Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The real question is, should I eat the Grandma Salad?

It goes like this: blogging drought … blogging drought … blogging drought … BLOGGING MANNA FROM HEAVEN!!!

Yes, I have been literally wading through the bloggable moments lately, beginning with a Friday night shopping excursion to my soon-to-be-closing-its-doors-forever favorite grocery store, Copps. J and I felt this would be a fitting way to follow a romantic dinner at Red Robin, which brought us this close to becoming dog people. (From time to time, I find I’m not that keen on balloons and small whirling dervishes hopped up on soft drinks, spraying crumbs and chaos from every orifice. I once had the same reaction to some very rowdy, short adults at a Dave & Busters in Chicago.)

Ah, grocery shopping on a Friday night. Could there be anything more delightful? Could there be any other activity that so perfectly says to the world, "Why no, I haven't shaved my legs since Easter of 2005! How'd you guess?!" Our cart was growing full when a manager announced we were under a tornado warning, so we needed to come to the front of the store where we all kind of stood around and looked at one another, daring one another to say, "Screw this, I have a dinner party to prepare for" and then hightail it for the deli department. I couldn't stop laughing in a breathy, panicked kind of way, because I always laugh like that in the face of doom. Or when I go to church.

Unbeknownst to me, my mom was also shopping in a city half an hour away as the tornado hit. She tried opening the doors to JCPenney at the mall, only to find them locked. So she tried Kohl’s. An employee standing outside the store greeted her with, “Ma’am? We’re under a tornado warning, so we’re closed. But you’re welcome to stand in our young men’s department.”

My mom opted to outrun the tornado and go to Target, which was not encouraging anyone to stand in hardware or personal hygiene or electronics.

I laughed for nearly ten minutes after I heard that, and then my neighbor—from the crazy, assaulting-one-another-in-public (but meaning-well family)—came over and invited me to a ‘Pure Romance’ party this Friday. The invitation to this fiesta del marital aids was addressed to “Our neighbor on the corner.” Oh dear Lord. How do I get out of going to this dildo party? J and I wished that such an experience could be on a television show akin to The Office, in which cameras followed me to capture my surreptitious horrified and amused glances. I’d totally go then.

Also, I have a jar of "Grandma Salad" in the fridge. No, I'm not kidding about the name. It's some kind of pickled vegetable product I bought in 2006 so I could do a taste-test blog for you. Think it's still good? Should I eat it just so I can tell you about how awful it was?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

When White People Freak Out

So one thing they don’t tell you when you actually sell your book (huzzah!) is how much you will freak out like, say, a month before it’s published. Because you start to hear things. Like, if it doesn’t fly off the shelves in the first two weeks you’re basically screwed and will never write in this town again, missy. And also? The freaking out? Might be related to the fact that the “Book stuff to do” list now has more words than all three books in The Lord of the Rings. And you are starting to look an awful lot like Gollum. A pale, procrastinating Gollum.

So to distract yourself you watch documentaries about rape in the Congo or Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! And then get pissed because their Chicago show is sold out and you NEVER get to see any weird and brilliant comedians. Your parents do, because they’re cool. But you? You are not cool. You are too busy freaking out and adding to the Book stuff to do list. Or thinking about adding to it, and later berating yourself for not writing down those 'great ideas' you had earlier.

Not that I’m freaking out or anything. Not that I was rooting around the fridge for snacks tonight, found some ancient freezer-burned eggrolls and actually mused out loud, “Yeah, I’ll eat that,” and then considered what a great idea a weekly “Yeah, I’ll eat that!” blog feature might be, in which I eat dubious things I find in my fridge or cupboards, things that may or may not have melted or evaporated or solidified or done all kinds of elemental gymnastics to render them completely devoid of taste and nutrition. I even thought, “Hey! Yeah! I could have pictures of me eating the mystery materials that began their life in a food-state. What a great goddamn idea!!!”

Well no, I don’t really want to inflict such pain on my digestive system because all this worrying is already doing enough of a number on it. (Hello! Your intestines would like to petition for daily meditation and yoga and a vacation and relaxing things you tend to avoid!)

So anyway, yes, things are happening on the book front. Driving Sideways will be a Target Break-Out book this summer (where’s my fainting couch? WHERE’S MY FAINTING COUCH!?) and hey, guess what? It’s an eBook, too! For the bargain basement price of ten dollars. I feel all up with technology now. Even though I probably couldn’t figure out how to read my own ebook. You are, after all, reading someone who still wings it with her digital camera, despite the fact that it’s chock-full of neat-o, keen-o features. Every video clip I shoot ends with me shouting to J, “How do I turn it off?”

Here’s a fun story for you: my editor is also working on the book by the guy behind Stuff White People Like. I got all embarrassed because the latest entry said white people like New Balance running shoes, and guess who just bought a new pair of New Balance running shoes? Yeah, well, in my defense, I only bought them because they emerged slightly ahead of the other shoe contenders when I had to weigh comfort vs. ugliness. And yes, they are ugly. I feel like I’m wearing mesh diaper paddles on my feet. Comfortable, pillow-like mesh diaper paddles.

Also, I like Target, dinner parties, San Francisco, free healthcare, bad memories of high school, standing still at concerts, recycling, public radio, indie music, Arrested Development, The Daily Show, renovations, vegetarianism, breakfast places, Mos Def, difficult breakups, and I have threatened to move to Canada. Yeah, that's right. I'm so white I'm practically translucent.

(PS: I know this might shock you, but not all white people like public radio. Some of them like Rush Limbaugh and listen to him outdoors while building a new porch in the neighborhood. And then others, who do like public radio, blast Garden Talk through their living room windows.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blue Undies and a Lawnmower Battle (a.k.a., bring on the weird Google searches!)

Tonight J and I went for a late-night walk with the dog and BOY did we time that right! Just as we rounded the corner a block away we happened to glance into a well-lit, open first-floor window facing the street. And what confronted our curious glance? A scantily-clad man’s … MAN area!!! In a tight blue marble bag, no less. Right in front of the open window. Facing us. Just the groin area. With all the lights on. Blue skivvies. Pasty white thighs.

A split second before an unseen woman slapped his can from behind.

And he giggled.

I do hope I never see these people in daylight.

Moving on.

Saturday we priced lawnmowers at Sears and found the exact model we were looking for in our price range. (Actually, I campaigned for one of those human-powered push mowers, but J is still haunted by a dull, reluctant push mower from his childhood—so we got the model that belches noise and air pollution and is nearly too heavy for me to handle. That may be a good thing, come to think of it.)

The one we picked was a closeout model chained up in front of the store. We returned to Sears the next day to purchase it. We paid and listened to the sales person give us the pitch about maintenance and proper use and extended warranties and prepared to leave the store. As we exited, we saw a woman polishing the engine on our mower.

“What’s that woman doing touching our lawnmower?” J whispered, a little territorially.

My hackles went up. That was OUR mower. A feeling of smug ownership swelled inside of me. We got the mower FIRST! We WON the shopping competition! Take that, Mower Rubber! You snooze, you lose! And stop rubbing our mower.

She stood in front of it, admiring it, and didn’t move. We arrived and stood next to her.

“Looking for a mower?” she asked. Sort of bitchily, might I add.

“Just bought one,” J replied, staking his turf.

“Which one?” She put her hands on her hips, ready for battle.

“Second from the right.” We crossed our arms and assumed defensive positions. The mower was OURS.

She bared her teeth at us. “Oh no. Not that one. I just bought that one.”

J smirked. “So did we.”

There ensued a highly tense stand-off in which we compared receipts to see who bought the mower first. You would think we were battling over the Gaza Strip, or fighting over the last Tickle Me Elmo at Kmart on Christmas Eve in 1995. (I know, they’re really interchangeable comparisons, aren’t they?)

Who would win? Who would go home with the last closeout model with the large rear wheel and reasonable price and maneuverable size? Who would win the Lawnmower Battle of 2008? Which Sears shoppers would reign supreme?!

I’ll just cut to the chase. In the end, she won. She beat us to the mower by four measly minutes. (What are the odds?) But to the losers actually went the spoils, because we were upgraded to a better mower at a discount. A heavier, shinier, more powerful mower that I will have no chance pushing up any kind of grade at all. It may also have magical powers. Sadly, saving the planet is not one of them. Saving us from knee-high dandelions? Yes. That could be one.

Let me close with a plug for my friend Allison Winn Scotch’s debut novel, The Department of Lost and Found, which was released in paperback today. If you haven’t already read it, you can now pick it up for less than the cost of four gallons of gas in central Wisconsin! (Is that a great sales pitch or what?) But seriously, it’s a bittersweet, heartwarming, funny, moving story…go, buy, take it for a spin around the block, enjoy!!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Of pits and pores

I’m supposed to be writing my Debs piece for tomorrow on my best vacation ever, and that’s why I’m writing to you right now. Because I’m all about the double-posting and procrastination. Also, I don't remember taking a vacation. Ever. And fun? What is this 'fun' you speak of?

Last night I did a public speaking event at the Waupun Public Library (thanks Doreen and Pam!! And my awesome family members! And the awesome people who came despite not knowing me from Gunter Von Geeter!) The gig went fairly well, and I only had one nervous tic: compulsively spinning my wedding ring with my right hand. At one point, a piece of artwork fell off the wall and flipped a light switch off on its way down, which was kind of fun. Also, a chunk of hair kept trying to leap into my mouth as I talked, and I had sweatstains the size of the Larson B ice shelf.

This sweaty pit issue has plagued me since forever, and yes, frustration has driven me to actually stick pantyliners up my sleeves. Unfortunately, this little trick doesn’t work—the pads always lose their adhesive (because rivers of sweat tend to corrode even the strongest of glues) and start marching their way down your side to the tune of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” If your shirt’s untucked, they may even leap out at an inopportune moment.

Ta-dah!! Pit period!

Tonight I purchased Secret Clinical Strength anti-perspirant, which pains me because God only knows what kind of carcinogenic paste I’m smearing on the wafer of skin protecting my lymph nodes. My innate hypochondria drives me to use the natural, hippy versions of various hygiene products whenever possible, but recently I broke down and purchased some industrial-strength faceblasting de-wrinkler made by one of the well-known cosmetics manufacturers. I recognized perhaps one ingredient in the list of chemicals on the package, but it was time to turn to the Miracle of Science because the natural herbal stuff didn’t seem to be making a dent in my face dents, so to speak.

So anyway, yes! I began to spackle my face with the Miracle of Science and turned my attention to more important concerns. Such as the purchase of yard waste bags and a new lawn mower. Then yesterday I noticed that my hippy shower gel billed itself as being “paraben and glycol free.” This was a good thing to the makers of this particular hippy shower gel, and implied that paraben and glycol are BAD NEWS. Unfortunately, the faceblasting de-wrinkler (a three-step product) was almost entirely comprised of parabens and glycols. Plus a dozen other unpronounceable chemicals that are probably also used to de-ice the wings of airplanes. I wouldn’t be surprised if my face now glows in the dark. I can probably microwave my lunch simply by holding it up to my left cheek for ten minutes.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that my faceblaster kit also contains sodium hydroxide. The exact substance that ate holes through my shirt during chem lab when we were horsing around during an experiment.

And the search for decent moisturizer that won't kill me continues ....

Monday, April 14, 2008

Body Worlds--a Real Shocker

So this weekend I hung out with a bunch of naked people in various poses. And then I went with them to see the Body Worlds exhibit at the Milwaukee Public Museum.

Okay, no, my friends really aren’t nudists. Nor are they dead. I should have mentioned that part. The people in the exhibit are dead. They are also mostly skinless and very reminiscent of beef jerky. My friends are quite alive and wear clothing. Most of the time, unless they’re not telling me something.

I know, I shouldn’t talk about the dead like that. But at least I wasn’t the one who dared everyone in the group to go suck the &%k of one particular display. I was very respectful. I was also very creeped out.

These were the reverential thoughts I had / comments I made at various moments as I passed through the crowded exhibit:

“I wonder if my tattoo will look like that after I die?”

“I’ve never seen so much gray pubic hair in my life.”

“All the veins in our heads kind of look like a dish sponge.”

“My, that’s a large penis.”

“Oh, and that one’s much smaller.”

"Who thought it would be funny to put the hat on when his face is splayed open like that?"

“Isn’t our nasal cavity quite aesthetically pleasing? When it’s sliced open like that?”

“Maybe now S. will stop smoking. DUDE! Come look at this black lung! How much do you wanna smoke now? Am I right or am I right? Look, you can put your pack in that plastic receptacle right there—the one that’s clearly marked as such. That’s how powerful this exhibit is supposed to be.”

“That fingernail still has dirt under it.”

"Are they supposed to dangle that far?"

“Oh wow, that guy has red hair ... everywhere.”

Observing the internal organs of deceased people in various poses set us up for one of the most colorful evenings of bathroom humor I’ve had in a very long time. Probably because to poke fun at scary or taboo things (our mortality, all of the things that can go wrong with the human body, bodily functions / body parts we’re taught to feel shameful about, etc.) robs them of their power and make them easier to deal with.

Or maybe because it’s just hilarious when a man wears a t-shirt celebrating “The Shocker” (complete with corresponding hand—er, finger sign) and thinks it refers to some new band.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Yes, as a matter of fact, I DO call this a post

I have to say, Vampire Weekend may just be my new favorite band. And the opening act? A dude named Yacht? Think “Anthony Michael Hall in the gym dance scene from Sixteen Candles” meets “Beck.” I started out a little embarrassed on his behalf, but he won me over with his trancey beats and his strange gymnastics routines and then his Q & A with the audience. (“What’s your favorite color?” “Seafoam GREEN.”) And then we had to all shout who would win in a fight, a pirate or a ninja. I tell you, I haven’t had that much fun since the Great Earwig Battle of 2007.

Yacht will be in at Studio B in Brooklyn next Wednesday, if you happen to live in Brooklyn. And I shall be at the Waupun Public Library next Wednesday, speaking about all things writing and book-related. Stop by and join us if you’re so inclined! There will be a Q & A, but I won’t be dancing like I have 7,495 volts of electricity coursing through me. I won’t be jumping rope with the microphone, either. Unless people really want me to. It depends.

So here are a few things that have been bugging me lately:

My favorite grocery store and my favorite chocolatier are both closing in the next month and a half. The candy shop is run by two cute little old ladies with diabetes, which is sad because they can’t eat the really good stuff they make. (Best. Chocolate-covered. Malted Milk Balls. Ever. Wait. Is that what you call them? Malted milk balls? Really? That doesn’t sound right. That just sounds pervy and weird.) I will also miss my favorite bag boy, Jared 2.0. Who will make fun of my strange purchases and canvas bags now?!?!

Oh wait. Just about everyone.

Here’s something else:

When will I finally call to make appointments for a much needed oil change and hair cut? Not together, the oil change is for my car and the hair cut is for my head, but you know? How hard is it to pick up the phone and make an appointment? Do I just keep forgetting? Will I find myself broken down on the side of the highway next month, my engine billowing smoke, my hair so long and unruly that it is actually impeding my ability to phone for help?

I am upset that Saved by the Bell and 90210 were the shows I had to ‘grow up with.’ Same graduation year and everything.

If the kids on those shows weren’t fictional and hadn’t already graduated ten years earlier. Luke Perry, I’m looking at you!

I am upset that the Homecoming and Prom songs I had to deal with in high school included “Love of a Lifetime” and “Heaven” by Warrant and “High Enough” by Damn Yankees and “When I See You Smile” by Bad English. I also think “I’ll Never Let You Go (Angel Eyes)” was in the mix, too.

No, wait. I am not actually upset by that. I am HORRIFIED.

So what’s been bugging you lately?

On Edit a Day Later: Alright. Yeah, I've had a glass of wine. So I'm going to tell you what's really been bugging me. What's really been bugging me is that a prostitute--a homeless, six-months pregnant prostitute in a blue poncho--approached my sister in the rain the other night, asking for help. My sister had just returned home from her job at the Boys & Girls Club, eager to get back to her beautiful seven months-old baby boy.

"Are you really pregnant?" my sister asked warily.

The woman lifted up her poncho. She was indeed.

"Have you had any prenatal care?"


My sister gave the woman all the money she had. "I'm so sorry, but I need to get upstairs to my own baby," she said.

The woman in the poncho softened. "A boy or a girl?"


"Did it hurt when you had him?"

Scared, pregnant, homeless, penniless, pregnant. And who knows what became of her. "How can we as a society have failed our most vulnerable like that?" my sister asked me just an hour after it happened.

I dreamed of that pregnant woman that night. And it's been bugging me ever since.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Hey Look! Another Meme!

Some people have an awesome sixth sense. Jen Lancaster, for example. She just KNEW I was on the verge of a meltdown concerning book-related issues…and unfortunately for me, my coping strategy is less CALL THE PUBLICIST – AGENT – EDITOR – EVENT PLANNER – WRITER PALS TO ADDRESS CONCERNS IN A PROFESSIONAL, RATIONAL MANNER and much more CRAWL INTO A BOX AND FEDEX MYSELF TO THE YUKON TERRITORY.

Actually, that’s not true. My coping strategies involve watching videos of terriers doing amusing tricks on YouTube. So lucky for me, I have a new coping strategy / distraction today: A meme! So let’s get this show on the road. The rules:

1. Link back to the person who tagged you.

2. Post these rules on your blog.

3. Share six unimportant things about yourself.

4. Tag six random people at the end of your entry.

* * * Six Unimportant Things about Jess * * *

1. I recently and somewhat recklessly downloaded a bunch of music by artists I had never heard of before: Professor Murder, Say Hi to your Mom, Film School, Band of Horses, Sound Team, Tokyo Police Club, Wolf Parade, and Vampire Weekend. An hour later as I listened to my new playlist, I could be heard raving about my new purchase while I jammed on headphones at my computer like a kid from the eighties listening to the new Cinderella album in one of the library carrels during study hall: “You know all this new music I just downloaded? It’s all so GOOOOD!!!! I mean really, it’s just so … it’s so, it’s just really, really good. Seriously.”

This is what happens when you drink and download.

Also, I’m actually seeing Vampire Weekend this Saturday in Milwaukee.

And that is a sentence I never thought I’d ever type in my entire life.

2. Yes, my high school had REAL ALBUMS in the library that we could listen to during study hall on headphones the size of hubcaps. REAL ALBUMS by CLASSY bands like White Lion and Warrant and Billy Squier. We listened to them in parachute pants and Exclamation perfume.

3. My parents raise chickens, goats, and an assortment of inbred farm cats. They have day jobs, so their menagerie is really more of a hobby farm. With very prolific hens who lay up to two dozen eggs a day. After it became clear to my parents that there was no way they could digest that many eggs on a daily basis without solidifying important organs, they decided to post fliers with neighborhood businesses: “Eggs for sale! Get your farm fresh eggs!” Around Easter an adorable elderly couple saw my parents’ poster at the nearby gas station and called. “Yes, we would like to buy some of your eggs!”

Dad quickly rummaged around the fridge and found a carton packed with ten eggs. He packed two more to make a complete dozen and made the delivery before the couple resumed their drive home.

Unfortunately, he gave them ten HARD-BOILED eggs. And two raw ones.

4. Johnny Depp and Christian Bale are shooting some scenes for a film about John Dillinger in my city. Swoon! Last night I was downtown for happy hour (which actually turned into several happy, fuzzy, and mildly incoherent hours) and got to check out the old time-ification of Main Street firsthand. Which brings me to number five:

5. When I was about eleven years old, I was somewhat obsessed with The Great Depression. We had a thick, glossy Time Life book dedicated to the entire decade of the thirties, and whenever I was home sick from school, I’d savor every word in that book and study every black and white photo like there’d be a quiz at the end of the day. I was particularly fond of the section that listed the depression-era prices for things: a seven-room Spanish stucco home in Beverly Hills cost $5,000 … an automobile tire was $6.20 … a 3-piece bedroom set was $49.95 … a men’s wool suit was $10.50 … a haircut was 30 cents … one pound of onions was three cents. Three beautiful cents! Could there BE anything more gorgeous or fascinating to an eleven year-old girl than the idea that somewhere in history, a full POUND of onions cost just THREE CENTS???

Oh, how I would have been transported with joy if Mattel came out with a depression-themed Barbie during this time—Okie Barbie perhaps, complete with dust storm mask, broken-down Model T, and Young Communist League card. As I got older, my tendency to fixate on historical periods segued into an obsession with books & movies about The Holocaust, the Vietnam War, Soviet-era gulags, and finally, communist China.

I was a really cheerful and popular kid.

6. This Friday I’m blogging at The Debs about my first love. Er, loves. I promise to make it honest and awkward and embarrassing.

And now, I shall spread the joy by tagging December (she's new to the whole blog thing--go over and say hi!), Anonymous Coworker, Kevin Charnas, Green Mountain Country Mama, Monnik, and Jeff at View from the Cloud.