No, I’m not talking about the weather here in Oregon, though I could. I’m talking about an Instagram Reel I watched today, in which a successful realtor talked about “avoiding décor mistakes in your new build.” Like, avoid counters with lots of “movement” in the stone. Choose a classic floor tile, not a fun one. And guess what’s over in flips and new construction? That’s right. Gray decor has had its day.
Apologies in advance to anyone reading this who has a gray kitchen, gray floors, or a preponderance of gray décor. I myself cop to having gray furniture in my TV room, but it’s set against wood bookshelves and red walls (not red red, I am way too boring for that–think of Campbell’s Tomato Soup but made with milk like moms did so long ago). I added some red pillows and throws to punch it up a little more, because, seriously, gray has been an object of mild derision in my house since November of 2016.
What happened in November of 2016? Well, certainly you haven’t forgotten that night in November when a chasm opened underneath America, a chasm over which we still balance, thanks to the polarization of our country.
It happened because after election night, I stared at MSNBC, hollow eyed and grim, for about a week, waiting for someone to DO something, waiting for what had apparently happened to go away, or be challenged, or…something. But nothing happened, aside from an eventual and orderly transfer of power. Remember those?
So I started watching HGTV. Because it was easy. Distracting. Occasionally hilarious, though that was inadvertent. It was like eating toast when your stomach is upset. Toast may or may not be any less offensive to the system than any other food, but it smells good and there’s butter, and sometimes that’s enough.
HGTV was the warm buttered toast my soul needed, when I’d had enough of outrage for the day. Outrage was earned, and constant, and exhausting, so my husband and I watched it.
All. The. Time.
And we were not alone. I think a bunch of famous people did that, too, based on the new crop of celebrity-themed shows that have popped up on the network. Quite a few of us collapsed in front of HGTV in 2016, and we all have our favorite shows. Those of us who are celebrities can have shows, too, like Lil John and Melissa McCarthy.
These Johnny-come-lately celebrities do not host my favorite HGTV shows. I like them old school, and that means…
Before Ben & Erin, and aside from the Gaineses, the First Couple of HGTV was/were the mighty El-Moussas, Tarek and Christina. He was dorky and innocent, and she was blonde and prone to rolling her eyes and smirking at her husband. This lasted until the inevitable divorce, after which Tarek remodeled himself into a hunk so he could catch a younger realtor, and Christina completely checked out.
Despite her contempt for him and his almost total lack of a personality, I found them so easy to watch. They would find a cheap house in a passable neighborhood somewhere in the hive of freeways that is the LA area. Sometimes they would luck into an expensive house in an expensive neighborhood, where they would be almost guaranteed to lose money.
Wherever the property was located, they would tour the house while Christina said “Ew” a lot. Tarek would underestimate the cost of flipping with or without a contractor present, then pretend to “call the seller” (who I assume was a producer standing just off-camera) to dicker over the price.
Then they would gut the house and make everything gray.
Christina, whose voice is heavy on the vocal fry and SoCal Valleyspeak, would always be going on about being “obsessed.” She was almost always obsessed with something gray. “I’m obsessed with this backsplash.” “Buyers will be obsessed with this bathroom.” “I’m obsessed with these floors.” Christina seems to have some caps in her orthodontic history, so “obsessed” seemed really sibilant and over-applied because do people really get obsessed with a backsplash?
Especially when all the backsplashes were gray.
They were. Really. The backsplashes were gray, or gray marble, or those cement-look “let’s-have-a-fiesta” patterns in black, gray, and charcoal. The counters were generally white quartz with big swirls of gray running through them, but sometimes they were gray. The floors were done up in that taupe-gray, or just plain gray fake wood laminate.
Sometimes they went absolutely wild, and used gray ceramic floor tiles.
With all this gray, each home had the warmth and personality of a TJMaxx restroom.
Once the interior had been created in this cold, boring palette, they would go outside and paint three colors of gray on the siding. Christina sometimes slapped up a really strange color like puce, so she could roll her eyes and smirk at Tarek while he protested. Then fun time would be over, and they would agree on one that Christina called, “a nice warm gray.”
Is there a nice warm gray? I mean, really? Isn’t gray by nature a cool, dull, nearly invisible color? Like, have you ever just not seen a gray car on the freeway, because it’s the same color as the road? My brother actually sold a gray car after he got rear-ended twice by people who didn’t see him.
And the sheer ocular boredom of it. I have a soft beige bedroom because I want it soothing and restful. I guess gray could be that way, too. But a gray bedroom would veer from serenity to despair very quickly. Like, why am I in a cave?
But for ten years, gray décor has led the way. Especially in flipped homes, which are remodeled to be as basic as possible, so that no one can object to anything at all about the décor. They are engineered to be devoid of personality, which is apparently causing some trouble with resale, now. Can you imagine the stagers coming into these homes? “Quick! Splash some teal around here! Unearth some daffodil! For god’s sake, liberate the tangerine!” It must be a color emergency, every single time.
Let’s see what the experts have to say about it.
From HGTV.com: Go Under-board
“… the days of monochromatic gray interiors appear to be dwindling,” says interior designer Marie Flanigan. “Although we’re seeing less full-on gray spaces, people continue to be drawn to the thoughtful use of the hue.” The lesson here? A little goes a long way.
From the Washington Post, where “Democracy Dies in Darkness, but we still talk about decorating trends” : After years of being the ‘it’ neutral, gray may be on its way out
There are a lot of things people are sick of these days: bad news, limited gatherings, Zoom calls, incessant cleaning and disinfecting, and, judging from the comments I see on social media, the color gray. Whether it’s a pale shade or a deep charcoal, gray seems to have overstayed its welcome.
From Apartmenttherapy.com: Why Real Estate Agents Hate Gray Living Rooms
As is the nature of trends, it seems gray has been overdone to the extreme, with homeowners outfitting their abodes in the neutral hue from floor to ceiling—accessories and furniture included.
So sure, if you read these articles, which date from 2020 to today, you’d think gray was over. You’d think. But for every article I found condemning gray for the empty choice it is, I found another going on about timeless neutrals and versatile basics.
These articles extol colors like Agreeable Gray, Repose Gray, Light French Gray, and Mindful Gray, from Sherwin Williams (they also have Amazing Gray and Dorian Gray, which are clever, clever, clever).
Benjamin Moore has Edgecomb Gray, Silver Satin, Gray Owl, Gray Cloud, and Revere Pewter.
Do any of these names give you any actual information about which shade of gray they might be? And does it matter?
Let’s give gray the color names it deserves. Like…
Cracked Patio Gray.
Dryer Lint Gray.
Wheel Rim Gray.
Basement Floor Gray.
So, to answer my own question, I think gray might be over. I think gray should be over.
But since so many houses are gray now, I’ll believe it when I see it.
My husband and I went to see the 1962 version of “Cape Fear” last night at the Joy Cinema in our little suburb. I insisted we go, because I’d confused this “Robert Mitchum is a killer on a river” movie with “The Night of the Hunter,” another “Robert Mitchum is a killer on a river movie” that I saw at the Crystal Theater in Missoula, Montana in 1978. Perhaps my confusion is understandable after a gap of time like that, except I saw the Scorsese “Cape Fear” in the nineties and I should have known better.
This movie is dark and suspenseful and definitely worth seeing. Mitchum leans in as a baddie who is bad. Why is he bad? Because he’s BAD, I tell you. He’s a bad man who does bad things for one reason and one reason only; because he’s BAD. (Side note: I wrote two villains like this into Love & Mayhem at the Francie June Memorial Trailer Park, and though I forgive my one-dimensional characters at that point in my writing journey, and in this over-the-top book, I still giggle when I talk about BAD villains with my friend Shannon.)
Mitchum is horrifying, brutal, hypnotizing, magnetic as Cady. He’s also overtly sexualized. They strip search him at one point, and there he is with a man’s body, tan and hairy, broad-shouldered and holding in his stomach. I watched Jimmy Stewart change his pajamas in “Rear Window” not that long ago, and he looked nothing like this. It’s interesting to consider a time when an actor didn’t hire a personal trainer and work out six hours a day for six months before he took off his shirt on camera, as is expected today.
While Cady stalks the lawyer’s family in the city, the trappings of urban life keep him slightly at bay. He’s unavoidable and somewhat containable in town. He’s also vile, sexy, fearless. His implacable menace is terrifying. Did they not have stalking laws and restraining orders in 1962? I believe they did not, and this is what it looked like.
As bad as Cady is in town, once he gets to Cape Fear, Cady is in his element. There’s a moment when he takes off his shirt and crawls through the undergrowth to the riverbank, where he extends his upper body out over the water and waits, watches, smiles. That moment before he drops soundlessly into the water is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen. He’s an alligator on his way to get his prey and roll it in the water until it drowns. I wish he could have played Gator Rollins. He is something.
But the 1962 version of Cape Fear contains another performance that surpasses Mitchum’s. And it surpasses this performance with some of the worst acting I have ever watched in my life. We are talking astonishing, vigorous, howlingly awful acting.
No, I’m not talking about Lori Martin, who looks so teensy and pert next to Peck, like a gymnast. She’s just fine as one of the frightened women who run around being terrorized (Polly Bergen is the other). And yes, Gregory Peck does his usual wooden portrayal of an upright man in this movie. He’s best when he stays in his lane as a morally rigid and very correct character. He does that here. I leave it to you to decide if he was really as good as he’s supposed to have been, because I find him reassuring and handsome and not much more. But his acting is not the bad acting in question.
No, I’m talking about Barrie Chase as Diane Taylor. Diane Taylor is an aimless young woman who lets Cady pick her up (in a bar that looks really fun by the way). She takes him back to her place and sleeps with him. I think. I mean, I am just not sure of the sequence of events because she is so incredibly, profoundly, confusingly bad in this role.
She has four scenes, and she’s fantastically awful in three of them. In the first, she’s flirting with Cady from across a crowded bar. Sometimes she looks like she’s giving him the come hither, and sometimes she looks like she knows him and is terrified, and sometimes she looks sneeringly disinterested. None of her expressions make any sense at all, especially considering the action that follows.
Because in the next scene, she’s in a car with him, all cuddled up, and languidly talking about the comfort a girl feels when she realizes she’s gone as low as she can possibly go by picking up someone like Cady. I thought this scene was fine. But in the next scene, we see Cady coming into her room (shirtless, of course), and she’s sprawled in her tossed bed in some really sexy black lingerie.
Clearly they have had sex, yes? Or wait, are they just about to have sex, have they not had the sex yet? But he looks at her, and she looks at him, and some strange thing is going on, another inexplicable interaction. She looks as confused as I feel.
He’s clearly up to no good, flexing his fists, malevolent, ready to pounce. But her? What is all that expression about, all that screwing up of her face? Is she scared? Is she hopeful? What’s going on? Is she just tired? Because she’s lying there in what appears to be a post-coital haze. Or is she drunk and waiting? Does she realize it’s going to be terrible and violent at that point? Or has it already been terrible and this is more? Is she surprised, is she scared, what is she trying to tell us with this array of unreadable and bizarre expressions?
She recoils, the doors close and noises of a violent nature begin. We are left to our imaginations as to what horrors are happening, which is, I think, one of the goals of this movie: to eroticize women’s fears, incarnating them in smoldering, terrifying, unstoppable Cady. Mitchum carries that load like a pro.
But we are not done with Barrie Chase as Dianne Taylor, not yet. There is one last scene where Telly Savalas and Martin Balsam (a private detective and police chief, respectively) come to her room. Savalas’s character has been tailing Cady, and follows him to this young woman’s rooming house, but doesn’t go up there until after Cady has had time to have sex with/maybe not have sex with/ subsequently (or maybe not subsequently) brutalize a young woman/escape out a fire escape, I guess. She’s huddled by the bed, and the scene that follows is a masterwork of terrible acting. I mean, you really need to see it to appreciate the reveal of her injuries, the head tossing, the stalking about, the phone call, the dramatic packing, the strange tones of voice and again, the utterly inexplicable facial expressions.
I wished we were watching this at home instead of in a theater so I could have laughed out loud. But sitting in a darkened theater with other patrons restrains me, which keeps me focused on the movie, rather than letting me hit pause so I can ask if that actor was in something else, or get a drink of water, or bother my husband to the point where the thread of suspense is broken.
As we left the theater, I was talking about Mitchum. But all this morning, I’ve been thinking about Barrie. So there it is. It’s wonderful to see movies again, and perhaps next, we will see one filmed in the last couple of years.
Shout out to the Joy Cinema!
I watched “Call Me By Your Name” recently. This is one of those movies I kept putting off because I had to rent it. I think kind of forgot about it after I read the book in preparation for seeing the movie, because there was this pandemic thing going on that made me seek out lighter fare, like, for instance, “The Good Place” (we won’t speak of “Tiger King”).
But for reasons I don’t like knowing about, Armie Hammer has been in the news lately. And that made me remember that I’d never seen the movie. I wanted to watch it before my perception of Armie Hammer’s performance could be clouded by any more creepy stuff about him–and I just know that more creepy stuff is going to come out about him. Don’t you feel it lurking in the wings, waiting to settle over his pretty face like a big, murky cloud of privilege and perversion? Or is that just me?
Anyway, I decided it was time to watch “Call Me By Your Name.” I had to rent it for $3.99, which was fine, because I’m cheap, but I’m not THAT cheap. The movie, like the book, is thoughtful, beautiful, and wrenching. It required patience to read the book. It requires patience to watch the movie. I feel that my patience was repaid, but your experience may vary. It’s a sad and romantic movie, and hey, speaking of romance, it’s almost Valentine’s Day.
So in honor of Armie Hammer, here are some vintage creepy Valentines with overt references to acts of cannibalism.
I have omitted the racially offensive cannibalism valentines. YOU’RE WELCOME.
Hoping your Valentine’s Day includes romance, hearts and flowers, and absolutely no cauldrons.
I’m sure we will all look back at 2020 with varying degrees of horror, dismay, grief. I’m lucky enough not to have lost anyone—yet. I’m also lucky enough to have lived through COVID-19, which my husband had in January and I had in February, before either of us understood what it was. And no, if you’re going to ask, neither of us has been able to take an antibody test, and from what I hear that’s probably just fine. I’d like it confirmed that we’ve had it, but no one knows how much protection those antibodies confer, or for how long. So we’re working from home for…the duration?
I have mysterious lung damage, and my husband has borderline anemia. We both had seriously compromised senses of taste and smell, but his seems to have returned. Mine goes in and out. I have never been so grateful to taste as when mine started to come back. And to smell petrichor, and my grandson’s hair? I am never taking such small daily miracles for granted again.
Please understand that I am writing to complain about this from the lap of white privilege. Like I said, I am able to work from home. So is my husband. We socialize with our friends over Zoom, or occasional front porch shouting matches with friends who stand in our driveway. Our small in-person pod includes my youngest daughter’s family, who also had the strange flu we all had in January and February. Everyone recovered from it. Everyone involved has health insurance, which also means we all have jobs. My other two daughters are healthy, and one is employed, and one isn’t, so she needs to move back home for a while. How long? No one knows. But we will work it out.
My daily quarantine environment is a long dining room table. I sit at one end and my husband sits at the other. I look out on a huge yard that’s ringed by trees, which are full of birds each morning. One ignored corner of the yard is now home to some small dark grey rabbits that hop fetchingly across the yard now and then, to my utter delight. The butterflies are thick this year, mostly some big yellow variety, swooping and dipping through their short, graceful lives. And a huge planter of flowering purple sage has drawn many honeybees, and a few hummingbirds to sip at its blooms. So, bunnies, butterflies, honeybees and hummingbirds.
Except, I am suffering. This feels like the year that wasn’t. We were sick in January and February, and then my youngest daughter had emergency surgery, and I was over at her house four or five hours a day after work to help while she mended, and then we went into quarantine. Everything closed in a way that I have never experienced in my lifetime. A complete lack of federal leadership left the entire country reeling and scrambling, with no unified, coordinated plan for containing this awful disease, which has turned out to be so much worse than a flu. The economic consequences are disastrous on every level. And that idiot keeps flapping his jaws in long, self-serving improvisational attempts to cover his own dementia. And now it’s nearly the end of June. Where did this year go? When will we have our lives back?
Still, we are okay, I tell myself. We are alive, we have jobs, and should those fail, we have savings. Lots of savings. My daughter’s career kind of evaporated out from under her, but it will return. And she has a place to come to, and she has savings.
I was texting with my aunt the other evening. This can be kind of an adventure, because my intelligent and artistic aunt has always been an oblique communicator. For as long as we have been directly communicating, I’ve had the feeling that my aunt is extremely uncomfortable with direct questions, even about inane, mundane topics, so I don’t even ask them anymore. It’s frustrating, and there have been gaps in our communication.
But my uncle died ten weeks ago, and she’s in assisted living, and of course I worry about her survival in exactly the kind of petri dish for contagion we all need to avoid. But this is where she lives now, and she assures me that every precaution is being taken. And she asked me, “What’s the best thing that you can think of about being sequestered? (I’m workin’ on positive thinkin’, here)”
So here is what I told her. One, My husband and I are relative newlyweds, but we spend 24/7 together in equanimity. We share this “office,” and meet up for lunch in the “break room,” which is the kitchen counter. All day, we listen to jazz or classical music on the radio. We do small, kind things for each other, and share the chores, and make each other laugh. I appear to have married the right person. So that’s the first thing, and it’s a big thing.
Two, my dogs are old. I mean, they are such a pair of old ladies. They were fully mature when I got them almost seven years ago, and I think they are maybe 13 and 16 years old, now. One of them is just fine, but the littler one is having a lot of problems. She’s completely deaf and has a serious seizure disorder. But she limps along, fierce and mostly happy, and we are both grateful to be spending these months with her, because I’m not sure how many months she has left.
And of course, the third thing is, I have two more books almost ready to publish of my own, and a new Orcas Island mystery in the works with Shannon. All this time in the house has to be good for something, right?
Right now, it’s 7:39 AM on a Saturday. The air is cool and my coffee is hot. I’m at the dining table, working on my own words, rather than work words. My husband is happily sleeping in, as he does on weekends, giving me this precious time alone. My French doors and windows are thrown open to my tree-hung yard. This morning is full of birdsong, all the sweet chirps and peeps, and the caws. The crows are having their usual arguments. I smell cool air and freshly cut grass. My ancient dogs have gotten tired of waiting for their breakfast and have gone back to sleep. It’s all so beautiful, I think I can be forgiven for forgetting about the state of the world for an hour, just to revel in this gorgeousness.
Be well, friends. Be well.
…to ask him if he’s sending me flowers at work this Valentine’s Day. Why? Because the pleasures of displaying my big beautiful bouquet in my office are not matched by the idea of carrying it home on my lap in the car. He sometimes includes lilies in my arrangements, and I’m so sick this week, and so I see myself riding home with my congested nose inhaling lily pollen and I just want to die.
But my husband plans ahead. Flowers-at-the-office may already be in the works. I will just wait and see, and be sweet about whatever happens.
I started getting flowers at work after my divorce and reentry into dating in about 2004. It meant a lot to get flowers at work, regardless of whether it was a couple of dyed carnations in a budget vase, or two dozen long stemmed red roses. I seemed to attract a lot of flowers in those days. In fact, a friend said to her husband, “Why don’t you ever send me flowers at work, like Karen gets?” He said, “Maybe you’d better find out what Karen does, to get all those flowers. Then we’ll see.” And he winked at her.
I laughed for about five minutes when she told me this. And then I said I’d write a book about it. “How To Get Flowers At Work, by Karen Berry.” Maybe, I said, maybe it would be a really short book.
The reality is, getting flowers at work meant quite a bit to me, especially on Valentine’s Day. I’d made the mistake of getting married on Valentine’s Day, which I have written about before. Valentine’s Day carried so much emotional baggage that I was in danger of having to pay overage fees. So when the flowers started to arrive on Valentine’s Day itself, I found it healing. I had proof. See? I was cared for.
I would be summoned to Reception and there it would be, proof that some man, somewhere, thought I was worthy enough to deserve flowers. I’d prance back to my office, carrying my arrangement, and set it somewhere visible enough that passers by would say, “Oooooh, those are pretty, who are those from?” and the entire world would see that, yes, even though my husband had left me for someone else, leaving me broken, toxic and full of grief, I was once again in the land of the beloved.
I’m not saying this was the most emotionally healthy attitude in the world. It seems petty to me in retrospect, petty and pathetic. I’m embarrassed for myself. But it’s where I was at the time. And I understand how important it can be to display that public statement of value and regard. To be honest? It meant everything to me at the time.
As years passed, I got used to flowers on Valentine’s Day. I even got a little picky. One suitor sent my flowers the week before Valentine’s Day, so the flowers were all dead by the time the day itself arrived. You can read about the ensuing debacle in my book, Shopping at the Used Man Store. I’m pretty sure this one wasn’t my fault, but he might see things differently.
Another gentleman suitor sent me an arrangement of pink roses from…Costco. The roses came with these stickpin things you were supposed to insert into the buds, with little plastic faux diamonds. This was too much for me. I didn’t want pink roses with fake diamonds in them, so I left them off. But when I sent a photo to the gentleman in question, I could tell he was puzzled. He’d ordered something with bling.
So the next year, when I received the same exact arrangement from him, again from Costco, I inserted the stickpins into the roses and sent him a photo. He was so pleased to see them there, sparkling away, COSTCO ROSES WITH PLASTIC BLING.
My husband doesn’t just send flowers on Valentine’s Day. He sweeps in the door now and then with a bunch of roses — usually red, but sometimes not — and he trims off the bottoms and puts them in a vase (I have a lot of vases because of all these years of getting flowers) and gives them to me with his crooked smile and hopeful blue eyes. And I just melt. I don’t need the flowers to arrive publicly anymore. I don’t need it affirmed that I am loved.
But if you’re reading this because you’re not sure whether or not to send her flowers at the office?
Do it. Because nothing is more fun than getting flowers at the office.
Other Karen Berry who was planning a vacation in North Carolina – Your reservations agent sent me a lovely email. I wrote back telling her I had no idea what she was talking about. I hope you left your phone number with her, so she has an alternate way to contact you. I have been known to cancel reservations that come to my email address, which could be quite a shock if you went somewhere thinking your plans were in place, so please don’t do this anymore.
Other Karen Berry who booked a cab ride to the airport in New Zealand – Please see above. Hope your refund came through.
Other Karen Berry who is a horse trainer – I have seen some very nice photos of your horses performing well post-training by you, other Karen Berry. Wouldn’t you like to see them, too? Perhaps, other Karen Berry, you might consider giving your correct email address to your clients, so that this can happen.
Other Karen Berry who applied for a customer service job with the Reed Gas Company – You were not selected for this position. I am sure, other Karen Berry, that you were a qualified candidate, but at this point, if I were an employer and my potential hire didn’t even know her own email address, I wouldn’t hire her, either.
Other Karen Berry who is taking surveys for cash – You apparently have some money waiting for you. However, other Karen berry, since your notifications for this money keep coming to my email address, I wonder if you will ever be able to get it. Think about it, other Karen Berry. There you are, answering stupid questions about lawn fertilizer and Starbucks coffee, and you’re not ever going to get paid. Unless, of course, you actually sign up with the correct email address, other Karen Berry.
Other Karen Berry who wants to work as an escort – PLEASE get your email address right. This site keeps emailing me to finish setting up my profile to get escort work, and my unsubscribes don’t seem to be unsubscribing me. And, other Karen Berry who wants to be an escort, not to get all judgmental on you, but I am a mom. And like so many moms, I feel tremendous sadness when young women turn to sex work to support themselves. I wonder if you have possible employment options that you haven’t considered, other Karen Berry. In fact, I hear the gas company is hiring.
Other Karen Berry whose son Ryan plays soccer – Ryan is still welcome at an abundance of soccer camps for the coming year. Is it possible that you might consider giving these camps and coaches your correct email address, so that Ryan can build his skills and stop wondering why no coaches want him? Think of Ryan, other Karen Berry. Learn your own email address, other Karen Berry.
Other Karen Berry who is a realtor – You, other Karen Berry, were on my shit list because you actually put my email address on a website. I had to call the realtor who manages this website on the phone (I don’t do that) to get the email address changed. I wasn’t exactly swamped with requests for your services, other Karen Berry, but I got enough mail that it was annoying. And later, when your coworker sent me a long job description for a social media manager for your company, I was confused, seeing as how I am a social media manager and all. But we got that straightened out in short order and all is well, and your coworker is really nice, by the way, but still. It’s time to stop with the incorrect email address.
And last, other Karen Berry whose friend sent me these photos:
Well, other Karen Berry – you don’t have to do a thing. Not one damn thing. In fact, your friend can send me kitten photos all day long, and I’ll just say thank you, other Karen Berry.
We don’t answer the phone anymore. At least, I don’t.
Now, if it’s my cellphone and one of my friends’ names pops up, or my kids’ faces, or my HUSBAND (SURPRISE! I HAVE ONE OF THOSE NOW), well of course I answer that. Because I know who it is. And if I’m at work and I can see that it’s a coworker calling me (names and extensions display), yes, of course I answer the phone. But any other number? No, never. I don’t answer the phone.
I answered the phone religiously for sixteen years at the office, talking with costume designers and their assistants, magazines and the like. My job was to place my company’s products in print, on TV shows I loved (like True Blood), and movies I didn’t (like Twilight) (apologies to Twilight lovers everywhere, but I guess vampires have to fit in with my very specific tastes).Vampires aside, I was on that phone, jumping to whenever it rang, dropping everything to find out the particulars of what and when and colors and sizes, then back on the phone to track everything down and hustle it where it needed to be. Eventually I passed this set of duties off to someone who spent half her day on the phone with editors and costume people, and did it happily. I missed parts of that job–there is a true sense of triumph when you make a great placement–but I didn’t miss all that time on the phone.
I used to talk to friends on the phone quite a bit, back when I could use my cell phone in the car. I’d call Sue every morning on our commutes. She’d fill me in on her extraordinarily active dating life. I’d listen to her stories while trying not to run over the people who lived on the street and therefore thought they owned it, and could therefore walk in front of moving cars with impunity. I judged them for endangering their lives, but the truth is I was endangering my own with all that talking and driving. I have stopped that.
I used to talk to men on the phone, back in my earlier online dating days. The conversations were invariably awkward, but I realized I could save time and grief by talking on the phone with prospects before I met them, because 60% of them would be immediately disqualified. So I did that for awhile. Did you know you can tell if someone is on the spectrum almost immediately on the phone? Well, you can, don’t ask me exactly how, but I was always right. And then the general phone-avoidance attitude took hold, and it stopped being an option.
The only people who can reliably count on me for phone conversations are my daughters–and very often, they do Face Time. Occasionally I plan a phone call with a friend, which has to be scheduled as carefully as a mammogram or a blood draw, and is approached with a similar level of apprehension. In the ten years I’ve known Shannon, I have called her exactly once out of the blue, because her mother was ill and I wanted to know how things were going. We were both so intensely uncomfortable that I vowed to always text first to give her warning. I AM GOING TO CALL YOU, SHANNON, I AM SO SORRY ABOUT THAT, PLEASE MENTALLY PREPARE YOURSELF OR MAYBE TAKE A BIT OF XANAX. (she doesn’t take Xanax) (that’s me) (just to be clear).
For twenty years, April and I would reliably talk on the phone somewhere around the holidays. She lived in Oklahoma, and I lived in Oregon, and we were both busy with life, husbands, kids and (in her case) a meaningful career (I didn’t do that). But we found time for at least one phone call per year. Once she called in later January and asked what I was doing. I said, “Oh, just laying on my bed with my newborn baby daughter.” She said, “Oh, how sweet.” That’s how sparse our talks were, that I could have conceived and birthed an entire child without her knowing. Now she lives in Oregon, and we are in contact much more often. We get to see each other! But when I call her, she says, “Hello?” with dread. She is AFRAID when I call, thinking it’s bad news about a family member or one of my dogs.Do I only call when there’s bad news? Or is it just that we usually text, so it’s got to be something awful driving me to dial the phone? (not that anyone dials the phone, or hangs up, but you know what I mean)
I am supposed to have a theory, here. And I’m working my way to one, and it has to do with the ubiquity of communication.
When I was young, a long distance phone call was a BIG DEAL. I usually received one per year from my maternal grandparents on my birthday. That was it. When I was 19 and got my first phone (I lived without one from age 15 to 19), I could afford one long distance phone call per month. I had to plan that call and make a decision and stick to it, because at 35 cents a minute, that was an expensive call.
And then something happened, all tied up with cellular communication. Cell phones went from being expensive luxuries with roaming charges and charge-by-the-text plans, to what they are now–a replacement for landlines that have no roaming costs and free long distance and unlimited calls and data and texting. It’s free and constant and we have choices on just which way we want to talk–by text, email, instant message, facetime or Skype, or actually putting a phone to our ears and speaking (though most of us put it on speaker, but anyway). And this is supposed to be great, yes? But why, then, are we ducking each other?
We are inundated with opportunities for communication. It’s too much. We have overloaded ourselves. We can’t stand it. So we don’t answer the phone anymore, and I am not sure there is a fix for this. I wish there were, because I loved talking on the phone–but I can’t stand to do it anymore.
There’s a woman like this on every floor I’ve worked on in my current office: the woman who makes it her business to engage me in conversations about how I should be eating. There I am, innocently putting something in the microwave, and here she comes, ready to let me know how to do better. She has ideas! And tips! She has observations and explanations! She has ANSWERS!
If only she realized how demotivating her little talks are, and how pointless, because I don’t diet.
I used to diet endlessly. My weight loss odyssey started when I was seven years old and my mother put me on a strict 600-calories-per-day program that involved twice-daily shots of a hormone in my thigh. Now, please keep in mind that I wasn’t even a fat child. But Mom put me on diets all the time as I was growing up, until I was fifteen and moved out. By that time, all the dieting and a year on the Pill had made me nice and plump.
I did have a good run at Weight Watchers throughout my twenties, but it only served to get me thin before each pregnancy, during which I’d get fat again and have to do it all over again. After I turned thirty, I very rarely dieted. The last time was in 2007, not counting a desperate run at losing weight before a daughter’s wedding (took off 22, gained it all back on the plane home, I think).
This left me as the Floor’s Official Fat Person. Yes, that’s me, the current female record holder. And the Floor Fatty always attracts the attention of the Floor Food Warden. She’s there, concerned and watching, having lots of opinions and offering advice. I guess she thinks she’s helping.
When I worked on the second floor, a kind and nurturing woman was always watching what I ate for me. She had so many questions, a gentle daily interview about collard greens, or cheese grits, or egg salad, whatever exotic fat person dish I was eating that day. I suppose she wondered just how it was that I ended up this way, and wanted specifics so she could guard against joining me in the plus size section of life.
She was succeeded as Food Warden by a sharp and tiny woman who loved to bark at me about my yogurt choices (“You have to eat Greek yogurt!”). She would trumpet “That’s full of sodium! Don’t eat that!” whenever I opened a can (even when it was fruit and I don’t think canned fruit has much sodium in it but whatever). And another refrain was, “You need to go to yoga!” (yoga makes me seasick).
I actually adored this person. To be fair, she bossed everyone around about everything, so I forgave her. She’s retired and we all miss her. But not in the break room!
Currently, I work on Floor Three, where the Food Warden is quite elegant and fit, around my age, and has a charming accent. She maintains a somewhat birdlike interest in what I’m heating up, preparatory to stuffing it in my fat face, I guess. And she expresses gentle surprise and dismay that I am not obviously gorging myself to maintain my voluptuous frame.
At breakfast time, I eat the tiny bagels, the small yogurts, the clementines, satsumas and cara caras, just like everyone else. At lunch, I usually have leftovers, just a regular size portion of whatever was left over from a dinner. Stir fried chicken and rice, or spaghetti, or tortilla soup, or whatever my guy and I ate the week before. These foods are not spectacularly caloric. They are just dinners.
I haven’t found a special fatten-me-up-version of anything, at least, not so far. But she’s peering at whatever I pull from the microwave while she’s dressing her spinach salad, shaking out her tablespoon of bleu cheese crumbles, talking about how she only eats a third of a croissant at a time. Great. Awesome. Thanks.
Trust me, NO ONE knows more about how to eat, what to eat, how much to eat than a fat person. We know EVERYTHING. We’ve done it ALL. Including yoga, which she has also mentioned. Which makes me seasick, as I have mentioned. By the time we hit our fifties, most fat people have tried everything, and succeeded, as well, but it’s only temporary. By the time we’re done with whatever plan we’ve been working, we’ve done additional damage to our metabolisms, meaning we can eat even less. And though some people are able to start rigorous exercise plans mid-life, some of us have no interest in that. We’d rather just be fat.
I really do. I wish I could just harden up and ignore it. And I do ignore it but I don’t seem to harden. I can’t tell you how wearying it is to have your food choices scrutinized by other people. It’s especially annoying because I realize that most of these people are motivated by concern and kindness. I’m sure my current food warden thinks I am a nice person, and she thinks nice people should be thin, like her. She is only trying to help, but of course she isn’t. She’s just making me tired.
And if you’re reading this and you get the idea to send me some helpful ideas, or statistics about obesity and heart disease, or any of that, please don’t. That will only make me more tired.
I am a little shocked by how meekly I endure this stuff, to be honest. Why don’t I shut it down? I hate confrontation, but I could do it with coldness, by answering, “Wow, cool,” in a flat and dismissive voice. But I wouldn’t dream of it. I am a woman, and women are culturally inculcated to accept a long-running commentary on our looks. That commentary can be positive or negative, but it is constant from birth to death. We don’t question it. We participate in it, we endure it, we wouldn’t know how to feel about ourselves without it. But wouldn’t it be nice to try?
Some Nice Thin People
You know who never pisses me off? My office neighbors. We only comment on each other’s food when something smells really good, and the delicious aroma wafts into a neighboring workspace. “Oh my god what IS that?” They each wear a size two. They are TEENY. One of them is a naturally thin person who has actually tried to gain weight over the years. Yes, such unicorns exist. I hear her eating snacks all the damn time. The other is a naturally thin cyclist who eats like a horse to fuel her commute.
And you know what? Neither of them has ever given me a scrap of advice about my food, weight or health. But they have happily shared their snacks. And if there are donuts in the break room? The cyclist lets me know with happiness and glee, because we both love donuts.
I am so grateful for these women. They are younger than my concerned Food Wardens, and they give me hope that there’s been a generational shift away from that kind of monitoring.
Let’s hope, folks. Let’s just hope.
When I was a newly single mother of three, for some reason I decided to take my kids to Disneyland. By myself. Because I’m nuts. But I did it, and boy was I relieved when it was over.
Now, the relief didn’t settle in until the last day we were there, when we got up in the morning and took the shuttle to the Happiest Place on Earth in order to shop. I was breaking out the charge card and making my kids’ dreams come true. I’d told them that they could each have one thing, whatever they wanted, I didn’t care what it was or what it cost, but we’d have to get it on the last day. They would each have to remember where the thing was.
Though I’m a little fuzzy on the wheres, I actually remember what each of them got! My oldest got a Milne-style big Pooh, and my middle girl got some kind of anniversary Mickey in a satin jacket, and my youngest got the imperious pug from Pocahontas–the one with the ruff. He was larger than life-size.
We boarded the shuttle back to the hotel, and I felt myself relaxing. I hadn’t given much thought to how vigilant I’d had to be, but I had wrangled the kids through Disneyland for 3+ days. No one had been snatched or lost or damaged in any way. They were all decently fed, moderately rested, not sunburned, and not asthmatic. Best of all, they each had an enormous animal to clutch on the way home, in order to impress to our fellow flyers with the fact that we had just been to Disneyland.
I had done it.
I felt moderately triumphant as we rode the shuttle to the hotel. Tension I’d been unaware of carrying started to unlock itself from my shoulders and neck. Once we’d retrieved our bags and boarded the shuttle to the airport, I could actually feel the stress rolling out of my body. I’d been a hyper-aware mother hawk for days on end. It was almost over. We reached John Wayne International, and then our gate. By then, I felt intoxicated by my relief. Once we buckled up for the flight home, I was a jelly-like blob of relaxed motherhood. I didn’t need a cocktail. I was drunk on relief.
I’ve thought about that over the last month or so.
Since November of 2016, I’ve been at a high level of vigilance and a near constant state of outrage. It’s hard to function like that. The last year-plus has been so politically chaotic. It’s easy to forget the earliest days, when Bannon was running the show and each appointment was more catastrophic than the last. Like a scab, he eventually dried up and fell off, leaving us with less orchestrated trolling and more sheer chaos. Chaos that has become entertaining. At some point, I actually started laughing about how hideous this all is, because I laugh about everything.
I told my T about a month ago that something had changed. I wasn’t sure if I’d simply exhausted my capacity for outrage, and gone numb, or if there had been some shift in the atmosphere. I think it started, now that I consider it, with Roy Moore’s defeat. I wondered if I’d just normalized. This is how it’s going to be, I’d tell myself. There are rats in the basement and termites in the foundation, but we might be able to call in an exterminator at some point, if everything wasn’t ruined in the meantime.
I posted this on Facebook this morning:
A friend asked me, this morning, how I would write what’s going on in the head-spinning world of American politics. In my story, the appearance of Giuliani signals an exit strategy; that his wife has had enough, and is going to leave him unless he steps down and takes her back to Manhattan. So he brought in a trusted lawyer friend, and a more skilled lawyer to guard him legally, to help him navigate his way back to private life. But that’s what I would write if this were fiction. We are living in times so much stranger than fiction.
I realize now that I’m not numb. I’m calm. I feel a shift and a flicker of hope. I don’t exactly know what will happen next, to be honest. But something has changed, and the relief I feel is palpable. I’m not quite a blob–I’m still worried as hell–but there is some shift, something afoot.We’ll wait and see if I’m right.