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August 2006

Driving. Again. Because did I tell you about my new car?

***If you are at all interested in being a Real Live Writer when you grow up, you must go read these How To Write A Book entries by Maureen Johnson. Because they are hilarious. And feature Muppet screenshots.***

I thought of a million things I wanted to write about the other day while I was driving home behind a VW van going 25 miles an hour. So slow and for so long that I had time to read every single ridiculous bumper sticker slapped across its rusted back end. In an attempt to use my rage productively, I started writing blog posts in my head, but they've left me now. Perhaps I need a horrendously slow be-stickered VW van in front of me to churn the creative juices.

Of course, that doesn't mean I won't find something to write about. There is ALWAYS something to write about.

We're picking up the new car tonight. I guess that's something. We've been frantically pulling all the money stuff together (and by "we" I mean "Phillip" as I am just sitting around reading the Internet and waiting for Phillip to IM me with the latest interest rates.) It's a little intimidating, because we haven't had a car payment and now we will and ack! Bills are scary! Of course it's nothing like buying a house. Buying a house is in its own plane of terrifying existence. The debt we are in for this house is so overwhelming it's like it isn't even real. But it seems like, in order to buy a house, one must sink oneself into humongous debt. It's just what is done. Debt shmebt! Bring on the hardwood floors and tiled bathrooms! A car loan, however... Gak. Not thinking about that.

I have never had a new car. I've never really had a CAR. Okay, I have the beloved automobile, but it was gifted to me by my father-in-law who looooves me (and wanted room in his garage for a fancy Highlander.) I adore my car for sentimental reasons, but I did not buy it. I hardly even take care of it. (Devil On Shoulder: Perhaps the beloved automobile would not be flaking out on you in the middle of bridges if you, you know, changed the oil every so often. Maggie: That is what husbands are for. Devil: I'm just sayin'. Maggie: flips off Devil.) Before the beloved automobile I was somewhat responsible for my parents' ancient minivan that they kept here to use during the summers. I can't tell you how driving a blue minivan upped my cool quotient during the college years. Everyone wanted to drive with me. (Although I'm reminded of Ferris Bueller here, who calls Cameron's car a piece of crap, but since Ferris himself doesn't even have a piece of crap, he has to envy Cameron's. Take that, transportationally challenged college friends!)

Before that I had nothing. I barely had a driver's license. I went to high school overseas, where driving is not the Thing is stateside. Well, I may not know what I am talking about, because everything I know about the true American teenage experience comes from televsion, but television taught me that getting your driver's license on your 16th birthday is nothing less than a sacrament. Is this true? My husband was driving himself to school in a little pickup truck when he was 16. But no one drove when I was 16. Unless you count someone's older brother who flunked out of college and was back home living with mommy and daddy and ferrying us all to the discos on Saturday nights.

When I was a misbehaving 14-year-old, I lived somewhere that allowed teenagers to drive if they had a stateside license. A few of them did, but we weren't terribly impressed by it or anything. Most of us lived on base which meant everything was within walking distance. It wasn't a concern of mine until I started going out with a boy with a car. And even then it wasn't much of a big deal (we lived on a 12 by 18 mile island for goodness' sake) except for the fact that I was not allowed, under any circumstances, to ride in this boy's car. (Which meant I did, all the time, often right past my house where I would slouch down and pray my parents didn't happen to be looking out the window.)

God saw fit to move me away from the boy with the car and plunked me down in the middle of No Cars Anywhere Ever Too Bad For You. At this base you had to have a stateside license AND be 18 or older. Which meant no one was driving, even though there was no base housing and some of us lived closer to Austria than school. Dear U.S. Government: a more lenient driving policy would have probably saved you thousands in therapy for American high school students stationed with their families at this particular base. The only way you ever saw your friends outside of school was to cajole your folks into driving you to someone's house, always in another town, or staying after to play sports. And this is why my high school dominated the entire league in every sport- there was nothing else to do. After practice you rode home on the "activity bus" and God help you if you didn't have a friend or two living on your route.

All of that meant I didn't get my driver's license until I was a timid 19-year-old who passed the driving test only because my test guy took pity on me and said I was probably "mature enough" to learn how to parallel park on my own. Now I know there are some people who grew up stateside and don't have have their licenses (still!), but this stymies me. Isn't that what you DO? Drive around and go to the mall and meet up for pizza and make out in the back seat? Or have I been watching too many '80s movies? ('Can't Buy Me Love' was on the other night. That movie rocks. Although it still doesn't make me interested in Grey's Anatomy. Maybe if it was ALL Patrick Dempsey and nothing about that lispy girl who could benefit from a few loaves of French bread.)

But tonight? I will have my very own car. All mine. Brand new. Mine mine mine. I thought if I ever bought my own car it would be some used beater that I could back into poles and have the resulting damage be indistinguishable from the rest of the car. Of course, I also thought I'd be living in a studio apartment for the next 30 years, working a crap job solely to fund my next backpacking trip.


My new car smells like french fries

I hate salesmen.

Okay, that is not entirely true. I work with two perfectly nice salesmen. They are not evil people. They may have absolutely no clue how to use a computer, but they do rather well with that telephone contraption thingy that frightens the crap out of me, and for that they have my admiration. I suspect they have their slimy days like any other salesmen, but as they are not trying to sell ME anything, we happily coexist in our little eight-person office, me ordering them not to touch my databases and them earning money to fund my paycheck.

So I will amend that to: I hate salesmen who are trying to sell me something. Especially (dum dum dum) CAR SALESMEN.

When Phillip and I first thought we might need to junk my beloved automobile and buy a mode of transportation that ran something more reliable than hamsters and daily injections of gold dust gasoline, we went first to the Subaru dealer. Phillip's car is a Subaru and he loves it so. (The reason I don't just drive his car is because it is a STICK and I have yet to learn how to DRIVE a stick, though I have attempted such a thing many MANY times, so many times that we've both decided the venture is POINTLESS as continuing to focus on it will RUIN OUR MARRIAGE. Moving on.) So we thought: trade in the stick Subaru for a non-stick Subaru! Plus, we are Pacific Northwesterners and Pacific Northwesterners love their Subarus. Subarus shriek, "WE ARE ONE WITH NATURE", even if they are owned by camping-means-a-motel people like Phillip and me. (Phillip will be annoyed that I wrote that, but going snow caving that one time does not mean you are an outdoorsy person.) So anyway. We need to keep up the facade, people. This is why Phillip has an REI rewards card and I occasionally spout such nonsense as, "Let's go on a hike this Labor Day!" (Ha! That is hilarious.)

So off we went to the Subaru dealer where we encountered a Creepy Condescending Bastard masquerading as a Subaru Salesman. I am positive I wrote about this miserable example of human behavior on this here website, but I am going to write about him AGAIN. Let's call him CCB for short. We told CCB we were there to find out about trade-in values. We weren't sure what car we were interested in. How could we know what car we could afford if we didn't know our trade-in value? Now I am a little wiser and know that the trade-in value depends entirely on what kind of car you want and when you'll buy it and the color of your hair and whether you compliment the pictures of the dealer's kids on his desk and if you are right handed. But at the time, I just wanted to know if we could afford a stinking Forrester.

CCB: Well! Let's get you test driving a Forrester!

Maggie: We're not ready to test drive a car.

CCB: How about a Legacy?

Maggie: We are not interested in a test drive. We are interested in the car we OWN. What might you give us for the car we OWN.

CCB: Are you going to have kids soon? A Forrester is GREAT for kids!

Maggie: Actually, I hate kids. Can we find out about a trade-in value?

CCB: Well, I don't know what you're doing here if you don't want to buy a car.

Maggie: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD SHOW ME A *#@$%&( TRADE-IN VALUE.

(Notice that Phillip was mysteriously silent, even though it was decided that he would do all of the talking. He wasn't, however, saying the things I thought he should say. I thought I would take over, which only made sense, seeing as how I have never ever bought a car before AND I am deathly afraid of salesmen. See! Perfect sense!)

Finally he took us to his little office and pulled up Kelly Blue Book values on his computer.

CCB: Your car is worth about $57.43.

Maggie: Hmm. That's kind of low.

CCB: Look. You could find this stuff online yourself. You don't need me.

Maggie: Yes, but we thought we could come here and find out some options-

CCB: You know, I just don't want to waste your time. Time is money. Time flies. Time is valuable.

Maggie: Huh?

CCB: Wasting time doesn't help you, doesn't help me, and MAN you guys are IDIOTS what is WRONG with you, do you not know how to use the INTERNET? Now do you want to test drive a car?

Maggie: WE ARE NOT BUYING A CAR TODAY SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP.

And it just disintegrated from there, with CCB implying that we were not worth his trouble, so hard it was to look up a stupid trade-in value, and me growing more offended by the second. On the ride home Phillip said, "MAGGIE! This is what car salesmen DO! You just GO WITH IT!"

I said, "Why should I go with ANYTHING? I am the CUSTOMER! You do not act like a condescending put upon ASS in front of your CUSTOMER!"

Phillip said, "Next time I am doing the talking. We will muzzle you."

I said, "NEXT TIME? There's not gonna BE a next time! Like I'm gonna buy a car from THAT CREEPY CONDESCENDING BASTARD!"

Which is when we put the whole car purchasing thing on hold and reverted back to more familiar comfortable arguments, like how to load the dishwasher (answer: my way) and whether one should signal before switching lanes (answer: yes. Always. Is there some refusal-to-signal-as-it-demonstrates-a-point-of-weakness gene in men? Like, signaling means they are not superhuman or something? MY GOD. Signal already!).

When we decided to open up the car issue again, we were not looking at Subarus, we were looking at horribly expensive fuel-efficient cars. We went to the dealership with the following arrangement: Phillip would do the talking, I would promise not to open my mouth unless I was feeling cramping in my chest and shooting pains down my left arm.

But people, it is much easier to buy a car that everyone wants and must be specially ordered from the secret mountain bunker where the popular cars are kept out of the reach of the unwashed masses. Because you don't have to dicker on the price. The salesman just says, "This is how much it costs, sucka," and you either say Yay or Nay, because if you are not interested, he just moves down to the next person on the list. SO EASY. This also cuts the slimy in half. In half! There is no need for slime when there's no need to convince you of anything.

Too bad we didn't like those cars. Those cars sucked.

We found The Perfect Car a few days later. A horribly expensive fuel-efficient car, yet put together with something stronger than rubber cement and milk cartons. We SPECIAL ORDERED this car from a salesman who was nice enough, with only a small amount of slime. It was done. It was final. We had to wait until we were 47 years old for the car, but it was The Perfect Car.

THEN. Then!

Last night I got home and listened to the phone messages. It was the car salesman with disappointing news. "So, uh," he said. "So the manufacturer is, uh, not making your, uh, car anymore. Uhhhhh... Call me!"

So I called him. "Wassup wit dat?"

"Yeah, I don't know." He sounded rather unhappy, as if he'd been dealing with people like me all day. "They kind of put us in a bad spot."

"So there is no car for me? I have to keep driving the beloved yet craptastic automobile indefinitely? Because the manufacturer decided not to make any new cars until 2008?"

He explained it to me. Styling kits blah blah blah emission standards blah blah blah different kind of engine blah blah blah. Then- THEN- he said "But! I have a customer who cancelled his order! Which means I have a car just like the one you ordered in my storage facility! Which is a hop step away from you! Which I can have ready for you in a SNAP!"

Phillip and I went to the dealer this morning with our jaws set, our determination not to be twisted around the little finger of a slimebag salesman pumped and ready. We would ask questions! We would be picky! We would demand to see a dozen different documents! Which means, of course, we bought the car about three minutes after we showed up.

So get this, Internet. The manufacturer stopped building special order cars. And because of that, we are getting our brand new car TOMORROW rather than THANKSGIVING. It is exactly the same, except the inside is gray and not black. I don't know about you, but I can live with gray. (Phillip had to think about it. Nerd.) It also means we have to part with many of our hard-earned dollars a little earlier than we expected, but really, who likes having a lot of money in the bank? NOT ME!

Whee! I am so excited. I will be sure to update you with my next car-related fight with Phillip, which will center around whether or not he'll let me put on my BE LIKE DAR WILLIAMS: USE BIODIESEL bumper sticker.


Abundance

Yesterday was Shanna's birthday. Shanna was my best friend in fifth and sixth grade. She was skinny and blond, which clearly denoted her superiority over me. She had a Nintendo in her room and often accused me of being friends with her just so I could play Super Mario. (This wasn't true. I was friends with her because I could go over to her house before school started and use the hairspray that was verboten in my own house.) She had Debbie Gibson lip gloss and a corkscrew curling iron and together we developed the perfect waterfall bangs (I practiced on her because I had short little girl bangs and a 'flop' is rather difficult to achieve when your mother tells you you are too young for hairspray.) We listened to her New Kids tapes and rode our bikes and we liked the same boys. Those boys always liked her back, while I got stuck with the fourth grader who put a stuffed animal in my locker and declared his undying love on the playground. (FOURTH GRADE. Even I thought that was ridiculous.)

It was Shanna's birthday yesterday. I remember this, even though I haven't seen her since the New Year's Eve we were thirteen and stuffing grapes in our mouths at a family friend's house in Spain.

I'm sort of pathetic in this way. I remember phone numbers and middle names and important days for people I haven't seen in years. I have always always wondered what it would be like to keep people. To have them around until I am one hundred years old. My grandmother still calls her best friend from high school on Sunday nights. I think they watch baseball games together on the telephone. I think this is precious.

So last year, when Fellow Bridesmaid started talking about this book she was reading, and how we should get a group of people to do the Examen every year like the people in the book, I was all, "I AM SO IN." I kind of forgot about the 'retreat' aspect of it and concentrated on the "I'll have friends forever and ever and call them George" part. (Not that I don't like retreats. Retreats are lovely. I just don't like the part where I have to talk about myself. I mean, I love talking about myself. Who doesn't? But not at a retreat. Ick.)

We met together for the first time over Labor Day last year at my new house. Fellow Bridesmaid, a professional retreat leader, organized everything. I just had to have clean dishes. We were four couples in newish interracial marriages, we knew each other from school, we were in the same-ish stage of life, and we committed to doing this every year. EVERY. YEAR.

Our second retreat was this past weekend. We named it Emmaus (or Emmaus Amadeus, sung to the tune of 'Rock Me Amadeus', which was Neighbor's Husband's contribution and sometimes it's just better to humor him.) We ate twice as much food as we would normally do on an average weekend. We talked. We prayed. We went shopping and played board games and some of us decided that Guitar Hero is enough of a reason to let one's husband buy a PlayStation even though he already has an Xbox and a mountain of PC games. (I can rock 'More Than A Feeling', Internet.)

I have always been a Best Friend in search of the other half of my cheap broken friendship heart necklace. I've had a handful of best friends, and every time I usurped one to make another, I felt tremendously guilty. I don't let go of people easily, even if I haven't seen them in years and most likely won't see them again. Getting married completely revamped my concept of Best Friendship, of course. Now my best friend is a BOY. He doesn't want to go see dancing movies with me or eat ice cream or paint his toenails. He especially doesn't like to stay up all night talking about boys, but he's still the best friend I've ever had. Awww. And when you're married, couple friends are important. It is really super lame to hang out with another couple when you only enjoy half of them. Friends! So necessary! So hard to find!

Except, for Phillip and me, they just haven't been hard to find. How lucky are we? Like, WAY LUCKY. I was friendless for a while. I hated entire years of high school. I hated my freshman year of college. I've been lonely and sad and cursing the universe for making me an introverted introspective Grade A dork. But for whatever reason, at this point in our lives we are blessed with amazing wonderful friends. The kind of friends who drop by for no reason, who come over once a week to watch TV, who kick off the week with a glass of wine on Sunday night, the kind who know they can call you if their plumbing mysteriously breaks in the middle of the night and they need to take a shower. Friends who call you "Aunt Maggie" when they hand you their new baby.

I seriously spent my entire sophomore year of high school praying for a friend, just one person who would understand me and have fun with me. Twelve years later I feel like that prayer is still being answered. And whenever I've had friends disappear, I've been given more. I've tried to stop labeling Best Friends, as I am too old to keep a diary with a lock and squirt Jean Nate on my neck before I leave for school. I've tried not to think about how many friends we have or how close we are or who we might be friends with next. We did our retreat stuff this weekend, but we also just reveled in being friends. Friends who talk about next year and the year after. And I can't tell you how awesome it is to leave your husband behind with his board game nerd buddies and go to the mall with their wives and your credit card, knowing that you're ALL having a blast.


What I Want You To Know

You had no idea 22 was going to suck, and my how it sucked. I think you kicked it off with an Indigo Girls concert, as you usually did on your summer birthday. You had a boyfriend and a college degree and plans to spend five weeks in Europe. You were just ready to not be in school anymore, but you were completely unaware of the fact that you'd spend most of 22 with your heart pounding, dreading the onset of darkness, wondering if you'dever be able to just fall asleep again. It was hell. You thought it'd never go away.

But, contrary to everything you believed at the time, you weren't going crazy and you weren't going to die. They didn't have to medicate you to protect you from your own brain and toss you in the psychiatric ward until you gave out at ninety-seven, a doddering drooling old woman. Your boyfriend still loved you. Your family took you seriously. You found someone who said to you, "Maggie, you have an anxiety disorder. It is not going to kill you. We will figure it out. Now stop drinking coffee and breathe a little deeper and come back next week."

Miraculously, things got better the minute you heard those words. One day you realized that you fell asleep on your own the night before. A few weeks later, when you barely remembered what it was like to roam around the house at three in the morning, how daytime was just a slow frightening descent into night, someone asked you, "What would you tell yourself, now that you know all the things that you know?"

This question made your eyes water, just a little bit, because you were (are!) one of those annoying weepy people. You slowly said, "That everything will be okay." You were still 22 years old.

What I want you to know is that that's not all.

So you didn't know anxiety would come back so soon, even though you may have suspected it from time to time. You didn't know what kinds of things trigger it, because the first time was such a sudden mystery. You didn't know that the second time would turn your world upside down, and that of the guy you married three weeks before your 24th birthday. You had no idea that anxiety would make you question everything you thought you wanted for yourself. That's okay. You didn't need to know those things.

Once you had a name for anxiety you set out to research it. You read articles and bought books and learned the difference between SSRIs and benzodiazepines. Knowledge is power, right? You learned that thousands of people suffer from anxiety, even though the published research talks about anxiety that's a little different from the kind you experience. You slowly discovered that none of these thousands of people are anywhere near you, which was sometimes disappointing, because you wished someone else understood what it felt like. Every time the Newsweek or Time cover story is about anxiety and depression, you felt validated in a strange sort of way. You finally acknowledged that your brain is a little bit off, that it doesn't work quite the way it should, but you continued to ignore everyone who told you to just take medication already and that the only thing wrong with you is that your synapses aren't firing right.

That doesn't feel like the whole story. I want you to know that you're right, it's not.

Anxiety is the worst thing that has happened to you so far, by far. I know there are worse things, things over which you would choose anxiety without even blinking, but they haven't happened to you yet. It really is your defective brain chemistry coupled with your unfortunate Type A personality. You believe it and I believe it. There is nothing good about it. I wish it never happened to you. And yet, I want you to know that this miserable awful thing will refine you, purify you, expand your heart in ways you never thought about before anxiety happened. You’ll wonder if it’s possible that God found a way to twist anxiety into something… redeeming? For now, at least, something in your mind will ask you to resist the urge to manage your fear.

You're going to walk past a particularly run down street person and, for the first time, nearly burst with compassion. "There but for the grace of God go I," you'll murmur to yourself, because you, too, will do anything to make the fear go away. You know how easy it could be to keep refilling your wine glass at night, to rely on a nightly Sominex and Yellow Tail cocktail to keep the demons away. Remember how the first doctor you went to for help ripped off a prescription for Klonopin after a five minute consultation, neglecting to tell you what kind of drug Klonopin is? You were so afraid of taking those pills and eventually you threw them away. But now you have some Vicodin left over from getting your wisdom teeth out, and sometimes you'll look at that bottle and wonder if it will help. There but for the grace of God you go.

I want you to know that anxiety will humble you, make you realize you're no smarter or stronger than anyone else, and God, you could use some humbling. You'll stop rolling your eyes at the friend who's been in and out of depression therapy for years, the girls with eating disorders, the people who wash their hands twenty times a day. When the China director still wants to hire you, even after your blunt honesty about what you're going through, you'll be shocked. Why does she want to hire a crazy person? The China director simply understands what you'll slowly begin to understand: no one is perfect, no one has his act completely together.

You never felt closer to God than the day you gave up trying to figure out what the hell was going on, sitting alone on a breaker rock facing Lake Geneva and wondering if you would ever feel normal again. The lake filled your entire peripheral vision and you floated away, envisioning life where this was all there was to see, forever and ever. You'll think back to this time, thankful that things aren't that bad anymore, hopeful for the future. I want you to know that you're still dealing with anxiety. You didn't find a way to end it. It occurs to you that you could become one of those weird Catholics who are always offering up their suffering, as anxiety, for whatever reason, has given you the clearest understanding you've ever had of what offering your suffering means. Somehow you know this makes you a better person. One night when it's dark and it's time to go to bed and your heart is racing, you'll pray through it and you'll start the next day wondering if you finally know what he meant when he said "I will give you the strength to endure it."

It's something I want you to know, wish I could tell you, maybe something that could console you when things are bad. But maybe forget that last one, it's complicated, you'll have plenty of time to bend your mind around it later.  All of this, I think, is kind of a lot to swallow when you’re considering the second glass of wine and nervously watching the alarm clock. I can't help wondering what other things I'll want to say to myself five years from now. I guess my first thought remains the most true: everything will be okay.

This is my entry into the 'What I Want You To Know' blog carnival hosted by the gorgeous and fabulous Baggage.

 


Ain't no other man!

Yesterday I had plans to meet my friend the Counter Of White Blood Cells after work to see the dancing movie. (WHICH WAS AWESOME. OMG SO AWESOME.) I was driving into the city and waiting at a stoplight, trying to decide if Christina Aguilera's new song is my new favorite song (okay, maybe just because sometimes I am in the shower and I am pretending I have Christina Aguilera's voice and the razor is my microphone and the line of shampoo bottles on the side is my adoring trumpet section.) There was a big truck at the light, then a little white car, then me. The big truck wasn't a regular normal person truck, more like a U-Haul sized truck. I wasn't paying attention, I was being Christina. "You've got SOUL, you've got CLASS!"

Then! The light turned green. The big truck didn't move forward. I kept my foot on the brake. And the little white car went: vroom! And totally DROVE INTO the truck. Crunch! I clapped my hand over my mouth and sat there long enough to see a little man emerge from the little white car and resign himself to his idiotic fate at the driver's side window of the truck. And I thought to myself: they can't possibly need a witness for THAT, so I swung around and passed them and starting feeling pretty damn good about all the stupid things I've done while operating a vehicle. Because really: that is the stupidest driving I have ever seen.

Stupider than the time I rear ended a lady in horrendous stop and go traffic. It was completely my fault, because I had a new cell phone (a Zack Morris phone) and for some reason I had to make a call right that second and I bumped the car in front of me, not realizing she was stopped. I instantly burst into tears because I am a good girl I get straight As I don't cause car accidents wah my parents will kill me will I go to jail??? I pulled over to the shoulder and stood there trembling while the lady I hit inspected her car. "I don't see any marks," she said. "Do you?" And I shook my head, hoping she would just pull out her pearl handled pistol and end my misery. "Good. I am late to visit my husband in the hospital. We'll just pretend this never happened." At which point I might have kissed her and promised to pray twenty-five rosaries on behalf of her husband and wash her car on the weekends and I still pray for that woman when I think of her, because she definitely did not have to be so nice to lamebrained flaky college student me.

The second time I hit someone was much much worse. I was at the top of a very steep hill waiting to turn right. I saw a family on the sidewalk and since I was pretty much on top of the sidewalk with no chance of turning right in my lifetime, I thought I'd back up a little. I looked in my mirror and didn't see anything, so I backed up and CRUNCH! I hit a brand new Volvo station wagon. I jumped out of the car and saw that I'd only scratched her a bit, but I felt terrible. I hadn't seen her, but I hadn't made an effort to really LOOK either, and I should have, being on the hill and all. The woman in the station wagon was livid. Even though I was extremely apologetic and took responsibility and immediately displayed all the necessary information, she felt compelled to scream at me for driving an SUV. "You didn't see me? YOU DIDN'T SEE ME? This is a brand new car! You idiots driving your giant SUVs think you just OWN THE ROAD! That you can do ANYTHING YOU WANT TO DO! You sit up there all HIGH AND MIGHTY and you don't think about ANYONE ELSE!"

I refrained from responding along the lines of, "If I had an extra thirty grand lying around for a brand new Volvo station wagon, with, I'm sure, excellent gas mileage, you'd be damn sure I'd be driving one instead of this junk heap, which, by the way, WAS A GIFT and is MY ONLY MEANS OF TRANSPORTATION." I was so mad at her. My questionable driving skills were out there for shredding, but for some reason she was blaming my CAR? (I love that junk heap, people.) I made the logical assumption that she was probably one of those people who think third world countries should starve instead of allowing them to genetically engineer their food and then I found a deserted parking lot and bawled on the phone to Phillip. It took me about six months before I was no longer afraid to drive my '92 Ford Explorer around that part of town again.

I have certainly been a stupid driver. I hit cars, but I also hit things. I hit a little metal pole and broke my dad's taillight when I was home from college. I scraped that same car along the fence post when I was backing into the driveway. I thought I had dented the thrice-stolen minivan on a pillar in an underground garage, but my sister Katie, my summer roommate at the time, fessed up to it when I finally decided to ask her about it.

"Oh that," she said, not looking at me. "I wasn't sure if you'd notice."

"There's a giant DENT in the side of the car. How could I not notice?"

"I don't know."

"So you weren't planning to TELL ME?"

"Um-"

"You thought I'd just ignore the fact that there's a giant freaking DENT IN THE CAR?"

"I didn't want to tell you because you'd act like THIS! BOO HOO! WAH! POOR POOR KATIE ALWAYS GETTING PICKED ON."

What. Ever.

Oh, and one time someone else was stupid and hit me. I was sitting outside of Phillip's office in a loading zone, waiting to pick him up. There was a big van in front of me, attempting to get back into traffic. I was reading The Stranger (not the freaky novel) and poking pins in my Phillip Is Always Late Voo Doo Doll when the van backed up into ME, a PARKED CAR. This was so ridiculous I started laughing. I'm pretty sure the driver didn't see me sitting in the car and was planning to conveniently ignore his little mistake, so I made sure to get out and make a show of looking for damage. But people, this was an ancient Ford Explorer and an ancienter crapola van. The driver looked at me sheepishly and I waved him off, but not before I laughed a little bit more, and in front of all the pedestrians.

But even HE was not as stupid as the driver of the little white car, who drove HEADLONG into a STOPPED VEHICLE at a STOP LIGHT at which he was ALSO STOPPED.

And then I got to eat gelato (Phase 1 starts toDAY! Ha!) and see a dancing movie (SIGH, SO GOOD), as if the miniature car accident wasn't enough entertainment for the day.


Giving myself a good talking to

Oh good people of the Internet, I had no intention of giving you all complexes over the pronounciation of the word "bruschetta". I just happen to be a snotnose brat who spent several of her formative years in bruschetta's home country, and who ordinarily prevents herself from expressing the snotnose brattiness for fear of being labeled as such. It came out just that once, I won't do it anymore, promise! Just don't say "brushetta" until you have given me some and my mouth is too full to protest.

Over the weekend I developed a Smoker's Cough and I'm sort of enjoying it. It makes me sound all sultry like and I wake up with that strange wheezing feeling, which is kind of neat, and all of this without having to actually smoke anything. (For the record, I have never smoked legal or illegal substances in my entire life. And I'm not about to start now, although I sincerely wish I'd tried pot before I implemented the personal no smoking ban. A friend of mine offered to whip me up some pot brownies (how kind of her!) but I've heard that smoking pot can make one a bit, um, paranoid? And Internet, I am already the most highly strung person I know; attempting to become a pothead can lead to no good.)

Hi Mom!

Besides, smoking pot would have disqualified me for the "Special To Us" Summer Olympics which took place yesterday in a deserted North Seattle park. (Did I not tell you there were drug tests? That's what the little paper cups were for.) We played an awesome game of volleyball (LOVE VOLLEYBALL WHO WANTS TO PLAY WITH ME?) and things disintegrated from there, as who had any idea it would take us hours upon hours to score in lawn darts? But three hours later we'd awarded all the medals, eaten our grilled hamburgers during the closing ceremony and Phillip and I found ourselves zonked out on the couch comparing new suntan lines and arguing over whose serving shoulder hurt worse. (Answer: mine.) I'll have pictures up on Flickr in a few days, but for now I've got new pictures of the Sainted Grandchild and the baby shower, which are only interesting for the glimpse into my house, because you are all stalkers and want to know where to find the kitchen knives and the matches for your nefarious purposes.

Anyway. Smoker's Cough! I have no idea how I got it. I am clearing my throat every five minutes like an eighty-three-year-old man. It's pretty gross.

Last Friday I wrote a post about the myriad of things I had to do around the house, just business-of-life type stuff, and how much I didn't want to do those things. How I just wanted to sit on the couch and watch fourteen episodes of House back to back because I am so BUSY and I need some DOWN TIME. Then I decided to be angry instead of whiny. Anyway! But Phillip and I were talking in the car the other day and I realized he was feeling the same thing. We feel like we're doing 800 million things, so when we're home, all we want to do is sit around and ignore the pile of dishes in the sink. But then we asked ourselves: are we really this busy? And neither of us thought so.

It seems like there's what I've been calling a Spirit of Sloth hanging out in our house right now. We're so apathetic to everything. We seriously cannot be bothered to load the dishwasher or start the washer or dust the floors. We gave the house a scrub down before the baby shower two weekends ago, but we won't do the same thing for just ourselves, the people who live there. The mail piles up on the table, the magazines never get recycled, the bank statements go unreconciled, the wall hanging thingy we bought for the blank brown wall sits lonely in the office downstairs, waiting for us to care. And I guess this isn't anything new, but it feels particularly bad right now. We're lazy. We're not accomplishing anything. It's just an overwhelming feeling of BLAH.

My new plan is to go to the library when I get home from work. I have a good two hours between when I get home and when Phillip gets home. I normally spend that time eating everything in the refrigerator, watching TV and not doing the dishes. A new library opened up not far from my house, so I'm going to start bringing my laptop there after work. (I had to ask Phillip if it was okay to bring my laptop to the library and just hang out there. Isn't that a weird question? I think nothing of bringing it to a bookstore or a coffee shop and working and studying for hours, but it seemed wrong to do it at the public library. I am an idiot. And Phillip said, "No, that's where all the Asian kids hung out in high school.") I figure if I don't feel like writing, I can at least browse the shelves. We're going to Costco tonight to load up on Phase 1 food. Then we're going to put up the wall hanging thingy and the Flowers of China prints that have been sitting in a closet for two years. And this morning I loaded the dishwasher (and turned it on, go me!) before I left for work. Phillip rode his bike. This funk must be snapped out of, stat!

And I really want to write something for this. If I can get my act together, that is. There are still House reruns on my TiVo, and that does not bode well for the snapping.


In which I am furious with everyone for everything

I'm in a bad mood today Internet. And it has nothing to do with the fact that my bangs are too long and doing some kind of weird feathery Farrah Fawcett thing on my forehead. Although that doesn't help.

It's Friday and it's sunny, so I need to just buck up and smile cheerily at the people who think the tables inside databases are just like Excel spreadsheets and to respond politely to the people who continue to reply to an email which said, quite clearly, reply to someone who is NOT ME. (Seriously. What is wrong with them? The first group appears to think they know how to do my job, which, NO, and the second group is powering a prominent local industry without, apparently, the benefit of knowing how to read. Stop pissing me off, People!)

You know what else is bugging me?

The townhouses next door to me STILL aren't finished. And yesterday, when I was hauling four houses' worth of garbage and recycling cans back to the garages (we are good neighbors, us four townhouse owners), I noticed that there was a thick layer of brown dust on every lid. And when I went upstairs, I saw that there was a finer, yet still quite visible, layer of brown dust on the floor near the dining room windows, the ones that face the new house. Which still isn't finished. Because there is a freaking CONCRETE STRIKE and therefore NO DRIVEWAY. Which means I still have loudmouthed day laborers listening to their ranchero music (thanks orangepaas!) while they putz around waiting to finish the dumb houses.

Okay, now I'm sitting here trying to think of all the other things conspiring to irritate me in the last several days (and, I assure you, there are multitudes), but all I can think about is STUPID PEOPLE and how they are all plotting against me with their STUPIDNESS!

It's not like I claim to know everything. I cannot, for example, balance a chemical equation to save my life. Far be it from me to tell my friend the high school chemistry teacher how to improve her classroom. Or my friend who spent yesterday evening filtering out white blood cells instead of hanging out with me: like I would ever deem to say to her, "You know, Inclined-Towards-The-Sciences Friend, I believe the white ones should go there and not there." Also, I do not know what the difference is between DSL and cable modem and this is why I allow my husband to make all the Technological Decisions in our house, even though this continues to cost me many mountains of dollars. (Apparently we need the Super Super Fast Internet rather than the Super Fast Internet or else one of us will positively collapse and die. And I am in favor of whatever prevents the dying, despite the mountains of dollars.) IN ADDITION! I am woefully bereft of any sort of skill that would allow me to do the work of the aforementioned Stupid People. Ever! Here are things I cannot do: Talk in public. Talk on the phone. Earn actual money for my business. Be nice to customers. Service with a smile. This is why they stash me in the corner where I have built myself a little fort of stained coffee mugs and fifteen pound user guides.

But I do know a thing or two about MY job. My role as Resident Office Geek was cemented the day I downloaded the trial version of Dreamweaver, for fun, and proceeded to rebuild the company website using CSS layouts. (Which I totally suck at, by the way, but I'll bet you a bazillion trillion dollars that I am the only person in the near vicinity who knows what CSS even IS.) So unless you can define the term "relational" as it regards databases, STAY AWAY FROM MY FORT OF NERDERY.

(And for those of you who do understand the term "relational", YES, the bar is set THAT LOW.)

While we're talking about things that annoy the crap out of me:

Every time I hear someone say "brushetta" I die a little bit inside. People! It's brusKETTA! With a K sound. OH MY GOD ENOUGH ALREADY.


More than meets the eye: dinner out with the Cheungs

When I was a kid and I dreamed about my future Knight In Shining Armor, I never, not for one instant, thought I would marry a man who would gaze at me lovingly and say: "Do you want to go see the Transformers movie with me?" And then, after completely ignoring the look of "surely you are joking" on my disbelieving face, would he add, "Of course, it doesn't come out till next summer, but it's going to be awesome!"

"Next summer?"

"Yeah, next summer. But the previews are out now!"

"You're asking me, right now, to see a movie that comes out next summer?"

"Well, it's going to be a big deal. The previews are out and everything. Like the X-Men movie! You liked the X-Men movie!"

He looked at me eagerly, twirling his pasta on his fork.

I said, "I'll go see the Transformers movie if you go see that dancing movie with me this weekend."

Phillip let out a long wounded sigh. "NEVER MIND THEN," he said into his plate and that was that.

So! Does anyone want to see the dancing movie with me this weekend?

(Oh hell, people. I just realized I linked to a My*Space page.)

The Transformers make me think of early Saturday mornings, overflowing bowls of cereal and world wars ignited over cartoons. These usually played out between my brother and me, as the other kids were either too small or not scary enough to get their way. We had some neutral shows- the Gummi Bears, Duck Tales, Alvin and the Chipmunks- but under no circumstances was my brother going to watch Jem and he was going to have to kill me before I agreed to watch the Transformers or that stupid turtle cartoon.

(By the way, he did try to kill me. Several times. But who broke whose collarbone? I THOUGHT SO. Maggie: 1. Alex: many attempts, but still, pathetically, 0.)

Phillip says he still has some Transformers. He's going to bring them back to our house the next time we visit his parents. I said, "Because you're going to sell them on Ebay and buy your wife something sparkly?" And he said, "No, I already BOUGHT you something sparkly [this is true -Ed.] and your account at the Bank of Sparkly is seriously depleted. Maybe you should make a deposit by giving me a back rub tonight." At which point I stopped whining and finished my dinner because Phillip ALWAYS wants back rubs and giving him a back rub is sort of like throwing your entire weight into a wall of elephant. Somewhat uneffective for him, rather unfun for me.

So we sat, unhappily, waiting for the slow-as-our-combined-grandmothers waitress to bring us the check. "I don't like this part," Phillip said. "I'm done eating. Now I want to go sit on the couch. And I can't, because I'm trapped in this vinyl booth surrounded by fake flowers and homey platitudes painted onto arts and craft store strips of wood. Can't you stand up and flag down the waitress?"

"Who am I? Your dad?" (People, I thought Phillip's dad was a waitress's worst nightmare, until I went to China, where sticking your hand up and waving it spastically until the waitress sees your distraught state is the nicest way of getting her attention. After my trip to China, Phillip's dad makes waaaaay more sense.)

"I'm TIRED. I want to go HOME."

"Wah."

"I hate being held hostage by restaurants."

"It's your own fault. When she came by to pick up our plates, you should have said 'Yes, I'm all finished' instead of smiling sweetly and telling her that you're still grazing over what's left of my dinner."

What was that about being nice to my husband on my website? Well. Obviously THAT'S over with.


Full of grace

Six years ago today I was wandering around Paris with my junior year roommate. It was only the second week or so of our trip and we were already sick of each other. We were tired of standing in line, tired of walking, tired of creepy men on subways and tired of one another. We were probably off to the next museum or looking for our standard baguette-and-cheese lunch when our path was cut off by a huge procession of French people singing songs, waving flags and carrying a statue of a woman on their shoulders, like an Egyptian goddess. My roommate and I looked at each other and shrugged. We waited until the crowd tapered off, then we went to find a bench to sit down and argue passive-aggressively about what to do next.

About a month later we made it to my parents' house where we spent three or four days holed up in their basement watching recorded American television shows and recuperating from six weeks of Siamese twinness. I was telling my mom about what we had seen in Paris and she said, "Oh, you were probably there for the Assumption." Then I had to have her tell me what the Assumption is, because I am a poorly catechized nitwit.

(I am vaguely aware that it's things like the Assumption that get non-Catholic Christians all riled up about Catholicism. "It isn't in the BIBLE," they say indignantly. "Show me where Mary gets beamed up to heaven, body and soul, in the BIBLE." Unfortunately for me, Mary's assumption into heaven is not in the Bible, rather it comes from apostolic tradition. (Gak. Did I just go there?))

We are going to church tonight. And we decided to go without having our usual Holy Day of Obligation discussion beforehand, which goes something like this:

Maggie: So tomorrow is a Holy Day of Obligation.
Phillip: Great.
Maggie: [Insert Name of Beloved Television Show] is on that night.
Phillip: I have to do some work tomorrow night.
Maggie: We'll probably fall asleep in the pew anyway.
Phillip: I was thinking about making stirfry for dinner.
Maggie: What's this day anyway?
Phillip: The Ascension? The Assumption? All Saints?
Maggie: One of those 'A' words.
Phillip: I bet Father would notice if we weren't there.
Maggie: He totally would.
Phillip: He's like that.
Maggie: But [Insert Name of Beloved Television Show] is on tomorrow night.
Phillip: ...
Maggie: ...
Maggie: FINE.
Phillip: We should go.
Maggie: We should go.
Phillip: I can't believe they let us be RCIA sponsors.
Maggie: We didn't go the last time. I felt bad.
Phillip: I had to work.
Maggie: You're always working.
Phillip: I had to finish something!
Maggie: But that's what WORK HOURS are for!
Phillip: Um, screwing up at my job will seriously hamper your dream of a life of leisure.

(Ha ha! See what I did there?)

Anyway: shocking! That we did not have this conversation. It was simply understood that I will get home from work, suck down the entire contents of my refrigerator and drive over to the church to meet Phillip who will arrive all sweaty and nasty-like on his bicycle.

I wish I had something more thoughtful to say, but my Mary experience is decidedly lacking. I recently read a book about one woman's devotion to Mary that made me think I should do something about that. In the meantime, in honor of today, the Assumption, and my upcoming trip to Europe (maybe Paris again?) in November, I shall attempt my Hail Mary in French:

Je vous salue, Marie, pleine de grâce.
Le Seigneur est avec vous.
Vous êtes bénie entre toutes les femmes,
et Jésus, le fruit de vos entrailles, est béni.
Sainte Marie, Mère de Dieu,
Priez pour nous, pauvres pécheurs,
 maintenant et à l'heure de notre mort.


The Phillip Fan Club

Phillip recently spent an evening catching up on this website. You'd think he'd have it open at all times, constantly refreshing to see what bits of written wisdom I've imparted to the masses, but sometimes he forgets that it exists. Shocking! Sometimes I have to say, "Did you read what I wrote TODAY? Did you LIKE IT?" And then he will obediently fetch the laptop and dilligently read each and every post. It was a bad idea this time around, however, as it appears I've offended him. Phillip, he would like you to know, feels that he is being unfairly maligned on this here website. "I like ITALY," he griped, miffed at my last post. "I do TOO know about wiring!" he said after reading the post before that one. "And if they knew where I LIVED I'm SURE I would have been invited to my high school reunion!" he whined, as if this was the biggest affront of all.

So anyway. I said I would devote a post to the Fantabulousness and Devastatingly Handsomeness of my husband. Well, first I suggested he write his own defense, but that did not go over well, so I have to think it up all by myself. Hmmm.

Okay, so instead of talking about the things Phillip is not so good at (if anyone in the world has a negative sense of direction, it is Phillip Cheung) and instead of making (slight! done with love!) fun of him (yesterday I found fourteen pairs of socks piled up underneath his desk) (maybe I am exaggerating) (not by much), I'm going to tell you how awesome he is. Which is so awesome the awesomeness obliterates the Hansel and Gretel trail of socks up to the third floor.

Here is my newest favorite Phillip thing: he likes babies. I don't know what it is about seeing my six foot two gigando husband holding a teeny tiny three-month-old baby, but it makes me melt. And he doesn't just hold the baby, he plays with the baby. He talks to the baby. And when the baby goes home, he'll say to me, "Gosh that baby was cute!" Babies seem to gravitate towards him (or is this just men in general? Deeper voices and all that?) I was holding a baby yesterday and then my husband walks by and says something and the baby looks up at him and holds out her arms and just like that, I am no longer holding the baby and Phillip is walking off with her. It would be unfair if it wasn't so adorable.

Phillip is the youngest. He is so youngest that he's practically an only child. And when we got married, I became the youngest in a small quiet family and he became an older brother of four loud siblings. I wasn't sure how he'd get along in my family, but he does okay, and he loves my little sisters. I'm sure I'm mortifying all of them by writing this, but I love that he loves my sisters. He thinks the boys are all right too, but he likes to take care of my sisters. He wants to invite them for dinner. He wants to fix their computers. He wants to help them move. He won't forget we're supposed to take them somewhere, like I do all the time. If he thinks I wasn't very nice to one of them, he'll tell me so. It'd be sort of annoying if it wasn't so cute.

In college I used to go to his dorm room to watch Saturday Night Live. Not because I liked this show or anything, but because Phillip always invited me to watch it and I always went and it became a Thing. Plus I had this big embarrassing crush on him, so whatever. But I would go to his room to watch TV and he would sit at his desk and play around with his computer. Or he'd do homework. Or he'd read something. Or he'd do pretty much anything except watch TV with me. It drove me out of my mind (not that I stopped going, because hello, big embarrassing crush) and one day after we were married I asked him about it. He said, "Oh, I just liked having you around." He's still like that. He doesn't need to be doing anything with me, he just wants to be doing things in the same place.

He goes to church, and not because of me.

He knows old songs and actually likes them. Not kids' songs, in which his internal Song File is remarkably deficient (oops! I'm not writing THAT kind of post!), but old 1940's torch songs and movie theme songs and standards that aren't "The Way You Look Tonight". A long time ago someone told us that we were the only two people he could think of who would know the name of a particular old song he had stuck in his head, and that made me feel all warm and fuzzyish, like it was Meant To Be. (Barf: I wrote "meant to be".)

He first met my parents right after helping me through the string of Parental Minivan Thefts. (My parents' minivan, which I had with me at college, was stolen three times in four months. This was due to my own stupidity, as well as the inherent meanness of the thieves, who were probably just stealing it the second and third times to point out how stupid it was to leave it on the street in the University District.) All my parents knew of Phillip at that point was that I had racked up their international phone bill calling some boy the previous summer, and that he had helped me track down and fix that stupid van every time the police called to tell me it was found. I believe the word my dad used was "sainted". This was excellent forethought on Phillip's part, don't you think? But he didn't have to help me fix my car. Or be nice to me in the parking lot when I realized my van had been stolen for the third time and I burst into humiliated frustrated tears of WOE.

He likes to cook. He won't clean the bathroom, but that's all right because I won't vacuum. He knows I hate getting gas (like, irrationally so)- he'll run an errand with me just so he can fill up my tank. He indulges my television habit. When I'm anxious, he'll stay up so I won't have to fall asleep by myself.

I've heard Phillip advise friends once or twice about relationships, and he has said something like, "Well, when you're with her, are you a better person than you are without her?" I love that he knows to say this. I love that it's true for me.

Seriously. If he would just learn to put his dirty clothes in the hamper, he'd be perfect.

(Confidential to Phillip: feel any better?)