Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sis, Not Sissy

Growing up, Sis used to say she was scared of everything. We'd be in the house, with our parents home and all the lights on, and she'd call me on the phone in my room (she was too frightened to travel down the hall) and say, "I'm scared."

"Of what?" I'd ask.

She'd have to think about it for a minute.


I always took her fearfulness seriously and tried to reason with her, tell her that burglars didn't want her Cabbage Patch Kids. Or that she wouldn't melt if exposed to rainwater, or that, no matter how big it is, a cat can't eat our dog.

She'd usually ignore me, hug herself and repeat, "I'm scared."

So I wasn't surprised, when we gave Sis a little send-off last week, that she expressed some fear about driving her new car to a new state to start a new job.

"What if they're mean?" she said. "What if it doesn't work out and I just wasted all this time? I'm scared."

This time I ignored her.

While it's perfectly normal for a person to express anxiety over big life changes, I don't buy Sis's shakes for one second. It's taken me a while to catch on, but I've finally realized: Sis – for all her apprehensive blubbering – is fearless.

She's not afraid to drive 130 mph without insurance in a car that may or may not have brakes – in fact, she's been pulled over twice for doing just that. And each time, she wasn't afraid to try to sweet-talk her way out of a ticket (once, it even worked).

She has no fear about sleeping with razors in her bed, eating at a C-rated Taco Bell or sharing an apartment with a mouse (which she eventually killed by accidentally sitting on it).

Plus, for all her alleged trepidation, Sis is no wallflower. She once asked the hostess of a fancy-schmancy L.A. restaurant, "Who here is famous?" I was mortified, but the hostess responded to Sis's chutzpah, and I'm happy to report that Aimee Mann and Michael Penn are truly lovely people.

Sis has no qualms about asking people to do the most ridiculous things for her: When she decided that her personal trainer, a buff gent with six-pack abs, wasn't adequately inspiring, she got him to take off his shirt while she did crunches.

"So he stands over you with his shirt off in the gym?" I asked, incredulous.

"Yeah, and when I'm working different parts of my abs, I tell him, 'OK, turn to the side.' "

Those guys from "300" got nothing on Sis. If she had been in the Greek army, the Persians would have wound up doing her laundry. So she can tell me all she wants that she's terrified. I'm not listening.

As I write this, Sis is on the road, her first road trip ever out of California (not counting a couple of weekend jaunts to Las Vegas – which I just consider really long drives to Disneyland). She's driving at night. Alone. It's probably a bit colder than she's used to, but I'm not worried about her.

She's heading to a new life in the Pacific Northwest, blazing a trail through a wild, wide-open future, all her possessions crammed into a car, eight hours of music that she ripped off of my iTunes blaring on her stereo.

I'm confident that, despite her worries, Sis will be ordering around some flannel-wearing gym rat, speeding through Oregon streets and barging her way into the hottest clubs in no time.

People of Oregon, Sis is coming your way.

You should be scared.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Got Any More Of That Cheese?

Lorene warned me that after I had a kid, two words would completely
lose meaning. The first was "fluid." The second, "disgusting."

thought about that when I watched one of Zev's play friends try to
shove a half-chewed piece of string cheese into her mother's mouth. The
mom refused it, and I did a double-take. 

"Wow. You can do that?" I asked. I would have just swallowed it.

believe me, I eat plenty of half-chewed food," she said, piling more
cheese onto her daughter's plate at our Mommy and Me class. "You know
what's really good half-chewed? Brisket. It pretty much maintains its

"OK, enough!" another mom said.

"But we all do it," a third chimed in. 

know," the voice-of-reason mom said. "But it's one thing do it. It's
another thing to know that everyone else does. It's like a universal

Embarrassment? That doesn't begin to cover it.
I compare becoming a parent to joining an underground S&M cult. My
son has pooped in my hand, sneezed in my mouth and wet on me.
Repeatedly. There are people in this world who would pay money for that
kind of abuse. I am not one of those people.   

But, I am not
disgusted by it, either. Lorene was right. I used to change my
pillowcase every day. I would wash my bras in hot (the integrity of the
elastic be damned!). I kept Clorox wipes in my car. But my threshold
for gross was tossed out with my first dirty diaper.

I have begun to wonder: Will I ever be normal again?   

"I also eat food off the floor," Brisket Mom said.

I guess not. 

thing about joining an underground S&M cult is that you'll always
have the cigarette burns on your body. I'm assuming the same is true
with parenting – that I'll never retrieve the level of shame and
propriety that separates parents from our nonparent brethren.

eating chewed food off the floor might not be enough to divide the
species (I doubt many of the "Fear Factor" contestants are parents),
nothing separates these two classes of primates quite like poop.

of mine were kicked out of a restaurant and told never to return after
they changed their kids' diapers at their table. While I don't think
the restaurant over-reacted, I can completely understand how the couple
could momentarily lose all sense of decorum – and hygiene. They've just
lost touch with what it means to be disgusting.

I’m not that bad. Yet. But it does look as though I’m in the poop too deep to ever turn back. When Zev used his “baby potty” for the first time the other day, I wanted to take out a full-page ad in the paper. Instead, I waited until the wee hours of the morning to log on to IM and regale the only person online with Zev’s tale of toilet triumph.

“Kevin!” I said. “Zev pooped in the potty today!”

I started to type out the whole story, about Zev’s cute reddening face. His little grunts. The proud way he hopped off the potty and crouched down dangerously close to examine his masterpiece.

But Kevin shot back a conversation-crushing non-parent reply, “And moving right along.”

"Seriously?" I wrote back. He didn't find this fantastic news?

"Seriously." He replied.

I was a little miffed, but I understood. He probably still thinks fluids come in bottles, full of corn syrup and carbonation.

me, those days are so far in the rearview mirror, I have to squint to see
them. And I realize that there are no U-turns on this road. Thirty
years from now, if I'm in a restaurant and see a woman slurp down a
half-chewed piece of cheddar while changing a dirty diaper, I'll
wind past the revolted crowd,  walk over to her table and ask,
"Got any more of that cheese?"

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Britney Spears Is Eating My Brain

Britney Spears is eating my brain.

It's not just her, of
course: Shar Jackson is munching away, too, feasting on a good chunk of
my hippocampus and trying to tear the brainstem from the wet maw of
Antonella Barba.   

I used to know stuff. Important stuff. You
know – the death toll in Iraq. Who is running for the Republican
nomination against Rudy Giuliani. I used to be a newspaperwoman, and I
knew newspaperwoman stuff. I even managed to keep abreast of world
events when I had a newborn – a feat, I was told, that would be

But after leaving my newspaper job for the
freelance market, I've gone where the money is – to fashion reporting
and celebrity gossip. And now … now I can tell you who dressed Forest
wife for the Oscars or how old Jennifer Aniston is without
looking it up (38), but I have no idea whatever happened to our
supposed treaty with North Korea. 

I can name Daniel Baldwin's
favorite rehab center (Renaissance) and tell you who gave Cameron Diaz
a nose job (Raj Kanodia, duh). I know Bridget Moynahan is pregnant and
that her baby daddy is dating Gisele. But, um, have we gone to war
with Iran yet?

My work schedule revolves around Zev's sleep
schedule, so my news catch-up time is limited. And since I've never
even heard of half the celebs I'm supposed to be writing about, I find
myself "studying," scouring Internet gossip sites – rather than my pile
of yellowing newspapers – whenever I have a free moment. 

As an old-school beat reporter, I have to admit that I feel a little proud that now,
when an editor asks me for a quick story about Kim Kardashian, I no
longer say, "Who?" But my increasing knowledge of the not-worth-knowing
comes at a price.

I used to make a ritual of reading the Sunday
New York Times to Zev. He'd sit on my lap and I'd read as much of the
paper aloud as my squirmy worm would allow. I always started with Frank
column, which I dubbed the "Karl Rove Story Hour." 

for the past two weeks, I have barely gotten a chance to skim the
headlines, let alone update Zev about the latest Scooter Libby subplot.
He doesn't seem to miss it much, having moved on to "One Fish, Two
Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish." But I miss it. I miss it terribly.

I miss my mind. 

become the living embodiment of every stereotype people have of my
generation: that we're so obsessed with celebrities we literally lose
ourselves in their lives. The fact that I'm getting paid for this
obsession only makes it that much sadder.

The other day, I
lamented my newfound ignorance to Kevin over IM. "I don't know what's
going on in the real world," I complained. 

"Um, they just tried to kill Cheney today," he replied.

My blood froze. Was he kidding? I clicked away from for a second to find that, no, he wasn't kidding. 

"Yeah," I wrote back. "See, I didn't know that. But Posh Spice dyed her hair blond. That, I knew."

not that celebrity reporting doesn't offer its own cerebral challenges.
To avoid lawsuits and other headaches, editors have asked me to do some
intense verbal gymnastics – getting me to, say, describe dirty photos
of an "American Idol" contestant in detail, without once saying what
the contestant is doing in those photos (I said her "head shot showed a
mouthy mug" and left it at that). 

It ain't an analysis of the
9/11 Commission Report, but it's something. And I was pleased, as I
quickly caught up with the news from Afghanistan, to learn that no one
bothered to wake up President Bush to tell him about the attack on
Cheney. I may be in a Beyoncé blackout, but at least I'm as well
informed as the president.

Still, Britney is chomp, chomp,
chomping away, and I need to watch out before I'm completely
lobotomized. A celebrity-trash compatriot of mine called me up recently
and asked, "Should I be alarmed that one of my co-workers doesn't know
who won the Civil War?" 

"Um, yes," I said. I wanted to cry. I
wanted to shake whomever it was by the collar and say, "Read a damn
book! And, no, InStyle magazine doesn't count!" I wanted to request a
moment of silence for our country's bleak, bleak future – but I was
interrupted by an e-mail from an editor requesting another story.

"Sorry. Gotta run," I told my friend. "Britney checked back into rehab." 

And she took my frontal lobe with her.

Ain't No Thing

Everyone tells me I need to do My Thing.

You know what Your
Thing is, right? You cook, or you write poems or you shave your head,
check in and out of rehab and get tattoos on your wrists. Whatever. No
matter what Your Thing is, it's yours.I don't have a thing. And, apparently, it's a cause of great consternation around here. 

My Thing, Hubby has informed me, will make me a happier, healthier
person. It will give me an outlet for growth, ambition and hope beyond
career and family life. Doing One's Thing is essential. If I don't do
My Thing, he tells me, I will be unfulfilled and angry. My soul will
wither on the vine. I'll come back in the next life as belly-button
lint. Or a barnacle. Or a newspaper columnist.

Fine. But how can I do My Thing if I don't have a Thing to do? 

friends have tried to come to the rescue. Leslie attempted to
reintroduce me to exercise. Hubby has been nudging me into movie
theaters and concerts. Keren has been trying to get me interested in
poker. So far, I'm not feeling at one with My Thingness.

thought that being a mommy could be My Thing, but it's not. Women who
are Mommies with a capital M are involved in various Mommy groups and
have Mommy blogs and write Mommy books and host Mommy networking
events. I just have a kid, and apparently, just having a kid isn't
enough to make being a mommy My Thing. 

I was perfectly willing to accept a Thingless life, but then Kevin started taking an improv comedy class, and I had an epiphany.

"Oh, yeah!" I said to him. "Improv used to be My Thing." 

years ago, I took a bunch of improv comedy classes. Every Tuesday
night, I'd come home as energized as a second-grader on a sugar high. I
laughed more, took more risks, felt more alive.

And, as happens
when you discover Your Thing, I became ravenous for more. I started
going to improv comedy shows. I watched improv programs. I even tried
to rally my pals together for an improv comedy party – but it wasn't
Their Thing. 

I did my improv thing for nearly a year before a
change of job/address/marital status all converged at once and made
doing My Thing nearly impossible. I took up gardening as My Thing for a
few years. MySpace had a short run as a Thing early last year. But I
never really lost my interest in improv.

So when Kevin told me
that he started taking the workshops, it awakened something in me. I
suddenly remembered what all the fuss over Doing Your Thing is about. I
loved being able to actually feelcreative juices flowing
through my veins. I loved sensing the blood rush to my cheeks when I
made a room full of funny people laugh. I loved improv. It was My

So what the heck was Kevin doing messing around with My Thing?

got more than a little jealous, but when I heard him talking about it
with the same kind of enthusiasm, I realized that there is probably
room enough in this Thing for both of us. I told Kevin that for the
next round of classes, I'd audition with him to see if we could take
the classes together.   

It sounded ideal. My buddy and I doing Our Thing.

now auditions are coming up, and I'm in a panic. It's been 10 years
since I did any improv at all. What if I'm terrible? Or what if I'm
fine, but I still don't pass the audition? And what if … oh, I hate
thinking about this: What if Kevin gets in, but I don't?   

seen me fail at plenty of things, and I'd be just as supportive as you
have been for me," he promised. "Laced with the same merciless mocking."

'There, there,' I'll say. " 'Don't feel bad just because the premiere
comedy troupe in Los Angeles decided you were too humorless to even pay
to take one of their classes.' " 

I can already picture the
glint in Kevin's eyes when he says this. I can hear the ceaseless
razzing. I don't know if I'm up for this. I love improv, but facing an
endless barrage of ridicule? Well, that's just not My Thing.