Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Letters from Mom: Part 1

 My plan is to make this an episodic series. 
The following is an actual letter from my mother circa 2002:

  Dear Kate,

     I’m so glad you are such a fine speller. My spelling has deteriorated.


Monday, July 26, 2010

It's a bad sign when you are puking before the bachelorette...

          Two weekends ago we celebrated my dear friend Emma’s bridal shower. From a feminist standpoint I think that showers are slightly lame. Why should we need to separate ourselves into genders in this unnatural way to ooo and ahh over a bunch of kitchen items as though modern women still have to learn to cook for their husbands? That was certainly not the case in my household growing up. Everyone knew how to pour their own bowl of cereal-dinner. But Emma put it well herself. She said: “I’m just looking forward to a day when all of the important women in my life meet and are altogether.” This I understand. Who would not want the support of all of one’s women role models to meet and encourage you in this next big step in life? And for us from my still-tight circle of friends from growing up in Connecticut, Emma is our first friend to move to this big step so we, of course were very excited to celebrate as well. And of course, there’s that little detail of her choice of groom. Not only is he a nice guy, but a graduate of Yale medical school. He is also an accomplished guitarist with an MBA he decided to get for fun. Way to go for such an underachiever, Em. But we would expect nothing less for our Columbia educated friend from childhood, even if he is a Yankees fan.

          I have neglected to include a crucial detail in this exposition about the bridal shower. My mother was throwing it. It was her idea, in fact, almost a year ago. She has known Emma since she was six years old after all. Well, I hardly need tell you that she went into this process with all the casualness of a seasoned professional in the catering business, (which she actually was for over 20 years) and the grace of a modern-day Emily Post. But of course the week of the shower, she was calling me every few hours to obsess about the minutia of the menu, the décor and the possible games we might play (I managed to talk her out of that one). But she wanted to make it special for Emma. Emma’s place setting was displayed for all to see and of course there was a mannequin festooned in a white dress in the foyer to greet us. There was a crepe paper “Trail of Emma” featuring pictures of her from babyhood and beyond. And there was a mimosa bar and enough delicious food to feed the cast of Nabucco, (obscure opera joke, haha). Overall it was a great success. There was an outpouring of love and support from both the bride and groom’s sides, with poems being read and enough humorous diversions to make the gift-opening interesting. And this couple actually needed their gifts because they had just become homeowners the day before. Apparently, there was one discrepancy in the registry. According to her fiancé, Emma has registered for about 17 different kinds of bowls. To this I say, why not? Bowls are perfect for cereal-dinner.

          Fast forward a week to this past weekend, which, from my perspective, was slightly more eventful. While en route to the bachelorette in Manhattan, I stayed Friday night at my parents’ house again where we had celebratory cannolis for my mother’s birthday. At 3am I became violently ill. I am, of course, perfectly capable of vomiting on my own without any assistance, and would never wake up my roommate in the middle of the night to notify her of the occurrence. Apparently the vicinity of my parents’ bedroom made it impossible for me to act like an adult. I immediately banged on their door to tell them that I was retching all over their new bathroom. My dad was not too keen on the update. “Why did you wake us up?” he said. “Because I’m throwing up!” I cried, as if it were the most plainly obvious thing in the world. My mother asked no questions and wasted no time in arranging a bucket near my bed. She then said “Gee Kate, you’ve got to get better. You have to go to New York tomorrow.” Thanks. That thought had not occurred to me. I did not need the bed bucket, but it was nice to know it was there.
          Mom and I both had tricky stomachs the next morning and we attribute it to our questionable cannolis. But a few acidophilus tablets later, I was on the train to New York and having a wonderful time.

          I can’t help but be reminded of the only other time I have had food poisoning, which was in October of this year and also involved Emma’s wedding preparations. Emma was visiting me up in Boston and while arranging plans to go out on the town for the evening I came down with a debilitating stomachache. But I was trying to rally. I was no slouch of a hostess and we were going to go out and have fun! After several rounds of anise seeds, ginger ale and pepto, it was clear that I was not going out. When my boyfriend (also our ride for the evening) showed up, I was failing to stand at anything more than a 45 degree angle and was told to get back in bed. So there I was in the fetal position on my bed when Emma said, “I was going to buy you a drink and ask you officially to be my bridesmaid”. “This is better,” I replied, laughing. Emma said that every time she rolled over on my couch that night, she could hear me throwing up. It was one of the more amazing marathons of stomach illness she and I have ever been privy to. Although the bout of this last weekend was nothing compared to that of the fall’s, with the wedding approaching in September, I should probably start popping the acidophilus now.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Orange you glad I'm explaining this?

          I have a life-long pathological fear of orange. This does not include the color orange. This has to do with the smell and flavor of the actual fruit. I do not feel the same aversion to lemons and grapefruit. This aversion does include oranges, orange juice, tangerines, mandarins, clementines, orange soda, orangina, orange tang, orange scented candles, orange scented sunscreen (that was an unfortunate error), and fake orange flavor or any kind, including orange flavored candy. This does not mean orange colored candy. I am not prejudiced to the color and would not pass up an orange M&M, (I think I am a basically rational person). It is just the smell that makes me physically ill. For example, if someone opens an orange on the bus I am riding I will do my best to relocate while trying not to look like the village crazy.

          I know how to write about this because I know what the typical questions will be. “Are you afraid of all citrus?” No. “What about the color?” No. “What about tangerines?” Yes, tangerines. Yes orange skittles! Yes orange furniture polish!! Yes orange scented anything!!! I have spent more time in movie theaters trying to separate the orange sour patch kids from my bag in the dark than I have watching the actual movies. In elementary school I was infamous for this fear. Kids would chase me around the cafeteria with open oranges. My friends are hip to my orange challenges. In very recent history a friend of mine knocked over a beer glass trying to reach and remove an orange from the glass I had just been served, while screaming "Noooooo!!!" all the way. My mother remembers that I have always disliked oranges and orange juice, but she is not blessed with the long-term memory of an elephant. It is more likely that I had some kind of traumatic experience with oranges. I recently, and for the first time, heard of someone with the same fear of oranges and it had to do with his being ill after some spoiled orange juice. I would guess that it was a similar trigger in my case, but I remember no such event. According to my brother’s memory, one day when I was two years old, I put down my glass of orange juice and said; “Orange juice is for big girls and I’m a little girl,” and never touched the stuff again. Perhaps it has to do with a deep psychological fear of growing up. But, to be honest I doubt it. It probably made me queasy one day before that for whatever reason and that was it. And as Darwin would say, my aversion is in some way necessary for my continued survival. Perhaps I just saw The Godfather at a very young age. Every time you see an orange in those movies someone gets shot or has a heart attack.

          If I had to explain it further, I will say that I reasonably understand that lemons and oranges have a similar bouquet and I understand that it’s strange that I love the flavor of lemon. What’s better than a lemon meringue pie or a cold, fresh squeezed lemonade in the summer? I am told by many how refreshing the scent of an orange is to them. The difference between lemmons and oranges to me is equivalent to the flavor of something good and fresh versus something rotten. As an example, at my old workplace, we had a genius in the kitchen. Julie’s lunch was the highlight of my day back when I worked in the suburbs and there were certain salads and entrées I always looked forward to. One day she was on vacation and the substitute chef decided to jazz up a cranberry dressing with a dash of orange flavor. My first ignorant reaction to the change in flavor was to yell that the chicken on the salad had gone bad. To me, it tasted rotten. No one else complained and upon further examination I realized that it was just the addition of some orange pulp. I could not continue to eat it.

          I have had a few small triumphs over my fear. My new job requires me to prepare juice and coffee for meetings and I have managed to pour out leftover orange juice into the sink without complaint. But my greatest triumph yet is that I was told of an orange clogging the garbage disposal and was still able to flick the disposal switch and churn the smell all over the kitchen so as to investigate. So I gagged a little in the process? I still see it as a triumph, however small. But I have to say that the day my job requires me to eat, lick, or for too prolonged a time, smell an orange, that will be my last day at the job.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Sleeping, a Twisted Love Triangle

          It is probably normal for most people to feel sleepy throughout the day and actually fall asleep. For my own part, however, to my recollection, (illness notwithstanding), I have never casually fallen asleep. To my recollection, I have never once even fallen asleep sitting up. I have never had the experience of feeling so sleepy while driving that I thought I might konk out and cause an accident. I have never slept for more than 15 minutes on a plane. I will nod in agreement each time my father gives me the “try to sleep on the red-eye” speech and I will agree wholeheartedly that that is the best way to prevent jet-lag. I will even try in earnest to catch a few hours rest but I usually fall asleep about 5 minutes before the flight attendants turn on the lights to serve breakfast.

          I need every condition to be right and then maybe, just maybe, I will fall asleep within a half hour. I am generally a fairly anal expulsive person, but my bed is a whole other thing. My bedtime persona I like to affectionately call, “Crazy-Sleeper-Lady”. I like two medium-sized pillows under my head, one pillow under each elbow to keep from wrenching them in my sleep and one between my knees. I like my covers to be folded over at the top and the topsheet folded on top of that. When I am an overnight guest and am asked if the couch or the floor is fine, the answer is yes. They are fine because I will most likely sleep as badly on your couch or floor as I will in your guestbed. You could put me in a bureau drawer for all I care. “Which came first?”you say- the inability to fall asleep or the high maintenance stipulations surrounding it? It is hard to say but I am inclined to think it is based on my body’s natural tendency toward wakefulness in the evening.

          My uncle told me that my sleeping habits would start to change now that I was out of college. My Dad had to step in and say that this was unlikely, considering that my sleeping habits have been consistently that of a college students’ since birth. I have always been inclined to stay up and sleep in. My mother says that she did not sleep for two years after I was born, so difficult was the struggle to lull me to sleep. And my babysitters reported that they would hear me singing and talking to myself for at least a half hour after putting me to bed (actually, I was performing my own show- it was called, creatively: “The Katie Show”, but I digress…)

          The other day I read a lovely little essay on the sheer beauty and delight of the nap. It is entitled “Napping, a Love Story” by Cathleen Schine. In contrast to the many medical research snippets on the subject of napping the author has found, this meditation contains blissful descriptions of filtered window light accompanying a peaceful mid-day respose. To Schine, there is something wonderful about when you are “overcome with fatigue and stumble back to bed where the sheets and the pillowcase have become especially cool and inviting." I thought this article interesting and beautifully written. But let me be clear, as far as naps go, I could not feel more differently. On the rare occasion when I have been in perfectly sound health and have submitted to the calls of a mid-day nap, I have awoken nothing short of a homicidal maniac. When I come to, I have a headache, a disconnected head-body feeling, and a sour taste in the back of my throat which no amount of gagging myself with a toothbrush can eradicate. I will slump into the nearest room and irrationally blame my current feelings on the person and/or people in it who “let me sleep”. (Surely, I could not have done this to myself). In studies, there is some evidence that naps are most effective in 20-40 minute stints and no more than that. For this reason, my boyfriend and all of my roommates, past and present know that if they stumble upon me napping they are to attempt to wake me to save me from angry-lunatic-yelling-obscenities state. If I ask someone to please wake me up in no longer than 40 minutes, it usually works out well because when they knock on my door 40 minutes later, I have probably just fallen asleep five minutes earlier.

          All of this comes to mind because this past week was exceptional from a sleeping standpoint. Last Thursday, I fell immediately into an almost fitful stupor of fatigue and heavy breathing the moment my head hit the pillow at night. So strange was the occurrence and poignant the sensory memory that I said to my friends “No, you don’t understand, I went to bed and then a second later, I fell asleep!” as though they too must surely recognize this in themselves as an absurd occurrence. Most remained unmoved. Then over the weekend while visiting college friends I actually fell asleep twice on the couch while being spoken to! The last thing I remember hearing were my friends, who lived with me for 3 years, exclaiming: “Is she actually sleeping?!” And I woke up at 8:00 one morning of my own volition! (I have always been inclined to think that the morning was made for sleeping and will gladly retort this to those who try to convince me otherwise anytime before 10am). I assumed I must be coming down with something because the last time I remember spontaneous sleep like this occurring was during a three hour German class. The class itself was not enough to put me out, but rather; it was the combination of it with strep throat. So, when several days ago, no symptoms of an infection were showing up, I actually started to worry. Could it be that my natural clock is changing as my uncle suggested it would or do I have some sort of terminal illness? I had visions of trying to explain to my doctor that I had been sleeping easily lately so obviously there must be something wrong. As it turns out, several nights later than usual, a sore throat set in and it was clear that it had just been a longer than normal incubation period. Although I would have to rest my voice for a few inconvenient days, I was strangely comforted. After the virus’s duration I would return to my normal sleep dysfunction and all would be well.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ode to my klutziness

          This morning, my supervisor told me the portable phone didn’t sound right and asked me if I had dropped it. My first thought was, “Today?”

          Of course I have dropped the damned thing… several times. It’s not like I am trying to damage company property and I am aware of the fragility of things like phones, but to know me is to know that I am basically responsible but uncoordinated. I don’t lose my keys or my debit card and I pay my credit card bills off every month, but I drop things. I trip over things and walk into things. It is not my desire to bump my elbows or to drop my toothbrush in the toilet but I do it all the time. I have a peculiar talent for toe-stubbing. I have mangled my toes and toenails in ways that I choose not to describe here. What amazes me about my klutziness is everyone’s ability to think that I have some sort of ability to turn it off.

          When my parents came to visit me during my semester abroad, we went to Prague for the weekend and stayed in a pretty swanky hotel with very modern décor with lots of glass. (You can see where this one is going.) One morning while on my way to meet my parents for continental breakfast, I walked head on into a glass wall. Then I had to do that awkward thing where I pretend that the entire breakfast room had not just seen me impale myself against a transparent surface. My dad had his back turned and when my mom explained what had happened he asked me: “What did you do that for? You could have hurt yourself.” Gee Dad, I don’t know. I thought it’d be fun!

It was awkward

          While missing the penchant-for-cleanliness gene, I have inherited the hospitality gene. I don’t own my own food business like many members of my family but I do love to host parties and I like to do it right. Memorable themes include “Swank and Crank”, “Fung-Wah Fabulous” and “Tree Huggers and Bone Thuggers”. And I host said parties with the knowledge that in the name of fun there are sometimes casualties. In my apartment I have had chairs broken, vomit spewed and other general debauchery. After a couple of shots at “Pie Fest”, my friend Sam smeared leftover pie all over his bare chest and then went looking in my closet for a “costume change”. He managed to find a dry-clean-only wrap that was the perfect accoutrement for his chocolate and cream covered body.

          None of these stories tops the now infamous incident surrounding my birthday this last November though. My friend Manu called ahead to ask if he could bring a few extra people up to the party from our favorite watering hole. I always say yes to requests of this kind, especially because Manu’s scientist friends get along with my singer friends. This is to say that the science crowd offers a high population of men, something opera singers find both foreign and delightful. On this particular evening there seemed to be a few stragglers who were not exactly the cream of the crop.

          Not being able to remember his name, I shall call him Boris, (Manu now refers to him as the drunk Russian). I do not doubt that Boris, like many of Manu's colleagues is a brilliant scientist who came here as an asset to our country's research. But Boris had a particular look about him that immediately gave one the sense of the amount of beer he had had that evening. He also had a particular smell which penetrated the room like a pile of wet onions in the sun. But all in a day’s party- everyone is welcome!

          It was clear that Boris’s condition kept him from checking his manners and I immediately began hearing reports from friends that there was a lot of uncomfortable leering going on. My friend Ellen told me that he’d been staring at her clavicle all evening. Boris approached my childhood friend Rita and introduced himself by asking what she did for a living. She replied that she was a research assistant in the department of psychiatry at Yale. With his prompting, she elaborated on the fact that she was currently working on an alcohol abuse study. Boris then asked if he could have her card because he thought he “may have a problem”. Let me be clear and say that Rita was not interested in receiving his attention in the first place but was being nice. It was clear though what Boris’s intention had been from the start and Rita and I were confused at the thought that while hitting on someone, it was a good idea to mention that you are a drunk.
          Well, Rita had to further explain that she was not actually a therapist and that she did not live in Boston. She lived in New Haven and worked mostly with PTSD patients. Boris would have none of this. He insisted on having her card because he was sure she could help him. Rita obliged and left to fetch her card, if only to escape the conversation.

          Moments later my boyfriend and Ellen would not let me enter my kitchen. There was a light in both of their eyes that said they knew something that I didn’t. “What’s going on?” I said. Brendan replied “nothing” a bit too readily. “My boob popped out and Brendan saw!” Ellen yelled. “It was awkward,” he jumped in dryly. Of course, I still did not believe them, but whatever had happened was not going to ruin my fun.

          Come to find out, Brendan and Ellen had walked into the kitchen at the same time only to find Boris passed out in my director’s chair after having wet himself. They were surprised that it was not just a trickle down his pants but a veritable ocean of urine surrounding him and the chair. Brendan and Ellen did not spring immediately into action to distract and cover up the evidence. Their first priority was to step out on the balcony so they could safely laugh until they cried. It took two friends to carry Boris out of the apartment, and two cabs to refuse to take him in their cars because he was marinating in his own piss. I think he was carried to the bottom of the hill where transportation was finally obtained. Apparently this is part of “his thing”. He has a tendency to lose bladder control in social settings. Yet another thing to endear you to members of the opposite sex Boris.

          Well, for the party I was none the wiser thanks to the efforts of my friends and I laughed as hard as anyone the next morning when Manu called yelling “I’m sooo sorry! He’s not really my friend! I should never have brought him!” I have laundered the director’s chair canvas since the incident but it does not stop most people from pausing before taking a seat and saying “Ok, right, you’ve washed it.”