Saturday, August 27, 2005

Have It Your Way

Sometimes when I am having a very bad day, I will comfort myself with this thought: "At least I don't work at Burger King." This is nothing against the people who do work at Burger King--in fact it's the opposite. I toiled away many weekends and after school evenings at Burger King in high school and I can vouch for the fact that the job is often vile and horrible and much more complicated than it seems to the uninitiated.

When this thought popped into my head this week, it brought with it the memory of an incident that happened way back in my BK days that has haunted me ever since. (Don't worry this story doesn't end with me contacting yet another unsuspecting sap I had the hots for decades ago.)

The story involves two guys: SA (whom I did have a fleeting crush on) and PL (whom I did not). In the Burger King kitchen there was a narrow walkway one end of which led to the front end and the other end of which led back into the kitchen. There were two garbage cans on one side of that path which were my responsibility as "dining room hostess." (Yeah, I know.) There were also various supplies stored in that area that were used in other parts of the store. One Saturday morning, PL had walked up the walkway to get something while I was in the middle of changing the garbage can liners. He was trying to make his way back into the kitchen, pushing a waist-high white plastic can on wheels, but was having a hard time navigating between the shelves and me. I was pushed as far against the garbage cans as I could go, even wedged between the two a little. While Paul was trying to push, pull, and jiggle the can through, he caught SA's eye and said, "Lardass." Clearly, clearly,clearly referring to me.

I was deeply wounded. Stunned. Could not understand why PL, who had never had a hostile word for me before, would say something so hurtful directly in front of me. The fact that the remark was made to SA, whom I did have a crush on and with whom I often had long, friendly conversations made the whole thing all the more painful. And SA's chuckle--ouch.

This is something I have dragged out on all sorts of occasions and low moments in the twenty-some years since, which is to say I have thought of it not often, but at least periodically--especially when SA crossed my mind or weight issues were nagging me.

In the context of weight issues, I most often thought of how sad it was that at a time when I was only slightly "overweight" and well within healthy bounds, I allowed such a misguided, narrow-minded, mean-spirited comment have so much space in my head and heart. And in an even broader, more political sense, I saw PL, SA and myself as victims of unrealistic expectations foisted upon us by the media. There were still a lot of times, though, when the memory had the power to make me wince, make me blush, make me squirm in echoes of my adolescent agony.

You get the picture: It has never fallen off my Most Embarrassing Moments Top 10 in all of the years since it happened. And never, not once, did it occur to me, as it did this time, that in the white plastic container Paul was pushing was LARD, which was what went into Burger King's fryers until the arrival of vegetable oil in the more enlightened and health-conscious '90's.

So, it had also not crossed my mind that there was a real possibility that PL's intention was not to comment on the size of my ass but to make a silly little pun relying on the proximity of my ass to a 30-gallon container FULL OF LARD. The container was (not surprisingly) not spotlessly clean and there were smears of the white stuff visible on the lid and handles of the can so I may have actually had lard on my ass--which means I may have paraded around Burger King that afternoon with a shiny white substance on my (average-sized) ass, but I can live with that.

Lest you think I'm wholly delusional--I do realize that the other explanation, the conclusion to which I jumped and to which I've clung all this time, is still a possibility. In either case, I'm sure PL thought my ass and much of the rest of me was big--I was never an itty, bitty thing and PL was exactly the kind of guy to whom that kind of thing mattered in terms of picking girlfriends, but his making such an overtly cruel remark was out of character. In fact, PL and I went on to forge a fairly warm buddyship that was only mildly overshadowed by the nagging memory of the Lardass Moment. I have never really been able to fit the lardass incident into the context of every other experience I had with/of PL, but that never stopped me from holding tight to my original interpretation of events.

Regardless of the "true" meaning behind PL's words, what the hell is wrong with me? How foolish is it to be haunted by the words spoken by a person who was, at the absolute outside, a peripheral person in my life? A person whose opinion of me should've mattered little even in that moment and progressively less as time went by? An incident I should've dismissed if not that day, then surely that month, that year, and definitely in that decade!

Of course, if I'd done that we'd have never had the singular pleasure of this post and then where would we be?

PS--For Brunette Best Friend, who was actually around back in the BK Days if not present at the exact Lardass Moment: Happy Birthday!!!!!! Your patience with my neuroses over these many years has been greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

And The Nominees Are...

For most aptly named household appliance--the alarm clock. If there is anything more alarming than a clock that makes a horrifying droning noise at 4:40 in the morning, I sure as crap don't want to know what it is.

Because the entertainment of living with three teenage boys and a pre-teen daughter isn't quite enough, we also babysit an almost four-year-old boy who's been coming to our house since he was six weeks old. Most of the time that we've been taking care of him, his parents were both on second shift, but this summer they've both been on first shift at a plant where they work four ten-hour days as opposed to five eight-hour ones. This means Other Kid gets dropped off every morning at around 4:45. He is (sensibly, I think) almost always asleep at that hour but one of us has to get up just in case, hence the alarming alarm.

Much to his saintly credit, Hubby is usually the one who does the getting up while I stay in bed fiddling in the dark to reset the alarm for the (slightly) more humane hour at which I actually have to get out of bed. To pay Hubby back, I get Other Kid ready for Montessori while also trying to get me ready for the Day Job. Other Kid has gotten old enough that he can do most of the getting ready on his own with just a little bit of supervision. The other morning, though, he was having a hard time getting his pajama shirt off and he said, "I can't get my shirt off because my muscles are too big!"

I guess that's the kind of thing that makes the alarm a little less alarming every morning.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Intangible Rewards of Parenting (A Flashback)

April 25, 2004:

Hubby and I are puttering around in the kitchen when Son-One wanders in, sticks his head in the refrigerator and announces, "I'm going to write a song called 'Sometimes My Unibrow Gets Lonely.'"

Then as an added bonus, Hubby sings, "'I grow my nose hairs long because sometimes my unibrow gets lonely.'"

It's moments like these that are the returns on my maternal investments. I'm not waiting around for magna cum laude from Yale, I'm sucking up all the proud moments on the way.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Harry/Sally Question

I was thinking about titling this post The Hairy Sally Question and just regaling you with tales of my feminist aunt who believes shaving is a tool of a chauvinistic and oppressive society, but that line is about all I've got on that subject. (Not that I really have an aunt named Sally--wink wink--and even if I did, I'm sure she's as clean-shaven as the next lady, isn't that right non-existent Aunt Sally?)

So, instead, this is yet another post about the old friend from high school and how when I first saw the movie "When Harry Met Sally" I thought the heated debate*over whether a man and a woman can be "just friends" was completely asinine and would never, ever be relevant in my own life. After all, when Harry makes his first big speech on the subject, he is just out of college and his entire understanding of male/female relationships seems to have been picked up at frat parties.

Throughout the movie, Harry's attitudes change and eventually, he and Sally are best friends and he starts to think he's been wrong, maybe men and women can be friends after all. Then, of course, they do it.

Well, despite the fact that Mr. High School and I did spend twenty hours together a few weekends ago, a few of them in his motel room, I really do have a lot of hope for a real long-term friendship for us. For one thing, we're both more practical than Harry and Sally, and one of us, at least, is more married** than either Harry or Sally was. Further, I am nowhere near as cute and perky as Meg Ryan as Sally was and so, I'm significantly less tempting to Mr. High School.

Most importantly, though, we are making our way through actual lives, not a script written by Nora Ephron and directed by Rob Reiner. Think about that click you have with someone, male or female, who you just instinctively know "gets" you--I'm not talking about someone who's just fun to hang with or someone you can get along with, I'm talking about that level of recognition that you find, if you're lucky, a couple of times in your life. (Or, maybe it happens to everyone else all the time and I've just been living a pathetic and deprived existence...) Whatever it is, whatever label you want to slap on it, I'm pretty sure it's something worth hanging on to.

*The debate can be read in its entirety here by scrolling about a third of the way down the page.

**Some may consider "married" an absolute and therefore not in need of modifiers (like more or less). However, a quick scan of, well, anyone you know, and it's clear that not everyone is as married as everyone else.

Monday, August 15, 2005


Mr. High School and I talked about getting together "someday." I told him, "That would be nice." I told everyone who would listen, "Of course, I want to see him...I just don't want him to see me."

He's a big Credence Clearwater Revival fan and he'd learned from them
"Someday Never Comes." He set a date: the weekend between our birthdays. (I'm five days older than him, a source of endless amusement to him.) He requested that Friday afternoon off. He reserved a room. He dug out his yearbooks and select photos from the last twenty years of his life.

Meanwhile, I, um, panicked.

Once, in the fall of senior year, I had actually hyperventilated after talking to him. This was after an unexpected mini-conversation during which I had mercifully held it together. As soon as he was gone, though, I ended up sitting cross-legged in the high school parking lot, giggling and eventually hyperventilating, much to the amusement of my tolerant Blonde Best Friend (as opposed to my other best friend from high school: Brunette Best Friend, who lived in New Hampshire and had to hear about this episode in stupidity secondhand). As I recently told my (also tolerant) Little Sister: back then, I was skinnier and cuter and seventeen so sitting in a parking lot seeing stars and trying to catch my breath just seemed adorably quirky, but it would just be scary. (Onlookers would gather and someone would probably offer me nitroglycerin tablets and I would probably say, between wheezes, "Can I get a Valium instead?")

Our "someday" was a Friday evening, around 7. He had taken the afternoon off and driven three hours to see me. All I had to do was give (Saint) Hubby a quick kiss and walk half a block.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

What to Expect When Mr. High School Calls After Twenty Years

The first thirty seconds were eternal and like some kind of creative torture. We were both sputtering a little, nervous, stunned that even though we'd orchestrated this mini phone reunion (me by writing the note and him by dialing the phone) we were now actually on the phone with each other.

The truth is I remember very little of the first phone call, but the fact that we were on the phone for 45 minutes indicates to me that we somehow overcame the weirdness. In terms of answering the questions about the past--the primary question being was "it" even a little bit mutual or was it all in my head--the fact that he called at all spoke volumes. He remembered when and where we had last spoken to each other. He mentioned the day in the barn--said he'd regretted that day for almost twenty years--regretted not saying more, not following up afterward. He told me about his life in those twenty years--the marriage, the ill-fated (and recently ended) engagement, the job. I caught him up on my life. ("Four? Wow." is a direct quote from that part of the conversation.) He filled me in on the fates of some of our classmates. I admitted I'd always had a "low-grade obsession" where he was concerned.

We ended the conversation with thank-yous all around. I was grateful to him for calling and he was grateful to me for getting in touch with him. He extended an open invitation to me--call anytime you want to talk, really. I told him the same--but he was concerned about Hubby's feelings on that subject. My assurances fell on deaf ears at first. But, really, Hubby is not the jealous type. Add to that the fact that he's listened to me wonder aloud about this off and on for years, and he's actually kind of entertained by all the drama and thrilled by his chance to say "I told you so." (Which he did in the comments on a previous post, for all the world to see.)

So Mr. High School and I have been talking once a week or so and supplementing with letters in between. We have a lot of catching up to do and, it turns out, whatever "connection" made it so easy for us to talk to each other in high school is not only still there, but we're way more appreciative of it than we were then. We've both experienced enough of life to know that that spark of recognition or understanding is rare and shouldn't be dismissed lightly--even if the package it comes in is older, fatter, and balder than it was when you saw it last.

After three months of phone calls and letters, it was time to see just how much older, fatter, and balder those packages were.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

What You Wish For

So I'm thirty-six, long-time wife of Hubby, and mom of four, and I discover that somewhere out there, in a parallel universe, maybe, or just stuck on pause like a video game, is me at seventeen, still having that conversation in the barn with Mr. High School. Me, at seventeen, at his high school graduation watching his parents take his picture with his girlfriend. Me, at thirteen even, holding his hand at the community pool. We're all still out there and we want answers.

When I dropped the note in the mail, I reasoned that the worst thing that could happen was he would not respond. And I figured that his not responding was something I could handle, and in any case, would answer as many questions as a response--just with different answers.

In the week after I mailed the letter, I realized that there was something worse than his not contacting me. There was a very real possibility that he would contact me and it would be disastrous. I couldn't wrap my mind around the possibility of picking up the phone and having him on the other end. What the hell had I been thinking? What was I going to say to someone I hadn't talked to in almost twenty years? Someone who probably hadn't given me a second thought during all that time? (I had already rejected the idea of opening with, "I'm married with four kids and I've been stalking you for years anyway.")

A week passed with no word and I began to relax, figuring I had another one to add to my pathetic Mr. High School stories: "I actually sent him a note in the spring of 2005--how insane was that?"

The phone rang on Monday night, a little over a week after I'd sent the note. I rarely answer my own phone--sharing the house with four kids in or near their teen years means (among many other things) the phone is very rarely for me, but on this evening, they were all outside--probably roaming the streets and scaring old people--so I picked up.

I was blogging (what else?) at the time the phone rang, very immersed in what I was doing so it was doubly shocking to hear that voice on the phone, familiar and unfamiliar, expected and wholly unexpected. Some part of me had been waiting to hear that voice for twenty years, maybe longer.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

"Preoccupied With 19-, 19-, 1985"*

So I'm seventeen, I've been swept away from the person I'm pretty sure is the "love of my life," and I sit around for hours listening to Leo Sayer's "When I Need You" over and over on a 45, writing letters to Mr. High School, which I keep in a gray three-ring binder that I drag with me everywhere I go--letters in which I pour out my heart and soul in all their pathetic and messy glory. These are letters, needless to say, which I have no intention of him ever seeing.

Eventually, I get over it--sort of. After the turmoil of three schools in my senior year, and the death of my grandfather just after graduation, I decide to put college plans on hold and just try to catch my breath emotionally. My mother packs me off to New Hampshire where I have a supportive friend and a job waiting. I bring the notebook and the Leo Sayer 45 and an array of other sappy music, but there are friends, and guys, and the job and the melancholy doesn't look as attractive as it once did.

Still, when Hubby-To-Be first asks me out, I actually tell him I'm not sure I can go out with him because of my feelings for Mr. High School. Even though we'd technically never had what could be called a relationship, I feel a certain warped loyalty to him. I'm on the rebound from a relationship that never happened.

A few dates with Hubby, though, and the melodrama starts to recede into the vague and hazy past where melodrama belongs. I come to understand that my feelings for Mr. High School were a crush nursed into an out of control obsession. He had become an icon, a superstar, an idea.

He was an idea with some staying power, though. Every few months, I would have a dream about him, whether I gave him a passing daytime thought or not. News of his wedding, a year after mine, filtered through the grapevine to me. And eight years later, news of his messy divorce came in a Christmas card from someone we both knew.

I would indulge in a what'd-it-all-mean journal entry from time to time. That conversation in the barn, that afternoon at the pool, the energy between us that even strangers seemed to pick up on, surely it all meant something. Or maybe it only meant that adolescent hormones are even more of a force to be reckoned with than anyone had ever suspected. (Bottle those and sell them--it could either be the salvation of the human race or the end of the world.)

Around the beginning of this year, I began sorting through all my old spiral notebook journals--the ones I'd kept faithfully since 1983, the summer I turned 15--and typing them on to computer disk. It began as a kind of typing exercise--something at least marginally more entertaining than "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog"--but as I came to the pages (and pages and pages) where I'd written out my angst over Mr. High School, I found myself pushing back the urge to contact him.

Probably I would've kept pushing it back until it went away again, if it hadn't been for an entry I found in a much later journal--July 9, 1995: "A surprise to find out I am twice as old this day as I was when ___ held my hand and took various other hormonally-induced liberties with my thirteen-year-old body...____is so much a part of my adolescence and my perception of myself that I can not fathom that he is not in my life at all and hasn't been for almost ten years. I know it would not even make sense for him to be in my life--there's no reason for him to be, no vacancy to fill, no role to play. Still, I miss him, the idea of him, the simplicity of my agony over him..."

All this time, he'd only been a ten-digit number away. Or a thirty-seven cent stamp. I'd been talking myself out of contacting him (off and on) for nearly twenty years. It didn't take me long--a month or so--to talk myself into contacting him.

The note said, "This will probably be the weirdest thing you find in your mailbox all year..." I told him that as an Army brat I'd left lots of people behind and that he'd been one of the people I'd wondered about the most. I told him I'd love to hear from him. I dropped the note in the mail minutes after I'd written it so I wouldn't have the chance to chicken out (or come to my senses, depending on how you look at it).

Then I waited.

* Thanks Bowling for Soup!

Monday, August 01, 2005

"...Quote Long-lost Boyfriend Unquote..."

Turns out not only is a visit from an old friend you haven't seen in nearly two decades a great way to remind yourself just how old you actually are, but if that friend happens to be of the opposite sex, the visit also tends to bring out the immaturity in all those around you. No one has actually whipped out the "_____and _____ sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g" song yet, but it's been on the tips of a couple of tongues and I caught someone humming it earlier today.

Despite the rumors to the contrary (started by none other than my own father*), he is not my "long-lost boyfriend." He was never lost; I've known right where he was all along thanks to occasional updates from a faithful spy and help from 411, back when it was still 555-1212. Further, he was never my boyfriend. Though I would like the record to show that that part was no fault of mine--really it was no fault of his either.

Being an Army brat, I spent my growing-up years hopping from town to town and his was a town I lived in twice. The first time from December of our eighth grade year through March of our ninth grade year and the second for four months during our senior year. Circumstances sent me packing again the January before graduation to a tiny town several hours away. I graduated from the high school in that tiny town surrounded by seventy-one near strangers.

This friend and I met in gym class in eighth grade and shared several other classes during the day as well. We soon found out that we had quite a bit in common. He had recently transferred from another school and, of course, I was a transfer veteran. We were both oldest children with smart mouths and quick tempers. We were both deeply attached to our crotchety grandfathers, both of whom were unwell. We understood each other. We were buddies first and then with hormones muddling things up, there were some near-misses with mushy stuff, especially over the summer at the community pool where clear water, shiny Lycra, emerging curves and the lack of parental supervision put even the most virtuous girls and boys at risk for "naughty" behavior. In ninth grade, we didn't have any classes together and rarely bumped into each other in our fairly large high school. And in spring of that year, my family was off again, per the dictate of the U.S. Army, into the wilds of New Hampshire.

During the two-and-a-half years I spent in New Hampshire, I didn't think of this friend often--there were intervening crushes, of course, and friendships and a part-time job and school--but when I did think of him, there was always a big question mark in my mind and a tinge of regret that things had been left so unresolved between us. When, a few weeks before the start of my senior year, it became clear that the military intended to move us again, my mother set about making arrangements for me to go back to the school where I 'd started high school, the school where this friend was also beginning his senior year. He was not the only reason I went back--I went back because it was familiar at a time when little else was, I went back because I had other friends there with whom I had stayed in touch, I went back because it was easier than going forward to something unknown--but a curiosity about him was on my list of reasons.

Senior year, we stood even less of a chance of running into each other--he was in vocational classes and was out of the building most of the day. Still, I grabbed what I could. I was like a wildlife photographer tracking that elusive species the High School Crush. He has recently asked me, "Instead of stalking me, why didn't you just talk to me?" He told me he'd heard rumors that I liked him, that it might not be purely coincidental that my car was always in the spot next to the friend's truck he rode home in every day. He thought they couldn't possibly be true.

Despite our best efforts to act like complete idiots that fall, we did manage to have several conversations that neither of us ever forgot--including one in a barn basement. He was a cocky kid, he admits it now and probably would've admitted it then. That day, I had somehow found myself in a conversation about his "attitude" with the woman he worked for and my friend, her niece. On a dare, I went out to the barn to tell him that I thought a lobotomy would fix his attitude. We ended up talking for twenty minutes about what had happened in our lives in the almost three years since we'd last had a real conversation. I walked away feeling like he had shown me a side of himself that he didn't let many others see.

And for the next few weeks, I obsessed about what his willingness to "bare his soul" might mean about how he felt about me. I was extremely insecure, though, and I also had been trained by years of Army Bratdom to not get too attached--or to at least not let that attachment show--because all it would do was make the next move harder. In short, I was afraid to pursue whatever might be there because both failure and success could've been equally disastrous.

In January, my living arrangements in his town fell apart through a variety of unconnected events that somehow felt like the Gods of High School Romance were smiting me. So off I went to the tiny town where I knew no one except my family and, along with my suitcase, I packed even more questions about him than I'd had to start with.

This weekend was, in part, an attempt to answer some of those questions. And my questions, at least, are answered. His--the ones I never even knew he had--are covered, too.

There seem to be an awful lot of NEW questions being asked now, though--not by either of us, but by everyone around us. As long as no one regresses to the days of cootie shots, I guess I can live with it.

*I talked to my eleven-year-old niece on the phone Friday evening just before my friend's arrival. She said, "Grandpa called here looking for you. He was wondering when your quote long-lost boyfriend unquote was coming to town. His words--not mine!"