark building, it's also a Pokemon Gym, so all throughout the week people were standing around the courtyard or sitting on the steps staring at their phones and battling with their Pokemon. I admit, I tried to pit my completely underpowered Rhyhorn against a champion Charmeleon, who immediately handed me my own ass.

My editor.

I am now on what appears to be the final draft of my manuscript, and that is #superfun! I love editing and rewriting, it's the best part of all of this. I would tinker with this book for years, I would polish and touch up until I die but Jack would probably kill me first (I know that makes no sense but believe me, he'd figure out a way).

I still have no health insurance, but I've been assured by my insurer that should anything happen to me while they're untangling the unholy mess they made, I'll be covered retroactively. Jackson would like someone to look at his shoulder but I haven't made the appointment yet because I don't believe either Blue Shield or the state will reimburse me. I know that sounds like I value my money more than my son's health, but his vague discomfort is not pressing enough for me to start writing checks to an escalating cadre of specialists. Please use this post as evidence of my neglect when Jackson's NBA career is cut tragically short by a career-ending rotator cuff injury.

You bitch!

Lastly, I'd like to recommend a few newsletters I subscribe to. Alice Bradley's Weekly Newsletter, of course. The Awl has a great one called "Everything Changes" and it always manages to say just the right thing when I need it. Sean Bonner's "The Crowd" always points me in good directions. And Meaghan O'Connell's "Like This" is a wonderful chronicle of her life as she writes a book and lives with her husband and young child while feeling somewhat adrift in the Cayman Islands.

Leaving so soon?

What's the Story

When something hard goes down that's outside my scope of personal experience, yet within my scope of human understanding, this is my first step: I empathize. There's an easy trick to putting yourself in someone else's shoes. It's a little thought experiment I like to call putting yourself in someone else's shoes.

There was a great Reddit thread where a bunch of (mostly white) people (men) posted their racist realizations, the experiences that woke them up to what shitheads they'd been. (The whole thread is here.)

This is the one that I still think about:

Close to Home

I had an unexpected reaction to the shooting that happened a week ago out at UCSB. I spent all last weekend reading all the articles and opinions and tweets that ran past me, and none of it was good news, but the thing that finally got me was when I went to work Tuesday morning and heard that one of our patrons claimed that the shooter had been hanging around the library the last few weeks. "Didn't you recognize his car? It was out in the lot all the time." That was some chilling news. And of course, it was possible to imagine a black BMW parked just about anywhere if you wanted, this is Santa Barbara, black BMWs are as common as frisbees. I don't ever remember seeing the guy's face, but sometimes people sit out in the lot in their cars before we're open and after we're closed, just to use the wifi. It's possible one of them was him.

So I don't know if the patron who claimed the shooter had been that close to us was making up this story just to claim his own piece of the drama, or if he really saw the shooter, or what. I do know that anyone can come to the public library and most of our patrons are interesting and kind and grateful for what we provide. Underneath that, I've learned that some of them are terminally ill, and some of them are mentally ill, and some are homeless and some are the most polite racists I've ever met, and I do my best to treat them all the same.

Of course, this shooter who felt bullied and ignored, me being nice to him wouldn't have helped. A woman my age would have been invisible to him. But so help me God, this is what I ended up clinging to in the wake of all this: Be nice to everyone. Listen. Be present. Say something funny whenever possible. Help them if you can, and if you can't, refer them to someone who can. Of course, that's my job, but I'm taking it more seriously than ever right now.

It's not a philosophy that will bring any of those kids back to life, and I don't know if it will prevent any more from dying, but at least it helps me feel like I've done my best by whoever shows up in front of me. And I refuse to live in fear of any of these gun-obsessed assholes.

END OF SERMON

On a brighter note, one of my friends from college died this month, and there's nothing like one of your peers taking off for points unknown to make you wonder if you're secretly growing a tumor or two of your own. I was commiserating with another friend who was in the same class, and we began to marvel at how many people from our relatively small circle at college are dead. Like, out of a loose coalition of 12-15 people, six are dead. Five of them went before the age of 40. One in his 20s, thanks to AIDS in the 80s before all the good drugs showed up. So, take care of yourselves, everybody! The darkness is closing in!

O.K., NOW THE SERMON IS REALLY OVER

The other weird thing is when a library patron dies. I mean, we work with a lot of old people. You get to know everyone, over time, and what they like to read, or what they're willing to try when they can't find anything they like to read. And then the day comes when you ask your coworker, Have you seen Mrs. X lately? And you check her record and see that she hasn't checked out anything in the last seven months and your heart sinks a little. People have strokes and become homebound, or one of their children comes in and hands us their card and asks us to delete their account. I used to marvel at a sprightly 99-year-old who used to come in every few days. He stopped coming in at some point, maybe I was on vacation or I just didn't really notice, it's not like I have a checklist although maybe I should. And then last week, seemingly overnight, another one of our regulars stopped being the guy who always brought us jars of homemade jelly at Christmas and turned into a thank-you note from his wife telling us how much he loved the library.

I'LL STOP, I'M SORRY. FORGIVE ME?

May is fucking beautiful in Santa Barbara, these jacaranda trees bloom with purple flowers all over town and it's heavenly. Unless you park under one and your car gets covered in smelly, sticky, godawful blossoms that ruin your paint. But apart from that: so beautiful! Here's a picture! Cheer up! Would you look at that!

jacaranda

My Weird Little Trip to CVS

Recently I had the opportunity to explain to a Millenial what a bottle deposit is. I wouldn't have bothered except that when she asked the cashier, who was ringing up the woman's giant bottle of Jack Daniel's, what the extra .05 cents was for, the cashier got flustered and said, "I don't know," in this dismissive way, like, "Whatever. Who understands anything?" Well, listen, CVS cashier with the Bettie Page do and knuckle tattoos, I don't normally go around shaming cashiers for not understanding every little burden you pass on to the public but why not let's try to dispel a minor ignorance whenever possible?

I took a breath before I butted in and said, "It's to encourage you to bring the bottle back to a recycling center, then you'll get your five cents back." And the woman was all, "Oh!" *flash of understanding* so I left it at that. I left it to her to recall the times she might have seen people digging through garbage to collect cans in order to turn them in for cash, since she might enjoy extrapolating this for herself in a quiet moment. Having the opportunity to relate new information to our own experience is what really cements a new concept, don't you think? Whether in the classroom or pre-paying for our hangovers at the drug store.

But then I got to thinking. Since I pay my bottle deposits and then toss my bottles into the recycling bin without getting my money back I was suddenly all, "WAIT A MINUTE WHERE'S ALL THAT MONEY I WANT IT BACK." (The Internet assures me that unclaimed funds collected on behalf of the bottle bill go to "program administration" (program administrators' annual Christmas trip to Honolulu) and "grants" (breakfast beers and Tylenol).)

On the heels of this new awareness came a moral dilemma. I was next up and the total for the box of push pins I was buying so Jackson's taped-up posters would quit falling off his wall was something like $3.31 so I gave Bettie Page a $10 bill and a penny. I've been making change semi-professionally for 35 years, sadly, so I do that shit all the time, here's two pennies and a dime and three extra dollars, just so I don't get a pound of small change back from every transaction. It makes me feel like my father but my collarbones were once made uneven from the weight of my shoulder bag and I am not having any of that anymore.

Maybe the line behind me was throwing her off, the feeling that all of these people were staring at her and willing her to go faster. I gave her $10.01. She stared at the penny and then looked at me like, What is this? Then she turned and punched $1.00 into the cash register. Naturally, the cash register said, A dollar? Did you not hear me correctly? I need $3.31. So Bettie goes, Oh, um, fuck, and punches in $10.00. Now the cash register was all, YOU GAVE ME $11.00 FOR SOME REASON and the cashier was all, GAAHHH HERE TAKE ALL THE MONEY, and just shoved a bunch of change into my hand. I didn't even question it, even though I knew she'd just paid me to shoplift a half-price box of push pins, because at that point I was 93% Wow, you really don't care you just want to get rid of me, and 7% YAY FREE PUSH PINS!

I'm not normally one to take advantage in these situations, but fuck this CVS. The same thing happened to me there last month with a cashier who was never trained on how to make change without depending on the register to do it for him, and who just mashed a bunch of buttons on the key pad and then probably lost his job at the end of the shift because his receipts were like math without numbers. But with that guy I took the time to recount my change and gave him back the extra, mostly just because he seemed kind, and who wants to see kids get fired in this economy? But with Knuckles I was less sympathetic, and I don't know if it was from some projected misogyny, or irritation at her hair-do, or the instinct to distance myself from an imminent anxiety supernova, but if I were her manager I would have somebody stand with her to oversee that shit or I'd put her back in the stock room until she realized that what she really needed to do was finish school and quit dating drug addicts.

THAT WAS A REALLY LONG STORY, MRS. KENNEDY

Well, sorry, I seem to really get bent over details these days. I am writing a novel sort of just to see if I can do it, and I'm finding that inventing emotional and physical detail like all that above is not nearly as easy as just remembering it.

OH, BOY

Last night I was coming in the door at 6:00 p.m. with two sacks of groceries and Jackson was lying on the couch and the first thing he said to me was, "Mom, just so you know, I was hungry so I ate three donuts."

And I was all, Seriously, son? I mean, I guess it's cute if you're becoming the voracious teenage boy who can put away two or three dinners a night, but come on. We're not there yet, are we? You're only twelve and where the hell did those donuts come from?

I MADE THIS FOR YOU

Lastly, here's a drawing I made for a yoga friend who donated to my Red Cross/Charity Water campaign last fall and guess what? I'm STILL not done with all the drawings I owe people and I'm going to have to start another campaign in a minute and I think I'm just going to do tote bags this year. Anyway, I am really, really pleased with this one and it makes me want to do more yoga-specific figure drawings. Just line drawings of happy people doing crazy things with their bodies, nothing fancy.

sonja_asana

Yesterday I was a jerk but today not quite so much

The astrology app on my iGoogle home page is so weirdly on-point sometimes that I am often happy to think that Venus, Saturn, and the bones of Copernicus are responsible for who I am today. But invariably I'll read one of those long monthly forecasts online that predicts the best days for me to plant corn or have an orgasm and I'll get all excited, and then I'll get mixed up and plant my corn on my orgasm days and then our garden goes CRAZY and I'm finding Doritos in my underpants. According to my latest horoscope, Wednesday was supposed to be some amazing career day where if I asked for a raise I'd totally get one, not taking into account the fact that I work for a government agency and am about as likely to get a raise as to get a city-sponsored hot air balloon to pick me up for work in the morning. Ironically, however, I finally got the insurance check for my totaled car and put it into the bank on Wednesday, so it was a big money day? But the astrologer who told me to ask for a raise maybe has a limited imagination about how creatively the stars and planets can reach into my wallet.

I have to say, there was some weird energy in the air around the middle of the week. We were watching the most recent Downton Abbey episode on Tuesday night and Jack made a crack about Lady Mary wanting to learn to cook and I burst into tears. Then Wednesday I just felt itchy and manic, which means I was probably tailgating you and thinking uncharitable thoughts about your inability to use your turn signal, and I'm sorry. I'm sorry I wondered what it would be like to smack into you if you opened your car door just a little wider and stuck your ass out just a little farther into the street without checking for oncoming traffic. I'm sorry. I'm sorry if I glared and complained into the airless dark of my goddamned rental car with its mushy steering and terrible shocks and lazy acceleration and ugly interior.

I was on my way over to Renaud's the next morning to buy croissants for an early morning staff meeting and as I got out of my car I sort of fell in next to this woman who was clearly going to Renaud's, too. It's awkward enough to be walking next to a total stranger through an empty strip mall, but she was walking at a pace that made me really anxious because I was going to be late if I didn't get my hustle on, but she was older than me and my God, who was I becoming? Someone who fantasized about clipping pedestrians and beating old ladies to the front of the croissant line? So I sped up to a trot and passed her, and she made this little gasping noise, and when I got to the door I held it open for her so she could go in first. SWITCHEROO. It was really funny how relieved she was to find that I wasn't actually a giant asshole. She ordered her latte and was so happy, now she wouldn't be late for school (she was a substitute teacher), and what did I do? Oh, libraries are wonderful! Librarians are wonderful, too! You're buying croissants for librarians? THAT'S WONDERFUL.

So I felt like I got my karma straightened out a little. I did some other nice stuff for old people that day, too, but I'm not going into it other than to say you need to watch out for some of those old guys, they are super flirtatious. I bet they know all sorts of things about plowing corn.

This drawing was a long time coming, it's for someone who got on board after I'd closed donations so she just sent me $20 and told me what to draw, which is a "witty, postmodern version of Alice falling down the rabbit hole."

alice

Get it? She's falling into a black hole! Which you might have picked up even if my little Stephen Hawking in the corner didn't tip you off. I put a stretched-out pocket watch in there for a reference to the March Hare with a dash of Dalí. (Like I need to explain that to you.) Anyway, this took an inordinate amount of thought on my part, plus I was intimidated by having an actual commission. I will try to get over it, because this was fun and I want to do more.

This was the best 5 minutes of my day so far

What I have to Offer from Eliot Rausch on Vimeo.

Charlie Kaufman's full lecture can be found here.

I saw something the other day that basically asked, why are you giving your life to Facebook? You're filling a site that's not your own with your stories, when they belong on your own domain. Facebook is making millions off your content, so consider what you're giving up for the opportunity to have a few dozen people give you a digital thumbs up.

This really resonated with me, especially after I posted the above video on Facebook this morning and only one person said HOLY SHIT THIS IS AMAZING and shared it on her own page. It could be that I've neglected this site long enough that I only get a couple hundred people to read it anyway, down from a peak of about 4,000 a day way back when. People say Twitter killed blogging, and it certainly drained some of the energy out of it, but Facebook has made blogging seem old-fashioned and quaint, almost hand-made. In 2001 I had to read a Webmonkey tutorial to learn how to make a hyperlink; building my own domain was an accomplishment akin to learning how to make sushi. And not everybody wanted (or had the time and resources) to do that before Facebook, so I can see how democratizing Facebook is, it gives anyone over the age of 13 a place to post nuanced political rants and cat photos in less than 60 seconds.

But I'm cranky enough to want to take my Internet life back to its original platform. It could be this feeling will pass -- God knows I've had some mood swings lately, tomorrow I may be running for office (I had a dream last night that Barack Obama hugged me). But I've been feeling a lack of meaning in my life for a couple of years now, and it's become so acute that keeping it inside is no longer an option. Sorry, Internet. I'm back.

Selvishness

I am reading a Martha Beck book. I didn't know who she was until recently, but it turns out that half the women I know are super into Martha Beck and her kooky, down-to-earth, life-coaching wisdom. I am digging Martha's vibe, despite the fact that life coaching is not the kind of work I've ever taken seriously. I've met one life coach in real life and she was full of shit, unfortunately, and any time I've read about life coaches their stories make me nervous, i.e., they woke up one morning and realized it was their calling to get other people to pay exorbitant, ongoing sums to wake up and find their callings. Be that as it may, I've loosened up and come to the conclusion that it's probably like any other profession: some people are great at it and give the profession a good name, and the rest of the people who do it fall somewhere on the spectrum between GIFTED and IF THIS DOESN'T WORK OUT I'M GOING TO GO BACK TO MY BOOTH AT THE CRAFT FAIR. (No disrespect meant to the craft fair booth-dwellers among us; the world would be a sad, sock zombie-less place without you.)

So, in this book, Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck talks about the difference between your social self, which knows how to get by politely in the world and make you seem acceptable to the general public, and your essential self, which may or may not want to dance with wolves, play naked in a jug band, run a marathon backwards, or leave society altogether and live in a windowless yurt in Outer Mongolia, which I've heard is the most beautiful place on earth.

Martha's idea about two selves coincides somewhat (somewhat) with what yoga has taught me, which is that we have five selves nested somewhat like Russian dolls, deeper and deeper within. Your outer doll-layer is your physical body, a.k.a. the food body (or the annamaya kosha), but beneath this is your energetic body (the pranamaya kosha) which is illuminated by the breath. Then comes your mental/emotional body (the manomaya kosha) which is what makes you feel like a distinct person from all the rest of us, and then within that you have the body of knowing (the vijnanamaya kosha) which is composed of your intellect and your five senses. Lastly and most subtly at the center of it all is the body of bliss (the anandamaya kosha) a.k.a. the causal body, or the soul, "the place of joy, peace, understanding, and union—the Seer itself."

Ideally, yoga can heal them all, but Martha seems to be focusing pretty much exclusively on the leap to bliss. I love her, but I'm not sure how she's going to help me achieve it. She has some great quizzes in the book, and I'm only on chapter three, so I figure if I go for a two-pronged approach (one Martha Beck book + yoga three or four times a week) I'll crack through the illusions caused by the poisonous seed of conditioned existence and start an online life coaching course by the end of the year.

No, but seriously. I have no idea what to do with all this information.

I love being part of the problem

I've lived in California for more than 20 years now and yesterday I was finally able to admit to myself: I don't ever want to get out of my car. I was at work yesterday and instead of taking an hour for lunch I arranged to take two 30-minute breaks, one at 12:30 to have lunch, and one at 3:15 to pick up Jackson from school. I didn't bring a lunch so I decided to go over to the sandwich shop because they're close, they're cheap, and they're fast as hell. They're cheap and fast because they don't bother with vegetables. You get meat, bread, cheese, something to make it all stick together, and that's it. The first time I went in there and asked for lettuce and tomato on my sandwich, the girl at the counter pointed at the menu taped to the side of the meat counter and said, "No." She didn't say, I'm so sorry for the inconvenience but we only make sandwiches out of things that don't bruise when you drop them. She just pointed to a list of meats, breads, and cheeses and said, "No." NEXT.

The actual point of this story, however, is the fact that the sandwich shop is about 350 feet away from where I work, and I drove to get my lunch. I got in my car, pulled out of the library driveway, turned onto the main road, took my foot off the gas and coasted 40 feet, turned into the sandwich shop driveway, and parked in a spot that had a wonderful view of the bench I would normally sit on while eating my lunch, and you know what? Fuck that bench. Yesterday it was windy and cold and that bench is made out of cement. Did I want to shove my napkin under my leg to keep it from blowing away? No, I did not. Nor did I want a bug to fall into my coke, grizzled pedestrians to veer inappropriately close, or my skirt to blow up and expose my pink thigh-highs to the people staring at me from the warmth of their cars while they ate their sandwiches and wondered what the hell was my problem.

Instead, I bought my Fritos, my Diet Pepsi, and my turkey-on-wheat-with-mayo and then brought it all back to my nice, warm aging-Volvo privacy bubble. I put my soda in my cup holder, balanced the Eastside Branch Library's copy of Mindy Kaling's Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and Other Concerns) on the steering wheel, and didn't talk to, look at, or think about any of the strangers on the other side of my tinted windows for 25 glorious minutes. I was so delighted and relieved to finally be vulnerable enough with myself to admit that this was the most relaxing lunch I'd had in years that I don't think revelation is too strong a word to describe my feelings. For so long I'd felt guilty about cutting myself off from the energy of nature or whatever it is hippies say to convince you to get out of your car, take off your shoes, and let the wind blow ecstatically through your hair. Hippies of the world: I love shoes and I don't have that much hair, and the energy of nature is unpredictable. As a matter of fact, it smells like jasmine mixed with B.O.

So, sorry all you city planners who spend your lives sweating over designs for usable, friendly, safe public spaces! Tomorrow I might take my car to the beach parking lot for lunch, and then maybe we'll hit a drive-in this weekend. We can double date with my husband's truck.

The view from the bench, which I could see just as well through my windshield, frankly.

The Chair

Yesterday, I got my teeth cleaned. It was a last-minute appointment so I got a hygienist I'd never met before. Let's call her Mira. Mira was pleasant but it seemed more important to her to be professional than spend any time getting to know me. That's unusual for this dentist's office, since the dentist himself is such a goofy, chatty guy; normally I get a good chunk of life story from whoever's poking me in the gums, and they at least get the basics from me. But nothing is fine, too, Mira. Poke away in silence! I will meditate upon these ceiling tiles and form my plan for world domination. Bwa ha.

So after a few minutes of poking and scraping, Mira sits back as says, "Do you have trouble with acid reflux?" I say, No, why? "There's some wear on the back of your front teeth consistent with what we see in patients with acid reflux." Now, the other type of people who get that kind of wear is bulimics, but she can't ask me if I throw up to stay skinny, she has to start with something that sounds less accusatory. I get that.

"What's another way you'd get that kind of wear on your teeth?" I ask, because I want to see if she says "barfing up your guts all the time" or "losing your lunch due to body dysmorphia" or what.

"Purging," she says. "Or sometimes our pregnant patients get it, if they have extreme morning sickness or acid reflux from the baby --" She mimed having a baby bump so large it pushed her breasts toward her throat. My god! A gorgon baby! You'd never stop throwing up!

She poked around a little more until she found something else to be suspicious about, with her dental forensics mind. I have a lot of crowns due to terrible dental hygiene as a child (and by child I mean the first 27 years of my life), and a typical place for cavities to hide is at the place where the crown and tooth meet. I know what happens when they find a cavity in your tooth: the little probe they poke into it sticks. Cavities are grabby.

Mira stuck her probe in the suspicious spot over and over and over again, but it wouldn't stick. I knew she was waiting for it to stick, or maybe thinking that if she approached it from a different angle it would stick, but it wouldn't stick. No doubt she was mentally urging my tooth to crumble in her hands. "Be a cavity, you son of a bitch! STICK, GODDAMNIT!"

She finally called the dentist in to see if he could make it stick.

"Hellooooo!" he said, walking in and shaking my hand. "You look great! Have you lost weight?"

Mira looked at me knowingly. I felt like I was in some sort of Kafkaesque situation where people project their own fears and fantasies onto other people and think they're real. Oh, wait, that's called Life.

"I am not bulimic!" I wanted to shout. Instead, I said, "I cut my hair."

"It looks fantastic!" he yelled, putting on gloves so he could poke my tooth, too.

It turns out I do not have a cavity, but we're going to put some sealant on the spot as a preventative measure. It also turns out that Mira read my X-rays wrong and insisted for a full minute that I had a crown on a tooth that did not actually have a crown. She also doesn't like it when people use Glide floss, even if they double it up to make it thicker, like I do. No, don't do that! It's bad! Use this other floss that is stretchy and weird that Mira approves of! And not because Mira is in the pocket of Big Floss!

"Mira recommends that I stop using Glide floss," I said to my dentist when he was done poking my tooth.

"Mira has a different flossosophy!" he shouted.

I scheduled another cleaning in six months, and I hope I don't get Mira again, but a part of me hopes I do. What other dental crimes will she subtly accuse me of? Vampirism? Circus Geekism? Should I show up with small feathers in my teeth, my breath smelling of roadkill? I mean, I have better things to do than bait an otherwise perfectly normal dental hygienist, but when you're staring at ceiling tiles having your gums poked, the mind does tend to wander.

UPDATE: So this just happened -- I went to CVS to buy floss with Jackson, and as we were standing in the floss aisle and I was explaining to him that my dental hygienist told me not to buy Glide, a woman standing there turns around and says to me, "I'm a hygienist. I hate Glide, too. It doesn't work." And then she told me that if my teeth were close together and regular floss always frayed and broke, I should buy satin floss. SATIN FLOSS, FOLKS. Oral-B makes a thing called Satin Tape and I bought it! The end.