As a kid, I always got excited for the first day of school. (Nerd alert!) As soon as I received that packet in the mail informing me of my new teacher and required materials, it was game on. First, the rush to pick up my Lisa Frank folders and pencils. Next, the selection of the perfect first-day-back-to-school outfit. Finally, the wait. As it turns out, it doesn’t take that long to grab a few pairs of jeans and some sweaters from Sears. I still had weeks to go before the day when those scholastic pearly gates would open once again. By the time I was less than twenty-four hours from that magnificent moment, I could barely lie still let alone sleep; therefore, in an ironic twist of fate, I usually fought to keep my eyes open the first day of school, as I was completely exhausted from weeks of expectation.

Still, it was awesome to have something to get that stoked about. Not so much anymore. Sure, there might be a season premiere or two that I anticipate each year, but usually I fall out of grace with said show around the third or fourth episode. Short attention span. And I can tell you right now that you will not see me getting in line days ahead of time this summer just to watch The Avengers on opening night. Oh, and Black Friday? Forget it. I would much rather extend my post-Thanksgiving food coma for as long as possible than drag my bloated self to the nearest Best Buy to get pepper-sprayed while wrestling for the last half-off HDTV in stock. But that’s just me.

With one exception.

Every year around this time, life gets a little more exciting. A little brighter. A little tastier. Why? Because it’s Shamrock Shake season, folks.

That’s right. I am an unabashed die-hard lover of the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake. Some might say, “It just tastes like mint.” Others, “Why would you eat anything that unholy shade of green?” Still others, “Gross.” But to me, it’s like drinking rainbows and sunbeams and smiles all at once.

It may have something to do with my childhood. Some peeps are sentimental about their Cabbage Patch Kids or original Star Wars figurines; I happen to have fond memories of the Shamrock Shake. If you haven’t heard, Chicago is pretty big into the whole St. Patrick’s Day thing. In fact, we love it so much that we turn our river green to celebrate it. That, combined with McDonald’s being headquartered in the nearby suburbs, and you have an annual marketing blitz that encourages sucking down as much of that green yumminess as your stomach can handle. I remember many a trip to Mickey D’s for a Shamrock Shake or ten during the limited time they were offered. It was glorious.

Which is why I go into Shamrock Shake shock whenever I hear that someone I know has never experienced one. How can this be? What kind of deprived childhood did you have? It’s like growing up without sunlight or water. Only recently did I then learn that McDonald’s didn’t always have the Shamrock Shake available at all its locations. It’s taken forty-two years for them to finally see the error of their ways; you’ll be relieved to know as I was that as of 2012 the sublime Shamrock Shake is available nationwide.

Yet just the other day I was informed once again that someone dear had not yet tasted the sheer wonder that is the Shamrock Shake. I informed said individual that whether he liked it or not, he would be having one that weekend with me. How exciting to actually witness somebody’s baptism into the Shamrock Shake world!

Alas, it was not meant to be. Upon seeing him a few days later, he casually mentioned that he had tried one… without me… and it wasn’t that good. What?! Blasphemy! I was visibly crushed. In an effort to temper my quickly deflating good mood, he then offered to try another. Not all was lost; I was convinced I could convert him yet… We got our shakes. I took a sip. He took a sip. I waited eagerly for his next words.

“It tastes good. Better than last time.”


“Yeah, it’s good.” Okay, not exactly the ringing endorsement I was hoping to hear, but I suppose not everyone can feel the Shamrock Shake spirit. Oh well, just means more neon green yumminess for me.

Image: africa / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


I’ve never been very good at learning foreign languages. Actually, I’ve been horrible at it. Terrible. Miserable. Awful. I even grew up with a mother who’s bilingual, yet never picked up more than a few words of her native tongue. Though nowadays it seems that kindergarteners are being taught Spanish or French, my option to take a foreign language didn’t become available until high school. Besides the standard Spanish, our second choice was Latin. That was it. No French. No German. No Mandarin. About 95% of our freshman class immediately signed up for Espanol. That made sense, right? You were bound to use Spanish at some point down the road, if even to place a proper order at Taco Bell… So of course I opted for Latin. Though I now have “carpe diem” forever seared into my brain, I certainly did not seize the opportunity to learn something that might have served me better in life.

Once I started traveling abroad, I relied on the kindness of strangers – and their English comprehension – to get by. I figured I would never go anywhere so remote that no one would speak English. If on the off chance they didn’t, I would break out plan B: speak loudly and gesticulate wildly. That usually did the trick. Once while in France, a woman came up to me and started to spew a firestorm of French. I knew immediately that she assumed I was a native. In some weird way, I took that as a compliment. However, I couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying to me. Embarrassed, I replied, “Je suis desolee. Je ne comprends pas.” Translation: sorry, I don’t understand. This was all I retained after three years of French in college.

French 101 was about as close as I ever got to having a nervous breakdown. Upon my first day of class, I had naively assumed everyone was like me: a French newbie who wanted to learn about another language and culture. Wrong. So wrong. Every other student but me had taken French all throughout high school and wanted an easy A. It was hell, but I kept going. Each semester, I would sign up for the next class, and though I managed grade-wise, it was becoming a situation of diminishing returns. As the lessons became more and more advanced, I was forced to spend more and more time on my homework to ensure that it was perfect. It was the only way to balance my in-class participation grade: a big, fat F. The moment I stepped into that classroom, the cold sweats would begin. Hearing everyone around me speaking French was like listening to birds chirping or dogs howling. I hadn’t the slightest clue what anyone was saying. No matter how much I studied, it never sank in.

So I quit.

Years later, I still haven’t earned that bilingual title, though I’m not too broken up about the French thing. I have my own theory why la langue Francaise never took; it’s because I grew up in Chicago. French is a beautiful language. Chicagonese is not. Your mouth learns how to say words in an entirely different way. I should have tried German.

And though it’s been a few years since I’ve visited a foreign land, now more than ever I’m frustrated with my stunted language-learning brain. I may live in LA, but that doesn’t mean a plethora of languages other than English aren’t spoken here. You can drive through many a neighborhood where all the store signs and billboards are in Spanish or Korean or something else that doesn’t make any sense to me.

Plus, I hate when you realize someone is talking about you in another language and you’re helpless to do anything about it. As a child, it happened quite a bit when I was in the presence of my mother, aunt and baba (that’s grandma to you). Most of the time they would speak to each other in English, but then suddenly switch over as swiftly as birds changing flight. I would study their faces and could tell from their self-satisfied grins that they were discussing me. It was infuriating.

Not much has changed since then, except instead of family members dishing behind my back – err, to my face – it’s my students and their parents. It’s an unsettling feeling when you’re thanking them for a bottle of water and moments later they’re laughing about something I can’t understand. Was it something I said? Did I dribble down my chin? What is it?! But little do they know that I now have a secret weapon: my iPhone. Did you know there are dozens upon dozens of applications that can translate any language into English? C’est vrai.


Image: Kookkai_nak / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


When it comes to fight or flight, I fall decidedly in the middle. I neither put up my dukes nor run like the wind; rather I just stand there like a chump and wait to see what comes next. This is exactly what happened the last time LA had a decent earthquake. I was at work and knew immediately that something was going down… like the building in which I was standing. Fascinated, I watched as the walls oscillated before my very eyes. Briefly looking to the exit, I considered if I should get the hell out of Dodge. Nah. I returned to my wall watching and was almost sad when that unsettling rolling motion beneath my feet came to an end.

So you have people like me, who are struck stupid during a disaster, and then you have those souls who immediately seize the opportunity to regale the rest of us with their impressive knowledge of all things catastrophic. Let’s get real, though. These individuals aren’t heroes. They don’t care about rescuing kittens from treetops or babies from burning buildings. They just want everyone to know that they saved Fluffy from impending doom. These are the same people who minus a crisis still force themselves into your perfectly safe and sound life whether you like it or not. It’s the grandma who comments on your choice of cereal while checking out at the grocery store. The strange man who critiques your reading material as you wait at the car wash. The weird dude who approaches an expectant mother to give pregnancy advice. I believe the official term for these people is “know-it-all.” Most times it’s also used in conjunction with the word “crazy.”

Such was the case last weekend when I was dropping off some papers for work. It was a Saturday, and although the office was technically closed, one coordinator was on hand to collect said paperwork. Though as I neared the entrance, I noticed a few people standing outside the door… A line? Great. Just great. Now I would have to wait before getting my Judy Greer triple-header on. (In order of awesomeness… 13 Going on 30, 27 Dresses and What Women Want.) It was only once I peered inside that my pity party came to a screeching halt. Lying on the floor was a young man. Eyes wide open and perfectly still, he stared at the ceiling and seemed to be unresponsive.

Someone was already on the line with 911, and shortly thereafter an ambulance and fire truck arrived. Impressive. Most impressive. I, on the other hand, was not. Because I have to make every situation about myself, I was mortified that numerous people – firemen, no less – were seeing me sans makeup. I had assumed this little drop-off would be just that and barely bothered brushing my hair before walking out the door. Now stranger after stranger were witness to my bare-naked face. Odd, they appeared to not notice; with a single focus they wheeled in the gurney and immediately got to work. The others and I looked on as they checked the man’s vital signs and asked for his name. He remained catatonic. That’s when some random chick decided to pipe up.

The paramedics had the situation under control; however, this woman decided that they could benefit from her medical expertise. Peering down at the young man, she began her diagnosis of the patient. “He’s breathing, but unresponsive.” Nice work, Dr. Grey. “I think he might be on drugs.” I agree that somebody was on drugs. “Or maybe someone did this to him.” Professor Plum with a candlestick in the library.

Seeing as the paramedics were unresponsive to her, she turned to the rest of us. “I don’t know, guys. There’s something wrong about this.” Obviously. “We don’t know who else is in this building. Maybe there’s somebody here who could hurt us.” I was convinced, but not that a homicidal maniac was about to end all of us; I wondered if perchance a straightjacket was in that ambulance. “I’m getting a bad feeling about this building. I think we should leave. We should all leave now.”

Inadvertently confirming her suspicions, the paramedics then prepared to exit the building. As efficient as they come, in a matter of minutes they wheeled out the patient and started toward the ambulance. The rest of us, a bit dazed and confused, followed them outside and watched as they left for the hospital. After checking his ID, turns out the poor guy was the coordinator with whom we were supposed to meet. That kind of put a damper on things.

Yet with the patient gone and no one left in the building, our self-appointed Sarah Connor would not stop spewing her unsolicited assertions. “You know, I always felt something was wrong here. Something’s not right about that building.” The last time I yelled at someone to shut up I was probably ten years old and my older sister was certainly saying something to deserve it. I could feel myself regressing once again. However, the half-dozen other individuals and I simply walked away from crazy know-it-all mid-sentence. Undeterred, she turned her attention to the approaching security guard on duty. I should have warned him, but as luck would have it, my flight instinct just happened to kick in at that very moment.

Epilogue: I inquired about the young man a few days later. He spent about six hours in the hospital and was later released into the care of his wife. They still don’t know what exactly happened. Nervous breakdown? Or perhaps he was forced into a catatonic state after becoming the victim of random chick’s ranting? My bet’s on the latter.

Image: vichie81 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Jury duty. Again.

If I sound a tad irritated, you would be right. Aside from my father who has been summoned for jury duty exactly once in his almost seventy years and claims that it’s a very “interesting process,” most people I know view it the same way they view luggage fees and half-days at work… Lame. Just add the fee to the freakin’ ticket price, and give employees the entire day off. Everyone knows nothing gets done on a half-day.


Quickly finding the seat most removed from stranger danger, I settled in and whipped out my laptop. No more than thirty seconds later, someone took the seat rightnextome. An older and rather burly gentleman, he was obviously not familiar with the unspoken rules of personal space. In no mood to feign politeness, I scooted one seat over. Unperturbed, he remained where he sat, hands folded over his Buddha belly, and silently bided his time until a suitable mark arrived. A few minutes later, she appeared; a very nice-looking and very unlucky woman sat down across from him.

“So did ya get any traffic comin’ over here?”

She politely answered no. That was encouragement enough for him. He continued that he had come all the way from Arcadia, but didn’t mind the drive. Unlucky Lady declined to comment; he was not deterred by her silence. I tried to block out his rambling with my headphones, but no matter how loudly I blasted Enya – it was one of those days – I couldn’t drown out his voice. Then much to my surprise I heard him say, “Yeah, my wife was just told that her breast cancer came back, but she don’t want chemo no more. Said she don’t want to live like this, gonna kill herself somehow.”

Come again? Did I hear that correctly? How did the conversation turn from commuting to cancer? I couldn’t believe this man was spilling his life story to someone he met exactly two minutes ago. My mind then flashed back to my college years when I was also working retail. I suddenly remembered the number of times when after purchasing a pair of earrings or cute blouse, a customer would casually launch into a tale about her cheating boyfriend or intrusive mother. Usually my response was, “Would you like to have your receipt or should I put it in the bag?” I’ve never been much good with TMI. However, I have also never passed up a sweet eavesdropping opportunity and promptly shut down my iTunes to better hear my neighbors.

As it turned out, Unlucky Lady was quite the chatterbox herself. Initially resistant to Buddha’s conversation starters, she began to speak up more and more. Perhaps a bit too much. Within a few minutes, I found out that she had a “horrible track record with guys,” but was now living with a very nice widower who may or may not want to marry her. However, this didn’t trouble her. He treated her well and that’s all that really matters, right?

Buddha listened intently and finally issued a reply: “I told my wife that if she was gonna kill herself, wrecking a car would be wrong. Who knows who she might hurt?” Hmm… Not sure if that was an appropriate response, but Unlucky Lady just smiled sweetly and allowed Buddha to continue until a pause surfaced in the conversation. She then took that opportunity to tell another story about how wonderful her boyfriend was. They continued like this for hours, each taking turns talking about their lives without actually engaging the other. It seemed to suite them both just fine.

We finally broke for lunch. Freedom.

Upon returning to my holding cell, I absentmindedly sat down in the same seat as before. Buddha did the same. I quickly looked around for Unlucky Lady, but couldn’t find her anywhere and got nervous. Would I be Buddha’s next target? Thankfully, some poor soul made the mistake of sitting in the chair next to him. Within moments I heard Buddha say, “So my wife got her cancer back. Said she don’t want no chemo. Just wants to kill herself.”

While Unlucky Lady stoically hid her annoyance if indeed there was any, Unlucky Man was not as subtle. I noticed a leg twitch that became more and more pronounced as Buddha continued to chatter away. This dude had an opinion on everything…

Dating: “The man should always pay. If I were a lady, I’d get up and walk outside the second the check hit the table.”

Minimum wage: “This feller pays his employees $18 an hour. That’s how you get ‘em to stick around!”

Population control: “People are having too many babies.”

Family relations: “I haven’t talked to my brother in over five years. No birthday cards, no Christmas wishes, no nothin’!”

High school reunions: “The ones that were the most likely to succeed haven’t done anything with their lives. The hot chick is so fat she can’t see her own feet, and the ugly duckling is a knock out.”

Standardized testing: “They should throw it out in the wind. It’s bullsh*t.”

The Amish: “They’re just havin’ fun.” (I might have misheard that one.)

I was quite impressed by how Buddha could go on and on about nearly any topic. Of course, he eventually circled back to his favorite: his wife. “When she first got sick and had her surgery, I would wake up every morning at 4am to change her bandages and clean her wounds. Some men might have left their wives, but I’m old school. For better or worse, richer or poorer.”

I suddenly wanted to give Buddha a hug. Though his incessant talking was slightly infuriating, he was just a lonely old man mourning his sick wife and the little time she had left. Perhaps talking it out was a way for him to make peace with the situation. If he found solace in a stranger who was willing to listen, why should I be bothered by it?

Eventually those of us left in the holding cell were dismissed and given another year’s reprieve from jury duty. I walked out without saying anything to Buddha. Then again, I couldn’t have gotten a word in edgewise; still chatting away, he followed Unlucky Man out the building and together they disappeared into the afternoon sun.

Image: farconville / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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