Category Archives: What is the safety word again?

Tater tots nearly killed my family – don’t let them kill yours

Seriously – my husband, my children, my dog and I narrowly escaped death two days ago, and all because I was trying to cook up some nutrient-rich vegetables, namely tater tots,  for my children. But actually that is only the middle part of the story, so let me try to rehash what happened with my remaining brain cells which have not been altered forever by this unfortunate mishap.

Okay, so we’re planning to paint the kitchen this weekend, and by “we”, I mean BD.  BD is very methodical person, so he has been readying the kitchen walls by fixing any holes and spackling and sanding and cleaning and other stuff to get ready for the big painting day. But BD is incapable of doing anything without first removing all items from a room before he begins his work.  He and I could not be more different on this point. I say, leave everything as it is and throw a tarp over it and do whatever you have to do.  He says, take out EVERYTHING in the damn kitchen, including shelves, rugs, the 800 random papers magneted to the refrigerator, and anything necessary to cook anything.  He gets his way since he is doing all the work.  We’ve been married long enough that I no longer ridicule his methods, because at the end of the day everything gets done just so and he does a good job. Oh, and because it gets me nowhere.

While it’s a pain in the ass to have all the kitchen clutter now cluttering the dining room,  I was secretly overjoyed he didn’t remove the microwave. Seriously, it made my day. I’m not sure why that appliance was spared, but THANK GOD. But now he’ll probably read this and be like, “Why didn’t I remove the microwave?! Perhaps I should”. And then I’m S.O.L. But actually I’m pretty confident I’m safe because he has a reason for everything so I’m sure that he weighed the pros and cons carefully and there must be some reason it remains. Maybe because 50% of his diet consists of Hot Pockets and he might starve to death without the microwave.  I digress.

Okay, so my kitchen has been all fucked up for the week, which I’m actually pretty okay with because then I have so many more excuses to just order in.  I loathe cooking, so it’s working out really well for me.  But Wednesday I felt guilty because I hadn’t made anything in a while, so I wanted to do something really fancy.  So out came the frozen chicken nuggets and nutritious tater tots.  The nuggets are supposed to be cooked at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  The tater tots, on the other hand, require a temperature of 450 and must cook for 16-18 minutes.  I’m not trying to brag or anything, but it takes a very experienced cook to bake both of these foodstuffs on the same cookie sheet in a single oven at the same time and have them turn out awesome, like I can.  So it was a really fancy dinner, like I said.

Okay, so I decide to preheat the oven to 425, the average of the nuggets and tater tot recommended heating temperatures.  Oh SNAP! See, how that just happened? Now I’m giving you all of my closely guarded culinary secrets. And this isn’t even a foodie blog, but look at all the super tips you can learn!  But seriously, this isn’t for the novice. It may take you a few tries to get it just right. Just be careful.  Because you might wind up killing your whole family, as I almost did.

So when I turned on the oven it wasn’t but 20 seconds or so when I smelled something a little funny. I couldn’t really figure out what it was, but I know that BD put a new drywall patch in behind the stove, so I thought maybe it was kind of heating up for the first time and giving off an odor.  Instead of checking out my hypothesis, I just shrugged my shoulders and took my place on the couch to watch the Polar Express with my kids for the 573rd time since December 15.  Looking back on this, I don’t think just shrugging my shoulders was the appropriate response.  However, I cannot change the past, so…my bad.

Okay, so then about 10 minutes go by and my dog starts running around in circles and kind of being annoying and just as I begin to chastise her for this weird behavior, two alarms go off.  One is the oven alerting me that the oven is preheated.  The other is the carbon monoxide/fire detector.  My first thought is:  “We have a fire detector in the kitchen? That’s awesome. How safe are we? I must give BD a fist bang for his thoroughness”. Yes, though all objects used to cook or serve food with were missing from the kitchen, he did not remove the fire detector.

I quickly snapped out of the blissful mood caused by this discovery because the fire detector going off isn’t usually a sign of good things.  I run into the kitchen and there is a weird fog in there and it smells pretty gnarly.  I hadn’t even put the damn food in yet, so what could be causing this craziness?  I throw open the oven and – Holy. Shit.

You know those plastic tub things with a matching pitcher to put beverages in that they give you at the hospital? I don’t know if we’re the only ones who took ours home after each of the boys was born, but they make really good vomit bins (I’m pretty sure that is their sole purpose in the hospital?) or soaking tubs for other stuff. Well, one we use for the first purpose, the other one we use for pre-soaking our dishes.  Apparently it must have been in BD’s way, because he decided a good place to put it would be the oven.  Not the dining room with the rest of the shit. In the oven, on the top rack.

And now. Now it was melting all over the racks and dripping plastic into the bottom of the oven.  “HOLY SHIT!” I screamed, not only for the sight in the oven, but from the toxic cloud that came out of it when I opened the door.  BD ran in at that moment and he too exclaimed “HOLY SHIT” (though it would have been more original of him to drop an F-bomb. Just saying.) and it quickly became clear his mission was to save our oven from being ruined with melted yellow plastic all over the bottom.

Okay, so to recap, I try to make tater tots but in the process I cook a 13″ by 9″ by 5″ plastic bin at 425 degrees instead. And then my kitchen kind of resembled what I can only guess Chernobyl looked like minutes before it spewed radioactive waste all over Russia. The smell!! Oh my God. My eyes were watering and my throat became raspy.  Luckily, even a fire alarm and two swearing parents did not seem like a good enough reason for my sons to avert their eyes from The Polar Express and they didn’t come running in to inhale the nastiness that used to be the oxygen in my home.

BD immediately got down on his hands and knees and started scraping the oven while the plastic was still hot.  I stood there swearing and repeating several times that I didn’t think this was good. Nope. Not good at all.  I managed to open all the doors and windows to let the snow and 23 degree air in to ventilate the house.  Then I did the most important thing of all – I Googled “burned plastic fumes danger” to see if I might get a hit or two.  I read the first few things that came up and everyone was pretty much in agreement that either cyanide or deadly dioxins or carbon monoxide was being released into the air and that me and my family were about to die.  If not immediately from asphyxiation, then later from cancer.

Fuck. So then I told BD that we had to evacuate the kids and the dog and ourselves. “You go! I’ll stay! Save yourself. Get the kids!” He yelled, valiantly.  He’d be damned if he’s going to leave and let that plastic harden on the bottom of the oven.  “No seriously, YOU are getting cancer right now!  You may already have it. The Internet said.” That didn’t move him. “You are about to die of carbon monoxide poisoning! By the time you feel it, it will be too late. We’re all going to die if we don’t leave soon!” That is about the time when he decided to finally abandon the oven, but it was more because he had already pretty much cleaned the whole thing up — it just happened to coincide with my promise that we were all about to die.  After we pried the children away from the TV and quickly put on their boots, coats, mittens and hats (so like, 20 minutes later) and were sheparding them out of the house, I had a great idea for dinner.

Oooh! It’s free pie Wednesday at Baker’s Square! “Honey, can you go back in there and get our gift certificate? We should just bring the kids there for dinner and by the time we come home, maybe the carcinogens will have left our home and traveled into the atmosphere and then we won’t have to worry about them any more!”  He went back in the cancer fog and got it. And we went to Baker’s Square and got our free pie. And thankfully, nobody died. But we probably will all have cancer in a few weeks. I’ll let you know, but I am being responsible and taking out more life insurance on BD stat.

When we got home, it still smelled terrible, but the chemical smoke/fog was no longer there. I think most of the dangerous chemicals probably just adhered to most of the surfaces in the kitchen and were no longer in the air anymore, so I figured we were safe.  Except there on the counter were the lonely, forgotten tater tots. On the cookie sheet, looking forlorn, just waiting to be cooked.  And I thought to myself: “I could save these, right? Just put them back in the bag and freeze them up? I’d hate to waste nutritious vegetables…”, but then I remembered they almost just killed my whole family.  And there were more in the freezer. So I threw them away. But not without some regret.

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Love’s PhD Trilogy: Exodus

***if you are new to the trilogy, it started here.

Despite my grand illusions of who professors actually are and what they actually do (like screw around with undergrads and smoke pipes), my PhD experience wasn’t really all that I had hoped for. I liked all of my classes and I was doing fine, but the stress of having an advisor like Professor Dragon and the feeling that I would be railroaded into a field of study I didn’t even like became overwhelming. Not to mention that I was pretty sure that BD was probably getting tired of being a single father and I heard once that if your husband isn’t sleeping with you, he is likely sleeping with someone else. And I didn’t want him taking up with the cleaning lady because she wore thongs and I didn’t.

So we decided to take a romantic getaway to Napa. Because it would be nice to see each other and talk about something other than how Professor Dragon hates me or how I have to work the weekend or asking him to tell me stories about our son that was in bed by the time I got home. There were many days when I thought I had probably made a huge miscalculation about my fitness for academia, but I kind of suck at admitting when I’m wrong. And I’d already sunk almost two years into the thing, and I knew I was smart enough, so I just felt like there was no going back.

But thank God we were going to a place that was relatively warm and had wine, in abundance. I was so stoked to just drink wine all day, get loaded, have lots of conjugal relations and sleep in. It would be a great escape for three days and then it would be back to the salt mine. But we weren’t going to talk about my work this trip. We were just going to keep it light and have fun.

So off we went. Normally, I wouldn’t comment on the plane ride, because they are generally pretty boring.  Whenever we fly together, we always buy the aisle and the window in particular row, hoping nobody will buy the middle seat. I’m shocked how often this works. But alas, on this trip, some old dude did buy the middle seat, and I offered him the window and I took the middle so I could sit next to BD. The only thing more annoying than the person who buys the fucking middle seat is the person who wants to chat throughout the flight. I do my best not to ever talk to anyone ever on any plane because chances are that you will either fall in love with them or be stuck talking to them for the WHOLE FLIGHT about their god awful boring ass job or family (at least these are the only two scenarios that have ever played out in my life). Since I was already married, the first scenario would have been super awkward with BD sitting on the other side of me, which only left the latter option. And this was going to be a four hour flight, so I sure as hell wasn’t going to open up the lines of communication.

To tell you the truth, I have no idea how Old Balls Who Bought The Middle Seat managed to get me to respond to him. Perhaps he offered me a Take 5 or maybe it was a million dollars? I feel like those are the only two reasons I would decide to start talking to a stranger at the beginning of a fucking transcontinental flight. It was probably a Take 5 bar, because if it were a million dollars, I would remember that more vividly. But anyway, he started talking to me. I’m guessing after he gave me the Take 5 he said something really compelling like, “So….what brings you to San Francisco?” to which I would have rolled my eyes but felt obliged to reply through my very full mouth with teeth covered in chocolate, peanut butter, pretzel, caramel: “Spring break”.  Opening him up to asking where I went to school. And I look like I’m about 22 and this makes me salty sometimes because I really want to be taken seriously so badly that I went to get a PhD and I feel like I have to prove I’m old, so I said “I’m studying for my P.H.D. At [prestigious univeristy].” I thought this clever retort would make me sound super smart and important and he would look at me in awe and figure out how god damn important I was and shut the hell up and let me finish the candy bar that I feel sure he must have given me to talk to him in the first place.

“Oh yeah? What are you getting your PhD in?”. Fuck. Here we go.

“Marketing.”

“Oh. That’s a really growing area in business schools.” Love’s right eyebrow shoots up. Whaaat? He knows something about this? “I’m a business professor at [not a university I’d ever heard of] in Michigan. Boy, I remember my PhD days. What are you doing your dissertation on?”

“Um. I don’t really know yet. I’m just finishing up the coursework.”

“Ha! So you don’t even know what work is yet.”

“What?” He looks at BD and then at me.

“You guys have kids yet?”

“Yes. One. A two year old boy.”

“You ever see him?”

Suddenly the stale, recirculated air leaves the cabin and I feel like I just got sucker punched.
“Um. Well, its hard, but I mean, we make it work.”

“Ha!” He leans over me, taps BD on the knee and says to him, “If you think you don’t see her now, just wait until she starts her dissertation!”

I think BD was probably mad that I wound up talking to this guy, but it was too late now and we were both listening. So I said, “Finishing your dissertation was hard on you?”

“Brutal! Oh it took me a long time. That’s about the time I got hooked on amphetamines and started really abusing alcohol. It took me until I got tenure to realize I had a problem. That’s a lot of years. Actually that’s why I’m going out to San Francisco — to visit my AA sponsor. I’ve been clean for 12 years.”

“Um. Oh. Congratulations?”

“Thanks. Yeah, oh God I remember those days!! How could I forget? I was married back then too. But we got divorced right after I got my first job. I can’t blame her. I was an alcoholic and a drug addict. Plus, I was never around. She left me for a guy at her gym. But I can’t blame her.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. On the one hand, I could already picture BD and I re-enacting this whole conversation as we snorted wine out our noses from laughing at how inappropriate the conversation was. On the other hand, holy shit.

“Well, I’m sure it will be fine.” I said, totally NOT sure it would be.

“Yes. I’m sure it will. It takes a really strong person to be married to an academic. We’re a rare breed. A lot of stress – very cut throat. It’s hard to think about anything else when you’re trying to publish and get tenure. It doesn’t end with the dissertation. You’re fooling yourself if you think it does. The stress. It just doesn’t end. You know, I used to teach at [prestigious university] but I took the job where I’m at now just to get out of the rat race. It’s the only way I could stay sober. And then I met a nice lady and got remarried now and life is pretty sweet.”

That’s about the time when BD and I asked the stewardess for two little Jack Daniels bottles and a diet Coke. It probably wasn’t that respectful to our new friend, the talky-talky-jaded-alcoholic-recovering-drug addict-oversharing business professor Old Balls sitting next to us, but the stuff he was saying was scaring the shit out me, and the only coping mechanism that always works is drinking myself into a stupor. Oh wait….shit. Was I going to be an alcoholic soon too? I have never done amphetamines that I’m aware of, but was I just a dissertation away from that and a divorce too? I mean FUCK. I was already miserable. Was it only going to get worse?

So I told the guy I was really happy for his sobriety and I hope he had a good time in San Francisco, but I really needed to sleep because I hadn’t done that in a while. And as I was switching on my iPod to drown in my self-defeating thoughts, he says, “Ha!…Get your sleep! Do it now while you still can! They don’t just give PhDs away at [your university]!”

Eh. Heh heh? Shut up shut up shut up shut up, Old Balls! I never should have taken candy from a stranger. Here is this living, breathing person sitting next to me basically embodying my every fear in the world about what I was doing. Of all the fucking flights on all the fucking days, this mother fucker is the guy who sits next to me.

But wait…was this a sign? Was this my angel punching me in the face so that I would finally listen to what she’d been telling me for months? I can’t quit! Can I? Should I? I mean, what the fuck am I doing? I could get a great job with my MBA – I don’t need this to have a job. I don’t really need this for anything, except to stroke my obnoxious ego. If I keep going down this road, I’m going to be fucking miserable as a professor. I don’t like to do experiments! I like thinking of questions, but I’d rather have someone else tell me the answer. I don’t like doing lit reviews! I don’t like writing and re-writing the same damn paper 653 times just so some other PhD asshole can tear me a new one. I think I might like teaching, but I’ve never done it and maybe I would suck or I would hate that too. What the fuck am I DOING?

That is what was going through my head for the last two hours of the flight. But BD was going to kill me if I told him I wanted to quit. We had invested too much. So we got to our hotel and then went out to a Chevy’s or something like that for lunch and just as the nachos came, we looked at each other and BD said, “So that dude? On the plane? What did you think of that?”
“Um. Interesting, I guess.” I tried to be coy.
“I mean, what the fuck?” he said.
“Yeah.” I said. Silence.
We looked each other in the eyes for the first time in I don’t know how long.
Then I said it. “I can’t do this. I need to be done with this.”
To which, to my shock and relief and delight he replied, “I agree.”

And that was that. It was over. Thanks Old Balls!! We decided by the time the check came that I only had a quarter left to finish up classes and that I should do that and get the hell out of dodge. Just be ABD (all but dissertation). Forever.

We talked about the possibilities in our new life: we could have another kid! And financial security! And stay in Chicago! And have sex once in a while! And time at the park with our little boy that wasn’t full of guilt and tension! We could be free.  Free at last.  I didn’t realize how miserable I was until I could imagine what freedom from the anxiety and stress would feel like.

And that, my Internet friends, is the story of how I became a PhD school dropout.

**********If your eyes are tired or you’re bored, you should stop here, but for those of you hanging on every word, there is a shocking epilogue I just can’t leave out:

When I got back to school the following week, I announced my decision to my cohort. They thought I went crazy. They tried to tell me it was just miserable because Professor Dragon was mean, and maybe I should just get another advisor. But I knew it wasn’t her. Sure, she wasn’t an easy person to deal with, but it was me. I just wasn’t built to be an academic. Most of the other people in my cohort are. They’re the genuine article. Me? I’m something else. I’m a smart-ass, potty mouth blogger/US Weekly subscriber/Oprah Winfrey stalker. That’s my niche. That’s what I’m REALLY good at.

Word of my decision traveled fast and even Professor Bourbon – all the way from his new University – gave me a call to encourage me not to give up. He conceded that the academic world was full of assholes, but that it also had its bright spots. He told me if I could just hang in there and get the PhD, he’d give me a job and we could work together again, with normal people. Because he was only hiring people who were cool. But as tempting as that was, I know he is also the genuine article. Somebody born to be an academic. I was just faking it and he’d know it and then one day he would stop having me into his lair for chats because I was unproductive and I would lose the respect of a person who I loved to death. So I was resolved. I had to quit.

But I also had to tell Professor Dragon before she found out from someone else. I was at once completely ecstatic and scared to death of telling her I was quitting. I felt like when I told her, her head might spin 720 degrees and then she would shoot fire out of her eyes and nose and my hair would be totally singed off and that would suck for me in job interviews. I’m no Sinead.  At the same time, whatever she did, whatever she said, it just didn’t matter anymore. Because I was free.

So I go into her office with some flame retardant clothes and our conversation begins to take the normal course where she starts off kind of like she cares whats going on in my life, but then she’ll explain its only because she is trying to understand why I suck so bad. So I told her that I had a great vacation and I decided that academia wasn’t for me and that I was going to finish up my classes and finish being her research assistant and I was leaving the program in June. I was going to get a job. Probably back in sales. Thanks for everything, yada, yada, yada.

To which she replies, completely calmly, “Don’t be silly. You just came back from vacation and you’re thinking strange. Now go edit this paper, because I’m not satisfied with the lit review.  I don’t want to hear another word about this until you’ve had some time to think.”

Um. I just quit. It wasn’t a question. It was a fact. But I was quickly shoo’d out of her office and I got back to the PhD room where my cohort was waiting. I think they were as surprised as I was that I emerged from her office with hair and no visible third-degree burns.  “WHAT DID SHE SAY!?” I had to explain that though I had quit in no uncertain terms, in Professor Dragon’s world, I had simply said something crazy and that was probably the direct result of sunshine on vacation, or because I’m a moron, and if I just got used to the flourescent lighting of the business building again, I might come to my senses. Basically, she did this neat move where I tried to quit, but she didn’t really let me. There is very little drama, or satisfaction, in that.

So I worked for her for another three months. We did not discuss my pending departure. In the meantime, I filled out all the necessary paperwork to drop out and they were kind enough to give me another Masters degree as a parting gift. It’s no PhD, but two Masters degrees are cool. I could live with that.

A week before leaving, I finally reminded Professor Dragon that I was leaving. She told me that she wished I would reconsider, but she understood. And THEN — wait for it —- she planned. a fucking. party. for me. I shit you not. She pulled out all the stops and ordered in great Chinese and desserts and everything.  It was a feast the likes of which mine graduate student eyes had never seen, except for when they were recruiting the top PhD talent and we could come in later for the leftovers. Not only that, but it was a complete surprise to me. She kept asking me to come in to get some papers one day and I was like oh hellz no! and she kept insisting and I kept coming up with excuses until she was finally like “Fine. I am having a party in your honor today for all the hard work you’ve done. I hope you can come.” The fuck? And it gets even better – at the party she gets up and gives a short speech to all professors and students who came wherein, with tears streaming down her face, she said I was a wonderful person and student and that she would really miss me and that I could come back any time if I changed my mind.  I felt like somehow the time-space continuum bended and I found myself in an alternate universe called “opposite day”.

I had no idea until that point that she didn’t think I was the very worst student that she’d ever worked with in her entire life and that I hadn’t totally dishonored her by quitting. But she was more than cool on that last day, and I salute her, for throwing me a party after chasing me out of a profession I was never cut out for anyway. I have forgiven her for being from Hong Kong and showing me the kind of Chinese love that in an American context is generally experienced as torture. Now we’re tight. We still talk occasionally and I have nothing but love for her.

After that I got a job, my first son started understanding what a “mom” was, along came Baby #2 and BD and I are still married and I’m pretty sure I’m not technically an alcoholic. In other words:

THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

If you actually read this whole post and this whole quadlogy , you deserve a medal. Or a Masters degree of some sort.  You might even want to consider a PhD….

Cheers!

The time I just barely escaped a good old fashioned waterboarding. Or something like that.

I don’t like any kind of shopping except the online kind. When my first son was born, you could get formula and diapers on Amazon cheaper than the grocery store and delivered right to your door for free. Which is why I totally heart Jeff Bezos.  And Al Gore, for inventing the Internet.  It has saved me from having a meltdown after 20 minutes in any retail store.  Whenever I go on Amazon, there is no way I’m leaving without getting my $25 purchase to qualify for free Super Saver Shipping (best invention after TiVo and Take 5) so I would generally order at least two large canisters of formula at a time.  And that worked great, usually.

But then one day I opened my nifty Amazon box to find that one of the cans of formula had been dented and the container broke, so a little bit of it had leaked out.  I promptly took out the one that was okay, taped the box back up and went to the post office to send it back to Amazon.

This was in the summer of 2004, a month or two after my son was born.  I lived in the downtown area of Chicago at the time but I still had to drive to get to the nearest post office, and I always had to take my baby in his 1,000 pound infant carrier with me wherever I went. Parking there was a bitch because of course the post office doesn’t have a parking lot.  So I just kind of sidled my little CR-V up to the fire hydrant and put my flashers on and balanced the box on the huge carrier thing and lugged the box and baby inside.  There was a really long line.  But I already had the postage paid and everything, so I made eye contact with one of the postal workers and motioned that I was just going to put the package on the counter so they could put it on the truck or whatever they do in the back of the post office.  The postal worker nodded in recognition and seemed okay with that arrangement.  I could tell she was a mother too, the way her steely eyes went from me, to the baby and then back to me, but this time with empathy in those steely postal eyes. No, really. Empathy. From a post office worker. Seriously. So it was all goodness and I was in and out of there in no time. No ticket either. It was totally my day.

Then about 5 hours later, the baby is sleeping, I’m watching Dr. Phil and there was a knock on the door of my condo.  Like most buildings, people have to be buzzed up and I did not buzz anyone up, so it was really odd, and annoying.  I was on the fourth floor at the end of the hall, so it would be unlikely anybody would come to my door who wasn’t looking for me specifically.

Like she is wont to do, my dog was barking her German Shepard head off and the baby woke up and started crying and the Dr. Phil family was on, so I was pissed at whoever the hell was knocking on the door because it was a very bad time. I think the Dr.Phil Family dad was just about to meet his biological family for the first time and it was really going to be a moment. I mean, WTF? Can’t I watch Dr. Phil in peace? I checked the peep-hole to see if it was a serial killer, or if it was Oprah because you know, sometimes she surprises people and if it was her, I probably would have changed out of my pajamas and retrieved my binder with all of the letters I sent her starting in 1990.  But it was not Oprah.  And it was not a serial killer.  It was two men.  Dressed in suits.  Looking super serious.  WTF?

So I wasn’t sure what protocol was.  I know that you’re not supposed to let men you don’t know, who you didn’t invite, in your house. I’ve seen enough Dateline Mystery!’s to figure this out.  On the other hand, I also know from Oprah’s show that burglars and serial killers think dogs are a pain in the ass to deal with and my dog and her very deep German Shepard bark should have been a tip off that they should probably move on to my neighbor’s dog-less house to rob or murder her instead.  But they didn’t leave. They seemed quite unperturbed by the dog.  So WTF?

So I yelled through the door.  “Who is it?” and that’s when they yelled back, “FBI.” Holy shit.  For real?  I wracked my brain for any offenses that I could have committed that they would send the FBI out for, and I came up with nothing.  Then I started to panic because maybe BD was dead or someone in my family and it was a really bad thing because god damn, its the F-B-fucking-I.  But don’t they usually send cops first to tell you bad news? What’s the FBI got to do with me? I didn’t witness a murder or anything. So then I rationalized that it was totally not the FBI because that didn’t make sense because I’m a good citizen and my family has to be okay. So the goal was to get these joker FBI imposters to go away. And I knew just the trick – I said what everybody learns at some point in their lives, though I’m not sure why or when.

“I need to see your badges.”  They pulled out these ID card type things that looked a lot like the FBI badges I’ve seen on movies. I mean, what do I know about what a real badge looks like, and it isn’t like I could really get a good look at them through the peep-hole. So maybe this plan wasn’t all that good because they could be fake or real, who knows. But they still don’t seem to be afraid that I’m on to them.  Holy Shit. The FBI – really? Then they took matters into their own hands. I think maybe they were used to this question, because every American knows that’s just what you do. I think. Just so you know they are real.

“We’re looking for [my full name]. Is this her residence?”

Oh my God. They’re after ME? What do they want? I’m totally panicking and trying to get my dog to shut up and wondering if I need to check on the baby.  Maybe child protective services sent them. I wasn’t breastfeeding and I think that might be a capital offense by now. And now the baby is screaming and they’ll have more evidence against me.

“Um. Yes. But let me put the dog away.” I forced her into the bathroom. I thought if I didn’t they might shoot her because of all the noise she was making. I would have if I had been armed at the time.  I went back to the door and opened it.

“Are you [my full name]?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Sargeant [Whatever] and this is Agent [Whatshisface]. We’re with the Chicago bureau of the FBI.  Did you attempt to mail a package from the post office located at [whatever the address was] this morning?”

“Yes.”

“What was in the package?”

“Ba.by. form.u.la.” I drew it out. Trying to have more time to think through my crime.

“Who were you sending the package to?”

“Amazon. They sent it to me and it was broken, so I was returning it.” Now it dawns on me. Holy shit!! The box was full of white powder. Oh my God! Do they think I’m running a drug cartel?

“Miss, there was powder coming out of the box. The postal worker believed it may be an anthrax threat and the post office has been shut down for the last 4 hours while we examined the box and its contents.”  Oh God. Worse than a drug lord.  They think I’m a terrorist. And that is a really bad thing to be when Halliburton George Bush and Dick Cheney are running the country. Oh shit.

“Oh. My. God!  I didn’t even think of that! It was baby formula! I just….I didn’t even think of that.”

“Well, it caused quite a problem.”

“Am I in trouble?”

“Do you want to go tend to your baby? I hear a baby crying.”

“Um. Yeah. But…so what happens now? This sounds like it could be bad. Because you’re here….Do I have to go with you, because I have the baby and there is nobody to take care of him, and maybe I should call my husband. Do I need a lawyer or something? I just mean I’m –”

“We just came here to let you know what happened. The box and its contents were tested and destroyed and what you told us checks out with the evidence we’ve collected in this investigation.  However, your actions shut down a US government entity, which is a very serious issue.  You’ll need to be more careful.  Don’t ever try to mail anything with loose powder in the box again.”

“Yeah. I mean, no! I won’t! I’m so sorry. I just didn’t even think of it.  So…um…so I’m not in trouble?”

“For now, no. We’ll contact you if we need to do any more follow up.”

“Um, okay.”

“Better get that baby.”

And then they turned and left. And, shaking, I went to go “tend to” my baby.  Wow. The FBI was after me.  And I came out alive and untortured.  It was a banner day.

So a week later after the ordeal became just another random, funny story to me instead of insanely fucking scary, I wrote Amazon a little love note about my pleasant little visit from the FBI due to the broken formula canister and how I wasn’t going to be able to send it back because the US Government fucking destroyed it, but I still wanted my money back.  They gave me the refund.

So what can we all learn from this? Don’t try to mail a package with white powder coming out of it all over the place and abruptly leave.  Yeah, I know. Well, maybe it isn’t that obvious to everyone. The other moral of the story is, ordering stuff from Amazon might get you in trouble with the FBI, but assuming they don’t turn you over to the CIA and fly you to a secret torture chamber in Europe, you should be alright. Amazon’ll give you your money back.

And the third moral of the story is that I’m kind of a bad ass.  It’s how I roll.

Adventures in Babysitting, Part II

If you haven’t already, it’s best to read Part I. But if you don’t like reading my super-long posts (I’m working on it), and just want the net – I’m 7 months pregnant with son #1 and found out from two snarky ladies on their lunch break that daycare is impossible to find and then after a miracle in Starbucks, I find a home daycare, Miss Amalia’s Place, that meets my criteria which is that its near my house and…that it is near my house, but it turns out that she is used to desperate parents. She is going to interview us to see whether we’re the right sort for her daycare.

The flyer from Miss Amalia’s Place didn’t have a ton of information, but it did mention that it was an all organic environment and the kids would be taught yoga and learn to sign when they were babies and no TV (obviously) and I think there was something about earth sounds music too.  From what I could tell, this is what all the good moms were doing, so it seemed like a pretty good plan to me, especially when you consider the alternative: me taking care of the baby in an environment that included a lot of Oprah, Dr. Phil, Sex and the City, McDonalds, The Killers, Eminem and some Baby Mozart once in a while.

But the issue was that Miss Amalia was going to interview us, to see if we were the right sort.  The first interview wasn’t even going to take place at her daycare, because she wasn’t going to bring just anyone there. That was only if you got to the second round. Failure was not an option. Because we had no other viable options. So I spent the two days we had to prepare for the interview Googling “how to be a good mother” and “acing the daycare interview” and drilling BD on his part in the whole thing.  I reminded him that this interview could decide whether our son would be a well-adjusted adult or a circus performer.

Love: “Okay. So whatever she says, nod and smile and agree wholeheartedly with her. Even if you have no idea what she is talking about.”

BD: “I’m not sure we should be pretending –”

Love: (gives husband ‘the hand’) “Listen – I’m not kidding around here. This is our ONLY option.  We will do whatever it takes to get in. Repeat after me…We will do whatever it takes to get in.”

BD: “Do we even know how much she costs?”

Love: “No. And we will nod and smile and agree wholeheartedly with whatever she says it costs. We will have time to panic later, and sell our kidneys when she isn’t around.”

BD: “I don’t know. This isn’t our only option.”

Love: “Oh yeah? What are the other options?”

BD: “Well, I’m sure we could find -”

Love: “By ‘we’ I assume you mean ‘me’ and guess what? There isn’t anything else. But if you want to spend hundreds of fruitless hours looking, be my guest.  In the meantime, you will nod, smile and agree wholeheartedly with everything that is said. Including by me.  I will likely say things you’ve never heard come out of my mouth before. Pretend like it’s totally normal for me to make butternut squash and say ‘namaste’ and stuff.”

BD: “What is ‘namaste’?”

Love: (through gritted teeth) “It’s what I say all. the. time. Get it?”

BD: “Oh my God. This is nuts…”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Miss Amalia turned out to be a Korean woman in her mid-thirties. She was unmarried and her older sister helped her out taking care of the children.  She had very definite ideas about how to run her daycare, although she had only started up 6 months earlier and she’d never had a child of her own.  She announced that the youngest child she would take would be 6 months, since it would be “very bad” for a mother to leave her child before then. She explained also that it would give the baby some time to adjust from the breast to the bottle, but she had a whole page on how breast milk would be handled.  We nodded and smiled and agreed wholeheartedly. The thing was, we needed someone at 10 weeks and there was not going to be any breast milk. We were formula feeding. But neither of us said anything.

She told us about all of the enriching activities she would be providing the children and she told us what our duties as parents were. There was a long list of rules. Schedules were very important. We could drop our child off within a half hour window in the morning and pickup in a certain window.  Any exceptions would have to be logged in advance.  We nodded and smiled and agreed wholeheartedly.  She told us that it would be $350 a week.  It was more than I hoped it would be, but it was doable. Perhaps we could keep our kidneys. We asked her about what she liked and disliked about the other families.  We asked about what she thought about traits of great parents. We asked her about why she started her business and told her how wonderful and genius she was for doing so.  We told her we liked her hair. And her shoes. And could we get her anything else to drink?

I thought we aced the interview.  We did everything we planned to do to make sure we got to the second round.  At the end of the interview, we thanked Miss Amalia and she said she would call to let us know whether we made it to the second round. She also gave us a 10 page contract to look over to make sure we were “comfortable” with all of the terms.  We walked out hand in hand and didn’t speak until we were safely back in our condo.  The minute the door was closed, we looked at each other and simultaneously asked, “What. the. fuck?”

Neither of us could believe that we lived in such a world.  Sign language, and schedules and yoga and dietary restrictions and minimum age 6 months old?!  When we were little we watched TV all day and drank lots of Kool-Aid and got locked out of the house and told to play outside for four hours.  Our moms didn’t breastfeed us and we didn’t know what organic meant until 1998.  We felt totally unprepared to be parents.  Miss Amalia had us scared to death. We needed her to take care of our son because we were going to do it completely wrong if she wasn’t coaching us the whole way.

Now what to do about the fact that we weren’t any of the things she wanted us to be? We couldn’t wait six months. We needed her at 10 weeks. And I wasn’t planning on breastfeeding, because I’m just a bad mom.  This was going to get complicated, but I had to make this happen.

Part III

When the apocalypse gets here, I’m screwed

About three years ago Oprah did a show where she had some guy on that had some title that made him sound really smart and important and government connected who said that one of these days, probably very soon, we’d have a pandemic like the bubonic plague and when we did, the whole world would pretty much shut down and there would be no running water or gas or electricity or anything else. No businesses would be open, and the ATMs wouldn’t work but money would be pretty worthless anyway, transportation wouldn’t be available and you would be pretty much on your own to defend your house and family from death by hunger, disease, looters, riots or gangs.

Great. I struggle daily just to cook up some frozen chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese every night to feed my family and now I’m finding out I have to plan for my family to eat and survive for at least two weeks with lawlessness, no running water, heat, or Tivo? He predicted no mail either, so it isn’t even like I’ll have my US Weekly or O Magazine to fall back on for emergency emotional support.

This was a lot to take in, so I paused Tivo and then begrudgingly put down my chocolate covered pretzels and Fruit2O and drove myself to Costco. I had never been there before but it seemed like a good place to go for buying life’s essentials in bulk.  My plan was to buy us enough stuff to live on so I wouldn’t have to be one of the inevitable grocery store looters.  Although I’d like the record to reflect that if I did have to loot a grocery store, I would concentrate in Aisle 12 and make sure I cleaned them out of Twizzlers and Take 5 bars, which would be enough sustenance to get me through just about anything.

So I get to Costco all fired up about the end of the world and how I needed to get important stuff for survival and — is that a plasma HD TV? Holy shit that is huge and it looks like I’m right there! Ping Pong tables? OMG – I love ping pong! Check out that leather recliner!! I felt compelled to sit in it and rock for a few minutes. Just to lower my heart rate. I mean, Costco held treasures I had only dreamed about. Who knew you could get new tires or new glasses, or even granite countertops there?  I went in there expecting to see a grocery store and I found a delightful land of electronics and books and random shit that all seemed cheap enough to be within reach. How could you say no to Costco?

But wait. Dammit! I’m here on a mission to save my family from certain death when the worst happens. We need water. And a first aid kit! And….and….Fuck? What do you need in an emergency? I get there and realize that I have no idea what I’m supposed to be buying to keep us alive. I mean, none. But I have found some great flannel sheets, really cheap diapers and ten pounds of frozen crab rangoon.  Need. to. focus. Must…shop….for Armageddon.

It is important to say now that I’m almost physically incapable of a coherent thought in most large retail stores.  Which is why I try to avoid them like Brazilian bikini waxes. Too much visual or audio stimuli makes my brain overheat and short circuit very quickly.  I no longer leave my house after November 1 because I’m sure all that Christmas music and shit all over the place  is a monster that wants to feast on my brain. So I shop on the Internet for everything*, including groceries. (*except Banana Republic, because Leonardo knows my soul and just puts me in the dressing room and brings me stuff, so I my mind doesn’t go into overdrive and somehow bend time).

But I digress.  So it took me two hours in Costco to complete my pre-apocalypse shopping spree to secure my family’s safety and survival, should all hell break loose and society become like it was depicted in “The Road” , where people were eating each other and such (which, by the way, if you read this book and you don’t think it was a masterpiece, I pity you). Given my handicap of shopping at large retail outlets, I did the best one could reasonably expect. I didn’t pass out. I didn’t leave with a migraine. It wasn’t Christmas season. It was kind of spectacular.

It was all so much to take in at the time and I was so giddy with pride in the fact that I had found out firsthand what the inside of Costco looked like and I was a full-fledged member and I got all the stuff we needed to survive and it was all less expensive than the grocery store. I called BD from the car and told him to prepare himself, because I had a lot of stuff and we’d have to store it and we were going to live well when the pandemic struck.  So I pull in the garage and pop the trunk because I couldn’t wait to show off all that I had accomplished.  I anticipated BD’s reaction to be one of awe mixed with gratitude, mixed with deep passion for me because of the bold initiative and genius I had shown.  He surveyed the contents of the trunk, and looked up at me in utter confusion.

BD: “Seriously?”

Love: “Um. Yeah. See the water?!”

BD: “I see an air hockey table.”

Love: “Oh. Well, that isn’t part of the stuff for the apocalypse. That was just on sale.”

BD: “?”

Love: “Maybe you didn’t see the first aid kit?”

BD: “Yeah, I think all of the wine bottles must be covering it.”

Together, we went through the items I felt we would need to survive as a family of three (at the time) and the dog.

  • Two palettes of bottled water
  • A large assortment of gummy fruit snacks
  • A big bear full of animal cookies
  • 7 bags of penne noodles
  • A 10-pack of Hanes crew socks, size 9-12
  • 3 large cans of spaghetti sauce
  • An air hockey table
  • A box of Huggies
  • A family first aid kit
  • 3 pounds of fresh strawberries
  • Eli’s cheesecake sampler, party size
  • A gallon of shampoo
  • Four bottles of wine
  • An 8 pack of Progresso chicken noodle soup
  • Some super-cute Carters footsie pajamas for my toddler

Yeah, I guess I was a little underwhelmed too. At the store it seemed like I had everything necessary plus a few fun extras.  I looked at my husband, worried.

Love: “We’re fucked, aren’t we?”

BD: “Uh huh.”

My husband is a problem solver. Me, not so much. But my husband doesn’t like to problem solve in advance of a problem. So I’m sure he would spring into action with ingenious plans to fight off disease and hunger and angry mobs and looters once they were all at our doorstep, but until then, I think his focus is on mowing the lawn every week. But I asked him for his help anyway, hoping that he would see this as the serious situation it is, and start our family survival plan.

Love: “Do you think we need a gun? We might need it to protect ourselves.”

BD: “Maybe.”

Love: “What about cash? Should we have a stash in the house somewhere, in case the ATMs don’t work?!”

BD: “Probably.”

Love: (brightening) “With guns and cash in our house, we’d totally be like the Sopranos.”

BD: “Not really.”

Love: (worried again) “But neither of us knows how to shoot a gun. And I don’t want a gun because they’re scary and our kids will probably wind up shooting us when they’re teenagers.  And I don’t know where a good place to hide cash is. I’ve seen shows on Discovery where the ex-cons find all your money in like 5 seconds. It would take me forever to think of where to hide the money. Where would we hide it?!”

BD: “I don’t know.”

Love: “Well, we need a plan!”

BD: “Huh?”

Love: “For the love of GOD, what are we going to dooooooo?!!”

BD: “?”

Love: “To SURVIVE? You know what would be easier? To just forget I ever saw that show.”

BD: “Maybe.”

Love: “Okay. I have a headache. Why don’t we just work on it slowly. Like maybe we should buy a safe first, so we have somewhere to put the money and the guns.”

BD: “We’re not getting guns.”

Love: “Good plan. What about money?”

BD: “How much money were you thinking?”

Love: “Like $200? Or $2,000? I guess it depends on how much do you think it would cost to pay people not to kill us?”

BD: “More than $200. Maybe like $5,000.”

Love: “That’s a lot of money to hide. And it wouldn’t be earning interest. It just doesn’t seem fiscally responsible. I don’t know…”

BD: “Um…the football game is about to start, so….”

Love: “Yeah, okay. Right. Why don’t we discuss this later?”

BD: “Yeah, definitely.”

And, three years later, we have weathered an economic meltdown and a global pandemic and once our power went out for 45 minutes and we still don’t have guns or cash in our house and we’re still alive and US Weekly is still being delivered.  But every three months I have a panic attack about how we just have some 3-year old penne noodles and Progresso soup in the cellar to keep us alive. And BD started drinking our water supply because he said its past the expiration date and he isn’t letting it go to waste.  So we don’t even have that.

I guess I just want everybody to know when the world meltdown occurs, we’re fucked.  When they find and/or eat our dead bodies, we didn’t die because I totally didn’t see it was coming or because I didn’t think about planning for it, because I did!  I donate 3 hours of time each month to panicking thinking about planning for it and that should count for something.  What is really most important is just that everyone knows that I was right about it coming and that you don’t use this information to break in my house first because you know I don’t have a gun, or food or money, or this month’s “O”. And we won’t taste good. I promise.

The time in Australia when I almost got murdered by drunk wild boar hunters – The Finale.

In this final episode, I eventually get to the part about my almost-murder by the drunk Australian wild boar hunters. Let’s recap:

I am too drunk to know to say “no” to participating in the “Outback Rainforest Adventure” during my visit to the Great Barrier Reef in Part I, then the tour guide rips off his clothes and goes swimming in a rainforest waterfall pool in an Australian flag Speedo and I get all hot and bothered by it in Part II, and that was just the first day of this whole unfortunate trip.

I really want to remember every last activity we did the whole three days because they all sucked in their own way and because I revel in complaining, and it would be fun to tell you all about them in detail. But I only remember the very worst moments.  So I’ll just have to stick to those for the finale of my Outback adventure tale.

Okay, so the second day starts and Dundee herds all of our hungover asses into the Outbackmobile (this is the new name for our vehicle – since I can’t really describe what it was) and he tells us that we’ll be leaving the rainforest and entering the Outback. I was delighted to be leaving the rainforest behind, because I thought my chances of survival were significantly greater the further we got from all of the poisonous small things that wanted to kill me in the rainforest. But I wasn’t sure about the whole Outback thing. The closest I had been to the Outback prior to this was the Steakhouse, which, let me tell you is as beautiful to me as Oprah herself. I mean, you can order thick, fat steaks and pick them up in a drive thru after 20 minutes? Fucking genius.

So I had high hopes for this thing they called the Outback. Perhaps there would be cute kangaroos throwing colorful boomerangs around that happy Aboriginals dot-painted especially for them. Oh, and an old Aboriginal dude playing the didgeridoo while the koalas sat in a tree unobtrusively eating leaves or sleeping. That would captivate me for about 5 minutes, which is a very long time for me, so it looked like a ray of sunshine was in my future.

That is not what the Outback is like.  The Outback is possibly the most boring landscape in the entire universe. I’m a Midwestern girl, so I thought soybean fields were about as boring as a landscape could get, but no. The Australian Outback is the worst. Even the desert beats the Outback, because it’s all mystical and stuff and there are cliffs and canyons for you to fall off of, so it packs in some drama too.

Not the Steakhouse

See what I mean?

So anyway, Dundee drives us into a landscape much like this one above and stopped the Outbackmobile in all of this nonsense and we had to go have a “look-see”. This is what Dundee called it when we were about to get out of the vehicle and wander around aimlessly. I hated look-sees. You would just walk around and get sweaty and look at dirt and a bush here and there and be like “wow. a fucking bush. awesome. where the fuck are the koalas I was led to believe Australia was rife with?” Dundee was animated. To him, this was all fucking awesome. Again, he was so like the Croc Hunter. He was jumping around with his machete bouncing up and down on his hip pointing out these huge ant hills and animatedly explaining how exactly the ants make them. He’d get down on his hands and knees and ogle the ants’ handiwork. I mean these things were about a foot or two off the ground, which is hella bigger than the ones you find on suburban sidewalks so I guess they were impressive compared to that, but they weren’t the fucking pyramids or anything. Dundee seemed to think they were the work of the gods.  Really? I mean, it’s a fucking two foot hill in the middle of nowhere. And plus, there aren’t any ants or termites or whatever crawling all over them, which was good, but creates too little drama to make me care.  I never got the five minutes of captivation I was so looking forward to.

So we had a day long look-see in the Outback and all we saw were these ant hills all over the place. And there was a little rocky hill thing we climbed too. And by “we”, I mean everybody else. It looked pointless to me. And maybe like it would cause me to sweat more than I was comfortable with. So I just sat at the bottom rolling my eyes and being annoying and scanning the horizon for killer koalas or at least some boxing kangaroos. No luck.

Okay, so then it starts getting dark and Dundee brings us back to the Outbackmobile and he declares that this is where we’ll camp tonight! Ummm – surely you jest? There aren’t any tents in the back of the mobile! How are we going to camp? Dundee informs me happily that we’re “sleeping under the stars – didn’t you read it in the brochure, Love?” No I didn’t fucking read it in the brochure.  I think we established if I had, I would be at a club chugging a Strongbow instead of in the middle of BFE with a Speedo-clad, machete-carrying, Steve Irwinesque tour guide.

And, even if I had read the brochure, aren’t there supposed to be tents? No. We were going to sleep in “swags”, which are kind of like sleeping bags, except instead of being soft and snuggly, they are made of heavy duty canvas and they are kind of shaped like coffins and you’re supposed to zip up your damn head inside them. And that is where I am supposed to fucking sleep. I mean, he didn’t even put a tarp down under the swag. It was like, unroll the swag and just put it on any dirty dusty spot and get in. Oh, and by the way, they don’t breathe at all, so get naked or you’ll probably sweat to death. The FUCK? Dundee was all about getting naked. And in places where a multitude of insects could claim any of your orifices as their own swag. Um. No thanks.

So this is where I have a little mental breakdown. There is no toilet. No shower. No bed. No alcohol. No McDonalds. Nobody, for miles, except us and Dundee. And I’m completely freaked out because I am sure that something or someone is going to attack me as I sleep. I mean, everybody knows that dingoes eat babies in Australia. So whats to stop them from trying to eat my arm? And how unnatural is it for people to just sleep outside under the stars? Are you kidding me? That’s the whole reason we fucking evolved – so that we could live in cool urban lofts with central air and skylights so we could see the stars in our temperature controlled, insect and psycho-free abodes. Why do so many people have such a huge problem with the great indoors?!  Who was going to keep me safe?!

Dundee’s machete. Thats who.  At least that was what he was telling me while I was on my knees screaming to God and tearing at my greasy hair. His machete was pretty big. And by now I was convinced he wasn’t going to kill me, though I was sure that he wanted to. Many times. He told me that he had some chocolate if I would just come back to the fire he built so we could have dinner and tell stories. It was blantantly clear I wasn’t the first hysterical woman he had talked off the ledge.  I was hungry. And I needed chocolate. So in tears, I returned to my friends and the British couple and we sat around a fire as Dundee cooked our dinner. I was still ruminating about how maybe I should spend more time sober so I wouldn’t agree to these insane “adventures” ever again, when suddenly from very far away, we saw headlights.  In the middle of the Outback. We were nowhere near a road. I thought that perhaps God had heard my prayer and sent Ed McMahon with an oversized check to deliver me from this hell. I started jumping up and down, elated. I was sure that I was being saved. It was the only logical explanation of what could be happening.

Dundee looked very concerned. That bastard wants to see me suffer, I told myself. He’s pissed Ed McMahon found me all the way out here. The tenacity of the Prize Patrol in this case was impressive. Those guys just wouldn’t be deterred once they found their winner, even though she is sitting in the middle of the fucking Outback. It was really very moving.  But, then again… We were kind of far away from civilization. And I didn’t know if satellite would reliably work that far away from civilization and it wasn’t really prime time in the US yet, so if they did it now most Americans would miss my glorious moment.  Plus, it would be really expensive to bring Ed’s makeup person all the way into the Outback. Maybe it wasn’t Ed.

The headlights were making zig zags all over the place, but seemed generally headed in our direction.  Now is a good time to remind you that at that time, cell phones came packed in briefcases and were used by about .8% of the population. We had no communication channels to civilization, so whatever was going to happen was going to happen without the benefit of 911. Dundee got up and started pacing. He told us to be quiet and not to talk to whoever it was and he then turned on the Outbackmobile and shined the headlights in the direction of the speeding vehicle that was barreling toward us, presumably so they wouldn’t run us over.

We started to panic a little. Our normally jovial Dundee broke out in a sweat. Apparently this part wasn’t in the brochure. Who the hell was in that car, and what the hell were they doing driving around in the Outback at night?  The headlights keep coming closer and we kind of all huddle together having no idea what to expect, but my hopes of it being the Prize Patrol were diminishing every second the lights came closer. No way Ed McMahon would drive that fast and erratically. Only somebody completely tanked could be driving.

Let me say it again. Only somebody completely tanked could be driving. Aw fuck. Lindsay Lohan was only 10 then. So who the hell was this?  The truck was upon us and our campfire within two minutes. Probably less. Dundee continued to pace nervously, and he took his machete off his belt in anticipation.  We did not have to wait long to find out who was driving. Two men, who I can only describe as extremely hillbilly-esque (they had no teeth – I swear to God), half rolled, half fell out of their jeep. But their messy dismount from the jeep did not affect their ability to hold their rifles.  At first they appeared to be very happy drunks.  They were laughing and wheezing and wanted to know who we were and what we were doing.  Dundee said we were having a look-see and camping.  He inquired about what they were doing.  I couldn’t understand a damn word they said, but I found out later they were looking for wild boars. They were wild boar hunters. Wild. Boar. Hunters.

Ummm….whaaat? Nobody said anything about the possibility of wild boar, let alone their hunters. They wanted to know if we had beer.  Believe me, fellas – if there were any beer, you would find it all coursing through my veins. Instead, I had more than my share of adrenaline flowing through them at that point.  Drunk hillbillies with guns scare me.

Two of my friends on the trip were from New York and LA, and they are whispering that we’re all going to die.  They were pretty sure that these guys were going to open fire at any moment.  I found it pretty ironic that the whole time we were in Australia, the Aussies would ask my friend from LA whether it was safe to go out on the streets in LA because of all of the drive by shootings. Hollywood makes LA look like the killing fields.  They thought Chicago was probably safe because the mob only killed everybody back during prohibition. We thought it was hysterical. But now the tables were turned and three chicks from LA, NYC and Chicago respectively were never more frightened than when faced with random drunk wild boar hunters.

You know how they say you get a “fight or flight” reflex in a situation like this? Now I know I’m a flight person. My goal was to get shot dead running away because there was no way in hell I was going to get myself raped by those two mother fuckers and then killed. Nope. I decided that I much preferred to get killed right away. I told my friends I’d take the first bullet. You know, for the team.

A heated argument seemed to erupt between Dundee and the hunters. They wanted to sit with us and be friends, but Dundee told them they weren’t really invited. Their initial joviality faded and then they seemed to be telling Dundee something along the lines of “Well see, we have guns and you only have a machete”. A pretty solid argument for how sloshed they were. But Dundee kept them talking and at a semi-safe distance from us.  Then one of my friends declared “They’ll kill Dundee first. And then they’ll rape us all and kill us. We’re so dead.” We looked at the guys we came with and asked them if they were going to stand for this. Like maybe they should back Dundee up or something. You know, act like men. They said the hell if they were going to get into the fray. Those guys were big, dumb, drunk and armed. I think their plan for escape was to run while we were getting raped. Pussies.

As Dundee and the hunters argued I was able to reframe the whole situation and kept thinking about whether it would be worse to be shot dead by these guys or to sleep under the stars in that coffin/swag thing. I was leaning toward the former (I seriously was) when suddenly the guys got back in their truck and peeled off into the night.  Wait. What? I was still alive and unraped? Whoa. That was heavy. Dundee came back and told us who they were and what they wanted. He wound up having to buy them off with some of our food. Good thing for me that Dundee was such a skilled negotiator, because if they had asked for one of the women,  I would’ve been the first one Dundee gave away.

I asked if maybe it would be best for us to drive to a hotel. Dundee said we’d be fine. Those guys weren’t coming back. Yeah, right. With all these naked coeds in swags? They’re totally coming back to rape us. I lobbied for us to forfeit our adventure and hightail it to Cairns. Dundee wouldn’t hear of it. He was back to his old self. Gleeful in my misery.

Eventually I had to get into the swag. But first I had a few questions for Dundee:

What if it rains? It won’t rain.

It doesn’t rain here? What if a pack of wild boar comes? No worries.

What about all those ants that built those big pyramid things? There won’t be many insects. Just get in. And take your clothes off or you’ll die of heat.

The hell if I was going to get naked. I had never had crabs and hell if I was going to get them from a “night under the stars” in a cheap swag in the Australian Outback.  I zipped myself in and the gross BO smell was overwhelming, and as promised, it was hot as hell, so I opened it just a little for some air. And I fell asleep.

Only to be awakened in the early hours of the next day by a very large drop of water which fell on my forehead. The fuck? And then another one.

“DO. NOT. TELL ME IT IS. RAINING. ON MY HEAD.” I said this as loudly as humanly possible, without having it turn into a shriek.  Oh yes. It was raining. My declaration woke the rest of the group.  I quickly unzipped the swag to sit up and start bitching more, when my eyes focused on two, no three, no FOOURRR!!! ant-like things that were bigger than a baby’s arm crawling on top of my swag. “HO-LY-SHIIIIIT!”

“I hate it here! I hate Australia! I hate you, Dundee! This is ridiculous. Get me the fuck out of here! You said it didn’t rain? What the fuck is it doing right now? We almost get shot last night and now there is some sort of fucking flash flood in the Outback and these fucking ants want to eat me. I HATE YOOOOUUUU! I hate this! ALL of this! I have never been more miserable in my entire life!” (If this story ever gets made into a movie, only Meryl could handle this complex character. Only she has the power to accurately convey the powerful rawness and the depth of my soul at that poignant moment.)

Dundee shrugged and smiled and said that we should fold our swags up and get in the Outbackmobile.  He was going to take us to a horse farm, then an Aboriginal village and then we were going to a pub. And then we were going back to Cairns. You know when you are fighting for your life, like you fall into any icy river, and your body conserves all the blood and gives it to your heart and lungs and brain and you have this intense focus to stay alive? Thankfully that is what happened to me in that very moment! My survival instincts finally kicked in and my brain focused on the word “pub” and I lived. Thank God Almighty. I lived.

It rained all morning.

The horse farm? Smelled like shit. Like I suppose most horse farms do.

The aboriginal village? Um, it was like going to the projects. We got to hang out with people who hate white people for ruining everything for them and then making them paint boomerangs and didgeridoos so that they could get some money from us so they could use the money to go back to being drunk again.  Awesome.

The pub? Glorious. And I kicked Dundee’s ass at darts. It felt good to be back in my element.

And then we got on with the rest of our vacation. And I lived to tell the tale.

SO…now you know what not to do in Australia.

You’re welcome.

Please try not to cringe while my 15 year old self regales you with her deep thoughts

In real life, I’m the sort of person that would never, ever knowingly humiliate someone privately or publicly. Never ever.  But I decided recently to make an exception to this rule. I think it is okay to do it to my 15 year old self, since she is gone and her friends won’t find out and its been 18 years.  God, when did I get so damn OLD?

My 15 year old self was totally ridiculous and hilarious and retarded, and I’m not sure whether it will be funny, but then I read Steam Me Up’s high school poetry, laughed until I cried, and decided that adolescent relationships are probably some of the funniest stuff on the planet. Except when you actually are 15, and then they are pretty tragic.

I went back into my journals and came up with the dramatic rise and fall of my first relationship, with a boy named Mike. We lasted approximately 3 months, but to my 15 year old self, it was like a lifetime.  I’ve copied it all verbatim, except where you see red. This is where the me now couldn’t help adding commentary on the me then.

6/26/92:

Maureen (my best friend) is going out with Malcolm who is a total sweetie except that on their one-month anniversary he didn’t give her anything she could remember it by. (gasp!) She got him a card, but it seems stupid that he didn’t even get her a flower. A week from today is our anniversary and I bet Mike will do the same thing as Malcolm. It wouldn’t  surprise me. He took me to Pinocchio tonight and we saw Layla and Bruce there. Layla got a perm and she looks GREAT! (Layla plays no role in this story, but I feel it is important to highlight that I thought perms were awesome)

6/30/92:

We didn’t fight tonight. I was happy. I think when I tell him that I love him I’m starting to mean it. I said it early on prematurely because he kept talking about how much he loved me and I felt bad not saying anything. I think our definition of love is very different. Its confusing. I’m really wondering about Friday though because I have a feeling – I know – that he’ll play it off like it was any other day. (it is SO not “any other day”! Its your one whole month anniversary. SO important.) If he got me flowers I would be so happy, but I know he won’t because he doesn’t think ahead and it probably won’t even occur to him that flowers would be nice. I got him a card but nothing else, so I don’t know.

7/1/92:

Mike called and Maureen was over and before I knew it she was talking to him about our anniversary. He forgot.  He was so sure that it would be on a Wednesday since he asked me out on a Wednesday (June 3). He can be so stupid. (Why wasn’t Mike consumed with thoughts about your impending 1 month anniversary?! I totally don’t get it) Well now I wonder if Mike will do anything for Friday. We were going to the zoo, but I guess not because his dad wants him to work. But I wonder if we’ll ever go. (Oh no! What if you don’t EVER see a zoo AGAIN?! Really? The zoo?!) We better because I want to take tons of photos since we have none.

One thing that bugs me is that Mike and I have never frenched. (cringe) Not that we should, but I wonder if he is thinking about it too. I’m waiting for him to make the first move, but if it doesn’t happen its fine – I’m not pushing it, but I just want him to be comfortable.

7/3/92:

Mike called and we had a long talk about everything and he told me that he was thinking since I didn’t love him he thought he shouldn’t love me and maybe it’d be better if we broke up.  I was like “well, I do love you” and he said he knew now and he didn’t know what he was thinking. (puking all over the keyboard. this was hard to type.) Whatever. I kept thinking about it and I screwed up in Driver’s Ed.

We went to the carnival tonight and he gave me a red rose for our anniversary.  I was surprised because he told me yesterday that presents were stupid and then asked what I wanted for our anniversary.(This guy is such a winner) I said nothing so I figured he wouldn’t get me anything. Then we started kissing and it was uncomfortable because I kept losing my balance because we were on a hill and he’s taller so I kept falling. It was funny. I started laughing. He must have felt really cool.  I think he had to settle down a little because it seemed like he was just trying to get his tongue in as quickly as possible. (laughing/cringing/laughing) I didn’t see why.

7/9/92:

Mike’s rose is still alive!

Okay, so then I write extensively for two more months about how we always fight, but I love him, but I don’t, but does he love me? And I should break up with him? But if I do, then who will I go to Homecoming with? And then his friend Tony starts liking me, but I don’t like Tony, but we become friends, but Mike gets jealous and we fight about that a lot too. So lets pick up just as my junior year of high school gets underway…

8/27/92:

Yesterday at school Mike was cordial, but it wasn’t as if he wanted to look too much like we were going out.  I figure we haven’t much time, although I wish it was like before because I still like him — I just feel like he doesn’t like me.  Well today he called me and he was nice today! That’s new. I think I’ll write him a note tonight and give it to him tomorrow. I’m going to ask him about our relationship. I told him I loved him, but I don’t think I do – but I’m not sure. I better write him a note about it. (AWESOME plan, Love. Write him a note about it – that should do the trick)

8/28/92:

Well, today was the day. Mike and I broke up. I gave him the note I wrote which mainly says, I love you, but our relationship sucks so tell me how you feel. He said “I want you to know you’re my best friend and I don’t want to lose you…but I think its better if we spend time apart from each other” so I asked if we were ‘seeing’ each other and he said ‘yes’ and I asked if we’d see other people and he goes, “Yeah, what the hell?”. I was opposed, but hes like “well there isn’t anyone else I want to see” and I said me neither. (Umm…if you break up, the whole point is to not be together anymore, but this concept clearly goes over my head…)

8/29/09:

Day 1 without Mike. He didn’t call. I’m not going to call him first – I’ll leave that up to him. (Stay strong, girl. You’re really showing him!!) Tony hinted about Homecoming a dozen times after he found out about Mike and I. I’m not going with him so I don’t give him any ideas. I don’t know what I’m going to do about Homecoming, though, because I really need a date. I hope everything with Mike turns out.(Um, he just broke up with you. I don’t think its going to “turn out”.)

8/30/92:

I went to the mall with Maureen and Mike called but I wasn’t home. I found the dress I want to wear. Its green with flowers and lace. Its so cool. (Green with flowers and lace? No wonder you can’t get a date) I hate not knowing whether Mike will ask me to Homecoming or not. The uncertainty is killing me. Tony keeps hinting about Homecoming and I just do not want to go with him. My brother doesn’t think that Mike will ask, but what the hell does he know? (a lot more than you do) I’m nervous about tomorrow. I think my best chance for Homecoming is getting Mike, so I’ll try my hardest on him. (laugh out loud – whaaaaaat?)

9/3/92:

I wrote Mike a note that mainly said I miss him but I don’t want to go out, so at lunch yesterday hes like, “Lets just end it”. I was sure after he broke up with me we wouldn’t go to Homecoming,(uh, right…) and we probably won’t but there’s still a chance although slim. (YOU. are. a. DUMBASS) I really don’t miss Mike much anymore – I’m getting over it but I really wanted to go to Homecoming. My life sucks!

9/6/92:

So much has happened! On Friday (9/4) I hated Mike. Mike and his friend Mark came to the football game together and Mike was wearing the sweatshirt I told him I loved on him and his hat backwards that I’ve always loved. (damn him!) I went down from the bleachers and put my arm around Mike and he flinched and pulled my arm away and then Mark was looking at something behind me and said “Mike there she is all alone! You should talk to her”. And they were looking at someone behind me, so I almost started crying first because I felt totally rejected, and second because I had some outside hope that maybe Mike would ask me to Homecoming. (this is where I wish “He’s Just Not That Into You” had been written in 1991 and given to me by my mother. Love – he is not going to ask you to Homecoming! Please, please figure out soon that he dumped you a week ago!) I left with my friends because I was practically hysterical. I found out the girl he likes is Amber. She is a sophomore. She is way too hot for him (I win the self-esteem prize here). Plus, Jody said her friend Marlon asked Amber to Homecoming last year and she laughed in his face, and at the carnival yesterday, Jamie said Amber is going out with a senior named Jason. I can’t say I’m not happy.

I went to a college football game on Saturday with Maureen and this guy my parents know named Chris thats my age. We had an awesome time. I’m going to set up my friend Jody with Chris.  Nothing happened today out of the normal except Chris called and we talked for about 45 minutes. I was surprised he called.  Hopefully Mike pays for his insensitivity and I get on with my life. That will be cool, I believe.(indeed)

9/7/92:

Chris, Jody, Tony and I went miniature golfing today so that Chris and Jody could get to know each other better. It was fun. Mike called and I said I was on the other line and I would call him back – of course I didn’t. Then he called again and asked if I was mad and I said I couldn’t talk. (Finally, some pride.) So then 10 minutes later a girl called for my brother and she sounded familiar but I just couldn’t put my finger on it so I asked who she was and she paused and my (12 year old) brother picked up, so I let him talk.  It was Mike’s sister. Mike asked my brother why I was mad and he told him because he blew me off at the game and Mike asked if I still wanted to go to Homecoming with him and I was like “Did I ever?” (Um, yeah, Love. That was pretty well established) but anyway – he asked about my love life and was happy to hear there was someone in it. (Reggie (who?! first mention of this character) or Chris) I might go to Homecoming with either.  I can’t believe Mike would go so low as to talk to my brother and my brother told him everything he wanted to know! My dad grounded him for doing that.  All my friends are going to Homecoming except me. I wonder if Mike is still thinking about asking me if he asked my brother that? (My eyes are bleeding. Please stop this madness! STOP!) I probably won’t even say yes anymore.(ugh)

9/9/92:

Yesterday all my friends were mean to Mike and Jody decided she didn’t like Chris.  Oh well. Tony called me to give me Mike’s defense and I told him off and then he told me I totally ignored him when we went miniature golfing and I was a slut because I flirted with Chris the whole time.(Wowzah! It didn’t take too much to be a slut back then) I know I talked to him a lot, but I had no idea I was flirting. I told Tony he was jealous and if not, he had no reason to be mad because we went as friends and it wasn’t a date. Well – I asked Chris to Homecoming with me. (FINALLY, you might stop talking about going to the damn Homecoming dance. Please tell me you are over this zero named Mike) I see it as a totally “friend” thing, and I hope he does too. Tony is going to be pissed out of his mind I think. Oh well.

9/13/02:

Well, I haven’t spoken to Mike since last Friday when he proved to be such a fucking prick (I salute you. Calling people mean names is the first sign of acceptance. Maybe you are no longer under the impression that Mike still likes you). I found out that Mike likes someone else now. He is so horny. Oh, I guess I am too.

And there you have it. I went on from Homecoming to date Chris for a whole 9 months. That one ended on or around Prom night when he “was totally checking out this slut who would probably give him a blow job if he asked” at the dance.  She eventually did.  I didn’t really put out in high school, so I was at a major disadvantage there.

Anyway, for the next six months after the Mike breakup, I’m pretty sure every time my girlfriends and I would go out, I would make sure we drove past Mike’s house just so I could see if he was home or not or what he was doing. I would assess this by whether his car was in the driveway or his bedroom light was on. Then we would go the house of whoever Jody was pining for and stalk that kid. It was REALLY, REALLY, pathetic but there wasn’t much else to do. But I like to think it was good I got it over with in high school, or I may have been this lame and clueless in college.  Wait – I was still pretty lame and clueless in college and there are journals to prove that as well. We’ve already been over my aversion to three-ways.

For what its worth, that first relationship/breakup actually taught me a ton. Like, that ex-boyfriends might have their little sister call my little brother to get information, so feed your little brother awesome tidbits about your raging sex life, even if you don’t have one. Or that when a person says “You’re my best friend, but we should spend time apart” it means you are getting dumped and that he likes someone named Amber or Misty or Dawn or Summer, or all of them, and he is very done with you. Being friends afterward is totally impossible, so don’t even go there. And if a guy is just trying to see how fast he can stick his tongue in your mouth, he sucks at play. He will be terrible in bed. So please don’t lose your virginity to a guy with a tongue thrust.  I took all of these lessons to heart and all helped later in life, except for the one about telling my brother about my pretty pathetic high school sex life. That was pretty uncalled for. I’m sure he’ll agree.