Friday, June 4, 2010

In which I make the mistake of talking to my boss about my love life even though it's obvious he is interested in me and then he asks me out

After I finished grad school and before the Peace Corps, I did temp work.

For one assignment, I was sent to Big Computer Company, which was testing their user manuals, although you would never have known it to read one. The manager gave me a series of tasks and the manual, then observed through a two-way mirror as I worked.

One of my tasks was to add a hard drive to a computer. I looked at the appropriate instructions, discovered they were crap, literally* tossed the manual back over my shoulder, and figured out how to install the hard drive on my own.

When the manager, Mark, was debriefing me, I told him that his problem was that the people writing the manuals were techies who already understood the process so well that they didn't know how to explain it to non-techies, much like the full professors teaching freshman chemistry. They have forgotten what it's like not to know.

Techies also think the rest of us should learn the hard way because once we do, it's so much easier. That's my brother's rationale for DOS versus Windows. Really! Just go through the hassle of learning DOS because once you've committed forever to understanding it, it's a piece of cake.

No thanks. I want something that is easy and intuitive from the start. The beginning of marketing a product is appealing to the user's laziness.

I also pointed out that the writing was not good. What you need, I told him blithely, is someone like me: someone who knows nothing about your product but who knows how to write and who will include instructions such as, "Now hit 'Enter.'"

I was hired (as a temp) for $15/hour, which was not too shabby for temp work, especially in 1993.

I soon discovered that much of my job was hanging out with Mark, a sweet, slightly nerdy (which is OK), 37-year-old Mormon virgin who had taken all the classwork for a PhD in psychology but had not written a dissertation. His job was to run the testing lab at BCC. There wasn't enough work, so after I would spend a few excruciatingly dull hours alone in a conference room editing manuals and then putting the changes into the electronic file, which was on the mainframe and for which one needed to use HTML because BCC was not going to be caught dead using Microsoft products, no matter how much their own product stank in comparison, Mark would find me and we would gab.

I asked him all about Mormons and why couldn't he have caffeine. He told me that it wasn't necessarily a restriction against caffeine but against stimulating beverages, which some in the church maintained were hot beverages and others maintained were caffeinated ones. Still, this did not put the church into schism as the one cuppers and the two cuppers of the Church of Christ have seen happen, so it must not have been an essential difference. What it meant for Mark was cases of 7 Up in his office that he got at Sam's Club.

The soda worked well to wash down the ranch flavored corn nuts that he also bought by the case and had stacked precariously behind his desk.

We talked about the Jesus Jammies. He was not so eager to discuss theories of the jammies or even tell me what they looked like** but I'm sure he was intrigued and perhaps convinced at my suggestion that the man who originally came up with the idea also happened to find himself the owner of a factory that made underwear.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my friend Laura had set me up with an acquaintance from work. I had gone out with this guy once or twice, but he wasn't as interested in me as I was in him. He went out of town one weekend and returned to tell me that he had been in San Francisco with another woman.

She is beautiful, he told me, but I can talk to you.

I took that about as well as any normal woman would.

I shared all the acquaintance drama with Mark. All the, He loves me, He loves me not baloney that insecure, low self esteem women do when A Man Is Not Calling. The proper response, of course, is To Go On With Your Life, but I was young and stupid back then and made many, many mistakes.

Mark was interested and wanted to know more. This was OK. We were just friends, right? I had sensed some interest, but he was my boss. He would never do anything unprofessional.

Like ask me out.

So I kept telling him all my romantic woes and he kept sympathizing and I didn't get a whole lot of work done, although I got done all the work Mark gave me. It was boring. Mark was not so busy either. We goofed off together and nobody saw us because BCC was housed in a building with passkey-only grim gray hallways and hidden offices. In my time there, I saw only three other employees once I was past the lobby.

Contrast this to 3M, where I had had another temp assignment. Their building was open and airy with whiteboards and markers at every hall intersection to encourage the engineers to collaborate whenever possible.

Guess which company has had more innovation?

Back to Mark.

After Acquaintance and I decided there wasn't enough room for both our egos in a relationship, I told Mark it was Over.

He promptly asked me out.

Actually, what he said was that he was kinda interested in maybe hanging out with me and did I want to go out to supper sometime?

And in one of the dumbest career moves of all time, I told him no.

Seriously. How bad would it have been to go out to eat with a 37-year-old Mormon virgin? He'd already made it clear that he was not going to marry outside his faith (we had talked about the lack of hot Mormon girls in the area) and if he'd made it to 37 intacta, he probably wasn't going to blow it now. Plus I had only two months to go and I could have pretended to be a Nice Girl who doesn't sleep with men before marriage. One dinner a week to keep a $15/hour job?

I was a fool.

He wasn't.

I got a call from the temp agency the next day. BCC no longer required my services.

* When I say "literally," I mean "I really and truly did the thing I said," not "figuratively."

** I know now because of Big Love.

In which I go on a date with one guy and then he won't leave so I get my knitting and then abandon him to my roommates when a better offer comes along

I dated more in college than I remembered. Problem is, I was asked out by guys who didn't interest me and who were not high status. It's thrilling to be asked out by someone everyone wants. Not so thrilling to be asked out by a somewhat loser-y guy. If a SLG asks you out and has confidence you will say yes, what does that say about you? Water seeks its own level, etc., etc. I wanted the cool, cute guys to want me. But they didn't. They wanted my roommate, Anita, who had no interest in them because she had a boyfriend at OU (whom she eventually married). Everyone wants what they can't have.

Anita's brother, Boyd, was a sophomore at Rice. He had a friend, Clark, who, as many other upperclassmen, saw the freshmen women as fresh meat. We (the women) realized later that the upperclassmen who wanted to date us had been rejected by the upperclass women. At the time, though, we thought we were hot stuff because we were getting so much attention.

Clark was definitely a guy whom the upperclass women had found wanting, probably because he had a big drinking problem, even at that young age. Who wants to be with someone who might throw up on her or someone else? Hence, his targeting of us. Through Boyd, he met Anita's friends. He asked each of us out. Either I was the only one dumb enough to say yes or he got to me last after the others refused to go out with him a second time. Anita, who reads this blog, might remember and provide some details.

We went out. To a play on campus, I think. Then he walked me back to my room (he was enough of a gentleman to do that). No kissing, thank goodness. I was ready for him to leave, but he didn't go. How does one, especially when one is 18 years old and very inexperienced in these things, get rid of a date who won't leave?

My roommates were watching Saturday Night Live. I joined them and Clark, uninvited, joined us. This, I thought, is a good time to get out my knitting, a hobby I have had off and on since my mom taught me to knit when I was seven. We sat in the dim light, watching TV, knitting.

The door was open: our rooms were air-conditioned to heck and the only way not to freeze was to let in the warm air from outside. Completely environmentally irresponsible and you would think that with all those engineering brains on campus, they could have come up with a better way to regulate dorm temperatures, but considering it was possible to open our locked dorm rooms with a spoon,* it was clear that not a lot of thought had gone into building design.

Some guys we knew passed the open door.

We're going to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show, they announced. Y'all want to go?

I jumped up. "Yes!"

Anita and Heather glared at me. Clark didn't budge at my news. I dropped my knitting, got my purse, and fled.

Almost 30 years later, Anita and Heather are still mad at me about that.

* Rice is on a main Houston road, across from the medical center that has one of the best trauma units in the country because of all the gunshot wounds they treat. In other words, an area that attracts some bad actors. There were at least two rapes and one murder on campus during my time there. And yet, our doors could be opened with a spoon?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In which I go on a date with a guy who gets us lost and broken down 45 minutes outside of Houston and then tries to kiss me again

One day as I was leaving chemistry lab, a class in which I was so abysmally bad that I got my best grade on the sample that I spilled onto the counter and then scooped back into the test tube before titrating, an event that should have alerted me early on that perhaps medical research, my desired field during my freshman year in college, was not a good fit for me, it was raining. I had an umbrella. Of course I did. I am always prepared. I am the go-to person for band-aids, aspirin, pens and chocolate because I always have these items in my purse. Some people gallivant through life aspirinless and penless and rely on people like me. Sometimes people like me get a little tired of being relied on, so be careful if you are an unprepared gallivanter.

Rain. Umbrella. Cute guy waiting in the cloisters, hiding from the warm Houston rain. I offered to share my umbrella. He accepted. We walked back to his dorm, where I dropped him, and then I went on to mine.

Somehow, he asked me on a date.

My first college date!

I was thrilled.

He wanted to take me to Gilley’s. For those of you who have not seen Urban Cowboy or who know nothing of Texas culture, Gilley’s was The Dance Hall in Texas. In 1981, it was really the big place because of the movie. Not that you can’t dance elsewhere. Indeed, finding a place to two-step, waltz or polka is pretty easy in Texas. Dance halls proliferate and they are for dancing. Sure, you can dance in a bar, but a dance hall is where you can take your kids and bring your own bottle of whatever. They’ll sell you the coke and other setups. Who needs liquor to attract customers? A liquor license is expensive. All you need is a smooth, cornmealed floor and a good band.

I picked him up at his room. Yes. I know. Red flag number one. Although we were just 18 and maybe he was as clueless as I was about things.

His roommate was smoking marijuana, which was to our benefit because Bob, the cute guy, was able to borrow the roommate’s car. You cannot get to Gilley’s using public transportation. Or maybe you can, but it would take two hours or more from downtown Houston. As it was, it was a long enough drive – maybe 45 minutes.

We got there. I was expecting the glamour of the movie. Except of course even in the movie, Gilley’s is not glamorous. But it did have John Travolta.

No glamour. No John Travolta. Nobody we knew. Bob did not know how to dance. Neither did I. If he had known how to dance, I could have easily followed him, but a pair of non-two-steppers are a nonstarter.

He got a beer. Had they changed the drinking age yet? I don’t remember. When I got to college, the drinking age in Texas was 18 and then it changed very soon. Did he have a fake ID like we all got at the flea market on the near west side of town?

My friends and I used our fake IDs to get into dance halls, the Winchester Club in particular, but sometimes for straight night at Numbers in Montrose, a bar that had a unisex bathroom, which seemed very avant-garde to the 18 year old me, where I once saw a very large black man wearing chains and a purple feather boa around his otherwise naked chest, a fashion statement I have yet to interpret.

I sat with Bob, watching him drink his beer and watching other people dance. We finally got bored and left. In the gravel parking lot, in his roommate’s car, he kissed me. Too shocked to respond, I let him kiss me once, but then I realized that he was a mushy kisser, so I stopped him. I knew he wasn’t doing it right. I had read enough romance novels, Sweet Savage Love in particular, to know a kiss was supposed to sweep me away.

Not that I had such vast kissing experience. I had kissed Kevin M. when I was 12, there by the pond where we swam when we visited my grandmother. I had kissed (many times, during lunch period, behind the auxiliary building) my short-term, unshaven 10th-grade boyfriend. I had kissed only once my 11th-grade boyfriend who turned out later to be gay. He, too, was a mushy kisser.


I have never made that connection before.

After I rejected Bob’s advances, we left Gilley’s. We (=Bob, the driver) got lost on a dark country road. Not a big problem, in theory. If you go far enough east, you hit the ship channel. South, you hit the ocean. North, you hit Houston again. West, however, is a problem because who wants to be in San Antonio before you make the necessary corrections? Know, though, that there are 14 Dairy Queens between Houston and San Antonio on I-10 and it is possible to stop at every single one.

But if you’re lost and your car breaks down, then theory becomes practice and in practice, being lost on a dark country road with a broken-down car stinks. Dark country roads are where the ax killers live.

Bob’s solution was to call a taxi.

After finding a phone. Yes, children, this is what life was like before cellphones. If you needed to call someone, you had to go to the phone, which was either attached to the wall in a house or in a glass enclosure by a public building. The phone did not come with you. We hiked what seemed like forever down the road until we found a gas station. Good thing this was a country-western dancing date and I was wearing cowboy boots and not a fancy date that would have required fancy shoes, because despite what Amy Adams would have you think in Leap Year (give that one a pass), most women cannot walk miles and miles in high heels.

He called information. Got the number for a taxi service. Called the taxi dispatcher. Who refused to send someone to where we were.

He was forced to call his roommate, who had to borrow someone else’s car to retrieve us. When we got back to campus, Bob tried to kiss me goodnight. I declined.

He called a few days later and left me a message asking me out again. I never returned the call.

Two years later, we were both in Dr Gillman’s American Novel 1800-1850 class. I never did get up the nerve to apologize for ignoring him and tried to avoid his eyes.

Maybe he didn’t remember me.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

In which I take candy from a baby and karma kicks me in the butt

I love blueberries. Primo does not. (See: Primo food rules and foods ending in "erry.") You can get them fresh only a few weeks a year. I wait for blueberry season and once it arrives, I eat almost nothing but blueberries.

A few years ago, Primo and I stopped in Chicago for lunch with my friends Lenore and Rob on our way to visit Primo's high-school friend who lives in St Louis. For dessert, in addition to homemade madelines, chocolate-covered pretzels and chocolate-covered strawberries (which Primo also does not like; see "erry"), Lenore served blueberries. I tried not to be a pig about the blueberries because they are not inexpensive and it is rude to eat all of something when you are a guest – you need to share.

Primo made a big deal of saying he would try the blueberries, which he has never liked. I told him not to bother, that he would not be doing me any favors. There is only a limited supply of blueberries, I said, and I don’t want to share.

He protested that he is always trying to get me to enjoy wine so I can share the experience with him and wouldn’t blueberries be the same?

No! I said. And keep your hands off my blueberries! There aren’t enough for me!

But I did eat all the blueberries at Lenore’s.

Which was wrong.

I know that now. I am sorry I did it.

Because when we got to Primo's friend Steve's house, I paid for my transgression in a big way.

Primo and Steve took a big shopping trip to Costco, which sells blueberries by the ton. Primo bought a ton just for me. My blueberries. Mine. Mineminemine.

I was sitting at the kitchen table, snacking on my blueberries, minding my own business, not hurting anyone, when Steve's friend Trisha walked in with her baby.

Evil baby.

I smiled, got up, and casually hid my blueberries in the fridge behind the two gallons of milk so nobody else would find them.

Trisha sat with the baby, Charlie, who was about 13 months old, and started feeding him his lunch.

Charlie looked to be a healthy eater, if you know what I mean, but he didn't want his hot dog. He didn't want his green beans. He didn't want his zwieback.

“Maybe That Woman will share some of those blueberries, Charlie!” Trisha chirped.

What was I supposed to say? “No! You may not give those blueberries to your baby!” How do you deny blueberries to someone? I don't mind slapping Primo's hand if he reaches for my fruit. His desire for blueberries is insincere and I know him well enough that I don't have to worry about impressing him any more. We weren't married at this point, but he liked me enough that I knew I could be myself.*

I smiled weakly and mumbled, “OK.” But I didn’t volunteer any information as to the blueberries’ location, hoping against hope that Trisha might forget her mission in the next 15 seconds.

Didn’t work. She opened the fridge, didn’t see them, and asked me where they were, so I had to tell her.

I still didn’t think it would be so bad. This was a kid who had eaten ¼ of a hot dog and three green beans. How many blueberries would he eat?

A lot. He’d been pacing himself. Waiting for the blues. Waiting to ruin my day.

As he scarfed them down, Trisha looked at me and asked, “Were you guys saving these for dessert or something?”

I shook my head and muttered, “No. Not at all.”

Which was a lie and the truth at the same time. We weren't saving them for dessert, but I was saving them for me, to eat all by myself without having to share them with a greedy baby.

Considering Steve and his wife had an open-fridge policy that I myself had already taken considerable advantage of, I didn’t see that I could deny this hungry kid the one food he seemed to like and could actually eat with his sore gums.

Then Steve's oldest kid, Mark, who was five, came along and saw the blueberries. Sat down and started eating them. Without even asking! Rude, rude little boy. I just watched helplessly. I sure wasn't going to say anything to him -- his parents were being very generous hosts and to deny their little boy a handful of blueberries would be mean beyond belief.

And remembered that I had eaten all the blueberries at Lenore’s.

What goes around, comes around.

* My friend Susan says you should be naked or at least in a bathing suit when you open the door for a first date so you can say, "These are my thighs. If they are going to be a problem, let me know now." My friend Anita, on the other hand, maintains you should wait until he likes you enough that he won't care.

In which my friend Ilene makes sure my dead grandmother is made up appropriately for heaven

Those of you who read my other blog (this is the double-secret-probation blog that only certain people in my life are allowed to know about, although non-relations and blog friends old and new are very welcome) have already seen this story, but I'm lazy today.

I push through the chattering crowd to the coffin. My grandmother lies there, still, a rosary laced through her clasped hands. She has a ring on almost every finger and her long nails are perfectly painted crimson. Eyeshadow, rouge, lipstick. All tastefully done. She doesn’t look bad for a woman of 96.

But something is wrong. I stare, trying to figure it out.

Her lipstick. It is a tasteful, pale, soft, barely-there pink.

I have never seen her in tasteful, pale, soft, barely-there pink in my entire life.

Imagine soft pink lips pursed around a Virginia Slims held between red-tipped fingers. Letting loose some choice words as the owner, clad in her new fur coat, slipped and fell on the calf manure covered tailgate from Uncle Butch’s cattle truck that my dad and his cousins had dragged onto the sidewalk as a Halloween prank. Drinking a beer straight from the bottle. Praying for a safe journey as she touched the little St Christopher statue on the dashboard on our way to Shopko so I could spend the dollar she gave me. Reading The National Enquirer at the grocery checkout.

You can’t.

Those lips have to be red, red, red. And not a tasteful red.

The funeral home had obviously not known my grandmother.

I call my cousin, my sister, my mother and my aunt over.

“Look at her lipstick! It’s all wrong!”

Aunt Pat agrees. “When I cleaned out her room, I found 12 tubes of lipstick, all red. Dark red.”

We decide we have to do something.

“Does anyone have any red lipstick?” I ask.

We all dig into our purses.

My friend Ilene triumphantly yanks a tube of red from her bag.

We pause as we think about the next step. We have the lipstick, but do we have the will to put it on a dead woman? Is it appropriate to touch up the makeup of a corpse? What if we get in trouble? Could the owner touch the lipstick to her own lips again?

“Grampa Al won’t know her without her red lipstick,” my mom says.

It is essential.

“I’ll do it,” Ilene, a pediatrician, says. “I had to touch dead bodies in med school.”

When Ilene finishes, Granma looks just like herself. She can rest in peace.

Monday, May 31, 2010

In which I learn that "I just want to have fun" means different things to different people

I lived in Austin for most of my 20s. Austin is a great town. Well, it used to be. In the late '80s and early '90s, it was a great place to be. I would stay up late. Primo should have met me back then. Staying out until 2:00 a.m. was nothing. Nothing! My friends and I would close the Sixth Street bars down. I'm not a drinker and never have been,* but I did like hanging out with my friends and dancing. I was young enough that I didn't care that I had to pay for my nights with my days. Sleeping until noon on a Saturday or Sunday? So what. I had no responsibilities.

One night, we met two pilots from Randolph AFB in San Antonio. I got the leftover guy because I have always been the sidekick friend. You know: the chubby, not as attractive but sassy and loveable one in the movies who plays next to Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan, only I was tongue-tied and muted around men. The Greek chorus. The friend who offers wisdom that is usually ignored. The friend who is there to make the main character look good.

But whatever. My bright, flirty friends drew men to them as flames draw moths. There are always extra moths who can't make it to the fiercest glow to settle for the dim, low-burning flame.

My friend got the outgoing, fun pilot. I got the redheaded pilot who also seemed fun. We danced, we chatted, we had a good time.

The next day, I thought, I should see that guy again! Being impatient and remembering he had not asked for my number, but not letting that stop me because I was independent and liberated, I tracked him down, which was as simple as calling the base locator at Randolph and getting the guy's number.

"But I'm only here for a month," he protested.

"That's OK!" I chirped. "I just want to have a good time!"

I meant I wanted to go out and dance.

Perhaps "I just want to have a good time!" means something else to a single man in his 20s.

He came up to Austin. We went to the Oasis, a bar perched on Lake Travis, to watch the sun set. He wanted to get something to eat. I advised him that the Oasis was not known for its food. When you have a fabulous view and booze, who needs a decent chef?

"Good food, bad food, it's all the same to me," he said.

Yes. Those were his words. I still remember them after 20 years, so shocked was I. I have never been indifferent to food. I might, out of desperation, eat bad food, but I never do so deliberately or willingly.

"Do you want to go dancing?" I asked.

No. He wanted to go back to my place. He was sullen, unresponsive, not the chatty guy I had met the week before. Perhaps he needed liquor to release his personality. Sober, he ranted about "Ivan" and "the Russkies" in a way that I had never heard my dad, who had been a history major with a concentration in Russian history, who had been to war and who was a career officer, talk.

We returned to the house I shared with my friend Rebecca, who, alas, was out.

Should we watch TV? I suggested.

No. He wanted to neck.

Which I did not want to do because I was no longer attracted to him. I kissed him for a little bit because I didn't know what else to do, then stopped him from going any further, which ticked him off.

I turned on the TV.

He fell asleep.

I went into the kitchen and read the paper for an hour, then returned to the living room to wake him.

"You have to leave," I said.

He did. Uncomplaining. He understood that he and I had different ideas about what constituted a fun first date.

I never heard from him again.

When I told the story to my friend Lenore, who was a human resources director at a large food company, I mentioned that this guy said his dad was a bigwhig at the same large food company. Oh yes! She recognized the name. The dad had had sexual harassment charges pressed against him. He's a jerk, she said.

I wasn't surprised.

* I've been drunk twice in my life. Two hangovers, plus acting like an idiot during the drunk part, were enough to convince me I never wanted to repeat the experience.