Friday, August 29, 2008

Conversation Overheard Yesterday

I had a moment of searing pain yesterday when I heard this conversation between two young women who were walking out of the mall with large bags from expensive department stores. They were young, pretty, deeply tanned with artificially straightened hair and smudgy, dark eyeliner. They both looked alarmingly similar and this is what they talked about.

Girl 1: I can't believe I got a fucking ticket. It was ridiculous.

Girl 2: How fast were you going?

Girl 1: The speed limit and the cop was all like "Do you know how fast your were going young lady" and I was all like "Well ye-es. Umm I was going the speed limit SIR" and he goes "You were going 95 miles per hour miss" and I was like "Uh YE-AH. I said I was going the speed limit" and he was all "95 is not the speed limit" and I said "Oh yes it is, last time I checked I was driving on 95 so that is the speed limit" and he tried to say it was 65.

Girl 2: I think it is 65.

Girl 1: No it isn't. Why is the road called 95 then? The road is named after the speed limit and it's not called I-65, it's called I-95 so you can go 95 right? Like on I-75 I drive slower and go 75 and on 575 I go 75 and 595 I go 95 and on 195 in South Beach I can go 95.

Girl 2: That's not how it works.

Girl 1: Yes it does.

Girl 2: No it doesn't. The roads aren't named after the speed limit.

Girl 1: Well what are they named after then?

Girl 2: I don't know, but not the speed limit. There are speed limit signs on the roads anyway.

Girl 1: I know, duh, and they say I-95 so I shouldn't have got that ticket. I'm getting a lawyer. This sucks.

Girl 2: Yeah good luck with that.

My question is, what does she do on State Road 7?
Thursday, August 28, 2008

Stuff

Being the first week of what promises to be an extremely hectic schedule, I am not physically capable of writing an actual story for you all this week, but I can do some more odds and ends kinds of posts for you.

First and foremost my mother is no longer allowed to hang out with Suge Knight. I think we need to make a new rule in our family that states that none of us are allowed to associate with individuals who assault their girlfriends with knives. Or assault their girlfriends at all with anything. Assault is a big red flag by the way. If someone tells you they have a record of assault please get up and leave immediately and don't sit there and make excuses for them like a dumb ass about how they were represented wrong, or the girl was probably a bitch or how they've changed in the past week and wouldn't ever assault anyone this week or my personal favorite, how sure they have a bad temper and have assaulted people but they LOVE you and would never assault you. Before you know it someone'll be standing over YOU with a knife.

Second my husband made a recipe that has to go into the Nasty-Assed Recipes Hall of Fame. I'm getting home very late most nights now which means that Husband has to cook for himself. Generally we share the cooking duties anyway, both of us having distinctly different styles of cooking and skill sets. He bakes and I make good, homey meals with actual nutritional value. Husband also makes nut brittle, cinnamon rolls, cookies and homemade candies. I make really good salads. So usually I make dinner and he does breakfasty, desserty kinds of things. Of course he was a bachelor for a long time and is perfectly capable of making dinner for himself, it's just that the things he chooses to make himself are a little unusual. When we were dating he made himself salad with chicken on it for a solid year and a half at least, every single night. That's not so bad because it's healthy. After that he decided to learn how to make General Tso's Chicken from scratch, which is a messy, arduous process. I like it ok but I don't know if it's worth the work more than once a year or so. He got on a General Tso's kick for a while there, freezing it sometimes or just making it anew several times a week. He also makes burritos and things of a burrito-ish nature and these I enjoy. Another habit he has is that he tops everything with cheetos and/ or cashews and can turn anything into a sandwich which also has cheetos and/ or cashews on it. I tried to tell him that cheetos aren't croutons but he said I am very wrong about this and that cheetos make fantastic croutons. I've just kind of learned to turn my head and let him do whatever he wants to food and that is exactly what I did the other night when I came home and found him at the stove.

It looked innocent enough really. He was browning ground beef and had some rolls toasting. Then he chopped up onion in that and I figured he'd add some cheese and be done with it. But no. The cooking seemed to go on for a longer time than I had imagined it would. Then I smelled hot dogs.

"Do I smell hot dogs?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

I got up to inspect. Husband had boiled three hot dogs which I didn't even know we had and was chopping them up and adding them to the hamburger meat and onions in a frying pan.

"Where did you get the idea to do this?" I asked with considerable apprehension.

"Rachael Ray."

Oh Dear God, I thought. This means trouble. Rachael Ray is one of the top offenders when it comes to Nasty Assed Recipes and besides that she is maybe the most annoying person on television next to Kathie Lee and Kelly Rippa. I do not like Rachael Ray and her EVOO tomfoolery. But as I always give credit where credit is due she has ONE recipe, ONE people, that I actually like and here it is if you want it. But really, how could that amount of cheese and bacon together not be good? It's not neuro-science. But the recipe Husband made sent shudders down my spine. This is the recipe. I looked at it and I thought perhaps it had potential. The name was unbelievably stupid and irritating and I imagined Rachael Ray's voice saying it and it was even more unappetizing, but I thought, ok, well it can't be that bad. Yes it can. Yes it can readers. It was hideously vile. Husband tried to choke it down. He even tried putting cheetos and cashews on it but nothing could redeem this recipe which can best be described as sweet meat on bread. Extremely sweet meat. Husband thought maybe it was the hot dogs throwing everything off so he picked them out. Then he added some more cheese and tried it again. Nothing could help this recipe. It was putrid. I nearly barfed.

But then I started poking around looking for ways to possibly redeem or save this recipe, an obviously futile idea on my part and I found something even worse. I found a recipe so disgusting, so appallingly Nasty-Assed, that even some of my relatives probably wouldn't eat it. For this Mac and Cheese Dog Casserole Rachael needs to lose her show. This recipe is that bad. But the best part of this Nasty-Assery is by far the comments about the recipe. You must read the comments. I haven't laughed so hard in a while.

Here's is a sampling:

"I made this even though the ingredients didn't sound like they would go well together. I figured a chef wouldn't have people make something that tasted like someone scraped the clogged pipes of a 4 year old kitchen sink...boy was I wrong. I wouldn't even feed this to someone I hated."

"The flavor was weird, I will not make this again. Dog liked it though."

"It was to bland, so before I served it to my family I added a few things. I threw in some crab and some leftover corn chowda. That made it a little thick. So, I put the other 5 beers in from the 6-pack I had bought. Needless to say, my family loved it! I'm only giving this one star because I'm taking credit for most of this recipe."

"IS THIS $HIT FOR REAL??????????????"

"This recipe was really disappointing, although my husband thinks I was crazy for even trying it. He thought it sounded disgusting. Does that mean that Rachael is crazy for writing it? I don't know how my version came out so different, and I have to believe that it did because I don't see Rachael pulling this out of the oven and loving it. Either she was high as a kite and had the munchies, or she is desparate for some new ideas. This was awful! And I love Rachael! But this was REALLY awful!"

"Please do not feed this slop to your growing children."

"i've never tasted anything that resembles the smell of hot bowels but this dish both smells and looks like it came straight from my large intestine. i'm shocked at the number of people that said they fed this to their kids. who are you mothers? if my mom ever tried to serve this to me i'd give her five across the eyes and say, "this has to b an f'n joke. i ain't no april fool." it's good to know that america is being raised on macaroni, cheese, pork, ketchup and mustard. it's like some scientist was trying to create a colon plug and the mac and cheese dog casserole is what he came up with. came close to vomiting. not impressed."

My first favorite is the guy who added an entire six pack of beers along with some crab, because everyone knows how well crab and hot dogs go. Six beers? Really? It must have been like beer crab hot dog soup with some macaronis in it. Really? I wish I could have seen that.

But the last comment is my favorite by far. I love this person, who goes by only George from 1st Avenue. George from 1st Avenue, wherever you are (1st Avenue I'm guessing) you are my hero. You had me at "hot bowels" man. I hope this guy has a blog and if anyone has any idea of who George from 1st Avenue might be or if he does have a blog, please let me know.

And last on my list of random stuff today before I go get some actual work done is that Miss Doxie is temporarily off my list. Miss Doxie was on my list for a long time for disappearing forever then writing really long posts that were funny and then disappearing some more, I thought never to return. Then I thought something awful had happened and she came back, so I thought, well I'll take her off the list again, but then she comes back after like seven months to say that her hiatus was due to a break-up from some dude who wasn't even cute at all and who didn't want to marry her. I have no patience for that so she was really on the list after that foolishness. Miss Doxie is gorgeous. If I were half as pretty as this girl I'd...I don't know what I'd do, but something and I'd probably do it buck naked just because I was that pretty. Miss Doxie is also a lawyer, really funny and seems to be a very fun sort of girl. And she was dating some doofy ass looking dude who didn't want to marry her. Now let me tell you, she posted many a picture of him and I always thought to myself, why on God's green earth is this gorgeous girl with this doofy guy who doesn't even want to marry her? This girl could be with movie stars if she wanted but she gets herself all tore up over HIM? And who the hell does this guy think he is? Unless she's a real bitch and a sloppy alcoholic, which seems unlikely from her writing at least, the guy should've married her ages ago. But they broke up, thank the Lord and now she's supposedly back. But she was still on my list. Big time ON MY LIST. I hold grudges for a while. However, Miss Doxie has finally redeemed herself with her post entitled "Cookie and the Geese." This story had me peeing. I loved everything about it. The illustrations were even better and it made me really miss Atlanta, where Miss Doxie is lucky enough to live. So go read it. But be forewarned Miss D, you pull some more of this shit going out with unworthy men and abandoning your writing over it again and you will be back on my list so fast your head will spin young lady.

Hey! Maybe we could fix her up with George from 1st Avenue!
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

My Lot in Life

Today is the second First Day of School and yesterday went very well, except for one thing. Over my luxurious summer I seem to have forgotten about the parking situation. Parking at school is a total, effing nightmare. Have you ever seen on TV or in movies when they show people trying to drive in major cities located in crowded, often hot for some reason, third world countries? Imagine driving in Calcutta or Cairo or almost anywhere in a big South American city or Mexico City and you will have some vague idea of what it is like trying to get through the parking lot at school. And by this comparison I mean not to say that our students are all from third world countries. My comparison is based on chaos, crowdedness, insane driving and a calamitous lack of space compared to number of cars needed to drive through that space. With the horns, the booming bass blaring reggaeton from a car whose speakers are worth more than the car itself, the cussing, the obscene gestures it's all enough to give a zen master a terrible case of heart burn and tremors.

I don't live all that far from school but I have to leave over an hour before I actually need to be there because of the elaborate ordeal I must endure in order to find a parking place. But since this doesn't just happen at schools, I'm sure a lot of people can relate, especially those who live in big cities. I've never seen anywhere more terrifying to park in than San Francisco (those hills!) and I've seen literal fist fights break out in New York City with its confusing alternate side of the street parking rules that I've never figured out. Parking is just stressful.

I blame the parking situation at school on many factors. South Florida, for one, is just not all that public transportation friendly and everything here is very spread out. We have a lot of commuter students and the school has grown in population faster than it has grown in parking lots. Add to that that everyone has a car and complicated schedules make car pooling almost impossible. And plus we're in South Florida where everyone is crazy anyway and no one in this part of the state can seem to drive like a calm, rational human being. I can't blame these kids for their maniacal driving. They've grown up here for the most part and have had terrible role models.

The difficult parking situation has prompted me to devise all sorts of schemes in order to score a space.

First I drive aimlessly around the parking and hope to get lucky, which I do not. I think I have only once gotten lucky. I've even tried to use The Secret to get a parking space, telling myself "I WILL get a space. There is a parking space for me. I'm going to find a parking space." The Secret did not work. I could not manifest myself a parking space, but perhaps I didn't truly believe that I would find a parking space enough and the universe somehow knew that and punished me for my lack of faith.

When manifesting a parking space doesn't work I become a stalker. I wait patiently until I see someone and then I drive very slowly and creepily behind them until they get to their car. Often this technique ends in disaster. It's always my luck that I choose to stalk the person who isn't actually leaving. They're usually going to get something out of the car, which is a cruel and evil tease, or worse yet they're going to just sit in the car for a while, maybe even turn it on and take a nice nap in there in between classes. This is very mean. Worse even than the nappers are those who choose to sit in their car before their next class and get high, while pretending that they aren't actually getting high but that they are smoking cigarettes. Cigarettes that smell like skunk. My blood starts to simmer when I go to all the trouble to drive two miles an hour through the parking lot behind a gaggle of sorority girls who appear to be leaving but then decide to lean up against a BMW for what seems like the next hour to have a lengthy conversation. When this happens, as it invariably always does, I want to jump out of my car and scream.

"DON'T YOU SEE I NEED THAT SPACE!!! GO TALK AT STARBUCKS!!!"

They are so inconsiderate.

Another grievous, parking space offense that I often encounter is the person who takes freaking forever to pull out of the space I am waiting for. This one never fails to send me into a rage because the person obvious sees me in my car with the blinker on waiting for them to exit their space so I can have it. Usually I've stalked them to the space and have confirmed that they are indeed not going to get books out of the trunk, eat an Arby's Roast Beef and Cheddar, smoke a bowl or go to sleep. The person gets in the car. Everything seems fine. They even turn the car on. Sometimes I see the white lights indicating that the driver has put the car in reverse. Then nothing happens. I wait some more. Nothing happens. I listen to an entire Terry Gross interview on NPR and still the white lights are on and still the person has not backed out of the space. I don't know what in the hell these people are doing that is preventing them from driving, but I usually see girls chatting on cell phones and applying what has to be full stage makeup in the sunshade mirror. Guys will also talk on the phone and often drivers of both sexes can be observed messing with cds or hooking up complicated systems involving iPhones or MP3 players and a lot of cords. Sometimes they have to light a cigarette and smoke half of it before they can drive. Other times a friend will come and they'll roll down the window and engage in a forty minute debate about if the teacher in their last class was a bitch even though she was kinda hot but they were thinking about dropping but maybe not though because they need the class and they know this guy who took it last semester and still has his papers and yeah so maybe they won't drop, but they don't know. When I see this I wish I were driving a tank and could roll over and smash every last car in the lot.

One day I got the most brilliant idea of all. I would pretend to be somewhat altruistic. I would find a person who looked like he or she was leaving and then I would offer that person a ride to their car in exchange for their parking space. I was nearly blinded by my own brilliance. I found a woman who did not look in any way like a mass murderer and offered to drive her to her car. She jumped right in as if I were offering some kind of service to relieve her of having to walk in the heat.

"Where are you parked?" I asked.

"Oh, over there in the faculty lot. I'm a french teacher," she said.

And then I felt like it was me who was the mass murderer here. You see, I teach, but I'm still a grad student which prevents me from using the faculty lot, plus the faculty permits are expensive anyway and the student ones a free. Being able to park in the faculty lot would save me a world of aggravation, but it just isn't an option, just as dropping Madame French Teacher off right where we were and telling her to forget it, was also not an option. I had to drive her to her car, where I couldn't have her space and then start the whole miserable process all over again. I fantasized about my tank once more. One day, I thought, one day I will have a tank of my very own and then I can smash things that stand in my way.

Too often I will find a parking space and flower petals will miraculously rain down from the clouds and little fairies will fly over the space, sprinkling gold glitter on it and I'll feel like today is my day, when from out of nowhere some asshole in a lowered down Japanese car with custom painting all over the sides in colors which I do not find tasteful, with dark tinted windows and an engine that revs like a chainsaw, will dart around me in my long-suffering Saturn, and STEAL MY SPACE. Just like that, they'll steal it right out from under me. I can't tell you how many times this has happened and the cuss words that have issued forth from my sweet mouth as a result, which are, of course, to no avail. A few times I tried to yell to the offender out the window but they always shrug and say I was too slow and then something about being late to class as they sprint off through the labrinth of cars leaving me alone with the tick tock of my unfulfilled turn signal.

All I can do is leave early, hope for the best and count down the days until October when several students have dropped and a few spaces have opened up.
Monday, August 25, 2008

The First Day

Today is the first day of school. Miraculously I slept through the night last night and very well. I remember in the past I could never sleep the night before the first day of school. I would get overwhelmed with the excitement of finding new classrooms, seeing everyone again and worrying if I would be able to get to the bus on time at the end of the day. Once a teacher had to drive me home and I became terrified that that would happen again and I'd have to sit in a teacher's dirty Suburu with sticky, unwashed travel mugs scattered with last year's papers across the back seat. That experience made me think that all teachers have messy cars.

I have a messy car. I've tried to keep it clean. I keep everything else clean so I don't know why I just give up when it comes to the car and start throwing things everywhere. My car got broken into again two weeks ago and since there was nothing in it because they stole everything of value last time, the thieves threw papers all over the place. This aggravated me so badly that I just didn't clean it up. I also always leave things in the car that shouldn't be there. Once I found a completely dried apple under my driver's seat. It never even smelled. But this year I have resolved to keep the car clean. I don't want to be one of those messy car teachers.

I have this pattern that I developed around second grade that every new school year I make a bunch of resolutions. As a child I was a terrible student and I knew it and felt like a bad person. I was lucky to get Cs and I was constantly in trouble at home over my lack of good grades. I got lectures from every authority figure in my life about laziness, applying myself and staying organized. I was a disaster. I was that kid who had so much crap jammed into her desk that papers and books were constantly falling out. I could never find anything. In high school it was my locker and my book bag which carried old food, empty juice boxes, torn books, unstapled handouts and crumpled notes from classmates. I just could not figure out how to organize things and as a result I couldn't keep track of my assignment and never did my homework. I barely managed to pass because I always got decent grades on tests, which I took purely from memory. My teachers would make a big display of forcing me to clean out my desk or locker or bag and then I would swear to keep it clean from then on out but a few weeks later I'd be back to where I started.

Every September though, I would start with a clean desk just like everyone else. On the first day of school I would tell myself that I was equal to the A students with their subdivided Trapper Keepers. I could do it too. There was so much possibility that day, before things began to pile up and I began to give up. Every year I resolved that I would never do that again. This year would be different and I would be that A student once and for all. Then I would go back to my old habits and feel like I was a terrible person. Then the Cs and Ds would start coming in and I would get punished and pretty soon I'd just say "fuck it" and pretend like I didn't care anyway. In high school I mostly just didn't even go at all after the first couple of weeks trying to keep up and failing to do so. It didn't help that several times I was uprooted in the middle of the year at once school and transferred to another one. I would start the pattern of "it's going to be different" all over again, but at new schools it was even harder because I could never seem to get caught up and this made me feel even worse. A lot of this is why I grew up thinking I was stupid and could never do well in school. I figured some people were meant for school and I wasn't one of them.

I started to change my pattern when I went back to school, after many, many years. I did so reluctantly of course and I started once again with my whole routine of "it's going to be different" and this time it really was. A lot of the change had to do with the fact that I was an adult. I had lived on my own and had figured out how to keep a house, how to take care of a car and pets and pretty much everything on my own. I also knew I had to pay for classes and when you're paying for something with your own money it suddenly has a lot more value. I wasn't about to waste money failing a class because I couldn't keep some papers and folders together. Plus, I just couldn't bear to feel like a bad person anymore. I didn't want to be an uneducated, low class, disorganized disaster of a person who had to work two low paying, shitty, miserable jobs to barely get by just because she couldn't manage to remember when her term paper was due. That life just wasn't an option for me anymore.

So here I am now as the teacher in what to me feels like the greatest irony of all. If some of my old teachers knew this was how I ended up they'd never, ever believe it.

"That juvenile delinquent?" they'd ask, "No way. She wasn't even very smart."

Another resolution that I had (and kept) was that I would never be one of those kinds of teachers. I have had students who are a wreck, who have papers all over the place, who can't seem to remember anything and I can't help but to love them. I love all of my students a lot, but the grade grubbers don't touch me as much. I identify with the disasters - the students who struggle. I am moved by the kid who is always late to class and can't seem to get his act together at all. I am challenged by the students who can barely speak English and who tell me that they are living with fifteen other people in a two bedroom apartment in a bad area of town. The single mom, with the waittressing job at night, who comes to class in her uniform, makes me want to be a better person and a better teacher because I know I have a responsibility to be an outstanding teacher so that she will genuinely learn the skills that will enable her to stay in school and to make a better life and correct her past mistakes for her kids.

I know that some of my students who have such a hard time have grown up in homes filled with chaos and anxiety where they didn't have anyone to read to them, to show them how to organize their papers or their time and they didn't have a parent to help with homework. They had teachers who passed them out of high school in order to get rid of them. For these students I realize that I have to take some extra time and literally teach them, as no one ever taught me, how to organize, how to study, how to keep track of things and how to best manage time. I eventually get to teaching them how to write a thesis statement, what a comma splice is and how to most effectively use transitions, but none of that is going to matter if they can't find time to write their papers or if they can't find the papers once they do get around to writing them. And all of them have thanked me me for finally showing them in concrete terms, what to do.

I have a tremendous success rate with my students. I have a reputation for being a hard-ass grader, yet I rarely have to fail anyone. I've been accused of making my classes too hard by other teachers, but not a single student has ever complained. When I raise my standards I tell my students I am doing so because I know they can do it and then they raise their standards for themselves. Dumbing things down makes people feel badly about themselves. Hard work gives people, in all fields not just students, confidence and a sense of real accomplishment.

I'm so excited to get back into the classroom. I can hardly stand the excitement and the energy I feel. I love being back at school. I love that I have the potential to effect so many people's lives and I know this can all sound very cheezy of me, but seriously, I was born to do this and it's about so much more than having summers off. And this year, maybe once and for all, I'll be able to keep the car clean and maybe I'll even try giving up coffee again.
Friday, August 22, 2008

Odds and Ends

I'm busy and somewhat agitated because I have lost my summer. Has anyone seen it? Where has my summer gone? Anyone?

School starts on Monday. I waited until the last minute to do everything because I thought summer would last longer or pass more slowly or something. Clearly I lost my memories of grade school, but suddenly they've all come back. That's right, summer does pass more quickly than any other season. As soon as you're done with school and swim in the pool a couple days, maybe go to the beach once or twice, you have to go right back to school. The first day back is, of course, incomplete without a peeling sunburn. Thanks to a week of rain I don't have that this year, but I remember spending large portions of the first week of school sitting at my desk peeling long flakes of skin, like Saran Wrap, off my arms.

What better time to blog though, than when you have ten million things to do and crap to print and things to put into folders and sub-folders and spreadsheets to construct and pens to buy? There is no better time than the present to procrastinate I say, and so I've decided to give you one of those odds and ends posts that catch you up on what my family is doing and what's been taking up my time this week.

1. My Parents Go To Las Vegas - I hadn't heard from my parents in like a week, which was somewhat alarming. I figured this meant they were up to no good.

For the entire summer they've had this guy living with them. They found him here and then somehow he ended up out there in LA with them, which was perplexing to me, although, knowing them it really shouldn't have been. His name is Dougie and I don't really know his story except that he is probably in his 30s and seems at once older and younger than me. My parents have decked Dougie out in Ed Hardy shirts and jeans with rhinestones on the back pockets and now he goes around with them everywhere. I'm not sure why.

So I decided to give them a call and they informed me that they were in Las Vegas and had brought Dougie along and that the three of them were shopping at Ross because the Vegas Ross is apparently off the charts and unbelievable. There is an equally unbelievable Ross in LA but should not be confused with a less fantastic Ross somewhere between LA and Las Vegas that they had visited the day before I talked to them. That one had been a disappointment. I think I'm going to have to make a chart of the unbelievability of all the different Ross stores. The one here would score very low and of course the ones in LA and Las Vegas wouldn't even be on it because they are "off the chart." Not only were my parents in Vegas with Dougie, they were in a trailer park in Vegas with Dougie and the dogs. They had driven there in the bus and found the trailer park, which had a full sized swimming pool, to be equally as unbelievable as the Ross, so much so that they have decided to move there. This winter my parents will be living in a bus in a trailer park outside of Las Vegas. They decided to go back to LA now because Las Vegas is too hot for the dogs and the dogs step out of the bus and refuse to walk. They just lay down on the ground in total surrender. My parents have also informed me that they plan to drive back home in October and to stay here for a couple months which will mean that I will move back to my apartment. That's good. I kind of miss it. That brings me to my next item.

2. I Decide To Sell All My Worldly Possessions - I discovered a consignment shop a few weeks ago in the stylish, gay section of town that I like to frequent for its nice people, fine dining and unique shops. I took a few things in and made a quick buck on them which then incited a full on addiction. I can't help it. No one in my family can do anything in moderation, including myself. I grew up with a mother who does not understand that she is not actually making a profit by buying things at Ross. I try to explain to her that yes, it used to be two hundred dollars and now it's seventeen ninety-nine, but that doesn't mean that you're making $182.01. It means you're still losing the seventeen ninety-nine. My mother loves a bargain so much that she goes wild with spending to the point where the fact that something was a bargain becomes pointless and ironic. Due to this habit of hers we always had a lot of stuff in our house. A lot of stuff. Our homes have always looked like stores. I think my mom may be a bit of a hoarder to be honest with you. I like to call her style of decorating "No Surface Left Behind." She finds comfort in clutter and prefers as much decoration as can be crammed in a single area. Blank spaces seem to make her nervous and as a result, all the clutter and stuff I grew up stumbling over has turned me into her complete opposite. I live for blank spaces. I'm into the whole spare, Scandinavian look with plain wooden tables adorned with only a single, green pear or a smooth stone as a decoration. I like as little crap as possible and my husband is even worse. I still like things to be pretty. He doesn't care as long as they're functional, but that might be because he's a man. So I admit I've gotten a little fanatical myself. Whereas my mother buys and buys I've been selling and selling. I went over to my apartment and started cleaning everything out and trying to sell it because the thrill of selling my possessions seemed far more satisfying than having the possessions. I went overboard and now I don't have very much stuff and the only reason this bothers me is because now I don't have very much left to sell. I've begun to look at things and wonder how much I could get for them.

3. My Sister's Gay Brother Has A Baby - I know. Try to wrap your head around that one for a minute. My sister has a brother that she did not grow up with. As my sister is actually my aunt, my sister's brother is also my mom's half brother. He's a year younger than my sister at 25. He grew up in Appalachia with their biological mother who looks and acts like Brigitte Nielsen when she was on that show in VH1 a few years back, while my sister who is actually my aunt was raised with us as my sister. I don't know him very well, but she kept in touch with him and is quite close with him. His name is Bradford and Bradford was gay. It was obvious from the time that he was a small child and liked to dress in drag. Once he visited us and became deeply enamored with Aunt Kyle, a leopard negligee of my mother's and our elderly Yorkie Gaga. Aunt Kyle kind of took Bradford under his wing as his little protege and we were all happy that finally we'd have a real homosexual in the family and wouldn't have to keep adopting gay men to satisfy our need to hang around with flamboyant and creative, oppressed sub-cultures. We always made sure to make it very obvious to Bradford that we enthusiastically encouraged his gay-ness and that there was nothing wrong with it and that no one would be mad or upset if he were to feel attracted to men, which he was very certain about from the time he was really young. When he was about twenty he dated an older man for a while and everything was going great in their relationship. A few years later he called my sister and informed her that he had gotten married. We thought he meant to his boyfriend. He said that no he was married to an eighteen year old girl. That was two years ago and he claims he's no longer gay. Now they have a beautiful baby girl and he is just thrilled to be a father and I think he will be an incredible father. But the question remains and we have asked him, how can he no longer be gay? Was he bi? Did he just want a baby? What on earth happened? But as he is a member of our family anything can be expected from him and we all just shrugged and said ok and were excited about the baby. Last week my sister went to visit him where he still lives in Appalachia and spent the whole weekend holding the baby, only returning her to her parents when she pooped. I wish I could have gone too because Bradford is an incredible person in spite of the confusion over his sexuality. He had a rough childhood and grew up to be funny, compassionate and hard working. He's a nurse in an old folks home which has to be a difficult and thankless kind of job. It takes a special person and he is one. He also used to have a hilarious blog on MySpace. He's way funnier than I am, but he doesn't write anymore because he's busy with the baby.

4. Tropical Storm Fay was a lot of Rain - I guess you know that already. It rained a lot all week and my life carried on as usual although my poor cousin Fallon lost her car because her neighborhood was badly flooded. The water was up so high that it came inside and soaked the upholstery and ruined the engine and now she's haggling with the stupid insurance company. I feel terrible for her about this. I hope she can get a new car.

In the middle of the storm Monday night I was talking on the phone to Bella who has lost 50 pounds people. 50 pounds!! WooHoo for Bella not eating like a fucking asshole anymore!! I'm so proud of her and can't wait to see her all fit and healthy and full of energy. Anyway, we were on the phone and the damned doorbell rang and I said "Who in the hell would come to the door in the middle of a storm?" I hung up and went to the front door where a sodden mess was standing on the front step with a black yard trashbag over her head. The girl was in her 20s and fairly trashy and tweaky looking with a frizz of hair that looked unfortunately like a sea sponge and she wore black patent hooker shoes. She was wearing some semblance of a business suit, like a business suit as interpreted by Forever 21 and worn with the hooker shoes, which defeats the whole purpose of even trying to wear a business suit. She had arrived in a lowered down Charger with heavily tinted windows which was now parked in the driveway.

The girl under the trashbag claimed to be looking for my father because she had an important business proposal for him. We went round and round with her not telling me what exactly it was and who had sent her. She claimed her "partners" sent her and the proposal was in the entertainment business and that she tried to call my dad and he didn't answer so she looked up the address and showed up. I ripped her a new one for that because you do not show up unannounced during the peak of a tropical storm with a shady sounding "business proposal" and a trash bag on your head. It just isn't sound business practice. I asked her why she didn't just send something in the mail since she had the address and she didn't have an answer and then she started twitching and looking methy and nervous so I made her leave. I think she was some kind of a con artist of some sort. She could have looked in the mailbox and found out my dad's name and he said he didn't know who she was. It was very unsettling. Such is life at Casa dei Sogni though.

I think there's more, but I have plenty of procrastination left for the weekend. I hope you are all well and good and behaving yourselves.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Love Letter to FPL

I love Florida Power and Light. I want to daydream about it all day as I'm supposed to be working on other things. I want to send it dirty text messages and then, in a wig and sunglasses, meet it in a motel room on the other side of the highway. I want to wear lingerie for FPL and if it was into role playing I might be willing to try that out although I never have. I want to cook FPL dinner in a little french maid's outfit and watch it eat. I'd like to kiss Florida Power and Light slowly and make it homemade valentines. I would buy it new shoes. I might even be tempted to call it too many times a day or drive by its house when we weren't together. That's how much I love my electric company.

What could inspire this sudden and deep devotion to utilities, you may wonder.

Last night the storm really started to pick up and Husband and I were lying in bed watching the Olympics and I was so cross at the Chinese over the whole women's gymnastics disaster and I was even crosser at the unfair, supposedly unbiased non-Chinese judges. God I hope they prove some of those girls are children and shame the cheating, lying Chinese government, but they won't. I know Cheng Fei is old enough but she landed on her knees after her vault!!! How is it possible that she received a medal for that and Alicia Sacramone didn't? Can someone tell me? I've been furious about it for two days now.

So there I was ranting about gymnastics, watching the tie breaker between China and the US on the uneven bars, knowing the dreaded outcome because I had read it earlier in the New York Times when the storm really started getting a little wilder than I had thought it would. The wind was really blowing and it was pouring rain. I had finally calmed down from an earlier incident involving a mysterious stranger at the front door, which I'll post about post-coffee. I started seeing the turquoise arcs of transformers exploding in the distance and a sense of dread came over me. In a few minutes we heard a loud explosion, saw a flash and then our power went out too. I was livid, but there was nothing we could do so Husband called FPL to tell them about it and we braced ourselves for a few days with no electricity here and moving the food from the freezer over to our apartment which is currently vacant but more likely to have electricity. It was just going to be a big, irritating hassle. So I went to bed.

A couple hours later I had to pee so I got up and when I crawled back in bed all the lights went back on! I have never been so happy. I went and looked out the window and there, across the street, was a giant FPL truck fixing the transformer on our powerline and they were doing it in the wind and rain.

FPL I love you for coming so quickly in such bad weather to save all those containers of soups and chili and all those vacuum sealed packages of chicken, shrimp, pork chops and steaks. FPL you even saved the homemade ice cream we made Sunday night and several packs of edamame along with some gross looking bananas I froze several months ago for future smoothies. FPL you are the best. Because of you I will have healthy, delicious lunches at school until October.
Monday, August 18, 2008

Cat Poop Coffee

When I last wrote, about an hour ago I was without coffee. I am pleased to report that I am back now and with my superb iced coffee made from Starbucks roasted Costco Brand coffee beans. Longtime readers know of my hopeless addiction to coffee that I periodically try to kick and then lack the willpower to follow through on. Many times I've often wondered if I could even write at all if it weren't for coffee.

One of my favorite blogs is Slashfood and one of my favorite Slashfood bloggers is Marisa. The other day Marisa posted a piece about the cost of a cup of coffee. Marisa writes that "the price of a morning cup is up" and goes on to ask readers to share how much a regular cup of coffee costs in their city.

I admit that I don't really know how much a cup of coffee costs here in South Florida because I mostly just make it at home like I do with everything else. At my favorite diner I think it's about $1.25, but I normally don't get coffee out, because I like to make it at home. I'm telling you these Costco beans are great. They're regular Costco brand, come in a generic looking green bag and are roasted and prepared by Starbucks. That means that they're exactly the same as the far more expensive Starbucks brand, just in an uglier bag without the mermaid. But to answer Marisa's question about the most expensive coffee - I have seen it all and I have seen it here in South Florida.

Barton G, a Miami restaurant so expensive and so over the top that normal people can only go there if their rich parents or rich friends (or rich friends' parents) are paying or if they are on a date with a rapper or professional athlete, offers a simple cup of coffee for $40.00. It is made from beans which have been crapped out of the ass of an Asian wildcat. I am not kidding about this. I would never lie about something as serious as cat poop coffee. See for yourself.

I've been lucky enough to go to Barton G a couple times. The restaurant is difficult to describe because it's simply so unusual. It's probably the most expensive place I've ever eaten, but it's also the most decadent and creative in terms of dishes offered and presentation. One popular appetizer is a lobster poptart which is served in an actual toaster. I like their fried chicken which comes rolling to the table in a big metal chicken on wheels, which inspired me to spontaneously burst into song. "Chicken on Wheels, Chicken on Wheels." Ok never mind that part. You can't hear the tune. Desserts arrive with lit sparklers. You can get an entire chocolate fountain, at least five feet high and with about twenty different items to dip into it. One dessert used to come with a table top Pac-Man machine and chocolate monkeys hang from the rims of martini glasses with every cocktail (Whiskeymarie would be in heaven). Every single thing you order at Barton G is guaranteed to be completely ridiculous, whimsical, insanely expensive and unlike anything you've ever encountered at any other restaurant in the world. And, yes, the food does taste really, really good. If it didn't the concept wouldn't work because it would be all style and no substance. So I say, if you can save up a few paychecks and are visiting Miami you should try to go to Barton G just for the experience. And then you too can try a forty dollar cup of cat shit coffee.

I personally have not tasted this apparent delicacy. I haven't been to Barton G in a couple years and frankly my last experience there was horrible, but not because of any fault of the restaurant or its staff who tried to fix things for us as much as they could. I'd like to go back, but not for the coffee. At the end of my last visit when I was trying to decide which party-sized dessert to have (did I want decorate my own cupcakes or did I want a giant ceramic banana filled with seventeen scoops of ice cream and twenty three toppings?) I happened to see the forty dollar cup of coffee on the menu and my first thought was something along the lines of "Jesus Christ who would pay that much for a single cup of coffee?" But then I remembered that I was in Miami. There are plenty of people in Miami and surrounding areas who would not hesitate to pay forty dollars for a single cup of coffee and most of them would have no idea that it was made from beans pooped out of a civet's butt.

I've worked for and been around rich people for most of my life and I can tell you with some authority that many of them, especially the ones down here, would jump at the chance to order forty dollar coffee just because it was expensive and pretty much all of them would have no clue that what they were drinking had already been digested by another animal.

I can imagine a bunch of Indonesians sitting around trying to figure out how they could best get one over on Rich White Westerners. They probably saw the piles of civet dooky lying around and noticed that the turds were full of beans and thought, as a dirty joke that it would be hilarious to make coffee out of those poopy beans and sell them to white people for an exorbitant cost. Supposedly the cat poop coffee tastes spectacularly rich and complex, but I wonder if maybe people are just imagining this. It's a proven fact that cost affects our perceptions of things. It's partly because we unwittingly associate cost with quality, which is only sometimes true, and it's also because we want to believe that something we paid a lot of money for is really good or better in some way. If we didn't, then we'd feel ripped off and look like fools. A perfect example to prove that this is not true, that cost does not always mean quality, is my Costco beans; cheaper only because they are sold in bulk and in an ugly bag. For six hundred dollars a pound I hope the cat poop coffee comes in hand woven silk bags tied with pastel colored, satin ribbons.

I know a guy who went to Barton G for a special occasion and decided to splurge and try the cat poop coffee for fun. He's a regular guy with a good, but not millionaire's salary and he wanted to try the coffee for the story he could tell. I can accept that because I've been known to do and try things myself that I knew would make for interesting stories to tell at dull cocktail parties such as the time my friend Michael and I decided to chase down an eight foot alligator on a golf course thinking that we could run in a zig zag pattern and get away from it if we pissed it off. Don't try that at home. So the guy I know who tried the cat poop coffee said that it tasted exactly like any other cup of coffee, but that he did get a special certificate with it (suitable for framing) saying that he had, indeed, tried cat poop coffee. Can you imagine going into someone's house and seeing a framed certificate on their wall saying that they had drank coffee which had passed through the digestive system of a cat responsible for the spread of SARS to humans? That's quite the accomplishment there.

I don't think I would try cat poop coffee. Cat shit just isn't very appetizing to me and yes I know they clean it off, but still. Whenever Canela starts digging in the box the whole house can smell it. You wouldn't think that dry food and the occasional small lizard could produce such a stench, but cat asses are particularly foul and cat shit is one of the most vile and toxic things on the planet. As I sipped from my steaming mug I wouldn't be able to get that image from my mind.

How about you all? Have you or would you try cat poop coffee? What other ridiculous delicacies have you had or would you like to have?

Tropical Storm

We're having some very bad weather right now. I woke up early and it was dark outside and a second ago it began to rain really hard. Now it's thundering too. I don't so much mind this. It's actually kind of cozy. I've always loved these sorts of days where you have to turn the lights on in the daytime. I just don't want the power to go out.

Just in case it does, I took the best steaks out of the freezer Saturday and we grilled them up. They were really good.

We spent all weekend cooking and preparing for the possible storm which is not interesting at all. My husband is an evil man and made two pans of cinnamon rolls. We froze most of them for later indulgence, but I still had more than I needed.

Now it has stopped raining but there is some wild lightning and loud thunder. Canela is hiding under the bed. Oh never mind, now it's pouring again.

As I can't go on like this forever, and as I really should not write without first having had coffee, I shall stop this "Oh it's raining - wait - no it's not - oh it's raining again" and go make a nice iced coffee for myself. I'll come back later and write some more.
Saturday, August 16, 2008

Carrot Ginger Soup

A couple people asked about my carrot-ginger soup. I don't exactly have a recipe with measurements and all that. I just made it up as I went along and it came out perfectly, but I can attempt to explain what I did in writing for you. The good thing about soups though is that there is a lot of room for flexibility without messing up the final result.

Here are the ingredients I used:

a bag of carrots, ends and tips cut off, sliced into rounds
one big shallot minced
butter and olive oil
one clove of garlic put through the press
probably a tablespoon or so of ginger, I use the kind in a tube like toothpaste, you can use fresh. Never use dried - that's for pumpkin pie.
tumeric
cinnamon
cardamom
cayenne
white pepper
a box of organic chicken broth or veggie broth
sour cream as a garnish if you like it - it's fine without it too

First I sauteed the minced shallot in a pat of butter and a drizzle of olive oil. If you're vegan just use the olive oil or some other kind of oil. Let the shallot get transparent and don't have the heat up too high. Then add the garlic and ginger and stir and sautee on lowish heat so it doesn't burn. When it starts to smell good add your carrot slices and sautee until everything starts to get combined and the carrots look like they're starting to cook. Then add your spices. I admit I didn't measure. I do it all by eye, knowing how much spiciness I prefer. I use tumeric because it's healthy and you should throw it in whatever you can get away with. I probably used about a half teaspoon of it or so. Then I used only a dash of cinnamon because you don't want the soup to taste like dessert. The amount of cayenne depends on how hot you like your food. I used about a half teaspoon of white pepper and since cardamom is strong and tastes kind of strange to some people I used the tip of my knife to measure it. Sautee for a minute or so to cook the spices. Then add your box of broth, stir it all up, put the lid on the pot and simmer it for about forty minutes to an hour stirring and checking occasionally. When the carrots are very soft remove the soup from the heat and let it cool down for about fifteen minutes. Then use an immersion blender to puree the whole pot into orange, spicy velvet. If you don't have an immersion blender you should go get one, but you can puree the soup in the regular blender or food processor in small batches. If you do this let it cool down a lot and only do a little at a time because the lid will fly off the blender and explode soup everywhere which will make you want to kill someone. You could also get burned, so please be careful. Hell, just go to Target and get the immersion blender. It's one of the best wedding presents I received. I use it all the time. I'm like the Queen of Puree. Once you have your soup pureed retaste it for seasonings before serving it. You might want to add salt (I didn't need it) or you might want more spices. Just season it however you like it. You can serve the soup with all kinds of garnishes too. Some ideas I like are a little spot of plain yogurt or sour cream, a sprinkle of chives, cilantro or parsley or just eat it plain. After I made this batch I thought it might have been good with a little orange juice or orange zest thrown in with the spices. Maybe next time I'll experiment with that.
Friday, August 15, 2008

Rooting for the Trough

We're going to have a hurricane. There's a thing, a disturbance, out in the Atlantic. They haven't quite started Cone of Death Watch 2008 and I haven't seen anyone fist-fighting for plywood, but rest assured, they will. It will happen. There is going to be a hurricane.

Why are you so sure, you may be asking. I'll tell you. I know there is going to be a hurricane because I spent my entire morning making gigantic pots of soup and freezing them. Then I spent almost a hundred dollars at the butcher and had all kinds of stuff vacuum sealed and that's in the freezer too. I've spent my entire week cooking and freezing and stocking the freezer and I did this because school starts next week. Pretty soon I'm going to be too busy to cook, so I got this brilliant idea that I would cook now and freeze individual portions for my future lunches and I got all these freezer containers and had a field day in the kitchen. I made turkey chili, vegetable soup and carrot ginger soup. I have chickens, steaks and pork roasts all ready to go. Husband is even going to make bread dough and freeze that. You would think we were bears getting ready to go into hibernation we have stocked so much food. I won't need to go shopping until Halloween.

This is why we're going to have a hurricane. It's kind of like when you wash your car and it rains the same day and gets spots all over it. The law of the universe predicts that when I spend a lot of money on food and take the time to cook and freeze a ton of it for future use that a hurricane will come, knock out the power for weeks and ruin all of my hard work and waste my money.

For now I'm rooting for the trough. I recommend you root too because if you don't I'm inviting all of you to come help me eat this food so it doesn't go to waste.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Red Flags - Part 1

I promised to write this at the beginning of the summer, but I wanted to really take the time to think about it and I wanted things to settle down with my sister some, which they are finally starting to. To refresh your memory, in June my sister found out that her boyfriend of six months, whom she believed she was about to get engaged to and buy a house with, turned out to be a thief and a con artist. He stole all of her money, even going so far as to steal tips from her tip jar at work. He cleaned out her checking and savings accounts. He even stole the coins from her change jar in her closet. He took her birthday money and he took her trust. I don't know if she'll ever be able to trust anyone again. She lost her job because of this and had to move. I want to make one statement on his behalf (sort of) though. I don't know exactly why this guy did this, only that he did it. We've speculated a lot about his motives, which seemed to be deeper than simply money. I suspect mental illness, but honestly I have no idea. The most important part of this story is not to condemn him or to retell what happened, but to demonstrate that it all could have been prevented. My sister could have protected herself and you can protect yourself and your loved ones from these types of situations too. That is what I want to come from this.

It was devastating and we just kept saying over and over that this is the kind of thing you see on TV. This doesn't happen in real life, does it? Well, yes it does. It happens all the time and it doesn't happen only with money or only in romantic relationships. There are a million ways that people can take advantage of other people and the reason I am writing this is to let you know that you can prevent it 99% of the time. My sister could have easily prevented all of this. She made some big mistakes and learned this lesson the hard way, but she is no different than most people, women especially. I think almost everyone I know has been sucked in and conned in some way by someone. Of course it hasn't been quite as dramatic as my sister's story, but then again, we like to do things big and over the top in our family, so if we're gonna get conned and used we're gonna get conned big.

Con jobs manifest themselves in a variety of ways. When I say "con job" or "con artist" you probably think of characters from movies - Sawyer on "Lost" types of people who deceive and lie to others for a living. There are plenty of these people, but con jobs, short for "confidence jobs," aren't just for money. People con others emotionally as well. This is how abusers operate. If they just started out beating the hell out of women on first dates they'd never get anywhere. They're no different in technique from any other con man. They just have different motives. That's your first lesson. It isn't just about money (although it often is). People con others for power, attention, sex, their own sick version of love and sometimes just for fun.

Back when I was dating I met a lot of certifiable wack jobs. Being extremely naive and even more needy I fell for all kinds of lines from men. I made excuses for things I should have known were unacceptable because I wanted company and validation. I made myself very easy to take advantage of because I was weak, uniformed and had more interest in my own fantasies I made up about guys I barely knew than in the reality right in front of me. My sister did the same thing. I was lucky. No one took my money, but plenty of men took my pride and my trust. They did this because I gave them every opportunity to. I may as well have worn a big sign on my head saying "USE ME!!"

But remember, this doesn't just happen in romantic relationships. It happens with friendships, in work relationships, business partnerships and even between family members.

Throughout my life I've seen my parents get involved with a lot of unsavory characters, people I often had bad gut feelings about. I was right about every single one of them. Because of my life with my parents I'd say I've probably seen and known more toxic fucked up people and real con artists (like Sawyer) than just about anyone around. I'm a con artist spotting expert at this point in my life. Seeing my parents hurt and taken advantage of by a former business partner one day, I suddenly made the connection that business relationships were no different than dating. The dynamic is exactly the same and the potential for being taken advantage of, tricked and used was exactly the same.

What then, I wondered, was the key to avoiding disaster in any kind of relationship? I wondered how I could protect myself. How could people in business protect themselves? How could I manage to prevent any more friendships with people who were needy, toxic bloodsuckers who drained my energy and time with their drama and clinginess? What could I do to not have another physically and mentally abusive relationship with a man like I had with my Evil Ex?

The first thing I had to realize and be willing to understand was that I made myself a victim. It was my fault. I looked at every other situation where people I knew had been conned or used in some way and my theory held true. The victim is always at fault in some way. This kind of thinking is a huge taboo in our society. You're not supposed to blame people for what happens to them. If you do you're a bad person, but allowing people to wallow in their vicitmhood is far more destructive than encouraging people to see how their own choices or lack thereof lead to bad things happening to them. The only time a victim is not to blame at all is if they are a child or are attacked by a stranger (that happens all the time of course and that's not the victim's fault at all). Sometimes people are harmed by people they know who are severely mentally ill and I'm not talking about that either. There are exceptions to every general statement.

The second thing I realized was that there are always red flags. Here at the beach when the surf is high and there are dangerous rip currents, lifeguards stake red flags all up and down the beach. These are to warn you that conditions are dangerous and if you go in the water anyway something terrible is likely to happen. People ignore the red flags all the time and end up injured or drowned. The same thing can happen to you in your interpersonal relationships where the red flags are often more subtle. You might trick yourself into thinking the red flags don't exist at all. "Oh that wasn't a red flag. My eyes were playing tricks on me," you might say,"That was a red bird or something. I'm being ridiculous."

If you can learn to spot red flags early on and terminate any potentially toxic relationship immediately you will spare yourself a world of hurt and protect yourself from being conned, abused or harmed. That is the key to not being a victim. And trust me, you do not want to be a victim. It's not empowering at all. It's sad and pathetic. Instead be a strong, insightful individual who knows how to protect yourself and take responsibility for the things that happen in your life. That's something to be proud of. Later on I'm going to give you some specific red flags to look for that can be indicators of con jobs, but first I'm going to give you a few things that you can do to avoid being preyed upon or to make yourself stronger so that if you are preyed upon you can stop it before it goes too far.

1. Do Not Indulge in Stupid Fantasies
If you listen to nothing else I say, listen to this. Con artists of all varieties know that the easiest cons are the dreamers. They get to know you and figure out exactly what you want to hear and then they pour it on thick, telling you exactly what you've always wanted someone to say to you. Without your fantasies their cons can't work. Everyone wants to get rich quick, right? You want there to be undiscovered diamond mines in the Congo. You want a man to tell you that you're the most beautiful woman he's ever seen. You want a woman to make you feel like you're the strongest, most successful, powerful man she's ever known.

My sister's fantasy, which is one I definitely shared and one that millions of women share, was that a man would come and sweep her away and take care of everything for her. He would be strong, rich and smart. The man would provide everything for her. They would buy a house, have a baby and she wouldn't have to work at her grueling job with the bad hours, missing family holidays ever again and she'd never have to listen to me bitching about how bad it is for her to work in a bar ever again because this man would solve every problem with a snap of his fingers. I had this fantasy too. Most of my friends have had this fantasy. Let me just tell you, it doesn't exist. I've had friends who have married rich partners and they don't have to clock in at the office anymore, but don't think for a second that there's no work involved in their lives especially when they stay home and take care of kids. This fantasy is part laziness and part lack of confidence. If you really break it down it's kind of stupid because seriously, why should some man or some woman or whatever come in and do every single thing for you so you have to do nothing? Ultimately this would not be all that satisfying of a life and the girls I know who have the rich men and don't have jobs anymore are all neurotic, feel trapped and unfulfilled and are addicted to pills.

The way to have a truly fulfilling relationship with someone is to have enough of your own accomplishments and skills to take care of yourself that you are not in a need-based relationship. If you can support yourself, financially and emotionally, you will be in a relationship simply because you want to be, not because you need the other person to provide for you, and that is when you will be truly fulfilled.

It's not much different in a business relationship. I've seen many, many people fall for obvious bullshit, stinking, steaming piles of bullshit, because they wanted to believe that it really was possible for them to make a ton of money without having to do any work. IT'S NOT POSSIBLE. If for a second you start to believe that it's possible, IT ISN'T. There are no diamond mines in Africa so to speak, ok? Business cons also work because the person being conned, like the romantic person being conned, wants to feel better about himself. In the romantic relationship the con-ee desperately wants to feel like someone special and desirable. In the business relationship the person being conned wants to feel like a powerful big shot. The con man (or woman) in both cases will use this lack of self esteem to weasel in and gain your confidence. They'll make you feel attractive, lovable and sexy and they'll make you feel like Donald Trump.

A lot of times people are so committed to whatever fantasy they've dreamed up that even when they know there are red flags they chose to ignore them because they so desperately want that fantasy to be a reality and they don't want to face the fact that the fantasy isn't going to come true. If you don't let go of these fantasies you are only conning and bullshitting yourself.

2. Don't Be a Dumb-Ass
If you allow yourself to go through life uninformed about the world around you, you are setting yourself up to be taken advantage of. Con artists of all kinds look for people who are ignorant because the more ignorant you are the least likely you are to call them on their bullshit. If you don't know a lot they can easily impress you with big words and nonsense stories. If you educate yourself (and it doesn't have to be with school, though that definitely helps) and if you have a good understanding of how the world works you'll know when someone says something that isn't quite true. The majority of the con artists who have passed through the Grand Central Crazy of my parents' lives have tried to pull cons by dropping a lot of complicated jargon. Of course none of it means much of anything but if you aren't informed or educated and if you naturally feel a little dumb you're going to be impressed and you'll just assume that this person is an expert who clearly knows more than you do. The con man counts on dazzling you with words. But if you know what the hell is going on when the con man makes some bullshit assertion or tries to use technical jargon you can call him on it on the spot and make a fool of him and let him know this shit won't work on you. I've done it repeatedly with people my parents have brought over and the con man always gets flustered because the truth is, most of these people aren't that smart themselves which is why they're con men. They're clever, but not genuinely intelligent. But please know there are exceptions where incredibly smart people are still abusers, con men and all sorts of terrible things. Some people are just sociopaths or lunatics.

This advice applied to my sister's situation in a big way. Her con man claimed to have a job and be an expert in a field which she knew nothing about. By watching a few shows on the Discovery Channel (which I also saw by the way) he was able to garner a few key words and images to impress her enough into thinking he had a big, fancy glamorous job which he did not. She knew nothing about this particular field and so she assumed that he was some sort of genius and she was stupid. She also didn't know the right questions to ask which could have stumped him and revealed his lies.

Later in the relationship it happened again. They were looking to buy a house (except not really, he just wanted her to think they were). She knew nothing whatsoever about real estate or getting a mortgage or buying a property so he was able to come up with all kinds of tales and she believed them and deferred to him. The fantasy came into play here too because she desperately wanted her own house and I get this because I want my own house too. Husband and I know about buying property and how it all works and thus became suspicious when things went unusually. This guy confused my sister with a lot of fancy words. Using fancy words sounds so smart that if you are ignorant or feel like you aren't smart, you'll automatically give up your power to someone who's a snazzy talker.

To avoid this I'm not recommending that you drop everything and get a PhD. In some cases that wouldn't even help that much. I'm just saying stay informed. Take every opportunity to learn something that you can. Keep your brain active. Read the newspaper, even the sections that don't interest you. Ask people who are experts in fields you know nothing about to explain things to you. Look up fancy terms and jargon you hear people throwing around. You can get pretty far with just Google and the New York Times. Watch the world news. Know about current events, different cultures, different religions, business, politics. Don't be ignorant about the world you live in and you will be a force to be reckoned with.

3. Don't Drink A Lot
This one may be surprising but when I really sat down and thought about some of the biggest con jobs I had seen I realized that in a significant percentage of them, the person who was taken advantage of had been drunk or was a regular drinker. It can't be a coincidence.

Drinking impairs your judgment something awful. We know a man who is constantly being conned. He gets himself into relationships with crazy needy women who have sucked his bank accounts dry. Every week he's investing what little money he has left into some scheme that some idiot he met while he was drunk persuaded him into thinking was the next big thing - machines that cure cancer, the aforementioned African diamond mines, Nigerian bank wires and his latest which is something about Saddam Hussein's secret oil wells. Husband and I ask ourselves how this man can believe so much obvious bullshit and the answer is because this man is an alcoholic. He drinks from morning 'til night. He is always drunk so he can't make a good decision and his judgment is, at this point, probably as shriveled as his liver. He can't discern between bullshit and a legitimate proposition anymore because he's always drunk. He has permanent beer goggles for the entire world and lives in a drunken haze where everything seems like a fantastic idea.

Con men often use alcohol to ply their victims. They'll definitely wine you because they know that a drunk person is easier to influence. It doesn't always have to be as dramatic as that though. How many times have you heard about guys getting girls drunk so they'll have sex with them? ALL THE TIME.

I know a girl who is constantly abused by men in some way. She has been date raped twice and in both cases she was drinking heavily. In one of the cases she was even drugged, which is a whole new level of awful. Still though, in some way, it was her fault because she put herself in a situation where she was impaired, could not think or act optimally and could not defend herself. Had she not been drinking she would have been a much more difficult target. I've heard this girl's story over and over from tons of other girls and I just want to smack these girls and tell them "IT'S NOT WORTH IT!!!" Getting raped, drugged or even just sick all night is not a good time and every time a girl binge drinks to that point she is putting herself at risk. Still, the girl I know continues to drink and when she drinks she's willing still, after everything, to go home with strangers. Sober, this same girl knows way better and knows how dangerous this is, but then she starts drinking and her good sense jumps out of the plane without a parachute and everything seems safe and fun and wildly exciting and romantic. It breaks my fucking heart.

Drinking played a starring role in my sister's story too. When she met this guy they were drinking so he was able to get away with lies from the first night they met. They were having a good time. They created a dynamic to their relationship where they partied hard and passionately. They were decadent. They drank so much that my sister was drunk with him often enough that now her judgment was impaired too. She made decisions and excuses for this guy while she was drinking and I'm guessing that he probably lied to her the most when she was drunk because, well, it was easiest. I don't know what went on behind closed doors with them but I know enough to suspect that he probably encouraged her to drink knowing that if she was drunk he could get to her to do or believe whatever he wanted. If she passed out, better yet, because then he could get to her check card and into her online banking without worrying she would wake up.

Alcohol numbs your instincts and perceptions. Alcohol strangles your good judgment and alcohol is a con man too. If you choose to drink excessively you are in danger. And I think you all know I'm not just talking about a little wine with dinner here or a cocktail or two on occasion.

I know this is a lot to digest, so I'm going to leave you here. Think about what I've said. Next time I'm going to get into specific red flags and how to spot them so that you can cut things off with toxic people before you get in too deep. If you have any advice to add I'd love to hear it in the comments section too. I want to hear stories about times you've been conned or sucked in by bad people and what you could have done or did do to prevent it. I want to keep this from happening to as many people as I can.
Monday, August 11, 2008

Always Read the Fine Print

While in Israel Saba and Savta visited a region known for its baklava. This gave me some slight pause because I have been literally all over that country myself and was never aware of any particular area known for baklava. In fact, the region of Israel that I always thought was known for baklava was Greece. Baklava and baklavic-ish desserts are fairly popular all over the Middle East, but not excessively. Honestly I see baklava here in South Florida at our gazillion greek diners way more than I saw it over there. In Israel I think I ate halvah (a flaky sesame candy) more than anything else. And ice cream. A few times I had halvah ice cream and didn't want to come back home to America afterwards.

Still my grandparents insisted that there is a region known for its baklava and that they went there. While in Baklava-land they remembered that my other grandmother, my mother's mother, Memere Marie, who lives all the way up in Millpond a thousand miles away from Florida and many thousands of miles from Israel, liked baklava. They decided that now that they had gotten rid of the pepperjack that they needed another messy, heavy and cumbersome food item to lug all the way back home. They proceeded to purchase a syrup-dense, what must be 30 pound slab of baklava the size of a travertine floor tile. It was wrapped in plastic and packed in a maroon and white cardboard box and none of its wrappings prevented the baklava from leaking sticky-ickiness everywhere.

By the time the baklava arrived here (because I am to send it up to Millpond for them) it had teeny ants crawling all over it. This is because my grandparents are old and can't see and this is fine because Memere Marie is old and can't see either and has a husband who eats cat food anyway. When you're 80 a couple itty bitty ants are of no consequence.

Saba and Savta were very excited to have delivered this massive baklava all the way from Israel, ants and all, so that Memere Marie could have it. It really was incredibly kind and thoughtful of them. Memere Marie would get just as excited over it as they did over pepperjack. Her culinary repertoire is as bad as Saba and Savta's, just in a different way. An example of this, which goes into the Nasty-Assed Recipe Hall of Fame, is that she tried adding canned bean sprouts to green bean casserole. Presumably she did this because green bean casserole was not stringy and slimy enough as is and needed some extra stringy sliminess which could only be achieved through the addition of tasteless canned bean sprouts.

The problem with the baklava was that Saba and Savta did not read the fine print, which, incidentally, was in English. When they left Husband commented that the baklava looked suspiciously commercial and I agreed. It really didn't look like something some ancient Middle Eastern woman had painted with layer upon layer of clarified butter. The phyllo didn't appear to be rolled and folded by hand and we began to have a really hard time imagining that anyone had cracked the walnuts by hand or sprinkled rose water into a cauldron of bubbling sugar water. The baklava looked like something made in a factory and pawned off on innocent tourists like my grandparents.

"It has printing on the box, " Husband noticed, "You'd think if this was made in some rustic, countryside bakery that they wouldn't have such commercial looking packaging, right?"

We inspected the ingredients list and oh...the horror. There was corn syrup.

"That's odd because corn syrup is mostly used in American processed food, isn't it?" I asked.

I was under the impression that corn syrup, that evil ingredient, was used primarily in factory made American garbage food and that it is rarely used outside of our country. Husband thought so too. No little bakery in the country would use industrial grade corn syrup in baklava. Something was terribly wrong here. Husband flipped the sticky, ant-crawling box of baklava over.

There it was, in very fine print.

"Made in Cincinnatti"

We both groaned.

"You have got to be kidding me," I said, "My grandparents really thought this was something special, some unique to Israel treat and the damned thing was made in a factory in Ohio and then shipped thousands of miles to Israel only to be flown thousands of miles back to America where it will be shipped a thousand more miles to Millpond. This baklava is a locavore's worst nightmare!"

Husband and I considered very seriously throwing it in the trash. It was poor quality, tourist drek. It was leaking sugar everywhere and had ants on it. It was heavy as hell and would be expensive to ship. Ugghhh. But none of my grandparents would know any better, not Saba or Savta nor Memere Marie. Saba and Savta had thought of their daughter-in-law's mother while they were on vacation and that was really nice. Memere Marie would probably cry and she would never know the difference between some shit made in a factory in Ohio and real baklava. She lives in Millpond after all. There aren't any greeks for several states and there certainly is no baklava in the Piggly Wiggly. The right thing to do is to send her the stupid baklava, because it's about kindness and thoughtfulness not about corn syrup, ants or what has to be one hell of a carbon footprint for some crappy pastry.
Friday, August 08, 2008

Pepperjack's Grand Tour Part 2

I always break my promise to finish the damned story already. But I have a good excuse. Yesterday was one of the most shit assed days in a long time. I had to go to my apartment because fire alarms were being installed and I had to wait around. I decided to clean my closet out and take all the stuff to the thrift store. All went well until, when at the thrift store, my car wouldn't start back up so I could leave. My car was dead. Husband had to come rescue me, then we were annoyed at one another over something separate that was completely insignificant. After we managed to jump the car enough so that it made it back home it commenced to re-die once it got in the driveway, but at least it was here. My cousin Fallon (Aunt Kiki's daughter) has been here for the past week keeping me company, which makes me very happy. Fallon is here because she can't stand living with Aunt Kiki, which makes me sad. I'll spare you the story, but poor Fallon had major Aunt Kiki telephone drama last night which added to my aggravation. Then, even the cat was bad and got into the fishbowl. After that I hurt my hand (it felt like a rubberband snapping inside my hand followed by searing pain -any medical professionals want to take a gander on what that could be?). So then I had to ice my hand all night while everyone sat around watching the "So You Think You Can Dance" finale in very bad moods. Yesterday sucked. My car is still dead, but Husband will fix it this weekend. That's why I married him. The man can fix anything and that, to me, is a gigantic turn on.

Sunday my grandparents are coming over because I haven't seen them all summer since they were busy taking some pepperjack on a grand tour of Europe and the Middle East.

Remember how I said my grandparents were so adorable, but that they were not without their quirks? One of their quirks is that they are completely fascinated by foods that most of us would take for granted. This is from a combination of oldness and foreign-ness I suppose. My grandmother has cooked the same few dishes for her entire life, and she is about 80. Her repertoire is pretty limited because she grew up during the Holocaust when there weren't a lot of foods and then moved to Israel before it was even a country and then spent most of her days as a young wife and mother as a soldier. For the first thirty something years of my grandmother's life there was hardly a day of peace. And by peace, I mean the opposite of war. Her whole life was just war after war. With war comes famine. They didn't have a variety of foods to chose from like we do now, so back then they were really thankful for whatever they could get and ate without complaint about the lack of variety. In addition to the wars and famines my grandparents are orthodox which brings in another elaborate set of restrictions about what can and cannot be eaten and when and how it should be prepared. Keeping glatt kosher narrowed down their choices about foods even more.

But now my grandparents live in America where everything and anything one could ever dream up to eat is available all the time. America to my grandparents is like a 24 hour carnival of foods, so things we're used to, are really new and unusual to them and surprisingly, they're really enthusiastic about trying different things. It's also kind of funny because the things they get the most excited about are pretty ordinary.

Take banana bread for instance. My grandmother Savta recently discovered banana bread. Now she is all about banana bread. She asked me.

"You have heard about this? This bread with banana?"

Now she makes it all the time.

Husband made some corn bread with honey butter one night and you would have thought the messiah had arrived in our kitchen, they were so excited. Other items they got excited about were teriyaki salmon, hamburger buns (I don't quite get this one), pizza, potatoes au gratin and mozzarella and tomatoes. Nothing though, caused such a sensation as the pepperjack.

When we have people over I like to make a nice cheese plate. I change it up a lot. I like brie, cheese with different flavorings, some interesting italian cheeses, but every now and then I really love a good pepperjack. I like spicy. So one night I included some rather pedestrian cubes of pepperjack on the cheese plate and the sky opened up and angels sang and played harps when my grandfather, Saba, tried it.

"Where did you get this?" he asked in astonishment.

Then he called my grandmother over.

"Look! Look," he said to her, "It is cheese with pepper inside of it!"

Then she tried it and the angels sang once more and they spent the next half an hour trying to figure out how some genius managed to get peppers inside the cheese.

"It isn't a sauce?" they asked.

"No," I assured them, "The peppers are a part of the cheese."

"This is magnificent!" my grandfather said.

"Where you did get this peppers cheese?" Savta wanted to know.

"Costco," we told her.

Then my grandparents decided that this peppers cheese was so wonderful, so extraordinary that they wanted all of our relatives in Israel to be able to try it, because they swore that in Israel no one had yet figured out how to put peppers in cheese. This isn't true of course, but they didn't know that.

"Ben Yusef will love this peppers cheese!" my grandfather exclaimed, imagining his brother's joy upon eating cheese with real peppers actually inside of it and not just on it or near it.

"We have to go to this Costco and get peppers cheese," my grandmother decided.

Two weeks later, right before their trip they went to "this Costco" which they are also obsessed with, but that's another story, and purchased a block of pepperjack the size of a shoebox to take across the world to Israel. The problem was that they were not going straight to Israel. First they had to stop in Paris for a few days. After Paris they were going to Slovakia for a week and then they were heading on to Israel. They would need to care for the pepperjack for about ten days before it reached its final destination and this wouldn't be easy in several hotels and airplanes.

Savta was very worried about the pepperjack. It became a major event. You would have thought they were transporting a human heart that they had to keep alive for a transplant. Of course Husband stepped in because he is a natural helper and problem solver. The cheese would need a cooler of course. That would get it to Paris just fine if they used a lot of ice, but getting the cheese past security with gel-packs would be a problem. The cheese would need to be elaborately smuggled in checked baggage. Husband managed to create a smuggling device for the pepperjack which would get it safely to Paris, but then what would become of the cheese once it arrived?

I decided to write a letter to the hotel in really bad french to see if they had a refrigerator. This is what I wrote and faxed all the way to Paris:

"Chères personnes d'hôtel que nous devons maintenir frais un bloc de fromage avec des poivrons dans lui. Avez-vous un réfrigérateur que nous pouvons le garder dedans tandis que nous restons là ?"

My french is so horrendous that this is a direct translation of what I wrote:

"Dear people of the hotel which we must maintain fresh a block of cheese with sweet peppers in him. Do you have a refrigerator which we can keep it inside while we remain there?"

I received a reply back in English saying this:

"Dear American guest, we have a refrigerator that you can use for your cheese with peppers, but we wonder why you want to bring cheese from America when France has the best cheeses in the world? Surely you can find french cheeses you like, but if you must bring cheese from America we can refrigerate it for you."

Leg One of Pepperjack's Grand Tour was solved, but what to do with the block of cheese the size of a shoebox once it arrived in Slovakia. Luckily my grandparents speak Slovakian and managed to find proper refrigeration at a restaurant near their hotel.

Finally they arrived in Tel Aviv with their pepperjack, though I have no idea how they managed to get the thing past El Al security smuggled as it was in foil and gel-packs inside their checked baggage. I can only imagine what the security screeners must have thought when they saw it on X-Ray.

My dad's younger sister lives in Israel. She emailed us when Saba and Savta and the Pepperjack arrived safely.

"You let them bring a five pound block of cheese all the way from America on a ten day trip across Europe?" she wrote, "Don't they know we have cheese with peppers in it here? I tried to tell them but they said it wasn't the same and all they can talk about is Costco. Can't you guys take them to Disneyworld or something? You should see my father with this cheese. He's cutting pieces of it off and giving it to my neighbors. He's divided it up between all of his brothers. I think my parents need to get out more."

In any event, I can't wait to see my grandparents this weekend. I'm wondering now, if they were so excited to bring pepperjack all the way to Israel, what might they have brought back FROM Israel? I'll let you know.

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