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Mr. Wrong

My future mother-in-law’s permanent eyeliner makes me uncomfortable. Half-open slits that already look at the world suspiciously the eyeliner makes her eyes look even more calculating. Ted always talks about what a great lady she is. I find her icy, narcissistic and shrill. The three-hour tour of her thrift store crystal exhausts me. She has to tell me how much everything costs. I sense that I’m supposed to be impressed so I ooh and aah on cue. She informs me that she has a real flair for decorating, pointing to a wall arrangement she put together as evidence of her talent: a chicken wire-covered farm scene, a rusty hook, an antique egg carton. The three objets d’art hang there on the dirty wall, dusty from neglect. “These are $400 chairs. They’re Ethan Allen – -English Oak – and when Ted rocks back in them it loosens the glue. See? I have to have that fixed now. These are not meant to be rocked back in.” I think the chairs are dated and hideous and I wouldn’t pay $10 for them at a garage sale. Her house depresses the hell out of me.

It also happens to be the house Ted lives in. That’s because love is imperfect. It sparkled immaculately for the first month or so. But gradually the truth came out: about jail, about his speeding problem on the motorcycle, his ulcer, his bitter divorce, now his joblessness. Taking him to see his probation officer last week was no picnic either.

On my future mother-in-law’s faux-brick mantel are framed studio photographs of her grandchildren. “Who’s this?” I ask her innocently. “OH, that’s Ted’s oldest son.”

What?

I knew he had an 8 year-old daughter from his previous marriage. But I knew nothing of a 19 year-old son. “He didn’t tell you? That’s Nathan. They’re not very close. He lives in Connecticut now.” Apparently my boyfriend got his Guamanian high school girlfriend pregnant. Gradually the weight of his world has settled onto my shoulders. Do I love this man? I don’t know. I enjoyed falling in love with him. But sometimes I look at him and wonder, “Who the hell are you? And how did you wind up in my bed? In my life??” I don’t know you and I miss my old boyfriend. The familiarity. The safety of knowing it would never work out. And the comfort of being chronically dissatisfied. But I want to get married so in spite of his rap sheet, Ted remains a strong candidate for life partnership – a fact that terrifies me.

An overnight camping trip on the beach temporarily restores levity to our relationship, but back at his mom’s house reality has its way with me. His mother nags him about getting his name off some tax paperwork from the failed business he tried to launch with an old friend. If only I could strip his bathroom of its 80s pastel wallpaper, maybe I could save this relationship. Its generic watercolor pattern makes me want to heavily medicate. While brushing my teeth I realize this wallpaper represents what I’ve been running from my whole life: a staid, lifeless, cheap motel lifestyle. And here, at the age of 36 when other people my age are having their second babies underwater, I am living half the week with my boyfriend’s mom, washing my face in a carpeted bathroom wondering when my life is going to start.

PREGNANT PAUSE

pregnantpause
I have never given having children much consideration. Maybe it’s because I was an only child of a single mom and I watched her struggle. Maybe it’s because I didn’t meet Mr. Right until I was pushing 40.  Maybe it’s because I have never made a ton of money and I know it’s expensive. Maybe it’s because the world is so fucked up and I don’t know if bringing kids into it is a great idea. It just seemed more important to me to do my best to raise myself and become self-actualized than to be a mom. That was until last month.
I was late on my period. And it was weird because I’m never late. For 35 years you could set your watch to my cycle. In fact, I was so regular that for years my period came every 4th Saturday. I could plan my life around it. “Sorry, Lara. I can’t make the party because I’ll be on my period that night and I’m tired just thinking about it.”
So last month the day it was due came and went. And another. And another. Oh my God! Could it be?? A miracle! I’m 46 years old. How many eggs could I possibly have left??
But I did the math and it was indeed possible that I was pregnant.
I couldn’t believe how excited I was. And how excited Kevin was. We were elated. My belly swelled up, I was tired at weird times and I was craving things like Kettle Chips and sautéed mushrooms.
And I was seeing signs everywhere. I came to work one day and there in the tree right outside my window were two doves setting up shop. The mama was fluffing up the nest, the papa dutifully standing guard. I was flabbergasted.  What else could it mean??? IT’S SO OBVIOUS!!!
I started Googling like mad. How soon can I take a test? Will it be accurate? I ran to the store and bought an EPT. I bolted back to work and peed on the stick in a bathroom stall. I waited. It told me I wasn’t pregnant. Bollocks! Of course I’m pregnant! There’s just not enough HCG in my urine yet, that’s all.
I scurried back to my desk and Googled some more. What about these cramps I’m having? Implantation cramps, obviously. It’s all over the web. The blastocyst is hunkering down on my uterine wall!!  Baby names. Baby nursery decorating ideas. Baby clothes. Baby shower ideas. Oh my God, I’m having a baby.
I haunted pregnancy websites. I learned the lingo: TTC (trying to conceive); BFP(big fat positive); AF(Aunt Flo). Oh, the stories of women trying and trying for years to get pregnant and here I was, barely trying and Boom! God gives me a baby just like that. I felt slightly guilty. And, of course, chosen.
My friend invited me out for sushi. I skipped the sake and the raw fish.
She couldn’t believe it. Jen without a glass of wine in her hand. I confided, “I think I’m with child.” Her face dropped.
The amazing part was how important I felt. My life took on entirely new hue. It suddenly seemed infused with meaning and purpose.  As if God did indeed have a plan for me. I slowed down and drove safer, wondering how a car seat would look in the backseat. Eager to get a jogging stroller, even though I don’t jog.
And interestingly I felt more beautiful. I got some fake press-on nails for $6 at Rite Aid with French tips because pregnant moms always have these beautiful nails. They made me feel more pregnant.
When my period was 5 days late I took another pregnancy test. It, too, came back negative. Not to worry. I went to Whole Foods and bought some pre-natal vitamins and a quart of expensive, small-batch ice cream which I ate for lunch. Extra calcium is important.
I couldn’t wait to tell my parents. They’ll never see it coming. My mom will fly out and visit more often to help with the baby, I thought. I won’t have to work for at least a year. It will be like early retirement. I can’t wait. My dad will be thrilled. He’s counting on my half-brother and sister, both in their twenties, to give him grand kids. But no. It will be me. His oldest. His first-born.
But the next day something strange happened. A huge black raven flew up and perched on the sill outside my window at work. And I watched as he homed in on the doves. In a flash they were gone. Fled the nest they’d been building. And I waited all day and the next day, but they didn’t return. And I prayed it wasn’t a sign.
On Friday I went to the bathroom and there it was. Aunt Flo. Could it be implantation bleeding? It happens in 30% of women. I took a deep breath and told myself the inevitable. I wasn’t pregnant. Deflated, I went and bought a nice bottle of Chardonnay for myself.  When I got home and popped the cork Kevin came over and hugged me.
I’m trying to still feel important. To still feel that my life has meaning and purpose. But I feel a bit adrift at the moment. Why does God pass out pregnancies to high school students and deny them to the most obvious candidates? I know, biology. But it’s bad design if you ask me.

I DON’T KNOW JACK

​I think there’s something wrong with me. Not physically. Mentally.  I can’t remember jack shit. I read something and then I forget what I just read. Someone asks me if I liked a movie. Yes, I did. “What did you like about it?” they ask.  I have no idea. “Remember the part when she orders the veal and her server says, ‘What is this? Amateur hour?’” “I don’t remember that. But it was good. It was a good movie.”

I was a history major in college. UCLA.  I love history.  And I believe a strong grasp of historical events is critical to understanding the world today. But I don’t have one. In fact, I have no idea what happened to anyone. Ever. I re-read the basics all the time trying to piece together the past. Familiar stuff. The American Revolution, WWII. I would love to be able to talk to you about the history of the Jews. But I can’t. Something about the parting of the Red Sea, getting out of Egypt. Then things get foggy.
I think I used to be a smart person, but I can’t be sure. Don’t quote me on that. I listen to the news, try to stay abreast of the situation in the Middle East. But I seriously do not think I could point out Iraq on a blank map, though I have studied its whereabouts many times. It’s not that I don’t care. I care. But my brain has become incapable of retaining information.
I’ve had to become skilled at the art of “faking it.” You know, sounding smart when in fact you know nothing. I vamp. I know when to nod when trapped in a  meaningful conversation with someone intelligent. I repeat something they’ve just said and pretend I had the thought simultaneously.
Intelligent Person: “Isn’t it just awful what’s happening in Syria.”
Me: “Isn’t it? It’s – I –  Damascus… What a mess.”
Intelligent Person: “What’s your take on the Ben Ghazi situation?”
Me: “Oh, God. Ben Ghazi. That poor guy…”
The room falls silent. I suddenly sense I have made a grave error.

My parents are smart p

eople. They read everything. My younger brother was just accepted to three stellar law schools. He did so well on his LSATs the Ivies were offering him scholarships before he even applied. Harvard wrote him a letter. Wanted to know why he hadn’t applied there. Really?
I don’t know jack.
The name Hugo Chavez came up the other day and I could not remember who the fuck he was. Something to do with grapes? There was that episode in the 70s where my mom quit buying grapes cuz there were bad people taking over the industry in Latin America. But there was nothing on Google about Hugo Chavez and grapes. Che Guevara popped up. I thought, of course, that’s the grape guy. Nooo… he’s a Cuban Revolutionary. Bay of Pigs. That sort of thing. I asked my BFF, Gabby, about it and she said, “You’re thinking of Cesar Chavez.” And I’m like, “Ohhhhhh… right.”
(Hugo was the president of Venezuela – just so you know).
My mom used to brag about my history degree. She’ll never do that again.  We went down south recently for a family reunion. Stayed with my redneck cousins: loud cars, chain smokers. Out comes the Trivial Pursuit. Now, I have learned to bow out gracefully from this moment to avoid embarrassment. But I thought this was a shoe-in. I mean, they wear too much make-up. They have big hair. But there they were answering tough questions… correctly!  I don’t know what the last fucking Imperial Chinese Dynasty was! How am I supposed to know what lake the White Nile is sourced from?!  They kicked my ass. It was a catastrophe. The horror on my mom’s face. I had totally let her down. I can’t even go down there anymore. They teased me mercilessly for the remainder of the week about being from L.A. and how my brain cells have gone up in smoke… and I don’t even smoke.
Every once in a while I blurt out the correct answer during Jeopardy. But I’m facing an uphill battle. And I need to come to terms with the fact that I’m a dumbass.  Blame it on peri-menopause. Or 21st century information overload. I can no longer carry on an intelligent conversation. I just freeze up. Like that episode of the Brady Bunch where Cindy goes blank when the TV camera is turned on.

DIRTY LITTLE SECRET

I bought a $38 latte the other day. $4 for the latte and $34 for the overdraft fee I incurred. It’s my dirty little secret. I overdraft. I try to keep track of my bank balance but sometimes I’m off a little. It’s always a negligible amount. Chump change for Chase Bank. But they don’t care. No matter how paltry my infraction is — be it $2 or $20 — they charge me a whopping $34 dollars. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime! Oh, sometimes they reverse it if I ask nicely. But sometimes not. We bailed them out in their time of need. Can’t they extend the same courtesy to the little guy?

I did it again the other day. This time it was an order of Nachos Bell Grande and a medium Sierra Mist at Taco Bell. A simple error of arithmetic. A tiny miscalculation. But is it right that a Styro-foam plate of drive-thru nachos should cost me $40?  Those motherfuckers. This is a perfect example of big banks fucking over the American people – me being the American people.  Incensed. I have become obsessed with even-ing the score. I have to make this right for all of us. I’ve gone over it in my head repeatedly. Oh, I thought about swiping adesk chair. Or drinking all their courtesy coffee and making off with the coffee pot.  But that’s just child’s play. I don’t need another desk chair or coffee pot. What do I need that they have? And then it dawned on me: my barren backyard, my wilting geraniums… I need landscaping.  Chase Bank has great landscaping.
So here’s my plan. There’s a branch at Tampa and Saticoy with a gorgeous spread of firestick succulents. I’m sure you’ve noticed. I’ll go in the middle of the night when no one is around. I’ll take my shovel and my spade and with my hoodie pulled tight around my face I’m going to dig up their landscaping. Yes. It’s the perfect crime. Think about it: it’s just plants.  If I get caught what are they gonna do? Arrest me?  “Maam, do you know why I pulled you over?” “Why, no, officer. I do not.”  “Is that your agapanthus sticking out the back window?  Ma’am, please step out of the vehicle. You have the right to remain silent…anything you say or do may be used against you in a court of law…”
Yeah, right. I doubt it. More likely I will simply come home to a beautiful backyard — courtesy of JP Morgan.  They transplanted my dollars into their own hands. I will transplant their Lantana, their Kangaroo Paw, their Mexican Heather, their New Zealand Flax. I’ll nurture their strappy, their waxy, their drought-tolerant natives. Lord knows they’ve stolen from me long enough. I’m just taking back what is rightfully mine. And I am doing it for all of us. Like a modern day Robin Hood I’m taking from the rich to give to the poor.
Their beautiful parking lot medians will be stripped bare. I apologize, of course, to the public for the temporary eyesore it will create. We all appreciate public beautification projects. But sometimes we have to make sacrifices for the greater good.  And don’t worry – they’ll replace it. Remember — they have thousands of my dollars to spend at their disposal. And now I, too, will have a beautiful garden teeming with life, abuzz with the miracle of nature. Where once there was a dusty expanse of nothingness, now will reside a horticulturist’s dream: an enchanted land of growing things. Of course I wouldn’t need to take their landscaping had they not brazenly stolen from me a good chunk of my discretionary income.
Oh, I know it’s a violation of the 8th commandment.  You don’t have to be religious to know the difference between right and wrong. But this is for everyone. When my yard is done, I’ll go local. Vacant lots, community gardens, housing projects. My over-drafting will not have been in vain.  I know that the $38 latte was worth it. I may be a thief – but I’m a leaf thief. And how bad can that be?

MARRIAGE AFTER 40

I finally got married when I turned 40.
After enduring a hellishly long, Bridget Jones-esque gestation period as a single woman I finally found someone in Los Angeles who wanted to marry me. I waited a long time because I really wanted to find the perfect one for me. Get it right the first time. I have no idea if I have accomplished that. (How could we really ever know?)
But I like being married. Marriage is nice. It’s comforting and cozy. I like knowing someone’s always coming home, that someone knows my routine and if I go missing he will call the authorities.  I like knowing that even when he’s out late on a Friday night blowing off steam after a long week and not picking up my calls that he’ll be back. I like knowing that even when he is being an asshole and I’m giving him the finger behind my laptop that he is obligated to love me because he promised the pastor that he would. I need that. I remind him when he’s being a real fucker that he signed a paper saying he would love and honor me and that, given his behavior at the moment, he is in violation of that contract. Therefore, going forward, there will be a fine affiliated with that behavior.  I’m gonna start writing him tickets.  Like the city of L.A., I think I can produce quite a revenue stream from these marital citations. For example, cussing first thing in the morning: unacceptable. I do not want to wake up to him yelling “FUCK!” because he doesn’t want to get up when the alarm goes off: $25. Not fixing the broken window I have repeatedly asked him to fix: $50. Snapping at me rudely when I am being a sweetheart: $75.  Blaring reality television when I am trying to write a piece about him behind his back: $100. It goes up from there. We have the kind of marriage where we would do really well if one of us traveled like 4 weeks out of the month.
It’s funny living with a stoner. He’s a highly productive stoner. Hard worker, good breadwinner, a real sweetheart most of the time. But I get tired of all the popcorn kernels in between the couch cushions and finding the refrigerator door standing wide open in the middle of the night or trying to soak up spilled bong water on my new sisal rug. The other day I picked up our wedding photo to dust behind it and there was a tiny roach resting on a penny. The tiniest little joint you ever saw.  I know he intended to come back for it and then forgot about it. I’m not sure how he intended to smoke it. It would vanish between his lips.  But that little bitty thing was of some value to him. So I took it to him. And he was like, “Awesome! Where’d you find that?”
I’m not a good stoner. I just get a burst of creative energy, rearrange every piece of furniture wherever I happen to be at the moment and pass out.
I wish I had gotten married sooner in life, but we don’t always get what we want. And I have to remember a lot of people have it way worse than I do. And I worry about them. A lot. People affected by the genocide in Darfur, the poverty in Haiti, the sex industry in Bangkok, the tragedy in Nepal, anyone that suffers from chronic migraines or any chronic pain, people with a missing child, homeless and abused animals, people with severe addictions, war veterans suffering from PTSD, incest victims, pack animals who are forced to live alone, most horses, polar bears, Mormons, migrant workers, anyone with a limp, civil war amputees with no anesthesia, most people I see in thrift stores, old men, people in nursing homes, people who work in nursing homes… I just feel horrible for them all and I don’t know what I can do about it except try to be nice to everyone I encounter.
Which doesn’t always work out.  Especially if someone’s being an asshole. Then I feel that gives me permission to unleash the volcanic fury that lies dormant within. Like the other day.
I had to park in an underground parking structure. Which I hate. I took a ticket and I knew I only had 20 minutes to get in and out of there before they start charging.  Shouldn’t be a problem. I just had to drop something off real quick. Except some people don’t know when to stop talking and let me leave. When I got to the exit I put my ticket in the machine and it asked me for $30.00.
$30.00??!!
RUFKM?? Oh, hell no.  I told the parking attendant I just had to drop something off and could I please be on my way. Nope.  He made me go back and get validated.  Get motherfucking validated. Another 20 minutes and several assholes later I had reached my boiling point in that underground prison and I lost it. I lost my shit right there in that echoing, cement, petro-chemical trap screaming at the top of my lungs to noone in particular, “I hate fucking parking structures!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I hate this fucking city!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
But of course I don’t hate this city. Of course I love this City of Angels. My home town.