Author Archives: Grass Oil by Molly Field

About Grass Oil by Molly Field

follow me on twitter @mollyfieldtweet. i'm working on a memoir and i've written two books thus unpublished because i'm a scaredy cat. i hail from a Eugene O'Neill play and an Augusten Burroughs novel but i'm a married, sober straight mom. i write about parenting, mindfulness, irony, personal growth and other mysteries vividly with a bit of humor. "Grass Oil" comes from my son's description of dinner i made one night. the content of the blog is random, simple, funny and clever. stop by, it would be nice to get to know you. :)

What I Didn’t Do At Senior Prom

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Back in the last century I was in high school. In 1986 I was senior and around this time of year, I was invited to go to prom.

The boy who asked me was the captain of the football team. He was the president of the athletic boys’ service club. He was a nice boy and over the four years of high school we experienced at the same time, I barely knew him. So I was a little surprised he asked me, but flattered nonetheless. He had a sterling reputation.

I remember the occasion, we were in the senior hall. I was probably late to class or something and the hall was quiet; I even think it was after school.

He asked me with a note. Like a piece of looseleaf paper folded with letters in pencil that formed words on it.

I suppose I was an intimidating person back then?

“No! You were definitely never a ‘glass half-empty’ person, you were always upbeat!” my friend said to me today, as we compared notes about the situation.

But what this is showing me as I remember it, is that this boy really didn’t know me very well either.

I got along with everyone in high school. I didn’t belong to a clique, I sort of hovered in and out of groups. If anything, I was likely most in alignment with the “preppy” crowd, simply because I loved cotton. I knew athletes, I was funny, I knew a few of the vo-tech crowd, some of the super smart people thought I fit in with them. I would say overall, that my high school class was pretty inclusive or not very cliquey…? I suppose I will be corrected, but I feel like by and large, we all got along.

My nickname was “Buffy” because I wore a Buffalo Yacht Club crewneck sweatshirt often and because well, I was from Buffalo and I guess because I was preppy. But that was how you dressed in Buffalo. Button-down collars, turtlenecks, Levi’s, khaki skirts or pants, loafers, and fair isle sweaters. Because I came from the land of snow, I had LL Bean clothing up the giggy, and I did a lot of sailing, so I think I was already preppy by default.

I didn’t know a thing about Jordache jeans or Sassoon clothes or Gloria Vanderbilt jeans. The school where I came from had a uniform: you wore a hideous plaid jumper every freakin’ day with a yellow or white blouse with a Peter Pan collar. Every fourth Friday we got to wear pants. While I utterly hated that uniform, it spared me from years of serious wardrobe missteps however, I had a hard time adapting to the idea that you didn’t wear the same thing every day for the rest of your life. I am sure I suffered some style bruises. In short, I was a style dork.

That this particular boy invited me to prom, was interesting. He was not flashy in the least. He reminded me even then as an older man; his stride was awkward and stodgy. Our coupling would be most unpredicted, and possibly entertaining.

If there was any scuttlebutt about his asking me beforehand, I had no clue. I had a major-league, like the kind you read about, crush on his best friend, one that I’d had since the dawn of man for years, and so by simple crush-anxiety-association I knew this individual. I was pretty good friends with his best friend though, the kind of “heyheyeah!how’reyoudoingi’mgoodyeahokherecomesBipsysookbye…” good friends that left you running home in tears from the bus stop or punching the hell out of a pillow imagining it the girl he preferred instead.

I’m good. I’m good.

In laughing our collective butts off /reminiscing about those days today with a good friend, I can say with certainty that if I had one class with this person, maybe two, it was Senior Art (which was so much fun) and / or Senior English. My issue is not so much that I don’t remember now if we had a class together then, it’s that I didn’t remember then if I had a class with this boy then. My friend laughed and said, “Wow, you really didn’t really know him very well…”

So no… we didn’t spend much time together at all.

I have harbored this story for 30 years.

I’m not bitter about it anymore, but it’s time I shared it. After all, what’s three decades? Thirty years. 360 months. 1,560 weeks.

We have a ton of mutual friends on Facebook but he knows to not even bother asking me anything again.

There are handful of people whom I suppose know about my prom night. This boy, whom I will mostly consider gutless, me, my parents (one of whom is dead), possibly his parents (and they should be ashamed of themselves), a couple friends I told in frustration and tears about what happened, and possibly one more person.

So back to “The Ask.”

I call it “The Ask” because my own son has asked a girl to prom. His “ask” was themed after a film set because he and his date met in film class. Their arrangement and situation is very much as how I constructed mine for prom:

  • nothing heavy-duty,
  • everyone’s leaving for college in three months,
  • let’s not fall in love or even try, and
  • can we go as friends?

My son’s invitation was cleared a few hours before he did the formal “promposal” (bullshit that kids have to put themselves through these days) based on a movie set theme because they met in film class junior year. Regarding “promposals” I read somewhere that the average budget for a promposal is somewhere between $75 and includes tickets to Beyonce and $500. UM… FOR AN INVITATION TO A FREAKING DANCE… People… save the money for college. Prom will never have a high return on investment, trust me, I know.

My son’s budget was $22.19. We spent the majority of the money on movie theater candy and white pen markers. They are going to go and have a marvelous time. Mostly because they’ve known each other for about two years and there’s no weirdness.

Back to My Story

That my “The Ask” was written in pencil should’ve been a sign. I feel like I’m 80% sure that the “invitation” was multiple choice… as in:

Molly, Do you want to go to prom with me?

A) FUCK YEAH! LET’S GO! AND VEGAS AFTER?!

B) IS YOUR BEST FRIEND GOING WITH US TOO?

C) MMMMM…K.

D) WHO IS THIS?

E) WHY?

-the boy who shall not be named… yet

If I know me, and my sense of humor and my treatment of other people those years ago, I’m pretty sure I would’ve added a choice which would’ve been this:

F) “F” is for going as “FRIENDS,” right?

I was just beginning to have an interest in another boy who was also completely interested in me and was very clear about his interest. This boy would walk me to class and he would wait for me after mine. It was all very sweet, and new, and I liked the attention. The prom date boy was much more subtle, shy and not nearly as invested in me. If there’s any data to the contrary, I’d love to see it.

>crickets<

So while we were alone in the hall this one afternoon, I do remember seeing him in person and we talked about it. I had not yet really dated anyone for more than a couple dates at our high school. I had dated other boys from other schools. Most of the boys I knew were friends. I had two brothers and my relationship with my mother was often conflicted, so my “girlfriend time” was reserved for a few select girls, most of whom shared energies similar to my mother’s (as I later learned in psychotherapy) so those relationships were sort of conflicted too.

I had major crushes on boys in our school, and I was on the market for a date or a beau, but nothing like that had materialized. I actually thought I was invisible to boys for a very long time.

Anyway, I said yes, that I’d love to go to prom with this boy and I wanted to be very clear that “we were going as friends,” and he nodded (denoting comprehension and agreement) and even said something along the lines of, “Sure! Totally! Easier that way… I get it.” To me, asking someone to prom, which was about four weeks (three days, seven hours and 32 minutes) away from the invitation was hardly a first date. It was the expression of interest in HAVING a first date, at least by prom. Plus I had that other guy online. 

Look, I can’t imagine the pressure to ask someone to prom. So from that regard, we handled it well.

The next weekend we went to a movie, I want to say it was “Nothing In Common” (HA! That should’ve been a sign) starring Tom Hanks and Jackie Gleason. And in the dark, he leaned over to me, reached into his pocket, and asked me to hold his …

Asthma inhaler. No joke.

Snort.

I did. For 90 minutes I held his asthma inhaler. After the movie we went to an ice cream parlor. I am sure we chatted about the film as he drove me home. I didn’t write about any of it in my diary.

I’m sure we talked in the halls at school and I recall a few phone calls. We may have even gone to a party together or met up when we got there. I’m sure it was confusing to him (even though I was clear about it) that the other boy who newly held my romantic interest was lurking about.

The weekend following the movie, I brought him to a crab feast at a scrappy and established rowing club in Georgetown. My dad and mom were there as was one of my brothers, maybe even both. Putting a 5’10” asthmatic football player amidst a squad of 6’3″, 230# or stronger GodhelpmewhatwasIthinkingbringinghimtoallthatwhenIshould’vejustgonealonesoIcouldogle oarsmen was awkward for him I’m sure, but it was a social occasion and I was making an effort to include him in things, to get to know him better, and to do what I could to ensure we’d have a fun time at prom.

To me, I was reciprocating, doing everything “right.”

The next day, I went with my mom to a dress shop or the dress section of Garfinkel’s, a really nice store here in D.C., which had a “no-formal returns” policy, and I selected a lovely dress that was off-white / soft pink and reminiscent of the flapper-era (and being even then an F Scott Fitzgerald devotee I was all too ready to pay homage to my one true love) gown. It consisted of two parts: a sweet silk camisole-sheath dress beneath a gorgeous lace overlay with fringes and pearls. The buttons were covered in silk and went down the back. I had a nice pair of bone pumps to wear and my mom said I could borrow her string of pearls.

The next day I told him all about the dress and he nodded (denoting comprehension and agreement) and even said something along the lines of, “Sure! Totally! Easier that way… I get it.” (Yes, I used the same words as above because why not….)

Then either that same week or a week later, again by looseleaf paper, but this time in pen, was another note… the likes of which I will exploit because it’s my memory and my blog and while the wording might be off, the intention is on point:

Dear Molly,

I am a classless shit and I have no guts. I am turning tail and will not take you to prom even though I asked you three weeks ago, you said yes, we had an understanding, and you’ve bought your dress which is non-returnable. Instead, I will take someone else I asked the other day. She goes to another school, so you don’t know her. She said she would go with me and so I am an asshole. #sorrynotsorry

Can we still be friends? Please circle your answer:

A) Sure! No hard feelings. go to hell

B) I am a little hurt right now, but in time I will understand. I want you to have a good time at prom. go take a flying leap you asshole

C) Wow, this is awkward! Sure, have a great time! Love ya! go fuck yourself

and just for good measure I added one:

D) go fuck yourself.

-heath coward

I was humiliated. It’s not that I considered myself above him or better than he was, but who does that?! I mean really: who the hell does that?! Did his parents know he was such a shit? I never met them. Did he even care about what our mutual friends thought? I did.

All the boys with whom I was friends had dates already. The boy who I eventually dated around the time actually did take me out, but we couldn’t stay out too late. He took me fishing. Not exactly ideal and I couldn’t wear my dress, but I wasn’t alone crying in my soup. He was a nice boy and we dated for another six months or so and I cared for him a lot. It wasn’t meant to be and that’s OK, but he treated me well and took care of me that night. We are still in touch albeit virtual and very high level.

When I got home later from fishing (I still smirk at that), a good friend who had a limo and who’d dropped off his date due to her curfew picked me up and we went to a few of the afterparties. So I had lots of the fun and none of the pressure to put out, to get married, to HAVE A GREAT TIME NO MATTER WHAT!? or to leave. Vindication: the boys I hung out with later on said they’d had a better time with me and all our friends than they did with their dates. It was all just hanging out and I’m A FUN PERSON, DAMNIT!

So I didn’t go to my actual prom. But I was asked! And I said yes! And we had an understanding! So while I didn’t make a big stink about it, I didn’t keep it totally private. I was pissed but above all, I am a lady. I wanted to key his fake Mach 1 car. I didn’t. I wanted to booby trap him near his car so he’d step into a bag of dog shit and get it all over the inside of his car and it would stink for the trip to the prom, but I didn’t. I just ignored him…

COLD

AS

ICE.

I knew the girl he took instead. We’d met a few times over the year at games, parties and other events, months before he asked either one of us to the same event. I knew her through mutual friends. She was very funny, engaging, and outgoing. She didn’t (and still doesn’t) strike me as the kind of girl who would have said yes to him (or anyone) if she knew he’d already asked someone, especially someone she knew, who had said yes and who had already bought a dress. I know I wouldn’t have done that.

I may have some generalities confused and maybe some social events backwards or even not included, but I know for certain that he asked me to go to prom with him. I know for certain I said yes. I know for certain I held his “asthma puffer” during a movie; I know for certain I bought a dress and really loved it; and I know for certain he creeped out with about or less than two weeks before the event.

So when my own son asked his date to prom a couple weeks ago, I told him, “You better not welch on this deal. You take her no matter what. You take her. If she becomes a nun between now and then, you take her. If she falls in love and gets married, you still take her. If she confesses undying love for you even if you can’t reciprocate, you take her. If she asks you to hold her asthma puffer when you take her to a movie, you hold that puffer and guard it with your life. You take her. You still take her. DO YOU HEAR ME????????”

My son heard me. He will take her. She’s lovely. He’s classy. This is what you do. You don’t welch on a deal like that.

I’m not bitter. Anymore. Writing this was a little hard; I didn’t want to sound like a brat, but writing it brought me to I realize that I did nothing wrong. I have sort of been holding on to this concept that I caused it to happen, when I know I didn’t.  Catharsis can be fun!

Thank you.

The Mad Pooper

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This post contains the use of “shit” a lot.

Something is going on in my neighborhood and it is really strange.

When I was a kid, my grandmother used to say, “Don’t go on the grass. That’s where the animals go.”

I was a kid. Words mean things. Especially in their base sense. I didn’t understand what she meant.

Go.

Well, if you’re me, and a kid, you want to go where the animals go. You like animals. They’re animals.

Grandma and Grandpa lived near the zoo, so I thought, maybe a lion has been here. I would like to see that lion. Or a giraffe. Maybe a giraffe is in the back yard, or somewhere on the grass, like in a place that I couldn’t see, maybe behind that tall blue spruce pine she had on the corner yard.

Naturally, I’d venture.

ON THE GRASS.

HORROR.

My mother would hissper (I just made it up: it’s a confluence of hiss and whisper) and gesticulate, her arms flailing wildly, “GET OFF THE GRASS THAT’S WHERE THE ANIMALS GO!!!” as though I was some sort of baboon idiot, that’s where the animals go!!!. 

My brothers or cousins, if they were with me, would giggle. I would likely continue and make a jump to the narrow concrete walkway leading to the backyard, my cape unfurling with my leaps.

“Is this OK?” I imagine myself asking, while in all likelihood I just dashed toward the backyard or to the actual sidewalk toward our car, Grandma likely either passed out, or in a state of apoplexy because I’d gone where the animals go.

Go.

Lots of places were off limits when we were at Grandma’s.

The upstairs for one. I’ll never forget my intrepid oldest cousin, the leader of the pack, who basically decided one day that enough was enough. College was in the wings and she ventured up to the second floor, slowly in the dark because it was always unlit, creaking up the steps, one by one and into a room, we could hear the door open, and she RETURNED, ALIVE and utterly unchanged. The same person. Her hair was not suddenly gray. Her emotional state was totally whatever, teenager, unfazed… so bored.

“There’s just a bunch of boxes up there,” she said.

Just.

Like.

That.

The mystery vaporized. The way Grandma protected that space… Anything, ANYTHING, could’ve been up there: Jesus, a dead teamster, fresh candy, a carousel, a live chained grizzly, or a band of harpies…

But no. Boxes?! It never occurred to me that it would be boxes and a bedroom and no dead bodies or clowns or war criminals.

My grandmother was not a “fresh chocolate chip cookies from the oven stacked on a colorful stoneware dish served with a clear glass of cold refreshing whole milk at a table” grandmother. My grandmother was a “freshly opened bag of Oreos / Chips A’Hoy / Fudge Stripes placed on a floppy paper plate as you waited for a styrofoam cup of fresh skim milk at a table” grandmother. And that’s OK. What Grandma lacked in ease, she more than made up for in humor and kindness. And recitations of the rosary at 11pm when you were waiting for the return of your parents in her living room on the davenport.

So I think I finally got it this morning: “where the animals go.

Go.

She meant “shit.” Grandma meant, That’s where the animals shit.

I’ve been walking my kids to the same elementary school for the better part of nearly 13 years. We use the path we always have, not going where the animals go, and never in my time over the last two years, and this year especially, have I encountered literal dog excrement actually on the path, in a tidy pile or heap or lump. Sometimes it’s a lonesome part of a turd in one place and just when you think you’re safe, you encounter its scattered brethren about 12 feet down the line, smeared or simply waiting.

Dogs do not “go” on the path naturally; they like the dirt, grass, forest or mulch. Hell, they don’t even want to be seen on a sidewalk or path; dogs are fauna. Expecting your dog to defecate on concrete or asphalt is contrary to their Dogness, their very DNA. I suspect having a human following them around picking up their contributions to the ecosystem is an insult to their sense of being. I can’t say I blame them. I’d like to give up the habit altogether, but I know it’s not healthy for the community.

I digress.

So what the what with the people whom I’m convinced are out of their God-loving minds?! Who are very likely totally jacked-up on some substance and take their dogs’ leavings and purposefully deposit them on the paths?

If it were just the path to school I’d think that it was one dog and that it shits wherever it does because this is its way. That this particular canid was raised by ignorant humans and that it shits on the floor in the living room or kitchen despite its instinct to shit somewhere private, out of the way, because essentially the human place it lives has become its place.

So the owner takes the dog out and the dog shits on the path, on the street (no shit!) and even on the wooden bridges over the little streams in the ‘hood?!

To quote a dear friend, “Who does that?!?!”

Yesterday I took my dogs for one of our standard long walks. We were about two miles from the house. As we crossed a wooden footbridge where people like to fish near a pond, Charlie was ahead and he stopped in his tracks to lift his paw, sniff and move around a bagel-sized mound of “frexcrement.” (Another made-up word by yours truly, a blend of “fresh” and “excrement.”)

Charlie actually looked back at me as if to say, “Watch out, Ma, Cugo was here about 10 minutes ago and he’s really pissed…Step over this one… >sigh<…”  Murphy was disgusted.

So experiencing that turd pile so far from home blew my proximity theory: that the person responsible for either letting its dog shit on the path or for actually placing its dog’s shit on the path lived nearby.

I had a short list of suspects.

One is an jerk I’ve known and mutually disliked for years. He’s an ass and his dogs are massive, but I doubt it’s him because he walks that path too and as much as I dislike the guy, I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t boobytrap himself…

The other suspect is a tenant in a house we pass en route to school each day. It’s an out-of-state family whose reason for being here escapes me as I don’t see anyone in a military uniform or seasonally appropriate clothes ever. The woman is likely younger than I am but doesn’t seem to live on our plane(t) so she looks like she’s from the Medieval era due to her ignorance of hair arrangement appliances, rain coats, boots or sanity.

Often I witness her and her child on my walk back from school (admittedly moments late because Thing 3 simply can’t be bothered to rush and I dig that about him) desperately reaching into a crumpled bag of Chee-tos and sharing a Dr. Pepper. Others they share a canister of Sour Cream Pringles and take turns swigging from a bottle of Diet Pepsi. Sometimes the child is engrossed in a video game along the steep grade to the school, angered by mother’s insistence of eating the Frito-Lay of the Day breakfast.

Don’t assume I’m entertained by this duo. I’m not. It’s frightening for me because while I don’t want to go there, I will: it’s a little close to home for me as my childhood mornings were just as frantic, save for the maternal accompaniment on the journey to school on frosty mornings or rainy mornings or sunny mornings… mornings in general. So while this mother might be wearing a sun dress, with no evidence of an over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder on a frigid morning as she cravenly grabs into the Pringles canister, at least she is there. She’s walking her kid to school.

I suspect her and her tribe because there’s a dog in that house and the deposits have been on the the increase since they moved here. The last time I saw that dog was when it was in her arms… so… umm…. maybe not?

Anyway, lots of the poops are on the pipestem they live on and they go the distance to the school (I honestly can’t believe I’m writing about this…), but their freshness implies she’s been upright to let the dog out, but maybe it’s her child… However, as I said, the shits’ distance from the house now leads me to suspect there is a drugged-out or totally psychotic human being who is filled with enough rage against society to purposely deposit dog shit on the path.

Evidence of people stepping in it is everywhere: sneaker tread imprints, smears, feckless efforts to wipe it off on the asphalt or fallen leaves…

Are you bored yet? I almost am. It’s nearly over…

My incidence threat will be dramatically reduced soon because my kids are growing up.

I was saying to Thing 3 this morning that I will miss our mornings together as we walk to school, but that I won’t miss the poopy path.

He’s going on to middle school next year. My oldest is graduating and off to college and while the college he’ll be attending is literally less than 5 miles from our house, he will live on campus and have the full experience, so he won’t be here. And that will be different. I don’t want to say “and that will suck” because well, it won’t. It won’t suck. Yes it will.

Naturally it’s reminding me of when my older brother left for college, and that sucked. That whole scene was challenging because we moved from our home the same week he graduated from high school. The night of his graduation and related parties, he returned home to a massive Mayflower Moving truck in front of our home.

The next day that truck was packed, and pushed off from Buffalo to Northern Virginia and the day after that was my mother’s 47th birthday and we met it in front of our rental home. That was a radical time.

I’ve never understood the rush to get here that week. We usually would spend July in Canada but we came here instead. On her birthday. To the unbelievable humidity and heat and to my mother’s precipitous emotional collapse in a house she never saw and in a town she never accepted.

So I suspect I’ve taken to writing about the dog shit on the path because I don’t want to write about my kid taking off. I was texting one of my SILs the other day and I said, “Weren’t we just 26 and newly married last week?! wtf.”

Tempus Fugit.

Thank you.

 

Inadequacy and the Cleaning Ladies

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They’re back. I re-hired them after I let myself decide that it was ok to not give a damn about letting someone else clean my house. That if the funds are there, and the stars align,  I reasoned that I was keeping these women employed and I didn’t have to sweat my sons’ bathroom toilets and bed-making. They know my home, they know where stuff goes and in the future, I will likely employ them to help me purge.

So the funds are there, thanks yoga teaching, and the stars have aligned. The ladies have been back for months. What has returned with them, along with a lovely surprise I’ll get into shortly, is the sense of inadequacy and the reminder of my flagging mindfulness. At times, I’ve simply laid out the sheets on the beds to be changed. I’ve left my clean folded clothes in piles — it’s like I’m a transient in my own house: I don’t always put away my clothes. I live out of the familiar piles of cleaned shirts and undies and jeans and sock twins that are like small indicators of unfinished projects. They’re cotton archipelagos of inadequacy. What I need to do is vet out my t-shirts and gut about half of all my clothes. I have too many pairs of yoga pants.

“But there will be a funeral and I’ll need that dress.” “And that sweater to go over it.” “And those boots because I know we will go out to a bar again, one day, maybe after the funeral.” “There’s a wedding this fall…”

Lots of clothes I don’t wear anymore are tied in my former identity: corporate shill of corporate messaging. They were pricey then, nice wools, beautiful blends, “status” labels and now… I don’t wear them. I can still fit into all of it, but there’s this part of me which simply won’t move on. This part of me SO GETS MY MOTHER: that she would hang on to her gorgeous classic-hewn clothing because it never went out of style, and she was right.  Mom could rock a camel-toned cashmere sweater in May like NO ONE, other than Lauren Hutton.

I also know that clothes and books and things were important to my mother. I sense that after all her kids pushed off for lives of their own, and my father pressed on in his career, her drive to fill our rooms with things she’d never use, but things which sated her fears and sadnesses beat any fleeting sense of mindfulness or rational objective in acquiring such things. I’m sure it’s a combination of her numerous anxieties and predilections as well as a sincere interest in reading that book, or giving that gift, or using that purse, or wearing those boots that over time simply became too overwhelming to deal with. So instead of purging, she acquired more to quiet the noise. More things to hide the things she never used.

I can feel the sensations in my body: quickening pulse and a shallowness of breath when I look around my accumulation of unused or once-used items and shame myself internally for having them. I think of landfills and waste. “It’s a lot,” one of the cleaning ladies once said to me when I sighed at the house. And I think I’m relatively organized!

I don’t need 52 multicolored Sharpies, but there was a time when I did. The kids use them for school, still, but there’s this nagging sense of “USE THAT ALL THE TIME OR IT’S WASTE” mentality. I blame Costco. I’m mostly serious. You can’t buy three pairs of socks there, you have to buy six in a pack. You can’t buy 12 Sharpies, you have to get 52 — because if you buy 12 a la carte elsewhere, it’s almost as pricey as buying the bargain pack at Costco.

But the cleaning ladies come, and when they do, the house must be “in order” to a certain degree because they can’t access the table to clean and dust it if it’s covered in 52 Sharpies. I mean, they will put the Sharpies somewhere, but often their choice of placement is like a planter or a silverware drawer because they’re just here to get shit done and move on.

So here’s the surprise I’ve finally allowed myself to enjoy: when they come here, for at least the first afternoon, I will enjoy and revel in the quiet, the order, and the essence organization that reigns and it’s ok if I didn’t do much of it myself. I know I can; that’s not the point. It’s that I’ve allowed myself to let someone else do it and that I’m ok with it.

Even though I know and YOU know what’s really going on in that junk drawer, that for the moment, everything is chill and my home makes me look like I’ve got my act together. When they’re here, quietly tending to my home in a way that I certainly can, but I’ve basically abdicated, I do feel less alone. My heartbeat slows and my breath becomes mine again. It will get done. That’s the gift.

I read with great vigor A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin. It’s a collection of short stories. Many of them are memoir, some are written with disdain for the client / employer, and I shuddered a little upon reading Berlin’s observations about us, knowing when we’ve had our periods, or the last time we had sex, what we’re reading, what we’re still not reading, how we’re sleeping, or if our children eat in their beds, hoard candy in their rooms, and the secrets they have, but I get that. Other stories are deep, wandering tales about love, the oceans, sex with near strangers, and marriage. It’s a wonderful book as Berlin is masterful — both succinct and dreamy — and real. You can’t hide from her, she has found you.

I think often about these women who clean my home, Flora and Linda. They are sweet and obsequious. They banter in Spanish and usher tender giggles to each other upon encountering our dogs and marveling at how much my children have grown. I’ve worked with them for eight years. I wonder about their lives, about what keeps them up at night. Shortly after my mother died, they came to clean and I thought I was going to be OK. I hadn’t let the house get too bad between their visits. But Mom had died and I was a mess.

The moment they came in the door, my eyes welled up and Flora (the older of the two) saw my face. She knew something had gone horribly wrong between our last encounter. “My mother died last week…” and I wailed and bawled and cried heaving sobs into her neck as she held me and rocked me in her arms. She’s not that much older than I am, but I have an affection for these women that goes back to my childhood as I was basically raised by my cleaning lady, Betty Sortino.

Flora’s partner, Linda came in to help soothe me. And we stood there in my front hall for about a minute until I composed myself and told them what happened. Three weeks later, Linda’s husband also died. He fell off a scaffold at his worksite and died in the ambulance. He was 36. He and Linda have three children. She took a couple weeks off and then came back to work; she has no choice as she has to feed her children and her husband is dead. I wonder about her children. When I give away clothes, I give Linda and Flora first rights of refusal. Over the years, I’ve given them clothes, desks, dressers, books, and toys.

About a year ago I learned how much these women earned from my payment to their broker. $20 per house. I was paying many times that for the fee. If clients kept their appointments, they would clean up to four houses per day. They only got paid if they cleaned and I used to flake out on their employer all the time because I couldn’t get my house ready. Each house takes about 2 hours for them to tackle.

One day, I asked them if they worked on their own and that’s how we do it now. I’ve increased their rate and I believe that my paying them outright and directly rather than through the company whence we first found them does make a difference. When I pay them directly, I am less prone to cancel because I don’t have my act together because the house wasn’t tidied in time or appropriately. They don’t judge. They are eager for the work and I am eager for the respite from the visual chaos. It’s become more of a relationship which transcends the work and I trust them completely. I respect them and they get to keep the money I pay them instead of only take home a sixth of it when I paid them through their broker. I give them extra cash for Christmas.

Each time they are here, I promise to myself that I’m going to go through my things and really sort and donate. Lighten my load. I have a neighbor who’s moving this weekend. She’s more than a neighbor, she’s become like a cousin to me. She’s leaving for Florida and I honestly hope I go see her. When she put her house on the market, I helped her straighten up — I was literally a third pair of eyes added on to her own and her young friend who’s got a real knack for spatial placement of things.

She asked me to come view and give pointers. I admit I felt a little like a white-gloved Marine Corps officer running quarters inspection, but my advice, adjustments, and insight were helpful. I was impressed by how austere her home had become. It felt like a resort property. It felt like a rental on a beach and I envied that — the lack of shit crowding everything. Yet she felt it was too sterile, too antiseptic, no “life” or “personality” in her home anymore. She was right. The house had a “tone” now, not a feeling. We all agreed that the powder room needed to feel like a “spa” so I filled her glass vases that hung on the wall with neutral tone rocks, some branches from the wispy white pine tree in her backyard and clips off the rigid birch tree in my front yard and voila. Spa.

It sold in three days. For the asking price.

I will miss her a lot. More than I think either of us realize. She has quietly supported me — unconditionally — for our entire relationship. She has never passed judgment and has been a true cheerleader in everything I’ve ever ventured. It hurts that she’s leaving, but everything was in such utterly perfect cosmic alignment — like the kind of alignment you read about — that her staying here meant spiritual coma. You don’t get the kind of opportunities, conversations, situations and challenges thrown at you the way she has and keep things as they are.

She used my cleaning ladies before putting the house on the market. They provided her with the calm and ease they provide me every time they leave my home. It’s quiet. It’s clean. When they are here, I am forced to let them work, to stay out of their way. To leave with the dogs. When I come back, things are where they belong. Or at least they’re not in the way. The inadequacy ebbs and I don’t feel like such a failure. I know I perform a lot around here, it’s in the ways you can’t often see. At the very least, I have participated in readying the house for them.

In three hours my three boys will be home. I will be teaching little kids yoga, teaching them to learn how to calm themselves, center their minds, and know they are enough. I will not think about my friend moving to Florida and I will thank Linda and Flora.

Thank you.

 

When You’re Going on a #Cruise #Travel – I Can’t Hear You, It’s Too No.

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Who is that sleeping man on the PA system?

When the ship’s fun people have something they want you to know, for example, “HEY HEY GOOOOOD MORNING NORRRRRRWEEEEEEGIANNNNNS! It’s Dan Dan your kaaaaruuuuuzediRECtorrrr… Today at 10:00 we have BINGO in the Hardevik Lounge for $50 a card. Jackpot today is 50,000 Hemnes Ikea beans in your choice of dressing… At 10:07 we will begin our CaSSSSSSINOOOOO shuffle time elkhound runabout! IT’s all the rage! Cruiser contestants arm wrestle in frozen spent espresso grounds for Big Prizes like a Carton of Cuban Cigarettes attached to the end of a leash… when you catch the elkhound, you win the tobacco! The lighter is not included…” or “At 11:12 in the Watermelon Seed Pond it’s Kiddie DJ Dance Up Splash Down…”

The message’s preceding “Bing Bong” tone which sounds exactly like the Washington DC MetroRail “Doors Opening” chime, will play in the open areas, outside the closed door from your cabin. So everything sounds like it’s underwater.

It’s challenging enough to have “Ayyy Norrrweeeegiaaaannn tallkeeng tew yew very laoud on a small spicker outsaiide yewrroom,” but to have the door closed adds another layer of difficulty.

What’s worse? I’ll tell you: BINGBONG (inside your room, so you know it’s official and they’re not trying to take your money because those in-room announcements comes from the bridge) “Goodmorning passengers, this is Captain Mikal speaking from the bridge. Today we are headingsouthwestbynortheastinaroundaboutdirectionand. We anticipate40footswellsandgaleforcewindsbringing arcticblastsaccompaniedbyvolcanicash. Aftersurrenderingyourfirtsborn, nnngngnzzzzgngng….As a resultwehavedecidedtosuspendallactivitiesontheropeszzzznnzngngggggg…. and thenaswemakeourwaythroughthesixthringof zzzzgngngggggzzzz  Dante’sInfernowewillbeginservingespanikopita, So whenyouseethespanikopita, Youwillknowthat it is then time…..nnnngngggnzzzzzznggggg….   ”

That. That’s worse.

When we first left NYC, we were escaping by a few hours a late-season (as in “it’s no longer winter”) snowstorm in the Northeast Corridor. The captain was on the PA system and I do recall hearing him talk about travel conditions. Because he eats the microphone and it descends toward his duodenum, it’s hard to understand him, but I do recall having to decide whether he said “fourteen foot swells” or “forty foot swells.” I also remember him saying either “35 knot headwind” or “55 knot headwind.” No matter, because the ship was indeed afloat in some active water and you could feel it.

I’m not sure what happened, because by all accounts and according to the ship’s own “Navigation Channel” we were heading south and around 9pm that same Sunday evening, there was SNOW ON THE DECK. It was colder than cold and windier than windy.

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Mmm. Just real… yeah. I’ll take a blanket.

I’m guessing by that point, we were somewhere outside the Chesapeake Bay because the sea water was clean. My son and I were intrepid though, I said to him, “Show me this ship,” because he’d already been all around it.

You don’t hear from the captain every day. It only happens when you leave somewhere or are on the approach. Seeing as how you would spend at least 24 hours at sea without stopping, hearing from the bridge was a novelty, and I guess a good one because as they say in the biz, “no news is good news.”

A couple days later, my husband and I were remarking about how we hadn’t heard from him and that when we do, we can’t understand him. He is actually JUST LIKE the Swedish Chef.

But then we started waxing apocalyptic about all the things the captain would say and that we’d not understand, “Goodeveningdisisyourcaptainreportingfromthebridge. Wehavebeencommandeeredbypiratesandaresurrenderingyourwives andchildrenfirstzzznnnnzzggnggngg… ” things like that. “Onyourstarboardsideyouwill nnnnnggggzzzzgngngn…. seethatwehavebeenovertaken ggggnnnzgzzzgznnng… byalargeandheretoforeunknownseamonster whichwewillcalltheBreakawayDestructor…”

All this said, driving and piloting a massive ship like the Breakaway is no small feat. When we pulled into Nassau a day early, the ship had to be backed in to its slip.

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This is our slip, on the left in Nassau. We headed into the port, naturally, bow first. This photo is taken, still with the bow forward, as we are beginning to spin the ship to the right, and then  back into the slip, on the dockside closest to the other ships, with the dock on our port side. No, starboard (man, rowing has jacked me up).

And it’s not like when my son drives the SUV, the last thing you feel before your neck snaps isn’t vehicle’s bump into the concrete abutment of the parking space. You don’t even know the ship has stopped moving by the time it’s all said and done.

If I owned NCL, I would add this to the its onboard iConcierge app post-haste: a daily report from the bridge, a little map of where we are and where we’re headed by the end of the night, the evening weather report and stage of the moon for skygazers and constellations. But that’s because I’m weird and I like my brain and I’m into educating my kids. I’m not wondering what the drink of the night is, nor am I totally into winning “the beeeg priiiihze at the guess the dessert-in-the-bag-o-rama…”

BRING YOUR OWN WATER BOTTLE / PACKAGES / DRINKS / GRATUITIES – JUST DO IT

When we boarded, I thought I was at Costco. I saw cases of water on top of peoples’ personal luggage. I asked my husband, “Is this a joke? Are people this stupid?” He had no clue. We honestly didn’t understand why people would do this.

First: just bring your own reusable water bottle from home. I didn’t. I wish I had because a liter or Aquafina, which is just water from a Pepsi plant, is $5.50. But I bought only one bottle and washed it out (yes, with a soap-like product) every time I refilled it.  My son did bring his own water bottle. Never used it. Bought a liter. Almost left the water bottle, a $23 glass water bottle which I REALLY love on the ship. But he didn’t. I made him go back for it.

You can also refill the bottle with lemonade or iced tea or a combo or make iced coffee… it’s silly not to bring your own bottle. Just make sure it’s empty before you get anywhere near pre-boarding US Customs.

And as for beverages while on the ship: just buy the beverage package. I’m not sure how much it was per person, but I am sure you can work an angle; make the adjustment on the ship if you need to because any soft drink handed to you by another human being who works on the ship will cost you. I’m not a boozer, but my liver probably freaked out and wondered if we were back at a wedding when in college by Friday.

One day I had a margarita at 1:00pm and I thought I was going to fall asleep. I don’t know how people do it, drink in the middle of the day. I had one while reading on my chaise lounge (which I liberated from a fraudulent practice of predawn hangover squatting by a gang of EuroTrash stowaways, more on that later) and would’ve easily taken a nap if it weren’t for the amazing DJ who was playing all manner of House Music from 2008, “Wobble” by V.I.C. and “Jump” by House of Pain (one of my favorites, actually) almost nonstop. Another favorite was “Firework” by Katy >Ack!< Perry.

At one point I was so OVER the house music and the sixth mixed round of Wobble that when the DJ played “Emotional Rescue” by the Rolling Stones, I almost stood up and clapped. The sound quality coming from real instruments after listening to the hissing Katy Perry restored my sanity. Sadly, that song was… you guessed it: interrupted by yet another raffle announcement on the Burgdagord Funtimes deck and it DID NOT resume playing. The Black Eyes Peas did. You know, that band from 2010…? Them.

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I must thank V.I.C. because I didn’t know I was a “shorty” until after that cruise. Apparently all the shorties in the club, he wants to see your chest. And if you wobble it, he will gobble it. And he wants to make you back it up. Whatever the hell that means… To see five-year-olds donning leopard-print bikinis dance poolside to this music… was unsettling.

On certain mornings, say at 8am, you’re just not in the mood to hear “All the shorties in the club let me see your chest…” as you wander to the Garden Cafe on the exterior deck of the ship and I wondered, what happened to Frank Sinatra, or The Beatles, or John Williams movie scores, or show tunes soundtracks… or I don’t know: nothing? Outside the rooms, they play anesthetizing dentist’s office music.

Why can’t they tone that shit down in the morning?

I know the tired woman I saw with the messy hair wearing the tiger-print halter top and white leather pants, who not wearing her high-heeled strappy sandals, who was nursing a sweaty Heineken, and who dragging on a long-ashed smoke in the designated smoker’s pen at 8:30 in the morning would’ve appreciated a little less volume.

We’ve all been there.

I was also thinking about what a waiter said one night, that most of the time, the cruises have older people on them and that it was fun for the crew to have college kids and young families on board because most of the staff is in its 30s-60s so they miss their own families.

I saw one Golden Anniversary-ish couple onboard which I had the pleasure twice of witnessing them not speak to each other at all over the course of an entire dinner one evening until the woman broke the silence when she reached into her purse and handed her husband a pill that he had “to take with this drink, not that one.” My guess is that someone booked the wrong week for that couple.

BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME: DON’T BOTHER GETTING YOUR HAIR DONE

Don’t. Just don’t. I did. I lost half a day. The point of this is that you’re on a floating hotel and that everyone looks like they just woke up, want to go to bed, can’t find their bed, woke up in the wrong bed, or fell out of bed. People are ready for the pool. People are coming out of the pool. People are simply not looking their best. They’re not looking like death warmed over, but if you’re a chick, your hair is going to get blown all over the place because the Atlantic is a windy place and the ship is really moving. I saw more baseball caps than in a dugout.

PACK A SMALL PHARMACY

Pack a small pharmacy because you never know when your husband will stub his toe and need a bandaid. Nor do you know when your son will feel sick and need a Pepogest. Nor do you know when you won’t be able to stop sneezing and a benedryl is the only thing that will help you sleep. Because you left the Xanax you requested, for the first time ever from your GP, at home. Because you’re bloody brilliant.

What to put in this pharmacy?

  • benedryl
  • advil
  • tylenol
  • bandaids
  • neosporin
  • aspirin (it helps reduce my nasal sniffles)
  • pepto bismol
  • pepogest (enteric-coated peppermint oil for the stomach, it’s awesome)
  • eucalyptus oil for the feet (congestion)
  • oregano oil for immunity support (3 drops in an ounce of OJ once a day)
  • ear plugs
  • gas-x (let’s not kid ourselves, you’re going to overeat)
  • anything else you think you might need, but in sample size.

TAKE THE ELEVATOR IF YOU WANT TO WAIT ALL DAY

If you like waiting, by all means take the elevator. Our room was on 9. The cafeteria is on 15. It was a walk every day, of course, to get to the food. There was something glorious though about feeling your heart pounding and your breath deeper and heavier right before you dive into a platter of bacon and french toast.

As the days wore on, it seemed more people opted for the stairs. The elevators are fast, so that isn’t the trouble; it’s the volume of people using them. Often I saw people board on one floor and then after I reached the floor first, they got off the elevator on the same deck.

I’m that fast.

I didn’t have to lift a finger for ANYTHING on that cruise. I didn’t make my bed, Imade (“Ih-mah-day”) did. I wanted to secretly call him “Look at what” and then “Imade” but I didn’t want to be disrespectful. It reminded me of how I treated new neighbors I didn’t like who moved in immediately after my favorite neighbors, the O’Keefes, moved out. I called them “UTBOKs” for “Used to be O’Keefes.” I missed the O’Keefes so much I didn’t bother getting to know them. They were pleasant, but they were in over their heads. They lived there less than 2 years; they had to foreclose on the house. 

But Imade did it all. He is a lovely man and I’ll write about him and the other crew members we met and spoke with later.

KEY CARD / DETACHABLE LANYARD / EXTRA CARD / HOLE PUNCHER

Just yes. Either make or buy a lanyard here on terra firma now or pay $6 for each one on the ship. The most practical lanyard would be the kind which unclips the necessary parts from the rosary other half around your neck. Of course, I didn’t understand the utility of the detachable lanyard until four days into the cruise when I’d been taking off my lanyard to present it to a server for a drink, or a purchase at a coffee shop, or buy a pack of playing cards at the mediocre gift shop (MGS), or a meal at a restaurant, or to get into my room, or to turn on the lights in my room, or to use the vending machine, or to disembark, or to embark……… I’m embarrassed it took me that long to realize I could simply unclip the lower part and give that to the requesting party…

Bring your own single-hole puncher or send your husband to wait in line for 20 minutes on day 1 to get the family’s punched. Then use the key-ring part of the lanyard to attach your cards, not the flimsy clear-plastic sleeve that comes with the $6 lanyard purchased at the MGS. Why? Because that sleeve will rip by day three and your 12-year-old son will lose his cards.

Also, if you book multiple cabins, get an extra / guest card for each cabin because you will your children will forget theirs.

I’ll be back with more insights, highlights and ideas soon. I have to go now though because there’s a soaking wet elkhound dragging a carton of cigarettes from a leash roaming outside my house and he’s being followed by that woman in the tiger print halter and white leather pants.

Thank you.

ps — I still feel sea wobbly but not nearly as robust as I did when I first wrote about the cruise on Tuesday. I have faith my balance will be restored.