Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Allegory of Materialism

December 24.

Her daughter wanted a digital camera and “Viva La Juicy” perfume; her son wanted a skateboard and new ear buds.  She had been up late comparing prices, now it was time to hit the stores.

She was frazzled, exhausted, anxious. So much to buy, so little time. She honked her frustrations out at slow drivers on her way to the mall.

She got everything she wanted.  She yelled at the groggy-looking salesman in the tech store until the ear buds went down to the online price. She snatched the last box of Viva la Juicy from right under the nose of another woman who was eying it greedily.  She came home and shooed her children out of the kitchen so she could throw together some confections for the neighbors and create a picture-perfect Christmas Eve dinner for her family.  “Peace on Earth,” read a greeting card on her refrigerator.  She didn’t have time to read it.  She was too busy fighting a war in her heart.  A war for perfection.

The neighbors came caroling a few hours later.  Her children ate her Christmas feast.  They read the Christmas story. She stayed up late and wrapped each present with color-matching bows.  She had a headache that night when she went to bed, but she felt relieved. Everything, indeed, was perfect.

December 24.

Her son was away in the city at university.  During the few hours of Internet she got each day, she checked her emails to see if he’d be able to make it home.  The tribal warfare in her village had gone on for three days now, and all she wanted was to have her family all together safely.

She had been up late discussing peace talks with the tribal leaders, and she was frazzled, exhausted, anxious.  Eight people had died already, and if the leaders didn’t hurry and act, it would surely be more.

She had no money, but she had a phone that worked during the hours of electricity, and she called her friends and asked about their families. She visited the elderly in her village to make sure they were OK.  She found out at last that her son was on his way, and she rejoiced.

When her son arrived, she prepared a small feast to the abrasive carol of gunshots outside.  She clicked her tongue. Sometimes she felt that the whole world was at war, but in her heart this night, she felt peace.

She had almost nothing, and nothing was perfect. But she had her family and friends.  She had the good Lord watching over her. And she was happy.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Ode to beets

I am compelled to write this evening because my husband – the computer scientistic GENIUS – is writing in HIS very own blogly space!  Which he started last night!  And could I just sit idly by and let him post away while I did nothing to improve my very own blogly space??  That would only be viable if I knew how to program alien shooter games.  And I don’t.

The fact is, I’ve been meaning to tell you all for some time now about the borsch.  K and I both spent good little portions of our lives living in Eastern Europe, where we were both introduced to the exquisiteness that is the beet.  And ever since it began to get nippy outside (for us this was early September), we have reminisced about shapkas and drunk taxi drivers on New Year’s and army tanks that shovel snow and… heavenly and oh-so-richly-red borsch.  With a huge dollop of sour cream.

So when a co-worker of mine recently said, “Oh, I have a million beets! Want some??”  I think I may have scared him a little with my emphatic enthusiasm.  I proudly brought them home and showed them to the husband, who was so emphatic himself that he tackled me (only in an attempt to wrestle the beet bag from my grasp).  And then we made borsch.

Beets are actually really horrible-looking vegetables when they’re first pulled from the dirt, like little hairy gnomes with dirty bottoms.  The Russian folk of olde probably couldn’t get their kids to eat them, so they figured out that when you peel them and grate them and make them into a soup, the kidlets would do anything to get that goodness all over their little tunics and milkmaid dresses and shapkas.  And hey, I’m right there with those little Russian peasants.

For when the borsch was simmering and it was almost time to eat, our house filled with the warm smell of a hundred different small apartments in the cities of Lithuania.  I could almost hear the chatter of a dying language coming from a tiny kitchen with nothing but a table, a stove, and a few 3-legged stools.  I opened the lid to the soup and a redness fit for royalty greeted me, bubbling gently in a pot.  And then I really was there, hiding out from a harsh Lithuanian winter with a Lithuanian grandma’s slippers on my feet, looking out the window of a tall gray building for my New Year’s taxi.  And Kendon saw that soup and heard the rumble of a faraway Soviet tank, on its way to clear the roads so he could visit a similar old woman with the same soup waiting for him on her own stove.  We ate our borsch with huge dollops of sour cream.  Then all at once we were at home with our memories and at home with each other. And nothing could be more delicious.  

Step 1: 


Step 2: 


The result: heaven.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Sickiversary


Kendon and I have been married for a year.  A YEAR.  So to celebrate 365 days of still liking each other, we got all dressed up and reserved our own private table at Beni Hana’s, where Ramon from Mexico gave us the most spectacular display of dancing shrimp and juggling knives and onion volcanoes that a person on their first anniversary could ever possibly hope for.  We held hands under the table and tasted garlicky meat off each other’s plate and reminisced and gave each other presents.  Besides the fact that neither of us announced it on Facebook, I’m pretty sure it’s exactly what a first anniversary is supposed to look like. 

These festivities came and went over a week ago.  Oddly enough, though, today is the day I feel like I truly understand what it means to be married for a year. 

That’s because today I’m the opposite of all dressed up.  In fact, I bear a striking resemblance today to the creature from the black lagoon… minus the fangs and with a bathrobe instead of green teutonic armor.    Currently I am stopping after each sentence to make my now-customary fog horn sound into a dwindling roll of toilet paper, creating a pile of snot rags that is creeping steadily up to the ceiling.   I haven’t combed my hair in two days, my lips are cracking off my face, and I rotate at night between being feverishly hot and ripping off the blankets, to shivering so hard that our room shakes and pictures fall off the wall.

Oh yeah. And the husband still finds me sexy.

Over the last few days, he’s remained by my side through three Disney movies and several chapters of Ender’s Game (our post-Harry read-a-thon).  He’s made me soup and bought me medicines.  He tucks me in and massages my sore muscles and forces me to gargle salt water.  I’ve started to call him Nurse Bagley, but then again, a mere nurse would not go so disgustingly far as to steal slimy kisses in between foghorn blasts. 

So that’s how I know what first-anniversary love feels like.  It’s a feeling that the tallest onion volcano could never hope to replace.  It’s the kind of love that really does endure in sickness and in health. 

So while I avoided Facebook on the anniversary, today I would like to publicly express to the Internet that I have been married for a YEAR to the kindest, bravest, most disgusting man on this good planet.  (I had to throw in the last one.  Seriously.  Only a grossy would want to kiss THIS on the mouth.)


Oh, and in case you're interested, here's some photographic documentation of our actual anniversary:


We are in love.

Can you find the onion volcano among the shrimp and raw beef?

Ramon was a good chef.  We're thinking of adopting him.

Guess who I made this for as a happy anniversary gift? (Hint: It was not Ramon.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Horcrux: cheap on Amazon

We have some big news.

Are you sitting down?

Kendon and I

finished Harry Potter!

11.11.11 was a big day for us.  We hunkered down on the futon with a bag full of Wendy’s and didn’t stop reading until the Horcruxes had all been found and Voldemort had been defeated and Harry and Ginny had sent their little red-headed babies off on the Hogwarts Express and every last natural-cut French fry had been consumed.

We closed that very last book with a new sense of meaning in life and a determination to pass on the bazillion life lessons of Harry to our own offspring one day.   We discussed the brilliance of J.K. Rowling as she interweaved characters, generations and objects to create a culminating tapestry of meaning.  We discussed the epiphanies we experienced as we ended the last chapter of the last book, after nine months of seven years of Hogwarts.  It was a bit like closing a chapter in our lives, we decided.

Conveniently, the last movie came out on DVD last night.  “Perfect!” we shouted.  It was like 11.11.11 was the day when the stars aligned and magic really happened and dreams really did come true.  So we bought the entire BluRay series.  And, hours after finishing Book 7, we watched Movie 7 Part 2 for the first time ever.


I’m not exactly sure what we were expecting.  All that I remember after putting it in are flashes of memory that include explosions, bad acting, and making out.  Nothing made sense.  No stars aligned.  Voldemort laughed at the end in such a jovial manner that I laughed with him and wanted to give him a high five.  Which isn’t right at all.  We finished the movie and I racked my brain trying to remember what life lessons we were supposed to draw from this.  I tried to remember what Dumbledore had told Harry that was so deep. Because he couldn’t have possibly had time to say it in the 30 seconds screen time he was given. 

That DVD become like a disgusting Horcrux.  It ruined our mood.  It ruined 11.11.11.  So we destroyed it.  Actually we sent it back to Amazon after paying a small restocking fee.  And that’s close enough for us.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Death by chocolate: grim. sad. ugly.



Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake.”  I could kill that crazy French Hitler woman, if she weren't already dead.

It was Kendon’s birthday last week, and all he wanted – with the exception of a small country, a pony, and the beta version of Minecraft – was Costco’s quadruple chocolate cake, which is roughly ¼ the size of our refrigerator.  We bought it the night before his birthday, when all we’d eaten all day were stale tortilla chips and smashed Nutri-grain bars.  We picked up the cake and angels began to sing from the fluorescent hanging lights high above us.  We could smell the Dutch cocoa and almost taste the shaved chocolate flakes generously strewn across the side. And the frosting.  Oh, the liberal amounts of perfect chocolate frosting.  The frosting taunted us from beneath that plastic protective dome cover, daring us to rip it up and dip our fingers in and lick off the chocolate right there in the bakery department.  That there frosting sealed the deal, and we returned home that night the proud parents of the most beautiful cake on this good planet.  We thought of splitting it in half and finishing it off for dinner.

I would love to end this story by saying that we did just that: that Kendon blew out his birthday candles and we filled ourselves with cake and rode ponies and moved on with our lives.  But that’s not how it happened at all.

It has been ten days.  That chocolate cake is STILL IN OUR FRIDGE.  It still taunts us, but not in the same way it did in Costco that day.  Every day since the birthday, we’ve had a piece of that cake.  And every day, there is still more of that cursed cake to eat.  Nowadays, our bellies cry in protest, and tears stream down my face as I shakily cut us another slice.  “We’ve.... got… to finish it,” I say to Kendon, who has begun to hide in a corner every time I pull that horrid Costco tray out of the fridge.  “Mustn’t… waste…food.”  Then we force ourselves to shove down one more piece, wishing for death for one more chocolate cakey evening.     

I think next year we’ll have vanilla cupcakes.  Mini ones.  Make that just one mini vanilla cupcake. With no frosting.  And we’ll split it in half.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Our weekend in the desert

Last weekend we went to the desert, where my throat engages in a constant, selfish supplication for more water, and I turn into the dried-out creatures I see wandering the desert on shows like “Life”: yellow-eyed and slow.

I always thought that beauty had to include green.  The lush jungles of Hawaii or the mountainous pines of the northwest or the flowery meadows of my very own Utah create memories that look like romantic impressionist paintings. Going to the desert has taught me that beauty can also be the contrast of a blue sky against an endless stripe of red-brown. When you recall the desert, it looks like modern art.

In the desert this weekend, we went through years worth of old, dusty boxes in Kendon’s childhood home. The goal was to salvage the treasures and throw away the rest. And I started thinking about the significance of a box.

The problem is, nothing can go into a box unless it is a treasure to begin with.  We fill boxes with sentimental knick-knacks, samples of our finest work, and with the quiet hope that the contents of our box will one day see the light of day again; that our children will admire them, that they’ll go on display, or that we’ll put them to use years down the road.

So when a box gets reopened, the reasons flood back.  The nostalgia and the sentiment and the hopes may be dusty, but they’re there, waiting for you in their dark cardboard confines.  And you have to decide if your treasured things are now trash.

And sometimes it’s painful, the decision; the remembering.  Important treasures, like love, get packed away into our boxes, where they become forgotten until they disintegrate from years of wind and sun beating them into dust.  And when the box gets reopened, you remember what your treasure looked like before it was nothing.  And you feel a little sad.

So I was careful last weekend as I went through someone else’s treasures.  I was careful to remember that, buried beneath the cobwebs and dust of each box was another memory, another quiet hope.  I tried to imagine my Kendon playing with each toy as a little boy, making little boy noises and turning the living room couch into a racetrack, or a war zone, or the Wild West.  I tried to imagine the concentration and pride he put in to drawing this purple monster or winning this plastic trophy. I tried to imagine the love that went into each letter and card; the comfort and laughter it once gave to its recipient.  I tried to imagine each object’s life before the box. And I tried to hold onto these thoughts when I had to throw their containers away.

When we left the desert this weekend, I started thinking about my own boxes, tucked away in a closet at home.  And I decided to blow away some more dust.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Each day is Valentine's Day


Egle woke up that morning with a resolve to quit smoking.

She entered her tiny kitchen whistling a Frank Sinatra tune, picked up the full pack of “Prima” cigarettes on the counter, and broke her morning routine by tossing them into the rubbish bin. She put a pot of water on the stove and watched the steam fog up her view of the city outside the small window.  She drew a smiley face in the glass and could see clearly through the eyes and smile the identical gray buildings that surrounded hers.  “23” was painted in old flaking red paint on the building directly facing her kitchen.  It was the number of years she’s been married; the number of years she’d been smoking.  Looking beyond the dirty Soviet-built structures, Egle marveled at the perfect sunrise.  It was an explosion of light that striped the sky with a pattern of purples, oranges, yellows, and blues, stretching outward forever from a vanishing point she couldn’t quite see. It bathed the streets below her in a soft orange glow that was reflected in the old rickety autobus that stopped in front of her building, the “welcome” sign of the corner grocery store across the road, and the wet streets, littered with bottles, cans, and a few passed-out homeless men.

She sat on a three-legged stool and drank a hot cup of Summer Bouquet tea, nudging the old dog, asleep under the table, with her slippered feet. Wagging his tail, he got up and put his big boxer head on her lap.  He looked up at her with eyes that said, “Let’s walk,” and she agreed.

Egle pulled on her favorite pair of jeans and a soft pink sweater. She removed her house slippers and stepped into her only pair of heels, as black as the sleek boxer eagerly waiting beside her.  Her hair was a gray-brown frizz that had a mind of its own, and she carefully pinned it into a French twist before applying some mascara and a light layer of pink lipstick. She pulled out the perfume she’d purchased a year ago at the flea market down the road. They always had cheap imitations of American scents, and this one was her favorite – “Sensuous” by Estee Lauder. Egle only used it on very special occasions. Today she spritzed it on liberally, and the scent of mandarin and sandalwood filled her plain bedroom, taking Egle to a warmer place: one with more sand, more smiley faces, and less concrete. She smiled at the thought that today, the tropics wouldn’t be tainted with the smell of tobacco.

The November air outside looked brisk, so Egle bundled up in her nicest winter things and took an assessing look at herself in the mirror.  Her mother had always told her she was too skinny, but with her faux-fur scarf around her thin neck and the cream-colored turban on her head, she felt like Elizabeth Taylor, minus the cigarette.

Their morning walk was longer than usual.  They strolled for several blocks, enjoying the sunshine and stopping to browse the wares of the street vendors. Old, weathered women smiled at her and held up their odds and ends: shoelaces, pantyhose, and vegetables.  An old paperback romance novel caught her eye, and she talked the old gypsy down to 50 cents.  A few blocks later, she bought a small bouquet of wildflowers.  Pressing them to her nose, she tried to envision the distant countryside garden they were picked from, somewhere far beyond the walls of building 23.  Finally, she bought a jug of grapefruit juice, hoping it would give her mouth a bold enough flavor to resist the “Prima” box that still lay in her rubbish bin, tempting her the more each hour. Then she and the boxer returned home.

Egle carefully placed the flowers in a yellowing glass vase she kept beneath the kitchen sink, then spent the afternoon reading her new book. She gripped its pages especially tight when the urge to smoke became stronger. She knew she should get up, that she needed to boil the potatoes, that it was only a matter of time before he came home hungry.  But she didn’t dare go anywhere near the kitchen’s rubbish bin, so she stayed in the living room, hoping he would be so pleasantly surprised by her decision that he would suggest a romantic evening out.

At long last she stood up and returned to the bathroom to freshen up. She put a fresh coat of lipstick on and smoothed out the frizzy stray hairs on her French twist, smiling at her Elizabeth Taylor reflection. She turned the large knobs of the radio to her favorite station, where Frank Sinatra was belting, “You make me laugh with my heart….”

That’s when he walked in.

The door slammed behind him, a cold interruption to her day of peace.  He kicked clumsily at the dog, who whined and slumped to his spot beneath the kitchen table, tail between his legs.   Timidly, she gave him her news. She was congratulated with shouts of outrage. His scathing words drove the stench of alcohol out of his lips, raging a winning battle against the lingering scent of the tropics. He grabbed the vase of flowers and threw it to the ground. It shattered along with all her hopes for the evening. Frank Sinatra sang on, unaware.

Dinner wasn’t ready.

Is your figure less than Greek?

She looked like a whore. 

Is your mouth a little weak?

And if it wasn’t for him, someone would have put her away in a mental hospital long ago.

When you open it to speak
Are you smart?

Everything was spinning, and her mouth had tied itself up in knots again.

Her makeup streaked down her tired face, creating a marble effect on her hot cheeks.  Swallowing hard, she managed to steady herself enough to flee into the dimly lit bathroom again, where she locked the door and looked in the mirror.

She was not Elizabeth Taylor. She was a circus clown.

Egle waited until his rampage was over, and she could hear him settling in front of the television with something he’d found in the refrigerator. She crept out of the bathroom and into the kitchen.

Shakily, Egle dug into the rubbish bin for the box she had tossed away so freely that morning.  She hurried to the balcony and tried to whistle, but the cold night air seized the music trying to escape her lips and turned it into a bitter fog. She could hear the muffled sound of his slurred voice inside, cursing her damn smoking habit.

Egle looked at the dark, fading “23” on the gray brick wall before her. She lifted a cigarette to her lips and closed her eyes.

She would try again tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

All of my falls

Fall is every fall preceding it. I smell smoke and I am eight years old, walking down a country road to a friend's Halloween party. A dead leaf crinkles beneath my feet and I am clumsily holding hands with my father in our leaf-covered driveway, or holding hands with a lover on an important leaf-covered walk, or alone with the leaves, walking with my hands in empty pockets, shivering from the bitter chill of heartbreak and dreaming of an impossibly faraway spring when everything will be better.  When I see a clump of raked-up leaves I am in a dying Soviet park, jumping in a fresh pile right before a homeless man asks me for five cents.  I see a child making the walk to school and feel the butterflies of a new teacher and a new year. I see the fragmented memories of relationships and friendships from seasons long gone by.  I recall dreams that blossomed, greened, then shriveled up and fell to the ground, crunched on and broken to pieces by passersby.  Fall is the fading away and the reappearance of things that once were.  Thoughts and ideas in this season drift away from me in the cool breeze or become frozen, numb, motionless overnight.

But with the complexity of fall comes hope.  The crunched-up dreams will rest beneath layers of snow all winter long, nourishing the ground and making it green again when the right time comes.  My thoughts and ideas will return to me in another fall, inside another memory.  And next year I’ll have this fall to add to my collection of falls: one where my hands are always warm and my pockets are rarely empty.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Our wearisome weekend


Oh, our weekend, you ask?  Boring, really.  Uneventful.

We just went to a chilling thrilling outdoor showing of “Sleepy Hollow” with some friends who drank hot chocolate with us afterward while we crashed our remote-control helicopter into every hanging artifact in our tiny living room.

And we went to art class together and drew warthogs and hyenas and roosters and dragonflies that were holding very still for us in the university’s museum of dead stuffed animals.  And the teacher said he liked my wolf.

And we had dinner and dessert with neighbors we’ve never met then bonded so well that we planned a game night which we carried out on Sunday and which sealed our friendship as neighbors because no one got too mad when I expressed my desire to kick everyone’s trash at all games always.

And all we did was redo our bathroom completely by ridding ourselves of our antique pink rug and overly floral shower curtain to make room for brightly-colored forest creatures and a lime green toilet rug.

And we modestly planned our Hogwartlicious Halloween costumes while eating our favorite pita chips with our favorite hummus and marveling at African kudu hunters who skillfully hid from a man-eating leopard on Human Planet.

Then we just went to church and got asked to be emergency preparedness coordinators and we said yes because we can’t wait to learn how to be emergency prepared.

My weekend is possibly the boringest thing on the entire Internet at THIS MOMENT. With the possible exception of watching mussels grow:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/story/2007/12/28/musselcam-interesting.html  

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Morning bike ride

In Hawaii the sun is libertine
she kisses everyone-
the relentless roosters
The copious coconut trees
The brown-backed surfers
And me.

In Hawaii the sun makes the warm cloudy mist rise from the ground
Here the morning mist is the gloomy cold gripping greedily to car exhaust.
My skin is not kissed but freeze-dried
A brief stripe of warmth intermingles with the cold breeze.  Car exhaust?  Or the last fighting gust of summer?
Or perhaps my imagination.
The sun has given me the cold shoulder.

I look up
And realize
The sun has a different job here.
She is an artist
Who has painted the mountain with her morning light
Until it glows with pride in a hundred shades of orange and yellow.

I forgive you, Fall.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Missing Grandpa Floyd

It was a perfect day outside, but I was wishing it would rain, just so I could know that at least the sky was crying with me.  The world seemed too happy, and I felt so sad.

I pedaled slowly and mechanically down the normally beautiful bike path, reflecting on the phone call I had received minutes before.  I had grabbed my things and raced out of my office before the tears came. I knew what my brother had called to say before he made it past an overly optimistic “Hello”: Grandpa had passed away.

I had a lot of time to think about him on my hour-long bike ride home.

One of my earliest memories is exploring the wonderland that was his farm.  There was an adventure around every corner: a piglet to hold close, a calf to lick my fingers, a giant peacock to trail for stray feathers.   Then there was his noisy, busy dairy, where I could always find him in his coveralls and cowboy hat putting in another full day’s work for the cows who knew him perhaps as well as we did.

As I grew older, I wandered the farm less and found myself visiting inside the old house more.  Both Grandpa and Grandma were always interested in my life.  They were always sincerely and immensely proud of me for what I understand now to be trivial accomplishments.  After Grandma passed away, our family would spend Christmas Eve evening singing and playing instruments and sharing our annual “talent show” with Grandpa in his living room.  He would read us the Christmas story from the Bible and share his most heartfelt gratitude for the birth of Jesus Christ.  Christ and Grandpa had a very close relationship. 

He encouraged me to serve an LDS church mission, and sent notes of encouragement during my 18 months there via my mom.  When I returned, I sat beside his leather rocking chair and held his hand while we talked about the people of Lithuania and my experiences serving them. 

When I got engaged, he had me sit beside his chair again, this time to give me his advice and his blessing for the decision I’d made to marry Kendon.  He wasn’t able to fly across the ocean for the wedding a few months later, but I could feel him thinking of me, proud of me for choosing eternity.

I was never too old to deserve the words, “There’s a special girl,” in his gruff farmer’s voice every time he saw me.  I was never too old for a whiskery kiss on the cheek and a giant hug.  Nor was I ever too mature to be shown his favorite “toys” each time I visited: from stuffed mice that jumped out of boxes to “baby rattlesnakes” in manila envelopes. None of his nine children or 61 grandchildren or 46 great-grandchildren or 6 great-great-grandchildren ever grew too old for these treasured experiences.

I thought about how much I’ve changed since those carefree days of wandering the farm.  Then again, at the end of the day, change is the only thing that’s inevitable.  Today change is causing me pain.  It’s taken away the greatest man I’ve ever known. But yesterday a change in his health was causing him pain.  For years change has been taking away his loved ones. Today change is giving him freedom.  It’s giving him health. It’s giving him back my grandmother, his mother and father, the bride that made him a young widower, and countless more friends and family members whose obituaries he’s been reading for far too many years. 

So the question is, will I let this new change go to waste in my life?  Or will I remember and revere him by applying the many lessons he’s taught me over the years?  Will I see the value and potential of every soul and love each person unconditionally?  Will I maintain an eternal perspective in the face of life’s greatest challenges?  Will I contribute every gift God has given me to every person I meet until I can no longer hear or speak or stand?

I made a resolve on that bike ride home to ask myself what Grandpa would do; to be the type of woman he would have me to be.  And then the cool autumn breeze gave me a big hug, the sun gave me a reassuring smile, and I wiped my tears away.  Everything is beautiful. Including change.

Yesterday a great man passed away. The greatest I have ever known. 
Thanks for changing me, Grandpa.



Sunday, September 18, 2011

On marathons

We could see our breath, my sister and I, and the breath of dozens of others around us, all standing anxiously behind the rope and orange cones dividing us from the runners.

I made a note to self: Logan in September equals winter. I’d come to my parents for the weekend dressed in flip-flops and a t-shirt, so I was awkwardly dressed in an old brown sweater my mom bought in London in the ‘60s, a pair of oversized blue socks, and some moccasin-like slippers, two sizes too big. My stomach grumbled and I understood what it was telling me: “Me want more than poppyseed muffin for BREAKFAAAAST! RARRRRR!” I checked my watch. We had been standing near the finish line for the Top of Utah marathon for five long minutes, watching for Dad to come tearing heroically past us.

I started watching the runners. Some sprinted in with large grins on their faces, glowing rather than sweating, looking victorious and fit and ready to run ten more miles. Others looked pale and sick, limping across the finish line soaking with tears and sweat, tapping into their very last deeply embedded molecule of energy with every agonizing step. Another group fit somewhere in the middle: they looked somewhat happy to be finished, but were trying to conceal pain and emotion behind a smile or a tough face.

As I watched this sweaty parade jog, dash, and hobble past me, I made a goal to cheer for every person that went by until Dad appeared. Cari joined me: “Go pink lady!” “You look awesome, Nike!” “Nice finish, Michigan State!” My cheers got louder when we got an old person, a limper, or anyone that looked like living death. My voice got hoarser and hoarser, and I started warming up. In fact, when someone made eye contact and smiled because I was cheering for them, my heart turned into a giant furnace capable of powering the Boeing factory.

But I wasn’t the only one cheering. Everyone around me seemed to feel the same sense of compassion for these runners. Small old ladies were cheering for young shirtless men with long beards and dreadlocks. Children were rooting for other people’s grandmas and grandpas. Occasionally family members –including those just learning to walk – would step out from behind the rope to run the last leg with their loved ones. Race, age, class, religion, and appearances became meaningless against everyone’s desire to help each person survive to the end with kind words of encouragement. Everyday labels were replaced with uniform runner’s numbers on the back of everyone’s shirts. We became a family, all of us huddled behind the orange cones, and all of those persistent souls flocking their way to the sign that meant everything in that moment: “FINISH.”

We were complete strangers. But for a moment, it occurred to me that maybe we don’t have to be. In the marathon of life, why aren’t we screaming ourselves hoarse for each other? Do we not all deserve help in crossing our own personal finish lines, whatever those may be? Does not every hand deserve another’s – even a stranger’s – to be a guide and a strength for the last leg? If I learned nothing else from this run-down, soaking group of finishers, it’s that cheering for strangers of all shapes and sizes is cool. And pretty dang inspiring. And a great way to drown out a whiney stomach.

Oh, and my dad finished at around 4 hours with bronchitis, a strained Achilles tendon, and extra gray hairs. Everyone cheered real loud as he hobbled to his own personal victory.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

In Memory

We were in the old, rusty, Dodge Dakota, bouncing on the potholes as I impatiently tried to do my makeup. I was late for school. Dad was late for work. The morning was brisk, and I shivered and turned up the heat. I braced myself for an argument as he reached his hand toward the switch to turn it off. Instead he flipped on the radio to his favorite: KSL news radio 1160. This was my cue to turn off my brain. I screwed on the lid of my tube of mascara after added some finishing touches, leaned back, closed my eyes, and thought about after-school plans.

My daydreams were interrupted by sounds of concern from my father next to me. “The twin towers? They did what??” He turned up the volume as if it would increase his understanding. I racked my brain. Had I heard of the twin towers? Was there an airplane accident? Planes crashed all the time… didn’t they? Then why did Dad’s face look so pale?

As the day wore on I realized that this event was far more important than I had initially realized. The twin towers, as it turned out, were big and important. They could fit a lot of people. And it began to dawn on all of us that this was no accident. Still, my 15-year-old self failed to internalize the fact that there were real people with real stories and real families in that building. And they were gone.

Ten years later, I again shivered as I drove to work and flipped the switch to news radio: this time on my own free will. In memoriam of the events of a decade ago, they began to play the stories of the victims’ families.

One man, with a thick New York accent, described his two sons: one a firefighter, one a police officer. He had talked to the police officer the night of September 10. His son chatted about his night shift thus far, and the father ended the conversation with, “I love you, son.” The next morning, the firefighter called to say that the twin towers had collapsed. He was going in. His father ended this conversation the same way: “Be careful, son. I love you.” In a gruff voice, this time-worn New Yorker said of his two brave sons: “I had one of them for 34 years, and one for 36. And the number stamped on both of their badges? 3436.” As if allowing the impact of this to sink in, the father paused before adding, “But how many people can say their last words to their sons were ‘I love you?’ This helps me sleep at night.” His gruff voice cracked as he said it.

Others told their stories too. A boy who was 5 when his grandfather – his “papa” – disappeared from his life inexplicably. A woman whose husband called to whisper “I love you” in his final moments, and to give his love to his three small children.

Walking through the doors of my work today was not unlike my walk through the doors of my high school ten years ago. I was late. I was listening to the radio. A tragedy was reported. The difference was my perspective. The picture in my mind was not of flying machines and smoke and collapsing buildings. It was of a little boy crying at night over the loss of his papa. It was of a father and mother praying for their two brave sons, who would not return from work that day. It was of a young widow with a resolve to help her children and the world remember this important event.

So, with a tear in my eye, I walked through the doors of my office today with a resolve of my own: To laugh harder. To breathe deeper. To allow myself to cry. And to express my love for those I care deeply about so frequently that they could never possibly forget.

The new me would have squeezed my father’s hand as he dropped me off for another day of 10th grade.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The consequences of forgetfulness

Today, children, we will look at the very silly Bagley family and their naughty habits of forgetting. You see, when you grow up, it’s most important to remember things, because when you don’t, you soon find yourself penniless, homeless, and smelling like pee. Is that what you want, children? No no no. Let’s begin.

Once upon a time Mrs. Bagley drove to work on a Monday morning. She hummed a happy tune, for on this particularly special Monday morning, she was on time for work! It was a pleasant 15-minute drive, with pleasant slow-downs and pleasant allowances for even the most unpleasant of drivers. A pleasant Monday. A pleasant walk up the stairs to her office. She gave a pleasant greeting to all she saw. Then… SCREECH! She stopped at her desk. She had forgotten her computer at home. Mrs. Bagley very much needed her computer to do whatever it was she did at that job.

Mrs. Bagley had an unpleasant drive back to her house. She made unpleasant gestures at the drivers around her. She kept glancing at the unpleasant downward movements of her car’s gas level. She drove unpleasantly fast. And when she arrived back at the office 30 minutes later, she was unpleasantly late and unpleasantly behind. It was going to be an unpleasant Monday.

Once upon another time, Mrs. Bagley forgot where she had put her belt, and because she had forgotten to do laundry, she only had clown pants that would fall to her ankles if she forgot to secure them around her waist. So, ever so sneakily, Mrs. Bagley put on Mr. Bagley’s belt while Mr. Bagley was sleeping. It was a clever plan. It would redeem her from witlessly forgetting her own belt’s location. Mrs. Bagley hummed a happy tune on her way to work again.

By around noon o’clock, Mrs. Bagley had filled her bladder with three cups of water, a Tupperware of grapes, and a glass of passion-orange-guava juice! Yum! So, humming a happy tune, Mrs. Bagley made her way to the restroom.

It was then that Mrs. Bagley realized her error. The belt was stuck. It would not come off. It required a manly flick of the wrist and maneuvering of buckles to remove this belt from her giant clown pants. Mrs. Bagley tried and tried… but she could not avoid the consequences of forgetfulness. With a heavy heart and bladder, Mrs. Bagley called Mr. Bagley and confessed her sneaky thievery. Try as he might, the forgiving Mr. Bagley could not explain the rules of manly belt removal very well. But drastic times called for drastic measures. Mr. Bagley, in a loving sacrifice, did explain how to disassemble his beloved belt and remove it altogether. Forever. And so that is just what Mrs. Bagley did! And how relieved she was 30 seconds later!

Another time, children, Mr. Bagley and Mrs. Bagley went on an adventurous date, wherein they raced around and around and around and around on some very fast things called go-karts that make you want to vomit and give you a bad back when you are as old as those old Bagleys. Then, hand in hand, those Bagleys skipped to dinner and to other grown-up errands and finally arrived home, very thirsty and very excited to collapse from go-kart/bad pizza nausea. They skipped up to their front door, and that is when Mr. Bagley realized he had forgotten to check his pockets before embarking on that naughty go-kart ride, and in so doing had plum lost the keys to the Bagley house.

Those old forgetful Bagleys did not skip to the go-kart place. They did not skip to the bad pizza place or to the other grown-up errand places. They just dragged those old feet along behind them in a sulky sort of way that made people think, “Ah, that must be a forgetful old couple.” The keys, it seemed, had jumped off that very fast go-kart and run away as fast as they could. At long last, those almost-homeless Bagleys punched through their screen and climbed through a window, like bandits in their own house. And the next day, they spent their piggy bank monies to buy some new doorknobs. Those poor, forgetful Bagleys.

But there are some things the Bagleys don’t forget. For example, when Mrs. Bagley had an unpleasantly forgetful Monday, Mr. Bagley didn’t forget to kiss her right on the mouth the moment she came home. And when she nearly wet her pants from forgetting not to wear that cursed belt, Mr. Bagley didn’t forget to laugh a little and tell her it was OK and that she was cute and promise he would never ever tell anyone about her very close call. And when Mr. Bagley forgot to check his pockets, Mrs. Bagley didn’t forget to make him some delicious no-bake cookies and read Harry Potter with him. Two nights ago, those Bagleys didn’t forget that they had been married for nine whole months. They didn’t forget to say a thank-you prayer for each very happy and forgetful day of those months. And then, at the end of their nine-month day, they didn’t forget to kiss each other good night.

And children, those are the things you must never, ever forget.
The end.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Coincidentally, everything is perfect.

Once upon a time, by mere coincidence, I went to Lithuania during a time when visa problems were a thing. So I was shipped off to Ireland.

Coincidentally, I was given a companion who is the most amazing soul ever and who went to the same college as me and who had my EXACT same major and also played the piano and who I needed in my life at that moment to teach me a great many things.

Then one day, my coincidental companion and I happened to be walking down an empty street on a rainy day and happened -- by chance -- upon a young Egyptian woman who laughed and cried and bonded with us for the whole week she had remaining in the country before she had to return to Egypt.

What a coincidence: she came to the United States -- UC Berkeley, to be specific -- during the very summer that I moved from Hawaii and happened to be two states away. I visited her last weekend with my coincidental companion.

And there we sat in a Berkeley cafe -- a returned missionary from Lithuania and the companion she met in Ireland with the phenomenally awesome Egyptian they met once for a week. And together we marveled that God is so good at coincidences.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Empty bed, lonely soul

When God created love, he created bodies that could perfectly accommodate this emotion. The idea, thought God, is that when two human beings fell in love, they would inevitably find that they fit each other like two long-lost puzzle pieces; pieces that, when placed together, would mesh naturally into one soul.
The top of my head was made to nuzzle underneath his chin. And my lips invite his lips which invite my lips. The two sets are inseparable at times. And the way a loving whisper slides so naturally into my ear proves that our secrets belong to each other.

Our eyes can interlock for long periods, mine taking in his brown and his taking in my blue... until they feel such a completeness of the other color that they slowly hide beneath eyelid blankets and drift to sleep.
There is the perfect amount of space between each of my fingers to accommodate each of his five. My hand has never felt so complete as when it's settled upon the foundation of his palm. And our arms in their different sizes are the perfect length to wrap around the other's torso with the most blissful ease.
Even our toes are the ideal size to rub the other's toes back and forth absentmindedly, like a fleshy washboard.

When we rest, we spoon. But it's more than that. To me it is evidence that God created everything to fit. I believe it is the way I was always meant to slumber.

Tonight I won't sleep well. Tonight I am missing the piece of me that makes me whole.
Good night, Kendon. I love you.

Some things I failed to mention

Once upon a time, on a blazing hot morning in the desert, there was matrimony.
And while we're on the topic of major life events, I recently realized I rarely include them when I'm writing about my life. So let's do this like a resume, shall we? Most recent first. List style. But with photos.
1. July 30, 2011. Scott (my brother) and Jayne (my new sister) were absolutely BEAMING yesterday. They couldn't keep their eyes (or hands) off each other. Totally legal, though, since it was their wedding day. I'm so happy to welcome this gorgeous, confident, loving, bargain-shopping woman into our family, to see my brother in such a blissful state, and to pass along the "grandkids question" to someone else.
2. June 2010. I graduated from college. I know, I know, all the kids are doing it. To me, however, this was a long time coming. It feels good to say I did it. I did it! I'm done! *Sigh of immense relief.

3. November 26, 2010. Once upon a time, on a humid morning on the islands, there was another matrimony. Mine. 'Twas the most unforgettable day of my life, though it came and went like a blur... Does that make sense? We rode away into the sunset (literally) on Kendon's yellow motorcycle (which died the next day... my parents had to pick us up from our honeymoon). Can it get any better than a tropical island wedding and a remote mountaintop cottage? Oh, yes. Every day.
P.S. The rumors about in-laws? All lies. These Bagleys are the bee's knees.
4. November 2010. Shortly before my big day, brother Neal had his own big day... and I don't mean with a woman. This commitment was to God, for two years, and he continues to commit on a daily basis, all the way over in Bolivia. Neal has white hair and blue eyes. Bolivians don't. I wish I could delight in this contrast by seeing it for myself. Instead I just daydream about it. I couldn't be prouder of my towhead Bolivian hermano.
5. September 10, 2010. Once upon a time, on a slightly chilly morning in Logan, Utah, there was also matrimony. Brother Alan made the wisest choice he's ever made by finding someone who will force him to make wise choices for the rest of his days. Heidi is the most organized, devoted, and domestic 20-year-old I've ever met. When I was her age I was still failing at tuna melts. I'm proud to call her my sister.
6. July 2010. I went to France on Bastille Day. Then to Lithuania for friendship purposes (see why in item 8), where my camera got stolen. So no photos here.
7. November 2009. I went to New Zealand with great friends and ate white bait with eggs.
8. October 2009. I also did a gig where I committed to God. It was for 18 months in the wee country of Lithuania (Labas visiems!), and it ended one sad, tear-filled October afternoon. I will never, ever, ever forget the beautiful people of this country. I will never stop loving them. And if I can't meet them again in this life, I hope to be a good enough girl to see them in the next, where I will give big, "thank-you" tackle-hugs to all the people who changed my life and perspective in this lush, resilient nation.
Note: I went to Ireland too. For six weeks. And gained memories to last a lifetime.
Yes. There. I'm glad to have gotten that all off my chest. Now perhaps, dear readers, you will know a deeper side of me. You will understand my reasons for loving the things I love (like family), and hating the things I hate (like bigotry), and not really caring about certain things (like white bait). Seriously. Don't try the white bait.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tasty Hasty

Attention all readers: I am eating my words. I’m eating them on a big fat silver platter, sautéed in butter and served with extra whipped cream. They’re delicious.

I wrote my last blog three days too hastily. A number of things happened in those days. First: I was given a second interview with another job. A good one. One that I decided would be an awesome replacement to the dream job. One that, in fact, could probably kick the dream job’s trash after school by the flagpole. Then I started training at the undream job and LIKED it. I liked the kind people. The atmosphere. The benefits. The great stuff I was learning. The free pizza on lunch breaks. Then I got called for a first interview with another company. Also a good one, though maybe not quite as unbridled at the flagpole. They liked me, it seemed. Threefold word-eating.

Then it happened. The FEAST. Thanksgiving dinner deep-fried with bacon and injected with Cajun spices. I got an email from the trash kickers. They hired me.

I cried. I cried because it was the best news of the summer, and because it meant I would have to go talk to the surprisingly cool undream job, and I would have to cancel my second interview with the not-quite-trashkickers, and most of all because I had realized just in time that life can be great even when things don’t always work out as planned. But gosh. When they do.

So here I am. A writer going on day 3 at a beautifully promising company. And I think it’s time for lunch.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A job? Thanks, I guess.

I got a job this week. It's not my dream job. The dream job e-mailed me thus: "You're a nice person and everything, but we're looking for NOT you. In fact we shall promptly forget you once we hit 'send.' Sincerely, your dream job." Then I got a cheerful call from the undream job thus: "You're exactly what we're looking for!" And then I said, "Oh. Thanks," like an angsty teenager getting K-mart shoes for Christmas instead of the 60-dollar All Stars . It's not been my finest hour where gratitude is concerned. So the following is a lesson to self. Continue if you wish.

The fact is, self, the last house we lived in had a grand total of two pieces of furniture, three appliances, and one room. Tidying the house meant making the bed. Now I have THREE rooms, which contain everything I could ever, ever need in life. This includes but is not limited to a cupcake tower. I OWN a disassembled CUPCAKE TOWER. And a pasta maker. It's like an Italian wedding around here.

Plus I have new running shoes. They nearly killed me today by carrying me further and further from home until I firmly told them to stop, but they've promised to help rid me of my protruding little gut.

Furthermore, there's this guy. He just came in to give me a back massage, and last night he played Phase 10 with me despite HATING the Phase 10 above all else in this world. Also, he lets me lick his nose whenever I feel like it. And go to Africa just for fun (the last two might be wishful thinking... but the first two are boy-scout promise TRUE).

There's a friendly woman at the Smith's down the road whose nails are always perfect and is always smiling, and our postman never fails to wish a passerby "Good morning." I wonder if they have their dream jobs? If not, they've probably figured out for themselves this good advice Joseph B. Wirthlin once gave me: “The abundant life is within our reach if only we will drink deeply of living water, fill our hearts with love, and create of our lives a masterpiece.”

Self, be grateful. Your life is your dream job.
Yours truly,
Valerie

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An oldie for the kids

I'm getting stupider. Can't. Think. Stuff. Write. So instead I'm posting an old story that I wrote months ago. It's mostly true. I submitted it to a thing. They hated it. Maybe you won't.


I woke up with a start to the most horrible smell on earth. I sat up, sniffed, and felt the night's collection of mucous jiggle loosely in my nostrils. Putting my hand up to my cotton-stuffed right ear, I grimaced and remembered. It was me.

The ibuprofen hadn't been sufficiently dulling my ear infection pain, and a woman from church had told me to press half an onion up to my ear. I don't eat vegetables, and I especially tend to avoid onions. I skip over them as ingredients entirely, in fact, on the rare occasions I open a recipe book. Still, something about the boy's locker room odor and the tear-jerking fumes made my friend's remedy almost logical. Pressing a disgusting vegetable against a disgustingly painful part of my body seemed completely natural. So I had called my husband and, for the first time in our marriage, added a vegetable to his list of things to pick up after work.

I had tried the magical cure last night, trying to ignore my watering eyes, the smirks from my husband, and the onion juice that ran down my neck. My mind had been taken off the ear pain and onto that awful smell momentarily, kind of like how biting bullets makes men in war movies think less on their legs being amputated. I buried my head in my pillow to escape the lingering odor pervading our small studio apartment. It was soaked in onion smell.

I looked over at my husband, still sleeping peacefully, then down at my slobber-soaked t-shirt and the pile of crinkled toilet paper on our nightstand. I had always thought newlywed women woke up in freshly ironed, silky lingerie, smelling like Coco Chanel, waking their husbands with a minty-fresh kiss and breakfast in bed. I grimaced again, then coughed, successfully stirring my husband and the phlegm that was stuck in my throat all night.

He opened his eyes. "Hey, onion girl," he said, sitting up. I had always thought newlywed men woke up and said, "Hey there, gorgeous woman of my dreams."

"Ha, ha," I replied. "Will you get me some pudding?"

"No pudding for you," he said, hopping out of bed and opening the fridge, which stood a foot away from our sleeping quarters. "Pudding is a dairy product. It will make your cold worse."

"It is not a dairy product!" I countered in my deep cold-induced rasp. "It's just a pudding product." I pointed at the snack pack of chocolate vanilla swirl on the top shelf of our refrigerator. "I'll have one of those, please."

He shut the fridge after downing half of our milk carton. "Nope."

Hm, I thought. Aren't newlywed men supposed to give their sick wives everything they ask for?

I blew my nose several times as I watched him get ready for work from my spot on the bed. He quickly ate two bowls of the Life cereal I had purchased a few days before but wasn't allowed to eat, threw his dishes in the sink, then slipped on his navy blue polo shirt with the Chem-Dry logo in the corner. "Bye, dear," he said, kissing my cheek. His breath smelled like cereal. "Have a good day at school."

"I don't have class on Tuesdays," I responded in my man voice. But he had already raced out the door.
I called in sick for work and spent the afternoon staring at class reading assignments and mindlessly surfing the Internet. I couldn't figure out the speakers on our desktop computer, so I watched several silent YouTube videos before deciding to knock back some Nyquil and get some sleep. At around four o'clock I was awakened by my phone ringing. "Hey, honey," said my husband's voice on the other end. "I'm on my way sleivlsal welfkwe..." My grogginess was making his voice more and more distant. He was on his way home, I guessed. "OK," I mumbled.

"See you in lodkobil faleivil," I could hear him saying from the top of a giant purple building. Must stay awake for 10 more seconds. I knew the drill. He was off work and would be home in an hour. For now I wanted to explore that purple skyscraper, which was starting to shoot giant onions from its rooftop like fireworks into the sky. "Love you, bye," I mustered, and rolled back over.

I woke up with a start. Our computer's screensaver was the only light in the room, the only sound the hum of our refrigerator. I reached for my cell phone, lying next to me on my onion-scented pillow. It was 8:30 p.m.

The laughing wallpaper photo of my husband and myself stared at me as I speed dialed his number. I took it five months ago, minutes after he proposed. Despite the threatening sound of thunder earlier that day, we had gone to our favorite spot up a Utah canyon, where he popped the question and we danced and kissed in the biggest rainstorm of the summer. We're both soaking wet in the photo, and mascara is smudged in odd places on my face. These details become invisible, however, against how in love we look and how big we're smiling.

I redialed his number once, twice, five times. Each time it went straight to the brassy recording of his professional voice: "Hi, this is Kendon with Great White Chem-Dry..." I stood up too quickly and dizzily wondered what to do next. In the darkness I started to wash my husband's breakfast bowl, then quickly changed my mind and started sorting laundry. The half onion from the night before still sat on our kitchen counter, mocking me, and in disgust I hurled it into the trash, glass plate and all. I heard the plate shatter as it hit the bottom of the bin, and redialed my husband's number.

I raced barefoot outside into the chilly night, across our empty driveway and into the street. It was completely void of any vehicles, most especially Chem-Dry utility vans. My stomach growled and my eyes began to water. This time, however, my tears came from fear and frustration, not fumes. I wanted chicken noodle soup with extra vegetables. I wanted my husband.

It was 9:13 p.m. and approximately 4,000 imagined scenarios later when he walked through the door. The smell of carpet cleaner and sweat that accompanied him was more beautiful than the finest 300-dollar bottle of Coco Chanel. "Where have you been?" I sobbed, and tried to wrap my arms around every inch of him. "I called you," he said, attempting to pat me on the back and balance four bags of groceries. "But my phone ran out of batteries on the way home. I had an extra job on the other side of the island tonight, and I stopped after work to buy us some food."

He pulled my chin up so he could look at me, then wiped at my now free-flowing tears with his thumb. "I was so scared!" I said, trying to sound angry, but knowing this misunderstanding was entirely my fault... and a little bit Nyquil's. I looked deeply into his half-laughing, half-sympathetic brown eyes, grateful that I wasn't a widow. Grateful to belong to this nearly-perfect man.

"Hey, onion girl." The way he said it made me feel sexy, even though I had just soaked his t-shirt in tears, day-old mascara, and a little bit of snot. "I bought you some chicken noodle soup." How do newlywed men always know exactly what their wives need? I got butterflies as he leaned down and kissed me, both of us soaking wet from my body fluids. I didn't smell onions anymore. Details had become invisible.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Gold's Gym Special Needs

We’re fat, the husband and I. It’s this thing that happened when we got married. Calorie-burning activities like desperate flirting at parties were no longer necessary, and we found ourselves doing COUPLE activities all the time… you know… like eating lots of shave ice and reading Harry Potter.

So now we’re in Provo. The first day we got here, we got a doorknob brochure reading GOLD’S GYM SPECIAL with a really fit looking woman in a tanktop for emphasis. I thought, “Wow… I want to be a Gold’s Gym kind of special,” and Kendon agreed. I bet the Gold’s Gym doorknob brochure-disperser must have known that married housing is the place where people go to stop burning calories. They should probably give that guy a raise.

HOWEVER. As much as I wanted to look as sweaty and toned and summer-licious as the chick on the brochure, I was hesitant. Simply put, I hate gyms. I hate the muscle heads and the smell. I have always felt that if I want to get exercise, I can step out of my doors for FREE and go for a run in some fresh, friendly, unpolluted-by-muscle-head air. Most of all, though, I hate the salesmen. They pretend like you’re their friend, even though they don’t even know you, and even though there are dollar signs in their eyes, and even though if you don’t do what they say they will lock you in a room and use their tactics until you die of old age or give in to them. Not my idea of a very friendly friend, thank you.

But alas. My brother gets married in a month and I have a gut that must disappear before people start asking pregnancy questions when it protrudes like a watermelon in my tight new dress. So we went to inquire about the special.

When we stepped through the doors, the receptionist gave us papers to fill out with all our information, starting with our date of birth, social security number, disease history, pin numbers, deepest secrets, and expected cause of death. I’m still not sure what they do with those. Maybe it was just to give us something to do during the vast amount of time we spent waiting around for the sales guy…. in which case I probably should have just drawn some pictures.

Finally Adam, our salesman, arrived, unnecessarily wearing a windbreaker (I’ve noticed that buildings are generally windproof in the 21st century) and a smug expression. He didn’t have to lock us in a room. Luckily for him – and us – we knew as well as he did that we are a fat couple with Gold’s Gym Special Needs, so we patiently listened as he explained the pricing by writing numbers upside down from across the table (showoff!). At several points I nearly burst out, “NEVER MIND!!” Just to surprise him and make him feel less smug. But I looked down at my gut and it told me to behave.

After hearing the pricing, we did the part where we signed our souls away. I didn't take the time to read the 10-page contract, but I’m pretty sure I agreed to never hit a salesman, to donate my organs to exercise science, and to give Gold’s Gym my firstborn child if I ever stop making payments.

Once I’d signed my name 27 times and given 49 initials for small clauses, Adam handed us another sheet and said, “Part of the special is that you must refer at least three friends.” I looked at him, astounded, and said, “I don’t have friends.” (Seriously, what do they do about the sad people who have no one in life? Talk about rubbing it in). But Adam insisted, so I referred Ronald McDonald, Ronald Weasley, and Adam the sales guy. Ha! Who’s feeling smug now?

But my victory was short lived, for we were then immediately attacked by Cameron, the personal trainer. He was also wearing a windbreaker. He looked at us with a sappy smile, crouched down to our sitting level, and said in his I’m-talking-to-amateurs voice, “When can we get you guys in for some one-on-one training?” He had his pen ready against a big important calendar. Again, I nearly yelled “NEVER!!!!” Just to wipe that overly sympathetic smile off his face. But instead I said, “Friday at 10 looks good.” When we left, I felt as though my time could have been better spent going for a jog.

But never mind, now we are official Gold's Gym members with shiny official Gold's Gym barcodes that give us identity and a sense of belonging. And this morning at 10 a.m. we attended our first official Gold's Gym personal training session. It felt good. But I could just be saying that because Gold’s Gym owns my soul.