Thursday, December 30, 2004

A Flaw in the Digital Age

I stopped keeping an address book in about 1998 or '99. Remember those? Little books where you wrote down everybody's demographics with a pen or pencil? Come to think of it, remember pens and pencils? People seem to have forgotten how to use them. I mean, how much has your handwriting deteriorated? Really, look at it sometime.

Anyway, ever since I stopped keeping an address book, I lose everybody's contact info except for email addresses. Since I have gone through so many computers, and Outlook isn't easy to update, I've had to re-do my contacts so many times, I've pretty much lost everyone. When it comes to things like wedding invitations or packages or CHRISTMAS CARDS, which need snail mail addresses, I have to launch an aggressive phone-calling campaign, and enlist the help of parents. Who has time for that, and who wants to harass people to help? So, over the last two to three years, the only people who receive Christmas cards from me are people who send them to me. I get my cards out between Christmas and New Year's, and they are usually received after January 2nd.

So far, nobody has complained, but this year, I feel like a schlub. Last year I simply laughed off this rather George Costanza-ish behavior of mine, including my justification for it. This year, not so much. I feel like I should be doing a better job at this. After all, I'm proud of my Holiday cards. They are usually quite artistic, multicultural, and have a message of peace inside. This year I especially love my blue-and gold stamps, with Islamic writing that says (translated) "May your religious holiday be blessed." Religious pluralism and inclusion is one of the strongest foundations of my faith, and this is the one time of the year I get to express that.

So anyway. I have decided to revert to the old-fashioned paper-and-pen address book. I expect I'll have to get one at some store like B&N or Papyrus or CuCu, because if it isn't beautiful it will annoy me every time I look at it. This is the 21st century, and I feel cheated. Where are the flying cars? Where are the medical hypo-sprays? Now I'm reverting to a plain paper address book. I'd better be able to revel in the antique chic of the thing, at least. And I've tried the palm pilot thing. I had a Handspring for awhile. The charging stand developed some problem and stopped communicating with my computer, so even if I could get the batteries to recharge correctly (which I never could) I still can't update the thing. And tech support was useless. Maybe it's the cord, maybe it's the software, try reinstalling, yada yada yada. It's crap. And "writing" with that stupid little stylus really pisses me off. Of course, I could be just jealous that I didn't get the actual Palm Pilot, or the higher-end Handspring that supposedly has such a devoted fan club. My little green Visor was a gift. I should have been more specific when I said I wanted a PDA. The same thing happened when I was eleven, and begged my Dad for a computer, who proceeded to ignorantly (but with the best of intentions) buy a Commodore Amiga instead of the Apple IIc. Thus, down the drain went a promising career in IT.

But I digress. All this whining is because I have received a delightfully large number of holiday cards this year and feel guilty that I didn't send more. If you sent me one and put your return address on the card, you'll get one shortly after the New Year. Otherwise... sorry...

Next year, I'll be better at this. There's a goal. It's good have goals.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Christmas Day

We all slept very late.

Daddy's the breakfast chef. Impossibly light and fluffy pancakes, not heavy and cakey like diners make. They leave you feeling sated, not stuffed. Sausage patties, a blend of turkey and pork. Scrambled eggs that feel like souffle in your mouth. Whole-grain toast with butter or jam. Coffee. Oh God, Daddy's coffee. I don't know what he does to it, but it's incredible. Decaf and regular. Fresh-squeezed orange juice. He keeps one of the big drawers at the bottom of the fridge filled with oranges just for this purpose.

His chest swells when we eat. Friday morning, he strutted about the kitchen brandishing his spatula, clad in his white apron that we gave him to wear, with green piping and holly leaves over his belly. "Taste ok?" he asked. We mumbled enthusiastically through full mouths. Daddy glowed.

Lunch: Huh? We were cooking all day, in our little red-and-white Christmas aprons. I heated up some leftover angel hair for our guest, but I just had egg nog. (Virgin this time.) No kids in the house, you see. We didn't "do presents" until around 5:00, when the turkey was in the oven, the squash was simmering, the pie was baked, and lots of gossiping had been done.

A word about our guest: Mom's best friend is like my other mom. She has six kids, and they all have families of their own. They had just had a big family Thanksgiving, so for Christmas, all the kids went to their spouses' families' gatherings. Othermom came to our place. I virtually never get to see or talk
to her, so it was a special treat for me. We actually had a couple of hours downtime at some point, and really got to talk. She's the best friend my Mom's ever had, and for that reason alone she's family. Add to that the fact that my Dad now has someone to watch baseball and football with, and always manages to somehow coax smiles out of me... she's priceless.

By the time we sat down to dinner, it was 10pm. We simply didn't have the time or the oven space to make the traditional Christmas lasagne. No seriously; this is a real story:

The first year my parents were married, they had Christmas at my Mom's parent's house. Grandma seated Daddy at the end of the table, opposite Grandpa, and handed him the first course: homemade lasagne. Now, nobody will ever know how big this piece was lasagne truly was, because everytime Dad tells the story, it gets bigger. The last time I heard him describe it, the piece was so big that it was hanging off the edges of the dinner plate. (In reality, it was probably about the size of my hand.)

So this year, I was crestfallen that I couldn't re-create that memory. I had to be realistic, though. There were only four of us. I settled for:

Italian sparkling wine, for everyone
Roasted 12-pound Turkey
Stuffing cooked inside the bird
Mom's homemade gravy
Canned Cranberry sauce (we had fresh too, but it didn't make it out of the fridge)
Mashed rutabega
Mashed potatoes
Baked yams with pineapple and marshmallow
Steamed broccoli
Crescent rolls
Assorted pickles
Mom's Apple Pie for dessert

Again, Daddy was snoring in his chair before the plates were cleared. This time I stayed up until around 1AM, helping Mom process the seemingly endless stream of pots, pans, dishes, silverware, wine glasses... how can four people create so much washing? And I had been washing mixing bowls and pots and things as we cooked throughout the day. I can't imagine how it would have been had I not done that. As it was, Mom and I were washing until midnight.

After the cleanup was done, Mom and othermom talked into the wee hours.

Dirty Humour

Porn titles for 2005

I laughed SO loud.

And this is the first post I've been able to do from my home computer in I've lost track of how long. Thanks to Zenchick for masquarading as me!

Christmas Dinner tomorrow.

Christmas Eve

Fish dinners are traditional. When I was a kid, we'd have 20 people crowded into my Grandparent's eat-in kitchen , civilly passing platters of pasta, bread and fish of all kinds. This year, there was only four of us, but we ate as well as ever.

All Cookies and candy snacks are my responsibility, since I was about twelve years old. From scratch. Normally I'd spend a day or two prior to Christmas baking about 3-4 different varieties of cooky, decorated, with different types of fillings. I'd also make several varieties of chocolate candies, some molded, some dipped. It's a toss-up as to what's more fun - making them, or watching people eat them. I used to get marriage proposals for my Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies!

This year, with only a few hours of oven time, I only made two (gasp!) kinds of cooky:

Chocolate cookies
I shape them like presents, twists, and balls dusted with powdered sugar. I decorate them with colored frosting and dip them in melted chocolate for extra decadence. Very fudgy, more candy than cookie. Sometimes I put some of the dough through a cooky press... alas, no time this year for that.

"Strawberry Pillows"
Grandpa's favorite cookie. I was taught to make these at about age eight or nine. Mom wanted the help - they are a lot of work. Cream cheese, butter and flour, rolled out thin and "stuffed" with strawberry jam. Flaky, sweet, rich. Although since Grandpa was diabetic, he got special ones filled with chopped nuts.

Baking is thirsty work. I indulged in low-fat egg nog spiked with Brandy and dusted with nutmeg. Oh baby. Flour up that rolling pin.

A quiet, but deeply felt omission this year was my chocolate-dipped Brazil nuts for Grandma. This is our first year without her, and the first year I can remember that I haven't made them. We decided to forgo them this year - just too much work. But we had fun remembering the way she lit up when I presented her with a tin full of the luscious treats, and the way she rolled her eyes when she popped one into her mouth. Someday, when my mother becomes a grandmother, I'll make them for her as a rite of passage, to celebrate her new role, and the turning of the wheel.

As soon as I pulled the last cooky tray out of the oven, my mother reclaimed her kitchen. Time to get real.


2003 Jacob's Creek Chardonnay, for me
Gran Spumante Ballatore Sparkling wine, for my parents
Shrimp Cocktail with hot horseradish sauce
Small dish of sautéed mushrooms - special treat for Daddy
Salad with Mom's balsamic dressing
Steamed fresh asparagus
"Aglio et Olio" (pronounced Allyeh-ool): Spaghetti with garlic and Olive Oil
Angel Hair marinara
Grilled salmon brushed with olive oil, lemon and parsley
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream for dessert (Should be Breyer's, but this year we had to make do with Edy's)

I wanted to make "galama" - a dialectal pronunciation of calamari. Grandma made it simple. Buy small squid, no bigger than the palm of your hand, boil them, and turn them into a pot of gravy (which is what Italians call tomato sauce). Her galama was more like squid cacciatore... but it was easy to eat, friendly, and no frying. Unfortunately, the fish market didn't have any squid. I don't know what I was thinking. I'm in downstate Illinois!

Maybe next year.

Everyone helps cook - even Dad. After dinner however, Dad falls asleep, and Mom and I are left with a mountain of dishes, pots, mixing bowls... I helped as best I could, but all that baking wore me out. I conked out at around midnight. I found out the next morning, however, that Mom had stayed up until 2AM wrapping last-minute Christmas gifts on the dining room table. As she does every year.

Monday, December 27, 2004

It's All About the Food

Anything a person would every want to know about my family can be learned in the kitchen. My Christmas weekend was loaded. Menus to follow.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Oh Goddess, It's HERE...

A succession of short posts means that I'm filled with things to talk about and NO FUCKING TIME to write or make phone calls. (I owe at least one someone a reeeeally looooong chat!)

The airport Supershuttle comes for me at 3:30 AM. That's eight and a half hours from now. About a day's work time to:

clean the cat box
pour out 4 days worth of food and 6 days worth of water
trim Marge's claws so I don't come home to a shredded comforter
eat something for dinner
straighten up a bit
throw out anything unrecognizable from the fridge
change into comfortable plane clothes
bring my spare set of keys to my friend (who has graciously agreed to check in on Marge while I'm gone)
scrub that bathroom 'till it shines (I'll be coming home at 10pm Sunday and won't feel like cleaning then, but sure as hell will want a shower)

Maybe, just maybe, I'll get an hour's sleep. Not sure. But would be nice.

My plane leaves LaGuardia at 6:30 AM. Normally I would never fly (or be conscious) at such an obscene hour, but I didn't want to deal with delayed afternoon flights. And you know they will be delayed. And overbooked. But most people don't want to fly at 6:30 AM on Christmas Eve. So I figure the airport will be less hassle. At least, I hope.

And I'll be home snug with the family, falling asleep on the couch by 10AM. This is our first year without Grandma. Our first year without her in my entire life. We've decided to celebrate full-out, in the traditional style, as though she were here and cooking for us all. In my family, that means lasagne for Christmas dinner as an appetizer. After that comes the whole Turkey-and-stuffing feast with pies and all. Christmas Eve we're having a 4-course fish dinner.

I will be spiking the egg nogg.

I am so excited, my heart is bursting.

Everyone, have a peaceful, contemplative weekend, and find some time to party just a bit. Even if it's cold. The Winter Solstice is now passed - as of today, the days are officially getting longer. Celebrate the return of the SUN!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

- Ouiser

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

News Flash

My Darling Galpal has just been cast in Fiddler on the Roof with Harvey Fierstein!!!


Monday, December 20, 2004

In Memoriam

Her recordings of Mimi and Desdemona were inspirational to the young collegiate MzOuiser. May she rest in peace.


How do you tell the difference between really wanting something and convincing yourself that you want it because it seems like the right thing to want?

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Hold it a Minute

When the hell did I zoom past 5,000 hits?

Worse than PMS, but not warranting Paxil

I just posted a scathing rant against the lottery in Riye's comments. I'm not usually this grouchy. yes, I'm PMSing... but something else is in the air too.

My recent post about harrassment in New York: Negative. Hopeful, and satisfying in seeing the steps I've taken to deal with this aspect of life, but overall, not exactly an "ain't life grand" type of post.

I'm getting more and more involved in this company where I'm currently temping. It's causing me to have horrible flashbacks to my last job, including really awful things I said at a couple of meetings that made everybody think I was clearly nuts, and likely hiding something. (Like the astonishing depths of my hatred for that company.) I shudder at the memories. I literally feel a physical urge to jump out of my chair and sprint a few laps around the cubicles. My typing right now is an effort to calm that physical urge. At least I can let my fingers sprint.

My roommate stalked out of the house this morning and left without saying a word or even a grunt. Yes, after all these months, she's *still* playing the walking wounded, and not speaking to me. It's really unimaginable how enormously stupid her behavior is. When I'm home alone, I catch myself cursing her out, and I'm not sure why. Maybe I just don't like Passive Aggressive Whiners?

I've used the phrase "What's wrong with these people?" and the word "bitch" far too much over the last couple of weeks. In a variety of settings and in reference to a variety of people.

I have no desire to cook. I am craving rich, heavy, fattening foods. Cheesecake. Wine. Rum. Cuban food. Roast Chicken and Plantains. Chili with melted cheese. Fish and Chips. For the love of GOD I bought Guacamole Doritos two days ago. WHAT is the matter with me? I would like to KEEP OFF that 16 pounds I purposefully shed. I am destroying my Weight Watchers plan.

Oh, and since the PAW decided to confiscate her DVD player, I can't play my workout videos anymore, so I sit on my ass far too much. She moved it into her bedroom for her personal use. This is her style of telling me non-verbally how much she hates me and wishes I would die.

Roomie has been a PAW ever since late September, but my attitude problem has only going on for the last 2 - 3 weeks. Oh... wait a minute... yeah.

Shit. Not again.

I'm suffering from SAD. I get this every year, and every winter, I forget that I get it every year. I go through a few weeks of feeling like my PMS button is stuck in the ON position, and then I realize "Oh yeah... the sun is gone, and it's freezing."

I tend to hibernate in the winters. My friends have a very hard time getting me to come out. I go to work, and that's it. The grocery store is two blocks away and seems like 10 miles when it's dark and cold.

So Jon, I hope you're not offended... if so, please accept my apology. I'm glad to hear somebody who isn't already a millionaire won something off those scratchy tickets. The only time I ever knew someone had won a scratch game, it was the father of this bitch I knew in high school. He was a surgeon who lived on the Wealthy West Side of my hometown. Why the hell are surgeons buying lotto tickets? Is that gambling addiction or a really special kind of bored?

But I digress. And there's that b-word again.

When I get home from work tonight, I'm going to do my laundry, and then write about SAD in depth.

Disclaimer: Unless I get too depressed/annoyed/listless/restless to do anything other than read other people's blogs. But I really hope that doesn't happen.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Learning the Warrior's Way

Scanning some of my old writings, I came across this paragraph:

I was once trapped in an elevator for around an hour. Since then I'm slightly claustrophobic. I was mildly assaulted on the street in 1996 and have been distrustful of strange men ever since, but I try not to let it stop me from living life and generally being a nice person. I've had some other close calls over the last 9 years, but nothing that a single girl alone in the city shouldn't expect to happen to her. Nothing life-threatening. My therapists told me that since I was leading a normal life I was probably over it. But don't things like fear of crowds manifest as a type of self-protection? Maybe I'm not as "over" those experiences as I thought.

The line that really grabbed me was "I've had some other close calls over the last 9 years, but nothing that a single girl alone in the city shouldn't expect to happen to her."

I beg your pardon? A single female should not expect to be attacked, harassed, or victimized on the street, simply for being single or female. Ever. For any reason. What a load of shit. And I call myself a feminist. For that matter, guys shouldn't have to expect it either, no matter how pretty or small or well-dressed they are.

It just goes to show what being vicitimized can do to your psyche. I went through plenty-o-therapy regarding my experiences, and part of that therapy was centered around the fact that I have been victimized more often than most. Most women I know have had this happen to them once or twice, but I have been through 3 serious attacks and about 5 other highly threatening situations. There is something about me - my manner, or something in my face - that screams out THIS ONE, TRY THIS ONE to men who are looking for a target.

And yes, every time, it's always been men. I have never been attacked, grabbed, or spoken to in a violent way or an inappropriate sexual manner by a female. When women want to hurt me, they ignore me.

I still grapple with this. I still try to discern what specifically it is about me that attracts criminals. I'm 5 foot 4. My long hair is easy to grab, and very noticeable, but I do tie it up or tuck it in often. I don't dress very provocatively. Are my eyes too wide? My face too expressive? Do my hips swing when I walk? Do I appear physically weak?

Living on the svelte upper west side, I still get verbally harassed from time to time, but I respond differently now - I flip people off, I look them directly in the eye and say rude, dismissive things, or some other DIRECT thing. Instead of showing my belly, I show my fangs. Instead of a white flag or a "Please Don't Hurt Me" sign, I now carry a shield and spear. And I use them. So to speak. I have become, as some might say, citified.

But I still have to show my fangs an awful lot.

And it only happens when I am alone.

I still should not have to expect it. Nobody should.

Sunday, December 12, 2004


Five years ago today, Zenchick's best friend Amy passed away. I was privileged to know her for a brief time. She made quite an impression on me. I never even had a single one-on-one conversation with her, as she always seemed to have an entourage around her, and we never had any real quality time. I have always been saddened by that. I felt cheated when she died, because I had been so looking forward to knowing her better over the years. Like so many others, I thought we had all the time in the world.

Last night I attended my church's annual holiday party. I was exhausted from a long week of irritating work and a bit too much socializing. I’ve also been feeling the familiar weakness that comes with anemia, and I’m thinking of taking the iron replacement pills again. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful evening, a little rainy, but not cold, and I knew I was going to a place where I could shuffle around like a zombie on tranquilizers and nobody would give a damn. So I schlepped myself and the three boxes of Pepperidge Farm Cookies in the dark and the rain. It was rather a nice walk.

As I was trudging along 76th street from Columbus Avenue to Central Park West, umbrella in one hand and cookies in the other, I thought of Amy. I started talking to her, and crying. I was crying for my non-existent career, my almost-but-not-quite string of relationships, my church where I used to feel nurtured but now feel like a number, and my physical weariness just seemed to create an environment for freely flowing tears. It was dark, and lightly raining, so I gave in to it, and let myself cry for a block or so. “I need…” I said out loud.

I knew Amy's yarzheit was coming up (the anniversary of her death), so maybe that's why I thought of her. I also remembered that the last church holiday party I went to was two years ago, when I was still living in my ex-husband's house. I felt a wave of grief wash over me... I've had plenty to grieve in the last few years. In that wave, I felt Amy.

It seems arrogant of me to think I would feel her, or that she would visit me. I truly barely knew her. I met both Amy and Zenchick through my ex-husband, who were all friends in Baltimore. She died before we ever had the chance to really connect in that way that girlfriends do.. and I had so hoped for that. After her death, she has become a larger-than-life personage to me - beautiful, artistic, intelligent, funny, loved by all who knew her. Probably because I didn't know her well in life, my image of her now, after her death, is idealized, tall, shining, wise... like a Goddess.

Most of all, I always wished I could have talked to her about my ex-husband. Could she have helped me to know him better? Understand him better? They had been so close for so long. They had even dated briefly. I was looking for some sort of magical key to him, and if anyone would have had that kind of insight, I imagined it would be Amy.

Less than two months after she died, I saw her in a dream. I had a nightmare about being at an amusement park, and the ride we were on broke down. It was a water park. There was a shark swimming around us. I was there, so was Zenchick, Amy, and my Ex-Husband. I was screaming and panicking, and Amy was laughing. Nobody else seemed to be aware anything unusual was happening. I turned to Amy, and she grabbed my shoulders, and said "Relax! It's fine! Isn't this fun?" I was too freaked out. She tried again. "We're all going to be fine," she said to me, not laughing anymore. But I just couldn't calm down. I was terrified.

Sure enough, the ride came to a halt, and we were all unharmed... and I was the only one who hadn't enjoyed myself. Amy was flushed with excitement. Nobody else seemed to notice her. She was giggling at me, eyes sparkling.

That morning, when I told the hubby about it, he said, "Well, Amy would definitely tell you to relax and enjoy the ride."

Amy. I've tried to take your advice to heart. I never learned how to really approach life anticipating enjoyment until I was in my 30's, and you were gone.

Was that you last night? Was that you, 4 years ago? Have you seen how much better I've gotten at enjoying the ride? Can you tell that I've learned? That I'm still learning?

I'm sorry I hurt your friend, Amy. I really loved him, and we tried as hard as we could. I'm sure, wherever you are, you understand... but I want you to know how well I meant, how hard I tried, and how I will always wish that he and I could have made it work.

Thank you for Zenchick, and for L too, though I don't talk with her as much. You live on in them. And maybe, just maybe, a little tiny part of you lives in me too. Perhaps through our friends, and through the veil between this world and the next is how we are meant to know each other. How very special that makes me feel.

Peace to you, Zenchick, and L, and Amy's family, the other two Amy's, Brian, David. You are all in my thoughts.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Chromatology & the Self, Part II

I told my mother that I wanted her to make an appointment for me with Don for Saturday morning, November 20th. I only had one day in Springfield, and I planned to do two things: see my Mom’s show, and get my hair done. So the appointment was made, and on Saturday morning, I strolled into La Jolie Femme, distributed the hugs and kisses, donned the polyester smock, and waited for Don.

Don was prepared. He had a bottle of color all mixed before I had a chance to tell him what was really going on with me. It was bright, cherry red. “Uh, Don… did my Mom tell you what I wanted to do?” I asked. Don looked confused. “Don’t you want to stay red?” He asked. I hemmed and hawed a bit, chewing my fingertips. “I think we need to talk about this,” I said. “You want to go dark, don’t you,” he said. “Sort of,” I said.

I’ve been dying my hair for 15 years. That’s half my lifetime. I’ve only ever seen my real hair color when my roots get neglected, and for the last 3 to 4 years, they have been coming in a rather upsetting dark brownish color, which I suspect may actually be salted with grey. The few glimpses I’ve had sent me running back to Peter, credit card in hand. “Just fix this!” I’d say. A glass of wine, 3 or 4 hours, and $150 later, I’m safe again.

I must say though, I've become somewhat suspicious of Peter lately. He’s opened up his own salon now, and has resumed his authentic Columbian name. He also stopped bleaching his own hair and lets his raven curls run wild atop his wiry frame. I’ve followed him from two salons, and bought him a beer at the local pub when his dream of opening his own salon became a reality. We’ve bitched about our lovers and jobs and bosses for several years together, and I have to wonder… does he sense the change in me?

The time for hair coloring may be over for me. $150 a salon visit is more than a bit steep for me, and now that my salary has been shredded, I have even less resources to squander on glorious red blow-outs. But the money's really not the issue. Something deeper is going on.

In late 2001, my marriage was severely tested. In the middle of a nervous breakdown, Peter gave me the magic short light hairdo, and although the action was born of anxiety and a need to escape, it led me to actually see myself, and appreciate myself. At the time, it was a breakthrough. I reveled in my newfound comfort with myself, and gradually, my hair grew back. My husband and I decided to give our marriage another try. We moved into a brownstone, bought new furniture, took a vacation or two, and…

Things only got worse. At times, we seemed to be communicating better. But most of the time, the fighting was more intense than ever. Words were harsher. I stopped crying, but I started screaming. My husband became more stubborn than ever, I became more withdrawn. With my new-found self acceptance came the realization that I wanted certain things, and I felt entitled to the pursuit of happiness. It became more clear than ever that we simply wanted entirely different things out of a marriage. I wanted a lot of things - not material goods, but a way of life, a healthier diet, a different vacation spot, a cat, children. Things that my husband didn’t want.

For a while, I tried to convince myself that I could learn to want what he wanted. During the course of my marriage, I gained almost 30 pounds, figuring all this out, trying to be someone different, trying to talk myself out of the person I was but didn’t want to be, trying to be… more like him.

The end was inevitable. Finally one night, we said things we couldn’t take back… and it was over.

On February 15th, 2002, I moved into a two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side with a lovely Irish gal who taught me about organic food and holistic medicine. It was 10 degrees below zero. I took very little from the marital residence - just things I’d owned since I was single, and enough silverware and bedding to eat and sleep. I took some decorative items people had given us for our wedding, after making sure David didn’t want them. When I moved into my new place, I had my cat, my bed that my Dad had bought me, and boxes full of loved things.

That night, just as I was returning the U-Haul, one of the worst blizzards in the history of New York blanketed the city in thick white cold. Many businesses closed the next day. My cat and I huddled indoors, feeling very lucky, as though we had narrowly escaped something.

I cooked a lot. I went to church. I spent hours on the phone with family and friends. I began to heal.

I also began to throw things out. I donated easily two-thirds of my wardrobe to the Salvation army - and being a former actress, I could have clothed a third world country, albeit impractically. Glittery tops. Too-tight pants. What-was-I-thinking dresses and sweaters. High heels that killed your feet after 2 hours. Out, out, out. I also donated a bunch of cheap jewelry, shoes, CD’s, books, and dumped stacks of catalogs and old magazines into the recycler. I threw an entire grocery bag’s worth of makeup in the trash. I gave some nicer clothes away to girlfriends, and sent a box full of cherished stuffed animals home to my parents, who will house them much more comfortably in my old bedroom. I cleaned out my closets, my bookshelves, my cabinets. My life.

I mopped the floor under my bed and went to sleep in a clean, sweet-smelling room with a purring cat.

After a couple of months, I went to work on the cabinets. I brought all the cookies and candies to work and set them discreetly in a bowl in the kitchen. I stopped buying junk. I switched to organic sugar, produce and dairy. The roommate ate nothing but organics, and we cooked for each other from time to time, so I decided to go with the flow. She was a great influence on me in this area. She basically re-taught me how to eat healthily, not for weight loss, but as a way of respecting my body, the House of my Self.

We virtually never watched TV. We’d play soft music, burn sweet-smelling incense, and eat comforting food. Sometimes we’d talk, sometimes we’d keep to our own space, reading or interneting, or napping. I bought a tape and did yoga in the living room. I sang in the apartment almost every day, before roomie got home. The neighbors heard. Instead of complaints, I got compliments.

I began to feel more and more real. More natural. More authentic, less painted. More honest, less panicked.

In the winter of 2003, I went on Weight Watchers and lost 16 pounds. Last July, I vacationed someplace I had never been.

After a while I slacked on my hair color. The roots showed more and more. It became a pain to keep up with it, but I’d been maintaining for so long, I was clinging to the polish. My last remaining vestiges of… someone I thought I wanted to be.

Finally, in the middle of winter, on a really crappy day at the office, I caught my reflection in the mirror, and the tacky inch-wide band of root color just embarrassed me to no end. It was time.

I practically sprinted to Peter’s. “Look at this!” I pulled at my hair, exposing the jungle of brownishness that was pushing its way through the copper. “I’m a brunette!”

Peter frowned. “Joor not really that dark, eets just contrast with the rrrred,” He mused. “Here, let’s try sometheeng new.”

I left the salon that day darker - but not brunette. It was almost purple! Some kind of very dark red. I felt exotic... but faker than ever. I didn’t know what to say. It was the only time I hadn’t utterly loved what Peter had done. I wondered if I wasn’t just being self-conscious.

When I went back the following month, we chose a muted auburn. I thought it was a browner red... but it still wasn’t real. The roots came back.

Months went by of trying new shades. For a while I gave up and settled into a very subtle lightener which didn’t show such awful roots. But it rankled me. Was Peter sensing something? Was he afraid of losing me? Or maybe - just maybe - we had been coloring my hair so much for so long, that he didn’t really know how to bring me back?

I thought about all Peter had done for me. I hated to cheat on him with my ex… but I knew what I had to do. Only Don and Jack knew me this well. Only they knew my original color. Even I didn’t know it.. but it was desperately trying to assert itself. After all I’d been through, I felt something very deep inside me pushing to get out. Trying to get out from under something, from under a thick red smothering layer of something...

I wanted to know who I was. I wanted to know what I looked like.

That Saturday morning in Don’s chair, I confessed. “I want to stop dying my hair.” He looked at me. “Oh,” he said. I didn’t know what to say. I just looked back at him, nervous, hoping he’d understand. He scrutinized me for a few minutes, then placed a hand on my shoulder. “I think we’d better consult with Jack,” he said.

Jack, the senior Chromatologist. Jack, who attends Redken master classes on Fifth Avenue only to get up and start teaching. Jack, with over 25 years of experience in the science of hair color. I felt like an old beat-up car, going in to be re-vamped for a new buyer. Kick my tires, boys, I thought. Let’s see if there’s anything worth salvaging underneath all this tint.

“We’re gonna need another 432,” Jack said, or some such numerical code. I had no idea what he was talking about. Don and Jack mixed up some kind of magic potion and talked frankly to me. “It’s still gonna fade, you know,” Jack said.

“That’s ok,” I said, “As long as it’s not too obvious.”

“You’re still gonna be somewhat red, you know,” said Don.

“I don’t care if it’s green or purple, as long as it’s real,” I said.

I got a lesson in Biochemistry. “The molecules that make up artificial haircolor form weak bonds with your hair, which is why the color fades," Don said. "The bonds break.” I thought about this. Natural color fades in the sun, but more slowly. “So natural hair pigment is chemically bonded to your hair through very strong molecular bonds?” I asked. “Yes,” Don said. “We have never been able to duplicate the molecular composition of hair color in a laboratory.”

Don worked the potion through my hair. All those years of being a wild, angry, searching, defiant, broken-hearted and pieced-back-together-again redhead. Relationships. Friendships. Even my marriage. Weak bonds. Which had to be reinforced several times yearly, at a high cost. If they had been real, if they had been natural... Nature: often imitated, never duplicated. No matter how good Peter was, he could never make me anything that wouldn’t fade - and fade fast. The short hair grew. The light hair darkened. Artifice fades.

No matter how my husband and I had tried to satisfy each other, the marriage would have disintegrated, because I was untrue to myself. So many of my past relationships.. the same problem. Immaturity? Partially. Efforts to become someone without learning who we are. Artificial persons, doomed to fall apart as our inner selves burst forth from the confines of the cocoons we build for ourselves. To thine own self, one must ultimately be true, or perish.

I was reminded of the time in college when I had dallied with the idea of colored contacts, just for show. Aside from plastic in my eyeballs hurting like hell, my eyes were too dark for the colored circles to have the right effect. My true colors asserted themselves as strongly as ever.

My true colors, I thought. I looked hard at myself in the mirror. Almost 20 minutes had gone by. The un-colorant was unmistakably changing my appearance. My hair was darker by several shades. But what I noticed most was my eyes.

The practically burst forth from my head. Rich, dark, chocolate brown eyes, rimmed with short, black lashes, popping out of my very white winter skin. I stared at my eyes, which made my hair look more vibrant, which called attention back to my eyes, contrasting with my fair skin… My mother’s Irish skin. My Grandmother’s Italian eyes.

My family always said I had my grandmother’s eyes. Even into the last days of her life, I would look into her enormous brown eyes and see the sparkle of remembered laughter - a child’s laughter. My laughter as a baby, and my mother’s too. I was always so proud to have inherited her eyes. Now that she is gone, I am prouder still. And as I looked in the mirror at my new, more natural self, I saw her laughing back at me through my own rich brown eyes. Hi Grandma, I thought to myself. I’m so glad you like it. I’m glad to be me.

All this for less than $50. Welcome to the Midwest. My home, surrounded by farmland where everything is grown from the earth, and tomatoes from the market treated with Miracle-Gro just don’t taste as good as the ones out of your backyard. Where my Grandmother chose to live out her final days, with her only daughter. Where my parents have made their lives, and where I grew up, for better or for worse.

Briefly, in my mind, I saw myself at 10 years of age, golden reddish blonde hair and buck teeth, a sad look behind my brown eyes, but a pretty girl nonetheless. I remembered how my 5th grade teacher asked my mother if she would dye my hair to keep it that shade, and the look of horror on my Mom’s face. I remembered the first time Don made me a redhead, when I was 17 and eager to show how good I was at being someone else. I remembered the brunette episode from college. I saw a circle in my mind… two ends of a long line, curving to meet each other.

When I got home, my mother frowned. Again. She fingered the air-dry frizz hanging down my back. “Is it really healthy like that?” Don had offered to braid my hair all fancy, but I declined, so it had air-dried recklessly, and was now more than a little poodle-ish. Mom is used to seeing me with nicely organized, Botticelli curls.

I sighed. “Mom, La Jolie Femme is great with haircolor… but they don’t style.” Mom looked at me as though I were blaspheming. “It’s true Mom. They have a few styles, and they’re mostly for old ladies.”

Mom sighed. “They were always so good to Grandma.” Mom and I stood silently for a moment, remembering.

I knew I’d have to comb all my hair out, get in the shower, wash out whatever sticky styling product the guys had put in my tresses, condition it, and diffuse-dry it to get back to my normal, natural look.

I have no idea what color my hair is now, and I don’t mind. It’s real. It feels good.

I Feel Good.

That night, I went out in high-waisted jeans, a black turtleneck, cowboy boots with cushioned soles, and my clean, unkempt, unbound hair, streaming out behind me, into the cool, crisp autumn air of a cloudless, star-filled night.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Social Insecurity

Generation Debt: The New Economics of Being Young: Social Insecurity by Anya Kamenetz

I've said it before, I'll say it again. Anya Kamenetz rocks my world.

I sent her a fan letter at the Village Voice, but she probably gets millions.

Read it. Then read the other Generation Debt articles she's written. Think seriously about our country, about your life, your job, and your family.

I have always hated the "every man for himself" way of going through life, but America seems to be more and more headed that way. All the things that people used to rely on (social security, jobs, etc.) are vanishing. It's scary.

I'm working on getting out of debt, scraping by as I do it, and, most importantly of all, letting my creative juices flow freely as I work though all this. The most important thing of all.

More essays Monday. Have a great weekend everybody.

See some of you at Therapy tomorrow night!

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Chromatology and the Self, Part I

My Mom and I have been getting our hair done at La Jolie Femme Hair Salon for years. It’s one of those places that seem to have just always been there for as long as anyone can remember. Located in an old house near the middle of town, the salon is like a French parlour, with colorful floral-and-striped wallpapers, elaborate gilt sconces and lamps dripping with crystal, little naked golden cherubs adorning the bathroom, and porcelain candy dishes strewn about.

The owners, a delightful couple named Jack and Jonah, are an Institution themselves. Jonah speaks calm and cool, drives a Rolls Royce and wears a full-length fur coat. He nods knowingly at his customers, most of whom, like my Mom, have been regulars for years and wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else. His partner Jack is always dashing in tailored shirts and trousers, with sparkling eyes and a quick wit. His knowledge of hair seems endless. They’ve kept several generations of miniature black poodles, all named Tito, greeting the salon’s customers at the door, wagging an exquisitely pouffed tail. At La Jolie Femme, even the dogs are glam.

I have been identified as a redhead since I was about 19. Before that I was generally referred to as a blonde - a dirty blonde with rusty layers. During my adolescence I struggled with my hair, trying to lighten it to the more easily accepted Christie Brinkley Platinum Blonde, but my efforts with Sun-In and other crappy chemicals only turned it a defiant shade of orange... and I’d let it fade to dull again, only to try some other idiotic thing the following summer. In my junior year of High school, I was cast as Adelaide in our school’s production of Guys and Dolls, and the director asked me to “go red” for the part. That’s when I first met Don.

Don is the only employee at Jack and Jonah’s place. Throughout my lifetime in Illinois, I never went to anyone but Don. Don and Jack are the dynamic duo of haircolor. Between them, they have around 50 years experience in Chromatology - the science of hair color. (Yes, there’s a word for it.) Don shaves his head and maintains a plush handlebar mustache, and flits about the salon in dapper shirts and ties under his apron. His work is nothing short of perfect, and he always has a dirty joke for us. He and Jack tease each other as they work like snotty school-girls fighting over the foursquare court.

Don made Adelaide a glorious eye-popping cherry redhead for that show, and the next year, when I was cast as Anne in La Cage Aux Folles at our downtown theatre, he made me a blonde for that show. However, two years later, the magic really began.

When I got into college, I asked Don to make me identifiably red. I was sick of people looking at me for three or four minutes with crinkled eyes before asking me how I’d describe my hair color. I'd had all the unwanted scrutiny I could handle. I wanted people to just know and move on with their lives. ok, so Red. Off to school I went.

The following summer, I wanted something lighter, so he moved me to a sort of cherry vanilla. I loved it. Throughout college, I had Don adjust my reddishness from strawberry blonde to auburn brown to hellcat 4-alarm fire engine red, depending on my mood. A whole new way of expressing myself had emerged.

My personality started to bloom under this chameleonic activity, and I realized how I felt about myself was often reflected in the color I chose. I was a theatre major – I had no shortage of drama in my life. One semester, when I wasn’t cast in a role I had worked three years to get (I made the final cuts though!), I raced home and had Don turn me Lucretia Borgia black – a midnight brunette, dark and defiant and mysterious. I told no one I was going to do this – not even my mother. I shocked everyone. It was gorgeous. I attracted a whole new legion of men.

The color faded gradually over that semester, as did my feelings of rejection and disappointment, and the following semester I was back to a flaming don’t-fuck-with-me red again, barreling through classes and parties and relationships with the determination of one who knows the trials of formalized education are not all the World has to offer, if I can just get through it.

I survived college, and the World coughed up New York. I was invited to attend a performing arts academy with a partial scholarship. I ran like the wind.

When I moved, I decided to stay red, but settled on a medium bright, moderate but definite red. I was focused on the next phases of my life, and making a deliberate effort to leave Illinois far, far behind me. I felt very much as home in what has been called the City of Misfits. If my hair color was naturally non-descript, I as a person certainly was not, and I found a sort of external anchor in my hair. Throughout my efforts at trying different kinds of jobs, relationships, and apartments I did not radically change my hair color again for around five years.

I married in the year 1999, and I stopped working briefly. I was exhausted from the disappointments of trying to live every day life in New York City, and now that this nice young man had come along and rescued me from all that, I was taking a breather. It didn’t take me long to realize that I had no idea what to do with myself. I had long since given up the idea of being a professional actress – I hated the lifestyle, the starving, the low wages, the non-existent job security, the “business” – hated everything about it. I had not, however, found anything to replace it.

I had been working in hospitals for a few years, but knew my calling was not there. Being a physician’s administrative assistant was something I was good at and could earn money for… but I daydreamed a lot, and wrote poems and essays when the days got slow, and occasionally caught myself singing softly when I went to wash my hands or make copies or spent too much time in the file room. My heart just wasn’t in my work.

My marriage gave me the chance to stop working and think about what I wanted to do. Frustratingly, the only things that gave me pleasure were singing and writing, music and words, books and CDs and magazines and email and websites. I spent a couple months as a “housewife,” thinking I could indulge myself in creative endeavors, but I had too many emotional blocks on my creativity.

I started temping. I was lucky; I found a temp job where the people were fun, the work was challenging, and the environment was supportive, and virtually stress-free. I wondered if I wouldn’t find myself there. Months went by.

In the year 2000, with 5 years experience as a new New Yorker under my belt, I still hadn’t really “found myself,” but I felt a bit more comfortable. I found a new hairdresser in Manhattan, a wonderfully flamboyant Columbian who preferred to be called Peter. He loved my hair, and we hit it off instantly. I’d go to see him, He'd hand me a glass of wine, he’d punch up my red hair color, and damn, he's good. He introduced me to the sleek professional look of the straight blown-dry hair that shined like a sheet of silk, rippling three feet down my back, making the sidewalk crowds turn and look as I walked by. I felt like a movie star, walking out of his place. He and I spent a lot of Saturday mornings together.

Eventually, my husband got a three-month job in Pennsylvania, and I was on my own for three months. Everything fell apart. Without his companionship, someone to talk to, without company really of any kind, I spiraled downward into myself and got completely lost. I was not an actress. I was not a singer. I was not a poet. I was not a very good housewife, or so I thought. I was not really even a wife at all, since I was now going to sleep in and waking up to an empty house. I was not… anything at all. I was nothing.

I went to see Peter. “Chop it off,” I said. “Cut it short.” “Are joo keeding?” He said, eyebrows arching into his hairline. “I want it barely to my shoulders,” I said. “And blonde. I want short, straight, and blonde.” I want to be someone else. I want to be anyone other than me. I am, after all, nothing and no one at all. Turn me into someone. I looked at the photos of models in magazines, who always looked as though they had nothing to worry about, nothing to do… and didn’t mind. Make me like that. Happy to be nothing.

Peter talked me out of the Cameron Diaz ‘do, helping me to choose a beautiful strawberry golden blonde instead. But he obeyed my command with the scissors. Two feet of curly red locks fell to the floor that day, and I guzzled chardonnay and flipped through magazines, trying not to think or feel or see or hear anything. The pulling and yanking against my head when he gave me the straight, blown-out style almost brought the tears… but I kept still, like a good girl.

I emerged from the salon that day looking so different, even my husband didn’t recognize me on the street. It was a beautiful color – light, bright, easy-going. It was how I wanted to feel, who I wanted to be.

I had at lot to do that week, and I never had the chance to really look into the mirror. An entire week went by of work and social engagements, and I virtually never looked at myself. I did, however, receive plenty of compliments on my new do. I looked sheik, I looked stylish, I looked younger, I simply looked beautiful. I beamed. I relaxed.

However, that Saturday, when I crawled out of bed, I had nothing to do. I showered long, scrubbing my head, musing on which rooms in the house could use scrubbing. I let my hair just hang, and being so short, it dried quickly as I breakfasted, curling and twirling like it always does when left to its own devices. I paid no heed. I donned something comfortable and went to make the bed, and there in front of me was the full-length mirror in our wardrobe. I stopped and stared. It reflected me from head to toe. I looked at myself.

My hair was pale. Really pale. Nearly blonde, but glowing with an unmistakably red fire. My ringlets bounced about 2 millimeters above my shoulders. My dark brown eyes looked like two shiny black holes in my skull. My skin was pink. My shoulders were white. I took off my top and shorts and looked at myself in my underwear. I wasn’t fat. I wasn’t skinny. I was round where I was supposed to be, I supposed. My legs weren’t long, but they weren’t short. My feet were just simply clean, white, freshly-showered feet. I always had hang-ups about my feet, since they were calloused after years of dancing, but they looked fine. I looked back at my hair. I looked at the rest of me. Me.

For the first time in my life, I wasn’t hiding behind my hair. I didn’t have enough hair to hide behind anymore. More importantly, I wasn’t defined by my hair. I wasn’t simply the packaging that my hair came with. I wasn’t nothing without my hair. I was a whole person, not tall, not stunning, but real. I was real. And my hair sat on top of my person like a cherry on a sundae – perky, sweet, but not stealing the show.

I tried on six or seven different outfits, looking at my body, filling my clothes… looking at my Self. Wondering why I had never seen it before – really seen Me before. Knowing that I had always been there. Wishing I had had the courage to do this years ago. Starting to figure out why I hadn’t. Ruminating on all the extravagant gifts I would lavish on Peter that Christmas.

I went home to visit my parents shortly thereafter, just for a weekend. My mother was amazed. “Your hair’s never been that short in your life!” She said, petting the top of my head. She stared. She touched my back, between my shoulder blades, exposed to the world. I practically felt her running her fingers through the memory of my waist-length locks. It was hard, standing there like that. I sensed a sadness, and I couldn’t tell if it was coming from Mom or me. Something more than my hair was gone, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. But I knew very well what had taken its place.

She looked into my eyes. I shrank back. “Do you like it?” she asked.

I thought about that morning in front of the mirror. I felt my feet in my sneakers, comfortable, without the pressure of being displayed in high heeled sandals. I felt my stomach sitting inside my trunk, my Self sitting inside my body. Everything felt just right. I ran my fingers through my curls. “I love it,” I said.

To be continued...

Wednesday, December 01, 2004