Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gentlemen, Start Your Engines

   My experience with cars got off to a very rocky start. Luckily, the kid I was paired with in driver training was never at school, so I got to drive the entire time. I needed it. And my Driver's Ed teacher was a saint. The one thing I could do flawlessly was navigate a drive-thru. He always seemed to need a cup of coffee when I was in the car. My mom would never let me practice when she was in the car, which turned out to be for the best. It mostly consisted of her cringing and writhing in her seat, which only served to make me an even more nervous driver. I actually earned a blue slip, and only went and got my license because it was about to expire. Most of my other friends had cars, and never seemed to mind picking me up. My favorite was my friend Melanie's green VW mini-bus, which was dubbed the Pickle-mobile. The radio was broken, so we had a boom box we used. But then the antenna broke, so the passenger would have to hold it and stick their hand out the window to get reception. It became problematic when it was raining. My friend Amy had an old truck with a leaky gas tank. We always had to estimate how much gas it would take to get somewhere, because if we overestimated, it would just leak out while we were wherever it was we were going. Those were the days.

   My family's cars were never in much better shape. My oldest brother fixed up an old Chevy Nova and got it repainted. A few weeks later, my mom hit a post and scratched it pretty well. And then my other brother smashed it into a highway barrier. Oopsie. My middle brother bought his first car for $65 and it had to be started with a screwdriver. The floorboards were all rusted out too, so you had to be careful where you stepped. I learned to drive manual transmission in that car. It was great - it ran like a go-cart. The first time I asked to borrow my mom's car was to meet my friends at a movie about a year after I got my license. Everything went great until it was time to pull back into the garage. I cut it too short and got hung up on the door frame. I didn't know what to do, so I gunned it and crunched in the entire driver side of the car from the driver's side door to the gas tank. I didn't ask to borrow the car for another year. I never bought a car in high school or college. Since everyone else had one, it freed up my dad's truck for me to use. It was a Dodge Ram Charger and I loved it. I have no idea when my dad actually got to use it, but it always seemed to be filled with his treasures - things like squirrel pelts and buckets of tools.

I purchased my first car after I graduated from college and promptly landed my first teaching gig. It was a Chevy Cavalier. I drove it for 9 years, and only got a new one because I got into an accident. I rounded a blind curve and smashed into someone who had put their car in park on a very busy street in my home town. It totaled my car, and I got a very expensive ride to the hospital. Airbags are brutal, but I hear windshields are worse. The police were as flummoxed as I was about why she was parked in the middle of the street, and I didn't get a ticket. The officer informed me it was the first time he had not issued a citation for a rear-ending. I felt special. My current car was purchased soon thereafter.

I got a message the other day from a guy and we started texting. The texting was good - he appreciated my snarky humor, and came back with some funny stuff himself. He called me, and the conversation was easy and nice. We talked about the things we like to do on a date, and what we were looking for in a significant other. They lists jibed pretty well. Then he asked if I wanted to go out later in the week. I said I would love to. Then he asked me if I could pick him up. Seriously. I asked if he had a car and his reply was "not yet." I have no idea what that means. Friends have suggested a suspended license. My good friend suggested maybe his mom won't let him borrow the minivan until he cleans his part of the basement. I still tease some good friends who invited me over for dinner one night and then had me cook dinner. He now trumps that story. Luckily some "friends" came into town and I'm going to be busy for the rest of the week.

My current car is a Honda Element. My students have dubbed it "The Toaster". They don't make them anymore because they didn't sell to the demographic they were designed for. Which pretty much sums up why I've ended up in the clearance aisle.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Squeezing The Charmin

   I've been spending a bit of time on some of the dating sites and apps out there, and a couple of things have struck me about this experience. After years of spectacular failure on two of the popular paid sites, I was shocked at how many people I've made contact with on the free sites. And of all of those, there have been about 10 or so with potential. I find it interesting that single 40-somethings are not willing to shell out any of their hard-earned cash to meet Mr. or Mrs. Right. At our age, everyone has had some sort of heartbreak or major relationship failure. I don't blame people for not wanting to pay for it to happen again. There are a few guys I've dated that I would pay to forget, if the service were available. I've always heard you never love your second true love the way you loved your first. This obviously includes finances as well as emotions. The moral of this story - save your cash. You don't necessarily get what you pay for. That being said, I was also struck by the amount of truly desperate guys out there. And how open people are about what they are actually looking for. I never knew my little town was such a swinging place - and I'm not talking trapeze, people.
   I had no idea that each dating site has their niche. It becomes fairly obvious after you get a few fish on the line what the general kind of connection they are looking for. There are sites where people are very serious-relationship minded. It's more of an interview process and you have to be in serious contention of donning a poofy white dress to merit a first date. There are others where guys don't even want to know your real name and you can feel them breathing down your neck from the first message. For better or worse, sites get reputations as having more of one of the other of these polar-opposite people. And those reputations are fairly accurate. So it's out there - whatever you are looking for. I didn't realize how important it was to really know what I was looking for. I had no shopping list, and was simply browsing. And I've had some pretty awful products land in my cart. Thankfully, most of them got shoved back on the shelf next to the M&M's in the checkout lane. My friends have been seriously entertained with some of the racier stories that don't merit publication. It's rough out there, folks. And I've got pretty thick skin.

   These experiences have only reinforced my belief in the clearance-aisle mentality of dating at my age. I've been trolling a lot of aisles, checking the specs on a lot of products, and yes, even squeezing the Charmin. Not a ton, but it happens - I have a feeling my mother just closed her browser. And it's been an interesting process.  I'm most amazed how people are genuinely craving a connection with someone else. There are the romantic types who want to make you happy so they can be happy. And the hedonistic types who just want to feel something to reinforce that they are human. There are even the hopelessly wounded types who need somebody to understand that they are broken. The current squeeze is a decent combination of all of these things. I'll keep you posted...

I've always known that good things don't have to be expensive. My favorite potato chips were the Rodeo Bill brand my grandma bought from Aldi.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Save The Date

I was going through my mail the other day, when I came across a postcard that was accidentally delivered to my house. It was an RSVP card for a couple who are getting married in October. The card had two options for people to check off. They were "We wouldn't miss it for the world" and "We'll be celebrating elsewhere." A couple of things popped into my mind immediately. Firstly, that I wouldn't have been able to fill out that card without committing perjury. Not only would I miss it for the world, I would miss it for considerably less. Like a root canal, or bunion surgery, for instance. Second, if I miss the wedding, I would most assuredly not be celebrating elsewhere. Unless "celebrating" means sitting on the couch in my yoga fat pants while eating a package of Twizzlers and watching Netflix. I do not for the life of me understand why engaged people need everyone around them to propagate the myth that their upcoming wedding is the bright center to the universe. I realize that it can be the most important day of their life, and that their family is probably ecstatic for them. But that's about it. Most people I know consider weddings to be an obligation to their friends and family. They are boring, time-consuming, and can be quite pricey to attend. And everybody has "that uncle" that gets a little inappropriate when fueled by the offerings at the open bar. The only part of a wedding that I really like is the cake, and I can Betty Crocker in my yoga fat pants at home.

I recently got to hang out with a friend who now lives far away. We were discussing relationships and she is going through that first wave of friends getting married just to be married, regardless of whether it's a good idea or not. We've all been to those weddings. Hell, some of us have been IN those weddings. Leo Kottke has said he wrote the song "Rings" to sing at the wedding of two friends who he states, "Had no business knitting their souls together." Well my friend told me the big rage in Save The Date items was sending a magnet to hang on the refrigerator. She said that she and her boyfriend have started throwing the magnets in the trash when the couple gets divorced. They are down to two lowly magnets,  and "one of the couples isn't doing so great, so we moved them to the side of the fridge closest to the trash can." Hilarious. The part that cracks me up the most is you know they spent 2 weeks and had 3 arguments about which picture and font to put on the magnet that now symbolizes their disastrous pairing.

I recently found myself meeting an online set-up for a cup of coffee at my favorite local haunt. I knew it wasn't going to be good from the minute I said hello. He literally had the bug-eyed, cartoon-eye-with-the-old-car-horn-sound-effect look that everyone dreads. We chatted, had a glass of iced tea, and he told me he had a bad headache and needed to get home. Right. I absolutely knew that there was no saving of that date. The bitter part of me wishes I had snapped a picture so I could turn it into a magnet to send to all of my friends and family.

There is nothing worse than waiting for a follow-up text that never arrives. C'mon guys. Man up and let us down easy. It's not that hard.

Monday, August 26, 2013

You're Too Much!

I've always been a bit too much. I'm too loud, too brash, too emotional, too outspoken, and too sensitive. People will remind me of these things from time to time, and I usually reply that I am very aware. My voice was often the one that was heard above the rest, and I took the fall for the group more than once. The old Catholic guilt usually prevented me from informing the disciplinarian that it wasn't just me, because deep-down I knew that I deserved it. I don't think people understand that I know how much and how often I run my mouth. And I have dug more than one hole for myself that has swallowed me up like a Florida sinkhole. I understand I have to live with the consequences, and some of the pills I've had to swallow have been more bitter and chalky than baby aspirin.  I've tried to reign myself in over the years, but at some point you realize you are who you are. And for every person I've PO'd with my too-muchiness, there are people who tell me that I've made their day. My goal is to break even, but have a sinking suspicion there's a karmic tsunami heading for my coastline.

My current reality-TV obsession is the TLC show "Who Do You Think You Are?" It features mostly B-list celebrities digging into their past to reconstruct their family tree and answer some sort of questions they may have about their ancestors. It's basically an hour-long commercial for, but they got me. I'm all-in. So far, they have found that one of Kelly Clarkson's ancestors was a teetotaling state senator, that Zooey Deschanel's ancestor's house was a stop on the Underground Railroad, and that Chris O'Donnell's ancestor was at Fort McHenry for the defining battle of the War of 1812, when they raised the Star Spangled Banner that inspired our national anthem. I have always loved history, and it's the personal stories that get me. I've blubbered like a baby at the end of more than one episode, I'm sorry to admit. And it was during last week's episode that I finally figured out what it is that makes me so emotional. Something that all childless people have to come to terms with is that our story is not one for the ages. Anything I have accomplished or done goes with me. And it's effect will not linger long after I'm gone. But the thing that chokes me up is that nobody is ever going to come looking for me. At no time in the future is somebody going to be digging around in a dusty archive searching for the details of my life.  I will forever be one of the nameless relatives in the group shot of some other persons great-great grandparent's wedding. In an ugly green dress.

Now, there are two groups of people out there in the clearance aisle. There are the people who are childless by choice, and those that are by circumstance. At my age most people fall into the first category. I am a member of the minority second group. It becomes difficult to find people who actually like kids, but don't have them. Or who do have them and don't mind taking a chance on someone who doesn't. I never could have imagined it was this difficult to find a hidden gem in the clearance aisle. Nor would I have imagined that someone wouldn't have recognized my potential. So, I'm still out there. Wading through the sale items. You can find me pretty easily - I'll be the one laughing and talking way too loud.

I've recently decided that maybe the reason I'm a bit too much is that I only have my mortal years. Posterity won't remember anything about me, so my footprint has to be just a little bit bigger while I'm actually up and walking.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Crossing The Pick-Up Line

I don't have much of a problem talking to strangers, and can strike up a conversation with just about anyone. I understand it can be a bit annoying. An ex once grumbled that we couldn't go anywhere without me either making a new friend or running into someone I know and jibber-jabbering with them for an eternity. Having been a teacher for as long as I have, the chances that I will run into a former student who wants to catch up are extremely high. The strangest and probably best example is from a family vacation a few years ago. We had decided to take a cruise together instead of buying each other Christmas gifts. The last day on the boat was a Sunday, and I was sporting a St. Louis Ram's t-shirt. They're my team. I can't help it. I was in the elevator on my way to the sports lounge to catch the game when a guy asked if I was from St. Louis. I told him the name of my hometown on the Illinois side of the river. He told me he was from a town about 20 minutes south.We both laughed when I told him that I had taught at the high school in his hometown a few years prior. He then asked if I knew his favorite teacher. His jaw hit the floor when I informed him that not only did I know her, but she was my brother's mother-in-law. And when I told them my brother and sister-in-law were on the boat, he just about lost it. We both shook our heads and mumbled, "Small world" at the same time.

That being said, I find it extremely difficult to craft a message to someone I find interesting online. You don't want to write the great American novel, but one-liners are so tacky. And trying not to sound needy, clingy, stalker-ish, or insane is tougher than you can imagine. If you point out things you have in common, it often reads clingy. Mentioning qualities they seem to have that you are looking for comes across as needy. And a witty one-liner often reads as completely insane. I used to try commenting on something they had written in their profile, but you'd be surprised how many people don't remember what they typed in those boxes. I don't send very many unsolicited messages anymore. I figure if someone is interested, they will contact me.

My latest venture online has supplied me with an entire arsenal of cheesy, ridiculous one-liners. Which sets one to wonder if guys actually think they work. I've picked out a few of my favorites. First we have, "Is your name Internet? Because you have everything I've ever searched for." Really? You can tell all of that from a 4-sentence self-description and my list of favorite books? Get some self-esteem and maybe we'll talk. Then we have, "What does it feel like to be the best-looking person in the room?" Which room are we talking about exactly? We're online, moron. I did reply that it was extremely difficult and thanked him for understanding. Another favorite was, "I lost my phone number. Can I borrow yours?" Nope. If you're so dumb that you can't remember your own phone number, then I'm not interested. How about "Do you know CPR? Because you take my breath away." Um, no. And you should probably carry an inhaler if you have that much trouble breathing, Mr. Smooth. And the gold medal goes to "I wish I were DNA helicase, so I could unzip your genes." I guarantee that guy couldn't spell DNA correctly, much less tell me what it is for. Guys, I really want you to pay attention here. Don't use these. It doesn't work. Ever. And you don't want to catch the girls that would fall for that crap. You're welcome.

I once messaged a guy who listed "To Kill A Mockingbird" as one of his favorite books. I told him it's my favorite too, and asked who his favorite character was. He replied that he had never read it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Special Order

It is painfully obvious that at this point I can no longer afford to be picky. After a certain age, people can't sit somewhere and play "eenie-meenie-miney-mo" with the available men. "Mo" is now pretty much the only option left, and we start to feel bad that we never really gave him a shot in the first place. People are also much more up-front with their deal-breakers. Lots of profiles put it front-and-center that they are looking for someone who is good with kids, can handle a long-distance relationship, enjoy an active lifestyle, or only eat meat on the second Tuesday of every month. I sometimes feel like I'm in the drive-thru at Burger King, and not trolling for a date. Everyone has a special order, and they will turn the car around immediately if there are pickles on their sandwich. Which according to my brother, you can't just pick off because the flavor has soaked into the bun. He wasn't just whistling Dixie. I haven't found my special order yet. I'm not even sure I'm in the right restaurant. And lately I've been feeling like a double-anchovy and pineapple pizza. Nobody wants that.

Websites are chock-full of people who feel the same way I do. I think it may be possible that as we get older, we become less flexible and stick to our shopping list a little too tightly. There are several aisles I don't even wheel the cart through anymore. Who needs the temptation of Double-Stuff Oreos? I can happily cruise right by on my way to the gluten-free sawdust bites that are better for me. Besides, who hasn't regretted the carton of rocky road ice cream they purchased in a moment of weakness? Especially the next day when you have been on the elliptical for 45 minutes and only burned off half a spoonful. The psychology of the match process is fascinating as well. There are the I'm-going-to-list-all-my-flaws-to-scare-you-away-before-I-get-attached guys. They usually spend most of their time telling you how they aren't going to be a good match. Which begs the question, why are you on a dating site in the first place? My least favorite are the clingy-lonely guys. They are usually pushy, and you get creeped out at the prospect of them becoming your new stalker.

I received a message from a cling-on this past spring. He started every message with a blurb about how lonely he was. I reminded him several times that there was a bowling alley in town, but he wasn't interested. He started really pushing to meet, and I'm grateful my schedule was pretty packed at the time. He had mentioned that he was an international student, working on his doctorate in Public Health. He also mentioned that it was hard for him to find "quality" people to hang out with. I was wondering what qualities he found lacking, but didn't want to open that can of worms. On day 2 of inter-site chatting he rather begrudgingly told me he was from Iraq. I can only assume he figured this would be a deal-breaker. I responded that I was from Illinois and hoped he wouldn't hold that against me. He then asked if I liked poetry. I said it wasn't my favorite, but he decided to go ahead and send me poems in very fractured English. These were immediately forwarded on to my friend, who still throws several of the lines my way when she's trying to be funny. He has since been given the nickname Mr. Lonelyheart Iraq. Why anyone would think this would seal the deal is beyond me, but to each their own. He got mad that I was putting off meeting up with him, so he deleted his profile. That showed me. Something tells me he's still pretty lonely.

I can't resist sharing one of the poems. They only really ever served to make me laugh anyway. It didn't include a title, but my friend and I have bestowed a moniker on it. Enjoy!

The Love Park                    
Could I leave you?
Conceal your whisper
forget your voice

How I can go back in time?
Meet you again!
Start my gambling addiction
Gambling on your heart
to win your attracting eyes

The inadvertent fate
makes us wear belonging moments
Moments of lost
minutes, hours, days
Could be long enough
to let me think
that all I have
All u want from life
being with you

Could I leave you?
No way to leave
There in the distance
I see you my April
Sharing me my fabulous trip
In a hike we are going
to the love park!
No way to leave.

The only love park I'm aware of is in Philadelphia. And I think I'd rather head to Pat's for a cheesesteak. Just saying.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


I've never been comfortable with clutter. My house isn't the cleanest on the block, and no matter how often I vacuum there always seems to be a clump of cat hair under the bed. I am however, incredibly tidy. If things aren't put away, then they are in a stack somewhere. I think better when things are oriented in the vertical. I'm not one of those organizational freaks that owns stock in the Container Store. You definitely want to open drawers and cabinets quickly and with a purpose in my house, so you can dodge anything that happens to come tumbling out. I should keep catcher's mitts handy for guests. I operate on the if-I-can't-see-it-then-it doesn't-exist mentality. Having moved eight times in six years, the thing that made me the most crabby was having to unpack something that I really didn't want or need. There was a massive purge of stuff every time I had to pack, and I never regretted getting rid of any of it. I guess I didn't really need that Snoopy Post-It dispenser after all. When I moved into the house I finally purchased I didn't own an extra towel, sheet, cup, fork, or pan. If I didn't use it, it didn't come with me. It was two years before any of the furniture I purchased to furnish the house had anything inside of it. I wish it were still that way. Stuff tends to accumulate quickly when you have a place to put it. And in this town, people hand out a cup, t-shirt, or other trinket every time you walk down the street.

I was cleaning up my classroom today and realized that if you want to know what a teacher is like in real life, look around their classroom. It's very indicative of their personality. We've all had that teacher whose "decorating" consisted of a single piece of paper stapled to the center of their bulletin board and just knew that every wall in their house was painted beige. Or the scatterbrained teacher who lost their one-and-only pen promptly upon setting it down somewhere and could only imagine what their laundry room must look like. My classroom is tidy, but not spick-and-span. And I take stacking to the next level at work. One of my colleagues retired this past year, and graciously gave me all of their supplies for the class I will take over next year. It is all stacked up in my room, making me crazy. Every time I walk in, I start to hyperventilate at the prospect of trying to organize it all. As I was cleaning out my cabinets and shelves in an attempt to make room for all of it, it struck me that what I was struggling with was how to reorganize all of the materials in a way that made sense to me. There is a lot of labeling in my future.

I wish I was as good at dealing with the clutter of former relationships. It would be amazing if you could just pack the hurt feelings and ridiculousness into a box and take it to the Goodwill. No matter how hard I try, there always seems to be some remnant left over that I pack up and take with me. And then I get mad when I unpack it later. Which is what is so difficult about dating in the clearance aisle. Every person has a box of junk they don't want to part with, and may never unpack. It becomes fairly obvious how large that box is simply by reading their profile. I previously mentioned starting a Crazy Cat Lady dating site, but have since found out one already exists. There is even a website that rates women's profiles with a certain number of litter boxes as a measure of their man-hating, cat-loving proclivity. I have been on four different dating sites for three months, and it's value has been purely comedic up to now, which is good for the blog if nothing else.

My junk drawer. My friend thinks it's weird that I keep my dental floss in there.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Say Agh

I have bad teeth. I've had issues with them forever. Back in my day, we didn't visit the dentist to get baby teeth pulled. My dad literally tied a string around it and yanked the sucker out. My brothers always seemed to manage to make it look easy, but I was the queen of hysterics. Pull-her-tooth-out night turned into hours of entertainment for everyone else in the family. After the first few were unceremoniously extracted, I wised up and kept the looseness of my teeth on a need-to-know basis. This is how we learned that I had some kooky tooth issues. If a tooth was not pulled within a very short window, the new tooth would emerge and simply push the formerly-loose tooth to the side. This made it indescribably more difficult to remove, and my histrionics increased exponentially. It also gave me a maw full of janky teeth. The worst was when my canine teeth came in way above the gum line, like fangs. It was awful. Needless to say, I spent 3 years in braces. Anyone who has had braces can attest to the fact that it is agonizing. And rubber bands are the modern incarnation of the medieval rack. I had to hook bands up and over my fangs to pull them down since every time you opened your mouth, the bands exert downward pressure. And I talk. A lot. The day they were removed was one of the happiest days of my high school life.

I wish I could say that my issues with dentist-type persons have abated over the years, but they haven't. And my dental adventures have taken me on a tour of various providers in a 100-mile radius. I seem to exhibit a pattern. The first major event was to a dentist in my hometown. I had gotten my first real job after college, and opted for the dental insurance. I needed six cavities. It was torture. So I didn't go back for years. Literally. It was 12 years before I went to another one. He was a little shocked with the condition of my teeth, and that I still had mercury fillings. He asked why it had been so long since I've been seen and I told him, "No offense, but I hate you people." He said he got that a lot. So we made an appointment to remove the old fillings, and put in an additional eight. Yes. That is fourteen total for my math-challenged friends. I also needed a crown. And I'm not talking the "Long live the Queen!" type of crown.  Even with insurance, I ended up spending an amount that I would normally only justify for shoes. And then it was determined I needed a root canal. This is when my other major dental issue became a road block. I never get completely numb with novocain. All of the work that had been done up to this point had a large amount of white-knuckling involved. I've been told this is more common that you would originally think. I visited 2 different providers who had to stop the root canal because I was in too much pain. Then I found the miracle that is sedation dentistry. And it was my brother's old band geek friend! Go Lancers! That whole ordeal sent me into another hiatus. I returned last week and needed 3 new fillings and some maintenance on ones I already had. I don't know if I'll ever go back.

I think my last relationship was with someone who was dealing with his love life the way I deal with the dentist. He had been married for several years, and been divorced for about two. I was hoping that he was ready to head back into the chair and be able to handle the high-pitched whir of the drill, but that wasn't the case. And I was under the mistaken impression that if I could make this go-round a decent experience, that he would actually like being at the dentist. Yeah. I know. I can hear your eyes rolling from here. As it turned out, it was a sedation visit. I did all of the work, and he just sat there in a fog, drooling on himself. And he played the I'm-going-to-keep-this-up-until-she-dumps-me-so-I-can-still-be-the-good-guy game. It still pisses me off that it worked. So, I'm back in the clearance aisle and avoiding the dentist.

The hygienist always sends me home with a bag full of goodies since she never knows when she's going to see me again. I'm surprised I don't get care packages in the mail.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thoroughly Vetted

Today was the day all cat owners dread - the annual trip to the vet. My cat, Ernie is a shy guy. He doesn't like people very much, and I suspect he only tolerates me because I am the purveyor of kibble. And I'm who he meowls at when something isn't being held to his usual standards. He also continuously vacillates between two modes. The first is what I have dubbed the "I love you" phase. He wants to cuddle, follows me everywhere, purrs, head-boops, and lays on my feet. The second is what I affectionately refer to as the "F-You" phase. He won't look at me, touch me, or otherwise acknowledge my presence. Very much like the last guy I dated. They got along really well, actually. It should have tipped me off. Anyway, whenever I have to crate him up we play the how-many-times-can-I-make-her-chase-me-around-the-couch-before-I-run-into-the-only-room-left-open-and-pee-myself-after-she-picks-me-up-so-she-has-to-change-her-shirt game. It's great fun. He was then settled into the back of my car where he starts making sounds that are reminiscent of the soundtrack from Poltergeist. He's available for hire, if anyone from Hollywood is interested. We finally get to the vet and the FedEx guy starts giving me crap about the Philadelphia Eagles t-shirt I grabbed to throw on after the unfortunate crating incident. I held up the crate with my yowling cat and said, "Bring it on, dude. Bring it on."

Even my cat is a clearance aisle item. My friend and former roommate, Vanessa found Ernie in a dumpster when he was a teeny-tiny kitten. His eyes weren't even open yet. She had worked in a vet clinic, and knew how to raise him and his siblings. She called me one day, begging me to take one. He melted my heart when they came to visit, so I agreed to keep him. Vanessa has had lots of animals over the years, which is where I learned about fainter goats. Apparently there are goats that fall over with their legs all stiff when they are frightened, so they are referred to as fainters. Ernie is a fainter cat. Every time we go to the vet his one-and-only defense is to play dead. One time, he spread all four legs apart and tried to flatten himself out as if he was trying to sink into the table. It's quite brilliant, actually. He got his check-up, shots, and a few chin-scratches from the vet. He also tubbed up to a full 15.4 pounds, so the aforementioned kibble is going to have to be scaled-back.

At the reception desk, the office assistant asked me if there was anyone else I wanted on his medical release form. I'm sure that I made my incredulous face as I asked, "Excuse me?" She informed me that they had medical release forms for every animal at the clinic, and wanted to know if there was anyone else that I wanted to grant access to his medical information. Several questions popped into my mind immediately. Have we as a society come to the point where we have to have a HIPPA agreement for our pets? Exactly how are people abusing pet medical information? Are people using their pet records in hostile divorce proceedings? Are judges deciding pet custody cases? Who would I give Ernie to in an emergency? Should I get him some godparents? Update my will? Power of attorney? I quickly snapped out of it and stated, "Nope. It's just me and Ernie." I didn't mean for it to sound as sad as it did. She gave me the sympathy face and said, "That's ok, it's just me and my dog." I told her I was going to race home and sign us both up for I called my mom to relate the events of the morning, when she came up with an idea that is nothing short of brilliant. There are all of those specialty, niche-market dating sites for every faith, shape, size, and inclination. There's even one especially for farmers. That's not a joke. My mother had the amazing idea to start one for crazy cat ladies. So, look for a crazy-cat-lady dating site to be the hottest thing on the interwebs. You heard it here first, folks.

Ernie likes to "help" while I'm writing.
This is definitely during an "I love you" phase.

Monday, June 10, 2013

All Rise

I was recently summoned for jury duty, and unlike most folks, I would love to be selected. But not for some boring civil insurance dispute. I want a capital murder, home invasion, or drug-bust-gone-wrong. I am a self-professed crime junkie. Cold Case Files, Forensic Files, and 48 Hours are what I call must-see-TV. I can't help it. They got me. So I reported to the courthouse, was buzzed through the metal-detector, and herded to the jury handlers. The jury holding area was downstairs in the dungeon painted that industrial-mint green color that was all the rage in correctional institutions in the 1970"s. It was also the color of the bathrooms in my grade school, now that I think about it. We were shown a riveting video on what to expect, and how important juries are to our judicial system. After filing into the courtroom, the judge reiterated all of the information from the video, introduced the lawyers, accused, and gave a list of the witnesses to be called in the case. You could hear several members sigh in relief as each name was read, as it meant they would be excused from the pool of candidates. I gave a silent harumph because it meant that I, too would be excluded. And this was a good case. I swore an oath not to disclose what it was, but it was right up my alley. The process was explained to all of us, and we were separated into pools. The judge conducted my voir dire, and I was not surprised when I was dismissed.

I was struck by how similar this process is to online dating. And if online dating was taken this seriously, it might actually work. What both parties are looking for is the right combination of factors. Nobody fits exactly what you're looking for, you just have to pick the people you think will be the best fit. In the end however, it's a gamble at best. You put it all out there and hope that it goes your way. Most dating sites are set up this way. Both parties present their profiles, and the site determines which ones would seem to be the most appropriate. And trust me, it's a gamble. Have you read my previous posts? There are also some things these sites could learn from our judicial system. First, every step is explained on the 7th to 8th grade level. There's no room for confusion, and if you mess up you can be held in contempt and fined. Oh that it were so in the dating process. Secondly, there are people to do your talking for you. You are paying for someone to vet and approve anyone that comes into the pool. And they can dismiss people without any explanation at all. Lastly, there is a person in a black robe to let you know when things get out of order. It would seem like it's pretty obvious when a violation has occurred, but you'd be surprised.

The most recent breach of protocol was from someone that I wished could have been voir dired by the dating judge. I received a message that simply said "Ur cut". Since I wasn't bleeding at the time, I inferred that he was complimenting me on my picture. His profile had very little information and all of his pictures were sideways in the landscape orientation. Two things were fairly obvious. One was that the guy was not tech-savvy. Second was that he looked like a serial killer. So much so, that I showed it immediately to a friend simply so that if my headless corpse ended up in a ditch, she could direct the authorities to his profile. I messaged that I was currently searching elsewhere, and wished him luck. A few days later, he messaged that "full disclosure" - he was married. But it was a loveless marriage and he was looking for "companionship." Gross. He obviously hadn't watched the jury video, and I'm pretty sure the judge would have held him in contempt.

If the judicial process is analogous to dating,  then a first date is like a preliminary hearing. You either dismiss the other party, or agree to set another date for a full trial.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Check, Please!

I have spent a lot of time listening to friends and family grumble about their commitments of time and family. I have heard enough to know that even the best of spouses will say or do something to make their beloved want to snap their neck like a chicken. I've dried tears, helped compile lists of positives and negatives, and made the snacks for many a pity-party. I've also listened to every gross and disturbing detail of child-rearing. I know more about bowel movements than I care to admit, supported a friend through a cry-it-out night while her husband worked the night shift, and sent flowers because I knew the first day back to work after the baby was going to be traumatic. Friends have told me that they prefer to hang out with other couples who have kids because they have more in common, which is totally understandable. The thing that is the most confounding is that people think they know what my life is like because they were single once too. And yes, most people have experience out there in the world as a single person, but most people haven't experienced being the only single person in every room they walk into. And there is a point in the program when it feels like you are completely alone when you are occupying the odd-numbered seat at the table.

Over the years people have said some amazingly obnoxious things to me in the attempt to be sympathetic. I once had a colleague tell me that my cooking skills were going to waste without a husband and children to cook for. Yes, those brownies I baked from scratch are so delicious because they are filled with my tears. Or that it's refreshing to see a woman who doesn't feel the need to be constrained by the conventions of our society. Right. Like I wouldn't have sold my right arm to have had my fairytale wedding. I'm not someone who deludes myself into thinking that I don't want or need things I don't have. Maybe it's because I'm the baby of the family. Or an Aries. It's a toss-up. The point is, don't try to make someone feel better about what you or they perceive they've missed out on in life. If they want to talk about it with you, they will. If you bring it up, you will say something that they will end up laughing about with their therapist.

This palpable loneliness wears down my defenses and I often end up making excuses to find just about anyone appealing. I think this is why  I accepted a date with a tech support guy who admitted to being a little socially awkward. We made a date to have dinner at a local chain restaurant. I picked out my own outfit, slipped on a pair of heels, and spritzed on some perfume. I knew something was a little strange when I checked-in with the hostess. She looked me up-and-down, smirked, and pointed to an empty bench where she said he had been sitting. I decided to have a seat and wait. Then I saw him approaching. Now I'm not proud of this, but I felt like bolting. We hadn't exchanged pictures, and he never would have known that it was me who stood him up. But I couldn't do it. I immediately thought about how I would have felt waiting and waiting for someone who never shows up, so I plastered a smile on my face and introduced myself. After a few minutes, we were given a table. This is when the miracle occurred. I knew our waitress. She was a former student of mine, and a really sweet kid. She took our order, and brought our drinks. I excused myself to go to the bathroom, which was located near the waitress station. She saw me and said incredulously, "Are you on a DATE with that guy?" I informed her it was an online set-up and that I hadn't had it in me to stand him up. She told me she would take care of it. And bless her, she sure did. The cooks were told to rush the food out. It was at our table when I got back from the bathroom. The check appeared like magic just as I was working on the last half of my sandwich. We must have set some kind of land-speed-dating record. We left and I made some lame excuse about needing to get home. Poor guy. I then went back inside and slipped the waitress a $20 bill. She earned it.

The best tip I ever got was from a friend's mother. She told me on my 30th birthday that it does no good to get bogged-down in how your life is going to unfold, and as you get older you feel the need to plan less and less. So far, she has been right on every count.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Oh, Brother!

Having older brothers forces a person to get a thick skin. Literally. I've had enough noogies, purple nurples, and indian burns to last a lifetime. My first-grade teacher once asked me if I had a problem at home since I always had bumps and bruises. Without flinching, I informed her that I had brothers. She must have had some too, because she never said another word about it. I was a clumsy kid as well, so half of said bruises came from door frames, stairs, and random pieces of furniture. I once ran into the stove. Yeah. In my college years, I tended to hang out with guy friends who are a little rougher with the psyche than girl friends. Several of them were my brother's pals. Spending time with them helped sharpen my wit, quicken my reflexes, and toughen my hide. They gave really great advice, too. I still reference some of their wisdom when I'm having guy issues. The fact that I'm labeling anything that came out of their mouth as "wisdom" is a little riot-inducing, but I'm sticking by it. Besides, several of them danced with me while I was wearing the green bridesmaid's dress. That's got to be worth something. I've been told that I exude the friend vibe when I'm around guys, which most often means I find myself firmly in the "friend-zone." I once had a guy friend call with an extra ticket for a concert. I quickly shrieked that I would love to go and he said, "Oh good. It'll just be a guys-night-out." Yep. That's me. Just one of the boys. By the way, from what I have learned, the Golden Rule of hanging out with guys is that if you dish it out, you have to take it. It's their code.

Online dating requires the thickest of skin. You are being judged constantly. Every site delivers profiles to your inbox that they have decided are a good match. Just like any girl whose life was changed by the seminal volume He's Just Not That Into You, I am prone to sit back and see who contacts me. I have done my fair share of chasing guys, and it has never paid off. Besides, there's nothing worse than finally catching someone who you immediately want to throw back. I found myself getting worn-down by the lack of interest. I edited my profile. Nothing. Uploaded different pictures. Nada. Crafted witty, open-ended questions to pique their interest. Zilch. I checked all of the cables, optimized my browser, and defragged. You could hear crickets chirping. Pretty soon you start to take it personally. After all, a profile is a minuscule version of your best-self. The polished-up, spit-shined version of you, put on the shelf with a blinking neon arrow. In one of my online dating episodes, I only got 3 messages in an entire year. It was a little painful. And one of them was a scam-artist who hacked my hard drive and hit me up for cash. Classy. His profile is still out there by the way. Don't say you weren't warned.

In my very first meet-in-real-life date, a guy I'd been messaging picked me up to take me to a Superbowl party. The St. Louis Rams are my team (don't judge), and they were playing that year. We were both fans. His name was Adam, and he decided we should go for some appetizers and a beverage at a local watering hole. I realized this had been the interview portion of the evening after he informed me over a basket of friend pickles (gross) that his friends were having a party at their house, and asked if I'd like to go along. I think it was my "bro skills" that landed me the extended version of the date. The party was fine, and there were some nice people there. It was mostly couples, and the food was yummy. I don't have much of a problem chatting with anybody. It runs in the family. After halftime, one couple ended up getting in a screaming match. I didn't pay too much attention, since I was pretty caught-up in the game. The party broke up soon after the argument, and Adam kept apologizing on the drive home. I had no idea what the big deal was. He called the next day to say that he was looking for a more girly-girl type. That's the rough thing about having thick skin. You have to have it to make it through the dating process, but what guys seem to want is a thin-skinned girly-girl.

Being a Ram's fan has in many ways prepared me for the disappointments of online dating. The most important lesson is that you never know what the next season has in store. But it's probably going to be disappointing and over way too soon.

Monday, May 13, 2013

I Just Want You To Find A Nice Boy

I've been the only single member of my family for quite some time now. I have 2 older siblings who got married about 6 weeks apart. There are a couple of things I vividly recall about that time. It was my first year out of college and I wasn't making much money. I was also moving into my first place and had to come up with deposits and connection fees. Having the honor of serving as a bridesmaid in two back-to-back family weddings stretched my already-thin budget to the breaking point. Being a girl involved in a wedding is a huge commitment of time and money. There are showers, fittings, accessory-shopping, engagement parties, table linen discussions, and helping-stuff-the-invitation sweatshop nights. And the dresses. One of them was forest green. It was the perfect color to make everyone look like they were about to barf on their shoes, which were dyed-to-match of course.  And I know everyone says you can wear your bridesmaid's dress again, but that is a conspiracy cooked up by bridal consultants to help a bride maintain the delusion that everyone is as excited about their pending nuptials as they are. Like I want to wear a forest green taffeta dress to any kind of function. I didn't even want to wear it in the changing room.

Amongst all of this, the thing I remember most is the constant bombardment of family members asking the dreaded question, "So when are you getting married?" I know statements like that are their way way of showing they care. It's sweet that people want you to be happy, and are interested in your pursuit of it. But what they couldn't possibly know was that it felt like a red-hot poker was being jammed into my left eyeball every time I was interrogated. The truth wasn't pleasant, and certainly not what I wanted to share on a lovely evening in the gymnasium of my former grade school. I wasn't even dating anybody at the time. Well, not really. There was a guy who called whenever he felt like it. He was recently divorced, bitter, and took a bit of it out on me. I'm really not angry about it. Well, not anymore. At the time I was so happy for any kind of attention, that I let it go on for much too long. Needless to say, he wasn't in the mood to escort me to any of the wedding functions. So the only armor I had to shield me from the endless barrage of well-meaning relatives was the aforementioned frock of forest green. And a few bottles of champagne. Which matched the dress, now that I think about it. What I loved most were the tidbits of advice about how to land Mr. Right. Apparently all I need is a new lipstick color. Thanks, second-cousin once-removed.

Fast-forward to this past Thanksgiving. I'm still not married, but there are now husbands, wives, babies, grandchildren, in-laws, and a myriad of other things to occupy the conversation. After dinner I was entertaining my cousin with the latest adventures in online dating, when I realized several family members had migrated over to hear the tales. The latest was a doozy. One evening I got a message that simply said "Hi." So I messaged back. He then asked how I was. To which I replied that I was "fine, thanks." Then next message reads, "Are you a freaky girl?" Two things happened within nanoseconds. I replied, "Nope," and called my friend to describe the parallel universe I had fallen into. He messaged back that there was no need to message him anymore. Thanks, Captain Obvious. My cousin and I were laughing about the ridiculousness of it  when my mom asked, "What's a freaky girl?" I love these moments. It's almost like the universe slows down in anticipation of the awkward discussion that everyone can see coming, but can't get out of their chair fast enough to avoid. I informed my mother that a "freaky girl" is someone who enjoys unorthodox sexual practices. Her eyes got pretty wide, she cleared her throat, got up, and made some comment about how she needed to tend to the pies. My grandma, unfazed, asked, "So did you call him?" I eventually caught my breath and informed grandma that I had not, in fact, called him. She then patted my arm and said, "I just want you to find a nice boy." It took a few minutes to convince her that he didn't qualify. That's the funny thing about the clearance aisle. What one person thinks of as a needless appliance others think of as a way to finally brand the NASCAR logo into their toast. And my grandma must have had a lot of fun when she was younger.

There are so many places one could wear a dress like this. None come to mind, but I'm sure there are some.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Cut The Crap

A friend of mine today told me to "cut the crap" and get to the good stories. All I have to say is, be careful what you wish for. I immediately thought of my second meet-in-person-after-meeting-online adventure. I was still on the pay-to-be-soul-crushingly-rejected website and someone had decided to drop a hook in my pond. His name was Paul. We lived in the same town, and after a lot of back-and-forth emails, it turned out we had a few things in common. I was pleased when he asked if I wanted to meet up one night for a beverage. I said yes, of course, and called an emergency summit to help me pick out the perfect outfit. Guys have no idea how much work it takes to get ready for a blind date. We want to look good, but not too good because that implies we're trying too hard. There's nothing worse than looking like you haven't been on a date in years - even if it happens to be true. And we don't want them to smell the desperation pouring off of us like water over the mighty Niagara. It smells a lot like Obsession for Men. Just saying.

We met on a weeknight - another code for "I don't want to take this too seriously." I don't know if this is true for everyone, but the anxiety of what will happen when the person sets eyes on you for the first time is excruciating. I just knew his eyes were going to bug-out of his head in the cartoonishly ridiculous way with the old car horn sound effect in the background. And not in a good way. Fortunately that didn't happen. We had a seat, ordered a beverage, and had a really nice chat. I even survived his bail-me-out phone call. I took it as a promising sign. He asked if I would like to see a movie that weekend, and I agreed. He walked me to the parking lot, but didn't pull any moves. There was follow-up emailing, and we went to see a movie that Friday. He used a discount card, which doesn't really bug me since I am the bargain-basement queen. Friends told me that should have set off some alarm bells. No funny business on that walk to the car either, but the follow-up phone call was cute. I decided that if I wanted to seal the deal, I was going to have to cook for him. I figured date three was the perfect excuse to invite him over for a home-cooked meal. I hate to toot my own horn *TOOT*, but I can cook. And I pulled out all the stops - lasagna, salad, homemade bread, and pound cake with berry sauce for dessert. And another outfit picked out by the good-lord-we-need-to-find-her-a-man cabal. What could go wrong? (Insert ominous music.)

Now would probably be the time to explain that I have a couple of medical issues. I hadn't been feeling well for years, and had decided to start getting to the bottom of what was going on. One specialist had just put me on some new medicine. He explained that it would upset my stomach for a little while. He further explained that it would get worse for about a week, and then take another couple of weeks to go away completely. This little adventure and my Paul-flirtation were going on simultaneously. And the dinner date was scheduled for the day that the symptoms were supposed to be the worst. Timing never was my strong-suit.

So the big night arrived, and he was very complimentary of my cooking. I just shoved food around my plate and tried to distract him with my sparkling conversational skills. He excused himself to go to the bathroom, and I pounced on the opportunity to scrape my plate into the trash under the guise of cleaning up. We went and sat on my couch to chat for a little while. The rumble in my stomach started very slowly. So much so, that I thought I might have actually pulled off a miracle. Then it happened. You know how you start to get the sweats, and all you can think about is how you would leverage your unborn children if your mid-section would just go numb? Well, I had passed that point about 45 minutes before I actually excused myself to go to the bathroom. I don't mean to be indelicate, but it was epic. And I was in there for a long time. There were 3 courtesy flushes. I was mortified. I was trying to craft some sort of clever thing to yell through the door, but I was at a loss. When my gut decided it was finished throwing its tantrum, I washed my hands, opened the door, and promptly ran straight into him in the hallway. He asked if I was ok. I mumbled something unintelligible, and he said he had to go to the bathroom. I may have said, "No! You can't!" a little too forcefully, but it didn't deter him. I didn't even have the chance to light a candle. To my amazement, he came back into the room, sat down, and picked up the conversation where we had left off. The holidays were approaching, and as we were sharing stories about how we normally spend time with family he started to tear up. He explained that his family wasn't very close. I changed the topic immediately. We chatted a little longer, and then he said he was going to take off. I asked if he wanted to take some leftovers with him. He said he would, so I dished them up. He took them from me, turned around, unlocked the door and ran out of my house. He couldn't get away from me fast enough. I think I heard the tires screech down the street. And I never heard from him again. Ever.

Here is a cookbook snapshot of the recipe for what I now call Poopy-Paul Lasagna. I've made it several times since then. As much as I would like to think that he was intimidated by my skills in the kitchen, something tells me that wasn't the issue.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Die-Hard Bargain Shopper

Conventional wisdom would say that at my age most of the "good guys" have been snatched up. I tend to agree. I have heard all sorts of comments about never-been-married people in their 30's and 40's as "obviously" having something wrong with them. This reinforces the clearance-aisle mentality, or what I call the one-eyed-teddy-bear effect. We leftover people haven't made the cut, for whatever reason. I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out how to camouflage the holes in my sweater. And like the water gun that squirts grape jelly on the Island of Misfit Toys, I'm convinced I just need to find the right person to appreciate my gifts.

There is an entire industry devoted to helping consumers snag the best-of-the-leftover-or-unwanted-decent stuff. TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and even the local Goodwill profits off of it. There are people who memorize the schedule of deliveries and know the best days to find a steal. Online dating is exactly the same. All of us are hoping to find the hidden-treasure profile to magically appear in our queue one day. And people script their profile essays to appeal to this consumer. They will highlight the fact that they just went through a really rough break-up, that they are a good guy, devoted dad, hopeless romantic, and holding out for "the one". This only leaves us with two options. We can either take our chances with the mismatched pair of new socks from the clearance aisle, or a pair of broken-in jeans from the thrift store. The mismatched pair of socks comes with issues, and the broken-in pair of jeans comes with baggage. The jury is still out on which is better.

Full disclosure: I am a die-hard bargain shopper. I troll the clearance aisle like a beast. I buy and sell on E-bay, Craigslist, and got my dining room set from the Salvation Army. I never pay full-price for anything. Ever. I consider Groupon proof that there is a higher power. I have also scraped-up bargain-basement guys from the start of my dating career. My first kiss came from a guy who wanted to date me to piss-of his parents. Let me explain. And forgive me - this is high-school-drama-BS at its best. I was a band geek. I played the clarinet in the marching band. Many of my friends were fellow band nerds, and this story includes two of them - my friend Heather, the flutist, and Adam, the drummer. Adam was head-over-heels for Heather. The only real problem was Heather's boyfriend, Chris. In true teenage-girl logic, Heather thought the best way to get Adam to get over her was to set him up with me. It didn't take. We hung out a few times, and even went to the theater with his parents. Awkward doesn't begin to describe it. Enter Adam's older brother Jason, who was home from college on break. Jason and I hit it off, he gave me my first real smooch, and we dated for a short time. When we broke up he explained to me that his parents disliked me immensely, since they were under the impression that I was the one who had rebuffed Adam. Jason loved the idea of sticking it to his parents, and I was a means to that end. Some guys really know how to part ways on good terms, huh?  And from then on, I embarked on a journey of poor choices. And I'm not bitter at all. Jason was a terrible kisser, by the way.

These sandals, purchased on e-bay, have lasted longer than all of my relationships. Combined.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Why the clearance aisle?

 I am a recently-turned-40-year-old single woman of the never-been-married variety. And yes, I do own a cat. Everyone I know is married, soon-to-be married, divorced and remarried, or happily ensconced in a relationship where they don't feel the need to be married. I have gotten a lot of dating advice over the years, some of which I paid a crap-ton of money for. The latest flavor has been that I should try online dating. Everyone knows someone who knows someone who met their soulmate online. I have tried it in the past with extremely limited success, but I thought I'd give it another go. "What have you got to lose?"suggested a friend. Indeed.

I first tried one of the more popular free sites. I sweated over the profile essays. Will they think I'm funny, or cynical? Do I sound too desperate? Does this sentence say "send me a message" or "I'm a psycho hose beast?" The website also has the user answer questions and rate which answers they would prefer from a potential match. Your profile is compared against other people and you can see the answers to their questions as well. I answered over 100 questions, uploaded a few pictures, and waited for the messages to pour in. I'm a catch after all, right? Not so much. I have also returned to one of the sites that uses fancy algorithms to determine who your perfect match would be. In my opinion, all I am doing is paying to be rejected. It's a daily dose of soul-crushing reality delivered to your inbox.

What I have concluded after using these dating sites on-and-off for several years is that at my age, I am dating in the clearance aisle. You know, the aisle in every discount store that has the red-tag items that they can't seem to ditch. That's right. The people who were messaging me were just like the teddy bear with one eyeball, or the bag of mittens that are all left-handed. I was getting hit on by the cologne that smelled like feet, or the radio that only receives AM stations. Now, I'm not saying it's all bad. You can find some great stuff in the clearance aisle. Every once in a while you'll find a set of sheets that perfectly match your comforter. But, you have to do a lot of digging to find it.

The purpose of this blog is to share some of my experiences in the clearance aisle. Some stories are funny, some sad, some ridiculous, and some are disturbing. Several fit more than one of those categories. I just can't shake the feeling that I'm not the only clearance-aisle dater out there. And if others have stories like mine, it can be helpful to know that it's not us. Although lately I have been getting the distinct feeling that I'm one of those one-eyed teddy bears up on the shelf.

Someone in my family once told me that I'll never find someone decent if I use a picture of my cat on my social network page. So I'm including it here. He's a better cuddler than my last boyfriend. Just saying.