Saturday, December 16, 2006

funny things you won't want to miss

Today has been filled with funny I thought I'd create an interactive post to spread the laughter.

It all started this morning when I got an e-mail saying, "Giana has a posted a comment about you on myspace." So I sign into the site and see that she'd posted the following link:

alyse as the dancing hanukah elf!

Click on it and see what happens ;-)

Myspace also told me I had "video comments"...I had forgotten I even posted videos on there, so I watched them and started rolling around my bed laughing uncontrollably. So here they are:
Posted By:Alyse

Get this video and more at

Description: this video includes inordinate amounts of breakfast food, dixie chicks singing, glasses-wearing, and unintentional hilarity that seems to ensue at every family meal (as my sister pointed out--one of the reasons this is so funny is that within the one minute of footage we're all acting as our typical's on the phone, dad's "in his own world," and my sister and i randomly begin singing at the same time)

Here's the other video (from aruba 1/6/06):
Posted By:Alyse

Get this video and more at

Description: my dad, sister, and i went off-roading in a jeep really early our last morning in aruba...i spotted a crab in the road, my dad stopped and tried to make it dance...the beeping is me falling on the horn and my dad saying "go around!" to a pretend car

I told Giana (one of my roommates senior year) I couldn't stop laughing and she said:
wittynameAQUI: haha
wittynameAQUI: can your family adopt me?
snlhricome: YES
wittynameAQUI: great!
wittynameAQUI: you're all insane, but in a good way.

When I asked Brianna (my freshman college roommate) today if she was going to light a menorah tonight, we both at the same time said: REMEMBER WHEN THE MENORAH KILLED THE WANDERING JEW?? and then simultaneously started's the story...freshman year, the only place for me to put a menorah was on the window ledge in our dorm room. The window ledge also housed a small potted plant, called a Wandering Jew, that my mom gave me when I moved to NYC. You can probably see where this is going....but what happened was the melting wax from the candles in the menorah, unbeknownst to me, fell on the leaves of the plant over a period of 8 days and dried there....therefore suffocating/killing the Wandering Jew. Don't even try and steal the idea because Brianna's already working on the screen play, starring me as the wanderer ;-)

And to top it off, here is a picture I took of my dad last Hanukkah ('05). At first glance one might think he's wearing traditional Jewish gear...but really that's an old, ratty exercise towel around his shoulders. Dressed to impress....not.

Friday, December 15, 2006

a notable phone conversation

During my last year at NYU ('04-'05) I participated in a guinea pig volunteer program where they matched up college students with local Holocaust survivors. My survivor, S. (don't feel exactly right about revealing his name), has lived in the same upper west side studio apartment for the past 43 years. He lost almost his entire family in Poland during the Holocaust and never married. Needless to say, he's been a pretty lonely guy. I know he appreciated my visits because he told me so every time I had to leave. Whether he realizes it or not, I got just as much, if not more, out of our visits as he did. We could count on each other, which is an important quality. My experience with people in NYC never lived up to my high expectations of how people were back home in Chicago. Of course there are a few exceptions, but for the most part, I spent most of my college years alone for one reason or another...usually that someone said they'd be there and they weren't. Anyway, that could be a whole different post...the point here is that S. and I had a consistent companionship that made my whole time away from home worthwhile. (On top of all that, my last grandparent--Grandpa Joe--passed away in February of '05, so for the remainder of my time there, I kind of adopted S. as a grandfather-figure in my life.)

I could probably write a novel based on our visits, but for now, I just wanted to share a funny conversation that happened today.
S. and I don't talk on the phone very often, but I can pretty much count on him to call and wish me a happy whatever Jewish holiday is coming up. In this case, Hanukkah. So he called today to see how I'm doing and inquire about my family...oh and about my "social life"....and about Borat of all things.

Here's a transcription of the conversation (imagine a thick, Polish accent) that ensued:

S: And how is your social life?
A: Good I guess.
S: Well you must have a lot of friends around since you live back home now, right?
A: Actually, a lot of my friends are still scattered around the country, but I'll get to see some of them in the next few weeks while they're home for Christmas.
S: And do you have a nice young man in your life?
(in my head: ahhhhhhhhhhhh why does this always come up?)
A: Well no, I guess not...
S: You know it's important to find a nice young man, Alyse. Because that's what life's all about. Even if it's just dating for fun and it doesn't end up being something serious. It's still important to be social and meet people. That's how you find the right person, right?
(I can't believe an 81-year-old is giving me love advice...)
A: Um, yeah...sure.
(How do I explain to S. that I am just now starting to let my guard down, that I'm trying to trust and open up again...that I'm trying so hard to not let the past interfere with the present? I don't know. So I don't go into it. He doesn't need to know all that.)
S: I know I probably sound like your grandpa.
A: Yeah you kind of do...
(Every time I visited my grandpa when I came home on breaks from college, he'd say things to me like, "I bet you have to beat boys away from your door with a baseball bat." "Yeah something like that, Grandpa," I'd respond, sarcastically smiling and rolling my eyes. "You just remember that if one of those boys treats you bad, they'll have to answer to your Grandpa Joe." "Would you hit them with a baseball bat for me, Grandpa?" "I would." "That's so sweet." Let's just say there are some [who shall remain nameless] that better appreciate their unbroken kneecaps, for I never told Grandpa Joe the truth.)
S: Well it's important you know.
A: Yeah I know...I'm trying.
* * *
S: So, tell me Alyse--Is Borat playing in Chicago?
A: Um, yes...
(Oh we go...)
S: Did you go see it?
A: Yeah...Did you see it??
S: I did, yes. Of course I read about it because it was all over the news. I wanted to see what kind of meshugga would make such a movie. You know that word? Meshugga?
A: Haha, yeah (and take note that just yesterday my dad pointed out that word in a painting--see previous post)
A: Did you like it?
(I brace myself for a lecture about morals and ethics...I don't know which would be more uncomfortable--seeing the movie with a 12-year-old, which i did or with an 81-year-old Jewish republican.)
S: I did. Yes, I found it funny. I've seen funnier, but I laughed at several parts.
A: Wow...yeah, I pretty much felt the same.
S: Sacha Cohen is pretty brilliant you know. He points out all that is wrong in the world through humor.
(I can't believe what I'm hearing.)
S. went on to say that he found the inclusion of naked men wrestling each other "depraving," but other than that, it was rather enjoyable. And smart.

I always feel awful because every time we talk he asks me if I've heard anything back from any resumés I've sent out to businesses in NY. He wants me to move back there so we can resume our "weekly meetings" (as he called them). For awhile I didn't have the heart to tell him that I quit trying to get a job out there. Today I tell him in a more roundabout way that, for now, I'm pretty much obligated to stay in Chicago until August. He asks me then if I have any visits planned. I said I'm hoping to come out there in January or February. "Oh good--I was hoping you'd be able to fit in a winter visit." So there's my motivation. Now I just have to pick a weekend and buy a ticket. Anyone up for a trip?

(photo: for my final photo project, i asked S. if he'd mind being the subject. for the presentation i hung up two 16X20 prints and about ten 4X6 prints, interspersed with excerpts from the journal i kept of our visits. i also had a cd player with headphones so viewers listened to The Pianist soundtrack as they looked at/read the stuff pinned to the wall. now it's all in a book format.
this is my favorite picture from the project. if not my favorite picture of all time.)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

a day in my life--dad's visit/second city marathon

I didn't write yesterday because I think I was in the house total 30 minutes from the time I woke up in the morning...I drove Max to school, my dad came to visit for the afternoon, regular after-school duties of grocery store runs, walking the dogs, and driving to/from'd think that'd be enough for a day, but it didn't stop there. I then continued on to Second City for their 5th annual, 24-hour "Dear Santa" fundraiser...where I sat from 8 p.m. till 2 a.m. laughing a lot and listening to Jeff Tweedy (among other musicians) perform mere feet away from where I was sitting. I dropped my friend Andrew off there amidst my chaotic schedule to get the tickets/seats at 6 and met him back there at 8. He saved me an awesome seat two rows from the front of the stage. I have to admit that when I was standing at the bus stop at 7:30 by myself in the rain, all I could think about was going to bed. But I kept telling myself that it was one day out of the year and to suck it up. I ended up only being tired the first 45 minutes or so, and from that point on, it was like the ultimate second wind hit me, and I couldn't get enough of it. I'd venture to say it was the most worthwhile $10 I've ever spent. That's right--it only cost $10 (I might still go back for an hour later today while Max is at tutoring around the corner). Anyway, this post will be more like a photo essay format, as I took a lot of pictures yesterday. So here goes.

Jenny is really the only one who'll understand the significance of this photo (we were at a restaurant with our parents and the waitress asked "who has the pepsis?" and my dad responded, "the dudes.") Anyway, after the Hull House (no pictures because I felt like I was gonna faint the whole time we were there), we went to Tomato Head for lunch in the West Loop. When we were done eating, my dad walked down the hall to the bathrooms and I heard him go, "DUDE!" when he saw the door, and then as he passed by the women's one, he waved at it and yelled, "HELLO!" (because the door said "Dollies"...get it?)

After lunch we walked a few blocks down Randolph, intending to turn on Peoria to walk through some art galleries. But my dad got distracted by the flashing "Chicago's Chocolate Café" sign and so we went in there first. I got a Mexican hot chocolate, while he savored his favorite thing--fudge, while clearly displaying his other favorite thing (see hat and ring)--the Yankees.

For the past six years or so my dad and I have made it a tradition to spend a day together looking at art in galleries or museums once or twice a year. I love doing this with him because he gets so blown away by people's artwork. Even if he doesn't like everything he sees, aesthetically-speaking, he'll still marvel at the "amount of creativity people have." I find it more fun to look at art with him than say a fellow artist because he's coming from a scientific point of view, whereas other artists can get too pretentious for my liking.
This is my dad at the Rhona Hoffman Gallery pointing out that both my mom's name ("Bon"nie...part of "Bonkers") and his ("Loo" [really Lou]...part of "Loon") appeared on the painting.
It also was funny to hear him yell out, "Yo!" from the other side of the gallery, after I presume he'd read words such as "shithead" and "fuck up."
[Artist: Mel Bochner..."'Obscene,' 'Money,' 'Stupid,' 'Meaningless' and other recent paintings on black velvet"]

I liked this jacket. Part of the "Poetry: Literal, Visual & Otherwise" show at moniquemeloche gallery.
[Artist/Writer: Jason Pickleman]

"This looks like cheese!" My dad said. "You know...those cheese slices...Kraft!..Kraft singles!" Sure enough, as we left the room, we looked at the paintings' titles, and that one was called, "Defender of the Cheese." He doesn't give himself enough credit.
[Artist: Chris Cosnowski, part of the "Civic-minded" show at gescheidle gallery]

"Half a ram, huh? Well I suppose it's better to have half a ram than none at all."
[i forgot to write down where we were...but it was a gallery right next to the Tomato Head on our way back to the car...i think the exhibit was called "The Human Condition"?]

You can't tell, but my dad is in the driver's seat of that minivan. No, not our car. The lady in the passenger seat said her husband would be right out, but they were blocking us in, so the lady told him he could get in and move it. So he did. Upon getting back into my car, he goes, "I wonder what she would have done if I drove away."

Horatio Sanz flew in from NYC to participate in the Second City 24-hour fundraiser. Reminded me of my days at SNL. I wondered if he'd recognize me, seeing as I happened to be wearing the same zip up sweatshirt I wore pretty much every day when I worked there.

Jeff Tweedy mostly talked and had a Q&A with the audience. I couldn't think of anything not stupid to ask, so I just sat quietly and snapped pictures. He took audience requests for the two songs he played. The girl in front of me raised her hand and requested "Please tell my Brother," to which she got a teary-eyed response about how he can't play that song right now because his mom died very recently and it hurts too much. That made me sad for him. Someone else requested "Passenger Side," which he played. I raised my hand the second time to request "Box Full of Letters," but he called on someone else. Second--"White Light" (i think that's what it's called?'s a new one)

This is Jeff posing as the bids kept going higher and higher. The auctioned prize: a private concert of a 20-song playlist (that you decide) in your home for you and 29 of your closest friends. I was willing to bid a few hundred dollars, thinking that'd be the coolest thing I could ever host for my friends...the first bid was $2,000! Guess how much it ended up going for....$17,500!!! And not just that, he said he'd be willing to do 3 shows if the remaining bidders would all match the price. So with that prize alone, $52,500!!!, they almost hit last year's total earnings within the first two hours of the event!

Sally Timms and Jon Langford sang a few duets, one being a quite beautiful rendition of Roy Orbison's "Blue Eyes Cryin' in the Rain."

Robbie Fulks and his friend (name?) took the stage around 1 a.m. He looked remarkably like Conan O'Brien (height and everything) and sang catchy rhythmic tunes. He also did a rap called "Rap of the Dead" that he said is a personal New Year's tradition where he raps about all the prominent people who've died in the past year. We were his practice audience, as he said he wrote it the night before and needs to memorize it in the next few weeks.

The friend sat out for a few songs and watched Robbie play front and center from the audience.

For their last song, people started shouting out requests. Two being "Man in the Mirror" and "Dancing Queen." Robbie, without hesitation, started in on an acoustic version of the suggested Michael Jackson classic...."I'm gonna make a change for once in my life..." This prompted his friend to run backstage and then reappear with a GIANT drum and an umbrella to use as a mallet. It was so fun because everyone sang/clapped along...then somehow morphed the ending of the song into the beginning of Abba's "Dancing Queen" and back again. It was pretty incredible...and hard for me to refrain from starting a full out dance party.

Before taking off for the night (around 2...) we got to witness Joe Canale's (current mainstage cast member) three friends (also cast members) bid $400 each to get 7 chances each to throw a football at Joe's crotch. This made me cringe, but it was an awkward time to get up and leave. This is Joe sticking out his tongue at his friend "up to bat."

Notice the unfortunate location of the oncoming blurred football....

Today, as I mentioned I might do at the start of this post, I went back there for just over an hour while Max was in tutoring around the corner. The cast members from last night were all donning glasses now, but their enthusiasm hadn't diminished. Especially when The Blisters--a band made up of 11-year-old boys, the drummer being Jeff Tweedy's son, Spencer--took the stage. You wouldn't expect much out of a pre-teen three-some (one band member couldn't make it, usually there's 4), but they seriously rocked that place! And the best part was that at the end, the lead singer kid (Henry I think?) goes, "Those were all original songs." WHAT?! Everyone in the room flipped out when he said that because they were that great. They left the stage and everyone started chanting, "BLIS-TERS! BLIS-TERS! BLIS-TERS!!" They jumped back on from backstage to play a two-song encore--"Keep on Rockin' in the Free World" and one of my favorites (because it reminds me of Forrest Gump dancing in his new shoes from Jenny), "Sweet Home Alabama." So glad I decided to stop back in there for a little bit.

I'm anxious to hear what the total amount of rundraising ended up being. Let's just say 12 Chicagoan families' lives are going to soon change for the better! If anyone wants to help out, they said anyone can go to the main post office downtown and get a "Dear Santa" letter to help out a kid or a family in need. Think about it.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

all i want for christmas...i mean, you

I do not despise Christmas music. There I said it. I do not, however, approve of the carols intruding on radio waves, TV commercials, and shopping mall sound systems before it's even time for Thanksgiving. Once December hits, though, my disapproval tends to vanish and in its place come the waves of welcomed nostalgia.

I'm not talking about mistletoe action (I don't think I've ever seen mistletoe in person--does it even exist?) or decorating Christmas trees (I've never had one, although I do remember helping a childhood friend, Sara, and her mom decorate theirs while singing "My Favorite Things")
I'm talking about the hilarity of being pretty much the only Jew in the 'hood during the Christmas [and a few other holidays thrown in there] season...

Of course I acted as seasonally-deprived as any solo Jewish kid growing up in the NW suburbs of Chicago would act--I begged my mom to hang stockings for "Hanukkah Harry" (there's a funny SNL skit, circa 1995/6? about this), to adorn the outside of our house with blue lights, or or to at least decorate a Hanukkah bush--I' wasn't even suggesting a full tree, here; any plant would do.
But my mom fought back and told me that just because you change the color/shape of things doesn't mean it's not still rooted in Christmas tradition. Therefore, I settled for removable window decals of dreidels and Jewish stars and an electric menorah, which I chose to display in the living room--the front room in our house--so that it all could be seen from outside. And every night I made sure I twisted another light bulb to help the neighbors keep track of the days.

Up until sixth grade I was an extremely shy kid. The only thing I remember bothering me enough that I spoke up was when my mom and I were at the local Jewel getting groceries one time and the checkout girl looked down at me and said, "Merry Christmas!" after she finished putting our bags in the cart. "We're Jewish," I said, defiantly. "We don't celebrate Christmas." My mom quickly ushered me out, and although I'm sure she found it funny, she told me not to waste my breath and that I'm going to be hearing that the rest of my life.

Then there was the time my little sister told the two little neighbor girls at the bus stop that Santa wasn't real, which sent them running home, hysterically crying to their mothers. My mom received many a pissed-off phone calls that night--how dare she say that/it's not her responsibility/we don't know what to do now--poor Katie is heartbroken.... you get the idea. Maybe they'll write a book someday called How the Jew Stole Christmas. I'm not sure how my mom responded...I mean I'm sure she apologized, but I hope she also mentioned that my sister was five and gave her proper credit for being a damn smart kindergartner.
Speaking of Santa, though, I still to this day believe that I saw him and his reindeer flying in the distant sky. One Christmas eve I snuck into Sheri's room while she was asleep because her window faced the front of the house. I opened her blinds and sat on the floor waiting. I saw him way out there (or a plane...) but never told a soul.

In December I wanted candy canes and poinsettias, but my mom force fed me the kitschy side of Judaism by giving me chocolate gelt and books with titles such as, Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins.
I wanted more than the one token Hanukkah song in the annual school Christmas concert--the one that kicked off Christmas break (at some point, the school district replaced both "Christmas" titles with the word "holiday" would not surprise me if my mom someday owned up to being the instigator of that one)
I will admit, though, that I did feel special during that one song...shout out to Peter Yarrow for remembering the Jewish children..."Light one candle for the Maccabee children, with thanks that their light didn't diiiieeeeee"...because who else on those choir risers, besides myself and my friend Abbey, even knew what a Maccabee was? I mean if you have no point of reference, it sounds like a kind of cookie, and to anyone else it might as well have been that because we sang about gingerbread cookies, so why not the Jewish kind too? (but, no, we don't have Hanukkah cookies...we have Hanukkah latkes [potato pancakes] even if my classmates didn't care when Hanukkah was, they'd know anyway because for over a week I'd come to school smelling like fried food)
I felt as though I was under a spotlight and the song was directed towards me and my proud parents sitting in the audience. And I sang that song with the amount of intensity that I felt those lyrics deserved--which was a lot. After all, this is a song about the destruction of a temple and about not failing "your people" and about keeping the light alive! This is not about snowmen that suddenly come to life or about catching your mom making out with a fat, bearded, old guy. People don't mess with Hanukkah songs, whereas Christmas songs turn into "Jingle bells Batman smells Robin laid an egg..." or "Sheri the red-nosed person..." Ok, well I made that one up (obviously to the tune about Rudolph the reindeer) to poke fun at my sister for always having a bright red nose whenever she came down with a cold. I still have all my made-up lyrics memorized and like to tease her with them whenever I think of it. She still doesn't think it's funny.

Ok, kidding aside, there is still something about the music of the season. Yesterday I took Max ice skating in Millenium Park. It was my day off, but I felt bad that both his parents were on call at the hospital, and he'd otherwise be stuck in the house all day. I won't lie--I was quite exhausted from going out to celebrate a friend's birthday (coincidentally, Abbey) the night before. But as soon as I heard "Jingle Bell Rock" as we approached the rink, something inside of me snapped and I became just another stupidly-grinning spectator. "Santa Baby" came on next, and I tried to embarrass Max by recreating a number I once performed in my dancing days.

A week ago I was at Target with my friend Lindsay. She was picking out a Christmas tree, so that she and her boyfriend could spend the night decorating it. I was in a playful mood anticipating the evening as well (although it involved plans falling through and going to bed some time before 10:00) and decided to walk past the panel of Christmas music buttons and slyly press the Mariah Carey one...three times in a row...and proceeded to shamelessly dance around the aisle to "All I want for Christmas is you." Sometimes you gotta just act on your feelings...

This past Friday, December 8, was a big day in music history. Jim Morrison was born, The Beach Boys released their debut album, Surfin', and John Lennon was assassinated by Mark Chapman. Lennon's song, "Happy Xmas/The War is Over," gets me every time. There is something about those first few notes, when he begins singing, "So this is Christmas..." I think it's that contrast of feelings...the song just makes me want to love someone, and at the same time makes me sad for the world we live in. "War is over/If you want it/War is over now." Peter Yarrow sends the same message in his Hanukkah classic...

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
Pain we learned so long ago
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts

I know I'm jumping the gun on the holidays, as the Festival of Lights doesn't even begin till Friday, but let's make this upcoming year a lucky #(200)7 and hope for peace.

To finish off this (already long) post, I thought I'd share something I wrote a few years ago. It's a recollection of my time working at Zany Brainy in high school--it goes along with my "don't be an asshole posting" as well as this one--you'll see....enjoy.

“Thumper to treasure island! Thumper to treasure island!” Every time I hear my name being paged over the intercom I instinctively glance around to see if anyone has spied me not doing my assigned job for the day—cleaning Bright Start or flattening boxes in Never Never Land. Today I am watching Tarzan on one of four squishy benches in front of the big screen TV at the back of the store. I am supposed to be re-shelving the new volumes of the Harry Potter series. Rolling my eyes, I tear myself away from the gorilla/human love affair and head to the front counter.

“I need you to stay up here for the rest of the day,” Mufasa instructs me. “Buzz Lightyear called in sick and I have a conference call with district managers all afternoon….that is if Tigger ever gets here.”

I don’t mind this, as being behind the cash registers means I can hide a book under the counter and read while overly eager middle-aged women devour the new displays of Pokemon accessories—board games, stickers, plastic card protectors. The actual packs of cards are behind the counter with me, safe from the hands and shifty eyes of Captain Hooks.
Before Mufasa disappears into his lair at the back of the store, Tigger (aka: Kathy) enters the store frantically, late as usual. But she’s the other manager so it’s ok for her to show up when she pleases. She is an extremely small-framed woman, with a messy braid of hair that is dyed a different color every time I see her--one of those colors that’s meant to look natural but ends up looking faker than if she was to dye it true blue. Brian (ahem, excuse me, Mufasa) stands with his arms crossed over his chest, always looking like he’s going to snicker at something. They exchange muffled greetings. Kathy joins me behind the counter. I discreetly drop Freckle Juice by Judy Blume into the pile of Zany Brainy plastic bags in front of me. She looks over the clip-boarded schedule in a rush then turns to me and says, “Change of plans girlfriend. Call Carrie up here to take over for you, and I want you to climb over this wall into the window display and decorate the window for the upcoming annual train sale.” At first I think she’s kidding; our store is the only one that doesn’t actually have room for a window display—estimated size of one and a half feet from window to wall and a length of maybe six feet. But I can tell she’s not in a kidding mood as she’s already heading to the back with Brian while instructing Heimlich (Jason) to get me the bucket of window paints.

“Flower to Treasure Island! Flower to Treasure Island!” I suppress the urge to pronounce island, is-land. But I do laugh while making the store-wide page. Can’t help it. Carrie is my best friend. We’ve both been “certified kidsultants” here at Zany Brainy since the store’s grand opening over a year ago. My first day on the job I was instructed to dress up as Madeline, the girl from that children’s book series. Two of my co-workers, Buzz and Nala (John and Lori), helped me into the costume, and John stood with me on the corner of Golf Road for over 60 minutes waving at cars passing by during rush hour.

Carrie appears in front of me. “Nice giggling there Thumper.”
“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” I can’t lay my finger on it, but at some point while working here I brainwashed myself into thinking that I actually am an animated rabbit from Bambi.
I fill her in. “Yeah, so I’m going to go display myself in the window.” This window is located right behind the wall of Pokemon cards. I consider this lucky because usually they assign me and Carrie to completely different sections of the store—she in Good Sports, me in Let’s Pretend, or she in Young Builders and me in Our Planet. But now we get to be within feet of each other. Jason brings me the decorated bucket of window paints then returns to straightening Creativity.
I feel bad that he’s the only kidsultant on the floor, but I have to begin my masterpiece. I take off my shoes. First step to feeling free. The phone rings. Carrie’s busy ringing up someone’s purchase, so I reach over the wall, alarming her customer who just sees an arm. I try and remember the greeting but can’t even spit out my own name.

“Hi this is Thump…Alyse…thank you for calling Zany Brainy Schaumburg, starting the one week countdown to the annual Brio and Thomas train sale, how can I help you?”

The voice on the other end belongs to someone no older than seven. “Hi my mom told me to call you and ask if you have any of the new Beanie Babies?”

“No sorry tell her we haven’t gotten them in yet.”

“MOMMMMMMM!!! THE LADY SAID NOT YET!” I hold the phone away from my ear. When did I become a lady? The kid doesn’t say anything else to me and forgets he’s even on the phone so I cheerfully say, “Have a zany day!” and hang up. That was a lame thing to say, I think. Back to work.

First I use the black paint to draw a railroad track curving along the length of the glass, about even with my shoulders. As I add a few colored boxcars I notice that a man heading solo into EMS Sports, our next-door neighbor, has paused on the sidewalk watching my window with an impish grin. I forgot that people can see in windows and discover that “Never Had a Friend Like Me,” from Aladdin, which is playing in here, has infected my legs and without asking they’ve been recreating an old tap dance. This is not that kind of window display, buddy, keep walking.

“Hey Carrie?”


“Do you think if I stood in the window naked we would attract more or less customers?”


“I was just curious because this guy seems to think that I’m going to be doing more than just painting trains.”


“I’m just kidding. I wouldn’t actually take my clothes off in a window!” and wink at her.

Finally he leaves. I wave goodbye to his back. I’m beginning to grow fond of my small area and in big, celebratory cursive letters I write “ANNUAL TRAIN SALE!!!!” Then I realize that kids can’t read cursive so I ask Carrie to ask Jason to bring me Windex.

“Heimlich to Sherwood Forest please…I mean…wait…I meant Treasure Island…and bring Windex for Thumper.”

We both find this hysterically funny. He brings me the Windex and paper towels and I spray and erase my cursive. When I put the Windex bottle down I don’t notice that the cap isn’t on all the way….that is until about ten minutes later when my socks are suddenly wet and I realize I’ve only been inhaling cleaning solution fumes.

“Hey! If someone doesn’t bring me more paper towels, we are going to have one high bunny hopping around!”

There is an anonymous downpour of paper towels, and I spend a few minutes cleaning up the mess I made. I throw the soaked towels one by one over the wall, hoping to score a few baskets with the garbage can on the other side. Anything to stay amused.

Just for kicks I decide to add a smiling face to the sun and little tufts of grass with a waving conductor by the tracks. And instead of dancing along with the music in the store, I find myself singing to the new song that’s come on—Phil Colins’ “You’ll Be in My Heart” from Tarzan. “Why can’t they understand the way we feel/They just don’t trust what they can’t explain…” It shocks me that Disney can be so profound at times. I make a mental note on why this lyric directly applies to my life.

“Sorry.” Carrie is apologizing to the customer buying fifteen decks of Pokemon cards. “My friend is decorating the window.”

Kathy unfailingly returns a few minutes later. Carrie has to leave for ice skating practice, so I’m back on the cash registers. Enter: heavyset woman, one of our regulars, Beanie Baby extraordinaire. As usual she makes a beeline for the shelves of miniature animals in Let’s Pretend, directly to the left of the front door. It is customary for her to leave in a huff if we don’t have the latest and greatest. But today is a special day and she decides to ask my assistance.

“Do you have Li-BEAR-ty??”

“Nope, sorry,” I say.

“I checked over there and didn’t see any.”

“That’s because we don’t have it,” I try and say this sans sarcasm.

“But I believe from my Beanie Newsletter that it was released for sale on Monday.”

That’s today.

“I’m really sorry, I’m sure we’ll get them in eventually. Usually we get new shipments on Fridays….”

“Fine. What time do you open on Fridays?”


“I’m gonna call at 8:30 then to see.”

“If you want to.”

And she leaves in disgust. I have a feeling I just ruined her entire day. Maybe her entire life. Who knows.

Hours pass and in this time I’ve finished reading Freckle Juice and The Giver. Jason’s shift ends and I’m left as the last kidsultant in the whole store, while the two managers are still on the phone in their office.
In comes a suited woman with matching jewelry, dark sunglasses, and a designer scarf that no doubt serves no purpose other than making one look like they have extra cash lying around, wrapped meticulously around her neck. She is determined and finds exactly what she needs and is face to face with me within minutes. As I’m ringing up her Harry Potter collection and a soccer ball I ask her if she’d like to take advantage of our complimentary gift-wrapping.

“What kind of paper do you have?” she asks, hurriedly.

“Birthday, Christmas, Hanukkah, and a general colorful one.”

“Well Christmas of course! Hanukkah isn’t even a real holiday!”

This is unbelievable. I hastily bring her things over to the gift-wrapping portion of the counter and attempt wrapping the soccer ball. She decides I’m not going fast enough for her busy schedule so she takes the boxed Harry Potter set and finishes wrapping it in record time. I am silently cursing spherical objects, gold wrapping paper, and whoever originally deemed customers always being right.

“Thanks. You’re a doll.”

And you’re an ignorant bitch.

Instead I say, “Don’t forget to celebrate GOOZBOHS with us this weekend!” with manufactured holiday cheer and hand her a copy of the November activities calendar.

“Excuse me?”

“Grand Opening Of Zany Brainy’s One Hundredth Store.”

She pivots on her high heels and exits the premises.

It’s closing time, thank goodness. But there are still the bathrooms to clean and on my way to them I find a dirty diaper sitting on a shelf in Bright Start. I think this counts more as a Dead End. As I scrub the toilets and wipe down the mirrors Kathy and Brian are sharing pizza in the office with the door open. They don’t invite me to join them. I swear to myself that I will never again work in retail. In the basement, after retiring my purple apron for the night, I accidentally bang the side of my thumb against the solid metal handrail when I begin to ascend back to the store level. It feels like I broke half my hand but I just want to leave this place. I head out to my car in the parking lot, loving the silence of this night.

(photo 1: my mom took this of me in sunday school, probably around 1987...i think this picture is hilarious because i'm pretty sure i still--frequently--make that same face

photo 2: taken last decemeber ('05) before my friend's "ugly holiday sweater" party...abbey and i made those sweatshirts from scratch and walked around with the battery packs in our pockets the whole night....and took home first place!)

try not to be an asshole this holiday season

My friend Lindsay and I went to Santullo's for dinner last night. It's the only place I've found within walking distance that serves pizza by the slice. As we were finishing up our meal, ready to leave and head to our friend's birthday party, two of the guys working behind the counter start yelling, "HEY MAN! NO COKE! NO COKE MAN!" several times.
Startled, I turned towards the pop machine behind me to see who they were yelling at. A homeless man stood there in layers of winter clothes with headphones on over his hat. It took him several more scoldings from the punks behind the counter to realize they were yelling at him. He was holding a designated water cup--the cheap, clear, plastic kind kept next to the pop machine. Inside, the amount of Coke he had dispensed just barely covered the bottom.
The man, in a normal-toned voice level, tried explaining to the guys that the people who usually work there let him get Coke. But the music was loud, and it didn't seem like the guys working were even trying to understand what he was telling them. "ONLY WATER!" they responded.
Embarrassed for them, I turned to the man with the water cup and offered him my cardboard cup, one that he could actually fill with Coke. He was too proud to get it himself, stealing glances at the annoyed eyes behind the counter, so i got up to fill it for him.
I couldn't hear much of what he said in return because the music was so goddamn loud, but I did catch, "If i wanted water, I could get that anywhere" and went on about how he only knew one guy behind the counter, but they should all know him because he's lived across the street for five years. He motioned to an empty lot on the opposite side of North Avenue. He thanked me and went back outside.
Soon after, Lindsay and I left, and there he was outside standing beside a shopping cart filled with his belongings, including two or three large teddy bears. Again, he told us how people there should know him and again pointed to the empty lot where he lives. All we could do was nod in agreement. The three of us exchanged, "Happy Holidays" greetings and parted ways.

Now, I'm not sharing this story to get any pats on the back or "that was really nice of you"s. It's just common's not like the man stumbled in there, completely disruptive to the other fact, I'm sure no one even noticed him until the guys started yelling "NO COKE! NO COKE!" What difference does it make if you let the man have some pop for free?? This is supposed to be the season of giving, not the season of yelling at people who are less fortunate. I mean this is something we should remember all year round, but especially now, especially in the sometimes unbearable Chicago winter.

(both photos were taken on Valentine's Day '06, when it was just me and my dad for the night...i ordered us heart-shaped pizzas from lou malnati's)

Friday, December 8, 2006

moroccan memories

I accidentally fell asleep a few hours ago and just woke up. It's 1:00 a.m., which means this post will probably be recorded on the 8th rather than the 7th, therefore already messing with my idea of posting daily. Shit.
Ok i'm over it. <>
Even though I just chastised myself yesterday about making clear that this is a writing blog, not a pasting-old-stuff blog, I decided to already break the rule again. Since I love to travel, and since I've been rediscovering stuff I wrote while living abroad or in NYC--I'm going to allow myself to post those things as well. At any rate, it'll at least give me the chance to combine words and pictures. <>
So here's my travel-logue of sorts from my weekend trip to Tangier, Morocco. <>
January 29, 2004 <>
I am sitting alone in a florescent-lit dining car on an overnight train to southern Spain. It’s 4:20 in the morning. The sleeping car was impossible to sleep in—four seats facing four seats with barely any legroom and stale air. One little student kept coughing. One little student listened to loud music. One little student chewed gum. One little student snored. And this little student climbed over legs and made her way sluggishly to another stale, yet roomier car. The floor is covered in discarded cigarette ash. A few of the tables have tiny ashtrays, which cradle cigarette stubs and reflect the hospital lighting quite well in the metallic gold foil. The seats have various stains, and the tabletops are a dull blue-gray with names scratched in. Noelia A.R. ‘heart’ Marc G.M. TESTIMO. I consider contributing to the graffiti, but I don’t have the patience. Besides, there’s no name to add after a heart. I’ve had to pee since we boarded at 11. <>
January 30, 2004 <>
I officially have a Tangier stamp in my passport. I woke up this morning when a man touched my arm and said in a British accent, “You should really wake up or you’ll miss out on this beautiful view.” My hand was entirely numb from sleeping on top of it, while guarding my bag by using it as a pillow. I mumbled something to him and tried to smile appreciatively. I am not what you would call a "morning person." I couldn’t see without my glasses, which had fallen off my face and onto the book beside me while I was sleeping. He asked me where I was getting off and I said I didn’t know. He cocked his head and said, “Oh, I thought you were English.” Never got that one before. I apologized for not being English. “Well I best be going. The next stop is mine,” he said and stood a moment looking at me. “Ok, well thanks for waking me up.” And I meant it. When he left I put on my glasses and saw what he had wanted me to see. Exotic green everywhere, small white shacks, huge bird nests atop phone poles, almost every one with a stork standing guard, and a stray horse grazing here and there. This is the Spain I had daydreamed about. It was almost nine in the morning. Our stop was soon after. All nine of us girls got off the train together, eager to start our adventure in a land where women are known to be restrained in a male-dominated society. <>
We had four hours until our ferry departed to Tangier. Half of us walked into town, found a coffee shop to sit in for a while and drank some café con leche to wake us up. It rained the whole time we wandered the streets. We trekked our way to El Corte Inglés (a department chain in Spain) to buy ponchos, but by the time we finally left, in a hurry to make the boat on time, it had stopped raining. The leftover air smelled like a soaked zoo. I fell asleep for most of the three-hour trip across the Strait of Gibraltar, again bent over a table, with my head on my bag and my body giving into the motion of the waves. <>
A well-dressed man, a Moroccan native named Abdul, pulled the nine of us aside as soon as we entered the port in Tangier and in practiced English offered to be our tour guide for the weekend; all he asked for was three Euros a piece. We rode in a van to the Hotel Saluzar, which was right on the beach. In the lobby there was a magnificent staircase that wound widely to the top floor. There, on the ceiling, a painting of a gold sky with white clouds. As I looked up and turned around myself I felt like I was inside an Escher drawing. The doors to our rooms were a bold blue with black art deco style numbers. The room key looked like it would open the secret garden and was attached to a large, heavy metal keychain, which had the name and address of the hotel imprinted on the back. <>
Abdul took us to the central market in “old town” where we rushed through the labyrinth of meandering narrow passageways, crammed with robed people, barrels of spices, and rows of hanging headless chickens. I told myself I might never eat meat again. Stray cats…stray kids…I stayed away from the men following us with their Moroccan merchandise. One kept my pace and listed off states, “Michigan…Missouri…Mississippi.” Morocco. I am in Morocco. Half the time I thought I was in the Moroccan section of Epcot Center. I forgot we were outside until I thrust my face up and there in a patch of black between the jagged roofs, a quarter of the moon revealed itself. <>
We had a traditional dinner, careful to avoid any raw vegetables or tap water. It began with spicy vegetable soup and bread, followed by an appetizer pie with ground up chicken, apricots, onions, and cinnamon (which everyone liked so much, we ordered a second one…months later we found out we actually misheard our waiter, and what we ate was pigeon pie, a common Moroccan dish.) Then the main entrée—couscous with seven vegetables and chicken (or pigeon??). We finished it off with their specialty mint tea. I kept my Fanta Límon bottle because the label was printed in Arabic. The restaurant remained empty the whole time we were there, except for Abdul and some of the staff gambling at a table in the back. A girl in the street started crying when her friends pushed her down. Little boys came up to the window behind our table and stuck their hands out, palms flat up. Their eyes opened wider as they looked from dangly earrings on some to the designer glasses resting on uncovered heads of others. They learn to ask for money at a young age. <>
When we got back to the hotel an older native man, petite, approached me before I made it inside. “Are you English?” he asked me. Twice in one day. Weird. <>
January 31, 2004 <>
This morning we took a two hour bus tour with a bunch of old, happy, Spanish people. Abdul sat in the back with us. The tour guide up front with the microphone spoke in Spanish the whole time, so I zoned out and gazed out the window. We went around the outskirts of Tangier, through a neighborhood with impressive houses both in size and design. This part of town was called, not surprisingly, “California.” We stopped on the side of the road later on to take pictures of the panoramic view. The road looked like it ran right out to sea—or the sky above the sea. As the bus came to a halt, I noticed a short man wearing a sombrero coming up onto the road opposite the bus with two donkeys. I rushed to get off the bus to take what appeared to be the perfect picture, but apparently he waits on the side of the mountain every day for the tour bus to stop in the same spot. I took pictures anyway. Next stop—camel rides. We each paid a euro to climb aboard a camel and walk in a circle for probably less than a minute. The weather was beautiful and some of us had rolled up our jeans to our knees and joked about showing our ankles in such a country. <>
The nine of us, plus Abdul, got dropped off in the marketplace again. It was nice to see the operation in daylight. We walked to a “famous” hotel to use their bathroom and got sucked into their large shop of trinkets for an hour. The terrace had been used in some movie, and the owner had faded pictures of him with Francis Ford Coppola and John Malkovich, among others, behind protective glass on the countertop. He recited all the area codes of our hometown cities. I don’t remember why he knew such a list. While I was browsing the random collection of jewelry and wooden boxes he approached me and said very close to my face, “You with the freckles—you know what you look like?” I don’t think I want to know, I replied, thinking of all the people in New York who frequently stopped me on the street to ask if I was Chelsea Clinton. “The sky with the stars.” Well that’s one way to gain customers. I bought two necklaces, 20 postcards (because when else are my friends going to receive a postcard from Morocco…), and a goblet-like shot glass to add to my now-international collection. We left the hotel and continued on to a building with an indoor narrow mosaic staircase that led to the roof where we had a fantastic view of the monochromatic houses stacked along the hill, many with Technicolor laundry hung out to dry. When we descended back into the main room the vendor did a show with his collection of rugs. He asked for a volunteer and I, the only one willing to take my shoes and socks off, pranced around the different materials and blandly described to the other girls how they each felt. "Feels good..." <>
The next place we went was an herbal pharmacy where we sat on a bench that ran the length of the wall and listened to a man talk about different Moroccan spices and medicines. He passed each one down the line of Americans for us to smell. He demonstrated how to cure migraines, snoring, and stuffed sinuses by putting a few tablespoons of crushed black eucalyptus into a handkerchief pouch, rubbing it against his palm to create friction and then walking up to us one by one to have us inhale in each nostril. It looked like black cocaine. I was the last in line. Only one girl turned it down. The rest hadn’t died yet so I figured I’d give it a go. After all, it was “all-natural.” And it was awesome. I bought some for my mom, being that she's a pharmacist, herself, and suffers from migraines. His description of their native ginseng included, “…this is also an aphrodisiac, much like your Viagra.” <>
As we followed Abdul around the winding maze I caught a snippet of an Elton John ballad seeping out of a wooden doorway. I stopped to take pictures of kids posing with sticks and waving at the camera. Some thanked me by yelling “grassy-ass” (gracias) as I waved goodbye. A man walked by gripping a sheep by its bloody horns. It was experiencing its last moments for tomorrow is a national holiday where every family has to sacrifice a sheep like Abraham. I couldn’t watch the sheep struggle against the laughing man’s grip. It made me cringe and again swear that I would try to give up eating meat. <>
On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a “hole in the wall,” Abdul´s translation of an ATM machine. We all gave him five Euros a piece for his help and parted ways. We went in search of a specific pizza restaurant for lunch up the main avenue near our hotel. We passed a guy in a maroon robe on a street corner, and he started following us, then running after us screeching, his arms waving frantically in the air. I kept my pace when he walked next to me, his front facing my profile. I nervously glanced at him sideways. His eyes wild, he spoke loudly. “Ah-mer-ee-kahn woman. I watch you and you do nothing!” He ended his sentence with a horrible, piercing shriek. I tried to speed up, but out of the corner of my eye saw his arm wind up and then felt it smack my butt! I spun around, my jaw dropped, my eyes wide. I wish I could say that I hit him back, but I honestly was frightened of what might be hidden under his robe. Passersby walked past unresponsive. Eventually he left my side and became a faint speck at the bottom of the hill. <>
At the pizza place we all had our own good-sized individual pizzas for less than four Euros a piece. Families trickled in to pick up one pizza for the four or five of them there would be for dinner. Nothing like proving the fat American stereotype. At 10 p.m. we went to a seafood restaurant next to our hotel. Again we were the only customers. We entertained ourselves by watching the music videos on the TV suspended from the ceiling. Every other video was an American pop star. <>
February 1, 2004 <>
Right now I feel like I’m on a Girl Scout campout. Six of us are in a small sleeping car—a real one with bunk beds, three stacked on each side. I am on one of the top ones writing by the light of the tiny bulb at the head of my bed. This morning was beautiful. We woke up early enough to have breakfast in the hotel and then pranced around the beach, enjoying the seventy-degree weather. A dead rat circled by flies deterred us from going any closer to the water, so instead we laid out by the hotel pool, soaking in the Moroccan rays until we had to catch the ferry back to Spain. I rolled my shirt up a little and snickered at my white stomach that matched the sidewalk. Fifteen minutes of bliss. African sun. African freckles. <>
On the ferry ride back I jokingly sang along to Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart courtesy of the bartender’s tape player, while lounging on a cushioned bench that smelled like vomit. I felt like I was on a boat back to the States circa 1992, but the three hours only took me as far as we’d come from two days ago. <>
1) me and allison on the docked ferry, enjoying the last of the 70-degree weather in february, before heading back to spain...taken by anna? 2/1/04
2) this is one of my favorite pictures. taken at some point during our two-hour tour on 1/31/04
3) cute camel. taken when we stopped for camel rides. 1/31/04
4) soaking in the african sun, poolside. i can't tell which of the 9 of us is missing in order to give photo credit. i laying down on the far right with my jeans rolled up. 2/1/04)

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

just an old-fashioned love song

I know I just posted less than 12 hours ago ...but the point of this blog is to write, not just minorly edit something I wrote several years ago and paste it in here (as i did last night). Plus, I have about four different subjects I want to write about, so I figure if I get started earlier today, then maybe I can post one in the morning and one at night. Plus, I feel like the last few entries were borderline "Debbie Downer," so I wanted to share something more light-hearted. So this first one is for Carrie. I told her my ideas, and she chose this one because it's her "fascination in life." That being the way music and specific songs conjure up vivid memories. (It's now actually been almost 24 hours since the last post because this post got a little out of control, and I’ve been adding to it all day)

The idea to write about this came to me this morning while driving Max to school (that's what i do...I'm a driver.) Max is 12 and only listens to classic rock--our car rides consist of a Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix rotation--which he mix and matches with the rotation of the shirts he wears, which match those same bands/musicians. Now, I consider myself pretty in tune with the world of music, but there was definitely a period of a few years--I.E. STARTING AT AGE 12!--that I only listened to Top 40 crap. As we approached the Lab School in Hyde Park one such song came on, and I hit the steering wheel and laughed. I turned to Max and I said, "Aaaaand I have not heard this song since--oh--about 1996..." (I was wrong--it actually came out in '97.) "...I can't believe I liked this shit...I mean the main lyric in it is, 'Pissing the night away!'" I then proceeded to sing the words leading up to that oh-so-poetic chorus..."He drinks a whiskey drink/He drinks a vodka drink/He drinks a lager drink/He drinks a cider drink/He sings the songs that remind him of the good times/He sings the songs that remind him of the better times...." Because my brain is THAT cool, I can remember the lyrics to any song I've ever heard before, not excluding the worst ever written. When the "pissing the night away....pissing the niiiiiight away" part came on, Max looked at me with a goofy grin, "Who is this even??" "Good ol' Chumba Wumba! Surprised you've never heard of them..." I answered sarcastically. We only had another stop sign to get through until the drop off zone, but he had had enough of the "Tubthumping" and hit the "CD" button. The haunting sounds of "London Calling" by The Clash filled the Volvo as he got out of the car saying, "See ya."

So back to Chumba Wumba. As soon as I heard the song begin, which is a song I honestly don't think I've heard since 1997, I had this flashback of sitting in our family room at home in front of our relatively new 5-disc CD changer, amidst our annual family Hanukkah party. I had just opened my gift from my sister. Chumba Wumba's "Tubthumper" album. At some point during the pre-holiday season I had added this album to my wish list, but even by the time the gift-giving day rolled around, I was already sick of that stupid song. I remember feeling disappointed upon opening the present (sorry Sheri), but then feeling annoyed at myself for feeling disappointed because she obviously was trying to give me something I had said I wanted. So, to prove that I actually did appreciate the gift, I unwrapped it then and there and stuck it in the CD pollute the brains of all the party guests.

This isn't such a spectacular memory, but I still found it interesting that the second the song began, I felt like I was transported back to that place on the family room floor, as though it was yesterday. And it got me thinking for the rest of my drive home about music memory.

They say the sense of smell is the most memory-provoking sense...which I believe is true. Diane Ackerman says in the opening paragraph to her chapter on "Smell" in her book A Natural History of the Senses (which is quite an interesting read in general if anyone's looking for a good book):

"Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary, and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the Poconos, when wild blueberry bushes teemed with succulent fruit and the opposite sex was as mysterious as space travel..."

Another good read on the topic of smell is Jitterbug Perfume, a novel written by one of my favorite authors, Tom Robbins. Anyway, back to the point--hearing, not smelling. What I wanted to say is that I feel like hearing a song can almost be as powerful as smelling a scent. I wish I had Diane's book here with me in the city (It's part of my library back home in the suburbs) because she also has a chapter entitled "Music and Emotion," which I'm sure would further my point.

For kicks I came up with a list of songs/memories to share with whoever reads this (found below the upcoming photo) As you'll see, some songs only conjure up a brief image of where I was standing when I heard it, while other songs evoke enough details to write an entire novel, but the common thread is that these same images occur every time I hear the songs.

"I Saw Her Standing There" by The Beatles--I turned 17 years of age in November, 1999 (Prince interlude: We're gonna party like it's 19-9-9!). In high school it was customary for people to shower the birthday girl (i don't think guys ever did this...) with balloons and flowers, sometimes a party hat, and adorn the hallways with posters announcing her birthday with embarrassing baby photos. This was one such year...So I was sitting in my Journalism class waiting for the bell to ring, balloons floating next to my desk, and in comes Mr. Jim Wyman. He takes one look at the balloons, his face lights up with a classic Mr. Wyman grin, and he starts snapping his fingers as he slowly makes his way across the classroom singing, "She was just seventeen/You know what I mean/And the way she looked/Was way beyond compare...."

"jesus, etc." by Wilco--I was in love with a guy who wrote me letters. In one such letter (7/02) he talked about how he had just gotten the new Wilco CD (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot) and wrote "You were right about the stars/Each one is a setting sun" followed by "I thought you'd like that." A month later we went to dinner at The Cheesecake Factory before I headed back to NYC for my second year of college. When we got back in my car after dinner, he asked if he could put on YHF. "I want you to hear this song," he said. We sat in the Woodfield Mall parking lot for the duration of the song. The sun was going down, and there was a sadness in his eyes as he lightly touched my hair. That was it. But it gave me shivers. Another month later he called on an 800-mile phone line to tell me, "You're too good to be true. Sorry." Well that was the gist of it anyway. The first track on the album took on a whole new meaning..."I am trying to break your heart"

"That's The Way It Is" by Celine Dion--Another one from junior year of high school...or maybe it was sophomore? Abbi--help. All we did in Mrs. Emmer's gym class was ride stationary bikes. To pass the time, Abbi and I made up an interpretative "dance" to this song...acting out every word, while continuing to ride the bikes. We were that good. We still act it out when we see each other, and it still makes us laugh really hard.

"I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" by Elton John--I've always been an Elton fan, but I went through an Elton John phase senior year of high school, and I used to put on his CDs while I worked in the darkroom after school. Sometimes when I hear this song, I can almost smell the chemicals.

"Hang On Sloopy" by The McCoys--My dad and I were visiting my parents' friends, Andi and Mike. Our Chrysler minivan was parked in their cul-de-sac. I was probably 8 years old? My dad lifted the trunk door open and stood outside of it. I decided to take the stage and started singing and dancing in the trunk space. Except I didn't know the words and kept saying, "hang on SNOOPY." And my dad was laughing. To this day, I still don't know what "sloopy" is.

"Walking in Memphis" by Marc Cohen--My senior year of high school was also my last year year as a dancer. I took as many extra classes (I already had Dance Company classes twice a week on top of whatever else i wanted to take) as I could fit into my weekly schedule. In my extra ballet class, our dance for the annual June recital was to “Walking In Memphis.” My teacher, Maya, put me in the front row for it. This rarely happened in my dance career. I performed the hell out of that dance on stage. So much so that I think I was crying during part of it…another rarity. Every time I hear this song I’m transported back to that stage, under the bright lights, twirling around like I’d never dance again.

"Run Baby Run" by Sheryl Crow—September 11, 2001. I woke up at 8:10 a.m., 10 minutes before my alarm was set to go off. It was day 3 of my first year at NYU. At 8:20 I jumped a mile in the air when my cd alarm clock did go off, blasting Sheryl begging, “Run baby run baby run baby run baby run…..” Around 8:40 Brianna, my roommate, asked if I wanted to get breakfast with her. I declined. She left. Less than ten minutes later she came running back into the room, yelling—“ OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO COME OUTSIDE!! A PLANE JUST CRASHED INTO THE WORLD TRADE CENTER AND YOU CAN SEE IT ALL FROM THE FRONT OF RUBIN!” To this day, if I hear this song, my breath gets involuntarily caught in my throat, and the familiar panic sets in.

"Lump" by The Presidents of the U.S. of A.—I was allowed to pick one song to add to the music list for my bat-mitzvah party (you know—apart from the givens—“YMCA,” stuff like that.) I decided that the best option would be the then-popular song, “Lump.” Gotta give it to the Stax O Wax DJs—they actually played it. The adults on the dance floor looked around confused, while all the kids ran to the front and started a mosh pit. Normal.

"Basketcase" by Green Day—Michelle’s basement. Fifth grade. Amy and Carrie were there (yes?) Green Day’s album, “Dookie” was the #1 album in the country. Or, if it wasn’t, it at least was in our eyes. We were obsessed with their hit, “Basketcase,” and despite being the “smart and therefore nerdy kids” in the school, we thought we were total badasses. Especially when we sang that song. So that night we made up body movements to act out all the lyrics. The end of the chorus is, “Am I just paranoid? Or I’m just stoned.” Welllll we thought we had it all figured out and that “stoned” was the same thing as “drunk.” So our motion for “stoned” was throwing back an imaginary glass of beer. Really we were the most innocent 11-year-old girls on the planet, and it wasn’t until several years later that we realized our mistake. We still laugh about it any time the song comes on.

"Ready or Not" by The Fugees—My friends and I had this habit in junior high of hanging out on my driveway. Usually it turned into a dance party. Ok, usually it was just me having a dance party with myself. One particular night, Jenny was over and we were listening to The Fugees album on my boombox. The song “Ready or Not” came on, and I decided that the mood of the song called for me acting as creepy as possible and followed Jenny around the driveway, eyes wide, straight face, singing the song in a freaky manner. It totally freaked her out. I still picture the scared look on her face whenever I hear that song. And she probably still pictures me being a creep.

"Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones--After swim lessons one summer afternoon, I was standing on a patch of grass in front of our van in the parking lot. My mom must have had the Oldies station playing on the radio. I don’t know if I had just learned the meaning of the word “satisfaction” or what, but I have this distinct memory of singing it really loud to the empty field in front of me. Apparently when I was 7 (or however old I was…8 or 9?) I felt as though I couldn’t “get no satisfaction…” (If my mom reads this, I’ll let her share her story about the Rolling Stones’ “Painted Black” song.)

"I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston—In fourth grade I was obsessed with The Bodyguard soundtrack and thought “I Will Always Love You” was the best song ever sung. We were doing this unit where every day a few kids, one at a time, got to sit in the teacher’s chair, while the rest of the class interviewed them. Then, with the collected information, we’d make a page complete with a few sentences about the person and a drawing of them. At the end, each person ended up with a book about themselves, authored by the rest of their classmates. So it was my turn to be in the hot seat. Joey, my “boyfriend” throughout elementary school, raised his hand and asked, “What’s your favorite song?” flashing that charming, mischievous smile. He already knew the answer, but I didn’t get it until after the song title came tumbling out of my mouth. “I will always love you,” I said matter-of-factly. The class erupted in a chorus of, “Oooo la la”s, and when I saw him wink at me with that smile, I turned bright red, realizing he had set me up. When I hear this song, I see myself sitting in the teacher’s chair, facing my classmates, one severely blushing 10-year-old.

"My Boyfriend's Back" by The Angels—For the majority of my early childhood years I had a crush on my next-door-neighbor, Billy. I remember strutting around the cul-de-sac singing this song, or as I called it--the "hey-la song" (as in Hey la Hey la my boyfriend’s back), in hopes that Billy would come outside to play with me.

"Reflections"--by The Supremes—This is only a brief memory, but I can picture myself in the kitchen, and my dad excitedly yelling down from upstairs, “Hey Lyse! Turn on the radio! It’s your song!” I walk over to the clock radio on the desk and turn on the Oldies station. He said it was my song because I had recently won some distinguished award for The Reflections art contest (as a second-grader). I remember standing there until the song ended, thinking Diana Ross was singing only to me. I still hear my dad yelling, “Hey Lyse!” whenever this song comes on the radio.

“The Boxer”—by Simon & Garfunkel—I was sitting shotgun, while my mom was driving. It was nighttime, and I believe we were in the city. This song came on and we were both quietly singing along. I remember noting that it was strange to hear her sing the line: “Just a come on from the whores on seventh avenue.” The combination of the sing-songy voice, the fact that the singer was my mom, and the word whore thrown in there…threw me for a loop.

"Forrest Gump Suite" by Alan Silvestri—And we have come full circle, as this final music/memory note involves Carrie. In 5th grade she convinced me to see Forrest Gump with her because she saw it (I believe with Michelle, mentioned above in the “Basketcase” story) and loved it. I had no desire to see it but went anyway. I ended up falling in love with it, and it was the first movie I ever purchased for myself. I was going to say it was the first soundtrack I ever owned as well, but it was second after The Bodyguard (wow…everything is coming full circle!). Anyway, some time after seeing the movie, Carrie learned how to play the instrumental suite on the piano. I was over at her house one day and she played it for me. As I stood there listening and watching my best friend tickle the ivories, I started to cry. Even then, I thought it was a strange reaction, but I still get mildly choked up when I hear the music.

Please feel free to comment with your own musical memories. Like Carrie, I find the subject quite fascinating. Also--If anyone's read: This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel Levitin, let me know what you think. I haven't read it, but it looks interesting.

(top photo: taken at South Union Arts in Chicago on 10.19.06
middle photo: Petaluma Vale performing at the Sidewalk Cafe in NYC, April 21, 2005)

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

the magic 8 ball and other things

Not to be ultra-depressing or anything, but my last post made me think of these two "essays" i wrote about the effects of my Zadie's death on my life when i was 7...

The Magic 8 Ball

On November 25, 1989 I turned seven. The number one gift on my wanted list was a Magic Eight Ball—an oversized fortune telling plastic replica of the game-ending piece to a round of billiards. This is what I naively let rule my first grade life. Of course I received this prized possession upon the termination of my sixth year because my life could not go on without it.
Three days after my birthday I brought the ball to school with me. Since I was several months older than a lot of the kids in my class, and my birthday was exactly one month before Christmas, my classmates eagerly crowded me during indoor recess to see the new toy. “Alyse, tell me my fortune!” squealed the admirers. “First of all,” I started matter-of-factly, “I don’t tell the fortunes, the ball does. And secondly, you have to ask a yesirno question for it to work.” Wen-dy, one of the smartest girls in our class asked if she was going to win the next game of Around the World. “Shake it!” she yelled. “You don’t shake it,” I said and gently demonstrated how to turn the ball around in my tiny hands three times and then hold the viewfinder side upwards till the answer floated to the top and revealed itself among the blue iridescent liquid. A devious smile spread across my face and I looked my component in the eye and said, “My sources say no.” “What do you mean—your ‘sources’??” Wen-dy exclaimed. “Not my sources. Look!” I turned the viewfinder towards her and showed her the magic answer. “Maybe I’ll win this time,” I told her..
When the novelty of the fortune-telling ball wore down I finally began asking my own questions. On the bus ride home I sat by myself and whispered my uncertainty so close to the rounded plastic that my lips just barely graced its smoothness. I watched Dave, the wimpy blonde boy, a few rows ahead of me sticking his feet in the aisle, telling a stupid joke to Jon sitting across from him at a window seat. "Do you think Dave likes me?” I asked the black orb. “Reply hazy, try again.” I wasn’t exactly sure what “hazy” meant so I asked again and turned it three times and waited as my triangular future floated through the blue stuff. “Don’t count on it.” Why not? I thought. That’s not fair. The ball simultaneously fell out of my hands and rolled on the grimy bus floor towards the front. I got on my hands and knees just in time to see two little hands grab at my future rolling away. I couldn’t tell if they were boy or girl hands, but as soon as I climbed back up on the bumpy seat and peered around the one in front of me, I got my answer. “Whadowe got here, Jon? Looks like someone’s Magic Eight Ball.” They both turned around to see me watching them wide-eyed. Mr. Know It All decided he had to play with it before giving it back to me. In an outside voice he asked, “Is Alyse a gigantic, ugly dork?” I sunk into my seat and watched the different colors of smashed gum on the vibrating floor. Then he announced, “Yes—definitely!!” Giggles invaded the bus and I wanted to cry.
At my bus stop I grabbed the toy out of Dave’s hands and stuck my tongue out at him for added discomfort. “See!” Dave shrieked. “Your face is all messed up!” I dropped the ball in the street on the outskirts of my cul-de-sac when I jumped off the stairs. I almost didn’t turn around to pick it up. I wished the bus would just run the thing over. But I pivoted, rescued the toy and examined it. The seam along the middle circumference of the sphere had come a little loose on one side. What was really inside there? I wondered. I want to meet the force behind these messages. I looked up at the sky. When I got home I ran up the fourteen stairs to my room and placed the Eight Ball on a shelf in my closet.
I didn’t touch it again for over a month. January 7, 1990 my Zadie turned 66. Three days later he died from an aortic aneurysm. I got the chicken pox the day after that. So did my younger sister, Sheri. We did not go to the funeral for this reason. When I returned to class I found out the scar marks (which still sometimes itched) didn’t help my “gigantic, ugly dork” status with the boys. But I did get invited to Christine’s sleepover birthday party. I had heard about these parties and I was ready to move onto these “big girl” games. I was seven after all, older than Christine or any of the other girls going that weekend.
Before going home that day I went to my best friend, Shelley’s, house two doors down from mine. I sat on her bed, one bendable little leg atop the other. Full of excitement I told Shelley about Christine’s party. Sleepovers were old news for her as she was nine months older than me, therefore a whole grade ahead. She did share in my enthusiasm, though, and wondered how I was going to ask my mom. I hadn’t thought about this beforehand, and there was no way I could let her say no. I took the Eight Ball out of my backpack. I had recently decided to give its powers a second chance. “Will my mom let me go to Christine’s sleepover party?” “Concentrate and ask again.” Why did this dumb thing always second-guess my questions? “Will my mom let me go to Christine’s sleepover party?” My voice gained a little anxiety the second time. I watched the blue water shift and my answer stared up at me. “Yes.” I jumped off her bed, yelled “Bye!” and ran home as fast as I could. Due to recently losing her father my mom was in no mood to argue with me when I told her about the sleepover party. I kissed the Magic Eight Ball and hid it for safe-keeping.
That Saturday my mom dropped me off at Christine’s house. I had already changed into my pajamas and had my new My Little Pony sleeping bag and pillow in tow. We sang “Happy Birthday” to Christine and ate some cake and ice cream. Then Christine’s mom went upstairs and we all decided to play games. I said to the ten little girls that I didn’t want to play. Instead, I grabbed my Eight Ball out of my pillowcase and silently asked it if I would ever see my Zadie again. I wanted him to hold me and tell me I was special. Wanted him to kiss my forehead and whisper in my ear that he loved me and would always be there. I looked down at the ball. “My reply is no.” I felt sick. I stumbled out of the family room full of little, innocent girls surrounding the Girl Talk game and sat on the kitchen floor at the base of the sliding door to the backyard. Pushed apart the vertical blinds. Tears streamed down my face and through their distortion I stared at the sky.
Before this party I did not realize that the Eight Ball was one year my senior and was older and wiser. Before this party I did not comprehend death. I missed my Zadie. Despite not seeing him laid to rest, I finally understood that I would never see my his kind eyes again or touch his familiar face the way I used to when I sat on his lap. The sky at night wasn’t black anymore like I used to color it. I understood the Midnight Blue crayon now. And I understood longing for something so much it takes away a little girl’s immortality. I miss you Zadie! I repeated like a broken record in what I thought was inside my head. “What’s a Zadie? Why are you crying?” Christine asked. She had heard me in the other room. I didn’t even turn around to look at her. I could not tear my eyes away from the brightest star in the sky. Made myself believe that was him. The world grew, with its size, more confusing.
In the morning Christine called my mom to come get me earlier than the rest of the party-goers who were still fast asleep. “She kept crying by the window and wouldn’t stop saying something about a zadie,” she told my mom. That was the last time I ever touched the Magic Eight Ball.

Behind Open Doors

People grow up faster in cars. Between transporting Cheerios and Midol from store to home you are confined to a small space that you cannot safely leave until you arrive at one destination or another. In exchange for food and drugs we learn to relate to other human beings. The following took place in a local Jewel-Osco parking lot in Palatine, Illinois when I was seven years old and my younger sister, Sheri, was four.
“All I have to do is run in and cash a check,” my mom told us. “Do you want to come with me or do you want to wait in the car?”
I told my mom that we’d wait there. I was trying to be brave. My Zadie had died just a few months prior and I was constantly afraid of temporary relationships. That you could have such a powerful love bouncing back and forth with someone and then have him ripped away and lowered into the ground overwhelmed me, and I thought that if I lost track of my parents the same thing would happen to them. It was the reason I slept with my door open, the hall light on, clutching a stuffed animal dog and worrying that when I woke up I might be alone. My mom knew I couldn’t stand not knowing where she was, but I was attempting the impossible: letting her leave us in the car for five minutes while I watched from the tinted window as the mechanical door of the grocery store ate her in one piece.
A look of shock flashed across her face and she said, “If I leave you in here, you have to stay in here. I’m locking the doors, and I don’t want you—for any reason—to open them, especially if someone you don’t know knocks and says it’s ok for you to unlock them—even if it is someone you do know. Only I am allowed to open the door.”
I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, yeah mom, I’m not stupid.”
“Ok, I’ll be right back,” she said.
The sound of the power locks echoed inside me as I watched her slide the side door shut. Things inside the Chrysler caravan remained at a standstill for a few minutes. Nothing happened. I watched people honk at each other over the first parking space in the row. Kids using the backs of shopping carts as overgrown skateboards. I began getting antsy when I saw a mom holding her daughter’s hand looking both ways before they crossed over to the parking lot. I couldn’t watch the other people anymore. I wanted my mom to return. Maybe she decided to refill my Penicillin bottle. She better at least bring us back donuts to eat on the way home. I asked out loud why she wasn’t back yet. Sheri didn’t have the answer. She just shook her rattling Lolly doll. These three minutes were eating me and my patience alive. I stuck a few fingers in the built-in cup holder. Something sticky at the bottom. That’s it, I thought, I’m going in there.
I thumbed the lock up on the sliding door and pushed it open, smearing fingerprints across the window, jumped from the ledge onto the cracked asphalt and turned to face Sheri.
“You stay here,” I instructed her trying to sound motherly, knowing she couldn’t get out of the car seat alone, “I’m gonna go find mommy.”
She just stared back at me, a blank look in those big green eyes. My shoelace came untied as I headed for the entrance, but I did not stop to fix it for fear of either getting hit by a car or wasting more time in the pursuit of locating my mom. Look both ways before you cross the street. At least I obeyed one rule. She’ll be so happy to see me, to know someone’s worrying about her, I thought. The door magically opened for me. It was amazing that despite my small size the door still knew I was there. The moment I walked through the entrance a familiar face came walking through the exit.
“Where were you??” I cried, although relieved to see she was still alive.
Only a metal handrail separated us.
“I told you I had to cash the check,” my mom answered, exasperated.
“I know, but you took a long time!”
It had been four minutes since she left us.
Suddenly, her facial expression morphed from annoyance to panic, as she realized she was arguing with only one daughter.
“Where is Sheri?” she demanded.
“In the van. I told her to stay there, don’t worry.” I was not worried and this worried her as much as the fact that her youngest was alone in a car seat.
“Come here now!”
I ducked under the bar and followed her quick strides out the automated door and into the parking lot. She was making me nervous, almost more than when I was anxiously awaiting her return, safe inside the locked van. When the van was in sight and it was apparent that not only did I leave my sister in there, I had been careless enough to leave the door wide open, my mom looked like she was going to pass out. It hadn’t even crossed my mind whether I had or hadn’t closed the door at the time of my departure, being that watching my sister was not my top priority. But I realized then that I had made a huge mistake.
My mom ran to the open van, I’m sure at least half-expecting to see an empty car seat and the Lolly doll that she would look at every morning thereafter and cry whenever she heard a similar rattle. I didn’t run after her. I approached slowly, cautiously, terrified that I really would end up alone because there was no way my parents would keep me after pleading guilty for the disappearance of their baby.
She reached the open door. I stopped moving altogether and held my breath. She wasn’t crying. Her mouth was moving. A silhouette shifted through the back window. One pigtail. Two. She must have been asking Sheri if she was ok, apologizing for leaving her alone, for my irresponsibility, knowing she should have trusted her instinct about me—that three minutes apart surpassed my comfort level—that she should have just made us come in with her. My feet remained planted, this time hoping a car would hit me. My mom didn’t have to tell me what could have happened. I watched Unsolved Mysteries without blinking on Wednesday nights while she was at work. I knew what easy targets temporarily abandoned little girls made.
But she did tell me.
Turning so that she could see both of us, she screamed, “Alyse! Do you know what could have happened just in those few minutes you left Sheri alone in here?”
“Yes I do know what could have happened!” I shouted back. “And I hate myself! I really do. I wish I could just die. I wish I was dead! You wish that too, don’t you?”
I stunned her.
“Well don’t you??” I screeched.
She locked the door of Sheri’s haven, slammed it shut, and marched over to me, seemingly scared to get too close, afraid that not only had her baby almost been stolen but that her first-born was threatening her own elimination.
“Don’t you EVER say that again!” Her voice cracked. “I NEVER want to hear anything like that come out of your mouth again, you hear me?? You don’t want to be dead and don’t you ever wish that upon yourself!”
We both attempted to hide tears, both upset for same and different reasons. She walked to the driver’s door and I pulled the locked handle of the sliding door on the passenger’s side, waiting to hear the familiar unlocking. I climbed in and found my designated seat in the back row next to the left-side window. Buckled my seat belt. My sister remained in her car seat, still in the middle row. The three of us rode home in silence, Sheri never understanding what happened, yet somehow able to escape from the car seat on her own for the first time when we arrived back in our garage fifteen minutes later.

(the photo is of me at the zoo, probably trying to talk to the bear....taken by my dad around the time when both of these stories occured.)