Monday, October 27, 2008

Sexy Halloween!

Halloween is practically here, and I don't have my sexy costume put together yet. Which is unfortunate since any female over the age of 12 caught outside after dark on October 31 not wearing a sexy Halloween costume is executed. It was an unfortunate day when they passed that law.

I'm not planning on going out anywhere, but it's always good to have something ready just to be on the safe side. Last year, I was stuck on the subway for over an hour, watching the sun go down, wishing I had my emergency fishnets with me. Luckily, I can run really fast. The lady next to me wasn't so fortunate. The snipers got her. I watched from my window as the vans came and hauled away the bodies of the fallen. French maids wearing stilettos that didn't meet the 4-inch requirement. Sexy librarians wearing their actual prescription glasses instead of the fake kind. Women on crutches. All hauled away to the incinerator for the Sextapo mass cremation and hot dog roast.

Back when women could go out on Halloween wearing whatever they wanted, I refused to add the "sexy" to my costumes. I wore pants, sensible shoes, and a jacket. I dressed as Amelia Earhart, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Gloria Steinem. I refused to fellate a Blow Pop in an attempt to get free drinks. I absolutely would not participate in any sort of topless apple bobbing or lay on a bar and let someone eat a fun-sized Snickers bar from the crack of my ass. I would not swap my principles for a good time. But now...all of those things are required at gunpoint. If you bother to go out at all. At first, I tried to go along with it. But now I'm too afraid.

Two Halloweens ago, in a fit of protest, I dressed as Sexy Hillary Clinton and picketed with a few friends. We painted signs that said, "THE ONLY STILETTO I CARRY IS THE ONE IN MY BOOT." It was a bloodbath. Sexy Frida Kahlo took a bullet right between her eyebrow. Sexy Sandra Day O'Connor got her high heel caught in her justice robes and went down like a sack of stale popcorn balls. Which was when the attack dogs got her. I was the lone survivor of our Halloween protest. I took to the back alleys trying to pass myself off as a Sexy Deborah Norville, until I finally got back to my apartment.

The Sextapo got a little bit more strict after that. Now they send out the list of acceptable sexy costumes in August. Sexy Cop is no longer allowed, nor is Sexy First Lady. Soon, all we'll be allowed is either a sexy halo or a pair of sexy devil horns. Good or evil. Trick or treat.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

All the World Is My Stage. So...Get Off.

Acting. It is in my blood. Along with hemoglobin that transports oxygen from my lungs to the far reaches of my body. Acting--while not a metalloprotein but really more an ability to pretend really well--transports my brilliant facial expressions of surprise and dismay to the eyes of an audience sitting in a theater. It carries my really loud voice outward to the ears of grateful people waiting to be entertained. Acting transfers my enormous stage presence to the hands of theatergoers and manifests itself in the form of thunderous applause and repeated curtain calls. And as I curtsy my way off the stage in an entirely humble manner, I will know that my audience will leave changed for the better. If they didn't enjoy the theater before, they certainly will after seeing me on stage.

I was first bit by the acting bug in first grade, cast in my break-out role as the queen in "The King and Queen Who Wouldn't Speak." I later insisted on a title change that gave my role a bit more prominence. "The Queen Who Was Awesome and Everybody Loved Her" was an enormous success. As I fell upon my sword at the end of the production, much to the dismay of my teacher, Mrs. Votapka (who did not understand the importance of ad libbing), my fellow cast mates stood around in awe. Most likely because I had rigged a blood pouch hidden under my robes to rupture upon the sword point. It was spectacular indeed. Several kids threw up, and someone's grandma died.

In second grade, I was cast as Mother in the hit play "Tom the Turkey," wherein a brave turkey took on the corporate farmer who intended to slaughter him for the Thanksgiving feast. When Tom began to stutter over his lines, I confiscated his beak and wattle and began to perform my part and his simultaneously. When the axe was about to fall at the end of the production, snuffing out Tom's life and his hopes and dreams for a happy existence, I, as Mother, stepped in and saved my own life. And then, I performed a musical number on the spot about the importance of ham.

In third grade, I broadened my horizons just a little and dabbled in puppet theater. We fashioned our own puppets out of tennis balls with yarn for hair and glue-on googly eyes. My puppet arrived at our production of "Say No to Heroin" in a stylish pink Corvette borrowed from Barbie for the afternoon.

Through fourth and fifth grade, I began to face issues with typecasting. "Dancer #5?!" I raged. "Shopkeeper wearing hat?!" Entirely unsatisfied, I searched the prop closet for a sword upon which could throw myself.

In sixth grade, I was cast as one of the seven deadly sins in "Pandora's Box." I portrayed Pride. It was the performance of a lifetime. In order to prepare for the part, I went out into the streets of my very small town and talked to people who were more prideful than I. A minister. My grandma. A guy carrying a tuba. And then I rushed to my dressing chambers to begin to tear into the part of Pride with the kind of gusto usually associated with Richard Burbage or a young Dustin Hoffman.

But as time went on and I entered junior high, my acting career fell to the wayside. I began performing in the private theater on the landing in our house, writing and producing plays that my brothers inevitably turned into comedies with their fart jokes and unapproved costumes and props. In one production of "I Am Dying and Am Dead," my older brother arrived for his performance as Mackley the Zombie Cab Driver wearing a giant sandwich costume from the previous Halloween.

My one last great performance on the stage was as a Munchkin in our high school's production of The Wizard of Oz. I auditioned to be a member of the Lullaby League, but my voice was too deep. My vocal teacher compared it to Edith Piaf gargling the phlegm of Barry White. I then turned my hopes toward the Lollipop Guild but was again turned away and in devastation threw myself upon my oversized lollipop in despair. I played the part of Munchkin #12 with hardly any enthusasm at all. I just mouthed along to the words of "Ding Dong, the Witch Is Dead" and at one point gave Dorothy the finger.

I have since completely retired from acting, although there are certainly times when I am called upon to be dramatic. In a cab going the wrong direction. When I forget to put on deodorant. It is at these times that I raise my fist into the air and cry, "Oh, happy dagger!" and hurl myself onto a sharp object found in my purse, releasing both my acting and my hemoglobin out onto the dirty ground.

That little trick still makes the kids throw up.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The World Is a Lonely Place

I love that part in the movie Fargo where Mike Yanagita and Margie are having that totally awkward lunch at the Radisson and Mike goes, "You were such a super lady, and I'm...I'm so lonely." Because he's such a sad little man, and I secretly want to poke him with a stick and make him cry.

And yet, there's something really heartbreaking about someone admitting that he or she is lonely. It's almost more upsetting than someone saying, "I have cancer." Because admitting that you have cancer shows an enormous strength and almost implies, "I intend to fight this thing." It makes a person admire you even more. Admitting you're lonely is 1) far less newsworthy and 2) easily equated to saying, "Well, I have no friends."

I always think of Mike Yanagita when I realize I've just spent a weekend holed up in my apartment writing, taking naps, and forcing my cat to spoon with me. And I think to myself, "Is this normal behavior? Should I be enjoying solitude to the point where I don't notice that I haven't had a conversation with another human being for almost 48 hours? Am I weird?"

I've always been this way. When I was a baby, apparently I hated it when my mom tried to snuggle me up in the rocking chair. I wanted my crib, I wanted my pacifier, and I wanted the big-headed hairy people to fuck off.

Luckily, this means I hardly ever feel lonely. Which would come in handy were I ever the lone survivor of a global holocaust. I would probably amuse myself by quoting that part in Strange Brew where Bob says, "I was the last one left on the planet after the holocaust, eh. The earth had been like desvastated by nucular war. Like Russia blew up the U.S., and U.S. blew up Russia, eh. Lucky for me, I had been off planet on vacation at the time of the war, eh. There wasn't much to do. All the bowling alleys had been wrecked. So's I spent most of my time looking for beer." Then, I would giggle for fifteen minutes before setting off to find a library where I could reenact that scene from that episode of The Twilight Zone where Burgess Meredith breaks his glasses.

Unluckily, when I do feel lonely, it drags me down and makes me feel sorry for myself. It starts with a dull bitterness and grows into a general dislike of everyone. Inevitably, that is when I see couples on the subway making out or holding hands and I secretly fantasize about throwing rocks at them. Because, mentally, I'm five years old when the lonelies hit. The feeling always subsides, sometimes the next day, sometimes a week later. And I realize that if people saw this wicked, hateful side of me, they might not want to be my friends at all. And so I draw further into my unhappiness and away from the one thing that could make the lonelies go away: other people.

So, after one of these weekends of loneliness and cat spooning, sometimes one of my other favorite movies comes to mind. It's called The Lonely Guy, and it stars Steve Martin in one of his lesser-known roles. Steve Martin's character, Larry, gets dumped by his girlfriend and suddenly discovers that, for the first time in his life, he's becoming a "lonely guy." Lonely guys buy dogs and take up jogging in an attempt to meet women. They rent cardboard celebrity cutouts and throw parties with them as the guests. When the loneliness becomes too much, lonely guys throw themselves off the Manhattan Bridge in despair. And while this movie is, in fact, terrible, it is also a very brilliant depiction of loneliness at its most pathetic. At one point in the movie, Larry's friend Warren, played by Charles Grodin, convinces Larry to go with him to buy a fern. They dub the ferns their "guys" and depart when Warren says, "Does your guy want to say goodbye to my guy?"

I don't have ferns but I do have philadendrons that I named after Harry Potter characters.

So, how about it? Does your guy want to say goodbye to my guy?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Trick-or-Treat Indeed

Halloween is quickly approaching, and I am once again blowing the dust off last year's candy corn and putting it in a bowl for all of the people I hate.

"Gee whiz, Beth. I could sure use some candy to snack on," they will say when they stop by to borrow a cup of laundry detergent to wash their stupid socks.

And I will reply, "Oh, here is the most delicious candy on the planet! Eat this!" And they will eat several pieces of candy corn and fall down dead. Just as I planned.

Halloween is the time of year when I slowly and methodically feed terrible candy to everyone I dislike and hope that the terribleness of it kills them. The UPS man who refused to dig my packages out of the back of the truck because they were buried under too many other packages. The guy at the deli who claimed to be out of sesame bagels and then gave one to the bony-titted Whore-tron in line behind me. The lady at the gym who doesn't bother to close her shower curtain. People who breathe with their mouths open on the subway. All of them will taste my wrath this Halloween. And several Cherry Mashes.

"No, lady calling from Discover Card. As I mentioned when you called last time, I'm really not interested in signing up for the Discover Business Card. In order for that to be logical, I would first need a business. No, you calling for the fourth time today is not a problem at all. But before you go, have a butterscotch hard candy with my compliments."

"Oh, hello, racist guy who uses the N-word as freely and as often as Carrie Bradshaw walks around in her underwear. Here, have a Necco Wafer. But be careful. The chalkiness of those things can collect in your throat and may cause choking...if we're lucky."

Candy really is the best weapon ever devised. No one can say no to candy, especially around Halloween. And it can never be traced back to or blamed on me. Because what did I do? Offer you some candy? How kind of me! How charitable! Those wedding mints?! How unique that I give them away at Halloween, when there isn't even a wedding in sight!

So, this Halloween, if I offer you a piece of banana Laffy Taffy and then snicker behind my hand, just know that it's nothing personal. I'm just trying to kill you.

Monday, October 13, 2008

This Post Is Totally Disgusting

Have you heard? Soylent Green is made out of people. It's actually people. So if you are currently digging your spoon into a delicious luncheon or afternoon snack involving Soylent Green in some form, my best advice is to put down your eating utensil right away. Because, as I mentioned, Soylent Green is made out of people. It is, in fact, people.

And while we're on the subject, I would also avoid Bladder O's Breakfast Cereal. Not to be an alarmist, but they've discovered recently that the mini marshmallows in Bladder O's are made out of urine. It's totally urine. Back in the olden days, when the marshmallowed cereal market was dominated by the likes of Lucky Charms, people complained that the marshmallows were too crunchy and not very marshmallow like. So, the folks at Poopee Breakfast Foods, Inc. concocted a new formula from cheaper materials than sugar, corn syrup, and powdered cow hooves (or gelatin to the average person).

Marshmallows = urine

And don't even get me started on Toilet Toasties. Because it will only make you feel sicker than you did when I first told you about Soylent Green being made from people.

I sure hope you don't like Fro-Zen Brand Yogurt. If you do and are currently licking away at a delicious Fro-Zen treat, I would put it down before you read any further. Did you put it down? Good.

Fro-Zen Yogurt is made from hair.

And not just any hair. The hair collected from shower drains at gyms all across the country. Imagine that sweaty guy who works out on the treadmill next to you and how the perspiration accumulates in his back hair and sometimes splashes on you while you toil away on the Elliptical. Well, when he goes back to the locker room and takes a shower, all of that sweaty hair that detaches itself from the follicles on his sweaty back are eventually made into Fro-Zen Yogurt. They are melted down in hot motor oil and then mixed with some vanilla flavoring before being frozen in a large vat. So, next time you hear the sounds of the Fro-Zen Yogurt truck in your neighborhood, steer clear. It's made out of hair.

Well, I'd better get back to work. We have a lot of orders coming in, and these slugs won't skin themselves for the cupcakes. Remember what I said. Soylent Green: made out of people. So, be sure not to eat it.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Blistering, Festering Publishing

I knew that when I moved to New York, it was going to be extremely difficult to find a job in children's publishing. And I knew it was going to be nearly impossible to land something right away where I could work on the types of books that I love. I was ready for the stress and hard work like Luke Skywalker preparing to take on the Death Star.

I had grown up reading E.L. Konigsburg, Betsy Byars, Beverly Cleary, and Jerry Spinelli and, even as an adult, felt their books speaking to the awkward 10-year-old I used to be. A little part of me will always be Ramona Quimby, Age 8. I still fantasize about living at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, like they did in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. And every time I see a dog in the park, hot on the trail of a squirrel, I always think, "What is it, Mud? Possum?"

The summer before I packed up my two gigantic suitcases and boarded a plane for JFK, I spent nearly every day reading book after book and trying to figure out 1) who published it 2) who the editor was and 3) how I could possibly use my enjoyment of said book to get some sort of foot in the door at that company. I made a spreadsheet of this information and began drafting emails to these editors. I knew all it would take was one of my emails reaching the right editor at exactly the right time. I didn't care if it annoyed the crap out of them. I was going to be persistent, and would pay off. One day, I would sit at a desk and edit books all day long. I would work long hours and take piles of manuscripts home and people would say to me, "You sure are married to that job." And I would reply, "You'd better believe it! This is the job I was meant to have."

And so, I left the comfort, safety, and warmth of the life I had known for 25 years and moved to a couch in a friend's apartment. Because I love books. I love sticking my face in them and sniffing the new page smell. I adore old books and wondering whose shelves they lived on in the past. Whenever I felt scared of the enormous new experience of living in a big city, I would just wander down to Books of Wonder, Barnes & Noble, or Borders and run my fingers along the spines on the shelves. The books reassured me that I was doing the right thing. They were my friends.

I went to book signings to try to talk to editors. I read all the latest publishing news. I clung to my cell phone at all times in case someone called me for an interview. I went over interview questions in my head, even when I didn't have one to prepare for.

I ended up temping for seven long, terrifying months before I finally got my foot in the door at Scholastic. I worked at a doctor's office, a tooth whitening company, an engineering firm, an architect's office, and some places where I suspected all they did all day was dial each other's extensions just to say "Hurrumph!" I was sitting at the reception desk at a record company when I finally got the call back for a second interview. It was like Harry Potter himself had called to invite me to my first year at Hogwarts.

"This is it," I thought. "It's finally happening for me."

They tell you that being an editorial assistant in publishing is hard. You live on almost nothing. I used to get really excited if I could afford the $3.25 grilled cheese sandwich in the cafeteria.

When I had been at Scholastic for almost two years, I was doing the job of probably three people without any promotion or pay increase in sight. I watched editorial assistants around me move up, leave publishing altogether, or simply be replaced with someone who was more enthusiastic about administrative work. It was about that time that a very wise person said to me, "If you haven't been promoted by a year and a half, you have to begin exploring your options." Both of the editors I had "assisted" when I started had left the company. I was handling entire projects on my own. I figured it was time to get the official title change.

So, I gathered my wits about me and went to the executive editor to ask for a promotion. "You do a great job," she said. "I'll see what I can do."

I waited a week before going to talk to her again, steeling myself against the possibility that she was going to tell me that it just wasn't in the budget.

Giving me a puzzled look, the editor said, "You never asked me for a promotion, did you?"

I wish I could say that I'm a rare case of being overlooked and under-appreciated. But I'm not. Sadly, it's become commonplace to simply never promote editorial assistants at all. If one assistant quits, there are fifteen recent college grads happy to step in and replace her. If you don't get sick of it and quit, you just stay there, get older, and thrive on $3.25 grilled cheese sandwiches for the rest of your life. One day they find you dead face-down in your slush bin. "I thought we promoted that assistant ages ago!" your boss laments, borrowing your stapler and wondering who will do her expense reports now.

I quit five months after being told that I just wasn't ready to be promoted. And I was replaced by an intern who was made associate editor.

When I was a little kid and proclaimed, "It's not FAIR!" my parents would always say, "Life isn't fair. Get used to it."

And yet, you also hear that if you work hard enough, you can do anything. You can move up through a company, take it over, then burn it to the ground, and pee on the ashes if you want.

I've always loved that Langston Hughes poem, "A Dream Deferred." Because nothing says poetic to me like stinky festering wounds. Here it is if you have never read it.

A Dream Deferred

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

They've started laying people off at Scholastic recently, one of my very good friends included. And it's brought all of the sadness back from that really difficult time when I realized I was going to have to put away spreadsheets and my dream and find something different in order to pay my rent. One can not thrive on grilled cheese alone, I've learned.

Yes, Langston. It stinks. It certainly does.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

To the Honorable Mayor of Benville

Dearest Mayor of Benville,

I'm writing to apologize for missing your Fifth Annual Herpes Eradication Sausage Festival. You see, I spent almost the entire summer singlehandedly rebuilding the glorious hamlet of Bethville. I finished around the end of August after putting shingles on the roof of the Bethville Lollipop Emporium, but unfortunately, I was unable to get down from the roof until the end of September. You see, I nailed the leg of my Bethville rebuilding overalls to the roof the building while hammering in a shingle.

Luckily, the Erikaford Air Pollution Spy Helicopter Flyover was taking place just as I was drinking the last of the water from the rain gutter, and I was rescued.

I don't suppose I need to tell you how marvelous it is to be back in my own mayoral office after almost a year of living in a tent in several undisclosed locations. Especially with all of the fabulous changes I've made to Bethville during my rebuilding efforts.

First of all, I've built a carousel in the middle of Bethville Square to commemorate those who lost their lives during the Zombie Attack of 2007. Where some might expect carousel horses, I've instead installed former evil land developing scrapbook enthusiast Ludwig Von Butterick. He is under strict instruction to allow anyone who wants a ride on the carousel to climb onto his back. He will then walk around in a circle whinnying cheerfully while playing a jaunty carousel tune on the xylophone I've strapped to his chest.

Secondly, to commemorate those who lost their lives eating and gambling at the now-defunct Von Butterick Casino Hotel and Teriyaki Restaurant, I've installed a large fountain from which an unlimited supply of soy sauce flows. And next to that, since during the zombie attack, I discovered how delicious roast chinchilla is, there is now a Chinchilla-on-a-Stick Hut. Not to worry! All chinchillas are free range and cruelty free.

Thirdly, I've made some improvements to Bethville Town Hall that I hope you've already noticed from the enclosed photograph.

That said, do hope you will drop by the mayoral offices soon for a visit. I need to give you the 2008 Fall Theater Schedule. Since I am currently the only resident of Bethville, I'm afraid I am limited to simply performing the Vagina Monologues over and over again for my own amusement. The standing ovations and repeated curtain calls I am forced to give myself are really quite exhausting.


The Rather Hail-Damaged But Still Quite Dignified Mayor of Bethville

Monday, October 6, 2008

Better Safe Than Horribly Mangled

I once watched this episode of Maury where people were facing their phobias. And this one particularly hysterical woman had to confront a large vicious gang of inflated party balloons thrown at her by the producers at Maury. The audience laughed and laughed at the poor stupid woman's fear and subsequent bout with static cling. After the taping of the show, I assume that crazy balloon lady and her family spent the afternoon wandering around Times Square in their jumbo-sized fanny packs, walking really slowly and fearing that every person was conspiring to steal their wallets.

My main phobia is not as weird as balloon fear.

I'm simply afraid of dying in a freak accident. You know the kind. Being suffocated by my own dirty laundry stockpiles. Falling through a sidewalk grate onto the tracks of a moving subway. Choking on a Milk Dud in a crowded theater where no one can hear my gasps for breath over the sounds of their own popcorn munching.

Stuff like that. Things that will get you in the paper as "someone who died in a weird way." So that you can be posthumously famous for being "that idiot who..." And one day, you're just an urban legend with no name. Maybe it happened. Maybe it didn't...

Perhaps my phobia came from the fact that my dad used to love to pepper his safety warnings with tales of freak accidents. "Don't walk behind that horse too close. I knew a kid who got kicked in the head, and he died." Or, "Never, ever weld on or around a tank of anhydrous ammonia. I knew a guy who did that, and his house exploded and killed his entire family." (Like I had any welding ambitions at the age of 13.) I was also warned to never drive a riding lawnmower up a steep embankment (Guy crushed to death in freak rollover!) and to never touch the severed head of any poisonous reptile (It can STILL BITE YOU!)

My mom's warnings were always more of the preventative variety. If I even threatened to go outside on a hot summer day, my mom would call, "Carry a hoe!" In case of snakes, you know. Because if I saw a snake coming toward me, I would choose to challenge it to a showdown, rather than scream in terror and run away. Probably abandoning any alleged gardening tool weapons in my moment of distress.

It didn't help that it was in our genetic makeup to collect tales of misery. When my great-grandma died, her scrapbook of freak accidents and murders somehow ended up on our bookshelf. "CHILD KILLED BY EXPLODING OVEN!" "OLD LADY FALLS DOWN WELL WHILE PICKING GERANIUMS!" "DUDE SUFFOCATES IN PUDDLE OF SICK AFTER NIGHT OF DRINKING!" I read the stories in her scrapbook over and over again. I was like one of those movie serial killers with the wall of evil newspaper articles: Death! Murder! Red paint that looks like blood! Something hairy that might be a cat head! I turned the pages, and read, and shuddered over and over again. Because apparently, deep down, I have the literary tastes of an axe wielding psychopath.

When I was supposed to be cleaning the living room, sometimes I would disappear to "organize the bookshelf," which meant that I was going to read the scrapbook again. The grisly remains of Mr. and Mrs. Murder Victim would again wash up on the shores of Crime Scene Reservoir, and calm would once again be restored to my feverish brain.

"La-de-dah. Now, where is the upholstery attachment for the vacuum cleaner?" I would mumble, looking out the window of our isolated farmhouse for mysteriously unmarked pickup trucks and rogue chainsaws.

I soon found myself avoiding dangerous situations without even hearing my dad's warning. He didn't need to say, "Don't get too close to the business end of that auger!" I was six steps ahead of him, clinging to the wall with my backside so that a shoelace wouldn't tangle in any sort of operating grain equipment. I didn't need to hear him tell me that grain dust would kill me like what happened to that bad guy in the movie Witness. I had my dust mask on before even entering the granary.

And Mom didn't need to worry either. I knew where there might be snakes. I rode my bicycle with my cowboy boots on. I never, ever walked through tall weeds. I stared vigilantly at the ground and stayed in the exact center of the road while out for a walk. Every single buzzing locust was first assumed to be the rattling tail of a Western Diamondback. My instincts were those of a snake-avoiding ninja. When I had been in New York for two months, I found myself leaping over a striped shoelace on the sidewalk in terror one time. That's how good my instincts are.

Of course, now I have to worry about different freak accidents that might kill me. Being shoved in front of a speeding taxi, falling four stories to my death down the shaft of our constantly malfunctioning work elevator, getting my foot caught in the gap between the subway and the platform and no one hearing my cries for help before the train pulls away. You know, those things that happen to .00000000000000098% of the population?

In the end, I am grateful to my parents for being insane about safety. Every time I see a toddler slipping down through a stroller safety harness, I get really happy that my dad knew a guy who got run over by his own tractor that popped out of gear while he was taking a leak. And every time I see someone walk right out into traffic yacking away on his or her cell phone, I know that my mom would be proud to see me pausing at the edge of the street and waiting for the light to turn green, with or without a hoe in my hand.

Furthermore, I'm glad that, instead of allowing me to be so afraid of toads at the age of 6 that I wouldn't go outdoors after nightfall, my dad hoisted me up, kicking and screaming, carried me outside, and made me touch a toad. Because while some phobias (guns) are totally reasonable, others (party balloons) are completely asinine. Besides, my dad couldn't think of a single person who had been killed by a toad.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Adventures in Exercise: The Pool Rules

Swimming laps in a public rec center, you get to see a lot of mostly naked old people. At first, it's kind of disgusting, seeing the reanimated corpse of Strom Thurmond paddle past you wearing nothing but a marble bag. But eventually, you find the ability to ignore what he's wearing. Because I actually think he'd look a whole lot funnier wearing a pair of those oversized swimming trunks that the young hooligans wear. Not to mention that old Strom is there every single morning at 7 AM to get a good lane. That takes dedication.

You get a whole different crowd if you go in the evenings. Twenty-something guys who drink six Red Bulls beforehand and make thrashing love to the water, splashing everyone within three lanes of them with their pelvic thrusting "butterfly" maneuver. Or the old guy who does "calisthentics" at the far end of the pool with his crotch pressed up against the pool vent.

But which ever time you go and whatever crowd you swim with, the fact remains: people who use the public rec center pool are endlessly entertaining.

Men always have to do some elaborate stretching routine before entering the water. Either the Michael Phelps arm flap or some knee bend thing while gripping the ladder with one hand. Women tend to get right down to business, whether the business is the world's slowest dog paddle down the middle of the fast lane or a solid hour of freestyle.

There are big people and small people. There are people who are old and people who are young. There are people who seem to have taken a left instead of a right at the ping-pong tables and appear to be drowning. And still others who just like to sit on the edge of the pool and fiddle with their goggles for an hour before finally just getting up and going home.

And then, there are the lifeguards. I'm not quite sure I would put my life in their hands if it came to that. At the pool I visit in the evenings, the lifeguard sits with his lap full of Chinese takeout and sometimes wanders back into the staff office, rather than keeping an eye on the swimmers. Which is lucky if an eggroll starts to drown but unlucky for someone with a leg cramp. But if someone did actually call for help, I think he would gladly loan out his water wings. So there's that.

Most of the pool rules are unspoken ones. You swim up the right side and down the left. Don't get in the fast lane if you're just going to dog paddle. Alternately, don't get in the slow lane, swim fast, and expect people to get out of your way. And if you get tired, just stop at the end of your lane and adjust your goggles for ten minutes so that no one will think you're a pussy. It is permissible to kick people who are annoying you if you apologize like it was unintentional. And never trust people who use snorkels. (They're looking at you in your suit under the water. And then going to to the far end of the pool to do calisthenics with the pool vent.)

In the end, the most important thing is to do your giggling with your face under the water. Lift up your goggles before administering death stares, or no one will see it. And stay away from Strom's marbles. If you have any additional concerns or questions, please don't ask the lifeguard. He is out in the hallway ordering pizza.