early birds.

I don't like to play the early bird. Half of the yard sale ads on CraigsList say "NO EARLY BIRDS," as if the people who tend toward that behavior gave a crap. Well, I don't know. I've never talked to a self-professed early bird. Surely they know it's rude and despised, so why do they do it? Because it works, I suppose. Even the people who say they won't tolerate any shoppers before their clocks hit 8:00 AM go ahead and allow people to buy stuff at 7:45. They're up, they're ready, why not go ahead and get rid of some of their stock?

But I've never done that. I always assume that a sale opens when the ad says it opens, and I don't show up before that time. I don't much see the point. I assume it's a stuff-related attitude: must get the good stuff. But I always find plenty of stuff, so I don't bother. It goes along with my belief that you don't gain much by putting in the effort to be at a yard sale when it first starts. Why would I waste time waiting for a sale to open when I could be either asleep or at another sale that already opened?

But anyway, I was an accidental early bird last Saturday. I saw a sign for an estate sale that was not on my list, and so I veered suddenly off the road (good yard sale cars have a tight turning radius, ample storage room, and nimble steering). When I pulled up to the house, I saw a dozen people standing in a line going up to the front door. The sale didn't start for another eight minutes. The next sale on my list was several miles away, and it wasn't worth it to drive there and then come back here, so I decided to wait. I took my place in line, milling around in the front yard, admiring the landscaping and looking up expectantly every time I heard something that sounded like a door opening.

I've been doing this hobby for too long not to have waited in line before. The Humane Society in Boone used to put on a legendary sale at the National Guard Armory every year. My boyfriend at the time and I would get there fifteen minutes before the sale opened and get in a line that was already fifty feet long. As we waited, chatting up line neighbors as if we wouldn't fight them to the death for a vintage lamp, sale volunteers would pass out maps of the sale. We'd plot out our course of action - first hit the kitchenware then on to the furniture, glance through accessories on the way to the clothes, and finally books and electronics.

I would never miss that sale, just because it seemed like required attendance for someone like me. But at the same time, I hated it a little bit. There were so many people, and the atmosphere was of desperation, as if any of it mattered. None of us needed any of this crap, and there was plenty to go around. But I went, and I got some good stuff before the crowd-induced anxiety overcame me and I was forced to flee. Then I went back the next day for the stuff-a-bag time.

I'd forgotten all about that until Saturday, as I waited in that much-smaller line and did a little people watching. I tried to figure out what these people were there for. Antique dealers, hobbyists, book resellers? If someone came and handed out maps, where would they start? For that matter, where would I start?

The door opened, and someone made an announcement about prices and being careful on the stairs. Having never been at an estate sale when it opened, I wasn't sure if it was customary to make a speech at the beginning. Then we filed in, a man three places ahead of me asking where the books were. "Filed in" implies patient and orderly, and while it was orderly enough, some of the people seemed to be barely containing the urge to break into a run. I took a right when I entered, just because it seemed like a good idea. I was in a bedroom, where purses and scarves were stacked on a dresser. Behind me, another woman came in and immediately headed for the closet. Clearly, she would have circled the section on the map labeled "Old Lady Clothes." I felt a momentary panic: the sale just started, my competition was already out there, examining the stationery collection and here I was wasting time on scarves. I DON'T EVEN WEAR SCARVES!!! Then I realized that I'm likely the only Stationery Lady in town, since I can usually still find some to buy when everything has been marked to half price. Even when you don't subscribe to the early bird mentality, sometimes you get caught up in the mob.

So I forced myself to be zen about it, and I calmly looked through the purses: a couple of them were pretty neat, particularly the brown suede one, though nothing I wanted at that price. I glanced through the closet, then hit the next room (living room) and the next (kitchen), going at my own pace. I found the stationery collection, a quart-sized ziplock baggie full of mismatched invitations and birthday cards bought in bulk. I didn't even buy it. I got some books, a journal, and a surge protector, paid $5.50 and went on my way. I was reminded why even though I would call myself a hard-core yard saler, I don't see any need to camp out on doorsteps.

Here's the thing: every great find I've ever found at a yard sale has seemed serendipitous. I mean, these people bought something maybe years and years ago, and they just happened to decide they were done with it and no one else had wanted it yet, but there it sat waiting for me to come along and declare it to be Just What I've Always Wanted. One of the things that I like so much about having secondhand possessions is the sense of history, the path each one took to end up sitting at my house. Really, everything that ever happens is like this - the amazing series of coincidences that have to line up just right for us to meet the person we'll fall in love with or to find our dream house or to die in a terrible baking accident (it works for bad things, too). Considering how blase I am about the idea of soul mates, it seems a little silly for me to romanticize the finding of stuff.

But there it is, and that's why I'm not an early bird. I'm sure there are things that I would have bought had I been there in time, and on the rare times when I saw whatever it was, amazing but out of my reach, I mourned just a little bit. But then I shrugged and figured it wasn't meant to be.


can't wait.

I remember my dad lecturing me once because I said I couldn't wait for something. The scene is vivid in my mind. I was in the third grade, and my dad was dropping me off at school in the blue pickup. I said I couldn't wait for something (the end of the school year, field day, a holiday weekend, whatever nine-year-olds can't wait for), and my dad informed me that yes, I could wait. In fact, seeing as how I had no control over the laws of time, I would actually have to wait.

In case you are looking for a good way to squash a child's excitement, I recommend that one highly. Also, if you want to ruin a figure of speech for the rest of someone's life, such that every time they hear it or are tempted to say it, they hear your voice instead, this method works for that, too. I'm sure it will be only a matter of time before some poor innocent child tells me that they can't wait for something, and rather than seizing on the actual topic of the conversation, I'll go ahead and take the opportunity to mock their usage of a common phrase even though I understood perfectly well what they meant.

But now I am a grown-up and I can say anything I darn well please. I can say it on the INTERNET, where the WHOLE WORLD will read it.

Internet, I can't wait for Saturday. Internet, I know that I actually do possess the ability to wait and that I have no choice really but to wait. But, Internet, I'm trying to talk about Saturday, not patience or time-travel or whether it even makes sense to talk about the ability to do something that you have no choice but to do. Internet, I just don't think you're listening to me.

Friday night, my boyfriend will play the last show on his tour in Mobile, Alabama, a town that is impossible to say without sounding Southern. Mobile is approximately twelve hours from Raleigh as the Google flies. I would prefer that the band not even sleep that night, that instead they drive straight back home, but I will understand if they sleep until noon the next day and then drive home. I will not give them a wake-up call at 8 AM, not even if I happen to be up. No guarantees about noon, though.

There is a tiny shadow on my excitement: yet another tour. You may not be keeping count, but I am. He left at the beginning of March, to return at the beginning of May. He will leave again at the beginning of June, to return at the end of July. It's possible that there will be a third tour or even a fourth tour this year, which I can't even think about, as the second tour is enough to create despair in my heart. I'm so tired of touring, and I'm not the one sleeping in a smelly van and eating fast food every day. I have made an effort to make new friends and to not be lonely, but somehow I can be with a bunch of people and still only think about some dumb boy. It may be an illusion that this tour has been much harder for me than the previous two, but it's a very convincing one.

When I was in high school and only saw my sweetheart once a week, he would sometimes complain that I did not seem happy enough to see him. That bugged the heck out of me, because I did miss him, I was happy to see him, what did he expect me to do? Turn cartwheels at the sight of him, kiss the hem of his jeans, throw a ticker-tape parade? Geez! But in the last few weeks, I have felt much more sympathetic towards that teenaged boy from years ago, as fatigue or stress or whatever goes on in Idaho prevented my boyfriend from sounding happy enough to talk to me or miserable enough without me. Get a grip, woman.

Those are valid feelings (and I'm feelin' them, so whether they're valid or not is a silly point), but they can wait. I don't want to be the girlfriend who calls him up in Arizona to tell him that he's not missing me enough. Once he gets back, we'll likely have a Conversation about Feelings. The Conversation won't have any resolution or bring about any change in the situation but will reassure me and bolster my strength so I can make it another two months. That's all I need, just a re-up. In my saner, stronger, more sensible moments I believe in and support what he's doing.

Then there are those other moments when I want to call him up (yay cell phones!) and cry that I don't care about his dreams and years of hard work, why can't he be here? With me? And snuggling? Even as whatever not-crazy part of me remains in control, the whiny and selfish part lurks, threatening to ruin May with whispers of June and July. This part cruelly points out that while I lack the ability to control time, I've never known two months to have gone by as slowly as March and April. May promises to fly.

I must not let the thought of the second tour derail my excitement like a lecturing father. Because Saturday is almost here, the start of a whole month where I can actually be with my boyfriend. I will be able to see him, smell him, give him a haircut, kiss him right on his sweet crooked nose.

I'm sorry, Internet, I didn't mean to get so emotional. I really wanted to tell you about how I can't wait for Saturday and I'm gonna make a chocolate pie and how I'm kinda worried that the force of my reunion hug may knock us both down. That's what I wanted to talk about, but all this other stuff just sorta spilled out all over you, Internet. I'm alright, I promise. I'll be even better on Saturday.


the girl who watched netflix to find out about the shivers.

When I was a kid, we used to rent videos from the library, particularly a Showtime TV series from the early 80s called Faerie Tale Theatre. They were fairy tales (or faerie tales), as you might expect, with scripts embellished to add humor and characters played by various 80s famous people. At the beginning of each tape was an advertisement for all the other tapes in the series. Our library had a dozen, maybe two, of these tapes, and so I saw that ad many times. It did its job well, making me yearn to see all the other episodes not in stock at our little county library. All I ever saw of these lost episodes were the little bits shown in the ad to lure you in. So while I knew that Geppeto said he was tired of the seafood diet in general and the Giant at the top of the beanstalk thought that pillaging was kind of pointless, I never saw the rest of those stories.

Thanks to the magic of Netflix, I can now watch all of the episodes from the comfort of my own living room. So I saw the other things Geppeto said, as well as James Coburn playing an Italian gypsy.

One episode that I never saw but was always particularly curious about was "The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out About the Shivers." Obviously, the painfully long title made it stand out, but what the heck did it even mean? What were the shivers? Should I be leaving home to find out about them as well? I went many many years, wondering what the shivers were, and I never found out, even after I left home.

Just last week, I came to that episode on my queue, and I found out about it. For one thing, it's based on a German folk tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. It's about a dude who didn't know what fear was, which made him do all sorts of crazy things like climb wobbly ladders. The original title is "The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was," which is an equally ridiculous title, but at least it doesn't leave you wondering what the story is about. If a title could serve as cliff notes for the actual story, then you ought to at least leave with some understanding of the tale.

In the Faerie Tale Theatre version, the guy leaves home (as promised) and goes to spend three nights in a haunted castle. He meets lots of scary ghosts and demons and plays nine-pin against some zombies, using a skull as the ball and some leg bones as the pins. Still, he does not know fear. For surviving the three nights in the castle, he wins a kingdom and a pretty lady. Then the pretty lady starts talking about weddings and babies and curtains, the guy starts shaking, and lo and behold, he learns about the shivers. Because a man who bowls with zombies can still develop a fear of commitment.

Ladies and gentlemen, that irked me. It irked me more when I told Josh about it, and he laughed. To punish him, I talked about curtains for a good half hour.

I've also been watching episodes from Jim Henson's The Storyteller, which also tells folk tales, but with scary puppets (griffins, demons, death personified). The third or fourth episode was called "Fearnot," and whaddya know, it was again "The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was." I went fifteen years worth of sleepless nights, wondering what the shivers were, and here I find out twice in a week. It was similar enough, there was again the bowling game, though there was also an inexplicable scene with some sort of water monster who ended up leaving the cursed lake to go to Ireland. However, in this story, the boy learns about the shivers when he thinks his true love is dying. He is scared for her life, not for his free-wheeling bachelor lifestyle. I choose to believe that his version is closer to the original story, since I have a hard time believing that old folk tales really go through a whole story for what is essentially a cheap laugh. But maybe I'm just projecting my feelings. Maybe there was a reason Jacob Grimm never married.


bra shopping.

When I was in the fifth grade, a boy tried to snap my bra strap. He was unsuccessful.

"Sandra, you don't wear a bra?"


"How come?" He was incredulous. All the other girls wore bras. I hadn't taken a poll, so I didn't know for sure, but I think that was true.

"Because I don't need to." And that just makes me laugh now. What an incredibly honest, frank, and un-self-conscious thing to say. That's the way I felt about it. Half the other girls who were susceptible to having straps popped didn't need to be. I didn't think of myself as less developed, just more practical.

Sixth grade, though, was different. Did our hormones actually start raging all of a sudden or was it just being around seventh and eighth graders, who were in the full throes of the horror that is puberty? Still, I did not wear a bra. I needed it a little more than I had before, but I certainly wasn't experiencing any back pain from the unsupported weight of my chest.

A nurse came to the school to do scoliosis screenings. We were lectured about posture and even told that good posture made your boobs look bigger, which made the eighth grade girls instantly sit up straight. Then the nurse met with us one by one in the locker room, told us to take off our shirts and then touch our toes so she could examine the alignment of our spine. I was determined to keep cool and not let on how embarrassed I was that I was completely topless, while the other girls had the benefit of a Maidenform to hide their shame.

I don't know how I started wearing bras. Did I, fueled by the shame of the scoliosis screening, ask my mom to take me to the store? Or did she notice that I was becoming a woman and that it was high time I started wearing uncomfortable undergarments to go along with it? I don't remember. But there was a day when we planned to go into town with the specific purpose of buying me bras.

I was not looking forward to it, no, I was dreading it. The fact that all the other girls had gone through this ordeal much earlier led me to believe that they had been excited to wear grown-up underwear. Surely they had initiated the trip, because their mothers were adults and had enough sense to see that additional support garments were not yet required. I thought something was wrong with me. Wasn't I supposed to be happy? Instead I was confused that my body was growing attachments that I didn't know what to do with.

My sister, who was eighteen at the time, wanted to come, too. I was adamantly against it. I protested loudly, while she lobbied just as hard to go, promising not to say anything the whole time. Mama ruled in her favor. I felt betrayed, not understanding why Mama would do that to me.

We went to Wal-Mart, picked out some bras, and I tried them on. Mama helped me, while my sister sat in the corner of the dressing room floor quietly, seeming to stare into space. I couldn't figure out why she had wanted to come so badly if she was just going to act bored the whole time. I was trying to get it all over with as quickly as possible. We bought two matching white, soft-cup, lightly-padded bras.

My side of the story: I was embarrassed and didn't want the attention. I thought my sister, with whom I often fought, just wanted to come so she could make fun of me. I could not imagine any reason why she would possibly want to tag along so badly. Her presence could only make an unpleasant experience worse.

Her side of the story (a guess): She thought we could all bond over her little sister becoming a woman. Faced with my protesting, she demanded to go along, driven (maybe?) by stubbornness. But the fact that I argued so vehemently against it hurt her feelings.

Last week, a woman on NPR read a poem about shopping for her first bra.
I stand there wasting away in a sea of bras, feeling like a rag doll under interrogation with mama on one side and the bra women on the other, fixing straps, poking me, snapping the back, underwire begins to dig my breasts a grave. The bra shapes my breasts into pristine bullets. No movement, no pulse, no life, they just sit there like shelves.

After we are half-way through the bra inventory we check-out. Oh honey, you picked some beautiful bras. The bra lady says. Remember, hand wash. How about burned and buried, I think to myself.

The bra lady and my mother discuss how the bras fit just right and will do the trick with no bouncing at all. Mama thanks the lady for torturing me and we leave the nightmare that is the bra department. My mother turns and looks at me. Now really, was that so bad?

"Bra Shopping" by Parneshia Jones

And I realize that maybe all the other girls were just as humiliated as I was, that maybe their mothers were not sensible adults after all. I think that when I have to take my daughter bra shopping for the first time that it will be a special day with just the two of us, where the focus will be having a mother-daughter lunch out or maybe seeing a matinee, not her chest. The bra thing will be just a side trip that we do because we're out. If she asks, I will tell her about the fifth grade boy, the scoliosis nurse, and my sister sitting in the corner of the dressing room floor. If she doesn't, I won't.


overheard in the office.

Programmer 1: Hey, you know who has really weak kidneys?

Programmer 2: Who?

Programmer 1: Leprechauns.

Programmer 3: I wish I'd known that last weekend.


sandy whiplash.

To be honest, I thought roller derby was just about the babes. What's better than hot chicks in short shorts? Hot chicks in short shorts on wheels. I thought it was a sport in the way that cheerleading is a sport - it's not, really, but don't say that in front of the girls or you won't get lucky. That's a pretty negative impression right there, but I paid $10 to go to a roller derby just to see what it was all about.

Roller derby appears to be an actual sport. There are hot chicks in short shorts, but there are regular looking chicks and even homely and overweight ones, too. Rather than seeming sexist, it was sort of impowering. You, uh, go, girl, I guess?

I might as well make an attempt at explaining the rules. They were laid out in the program, but made no sense, either because of bad writing or because the rules actually make no sense.

Flat-track rollery derby is played in a big circular track, which skaters go around and around. The derby is divided up into "jams," which last two minutes long. In a jam, you have the following for each team: one "jammer" and four "blockers" who skate together in the "pack." It is the jammer's job to get through the pack, earning points for passing players on the opposing team. It is the blockers job to both prevent the opposing jammer from getting through and to assist your own jammer in her quest to get through the pack. The first jammer to get through the pack without fouling is the lead jammer, which gives her the power to "call off the jam" early, usually to prevent the other jammer from scoring. She does this by tapping her hands to her hips several times in succession (I wondered about using this signal at the next overlong office meeting). There are also rules about going out of bounds and fouls and stuff like that, but as I don't expect any of you to take up derby officiating, you don't really need to know them. Also, I didn't really understand them, even though diagrams were provided.

It is an aggressive game. As the girls circle the track, there is much shoving and pushing and falling down. They all wore knee and elbow pads. Those who did not wear tights revealed legs covered in either very dark bruises or very abstract tattoos, possibly a mix of both. At first it just looked like pointless violence, as if you had told a group of women to act like 10 year old boys. But as I watched, I started to pick up on the strategy of it. I cheered along when our jammer pulled ahead thanks to a whip-like pull from a teammate, pumped a fist in the air when one of our blockers used her backside to her advantage, gasped at a particularly bad spill. Like my first hockey game, even when I didn't exactly know what was going on, I did know that it was exciting.

And there are the names. Each girl had chosen a stage name, a persona, an alter ego. They were mostly meant to be scary or tough, and they were often puns. My favorite was Lady Smackbeth, although Pretty Sk8 Machine came a close second. Of course, those of us in the crowd also thought of names for ourselves, just in case we ever got the hankering to strap on some skates and shove people with our be-spandexed bottoms. I sat next to Emily Kickinshin, pleased to have picked a seat next to such a clever person. Finally, it came to me that I would be Sandy Whiplash.

Whatever I expected out of roller derby, I did not expect to find a whole subculture on display. The skaters wore outlandish outfits - bright tights and leggings, loud bathing suit bottoms and hot pants, extensive tattoos. But the crowd itself was a parade of alternative fashion: vintage hats, elaborate facial hair, spiky mohawks. One guy was dressed as bacon. That doesn't really have anything to do with anything, but it's the sort of detail that begs to be included. I was wearing a t-shirt with the Superman logo and the word "DAD," and I looked conservative.

I had a great time. Sometimes I even, just a little bit, wanted to strap on some skates and try it out. Then I saw a girl go flying skates over teakettle and decided that watching was probably enough for me.


hey, big spender.

Guys and Dolls
I received this disc from Netflix the same day that I also got State Fair. I watched the State Fair in pieces, half an hour in the evenings while I puttered around the house or browsed the web or wrote in my journal. Once it was over, I put in Guys and Dolls with the intention of watching it the same way. Five minutes later, I turned it off, because I had already realized that this was a movie that I wanted to devote my full attention to.

I saw this movie a long time ago, because my ex-boyfriend, who also did not much care for musical theatre, said he liked it. I'm not sure why he liked this one (and also Damn Yankees) while he shunned so many others. Perhaps he saw it when he was little. Parents, make your kids watch musicals while they're too young to scoff at dancing and they'll be lifelong fans. Or maybe he just liked it because it's really, really good.

The movie revolves around a floating crap game and a group of gamblers, sinners, and all-around scoundrels. But they're loveable scoundrels. The leads are played by Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, back when he was thin and cool and handsome. All the characters are loveable in their way, and even though they are crooks, there is a sort of nobility in their behavior, like honor among thieves. They just happen to make their living doing illegal stuff. There are women who love them, and in the end, they are redeemed by that love. I could write a lot about this movie, about loving scoundrels, about redemption, about morality even, but you know what? You should just watch it. Brando's hot.

The script is excellent. All the gamblers talk in a sort of mobster fashion, without contractions, like Grover the Muppet if he played craps.

Songs and Dance: The opening scene shows five minutes of a New York City street, with various extras going about their New York City business, but while dancing. It is really obvious that this movie is made to look like a stage play, or at the very least, is true to its roots on the stage. Much of the regular action has a certain flair about it, even if it's not part of a musical number. And the songs are very good, too, with the lyrics being particularly strong. Of note were "Luck Be a Lady," "Adelaide's Lament," and "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," which was covered by Don Henley back in the 90s. The movie left out several songs from the stage version, including "A Bushel and a Peck," which my mom used to sing to me before bed.

I'm going to post two clips for this movie. One, the opening scene that so caught my attention. Wouldn't it be a nice kind of world if everything was just a little bit more dance-y? The song is great, too. Don't you just want to watch the rest of a movie that begins like this?

I would have liked to post "Luck Be a Lady," but the only copy on YouTube did not do the scene justice. So here is "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." It's the testimony of Nicely-Nicely Johnson, a gambler and associate of Nathan Detroit, at a prayer meeting.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Yup. I will probably buy my own copy.

Calamity Jane
I don't want to say that this movie is exactly like Annie, Get Your Gun, but the similarities are striking enough to make me think that Calamity Jane was made to capitalize on the success of the earlier western woman movie (Wikipedia says that I am right). Historical female figure, known for sharp-shootin' and other various macho activities, becomes a lady, wins a man, sings, dances. It even has Howard Keel playing Wild Bill Hickok. Rather than Betty Hutton, it has Doris Day. I've been kinda cool on Doris Day since seeing The Pajama Game, but I decided that I like her again. Her mannerisms were perfect. Maybe it's just really easy to play a woman who acts like a man. After all, I've been doing it for years. This movie is of little educational value - apparently the real Calamity Jane was a prostitute and alcoholic, rather than one of the boys who learns to wear a dress. Also, she probably couldn't sing worth crap.

This movie isn't bad. But since it is from the same mold as Annie, Get Your Gun, it's impossible not to compare them, and I'm afraid that that other frontier woman musical is just stronger. Anything Calamity Jane can do, Annie Oakley can do better, at least in musical theatre form. I do wonder if my daughter would hate me forever if I named her Calamity. I mean, it's kinda pretty, right?

Songs and Dance: None of the strongs really caught me, though of course they were well-sung. I guess when you write songs quickly so that you can make money before a fad disappears, it shows! There was very little dancing. I will share this number, which is so similar to "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" that the creators really ought to be embarrassed at such blatant copying. It's still kinda cute.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Nah.

Sweet Charity
This one was sort of like if a jazz dance performance and a sad, nothing-really-happens-sort-of movie had a baby. There is a story, but it's more about following a dance hall hostess with low self-esteem around. She gets robbed by her boyfriend, then meets an Italian film star, then gets trapped in an elevator, then almost gets married. Things happen, but nothing lasting happens. The movie is really more about optimism and hope in the face of a completely depressing situation more than anything else. Which is not to say that it wasn't interesting to watch. Shirley Maclaine is very likeable as Charity, the main character. However, I'm not sure you could get through watching her sad life if not for the musical numbers. You could say it was art and that it makes a strong statement, but in the end, you'd feel really bummed out and want to watch "Calamity Jane," because at least it was happy.

I would feel remiss if I did not mention that there is a wonderful scene where Sammy Davis, Jr. is the leader of the Church of the Rhythm of Life, and he sings and dances with a bunch of flower children in an underground car garage. There is also Ricardo Montalban, who is fun to watch and has a fun name to say. Try it! Ri-car-do Mon-tal-ban!

Songs and Dance: The dancing was really what made the movie worth watching. It was directed by Bob Fosse, and I know that means something to people who know about dance, but I'm not one of them. I can read Wikipedia and find out that his choreography exudes "a stylized, cynical sexuality," but still, I feel like I don't know enough about dance to really understand what that means. I guess I'm not used to examining dance to figure out what makes one different from another or why I like one more than another. But I can still enjoy it, right? Of course, right.

I recognized a couple of the songs, so now I can feel smart when I hear the songs and remember that I know where they came from. You can do it, too. Next time you hear "If My Friends Could See Me Now" or "Big Spender" at a dinner party, be sure to remark airily how much you enjoyed Bob Fosse's stylized, cynical sexuality in "Sweet Charity." Just in case any of your friends are brave enough to call your bluff, here is "Big Spender." It's a really well-done scene where the dance hall girls are trying to attract a customer. See how cynical and sexual it is?

Actually, it kinda is. Maybe I get it?

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Probably not. He would enjoy parts of it, but it was two and a half hours long. Maybe I should start releasing Musical Cliff Notes so he can see the good scenes. Or maybe that's what I just did.


tastes like butter.

The first time I had real buttercream was a couple of years ago, at a bakery near my office where a woman in a lovely, crisp apron had her own shop where she made everything from scratch. And I was amazed. I've never been a big fan of icing, and I especially dislike the kind that comes on grocery store cakes, labelled "Non-Dairy Icing." After I tried buttercream on one of those tiny and decadent cakes, I am even more against those nasty non-dairy icing cakes. They are an insult to the truth and beauty of real buttercream.

Buttercream tastes like butter. I know, obvious, right? But listen: did you ever think that it would be awesome to just eat a stick of butter? After all, butter is so good, everyone knows that, and if you've never actually tried to eat it plain and whole in stick form, it seems like a really good idea. But then you do take a bite and it's sorta gross in a way that you can't quite put your finger on. The texture is weird, it's greasy, and your body sort of rejects it immediately, saying, "Dude. Bad idea."

Well, eating buttercream is what eating straight butter should be like. I wish they sold it in stick form. It's probably good that they don't.

I don't have a recipe for buttercream, because I've never made it. But buttercream is not the only thing in the wide world of food that tastes like it came from the parallel universe where eating straight butter is not gross. My chocolate pie is like that. Sure, it tastes like chocolate: Chocolate butter. And my recipe for chicken pot pie works on a similar equation. This pot pie has lots of delicious poultry and fresh vegetables, like all the other chicken pot pies. It's baked in a homemade flaky crust, painstakingly rolled out, again like all the other chicken pot pies. What makes this pot pie special is the gravy. It tastes like butter. After I finish making the gravy, after I pour it into the pie and seal it up, while the pie is baking to buttery perfection, I lick the gravy spoon. I run my finger through the still-hot pan, even though it burns a little, to get every last dreg. Having just made it, I know how close it is to just shoving a stick of butter in my pot-pie-hole, but I won't stop until it is all gone. Then I wait impatiently until I can slice open the pie and eat chicken and vegetables that have taken a gravy bath.

Along with buttercream and chocolate pie, this chicken pot pie is as close as you would ever want to come to eating a stick of butter. Plus, it's got vegetables in it, so it's good for you. Sort of.

Chicken Pot Pie


jokes in the lunch line.

I remember being outgoing, once upon a time. I remember making friends easily, talking to new people as if it were nothing, being dropped in social situations and thriving.

An illustration: I went to a United Methodist camp every summer. One year, when I was about eleven, all the other girls at the camp went to the same church and so they all knew each other, while I was all alone, the girls from my church having gone to Camp Ginger Cascades with the Girl Scouts. By the end of the week, however, I belonged, and all those girls were my friends. I got home and told my mom all about it. She told me that a similar thing had happened to my older sister when she was little, and by the week's end, she had been in tears from the misery of it, having made no new friends at all. I'm sure if you check the comments she'll have an updated version of this story, but that's how my mom told it and that's how it's useful for me right now.

I even remember discussing the topic of being outgoing with my older brother, who was (is) introverted. He thought it was odd that I was so extroverted, when most everyone else in the family was pretty much the opposite. He had another illustration. During his senior year of college, he was walking across campus with his sister-in-law, who was a freshman. As they walked, she waved or said hello to half a dozen people that she knew, while he didn't see anyone at all that he was acquainted with well enough to even wave. How had she already built such a wide circle after only six months there while he was in his fourth year?

I told him that making friends was easy. You just talk to someone. There's always something going on around you that could be the spark of a conversation with a new friend, no matter where you are. Say something funny, I told him, which is pretty much my advice for everything. He took it all in with a thoughtful nod, as if I were giving him sage advice. How many times am I going to look back at a childhood memory and wonder if my siblings were just making fun of me all the time?

But I was sincere, as though my brother's problem was just that he couldn't come up with any good jokes. When I was twelve, I went to a retreat with my church youth group. There were lots of other church groups there, all staying in a camp-like setting. I knew the people in my group, of course, but I frequently felt like the odd person out. So I decided to make my own group. I used my failsafe technique of telling a joke in the lunch line, and I made a new friend. And then I couldn't get rid of her for the rest of the weekend. Apparently, she had trouble making friends, too. The moment I told a joke to her in the lunch line must have been the highlight of her weekend.

And then somehow, I don't know when, talking to strangers became really, really hard. Well, not actually difficult, it just didn't come naturally to me anymore. I would guess that it started in high school, got worse in college, and then in the real world, I finally completed my thick shell. It's actually quite nice, really, I'm thinking of putting in a sky light.

I confess that I did not notice it at first. Some people make friends easily because they can't stand to be alone. The thought of being by themselves is scarier than any social situation. I have my own opinions about people like that, but for now, we'll just say that I am good at solitude. I totally rock at it. Not only is my tolerance for solitude very high, I have a strong need for it. I used to come home from waiting tables and barricade myself in my room hiding from my roommates. Then I would sneak out to dinner and a movie alone, because I was so tired of having to talk to people. I know there are many who would be horrified at the thought of going out to eat or see a movie alone, but to me it was like therapy. I needed that time to myself.

That wasn't so much an issue once I left school and started programming for a living. The thing about school is that friends are sort of built in. You are constantly surrounded by people your own age with whom you are bound to have several things in common. I did not find that to be the case once I left college. My coworkers have always been mostly married men with children. We are friends at work, but we don't really see each other outside of the office. But the socialization at work was enough for me, for a long time. And then at some point I looked around and realized that I had been living in a town for two years, and I didn't have any friends. I'm not sure if I had been lonely for a while and not noticed it, or the realization of my friendlessness made me feel that way.

And then once I realized that I was lonely, I really felt it. I had friends, but they were vestigial friends from school that now lived in other cities or states or countries. I thought it would be nice to have someone I could see a movie with that didn't require air transit. I would see women my age and if they looked like interesting people, I would want desperately to go talk to them. But despite what a twelve-year-old Sandra once told her brother, I could never come up with anything that I would say other than "Will you be my friend?" which sometimes seemed bold and honest, but usually sounded pathetic in my own head. I felt like the girl in the lunch line, waiting for some extrovert to tell me a joke. That never happened. I told myself some good ones, though.

It's not as if I didn't have opportunities. People have reached out to me, and I have kept my distance, maybe spending the time putting up pretty wallpaper on the interior of my shell instead. Because even after I discovered that I had no friends, I wanted to be picky about it. Maybe it was the lesson I'd taken from the girl in the lunch line. She turned out to be kind of boring and clingy and I realized soon enough that I would rather be alone than hang out with her. Is that a high tolerance for solitude or arrogance? I can't even tell anymore. So when some well-meaning person tried to be my friend, they had a very short amount of time to impress me or I'd write them off (okay, that is probably arrogance). It wasn't even for good reasons. Sometimes just because we didn't click. I didn't feel like I could really get close to the person, and so I didn't see the point. I didn't want just any old friends. I wanted BFFAAs, though I would settle for plain old BFFs. I was like those girls who ask how many children a man wants to have on the first date.

So I did what any person in my position would do. I lowered my standards. Which usually is a bad thing, I suppose, so maybe that's not the right way to put it. What happened is I determined that I needed to get over myself: be less quick to judge and stop thinking that everyone either had to be a bosom companion or nothing. There's a lot of room for middle ground. Just because I may never tell late-night sleepover secrets to someone doesn't mean that I can't gain something from a relationship with them. This seems like a lesson I should have learned a long time ago. Sometimes I feel like a very unfinished person for being twenty-seven years old.

In an effort to make myself a better person, preferably one with friends, I am making myself socialize. It is hard, but not for the reason I expected. I had come to believe that since I often chose not to be social, that meant that I wasn't any good at it. Actually, I can talk pretty easily to people. I can make a joke, listen to a story, even do small talk. But it's not my default state. Without forcing myself to socialize, I tend to go alone on my way, never noticing until much later that if pressed to come up with bridesmaid candidates, I'd struggle to name one. Whatever I might have been when I was younger, I am pretty classicly introverted now.

Since approaching strangers in stores and asking to join their Friends and Family plan seemed sad and likely ineffective, I turned to the internet. There is a web site called Meetup.com where you can join an online group. The online group is full of actual people, who organize evensts that you can then show up for in the actual, non-internet world. I'm sure I found it by Googling phrases like "How do I make friends" or "tired of drinking alone" or "Please, Google, I am so lonely." And so a couple of weeks ago, I went to the house of a complete stranger with a bottle of Petite Syrah and a bowl of black bean and corn salad, ready to meet ten more wine-bearing strangers. I was nervous, but oddly, not as nervous as I expected to be. I knew I could do this. It was awkward at first, and then again some in the middle, and just a little bit at the last. I did not make any instant BFFAAs. But I had fun, and so I signed up for a dinner and a trip to the roller derby. It's awkward, and it makes me feel sort of stretched emotionally. Whether any bosom companions will come out of it, I do not know. But I'm trying. I am back in the lunch line, telling jokes.


looking for converts.

Perhaps you've noticed that I haven't been posting yard sale recaps in the last few weeks. Or maybe you've haven't noticed as such, but you've been wandering around with a vague need to see a picture of a box of old stationery. I do not want you to think that it's because I haven't been yard saling. Please, never question my devotion to getting up early on my day off, driving around, and exchanging money for people's discarded goods. No, the problem is that my camera went on tour with my boyfriend. I could still write about the sales, but without pictures, I'd just be rambling on trying to describe the mini copper scuba diving helmet that I got for $2. While that might be a good writing exercise, I've never really liked any kind of exercise.

So rest assured that there are still yard sales happening in the world, and I am still going to them. In fact, I am happy to report that it is officially "the season." You probably have no idea how excited that makes me. Here, let me tell you, I am this excited: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yesterday, I had company on my morning out. I was hanging out with a couple of friends on Friday night, and they asked about my plans for the next day. Clearly, they don't know me all that well, because everyone knows that I have a standing date with the front lawns of strangers on Saturdays. When I told them, they wanted to come along.

I confess, dear readers, that I was reluctant about the idea. I am not opposed to having people come with me, in fact, I love the idea of converting people to the secondhand lifestyle. But I wasn't sure that these girls knew what they were in for. Were they prepared to get up early, paw through piles of crap, and drive all the way to Chapel Hill if that meant hitting a huge church sale when they were just starting to mark down prices?

But, hey, they were game. I showed up at their apartment at 6:50 AM and they were ready to go. We hit a church sale first off, and they both made some purchases. It was quite a good sale, which was lucky. Some people see my house full of treasures bought used and think that I find something amazing at every single sale I visit. But buying used is a hobby of patience - there are many days when I don't find much at all. I wanted this to be a good day so they would get enough of a taste of the possibilities to carry them through other sales which might not yield anything. But they seemed to be having a good time. I also had a good time, buying a cowbell and the aforementioned copper diving helmet. I also bought some things that are not inexplicable.

There was something else that I would have bought, but by the time I arrived, the beautiful dresser already had a SOLD tag on it, right next to the one that said "$40." I don't put much stock in getting to sales right when they open. I've never had any trouble finding junk to buy, and as for what was sold before I got there, I didn't see it, so I don't know what I'm missing. I've been looking for a dresser for a while, and this one would have been perfect. But you know what? I got there at only a few minutes after they opened. I suspect that someone working at the sale bought it. Which just goes to show that someone can still buy something before you, even if you are waiting when the doors open.

I only hope that they enjoy that dresser as much as I would have. A moment of silence, please, for the dresser that I did not buy. Thank you.

The rest of the day was decent. Alas, my friends were growing weary by 10, and so they went home. However, as they were leaving, they showed interest in coming along next week. I don't expect them to be as hard core about it as I am, but even if they only spend a couple Saturdays a year perusing yard sale offerings, that is a success in my book.

After they went on home, I headed out to Chapel Hill to hit a giant sale. No, really, it was HUGE. Which reminds me. Friday night, one of the girls was looking through CraigsList for sales. She saw an ad titled "HUGE YARD SALE," and said, "We should check that one out." Ah, poor sweet innocent newbie. I pointed out to her that they all said they were huge, but most of them just had a stack of baby clothes, some Dan Brown novels, and a table of five years worth of Pier 1 sales. Not to alienate any Dan Brown/Pier 1 readers with children out there, but it's just not my bag.

Anyway, this church sale wactually was HUGE, much HUGER than anyone having a single family sale could even aspire to. It was the kind of sale where they hand out maps so you can navigate to the different rooms, depending on whether you are interested in clothes or furniture or cooking gear. It was almost too big, as it was so crowded that there were lines queueing up outside various rooms. I spent ten minutes waiting to just look at the selection of accessories, as my desire to see all the stuff battled with my anxiety about being in large crowds. Then I didn't even buy any accessories, possibly because once inside the room I gave everything only a cursory glance in my haste to get out of the tiny room with too many people in it. I did buy several books, because there was absolutely no wait to get into that room. Let's not think too hard about what that indicates about the public.

Overall, a good day. I bought a lot more than what I've mentioned (pewter-handled forks, demitasse cups, old cigarette advertising sign, buttons, giant lamp that Josh will hate as soon as he sees it), and nothing was very expensive. And I introduced some people into my world, and hopefully they will come back to find many inexplicable treasures of their own.


the yanks are comin'!

I haven't done musicals in a while. You'd think with Josh gone it would be a twenty-four hour Gene Kelly extravaganza at my house. You'd be wrong. I have no explanation.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
Here's the deal: Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell are showgirls go on a cruise to Europe where they get into mischief because of boys. Marilyn never met a rich man she didn't like, and Jane likes the charming and destitute kind. If she's into that, she should try dating a bass player. Jane spends the whole trip trying to keep Marilyn away from an old man who apparently owns half of South Africa (and therefore diamond mines). I wonder if it would have worked better if Jane had sat her down and explained the bloody impact made by the diamond mining industry. Nah.

I saw this movie before, a long time ago when I discovered that the Caldwell County Public Library had a video section. I didn't retain much from it. I found most of it pretty forgettable. Whether or not you know it, you may already be familiar with a scene from this movie. Madonna's video for "Material Girl" is a very obvious homage to a scene where Marilyn sings "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," a song that was also featured in Moulin Rouge.

This movie is sort of feminist. But it's not really high-minded feminism, because it's about women who want to eliminate double standards by being allowed to behave as badly as men without being chastised. Marilyn defends her gold-digging by saying that men are allowed to go after pretty girls and no one accuses them of being shallow. So if she goes after a man with a lot of assets in exchange for her own special kind, what's the problem? Well, okay, that's one way to look at it. But shouldn't we just all be less shallow? Don't mind me. I'm not pretty enough to be shallow.

As an aside, this movie was based on a novel by Anita Loos, which I would much like to read if I can ever procure a copy. She had a very successful writing career when not so many women were in that field. According to Wikipedia, she wrote Gentlemen Prefer Blondes after seeing H.L. Mencken, noted smart guy who should know better, flip his lid over a buxom blonde. The Jane Russell character, she based on herself, surprise, surprise.

Singing and Dancing: Neither Jane nor Marilyn have great voices in the traditional sense. But that's why they're in this movie and not The Sound of Music; if they were dressed as nuns, you wouldn't even be able to see their bosoms! They both can sing and dance well enough, but that's not what gets them their roles. It sort of goes along with the movie's whole point: being really hot is useful. It can get you men and movie roles, and why shouldn't it?

There is a scene where Jane is singing while she walks through a room of men in tiny shorts doing dances that look like exercises. They were playing the U.S. men's Olympic team, who apparently do a lot of jazz hands. Maybe it was just a different time or maybe I'm being narrow, but I was struck by the fact that if any modern movie had that much man-flesh in it, it would labelled homo-erotic. Perhaps it was just more feminism: and here's a little something for the ladies.

Here is "Bye Bye Baby." I suppose I should have posted "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," but I like this song better. When I worked at a restaurant in college, this song was on one of the CDs we played. I think it was Dean Martin's version. Anyway, one day a customer told me that this song was on repeat. Indeed, they were right. We had been listening to this one song for a couple of hours and hadn't even noticed because we were so used to hearing it over and over throughout the day. That story has no point, but I can't hear this song without retelling it. Sorry the quality is out of sync. If they did lip-sync, I promise it wasn't that obvious in the movie.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: No. I doubt I could get him to even watch the whole Madonna video.

Yankee Doodle Dandy
You would think that after watching an entire musical, I would know whether or not James Cagney can actually sing. Well, I don't. Because for most of the movie, he didn't so much sing as talk out the words. Which could be a directorial decision, or it could be an indication that Cagney sang about as well as Roseanne Barr (there's a reference from way back for you old-timers out there). But if it was the latter, why didn't they just cast someone who could, you know, sing?

This movie was a bio-pic about George M. Cohan, who wrote flag-waving songs like "Yankee Doodle Boy," "You're a Grand Ole Flag," and "Over There." You might say he was limited in his scope, and yet he is considered the father of American musical comedy. I personally would like to thank Mr. Cohan for his own contributions, which led to hundreds of movies that I might enjoy and write about. My boyfriend would probably rather that George had been an accountant. The movie had snippets of Cohan's musicals, which were mostly just songs very, very loosely connected by action. Seriously, they made Oklahoma! look plot-driven. I suppose as the genre has developed, writers have paid more attention to those annoying bits between the dancing.

Aside from starting up a whole new genre, Cohan also received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the first artist to do so. It was given to him for contributions to morale during the first World War, and indeed there are lots of scenes of soldiers singing his songs. I like that we honor people like that, because it also acknowledges the importance of art itself.

Singing and Dancing: Like I said, Cagney didn't do much singing, though his dancing was much more impressive than I was expecting. But as a credit to Mr. Cohan, the songs were pretty good. Many of them were familiar to me, since I sang them in a fifth-grade concert. I wasn't all that familiar with "Over There," because when I'd heard it, it had been "Underwear." But I think it was my favorite. It made me feel all warm and patriotic inside when the soldiers marched and sang that the Yanks were comin'. America! Heck Yeah!

There is a scene where Cohan makes fun of Franklin Roosevelt. We have seen this before, back in Babes in Arms. It continues to fascinate me. I don't get the jokes, of course, because the everyman's perspective of FDR in the 30s is different from how he is seen now. I shouldn't be surprised. We make fun of the president now, so it's natural that people did it before, too. It's just...weird. I suppose it's the lack of hindsight in it. They're poking fun at what seems like minutiae to us, because that's the sort of daily thing that was in the papers for them. Meanwhile, I'm thinking they should show a little more respect. I suppose a hundred years from now, someone will be shocked to see a clip of Jay Leno making fun of the first black president's opening day pitch.

Here's a cute clip of Cagney like you might not have seen him before.

Also, if you're interested, you can see "Over There" on YouTube, but I can't embed it. THE YANKS ARE COMIN'!

Will I Make Josh Watch It: No. I think he might be disappointed to see Cagney dancing.

State Fair
State Fair, like Flower Drum Song, is one of those Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that doesn't get a lot of play. Earlier, we determined that the reason for Flower Drum Song's obscurity was because modern eyes would view it as racist. State Fair is not racist, unless you would consider it racist to have the whole cast be lily white. No, it's just not very good. The best scene in the whole film is a pickle judging contest. Really.

Okay, fine, the movie isn't bad. I made it all the way through and I even was interested to see how it was going to turn out. I've seen a lot of movies where I would have been happy if the main characters had died, just so the thing would be over. I didn't want these people to die, they seemed like nice folks. The whole plot revolves around this little Iowa farm family going to the annual state fair. The dad has a prize pig, the mom has some blue ribbon pickles, and the teenage kids find romance. The romances are sort of...illicit, at least for 1945. I wasn't really sure where the movie was going with it. For a while I thought the tagline of the movie might be "What happens at the State Fair stays at the State Fair."

Singing and Dancing: You know, there wasn't that much dancing at all. The song that everyone always remembers is "It Might as Well Be Spring," which left me underwhelmed. I mean, it's pretty, but it's hard not to laugh at it. Here's this young girl, leaning languidly out the window, drowsily singing about how she's as jumpy on a puppet on a string. She didn't look jumpy, nor did she look as restless as a willow in a windstorm. I think the real gem was "All I Owe Ioway," a tribute to Iowa sung by some of the performers at the fair. It makes you wonder if they have a song for every state. It's a good song with clever wordplay. And I know you're wondering, so I'll just tell you: there is spelling in that song. Because Oscar Hammerstein just can't write a song about a state without spelling.

Unfortunately, no one else seems to agree with me, and "All I Owe Ioway" is not available online, except for some home videos of high school plays doing it. So fine, here's that stupid spring song. Just try not to laugh at her singing about being jumpy.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: No. I told him there was a song called "It's a Grand Night for Singing" and he groaned.


like that.

In Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, a sweet and charming but ultimately forgettable independent teen movie, the titular characters are taking the next, slightly naked, step in their budding romance. The step is implied, as the cameraman mysteriously loses interest in the pair and starts filming the scenery while we hear their dialogue. What comes next is the best exchange in the whole movie.

Norah (apologetic, embarrassed): I'm not pretty like that.
Nick (with wonder): What are you talking about? You're beautiful.

There are funnier lines, there are more clever lines, but Norah's is the best in the whole ninety minutes, solely because of those last two words: "like that." Surely I can't be the only person in the world who heard that line and felt resonance. That's what they wanted when they wrote that line. They wanted people like me to stand up, point at the TV, and say, "I relate to that."

And Nick's line is right, it's exactly the Right Thing to say and he says it with just the right amount of awe, and that's all we want in a romantic comedy. We want men to say the Right Thing. They're allowed to say the wrong thing a couple times roughly two-thirds in, because otherwise there is no conflict or drama. But when it counts, they have to say the Right Thing. If we wanted to hear men say the Wrong Thing, then I guess we'd just stay home and ask our boyfriends and husbands trick questions. I thought "awww" just like I was supposed to when he said it, but it's been a while since my viewing. Now, I'm thinking about those words, "like that."

Because there is pretty, and there is pretty like that.

Women are beautiful (Men are very nice, too, but this is not about them). I am convinced of the beauty of every woman I've ever met. All the girls that I hung out with in high school, I am certain they hated the way they looked. But I thought they were lovely. At first, they were regular-looking. You know. Ordinary people, though some were obviously more attractive than others. And then I got to know them and I would notice their individual and secret prettiness. On a good day, I could look in the mirror and see myself that way (did you know that I have perfectly sized lips?). On a bad day, I would see just another plain girl (one with crooked ears).

But then there were the girls who were pretty without you even getting to know them. Their prettiness was not a secret at all. They did not have to be nice or funny or smart or anything at all to be attractive, which was just so unfair. I resented them. I feared them, was intimidated by them. I imagined telling them off. I looked for signs of physical flaws, be it too-skinny ankles or a weak chin, anything at all. I think women stare a lot more at other women than they do at men. Us girls are constantly checking out the competition, trying to figure out where we stand. It can be quite exhausting.

At some point, the regular pretty get over not being pretty like that. You get to sixteen or eighteen (or twenty? thirty?) and realize that it's not going to get any better. You accept that everyone has different assets. You figure out your strengths and you begin to take pride in them. You hope that by having a wonderful personality, you will enable others to see your individual and secret prettiness. There are bound to be men out there who value substance. Surely one of them will like you. This is acceptance. It's still missing the point that you probably shouldn't tie your ego to what a man might think of you, but baby steps, please. Some women don't get to acceptance at all, and that's why we have plastic surgeons.

I had this acceptance pretty early, or at least I learned early on that I should look to my other qualities. I've known where my strengths lie for a long time, because my mother told me over and over. Once, back when I was a promising sophomore on the Varsity basketball team, my coach, who still thought I might yet get over my clumsiness (ha!), spoke in encouraging tones about my future. He said that with hard work and lots of practice, I could possibly get a scholarship to play basketball at a small private college near my hometown.

I gave him a funny look. My mother really stressed modesty and humility in our house (you have to do that when your kids are as awesome as hers are, poor woman), and I tried hard not to make it obvious that I thought that I was kinda smart. But I said, being very careful with my words, "I'm not counting on basketball to get into college." My expression could be best described as "knowing."

He paused, nodded silently before saying, "Yeah. Okay." He got it.

I could have said something similar to my girlfriends who wanted to teach me how to put on makeup: I'm not counting on my looks to get a man. You know, I probably did say that. And then they rolled their eyes and came after me with mascara.

Despite my preaching about acceptance and playing to your strengths, it's a lot easier getting over being mediocre at basketball than it is to get over being average-looking. Even after you mostly get over not being pretty like that, even after you've decided that you are completely awesome in other ways that are much less fleeting than beauty, a dark part of you is afraid that no one else will ever appreciate you for you. You wonder if anyone will ever notice your individual and secret prettiness, or if they will all be too busy looking at the girls who are pretty like that. And that's how you get Norah, who starts out okay, but gets prettier as the movie goes on without changing a thing, apologizing for the way she looks.

I'm going to tell you a super-special Sandra secret, so secret that I've never told anyone besides Josh, because I think it's nuts. So I'm going to put it on the internet to find out how nuts it is. When I assess other women, I have three things that I look at. The first is just straight up appearance. If I am prettier than that girl, I write her off as not a threat (a threat to what? I have no freaking idea). If I am not prettier, I move to the next thing, which is height. Being tall was one of the things that I claimed as part of my Sandra-ness when I determined that I wasn't pretty like that. That woman over there may be drop-dead gorgeous, but she'd need a chair to get stuff off the top cabinet shelf. Pshaw, what man wants that? (Interestingly enough, height also happened to be the only reason I ever made any basketball team.) And finally, there is my trump card, my brain. Since I'm just judging a complete stranger, there is no way I can tell how smart she is, so I simplify matters by just assuming that I'm smarter. Then I feel better, self-esteem crisis averted. One more rock bounces off my thick ego bubble.

Is this insane? Is it normal? Both? Isn't it neat how I came across as incredibly self-conscious and ridiculously arrogant all in one paragraph? It's probably 'cause I'm smart.

I am one of the confident ones, as you've probably figured out by now. And get this, I am proud of my own confidence - it is one of my strengths, boys like that about me - such that I am self-consious about admitting that I am self-conscious about my appearance. Josh was actually confused when he found out how not-really-that-confident I was about certain things, after he had come to think of me as a person who was completely sure of herself. He thought it was bizarre, which is sorta like Nick saying, "What are you talking about? You're beautiful."

I was at a bar for one of Josh's shows, the bar being a parade of people trying to convince other strangers that they are worthwhile. There were girls there who had spent hours getting ready, some who changed clothes three or four times, everyone trying very hard to be as attractive as possible. Oh yeah, and then there was me, who decided a long time ago that it was way easier to look like she didn't give a crap (and you get to feel superior to all those shallow people). Many of them were much prettier than I am, but most of them were average height or shorter, so I wasn't feeling threatened. A beautiful girl passed by, wearing something flimsy and entirely inappropriate for February; it looked fantastic on her. She was very close to my height, and I instinctively looked at her shoes, which were spiked heels. See, that's cheating, and I still win (I'm going to go back someday and erase these last paragraphs about the three levels of comparison, because I sound like a lunatic). I told Josh about it, while pointing out this knock-out gorgeous girl to my boyfriend, explained how my confidence remained intact because of her stilettos. He laughed, because it was silly, it's all so completely silly and I'm so glad that I have someone who knows crap like that about me and somehow doesn't run away. He leaned in and whispered, "Baby, they don't make shoes that make you smarter."

He gets it.


and this bird you cannot change.

Rule: It is no longer cool to request "Free Bird." It's been done and done to death. It's over. Stop it now. There is no longer any situation where it is amusing. Is it arrogance to state what is cool? Probably, so go ahead and resent me for it, but trust me on the "Free Bird." Give it a few years, let it die for a little while, and then you can bring it back.

Correllary: Since no one is listening to me, I'll go ahead and add that it is no longer cool to actually play "Free Bird" when someone who did not listen to me earlier requests it. It is less uncool if you are a band that would not traditionally play southern rock, say a steel drum band or string quartet, but that, too, has been done. Just ignore that guy, play some other Skynyrd song if you have to. Not "Sweet Home Alabama." Maybe "The Ballad of Curtis Loew."

Correllary: There is one time when it is acceptable to play "Free Bird," and that is when Artimus Pyle is your drummer. You have to play it straight then, not ironically, assuming you kids with your skinny jeans even know how to play a cover song non-ironically.

I'm sorry, Mr. Pyle, but I think I've changed. We met on a street in Asheville, NC several years ago, and I had no idea who you were. But my boyfriend did, and somehow he recognized you, even though I don't think he was particularly a Skynyrd fan. You were very friendly and could tell that I had no idea who you were, because I lack subtlety. You thought it was cute, and you told me not to change. Since then, I have remembered who you were, though I probably would not recognize you again unless you happened to be wearing the same black leather trenchcoat and cowboy hat. It rarely comes up, but I tell the story about meeting you sometimes, and I always make you sound like a real laid-back, nice guy.

As unlikely as it is, I now have two Artimus Pyle stories. I've met him on the streets of a mountain town and I've seen him play "Free Bird." Why should my path ever cross with that of Mr. Pyle, much less twice? Of all the famous people I could repeatedly run into, I might have picked someone else. I suppose he might have picked a different non-famous person as well. Sorry, Mr. Pyle, but it looks like it's you and me.

Josh's band was opening for another local band that they know, who was having a CD release show. Since it was a special occasion, they decided to go all out and get Artimus Pyle to play drums for them. Because that's what you do for special shows. You get obscure members of famous bands from long ago, and when people see your advertisements, they say, "That guy's still alive?" I don't know how they got him. Maybe their moms play bingo together. Maybe they sent him a Facebook message. Maybe they met him on the street and asked if he'd like to play.

Pyle's drum kit is impressive. I'm used to seeing the drum kits bought by hobby musicians or indulgent parents who hope their son will grow out of it soon. This one looked like it came from an 80s hair band music video. The cymbals were set up high, so the drummer would have to reach up to hit them. I asked Josh's drummer, Dave, about this, thinking maybe there was some sort of musical explanation, like it changed the sound when it was hit from a different angle. If there was a scientific explanation, Dave didn't know it. That's just how they used to do it, that's what used to be cool. Artimus also wore gloves, like the kind that golfers and NASCAR drivers wear. Is that necessary? Or does it just look cool?

Artimus liked the chimes. They're not a common feature on local band drum kits, either because they're an unnecessary expense or because they, too, are out of fashion. Dave has a woodblock and a cowbell, but no chimes. As for Artimus, I think he'd be lost without them. It was almost comical. As another opening band played, he set up his kit in the corner. He periodically ran his fingers through the chimes where he thought it might add something to the song. I wonder if those guys went home talking about how they needed more chimes in their songs. When Artimus played, there was a significant amount of chiming. After the show, people went up to him to have their picture taken so they could post on their blogs about how they met the guy from Skynyrd. As the cameras flashed, he would run his drumstick through the chimes, as if he thought you'd be able to hear them when you looked at the picture later. As for me, I will always hear the chimes whenever I look at a picture of Artimus Pyle.

It must be strange to be Artimus Pyle, like being that guy who told Buddy Holly he hoped his ol' plane crashed. He was in the crash that killed most of Skynyrd, and he crawled from the wreckage and hiked down the road with broken ribs to go get help. His would be more than just survivor's guilt. Because the long and successful career that he probably felt was in the bag had engine trouble and went down somewhere in Mississippi. Thirty years later, he's an oddity, invited to play drums for some band out of Greensboro, North Carolina. Me, I think I would feel a little bit haunted all the time, like there were ghosts on stage with me - the ghosts of my dead bandmates, the ghosts of the songs that was never written, the ghost of his lifetime fame. Maybe the chimes are to scare them all away.

And yet Artimus Pyle seems to be doing alright. He's had a while to get over it, or maybe musicians are much better adjusted person than we are led to believe. He gets paid to do what he loves and they treat him like a god. Pretty young girls come on stage to hug him, ring his chimes, and have their pictures taken. Maybe it's not the life he imagined when he was a young man, but for an old man, it's not so bad. He's probably pretty sick of playing "Free Bird," though.