Roadkill

Somewhere in my mid-twenties, a handful of years into graduate schooling, with a series of rotating apartments and a persistently ring-less finger, my dad and his best friend, Lynn, began referring to my boyfriends as “Roadkill.” I wasn’t particularly promiscuous, but inching up on 30, the sheer numbers of boys who would never be my husband got, well… numerous. More often than not, I was the one who was bored, disillusioned, or unfaithful (sorry, boys) and the one to call it quits. Thus, Roadkill.

Ty was my neighbor and probably one of my closest buddies during senior year of high school. He will always be one of the funniest people I have ever known. Carpooling to school through rural neighborhoods we once saw a horse do a yawn-whinny thing that we imitated often and at impromptu times. It was only hilarious to the two of us. “Are you cereal?” he’d ask. “Not nece-celery,” was the answer. He loved The Grateful Dead, so my Julie Andrews covers were deliciously irritating (to him) and entertaining (to me): Roooolll A-Wheyyyy the Doooo! Do you have that one friend who makes you laugh at nothing—a Jerry Seinfeld with a Pez dispenser? That was Ty for me.

Ty and I spent many bellyaching, laughing-too-hard-to-breathe nights together. Chastely. We were truly just friends. But you can imagine how well Ty went over with The Roadkill. One summer night I brought a new boy home. Ty was over for dinner, which was common. Wine was flowing, which was really common. And everyone was making fun of each other, which is in the Stockton Family Syllabus. Future Roadkill misread the room– or was too thin skinned– and got a little territorial about being the boyfriend (with its implied set of privileges) instead of the friend. Ty didn’t miss a beat.

“Whatever, dude. Next year Britt will be with some other guy, but I’ll still… be… right… here.”

Roadkill was the only one who didn’t find this funny. He didn’t last very long. The next one did, but even he ended up smeared all over the grille. Those were Lynn’s words as he and Judy poured me the tallest and tastiest vodka tonic I’ve ever had, and listened to my latest misadventures in love. After that break up, I drove 7 hours to see them, their daughter, and to languish ring-less-ly on the deck of their gorgeous beach house… and to laugh.

I met Bernie just a few months later.

Thinking about Valentine’s Day, these memories shifted to the top of my mind like the big popcorn pieces when you shake the bucket. Suddenly I’m aware of Great Loves in my life who never gave me flowers or chocolates or rings, but made me pee-a-little giggle and poured me gigantic cocktails as I plowed through the dating years that led me to the best one.

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Ty and me on my 21st birthday. Can’t imagine why all the Roadkill hated him.

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MY 2016 MIXTAPE FOR YOU… by Steve Safran

It’s time for an annual tradition: the Valentine’s Day mixtape. Last year’s was well-received, so now it’s an annual thing. This ancient rite dates back to the 1980s, when it was the height of romance to give a mixtape to that special someone. Also, it was free. (Minus, of course, the price of a good tape. Maxell was my choice.)  Here, then, is my 2016 Mixtape for You. Although I have linked the songs here to their YouTube versions, seek out these songs and listen on a good stereo or some great headphones.

SIDE ONE

  1. Happy Days” (Squeeze) A fantastic return to form for the band that will always make my mixtapes. This is off their new album, “Cradle to the Grave,” which came out this year – Squeeze’s first album of original songs this century. “Happy Days” is a simple ode to packing the car and having a great weekend trip. I read a great piece this past year on how the band’s ‘80s greatest hits collection “Singles, 45s and Under” is possibly the world’s most addictive album. Damn right. This would fit in perfectly.
  1. For Once In My Life” (Stevie Wonder) It’s Valentine’s Day, after all, and this is Stevie at his Wondermost. A little guitar riff at the top and then right into it. Try not to smile when you think he’s singing this right to you. How this isn’t a top wedding song, I’ll never know.
  1. Two of Us” (Aimee Mann and Michael Penn cover The Beatles): This is such a perfect, compact treat. Rarely do covers of Beatles songs match or exceed the source material. But I like that spouses Aimee Mann and Michael Penn duet on this – having real life sweethearts sing this one makes it, I dare say, better than the original. Plus, come on, Aimee Mann and Michael Penn. Top that.
  1. Life On Mars?” (Played as an elegy to David Bowie) Bowie’s dead, and that sucks. It led to one of the greatest spontaneous tributes I’ve ever heard. After Bowie’s death The organist at St Alban’s Cathedral outside London played Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” likely unaware it was being recorded. It is a perfect elegy. Try not to tear up.
  1. Two Hearts” (Phil Collins) OK, it’s Phil, and don’t give me crap about it. Phil announced he’s going to make a comeback album, and the Internet exploded with hate. Revisionist nonsense. Phil Collins is great. He’s a fantastic songwriter and legendary drummer. Phil wrote it with Lamont Dozier, part of the legendary Motown team of Holland-Dozier-Holland. It’s peppy, very Motown and it avoids Phil’s tendency toward cloying writing in love songs. Listen, dance, repeat. Side one is over.

 

SIDE TWO

  1. Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright)” (The Tufts Beelzebubs cover Bob Dylan) The bad breakup. The bitter end. The desire to lash out. The sarcasm. All of that is in Dylan’s original song. But the ‘Bubs take it somewhere else. In this slow, deliberate, harmonious cover, they turn it into a song of regret and longing. I love when artists take a song and turn it on its head. The a cappella is wondrous. How did they arrange this? Valentine’s Day can suck. Let Dylan and the ‘Bubs help you through it.
  1. Smile” (Nat King Cole) This has just terrible, awful advice. “Smile, though your heart is aching. Smile, even though it’s breaking… You’ll see that life is still worthwhile if you just smile.” Are you kidding me? “Just smile?” And yet, what a song. Did you know Charlie Chaplin wrote it? So what if it is the least empathetic advice you could give to someone. It’s still touching and damn if you won’t tear up.
  1. The Boys Are Back in Town” (Thin Lizzy) Huh? What’s this doing here? OK, mixtape maker’s privilege here. I had a mix to listen to when I was getting chemo. This led it. It was my “get psyched – here come the poisons for your body” song. Coping mechanisms are weird things. You have your treadmill mix, I had my chemo mix.
  1. Layla” (Derek and the Dominos) Eric Clapton wrote this to steal George Harrison’s wife. There’s no way around it. It worked. Patti Boyd divorced Harrison and married Clapton. But, this being the ‘60s (and early ‘70s) things were cool. Harrison and Clapton remained friends, and Harrison even went to the wedding. Patti Boyd must have been something. She inspired at least 11 songs including “Something,” “Wonderful Tonight” and “I Need You.” But “Layla” is the best and most scandalous of the bunch.
  1. Moonlight Serenade”  (Glenn Miller Orchestra) As I noted last year, this has to be the last song. Nothing comes after “Moonlight Serenade.” Back from the war, you’re boozy and tired, your last Lucky Strike about to burn your lips. What was her name?  Do eyes really come in amethyst? She was, what, a nurse? You shared a dance with her, anyway. “Hattie,” was it? Maybe she was USO. Her phone number… MAyfair6-31… Oh, Hell. Someone has poured you into a cab, and your last recollection of the evening is that the band, oh, what a band, played “Moonlight Serenade” as you danced with… Christ… “Maddy?”
Maxell

Happy Valentine’s Day friends!

My Mixtape for You, by Steve Safran

An early Valentine, and possibly my favorite bit of writing from Steve Safran… read, listen, rewind, repeat.

 

We’ve known each other a while now, dear readers, and I think the best way I can express my affection is through that most ancient of all rites: a mixtape. Cassette tapes are hard to find and somewhat impractical to distribute via the internet. Instead, I’ll link to 10 songs. However, you really should hear these over good speakers– in your car, house or through headphones. If you have Spotify, most are there. Otherwise, pony up and get them from iTunes. NOTE: I realize there are few things more boring than what someone else considers a “good” song. So I appreciate your sticking in here.

 

SIDE ONE

  1. “Knock on Wood” http://youtu.be/CVt3GWuGM9s (Otis Redding & Carla Thomas) While there won’t be thumpy dance floor music here, I dare you to hear this at a reception of some sort and not “Knock-knock-knock-knock-knock… on WOOD!” If nothing else, it will embarrass the kids.
  1. “The Lord Bless You And Keep You” http://youtu.be/NN7b-DZgGjs (Composed by John Rutter): TOTALLY caught you off guard there, didn’t I? You were expecting something else from the Atheist Jew, right? On the second song? The power of a good melody is transcendent. I sang this in high school choir. I was never again in a choir that sang anything nearly as good again. And we were going through puberty.
  1. “Landed” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vPygzPSg8M (Ben Folds): This is for everyone who has gone though a change in their lives. Nominally, it’s about a guy who needs to be picked up at an airport. Bigger picture: He made a big change, flew back across the country and is reaching out for help. You’ve been there.
  1. “One Day Like This” http://youtu.be/OUUASDWrBdc (Elbow): Magnificent and devoted ode to the power of a single morning– a moment really, where a man celebrates “the now.” “Throw those curtains wide/One day like this a year will see me right.” It was recorded with the BBC orchestra and chorus.  And oh, those lyrics. “Kiss me like a final meal.” “When my face is chamois-creased.” If I made you a one-song mixtape, “One Day Like This” would be it.
  1. “Big Sky” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QaDUFC8nigM (Kate Bush) The only ‘80s track on this side. And we’re going out huge here. This is an album that contains the directions “PLAY LOUD” and if this song isn’t on your exercise tape, you’re missing valuable heart rate potential.

 

SIDE TWO

  1. “Nowhere to Run” http://youtu.be/ABbc-O_3_Ac (Martha and the Vandellas) We ended side two uptempo and loud, so there’s no need to adjust the volume just yet. Note: The “Vandellas” are named in honor of Della Reese. So, something for you “Touched by an Angel” fans.
  1. “My Ride’s Here”  http://youtu.be/NRkcBcyB7v4 (Warren Zevon): “I was staying in the Marriott/ With Jesus and John Wayne.” You can find better Zevon songs, but I love this one. Zevon, dying of cancer at this point, puts out a peppy song about those he might meet soon. When asked in an interview if he had any advice for the young people, Zevon answered “Enjoy every sandwich.”
  1. “Tempted” http://youtu.be/7PmtS_qMdXg(Squeeze): This is the perfect pop song. This is the A+ of pop. It’s High Honors. It’s the essay your friend wrote, and pisses you off a little because you didn’t think to write it first. It tells a story, has a great hook and my gosh, that Hammond organ at the top. I’m biased because I’ve seen Squeeze more often than any other band. However this is not my favorite track of theirs. It just belongs here, in this context.
  1. “Little Bit O’ Soul”  http://youtu.be/bMIydy3Tyuw (Music Explosion): Should I ever take over this or any other country, “Little Bit O’ Soul” will be our national anthem. Listen to it and picture a stadium groovin’ to it.
  1. “Moonlight Serenade” http://youtu.be/VHBX0813MXc (Glenn Miller Orchestra): Nothing comes after “Moonlight Serenade.” It’s the end of the evening in a smoky room as the janitor sweeps the floor through the haze. One last couple slow dances while a few drunks are passed out at the bar. The room lights have come back on. The bartender drags a dirty rag across the tables. It’s the last song you hear before heading home. I’ll say it again: Nothing comes after “Moonlight Serende.”

That’s the mixtape I made for you. Wear it out.

For those of us who used to own shoe boxes full of these... this remains a symbol of starry-eyed love.

For those of us who used to own shoe boxes full of these… this remains a symbol of starry-eyed love.

The Boy I Married

Bernie conveniently acquired swine flu before my 20th high school reunion. Sure, he was pukey-feverish-gray-skin sick; but if he was going to succumb to swine flu anyway, it was opportune that it exempted him from a DJ’ed evening at the Holiday Inn, imagining which boozy men might have molested my teenage boobs and dodging women in compression garments coyly seeking cosmetic surgery consults. Even if he hadn’t been pukey-feverish-gray-skin sick, I still would have given him a bye. Only a handful of people could tolerate an entire evening with strangers attempting to chitchat over Def Leppard.

One of the reasons Bernie enjoys married life is because his wife will talk to anyone. I am his social ping-pong paddle, deflecting chitchat away from him, right and left. When he rallies, my husband is really rather charming. It’s just that his default mood is… couch. I largely share this disposition, but on occasion, embrace excuses to stand in fantastic shoes and interact with things without plugs, to enjoy the ceremony of a fancy meal, to share a sofa-less evening with sentient beings. Because Bernie’s stock reaction to all invitations lands somewhere between not-enough-scotch-on-the-planet and rather-put-hot-sauce-in-my-eye, I spring these on him last minute.

Once we’ve arrived at the destination and drinks are in hand, Bernie morphs from Grumpy Couch Troll into The Boy I Married. As Valentine’s Day nears, as lonely hearts compose snarky tweets, and as unsuccessful attempts at reservations and balking at overpriced blooms take away from the swoony fun of it all, I’m listing silly reasons I fell in love with Bernie. Take note, youngsters… it’s the little things that make a boy irresistible.

·               See any movie at all

Bernie saw Crossroads with me. In the theater. Crossroads! Crossroads… the movie starring Britney Spears. Of course you haven’t seen it—it’s dreadful. But I love Britney, and I was in the mood to see her dance around in her skivvies wondering if she was yet a woman. Bernie didn’t mind. Another (wasted) evening, this lovely man accompanied me and my best friend to Duets. Duets! Duets… the movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Huey Lewis. Of course you haven’t seen it–it’s dreadful. But Bernie bought three tickets with untainted enthusiasm: no moaning, no eye rolling, no you-totally-owe-me-lights-on-naughty-stuff. This sort of social sacrifice endeared him to Emily forever, made me even fonder of his general agreeableness, and remains the benchmark for adorable things boys do for girls they love.

Cruisin'. Together.

Cruisin’. Together.

·               Pay attention to other women

I’ve always admired Bernie’s appreciation of women. Perhaps it’s that dorky, skip-a-grade Asian kid lurking inside of him, but Bernie is surprised and genuinely thrilled to be talking to you, pretty girl. He’ll make sure you have a drink, or his place in line, or help with your bags. I love how he’ll deliver my friend’s Sancerre first, that he recognizes all sorts of beauty in all women, discourages you from cosmetic surgery because you don’t need it (and means it), and occasionally is at a loss for words if a woman is particularly Julianne Moore-ish.

Can't really blame him.

Can’t really blame him.

·               Get along with Dad

I knew Bernie was the right boy for me the minute I realized Dad’s approval wouldn’t be a deal breaker. Dad is huge and loud and irreverent and thoughtful and inquisitive: first-time meetings with him can feel like an interrogation. We Stocktons don’t waste time—we want to know (right now!) what makes you do what you do, how you contribute to the universe, why you’re like that, and what you have planned for the future. A bit much for cocktail hour? Well then, go find yourself another cocktail hour. (Ours, however, starts at brunch and continues well past blurry.) All other suitors had been measured by their ability to go toe to toe with Dad. Few navigated this easily: either retreating into stunned silence, or interpreting playful banter as an attack, and many failing to count vodkas and slipping into slurring ridiculousness. It can be a tough room.

But Bernie? He thought Dad was great. More importantly, he thought enough of himself to just be himself, mind the vodka, and enjoy the spectacle. Sure, there was one Thanksgiving Bernie passed out after multiple mimosas, but if you know us well, you’ve probably missed a family meal for being over-served by my father. Today, Bernie plans bucket-list vacations with Dad, Dad’s best friend, and my brother. Although I would have married him even if Dad didn’t recognize Bernie’s quiet humor and confidence, it’s sort of awesome that he does.

When I was young and naive, I was certain Kill All Bugs would be on this list of husband kudos. Alas, my wonderful Bernie’s reaction to a centipede racing across the family room is to curl into a frightened ball of unmanliness. Instead, my husband’s chivalry involves pouring my Prosecco, telling me I’m beautiful, and saving me from a life of beepers and pantsuits by being all talented and whatnot. Occasionally he’ll even stifle his Grumpy Couch Troll reaction to “plans” or “tickets” or “party” for my benefit. But with too generous advance notice, those who prefer evenings holding down furniture to those painting the town conveniently acquire pukey-feverish-gray-skin-sickness. We have reservations for Valentine’s Day… I’ll tell him Thursday.

Happy Valentine’s Day, lovers. Enjoy the little things that make them yours.

Saw it in the theater. Opening night.

Saw it in the theater. Opening night. Was this shirt ever not ridiculous?

My Valentine

Before I tell you all about my Valentine, here’s a bit of sweetness to herald the day. Bernie gave me a book with even more adorable cartoons than these:

HAIR WITHOUT DO

If I were a tattoo-getting kind of girl, it would absolutely be “hair without do.” Better than buttercreams or diamonds is this little book of funny drawings, and lovelier than roses or candlelight dinners is a Bernie who knows how much I’d adore them. But here’s another Valentine’s Day Story, which begins (like too many of my evenings) with Prosecco-infused internet trolling.

A few months ago, I entered a silly, online contest to win a serious bag. Fashion Moi Moi is a fun website that instructs women with overstuffed closets how to repurpose their cast offs– and to cast off the things that you should have never bought on purpose. (It sort of reminds me of that time Ginny, the coolest girl in high school, turned a giant sweatshirt upside down and rocked her own Hammer Pants.) Occasionally, Fashion Moi Moi awards faithful readers with fantastically free stuff, and when this orange bag appeared, I knew I could do better than the “me likey!” comments in the contest thread. So after a glass (or five) of bubbly, I wrote something about how a bag this beautiful really belonged on the brave, if not lymph-edematous, arm of a bald lady. Maybe it was heartfelt, or even witty, but the intent of my comment was a desire to pay the purse forward.

A few weeks later, I learned that my Cancer-y comments earned me a Michael Kors large enough to hold five small dogs. But ever since I pulled it from the foam peanuts, I’ve been staring at it with a wigless conscience. I told April that I really wanted to give it to someone more deserving, someone who would appreciate the joy of a giant orange purse, someone I love. We didn’t discuss long. Of course: Maria! Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria, Maria! (Say it loud, and there’s music playing!)

Some of you know all about Maria (I compare her to a vacuum cleaner over here). Last year, many doctors in and out of the operating room agreed to join Team B(ritt) Cup despite the inherent awkwardness of it all, but I’m pretty sure no one gave Maria a choice about being my Nurse. In fact, knowing the enormity of Maria’s talent and heart, I was encouraged by all of my caregivers to lean on her when things got shaky. So in addition to hand-holding The Boss’s Wife last year, Maria continued doing all sorts of above-and-beyond things that keep her from sleeping in on Saturdays, or turning off her phone. Last year, Maria earned a Patient Education Award for Excellence and never once cried in front of me… placing her in the top 2% of clinical nurses, and top 0.0002% of Italians.

And then, amidst achievements and accolades, Maria turned some of that life-affirming love and you-can-do-this support toward herself. With willpower, dogged determination, and a gym membership, Maria lost over 60 pounds. Seriously. Just look at her all fabulous and flirty:

Maria then... and now

Maria then… and now

Always gorgeous, Maria now channels this:

Maria is totally skinny Adele.

Google “skinny Adele”… and you get Maria.

And so, this year Maria is My Valentine and I hope that she is accepts this pretty purse with all the grateful appreciation I have for her talent and beauty (even though a teeny part of me wonders if internet-contest spoils are a tad re-gifty). I’m hoping she carries it with all the love and gratitude of hundreds of patients she keeps in her heart and phone. I hope she carries it knowing I won it for her.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

For you, sweet girl. Delivery included.

For you, sweet girl. Delivery included.