Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On 'Girls' and Glass

Do you watch HBO's 'Girls'? I do. And I enjoy. Though, I"m not sure why Lena Dunham gets all the backlash that she does...  Actually, I think I have an idea.  She's a twenty-six-year-old auteur (auteuse?).  She's the captain of her own (media) ship:  writer, director, national headliner. Covers of 'Entertainment Weekly,' even (YES, that is the bar by which I  measure success.) And she's a woman. Or a girl, anyway.

Yes, I think her sex plays a role in the backlash. Not exclusively. But, I don't exactly recall people insisting that Kevin Smith was just a lucky bastard when 'Clerks' came out.  He was about the same age as Lena Dunham was when 'Tiny Furniture' came out.

I don't think that's exclusively it.  That'd be too easy.  Some people also argue that since she's the kid of successful artist-types, she had a leg up.  Yeah, well, so does Rumer Willis (I'm not saying she won't be A-list some day, but she isn't right now).  The point is, having successful parents does not guarantee success for the child.  It sure as hell doesn't hurt, but something about 'Girls' struck a chord with a bunch of people.  Lena Dunham deserves kudos and recognition for that, no matter how she got there.

Weird. I don't know why I felt the need to become a Lena Dunham champion for twenty minutes of my life. I like the show, but I don't love it. I wouldn't miss it if it was gone.

I've been watching it because I have a small fascination with people-in-progress; people who are not self-actualized, but are on their way. People who are somewhat of a mess.  It might be schadenfreude.  I dunno.  But, I also watch the show because at least two of the characters remind me of people with whom I went to college, and that makes me giggle.

Okay, so there's your context for my experience with this show.

During the season 2 finale, the main character, Hannah, is having a bit of a breakdown. At one point, she says the following:

You know when you’re young and you drop a glass, and your dad says, like, “Get out of the way!” so you can be safe while he cleans it up? Well, now, no one really cares if I clean it up myself. No one really cares if I get cut with glass. If I break something, no one says, “Let me take care of that,” you know?

So, here's the thing with that quote. That quote? It is supposed to reveal a kind of a character chrysalis, where she's realizing that she's involuntarily shed a protective parental layer. Now she's all exposed to the elements, and she's having a hard time with that.

But, all it revealed to me is how much of a kid she still is.  I mean, there's some truth to what she says. A (good) parent, yes, does not want you to get hurt, does not want you to shred the bottom of your feet with broken glass.  But also?  As a parent?  I want to save myself the trouble of having to clean up broken glass AND deal with a screaming, bloodied child.  It's not just about safety and care and protection.  It's also about staying sane and not wanting to have to deal with another crisis that a young'un brings upon herself.

This is evidence to me that the character, Hannah, still has a ways to go in achieving adulthood.  What we do as parents?  It's not all about love.  Mostly it is.  But sometimes, it's about saving ourselves more work.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Business as Usual

For the past two years, I've been monitoring my Dad's finances.  My mother was the brains of the financials at their domicile, even with brain cancer.

Yes, you read that right.  My father is so skeeved out by bills that he let a woman with thirteen mini-masses on her brain handle the checkbook.  She was quite happy to do it, and it allowed her some sense of control at a time when she had anything but.

Anyway, about a year ago, I noticed some weird debits/checks written against his account.  So, I've gradually just straight-up taken over my Dad's finances.  Not to the extent where he gets allowances or anything like that.  He still has a checkbook, ATM card, and all that jazz.  I mean, the man worked for sixty-five years. He can spend his money how he likes.  (Well, except for those sweepstakes things that he didn't realize were scammy situations, which is what precipitated my more aggressive role in all of this.)

On Friday, I deposited some checks for him.  He and my mother had a bunch of investments (which he still currently has, obvi), and bitty checks roll in on a continual basis. My mother's name is still on some of them, though, which is something I suspect will be left to me to deal with because my Dad's just not motivated to close loops like that.  I don't blame him.

The teller called out, "May I help the next person in line?"

I stepped forward and announced, "I have a deposit to make for my father."

I like to state this kind of thing up front because my father has one of those names that could be a man's or a woman's name, and people (frequently) make assumptions that I am he, and it weirds me out.  Anyway, I slid the stack of checks and deposit slip toward the teller.

"Thank you," the teller picked up the stack and quickly flipped through them. "Oh," she pulled two from the stack, "[My mother's name] will need to sign these since she's also listed on the check."

"She's passed away," I said quietly, without further information. I have found that some people require further information.  Like, "She's passed away so there is no way she will be able to sign a $2.75 check from AT&T."

"Oh," the teller said, her gaze lingering on me for just a shade longer than normal for this transaction. I knew she was putting it together...  If I am depositing checks for my father, and if the woman co-listed on the check was his spouse, ipso facto, it's probably my mother who has passed away.

Behold deductive reasoning!

"Karen," she said, quietly, discreetly. "I need to ask you a question." Karen, a bespectacled, trim woman with Breck hair despite being well into her fifties, stood up and conferred.  I heard her say, "It's what I would do..."

The teller cashed the checks, handed me the receipt, and I was on my way. I was grateful that we didn't get all personal up in there, with the "I'm sorry for your losses" and such. I mean, I don't get mad when people say that, but it triggers an emotional response in me when someone expresses sympathy. And it's perfectly OK to show my soft underbelly to friends and family, but the bank teller at noon on Friday? Not really on my list of confidantes.

This marks, I think, the first time that I have shared the news of my mother's passing without getting weepy. Caught me by surprise, it did.

Friday, March 22, 2013

From the Short Chronicles

I've told you that I'm 5'1', right?  I wear gigantic (but TASTEFUL) heels most of the time so that I can look people in the eye instead of up their noses.  Because, yuck.

Anyway, I was reminded of my shortness in a fresh way this morning. See, I'm accustomed to having to get ankle/short/petite pants hemmed.  I'm accustomed to the top shelf of my kitchen cabinets being completely empty because really? They might as well not even exist.  I am accustomed to beefy 10-year-olds being able to inspect the top of my head.

But today?

Today I pulled out a pair of new knee-high trouser socks (because I ROCK THEM LIKE A SUPERSTAR).  Except, these?  They were thigh-high.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Just a Tiny Bit of Blarney

"Excuse me," said the handsome bar patron who was quickly invading my personal space. "I'm Scott."

My new friend Scott leaned over the sternum-high wall that divided Shenanigans' bar from the dining room. I broke off my (very animated, somewhat drunken) conversation with my best friend, U2ey*.

"Hi." I raised an eyebrow and exchanged a glance with U2ey.

"And I'm Linda," said the very put-together, blond woman. Her bosom was ample enough to rest on the dividing wall, but not in a smothery fashion. And I'm not a pervert. It's just something you notice when said bosom is exactly at your eye-level.

"We were just wondering," started Scott.

"If you could guess our age," finished Linda.

"Oh, no," I said, shaking my head. "You can't ask us to guess another woman's age! That's dangerous."

"No, it's fine, really," Linda interrupted. "We're really curious."

Now, I was about three pints in at this point. Enough to see the entertainment in this request, but not so deep to get all shouty with my answer without careful consideration.

U2ey said, "I don't know..."

"We'll confer!" I yelled and slipped around the table to U2ey's side of the booth.  I sized them up.  My new pal Linda was the key. Her build and her only-slightly-lined face read mid-to-late thirties, but her very tailored look (a white sweater to a pub? ON ST. PATRICK'S DAY? stain-risk much?) and her perfectly colored and manicured hair?  That said at least forty to me. Scott had to be within spitting distance of that. But, I also want people to have a good time on a Saturday night, SO! I thought the best thing to do would be to aim low.

"You," I squinted while I considered Linda (Squinting = Deep Thought, right? (Or stigmatism. Either/or.)). "You are 37, and you," I squinted at Scott, "are 40?"

"I LOVE YOU!" Linda shouted. Which is always nice to hear.

Scott playfully pounded the divider, looking pretend grumpy.

"Well?" I said. "You have to tell us how close we were!"

"I'm 42," Linda said through a smile as wide as a harp. "And he's 41!"

Can I tell you how grateful I am that I aimed low?  If I'd gone with my gut, I only would have shaved off a year.  But many a lady, unless she is trying to sneak into a move or buy an illegal beer, are thrilled when someone guesses she is five years younger than she is.

"Why are your glasses empty?" Scott asked.

"Our waitress hasn't circled around so we haven't been able to order another round," U2ey explained. 

"Go buy them a round!" Linda giggled. I always liked that Linda.

"Done! What are you drinking?" Scott asked. I always liked that Scott.

"Guinness!" we shout in unison. My goodness, my Guinness.  I sneer at the tray of Budweiser Light another waitress is carrying across the room.

While Scott was off procuring the Guinness, I said to Linda, "Your turn! How old do you think we look."

She coolly, squintily returned the appraisal.  But, she dodged the question.

"You're babies," Linda said with a slight shake of her head. Like she has Seen Some Things, and our blooming youth couldn't comprehend what lay before us.

"Yeah, we're thirty-seven," I said.  Not that I was arguing about being a baby.  I mean, in the grand scheme of things?  Thirty-seven is the new twenty-five. Minus the ability to recover from a hangover within a day.

"No you're not." Linda shook her head. Then she turned to me. "Really? You're thirty-seven?"

"Yup!" I said. I'm actually kind of proud of my age, even if I hate the fact that I use acne cream and wrinkle cream.  Is there a product on the market that combines both?  Because if there is, I'm interested. Hear that, Open Market? Deliver unto me my request!

It's then that Scott delivered our booze to us.

"Thank you!"

U2ey and I wrapped our hands around our glasses and took a deep pull of the velvety, cool beer.

"No problem," the couple answered, then turned their attention to each other. And, based on the way they were making out, it seems like perhaps forty-two is the new sixteen.

U2ey = my best friend. I'll let you guess which band she would sacrifice me for.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Stepping Outside of My Comfort Zone

A couple of weeks ago, my college roommate sent me an e-mail. This is not unusual. But, the contents of the e-mail? Different than the norm. The gist was, "Hey, my husband's best friend is getting married. He and his bride, who are lovely, were going to elope, but every one's convinced them to have a proper wedding. But, they are paying for it themselves. So, they do not have much money to fork out on extras.  Would you take pictures of their wedding?"

Now, I was THE black-and-white 35mm single-lens reflex girl in high school and college. That Pentax? Was perma-fixed to my neck. But then... Digital.  It made my (gasp) film camera obsolete. And then, I had kids. Digital facilitated easy uploads for out-of-state grandparents. Point-and-shoot, memory captured, uploaded to an online picture-sharing software, DONE. No fancy depth-of-field fun or anything like that, but hey, whaddya gonna do?  Convenience trumps artistry.

This all means:  the composition, lighting, aperture, shutter speed muscle that had been fairly 'roided in my formative years?  Flabby. Weak. Spongy. But so was the rest of myself, and I took care of that over the past 10 months, now DIDN'T I?  So, I thought, why not?

I have entered some kind of weird year of saying yes to things that 2012 me would've refused, lickety-split. the 2012 me would've thought, "My participation can only wreck this situation. I should graciously refuse."

2013 me? Who has accomplished the twin goals of getting published* and losing some tonnage? The 2013 me cannot be stopped.

So, I said yes. And then I bought a used digital SLR. And a fancy flash. and I read the manual, did a little forum-stalking on using the digital SLR, and subjected my kids to a Princess Kate Middleton-level of paparazzi photo-stalking. 

Then I went to the wedding.

I was outside of my comfort zone at the start, for sure. I am an introverted people-pleaser. So, forcing complete strangers into semi-candid shots? I had to put on my big-girl pants and MAKE IT HAPPEN. 'Cause if I didn't? This bride would not have the memories of her Big Day that she (didn't even know she) wanted.

Here's the thing, though: the ka-tunk of the SLR? Totally comforting. Welcoming.  A re-introduction to an old friend, like I expect to have some day in a darkened bar whilst consuming an amber-colored beverage. After a few minutes with that solid, mechanical, obedient tool in my hand, I was in control, in my element. I really, really enjoyed it.

Cut to the end of the evening, back in my hotel room.  I looked over the hundreds of shots, and was worried that I hadn't gotten everything that I should.  I tweaked, I sharpened, I brightened, I lamented the things that I missed because of unfamiliarity with my apparatus, unfortunate back-lighting, or inexperience. Things I should've asked them to do, but didn't.


I finished my PhotoShop fu, uploaded the pix to a professional-grade site where the bride and groom could order copies, and sent it out last night. I haven't heard back from the bride yet. I was nervous that she didn't find a usable pic in the bunch.  So, I Facebooked her in a shadowy fashion.  Am I proud of that?  No, but I'm not un-proud of it, either.  And you know what?  

She took one of the pics that I SHOT and posted it to her Facebook page.  Within an hour of me sending it to her.  The comments?  I know they are from her friends, so they are OBVIOUSLY going to be friendly.  But, they say, "Gorgeous photo!" "Beautiful pic!" "Looks like something out of a magazine!" "That is about the best smile I've ever seen!"

The bride is, in fact, gorgeous. And the groom? Quite dashing. And me? I am so honored, and grateful, that I got to capture it. I only hope I did them a good turn and gave them some pictures that will last a lifetime.

*Did I tell you?  My place of business solicited some original kids' tales from among the folks who worked for them.  I wrote six, SIX, pre-school-appropriate short stories and the BOUGHT THEM ALL! 

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Presenting: an In-Depth Spousal Conversation about Finances

"Hey," I said when I checked in with my husband this morning, "I just want you to know, my exploration of generic alternatives isn't exclusive to the stuff you like."

[Background: My husband loves Eggo waffles.  I think it's silly that they cost a dollar more than generic frozen waffles.  He insists that even if they are 25% more expensive, they are 90% tastier, so they are worth it. That might be true, but I also think he's got a canyon-deep brand loyalty to Eggo, and that the generic waffles are probably pretty close. I would know more about that, though, if I ate as many waffles as he did. So, I've started buying Eggo again.]

"Oh yeah?" he answered. "How so?"

"I'm trying generic dark roast K-cups." I hit my blinker to turn left onto the entrance ramp to the Baltimore beltway.*

"How are they?"

"They're OK," I squinted away some of the sun glare.  "Still not as good as Starbucks French Roast, but I need to do a cost-comparison.  If they are half the cost, then they're worth it."

"I don't agree. I think they are worth all of the money.  In fact, I think you should buy the most expensive coffee."

[Side note: I mainline dark, robust coffee.  My husband is afraid of me if I haven't drunk a cup before we interact.  I think I am perfectly sunshiney and nice.  And not at all yelly.]

"Um, I think the most expensive coffee is actually processed in the colon of a civet. It's like $160 per pound."

"That.  That's what you should get."

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure they don't make a K-cup version of that."

*I should not have been talking on the phone. I KNOW, okay?