25
Aug

I’ve always been a goody-goody. Never got in trouble at school. Always did my homework. Cleaned my room compulsively. Never Almost never talked back. All in all, my parents hit the good kid jackpot when I was born.

But there was this one time… I was twelve. Prime age for peer pressure persuasion. (Alliteration rocks!) I hung out a lot with this one girl; she was my gateway friend. Perhaps you also had one as a kid. We had been buddies since grade school, but I could sense that the tide was changing once junior high began. Though I was not and would never be classified as popular in school, this girl was on the brink of social status stardom. Fast-forward two years and we weren’t even talking to each other anymore, but for the moment we were still pals and that meant I was not only hanging out with her but also her other social butterfly friends. It was a double-edged sword.

These kids were kind of bad. Isn’t that how it always happens? Why can’t you be popular and have a 4.0 GPA? Never seems to turn out that way. Not to say that these kids were the devil’s offspring or anything; I never once witnessed an animal sacrifice. They just liked to steal mail. Weird, right? What’s so cool about taking someone’s mail? I didn’t get it. Most mail is just bills anyway, not to mention that it’s a federal offense. Naturally, I was nervous about this plan of action. Naturally, I remained completely silent.

We didn’t get very far. It was 2pm on a Saturday afternoon; everyone and their mother were outside. I think we made it maybe a quarter of a block before some furiously red-faced, middle-aged dude came charging after us. We all made a dash for it, yet he still managed to wrangle all four of us. I nearly soiled my shorts and threw up a little in my mouth; my body was rejecting teenage rebellion. Yet after many heated threats of corporal punishment, he finally exhausted himself and let us go without calling the cops. But lesson learned. From that day forth, I vowed never to do anything bad ever again…

Though I do enjoy a little insurrection every once in a while. I mean, seriously, who didn’t want to see the Joker stick it to Batman in The Dark Knight? And yes, I also wanted Bonnie and Clyde to live happily ever after. Same goes for Darth Vader and Michael Corleone. There’s just something about living vicariously through other people’s bad behavior; I can enjoy the mayhem minus the intestinal discomfort. Yet rarely do I cross paths with a Michael Corleone. More often it’s a dude sneaking a few free grapes in the produce aisle or some chick who thinks she can park in a red zone without getting a ticket. Yawn.

But there was this one time… Last week. After a night of dinner, drinks and three desserts – you read that correctly – my friend and I were exiting the parking garage. Since everyone in America is so cheap, and parking garages are so expensive to maintain what with all that cement and fluorescent lighting, no longer do actual human beings man these places. It’s all automated, baby.

Anyway. One exit lane was already occupied, so my friend pulled up to the other. Though while fishing for her ticket, both she and I got distracted by the commotion in the other lane. I don’t know if it was the late hour, a few too many drinks or just good ole fashioned SoCal princess entitlement, but this chick was mad. From what I could gather, the machine wasn’t accepting her credit card. Princess exited her SUV. I looked over at my friend; she immediately put our car into park.

Princess then pushed the help button a dozen times and waited, her perfectly manicured hands on her hips and designer shoe impatiently tapping the ground; within moments, we could hear the garbled voice of a phantom attendant who sounded like he had been outsourced from a bunker in Libya. Irritated, Princess told him the machine was broken. The dude told her to enter her ticket. She said she already had. The dude told her to enter her credit card. She said she already had. He told her to do it again.

“The damn thing won’t take my card!”

“Try (static) again.”

“I’ve tried a million times! It’s not working! I need someone to come out here right now and help me!”

“Please (static) try again.”

“If someone doesn’t come out here right now, I’m going to run this gate down!”

That was the end of negotiations, and for the record, I was totally Team Princess. Who hasn’t wanted to mow down one of those gates at some time or another? (Especially after paying $24 for two hours. I’m lookin’ at you, Chicago!) My friend and I peeked out her back window; there was another car behind us, but he also was too engaged in the show to mind the wait. I suddenly wanted popcorn.

Princess got back in her car and slammed the door shut. My friend and I smiled at each other like it was Christmas morning; I started clapping my hands together like an idiot. We both watched excitedly as Princess revved the engine and peeled into reverse, instantly shooting back several dozen feet. She then shifted into drive… and pulled over into our lane.

No! What a letdown. I was so ready to see that gate get demolished. In fact, I was a little too ready. Apparently I have an appetite for destruction. Moreover, I haven’t been able to let the incident go; I’m searching for excuses to go back to that garage. I want that machine to be broken. I want that attendant to be disinterested and unhelpful. Honestly, I just really, really want to take down that gate… Unless there are cameras. Are there cameras? Probably, right? I think there are cameras. Hmm… Shoot. Nevermind.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

18
Aug

My neighborhood is da bomb; I love it. It’s clean. It’s safe. It’s super residential. I never wanted to live next to twenty-somethings who partied all night long even when I was twenty-something, and thankfully they have steered clear of my ‘hood. Instead, you’re more likely to find the residents here tending to their rose gardens, chatting it up with neighbors or walking their Labs and picking up after them. This makes me very happy. I’ve been living here for a few years now and can honestly say that I adore pretty much everything about it.

Except for the kids. They’re becoming a problem.

Apparently the purpose of owning a home is to have a place to stash your offspring, as it seems like every house on my block has at least one child. Until recently this hasn’t been a problem. I’m out and about quite often – running is my stress outlet – and every time I go for a jog at least one or two tots will smile and wave their chubby little hands at me as their moms push their strollers by. Totally cute, right? But those preteeners… They have got to go.

It all started with the lemonade stand. For the record, lemonade stands are for children under the age of ten, and I’m being generous here. The crux of a lemonade stand’s marketing strategy – the only reason why it works – is because the kids are little and adorable. That’s it. That’s the hook. Why else would you buy that watered down waste? Not to mention the questionable sanitary conditions of said lemonade; you think those chunky little fingers weren’t inside a nose moments prior to grabbing that cup of bacteria-infested refreshment for you? But when all is said and done, that cherub is just too cute to refuse, so you buy the lemonade that will be used to water some nearby grass. Though once those diminutive entrepreneurs hit ten years old, it’s time for a new gig. Why? Because they’re neither little nor adorable anymore. It’s true and I have proof: my fifth grade school portrait. It’s atrocious. Pre-braces and on the verge of yet another growth spurt, I bear a shocking resemblance to that chick from Welcome to the Dollhouse. Moreover, for whatever reason – cattle and chickens juiced up on steroids, global warming, Keeping Up with the Kardashians – kids are, ahem, maturing faster than ever. Meaning? The cuteness factor disappears even earlier nowadays.

Anyway. There are these girls in my neighborhood, all about ten to thirteen, and I swear they have a lemonade stand set up every week. I know this because I’m constantly running past them. Note the word “running.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t carry cash or credit cards with me during a run. (Did you read that, Mr. Mugger Man?) In fact, it’s the only time I can leave the house without my arsenal of “things.” No cell phone. No planner. No wallet. But these kids don’t get that because every single time I jog past, they scream, “Lemonade!” and I do mean scream, which is another reason I wouldn’t buy from them had I the cash on me. Not a fan of the hard sell. However, I tried to be polite the first time this happened. I kindly smiled and shrugged, “Sorry!” So what did they do? Those brats just continued to yell “Lemonade! Lemonade! Lemonade!” in rapid succession as I fled down the block. This has happened now four or five times.

You may be asking, “Why don’t you just jog on the other side of the street?” For one, I refuse to be intimidated by those pint-sized bullies. I’m not going to change my routine because of them. Second, it wouldn’t matter. If they saw me across the street, they would either yell louder or chase me down. Perhaps that seems a little far-fetched? They wouldn’t actually chase me down, would they?

Last week. I was just minding my own business, jogging along peacefully. That’s when I saw them… Six or seven in all. No lemonade stand this time, though. They had graduated to full-on gang activity: hanging out on the street corner and loitering. Yet being the glass half-full gal that I am, I thought this could be a good thing. I approached with cautious optimism.

However, I couldn’t immediately cross the street due to passing cars, and this would prove to be my downfall. I had to do that lame jogging in place maneuver, and these kids thought it was hilarious. They promptly decided to join me. So there I was, stuck with a half-dozen obnoxious preteeners, all jogging in place together.

It was time to get out of there. Not willing to be the subject of their ridicule any longer, I darted into traffic and somehow made it to the other side of the street in one piece. I wasn’t alone. They had all followed me. Now what? What exactly was I supposed to do? I knew that if I said anything, this would only incite them to worse behavior. At the same time, the indignant prig in me felt compelled to admonish them for their bad manners. “Does your mother know what you’re doing?!” In the end, I did nothing. I was a kid once; I still know how to play the game. They want attention, plain and simple. To ignore them is the only winning strategy, so I did my best Helen Keller (who runs) impersonation and kept my eyes on the road. I never acknowledged their presence… And it worked. Before I finished the next block, they had all quit their quest to annoy me. Or maybe I’m just twice their age and in better shape. Or maybe next time I pass their lemonade stand I might “accidentally” kick their table and spill that disgusting swill. I’d be doing the whole neighborhood a favor.

Image: Vlado / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

11
Aug

I consider myself a fairly happy-go-lucky person. I never went through a goth phase. I don’t listen to Bauhaus, and frankly, Edgar Allan Poe’s kind of a downer. Besides, why would anyone subject themselves to all that gloom and doom just for fun? Between stock markets faltering and unemployment woes soaring, the world is depressing enough. If I have two hours to kill, it will not be spent watching Sophie’s Choice; seriously, Pretty in Pink was tough enough to get through. It still pains me that Andie chose Blane over Duckie.

However, I have from time to time pondered my own mortality. In fact, I almost died once or twice… Okay, maybe not really, but it sure did feel like it. Though more unsettling than these would-be confrontations with death was the manner in which I was about to meet my maker. On both occasions, all I could think was, “This can’t be how I go out.”

My first encounter with the Grim Reaper occurred in a Ralph’s parking lot. (For those of you in the Midwest, I was at Jewel.) While loading groceries into my car, I suddenly noticed something in the sky. Not a bird. Not a plane. Not Superman. Rather it looked like some kind of spherical alien spacecraft, and while that may sound ridiculous, I was convinced that War of the Worlds was about to get real. My heart started to race. I looked around and noticed other shoppers looking up into the sky, also rendered immobile by the spectacle in front of them… Speaking of, you know how you’re watching a movie and the characters freeze when something bad is about to happen, and then you yell at the screen because they’re idiots and you know you would never just stand there and do nothing if the world was about to end? Well, you’re wrong. Tom Cruise didn’t instinctively know to get the hell out of Dodge; the script told him to steal that minivan and burn rubber. In real life, most of us would freeze because what exactly are you supposed to do if you spy alien ships descending upon earth? If they want to exterminate us, we’re pretty much dead no matter if we have icky human germs or not.

But I digress. In that moment, I wasn’t that bothered about meeting my demise; I just didn’t want it to happen in a Ralph’s parking lot. Seriously? This was how I was going to die? Not peacefully in my sleep surrounded by hundreds of loved ones? (I plan to be super rich when I’m old and have all my friends and family members fighting over my fortune after I kick the bucket.) Or perhaps I could go out in a literal blaze of glory rescuing orphans from a burning building? No, I was going to die in the O.C. surrounded by blinged out Escalades, fake and bake trophy wives and my bags of Totino’s pizza rolls.

As it turned out, I didn’t die. Instead I got in my car and booked it outta there as fast as I could. Upon reaching the safety of my home, I then went online to get the 411. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought our civilization was coming to an end; the local news reported multiple calls to the police department all due to a satellite having been launched that afternoon…

Fast-forward to last weekend. I’m taking a shower. Normally a routine procedure, but not on this fateful afternoon. As it was a very warm day, I had the window open in the bathroom (nothing can be seen from outside, I swear!) and was in the middle of sudsing my hair when all of a sudden I heard the unmistakable sound of a plane flying overhead. Except in this case, the plane seemed to be thirty feet overhead rather than thirty-five thousand… And it was getting closer.

“A plane is about to crash into my apartment.” This was the exact thought that ran through my mind; it was terrifying. All of a sudden I felt very alone, and time seemed to slow down. In fact I had enough time to realize that I was naked with shampoo in my hair and this was how they would find me in the rubble.

I braced one hand on the tile, the other on the glass door, and readied myself for impact. “I’m going to die in the shower. I’m going to die in the shower.” Here’s the other thing I realized in this moment. The whole life flashing before your eyes thing doesn’t really happen. Treasured memories don’t run through your mind like an old Super 8 movie. Loved ones that have passed on before you don’t suddenly appear to lead you into the white light. Instead you’re just thinking about how embarrassing it’s going to be when the first responders notice that you haven’t shaved in three days. Or at least that’s what I was thinking. Even on the brink of death, my vanity knew no limits.

Then I saw them pass by: the four military jets flying in perfect formation over my apartment building. Those jackasses. Because of them, I got shampoo in my eyes and was forced to contemplate my entire existence. Was my time on earth really over? What did I have to show for it? Just how big of a turnout would I get at my funeral? Man, they got me all worked up over nothing. Like I said, I don’t really like thinking about death… But dude, that dress Andie made for prom? I haven’t stopped thinking about that monstrosity since 1986.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

04
Aug

I’ve always been comforted by noise. It’s like my security blanket, or rather it became my security blanket when my parents chucked my real security blanket ala Mr. Mom when I was only four… Jerks. Since then, I pretty much have to have something on when doing pretty much anything: cooking, cleaning, sleeping. In fact, one of my favorite things is dozing off on the couch while a movie plays in the background. (Most likely wrapped in a blanket my parents will never get their hands on.)

Conversely, I get kind of freaked out when it’s too quiet. It feels like something bad is about to happen, or at least that’s how it goes down on the big screen. It’s dead quiet and then Michael Myers takes a kitchen knife to your temple. I’m no dummy. I especially get spooked whenever driving around the Chicago ‘burbs late at night. Everything seems to shut down once the sun disappears… It’s like they know. I remember once driving around town to find anything fast food to eat. Not even ten o’clock, it already was a ghost town. Nothing was open. I finally got desperate and shamefully headed over to Walgreens to buy whatever prepackaged garbage I could get my hands on. They were locking the doors as I parked.

Which is why I love LA. Twenty-four hour Walgreens. Twenty-four hour McDonald’s. Twenty-four hour everything. Should I suddenly need a two-pack of Sharpie pens or a large fry at 2a.m., I am secure in the knowledge that I won’t have to wait until morning to satisfy my desire. It’s awesome.

Also awesome is my neighborhood. I live off a somewhat major street, and while I’m probably breathing in more than my fair share of the already ridiculous amount of exhaust this city produces, I’m cool with it. Except for the occasional – okay, daily – screeching of tires that makes my heart stop every time, I like listening to the constant hum of cars passing my apartment all hours of the day. It’s calming.

Across the street from me is a fire station, and yes, they don’t care if it’s three in the afternoon or three in the morning; those sirens are screaming at least a dozen times a day. This doesn’t bother me either. In a weird way, knowing that I live a mere fifty feet from a dozen very capable (and might I add, very nice looking) firemen makes me feel safe.

However, the singing in my neighborhood is getting out of hand. Seriously. There’s barely an hour of the day when I’m not hearing someone singing something, and judging from what I’ve endured so far, we don’t have any American Idols living on my block. For one, I live next door to a church. I swear they have choir practice at least five times a week, which would lead you to believe that they might be pretty good, right? Practice makes perfect? No. They sound horrible. Actually, I’m surprised it doesn’t rain more in my neighborhood; as a child I was told that raindrops are the tears of angels. Believe me, if they can hear this singing, they are weeping. I also live two doors down from an ashram, and they just love getting their chant on as well, especially on weekends. I wouldn’t mind this so much if they would just switch it up every once in a while; it’s always the same chant. I mean, really, it’s like eating ice cream every night. I love me some ice cream, but I would eventually get sick of it if I had it every single night. What about cake? Or brownies? Or maybe no dessert at all every once in a while. Would that be so bad?

But the worst are my neighbors. Granted, they don’t all sing at the same time. Their concerts aren’t as loud or as long, but somehow it’s still worse. At least when there’s a group singing together, their terrible voices somewhat cancel each other out. When it’s somebody singing solo, you can’t not hear how bad he or she is. In particular, I have a neighbor who loves breaking out the power ballads just as I’m going to bed. I’d like to believe that he sings in the middle of the night because he thinks everyone else is unconscious, but I suspect he knows that his audience has nowhere else to go at that hour and will inevitably be captivated, or rather held captive, by his golden voice. His specialty is love songs from the 1970s.

Though I suppose it’s not all that bad. At least I’m not listening to gunfire or crying babies all day long, in which case I’d easily choose gunshots over screaming infants. Not to say that I’ve been able to take the high road and ignore all the wannabe Kelly Clarksons and Taylor Hicks. (By the way, what happened to that guy?) As a sign of protest, I’ve taken to shower singing. With my window open. Why? Because I’m no singer either, and I want everyone else to suffer the way I’ve been suffering. Sure, it’s petty, but I have confidence that my point will be heard sooner or later. When that time arrives, I will finally have back the peace and quiet that comes only from motorcycles revving, ambulances wailing and my movies blaring.

Image: fotographic1980 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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