Friday, May 28, 2010

In which I am kind of mean to my cancer-ridden dad - no, just mean - and the shame haunts me still

After I returned to the U.S. from my Peace Corps stint, I stayed with my mom and dad in Minnesota for a few months. I was chafing at living under someone else's rules at the age of 32, not that these rules were so arduous - mostly, I was not used to eating lunch at 11:30 and supper at 5:00, but that's when my mom and dad ate so there you go.

It's not like I had all these friends who wanted me to go out late (I knew nobody in Rochester) or that I wanted to bring men home (again, I knew nobody and how does one pick up someone at a bar, anyhow? my indiscretions seem to involve long-term flirting with Inappropriate Men). I was annoyed that my mother expected me to take out the trash and shovel the sidewalk. The first time I did the trash, Mom suggested I put on a hat and held one out to me. I glared at her - like I was going to put that nasty woolen thing on my head? It was totally unflattering.

Then I stepped outdoors. Guess what? At 30 below, you don't care how stupid your head looks.

The other thing that bugged me was that my car had to live in the driveway instead of in the garage. True, there wasn't room for my car because my parents' cars were in there. But my mom was not working* so why did her car have to stay warm?** I guess because she owned the house. Her house, her rules. Stupid property rights. They are fine for me but I don't like them so much when other people invoke them for themselves.

So I am living rent free with my mom and dad at the age of 32, which is killing me, not just because of the rules but also because oh for pity's sake, what kind of loser lives with her parents at that age?

And my dad, whom I have hardly seen for the past seven years because my parents were working in Saudi Arabia for five years and then I was in Chile for two years, wants me to go to the Salvation Army store with him. He wants me to watch TV with him. He wants me to work on the pine box derby car for the neighbors' Cub Scout with him.

My dad wants me to hang out with him.

And I roll my eyes and say, "Dad! I'm reading a book!"

That was winter 1996. A year later, my dad was in the hospital in San Antonio with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. I was still unemployed, having gone through job-searching stints in Washington, D.C., San Diego and back to Austin. When he was released from the hospital after a month, my mom moved the two of them to an apartment and then went back to Italy to intercept their household goods, which they had shipped there for my dad's new as of August 1996 job as a Department of Defense 8th grade math teacher at the Navy base on Sicily.

Someone had to stay with my dad while my mom was gone. My brother and sister had already taken a lot of time off from work. I didn't have a job. Perfect.

My dad was weak. Underweight. Hairless. He felt like crap all the time even though he got as much morphine as he wanted. His chemo made him nauseated. The morphine made him constipated. You may think for yourself what this implies and the absolute love between my parents that my mom did what had to be done to solve this problem.

I was trapped in an apartment with a sick and, as it turned out, dying man.

I was pretty angry about the whole thing. Why didn't bad dads get cancer? It's not like there's not a list of people on this earth would be better off dead. But my dad was a great dad. We needed to keep him around.

So who do I take my anger out on?

My dad.

Oh yeah. Nice daughter.

I tried to be patient, but I didn't always succeed. We had nothing to do. We were in an apartment with rented furnishings. There was nothing worth watching on T.V. We couldn't go out: my dad was too weak and his immune system was too fragile.

One evening, my dad read the paper as I read a book. He kept interrupting me with items of interest from the paper. I would sigh, put down my book, and listen.

Finally, I had had enough. He related some factoid and I snapped at him, "Dad! I know that!"

He sighed and answered in a defeated voice. "Of course. You were always so much smarter than me. I won't bother you any more."

Instantly, the shame welled up in me, going from deep in my belly to the tips of my fingers. Even now, 13 years later, I am overcome with self-disgust as I think about how I couldn't bear to take a few seconds to be nice to the man who had given me life, carried me on his shoulders, pulled my teeth, taken me fishing, taught me to drive, built the beds for my college dorm, dried my tears, told me I was beautiful.

I don't remember what I said after that. Something nice, I hope. I also hope that I made up for my meanness in the subsequent months, but can you ever make up for making your father feel bad? Like he is an imposition because he has cancer and omigosh, it's soooo inconvenient for me?

I don't know. I hope so.

* I was doing temp work, which is hard to find in Rochester because Rochester is home of the Mayo Clinic and what does the Mayo Clinic have? It has medical residents. Medical residents have highly-educated wives and husbands who do things like manage the Payless Shoe Store even though they are lawyers or accountants. This is good for Rochester because there are very overqualified people doing work (although managing people and retail are their own skills and just because you have a PhD in English does not make you an expert on the restaurant business, just saying) they wouldn't otherwise consider. It's bad for other job seekers, though. Tough competition.

** Why does this matter, you southerners are asking? Because when it is 34 below, certain cars WILL NOT START. If they are housed in the garage, they stay a little warmer.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In which I make more Bad Choices about men - the Plane Jumper Guy

I promised you that I would tell you about the older man who jumped out of helicopters or planes or whatever behind enemy lines during the Vietnam war* but wouldn't send me a darn email telling me he didn't want to see me any more. What is it with some men and breaking up? Get some backbone.

I was working and traveling for my job. I had gone to a trade show in California. On my flight back to Springfield, I was in line behind two men. Our flight was delayed and I made some inane comment that Plane Jumper thought was clever, so he started talking to me.

He oozed sexy. I wasn't too bad myself in my fitted suit and high heels. He was 21 years older than I,** but still sexy.

Yeah, I am bad about falling for that. Fortunately, Primo oozes sexy but is also respectable and responsible. What is it with me? Was I trying to make up for the tragedy of not being invited to any high school dances? Did I think being wanted by a Bad Boy made me more alluring to the entire world? Low self esteem that I would fall for crap that other women would dismiss without a second thought?

We bantered and flirted and I went into the bathroom and saw that my face was flushed. It was a coup de foudre.

He emailed. He called me from Japan and Germany and New Zealand. We would talk for an hour or two. He wrote me letters by hand. I got a 12-page letter telling me how desirable I was that he wrote when he was in Belgium. It is still stuck somewhere in my files.

No, he was not married. He was divorced, had raised his five children by himself. In his first marriage, he told me, he fell victim to "only white woman in the jungle" syndrome. That is, he was working in Guatemala and she was the only other American. When you are traveling or living abroad, being American is a lot to have in common. The two of you united against a foreign culture. But when you return to the US, that's not enough. There has to be more than a common nationality. Hence, the divorce.

A month after meeting, we both attended a trade show in Florida. He had late meetings with investors, but rode with me to the airport. We necked in the taxi, which seems so tawdry in retrospect, but it happens in New York all the time if the novels I read are to be believed. I felt very sophisticated then. Now - ick.

We got to the airport. We kept necking. May I say in my defense that we found an emtpy, unlit gate area. But yes. Tacky, tacky, tacky. May I also say in my defense that I hadn't been kissed for a year or two.

He kept calling and emailing. I could talk to him at work because at that time, I had an office. It was before my spineless boss let another department take our group's offices and banish us to cubicles in the converted warehouses 13 miles away. Oh yes I expensed my diet Coke every time I had to go to an offsite meeting. Make me work where people got carjacked on a regular basis and then you want me to pay 75 cents for a coke when I could just pull one out from under my desk where I stored the 12 pack?

The next month, there was another trade show, this time in Chicago. I am hearing wedding bells with this guy. I don't know why: he has given me no reason to think that he is thinking along those lines. I wait in my hotel room for him to call, skipping what would have been the politically smart dinner with colleagues.

Yes, I am self destructive.

Plane Jumper had said we would go out to eat, but then called and said he couldn't. He came over after and well. You know.

He wore purple bikini underwear, which I found shockingly inappropriate for a man his age.

The next night, he did take me out for supper and spent the entire time telling me about the tragedy of his childhood with an alcoholic mother, even though I was wearing this fabulous clingy dress that showed off my 20-pounds lighter body. I wanted to talk about me or at least be courted; he wanted to spill his sorrows.

Lord have mercy.

I thought I had a Marine and instead I had a 68er who was In Touch With His Feelings.

He did not call or email again.

I thought he was dead.

I called his place in Florida. Left messages. Finally got his roommate*** who said that of course Plane Guy was fine.

I realized what had happened and left him a scathing message that he could at least have bothered to tell me to go to hell.

To reinforce my lesson that this was a Bad Choice, I lost $5,000 when I invested in his company, which turned out to be a massive flop. Who knew that selling produce over the internet wouldn't work? He was a VP who had years in the industry and I had inside information. I think about that loss, which was the money my mother gave me after my dad died, saying that she thought my dad would have liked us kids to each have a small inheritance, every time a get rich quick scheme looks attractive. Nobody gets something for nothing.

* At least he didn't burn his draft card, which is what another Bad Choice did and then told me about proudly. Yes, I have dated many older men. Yes, I am now married to a man younger than I am. Yes, when Bad Choice Draft Card Burner told me what he had done, I asked, "I am the daughter of a career military officer who spent a year in Vietnam. Do you really think I am supposed to think what you did was OK?" We broke up shortly after. I never should have gotten involved with him in the first place, but not because of the draft card.

** And a year older than my mother.

*** Who lives with a roommate at that age?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

In which I take a job in the heroin district of Tijuana

This blog is evolving from an all about my in-laws and my wedding blog to a blog about the men mistakes I made before I met the wonderful hottie Primo and now to just life disasters in general. To get more in-law material, I would need to visit them or tell stories that are not mine to tell as long as the people involved in them are alive.

Anyhow, I do have more dating drama to tell you,* but I thought you might like a change of pace and one of my post-Peace Corps job stories instead.

When I returned from the Peace Corps in 1995 (I was a business volunteer in Chile), employers were not lining up to hire me. I know. Shock. Thank you every Peace Corps volunteer who has shown up to work in Birkenstocks, singing "Kum-Bay-Yah." You do no favors for the rest of us. I had legitimate business accomplishments to show for my two years (increased revenues and profits, reduced accounts receivables, which matters a lot in a country with high inflation, reduced expenses, etc, etc), but nobody cared.

So I loaded up my car and went to Washington, DC, the Mecca for those with apparent lack of accomplishment, which is what Peace Corps seemed to indicate to so many in the private sector. No luck there, but apparently I was a good enough temporary secretary at the World Bank that they were calling my mom and dad six months after I had left DC to see if I wanted more work. Yes. Because secretarial work is what I have aspired to all this time.

I went west. My Peace Corps friends Marty and Janet lived in a big San Diego house. Most of my things were in my parents' basement, but I loaded in my car some key items: all my high-heeled shoes, an inflatable queen-sized mattress and my grandmother's china.

No. I don't even remember why I felt compelled to haul a set of china from Minnesota to California. Surely there was a good reason.

In San Diego, I checked with the University of Texas alumni association for alums in manufacturing who might have some advice about international manufacturing work. When I called this guy, whom we shall call, "Bob," he invited me to come see him. I am all about the networking, so I went.

He explained that he had a small maquila just in Tijuana where he was building a revolutionary product for which he held the patent. He had some engineers and some skilled workers, but he didn't speak Spanish and didn't have someone to help him negotiate the Mexican bureaucracy. Yes, he had his Mexican liaison, but he needed to delegate some of those responsibilities.

Was I interested in seeing the operation?

Well yes!

I drove to Tijuana with Bob and his American engineers the next day. The factory was indeed what he had said: a small operation making a prototype of the product.

After I had looked around for a while, Bob asked if I would like to work for him. $1,000 a month plus 1,000 shares of stock a month. The stock was currently worthless, but soon - soon, we would all be rich!


But I realized that I could not afford to live in San Diego for a mere $1,000 a month. Even in 1995. Staying with Janet and Marty for the duration was not an option. Houseguests and fish, etc, etc.

So I spent my first day looking for an apartment in Tijuana. I found one in someone's back yard. Small, but newly renovated and clean.

And without a toilet.

The landlord said, "You stay at my house until I install the toilet. Manana, I install."

Foolishly, I gave him my money.

The toilet remained uninstalled as the landlord played cards with his buddies and I slept several nights in his youngest daughter's bed. She, in turn, slept with her older sister.

Meanwhile, at work, my big accomplishment in the first few days was to get a shower curtain put across the opening to the toilet so I could pee without everyone watching.

I suggested that fire extinguishers might not be such a bad idea for a place where men were welding, but Bob did not jump on that one. One of the engineers said that Bob and his wife could pinch a penny hard enough to form copper wire.

I accompanied the Mexican liaison on various errands. I got to weld. At 4:30, when the factory closed, I went to see if the toilet had been installed in my apartment, then I went back to my landlord's, twiddling my thumbs trying to think of ways to kill time.

The engineers pulled me aside. "We're retired. We have pensions. We can wait this out," they told me. "But you're young. You need something that's going to pay out sooner."

The Mexican liaison dropped me off at my toilet-less apartment and recoiled in horror. "This is the main heroin-trading area here!" he told me.

How did he know? I demanded.

"Because all of our laborers are on a work-release program from the heroin rehab center and this is where they come to buy drugs!"

I looked at my toilet-less apartment, at the box of china sitting in the corner next to the inflatable queen-sized mattress and my shoes, and thought, "What am I doing?"

The next morning, I told Bob I was quitting. I told my landlord I wanted my rent back and amazingly, he gave it to me, albeit very reluctantly.

Then I returned to Texas and surrendered to the placement office at the business school at UT.

* The man I met in the airport who was older than my mother and had jumped out of helicopters behind enemy lines during Vietnam and who would call me from Japan and New Zealand and talk for hours but couldn't be bothered to tell me he didn't want to see me any more once I had slept with him. Oh yes. I will tell that story, even if it exposes more of my Bad Choices** about men, just because it's a good story.

** "Bad Choices," as someone wrote about taking her dog onto the plane and letting the dog out of its carrier so that the dog was free to run down the aisle and poop. The writer noted that the dog had made Bad Choices, but I would place the blame elsewhere.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In which I become rich and famous

Who should play me in the movie? That's what I am trying to decide. That's a far more interesting proposition than, "Who should change the cat box and does it have to be done today or can it wait until tomorrow because after all, the cat whined to come in the other day to use the box* rather than poop in the flower bed so the litter can't be that far gone" or, "If my husband whines while I am at the gym, does anybody hear it? Am I obligated to be sympathetic when I return or can I say, 'What's whined is whined and it's time to move on, buster.' Do you see me crying about trying to find shoes that are both 1. pretty and 2. non-crippling if I want to walk more than one block? No you do not even though that is probably the biggest problem facing mankind these days other than how to control the temperature in public spaces to everybody's satisfaction."

So yes. Who to play me in the movie.

What movie? you ask.

Oh, I say modestly as I look at my (unmanicured, dirty from pulling weeds in the vegetable garden and planting poppies and cosmos in the flowerbeds, which is how I am going to bankrupt Primo, which means next season, I just take up heroin as a hobby because it would be cheaper) fingernails. The one they'll be making from the book deal that I am sure to get now that I am a



Yes. I am.

Reader Sayya sent me to her sister in law, who is the editor in chief of Caribbean Belle magazine. SIL liked my stuff and asked me to write an essay for the most recent issue. I wrote about marrying late(r) in life and having to get used to living with someone else when you disagree on almost everything. I would link to the article, but they do not put their magazine online. If you want, you may go to Trinidad and Tobago to pick up a copy. I intend to get five copies for my mother and write the trip off as a business expense.

A book deal is surely next and then a movie, much like Julie and Julia, which I liked because it was about 1. food and 2. blogging and 3. whining, all of which are my favorite hobbies. She slept a lot, too. Win/win.

At first, I didn't want to see it because Primo said his mom and dad didn't like it, but then I thought, Since when do I take entertainment advice from people who read Mother Jones and think the Diane Ream show is the height of cool?

I asked Primo what they specifically didn't like and he said it was that it was about blogging.

Oh yes. Those nasty bloggers. We don't like them.

Who should play me? Who should play Primo? I think Amy Adams is as cute as a bug, but she's too young. Actresses who are age appropriate for me are not body and looks appropriate, if you know what I mean. Is there an actress who looks like a normal person? No Demi Moore just because I couldn't even stand to have lunch with her. Primo would love Diane Lane, but she'd have to put on 20 pounds. At least. Same with Sandra Bullock. But wouldn't you just love to have lunch with Sandra? She seems so nice and down to earth.

Primo. I need a very smart, very sexy but in an engineer used to be a nerd way guy. I've always loved John Cusack. Who doesn't want someone holding up the boom box with Peter Gabriel singing away? Maybe he's the right guy. I would have to audition him for sure. Clive Owen. Hubba. Gerard Butler. Double hubba.

Don't worry. I won't forget about you when I am famous.

* Yes. She did.