Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Rough Ride



Register columnist

Moving means saying goodbye. And goodbyes bite.

It's hard enough saying goodbye to your neighborhood coffee shop, your beloved bookstores, your cherished local burger joints. But our move this week was particularly hard for my 9-month-old son and me because we had to say goodbye to our favorite band of Harley-Davidson riders.

When I first started taking Zev out for walks in his stroller, it was into the loving, leather-clad arms of local loiterers that we rolled.

There was Russ, the ringleader, who was apparently whiling away state disability hours on a bench outside Peet's Coffee & Tea. Seated beside him was Bill, who, like Russ, never seemed to be without sunglasses or a warm smile. There were a few women, including one who would become Zev's music teacher, and an assorted cast of gruff-looking characters that most new moms would probably avoid.

But I'm not most new moms.

Amy warned me that having a baby would bring out the frizzy-haired scary lady in me. When she gave birth to Eli, she said she'd practically stalk other mothers at the park, peppering them with questions that sounded to human ears like, "How old is your baby? Does he sleep through the night?" but in frizzy-haired scary lady language, meant, "Will you please be my friend because I currently have no friends and I'm isolated and strange and am in desperate need of adult contact."

So I was prepared to pounce upon other moms.

What I wasn't prepared for was my debilitating shyness.

It seems I can write about the most intimate details of my life in a column for - what is my readership up to now? - three whole people to see every week. But when I try to make a new friend, I freeze up, get tongue-tied and usually walk away without saying more than "Hi." When I think about it, most of my friends are people whom I met organically, like at school or work. People I spent a lot of forced time with before gradually befriending. Or else they were people who approached me first.

Which brings me to the bikers.

For months I'd been sitting in Peet's, reading, writing, photographing my son and waiting. Waiting for all those moms who gather in their mommy groups to include me in their circles. Venturing out a little - oh, just a little- to introduce myself and my son.

Even going so far as to exchange e-mail addresses and phone numbers - but not actual e-mails or phone calls.

In between my awkward encounters with other moms inside the coffee shop, I found myself talking more to the gregarious Harley guys outside. They were the first crew of "regulars" to learn Zev's name.

They rejoiced with me when he got off his oxygen tank, learned to smile and started to crawl.

In time, I eventually did make some actual mommy friends. But I came to realize that I looked forward to seeing those easy-going riders week after week. They're friendly and fantastic, and infinitely approachable. I eventually stopped trying to ingratiate myself with other moms and spent more time on the bench outside, sharing Zev's latest triumphs (his fourth tooth broke through the gum!), exchanging barbs and watching as the guys bounced a giggling Zev on their thick knees.

After facing fears over quitting my job and dealing with the heartache of selling my house, I really didn't expect to get emotional when I told a group of bikers that I was moving. So when Russ declared it "an end of an era," the tears that caught in my throat took me by surprise.

"Yeah," I stammered. Then I turned and walked away without saying another word. Moving means saying goodbye, but I just couldn't.

Goodbyes bite.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Blog Spot



Register columnist

I had always thought of blogs as something that wait, never mind. I had never thought of blogs at all. Ever.

Hubby was an early blogging adopter. Some of my friends and acquaintances had blogs, too. But I never read them. Never cared. And I couldn't understand why anyone else would, either.

Blogs to me were like video games and fake eyelashes, trends that require certain skill sets I neither possess nor have the motivation to acquire.

But now I am a regular contributor to a blog - bigaction.blogs.com – and it's making me see the whole blogosphere in a different light, which is to say I see it at all.

How someone as criminally vain as myself failed to foresee the joys of blogging earlier is mystifying. Blogs are like little billboards that say, "I'm worth cyberstalking!" Or, more importantly, "I'm worth listening to," which, whenever any of us opens our mouths, is all we're ever really saying anyway.

But I've found there's something else to blogs, too. Something I hadn't expected.

Big Action is a blog Hubby and a few of our friends started a couple of years ago. When I was asked to join as an editor, I agreed more out of loneliness than any burning desire to pontificate. Stay-at-home mommydom means I can't see my friends as much as I'd like anymore. I don't have that rat-a-tat-tat of ideas that a newsroom once afforded me. But I do have a high-speed wireless Internet connection and a fancy laptop. With them I can, at least virtually, share a few thoughts and peer into my friends' heads for theirs.

I usually sweat my postings. What, other than Zev, do I have on my mind? What do I even know about? What if no one finds my posts funny?

What if no one comments? What if what if I woke up one day and found out I care an awfullot about what my friends think of my blog posts?

Ah but what if I found out my friends care this much, too?

When I told the other Big Action editors that I planned to write a column about why I blog, I couldn't believe the response. Every last one of them had the same reason for posting as I do: a longing to stay in touch with each other, to stay anchored in a community of kindred spirits. In other words, they're just as lame as I am. And they have jobs! "It's really the principal way I get to hang out with you and everyone," Lisa said. "Discourse, exchange ideas, share tips, laugh, smackdown in the comments section. Virtually. Gosh, that's sad."

Who knew that photos of the inside of Leslie's refrigerator and mean little comments about each other's music tastes could be the glue that kept a group of friends together?

Eric called it "a never-ending cocktail party conversation," a way to keep in touch with one another when we know darn well that the "we should get together sometime" e-mails we share with other friends generally go unredeemed.

Chris said Big Action "makes me feel like we're not all 1,000 miles away from each other these days, even when we are."

Leslie said something about liking food.

The point is, we miss each other. We're busy. We're frantic. And even those of us who work outside the home are not immune to profound loneliness. We need our friends. And on our little blog - with all its talk of freakish animals, stripper shoes and the plot points of "Lost" - we've got them.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tell Me Upfront, And I Can Live With It



Register columnist

The good news is, I don't want to kill myself.


The bad news is, there may soon be two people living directly under my feet who will want to kill me. And my child. And possibly my dog, though likely not my husband.

After a nerve-fraying, soul-crushing, happiness-sucking search, Hubby and I found an apartment. Which is good, seeing as how other people bought our house and probably wouldn't be too keen on us continuing to live in it.

It's a very, very nice apartment - bigger than our house, even. On a great street near a lot of our friends. Incredibly close to Hubby's work. And directly above a couple who allegedly fight late into the night and hate babies.

So deep is the couple's (alleged) hatred for babies that the current tenants - who have a 2-year-old - took us aside and said, "If we let you rent this place, we would feel terrible about ourselves."

Where can we sign?

Maybe it's crazy to knowingly walk into a simmering brew of (alleged) negativity, but when you're surrendering to the world of renting, you learn to give known evils a grateful nod. Better to know what will give you an ulcer over the next year than have to find out after you've set up cable service.

It's a lesson I've learned over the past few weeks of apartment-hunting, and it could probably apply to every aspect of life: Appreciate every bit of information you get. Even if it makes you cry.

Like, wouldn't it have been better to have found out during your job interview that your boss was a megalomaniac who'd require Eva Braun-like devotion of his employees? Or wouldn't it have been great to learn on your first date that your future spouse would eventually succumb to a midlife crisis involving trombone lessons and animal husbandry? Yes, yes, it would.

This is why I wasn't that upset when one duplex owner stopped returning our calls and started lowering the price of his listing weeks after we'd put in our application. Sure, that's bordering-on-psychotic weird. But at least I know he's weird now rather than after he sneaks into my house with his spare key and replaces my dog with an alligator. See? Knowledge is power.

There are other little "gifts" we've received along the way: One apartment Hubby looked at had a homeless squatter barricaded in a bedroom. Good to know.

Other undesirable amenities have ranged from "loud - no, I mean really loud" plumbing to bedrooms that share balconies with next-door neighbors. These are the kinds of things you don't want taking you by surprise.

And that's why I'm approaching all this with a calm bordering on optimism. I'm prepared. The father who lives in our new apartment now is a pediatric anesthesiologist, a man who has devoted his life to saving frail babies. But when he spoke of his neighbors, he said, "I want to snap their necks with my hands."

He could have done with a lowering of expectations from the get-go.

Instead, his anger and outrage are my cheat sheet. No amount of nasty looks and threats of bodily harm can elicit fear and outrage in me, no sir. Instead, I'll be so pleasantly surprised at every remotely decent gesture from my neighbors that living in this new apartment will be wonderful. Joyous. Life-affirming, even.

Unless there's something else we don't know.

Friday, March 10, 2006

My Kind of Study



Register columnist

I love the government.

I LOVE it.

The government is like my best friend, telling me that all my instincts are right. That I can have cold meatloaf and coffee for breakfast, and that, no, I don't look fat in these jeans. The government is funding the Women's Health Initiative. And therefore, I love it.

You know those joggers at Bolsa Chica State Beach with bodies so chiseled and sweaty they look like lacquered statues? Yeah. I'm not one of them.

But I'll likely live longer. Or so says my new favorite gazillion-dollar federal research project, the (sigh) Women's Health Initiative.

So far, the initiative has proven that there's little point to eating low-fat diets or taking our vitamins. Oh, and some of the medicine our doctors prescribe might kill us, so nix those, too. (Isn't it just dreamy?) I'm waiting, waiting, waiting for the initiative to rule out any medicinal benefits of exercise. It's gonna happen. I just know it. And when it does, when the Women's Health Initiative tells me that my intense dedication to not exercising makes me a healthier person than all those chiseled Bolsa Chica chicas, I'm going to buy the Women's Health Initiative a diamond ring and I'm going to marry it.

Lacking any initiative of my own, I'm usually wary of things that call themselves "initiatives." But this one's different. This one I love.

Like red meat? Eat it. The Women's Health Initiative says low-fat diets don't protect against breast cancer, colorectal cancer or heart disease. Forgot to take your vitamins? Don't worry about it: Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements don't prevent broken bones. And taking hormone-replacement therapy has more risks than benefits. Yay! See, I love this initiative because I love red meat. And cheese. And red wine and chocolate and, because some of my people came from Eastern Europe, pickled herring. But, more than that, I love when smug, humdrum "common sense" is taken out back and popped in the face with birdshot.

With every WHI finding, researchers are dumbstruck, saying things like, "Well, that's unexpected." And I LOVE that. Because whenever I pick up the paper, I see the results of some $15 million study with findings like "Leaving Ice Cube in Mouth Causes Tongue to Chill," and I think, "I could have told you that. And I wouldn't have needed $15 million to figure it out. Pay my Visa bill, and I'll tell you what happens when someone flushes the toilet while you're in the shower."

But when something unexpected happens, I feel like my tax dollars are actually at work. And when the unexpected validates my lazy existence, it's as though the government were wiretapping my phone and reading my e-mails to make my every dream come true - and not because I have a funny Middle Eastern name.

And so I love the government.

I LOVE it.

Now, be a good little government and fund a study that proves owning a pet monkey increases life expectancies by 10 years. And one that shows a person's intelligence is directly proportional to the number of times she hits the snooze button. Oh, and another that finds sending columnists dark chocolate lowers blood pressure.

Or whatever. Surprise me. I love it.