Stop and smell the roses

My mother and my cocofraumosi* Bev arrived on Friday afternoon with an uncharacteristically laissez-faire attitude.

“We’re flexible,” said Bev. “We’ll do whatever.”

“Are you hungry?” I asked. “Would you like to stop at the hotel first or should we go straight to lunch?”

“Oh, we’ll do whatever you want to do,” my mother chimed in. “We’re on vacation—we have absolutely no agenda. We just want to see the rose garden, the Japanese Garden, Cannon Beach, the wineries and Saturday Market.”

Holy hell! Did I mention that they were staying for 3.5 days?! And that I had a frisbee tournament for one of those days? But in the end, we managed to see almost everything on their non-agenda agenda. It was a wonderful visit—great food, some beautiful hikes and lots (I mean LOTS) of wine. And of course, there was also the occasional blogworthy episode.

Most embarrassing moment:

We’re strolling through my neighborhood when my mother spots a boutique that she wants to plow through. I get roped into trying on the world’s most unflattering dress, and while I’m in the changing room my mother says rather loudly, “I need to get my nails done. Which ethnicity does the manicures around here?”

Luckily, I could hide my embarrassment behind the changing room curtain.

She went on: “In New York, it’s the Koreans. Are there Koreans here?”

True, in New York City, the Korean small business community has found a niche in the produce store and nail salon industries, but in Portland, immigration patterns are obviously much different and ethnic niches are far less common. My mother often speaks very bluntly and directly—for better or worse, the art of the euphemism has escaped her—and in most settings (i.e. in public) her choice of wording can be easily interpreted as rude or offensive. I knew what she meant, I just wished she hadn’t said it out loud.

Best quote of the weekend:

We arrive at the rose garden, which is a sprawling park filled with test and hybrid breeds of roses, meaning that the moment you step foot in the place your senses are—not surprisingly—immediately bombarded with an intense splattering of scent and color.

My mother and Bev had been walking through the rows of roses for 30 seconds before my mother says—as if she were shocked by the discovery—“Wow! It smells like roses!”

Like mother, like daughter:

My frisbee tournament finally over (we made it to the semi-finals!), I pick up my cell phone to announce to my mother and Bev that I’d be heading home soon. As the phone is dialing, I decide to gather my stuff and I begin to look around for my water bottle, cleats, keys and…

“Guys, have you seen my cell phone?” I ask my teammates. “I can’t find it.”

Um, yeah. Right. I often spend a whole lot of time poking fun at my mother without admitting that there are plenty of embarrassing moments of mine that she could describe effusively in a blog—if she knew how to blog and/or if her work schedule ever allowed her some free time. Luckily, these two conditionals pretty much ensure that I am safe from public mother humiliation. For now. Just wait until she retires.

Pictures to come. I’m freaking hungry right now and need to deal with it.

* A “cocofraumosi” is a coworker, cousin, friend, aunt, mother and sister all combined into one. Like Pert Plus, but a person instead of a shampoo-plus-conditioner. Bev and I coined the term when I was working in her (also my mother’s) office, and we needed a better term to describe our friendship, since she seemed like all of those simultaneously. Similarly, I am her “cocofridanisi” (her coworker, cousin, friend, daughter, niece and sister).

I heart the post office

So I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it merits another post—my local post office is the best post office ever. Do you like how I used the word ‘post’ three times in the last sentence? Yeah, me too.

I was mentioning how much I love going to our post office to Asa the other day, and he said that he heard it’s won an award for the best postal customer service ever. I have no idea if there’s even a modicum of truth to that statement, but I sure as hell wouldn’t be surprised. It feels more like a stand-up comedy joint than the typical disgruntled hellhole I’m used to—at least that’s the way post offices are in New York City. There, you can barely hear the postal worker through the 6 inches of bulletproof plexiglass let alone engage in any sort of witty banter.

But not here in Portland. Here, I actually enjoy waiting on line at the BPOE (best post office ever). If there’s no line, then you’re in and out too quickly and you don’t get to savor the brilliance that is Robert and The Guy Whose Name I Do Not Know. I’ve never been to the BPOE when Robert and TGWNIDNK were not working, but I pity the person who has to fill their shoes on their days off.

On Friday, I cruised on over to the BPOE to overnight a résumé—last minute, per usual—and the woman waiting in front of me was holding two USPS boxes in her arms.

TGWNIDNK, realizing that his particular outpost does not sell said boxes, yelled over to her: “Where’d you buy those? Fred Meyer or Walgreen’s?”

“Walgreen’s,” she responded.

“Uh huh! I knew it.”

So then he went back to giving the person at the counter a hard time for not having fully completed the address form. This is the best thing about the BPOE—no matter how prepared you are, these guys will find a way to bust your balls for not being ready enough. Once I tried to mail something without knowing the ZIP code and the guy asked me if I wanted the tooth fairy to deliver it for me.

Anyway, after the woman completed her address form and moved on, TGWNIDNK summoned the lady in front of me: “Hey Walgreen’s! Get over here, you’re up!”

It’s not that these guys are saying anything profoundly funny, it’s just that it’s the post office and you’re not expecting anyone to be in a good mood. At most other post offices I’ve been to, everyone on line taps their feet and checks their watches every 1.2 minutes; at the BPOE it’s more typical to hear people bust out in laughter than get annoyed for having to wait.

When it was my turn, I asked for some 1 cent stamps and Robert looked at me suspiciously.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I still have a lot of the old stamps,” I explained.

“Well, unless you want to sit around and lick stamps all day, you’re gonna want the 2 cent kind. Is one sheet enough? Well, if not, you’ll just have another excuse to come back and hang out at the post office.”

And that, my friends, is good postal service.

The ants go marching

I grew up in New York City on the ground floor of a brownstown. This meant we had access to a backyard—a very rare commodity in Manhattan—but since the tall buildings blocked out most of the direct sunlight, we couldn’t have a lawn. Determined to have one anyway, my parents installed a 10×10 green carpet of AstroTurf in lieu of actual grass.

My younger brother and I spent countless summer days in the backyard peeling back the corners of the AstroTurf to reveal the paths and tunnels carved by ants—I mean, really, who needs an ant farm when you can have AstroTurf? I have vague memories of trying to burn those ants with a magnifying glass, though without the requisite direct sunlight our efforts never really amounted to much.

Then one evening, as I was playing with my Cabbage Patch premie, Weiman—wtf kind of name is that?—I noticed an ant crawling into the hole in his mouth intended for his pacifier. Then, the very next day, as I was changing Wieman’s clothes, I noticed the exact same ant crawling next to the Xavier Roberts signature on his butt cheek. Naturally, this was a monumental day in my life as a child—the day I discovered that everybody, even Cabbage Patch Dolls, poops.

Anyway, my brother and I had a fascination with collecting ‘pets’—this was before the days of Chelsea, you see—and we’d gather together jars of whatever we could: mainly ants, fireflies and caterpillars. But ants are boring if they’re not in a lot of dirt, so we usually just left them to dig underneath the AstroTurf, and fireflies are cool when you’re in the park and they’re all lit up, but once you get them home in a jar they never bother to turn on their butt-lights. So, by process of elimination, caterpillars made the best house pets and were our insect of choice—especially since come late summer, there were more caterpillars in our backyard then there were inhabitants on our block.

One year, we collected a whole bunch, gave them each names and then built them a house out of Legos. Mr. X was our favorite, since, somewhat ironically, he was the only identifiable one of the bunch with a string of X’s down his yellow tube of a body.

Unfortunately, we neglected to afix a roof to our caterpillar orphanage, so in the middle of the night they all escaped. We were sad about our loss for several days—despite the fact that caterpillars had now literally infested the apartment and were everywhere—but our spirits were lifted when we finally located Mr. X! That stealth little guy! He had made his way all the way back out to the vast expanse of AstroTurf.

Years later, when we had an actual pet, the yearly caterpillar infestation caused other problems. The exact opposite of me and my brother, Chelsea developed a bizarre obsession with stopping the caterpillars in their tracks. While my brother and I had enjoyed playing with and coddling the caterpillars, Chelsea was focused more on the intrusion aspect and chose, not surprisingly, to ingest them. This meant that every year at the height of caterpillar infestation, Chelsea would spend her days ripping up the ivy in the backyard—as you’ll remember, grass was not an option—in an effort to make herself puke up the caterpillars making her sick on the inside. ‘Twas never a pretty site.

Anyway, no real moral to these stories. Just felt like telling them.

Home, sweet home

So here I am in New York City. The transit strike ended up not being so hard to work around—I just took the Long Island Railroad into Penn Station and a cab from there. The last sentence, I think, made the process sound a lot easier than it actually was, but that’s okay. Events thus far:

1) The couple next to me on the plane was dressed entirely in hemp. When their three-month-old started to wail periodically, they gave it a set of crystals to play with instead of, I don’t know, a pacifier or something. The baby did not appear to respond to the crystals in the slightest. Then they would turn on a musical teddy bear, which played the tune to such lovely classics as “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and “ABCDEFGHIJKellamenoPQRSTUVWXYandZ.” You know, because all three of those songs has the same exact melody, it provided for a lot of spontaneity and diversity in the musical selection.

2) I’m using my younger brother’s computer, which is riddled with Spyware. This means that every 25 seconds or so, I must close a pop-up window that is blocking my blog entry. Periodically the computer starts talking. WTF? “Everyone has trouble sleeping,” it says. “But not everyo—” That’s when I close the pop-up window.

3) Since my mother’s office is near Penn Station and I don’t have keys to her apartment, it was my first stop before heading home. There, I heard her announce the following: “You see, that’s the thing people don’t realize about me—I don’t actually do anything.” Classic. Even more classic without the context.

4) I have 5 hours to do 68% of my Christmas shopping. I’m stressed out, therefore I am blogging.

5) Our Christmas tree is frozen. Isn’t that funny? It’s also funny because it’s locked outside in the courtyard behind our building. We can’t find the key.� My mother told me� to go next door to the building undergoing a massive renovation and ask the construction guys to saw off the lock. “They’ve fixed things for me in the past,” she said. “So they’ll do this, no problem. The�hard part is� to find someone who speaks English.”

6) Walking to the LIRR yesterday, I found myself in a large crowd of New Yorkers headed into Manhattan to start their work day. The police were filing us into this large swervy line. One�cop yelled out in a thick Long Island accent, “IF YOU DON’T HAVE A TICKET, YOU’RE IN THE WROOUNG PLACE.” Toto, you’re not in Oregon anymore.

7) I went to visit my older brother yesterday. I’ve never mentioned him in this blog before, but he has a severe case of�cerebral palsy and in the last year his health has not been so great. He’s in a nursing home in Queens now, after a recent surgery to install a tracheotomy, and so now he’s on a respirator to help him breathe. I have a head cold, so I had to wear one of those masks that everyone wore when the SARS outbreak was at its worst. The bright side to all of this is that he actually seemed significantly happier than the last time I saw him. He was laughing. Actually, that’s not entirely true: when we first walked into his room, he was crying, but he started smiling as soon as we changed his music from the all-Christmas-music-all-the-time radio station �to his favorite �Beethoven tape. Sometimes I think that he isn’t really aware of his surroundings, and then something like that happens, and I realize that there is more going on inside his head than he is able to tell us. And I know that I, too, hate that radio station.

8) The exterminator just showed up. He had about as much information on the infestation problem as I did: we both knew absolutely nothing. I called my mother to ask what the man should be doing. She said, “Oh, we have rats outside where we keep the garbage.” Um, yeah. I felt silly telling the exterminator that there was a rat problem near the garbage cans on the sidewalk. He laughed and said there’s nothing he can do about something like that. This is New York City, after all. Of course there are rats on the sidewalk.

9) The answering machine in my room had 19 new messages. Seventeen of them were pre-recorded pleas from politicians trying to garner my vote for last month’s election.�Me erasing them all sounded like this:

“Hi, this is Gerald Nadler—” BEEP
“Hi, this is Gerald Nad—” BEEP
“Hi, this is Ger—” BEEP
“My name is Judge—” BEEP
“I’m Ruth Messenger, and I endorse Judge—” BEEP
“Hi, this is Ger—” BEEP
“This is Attorney General Eliot Spitzer calling—” BEEP
“Hi, this is Ger—” BEEP
“I believe that all New Yor—” BEEP
“and I pledge to contin—” BEEP
“to serve this county—” BEEP
“all I ask is for—” BEEP
“thank you for your time—” BEEP
“Eliot Spitzer here again, reminding—” BEEP
“Hi, this is Ger—” BEEP

And so on. I guess the New York Dems haven’t gotten the notice yet that I am now registered to vote in Oregon.

Anyway, the strike’s over and the construction workers next door are back from their lunch break. I’ve got some last-minute shopping and lock-breaking to get to! My younger brother’s coming home this afternoon, which means limited access to his virus-ridden laptop and so I may not have a chance to blog again before Christmakwanzakah. Happy winter solstice!

At least the airplanes aren’t on strike

I’d write more but I’m too stressed out. Holiday anxiety has hit me hard today, like the subway strike has hit New York. Somehow in the next 48 hours, I must begin and complete my Christmas shopping, work two shifts, do laundry, find someone to take care of my dog, and fly home. And when I get home, I’ll need to figure out how in tarnation to get to my mother’s apartment from the airport without the help of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

The maybe-true story of the Famous Original Ray

There are a lot of Ray’s Pizza places in New York. So many that searching “Ray’s Pizza” in the Yellow Pages returns 38 hits in Manhattan alone. There are three locations in the immediate neighborhood surrounding my mother’s apartment, which is almost as high as the Starbucks quotient for the area. But unlike Starbucks, where every branch is absolutely identical—the one in your backyard looks the same as the one in your basement—Ray’s Pizza varies in everything from menu to quality to name. Some are called Original Ray’s Pizza, others Famous Original Ray’s Pizza, some just Famous Ray’s Pizza. Several are neither original nor famous and tout the plain old moniker Ray’s Pizza. A few claim to be even better than the rest and call themselves World Famous Ray’s Pizza.

There are Ray’s locations that serve only pizza and others that offer a more extensive Mediterranean menu. I know of at least one with a beer license. Some Ray’s have really good pizza, while others are gross and feature the all-too-cheesy kind of stuff that reminds you more of a colossal mound of mozzarella than anything else. These are very often the same locations you only dare to tread when you’re leaving the bar late at night and every other food establishment in the area is closed—it takes several drinks to obscure the fact that the floor was last mopped in 1987.

But that’s all just background information for the story I’m about to tell you. The real question is this: what’s up with all of these pizza places that have the same name but have about as much in common with each other as a refridgerator does with a blade of grass? Okay, that’s not really a fair analogy, but you get the point.

Well, this is just an “overheard on the crosstown bus” story, but I heard it nonetheless, and I think it’s the most plausible explanation yet:

Setting: M-86 bus Time: Late in the evening Pertinent details: The bus is very near empty when two men carrying tool boxes and wearing paint-splattered work pants board and take the two seats directly behind yours truly. I don’t know remember if I ever learned their names, but we’ll call them Vince and Jim for clarity’s sake.

[Mydogischelsea sits quietly as she listens to her iPod.]

Vince: Hey, you remember that job we did over in Jersey City for Tommy’s uncle?

Jim: Yeah yeah, sorta.

Vince: Well, Tommy was telling me that his uncle’s cousin’s buddy was the Original Ray.

[Mydogischelsea pauses her iPod but keeps the earbuds in place to remain inconspicuous.]

Jim: Ray the Pizza Man?

Vince: Yeah, I guess Ray was this real wealthy guy who owned nearly all of the pizza places in the city. Tommy told me that he had a real bad gambling problem. He’d make pizza by day and then by night, he’d lose it all in Atlantic City. He lost so much money in the casinos that he began to gamble away his pizza places—and one by one, he lost every single one.

Jim: So that’s why there are so many Ray’s Pizzas?

Vince: Well, yeah. They were once all his, and so when he gambled them away, he made them sign a contract or something that said the new owner couldn’t change the name, so Ray’s name is still on all of those pizza places he used to own back in the day. Can you believe that? Tommy’s uncle’s cousin’s buddy was the Famous Original Ray!

Side note: Searching the Yellow Pages for Ray’s Pizza in Brooklyn returns only one hit: a joint called Not Ray’s Nick’s Pizza. Clever, dontcha think?

I heart NY (and Vermont)

Here’s the short version of my vacation:

My father and I used to come to this pond to sail my remote-controlled sailboat. I passed by it on my walk, shortly before causing severe pain to my left foot.

Day 1: Walked an excessive amount around Manhattan in flip flops, consequently injuring my foot. I’m still limping. Had lunch with former coworkers Sunshineboy78 and Andrew. Dinner with Uncle Joe and the fam. Discovered that my mother received a BlackBerry for her job, which means that the woman who did not know how to program contact numbers into her last cell phone now has a BlackBerry. She pulled it out to show me, and then attempted to use it to make a call, but finally gave up because “the buttons are too small to see.” Side note: Googling the word “blackberry” returns 3 hits related to the hand-held device; the fourth hit is about fruit jelly.

Sunshineboy78, sporting his new mohawk, and Mydogischelsea, looking like an alien, in the West Village.

Uncle Joe (Rod_Lamour) requested that I post pictures of his fabulous Greenwich Village studio that he designed all by himself—because he’s the best interior decorator I know. This is the kitchen.

This is the office/liquor cabinet.

Day 2: Drove to Vermont. Was very happy to see my camp friends. Proceeded to get wasted. Further injured said foot. Checked email somewhere in between Beer #4 and #5 to discover that my manager at work had sent an email about a staff meeting that I wasn’t going to be able to attend. Responded with the following email:? “I caqn’t matke it. shit, i’m sdrink. drunk. ok bye i can’t be at the siljna fff meeting.” I didn’t get fired.

Day 3: Woke up with an extremely sore foot and a headache. Went sailing. And windsurfing. Hungover.

Per usual, I almost fell out of the boat while rigging it.

Olivia and I out for our maiden voyage. I’m the one in the blue life jacket.

Maiden voyage cut short due to a capsize that left us with a gaping rip in our jib. Oops.

Me sailing my favorite boat in the world. Still hungover.

Day 4: MY BIRTHDAY!!! Hung out with friends, went sailing, and yeah…. ate cake.

Day 5: DAY AFTER MY BIRTHDAY!!! I drove home, my mother made a fabulous day-after-birthday dinner of filet mignon and corn on the cob and salad and potatoes (with StrawBerry shortcake for dessert).

Day 6: Hung out with my best friends from high school. Went to my local bar. An old dude down the bar bought me a beer and never even talked to me. It should be like that all the time.

Day 7: Flew home. The flight attendant gave such a good safety speech at the beginning that we clapped when he was done. My seat cushion was enormous and I felt like a giant when I sat down, which unusual for a girl of a mere 5’4″. Then I realized that it was so large that it didn’t actually stay velcroed down, making the seat feel more like a rocking chair than anything else. Swapped it with the seat cushion across the aisle. Flight attendants didn’t seem to care. That’s why I love Southwest Airlines.

That’s it. I’m home now. Just got off work. My foot hurts a lot.


Edit: Just wanted to clarify that capsizing a 12-foot dinghy in high winds is par for the course. It was not a situation of Titanic proportions — no big deal — and might have been avoidable had my blood stream not still been invaded by Magic Hat #9 and cheap wine.