Take THAT Randy Newman

We came home last weekend on one of those overfull flights in a teeny airplane that underscore how someone missed the memo about the hoards more people commuting between Boise and Seattle than can be comfortably accommodated. We stopped downtown on our way home for a late lunch.

No matter how big he gets, I'll have this proof that at one point he thought of me as the taller one. And probably the louder one too.
No matter how big he gets, I’ll have this proof that at one point he thought of me as the taller one. And probably the louder one too.

The place was new, and trendy, with lots of blond wood and brushed metal, cement floors, heavy, metal barstools and tall tables. We’d been unable to get a table the first few times we’d come. Now, months after it opened, at 3 pm on a Sunday, sans kids, we didn’t have to wait for lunch. I climbed onto my barstool and realized after a moment that a. my feet weren’t actually resting on anything, and b. this made me feel like a third grader.

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Saving Face: Of Skin, Snakes, SPF and the Rise of Franken-Beth

Some two or three decades ago my freckled skin and I became good friends with Hawaiian Tropic, SPF 4 in my pursuit of the teen ideal of beauty. Despite my determination to transform my natural skin tone from its normal translucent hue that would have been coveted in Victorian-era England, I never really tanned.  In the years since I have learned to balance my grudge against the lotion industry and its failure to deliver on promises of bronze perfection, with my disdain for my inherited pallor.

Sometime several months ago, I absent-mindedly picked at patch of dry skin on the left side of my nose, creating a small sore that stayed for weeks. A scab would form, which would wash off in the shower, or slough off when I ran and rubbed the sweat off my face with my sleeve.

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The End of My Affair with the Fair

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe kids were astonished this year when I suggested we see the new Batman movie instead of going to the fair. They stood astride their bikes, staring gap-mouthed at me. They couldn’t believe I would cancel the FAIR.

“This just ruins my day,” Colin said. I hastily added movie candy and a trip to the arcade to the package.

Not only do the kids love the fair, I love the fair. Or I HAVE loved the fair. Every year in the weeks leading up to the fair, I excitedly point out the colorful trucks of unassembled carnival rides queued up in the fairgrounds parking lot we pass on our way to the grocery store.

“Look,” I say, taking my hands off the wheel to clap excitedly “the fair, The Fair, THE FAIR!”

For the past several years, a trip to the fair has been my birthday present. I love wrapping my hands around that first beer and corn dog, then dragging my family around to look at every single exhibit in the expo building: the oversized produce, the amateur photography, the carvings, the quilts, the jars of canned peaches. This is followed by a trip to the animal barn to appease anyone tired of the aforementioned expo displays of agricultural expertise and pining over future carnival rides and games. After rows of guinea pigs, chickens, rabbits and the chick incubator, I can usually stretch the visit out to include the horse and llama stables.

In the days before kids, and even when they were still very young, we could skip the rides and games altogether. These were the years when my love of the fair was at its peak. It was wholesome and inexpensive.

The Fair and I also have a debauched history. For a teen in the 80s, the fair was an easy place to get away with mischief fueled by a fast food soda cup filled an unhealthy ratio of diet coke to Jack Daniels. It was open late, teeming with other teenagers, and someplace my parents thought was safe enough to leave me unsupervised.

The Fair and I matured together and it became an inexpensive date for my husband and me in the days when we couldn’t afford most other forms of entertainment. As our household discretionary income grew we still enjoyed the Fair.

When our kids came along, we did what we always do and dragged them along. We liked measuring their height against the ruler posted at the ticket booth. We said no to cotton candy and all the peddlers pawning plastic crap. We said yes to those few carnival rides the kids were tall enough to enjoy. We returned home, happily sunburned and exhausted.

Somehow we’ve graduated from buying a handful of carnival tickets to buying the all-you-can-ride, non transferable, wrist bands for our kids. Although we are well beyond the time when we couldn’t put two coins together and walk to the convenience store for a candy bar, the expense makes me itch.

Now a trip to the fair means we rush through the displays of grandma’s cookie recipe and the 800 pound pumpkin to stand in the shade-free, sour-smelling trampled grass, watching our kids wait in a 25-minute line for a three-minute ride.

Access to the carnival rides is through the carnival games with the carnival carnies, which is another problem. The boys love the games and won’t believe they’re rigged. What’s more, kiddie games at the fair have cultivated our children with easy winnings from early on so that they’ll always believe they’re capable of hitting a little balloon with a dart. The games offer prizes like live goldfish that parents get to lug around in sealed, plastic baggies for the rest of the afternoon. Said plastic baggies tend to cook the little fish in the full sun, so the afternoon ends with Mike and me certain we’ve been consigned to hell for abetting animal cruelty.

With so much to offer, the fair entry fee and expensive wrist bands are non refundable, which is not usually a problem. Two years ago, though, we dragged our foreign exchange student along with us for this uniquely American experience. By “uniquely American,” I mean: “I don’t know for sure if they have county fairs or the equivalent in Europe or if they just gather regularly dancing around maypoles and eating turkey legs and jousting.” Even with the advanced discount tickets I purchased, five fair entries, wristbands and dinner for all of us cost roughly the same amount as my first car.

I dragged everyone through the expo exhibits and the small animal barn. Then, in an attempt to out-run what looked like an incoming storm, we skipped the horse stables and went straight to the big Ferris wheel. From there we’d be able to see the whole city, and impress our foreign guest with the juxtaposition of vistas of the Boise River to one side with a five-lane, sidewalk-less arterial roadway littered with back lit marquees and broad parking lots to the other.

We waited in line for our requisite 25 minutes as the wind picked up. The kids were complaining of being hungry, but the fair would be open for several more hours on this last night of the season and we could break later for corndogs and elephant ears.

At the point we were entering an undersized gondola on the oversized Ferris wheel, I heard what I thought was a train approaching. I saw the carney’s face turn pale. We turned and saw a wall of dust barreling down the fairway. It pushed banners and entire canopies ahead of it in a cloud of dust.  I turned back and looked up at the ride we were about to board and saw it shimmy. Startled faces looked over the edge of their respective gondolas at us on the platform.

“Everybody off!” the carney yelled as he strong armed us back from what now looked like a brightly lit deathtrap. We obliged, ducking flying paraphernalia and entire tents to make our way back to our car through the torrent. No fair food, no $7 beer, our expensive wristbands completely unused.  We stopped at a convenience store on the way home to get ice cream. Our exchange student to this day fails to see the attraction of the Fair.

It’s about that time my love of the Fair began to evaporate. I suspect Mike’s interest has long been feigned for my benefit.

Maybe some day when the kids are out of the house, or no longer interested or available to hang out with us (and hopefully have their own respective sources of income), Mike and I will be able to the Fair that I remember loving.  This year, however, nearby forest fires have created spectacular sunsets and an atmosphere reminiscent of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The smoke plays havoc with Mike’s allergies, and I’m unwilling to plop down a small fortune for the experience. The Fair has become an expensive , unfulfilling flirtation. The affair is over.

Besides, Christian Bale is my new crush.

Balcony Club, Bad Language, and Battlestar Galactica

A few weeks ago, I was telling a story to a group of friends.  It was after a church service and we were stationed to one side of a buffet table trying unsuccessfully to discourage kids from shoving handfuls of cookies into their pockets.

Since my friends know that most of my stories incorporate off color, self-deprecating humor or blatant exaggerations, they probably had good reason for anxiety as our pastor approached.  The story I was telling had to do with the night of my 40th birthday, when my husband thought it would be funny to remove his shirt in a crowded gay club before coming to find me.  As is probably true of most stories that have to do with drinking and stripping in gay bars, there were moments of poignant humor, and nuances that, left out of the tale, would dramatically alter the narrative.

Our pastor is a pretty cool guy, so is my husband, and I have this weird aversion to altering a story so as to be less offensive.  So while my brain may have speedily assessed the wisdom of continuing with such a potentially embarrassing tale depending upon the audience, there was no awkward pause on my part, nor any twitch or indication that I assessed the situation and deemed it acceptable to continue in mixed (holy and not-so-holy) company.

“And so then he said ‘hey, I’m up here,'” I said, pointing at my chest and then to my face.  That’s it.  Story finished.

There was one beat … two. Someone laughed politely.

Two kids elbowed their way to the table and attacked a plate of snickerdoodles.

Since that moment, the story that’s remembered and retold among members of our congregation is not about Mike’s inebriated shirtless wanderings through downtown Boise, but my retelling of the tale in front of our resident man-of-God.

Okay, it wasn’t the most genteel moment of my life. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to recall ANY genteel moments.  Rather, my timeline on this earth is highlighted by spectacular instances of questionable judgement, usually relating to the poorly-timed, off-color comment or patently offensive story.

There was the time I was sharing a moment from the life of a court-reporter friend of mine.  She had received a call from a colleague who was transcribing testimony and needed grammatical advice.  Midway through my tale, I realized that my story’s bawdy punch line might not fly with the well-healed ladies of the Junior League, but what the heck? The story isn’t funny at all without the last little bit, and so what if it made me come across as a sailor?

“And so my friend called to ask ‘does the term ‘butt-f–ker’ have a hyphen?'”

I’m laughing on the inside

Well, my anal-retentive, shirtless husband tells me hyphenation in this case is proper when the term is a compound modifier. And yeah, that story was a flop in that particular crowd. On the inside, I’m sure everyone was cracking up, but Junior League ladies don’t often belly laugh unless they have a lot more wine in them.

You can feel however you want about this, but I value a good story over a whole bunch of other stuff, including coming across as well-mannered, or fitting in. If that story incorporates bad language, well, one cannot sacrifice narrative in favor of leaving out a well placed expletive, or embarrassing moment. It doesn’t work. Ask any fan of Battlestar Galactica reruns if they aren’t still brought up short by the shows’ copious use of the word “frack” as the futuristic, FCC clean, curse of choice.

It sounds, well, fracking stupid.

Some stories you just can’t tell well by cleaning them up. And there are times when a well-placed expletive is really funny.

Take the case of the 5 foot tall metal chicken.  Not a story you can tell without the F-word. Can’t be done.

That’s not to say one can’t easily overuse expletives.  Calling everyone else on the road a jackass is so nonspecific as to render the insult rather pointless.  It diffuses the impact and makes you come across as unimaginative. Insults, like humor, should be unexpected, creative and delivered with exceptional timing.

And if that exceptional timing happens to be when your local man of God joins in on the conversation, well the Big Man himself knows you can’t stop a speeding story train.

I’ll take the size 7 Woolly Bully, please

After decades of repeatedly and publicly declaring how much I loathe running, I’ve taken it up again.

My dog, and running companion, endorses the running thing. My husband runs, so it’s nice to compare notes on training strategies, and enter races together.  Some of the coolest people I know run, and they’re not ultra fit or crazed athletes, or in any way difficult to hang out with.  They like to eat and drink and live out loud, which I love.

I like that with very little effort I can get my heart rate up to the most calorie-burning, nausea-inducing rate that it would take almost 40 minutes of spin class to achieve, and then shortly thereafter be done with my whole exercise routine for the day.

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Hair Band Handicap

There are things I love about social media, not the least of which is the extent to which it feeds my need for attention.  Sometimes that same narcissism is the foundation of one of the reasons I DON’T like social media: it occasionally makes me confront the fact that I need to be liked, and come to grips with how much it bugs me when I’m not.

I love the friendships I’ve rekindled on Facebook. I had no idea I’d ever reconnect with so many ex-boyfriends outside of a drunk dialing marathon.  There are several acquaintances I’m happy to get to know better, and friends from the past I’ve missed dearly.

I’ll not pretend to be one of those people who doesn’t check her Facebook account several times a day.  I don’t have a water cooler at which to hang out and find out what’s going on.

To all of you who like to rave: “ooh, Facebook, who has time for all that nonsense?   Who cares what you had for dinner or what your cat threw up?” Whatever.  I love it.  The pictures of the toll-painted holiday crafts, the announcements of who read what fan-mag article, the restaurant where you enjoyed lunch. the pithy quote from Yogi Berra, the not so pithy quote from your kid.  Bring it on. I’ll read it.  Maybe twice.

I’ll sometimes block content that I feel is too political (rare) or offensive (even more rare), but for the most part, friends contributing to my news feed provide a refreshingly broad array of  perspectives and insights – sometimes droll, sometimes funny, sometimes just a blur of color as I scroll quickly by.

Whitesnake’s David Coverdale

Then there’s Casey.  In the 9th grade, Casey and I were briefly an item, but only in the academic sense, meaning there was no kissing, a little hand-holding, and daily notes passed when we walked to fifth period. Casey was tall, with a gigantic Adam’s apple.  He played the trumpet, or trombone, or some wind instrument that has a spit valve.  He shared my affinity for unicorns and called every evening at exactly 7:00 pm for a 20 minute chat. That is all I remember about our relationship – that and the fact that I broke up with him in one of my pre-5th period notes.

When we reconnected on Facebook some 25 years later, I was happy to learn that he had a successful career as a music professor at a local private college, and had a wife and three children.

Funny Girl Barbara Streisand

He also was a strident evangelical libertarian, and was the most vociferous of all my Facebook friends in his posts. Aside from quoting some of the most gloomy scripture I’d ever read, he didn’t say anything patently offensive. He also appreciated the humor in my status updates – especially those about my habit of sending the kids off to school while covering Barbara Streisand classics in my fuzzy white robe and slippers from our porch.  Casey liked Babs, apparently.

Then one day the stream of hell-fire stopped abruptly.  Casey had “unfriended” me.

Me: funny, irreverent, careful to screen out anything remotely depressing, negative or political.  Me.

Casey: angry, Ron Paul supporting, pro-gun, pro-hell-and-damnation with a gigantic Adam’s apple. Casey.

Casey. Unfriended. Me.

My discovery of this kicked off an afternoon of forensic Facebooking the likes of which I had no time for.  What in my funny, trite posts had offended Casey?  Was he trying to get back at me for 9th grade?  Didn’t I even warrant the courtesy of a note?

The offending photo (apparently): Jeff Crosby and the Refugees at last year's Boise Rec Fest

Since, as I’ve said, Casey had been kind enough to comment on many of my posts, I could go back through my news feed and more or less find where his feedback had ended abruptly.

Early this summer I posted a picture of a young musician playing on a park stage during an outdoor music festival.  He had the kind of long blonde “do” that my friends and I used to swoon over while watching videos of White Snake on MTV.  The photo I posted of him I had captioned “yum.”

Classy, huh?  But not as much as the photo I was going for, which would have framed him beyond the large micro brew in my hand, with my painted toes on bare feet stretched out in the grass.  My little phone wasn’t able to capture that particular scene.

Commenting on this cute musician was something that I thought would illicit comments from friends my age who had either swooned over long-haired hooligans or been swooned over because of the length of their locks.  After a couple of beers, this seemed like a fun conversation starter.

A note on drinking and posting: Ever since I’d had the opportunity to rethink one of my more ill-timed and snarky comments about children in the Gifted and Talented Program (which mine aren’t), the morning after I’d made it on Facebook, I resolved to avoid publicly airing grievances after imbibing.  My judgement is terrible after a couple of beers, and I hate making public apologies. I’d sworn off drinking and posting, until this incident.

So, here I am.  Minus one less Facebook friend.  I don’t know if I’m more intrigued by the irony of being shunned by the purveyor of the Prince of Peace, or irked because his threshold for taking offense is so low.

I’m also kind of sad because there is now one less person out there waiting to hear about my latest Funny Girl impression.

Holiday Traditions: Ho, Ho, Hwaugh

Midlife Sentence | Merry Christmas

I won’t say who started this, but a certain person in my family (alright, it’s my mom) got a bug one year to establish a new tradition. It might have had something to do with my grandmother moving to Boise and our having had kids – four generations for whom new holiday memories must be made every year. I thought that was what the whole presents, parties, celebration of the birth of our savior thing was for, but why not pile something else on?

Among the family traditions that failed to catch on was a visit to the Botanical Garden’s Winter Garden Aglow. This is a lovely event for appreciative older children and adults who can stand and walk for a while and don’t chill easily or burn their tongues on hot chocolate. Didn’t work for grandma or the boys.

Another no-go was dressing up to see Ballet Idaho’s The Nutcracker. I loved it. So did my mom and sister. Big thumbs down from the boys in the family. Grandma fell asleep. Overall approval rating: less than 50 percent.

Another year we decided (or the person who shall go unnamed, who initiated this whole holiday tradition stuff in the first place, decided) on the Holiday Lights Tour. This is an event where one boards a charter bus/trolley vehicle, with benches along the walls. The bus/trolley vehicle makes its way through random neighborhoods so its passengers can gawk at everyone else’s holiday trimmings.

The kids were still young enough that we packed a diaper bag.

We met up and purchased some lukewarm chocolate and loaded the bus/trolley thing, which was full with about a dozen people on board and the heat blasting. The windows immediately steamed up. We drove around some Boise neighborhood that would have been indistinguishable from any other neighborhood except that it was supposed to have a large concentration of homeowners who competed each year for the  most awe inspiring lights display. There was an abundance of curvy roads and cul-de-sacs in this particular borough.

When you let kids decorate the holiday goodies you get cookie men with armpit hair.

Did, um, I mention that several members of my family tend toward severe motion sickness? Jack used to not give us much warning about his urpy tummy, so in self defense our Jedi parent senses became finely tuned to his silent puke-tells.

So we’re in this dark, overheated bus/trolly contraption, and the driver is saying something titillating like: “In 1994, when this neighborhood was under the auspices of the Mid-Boise Bench Neighborhood Association, light up holiday trolls were forbidden. They frightened the kiddos, you see ….”

I heard my sister say “Jack, are you going to look at the lights? Why are you so quiet?”

I whipped the diaper bag from under the bench, drew out a plastic shopping bag, and shoved another one inside that (you DON’T want leaks in the barf bag), and covered the lower half of Jack’s face just in time for him to hurl all the lukewarm hot chocolate up without spilling a drop. Victory.

But that victory was going to be short lived if we didn’t act fast. Neither one of my kids is blessed with the one-and-done strain of motion sickness. We’ve had Jack get sick more than half a dozen times on a 70-mile stretch of highway between McCall and Horseshoe Bend. That’s almost once every ten miles.  When the barf train gets rolling, it’s a local, baby. There was going to be more to this show.

Then there was the fact that I was completely humiliated. And the smell in the bus/trolley thing was making me woozy. Some guy in the back said “what happened?” and his wife said “the little boy got sick.” We had to get out of there pronto.

I turned to Mike and said “we’re going,” grabbed the baby, the diaper bag, and Jack’s hand after handing Mike the barf bag, and tromped to the front of the vehicle.

“We’re getting off,” I said.

“It’s just a little bit more, I can’t let you off,” the driver said.

He was going to hold us hostage on the vomit comet against my will? Don’t think so.

“We’re getting off, RIGHT NOW,” I said.

He opened the door and we stepped out into the brightly lit environs of the most award winningest, Christmas lightingest neighborhood ever. The doors closed and the bus/trolley thing drove off. I found out later that it was really distressing for my mom, my sister, grandma and Dad to sit in the bus/trolley and watch the doors close on part of their little family out in the snow. Nobody ever mentioned anything else about how the rest of the tour went.

Midlife Sentence | Merry Christmas

I grew up in Boise, I guess I should known that at 7 pm on a week night in some random neighborhood it would be difficult to hail a cab. When Mike called a cab company we realized that first we needed to walk to a street corner to find out where in the hell we were, and after that it would take a full 45 minutes for a cab to reach us.

Edited to note: This all happened when we still used flip phones. No map apps or Lyft, so don’t @ me, all you people for whom technology has made throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of winter so much easier.

It was also written back when I used double spaces after periods. Times change. We are old. Carry on…

In retrospect, leaving the bus/trolley thing wasn’t so bright, but at the time it seemed the best thing to salvage my pride and my own stomach. Fortunately for us, Jack’s performance didn’t include an encore that night.

Unfortunately we were in the middle of winter, wandering the streets with a toddler, a baby, and a bag of puke. That was kind of a bummer.

We planned to find the nearest arterial road, follow it to the nearest strip mall, and sit in a coffee shop until the tour was over and someone came to pick us up. We weren’t able to find a coffee shop, or a strip mall or arterial road even. We wandered around that crazy circuitous subdivision until our toes froze. My arms locked up from carrying the baby. Somewhere along the way we lost the puke bag. We didn’t appreciate the Christmas lights.

My dad was eventually able to find us after driving around the neighborhood a few times. We climbed into his truck, not minding that he had the heat cranked up.

“Well,” he said with a smile, “that’s one budding ‘family tradition’ put to rest.”