Thursday, February 24, 2011

(Mrs) Adventure #20: Do You Think We'll Be Normal?

‘Kate, do you ever think we’ll be normal?’

My husband asks me this question with such innocence that it would almost break my heart if it didn’t secretly make me a touch bit gleeful.

I am lying on our couch completely covered by a giant white comforter as though I’d somehow fallen in the wilderness and remained there, paralyzed, as a heavy snowfall blanketed my sorry limbs.

“Someday, I dunno, I think so,” I sigh, trailing my hesitation.

With that I turn my eyes toward my living room picture window and the newly printed sign I have affixed to the glass that reads: ‘Beware of DOG’ and features a rather menacing looking German Sheppard in what one would presume is attack mode. The comedy of the situation is revealed as I glance down toward my actual ‘attack dogs’ lounging on the couch below.

One has no teeth and a tongue that is ever so slightly turning a stale black as it wags about the air. Without teeth to keep it in, I spend a few minutes each day wetting her tongue and slipping it (read: shoving it) back in her mouth so that it doesn’t crack and splinter.

Curled up next to her, our other ‘child’ stares out the window and hums in his sleep. From ten feet across the room, I can smell his breath- so noxious a stench that unbeknownst to the casual observer THIS is actually the reason for the warning. The sign on the window should actually read: Beware of DOG (breath) but I decided not to make the addition as that reads far less threatening.

I have affixed stickers to all of our windows warning any prospective burglar that our house is off limits. One of the dangers of working from home means that I have plenty of time to observe my neighborhood and the surrounding areas while in between sentences and interviews.

The trouble really started when a gentleman came to my door rather late at night and suggested he come in to give me an estimate on window replacements. Though I have lived in the heart of two of our nation’s most bustling cities, I have always felt somehow ‘safe,’ and protected-even when I moved roughly four blocks from one of America’s most notorious housing projects. I never feared my neighbors, the bums, gosh even the neighborhood gang lords that loitered about- but here in the rural suburbs of Central Virginia, my head wanders with horrific possibility.

In Chicago, I’d regularly pass members that I knew belonged to this gang or that gang and somehow the fear never struck in my heart as much as it does when I see random people walking about my neighborhood and I immediately know they are a serial killer.

It’s a suburban paranoia that happens literally over night. I have tried so hard to fight it with every fiber of my being, but still the bout of anxiety and paranoia has taken root within me. The other day, our neighbor put up a Sarah Palin 2012 sign and I didn’t. even. flinch.

“My God,” I whisper to myself, “so this is how it starts.”

With little to keep me company but my own thoughts, the various crime novels I had never gotten around to read while working a crazy schedule, a husband that spends an inordinate time marching about a field somewhere and yelling orders to young lieutenants and my journalism (which inevitably involved this person or that being arrested for assault, breaking and entering and pornography) my mind began to spin out of control.

Which is how I knew, I just knew, that the man who showed up on my doorstep that chilly February night was a serial killer thus prompting me to go on an obsessive quest for self protection and spiral into a maniacal protective sign purchasing frenzy at our Home Depot.

I thought he was my neighbor whom I had lent a dog leash to the other day, and when I look out the peephole and see a young man of roughly 17-25, I figure he is my neighbor’s son. I open the door cautiously, my dog’s collar between my right hand and my body steeled behind the door…just in case.

“Hi Ma’am!! I was here in the neighborhood about to get ready to do some work on a neighbor’s house when I noticed you had old windows! Would you mind if I stepped inside and gave you an estimate.”

With that he smiles a goofy grin. Too goofy. Too lopsided. I can’t quite place my finger on it but it is too…friendly. It is also 6:30 PM and this stranger on my doorstep has no car, no identifying characteristics and well, who starts a job in the increasing black at 6:30PM?

I quickly make up a story about our high tech alarm system while my dog growls next to me and I slam the door. I hear his footsteps at first back up and I watch as his shadow tries to peer around my window blinds. The next thing I hear are his feet rushing over the crispy grass as he sprints off my porch and disappears into the woods.

And I panic.

I call the police.

It isn’t until I watch the lights of a Sheriff squad car circle my block that I finally feel relieved. Three hours later when my husband comes home he finds me pacing the living room with a kitchen knife. In the time since my unwelcome visitor, I have gone from knee-shaking fear to Steven King’s Carrie rage.

I am jacked up on Coca-Cola and stale mint chocolate candies I found in the back of my pantry (and sadly am not even sure if they are mine or the previous tenant’s). I am ready, (yes, I am ready) to go Kill Bill on the next person who has the unfortunate luck of driving down my street.

I am Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs.

I am Angelina in Tomb Raider.

I am Disney’s Mulan in a really, really messed up version of Mulan.

Once home, my very concerned husband walks back and forth through the living room running his hand through his closely cropped hair. In retrospect, I’m not so sure if he was worried about the prowler or worried about the sanity of his wife was muttering phrases in the corner and rocking back and forth expressing gratitude that she didn’t have to, “hurt anyone tonight.”

And if I thought I had lost it then, it wasn’t until the next day that the very helpful sheriff suggests I sign up for the county’s crime alerts. Of course! Of course, I do.

In three days, I know the name of every suspected shoplifter from the local WalMart. I find out that a man who lives five blocks away was seized by police for child pornography and I spend more time in my window staring at the neighbors and clucking away in my head and trying to figure out which bears the most striking resemblance to the Klopecks.

Not only have I spiraled into a full-fledged state of paranoia, but I’ve also morphed into my grandfather’s ninety five year old neighbor Judy who spends every waking moment rocking back and forth and staring out her front window.

I visit Home Depot where I purchase every sign that reads “Beware Of!” I even have one that says “Beware of CAT!” knowing that even this sign serves a purpose of protection against an allergy prone cat burglar, (pun intended).

And then it happens. I open up my daily/hourly crime alert and I see a picture of my window salesman taken in a surveillance video. He is wanted for armed robbery.

For hours I continue to click the link for any updates. I call CrimeStoppers, (YES! I was THAT person) and inform them that I think he tried to sell me windows/kill me the other night. I’m fairly certain that all I accomplished by that was putting out an APB that a complete crazy woman lived at my address.

I briefly wrestle with the idea of teaching my dog kickboxing, but since I neither know how to kickbox myself and can’t get my dog to stand on his hind legs, this activity proves fruitless.

Instead, I do the worst possible thing imaginable: I continue to inundate myself with crime television, crime novels and all things murder. I watch the First 48 and somehow assume I’m picking up tips. I bring out my Criminal Minds box set and start to profile all my neighbors and those in the area who could be potential criminals. I log on to websites on burglar proofing the home and flirt with the idea of buying security cameras.

In one corner, I actually rig up my flip camera for show.

To the outside observer, my home is so lit up it looks like I live with Clark Griswold, decorated with enough security signs on the doors and windows that one would think I’m a mafia member-or Jennifer Lopez.

Finally, two days later I get word that the assailant was captured and I breathe a sigh of relief.

I move about the next few days more lightly. My husband and I attend a wedding out of town and when we return from our trip, I feel a renewed sense of spirit which manifests itself in rearranging the furniture and going on a massive cleaning binge.

I move a couch beneath my picture window so my dog can stare out and bark frantically when anyone approaches; I don’t even stop him from barking at a squirrel but instead reward his frantic notifications with beef jerky.

All goes smoothly until my husband informs me that he would be spending a night in the field. Denial. Then fear. Then confusion: when had I become this terrified suburbanite/rural dweller?

Undeterred, I build my own ‘foxhole’ as soon as my husband leaves at the house for the field at 4:30AM. The day progresses uneventfully, but as soon as it grows dark I turn on every single light in the house, including the lights of my closets in the basement. I plaster BEWARE OF DOG stickers to every window. I shove kitchen chairs against the two house doors and turn the volume up on the television to an innocuous program about raising sextuplets. Because that makes sense.

In my bedroom, I play Army Wives on repeat, hoping that any one who got close to my house would hear the mock battle scenes and assume that my husband had forgone sleeping in the field with his lieutenants and had instead brought the entire platoon to my house to have ice cream over M-16s and mortar rounds.

I can’t quite explain the helicopter sound effects, but my brain isn’t working with that kind of logic.

I prepare myself to sleep and find that it will not come. The wind rattles against my windows and knocks them about, causing my larger dog to growl for hours on end. My head starts to pound dramatically and I began to sweat. I start to drift in and out of some sort of bizarre consciousness where visions of zombie children and dish detergents begin attacking one another.

I send my husband a few texts telling him that my head is pounding and with each hour my messages grow more frantic. I have never experienced a migraine and tonight is not the not to start…but it does.

By 3:45 the Sextuplets show has ended and I am watching infomercials about vacuum cleaners and face cleaning products. Or was it a vacuum cleaner that cleaned your face? I can’t recall.

By 5:00 my head is pounding so intensely I begin to think I’m having some sort of aneurism and I begin to understand Tom Hank’s deep relationship with a volleyball.

By 6:30AM, I am still wide-awake.

By 8:00AM, I have finally managed to fall asleep, only to wake a few minutes later to my frantic husband who had rushed home as soon as my increasingly manic texts popped up on his screen as he trudged back into civilization.

Within five minutes of being home he determines that I have somehow managed to dehydrate myself, which explains the pounding head and the bizarre and anxiety filled hallucinations.

“How has this once independent, career driven woman has been reduced to a prisoner of her own home??” I wonder to myself.

And then it hits me. I am a bonafide city girl (or at least a very close to the city cute town with side walks and quaint street fairs suburb kind of girl).

I am not meant to live far out in the country where NRA stickers and pick up trucks with the remnants of the week’s latest catch dot the landscape. I am not meant to live in a place that has three different patterns of homes, the only thing distinguishable between then being the color of their shutters. I am not meant to live in a place where Applebee’s is considered fine dining, the local watering hole is in a shady strip mall and my only connection to the outside world is constantly refreshing my Facebook newsfeed.

I am not meant to live in a place where the Walmart offers taxidermy specials.

I am not meant to live in a place where as soon as it the evening hours start to close in, the surrounding woods so block out the moon that it becomes difficult to even see a hand when placed directly in front of a face.

In efforts to calm me, my husband tells me that he’s going to clean out our fridge as I lay, finally able to rest, on our couch.

“Do you ever think we’ll be normal?” He asks me from the kitchen and I pull the white snow comforter over my head. I hear him throwing large items into a hefty bad.

“Someday, I dunno, I think so.”

Hours later, as my husband has returned to the field and I am finally able to finish up an article just on deadline, I pad into the kitchen to make a sandwich. And when I pull open the fridge, I see that it is completely empty aside from a can a coca-cola, a bottle of water and the permeating stench of bleach.

In my ensuing paranoia and my travel from the weekend before, (and even during my cleaning binge) I realize that I have completely forgotten to throw out some wayward looking vegetables that had apparently started sporting the kind of mold that could only kill or completely cure entire civilizations.

It is then that I am hit with the real meaning behind my husband’s innocent question: I don’t think he was asking if “we would ever be normal” but instead he may have been wondering if “I would ever be normal?”

I smile, maybe even chuckle a little. I grab the can of Coke and hop on my computer. As the search bar appears I enter: “available townhomes in Washington DC metro area.”

Most people would argue that crime is higher and more prevalent in the city as opposed to our rural suburban life out here. While that may be true, I can’t help but call upon the title to Wade Rouse’s outrageous funny memoir, “At Least in the City Someone Would Hear Me Scream.”

But just to be safe, in advanced search section I check a box that reads, “alarm system ready.”

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

(Mrs) Adventure #19: My Mother's Daughter

I am standing outside Bachelor’s Quarters at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station when the helicopters buzz overhead like hungry vultures practicing formations for the moment when their ‘game’ comes into view: destitute, cornered, depleted. It is as though time remains unchanged here and everything and everyone scurries about in some anachronistic hurry. Shielding my eyes from the haze that hides the sun, I glance upwards and wonder if my very own mother once did the same in a time much like now when war seemed unending and she questioned when, if ever, a semblance of restoration and peace would begin anew.

With a deep heave in my chest and my shoulders sunk low I am struck with a frightening realization: I can’t quite remember a time without war. I can’t fully remember when that vile word wasn’t on the tip of everyone’s tongue, wondering when this one would end and the next would begin- and I start to understand what it means both to be a King protecting his throne and more certainly, a Queen left waiting at home, not breathing, not moving, not counting any blessings until, well, until it is finally over. But when is it ever truly over?

At a time when so many of my very dear friends are becoming mothers themselves, I can’t help but look inside myself and wonder what kind of mother I would be, that is, if I ever were to become one. Though I am very much without child, the more I concentrate on the concept of having children of my own, the more I am drawn the mysteries and complete brilliance of my own mother. While many girls struggled with the mother daughter relationship, my own mother and I seem to have superseded these whitewater river currents. Certainly, we’ve had arguments here and there, most especially during my teenage years, but my own mother and I form a bond that I feel goes beyond mother and daughter: I am her child, but she is also my sister, my best friend, my closest confidant. So when I look up at those helicopters buzzing and remember how much my mother tried to shield me from this type of discord and pain I can only laugh: I am stubborn and I am most certainly my mother’s daughter.

During the 1970’s my mother and my father married. He was a Naval Option ROTC student at the University of Notre Dame, and she was a gorgeous bride with dreams of psychology and art, a nice home and stability. Once he graduated from University, my parents moved to Norfolk, Virginia, where my father was promptly assigned a ship and a billet to the Vietnam War. My mother was young, barely 21 when she gave birth to their first son, my brother, Chris. My father was deployed and so my mother at that very young age gave birth alone: far from family and friends in a very foreign feeling Naval hospital in Norfolk. In that sense, she and I share very few similarities. Armed with her history, I sought out quite a different future. At twenty-one I was more interested in job connections and parties than I was with having a family, in fact, the very concept repulsed me. I was reverent not to lose myself, not to a man and certainly not to the United States Military.

Years passed and my parents were quite happy; my father retired from being an Officer in the United States Navy and two additional children followed. The last, being me, turned out to be stubborn, a perfectionist, a people pleaser and ironically someone who marched to the beat of her own drummer, very conscious of my mother’s past and destined not to repeat it. Of course, I was foolish. By all accounts, my parents were and are extremely lucky and happy, so why I felt a desire to move my path down such different roads could only be attributed to a childlike sense of dogged will. But I never forgot my mother’s words and advice; in a way, I felt a need to live out my twenties for both myself an my mother. I posted Gloria Steinem quotes and meditated upon them with somewhat of a religious fervor; admittedly, I still do.

In turn, my mother did everything in her power to protect me from the outside world, though it was the outside world I longed for most. But, even the very best mothers can’t protect their daughters from war and on September 11, 2001, it was my mother who notified me that a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. It is my mother’s voice that I remember the most that day. It is my mother’s voice that I am most grateful for on that day. The day when I think my generation collectively lost their innocence.

There is a time in every American’s life for generations past that they can remember their innocence lost. For some it was Pearl Harbor, the declaration of World War One or Two, Kennedy’s assassination, the Korean War, Vietnam, and for us it was 9/11. For me, it was the day when the sky fell in and I realized that real life happened not on stage, but beyond the exit wings. Nine years later and then some we are a generation that has grown accustomed to war, turbulence, unrest and change. It is amazing how ‘well’ we adapt.

It is amazing how history repeats itself.

I am not sure what I expected when I married a Captain, an Aviator no less, in the Marine Corps. At the superficial best, I feel pride and a swelling of my heart that my husband is one of the brave few who puts himself on the line for his country; at the worst I feel separated from my friends, my family and myself who can not understand the routines and sacrifices of this ironically foreign feeling military life. There are moments where I miss my self-imposed bubble of television cuts and final edits, scripts and cocktail hours after work. There are moments when I feel horribly out of place on a military base, as though I’ve snuck into some secret government location and at any point someone is going to come knocking on my door and tell me the jig is up. There are moments where I am overwhelmed when I realize that I have married a Marine during wartime; in truth, I still haven’t rectified it in my head. It feels like pretend to me. I suspect it always might; I suspect that may be a self-defense mechanism.

Either way, as I stand outside Bachelor’s Quarters and marvel at the helicopters as they pass me overhead, I can’t help but wonder about my mother, my sister. I can’t help but feel like her. And for that, I am grateful. To know that no matter where this crazy military will take me, I will always have her by my side, whispering in my ear sermons of strength, and telling me that safety and my family are always around the corner.

So in that moment I draw in a deep breath and turn my eyes from the helicopters and look east.

I am looking toward Virginia.

I am looking toward home.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

(Mrs) Adventure #18: A Note of Thanks

I’d like to offer that as I type this entry, Sheryl Crow’s catchy tune, “A Change Would Do You Good,” is pumping through my head. But I can’t. Because in place of that socially acceptable song, some God-awful European cacophony titled, “Manboy” is actually spinning on repeat.

There are times when I wish I were (was? whatever) normal and occasionally, times when I get a little tired of laughing it off when people call me ‘crazy’ in what I hope is a lovable way. Ok, let’s be honest. I usually like it, embrace it and even cultivate it but if one catches me in the wrong mood there are times when I want to look at the person and say, “You know what’s crazy? The fact that you walked out of the house wearing that and thought you looked even half way presentable. Nice face.” Normally though, I just smile, laugh and agree. Admitting to crazy is a defense mechanism that I think those of us who always felt a little bit on the outside clung to before anyone else could whisper underneath their breath: ‘That girl over there? She’s nuts. (Or insert your insult of choice).” It’s always easier to literally beat people to the punch line before they figuratively beat you to what feels like a punch.

If I were to offer instead an admission, I’m sort of glad that over time I’ve developed this roll with the punches type attitude. I never realized how much it would come in handy until I married into the Marine Corps. As I am quickly learning, being married to anyone in the Marines has two distinctive sides. Fabulous perks: someone actually packs your stuff for you and for free, your husband or wife looks like some sort of fitness poster because it’s required of their job and there’s a giant grouping of others in the same situation going through the same thing that always seem to be there to comfort in a moments notice. There are also downsides. Long months spent apart, late nights and early days and inevitably when the Marine Corps says MOVE! you don’t get to say, “No, I’m cool. But thanks!”

But seeing as my husband and I have spent exactly three weeks together without major interruption since we started dating and were subsequently married, I decided that we should probably, at least at one point, actually live closer to one another than 8000 miles.

Unfortunately, the inevitable results; I must bid adieu geographically speaking to all the people that I love and cherish in my life (my husband aside).

And I’m having a little trouble with that concept.

In the past three and a half years that I have lived in Chicago, I have met a bevy of soul mates. No, not in the romantic sense, but in the actual sense of the word: people who just get you, who click with you and people who come into your life for a reason in order to help you grow, change and at the same time care unconditionally. I’m still shocked by my good fortune.

There have been people that I have met and we’ve formed very quick and close and strong friendships. There are those that I cherish but time and work have pulled me from them occasionally but I still keep them close. And I know and I hope they know that if trouble were to arise I am but a quick jaunt away.

More importantly, I have found people in this magnanimous city who for the first time have allowed me to drop the comical or self-protective attitude every now and again; people for whom I do not feel responsible to make laugh or make a joke at my expense to achieve their acceptance and/or friendship. That is priceless.

As I packed up the final box in my apartment, I found myself in a full-blown anxiety filled panic attack of tears and self-doubt. ‘What if,’ I thought to myself, ‘I never find this again?’ It is not as though I am leaving to some far off base in Cambodia, but just the simple realization that geography won’t always be as simple as a red line or a cab ride away.

You see, when I was younger change was exciting! Change meant a whole new group of people to meet, cultures to explore and the possibility that life would offer some exciting career move or adventure at every new turn. Certainly, that all still rings true, but there is a distinct fear that settles in the heart of anyone who knows that their changing travels will take them away from what is true and pure friendship. I already have a difficult time enough knowing that some of my best friends live in California, St. Louis and Manhattan, and now I am to do that over again?

Admittedly, I already feel the need to pump up the jokes or the laughs or the smiles that will coat my being like a protective shield of armor for those that I meet in my new home.

In attempts not to come off sounding like a paranoid schizophrenic, there is a very real fear I have that new people who meet me may judge me. Maybe it will be my hair? Or my laugh? My outfit? My religion? My questioning of religions or religious practices? My politics? Or maybe wholly for reasons unknown-someone just won’t like me. It’s happened, it’s happened to all of us and we as a whole can’t always escape the occasional unfounded judgments of others. I know that we’re supposed to move on and grow up and this stuff isn’t supposed to bother us after the eleventh grade, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that gosh, sometimes I still feel like that plain, invisible girl in high school that used to stand in the bathroom and watch all the beautiful and popular blonde girls do their hair and makeup and laugh about their flirtations with boys while I applied my Bonnie Bell lip gloss and kicked at my chunky Doc Martins.

Looking back, that seems silly. But what has happened as a result isn’t all bad. Having built up that armor has led me to meet some of the most fantastic, wonderful, incredible and amazing people in Chicago. They are the ones who I would like to gather in a foxhole, make a fabulous fire outside, roast marshmallows and chocolates and laugh until the sun comes up. You all certainly know who you are, and for those of you that are questioning it: if you are reading this, then yes, I am speaking to you. (Unless you, person who continually sends me club invites is reading this, then you could probably just stay in the Chi).

But of course, that laughter won’t be because I’m trying to impress someone or trying to make someone laugh so that they give me a chance or don’t completely think I’m awful or a total dweeb. It will be genuine and truthful and most importantly, grateful.

I will never fully be able to understand the gifts that Chicago has blessed me with, but I will never, ever forget them. If I had my way, I would hatch some sort of diabolical plan forcing all of you to move to the great state of Virginia and while I was at it, I’d grab my other best friends from other states and move them there, too.

I’ve loved Chicago; I’ve had lover’s quarrels with Chicago. I’ve loved the blissful summers and cursed the torrid winters. I’ve loved the sense of freedom and the tree-lined streets; I’ve rolled my eyes at the politics and grown angry about the crime. I’ve made friends with those from all different walks of life and I’ve made better friends with those I’ve known all along. I love the winding river and the tour boats that drift aimlessly down the canals as I’ve hated the suburbanites and out of towners as they’ve made the streets claustrophobic and occasionally dangerous. I love the bars on every corner and I’ve hated the stumbling drunks. Most of all, I’ve loved sleeping beneath the blanket of city lights knowing that there were millions out there just like me squinting at veiled stars and wishing their most feverish wishes. There is genuineness to Chicago, even beneath its steely and crazy armor; there is a sweet simplicity to its people and environment.

So, I’m not so sure if this is a long-winded rambling entry of any sense, but maybe it’s more of a letter of gratitude. That or it’s starting to sound like a weepy suicide note of sorts. Yikes, not my intention. Ya’ll gonna have a tough time getting rid of me, geography or not.

Thank you, everyone, for accepting me and being my friend these past few years. Thank you, Chicago, for making me in some way the person that I am today (good and yes, even bad). Thank you for showing me that although I still feel and will probably always feel like that totally dorky teenager in the high school bathroom, it’s OK to be a bit nerdy.

And sometimes, it’s even fun and perhaps required to be just a little bit crazy.

To steal the motto of the United States Marine Corps and to use it completely as it is not intended (if only for this one time) I say to you all: Semper Fidelis. Always Faithful. I will always feel that way about each and every one of you. And I can get down with that.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

(Mrs) Adventure #17: The Day the Power Died

There are moments in life when it’s especially fortunate that I did not have access to a magical future predicting crystal ball at age twenty-two. When viewed out of context, certain situations may not appear funny or even remotely comforting but instead extremely bleak.

I am standing in my very dark living room. Granted it’s only 5:45 PM, but my rear alley-facing apartment doesn’t offer much in the ways of view or sunlight. Outside, sirens from a nearby police station whine and wail on the way to their latest mission and on the streets below the cacophonous city music fills and thickens the air: people shout to one another, doors open and slam while restaurant chefs exit kitchen doors and chat with one another as they throw out the day's trash and linger over shared cigarettes. Inside my space, dozens of large cardboard boxes dominate the scene and a red and rusted dolly hides in wait in the corner like a nurse shark quietly stalking its prey. I walk blindly toward the back hallway, groping the walls for direction when I stub my toe on its unforgiving metal. I yelp and hop over the couch where I can do nothing more than sink into its comforting hug. Placing my hands over my eyes and realizing how incredibly pathetic I look in this moment, I let out a long and dejected sigh and think, “when it rains, it pours.” As though nature could read my thoughts, the sound of running water fills the space. I rub my eyes to adjust to the darkness and search for the source. Squinting, I see the small silhouette just five feet in front of me. There amid all the black and cardboard, I witness my dog as she lifts her leg and proceeds to pee all over a box full of freshly dry-cleaned sweaters. She whips her head toward me caught and pauses. I swear her eyes narrow as she throws me a threatening look that defensively questions, “You got a problem, lady?”

In the midst of all the frustration, I completely forgot to take her out.

For the past four hours I have been battling the monopolized electric company that has a mafia like stronghold over the entire city of Chicago. Weeks prior in an attempt to be a responsible adult, I contacted the ‘Dons of Chicago Electric,’ to inform them that my out of state move would not require a transfer of service, but rather a termination of contract. Of course, I was quick to point out that said contract should not end until the first of September. I even threw out the term pro-rate in regards to the remaining days and I honestly don’t even know what that word means. I know I should, but I don’t. It’s one of those words that grown ups use and disregarding the fact that I am nearly thirty years old and by that point in my parent’s life they were homeowners with two children, I still feel occasionally seized with wonder that the state of Illinois granted me a drivers license, much less let me live on my own and get married. Yet, saying these phrases make me feel older and more responsible, like I could mortgage something and on the same day open up an IRA.

In truth, I’d heard countless horror stories of the company failing to shut off the electric and then years later, bewildered and panicked citizens receiving a threatening letter demanding thousands of dollars for failure of payment. Of course, any attempt to argue or suggest innocence or even kindly point out that it is a mistake on the part of the company can only be compared to walking across a bed of fiery nails while a large Samoan man simultaneously hits you in the face with a heavy slab of concrete. It really is that bad.

So I can’t honestly say that I was too surprised when my front desk security man called me in a panic that a large man carrying a toolbox full of death instruments had arrived to shut off my power.

“What?!” I yelled. “Let me talk to him! Where is he?”

The poor man who sits at the front desk probably assumed that he was going to deal with some sort of raving lunatic as I insisted that he hold tight and stall him.

“Stall him, ma’am?”

“Yes! Stall him! Tell him a joke! Tell him that you can’t find the power outlet or whatever the hell he needs! I’ll be right there!” And with that I slammed down the phone and sprinted out of my office and down the street towards my building.

When I arrived I found a very frustrated ‘technician,’ trying to access our power boxes.

“I’ll have none of this! You’ve made a mistake! What are you doing!?” I shout at him. And then realizing that I appeared something of a mad woman on an unrecognizable narcotic, I collected myself and announced in my most lawyerly and judicious voice, “My apologies, but I’ll have none of this shutting off the power business. Let me speak to your supervisor immediately.”

The technician stared at me as I watched a slow smile creep into the corners of his mouth.

“You’ll have to call the company. I’ve got orders that you’ve terminated your electric.”

“Not until the first of September,” I argue. "I said that thing! About pro-rates!"

“Well, it’s the end of the billing cycle and I’m shutting it off. That’s what the order says.”

“We’ll just see about that!” I charge as I started to dial the company. After going through a series of incredibly frustrating automated choices, I become irritated and begin to hit 0 for operator repeatedly. Finally it worked. I was told that I would be transferred to a customer service agent, (if that isn’t a laughable euphemism, I don’t know what it. Customer Service Agent? Try evil minion of Satan. More fitting really), in exactly…fifty-six minutes to an hour and twelve minutes.

“Would you like to request a call back?” The automated chipper voice on the other end mocks.

I pretended to engage in a conversation with someone on the other line. I went into great detail.

“Yes, yes, you’re right. It was your mistake. Thanks, I’ll let him know.”

I spun back in his direction, “They told me it was their mistake so you can leave now,” I directed.

He looked at me quizzically.

“Lemme talk to ‘em.” He said reaching for my phone.

“Oh no, that won’t be necessary. You just move along. I saved you a trip,” I uttered as my finger accidentally tapped the ‘speaker’ button and the voice on the other end loudly announced that someone ‘will be with me in fifty-two minutes.’

He raised his eyebrow, walked over toward the box and shut off the power. Not wanting to show my fear and anger I looked at him and laughed. “Well, I’ll be seeing you later today when you have to come all the way back here to turn it on!”

“Sure, lady. Whatever.” And like that he exited with the kind of flourish that only a soul-sucking troll could. I imagined his home life for a moment and instinctively knew that he was probably married to a parking meter enforcer. In my head, I determined dinner time to be a real riot in as it probably consisted of his wife screaming at him for shutting off the power as she tried to put a ham in the oven, while she found revenge by writing tickets for passing the green beans her direction exactly twenty two seconds too late. ‘I’m sorry,’ she would arrogantly suggest, ‘but the ticket is already written and I can’t tear it up.” I instantly felt better.

“Don’t pass the green beans too late this time!” I yelled after him as he left. He turned and the look he offers me is out of utter confusion and genuine concern of my sanity.

“Yep. That’s right!” I pointed at him in such as stance as though I’d just won some fabulous argument in a courtroom and was waiting for the jury to slow clap and carry me out on their shoulders. Of course, this didn’t happen. All that did happen was a mother on the sidewalk quickly and fearfully grabbed her child as she rushed past me.

Fifty minutes later, something of a miracle occurred. The company admitted the mistake and begrudgingly informed me that someone would be out to turn the power on hopefully later in the day.

‘Hopefully? No, no, you mean definitely.’

No, as it turns out, they did mean hopefully. And I soon learned in their language, ‘hopefully’ loosely translates to, ‘not a chance in hell.’

All of this leads me to the moment I sit in a dark apartment and survey the space. There are police sirens screaming down the alley outside, boxes toppling over one another and the smell of dog urine perfuming the air. All I need is a dirty mattress in the corner and then I have officially redecorated my space to reflect the not so sought after design trend ‘crystal methamphetamine chic.’ So no, had I picked up a crystal ball and seen this image of myself well, I would have to say that it wouldn’t quite reflect the future I had intricately planned for myself those days I lounged at the top of the Hollywood Hills and threw wishes in the direction of thousands of sparkling diamond lights below.

I grab a mop and disinfectant and begin to clean the floor. I find the box I had packed filled with candles and place them strategically around my apartment so that they throw off enough light. Soon, my apartment smells of gardenia and orange flower, fresh linen and vanilla. I wander out toward the balcony and take in the last remaining daylight as I find my place in the latest book. In a way, I am glad that the television isn’t blaring in the background, dragging me out of my self imposed literary world and enticing me with programs that I will soon forget, shows that will leave little if no impression on my heart. I chat with my husband on the phone as he readies himself for a flight, and later my mom as we discuss moving and life. Before I realize, it is nearly midnight and I am yawning as the energy gradually sifts out of my body and warns me that bedtime is near. I smile knowing that I am yet another day closer to my husband. And just as I drift into a relaxing slumber, I hear a whirl of electric and lights flashing and a woman yelling at some unidentified man and I am rendered completely blind and shocked. For a moment, I almost think the city is on fire.

But no, by some unexplainable force, the power instantly returns in all its golden glory at 1:00 in the morning. Even though there are no technicians on duty and no possible way to reach the power box without the front desk’s help.

I freeze, not sure what to make of this situation and I feel slightly like a caveman who has just discovered fire. What. Do. I. Do. Now?

“Raaaaaarreeeeegggggg,” I hear from the floor. Slowly, methodically, stealthily I crane my neck downward toward the floor.

Wagging her tail and sticking out her tongue is my dog. “Rraaaarreeeegg,” she speaks. “I need to go out! Because it is daaaay timmmme!” Is what she is saying.

“Isn’t there a box you’d like to pee on?” I sarcastically suggest as I swing my legs off the bed. Instead of heading out the door closest to me, I wander the halls so that I exit the door by the front security man.

“Did you know my power is back on?” I ask when I reach the desk.

“Hm,” he says and simply smiles. “Funny how that works sometimes, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. Funny.” I counter, matching his grin. “Funny indeed.”

Standing alone outside on the sidewalk with the knowledge that the doorman is watching me from a few feet away, I survey the lights and the skyscrapers in the very short distance. The city music returns in the form of laughter between friends as they spill from bars, footsteps up and down the sidewalks as other neighbors wander the streets with their insomniac dogs and a cab floats up and down the street horn honking at every passerby. I crane my neck upwards this time at the thousands of sparkling diamonds and think of my husband under the same blanket of sky. It isn’t entirely perfect at the moment or exactly what I had intricately planned those days on the hills, but I like to think that had I a magic crystal ball at the age of twenty two that revealed this future moment in haze-filled colors, well, I think I’d be pretty comforted, regardless of the context.

I’m glad I didn’t, though. I would have run the risk of missing all the 'funny.'

But I probably wouldn’t have a box full of urine soaked sweaters sitting in my living room, either.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

(Mrs) Adventure #16: Holiday Roads

I am what one would describe as a Point A to Point B person. On road trips, for example, I prefer to drive direct to my destination. Fourteen hours in the car? Drive on! I would have Oregon Trailed the heck out of all those early pioneers. Three months? Try three DAYS. And I wouldn’t even slow down for Cholera.

I've recently discovered, however, that my husband is not of the same travel mindset.

Case in point: This morning the hubs and I decided to go over our route from San Diego to Chicago in what I am calling, “The Great Move,” or “The-if-we-don’t-end-up-killing-eachother-somewhere-near-Amarillo-we’re-golden,” October adventure. Obviously this isn't pressing and I am certain it will change no less than six hundred times, but it gives him something to look forward to on this seemingly unending deployment and it also gives me a clear cut plan. I like plans. I need plans. In college, I had every item laid out and organized before I moved into my dorm room. I had visualized in my head where each piece of furniture and book and photograph would hang. The days leading up to the move in date, I would lay awake at night rocking back and forth with some sort of maniacal energy. I must plan or otherwise I start to feel adrift in a sea of disorganization that gradually spirals downward until I’m sitting in a corner clutching a plastic fork. I need roads and itinerary and I want them to be mine. Not someone else’s grand idea. Just mine. I can visualize mine. Otherwise, I fear that I will be forcefully veered off course. Kindly note the foreshadow device used in previous sentence.

Roughly one month ago, I asked Matt if we could possibly take the southern route since I haven't seen as much of that part of the country. Also, I hate Utah. I had an unfortunate experience in a town called “Beaver,” that I would prefer not to revisit and have instead pushed it deep into the darkest recesses of my brain.

Anyway, he agreed.

Until now. Until he realized that instead of making this a road trip, we were going to make this into a third honeymoon. Hmmm.

This morning started out well enough. I had a plan that took us from I-8 to the 40 and then upward through St. Louis. The husband was very happy with said plan. And then he looked at a map. Now here's what happens when someone like my husband studies a map. He sees EVERY SINGLE PLACE he wants to visit and decides that we also need to stop there. I mean, how could we pass up the world's biggest ball of twine?! The last time we traveled together on HIS itinerary I ended up riding a poorly engineered rental bike up the side of a mountain while Japanese cars buzzed past me at alarmingly high speeds. He laughed. I cried. We saw something I could have seen at Epcot Center.

But, in practicing my desire to control every aspect of my life, (I’m a television producer, right Katie B? so it comes with the territory), I decided to give up a little control and allow him to plan our trip.

Also, there was a very interesting article on CNN (let’s be honest, it was, that I wanted to read instead of focusing.

This is how the conversation started…and started to turn. Quickly; like a sinking ship in which the band continues to play on…in his head.

Husband: "OK, so we can take the I-8 through... OOOH!!!! OH!!! OH MAN! (then a more serious voice). STAND BY! STAND BY! We can hit up Yuma and AHHHHH!! I always wanted to go here (name most random city in world that is not even worth mentioning)."

At this point, I try and keep him on track but I can tell that one wrong step and I'm going to somehow send him leaping into a pool of overwhelmed frustration.

Me: Matt, can you take a look at the map around I-40? Do you think that we should stop in Amarillo and then bounce up at Oklahoma City?

Husband: WHAT?! WAIT! I'm not there yet!! WAIT! STAND BY! I'm right at Tubbs Pass (or something along that name? Or maybe Tuba City?). DO YOU COPY ME? DO YOU READ?

Me: What? Yes, I read. (Pause two minutes while I casually search on google maps) Matt, I see Tuba City. It's in the middle of the Grand Canyon roughly three hundred miles off of the 40. Is there even a road that leads into the town?

Husband: STANDBY...STAND BY...OHHH! Monument City!!!

Me: What?

Husband: MONUMENT CITY! (Which sounds roughly like Monumeahsdity because he was talking so fast it was garbled).

Me: WHAT? How do you spell that, Matt?


Me: Matt, how do you spell that?

Husband: Pause. MONUMENT CITY. (Increasing frustration at my inability to understand what he’s saying being tangled with mounting mania as he starts sucking in his breath at presumably another site he wanted to see and begins making little clicking sounds. I don’t have to see him to know that he's rocking back and forth and his desk while staring intensely at the map. His eyes are no doubt darting back and forth as he moves in and out of the satellite versus map function).

Me: Oh. OK, Monument City. OK, that looks pretty. Yes, I've wanted to see that.


Me: Ok, yes Matt, I do. Here we go, how about you make an itinerary and then you give me the roads. Because I just need a solid plan with roads.

Note: See me giving up control here? Compromise Ali and Roberto. Compromise works.

What follows is a bunch of excited squealing, clicking, incessant rambling, quite a few more STAND BYS! And, do you follow? Can you copy? Some additional over and outs. A digression into the various jobs of the Marine Corps..." You see the logistics Marines do just that. And the engineers do their job. And I mission plan. And I'm an Officer, so that's why we do what we do. " Huh? No matter. I'm clicking through Facebook and paying no attention except to hear what sounds like him knocking over a few things on his desk and possibly running around in circles.

Finally, I perk up enough to hear what his route is. I ask him to read it over to me. Now, I will tell you, my route had us taking roughly three different freeways to get to our intended destination city. Efficient, quick and easy while also minimizing arguments about which turn was the correct turn, etc.

Husband: Staaaannnd byyyyy….

And what follows is the plan of a mad man. Or possibly the plan of a crazed Naval Flight Officer? At this point, I have no doubt he’s standing over a printed map of the United States with a pen in one hand and possibly flailing a compass through the air with the other. I picture him wearing a monocle, but I don’t think that part is accurate. Regardless, I know that I am in for a rather long briefing section about our route.

He begins and I have to stop him. Why? Because I need a pen and a piece of paper to write down the route he has us taking-if only to compare to my original route. Let's compare, shall we?

Kate’s Route:

I-8 out of San Diego taking us directly to I-40 at Sedona.

Continue on I-40 until Oklahoma City where we hop on 44 through St. Louis.

Once in St. Louis, we switch over to I-55 and voila! Chicago!

Minor distractions aside this route seems both easy and scenic. We could even have lunch in Sedona and pass below the Grand Canyon. Beautiful, right?

Apparently…not. Below is a verbatim plan from my husband, minus a few cities and possibly roads because I couldn’t keep up with his jet like speech.

“The distinct potential for bloody homicide either at the hands of one another or some messed up nuclear wastoid creature from the Hills Have Eyes” Plan. A.K.A, Matt’s Route

I-8E to Gila Bend
(Or possibly Gilbert? I couldn’t stop him because he was off and running to the next road…)

Arizona 85 State Highway

North to Buckeye

1-10 E to 1-17 Junction

North on 1-17 to Flagstaff with a stop in both Yuma and Sedona,
(I'll give him the Sedona though I don't have a pressing need to see Yuma, Arizona anytime soon. Like, someone send me a postcard and I’m good).

East on 1-40 into the desert through the Army testing facility.
(These were his exact words. Do I need to expound on this or can it stand on its own?)

Continue on to US 191

US 191 North
(which, as he puts it, is a ‘long haul through NO WHERE.’ Gee, I sure hope this plan doesn’t involve us pushing the car through mountainous desert because there are no actual roads. Camping is fun!).

US 60 West to US 163 through Monument City

Pick up at the 191.
(Weren’t we just on this road? Why did we get off this road? Oh, that’s right. Because of the google images. Oh, I kid, I’m sure it’s beautiful but all I can think of are crazy maniacal truckers who will inevitably try to run us off the road and then take us to their crazy maniac house where we will be tortured a la EVERY horror movie EVER MADE IN AMERICA).

To Utah 128
(I guess we’re ignoring my whole, “I hate Utah petition.”)

On to I-70

I-70 to I-76
(Driving through a terrain of road that I must admit helped me in the past. Yes, helped me stare DEATH RIGHT IN THE FACE AS I CAME ACROSS A FREAK SNOW STORM IN ASPEN).

I-76 through Denver meeting up with I-80 in Nebraska,
(also known as the world's most boring drive. Ever).

To I-80 through Iowa and eventually on to Illinois.

Joy. Joy. Joy. But being the supportive wife that I am to my super wonderful husband, I wrote it all down. I hung up the phone before he could launch into his plans about all the battlefield tours we’ll be taking in Virginia and laughed. Another note to my dear friends, if you love me, if you
really love me or at least don't entirely hate me too much, you will not give Matt a Michelin Green Guide that details the state of Virginia. If you do, I will be forced to cut off all communication.

And then I wrote it down. Why? Because at the very least, if we perish at the hands of blood-thirsty hill people, you will all know the truth:

I didn’t just marry an Aviator… I married Clark Griswold. And this is no longer a leisurely vacation across this great country of ours. No, no. This is now a quest.
This is a quest for fun.

So watch out Wally World because we’re (ahem, he's) gunnin’ for

Why aren't we flying? Because getting there is half the fun. You know that.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

(Mrs) Adventure #15: Twenty Five Questions

If I were to make an admission, it would be that I am absolutely, undeniably and over the top obsessed with people. I am totally fascinated by the foibles and experiences that mix to create the advanced psychological formulas that will determine just what makes a particular person ‘tick.’ Like a constant game of Jeopardy, I want to know the answers that will inevitably lead me to the questions. Really. I could totally win a game of twenty questions against Barbara Walters. As a result, I think most people walk away from a first encounter with me scratching their heads and trying to figure out how in the world they’d just ended up getting into a two hour conversation with a veritable stranger about how their high school crush influenced their later relationship patterns.

The guy in India who fixed my computer, Bob from Bombay? I have his personal number at the call center. The same can be said of the operator at Southwest Airlines, (Congrats Betty, by the way, on the birth of your new grandchild), or Joe the friendly customer service agent at DirecTV who used to live in Joliet, Illinois before he moved to Nowheresville, Oklahoma. As it turns out, Joe and I have three mutual friends and because of this my DirecTV always works swimmingly.

I’ve been on this veritable and unexplainable quest for answers since nearly birth. Though it has occasionally brought me pain, my favorite homeless poet King James recently wound up back in Cook County Jail for theft; it also has the ability to bring me fabulous surprises and joy. While on a recent outing to one of my favorite Sunday brunch digs, I found my way over to a friend of a friend of it turns out a very good ‘friend.’ Midway through conversation and amid my determination to figure out this interesting fellow who knew my tablemates, we discovered we shared far more than a coincidental number of similarities- the most important being that this lovely fellow was a friend with both my brothers while growing up. This may sound slightly common, but I assure you, it isn’t. You see, one of my brother’s passed away when he was only seven years old and outside of my family, I’ve never actually met anyone that knew him personally. As he shared stories of baseball teams and jocular boyhood activities, I felt as though I discovered a missing puzzle piece of myself. All over omelets and mimosas. And all because I felt the need to know this man’s particular questions.

Of course, the second half of this admission is that in my quest to figure someone out, I will do every possible search. That’s right. Like a crazed stalker wielding the power of the Internet, I will be up late into the night researching. In more euphemistic, less commitable terms, I like to do my homework. Come on, is there really anyone out there that can’t say that they sometimes find it delicious when someone hasn’t set their profile to private and you can view countless numbers of pictures? It’s like reading a little storybook. No one? OK, well, I’ve never said that I wasn’t slightly off-balance occasionally. And if I am truthful, I predominately only did this when I was considering dating someone. I just really needed to know if they had ever, say, been arrested for setting fire to their car. Or had once been suspected of master minding a counterfeit troll doll trading ring. Or perhaps appeared as an up an coming child actor on the short lived 1980s sitcom ‘Hulk Hogan’s Rock and Roll Wrestling!!!!’ Which isn’t really an arrestable offense, per se, but it is undeniably a crime of dignity. And for anyone out there who also likes to ‘do their homework,’ a word to the wise: charges before 2003 often don’t appear on the interwebs. Yep. Had to find THAT one out the hard way. And I won’t say of which scenario above; I’m still traumatized.

On the opposite side, I am always very surprised when people mention that they have, say, google searched me. Mainly because most people are shocked to learn that I once produced a show episode titled, “Sex Strippers Tell All!” In truth, I didn’t. I’ve actually produced far worse, but for some reason, imdb loves to attach my name to this one. I was thrilled when I realized that my future in-laws knew how to use Internet searches -because nothing says perfect match for their ridiculously intelligent and well-versed son like a producer credit on The Jerry Springer Show. I later found out that my fear was unnecessary because my husband had already beaten me to the punch. It was apparently one of the first things he mentioned to his parents when describing me. “Hey, Mom and Dad, I’m dating this girl and guess what? She used to work for Jerry Springer!” I’m sure at that moment they were positively elated. He really does have a knack for introductions, that one.

Anyway, the point of this whole entry is that due to my obsessive love of people and their psychology, I am often shocked when I discover something new and charming that has been essentially sitting right in my lap all these years. And that is a tiny joy for me, especially because it is something that my husband wrote about himself and because he is currently deployed, I don’t always have the benefit to pal around him all the time and discover these very innocent and simple psychological gems.

Do you remember those twenty-five question surveys that were passed around Facebook at some point early in 2009? Well, apparently the hubs filled one out which seems so somewhat out of character of him. He must have been extremely bored or deployed, otherwise he’d be too busy playing around in jets or greasing himself up on the beach volleyball courts while the Top Gun soundtrack plays in the background. And no. No. I’m not kidding.

I guess sometimes I get so fascinated with figuring out strangers, and maybe we all do, that I sometimes forget to seek out all the hidden gifts of those closest to me. I wonder, of anyone reading this: have you ever discovered a positive hidden gem of someone you’d known for years? It’s simply wonderful.

Of course, this is just a silly survey. But knowing that he wrote this a few months before we reconnected, well, it certainly reminds me how I fell madly in love with him in twenty five simple steps.