The Gym: Part II

Hey Britt

I’m emailing you because I was expecting to see you at 10am this morning. Everything ok?

Sure, David. Everything’s A-Ok. It’s been one full week since our little face-to-face fitness assessment wherein I repeated, in person and right away, how much I loathe exercise. You handled it well when I made fun of your blood pressure equipment and other pseudo-medical toys that are supposed to lend some weight your clipboard-requiring fact-finding. And I held my tongue when you told me you were an entrepreneur-ing sort of something, or maybe you already wrote a book, or you’re planning to scale mountains, or whatever crap you youngsters do that sound exhaustingly noble or potentially lucrative and certainly like something I immediately want to poke fun at. We’d probably work well together, you and I. You, you’re wonderful. But, me? I’m sort of a terrible person. Also, lazy.

Oh, sweet dimpled barely-voting-age David, you didn’t flinch at all when I told you I wouldn’t do exercises that test the limits of my bionic parts (using helpful hand gestures to indicate the location of my fake bits). And you didn’t balk at my coffee intake or potato chip addiction, or repetition that I planned to– like never– do any sort of personal training. It was all fine and good to fill out forms and tell you what I eat (chips) and that I swim (but not far) or take barre classes (but not often) and wear a step counting bracelet (that would log more activity strapped to my patio furniture). It was adorable that you believed I only have four drinks a week. And then I showed you how flexy/balancy I am with years and years of gymnastics muscle memory on board, but that I cannot run even close to a mile without lots of gasping complaints and begging to stop.

Would I like to be stronger? Meh, I have a husband to lift the heavies. Increase my endurance? No small animals or children to chase.

Lose weight?

Duh. Everyone does. Everyone on the planet wants to lose weight. But this isn’t why I’m here. The Gym will have zero effect on the scale; losing weight is all on me and what I stuff into or deny my greedy maw. Plus, I don’t really need to lose weight. Well, I’ve almost never thought so… until I met you.

Though I wouldn’t let you assess my vital signs– as you aren’t a medical professional and I don’t like being touched by strangers and maybe, like, 47 other reasons– I relented to standing on the wretched, lying scale and having the bee boopy doo dads calculate the sum total of my fatness. What better way to launch a gym membership than to have Equinox’s Watson tell me I’m sixteen pounds overweight! It was kind that you noted it wasn’t always accurate. And though I did want to, rather immediately, throw up my entire quinoa breakfast, I’m sure that’s not the way you want new members to get skinnier.

Now David, nearly all Americans could stand to lose five pounds. Me? I’ve always assumed I’d be almost unfairly appealing if I lost five pounds. Ten pounds down, and I’m a teenager. Fifteen pounds lighter and people will wonder if my cancer has returned. Probably a very good use of my time would be to station myself in the room with Watson and tell women that the machine is a jackass. I wear a size 4 (most of the time) and the deli guy flirts with me (unfailingly). I can still shimmy into my prom dress and do splits and hold a handstand. The bee boopy doo dad machine can go suck a shoe.

Possibly the worst way to inspire a gal to exercise is to deliver a lethal blow to her self-esteem. Because the only thing that girl wants to do is to submit to a couch-bound, maw-stuffing spree. Instead, I agreed to meet with you again—to show up and see what ridiculous exercises you planned for this girl who can balance and stretch, but not run or spin or jump or lift with any sort of enthusiasm or compliance. Ten o’clock on Friday. Yup. I’ll totally come. What the hell, let’s exercise!

And then I forgot all about it. Forgot about you. Forgot I had sixteen pounds to deny this body that I have always assumed is serviceable, healthy (temporarily), lively, and cute, dammit. So I’m sorry if I messed up your schedule. Though I was actually at the gym this morning, I would have been useless after spinning class torture with Potty Mouth Boy who is certain we could all be going faster (and yet nowhere). I will continue to swim (not far), and spin (occasionally, because it is so incredibly hard and awful it deserves it’s own set of paragraphs), and plié, and do what is necessary to keep this body active and healthy. But I’m not losing sixteen pounds, nor hanging out with anyone who thinks I might need to.

xoxo,

Britt

The only scale I ever trust...

The only scale I ever trust…

 

 

Ten Dollars

I only needed 10 dollars. That’s all– just 10 dollars would spring me from the cold parking garage. Who leaves the house without a purse, or a phone, or even a wadded up bill in a pocket? Me. I do. As I raced out of the house to the earliest appointment at the pediatrician so my kids can have flu MIST–not flu SHOTS because flu SHOTS suck, mom, and I DON’T WANT THE SHOT, did they promise the MIST?– I grabbed only my coffee travel mug. Admittedly, if you’re going to get stranded in a cold parking garage with your children, it’s nice to have a hot beverage.

I realized my mistake as soon as I pulled the ticket out of the machine, so I had the entire length of a flu mist appointment to hit up strangers for a ten-spot. I’m friendly; my kids are polite and cute. Easy peasy. I told the boys not to worry, people being mostly awesome and all. Right away, I planted the seed for charity with the piggybacking mom in the elevator.

“Mine are exhausted, too! Late night with all sorts of junk, right? Why did I think this early appointment was a good idea? Right? I LEFT MY PURSE RIGHT ON THE COUNTER!”

“…”

Whatever, piggy backy mom, I suppose you’ve got your arms literally full if your sort of large child with completely serviceable legs can demand carriage.

Stepping out of the now awkward elevator, it was too much to hope I’d see a mom I knew. Strike two. None of the other parents was chatty, either, but all quietly tortured with un-immunized children too early on a Saturday. Quickly, we were escorted into a room to await squirtable antigens and, with any luck, a tenner from the nurse. Sniff, sniff, thanks, thanks and then,

“Could you do me an enormous favor? I left the house without my purse! Stupid, right? But now I’m trapped in the garage. Is there any way I could borrow ten dollars from you—or the office—and I’ll drive right back to repay you?”

“…”

This ellipse was actually accompanied by slow, backwards walking and confused utterances including, “I don’t know. Um, can you call someone?” and other things that weren’t “I don’t have 10 dollars” or anywhere near, “sure, let me get my bag.”

Whatever, nursy. Maybe your credit cards are maxed and that bill in your wallet is destined for the Starbucks break that will safeguard your sanity during a Saturday spent injecting children. I understand. (I also hope your barista spelled your name all normal, thwarting a hilarious Facebook update.)

Stepping out of the now awkward exam room, Flustered Nurse was still offering inane suggestions that did not include giving me ten dollars. Certainly nurse #2 was sidling up to offer an actual solution to my problem,

“I can’t even call anyone. My phone is in my purse. Stupid, right? I just need ten dollars to get out of the garage.”

“Oh, just go talk to the garage attendant and explain it to him.”

Sure, because reasonable people will have a simple solution to this problem of being trapped in a parking garage. I wondered if it would involve me asking the garage guy for 10 dollars? Probably. I backed away with apologies and assurances that All Would End Well in spite of their eye-averting denial of how easy all of this could be remedied if they would just let me borrow ten dollars.

As luck would have it, Piggy Back Mommy was stooped at the elevator to let her spider monkey child push the down button. Testing the kindness of strangers again, I shamelessly floated my concerns about the garage,

“Well, that was fast! Did you get the mist?”

“Yes. Her nose is all tickly. It took longer to park than to wait for the appointment!”

“I know! But, silly me, somehow I left without my purse and now I might be in there for hours.”

“…”

doors open

“Good luck!”

Thanks. Thanks, Piggy Back Mommy. I think luck is all I need. I mean, 10 dollars will get me outta here, but luck is another fun route to take. Explaining myself to the slightly scary and certainly grumpy man in the glass cubicle should go swimmingly. And good luck to you with that whole daughter-as-sloth thing you’ve got going on.

Grumpy cubicle man wasn’t all that grumpy, just super suspicious of Weird Handout Mommy asking how to get out of the garage without paying. He offered to call my husband for me to get his credit card number. Whew! Really? It’s actually this easy? Yay, a solution! Numbers are written down, I am viewed not as a criminal peddling cash with my small children in tow, and the attendant slips my card into the magic machine that tells the electronic garage powers we’re square.

“You’ve only been here ten minutes.”

“I know. It was a quick appointment. All that fuss for 8 dollars, right?”

“Right. I’m cancelling this. No charge.”

Thank goodness for not-so-grumpy cubicle man. Because when you really want your kids to believe that people are mostly awesome, it’s easier when someone occasionally is. And awesome cubicle man is getting a thank you from Weird Handout Mom… with a 10-dollar Starbucks card. Because what you put out there comes right back atcha.

TEN DOLLARS

The Gym: Part 1

Hi Britt,

I’m emailing you because I’m a trainer at Equinox in Chestnut Hill and I want to welcome you to the club.

I’m also contacting you to schedule your Equifit fitness assessment that’s included as part of your membership. It’s an hour long session where we review your goals and perform several tests to determine your current fitness level. I can then use this info to create a custom workout plan for you.

With that being said: what are you currently training for?

Reply to this email and let me know, then maybe we can set something up.

Best,

David

 

Hi David!

I’m largely free in the mornings. Except when I’m not. Equinox is lovely– all shiny and new. It would probably be perfect for someone who likes exercise. I, however, loathe it. Dread it. Honestly, if I could be healthy and skinny couch-bound with potato chips, life would be dreamy. But since I’m vain and human, hey… let’s exercise!

My fitness level is 1, or whatever sad sack slug dials in at. Picture a pack-a-day smoker with arthritis. That’s me. Except I look like someone who is totally healthy. I fake fitness with yoga clothes and a high ponytail.

I imagine gym enthusiasts return this email with chipper goals of marathon-running and keep-butt-off-cycle dreams and other nonsense. My goal is seam blow-out prevention. I have a closet full of really pretty little dresses it would be devastating to leave hanging there, ignored by the empty promises of a chubby girl who won’t stop eating Ruffles.

So, let’s spend a morning trying out all of the machines I’ll never use! Or assess my level of slug-ness. Whatever.

Your move, chief.

 

Hey Britt

Thank you for the great email! I think I see where you’re coming from.

Are you free tomorrow at 10am or Thursday at 9am by any chance?

 

Garden club on Wednesday. Bible Study Thursday. This is the Jesus-loving green thumb you’re dealing with. Halloween? I’m free Friday until early afternoon.

 

I can do Halloween at 10am does that work?

 

Yup. Let’s scare the shit outta my cellulite.

Instruments of torture

Instruments of torture

Tips for Flying the Infected Skies

If you’ve been in an airport lately… well, I’m sorry. I loathe traveling by plane. Like, blech. And it has nothing to do with a miniscule probability of plummeting to a fiery death, padding sock-footed through scanners that herald the quality of my implants, or being asked for the millionth time if my husband and I are, in fact, together. It’s the proximity of strangers that tests my nerves and immune system. And if you’ve been in an airport lately, then you’ve heard every nervous titter, hackneyed joke, and armchair theory about Ebola. And if you haven’t, all of the big screens will be tuned to CNN’s Scare Loop, ensuring your participation in the hysteria. Should you want the real skinny on the transmission of this deadly virus, here you go. But if you want tips for travel from someone who hardly travels at all… sally forth, dear reader.

In spite of every single doctor type and infectious disease guru telling us it’s really really really difficult to contract a virus that does not fly through the air with any sort of ease, we’re Americans… and we’ll make up our own minds, thank you very much. We’re going to be a bit uneasy about flying around the country right now. This hardly means we’re going to, like, stop flying around the country. That would be bonkers. We’re very very busy. And important. We will, however, harbor murder fantasies about anyone who risks pulling out a hanky. So to safeguard your in-flight reputation, and to put your traveling companions at ease, maybe a bit of subterfuge is in order. Three tips:

Are you feeling feverish? Well, here’s an idea: stay the fuck home. But since you’re very very busy and important, you’d better have a ready excuse for those flushed cheeks. When you push a damp armpit past my face to aim that jetted air of concentrated microbes at your sweaty mug, I’d better be hearing lots of disclaimers about The Change. “Whew! Hot flashes! Goodness. Should’ve known better than to have that merlot. Whew!” Loud and clear, hot lady. With lots of hand waving incredulity regarding the temperature of the cabin.

Are you nose-drippy, sneezing, and snorting? Well, here’s an idea: stay the fuck home. But since your pseudoephedrine hasn’t kicked in and because you’re very very busy and important, please give us the courtesy of fake allergies. “Do you have a cat? I’m very sensitive to dander. Well… this is going to be a long trip.” Or maybe a bit of talking-to-yourself blather about tree pollen and climate change and how Obama won’t pay for your seasonal immunoglobulin therapy. Really, we’ll believe anything. But speak up, sniffly Sal. And Purell those filthy, filthy hands after every blow. After Every Single Blow.

Tickle in your throat? Is your cough a deep rattle that is unearthing pasty chunks of bacterial debris hardly contained by your filthy, filthy hands and aerosolized for the rest of us to share? Well, here’s an idea busy, important guy: stay the fuck home. But until your codeine knocks you out cold, you’d better fabricate a 25 pack/year smoking history. Loudly lament the good ol’ days when smoking was permitted in the plane; joke about the ease of disconnecting the bathroom alarm. Accompany those phlegmy sputters with boozy stories about the Grateful Dead, twitch nervously, chew gum. Slap on a patch mid-flight. Whatever, dude. Just pretend for our sakes you’re not a tuberculoid avain flu SARS Ebola typhoid carrier. Launch a convincing case that your lungs aren’t brewing a sludge cocktail of death pathogens, but are innocently (and un-infectiously) suffocating from exposure to inhaled poisons. This will make us feel much, much better.

So if you’re feeling under the weather, and not too Busy and Important to risk exposing fellow travelers to your shedding germs, then crawl back under those covers, sickie. But if you must fly the infected skies, you’d better summon a plausible alibi for your disgusting symptoms. We don’t want to share an armrest with anyone right now, but your best menopausal, cat-hating, Marlboro Red-sucking impression will assuage the fears of your traveling companions while you unwittingly dose them with your bug-addled breath.

Me? I’m not going anywhere.

Bon voyage, friends!

You'd better have boozy reasons for using this bag...

… and you’d better have vodka-related reasons for using this bag…

A Jerk, Unaware… by Steve Safran

I was rude to someone, and I didn’t know it. Unwittingly impolite. Accidentally brusque. A jerk, unaware.

I won’t bother you with the circumstances. It was a work thing. The gist is this: after a business dealing, it was reported to my partner that I was rude to a client.

Here’s the thing: I have absolutely no idea how that impression was made. I’m not saying I don’t know how I could be rude to someone. I’m not saying it’s not possible for me to be rude, that I’m a saint who is never rude or that I’m above rudeness. What I’m saying is that I don’t recall even so much as two or three interactions with this client during the event, all which hardly strayed from “How’s your day been?” in quality. I will also say in my defense that I try to be super nice to clients. They’re the ones with the money.

But I was rude. That was her perception, and a person’s perception is everything. She will always think of me as That Rude Guy. She didn’t say how I was rude, so I’ll never know exactly what happened. But really, it doesn’t matter. I was. She felt it. Now I’m That Rude Guy.

Now, I never would have known this if she hadn’t told my business partner. I could have gone on merrily through life thinking my interactions with her were just fine, if I reflected on them at all. Instead, it got me to thinking about how often people must make up their minds about us and we don’t realize it’s happening.

Right now, someone thinks you’re an asshole. I guarantee it. You cut him off in traffic, or wrote something online or even, as I did in a previous column, responded in a way someone took to be aggressive even though it wasn’t.  I once signaled, waited my turn and moved into the left lane and a guy still yelled “Asshole!” at me. I yelled back “You barely know me!” I don’t think he heard me.

The flipside is you have a lot of unearned praise, too. Right now, you’re the funniest person in the world because you told a stolen joke. You’re an awesome guy, just because you held the door, corralled the grocery cart, or made the “most liked” comment.

Our friend Jason is putting together a play called “Talking to Strangers,” and is soliciting interactions. I noted that I’m wary of these people and that the reason is right there in the word; they’re not just strange, they’re stranger.

How strangely unfortunate it is that we are, in an instant, labeled for life based upon one interaction. How difficult it is to change that perception? I may perform ten good deeds in the presence of my client, but how many will it take to dispel That Rude Guy impression? I may even lose her business if I cannot. And I wouldn’t have ever known why.

Strange.

TONE

Strangers

Jason writes and directs musicals and plays. Can you imagine having the imagination to write and direct musicals and plays? I cannot. But Jason does. For this venue. And he has a really really really long list of accolades and awards and stuff theater people earn for being wackadoodles with talent. Being a scientific sort of the mommy variety, sidling up to Jason’s world is a messy, titillating, uncomfortable, and unusual experience. In the other words: it’s awesome. It’s also no surprise that his latest obsession is with Strangers. I think we’ve all become strangers out in public– tethered to our devices, pre-occupied with emails and texts and the urgent and never-ending comments and requests from people who aren’t physically near us. Meanwhile, we ignore—nay, avoid?—the people in our very path.

But I am John Stockton’s daughter, and I adopted his Rules of Dad as the code of conduct for all adults. Growing up, I had no idea my father was unusually friendly, chatty, inquisitive, interested, and irreverent. I just thought that’s what social confidence looked like. Boring, repressed, stern, and otherwise joyless adults were never in Dad’s sphere. And the gravitational pull of a personality like Dad’s is probably selective to similarly tuned people. Blessed with a father with a frequency for fun, the influential adults of my formative years were hilarious, successful, and brilliant.

Side bar: we can discuss for days how to parent properly, but exposing your kiddos to kind, wonderful people that you admire– that impression lasts forever.

I’ve never had a restaurant meal with Dad after which we did not know the name, station, and career aspirations of our assigned wait staff. Unsuspecting line-waiters are subject to his kind, jokey gibber gabber. Dad is a man who believes everyone is interesting, and is open to learning the stories of strangers. The result is that Dad knows no strangers. And in this world of ear-budded introverts, I think this is a great, great thing.

Jason is collecting stories about strangers over here. The result will be an original piece of theater exploring how we avoid each other, but will probably include the dynamic human moments that happen when we cannot. Do you have a story about A Stranger?

Here’s mine.

It was freezing. One of those ridiculous wind chill days where opening the front door makes you gasp and want to cancel everything. But I was never going to study successfully at home with the temptation of nachos, or naps, or absolutely anything else. The microbiology test was tomorrow: I had exactly 12 hours to cram all knowledge of plasmids into my blonde head. Surely none of the gunner medical students would brave the sub-zero weather to study at Widener… so I hopped the red line into Cambridge.

Studying at the undergraduate Harvard campus is… quiet. That’s the lure. Plus, I always imagined the ghosts of benevolent geniuses to be ethereally cheering me onward. (This is the risk of studying in Boston: delusions of connection to a grander past.)

He was adorable. Moppy, two semesters-overdue-for-haircut adorable. Two tables away, we shared a few sighs and shot hairy eyeballs at the gossipy girls in the carrels. After an hour of distracted studying, he invited me to join him for a study break.

We walked farther than I would have ever agreed, had he not been adorable. It was so so so so cold, but he insisted that the caffeine and treats at this place were the finest. Chat chat chat, I’m cramming for this, you’re studying for that. Oh, aren’t you smart? Oh, aren’t you? Thank fucking God we’re here and tea is ordered.

The thawing begins. I can’t stop listening to Chet Baker. That’s his favorite. I love coconut and twilight and tea. Yup, totally. Long stares. Shared movie titles, favorite books, more tea. But then… plasmids. There will be a test on plasmids. I return to reality and less flirty conversation.

“You are adorable. But time’s up. I need to cram.”

“No, it’s early. Really. It’s very early.”

Repeat times twenty. Then oh, my mom and dad met exactly here 25 years ago and I always knew I’d meet my wife at Widener, and then bring her exactly here, and you look like my mom, and this is meant to be and kismet and fate and and and…

Oh my God, you’re crazy. Or an adorable romantic. Either way, I have to figure out how to cut and paste plasmids and I’m not ready to get married and this is flattering but Jesus, don’t follow me, and yikes. I threw dollars on the table, raced to the Red Line and never saw cute moppy-haired boy again.

No doubt he married some other blonde studying in Widener. I’ll never know. But the fast-tracked romance stayed with me: stranger turned suitor, turned nuisance, turned stranger. And the whole exchange was likely initiated by my receptiveness, my inborn enthusiasm for strangers and their stories… something Dad taught me. When it comes to people, I’m in.

And I hope you are, too. Because that’s where all of the good stories start.

This is the only sort of place medical student stories begin...

This is the only sort of place medical student stories begin…

 

 

Backlash: musings on Pink and high society and not being a jerkface

Recently I got all blog-huffy about Pinktober. All of us are a bit tired of the Awareness, and it’s only October 4th. And I’ll admit to a recent gag reflex seeing a gigantic, fluffy pink mustache adorning the grill of a Range Rover. What the fuck is that? Seriously. What the fuck.

But after I wrote that essay, the one about horrible campaigns to raise money for dubious causes (e.g., anything that doesn’t support research for metastatic disease), Bernie cautioned me that I might be an asshole. “People don’t want to get flack for donating money. They’re donating money.” And because I really do love people and think most of us are do-gooders deep down, I haven’t stopped thinking about this since. Don’t get me wrong, I still hate the bald caps and think they’re an ugly, ugly vehicle for support and wretched awareness… but if the people donning them really believe they’re curing cancer and supporting their friends to boot, well… maybe there’s a way to voice that without being such a jerk about it.

From the perspective of a breast cancer veteran, I can tell you that the people who get this—those who are mindfully considering the pink-washing of cancer—are the ones I feel supported by the most. They are the same people who remind me that I am well now, that they love me, and that they’re sorry this shitty thing happened to me, to anyone. That’s the best sort of awareness.

Unfortunately, when a giant pink bra is erected on the Miracle Mile, and those of us who cannot tune out the echoes of cancer for the other 11 months spew vitriol all over our social media outlets, we might sound a bit churlish, irritable, and ungrateful… no matter how inane a giant pink bra might be. And this essay is about Not Being An Asshole. But instead of perseverating about how I frequently slip under this rubric, let’s put the spotlight on someone else who might need a tutorial.

Recently, Megan Johnson mounted her high steed of indignation and threw rotten tomatoes at Boston’s society ladies. In her inflammatory, name-dropping article, Ms. Johnson stitched together snippets of gossip from a collection of anonymous Storybook Ball “attendees” and fashioned the image of a New Money Social Climbing Shrew. She kindly repeats that these gorgeous Ball events do, in fact, raise millions of dollars donated to a hospital for children. Millions. Yes, fucking millions. For children. But, whatever. Let’s kvetch about how rich and awful these women really are.

Ms. Johnson crafts a divinely delicious dish of insider dirt. And who doesn’t love to hear that the fantastically wealthy might fall prey to vanity or insecurity or ambition or tipsiness? But although Ms. Johnson is keenly interested in how these social mavens land their coveted spots on the Storybook Ball Committee, she has no idea what this entails for the women who donate their time and energy and bank accounts to the “honor” of it all. Nor does she ask any of them. Because that’s boring. And whatever, dude, these rich fuckers only care about their expertly attached eyelashes and one-of-a-kind dresses. And though it’s more fun to think of these ladies cat fighting and back stabbing in couture, the reality is that for many, many months, they’re in boring meetings wearing yoga pants, asking their friends to donate thousands of dollars over and over and over again, and writing rather large checks, themselves. They land on this committee because they have the financial means to support it, and also carry within them the servant souls of people who enjoy giving their money away to good causes. Should we repay them for their generosity with mean-spirited, envy-fueled, I-heard-it-from-the-wait-staff blather?

Apparently so.

I’d love to know how Ms. Johnson would prefer these ladies convince our benevolent, wealthy townsfolk to part with their cash. Are Balls inherently bad? Is it terribly wrong to want to be a part of something glittery and exciting and fun?

Are there “wrong” ways to donate money?

I hope other readers have a similarly difficult time finding a crucial fault with volunteering women who raise millions of dollars to promote the health of children. The biggest sin here is name-calling ladies who might, just possibly, be organizing and planning and, goddamn it, having a bit of fun while doing something others cannot: raise millions of dollars. Instead of criticizing them, we should be hiring them as consultants for our scout cookie sales or Church Stewardship initiatives. Thank you, wealthy women of the world. I think you’re dreamy.

At the school my boys attend, the varsity soccer team will be wearing pink jerseys and socks this month. No matter where you stand on Pink issues, wouldn’t you be a bit of nitpicky jerkface to criticize them for this bit of awareness? It would be remarkably unkind to sideline their willingness to be a part of a National Kindness… which is the intent most people bring to the promotion of Pink. Though I am conflicted about some of these bubble gum gimmicks, regarding Kindness I am keenly attuned. Also, I cannot know the effect on my two small boys seeing their cooler, older classmates swathed in the color associated with mom being bald and tired. In some small way, maybe it seems like these older, cooler boys care about their Mom, and think Cancer sucks, too.

So as the calendar pages turn during this month of Pepto-hued awareness and a local buzz begins about The Storybook Ball, I’m focusing on the impetus sending good citizens diving into handbags for checkbooks. Whether that bag is Chanel or some pink abomination hardly matters… but intent makes all of the difference. And if I fail to thank people for their generosity and support because it arrives in a Too Fancy or Too Pink a package… well then, maybe I need a refresher course in Kindness.

And those pink mustaches? Those are just identifying cars of good citizens providing cheap rides for their neighbors.

Not giving a poo about breast cancer at all... yay!

Not giving a poo about breast cancer at all… yay!

The Death of the High School Reunion

Some of my favorite hours are spent watching really, really awful television. When the always something of parenting finally closes shop, but Bernie is still stuck wrist deep in other women, it’s time for a bit of guilty pleasure viewing. And when my husband isn’t planted on the opposite couch to groan when the remote pauses on something my 9 year old would describe as, “mmmm… smootchy, smootchy,” then I’m watching Peggy Sue Got Married. For, like, the 17th time.

I just love teenagers… even when they’re portrayed by 30 year olds. It’s a confusing time: electric and fleeting and wonderful and awful and the perfect stuff to fold into a potpie of sentimentality. And Peggy Sue opens with her 25th high school reunion. The dork millionaire, the paunchy footballers, the receding hairlines, and the provocatively dressed divorcées contribute to an atmosphere that supports the awkward and silly conversations between people who knew each other way back when. The Death of the High School Reunion has been chronicled by better writers many times, but this year is my 25th reunion, and no more than a dozen graduates of the Class of ’89 will commit to a few hours of cash bar and greasy apps in the name of nostalgia.

From the thread of RSVPs there are many “we don’t come ‘home’ for the holidays anymore” sentiments, maybe one “yay, reunion!” affirmation (mine), and a smattering of lackluster “maybe I’ll stop by” messages from people transparently choosing any other activity over seeing the Class of ’89 in three dimensions. Certainly, the very idea of Reunion holds its own mixed bag of cheery anticipation coupled to the dread of forgotten names, forced merriment, and the eleventh hour desire to drop 20lbs. I could list 194 reasons to blow off the reunion. But not too long ago, the 25th would be momentous enough to form a committee, launch a save-the-date, order some balloons, and hire a DJ to spin the music that accompanied our lost virginities. In response, alumni would half-heartedly complain, but still plan to go, switch shifts, get a babysitter, and maybe even alter the family holiday plans for it. I mean, it’s the goddamn 25th reunion. This is the one you go to, right?

Nope. Turns out we’re “caught up” since our social media sites have already chronicled our births and deaths and accomplishments, new cars, cancer battles, wisdom tooth extractions, and kitchen remodels. Or maybe we’re worried our Facebook selves won’t quite live up to the brand we’ve created? Who knows? But no one is coming.

Possibly because social media did not yet exist, we had a fantastic turnout at the 10th. “Ahh… the 10th,” said my wise brother-in-law, Bob, “Everyone is still lying.” I loved that. We filed into the decorated ballroom intent to prove we were becoming Important in the World, while shamelessly dancing to Debby Gibson, and kissing the boys we wished we had kissed way back when. Or maybe that was just me. It was a fuzzy night. At our 10th very few had any real responsibilities and we were all too happy to escape a night on the air mattress at mom’s in order to spend a few cash bar hours together. But 15 years later… hmmm, maybe I’ll stop by.

Because no one really wants one, it looks like the Class of ’89 will have no formal venue to reunite: no balloons, no blown up yearbook photos, no Debby Gibson. Is this a huge tragedy? Not really. But I think we’re missing something when we forgo traditions like these. There’s a reason why it’s so much fun to squeeze and giggle and laugh and wiggle with the people who knew 16 year old you. It’s because they still see 16 year old you. And for the briefest of moments, you are still 16 year old you. That’s the fun of it, and the actual real-time, 3D catch up is just icing on the nostalgia cake.

Prom 1989... me and Lisa, my BFF (split heart necklace and everything)

Prom 1989… me and Lisa, my BFF (split heart necklace and everything) and someone I’d LOVE to see in 3D.

Saints, Ghosts, and Scooby Doo, by Steve Safran

Britt’s sister (known around these parts as “Zealot Sister”) and I recently made it official– we are Facebook friends. Along with her brother, Patrick, we now form a powerful triumvirate– ready to resurrect Britt’s Middle Child Syndrome at a moment’s notice*. It is an honor to be part of the Stockton coterie. Paige and I have often traded respectful debate on matters religious. She is a faithful Catholic. I am a Jewish something or other. But, true to one of the basic tenets of this blog, we are respectful of each other’s beliefs.

A recent exchange:

PAIGE: What is the debatable topic of the day, Mr. Safran?

(I was out for dinner, but replied with the following:)

STEVE: I’d love to know why people believe in ghosts.

PAIGE: Enjoy your evening. Next time— ghosts versus saints. Are they the same?

Oooh. Love that. She turned it into a question, and Jews love questioning and debating questions rather than insisting upon answers. So let me try:

And let me begin by stipulating something I do not believe: There are saints. I will stipulate there are saints, and they are watching us, listening to our prayers and sometimes answering them in the affirmative. Again, I absolutely do not believe this, and yet, out of respect for Paige’s beliefs– so stipulated.

Ghosts, I believe, fall into a different category. Actually, four categories:

  1. A famous person, haunting a famous place (i.e., Abe Lincoln in the White House).
  1. A dead relative, sticking around to guide you from the beyond. (Booooo! Don’t marry Kevinnnnn!  He’s a jerrrrrrrrk!”)
  1. The run of the mill, sheet-covered ghost, whose only goal in the afterlife is to scare you. You know, a jerk.
  1. The ghost trying to scare people out of the old amusement park so a corrupt realtor can buy the land cheap, only to be unmasked by a group of meddling teens and their anthropomorphic dog.

Of these four, I only buy the last. At least it’s a plausible scenario. People do stupid things for greed. Faking a “haunting” is conceivable and, in fact, the basis for reality TV shows.

I am in the majority– but not by much. A HuffPost/YouGov poll  from 2013 shows that 45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts or that the spirits of dead people can come back in some places and situations (Think: Seances, Ouija boards, to get back at you when you lied upon their souls to get to second base with a girl, etc.).

Further, Pew Research found that 18 percent of Americans assert they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost.

Based upon that data, my reaction was: “Sure, the highly religious people are the ones who must be most likely to believe in ghosts. Ghosts are, after all, the embodiment (as it were) of life after death.”

Not so.

The Pew study says people who go to worship services weekly are less than half as likely (11%) to see ghosts as those who attend services less frequently (23%).

So what’s the big deal? People can believe in ghosts or not, right? Well, let’s look at other things people believe, keeping in mind that 47% believe in ghosts:

A Gallup question in 2009 asked “Do you think racism against blacks is or isn’t widespread?” 49% of whites said it was not widespread.

61% of Americans still believe others beside Lee Harvey Oswald were involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.

38% of Americans do not believe Barack Obama was born in the United States.

These are our phantoms. Racism is demonstrably widespread. There is absolutely no credible evidence that anyone other than Oswald was involved in the Kennedy assassination. (If there were, imagine what the people who knew about it would have earned in book rights, knowing about the first American coup.) And Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Therein lies the danger of believing in ghosts. The ghosts of conspiracy, the phantom lies, and the ghouls in Aunt Mable’s closet are all the same thing: desires to authenticate unreal things. They are the desires to make us think we know something other people do not. They are the desires to make us think there is a power keeping information from us. They become our folk stories and they endure, as superstitions do, no matter the evidence.

So while saints, we have stipulated, are real… ghosts are not. And yet these ghosts are dangerous and damaging and downright scary. And like all un-real things, these ghosts materialize in the darkness when we isolate ourselves from opinions that do not conform to our own. Or even when we fail to stipulate, for the sake of respect and argument and the search for truth, that saints are real.

But Scooby? That dude’s legit. Like me, he’s scared of the havoc the boogie man in the rubber mask can wreak. And he’s palpably relieved when the light of day reveals the charlatan and his fear-mongering ways. And man, can he eat.

Zoinks!

Boooo….BOOOO! Booo, Obama! No…nooooo… there is noooo global warming…

 

*Editors note: No, I’m really happy you guys are all friends now. I’ll just be over here in my little corner… not listening to you craft blonde jokes or anything. Whatever.

Already Aware

Is there some box we can check when filing our taxes or punching our ballots or mailing in the census? Could we somehow alert the Universe that WE ARE ALREADY AWARE? I dare you to find a single (lucky) person remaining on the planet whose life has been entirely untouched by breast cancer. But apparently there are thousands of people who think something this wretched needs to exist for our benefit.

Look at me! I'm like, sorta bald, you know, just for today. AWARENESS!

Look at me! I’m like, sorta bald, you know, just for today. AWARENESS!

I cannot tell you how badly I want to rip this off of her head. What’s next? Faux colostomy bags for Anal Cancer?

Your fundraising starter pack includes t-shirt with a detachable Velcro “bag” with realistic, watery poo! Customize your stoma to honor a loved one: “I’m diverting my colon today for Uncle Harry!”

I hope everyone would agree this would be in poor, poor taste by diminishing a very real, and extremely sensitive, upsetting, and necessary aspect of treating a deadly disease. But we’re badgered daily to be “bold” or “brave” enough to show solidarity with the battle-weary cancer-ed by buying crap one might find at Spencer’s. I cannot express strongly enough how un-helpful fake bald head gear is to the people who have neither the luxury of hair, nor the patience for the actually very kind people who think this sort of awareness-raising is helping.

A recent backlash from some of my favorite cancer bloggy ladies shut down an entire marketing scheme and hashtag campaign by AirXpanders after this peddler of pseudo-breasts encouraged us to tweet to #whatsunderhere and wear horrifying slogans like “Looks Great Naked” because,

Boobs are so much more than just “the girls” or “melons.” They’re fabulous.

They sent this message in an email blast to breast cancer survivors. Funny fun fun! I mean, with our reconstructed “melons” we’re totally empowered and “sexy” enough to don a slogan to encourage strangers to ask us about our fake boobs. And then tweet about how amazing and wonderful and desirable and badass we feel flaunting our reorganized parts. Funny fun fun! I’m sure they didn’t mean to be, you know, insensitive or anything to the women who are not candidates for reconstruction, or (gasp!) feel healthy and whole and beautiful without replacements.

The brilliant, kind, and wise Hester Hill Schnipper (whose After Breast Cancer should be a gift to anyone finishing chemotherapy) emailed Bernie and me about these new, horrifying campaigns that seem to begin earlier and earlier each year. She was also concerned about the AirXpanders exploitation of the American Association of Plastic Surgery (ASPS)-sponsored Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day. The unfortunately named BRA day (insert all sorts of puns on “support” for the very gals who—literally– don’t need it) is October 15th this year. The goal of BRA Day is to ensure all women are informed about their breast reconstruction options, and their aim to “close the loop” on breast cancer treatment is to make certain access and education around post-mastectomy breast reconstruction is available to every women who wishes to pursue it. Sadly, companies like AirXpanders want to piggyback onto the day to peddle their products.

Ultimately, the #whatsunderhere and the deplorable Save the Ta Tas, and even the National BRA Day swag begs the question,

Does anyone ever consult an actual breast cancer patient?

Giggle. A pink bra "over" my shirt. Guffaw, a guy wearing a bra! Hey, let's get some of these for the DOGS! Hilarious!

Giggle. A pink bra “over” my shirt. Guffaw, a guy wearing a bra! Hey, let’s get some of these for the DOGS! Hilarious!

No one I know who unwillingly lost her hair wants to see someone else faking it. I could write another set of paragraphs urging you not to shave your head, either. But for now… just… don’t. Anyone who has been necessarily bald would never, ever begrudge you your hair. Let me be clear, it’s the NICEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD TO SHAVE YOUR HEAD FOR SOMEONE. But, nope… buy your cancer-ed love one a cashmere blanket, instead.

Similarly, the pink bra silhouette only calls attention to the very parts I’m trying to forget. Certainly we have more talented graphic designers to fashion a tasteful slogan for Breast Reconstruction Awareness? (I’m looking at you, Nail.) Or we could just wear Angelina Jolie flair. She has quietly, elegantly done more to further this cause than anyone.

To close, here’s my favorite tweet of all time, posted by some hilarious, awesome stranger last year on November 1st. I think all of us are looking forward to it.

Couldn't love this more.

Couldn’t love this more.

Waiting for someone to design me an Already Aware t-shirt. No pink.