goodwill bride.

You may not know this, but Goodwill sells wedding dresses. You can see where this entry is going already, can't you?

I have known about the small bridal section for a while, just because it's hard to miss the mass of white lace hanging next to the regular dresses. I never looked very closely at them, because I had no need. But now, I do, and so I've been making a point to flip through the rack every time I go in. And I've been trying on a few. The sizes are not always labelled, and so I've dented my self-esteem a bit by attempting to get into dresses that would never fit a woman with my hips.

I still have months and months to go before I actually need to wear a big white dress, so the slim pickings don't bother me much. Plus, this is the essence of secondhand shopping - it takes time. Having spent a couple of weeks actually paying attention to the selection, I am surprised to find that it does change. People are buying these dresses, and other people are bringing more in. As long as there is turnover, then I have a chance to find something. And if not, I guess I'll go to the outlet center in Burlington with my mom like a regular person.

I felt doubt about a Goodwill dress the first few times that I tried on things that didn't fit. While I had no doubt that I would eventually find something, isn't your wedding dress supposed to be more than "something?" You know, The Dress? Even with my natural contrariness, I am not immune to that kind of advertising-based brainwashing. The dresses that I tried on were lovely, but they weren't necessarily ones that I would pick if given a whole store full of dresses. They were dresses I would pick off a rack of six dresses, five of them being from the puffy sleeve era.

I shoved my doubt aside, because I knew that I was smarter than the myth of The Dress. Hadn't I already proven that I was above the myth of The Ring? Whatever dress it is, it will be The Dress the second that I decide it is. I am the bride, I grant mythical status around here. Plus, I do believe in the principles of secondhand, one of which says that there is no such thing as perfect, but there are lots of good enoughs.

This past Thursday, I decided to try on a dress that I'd passed by a couple of times, mainly for the fact that the skirt was all bagged up in a plastic bag to protect it and I didn't want to bother with it (see how committed I am to finding a dress? I am thwarted by loosely-tied plastic bags). I always feel self-conscious taking a dress into the fitting room because they are so cumbersome and ostentatious. There's me, carrying about fifty pounds of floofy stuff, trying not to be conspicuous. It's a silly thing to be self-conscious about. I should be throwing a parade. That's right, bride coming through here. I'm going to go try this on, and I WILL LOOK LOVELY IF I CAN ZIP IT UP BY MYSELF.

Trying on this dress made all my doubts about Goodwill wedding dresses disappear. Forget lovely, wedding dresses have the magical power to impart radiance. It fit perfectly, and thanks to all that boning in the torso, I somehow looked thinner and bustier at the same time.

I did not buy the dress, though I did take some pictures of myself wearing it while making a stupid face. It was $99. I've noticed that some of the dresses have crossed-out prices (this being Goodwill, prices are written in Sharpie on the inside of the dress). I have time, and so I want to keep looking. I would happily get married in that dress or maybe I'll get married in a different one that I like better. Whatever. I'll find something.



Jack told us that the Red Elvises were the funnest of all the bands that he had ever seen. This is saying something. Not just because you can't really name a band that Jack didn't see in concert way back when, but because his job as the sound guy at a downtown Raleigh music and beer hall means that he sees bands most every night of the week. As the significant other of a bass player, I've seen a lot of bands. Josh has seen many more than I have. I can't even imagine the sheer amount of live music that Jack has taken in. Based on my own sampling, I bet a lot of it was crappy.

But Jack said we had to come Thursday night, because these guys were awesome. It seemed like the Red Elvises always had a poster up in the bar. Whoever they were, they were apparently making a living playing music. Before I fell in love with a bass player, I had no idea how large the term "success" was in terms of the music business. I thought there was either playing stadiums and talking about your drug problem on Behind the Music, or there was keeping your day job. Making all the money or making none of it. But of course there is a whole range of levels in between. For one thing, there is losing money. But there is also never making it anywhere near a stadium, but somehow still making it. Quitting their day job to make about what they made at what was probably a low-wage gig. But that is success, to be a professional musician, and for the people who are really in it for the joy of playing music, it may be enough. I am happy for them.

Based on the fact that the Red Elvises seem to be making it around to Raleigh every couple of months, when they are based out of California, I conclude that they are making it. They also have professional-looking merchandise, nice instruments, and a swank touring minibus. It even has their band name on it, while Josh's band's van is emblazoned with the name of the church they bought it from.

The Red Elvises play simple, crowd-friendly pop songs in a mash of styles. There are some clever verses, and a catchy sing-along chorus. By the time the chorus comes back around, anyone who was even halfway listening can sing along, too. The musical influence is all over the place - reggae, punk, surf rock, country-western, soul, polka - and it always has just a dash of something...Russian. Because the Red Elvises are here from Russia with love. The three-string bass was even shaped like a balalaika.
When we got to the bar, the show had already started, or maybe it would be better to call it a dance party. There was a conga line, or whatever you call a conga line during a Russian surf rock song. A giant crew of Elvis fans had come out from Wilson, NC to see the show. They were all wearing yellow t-shirts that had various Red Elvis song titles on them. Whenever the front man (Igor, of course) announced the next song, someone in a yellow shirt would scream like their name had just been selected for the Showcase Showdown. The Elvises themselves were wearing suits made of animal-print fabrics that might have come from a remnant pile.

It was all just so infectious. The music seemed to enter in through your ears and then take up residence in various parts of the body that would then begin to move. Your head bopped, your hips wiggled, your whole body bounced on the balls of your feet. I am not a good dancer, but I make up for it in enthusiasm. I decided a while back it was more fun to dance badly than to not dance for fear of doing it badly. But even if you had not made that leap, I think the Red Elvises would push you right over. You can't not dance. So we danced. We danced like Uma Thurman did in Pulp Fiction, though only during the song called "Dance Like Uma Thurman." Other times we did the John Travolta disco point or made an attempt at that squat dancing thing the Russians do or just flailed our arms and legs like idiots because it was fun. It was a sweaty show.

At one point, Igor told us that he was about to play a polka song. He strapped on an accordian, and they got down as only polksters can. I bounced to the front - because I couldn't move without bouncing with this music going on - to take a picture of the accordian action. Jack interpreted my sudden relocation to the front as an indication that I was ready to polka with my bad self. He asked Josh for permission to dance the polka with me. Having gotten permission, Jack asked if I knew how to polka. I was never so sad to answer "no" in all my life. The lesson here is that we should all learn to polka, because you never know when such a skill will come in handy.

They had a great drum solo, too. Drum solos are hard to do. Even if you have a great drummer, audience members can sort of lose interest in it because it's hard to dance to. But when the Red Elvises have a drum solo, they don't mean the drummer is solo, they mean the drums are. All four of the non-drummers pulled out their own set of drum sticks and took up residence next to the drum kit. And they all played the drums.

After only a few songs in the second half of the set, Igor said they were going to play just one more. Well. He asked us if we would like to hear just one more. We, being mere dancing putty in the palm of his sweaty Ukrainian hand, answered "ONE MORE!"

"One more?"


They played about five more songs, each time asking if we would like them to play one more. Finally, they said goodnight and started packing up. Jack started up a chant of "ONE MORE!" and we only had to yell for another thirty seconds or so before Igor responded, oh so casually, "One more?"


"Okay, we do one more." And they did. One more bouncing, head bopping, sweaty, arm-flailing, vaguely Russian song. I am happy that these transplanted musicians are making it, because as far as I'm concerned, they are providing a valuable service. The only question I had at the end of the evening was whether they played weddings.

For your pleasure, but this does not do them justice. They are this weird in person, but the live show is infinite fun.


the paris wife.

Our most recent book club selection was The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a novel about Ernest Hemingway's first wife Hadley and their time in Paris, hanging out with Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound and F.Scott Fitzgerald and all those literary types. I have to admit, that after reading the book about Frank Lloyd Wright's mistress, I'm a little tired of reading books about women whose main claim to fame is that they married famous men. Now, these men were also famously difficult, and I'm willing to believe that interesting people pick interesting spouses, but surely we can find a book about a woman who did something besides get hitched.


This book, along with the FLW book, lives in some sort of cross-genre where it's not fact and not quite fiction. The authors do a crap-ton of research, reading public records, newspapers, letters, and journals to put together a picture. And then they fill in the details with their imaginations. No doubt after immersing yourself in someone else's life for a while, you probably do feel like you know them. So while we know that Hadley went to Chicago at this time and met Ernest, we don't necessarily know what she wore or what she said or how she felt about it. Maybe she left journals, so we do know some of those things, but at some point, the author has to put together everything she knows about a person from the research and make a good guess. For some reason, this bugs me, but I can't put my finger on why. I think it's because the lines between verifiable fact and imagined fact are so blurry. We should have a name for this genre, just to stress that there is some fantasy involved. How about "research-based speculative autobiographical novel?" Catchy, huh?

Regardless of whether Ms. McLain gets her material from an old journal or from inside her head, I can tell you that she nails certain aspects of being involved with an artist, a topic that I have some familiarity with. For one thing, Hadley is very self-conscious about being just a regular sort of person, surrounded by all these geniuses. Almost everyone Josh and I spend time with on a regular basis is some kind of artist. And I am a software engineer. Even if I think there is a certain artistry in writing code, I can't help but feel sort of square and boring around people whose brains are surely more colorful than mine. In fact, I sometimes am at a loss as to why my artist was attracted to me. Not that I am not awesome in my own number-based way, but it seems like he would want someone who is on that wavelength. Then again, I am coming from a position of someone who has always been drawn to artists. Maybe he is someone who is attracted to engineers, and who can even explain these things anyway? Josh sometimes worries because I spend 8 hours every weekday surrounded entirely by men who also think like me (and who also make a lot more money than a starving artist). Aside from most of them being middle-aged and married, I have found software engineers in general to be lacking in imagination. They do not melt my butter.

Hadley also feels like she has to compete with her husband's work. Maybe this could be true for any profession. But the thing about art is that it can happen any time. I do not resent his time spent waiting tables, nor even his practice time with the band, because those are scheduled events. But sometimes, we are just sitting at the house and inspiration hits him and he has to go write. Then I get all whiny, because I feel like I already get so little of him as it is, and we have a little fight. This is bad, bad, bad. For me to set myself as being in any way against his work is going to cause problems; I figured that out with regards to the band a long time ago. Even if I "win," there will be resentment, bubbling, festering resentment. So I really can't win this one. I have to let it go.

Of course, having related so much to parts of the Hemingway's marriage, it was very hard not to use a little faulty logic to jump to the conclusion that the rest of it applied as well, mainly the part about Ernest Hemingway being a rotten cheater. It was doubly worrisome reading this right after getting engaged. Everything that happens nowadays is colored through the lens of being about to jump off the commitment cliff. So I have to relax, and tell myself that I am not marrying Ernest Hemingway (who wrote a whole book comparing being married to being impotent). I can't read a research-based speculative autobiographical novel about Hemingway's first wife and imagine that I can assume anything about my own relationship, any more than I can assume that I know much of anything about the actual Hadley Hemingway.


puppet up!

The Carolina Theatre in Durham is old and fancy. While it has been well-maintained, the chandeliers and box seats make one think of a more illustrious past. Who gets the sit in the box seats now? I've never seen that option when buying tickets for shows there. Perhaps it is on a secret website, just for rich people. Or maybe you just show up in a top hat and a monocle and they upgrade you to a box seat on the spot.

I've been to the Carolina Theatre several times. There is a modern performance facility just down the road, where touring Broadway shows play to crowds of up to 2,800, but I prefer the Carolina. Tickets are about half the price, and the hall, while still seating over 1,000, feels more intimate. Also, the acts that come through there are still fantastic, just less famous.

Last Friday night, I was sitting in the Carolina with my sister. We were there to see Stuffed and Unstrung. It's improv. With Muppets. For adults.

Hanging above the stage were two giant screens. On the stage itself was a video camera on a tall tripod. It was hard to see from the audience, but there were small monitors on the floor of the stage, facing backstage. And then, at stage left, was a wall of about 80 puppets. There were crustaceans, food items, aliens, woodland critters, and, in the spirt of Gonzo, a few whatevers.

Here's how each skit would go. The emcee would call a few puppeteers to the stage and tell them to "Puppet up!" At which point, he would hold the microphone towards the audience, where we were also supposed to yell "Puppet up!" He would explain an improv game and then ask for suggestions from the audience for the different fill-in-the-blank aspects of the skit (location, topic, occupation, etc.). This being an adult show, the suggestions went toward the bottom of the barrel pretty quickly. For example, when they asked for an occupation, someone yelled out "illegal gynecologist!" And then there was a skit where puppets sang a song about speculums. Not all the skits were dirty. There was also one about buzzards falling from the sky during a garden party, which would be perfectly appropriate for children or prim grandmothers.

Once the requirements had been established, the puppeteers would go over to the wall of puppets and just pick one out. I'm sure part of the decision was based on the skit parameters, but I like to think that each performer had their own favorites that they liked to use. What might make something your favorite puppet? I wish I knew.

And then they did a skit. They performed, with their arms up in the air, right in front of the camera on the tripod. The camera feed was linked to the giant screens (and the small monitors, for the puppeteers themselves to see), so you got to see two shows. First, the puppet show, just like watching The Muppets on TV, was on the screens. And then on stage, were the puppeteers with their arms in the air, shuffling around each other and making it all happen.
I have to say that the performers were better puppeteers than they were improvisors. Not that they were bad, just that if your only exposure to improv is reruns of Whose Line is it Anyway?, then you may be disappointed. But one of the advantages of live theatre is how easy it is to be swept up in being there. If I had been watching a YouTube video of the performance, I might not have been as impressed. But sitting there, surrounded by fellow North Carolina puppet fans, I laughed and laughed and laughed.

At one point, the emcee announced that we had a special guest: Clay Aiken! I suppose he was in town and just decided to take in a puppet show. He did a skit, working an orange monster Muppet pretending to be Elton John. Then, once he was finished, he went up and sat in one of the box seats. The mystery of the box seats solved.

There was some more direct audience involvement, too. A man was picked out to be in a skit after receiving about 20 seconds worth of instruction in Muppetry. When the emcee was wandering in the audience to select a victim volunteer, I sunk in my seat and averted my eyes, to be sure and send the clear signal that I did not want to be picked. But then, Brian Henson came out of the audience to perform with the audience member, and I wished that I had waved my arm and jumped on my seat. I'm sure I would have been very nervous to have been on the same stage with such Puppet royalty. Forget Clay Aiken.

This was perhaps my favorite of the improv skits, as the professional puppeteers integrated the audience member's newbie mistakes into the action. So when the volunteer's puppet's eyes were pointed at the ceiling instead of the puppets he was talking to, those puppets all turned around and looked, too, as if they were trying to figure out what he was staring at.

They recreated a couple of classic Muppet sketches that were written and performed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz back when they were young puppeteers ready to conquer the world. By being able to see the puppeteers, you could imagine young Jim and Frank doing those same acts.

During one sketch, they wheeled out a giant electronic contraption with two joysticks. The joysticks controlled an animated face that was also projected on the giant screens, like a virtual puppet. They did a sketch (about roller derby), with the physical puppets all interacting with the virtual puppet, while one of the performers stood with his face obscured by the animated face, as if he was the body. I'm not sure if this sort of puppet technology is useful at all. It's a neat idea - build a program with a large set of movements that can be controlled on the spot, rather than animating a character as it is used. It sure was cool.

What I really enjoyed about the whole show was how it was just a celebration of puppetry. Sure, there was improv and special guest stars and Muppets saying bad words, but it was really about the art form. They had the virtual puppet, showing that someone out there is thinking about the modern puppet. And they had a sketch featuring hot dogs, which were just stick puppets. The encore was announced by a shout of "Naked puppets!" and the puppeteers all did a number with just their hands.
That's why the two shows idea is such a brilliant format. A good puppet show can make you forget about the hand behind the curtain, not just by hiding it, but by creating engaging characters. Stuffed and Unstrung constantly reminds you that these things are just puppets, but then they show you why that is awesome.


rain on your wedding day.

There is music coming from the house behind ours. I can't really hear it, but the thumping bass tells me that it is upbeat party music. Their backyard, the site of many Sunday afternoon croquet games and leaf-burning sessions, is decorated with white balloons. It's a wedding reception, a home affair with grilled burgers and hot dogs. We don't know these neighbors very well, but we were invited to the party, most likely to keep us from complaining about the noise. I can see people on the back porch, but the yard itself looks deserted.

It's raining. Someone told me that having rain on your wedding day was a good omen. That sounds like something an optimist would invent on the spot to cheer a stressed bride.

The groom is the neighbor's son, who is twenty years old. His dad told Josh that neither him nor the bride's family was particularly enthusiastic about the event. The couple have known each other for only a short while and will only be together for a short while after today before the groom is deployed again. I sympathize with him. I've been to weddings where a dull anxiety sat in my stomach, keeping me from really enjoying myself. How much worse to have to throw such a wedding. I want to tell him that I have known some such weddings to lead to long-lasting and happy marriages. And then of course there are some couples who marry after years of dating, only to have everything fall apart soon after it becomes official.

Our own news is finally out. There are a certain number of people you have to tell personally, and then everyone else hears about it from the grapevine. I told my family the next day, and spent a week or so sending excited text messages to a different friend every night. Josh waited a week to tell his brother, then another two weeks to tell his mother, then another week after that to let his father know. The news trickled out. Last night, at the bar where Josh was playing, friends greeted me with congratulations, hugs, and high fives.

Everyone has been really happy to find out, to the point of squealing for some (females only). One thing I didn't expect about getting engaged was how much joy it gave other people. If anyone has any doubts about it, I haven't been able to tell. We've been together so long that if anyone had misgivings, they probably would have mentioned it before now. In any case, I'm not worried about it. Though I have had several realizations in the last month about what tying your life to someone else means, none of these epiphanies have made me doubt the decision or the someone.


predatory lending.

A couple of weeks ago, Josh and I were hanging out at his bandmate's house. They were talking about opening a checking account for the band. All they needed to get that going was Josh's signature on the contract. However, he refused to sign. He had read the thing, and found a part about automatic overdraft protection. What happened was that when you tried to debit more from your account then you had, then the bank seemlessly provided those funds and put the debt on a credit line. There was no charge for this service.

Josh said no, no, no, this was a bad idea. He did not want to be going into debt without even knowing it. Do not spend money that you don't have.

The other guys said it was no big deal, they would never even use it. And if they did, it was just an emergency situation. This second argument seemed to directly contradict the first argument, but whatever. Generally, they thought he was getting all upset over nothing.

Finally, the guitarist gave in and said FINE, you handle it. So Josh put on a nice shirt and went down to the bank to talk to an account manager about the fine print. He explained that they would like to open an account here, but that they were not willing to agree to this one clause.

"Oh, we don't even use that contract anymore," the bank lady told him. "We actually took that particular clause out, because our lawyers said it was predatory lending." She gave him the new contract, which he read over and happily signed.

I have no idea how Josh broke this news to the other guys, but I know that I myself would have barely able to contain my glee.



Every time I have to go to a wedding, I complain about buying a gift off the registry. Gift registries make me really cranky. I usually enjoy buying other people gifts, but not when my choices are so limited. Part of the fun of buying someone a present is making the gift fit the relationship between giver and receiver. But when someone asks for a set of Ecru Towels, then I feel like I have to buy just that. But this destroys the whole fun of gifting, because those towels are ultimately meaningless to me and the happy couple. They're just towels. Maybe I should just go around cultivating relationships with people who find towels to be significant.

There is no possible way to register without looking like a jerk, because you are an adult who is writing a letter to Santa. Except that your letter-writing is enabled with a scanner gun that allows you to walk around the store and shoot whatever your little heart desires. Maybe it's just me, but after looking at a registry, I conclude that these people are selfish and I never really liked them anyway. Then I get mad that someone else already fulfilled their towel needs, so I guess I'll have to get them a spice rack.

I understand the practical side of registries. Because weddings are an accepted gift-exchange event, it's fair that people will want to know what to get you. Some of them are little-known relatives or long-ago friends from camp or men, and maybe they don't have a clue as to what you might want or need. My mom used to give everyone towels. I don't know if this was before registries, or if she was just unaware of them, being in possession of a general social cluelessness gene that she thoughtfully passed along to her daughter(s). But she figured that everyone needed towels, so everyone got towels. Mama picked the color, also by going with her own gut. The registry was invented to prevent newlyweds from having ten towels in ten different colors.

Of course, every time I complained about registries, a tiny, sensible part of me tried to overrule the cranky me by saying that it would be different when I got married. I would understand the vital necessity of a bridal registry. I would embrace the scanner gun.

I guess that time has come, but registries make me cranky still. Fortunately, I have a solution. I do not say that my idea will work for every betrothed couple, but it is perfect for us.

We are not registering. We do not want gifts. We don't even want money or gift cards. Keep it.

Here is why this solution works for us:
1. We're marrying late. I will be a thirty-year-old bride. I've been living on my own for nearly eight years now. I have a house, and it is full. So no, there is nothing we need. I've had a good, steady job for the duration, so anything I want badly enough, I can just go buy it for myself. If we were a young couple just starting out, I could understand needing assistance setting up shop. But that is not us. We have towels, a spice rack, a food processor, dishes, a sarcophagus. What would you even buy for a couple who already has a sarcophagus?

2. We don't particularly like new things. 95% of our household items were bought used. None of our stuff matches. Neither of these conditions were brought on by poverty, we live this way because we like it. I don't like things to match; it's boring. I don't want china, as it will never get used and just take up the space that could be given to books or antique puppets.

See? This is brilliance, my friends.

I do understand that some people will want to buy us presents. I totally relate to that. Like I said, I do actually enjoy picking out and giving a present when I'm not forced to stick to a giant scanner-generated list. We will provide alternative ways to honor us. We'll come up with a short list of charities that we like and also encourage the gifter to donate to one that he favors. We will also say that if you really want to give us an actual something, then write us a letter. Fill it with advice, memories, corny jokes, out-of-context quotes, whatever. Enclose pictures. Draw doodles. We don't care what you do, we bet it will be great and we will love it.

I fully expect about two people to write us such a letter. But how we will treasure those letters, much more so than the housewares that we would have gotten from those people otherwise, because it is such a personal token. Some people will probably still show up with white gift bags, and they will be angry at us because they had to randomly pick out a color of towel without knowing what will match our bathroom.

What do you think? Obviously, I think this is a stroke of magnificent inspiration. Josh is sold on it, too. Is there something I am missing?


the fungus.

Josh is kind of a hypochondriac. He has a particular fear of parasites and also any sort of mass poisoning done by the government or large corporations (don't ask). Once he spilled his beer while pouring it and became convinced that he had a degenerative nerve disease. Every time he tried to pour a beer after that, he would spill it, further confirming that he was going the way of Lou Gehrig. At some point, he realized that pouring a beer slowly, which you might do if you were trying hard not to spill it, makes it more likely to spill.

I supply the common sense in the relationship. He brings the imagination. We make it work.

I was telling Lauren about this, and she told me that she was paranoid about catching this kind of fungus for which there is no cure. It's not life-threatening or even oozy. You just get splotchy skin. Every time she gets a little itchy, she becomes convinced that she's caught the fungus.

She further said that she was generally worried about any sort of condition which might affect her physical appearance. She was scared of things that would make her ugly, because then no one would love her. Those were her words. I was a little shocked, though maybe I shouldn't have been. Equating beauty with love is pretty common among women (maybe men, too?). Lauren goes to a lot of trouble to look fantastic. She works out for hours every day, and once, for lunch, I saw her eating plain popcorn and some watermelon. You know, I'd like to be hot, but I think I'd get hungry.

At the time, I was too gobsmacked by her thinking to respond, but later, I felt bad for missing the opportunity to inject a positive message into her life. Such as, hey, ugly people get love, too. Also: love that hinges on whether or not your skin is splotchy is not love.

Her identity is obviously very wrapped up with her appearance. She is The Hot Woman. And that's fine. We are all just going with her natural abilities here. At some point in our individual lives, she realized that she could be hot, and I realized that my strengths were elsewhere. I put next to no effort into my appearance, and that lack of concern is part of my identity. I've found that some men actually like it. Go figure.

Apparently, Lauren's standards of beauty work both ways. She had been dating a guy who had a doctorate in physics, owned a beautiful house, cooked her fantastic dinners, and was apparently a really nice guy. There are many legitimate reasons to break up with such a man, he could have been a puppy-kicker for all I know, but one of the things she mentioned was that he wasn't very attractive. I met him. He was a regular-looking fellow. Big nose, but clean and well-dressed. Her previous boyfriend, admittedly, could have been a model. She complained about him being vain. Sigh.

It makes me wonder how Lauren will approach aging. She may be gorgeous until the end of her days, but at some point, she will stop being "hot" and start being "hot, for her age." There are a myriad of ways to hang on to youth, and, because there is a market, the technology will only improve. It seems like an empty pursuit, though. Even if she manages to keep everything high and tight, she'll still have to worry about fungus. Seems a bit like building a house on the sand.

I certainly don't have to worry that Josh will stop loving me as my looks go, as I've done an excellent job lowering his standards. I just have to worry about those degenerative nerve diseases.



At the grocery store one night, a lady with a couple of tween girls got into line behind me. She put a gallon of milk and a carton of eggs on the belt. The girls added a pack of string cheese and some candy, then ran off to fetch something else. She let out an exasperated sigh, and said, "I just wanted milk and eggs! They always want something more!" Her whole manner was Kids! What can you do, amiright?

I thought of my own mother, who, when I wanted something, would retort, "You got money." The first response that came to my mind was Well, of course they do, if you know you're going to buy it for them.

But hey! I did not say that. It only took twenty-some years, but I finally developed a filter. I learned that people do not respond well to being chastised. Not only does it make them angry, but they use my rudeness as a justification for rejecting my message. It doesn't matter how good your advice is, if it is delivered badly, it will bounce right off. This is called "diplomacy." Josh taught me.

Okay, so Plan A rejected, my brain tried again. You don't have to buy it, you know.

Nope. Rejected again. Still putting the blame on her.

Finally, I spoke. "They should get jobs."

"Ha! You're right! Hey, how old do you have to be to get a job here?" she turned to the cashier.


"Ah, well." She turned to the girls, who were ignoring her completely. "Two more years!" Ha ha ha, kids! Amiright?

This lady will probably continue to allow her daughter to dictate her purchases. But this way, I got to say what I wanted and no one was offended. And maybe, just maybe, it will occur to her someday that if she doesn't want to buy string cheese anymore, she could just stop doing it. She will think back to this moment at the Food Lion and remember the words of the wise-beyond-her-years young woman in front of her, rather than think of that bitch at the grocery store who probably doesn't even have kids, so how does she know.



in grossness.

I got home from work one day this week, and there it was: a little cluster of fingernail clippings. They weren't mine, that was for sure, because I pretty much just let my clippings fall to the floor. I suppose neat little piles are more civilized, if you clean them up. If you leave them sitting there on the living room coffee table for the dog to eat or your fiancee to find, well then my way is clearly much better.

I had a little epiphany right then, about being engaged. These fingernail clippings are going to follow me around for the rest of my life. In fact, I'm going to participate in a ceremony where I will stand in front of everyone I'm willing to pay to feed and promise to deal with fingernail clippings until either me or the grower of those clippings dies. Vowing to stick with a person is romantic, but even with "in sickness and in health" right there in the script, I'd never really thought about sticking with their body or them sticking with mine.

Bodies are gross. I think this is a fundamental fact of life. I met a woman once who was telling me how her bellybutton piercing had popped out as if it had been rejected by the host, a tiny ball of ornamental scar tissue falling to the bathroom floor, and her friends thought it was a nasty story that you should never ever tell in polite company. I shrugged, because I am not polite company, and said, "Having a body is gross." Her eyes lit up like she'd suddenly discovered me to be a kindred. She went on to talk about how she felt like her body was just a vessel for her brain, and I guess she expected me to be excited at her insight, but all I could think was that our brains are the body, too. Hit your head good and hard and you might be a different person than you were.

Having a body is gross, but luckily everyone else has one, too, so it's all even. Some bodies are nicer than others, others are better-maintained, but unless a body meets a terrible accident (gross), it will only get older and grosser.

Intimacy is a concept that expands before me. At first it meant telling secrets, then it included "telling secrets" (wink-wink), and it turns out now that it means fingernail clippings, too. Later, it could mean creating life between us or cleaning bedsores or donating kidneys or changing adult diapers or all of the above, plus more that I don't know enough to imagine. And it's not just me selflessly doing these things for him out of love, it's me letting him do these things for me and seeing that I'm gross, too. I'm not sure which is harder.

I guess it's all the same - sharing the experience of being human. Being gross together, because it sure beats being gross by yourself.



We went to a crazy book sale today put on by the Wake County library system. It was at the fairgrounds, in a building named after some historic North Carolinian who was prominent enough to get a building named after him, but not so much that random visitors would know who he was. He shouldn't feel too bad, though, because it's a big building, about twice the size of my high school gym. And it was full of books. Tables and tables of books. The sale went on all weekend, but we only showed up for the box sale, because that's the kind of people we are. Let the other people come in on Friday and pay $4 a hardback. We'll be happy to be the gleaners, taking what was left behind for $5 a box.

There were just too many books. We could have spent all day there and still not have looked at them all. We only had about an hour to spare. Even with not looking very closely at every single book, I was able to add book after book to my bag. There were a few scanners there, but I didn't mind them at all. I felt as one with everyone in the room. All you people, you are book lovers and therefore my kindred!

I started with a bag, just because it was easiest to procure. I got a large, sturdy plastic bag for each of us (they were from Borders - oh, the irony!), and we jumped in. After a while, the plastic was threatening to give out, and I decided to upgrade. I found an abandoned box and loaded it up. Then I went to find Josh to see how he was coming along. I found him carefully transferring his books from his bag to a box. Predictable.

There was so much. I used my usual criteria - any authors that I already knew that I liked, plus the major award winners. I was pleased to find one by Naguib Mahfouz, who had been recommended to me by a middle-aged Egyptian while his friend hit on my friend. I found some hardback versions of books that I already have in paperback, so I could upgrade my copies and give the others away. And for the heck of it, I picked out a book by Balzac, just because Marian the Librarian liked him so much.

Plus more. So many more. Even though I am now reading more than I ever have in my life, I still don't know how I will ever get to them all. At a book club meeting recently, another woman was considering aloud whether she would ever read the month's selection again. It was a wonderful book. I could see where her mind was going, and I smiled sadly at her and said, "There are just so many books."

It is a good problem to have.