Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and the lazy Susan

My husband saw it before I did.  It was Thanksgiving, and we’d made the drive from our house on the northwest side of Chicago to the western suburb of LaGrange to spend the holiday with my in-laws.  “Mom, why is there a swastika on the kitchen table?” he asked.  I looked to where he was pointing, and saw a wooden lazy Susan that looked like it was handmade, was an antique, and was sectioned off into quadrants with spindles of wood coming from the center, each one finishing in a right angle that, while useful as a kitchen storage unit, gave it a rather unfortunate appearance.  

“What swastika?” my mother-in-law asked, incredulous. 

“This one right here!” my husband said, his voice rising.  She looked at him, unblinking. 

“The lazy Susan,” I finally said, “it looks like a swastika.”  She walked over to the table and leaned her diminutive frame over the object in question.  

“Oh,” she said, “well now that you point it out I see it, but I never would have otherwise.”  I stood a fair distance from the lazy Susan, eyeing it from the kitchen counter, as if getting too close to it might be dangerous. Seeing the look on my face she said, “Oh, she doesn’t like it, I can tell.”

“It’s,” I began, and lost whatever it was that I’d begun to say. “I mean, it’s funny because…” and I lost my words again, resorting to sticking my hands out at my sides, palms up. “I mean, I wouldn’t go promoting it...”

“Where did you get this thing?” my husband asked.

“At a garage sale.”  What I really wanted to know was whose clever idea was it to make a lazy Susan in the shape of a symbol of tyrannical power, and more importantly, what else was up for grabs at that garage sale?

I have a long and complicated history with Judaism, which goes a little something like this: my maiden name is Cohen, I wasn’t raised religiously, and by most traditions I wouldn’t be considered Jewish because my mother isn’t – she was raised Christian Scientist, and didn’t meet a Jewish person until she went to college on the east coast, and then married one.  She divorced one too, but it still counts.

For most of my life people have not only assumed that I am Jewish, but have regarded me through that lens to explain certain behaviors - an appreciation for good pickles and matzoh ball soup for instance, and a tendency to avoid overt Christianity and the south. Over the years I’ve had various reactions to this, ranging from guilt that I don’t know more about Judaism, to anger that people would have the gall to assume anything about me based on my name. I once hung up on a teenage boy who called to ask for my financial support of a Jewish organization because it bothered me that I’d ended up on a list of prospects simply because of my name, and I was irrevocably peeved when a former boss of mine asked, on Ash Wednesday, “so when is your holiday?” My high school chorus teacher was an African-American woman who taught us negro spirituals. Halfway through "I've been 'buked and I've been scorned" she looked up from her seat on the piano bench with a smirk on her face. She turned her attention back to playing the piano, and when she looked at me again was smiling broadly. Finally she stopped playing completely and burst out laughing. "I'm sorry," she said between breaths, "but you have never looked more Jewish to me than you do right now."

By the same token, it feels wrong to have my Jewishness denied. The first winter I spent in Chicago I was surprised that the office buildings downtown don't display menorahs side by side with Christmas trees the way they do in New York, and was shocked when a coworker asked me if Cohen was a Catholic name.

Years ago I felt the need to learn more about “my” religion, (although I never felt that way about Christian Science), and kept renewing the same book on Judaism from the Bezazian branch of the Chicago Public Library before finally returning it, unread. A Quaker friend of mine once gave me a menorah that had belonged to his deceased partner, and I asked a Jewish colleague to phonetically spell out the prayer that accompanies the lighting of the Hanukkah candles. For one holiday season I observed the candle lighting tradition, and now the menorah decorates the top of our television, less a religious item than a household decoration.

One less letter and my name would have been Chen - would people have expected me to speak fluent Mandarin Chinese and make Peking Duck on the weekends? The worst offense was when people told me that I looked Jewish - for those of you who’ve never met her; I look exactly like my Scotch-Irish shikse mother. How on earth can a person look Jewish anyway? I mean, I know what people were trying to get at - I wear glasses, I have curly hair that goes frizzy in the humidity, and I listen to NPR. Nonetheless, these indicators would amount to nothing if it weren’t for the name Cohen, and ever since I took my husband’s name nobody has assumed that there’s anything Semitic about me.

Now that I don’t carry the name Cohen, I feel a little nostalgic for it whenever I see it in print, and I enjoy being called Cohen by people who knew me before I was married. My husband's name is Palmer, which carries no such religious weight, although it should - the first Palmers made a pilgrimage to the holy land and returned with palm leaves as proof of their journey.

A couple years ago I accidentally learned that my father’s family had lost six of nine children in the holocaust.  I overheard my father tell this to someone else, which is pretty much how I’ve learned everything about my family, not much got passed on to my generation from either side.  Knowledge, while highly valued in my family – going to college was pretty much a given for me, and both sets of my grandparents had access to higher education, is treated like something one should already have, not something to be sought out or shared. 

Compounding the problem is the fact that my father is a high functioning autistic, and he doesn’t react well to confrontation.  When I overheard him casually answer “yes,” to the question: “did you family lose anyone in the shoah?” Anger rose up from my stomach, through my esophagus and into the back of my throat, anger that I’d gone my whole life without knowing this crucial information, and I compressed it into small, pinched statements like: “that’s the first I’ve ever heard of this, dad.” “Oh?” he asked. “Do you have a family tree somewhere with the names?” I asked. “Oh no,” he answered, with a wave of a hand, “I had one once, years ago, but I threw it away.” The person my father was talking to said:“that’s criminal,” and I was glad to have a witness. “Why did you throw it away?” I asked, gripping the stem of my wine glass as if the only thing keeping me from committing patricide was that my hands were full. “Well, that’s not so nice,” he said - the same reaction he gives when anything upsets the flow of his daily life; like when the trains are running late, or he gets overcharged at the supermarket.  “Not nice?” I wanted to say, “You know what's not nice is?  Not nice is letting your dead, persecuted relatives be forgotten.  Does the phrase ‘never forget’ mean anything to you? People purposely pass on this information to their children.  Good job, dad.” What I actually said was: “It doesn’t matter if it’s not nice, it’s important.”

That night I woke alone in the dark, my subconscious wouldn’t let me sleep, or maybe it was the spirits of my murdered relatives. 

Since then I’ve gotten some information from my dad’s side of the family, a photocopy of a handwritten family tree, with the words: “died, Hitler era”, next to those who didn’t survive.  I’ve had conversations with my second cousin Emilie, who grew up knowing some of our relatives who had numbers tattooed on their forearms.  

From our email exchanges and phone conversations, it seems like Emilie and I have a lot in common: we both love to travel, have interests in the arts, and don’t have children.  When I went to Senegal a couple years ago she connected me with a friend of hers who lives there, and we’ve brought up the idea of visiting Lithuania, where our ancestors are from.  

I’ve attended Friday night services once or twice, and while I kind of feel like a giant poser, when someone wishes me “Shabbat shalom,” it’s nice.  I’ve also become – not obsessed, but very interested in holocaust documentaries.  I generally watch them by myself when my husband is out, which sounds dark and depressing, but I just can’t imagine snuggling up with a bowl of popcorn to watch footage of Soviet prisoners being let do their deaths on the eastern front, and interviews with octogenarian survivors describing acts of vengeance and resistance with a ferocity that I have never heard in anyone’s voice.  I add the films to our Netflix instant cue, where my husband sees them, and reads the titles aloud before scrolling right past them: “Forgiving Dr. Mengele...”  “You don’t have to watch that,” I’ll say, “That’s a special movie, just for me.”

I’m amazed at the stories of individual acts of defiance; the group of prisoners who broke into an SS locker room, changed into guards uniforms, and stole a vehicle.  When they drove to the prison gate, and the guard manning it didn’t lift it, one of the prisoners shouted “what is this, how long do we have to wait?” The gate was lifted, and they drove right out of Auschwitz.  Then there was the band of prisoners who hoodwinked a bunch of SS guards into meeting them, alone, in a workshop under the premise of having a pair of boots for them to try on, and killed them one by one with an axe.  They were able to do so because they knew that since the guards were German they would keep their appointments, and would show up on time, which sounds almost like a joke.  

I was dumbfounded by the film Inheritance which follows Monica Hertwig as she tries to sift through what it means to be the daughter of Amon Goth, who was portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List.  It wasn’t until she saw that film that she was confronted with what her father had really done, and in a blind, ignorant rage sent an angry letter to Steven Spielberg accusing him of spreading lies.  I watched all four plus hours of The Sorrow and the Pity, whose subject is the French Vichy government collaboration with the Nazis, and all six episodes of a TV series called: Auschwitz: the Nazis and the “final solution,” hosted by Linda Ellerbee, to name a few.  

I’m not sure what I hope to gain from this inundation of documentary material, sometimes I wonder if, in all the footage I’ve watched, I’ve seen my relatives stepping off cattle cars for selection, or witnessed images of their emaciated bodies.  Sometimes I think I can guess with pretty close accuracy at what must have happened to them, but that’s not the same as knowing.
Absorbing all this visual information has done something to me, given more weight to my center of gravity, made me aware of how easily and loosely the word “Nazi” gets used to describe the most inane displays of stubbornness, and as a stand-in for curse words, and it’s made me even less tolerant of the phrase “everything happens for a reason.”

Driving home from Thanksgiving, my husband and I discussed the lazy Susan.  “I know she didn’t see it, but what if that had been my first Thanksgiving with your parents?” I asked.  “Well, at least it was a lazy Swastika.” I considered what it would be like to be blind to the unintentionally swastika shaped objects in the world.  

Tomorrow is the first night of Hanukkah, and maybe I’ll dig out the candles I bought for the menorah last year but never used, and maybe I won’t.  On Sunday, my husband and I will make the same drive out to LaGrange that we made at Thanksgiving, and despite the fact that none of us believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, we will celebrate his birth by sharing food and exchanging gifts.  I just hope the lazy Susan is gone by the time we get there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday afternoon (for chjackson)

It’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’m busy pretending to look at office supplies online as a cover for the conversation I’m having with my husband via text message.  My Smartphone sits in my lap, and I sit in my cube, which isn’t even a real cube - it’s a computer monitor on a shelf underneath a row of cabinets with a divider along the right side to keep me from socializing too much with my coworkers.  I’ve threatened to bore a hole into the divider with power tools and fashion a window out of clear sheet protectors and double sided tape, or failing that, paste a photo of my face on the other side of the wall so that it looks like I’m hanging out with my coworkers even when I’m on my side of what sometimes feels like a rodeo bucking chute.  

On the left of my computer monitor is a color printer, which jerks to life when someone sends a job to it, and hiccups its way through the four colors of the printing rainbow: yellow, cyan, magenta, and black.  If I’m feeling gracious, I pick up the printed sheets from the output tray and hand them to whoever sent the job over, if not, it’s owner walks behind me and reaches into the narrow space between my body and the printer, their arm appearing in my peripheral vision like a sun spot.  I steal a glance at my phone to catch up on the latest communiqué from my husband. “My hand feels weird,” I write to him. “too much mousing or something different” he replies.  “I mouse with the left, and this is my right.  Must be all the handjobs I give you in my sleep,” I write back, and then quake with silent laughter at my own joke.  A couple minutes pass with no response.  “Is this thing on?” I type. “laughter, applause.” comes the answer, with a laughing, yellow-faced emoticon at the end.

I leave my desk to take advantage of the birthday cake in the break room, a sheet cake that makes an appearance on the last Wednesday of the month, with an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of paper taped onto the cake box that reads “Happy Birthday September Staff!”, which is almost as personal as: “It Is Your Birthday.” I cut off a piece with the plastic spatula that’s been brought into service, and plop the heaping pile of sugar onto a snack sized Styrofoam plate.  The frosting is so sweet it makes me cough as if I’d accidentally walked through a dust cloud.

If you’d told me a year ago, or even six months ago, that this is how I would spend my time at work, I’d have been incredulous.  I’ve been looking for a job for almost two and a half years now.  I know, I have a job doing administrative work in a gym, but I mean a real job, one that I go to on purpose in the morning, and not just because I need the insurance and it makes me look like a better candidate if I have a current place of employment listed on my resume.  I’ve had some promising leads, some near brushes with success, but like Charlie Brown winding up to kick the football out from under Lucy’s fingertips, I land on my cartoon ass every single time.

One of the directors thanks me profusely for entering codes into the database, which is pretty much like thanking me for having descended from apes.  He tries to be gracious, but it comes off condescending.  “Hey thanks so much for getting all those codes in so quickly, you’re a rock star,” he says, breezing past me.  He uses the term “rock star” to fabricate a sense of camaraderie into our exchange, a sense of “we’re all in this together”, but what it sounds like is “thanks for using about as much brain power as Koko the gorilla.”

Meanwhile, I’ve been telling stories.  It gives me something to be proud of, something to be good at, something to hone.  I’ve told stories in front of audiences as small as twenty, and as large as seven hundred.  I’ve told funny stories, and really sad ones.  It keeps my brain alive.  To make myself feel better at work, I post fliers and postcards for the readings that I appear at, and when the ape-loving director sees one, he says “Well I just have to say, I am impressed.”  Impressed in the way that it’s impressive to watch Koko sign for a banana?  Impressed in the way that it’s impressive that Koko knows how to use a keyboard?  He is eight years younger than me and takes an aw shucks, you young ‘uns approach to our interactions, talking about the old days before he was married, when he used to be a performer himself, just like me.  

My colleague C is getting married soon, and someone asks where she’s going on her honeymoon.  “We’re going to Mexico, and we’re going to swim with dolphins,” she says.  I mishear the word “dolphins” for “Daschunds”, and I tell her so.  Together we fabricate a scenario where she swims with a pod of the tiny dogs, and has a very spiritual experience.  “You don’t have to fly to Mexico to do that,” I tell her, “just get a whole herd of them into Lake Michigan with you, people will come from miles around to be part of it, you could start your own small business.”  Taking on the persona of a Daschund swimming participant, I say “It was amazing, they’re so beautiful.  They’re so smart; they knew I was pregnant before I did!”  

C speaks in a secret code that’s not very hard to crack when she thinks she’s saying something dirty.  While relating the plotline of a Sex & The City episode, she tells me that the characters were “doozin’ it”, and refers to the female genitalia as “cucini”.  I look the word up to confirm a suspicion – it’s a conjugation of the Italian word “cucinare”, which means “to cook,” specifically: the present tense, second person singular.  I inform her of this, and add that if she ever goes to Italy, and the need to describe her genitals arises, she might have to use a different word.

Initially I wrote C off as too young and way too perky to be anything but a pain in my ageing, bitter ass, but as we spent time together in the confines of the workplace I grew to understand that beneath that Noxzema-fresh exterior and can-do spirit is a girl just as dark and funny as any I’ve met.  When I bought a new hairdryer she said “that’s better than using the ones in the locker room, there are ladies who dry their pubic hair with those.”  I registered surprise. “You’ve never noticed that?” she asked.  “I try to notice as little as possible in the locker room,” I explained, my mind reeling with countless images of sagging naked breasts and bent over asses, women of all ages and shapes in various states of undress.  I have noticed that sometimes they sit naked on the benches, and I haven’t sat on one since, but I’ve never noticed anybody blow-drying their pubes.  “Do you see them sometimes styling it?” I ask, “do people use product? Is anybody feathering their pubic hair into a Farrah Fawcett ‘do?”

I can’t see into the future; I have no idea how many of my Wednesday afternoons will be spent this way. When I do move on, I imagine that it will be a little bit like leaving prison.  I haven’t had to wear civilian clothes or deal with rush hour crowds for over two years now.  I go downtown so rarely that I get spooked by the wide streets and tall buildings, overwhelmed by the crowds of people surging past me.  The blue line sounds so loud to me now that I plug my eardrums like a tourist when it rolls into the station, and I am genuinely shocked when confronted with the dichotomy of shoppers on Michigan Avenue and the homeless people who wander the same street in the hopes of a handout. Sometimes I think that in the time since I lost my job I’ve become feral, other times I feel like I’ve become the person I was meant to be.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Addendum to 20 Milligrams

I saw this on a signpost on the corner of Chicago & Milwaukee avenues yesterday. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

20 Milligrams

I defaced my work ID card this week; I cut out a glossy photo of a brown egg from a Clinique ad that I found in a magazine in the break room, and pasted it onto my ID so that it covers my bemused 1.5” face but leaves my hair and shoulders as they were.  Glancing at it, you’d never notice the complete absence of features.  The day I posed for that picture I’d already submitted to a urine test and a background check (which as far as I know never came in, eventually they put me on payroll despite the fact that I could have a rap sheet as long as a gorilla’s arm).  By the time I submitted to the ID photo, I was pretty sure this job was going to be a joke, something I’d do for the next six to twelve weeks until one of the other jobs that I was interviewing for – real jobs, came through.  I thought it would be something I would omit from my resume.  It would be nice to have a buffer between me and unemployment, it would give me a better chance at getting a real job, and at the time that I accepted it there was talk of ending unemployment benefits for people who had reached the one year mark, which was getting precariously close.  I was tired of the effort of looking for a job, the constant self-promotion, the interviews, the rejections, the dusting myself off and starting again.  Psychologically, I didn’t want to cross the one year mark.  I’d done well with taking advantage of my free time and pursuing travel, volunteering, working odd jobs, and pursuing writing opportunities, and hadn’t spent a lot of time feeling down about my situation but I didn’t want to celebrate another unemployed birthday, another unemployed anniversary, another unemployed marker of any kind.

None of the other jobs I interviewed for were offered to me, and time passed.  I took advantage of the lax dress code and proximity of my workplace to my home, sometimes rolling out of bed and literally wearing what I’d slept in to work.  More time passed, and as it became clear that I would have to do something to mark the time (as if I were doing time, which in a way I am – clocking in and out, counting hours, minutes even), I decided to take advantage of what there was.  I signed up for a physical fitness course, and then a fitness challenge.  9 months later I had lost 20 pounds and dropped 2 dress sizes.  I’d made some friends too, and made strides in my writing, connecting with the storytelling circuit in Chicago and making regular appearances at different venues.  It wasn’t all bad, part of what allowed me to do all that writing was that my job wasn’t taking much out of me.

It had its costs; I wasn’t feeling good about myself.  6 months into the job, I called the EAP line (employee assistance program, a confidential service that gets promoted on the company website as a resource for when things are getting grim) and they literally put me on hold, which made me think of that old Rodney Dangerfield chestnut that he rolled out during his “I don’t get no respect” era.  When I finally spoke to someone, they asked me if it was an emergency.  It wasn’t.  They apologized for asking to call me back, but they were short staffed, or maybe the last seven people who called were all about to jump off the same bridge together, and it was taking up all their manpower to handle it.  I told them they could call me back, but I couldn’t take the call when they did.  I don’t have any privacy at work, and had snuck outside to place the call out to them.   Then one morning I woke up crying, and couldn’t stop.  The irony of the situation wasn’t lost on me – I’d managed to keep my spirits up the entire time I’d been out of work, and the reality of what kind of job I’d had to accept is what finally did me in.  I called the EAP line again, and the woman on the other end of the line had to tell me to calm down because she couldn’t understand what I was saying.  She connected me with a therapist in my neighborhood, and in short order I had a prescription for Prozac in my hands.

Here’s the thing about depression: it’s boring.  It’s something I’ve lived with for a long time, probably forever, and prescription medication is a wonderful, life-changing thing, and without it I’d probably live in a halfway house or worse by now, but talking about depression is just, well, depressing.  I was depressed for fourteen years before I was treated for it the first time, in my early 20s.  The fact that I went fourteen years without anyone noticing is remarkable, but not surprising, considering my family.  I had moments during those years, months even, when I was able to rise above it, but I lost a lot too, things I’ll never get back: time, opportunities, and relationships.   

The first time it was prescribed to me, Prozac was a wonder drug.  Everyone was on it, or talking about it, or knew people who were taking it.  I’d read enough to know that mine was far from the worst case; in high school I read The Bell Jar, and resonated with it deeply, and The Yellow Wallpaper.  In college I read Girl, Interrupted (I went to a reading by the author and got my book signed by her), and still later I watched the film An Angel at my Table, and was so awestruck that I read the book by the same name, all 434 pages of it, and then went on to read Faces in the Water, by the same author, Janet Frame.  

All these stories had a similar theme; they were about young women, generally raised in the middle-class, generally from educated families, who were crippled by depression and had to be treated for it, sometimes with dramatic remedies like shock-treatment.  I became the resident expert on depression in my family, which is funny in retrospect (sort of), because one by one all the women in my family were diagnosed with and treated for depression.  Suddenly I was a trailblazer; my female relatives came to me for advice on medication, to discuss side effects, and to soundboard.  

Prozac was expensive in those days, and I didn’t have any money.  I slowly weaned myself off it and began pursuing other methods – I started taking St. John’s Wort, I installed full-spectrum light bulbs in my apartment, I bought a SADD lamp for the long Chicago winters.  For the most part, it worked.  There was the occasional party that I’d flake out on at the last minute because I just couldn’t peel myself off the couch, the odd get-together that I’d mysteriously be absent from, or sleep through, but for the most part I was functional.  When things got serious with the man who became my husband I was up front about my history with depression, figuring if it was going to be a deal breaker it was better to find out early on.  Apart from a short stint in my early 30s when I was dealing with some crap with my dad, I was able to get along without medication until recently.  Here’s the thing about me and medication:  deep down, I feel like I shouldn’t be on it.  I feel like its fine for everyone else in the world to be medicated, but I should be strong enough to do without it.  It’s stupid, I know.  I don’t judge anyone else for taking happy pills, but I judge myself.  

Prozac is pretty much the same now as it was the first time I took it, only now it’s cheap as hell.  A 90 day supply of Fluoxetine, the generic for Prozac, costs me less than $8.  It used to cost me almost $3 per pill.  With prices like that, who the hell wouldn’t want a little help?  I was recently turned down for a job that I was pretty sure was going to be offered to me; a job that, unlike the countless others I’ve interviewed for in the 2+ years since I was laid off, I actually wanted.  It hurt, and I’m trying to figure out what to do next.  I have my pills, and I have my husband, and I have my writing, and I have my 20 pounds lighter, stronger body.  I know I’m blessed, but sometimes, as my friend Bridget once said: “it’s hard to wake up in the morning to it could be worse.”  So here’s to today, and here’s to tomorrow, here’s to hoping for better things, and here’s to the 20 milligrams of magic that keep the whole thing going.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The GrandSLAM

Man, was that fun!  I got to meet Peter Sagal, who hosted the event, a bunch of Moth people, and the 9 other featured storytellers.  I told my story in front of a sold out crowd at the Park West, where something like 700 people hung on my every word.  14 of my friends and family came out to see me, and hooted and hollered for me when I got called onstage.  I even got to use a green room, which I haven't done since high school.

It was magic.

I'm tired and spaced out now, and a little sad that it's over.  Below is my story, the theme of the night was "identity crisis".  Enjoy.  YouTube clips to follow.

I woke with an urgent need to urinate.
I slipped out from my date’s bed, and tiptoed out to the open door of the bathroom, where I heard the familiar sound of a leaky faucet; a thin, but persistent stream of water falling from an old tap into an equally old basin.  Like all nearsighted people, I squinted just to make sure I was standing in the right place.  I stood fully in the open doorway, and squinted again, a little harder this time.  I then took a couple steps into the bathroom, and although I was fairly certain of my powers of deduction, squinted a third time for good measure
That’s when I saw the figure of a man standing in front of the toilet, staring at me as if I were a naked, near-sighted apparition come to haunt him. The sound of falling water, I realized too late, was in fact the sound of a man taking a wiz.  Although I'd been standing fully naked for a good thirty seconds, I instinctively covered my breasts with one hand, my privates with the other, and struck a pose like that of Botticelli’s "The Birth of Venus".  I ran back into the bedroom, still as full of urine as when I left, and jumped under the covers. "What's going on?" my date asked sleepily.  "I had to pee, and I went into the bathroom and your roommate was in there, and he saw me naked, and now I still have to pee, but I'm not going back in there," I said. He was remarkably unfazed by this turn of events and easily fell back asleep.  Somehow I was able to do the same, despite the orb of urine in my bladder.
I began spending a lot of time in the apartment where I’d been a myopic flasher, and although I did learn my lesson – I never went anywhere in that apartment without my glasses ever again, I felt awkward around the roommate, Randy. At least once a day I would remember that Randy had seen me not just naked, but naked, bent over, and squinting.  It was a hard image to shake, and it made me shy around him.  I’ve never been good with speaking up; I’ve never sent dish back in a restaurant, even if it’s not the one I ordered, I spent the fifth grade being best friends with a girl I didn’t like because I couldn’t bring myself to tell her the truth, and I once allowed a teacher to call me by the wrong name for an entire semester rather than correct her.  This got weird at parent teacher conference day, but at least I didn’t have to be the one to let her know.  There was no way I was bringing up the naked incident.  The fact that Randy was gay didn’t make me feel better about my indiscretion – if he’d been straight, maybe I could have convinced myself that I’d given him a free show, but I had inflicted full frontal, squinty nudity on a man who wanted none of it. 
As our friendship developed, so did my nagging sense that the naked incident was going to become my tell tale heart – I wasn’t going to be able to relax and be myself around Randy until we had openly acknowledged that this had happened.  While it turned out that we had quite a bit in common: we both had cats named “Whiskers” when we were kids; the state of Indiana was a cause for anxiety to both of us; and we were both slightly lactose intolerant but refused to give up dairy; he never once mentioned the incident.   Had I really scarred him that badly? 
I was trying to get better at speaking up, and I made it my mission to clear the air with Randy; after all, if I couldn’t confront this, how was I ever going to be able to send back food at restaurants, or tell people my name, or whether or not I liked them?  We made a date to go to the Chicago Historical Society, and went to lunch at a diner afterwards.   This was, I decided, the moment. “So, Randy,” I began, twirling a French fry in a puddle of ketchup on my plate, “do you remember the time when, um, I stayed over a long time ago…”  I searched his face for some sign – some light of recognition, some indication that he knew where I was going with this.  Nothing.  “And it was the middle of the night, and I had to pee…”  I searched his face again.  Still nothing, this guy had a serious poker face.  “And I was… naked?”  I finally said.  Randy’s brow furrowed, he leaned back, and cocked his head slightly to the left.  Finally, the memory of it crawled out from deep in the files of his mind, manifesting itself first in the release of his eyebrows, then in the slackening of his jaw, and we made eye contact.   I held my breath.
“That wasn’t me,” he said, “That was my ex-boyfriend, Ron.” 
A wave of emotions cascaded over me: relief, embarrassment, confusion.   I knew I had bad eyesight, but what was especially perplexing was that Randy was white, and his ex-boyfriend, Ron, was black.  There’s something beautifully universal and post-racial about that - maybe the key to world peace is universal myopia.  There’s also something really disturbing about it.  This whole time I’d been shy around Randy because I thought he had seen me naked, when in fact it had been a completely different person.  What did this say about me?  How many other situations had I misjudged in my life?  My ability to interpret my surroundings had been cast into doubt.  I wasn’t sure I could be relied on to make judgments on situations like who was at fault in a car accident, or even tell the difference between a parked car and a dumpster.  What I took away from it is this:  in my eyes, you are all equally beautiful, and equally blurry; and for God’s sake, never call on me for eyewitness testimony, and if I’m ever accidentally naked in front of you, don’t hesitate to bring it up in conversation, because chances are I didn’t know that it was you.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ladies Rock Camp, and other stuff

I've been writing a lot for Gapers Block lately, and I don't generally cross-post, but this was a really fun time.  I went to Ladies Rock Camp last weekend, a fundraiser for Girls Rock, a camp for girls that has chapters all over the country.  It was really fun to write this piece, so I'm posting a link here: The Ladies Rock Experience

I'm also getting geared up for Tuesday's Moth GrandSLAM.  I have a story, but I'm starting to feel unsure about it.  I have a feeling I won't be thinking about much else between now and Tuesday night.  Eep.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Getting ready for the GrandSLAM, and other things

Some really exciting stuff has been happening lately with my writing, as well as some really stressful stuff with work.  Between them, the highs in my life are getting higher, and the lows are getting lower.  It's making me feel a little bipolar.

A few weeks ago I sent Kristin and Mark (my boyfriend and his wife) copies of the stories I'd written about them, because I figured they were out there on the Internet and they were going to get wind of them eventually, and it was better if I was up front about it.  I was a little nervous - not very, about how they would react.  There's nothing bad about them in it, but you never know.

"Best case scenario," I said to my husband, "she passes it on to her publisher."
"As opposed to: she never wants to see or speak to you again?" he asked. 

As it turned out, their reaction couldn't have been more positive; Kristin friended me on facebook, sent a link to my blog post to her editor, and tweeted a link to the story out to her twitter followers.  Over two hundred people read my story entitled "Don't Stop Believin'" over the course of the next 48 hours.  By comparison, I generally get between 0-7 visitors a day.

It was an incredible high, and then I had to return to work - where my very performance has been called into question.  I saw my doctor about a skin problem I was having recently, and while I was there she checked my blood pressure: 140/100, pre-hypertension levels.  All these highs and lows are taking their toll on me.

And then I got the news that I'll be performing in next month's Moth GrandSLAM at the Park West.  This is by far the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me with my writing.  I'll be on stage with other Moth StorySLAM winners, competing for the title of GrandSLAM winner, at a venue that will be hosted by NPR's Peter Sagal of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me.  The theme of the evening is "Identity Crisis," which is both fantastic and completely flummoxing to me.  I'm constantly in a state of identity crisis, and choosing one story is going to be hard.  Here's the material I have to work with: am I Jewish/not Jewish?  American/foreign?  New Yorker/Midwesterner?  Tattooed/not tattooed?  Employed/unemployed?  And for about 4 years of my life, when I first moved to Chicago, I was America's biggest fag hag, what does this say about my sexual identity?

I've been procrastinating, and it's not good.  This thing keeps getting bigger - people have been asking for tickets, and when I consider the size of the Park West, it makes my heart palpitate.  I've never spoken in front of that many people before.  I need to be prepared - I can't get onstage with Peter Sagal and wing it.  Below is my first attempt at an identity crisis story.  I like it, but I don't think it's GrandSLAM winning material.  It would be a shame to scrap it though, so I'm posting it here.   Enjoy.

Summer 1993

I’m standing on the corner of Belmont and Clark, dressed in four inch platform shoes, a dress, a platinum blonde wig, false eyelashes, and copious makeup.  Accompanying me are two drag queens – one who goes by the name of Patty Melt; she easily clears seven feet with hair and heels, the other is named Jane Doe, whose back story is that she woke up in a ditch with amnesia, and hasn’t been identified.

By day Patty works at the customer service desk at Whole Foods, Jane is a bartender at a club called Foxy’s, where we are headed.  It’s a warm night, and I begin sweating under my wig.  This isn’t a sensation I’m used to, and I resist the urge to remove it.  Jane and Patty have helped me with my hair, makeup, and outfit, and between the three of us we’d spent an entire workday getting ready to go out, I don’t want to ruin it before we’ve even reached our destination. 

Jane wears a long, luscious auburn wig, a baby blue dress that falls mid-thigh, and an artificial flower in her hair.  Patty wears a blonde wig styled into a flip, and a skirt suit*.  Both of them have enhanced their cleavage with bags of birdseed.

As we stand on the corner waiting for the light to change, a car full of young men slows down, and then stops.  Loud music thumps through the body of the vehicle and into the night, the bass turned up so loud I can feel it in my chest.  The man riding shotgun to the driver rolls down his window, increasing the decibel count that spills out into the street, leans his head out of the window, and yells: “Fags!” 

He can’t possibly be talking to me, I think.  Clearly I am different than my two friends here - even with help of platform shoes I barely clear 5 feet 9 inches.  Patty and Jane tower over me, we could be featured in the Sesame Street anthem: “one of these things is not like the others”. 

I make eye contact with the name caller, stunned, a little frightened, and for some reason I silently implore him to look closer - look into my eyes, can’t he tell that I’m a real girl?  He meets my gaze, leans further out of the window, and says:  “Fags!”  There’s no question about it this time; I, a biological woman, have just been called a fag.

I’m in female drag, sure, but I’m not impersonating a woman, I’m impersonating a different woman – one who wears false eyelashes and platform shoes, one who spends hours fixing her hair before leaving the apartment, and in less time than it takes to cross a street, a perfect stranger has turned me into a drag queen, one who possibly goes by the name Victor Victoria.

This is not the first time that my identity has been called into question.  I’ve been called a dyke, a fag, white trash (which is hilarious because I grew up speaking French).  People have variously assumed that I speak fluent Spanish, that I’m Native American, and on at least three separate occasions someone has assumed that I’m pregnant.  This is how it works:  if I wear red lipstick, people think I’m Hispanic; if I grow my hair long people think I’m Native American; and if I wear overalls people think I’m pregnant.  This would be fantastic if I were an actress, I could include in my head shots: “I can play anything from a very short drag queen to an expectant mother with equal conviction.”

But the first time I remember my identity being questioned was when I was six years old.  I’d asked my mother to give my hair bangs, and just as she was about to, she was distracted by a phone call.  Impatient, I decided to take things into my own hands.  I stood on a step stool in front of the bathroom mirror, lifted a pair of scissors to my head, and cut my hair from ear to ear, resulting not so much in bangs as in a mullet.  Satisfied with my handiwork, I presented myself to my mother, who was still talking on the phone.  I did not get the reaction I expected, and ended up with a very short, very androgynous haircut.  Compounding the situation was the fact that I was a messy kid; I bathed only when forced to, never wore dresses, played with messy, dirty boys, and wouldn't play dolls with my girl friends - only stuffed animals.

My friend Annie, who wore only clean, feminine clothing, and always had bows in her hair, convinced a boy in our class who was developmentally delayed that I was a boy too; with my short hair I no longer had any recognizable female sex characteristics.  We went into the boy's bathroom together where he pulled down his pants, showed me his hairless member, and said "see?"  The deal was I was supposed to show him mine too, but somehow I was able to get out of revealing myself.  I may have simply left the bathroom before anything could be asked of me, but I distinctly remember leaving with him; we entered that bathroom as two boys, comrades, fellow penis owners, and as far as that kid knew, that's the way we exited.  I never revealed myself to the man who called me a fag either. 

*I can't remember exactly what Patty Melt was wearing - if you're reading this Patty, feel free to correct me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Insomnia, part III - this is getting to be a habit

There was one semester of college where I couldn't sleep.  I had recently moved to Chicago, I lived in a studio apartment with the best cat ever and about eight hundred roaches, and I really didn't know anybody.  I had transferred schools halfway through college and everybody seemed to already know each other.  I went to Columbia College when it was still a commuter school, there were no dorms or campus housing of any kind, so it was hard to break into the social scene.  I couldn't sleep at night, and instead I stayed up late watching reruns of St. Elsewhere on my giant, 1984 color TV that had no remote, so if I wanted to change the channel I had to get up from a reclining position on my futon and change it my damn self.  They aired St. Elsewhere at 2 or 3 in the morning, and ran 2 or 3 episodes in a row, in sequence, so I'd follow along and feel nostalgic for Boston, where the series is set, and isn't that far from the school I had transferred from.  Sometimes even that didn't work, so after the last episode of St. Elsewhere had wrapped up I would go for walks along Broadway, Clark Street, Halsted.  My husband tells me that his first clear memory of me is when he and his roommate were walking home from a late night out and ran into me at 4am.  I was friends with his roommate, who asked me what I was doing out.  "I can't sleep," I explained.  I remember that my husband - well, the man who would many years later become my husband, leaned in and hugged me when I said that.  I didn't expect it, and was uncomfortable.

At some point in the early morning it would seem ridiculous to try to go to sleep, so I'd plan on staying up all day, going downtown for class, and sleeping when I got home.  Invariably, I would fall asleep at around 6am, sleep right through class, and wake up at some point in the afternoon.  It was a cycle I couldn't snap out of, and I got terrible grades as a result.  I even failed a class for not handing in my final report.

In retrospect, I know what was keeping me up at night - I was trying to run away from myself, but it wasn't working.   At around that time I read Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, and there's a line in it that I'll paraphrase, or maybe the Internet will find it for me (bless you Internet - first web site that popped up in a Google search had it!):

[W]herever I sat - on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok - I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.  ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 15

I'd left Boston thinking that I would be happier somewhere else, but the truth was I was simply unhappy, Chicago wasn't going to change that.  I'd been running from my own head, reinventing my life in an attempt to change who I was.  

The week my husband and I got back from Montreal, I couldn't sleep 3 nights out of the first 4 that we were back.  I know why I'm not sleeping, I'm just not sure what to do about it.  

As it turns out, it shows that I'm not really invested in my job.  My boss had a talk with me my first day back - a kind of pre-annual review (dear God, have I really been there for a year?!) and told me that concerns had been raised about my performance.  I couldn't lie to her - it has been hard for me.  I never thought I'd be working there, would never have even applied for the job if it weren't for my circumstances, and throughout my unemployed year I was able to distract myself from my job loss by immersing myself in other things - travel, volunteering, writing.  It wasn't until I accepted a job that was not just a step backwards but a whole staircase of steps backwards that I felt the enormity of what I had lost.  I'd done the best I could with the situation at hand - got to know my colleagues, lost 20 pounds, grew triceps where no triceps were before; but the truth is, I never meant to be there, certainly not this long.

I actually really appreciated my boss calling me out on my performance, for a long time it felt like I could do a great job or a crappy job and nobody would know the difference.  It feels like we've crossed a divide, and become more honest with each other; it feels better to go to work... sort of.  Sort of.  

What kept me up at night in 1992 and 1993 was my brain working in overdrive, trying to figure out my life, and I guess it's not that different from what's keeping me up now.  For some reason I'm unable to follow through on my own instincts - search out new opportunities, pursue them, find more meaningful work.  I'm just so tired of looking, and so tired of interviewing, and so tired of rejection, but the alternative is insomnia, and it's really not doing much for me. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Don't Stop Believin'

As my husband and I approached the farm, the Canadian classic rock station in the rented car began playing the 1981 monster jam Don’t Stop Believin recorded by Journey at the very zenith of Steve Perry’s tight jeans and white sneakers period.  My husband and I were visiting Montreal, celebrating 10 years of marriage, and I had convinced him to drive south of the border for an afternoon so I could see my high school boyfriend for the first time in fifteen years.  I’d been referring to him simply as “my boyfriend”, ever since I found out where he lived thanks to the book that his wife wrote about their first year running an organic farm together.  It had been quite a mental journey, I’d become a kind of time traveler within my own life.  I hadn’t thought about him in years but suddenly I couldn’t stop visiting my own past.  Despite the fact that I’m not a small town girl – I grew up in Brooklyn, and my boyfriend wasn’t born and raised in south Detroit – he grew up in the megalopolis of New Paltz, and neither of us ever took a midnight train going anywhere, it felt significant that Don’t Stop Believin’ was playing on the radio moments before our reunion.   

My husband is heavily tattooed and I look fairly Semitic so people seem to have this idea that in our relationship I’m the one who civilized him but that’s an illusion.  I was the one who freaked out when we got engaged and flew to Amsterdam with my friend Joanie and got really stoned.  On our wedding day I realized only after I’d gotten my hair and makeup done, and after I’d gotten dressed that it had been a while since I’d shaved my armpits.  My dress had short sleeves, and I noticed there was about a quarter to half an inch of growth that was visible when I lifted my arms.  “Is this a big deal, I mean, is this okay?” I asked.  “No, it’s not okay, it’s terrible!” He said.  “Well, I’m already dressed and I can’t pull my clothes over my head without ruining my hair,” I said.  “Fine, I’ll shave you,” he said.  We stood in front of the bathroom sink, my husband dressed in a 3 piece suit, me in my wedding dress, and I watched our reflections in the bathroom mirror as he lathered up my armpits and shaved them – not for me so much, but so that he wouldn’t have to face the humiliation of showing up to his own wedding with a hirsute bride.  

This wouldn’t be the last time he had to deal with my depilatory issues.  A couple months ago I explained to my friend Lois that I’d discovered that since I don’t grow much hair on the back of my legs that I thought I could get away with just shaving the front, but my husband didn’t share in this opinion.  “I’m beginning to think,” she said, “that you’re very lucky to have him.”  

I’d gotten in touch with my boyfriend a couple months earlier, we’d spoken on the phone only once – our schedules are very different, he gets up at 4 and goes to bed at 9, and in planning our trip to Montreal I noticed that on the map, at least, it didn’t look very far from his farm in upstate New York.  He doesn’t have modern conveniences like email or a facebook account, so I left a message on what I’m sure is probably an actual answering machine saying that we were going to be in Quebec and was it a long drive?  I really didn’t know if it was a big deal to cross the border or how long it would take to get there.  He called back the same day and said “We’d love to see you, Montreal is about a 90 minute drive, I’ve got the dates penciled in on our calendar, let me know.”  It was only then that I approached my husband about making this side trip.  

I chose my words carefully.  “Here’s the thing,” I began, when we visited L.A. a few years ago, we saw not one but two of your exes, and when I first moved back to Chicago and we started dating, it seemed like every girl you were friends with had slept with you at some point.  I didn’t have a lot of boyfriends, and this is as close as I’ll ever get to his farm, you have to give me this one.”   

“It’s not him that I have a problem with,” my husband said, “I get freaked out by farms.”  I knew this to be true, having dragged him to my childhood summer camp in the wilds of Vermont a couple times, where he tolerated the wilderness that I so cherished and that I credit for making up a good part of my character.  It was the first time he’d ever been away from electricity and indoor plumbing, and I had to give him his props – he stepped out of his comfort zone and actually managed to enjoy himselfIn the end we agreed to make a day trip out of my boyfriend’s farm. 

And then a strange thing started happening, I had stress dreams about the visit.  In one, I was visiting my boyfriend, and his wife met me and was perfectly friendly, but he didn’t want to talk to me, he just sort of stood there and looked away from me, and wouldn’t make eye contact, and they put me up in this dilapidated outbuilding that was full of cats and cat litter and cat shit, and then his wife asked me if I’d like to meet with her to talk about writing, because she’s writer.  When I told my husband he said “first of all, I think it’s hilarious that you didn’t recognize that the dilapidated house full of cats and cat shit is our house, and secondly, I think you’re more interested in talking to her than you are in talking to him.”  He’s a fucking genius.   

Then I had a dream that convinced me that my subconscious is an egomaniac, I dreamt that my boyfriend called and told me not to visit him, because he was still in love with me, and it would be just too difficult for him to see me.  

Throughout this whole process I’d been referring to him as “my boyfriend, to the point where everyone else was too, even my husband.  When we discussed our travel plans, he began sentences with phrases like “so when we get to your boyfriend’s farm…” and I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to introduce him any other way, it’s just how I know him, and what I’d been calling him.  I don’t think my husband would have a problem with it, but it probably wasn’t a great idea to do that in front of his wife, who I’d never met, and maybe my boyfriend would think it was a little weird. 

He recognized me through the car window, we were probably the only visitors he was expecting that day, so it wasn’t too hard to guess who we were He walked to my side of the car, looking pretty much as he always has – tall, lanky, a little more rugged from years spent working the land, dressed in a straw hat, a button down shirt, and jeans.  “I’m so glad you’re here,” he said, “everyone’s been asking me ‘when is your girlfriend getting here?’” 

He was having lunch outside with his crew, a small group of awesomely filthy men who looked to be somewhere in their twenties.  There were visible dirt lines on their calves where their pant legs ended, with everything below caked in various shades of farm dirt.  They asked my husband about tattoos, and asked me what their boss was like in high school.  Feeling suddenly shy, all I could come up with was: “well, he wasn’t a farmer.”  A nine month old baby girl crawled at my boyfriend’s feet.  Somehow she’d managed to get a piece of old, dried up chicken shit in her mouth.  “Oh man, that is the worst thing I’ve ever smelled coming out of a baby’s mouth,” he said, removing the offending fecal matter.  Turning to my husband, he said: “So I hear that you’re a real nature boy and that you can’t wait to roll up your sleeves and dig in.”    
“If you want to know word for word what he said to me,” I asked,  
Yes, I do.” He answered. 
“He said: I will go to the farm with you, but I do not want to be involved to any part of the circle of life; I do not want to see anything get inseminated, I do not want to see anything get born, I do not want to see anything get killed.  I will hang out on the porch, I will sip mint tea, and I will pet the dog.” 

“Alright,” my boyfriend said, “no sex and no death, I think we can handle that.”  He took us on a tour of the farm, stopping to pick stalks of asparagus for us to snack on, walking us through as much shade as possible, and making sure our water bottle was refilled regularly in the 90 degree heat.  Despite himself, my husband became fascinated with the enterprise, asking specific questions about things like mobile chicken coops that were moved daily to provide natural fertilizer to the fields, draft horses that pulled equipment that was made in the 1930’s by Amish farmers, and disease vectors.  “Well, we’re coming up on some pregnant pigs,” my boyfriend said, “but that’s sex, so I don’t know if you want to see that.”  My husband said that would be okay, and we watched the impressively sized sows enjoying the shade.  One of them turned her hind quarters toward us and started rubbing her rump up against the side of a corrugated metal structure.  “I think I’m going to start doing that,” I said.  “What?” my boyfriend asked.  “Rub my butt up against stuff when it itches.” 
“We’ve got dairy cows too,” my boyfriend said, “have you ever milked a cow?” he asked, directing his question to my husband.  “He has,” I offered, “and he was surprised that it was warm.”   

After the tour we met up with my boyfriend’s wife and their three year-old daughter in front of the farmhouse.  The three year-old was dressed in pink striped pants and a pink top, and was riding a pony that was tethered to a rope and being guided by her mother.  “Do you have any idea how many little girls would love to have a pony?” I asked her.  “No, she really doesn’t”, her mother answered.  To her husband she said: “we were inside and she was upstairs screaming and screaming, I went to see what was happening and it turned out her fingers were stuck in her tiara.”  “That happens to me all the time,” I said.  We were joined by the family dog, who leaned against me and looked deeply into my eyes until I started petting him, a pullet that had gotten loose from the pen next to the farmhouse, and the nine month-old, who began busily stuffing her mouth with grass.  “Don’t worry about it,” her mother said when I went to take the greenery from the child’s mouth, “it will come out one way or another.”  For a moment it seemed as if every life form possible was crowded together on that small patch of lawn, and I began to get an idea of how busy life must be for my boyfriend and his family, who, with a hired staff of five, manage to provide 200 people with 60% of their daily calories. 

We were invited to stay for dinner, and the food was amazing, having all come from right outside the door.  We started with cold asparagus soup and moved on to green salad and baked chicken.  “Mommy,” the three year-old asked sweetly, “was this chicken slaughtered this year?”  “No honey, came the answer, this chicken was slaughtered last year, it came from the freezer.”  I silently compared the moment to a story my mother in-law tells of her own daughter sitting down to dinner and asking “Mommy, why is it called chicken?” and getting really upset when she got an answer.  As it turns out, my boyfriend’s three year-old daughter who loves the color pink and wears tiaras around the house really enjoys watching animals get slaughtered, and plays a game called “slaughter” with her friends, where the ground rule is you can only pretend to kill animals, so they play with it the family dog, or whatever barnyard animals happen to be nearby.   

We’d brought Canadian beer and pastry with us, which we shared at the end of the meal.  We were invited to stay the night, I was on the fence.  There would be literally nothing to do once our hosts went to bed at 9, and they get up at 4, which didn’t sound great.  When the subject of our wedding anniversary, which was the following day, came up, my boyfriend said “we’re planting leeks tomorrow, what better way to celebrate ten years of marriage than by planting ten thousand leeks?  Also, there’s going to be a steer slaughter tomorrow – but that’s death, so you probably don’t want to see that.”  It seemed like a good moment to end the visit – we’d enjoyed each other’s company, but seeing everybody again at 4am, all bleary-eyed and irritable didn’t seem too appealing. 

My boyfriend packed us a bag of asparagus, lettuce, and homemade bread, and walked us to our car, where my high school boyfriend and my husband of ten years shook hands, momentarily fusing my past and my future.  “It was so great to see you,” my boyfriend said, and leaned in for a hug that was short enough not to get weird and uncomfortable, but long enough to acknowledge our history.   
On the drive back to Canada, my husband was quiet for a few minutes.  “I’d like to go back sometime,” he finally said.  “Yeah?” I asked.Yeah, maybe stay at an inn or a B&B in town for a couple days and uh, you know, work.”  “On the farm?” I asked.  “Yeah, I think that would be really cool.”  If I hadn’t been buckled into my seat, I would have fallen right out of it.   

We crossed the border back into Canada, where my civilized husband and I returned to our well-appointed B&B, where three course morning meals were delivered to our room every morning by handsome men, and complimentary slippers were provided at the front door.  The experience left me feeling not so much nostalgic as much as it felt like I’d time travelled, and was now back in the present, all grown up But mostly it got that infernal Journey song stuck in my head, so if anyone knows of an antidote – please, let me know.  Unless that antidote is “Oh Sherrie,” that’s ten times worse.