martha thursday.

I felt a pressing need to go to the bathroom one morning, interestingly enough about 15 minutes after I had taken my last sip of my morning tea. I made my way to the company ladies' room, where five empty stalls (1 handicapped) awaited me. My usual stall, stall 3, had a pink sticky note on the outside door. Without reading the note, I assumed that particular toilet was out of order, so I turned to another stall. It was then that I realized that they all had pink sticky notes on them. There's construction going on in the building, so maybe that wasn't so unheard of to have 5 stalls out of order, but then I happened to read one of the notes. I read "Martha Monday/Tuesday" on stall 1. Then "Martha Wednesday." My regular stall was "Martha Thursday," which was right before "Martha Friday." The handicapped stall said "Sandra & Connie M -> F." I didn't have to look very closely at the notes to recognize Martha's handwriting.

Martha's a funny bird, a middle-aged tester, and the only other female who works on software here since Terrie left last week to work in insurance or mortgages or something else boring. We have the part-time receptionist (who apparently would be sharing the handicapped stall with me) and Sylvia, the office manager whose office lies in the inner sanctum of the suite with the higher-ups. I suspect there is a private restroom in there. So five stalls in the women's bathroom, 3 girls to use them. I imagined Martha making the notes, snickering, and being thoroughly disappointed that there were not six stalls so that she would not have to use the same one on Mondays and Tuesdays. I looked at all those little pink sticky notes and laughed.

Then I used Martha Thursday. Don't tell.


and some candy.

I'm getting to the age where a lot of my friends are starting to get married. I'm sure there will be some specific year in my life where pretty much everyone my age gets married all at once. Maybe it's this year; I've got two weddings in the next four months. Luckily, I know a lot of people lacking in marriageability, so I probably won't be the last to go.

I like weddings. I am apparently required to in some deep innate way that I do not understand, because though I am cynical and not especially feminine in the traditional ways, I love a good wedding. When one of my roommates got married, I was all about some bridal catalogs and giving my input on the tiniest decisions. In fact, I wish I could've been more involved. Perhaps I could have been consulted on the matter of the color of the bridesmaids' dresses. The good thing about being single and going to weddings is that you can see what works and what does not. Outdoor wedding in July in North Carolina? Heavens, no. Open bar? Heck yeah. So I have this growing list in my mind of the things that I definitely do or do not want for my own wedding.

But can I just state that I really hate bridal registries? I essentially go into a rant mode anytime I have to look through one of those things. It's like a Santa letter for adults, but more irritating, both because adults should know better, and because it's ridiculously specific. If a little kid specified exactly what model, year, and color he wanted for his bicycle, I'd be inclined to buy him some encyclopedias instead, 1993, brown. And is it just me, or does everyone pick out the absolute most expensive version of whatever it is they want? I suppose people figure that if they are going to demand towels from someone, then they should demand the $15 kind that you have to wash one at a time. But at the same time, maybe it's our own fault for asking what to buy them. You have to admire that sort of honesty: we asked what they wanted, and by golly, they told us.

I feel restricted by gift registries. When I know the people fairly well and I feel like I could probably get them something neat that they would enjoy, I feel discouraged from that path by the need to play by the rules. So rather than buying that really cool lamp or maybe that vintage coffee mug set, I'm all, "Here's the spice rack you picked out, deluxe, chrome." The people who know me well would probably understand if I ended up buying them something from a Big Lots instead of a Belk, but at the same time, I am afraid of breaking some sort of wedding code that I don't know about.

I just hate the concept of registries. It's basically a way for people who feel no desire to put any actual thought into buying a gift to alleviate their feelings of obligation about buying something in the first place. And I say "gift card" for people like that. Gift certificates are no more impersonal than the cheapest item that hasn't already been bought. I say if you're going to be unimaginative, then just own up to it.

I realize that most engaged people probably don't like registering either. They are essentially asking for stuff, and they know it. You have to appreciate the people who are nice enough to register at sensible places like Target or Wal-Mart. Those are practical people, who know that the same Black and Decker coffee maker works just as well when it's 20% less. Plus, as a completely selfish aside, when your items cost less, other people are more likely to buy you more of them, because they've pre-determined how much they like you and therefore, how much they're going to spend.

Bridal registries are probably a necessary evil. I can't put them on my list of wedding don'ts, because I do see their point, though I only grudgingly admit it. Not everyone who knows you well enough to buy you a present for this joyous occasion knows you well enough to pick out the exact right present. Some people simply suck at picking out gifts. And I'm a nice girl, so I would just hate to deny someone the right to buy me presents that I actually want. So there will come a day (hopefully, anyway) where I will have to register. I'm tempted to put ridiculous things on my registry. "Yes, I want a complete set of these towels (extra-large, sapphire), this shelf here (mahogany), three cans of cooked spinach, and a jukebox! Also some candy."

It's a little soon to be worrying about it all anyway. Or maybe I'll find that the reason I know so many people lacking in marriageability is because I lack it as well, and then I won't ever have to worry about this at all. I'll be worrying about entirely different things, like where I'm going to get three cans of cooked spinach, a jukebox, and some candy.


no trespassing.

There's this old water treatment plant outside Clemmons. You get to it by driving down a back road behind the golf course and nice houses. Park by the train tracks, in front of the "No Parking - Violators will be towed at owner's expense" signs. Then walk past seven "No Trespassing" signs along the railroad tracks until you come to the bridge. Make a left at the first "Stay Out: Property of the City of Winston-Salem" sign, then follow the chain link fence topped with barbed wire until you can cross the river. Be sure to wave at the poachers and immigrant fisherman to make sure that they understand that we're all in this together.

Despite my white bread girl misgivings, Josh and I spent America's birthday trespassing the polluted Yadkin River banks (just beyond the fruited plains, underneath the spacious skies). The area is one of those widely-known petty crime areas, where immigrants go to fish, rednecks go to hunt, and kids go to get high and make out. Since we were none of those things (though we sometimes come close on the rednecks and kids), we were there just to explore and take pictures. Little did I know that I was there to wave goodbye to my tomboy youth.

There was a lot of over the river and through the woods to our venture - apparently trespassing is okay, but you should have to work for it. I grew up an over the river and through the woods kid; I was game for anything, and while my red badges of courage were more raspberries than battle scars, I wore them proudly.

We started off by crossing the bridge to the midpoint just to check out the view. The railroad bridge. The one with no railings, where you could see down to the muddy Yadkin through the gaps between the wood slats. Funny, I didn't recall having acrophobia before. Must be one of those things I picked up in puberty. Then after we did some of the through the woods, we came again to over the river. This time, the bridge was again wood, though it was unharvested, narrow, and kinda shaky. After a few false starts and some whining, I walked the tree branch to jump safely in the sand on the other side.

We explored the abandoned skeleton of the old plant. I took pictures; old industrial stuff has always sort of appealed to me. Josh said it reminded him of the game Myst, where you come upon the remains of some civilization and have to figure out how to use the machinery. We found lots of knobs and levers that we would have fiddled with had we been in the game and therefore had immunity to tetanus. I was fascinated by both the old rusted gears and the small plants that had somehow found ways to grow right out of the brick walls like leafy torches in a castle.

Josh wanted to go up to the other part of the water treatment plant. The trouble was that whomever had made that part unavailable to immigrants, rednecks, and kids had done a more thorough job than the guy who did it for most of the place. Josh explored the options of gaining access while I explored the options of not falling in the river. In my defense, I was really more worried about dropping the camera, and if I fell in, I figured there really was no way for me to save my expensive toy.

Josh found a way up a deteriorating wall, apparently using some sort of personal side effect of being bitten by a glowing spider. I looked at the wall and said no way. I crossed the stupid railroad bridge with its gaping holes, I walked that shaky tree limb, but climbing a twelve foot wall with no discernable foot/hand holds was beyond my reach. Josh looked down at me from atop his perch, a no-contest winner of King of the Old Abandoned Water Treatment Plant. I sighed. When did I become such a wuss? When did I become such a girl?

We both walked around some more, he from twelve feet up. I was feeling the pressure. I could see my ten-year-old self glaring at me, her dirty hands on her bony hips. I surveyed the wall again, my clean hands on my even softer hips. Josh came back down the wall and studied me. His hips are pretty bony.

"Are you disappointed in me?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said lightly, undoubtedly not realizing the extent of my competitive family history. "I just think the payoff is worth it," he added quietly. Pause. "Want me to spot you?"

I threw my camera bag over my shoulder and stepped up to the wall. Josh stood behind me and explained some of the finer points of basic rock climbing. I concentrated both on his instructions and on the top. I dug my fingertips and my sneakers in wherever I thought they would go. I pulled myself up to the first ledge, gaining confidence, then panicked when I realized I didn't know where to put my hands next. I calmed myself down and surveyed my position. Finally I saw some rock jutting out a tiny bit and focused my attention and fingertips upon it. And then it became clear to me that my initial assessment of the situation had been correct.

Six feet at a acceleration rate of thirty two feet per second later, I sat on the ground, my glasses a foot away, my camera strap strangling me, my ankle and knee throbbing, Josh's hands under my arms, and my pride off somewhere being eaten by a wild pack of family dogs. I wondered vaguely if I could walk and also if the guys fishing a few feet away had seen my loss to gravity.

My leg injury didn't seem serious. I could walk with only the slightest limp that I could pass off as a strut. My hand and arm showed some scratches, and I was filthy and sweaty, but fine. I was in the unfortunate situation of looking completely not like a girl and having nothing to show for it. Without conversation, it was clear to both of us that it was time to leave, and rather than cross the tree limb again, we went out through a broken-into gate with a "City Property" sign half-pulled off. We'd only discovered the gate after getting in the other way, the hard way.

Josh apologized for pressuring me and took a concerned inventory of my injuries. I was basically quiet outside of reassuring him that I was fine and it wasn't his fault. We followed a gravel drive out and had to hop an electric fence. I landed on the other side with a jar to my injured leg and groaned. Josh had even held the fence for me while I had climbed it.

What a wuss. What a girl.

When did this happen to me? When did I become the kind of person who hesitated to jump a fence or cross a river on a tree limb? When did I start having less in common with the kid climbing the tree than his worried mother watching? Was it some sort of clause in the fine print of the womanhood contract? I was pissed at myself. I told myself it was because I had given in to the pressure of trying to prove myself in something that didn't matter. But no, I realized after a while that I wasn't even mature enough for that. I was pissed because I couldn't do it. Of course I should have given in to the pressure, actually, there shouldn't have even been a need for me to be pressured. I should've stepped up to the wall without a second thought. And the bridge, and the tree, and the fence.

Now I sit here with my sore leg and all I can think about is how I want to go back and climb the stupid wall. I am aware that that is the wrong conclusion to the story. First of all, the right ending would have me on top of the wall, with perhaps a fantastic picture to show my achievement. Maybe the fishermen would have cheered. But even given the actual ending, I'm pretty sure that my wish of revenge on the wall is not the mature adult conclusion.

But screw adulthood. Adulthood is what gave me a pair of breasts in exchange for my tomboy fearlessness. And frankly, I haven't gotten much use out of the breasts.


fouteen going on twenty-three.

I arrived at the bridal shower underdressed for the occasion and half an hour late, and so I had to take a seat at a side table. There sat the bride's younger sister flanked by two incredibly sullen girls. Already disoriented because of my own tardiness and apparel problems, I was further confused and concerned, as I couldn't figure out why two people would be sitting at a party where they would soon enjoy free food with such pouty expressions, their arms crossed in front of their chests, slouching down in their high-backed chairs like a teacher had asked them who fought in the War of 1812. Had there been some earlier terrible and public argument that I was unwittingly putting myself in the middle of by sitting at this table? Oh wait, no. They were just fourteen, that's all. Makes perfect sense now.

Oh. My. Lord. Was this fourteen? This absolute oblivion to the world around, this innane chatter, this complete lack of perspective and tact? I sat by, amused, as one of them searched for the word "tomboy," describing one as "one of those girls who acts like a man and doesn't wear makeup." I wanted to get up close to her with my unembellished face and suggest the word "Sandra." Then the subject of Mary Kate Olsen came up (who can say why?), and one of the girls emphatically declared, "I love her!" I simply do not know how to respond to someone like that, someone who knows the Olsen twins solely as they are now (and even more bizarrely, respects them for it), and not as Michelle Tanner gone horribly wrong. I made some comment about Mary Kate perhaps not being a good role model, what with her throwing up her food all the time, and was haughtily corrected that Mary Kate was not bulimic, only anorexic. My bad. In that case, idolize away.

But the really funny moments were when the girls, in preparation for the PSAT, started showing off their vocabulary. Not that fourteen year old girls using pretentious words is at all funny, but fourteen year old girls using pretentious words incorrectly is downright hilarious. "Pass the spurious sugar, please," one asked. And then one of them managed to get the words "anomaly" and "apathy" mixed up, calling the lone butterscotch scone a lack of emotion or feeling.

Then one of the girls sitting with the bride had to leave the shower to go to work, and I hopped over to the big girls' table without a second glance.

I guess the best part was realizing that, to those girls, I am awesome, if just by default of age, confidence, and knowledge of polysyllabic words. I'm twenty-two. I can drive, I can smoke, I can drink, I can meet a boy at the movie theatre without asking permission, and then I can actually watch the movie, because I have my own apartment where I can go and make out with said boy in the living room! I know it's trivial and silly to care what teenaged girls think about me (particularly considering their opinions on the Olsens), but it was a treat to my former self, because I definitely was not awesome to fourteen year old girls when I was one. I was clueless and oblivious, too, though I knew what "apathy" meant. Fourteen is about the age where I learned to pretend not to care what other people thought, because even faking it saves you from letting other people have control over you.

Who knows why I got so much validation out of the experience? But as I looked at these silly girls that I barely knew, I saw the pretty and popular girls that I grew up with and realized that those girls never had a clue either, not even the cheerleaders who developed early and proportionately and had mothers who showed them how to use makeup. I could look at them and tell them that I've been there and that I know they're just as scared and unsure of themselves as the girls they belittle. I survived puberty, adolescence, and my teenage years and came out just fine. I'd arrived late and underdressed that afternoon with every indication of still being every bit as socially hopeless as I was eight years ago, but I've arrived in ways they can't even begin to imagine.

And then I saw all the girls around me at the big girl table, the ones who showed up on time and somehow all knew to wear dressy clothes. It was really no different than every social situation back at age fourteen; judgment does not go away. Except this time, I wasn't really faking my apathy (or was it anomaly?) regarding the opinions of others anymore. Everyone's got a friend like me, someone oblivious to social correctness, someone who is forgiven for her ineptitude just because everyone else is so used to that kind of behavior from her. So I decided after that afternoon that I am completely okay with being that person. That girl has the freedom to do whatever she wants without regard to the expectations of others, because that's exactly what others expect of her. So no, I do not know how to put on makeup, and yes, I am late, and yes, I am wearing jeans and Birkenstocks to a bridal shower, but I'm here to celebrate my friend's wedding, and I don't care what you think. Which is really convenient, seeing as I'm going to go ahead and act as if I don't anyway.


pretty, tall pear.

One Sunday afternoon, I had a guest whom I was unprepared to entertain. Not that the guest was unexpected, just that I'm unprepared like that. I'd been counting on my own personality as being entertainment enough, yet I wasn't feeling well, so I was a little boring. We needed something fun and amusing and new.

And that's how I ended up in a wedding dress one Sunday afternoon. I was so pretty.

When we were in high school, Amy and I used to go try on prom dresses just for fun. We'd try on the ones we'd never wear, because they were too revealing or too fluffy or too expensive. Sunday, when we were at the mall, we thought of that idea, too. But then we realized that prom dresses are usually slinky and the act of trying them on with our post-college bodies would probably be about as depressing as trying on bathing suits in a communal dressing room with the contestants of the Miss America pageant. But wedding dresses are, for the most part, floofy. You're supposed to look like a princess and be pretty and virginal, not sexy.

So we went to the bridal shop, our stories all worked out. I was getting married in April, and she was getting married next October. We only realized upon entrance to the shop that you had to register just to try on dresses. Then they assigned you a consultant. That's an awful lot for a pair of girls just looking for a lark. But by that time, I didn't want to just walk out, so I filled out the registration card, though I somehow accidentally put my old Boone contact information. I also had to put down a shoe, bra, and dress size.

Now, I've had this body for a while and I'm familiar with it. So I know my dress size. But the registration lady said that I should put down the size up one from my pants size. In case you've never seen me, I'll tell you that I'm not the most proportionate girl out there. I don't mind so much being pear-shaped, it's much better than being shaped like, oh, say, an apple or a yellow squash or a scallion. But I did resent being forced to choose my dress size based on the biggest part of my body. I considered lying about my pants size. But screw it, this is the way I am shaped, and it's fine. Plus, if I'm taking up these people's time and screwing somebody out of a commission, I might as well be honest about my child-bearing hips. So I told the woman my true pants size, and I didn't even make a point of mentioning that my large hips would result in my fetching more camels for my dowry in many third-world countries.

The next stage was to pick out dresses. Since I was confident that I was being forced to pick dresses out of the wrong size section, I only picked two of the allowed four. Then I chose shoes, which consisted of me picking the least ugly of the two pairs of flat shoes they had available. I'm a tall pear.

I was assigned a dressing room and my own wedding consultant, Melissa. I had to put on these ridiculous undergarments, a so-called bra that felt closer to a corset and a long slip with lots of layers of fluffy crinoline. I looked like I worked for Miss Kitty. Melissa was impressed that I had gotten the bra on myself, because it snapped all the way down the back and was very snug. When I was putting it on, I had determined that I would die before I asked help from a stranger to put on a bra. I won't tell you how I got it on, but there was hopping involved.

And then came the dresses! Melissa helped me slip the first one over my head and then started zipping it up, before saying, "Oh. This is much too big." Hmm. Imagine that. I can't tell you when I felt more glad that I'd told my true pants size: when they had to clothespin the first dress just to keep it from falling off, or when I finally tried on the dress that fit perfectly, the one that was three dress sizes smaller than the original. Trying on wedding dresses is an ego boost for a girl anyway, because you just can't help but look lovely in those things, but dropping three dress sizes in half an hour sure does help.

I don't know what it is about wedding dresses that make girls so pretty. Maybe it's the association of youth and happiness, maybe it's all that white, maybe it's the gut-clinching undergarments. I am not the most self-confident about my appearance, but I sit here and tell you that I was just so pretty. Then Melissa put on the matching veil and tiara, and I could not get enough of my own reflection. That morning, I would have told you that I was not a tiara kind of girl, but that afternoon, I was all, "Bring on the tiaras!" (I was back to not being a tiara kind of girl when I saw the price tag for $170, about half the price of the dress.) I came into that shop in a threadbare yard sale dress and flip flops, feeling kinda sick and not having showered, and then all of a sudden I was a princess.

I am not suffering from wedding fever, nor am I twitching to the beat of my biological clock. Twenty-two years old and unmarried is acceptable, and frankly, I'd recommend it. Twenty-two is young. Twenty-two is old enough to do anything, and young enough to still be able to. So my Sunday afternoon is not a sign of my internal pining for a ring. Trying on wedding dresses is just fun and silly and ego-boosting. How can I explain this concept to men? Women, of course, already understand. (If they don't, I can recommend a helpful wedding consultant who won't give you a hard time when you tell her, "We're actually not looking to buy anything today, just try on.") Considering I haven't seen any sort of decline in the popularity of pirates or explosions in males as they age, I don't see anything wrong with a healthy game of dress-up among girlfriends. Especially when I end up looking like the prettiest tall pear ever.


my well-developed palate.

Wednesday night is wine class, which is not to be confused with Tuesday night, which is grape class. Tuesday night, I learn how to grow a grape, and on Wednesday, I learn why. The structure of each and every wine class is this:

1. Chat with neighbors for a while, including semi-uppity catering lady, tired security system installer guy, and creepy old guy who probably just comes to get drunk.
2. Listen to Dr. Bob tell wine stories drawn from his 30 years in the wine business.
3. Drink wine.
4. Talk about what you tasted in step 3.
5. Go home early feeling pretty good about Dr. Bob, wine class, and life in general.

Grades are based solely on participation.

Dr. Bob is three-quarters of a century old. He started out as a biologist, and then he was a chemist, but got drawn into the winemaking career in California. Then he worked in Oregon wineries during the state's development into a major player in the wine world before ending up in Surry County, North Carolina to teach wine class. Somewhere in that span of time, he apparently met every important person ever in the American wine business. You mention a winery, and he starts into a story about how he went camping/snorkeling/vacationing in Rio with the winemaker. He's very friendly and likeable, but I would like anybody who was that old and had tattoos. Also, he was the 1982 Oregonian of the Year. I'm not sure what that really means, but I think "Oregonian" is a funny word.

Each week, we focus on a different varietal (or type) of wine. We started out with riesling, have worked our way through gewurztraminer, pinot gris/grigio, sauvignon blanc, and chenin blanc. Dr. Bob brings in half a dozen bottles, which he wraps in these homemade burlap sacks with Roman numerals sewed into them with yarn. We taste blind, meaning we can't see the label of what we're drinking. We sniff, wrinkle our noses, sniff again, taste, swirl, taste, swirl, make notes, sniff and taste again, and completely ignore the expectorate cups.

I've always believed that your palate develops the more you taste wine, but it's wonderful to be able to actually tell that it is happening. I've done some tasting in my time, through winery and shop visits and wine festivals. But those events happen sporadically. With a weekly class, I can actually tell that I've gotten better at picking out individual tastes and smells. And I gotta tell you, when you can pick out a flavor in a wine without reading the back label, it's pretty exciting. Everything stops just tasting like wine, and you start to realize that maybe all those people weren't just being snobby when they talked about fresh, ripe cherries or gooseberries or litchi nuts.

The class is very laid-back, and though there are some who try to pin wine words like "oaky" and "undertones of vanilla" on everything, for the most part, we talk about wine like regular people. We reference specific, everyday smells and tastes. We don't say something smells floral, we say it smells like honeysuckle in the spring. We don't just label something as vegetal, we say it tastes a little like bell pepper. And if something tastes like cat piss, well, we say that, too.

Granted, I'm not great at picking out tastes and smells yet, and I have to concentrate very hard and taste very slowly. More times than not, I can get a tiny hint of a smell or a taste that I know is familiar in some way, but just can't place. And then someone else in the class will nail it, and I will feel like an idiot for not realizing it on my own.

Then again, I've been the one to cause light bulbs to go off for others, too. During riesling night, the wine poured from bag 1 had this peculiar and very familiar odor. My classmates spent a couple minutes spouting off wine words, trying to place that smell. Quietly, I said, "It smells like an old lady's perm." A woman across the room pointed at me and shouted, "That's it!"

See? I'm just learning so much.