Saturday, December 30, 2006

"It Costs A Lot of Money to Ride This Train."

After holding one massive "I have no friends, I'm bored, I have nothing to do" pity party for myself on Wednesday and spending 100% of my day in my house, mostly in my bedroom, Billy insisted that, on Thursday, I get the eff out of my house. "Do something," he said, as he buttoned up his shirt for work.

"Like WHAT?" I whined from my spot in the bed. The same spot, incidentally, that I'd been in since the day prior. "There's nothing to do."

"We're an hour away from New York City," he insisted. "Go to the city for the day. Have lunch in some hole-in-the-wall cafe. Or walk around. But you have to get out of this house today."

I rolled my eyes and sighed. "I don't know my way around the City. I'm not going there."

And as soon as I uttered that sentence, my little brother's car pulled up in our driveway. Having the week off of school and days of nothing to do, too, he'd come to see if I'd like to go with him to get his oil changed. I told him no, but that if he gave me an hour to get ready, we'd go get lunch or something. As he drove back down our driveway, Billy looked at me with a face that had inspiration all over it.

"Take your brother," he instructed. "Go to the city with your brother; you'll get to spend time with him and you'll get out of the house and actually do something."

"He doesn't know his way around the city either," I protested.

"It's a grid pattern. You guys will figure it out."

"I don't think so," I said. "But I'll go to Middletown with him and get some lunch or something."

"Fine," he replied, tightening his tie, figuring the battle was lost.

But as soon as he left the house, I called Chase. "We're going on an adventure," said into the receiver.

"To where?"

"I'll tell you later," I said.

And two hours later, we were at Garrison Train Station, waiting for the New York City bound Metro North train.

That's Chase at Garrison's platform, captured via my camera phone; because, in all of my excitement to go on an "adventure," I forgot my camera. Brilliant. I didn't think of it until we were sitting there, listening to the sizzle of the tracks that preceded the train's arrival. So, quickly, I cleaned out all of the random shots I've captured on my phone in the past few months so that I'd have enough space to catch the city in the tiny memory my phone affords.

I was excited. And not just because Chase was tickling my chin like a little puppy. But because it did feel kind of adventurous for me. Being on a train on a random Thursday, speeding toward one of the biggest cities in the world. I mean, sure, we had no plan, no directions, no specific landmarks to visit; Sure, we were totally flying by the seat of our pants, unsure of what we would do once we came to Grand Central...But, still. That was the very definition of adventurous. Right?

It was Chase's first time on the train, and also his first time going to the City on a trip that wasn't a field trip for high school or on an outing with my mom's coworkers. I've been on the train many times before, but always going to meet someone who knew where they were going. So it was a big deal for the both of us. But, he was pretty unsure of what to do with himself and the tickets and so forth. So I bought his ticket and handed it to him, told him not to lose it, and to give it to the ticket guy when he came around. "That's it?" he said after it'd been punched and given back to him. "Well, yeah. Because that's your return ticket, too. So don't lose it."

We were talking about how they must change hole-punches every day to make sure people don't get all sneaky and try reusing their tickets. We concluded that that particular day must've been "Cock and Balls" Hole Punch Day:

See that? Right under the "O" for "Off-peak?" Totally inappropriate, if you ask us.

Before we got on the train, Chase bought some Cheez-Its. He LOVES Cheez-Its.

But they don't love him. They get stuck in his teeth. So he takes the classy route and digs all the way into his mouth to retrieve those stubborn bits. He makes me so proud.

Excitement was mounting as we got closer to the city. I took this picture through the window. Chase insisted it wouldn't come out. This proves him wrong and, thus, pleases me greatly.

An hour after boarding the train, the train whined to a stop, we stood up, minded the gap, and exited the train. We walked through Grand Central and walked outside to this view.

"We're in the city!" I said to Chase, just as geeky and overly-exuberant as that exclamation point implies.

"Uh, yeah. We are," he replied, totally not as excited as I was. He just didn't get my excitement.

Maybe because he somehow knew this was what awaited us. People on top of people on top of people, all moving in different directions, stuffed into sidewalks meant for half of the tourists currently stomping along. Oh yeah, and that pesky bit about having no idea of what we wanted to do or how we were going to get there. Let's not forget that part.

When faced with indecision, my first and best reaction is to drink. "Let's find a bar," I said.

Two glasses of wine (me), a round of soda and hiccups (Chase), and an bitchy remark made (by me, to the table of two touristy girls right next to us. Whoops.) later, I had an idea.

"What do you think about going to see the tree at Rockefeller Center?" I asked Chase.

"Sure," he said. "But how do we get there???" He was irritated by the fact that I was distracted by every makeup and shoe store on every street.

"I have no idea," I admitted. So we just walked. Down this street, up that one, over here, across there. And, there in the distance, I saw a beacon of hope:

"OH!" I cried. "LOOK! MACY'S!" So we headed in the direction of the glowing snowflakes that stretched all the way up and down the facade of the building. "We can look at the windows, too!" I said, dragging Chase in the direction of the lights, drawn to them like every girl is drawn to big, sparkly things.

On the way, I made Chase stop into Sephora with me. An experience that he claims was boring, but I think he secretly enjoyed. I mean, c'mon, what twenty-year-old guy doesn't love being in a huge room, positively packed with people, with nothing to see but makeup! Seriously.

After my purchase, we got back onto the street at continued toward the department store I kept referring to as "Macy's."

At this point, anyone who knows the city, or at least the landmark/holiday decoration part of the city knows that the building that caught my eye was not, in fact, Macy's, but Sak's Fifth Avenue. The classy, high-end store that decorates its windows every holiday season. It's famous for its window decoration, and, being directly across the street from the tree, draws thousands of people daily to look at it. And I thought it was Macy's. Because when Chase said he wanted to buy a coat, I suggested that we could "go to Macy's" to get one for him. I still thought it was Macy's as we fought through a pulsating crowd to get to the door. I thought it was Macy's even as we entered, failing to pay attention to the BIG SIGN on the door I was opening that claimed "Saks Fifth Avenue." I thought it was Macy's as we walked through the clogged store, Gucci and Prada and Fendi name brands jumping off of the walls at me. I still thought it was Macy's as my eyes glowed with excitement over the fancy name brands I love so much but cannot afford. I thought it was Macy's as I looked at $400 sunglasses. I thought it was Macy's even as we made our way past all of the shoppers carrying Saks Fifth Avenue bags. I thought it was Macy's even as we made our way to the back of the first floor to the elevators.

All of these people knew they were in Saks. I did not.

Chase knew we were in Saks, too. Even though I continued to refer to it as Macy's. See that smug look on his face? I think he was enjoying my ingnorance. He's very mean-spirited sometimes. Jerk.

Even as I took this picture for Billy, to show him that they carried one of his favorite tie-designers - ties that cost well over one hundred dollars each - it still did not occur to me that they do not carry Ike Behar ties in Macy's. I know this because I buy ties for Billy all the time in Macy's, and Ike has never been one of them. I just figured, "Hey, we're in the city. Everything's a little bit more expensive, a little bit more name brand driven here. That's all." Also, I'm pretty dense.

It was only after we were out of the building that I realized that - aha! - we were in Saks not Macy's!

"Uuuhh, yeeeeah," Chase said, drawing his words out, the emphasis on my stupidity. "What was your first clue? Maybe the sign on the door that said Saks?"

See? Mean.

So we watched the snowflakes dance around on the building, to the tune of "Carol of the Bells," and then turned around to see The Tree.

Even from across the street, it looked huge and gorgeous. The picture doesn't do it justice, but it was spectacular. I've only seen the tree once before, on a trek into the city about three years ago that found me so drunk that I don't remember half of the evening. Apparently, I embarrassed myself, my boyfriend, and his aunt and uncle, and spent the better part of the next day apologizing to my boyfriend for it. But that's another story for another time.

We wanted to get closer to the tree, but the crowd was just too much to bear. There were, oh, about nine gajillion people all clamoring for an up-close look at the tree. So we decided, in unison, "Fuck it," and just continued walking. Before we knew it, we were actually right next to the tree.
But there was no time to linger, as we were being pushed by a throbbing mass of people, all fighting to either get closer to or away from the very tree whose presence we were admiring.
Chase was adorable, constantly apologizing to each person he brushed or bumped into. He kept saying "Excuse me," and "I'm sorry," making a point to let each person know he didn't mean to hit them.

"You don't have to do that," I said as I plowed over a small child. "We're in the city. People are expected to be rude here."

"I can't do that," he said. "I'm too polite."

Indeed he is. He gives me hope for the future generations.

And after taking in Saks Fifth Avenue (Not Macy's) and the tree, eating a hot dog from a street vendor, and stopping in about a million shoe stores, we decided to head home.

That's me, walking through Grand Central, toward the track that would take us home. I was ready to go, but a little sad that our day was coming to an end.

We said goodbye to Grand Central in stereotypical geeky tourist fashion: Taking a picture. But I did it quickly in hopes no one would see the Girl from Pennsylvania doing what every other non-New Yorker does, taking that damn picture. But I'm sure someone saw it. I'm still a little embarrassed.

But I was tired, too. See it in my eye?

See how exhausted it looks?

My extreme fatigue was also due, in part, to my poor choice of footwear.

For me, for some reason, the desire to look fashionable/classy/sexy always - and I do mean always - wins out over comfort and sensibility. And intelligence, for that matter. Because, let's face it, it's not particularly smart to wear three-and-a-half inch heels to a destination that is no doubt going to entail no less than two hours of walking. But I was a trooper, if I do say so myself. Sure, I did make Chase sit in an Aerosoles store - a store that I've never ever gone into before, but whose name at that point sang to me like a chorus of a thousand angels, the foot-comfort implied in its very name - so that I could perhaps buy a pair of less painful shoes. It was a labor that yielded no fruit for either of us. They didn't have my size in the one pair of reasonably attractive shoes I could find (though, Lord, those were like walking on air!), and so I left empty handed, while Chase was just traumatized over being so bored that he actually gave in to my pleas for him to tell me what he thought of each shoe I tried on. And he even held my purse. He was that bored.
That's normally his reaction to shoe shopping.

Not only was he polite enough to apologize to the strangers whose sides he swiped, but he did NOT lose his return ticket.

As we waited for our 7:51 train to take off, we watched other passengers pile on, and listened to the conductor as he made announcements over the in-train speakers:

"Attention: This is the 7:51, Poughkeepsie-bound train, with stops at Croton-Harmon, Peekskill and Garrison. It does not stop at Yonkers. THIS IS A PEAK HOUR TRAIN. If you have an off-peak ticket, you will be required to pay the difference between peak and off-peak fares. It is more money to ride this train. All transactions are CASH ONLY. Tickets purchased on the train are a lot more expensive than tickets purchased at the station. It costs a lot of money to ride this train."

How right you are, Mr. Conductor. In the five hours from purchasing the tickets to sitting on that train, I'd spent over a hundred dollars. Between the tickets and the wine and the appetizer we ordered, and the makeup, and the snacks, and lunch, I'd racked up a pretty hefty debt. Thank God, though, I'd had enough foresight to purchase an off-peak/peak ticket. At least I'd be saving the three dollars or whatever it would've cost to upgrade.

But, hey, thanks for reminding me about all the money I did spend, Conductor Man.

And we were on our way home. We were really starting to get tired. Luckily, we had the foresight to stop by Starbuck's in Grand Central.

Chase enjoyed his drink.

But his strange way of drinking it made me think he'd never had one before.

Either that or it was so delicious he wanted each and every morsel he could get out of that damn cup.

That being our last treat for the day, we settled in to say goodbye to the city.

Clearly, I'm exhausted. You can tell by both my heavy hand (as evidenced by the lazy waving), and the quite shocking bags beneath my eyes. There just is not a flattering picture to be taken when you've been walking around New York City, for even a couple of hours.

So, yes, I was tired. And broke. And ready to go home. But I was just so happy, too. Not because I got out of Milford and into the city. And not because I'd gone on an adventure. But because I was with my little brother, who managed to make me laugh more in one afternoon than I laugh in an average week. Because he's just so polite and wonderful and so much fun to be around. Because I just love that boy so damn much that it hurts sometimes. Because, ten years ago, this sort of thing - an afternoon we voluntarily shared with just one another - would never have happened. Because we've come a long way from name-calling and physical fights. Because I had such a good time. Not because we did anything amazing - just because it was us. What we did was little more than we would've done had we gone to the shopping mall half an hour away from our house. It was different and it was nice, but the incredible feeling I had about the day had nothing to do with the location, it was all Chase.

I didn't want it to end. But, as the train pulled into Garrison, it did.

"Bye-bye, New York City," Chase said, in the weepy and childish voice he usually reserves for getting me to do something I don't want to do. And then the threw a rolled up gum wrapper at me and hit me right between the eyes. Thereby sucking all of the adorableness out of the moment. Typical.

We spent the whole ride home making each other laugh and, like two eight-year-olds, throwing things at one another in true brother-and-sister fashion.

It would be cheesy to say it was a wonderful day, so I won't say that. But I will say that I can't remember the last time I had that much fun doing nothing.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What Have I Been Doing on my Week off?

Well, how nice of you to ask. Allow me to fill you in.

1) Sleeping in. Except for the fact that I do still get up with Billy to get him his coffee. Because, before Christmas, I'd told him how nice it would be this week to have him bring me my coffee this week, as opposed to the other way around which is how it is the other fifty-one weeks of the year. And he sort of sighed and laughed and suggested that, if I really love what he got me for Christmas, I could maybe find it in my heart to go ahead and still bring him his coffee in the morning. Since, up until that point, he had maintained that I was not, in fact, receiving a Christmas present - that my laptop had served as both a birthday and Christmas gift - I agreed. But then, when I unwrapped the complete surprise in the form of a gorgeous sapphire and diamond ring he gave me, I realized that I would, in fact, be getting him that coffee. Because, for a gift that good, he deserved it. But as soon as I give him that coffee, it's right back to sleep.

2) Watching TV. Lots of it. Too much, possibly. Shows that I wouldn't be able to watch if Billy were home: Shows like Bridezilla, A Wedding Story and Perfect Proposal. Also, I watched episodes one through twelve of Sex and the City OnDemand. In one day. Billy would never go for that.

3) Eating. Cookies. Chase's girlfriend sent Billy and me a box of some of the most delicious, moist, chewy, incredible homemade cookies. And they've been sitting by my bed, the supply dwindling as the days pass. I eat them for breakfast, as snacks, as dessert. I may gain a million pounds by New Year's Day, but it'll be a tasty road down to chunky.

4) Listening to music. My parents got me the iHome, a clock/radio/iPod player, granting me the ability to finally listen to music in my room without turning on my computer. It's absolutely fantastic. I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to blast my music while I clean. I'd forgotten that I love to sing along, and dance my way through my chores. It's been awesome.

5) Admiring my ring. Like, all the time. Just now, I stopped and gazed longingly at it. It's so gorgeous. And it was so unexpected. It's just so pretty. I love it so much. I just can't get over how wonderful it is. Sigh.

6) Cleaning my room. I put away all of the Christmas presents, threw away all of the scraps of paper that wrapping gifts left at the foot of my bed. I hung up clothes and dusted and hefted three bags worth of garbage out of the house. It felt great to walk in my room and see it clean. And then Billy came home last night and threw his pants on the floor. But, it's okay. He gave me this ring, so the least I can do to show my gratitude is to hang up his pants.

7) Trying to savor each second that I'm home that I should be at work. I make sure to take note of the time with each cookie I eat, each TV show I watch and smiling because I should be working right now instead of being ridiculously lazy. It's only Wednesday, but I feel like it's already going too fast. I'm sure I'll be back to work before I know it. So I try not to leave my house before five if I can help it.

8) Wondering how I got so lucky. How did I find a guy who would go against everything he ever told me ("I'm not buying you a ring." "I don't believe in diamonds. You only like them because society tells you you should; because they're expensive.") and give me something purely because it makes me happy. My dad gave my mother a Bose Wave Radio, and she cried, saying "Your father doesn't love music like I do, but he knows how important it is to me, so he got me that radio. I'm so touched. I'm so lucky to have a man like that." And then she got a little more choked up and said, "I'm so glad you have a good man like that, too."

9) Being emotional.

10) Trying to find things to write about. But, sadly, there's nothing that's making me write sprawling posts full of flowery prose. As my mom always says, apparently, I need to get sad again. Because that's the only time I'm a good writer. I don't want to be sad, but I do hope I can come up with some subject matter soon.

Monday, December 25, 2006


It's just after eight in the evening on Christmas Day, and I'm sitting in my house with Billy, unwinding after a long, travel-packed day. It's been incredible, full of family and love and giving and receiving and warmth and laughter.

And, you know, for all of the absence of the season I've been feeling, today has turned out to be spectacular. Sometimes, the nicest holidays are the ones that sneak up on you, where expectations are forgotten before the day is reached, where there is no build up, no anticipation. It's the surprise of the day that is so gluttonous, so delicious.

Today has been one of those days. Waking up early, like a kid who can't wait for Santa's spoils, I stirred before eight this morning, making coffee before unwrapping the beautiful sapphire ring Billy gave to me, before unveiling the trip to Las Vegas I'd decided to give to him for Christmas. We went straight to my parents' house in our pyjamas, filling their living room with torn and wrinkled remnants of wrapping paper and offering just as many "Thank you"s as we received.

We split the day between his family and my own, stopping just long enough between the two houses to collect ourselves before heading out again. And now, we're here, in our home, listening to music and laughing as the day winds to a close. I'm overcome right now with splendor, overtaken by delight. I'm in love with my family, my boyfriend, his family, my life. It's been incredible in every way.

And days like this are the best ones, when we're worn out from too much merriment, too much joy. Even though the ground outside isn't covered in snow - even though our Christmas has been far from white - it's been just as merry as we could've hoped.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Under Construction

I'm in Beta! Or, rather, the New Blogger. Either way, I was finally allowed to switch over. An act that made the OCD girl inside of me go NUTS because everything on my beloved blog changed. I've spent the last few hours fucking around with it to get it back to how I want it. And don't even get me started on the labels. That list of "Filed under" over there on the side? I'm sure it's going to be fourteen thousand times as long as it is right now by the time I'm finished going through all of my archives and categorizing everything. Man. This is going to be one massive undertaking.

So, that being said, please pardon my appearance for the next few days (weeks?) while I go about the dirty business of playing around with two years worth of my life.

Also, I lost my list of music on the side there, and I can't figure out how to get it back - getting both the links and the just plain ol' typed out words that weren't links to show back up has proven to be far too much for my limited HTML/Blogger template capacity to handle. So, can anybody help me with that? Also, how the eff do I get my sidebar links to open in a new window?

I think I just realized I needed another category: Wannabe Computer Geek! Check it out!

Ahem. Sorry. I'm getting way too carried away with this. Let's hope I don't get all into this "Labeling every archived post" thing for a week and then give up. Because I probably will.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Work It, Bitch

Every few days, I change my route home and, instead of going from my office chair directly to my bedroom or a restaurant, I somehow find the wherewithal to take the road that leads me to the gym. In the twenty or so minutes that it takes me to get from my work parking lot to the parking lot that leads me into the gym, it's quite easy to talk myself out of going. But I'm so tired, I say to myself as I drive. You know what I could do? I could go home and clean up my email inbox, organize it all nice and pretty. Or I could catch up on some of the Sex in the City reruns OnDemand. Or I could reorganize my dresser. ANYTHING but go to the gym. But, more often than not, something inside me keeps my car pointed in the direction of a step class, a kickboxing class, or the elliptical machine. And what is it that motivates me? Is it the promise of thinner thighs and flatter abs? Is it the desire to rid myself of stress via weights and cardio? Is it picturing the two vacations to warm climates I'll be taking in 2007, the bathing suits I'll be forced to wear? No. It's none of the above.

It's the ten or so minutes before my class starts, between changing into my old, worn out gym clothes and hopping my way through an hour of instructor-led torture. It's in those minutes that the true socializing occurs. The catching up with people I only see a few days a week, but who, nonetheless, get my entire life story in that short span of time. It's in that ten minutes where I'm greeted with such stunning nicknames as "Bitch" and "Whore" from the larger than life petit woman who parades around in her spandex pants and loose T-shirts like a gym mascot. It's the jokes about my smoking and drinking doled out by the tall blonde who steps and lifts and "double-times" it on the step next to me. It's the laughing and the jokes, the masochistic need I have to trade sarcastic insults with the other women who've found their way to the gym each night. That's what keeps me from giving up and going home.

It's funny, having a room full of women (and a few boys, here and there) whose company you keep so infrequently, but with whom you trade your most embarrassing or wonderful stories. A chorus of voices leaks out of the classroom even while we kick, jab and cross our way through class. Unable to contain ourselves, we hurl insults and hefty words through all of the sweat and work we're doing. We admonish "Shut up" or "Why aren't you working out, Judy?" over the teacher's instructions, cackling over orders to "kick higher" or "arabesque." I catch knocks against my character while I'm throwing punches. And it's delicious...The way it makes you forget how hard you're working, how it makes you forget the ache in your legs, the fatigue in your arms. The laughter that accompanies my gym sessions does me better than any amount of breathing through my straining, works my stomach far better than the fifty crunches we had to do.

Experts suggest that going to the gym with a "buddy" makes you more apt to continue going, is motivating enough to force you to stick to your gym commitment without even realizing it. I never agreed, choosing to view my gym experience, instead, as a solo project. I didn't join with anyone, I never went with anyone, and that's the way I liked it. From time to time I consider what it would be like to actually go with someone, to have plans to meet a friend every night. And as soon as I consider it, I let it go. Because I like my freedom, to go or not to go.

But without even realizing it, I met my motivation, my friend that I've committed to, in the form of a room full of women, who, despite age and life differences, have become my friends, and the reason I go.

Of course, I'd never talk to any of those bitches in real life.*

*Hello Judy! Hello Tisha! Hello ladies!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Greatest Gift is Giving

Usually, I prefer to make a whole experience out of Christmas shopping. I rarely go with a list, preferring instead to browse through rack after rack, shelf after shelf and display after display of possibilities and letting inspiration guide me to the checkout. I always bring with me my favorite Christmas CDs and play them on full blast during the hour it takes to get from Milford to the mall I've chosen. I try to be in the spirit of the holiday, full of smiles and goodwill, generosity and joy. I don't hurry, I don't look at prices, deciding to focus not on the clock and the cost, but the look I imagine I'll receive from the face of the recipient. It makes for a better experience all round, I've found. Credit card balances be damned.

This year, though, it just doesn't feel like Christmas. That first snowfall we got about a week ago? It wasn't enough to coat the ground, leaving instead a dusting of white over otherwise brownish vegetation. And Old Man Winter didn't stick around either. Apparently, he called in sick, and the only person available to cover for him was Early Spring. It's been in the fifties every day this week. Some people may read that and think "Fifties?! That's FREEZING!" But those people would be from warm climates. I remember, living in Vegas, anything below sixty meant dusting off your winter coat and putting on your gloves. Here? Fifties is warm and means you can get away with just wearing long sleeved shirts. It meant I could go Christmas shopping without my coat.

There's something so wrong with that, not lugging a down-filled jacked through the mall. In an area like this, that, this time of year, looks like the song "Silver Bells" come to life, you come to expect a certain feeling at Christmas time. And without that snow, with only the lights strung on bare trees and wreaths on doors not preceded by snowy walks, it feels like something's missing. Like you've stepped into some parallel universe, where Christmas comes in early April.

So, yesterday, having left work early to get my shopping done, I tried as best I could to get myself into the spirit, but as the Christmas songs I so painstakingly loaded onto my iPod began to play, I knew that my heart just wasn't in it. I listened to Justin Timberlake and Corinne Bailey Rae instead, singing my way through New Jersey neighborhoods, just killing the time until I reached the mall.

Christmas music slapped me in the face, though, when I hefted open the glass door of Macy's. "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" fell from overhead speakers and onto the million other people who mistakenly thought they'd avoid crowds by taking a half-day from work and shopping at two in the afternoon. I fought off that inevitable sense of dread that always takes over when I see lines snaking through departments and forged ahead, knowing that I was there for a reason and I could not leave until I had at least most, if not all, of my shopping done. I walked past a man screaming into his cell phone, "they don't have that here!" and then past a customer fighting with a cashier over a return that he wanted to make, and then past a family of two parents and two kids in side-by-side strollers, both children screaming bloody murder, and I thought I was doomed. I just don't think I have the strength to do this, I said to myself as I pushed through the chaos, my overly dramatic statement causing me to furrow my eyebrows and worry that I'd leave the mall empty-handed, as I'd done on two occasions prior.

But when gift after gift presented themselves to me, when it took little effort to find gifts easily labeled as "perfect," the panic and the pressure vanished. And, in store after store, I handed over my card with a smile, thanked sales girls and boys for their help, and wished a happy holiday to every person who asked me to sign my name on the dotted line. I made my own little holiday spirit, collecting smiles from cashiers who have surely been put through the wringer by stressed-out shoppers for days. I've worked in a mall at Christmas time - I know that it is similar to what I imagine hell to be. I thought my smiles might be a welcome reprieve from complaints and aggravated sighs. They were. It's amazing how nice people will be if you're only nice to them first; If you set the tone.

Ten stores worth of bags, a significantly lighter wallet, and cup of iced coffee in hand, I headed out of the same doors I'd entered only three hours earlier. I tossed the weighty bags into my back seat, checked people off of my list and headed into the direction where the real Christmas shopping would begin.

I don't want to give anything away, but there's something about Border's that just makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Books are my favorite gift to give. What better way to say, "Hey, I'm really fond of you," than sharing your favorite words, your favorite writers, with someone? Whether it becomes a silly side-gift or the whole gift itself, books, to me, mean the most when I give them. Because choosing a book for someone takes hours. I consider the recipient's character, their sense of humor, their pastimes, their passions. Even people who aren't big readers can receive a book that, to me, is the perfect gift.

It's just so personal, giving a book. I'm saying, "I love this. I found a piece of myself in these pages, and I want to share it with you," when I give a book. I'm a big fan of writing a novel of my own on the inside cover, telling them why I picked the book, why I picked them to give it to.

My dad loves books. My whole life he's had some military book or another on his bedside table, or in the den, next to his chair, a wilted bookmark hanging over the thick pages. I've given him ties, and tools, and guns, but books are the gifts I've watched him fall a little bit in love with my whole life. He has the same reaction every time he opens one, a smile-ridden "Thaaank yooou" that falls from his mouth while he turns the book over in his hands, touching first the front, then back, cover. We make fun of his reaction, and also of how it's always a book, that his gifts are rarely surprises as he tells us all exactly which books he's missing from his collection. But later, when he corners me and tells me all about the book, how the main character developed, how the author gets too technical, how interesting it was, I know gift was right.

And my mom, for her last birthday, was given a book by me, Nora Eprhon's I Feel Bad About My Neck. Its title alone made her squeal with laughter, and she liked the book so much she passed it on to my grandmother. She told me about her favorite parts of the book, her face erupting in a smile so broad she tilted her head and covered her mouth, concealing the all-consuming laughter that was taking her over. Her voice jingled through the re-telling, her eyes tearing up with giggles and her hands clutched her stomach. You don't get that sort of reaction with earrings.

So I walked through Borders, my arms hanging down to my waist, loaded with book after book, making a pile that went from my cupped hands to my chin. My arms ached with the weight of so many gifts, but I felt good each one I was about to give, finally in the Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Keep Those Paychecks Comin'

I just had my one-year employee review. It went really well, actually. Far better than I'd anticipated that's for sure.

My boss did, however, mention that I'm on the internet a little too often. Okay, a lot too often. He's noticed that I hop on the internet instead of using my downtime productively. Touché.

But that was his one complaint in a sea of praises. Thank GOD.

And what am I doing? Getting on the internet to talk about it. I'm brilliant.

So I need to, uh, get back to work. But I wanted to share that with you. Because it's a good thing, and I'm excited about it. And, also, some people out there think I complain too much and that people are going to get sick of reading that. So, instead, LOOK AT ME! I'M AWESOME! I GOT A GOOD REVIEW! Why take time to write well-crafted and heartfelt posts, when all people really want is my Weekend in Review in list form, replete with a shoddy, abbreviated and ill-capitalized use of the English language!? Maybe if I just post a lot of inane lists and silly wishes, I'll be more popular! Who knew!

ANYWAY, this whole review/internet thing means the posting during the daytime should dwindle to next to nothing (I can't promise complete internet chastity.), and my nearly non-existent commenting will also have to be limited to after working hours.

Which is but a small price to pay for a secure job and a happy employer, right?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Come With Me

I wish I knew how to play music on this site. I wish that opening this page would open a stream of music. Because, if I could, I'd play this song. And it would be loud and obnoxious, but it would tell you everything I feel about love.

I've listened to the song no less than twenty times tonight, each repeat making me more and more grateful, hitting closer and closer to home.

It's how I love. It's how I love my parents, and my brother, and Billy. Even though I might not always show it, even though they may not see it one hundred percent of the time, it's the truth. I would do anything. For any of them.

And it's they way my family has always loved me. Full-on and unashamed. Lacking selfishness. A pure desire to give all of who they are, all for little ol' me. I'm humbled by the thought of it, the amount of love my mother and father have given me through my life, the proud love my brother gives me.

And it's the way always expected to be loved by a man, but never thought I'd find. And, look at me: I've finally found it. Billy makes me feel alright, even when I'm terrified in the face of things I can't control, things that wake me in the middle of the night. He lets me know that I don't ever have to face anything alone, that he's here with me. No matter what.

Yesterday, I had a mini-breakdown in front of Billy. For some reason, I started thinking about what would happen if I go back to my doctor in March for my follow-up appointment and that pre-cancer has found its way back to my cervix. What then? I was terrified, out of nowhere, about what I would do, what it would mean. And I cried, hard and ugly, my face only inches from Billy's, worried about what comes next.

And he did the same thing my family would do: He reminded me that it would be okay. Regardless of what happens, it'll be alright. And he made me feel better, the way my family does: By letting me know he'll be there. Reminding me that they will all be there for me, always. That whatever I have to face - trials big or small - I won't ever have to face them alone.

"You think you have to do this by yourself, that you're alone in all of this," he said, making me face him, my forehead wrinkled with emotion, my hand covering my quivering mouth. "But you're not. I'm right here."

What ever did I do to deserve such love in my life? Whatever I did in my past life must've been pretty spectacular to hold this bounty now.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Fun Things That Happened This Week

1) On Monday, I mailed out the last check for the credit card debt I've been carrying around on my back since I applied for my first credit card, five years ago. It's not that I had huge debt or anything, just persistent debt. Debt that would be thisclose to being paid off, only to be met with a holiday, a purse that I had to have, or an evening gown for some occasion of some sort. So, I'd etch away at that coupla thousand dollars all year, nearly get it down to nothing, and then - WHAM! - here it is again.

But, see, it's not like I've wasted years paying Discover and Chase and CitiBank and Bank of America interest. No siree. I, my friends, am a devotee of the Rolling Game. You know, the game where you get a credit card because of its "ZERO PERCENT INTEREST!!!!! for six months, maybe, unless you fuck with us, in which case you will rue the day you signed on the dotted line, bitch," proclamation. And you load that card up, paying minimum payments because - hey! - I'm not paying interest, and anyway, I need to build good credit. Thinking, of course, the whole time, that you'll totally have it paid off by the time your six month deadline rolls around. Which you don't, naturally. In fact, you're probably deeper into debt. Which is what they were counting on the whole time.

But, during that time, where you're charging like crazy and paying the minimum, your credit rating starts skyrocketing because you're A) using the card and B) paying early - and sometimes, you even throw the credit card company and extra ten bucks or so. You know, when you're feeling generous. So, suddenly, you start getting "PLATINUM!" and "TITANIUM" credit card apps in the mail, each one boasting a longer "ZERO PERCENT INTEREST" period than that next. So when your first six months are up, you transfer that shit over to the next one. And when that 0% period is up, you transfer that balance to the next one. And the next one, and the next one...Rolling your debt over and over. And the cycle of debt is sustained.

So you wisely allow this cycle to continue for five whole years. It's not horrible or overwhelming; more of a nuisance, really. That stupid bill, every stupid month. And you live that way for a while, until you leave your job with the shitty pay and actually start making enough money to support yourself, and you really buckle down, put that Platinum card away and stop using it. You start using the money you used to use to pay for your now-paid-off car to pay for your credit card....And before you know it, you send in your last hulking check to the big bad credit card companies and - Oh my God - you're debt free.

And that's where I am right now. And for that whole day, I thought, "Wow, I'm debt free. I can't believe it." I even decided to continue paying myself my credit card payment (the OCD way I handle my finances is complicated, and too much to get into here, so just bear with me), so that I'll have enough money to actually take Billy away as his Christmas gift without having to use the ol' credit card. And it made me smile, all day long.

Until, later that night, I went ahead and downloaded a song on iTunes, forgetting that I have the credit card I JUST PAID OFF set as my payment method. Which means I'm going to get a bill for $0.99 next month. That's awesome.

2) My boss emailed me (huh? He works in the next office. I don't get it.) and told me I'll have my yearly review on Tuesday. Which is awesome, except that I'm pretty sure that by "yearly review" he means, "discussion about the fact that I know you're on the internet and/or emailing and/or texting and/or talking on the phone far more than an employee should." So I'm nervous.

3) Holiday season is here! And that means PARTIES!

Unless, that is, you've committed your entire existence to your boyfriend over the past year because you just love to spend each and every second with him. Because, when December rolls around, suddenly you notice that your distinct absence in your social scene has carried over into the holiday season. Because you haven't been around all year, your name is falling off Christmas lists everywhere. You hear that? It's the sound of your popularity waning and your friends getting sick of you never going out anymore.

4) Standing in a restaurant yesterday, I heard one of my favorite Christmas songs in the world. This sparked an interest in me to RUSH home after work, take out my computer, import all of my Christmas music onto iTunes, organize it all, and make a holiday playlist.

'Tis a sad, sad day when I look back and realize that I've chosen to spend my Friday night with my laptop instead of real, live human beings. Very sad, indeed.

5) I went to pick up lunch for my boss and myself today at a local restaurant. Walking through the glass doors to go in, an old-ish woman was walking out. I'm unsure of her age, as it was masked by the distinct grimace of sheer nastiness on her face. Clearly, she was an unhappy woman; just looking at her I formed the opinion that she's a crotchety, rude, mean, nasty, horrible woman. When she started to yell at someone behind her, by just sort of turning her head to the side, it was revealed that a) I was right and b) she had no teeth. That would make me mad too. So I sort of understood her sadness.

ANYWAY, I was walking in, like I said, and she was on her way out. The doors there are set up so that you walk through one, pass through a little breeze-way of sorts, then you go through another door. She was out of the door farthest from me and on her way out of the door I was going into. Being the polite person I am, I held the door for her. She looked at me, paused for a a second, sighed an exasperated sigh for some reason, gave me a dirty look and continued walking.

Nothing irritates me more than forgetting a social pleasantry. If I hold the door open for you, all I ask in return is that you say "Thank you." That's all. And since she didn't, I did what I always do in these situations: I said a syrupy-sweet, and probably louder-than-necessary "You're welcome" and continued walking.

She stopped dead in her tracks. "I said thank you," she hissed.

"And I said 'you're welcome,'" I replied, positively saccharine in my tone.

My thing is this: If she really had said "thank you," as she felt the need to point out to me, why would she have been offended at my "you're welcome" and need to point out her use of "thank you"?

I don't think she said it. In fact, I'm certain of it. But her reaction has me confused. Maybe she said, "I didn't say 'thank you'"? And if that's the case, why would she announce it? I don't get it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The First Snowfall

Winter has been blissfully absent this year. Normally, November finds us bundled up in our hats and scarves, trudging already through snowy sidewalks and slushy streets. But this year, the Old Man let us enjoy unseasonably warm weather for weeks longer than we should have. November came and went with sporadic spring-like temperatures, allowing us the luxury of wearing our light sweaters and jackets far longer than we're used to. Men still golfed, women still wore open-toe shoes, everyone held onto their short-sleeved shirts just a little bit longer. It was scrumptious, feeling the warm sun in the middle of November, leaving our coats in the closet , untouched, when we knew that we should be wearing them.

But suddenly, this week, Old Man Winter woke up and realized he late. His alarm hadn't roused him in mid-November like it was supposed to, so he scrambled to get ready and get out there. He rushed in, in a haze of blustery winds and biting chill. He relieved spring-like weather of her duty, abruptly switching our temperatures from mid-sixties to below freezing in one overnight shift-change.

With the first gust of cold wind, we knew that the Old Man's best friend, Snow, was just around the corner. And, sure enough, the Old Man assured her comfort by turning up the cold and setting the skies gray. She flurried in late yesterday, cozy in the early nighttime provided just for her.

I drove home slowly, avoiding the inevitable piles of snow and sloppy accidents her first fall always creates. I crept past my house and down into Milford, where I picked up supplies for the first snowfall: Dinner, and Pinot Noir.

Getting home, I changed out of my work clothes and into thick socks and cotton pants, a warm sweater over a t-shirt. I ate my dinner in the silence of the kitchen, then plodded upstairs, full glass of Noir in my chilly hand. Sunk in blankets and the glow of the TV, I cozied up to my wine and let her fall outside. I didn't bother her, or complain about her arrival, just heard the quiet she makes, the softness that she instills, ready, now, to face the Old Man and all his friends. He was, after all, overdue.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Meet in the Middle

"Pause it," he said to me, motioning toward the remote control next to my body. Something about his voice told me whatever he had to say was important, that he didn't want his words to compete with Beauty and the Geek. My laptop was on his lap, and he looked down at the screen, taking a deep breath.

I clamored for the remote, wondering what sort of statement he was about to make. Our evening had been so benign up to this moment: A short visit to a friend's Christmas party preceded our standard house chores - me, finishing up the last of four loads of laundry, him walking around the house, watering can in hand, feeding all of his beloved plants - and led right to bed, where we buried ourselves in the freshly washed sheets and thick blankets to watch recorded episodes of our new favorite reality show. He checked his email while I caught up on an episode he'd already seen, giving his commentary on what was happening between short bursts of hunting-and-pecking on the keyboard. Until he told me to pause it.

The Geek's face froze on screen, his mouth contorted in the middle of a word, stuck there until Billy was finished telling me what he had to tell me. "Okay," I said, turning my body to face him, bracing myself for the enormity of what he wanted to say. I always suspect the worst.

"What do you think," he said slowly, looking at the computer screen, and then at me, "about..." he took a deep breath, he took his time.

Tell me, I thought, whatever it is, just tell me. I was nervous. My gut told me it was nothing bad, but I wasn't prepared for what came out of his mouth:

"What do you think about maybe going to Nicaragua for five days with me, and then I'll continue to South Africa from there?"

My heart almost burst. The smile that spread across my face was instantaneous. The darkness of our room hid my reaction, so that he couldn't bear witness to my smile, the blush that took over my cheeks, the unadulterated thrill in my eyes.

"Really?" I asked, like a kid who's just been presented with a gift she never thought she'd be lucky enough to receive. "Seriously?"

"Yes," he said, his voice soft. But not soft like giving in to the demands of your girlfriend, but soft like yes, you can believe in it.

"But will you have enough time in South Africa, then?" My question was serious. We had been talking about his trip earlier, a lighthearted conversation in which I told him I was happy with the decision I'd made to not go, despite being told by almost everyone I know (besides my mom) that I should go, just to experience it.

"I don't want to drag you down," I told him. "I'm not sure I could handle it. I mean, there's a chance that I could - I don't know, since I've never done it...And I guess the only way to know is to try - but I don't want to go on the chance that I'd be good at it or enjoy it, and run the risk of dragging you down with ailments and whining. It's better if you just go by yourself and enjoy it. I'm scared of the bugs, the heat, the danger. You're not. If we could stay in a nice hotel, or go on a safari in a nice RV or something, with air conditioning, then I'd be in. But I just don't think I could do it the way you want to do it."

He seemed genuinely baffled by my view of the trip. "If you want to see these things from the window of an RV, then why not just watch it on TV?" he'd said.

"I'm perfectly happy with that," I replied.

"You just have no desire, do you?"

"No, babe, I don't. That's not my idea of a vacation. It just isn't. But I know it's yours. So you should go, and enjoy it."

He nodded, and I nodded, both of us content with our choices. I would love to go with him, I just can't. And I have to accept that wanting to be with him wherever he goes is not reason enough to let him take me to a place where I'm 99.9% sure I'll be miserable. I was comfortable with my decision, and happy that he'd get what he wants.

"I'm sure I'll have plenty of time in South Africa," he smiled, looking at me. He pointed to the screen in front of him. "I figure we'll spend maybe five days in Nicaragua, then maybe head to Costa Rica for a day or two. You'll love it there. It's beautiful. And I've lived there, so I know my way around. You'll be comfortable there," he said, his voice reassuring.

"Babe, I'd love to. But I don't want you to change your plans for me." My words were genuine. You always get what you want is one of Billy's most oft-repeated sentences to me. I didn't want this to be another one of those instances. As long as he wanted to do it, I'd be pleased. But if he didn't, that was another story.

"My friend just emailed me," he said, "and they're selling the bar I worked in while I lived there. And I really want you to see it. It's a huge part of my life. You have to see it."

I was overwhelmed. I was touched that, somewhere within him, he wanted me to go with him badly enough to go somewhere I'd be comfortable. And that feeling was compounded by him wanting me to see a huge part of his life before me.

I'd spent days grappling with how I felt about his trip. Deep down, I felt like he just didn't want me to go at all. That this was his time to get away from me, and this year he wanted to "get away" for the duration of his trip, to not share even a bit with me. And that's what hurt, that's what bothered me. Selfish as it was, I thought that him not choosing someplace where I could go meant he just didn't want me with him. I knew it was wrong, but feelings don't understand that. They just went ahead and let me take it as a personal affront. I listened to him say, over and over, that he wanted me to go along, I just didn't believe it. And, finally, I'd come to understand that it's not always about me. That him wanting to go had everything to do with him, who he is, and that I have to let that person live, not make him bend to my demands all the time.

And on the heels of my acceptance, he found a way to make me part of it. It's still tentative, but the fact that he asked me, the fact that he wants me to part of his present and his past, makes me melt. It's not about me getting my way, it's about him doing exactly what I would do for him, and, for that, I love him a little bit more each day.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Prom of my Adult Life

With every party I attend, I make a solemn vow to myself that I will take lots and lots of pictures. Only, I hate digging my camera out of my purse. And asking people to pose. Or, worse, asking people to take a picture of me. I just feel like I'm bothering people when I'm forever asking people to "scoot together," or demanding that they smile.

Which is why I only have a handful of pictures from Billy's company party this past weekend. And by "handful" I mean five. And, curiously, all but one of them are of the two of us. Sure there are a bunch of the obligatory "Oh! It's late and I haven't taken any pictures, so I'll just aim my lens sort of in the direction of the dance floor and hope for the best!" And "the best" winds up being a blurry mess of dark heads and blurry arms.

So I'm left with only these few as reminders of a wonderful night. I searched for a dress for weeks. I planned my makeup and my accessories and my shoes, excited for what has become an annual event I begin to look forward to somewhere around Halloween. I donned the red dress Billy requested, and wore my hair down like he requested, too. I drank and laughed and danced my way through almost seven hours of a party. And all night long, Billy periodically put his hand on my waist and told me I looked "gorgeous" or "beautiful" or "sexy," making me feel like I was the most amazing woman in the room through his eyes.

I drank with his coworkers, mixing my standard vodka-tonic-splash-of-cranberry with a double shot of Jack Daniels. Prior to the toast, one of Billy's coworkers introduced me to another one as "Billy's bride-to-be..." And I believe that Billy had a small heart attack right then. I danced with Billy to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," and when he left the dance floor, tapped out after only one dance, I stayed on the parquet floor and shook what my momma gave me to song after song.

We fell into the hotel bed somewhere after two, exhausted from dancing and drinking and socializing. My feet throbbed from the silver shoes I bought just for the night. And right before I fell asleep, Billy wrapped me up in his long, sleepy arms and told me he loved me.

This holiday season is off to a perfect start.