Friday, June 24, 2011

Will Somebody Please Jump My Husband?


“I have to ask my husband, first,” the slightly overweight woman with one flip-flopped foot out of her child-bearing years hesitatingly responded as her face blushed a terrific shade of ruby red. “I’ve never done it alone with another man. I wouldn’t even know what to d-d-do,” she stammered before turning away.
          Critically, I watched as she shuffled away from my husband and through the door of Syms still tightly clutching to her chest her husband’s dress loafers that she had come out to her car to retrieve so the tailor could properly measure the cuffs of his almost purchased pants. Even from where I stood I could tell by the width of the shoes, along with the visibly worn condition of the heels (the sides depleted into lopsided discs from the weight of wear), he was quite the loafer.  
          “What did she say to you?” I asked my husband, Jim, as he returned to our car, shoulders slouched in total dejection.
          “She said she had to ask her husband first.”
          “What? When the hell is a man as good looking as you ever going to ask a woman like her for a jump!” I demanded. I wanted answers.  “Did she see that you’re wearing a Fort Lee Fire Department tee-shirt?” He just gave me the look.
          We stood in the parking lot, the hood of our aging mini-van propped open; two hot, sweating, irritable children leaning against the trunk. The jumper cables hanging precariously from the hands of my eight-year old who, by the way, felt compelled to put on his old hockey helmet he had retrieved from the Goodwill bag in the trunk only to realize that the reason it was in the Goodwill bag is because it’s too small. It was now firmly affixed to his skull. While I was yanking at his head, Jim was approaching people as they exited Syms asking if they could give our car battery a jump.   
          The 50-year old man with his trophy girlfriend responded, “Sorry, man, we’re in a hurry.” Trying to stay positive, I just assumed he had to get her home before curfew.
          The 30-year old with the brand new Lexus murmured, “Sorry, I don’t want anything to happen to my car.” (My positivity waning, I wanted to instruct my son to head-butt the Lexus with his helmet.)
          The father of the family of six informed Jim, “Wish we could help, but we have to get the kids home.” (Oh, don’t worry. My kids have been pining for us to let them spend the night in the parking lot of Syms.)
          My favorite, however, was the man with the shiny Ford pick-up truck, oversized wheels, adorned with American flags and 9/11 decals, who looked our way, but didn’t respond. He just got into the cab of his truck and drove away. This man who probably shed buckets of Budweiser tears on the anniversary of 9/11 for people he doesn’t even know. This man who feels it necessary to billboard his patriotism for the entire world to see so his love and devotion to country is never questioned, has not one ounce of compassion for his countrymen or their young children.  
          Rejection after rejection after rejection. I was stunned by the conscious diffidence of humanity as it passed before us, refusing to make eye contact. Is this what we’ve become? We can all be friends on Facebook, but isolate ourselves from each other when real life interferes? Have we been reduced to Sims characters—just virtual shadows desensitized and controlled solely by the functions of the keyboard?
Growing up our car regularly broke down. Hell, everybody’s car regularly broke down. I have no memory of my father ever having to ask anyone for help—people would just pull over and help us. And I don’t think we ever went anywhere without stopping to help someone whose car was disabled. I was raised to understand that an open hood was the universal sign for “Stop and Help Your Neighbor.”
          Finally, listening to yet another rejection and unable to take it anymore, the sky now black with night, I stood in the middle of the parking lot and literally screamed to everyone walking past us, “Can’t anyone JUMP my husband? He’s a firefighter for godsake! He doesn’t say ‘No’ when your house is on fire—he just runs in! He leaves his family to help yours, but no one, NOT ONE OF YOU can give this man a jump! What’s wrong with all you people?”
          I wish I could tell you that everyone came rushing to our aide, but they didn’t. Although they listened to my rant with seeming amusement, most kept on walking. Walking without pause or concern. Except for a group of elderly people, two men and their wives. Four people, their words thickened by accents not native to our country, put their hands upon my shoulder and said of course they would help. They drove their car up to ours and within seconds our motor was humming. I could have cried from their simple generosity.
          As our family piled back into the running van my husband looked at me and said, “Wow, that was embarrassing.”
          “I know,” I replied in agreement. “I can’t believe no one would help us.”
          “I’m talking about your outburst,” he said before bursting into laughter.
          Momentarily I considered pushing him out of our van that was now doing 60 m..p.h. on Route 17 North, but thought better of it. Not only because we’ve been together for so long he’s like an accessory that never really goes out of style, but because I cancelled my life insurance policy on him.  And who could I possibly get to walk Bad Dog every day? But just see how long he has to wait for me to give him a jump!

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Barbie in better days

“Here—these have been in my hall closet for 35 years,” my mother said as she walked into my house and thrust two ragged vinyl cases into my unsuspecting hands. There was a familiar feel to them, and as she walked towards my kitchen, I lifted one of the cases closer to my failing eyes. I focused on the familiar script scrolled across the flamingo pink case – BARBIE.
For some reason the moment became awkward; like unexpectedly meeting an old flame and pretending that you meant to leave the house without wearing a bra because you believe that your breasts are up for the challenge.
I shoved them (the vinyl cases, not my boobs, although there was an iffy moment) underneath my son’s train table and decided not to think of the implications of having a forty-something year old Barbie living with me under my roof. Let’s face it—at seven Barbie presented our un-formed bodies and ego with endless possibilities which is why we played with her for hours. At forty-something, Barbie is a reminder of all I never achieved--a camper, plane, or cruise ship with my name on it; breasts that never needed a bra; no back fat; a high-arch from wearing heels to the moon and the beach; a pose-able body; and an androgynous boyfriend (no, wait—I had one of those in college).   
Those cases sat hidden beneath the train table for weeks. I felt compelled to wait until I was alone to open them. Truth be told, I knew how the last 35 years treated me; I was afraid to see how they treated Barbie. I chose to open the Barbie Dream House case first. I was startled by the familiar fragrance--piquant plastic with just a hint of toxicity so evocative of everything 1970’s. I remember the Christmas morning The Dream House case sat sparkling new beneath the artificial tree. I was beside myself with joy because unlike the standard Barbie cases, The Dream House case came with drawers for Barbie’s clothes and two Murphy beds—you know, for when Barbie had those fabulous all-girl sleepovers! She slept in the camper whenever G.I. Joe visited.
Hanging onto the memory of that Christmas morning I opened the Dream House door and…OH! The horror! The horror! The years had not been kind to my beloved Barbie. Shrouded by a pile of knotted clothes, I found Barbie. She was missing an arm, and had a gaping bald spot. However, even in her amputated state Barbie oozed that haughty deluded “You can only dream you were me” attitude.  When I opened her dream drawers I half expected to find a collection of empty bottles of Prozac and Jack Daniels buried beneath her pastel string bikinis and matching kerchiefs.
My mother had thought that my Barbie collection might be worth something; sadly they held value only to those who collected “Crack Whore Barbie.” Was it the free love 70’s, or the boom-boom 80’s, or never being able to walk flat-footed that ultimately broke Barbie? Perhaps it was her sexless relationship with Ken—I mean, Mattel may have given him mod hair, but they gave him nothing down there.
Was Barbie’s sad condition just a product of her being overworked? Her career(s) really took off in the ‘80’s—she was a teacher, an astronaut, a roller-boogier, an aerobics instructor, a veterinarian, a doctor, a rock star…could she realistically maintain that workload without a little help from her friends? (Wait, am I talking about Barbie or me?)
          Almost like a premonition of their future divorce, I had stored Ken in the other case. The years had been kinder to him, but the glue from his 1973 mod hair left a permanent sticky, icky five-o’clock shadow and his plaid sports coat seemed grossly dated. Although I must say, his plastic Birkenstocks seem so today. Mattel discontinued Ken (read: divorce) and I always thought that Barbie preferred the roughness of G.I. Joe (read: penis) ergo their camper sleepovers.
Stuffed into the case with Ken were Barbie’s friends, Midge and Francie. The way they were all tangled together it might have looked like a sick orgy, but they were worse off than Barbie—legless and naked, and let’s be real—Ken’s Birkenstocks don’t exactly scream orgy. At least not with Midge and Francie.
I decided Barbie and her friends desperately needed a Bratz intervention. Of all the housewives, my Barbie’s were the most desperate of all. The Bratz girls could introduce Barbie and her friends to Crazy Glue, Rogaine, Botox, more natural looking implants, and martinis. In exchange Barbie could teach the Bratz girls the merits of working rather than “working it”. My girlfriend suggested that a better solution would be to send one of the American Girls over to the Dream House, but with the way my Barbie dolls looked, the American Girls would need serious therapy! And just wait until those American Girls hit puberty. 
I closed the cases and looked around at my own dream house. The paint is peeling from where the tub leaked into the dining room, baskets of laundry are waiting to be ironed, and my Mod Hair Ken is just happy to have any hair, mod or not. 35 years later, I finally looked better than my Barbie, but I wouldn’t mind a Bratz intervention – or a martini – right about now! But that’s just this American Girl’s opinion.   

Friday, June 10, 2011


“You know, we really need to put more effort into having a date night every week,” my husband Jim told me as I breathlessly pushed the over-flowing basket of just-washed laundry past him so I could begin the titillating task of folding underwear, towels and socks.
          “Great,” I replied as I struggled to dump the heavy load of laundry onto our disheveled bed, “That’s exactly what I need. You babysit and I’ll find a date.”
          He looked at me with a gaze that was less, “I’m passionately bemused by you,” and more like a little boy who’s gone and got himself lost at the zoo and he’s scouring the crowd for the familiar face of his mother.  The same look he wears when the mortgage is due, or when a kid in the playground mistakingly calls him “Daddy.” 
          “Okay, okay,” I surrendered. “I’ll babysit and you get a date. If you find someone with paid health benefits, I’ll even buy the two of you dinner!” I shouted after him since he had already turned and walked away. I even leaned over the railing and repeated my offer as he descended the stairs to find comfort in the storied arms of the History Channel’s Pawn Stars.  
          What happens as we get older? I mean, when I was in my twenties, if anyone looked at my man I would have unleashed my inner-Jersey on them. I guess when you’ve been together for as long as we have, it’s like going to war—you’re so weary that you can barely sit hunched in the trenches together let alone converse. Except the trenches in our war are in desperate need of being reupholstered. We’ve been through good times, bad times, two kids, one Bad Dog, holidays with a houseful of people when the town sewer backed up into our basement, unemployment, partial employment, sickness, more sickness, dog’s sickness…tell me when to stop.
          Thinking back now, our marriage didn’t really begin until we had children. Prior to that, it really was one big endless date night interrupted only by the occasional major blow-out fight. When I think about those fights now I think two things: 1) Wow, we had a lot of time on our hands. I mean with kids, when do you have time to put a coherent sentence together let alone fight and indulge in a good post-fight three-day brood-fest (oh, how I miss those brood-fests!); and 2) we had money in our pockets, sneakers without holes, my ex-boyfriend’s rent-controlled apartment, and a weekly house cleaner so what the hell were we fighting about?
          Once, only once, I threw my engagement ring at Jim’s head. It was after he dumped me at “pre-Cana.” For the uninitiated, pre-Cana is required pre-marriage marriage counseling that the Catholic Church requires all engaged couples to take part in before you can get married in the church. Having gone through 12 years of Catholic school and having, at that time, never missed a Sunday mass, I opted (yes I) for the pre-Cana weekend retreat (rather than the six-hour quickie session) that was being offered in a church somewhere on the foreign soil of Maplewood.
Mike and Carol Brady were our pre-Cana chaperones. I don’t think that it was physically possible for them to stop smiling. Now, that wouldn’t have been so bad if they had been older than me and Jim, but they weren’t. Nor were any of the other couples in attendance. And of course, we had to bunk with a same-sex partner (the only time the church condones same-sex anything) in assigned rooms in the rectory. Unfortunately, they had overbooked the weekend, and because we were the last to arrive all the men had already grabbed their partner and had claimed their room which meant that Jim didn’t have a room. Somehow I ended up in a three-way with two cousins from Kearney, but I think Jim’s 6’5” frame was too intimidating for any of the men to consider bringing  him into their fold, so to speak. So, Mike and Carol assigned him to a loveseat in the rectory foyer and asked him if he wouldn’t mind answering the door and phone if someone should ring. The love seat was about 3’ long which is about 31/2 feet too short for him. Being the silent type, Jim said nothing.
We were the last to arrive because we had both got out of work late  (I believe we were the only ones old enough to hold a full-time job) and not only did Jim not get a bed, we also got no dinner because they had already served the buffet and locked the food away in the pantry. Neither of us had eaten all day. When Jim told Mike and Carol he was going to run out to get us something to eat they told him he couldn’t leave the premises and gave him a pack of gum to stave off the hunger. Jim, being the silent type, said nothing.
          There was a priest there; in fact, he had married Mike and Carol. He corralled us into a room to tell us what we could expect from marriage, which struck me as odd then, but odder now. He even discussed the woman’s role in sexual relations which, yes, was odd though I marveled at how many people were furiously taking notes. I didn’t even have a pen. Then the priest, Mike, and Carol gave us notebooks and sent us all off to find a quiet place where we could write to our betrothed our true and honest feelings. After 10 minutes of writing how much I loved him, and how excited I was to spend the next 50 years of my life with him, Jim arrived at the door to my room. Jim being the silent type, threw the notebook directly at my head and seethed, “Here read this,” and stormed out.
          I opened the book and read, “I hate this fucking place; this is a big fucking mistake. I’m leaving. Love Jim.” I did what any other woman in my circumstance would do. I started sobbing. Not crying, not weeping, we’re talking deep, soulful my man gone done me wrong sobbing. Mike, Carol, the Kearney cousins, the priest and all the other pre-Cananites came running and before I knew it I was in the middle of some twisted group Kumbaya. Through heaving sobs I explained what had just happened and showed them what Jim wrote. Carol said this was a direct message from God that I shouldn’t marry him. As the group avidly concurred and started a prayer chain invoking Jesus to bless me, I snapped back to my senses and took a good look at the crowd. Then I, too, said a little prayer to Jesus, “Jesus Christ, if I don’t get out of here quick I’m going to be stuck with these crazy people.” I grabbed my knock-off designer duffel bag and ran outside to the parking lot.
          Jim was sitting in his car, two lit cigarettes in one hand while the other proceeded to unwrap and chew each stick of gum as if they were pieces of filet mignon. I threw myself into the passenger seat just in time for him to peel out of the chain-linked fence parking lot. Except for the chewing, all was silent until we reached the entrance to the Turnpike. That’s when I took my engagement ring off and threw it, no,  I mean wailed it, at his head while screaming, “You dumped me at pre-Cana???? Really??? What kind of sick fuck does that???”
          He took me home where I brooded for a week. Ultimately I ignored the advice of Mike and Carol Brady and went through with the wedding. Thanks to a compassionate priest, we did a drive-thru version of pre-Cana in a church hall that had vending machines and allowed smoking.
And here we are, years later, still together. Thinking about this as I folded the laundry, listening to the kids screaming over the incessant barking of the dog, I shouted, “God bless you for still wanting to have a date night with me after all these years,” but he couldn’t hear me. Not even I can come between my man and his Pawn.