play it safe

“You’ll fall. You’ll throw up. You’ll pinch a finger. You’ll land on your head. You’ll squish a little kid. I won’t be able to find you.”

The boys prefer to leave me at home when they go to the park. For a while I had unapologetically forbidden them from visiting the playground down the street. There were no sides on the tall slide, and the bottom where kids were supposed to slow to a stop was just sheared off metal. The ground cover seemed to be equal parts tan bark, glass shards, and cat/dog/raccoon/deer/fox/mountain lion/horse poop. There’s a lake in that park; it’s practically the wilderness.

But then the city went and replaced it with brand new play equipment and that space aged spongy ground cover; I had to find some other danger to fret about.

The New York Times ran an article this summer citing a study that our new safe playgrounds may be depriving an entire generation of the adventure, risk, reward, accomplishment, and self esteem necessary for them to become healthy and well balanced adults. Worse than the potential injuries, we might be instilling more fear and more anxiety into our kids by keeping them too safe.

I don’t know…I fell out of a tree house once, and that’s likely why I boast a fairly healthy anxiety about my kids falling off of, or out of, stuff.

The rule of my childhood neighbor’s tree house was you could use the ladder going up, but you had to jump out of the tree to get down. I now know that was likely not sanctioned by their parents, but….a rule is a rule. I scooted to the edge of the five or six planks that were nailed together to create the “house” and sat there for a long time. When I’d gathered enough courage, or had succumbed to the peer pressure, I gave myself one final push, at which point my favorite lavender eyelet shorts hooked onto a wayward nail. There I dangled cartoonlike by my shorts from a tree with no way for the other little kids to get me down. Those adorable shorts finally gave way, sending me plummeting to earth. It hurt like the dickens but I miraculously didn’t break anything, other than my shorts. I limped home, blubbering, and covering my rear end with my bruised and bleeding hands.

The crowning jewel of the Sierra Gardens Elementary playground was the Eagle’s Nest that sat outside Room 5. Kids would race to scramble up the side of the rounded metal climbing structure, hoping to be the first to reach the pinnacle where they could sit and survey their kingdom, the Sir Edmund Hillary of 2nd grade. Sometimes, you would climb back down the side, or, on a dare, you would let yourself hang from the top before your sweaty hands would give out, dropping you down into the sawdust.

I spent many a lunch recess across the blacktop at the simple bar that was cemented into the ground by the swings, and designed solely for the purpose of swinging around and flying off, like Mary Lou Retton. Every trick had a dramatic name; of which I now only remember pieces: The Cherry Something, Dead Man’s Something (which should have been named the Arm Breaker), and The Such-and-Such Drop, with all of the two-handed, one-handed, backward and forward variations.  There was never ever enough sawdust to actually cushion a fall, and I’m fairly certain that’s where I said my first swear word.

Modern playgrounds still look plenty dangerous to me. There is always that one part of a play structure where, no matter how new and up to code it may seem, you can imagine a kid just falling unceremoniously over the side, bypassing the sliding pole altogether. The monkey bars are still awfully high, and don’t even get me started on blisters. What if some big kid goes bananas on the wobbly bridge, and to be funny, wobbles the little kids right off?

When we take the boys to San Francisco, they beg to go to a park that sits nestled in our old neighborhood.

There are reclining seats suspended from the mile-high slide, and a tall climbing cone sits atop a merry-go-round (climbing and spinning in the same convenient structure!). Jacob flew straight to the top of the cone and encouraged passing kids to spin it. I hollered up to him with the very necessary reminder to hold on and not jump. When he was in pre-school, our first teacher conference included this feedback, “we always have one playground teacher assigned to Jacob; he will jump off of anything.”

John and I watched our smiling eldest whose vantage point surely gave him a view of the Pacific Ocean. As I was standing there willing him to hold on, we turned to find a flurry of activity behind us.  A mother was sprinting to a child who was spinning wildly out of control on a small seemingly benign stool. Little legs were flying around in a blur. It was Zachary. The woman had saved Zachary from spinning off in the direction of the sea, while I stood inches away concentrating on the kid in the sky. We thanked the hero profusely and checked on Zach whose face reflected nothing but shock after his centrifugal episode.

“How did that happen Zach?”

He wondered off wordlessly leaning a bit to the right.

I sat down, and pushed at the ground a little with my toe. Before I knew it, it was spinning and I was yelping, incapable of displaying the same stoic demeanor as my 6-year-old.

I was at once horrified and amazed at the marvel of engineering. The unassuming little seat was simultaneously low to the ground and terrifying – the perfect combination for my peace of mind, and my child’s future emotional health and sense of accomplishment and adventure.

the shrimp dumpling gang

Realizing we had a rare uninterrupted family day ahead of us, John hollered the magic words into the morning air to send the boys scrambling around the house for their shoes…  “DIM SUM!!”

There are just a couple of phrases that send them into such immediate action. The other is “How about a 5:00 bedtime, then, because that’s where you’re headed,” but the circumstances are usually less jovial, and my brow is likely furrowed.  But when we yell “dim sum,” they know what that means: “Today is special, we’re going to the city, find your shoes.”

Years ago, my college roommate, Liane took us to a Chinatown bakery, and bought a dozen shrimp dumplings for about $4. She doled them out when we emerged from the crowded closet sized storefront onto the bustling sidewalk.

Much as one would divide their histories into “before and after kids,” or “before and after the career change,” or “before and after I got a smart phone,” I have pre and post dim sum, marked by that first taste of shrimp dumpling on a crowded San Francisco street.  It squirted all over my awesome kid-sized Curious George T-shirt, ruining it forever – a small price to pay for dumpling shaped nirvana.  Perhaps it was also a sign that even as a pseudo hipster 20-something, it was time to stop wearing the kid-sized Curious George tee in public.

Before we knew it, our favorite San Francisco Saturdays as newlyweds were spent convincing the bakery lady that, yes we did want 42 shrimp dumplings and 2 Cokes so we could have lunch at the cold beach. Or when we were feeling fancy, we’d wait for the good stuff to be pushed by on a cart in a dim sum restaurant. There’s a tripe incident I don’t like to talk about, but if you have the opportunity to select your items from the cart, don’t put your face directly over the bamboo steamer basket when they open it. A tripe facial is not something one soon forgets.

Our Richmond District neighborhood that bordered what is considered by many to be San Francisco’s “New Chinatown,” still boasts Ton Kiang which is delicious and perfect if you can take off at 11:00 on a weekday and head that far down Geary Blvd., because then you can totally…probably… maybe get a table. For the bakery experience, we head to Good Luck Dim Sum. I don’t know how God feels when I do this, but when we venture here, I start praying for a parking space when we’re within a mile radius of the place.

But, alas, we usually end up at Hong Kong Lounge. It has pink awnings, and at some point within the last decade changed their name from the far classier Hong Kong Flower Lounge.  Now that the beautiful old theater where we saw “She’s All That,” is shuttered and forlorn, Hong Kong Lounge is that block’s reigning crown jewel. It sits between the old biker bar John ended up at when he locked himself out of the apartment, and the Ross Dress for Less where I went when it was my turn to lock myself out.

We moved away from the city years ago, but manage to find our way back on chilly days when we are feeling a little nostalgic, and a lot hungry.

We’ve dragged along dear friends like our seminary compadres, Megan & Harold and their kiddos. As we’d wait outside for our name to be called, our little children would press their faces against the glass to stare at the diners inside, or they would tuck their arms in their shirts and huddle together for warmth on the cold sidewalk.

“Stand up before someone tries to give you a dollar,” one of us would say, “Well, never mind, it’s ok, go ahead and stay there.”

Sometimes we come with our college buddy, Bouncer. When he’s there, the hurried wait staff takes a look at our order sheets, and asks us if we’re serious. We nod proudly, and take their doubt as a challenge. It’s delicious at first, then funny, then scary as we try to convince each other to “please, pretty please eat the last bun, they don’t think we can do it, and I cannot. I cannot do it, but I know you can.”

(If you go to the Hong Kong Lounge, whatever you do, don’t ask them to split the bill, because then it’s a whole thing, and every level of management gets involved, and your kids get really embarrassed.)

On this day, when our little foursome gets seated, I go all 1950’s and hand the menu/worksheet to John to make the selections on our behalf. Ordering is like a long and deliciously complicated word problem:

Two adults and two kids go for dim sum. There are three pork buns to a plate, and four shrimp dumplings. Shrimp and chive dumplings come six to a plate, as do potstickers. The 6-year old eats one half the pork buns as the 11-year old, but twice the potstickers. The mom will eat any shrimp dumpling that passes by if her fellow diners are not careful. The dad bats clean up, and assumes responsibility for the consumption of the ‘adventure plate’ if it is not liked by the rest of the group. What combination of plates should they order?”

John taps the tiny little pencil against the paper, and I can see his eyelid twitch with all that thinking.

I try to keep the boys from using their chopsticks to stab each other, poke themselves in the eye, or dig at that hole in the padding of their chair.

The waiter whisks the sheet off our table and John informs us our adventure plate will be the doughnut noodle roll, which arrives first.

Yup, there it is. Imagine you had a doughnut, then you rollllllled it up into a big rice noodle. The man poured brown stuff on it for us, and we debated whether it was syrup or soy sauce.  Three doughnut noodle rolls already cut in half. That’s six pieces. I’ll take one of those, and save room for the other stuff. (It was strangely good by the way, and the brown stuff was soy sauce.)

The shrimp goes fast & furious, and then come the potstickers and fried and  steamed pork buns.  “Darn, I meant puffs,” John mutters to himself, “I like the puffs with the shiny tops.” He notes it for next time, and we talk strategy and what we’ve learned for the future; one more order of shrimp dumplings, two fewer orders of pork buns.  John rethinks this by the time we walk out the door, “I don’t know,” he says, “I think I ate too much shrimp in my 20’s.”

The visit isn’t complete without us driving slowly by our old apartment, which looks exactly the same as it did 11 years ago, cracked glass front door and all. “There’s our old bank,” I say enthusiastically. Kids love seeing their parents’ old banks. “The hobby shop is still there! The card shop! The video café is gone, where we saw the guy lick the ketchup off the bottle, but they still have the poster up for ‘The Green Mile.'”

“Mom?”

“Yes, dear?” I look back at the boys who are blissfully staring out the window, their faces shiny from our feast.

“Can you please turn up the radio?”

If I had to be pick him being super pumped to see my old bank branch or excited to share a dim sum meal with us – I’ll take the doughnut noodle roll, thankyouverymuch.

*The restaurant above is actually yummy Ton Kiang, and I snapped that pic of Good Luck one day as we were probably looking for parking. That building there to the right is our old San Francisco apartment. That might be our former neighbor’s car. Wow, Gary & Linda – I’ll save them for another blog.

speaking….and other ways to embarrass a middle schooler

We are hot wing loving people, and we drove a good 20 miles this day to get them. We said, “Let’s celebrate Labor Day! And the end of a great summer! Tonight….we feast!” We didn’t say the feast part out loud, but I sure thought it.

With one week of middle school under his belt, Jake plopped down next to me at the restaurant table. Instead of getting to talk to my older kid’s face, however, I was granted access only to the back of his head. We were surrounded by no fewer than 30 televisions covering every possible surface in the new chain restaurant. I looked nervously at the giant projection screen hanging precariously above my head. Baseball, football, college football, high school football, what looked like Dr. Oz, and even America’s Funniest Home Videos blurred soundlessly together while music played in the background.

I didn’t harp on the boys about watching the TVs, there were just too many to ignore. I couldn’t help but watch either, just like everybody else in the crowded dining room. When you have that many people together staring at TVs from every possible angle – weird eye contact will inevitably happen. I was sure the guy with the ZZ Top Beard was looking at me because he assumed I was staring at his beard, which I was for a minute. But really, he was probably just watching whatever game was above our table, or at the very least, waiting for the screen to fall on me before my wings arrived.

A girl across the restaurant with a 60’s beehive also seemed to be looking at us. Either that or she was watching the same thing as ZZ, which seemed highly unlikely. No, she was definitely looking at me, and my utter lack of a beehive hairdo, for which I was now very self-conscious.

“Focus, people, focus.” John used his natural leadership skills to bring us all back to the task at hand – ordering wings. The menu was six pages long with an insert. There was a chart, and a graphic of a giant bottle of hot sauce with what looked to be dozens of different wing ordering variables.  There was the sauce side and the dry rub side. There was sweet on one end of the heat spectrum, a picture of flames on the other. We settled on a big platter of very exotic “medium.”

Exhausted from the hardest thinking I’d done all day, I settled back, and my ears perked up. I knew this song. I loved this song. “It’s Dead or Alive!” I yelped, “I don’t feel right saying the name of the song, because it’s not entirely appropriate… but it’s Dead or Alive…the band!” I girly clapped for unnecessary emphasis.

They all nodded.

“Eeeeee.”

“What?”

“Depeche Mode! It’s Depeche Mode.” I girly clapped again, because now it was a terrible habit.

The TVs may have been silent zombie-creating light boxes, but the stereo system was loud and clear, and apparently set to “80’s Stun.”

John took the little one to the restroom as I tried to explain to Jake the significance of Pat Benetar; “60% of her awesomeness must have been her haircut,” I said earnestly. I waved my hands around my head trying to pantomime the swoopiness of her feathering. He nodded again, and I took to my phone to find a picture.

When the guys returned to the table, I was flipping though my results from Googling “Pat Benatar Hair” images. I’ve Googled some stupid things, many of them twice, but this search was a first.

Jake looked at the photos, and then back to the bank of TVs, immediately guffawing at AFHV (when you are a fiercely loyal fan of crotch kicking, wedding-dance-gone-wrong, annoyed animal videos, you may also unapologetically call America’s Funniest Home Videos, AFHV), “Look at that cat. How does it do that?” he said, mystified. I looked around to find the screen with the crazy cat, and sucked in my breath when I spotted something awesome. I nudged Jake. “The woman directly behind you, has Pat Benatar’s exact haircut,” I whispered. He slyly looked over his shoulder, then looked to me, nodding in polite acknowledgement.

Another song came on that I recognized. I’d listened to it on my boombox in my room as a kid. “Catch Me I’m Falling.”  Who sang this? Who. Sang. This? I squirmed in my seat, uncomfortable in my not knowing.

My darling husband has many gifts, one of my favorites being his awe inspiring ability to immediately recognize and name the title and artist of songs; and not just any dumb ol’ songs, but 1980’s adult contemporary classics. The more obscure, the better. His childhood weekends were spent with Casey Kasem and the American Top 40. It’s obviously one of the top 3 reasons why I agreed to marry him.

“I can’t remember who sang this,” he admitted. Now he looked uncomfortable too.

“Stacey Q?” I guessed. Wait, she couldn’t have possibly had another song other than “Two of Hearts.” Back in the day, my friend Jenni and I preferred to call it, “Two Pop Tarts.” Hilarious.

John, sounding like Sherlock Homes, began his process of deduction, “This song was out at the same time as a Taylor Dayne song.”

“Is it Taylor Dayne?”

He looked at me like I was asking if he was Taylor Dayne.

“Um, no.”

“Ok, so most definitely not Taylor Dayne, and not Jody Watley…right?” I was grasping now.

The wings were here and my hands were saucy, but it was worth the risk.

“I’m so sorry everybody, I hate to do this, but I have to do this.” I took my phone out again and quickly found what I was looking for. “Pretty Poison? What? I’ve never heard of them.”

“Pretty Poison,” John said nodding solemnly, “Yup, that’s it. Man, I knew that.”

Jake looked at me expectantly, perhaps waiting to hear what the singer’s hair looked like, or where I was when I first heard that song, or maybe how Pretty Poison was the best band in the history of music and a major influence on artists he listens to, like B.o.B and One Republic.

I had nothing, so he quickly turned away in his seat, going back to his wings and AFHV.

Oh no. Was he….embarrassed? Annoyed? Both? It didn’t matter that nobody in this place, whether they had a Pat Benatar haircut or a ZZ Top beard, was paying attention to us. Well, beehive girl was, but I knew that nobody need be present for a tween to be embarrassed. He was a sweet kid, and was doing his best to humor me as I waxed poetic about the old timey music I grew up with. I scrapped my plans to use photos of my freshman dorm to illustrate the lesson One Hit Wonders: 90’s edition.

Alas, he is in middle school, and I now hold more potential for annoyance and embarrassment than I did just a week ago – a milestone for us both. I would let him eat his wings and watch his falling down videos in peace. Just wait ’til the day though, he’s eating medium wings with his kids and he gets excited for the Black Eyed Peas on the classic hits station, and he really wants them to appreciate how the lady at the next table looks exactly like Lady Gaga.

VISUAL AIDES

*The photo at the top is not the most flattering of me by any means, but somehow, I’m delighted by how delighted I look to be there.

*The middle photo is my freshman dorm room that I shared with my roommate Heidi. We actually SLEPT in there, in the midst of the chaos.Please note the EMF poster.

*The bottom photo is my far more refined sophomore room that I shared with Liane. No EMF poster, but I do see a poster for Ned’s Atomic Dustbin and L.A. Style, and that Johnny Depp movie they screened on campus, Benny & Joon. There is a rack of cassettes and cassingles AND a rack of CDs. Everything else, I would put up again today, Pearl Jam, The Cure, Depeche Mode, INXS, and the 34,000 photos I ripped out of magazines like Spin.

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it’s not you, mtv…it’s me

MTV is 30 now. 

Awww, MTV, Happy Birthday! To celebrate, I think I might try watching the ol’ network; it’s  been a while, and it might be fun to catch up.

I realize just how long it’s been when I can’t find MTV in my channel guide. We have about 900 channels, and I can tell you where to find Hoarders, Mickey Mouse Club House, Barefoot Contessa and Barefoot Contessa in HD.

I scroll through the channel guide at least twice, getting distracted by the fact that the Giants game is still on, and that movie Zodiac is about to start on IFC.

After I finally find it buried between between channels where the letters don’t mean anything to me (what is CSN+H and PLDHD?), I see that tonight’s MTV offering is Jersey Shore. What I know about this show I’ve learned from more sophisticated programming like Saturday Night Live, and The Soup. The format is instantly familiar though, and not entirely different from the first five seasons of Real World that I watched unapologetically back in the day: voice over narratives by the young cast, quick cuts and edits, and a roomful of 20-somethings arguing over whatever someone said that was like… the worst. I squirm; “What are they talking about? Why are they so mad? What’s that girl’s name? Why is she wearing that? Why am I so bored with this?”

Mercifully, a commercial comes on, and I flip to Zodiac. I shouldn’t watch this: it’s going to be scary, but I think it’s kind of a newspaper drama around the San Francisco Chronicle, and hunting for a killer they never capture (spoiler!). Intrigue, and mystery like All the President’s Men — same era, same typewriters. No Robert Redford, but there’s Robert Downey, Jr.! And Jake Gyllenhal! Mark Ruffalo! Chloe Sevigny! And an obviously nuanced and thoughtful performance by Anthony Edwards from Revenge of the NerdsTop Gun and ER.

I should really change the channel back to MTV, and finish what I set out to do tonight: watch MTV.

But I can’t. This movie has my favorite movie thing – exciting research scenes. The characters are pouring through file boxes, and the background music is pulsing, and watching these guys read is downright thrilling. (Helllloooooo, All the President’s Men!)

At the commercial break, instead of using the time to flip back to MTV, I listen to the ads for IFC’s Whisker Wars and look up facts about Zodiac’s director, David Fincher. He lived in the same little Bay Area town we did for a while, and he’s directed some of my favorites; Social Network, The Game, Se7en (could only watch that once), Fight Club, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Apparently I’m a David Fincher fan, and so I guess I’ll have to see The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, even though I was physically incapable of finishing that book.

So now, I am officially failing miserably at watching MTV. By the time I get back to it, Teen Mom is on, but that makes me a little more uncomfortable than the movie about the Zodiac Killer.

Ok, so I’ll watch this movie, and not MTV; I don’t want to miss any more critical plot points, and MTV won’t miss me. Even though my musical taste wasn’t frozen in time with A-Ha and Tears for Fears, they don’t need me anymore. I’m not their demo, though I was once.

When MTV started on basic cable, I was old enough to be very aware of its significance and also old enough to beg my parents for basic cable. I was, however, young enough for it to be a significantly formative part of my formative years. I knew that Nirvana and Pearl Jam were going to change the world.  I loved everything MTV had to offer: House of Style, Club MTV, Remote Control, Daria, 120 Minutes. John and I watched Beavis & Butthead on study breaks. My friend Liane and I went to sit in the stands at MTV Rock & Jock basketball in LA. At half-time, Tag Team performed their smash hit of which I owned the casingle,  “Whoomp! There it Is.”  Liane went so far as to go on to work for MTV, becoming the envy of us all.

So even though I’ve entered the next stage of life, the VH1 years, It’s not like I think Snookie is the 4th Horseman of the Apocalypse, I’ll  just leave her chronicles in the very capable hands of a generation who needs a study break.

Bring back Yo! MTV Raps though, and we’ll talk.

**That photo up there? That’s John and I on a study break, watching Beavis & Butthead.

beachy kleen

I am human so I love the beach and the water. It’s soothing to stare at and inspirational for all types – photographers, theologians, painters, poets, and I’m guessing, boat builders. You can get wrapped up envisioning the generations of admirers that have come before you, sitting on these same shores in their old timey clothes, happy to escape the grind of old timey life like covered wagons and washboards and lard buckets. It’s easy to think about God and bigness and eternity. You respect the power of the water, and the majesty of the sunsets and mountains.

But when it comes time to clean off two sandy boys in a rented retreat center bathroom, I think not so nice things about nature and the beach, and that maybe a lard bucket wouldn’t be so bad after all. Sand, as noble and poetic as it is, is exceptionally hard to remove from little legs and bobbing heads of thick hair. There are never enough towels, and there’s not an actual lid on this toilet, so anything that comes in a 4-foot radius of it, is most certainly going to wind up in it. This is not your home shower, so its quirks are still a fun mystery to you…. either one drastically wayward stream of water that shoots all over the room, or the nozzle that you somehow left pointed at the front door. That’s fun because when you turn it on, your child is left naked and shivering and dry, and you are clothed, soaked and fake-swearing. “Ding dang! Darg blummit!” The sibling is of course unattended in the other room, still wearing his goggles, with sand coming out of every crevice. He is more than likely rolling around in the sheets of all of the beds and trying on your watch.

Wet bathing suits hang from every available pole, hanger and hook, dripping, dripping, dripping onto your purse, or creating a slipping hazard for later.

If we were living in the Pottery Barn Kids catalog, the beach would be a breeze. Our little toe headed beach adept sand angels would play an innocent game of tag while giggling, then finish with big hugs and brotherly cuddles. I would of course be wearing a designer tunic while preparing fresh lemonade spritzers in my nautically themed kitchen. We would have outside showers and our personalized towels would hang jauntily from conveniently placed kid-height pegs.  But alas, the beach for most people on planet Earth, is not like that.

I grew up vacationing every summer in our family’s travel trailer, either in Santa Cruz or Southern California, but always by the beach. So the trauma and the drama of the beach shower was very much a part of the summer routine. My older brother and dad would wait patiently in our patio/picnic area complete with astro turf and strung owl party lights, while I would scream dramatically from the trailer’s postage stamp bathroom, “Stop! Stop! My eyes! My eyes! I’m blind! I’m drowning!”  My mother would somehow keep her cool and remind me that if I stopped screaming about my eyes, I would be less likely to swallow so much shower water. There was no pesky sunblock back then that we would have to wash off, but my brand new sunburn would certainly keep things interesting. “My shoulders! My eyes! I’m blind! I’m burning!”

When the screaming was over, I would emerge in my terry cloth outfit, freshly pig tailed, gangly arms crossed, 300 more freckles than I started the day with, and undoubtedly frowning. Scott and dad would maybe pump up the tires on the bike or throw a Frisbee. Mom would bring out hamburgers, and 3 different kinds of pickles, potato chips and Shasta Cola, humming. Nobody would speak of the injustice of the mandatory beach shower.

When John manages this process with our boys, he makes it look so easy – everybody lined up, in and out of the shower, no big deal. I thought of him and the serenity my mother would maintain through my hissy fits as I looked for clean shorts for the kid jumping on the bed, and a pair of socks for the one digging through my purse for gum.

With everybody dressed, relatively dry, and smelling better, we made our way down the hall for lunch, when the little one turned to me, “I am so excited to go right back to the beach the second we finish eating!”

working girl

It’s fun to entertain the notion that I was born to relax or talk about TV because I excel at those things, but I think I’ve always known I was supposed to grow up and get to work. When I was digging through my old stuff at my parents’ house, I found this sign:

Colleen’s Fall Fashion Show

Thursday August 30, 1984

There will be 12 fashions

Tickets available in Colleen’s bedroom

25¢a ticket

I know I’m the one who wrote it, but I love it. I like to picture freckled little 10-year-old Colleen earnestly creating 12 fashions, and making this sign, and then going ahead and charging mom and dad a quarter….each (sorry, no friends and family discount). Think back to your little kid self, and the stuff you did. You were figuring it out, shaping yourself for what was to come. There we were, the kiddo versions of us, trying out all kinds of careers, just by playing. Sure, you may not have played “analyst” or “consultant” but that’s ok… you might have if you knew those jobs existed and how glamorous they would turn out to be.

I always had a different imaginary job to help support five imaginary babies, Strawberry Shortcake, and an imaginary orange cat. I also had to supplement my imaginary husband’s postal service salary so we could make the payments on the two-story RV with the indoor pool.

What did you want to be when you grew up? Obviously my first choice was Pastor’s Wife (followed by mail carrier’s wife) and Director of Connecting Ministries at a thriving and fantastic Presbyterian Church. But after that, the list was long. It went something like this chronologically:

 Nurse (that lasted until age 6 when I cut my hand and nearly passed out)

 Bank Teller

 Teacher

 Actress

 Hotelier

 Private Detective and partner to Remington Steele

 Professional Tennis Player

Drummer for The Go-Go’s

 Architect (until I found out how much math was involved)

Interior Designer

Apparently… fashion designer and entrepreneur

Novelist

Journalist

Criminologist

 Journalist again

And then…anything but journalist

And yes, in my adulthood I entertained the idea of everything else on the list again except nurse, architect, and tennis player, due only to the fact that I have two bum knees.

Watching my kids now, I can see what they’re trying on for size: professional baseball/basketball/balloon volleyball player, video game tester, archaeologist, movie director, philosopher, chef, competitive eater, and though Jake doesn’t want to hear it, cub reporter a.k.a. journalist (man, that kid asks a lot of tough questions.)

Because we are always growing and moving forward, maybe we try on stuff as adults too, in anticipation of some next step or phase. If that’s the case, I have an idea of where I might be headed, especially if you were to peek into my house this week:

 Come to my Trader Joe’s frozen entrée extravaganza

In my kitchen

There will be 12 entrees

25¢a ticket

don’t call that vintage: your old room

I had been back in my hometown for about 30 seconds when I heard my name being called from across the street. I stepped out of the car into the welcoming warm air to see my parents’, and formerly my, diminutive and ever-busy neighbor waving at me. 

I waved back and she called out again, “Come here, I have something for your dad.” I followed her into the house that was neat and tidy and light and airy. I knew the floor plan well – it matched a third of the houses in the 1950’s tract neighborhood. Another third looked like the house I’d grown up in. She handed me a basket with a card for my dad who was healing up after surgery and on the mend. The basket was full of fruit, and I recognized the same distinctive curly cue handwriting that typically graces the first Christmas card that shows in our mail box each year. She asked about the boys and told me about her grandkids and we said our goodbyes, so I could unload the car and get the hospital to see Dad. Before I could even pull the suitcases from the trunk, one of the next door neighbor “kids” who was probably a good 15 years older than me, rounded the corner on his way to his dad’s house (who’s floorplan matches ours). “Hey there!” he called.

I was fumbling for my old key when I found two very warm cartons of milk sitting on the doorstep. It was Thursday, milk delivery day. My parents have had the same milkman my whole life – Dave…Dave, the milkman. When I mentioned the warm milk to my mom later, she said with a sigh she’d have to reduce the order again. Dad’s drinking soy now.

“You can’t quit the milkman,” I said.

“I know,” she said.

Though I eventually grew to at least enjoy the uniqueness and kitsch factor of having a milkman, I may have at some point asked “why can’t we get our milk at the store like everybody else?” (I know now that kids don’t appreciate things, as much as you beg them too. The hope is that someday they will, I suppose, and then be brave enough to tell you as much.)

My brother was in town too. He’d staked his claim by tossing his stuff in the blue room, which was most recently mine. I took my INXS poster out of there when I left for college, but alas it was truly Scott’s old room. It had only become mine, and blue, when Scott graduated from college and took his Jimmy Buffett and English Beat albums out once and for all. I think he half expects back rent for my time spent there, and maybe an additional fee for the intense shade of baby blue I’d insisted on immediately upon his departure.

That would put me in the smaller green room for this stay; the room where my canopy bed once was, and where the Tooth Fairy could find me, where I’d lip sync to the Go-Go’s, and where the neighbor kids would come to knock when it was time to play. John and I call it the Sleep Chamber; its blackout shade allows the lucky slumberer to blissfully snooze to noon with nary a care. No TV, but that’s ok, the sleep chamber was secretly a boon.

A couple of days later, after much discussion over the weirdness of just the four of us in the house for the first time in 25 years, Scott vacated the blue room to get back to his family. So with mom and dad both home and watching the news (hellooooo, every day of 1986), I started nosing around my old drawers and shelves.

Enough had changed in each room to keep them from looking like shrines to our childhood, but enough had stayed the same to never let memories be too far out of mind. In addition to stacks of photos – childhood friends, puppies, neighbors, vacations, there were a handful of toys, including a miniature Strawberry Shortcake wearing a nightcap and nightgown. I followed my first instinct which was to immediately put her to my nose and take a huge sniff. I really didn’t expect to smell anything, but there it was….the unmistakable smell of Strawberry Shortcake. If you’ve ever smelled her, you know what I’m talking about. It’s strawberry and something else, I don’t know what, but it’s very specific to her. And as I stood there maniacally smelling an old doll, the summer of 1982 came back in one crazy rush, as it tends to do when you’re already feeling nostalgic. Seeing both E.T. and  Annie in the theater and hitting the mother lode on my birthday – I got Strawberry Shortcake, an Annie electric toothbrush, the Annie locket, a huge book about Princess Diana, a chic ribbon choker, stuffed E.T., and E.T stickers, and that’s just the stuff I remember.

The smell was also very specific to one glorious sleepover that summer. I had friends, sisters from the church I attended, who had a pool, matching strawberry pajamas (including a set for me) aaaaand……waterbeds. We splashed in the pool until we were good and sunburnt, then focused on Strawberry Shortcake and her cohorts Apple Dumplin’ and the Purple Pie Man, bringing them to life to befriend Barbie. I was more than likely wearing one of my sparkly appliqué shirts with a cool saying like, “Foxy,” or “Nano Nano” from my favorite TV show, Mork & Mindy.

We do the same kind of archaological dig when we visit John’s old room….we find term papers; Michael Jordan basketballs, posters, and clippings, John’s Student Body President campaign trucker hat, and inevitably his prized possession – his model of the General Lee, from The Dukes of Hazzard. I’ve never seen him smell any of it.

I half-heartedly looked around for the Nano Nano shirt to show the boys, but came up empty handed. Instead, I tucked Strawberry Shortcake into a plastic bag to preserve whatever scent was clinging to her little body.I proudly handed her to John to smell when we were reunited. He says he couldn’t smell anything. Boys.

don’t call that vintage: grub

There’s a new pancake house in town.

That’s not a euphemism; there really is a new pancake house in town. And it’s kinda glorious. They put bacon in the pancakes…..yes, IN the pancakes. The waitstaff talks about the hand-whippedness of the butter with such passion that you think back with disdain about every stupid meal you’ve ever had that did not come with this butter.

Jake went there with my parents, and they hung his drawing of a leprechaun eating pancakes in the front window, creating three fans for life. A mere two days later, the rest of us were back to visit the drawing, and to procure more hand-whipped butter.

Now we have a tough choice at breakfast, as the new shiny place is down the street from one of this town’s famed institutions of culinary indulgence. For being an institution, I find it curious that nobody really knows the name of it, because when it’s spoken about in hushed whispers, everybody calls it something different. The source of the confusion would the multiple signs out front – one says “The Chef Burger” and the other says “Giant Chef.” I’ve also had the experience of raving about it to more than one somebody, and they cock their heads in bewilderment, until a look of realization comes over their faces and they say, “ooooh, you mean The Burger Chef.” At our house, it’s known as Giant Chef, of course, because that is the most fun to say and to visualize. Frankly you could call it “Stinky’s” and I would eat there.

A friend at work clued me in to it. I think I said “biscuits and gravy,” which if you’re around me enough, you will inevitably hear me mumble. Apparently, it was the secret password. The way I like to remember the transaction is that she looked around stealthily then leaned in to whisper the location before disappearing back into the cover of night. Or the office. Whatever.

The waitresses have worked there only forever, and your coffee cup never even gets down to half full. The biscuits & gravy are a steal (comes in handy at a cash-only joint) and they taste exactly as they should, only better. If you know biscuits & gravy – then you know exactly what the biscuits should be like, and you know exactly what the gravy should be like. Well – these are like that. And if you aren’t intimately familiar with biscuits & gravy, then I would recommend the corned beef hash, and then after that, I don’t know what to tell you. There’s always the donut place across the street that’s nestled in between the Army and Navy recruiting centers. And the friend who slipped me the intel on this place? Well, I’ve seen her there about a dozen times, and one of us usually has a ballcap on. Zach always spots her and announces her presence, much to her delight, I’m sure.

My kids are breakfast kids and have easily embraced diner culture– I’ll say it – they’re naturals. They chat up the waitstaff, use their manners and compliment the food. They’ll pay together at the register, usually in their dirty and dusty sports uniforms, and talk about baseball with the regulars at the counter. And when they are offered a free lollipop even though the sign says $.25, they say “thank you,” look over their shoulder at us and you can practically hear the little cartoon tooth twinkle thing happen.

In high school, I would drive 20 miles for good pancakes. It may have been IHOP, but it was worth it because they had German Pancakes which were really crepes with butter, powdered sugar and lemon. Sophisticated, right? I was savvy enough to know this was a dish I would not likely learn to make anytime soon. As a friend recently reminded me, we wrote a hard-hitting article about these pancakes in the high school newspaper.

Before you start worrying about my cholesterol, I want you to know that I’m an equal opportunity breakfast lover. I don’t just partake in greasy spoon diner culture, but the brunch culture too. Yeah, I like berries and compotes, and stuff made with buckwheat. I think I’ve said “lox is my middle name” and the closest I’ve gotten to a scuffle was with the girl who cut in front of me in the hour long wait for brunch in the West Portal District of San Francisco (My brunch rival, as John called her). As a kid, I would lazily lay in the backseat of my parents gigantic Chrysler, one knobby knee crossed over the other and imagine the day I would eat brunch in San Francisco, looking at the bay and listening to Christopher Cross, and maybe drinking Riuniti on ice, whatever that was. That, I decided would be my benchmark of adulthood…when I know I’d finally made it into the utmost realm of sophistication.

I recounted this childhood dream to John early in our relationship, and he has since caught me many a time affirming my adulthood and ascendance into the utmost realm of sophistication, when a) I’m eating brunch and looking out the window or B) I’m listening to Christopher Cross, which happens more than one might guess. Now if only I could get my hands on some Riuniti.

*Up there is a photo of the one, the only, Giant chef. Over there is the pancake picture by the renowned breakfast artist, Jacob. (One of his oil pencil drawings of my morning coffee hangs in our kitchen.)

This likely wraps up my vintage series. I have a couple of other vintage topics I want to get out there, but they just haven’t come to fruition. Watch out, I may use them to pay homage to this series that pays homage to vintage stuff that we love. Blows your mind, right?

don’t call that vintage: ‘dos and wheels

We took the boys in for haircuts the other day. Zach climbed up into the chair shaped like a race car and asked confidently for the “Buster Posey,” while Jake’s stylist and I stood over his impressive noggin of thick hair, pawing at it. She said “texturize” a few times and I nodded solemnly. We swept it over his eyes this way and that, and I gave the international signal for “No ‘Dumb and Dumber’ bangs please.” She looked horrified that I would even suggest such a thing would be possible on her watch. But you have to ask – you have to get it out on record that there are to be no straight across bowl cut bangs. We’ve been burned by that before.

That very morning the boys had been running about the baseball fields as the parents sat in the stands lamenting the states of each of our kid’s hair. Everybody’s was long and flopping into their eyes. And now thanks to baseball season, they were having to try to contain their locks under their hats, where we could also count on the bonus of all that sweat. The older boys are of course now responsible for the washing and the rinsing of the hair, which only makes me wonder how many layers of sweat we’re talking about, really.

Courtney the stylist whirled around Jacob like a blonde satellite – her brow furrowed and those funny scissors with all the teethy things snipping away in a blinding blur.  She circled him a dozen more times after she stopped snipping to swoosh the hair around again with her fingers. When she was finally satisfied with the swooshiness I suppose, she swung his chair around so I could see the results. “I love it,” I said loudly and matter-of-factly.  John leaned over to me and asked if there had actually been any hairs cut. It was my turn to roll my eyes. “It’s the style,” I said with the indignant emphasis of a teenage girl whose own style was being questioned, as I walked over to join them and swoosh it around too. Courtney, at my side, hands on her hips, chimed in. “It is….it is the style.” John shrugged and looked out the window to the parking lot, now painfully aware he was sitting in a room not only full of women who took pride in staying current with 10-year-old boys’ hairstyles, but also little boys who were too wrapped up in “Scooby Doo” to be of any help to him.

Jake grabbed his banana split lollipop out of the basket and took his spot next to us on the bench while we waited for Zach’s 1977 Luke Skywalker fluffy mane (his second go-round with this) to be shorn into the Buster Posey. The lollipop was still in Jake’s mouth, when in all seriousness he asked, “can we go to the mall?” John and I looked at each other, and busted out laughing like a couple of tired and predictable sitcom parents.

“What? What’ so funny?” Jake asked, still swirling the lollipop.

There was our little boy, with his styled hair, dirty baseball uniform, Kojak lollipop asking us to go to the mall, in his voice that seemed deeper than it was yesterday.

“Nothing,” was all we could say as we regained our composure. There was no way that he would be able to see himself as we saw him in that moment. Like he was going to ask for a 10-spot and the keys to the ’81 Camaro.

He comes by it naturally I suppose – I’m not making up the part about the ’81 Camaro. His father and I have logged many an hour driving around in an ’81 Camaro. John’s family bought it new back in the day, and he recalls with a gleam in his eye the day they got the call it had arrived. He was pulled out of school, and they headed off to the nearby metropolis of Twin Falls, Idaho to pick it up. I like to picture John in the teensy backseat with the silver interior, beneath the t-tops, with his own crooked haircut and big brown eyes. I also like to imagine him sticking his tongue out at the other kids as his family drove triumphantly through the streets of his very small and gossipy hometown.

John ended up bringing the Camaro, silver interior, t-tops and all, to college in LA where he fielded purchase offers nearly every time we stopped to get gas. He tried to teach me how to drive its manual transmission, but that was a short-lived and failed endeavor. I would instead be in charge of switching out the Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins CDs in the Discman. Still a very important job.

When we got married and moved to San Francisco, we knew the Camaro would not match with our new urbane lifestyle, so it went back to Idaho where it was quite literally put out to pasture. Whenever we go up for a visit, John takes a few minutes alone to trudge out to the field where the Camaro now sits. One year, he glumly reported that wasps had taken up residence under the hood.

Jake points out with excitement new Camaros every time he sees one. (I’m still waiting for the comeback of my childhood car – the Chrysler Cordoba. It’s imminent, I’m certain.) Then the guys get kinda quiet, with what I’m guessing are the wistful thoughts of the wasp hive with t-tops sitting in the field, and their not-so-secret dream of resurrecting it one day. One of them, after all, does have the hair for it.

That’s a high school John and the family Camaro, circa 1991

don’t call that vintage: threads

My mom showed up at my house a couple of weeks ago with an armful of hangers. “I brought you some of your clothes,” she said.

“Wait, what? What clothes?”

“Your clothes. From your closet at the house. They are all clean, and in good shape. Do what you want with them.”

And there in her arms were tops that I instantly recognized as yes, my own…my own, from middle school and high school. I held up each piece up for inspection with a suspicious eye.  I totally appreciate vintage clothes. I’ve saved some of my mom’s handbags and skirts from her Betty Draper days; well-made, beautifully cut classic wool skirts…now lovingly stored for the day that I shrink to the size of a Betty Draper smurf, so that I can actually fit into them.  (Note to self: Food was just healthier back then. It’s today’s additives. It’s advertising. It’s the economy. It’s your crazy schedule! It has nothing to do with how much you love cheeseburgers!) What I was looking at now, my friends, was not vintage.

The turtleneck tank top had arm holes that most certainly would have reached my waist band. My arms in high school were like matchsticks. How did I get away with this? Wait, it must be a headhole. No? Definitely an armhole? Oooooh, I forgot about the second tank top underneath. That must have looked fantastic. I stared at it. “I can’t wear this one mom.”

“Sure, you can,” she said matter-of-factly. “Wear it under a blouse. You know, like a dickie.”

“OK,” is really the only thing you can say to that without sounding like a jerk.

Aaaah…the teal button down, dare I say, “blouse;” also square, also cropped, but with a sophisticated hint of acid wash. I remember popping the collar on that bad boy to show off my asymmetrical bob (with perm), polishing the look with some high waisted, white, peg leg pants. I was trying to remember what shoes I wore with this while Zach lay across my bed on his tummy, legs kicking up in the air, chin in his hands, carefully surveying the situation. “That shirt looks like Spongebob Squarepants.” I nodded my head in agreement and put the Spongebob Squarepants shirt into the very special pile with the dickie.

I held up the short sleeve pink cardigan and it formed a perfect rectangle. I peeked at the tag. Hold the phone! Benetton! Scoring something from Benetton was a real coup in middle school. My mind was reeling with possibility – I could belt it, or wear it with some skinny jeans and flats (I say that about EVERYTHING). When someone would undoubtedly ask who the designer was, I could say “vintage Benetton” like they do on the red carpet…you know, vintage Chanel, vintage Halston…it would be exactly like that. I set about unbuttoning it, getting it off the hanger, mumbling to myself, “I’ll just take a sec and try this on, lemme get my arms through the holes, button this up…there we go…I can make this work, let me just take a look here   – wait, no, nevermind… I cannot. I cannot make this work.” I cannot wear a square tummy revealing pink cardigan with giant buttons, even if it is Benetton.

It’s not like it was Esprit. As a kid, and through certain parts of adulthood, I would wear anything Esprit. I’ve never since had such fierce brand loyalty. My parents would take me on pilgrimmage to the San Francisco outlet. I’d save every tag, and catalog each piece in an Esprit notebook. And this felt like a totally normal and appropriate thing to do as a brand loyalist. Last year, as John and I were strolling through New York, my heart leapt when we spotted…an Esprit store. I didn’t know any existed. I raced in, and though it didn’t smell the same as it did when I was a kid, I had the same sense of euphoria.  Before escaping to the Sony store to try out a 3-D TV, John looked around. “They know who their audience is,” he noted, “They are are marketing it directly to you.” He was right. I was surrounded by women who looked exactly my age, and who I’m guessing were crazy for the sutff in 1986. They probably cataloged their stuff in an Esprit notebook too, also in a totally not-weird way. I bought a pair of pants that day, which as it turns out, are the best pants in the world.

As for the little slouchy black cotton jacket with distressed metal snaps that my mom delivered with the other stuff? That, I may have tucked quickly and quietly into my closet.

The photos at the top are of my very styley and tiny mom. The b&w photo is circa 1958. The ones with the baby (my brother) are circa 1963. Down here, that’s me as a kid. I was really into “outfits”. I thought I was pretty hot stuff….I’m pretty sure it’s 1986, maybe 87.  If you look closely, you can see my first Swatch.