Monday, October 28, 2013

This is How People Crap Their Pants

It can happen at some point.  People shit their pants.  They will piss themselves- sometimes purposely, just to save time.  They will lose toenails, and knowingly cause knee injuries.  You will probably lose a pound or few. Your kidneys might shut down, causing weirdly bloated fingers.  Your feet may blossom with deep blisters, your thighs or arms with raw, chaffing rashes.  There may be muscle strains, or bleeding nipples by a marathon's finish.  By the end of those 26.2 miles, the accumulative pressure from weight doesn't just damage your joints but might shrink a runners height a couple centimeters.  

"Marathoning is just another form of insanity." -John J. Kelly, winner of the 1952 Boston Marathon

I knew these things, and signed up anyway.

For a couple years in my early 20's, during a forced pause in college, I was only bartending minimal hours.  I sat around on couches with my boyfriend at the time, smoking a lot of weed, eating a lot of crap food, and simultaneously wasting away while getting chubby.  This wouldn't be the last time I felt lost, but eventually making my way back to the books, to get a degree and get out from behind the bar was the only plan I had then.  I've since learned I don't tick well without a reason to to get off the couch.  Finding something to work for, this keeps me un-crazy. I'm a walking guidance counselor's office poster. 'Achieving goals', be it college, be it an art show, or building a cute little blog, that bullshit actually works for me. 

Spoon chipping away at college turned me into a pretty patient tortoise in the race of life.  I'm not usually the fastest, prettiest, smartest, or the best, in fact- I fuck up a lot.  I mean- a LOT.  We'll discuss my DUIs (Yes. That was plural.), bevy of inappropriate boyfriends and poor choices at a later date.  The thing is- I eventually get somewhere cool.  Not because I'm just so awesome, but because I need that chipping, that constant cadence in my life. Something to work for, to be proud of. Without it, I sit around indulging in munchies, feeling pointless and pathetic. 

Running sucks, really.  I dreaded the school days we were being timed on the mile.  I walked most of those track rounds. Even as an adult, if you're not good at getting lost in your thoughts, it's painfully boring on top of irritatingly achy.  I couldn't even tell you why I thought I'd give it a go one day.  Maybe I'd seen too many shoe commercials with sleek, glistening runners looking both determined and at one with the road.  I'm a sucker for imagery.  

Early fall of 2012, I tried running around the block.  Whew!  I just went for a run!  A real run!  Now I have to actually rack up an entire fucking mile.  Dear god.  Who wants to run a mile?  I call one of my longest-lasting friends, Emerald. She meets me at University park on the east side, where she still lives nearby.  It has a large, fenced enclosure around a sump, so we can let our dogs loose while we run.  She is supposed to be my coach- Emerald used to do cross country at Highland High. This morning though, she brings a 24 ounce Big Gulp of beer, gives me a couple tips, and tells me she'll be on this bench right over here.  She's rooting for me.  I pound out a boring, circling mile.  I couldn't stop since  she was watching.  I record it in my Strava app.  The route looked less than inspiring.  More like the ugly scribble you scratch out when your pen needs more ink flow to the tip.  Still, I ran a mile.

I sign up for a few 5k fun runs.  Low and behold, I take home a few medals in women's category 25-29, amidst some bedraggled bunches.  The heavy, round trophies strung on thick ribbon fire me up enough to sign up for a half marathon in San Francisco. This is where I start losing people.  In the grand spectrum of the runners world, 13.1 miles isn't impressive.  Share this with your long-time buddies whose idea of cardio is beer pong however, and, well, not a lot of people shared my joy.  

"I ran ten miles last night!"

Blank stares.  "God... Why did you do that?"

After a couple beers, one friend hesitantly asked me, "Do you do that kinda stuff because... you know... because you need to feel good about yourself?" 

"Huh.  I dunno.  Maybe." Yes.

I dragged my divorced parents to stay at my aunts in the bay area for familial support during 'the half'.  They listened to me obsess over recent mileage and footwear, and put up with my anal-retentive temper tantrums on the morning of to get me to the start line early.  I finished well above the average, a not brag-worthy, though not-shameful time of 2 hours.  I pulled the last uphill quarter mile out of my ass for a strong, dig-deep finish.  Then promptly swallowed my own acidic barf, lest I hurl on the backs of the runners being funneled through the finish ropes in front of me.  That was SO MUCH FUN. I'm a runner now. Let's do it again.

My training slacks off through the spring, and I feel a wasting sadness creep back in.  I've got nothing on my plate to keep me busy besides work, nothing to push myself for.  Maybe I think too much. Maybe my life expectations are too high.  Not all your dreams are gonna come true, kid.  As a dramatic little girl with a great imagination, I would tell my mother of all the things I would do when grown up. I'm going to be an actress.  I'm going to be an author and an illustrator.  I'm going to ride motorcycles, get tattoos, and skydive.  I will see the world, and marry a dark haired man.  I will run a marathon when I'm 30, and get my PHD by the time I'm 40. For a girl whose life never seems to work out the way I plan, I'm somehow eventually able to poke along, and jerry-rig my efforts into making many of those plans happen.  Many of these childhood dreams remain, and many I am slowly checking off the list. Just usually a little later than planned, and they don't look the way they did decades ago. I got myself a little bit of ink.  I don't steer the motorcycles, but I'm a hell of a bitch seat occupant.  I went for my second skydive recently.  The video shows me mouthing, "Oh, SHIT." as I hang out of the small plane, looking 12,000 feet to the desert floor below. 

Once again though,I find myself floating along with nothing on my calendar to work for.  I need something to spoon chip away at. Call it fulfilling. Call it needy.  Call me someone with esteem issues.  I register for the full 26.2 miles. The Nike Women's Marathon in San Fransisco in October.  I will run a marathon, at the age of 30.  

I tell a few people.  The consensus remains, "God...why?"  I decide this is not the best time to talk about people shitting their pants in the last leg.

Through the summer, I start tacking the miles back on my runs.  I pass 14 miles, and I start feeling exhilarated again.  Each week, I run farther than I ever have before.  16 miles.  18 miles.  20.  It's still boring as hell, and I never find that mysterious 'runner's high'.  That high that makes your mind detach from the body, and makes you yearn to lace up and hit the ground.  So I start munching on weed brownies before heading out. That's legit, right? NOW I feel like I'm flying.  

My knees start having issues with the rest of my body once I surpass 15 miles.  They crack, they scream, and I research supplements for their aid.  I research proper hydration levels, and invest in a nerdy water-bottle hand strap with pouch for phone, gels, and weed brownies (that's what the pouch was for, right?).  I read about glycogen levels, and pace strategies, negative splits, and correct form. Maybe it's the residual chocolate HTC, or maybe it's the endorphins coursing though my veins, but after these long runs, I feel...happy.  I feel overwhelmingly peaceful, and loving, and powerful (You're probably embarrassed FOR me to read shit like this. I understand. But if you don't like it, go read a blog on child-rearing, or video games.  There a lots of those, too.).  While I still have to berate myself to put on the shoes and step out of my driveway each evening, I look forward to that intense nirvana as my body settles, blood bubbling with oxygen, legs twitching. During a year that's not been tragic per se, but not exactly harmonious- I need this feeling.  It's nothing new for people to use running as therapy, but I was surprised to find I might be one of them.

Set to run October 20 though the streets of San Fransisco, I start the scheduled 'taper' in training a few weeks out, decreasing the mileage down to nil.  Allowing my muscles and tendons to fully heal from the weeks of destruction, rebuilding themselves in new, unique, runner's ways.  I learn the antsy-ness I feel is normal. Called 'taper madness'.  Did I train long enough? Hard enough?  Will my knees give out?  Should I buy new shoes?  Better insoles? I glance in the mirror one night while getting out of the shower, and am horrified by what I see.  This is NOT a runners body.  Where are the lean limbs and sinewy tendons?  Shouldn't I be glistening with athletic sex appeal at this point?  Instead, I see a pudgy, approaching-middle-age figure that looks nothing like those shoe commercials that inspired me.  I'd been feeding my raging appetite with reckless abandon, and this puffy physique is the result.  I mention this is to a few runner friends.  

"Relax.  This is typical.  Your body is going though tremendous stress and change.  Your metabolism is slowing to prepare.  You're retaining water.  You have no idea what's going on in there.  I mean, you could cut back on the cookies, but this is not a bikini contest. This is the time to love yourself."

Well, fuck.  I'd be lying if I didn't admit I hoped to look like Gisele at the end of this.  But love myself I will.  That was the whole point anyway.

Come that third weekend in October, I drag my parents into the hoopla once again.  Once again crashing at Aunt Jane's house, and numbing their brains with talk of carbs and sodium, optimal pacing and A&D ointment.  I lay out my gear, my timing chip and bib, my breakfast, energy gel and brownie bites the night before. 

As a coffee addict, I simply can't run without a little caffeine trickling through me.  Plus, it helps, ahem, clean me out.  Not that I need help in that area, in fact, I'm very regular.  Melanie once told her husband, "Katie is the healthiest shitter I know.  I mean, she shits, like, ALL the goddamn time.  She's a freak of nature."  Still, after my aunt's chicken dinner the night before, Mom will be hauling me through the McDonald's by the house for coffee on our way to the city the morning of my big day.  Funny, despite all my planning, I forget that McDonald's is not open at 4 in the fucking morning.  We don't see another exit off the freeway offering my drug til we're much too close to the starting line.  I chug it anyway, needing to clear my gut's protein lump, and get a little energy.

It's still dark when my mom drops me off in a crowd heading toward the pace corral entrance.  She goes to fight for parking against thousands of other cars, all here for the same purpose.  I quickly lose the warmth of the coffee as I walk, and my skin prickles with both the predawn chill, and the energy of the masses.  I pop a brownie nugget, and join the leagues behind the corral barriers.  A professional photographer snaps my picture with a dixie cup of Nuun energy water that I picked up from a volunteer table.  I get in line for the first of many porta-potty stops.  A friendly woman from some Southern state chats me up in line, telling me she'll be running the half today.  She's finished with full marathons now, she says, she likes to stop before things get too painful.  Nice pep talk, lady.  As if I needed to hear that now.  Still, it shows the camaraderie between runners, akin to what can be found in dank bar smoking alleys.  We're here for the same reason. Something is connecting us.  An appetite for punishment.

Looking in any direction, the packed mob is almost beautiful.  Someone points, and I see silhouettes in the tall apartment windows above.  Both families and lone figures, stand in their pajamas by their living room lamp light.  Some snap pictures of us below, some sip from mugs, others just lean and watch. 

I stretch, and get into line for the bathroom again the moment I exit.  I watch groups take pre-race selfies on their phones, and listen to the announcer bellow through the downtown blocks.  Since the run is sponsored by Nike, I'm not surprised by the constant commercialism and cheesey announcements.  "Today! 30,000 women, and a few good men, MAKE HISTORY on these streets!"  Fire works shoot from the start a few blocks ahead at Union Square, but the front is reserved for the elite runners.  My pace group won't start for nearly 30 minutes as we slowly edge toward the banners at Union Square. I duck into a side street porta-potty just before crossing for one last system cleaner.  I should mention now, that my regularity has failed me, and I have yet to rid myself of last nights dinner.  Maybe it's my nerves, maybe it's too fuggin early, or maybe my life will just never quite go according to plan.

The sky is just beginning to lighten as our pace crowd begins.  I try to remember to hold back, saving energy for the last 6 miles.  It's common for your rushing adrenaline to kick you in with the crowd, expending your energy beyond your abilities, leaving you spent for the oh-so-important last 10 k of the marathon.

The last 10 k of the marathon.  This is what people talk about.  There's a reason typical training plans don't take you much beyond 20 miles.  Up to 20 miles is what your body needs to prepare. Beyond 20, the damage overtakes to benefit.  Beyond 20 miles, funny things happen inside you that require weeks to recover from. At 20 miles, they say, is when the race really begins.  Fauja Singh, a man who began running marathons in his 90s after his wife and son died, said the first 20 are easy, but during those last 6 miles, "I run while talking to God."  I worry I won't have what it takes to finish without stopping, crashing, or slowing to a hobble.  I'm not sure if failure will be a testament to my fitness, or character. I just know that a run to be proud of will mean the world to me.

The sun starts to rise by mile 3, and this is when my stomach first gurgles.  Shit.  Literally.  It's coming.  My legs feel strong, and I dial back the pace to something I can hang with for hours, but I can't control my intestines.  The urge is still faint when I pass rows of green plastic stalls, and the lines are so backed up with women already, that I run on, expecting more in a mile or two.  There are not.  I start to run the mental math on my pace goal, and how many miles I can hold it.  

I hadn't been running as fast as I had through the winter.  As my runs lengthened through the summer, so did my minutes per mile.  I had settled on a humble finish goal of 4:45.  Under five hours, or I would hang my head in shame, four and a half if the gods were smiling.  4:30 is an average overall pace.  5 hours for women. I would need to finish in 3:40 to qualify for Boston. I don't even bother to put pressure like that on myself. Jared the Subway guy finished in 5:13.  Oprah in 4:29, P Diddy in 4:14.  Sub 3 is a life time goal for many runners.  The world records have never dipped below 2 hours. Running my own numbers, I think I can hold back the sour wave for another 3 miles, or thirty minutes.  I'm gonna need to see a bank of intestinal grace by mile 6.  

I don't see it til mile 9.  

I burst into a stall, water strapped to one hand-  quickly peeling moist spandex from my cheeks and thighs before relief rushes in noisy exclamation.  I'm sorry.  Really, I am. It's a part of my story.

The short stop sets me back, adding precious minutes to my time. More importantly though, any pause in your run causes cramping and stiffness, making the whole endeavor ever so much harder.

At the water and nutrition stands, I duck around the more amateur runners who stop suddenly without checking, causing traffic jams and shoulder checks.  I skip the food, and gracefully grab water cups without pause like a pro.  I concentrate on each 5 mile interval, slowly chewing away at this mammoth, digesting each small assignment on it's own before mentally moving to the next.  At 13.1 miles, we've entered Golden Gate park, and the paths diverge.  The half marathoners merge right for their big finish, as the rest of us move forward into the forest lane curving into the fog.  The number of runners ahead of me suddenly sparse- I get a full body chill as I climb a hill into the mist, no one beside me anymore. 

It might be the second brownie bite I cough down at mile 6, but I think I start to feel that heavenly ecstasy as I keep my legs in rhythm through the wooded path.  I get pretty emo-Katie at this point, losing myself in thoughts of hopes and regret.  Things start to sharply focus however, when Aunt Jane's roasted chicken starts to murmur again, and I realize, I still might crap my pants.  

I hold the gates til mile 18, and flush myself again before I suck an energy gel, and gear up for the daunting task of those last six miles.  My knees are starting to sear, and every tight curve and switch back tears and grinds my joints in pain.  The woman's words from this morning repeat, "I'm finished with full marathons now.  I like to stop before it gets too painful."  I shuffle forward, my mantra that I can't complain yet, because the hardest part is yet to come, on repeat, almost out loud.  In fact, since I keep telling myself that it was about to get so much harder, it never really feels that bad. I certainly never consider stopping.  I pass injured runners, limping to barely a walk, and I begin to feel strong.  Passing mile markers announcing 23, 24, 25 miles, I think, "Holy crap.  You did this," and the adrenaline from mile 1 returns.  The horns and cheers start to call from the finish line, and I begin a sprint as I pass my mother on the left, calling my name.

As I cross the padded chip recorder under a giant Nike banner, my body shocks me again.  Now, I know I'm one of hundreds of thousands to have run a marathon, and after watching a friend with spina bifida run three half marathons on arm braces in as many weeks, I know I'm not exactly curing cancer over here. I'm not even going to get in to ultra runners, I want to hang on to a shred of this pride. I didn't think I held that much emotion over this trivial thing that so many people do, but I suddenly feel tears trailing from my already salty face anyway.  It's been a rough year, but I did a good thing.

Mom rushes to find me in the finishers corral, and later ices my knees and feeds me Motrin, telling me that she is just. So. Proud.  

I'm not planning on leading a marathoner's lifestyle, but I want to do many more.  This feels too good.  Maybe I can enter foreign races when I travel (see "Let the Chips Fall" ). Bangkok has one.  Maybe someday I can run the legendary route Philipedies first did, from the battlegrounds of Marathon to the courts in Athens.  The story says he dropped dead after that.  You wanna do it now too, huh.

Mom and I find the computers with runner stats, enter my bib number, and read my race time.  4:13.  I beat P. Diddy.

"There will be days you don't think you can run a marathon. There will be a lifetime of knowing you have." -Unknown

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Plight of the Gigantic Gringa

It's one of the coolest holidays on the block, but it's been eons since I felt excitement over Halloween. It has nothing to do with age, and everything to do with the collection of skimpy costumes hanging in my closet. Worn for a week at a time: the cop, the beer maid, the Disco queen, the firefighter, the Geisha- they all worked countless bar shifts with me. Dressing up has lost its allure. When Christina shares her costume plans one day over lunch however, I catch that old spark of creativity. The masked beckon of slipping into another identity for an evening. 

Christina Ramirez is one of my favorite work buddies.  Pretty, young, and sweet, some might gloss over and dismiss her. Wiggle past her quiet, well-mannered reserve, and you find a devilish wit. This is why I have no qualms in calling her a bona fide coconut. Screw HR. It's not a slur, it's an endearment. Not for trying to be something she's not, but for simply just being her. For those needing Urban Dictionary: "Noun. A person who is tan on the outside (Mexican, Indian, Filipino), and white on the inside. Ex: 'Jenny is a total coconut.'" 

Christina shies away from all that is 'beaner.' Her word. Not mine. The girl went to private school. While she loves her some authentic local Mexican food (Come on, who doesn't.), she can't eat anything spicier than a cucumber. She recently bragged of bouncing some cumbia at her quinceanera, and I nearly busted a vessel picturing it. When she shared her Halloween costume aim- I shriek. A low-down, sagging, leaned-back, crouching, deep-in-Compton chola. 

"I'm in! Let's DO this!" I'd been toying with the very idea for years. I wanted another crack at my school years. Your childhood, Katie? Aren't you a banana-cream pie, Anglo-Saxon, cracker? What does a gringa like you know about Dickies, low riders, and the Virgin De Guadalupe? Truthfully, not much. But I can mimic like a motherfucker. As long as my genetics don't get in the way.

My grandma was a wholesome, country, white-girl, and over 6 feet tall. Now that's obscene. Myself, I've always been just a touch taller than the other girls in class. Just tall enough to often hear, "You're tall, aren't you?!" Just tall enough that a night out means heels, and heels mean I cannot rest my head on my date's shoulder at any point while standing. In heels, I cannot kiss my dear without crouching, at least a little. The act is quite de-feminizing. 

To be fair, I never shied away from the attention it brought. I never minded being asked, "Do you play basketball?" or even,

“Would you stand in the back of the picture?"

I loved to hear my mother say, "Geez your legs are a mile long" or,

"You're so statuesque, you can wear anything."

I was blissfully daft, for quite a while.

I grew up in a grand old neighborhood in Bakersfield's quaintly crumbling East side. The inhabitants of Primera Vista St were mainly decrepit old white people with mature fruit trees shading their crisply manicured lawns. Crossing any major road however, and you quickly found yourself in the sinking ghetto. Brimming with first-generation Mexican immigrant families, the small stucco homes with dirt yards usually housed many more relatives than could be found in our WASPy little Frank Lloyd Wright abode. Across this narrow divide, the businesses drifted from Young's Marketplace, to the tiny carniceria boasting exotic animal body parts. Caught in the era of a neighborhood's evolution, I had the distinction of being one of the few pale-faced kids at Horace Mann elementary.  My first boyfriend was in 5th grade, his last name was Tapia.

"Like Tapioca, right?!"

"What's tapioca?"

While we never even went as far as holding hands, it was many years before I realized, my first relationship was interracial?! Nobody gave a fuck.

My mother later said I was often the only blonde on the roll call. Literally head and shoulders above the rest, shining like a bleach spot on black slacks. As long as I didn't notice this however, she wouldn't bring it to my attention. I applaud her for this. Eventually though, as we all hurdled toward puberty, the differences between me and my playground buddies became glaring. 

It wasn't the difference in melatonin that first caught my attention. It was my size.

One warm fall day, the girls of our class stood in parallel lines in the track field facing each other. It was football 101, and I was assigned defense. One foot staggered back, I kept a two-point stance, arms locked into a shield. The whistle blew, and my opponent, a dainty, black-haired beauty, shot forward. I leaned slightly into the pretty little bullet speeding my way. As her graceful frame made contact with my impenetrable wall, I found it easy to stand firm. Her tiny figure crashed into mine, and bounced back with as much force as it came forward.

The decades since have hazed the scene, but I can still see her little face twisted up from shock. She winced from hitting me, then hitting the ground, with equal impact. She had yet to even fully sit up, when she became surrounded by her friends. One of her cousins in attendance. The victim glared at me through flushed cheeks and accused, "That was too hard!"

I felt a little bad for putting her in the dirt like that, but I was a kid. I'd only done as I was told, and hey! Look, Mom! I won! Maybe it was in retaliation to my beaming pride, or maybe it was because I shamed her friend, but it was only moments into the ruckus and confusion of an injured player, before someone turned to me.

"She's too big to play with us!" A slim, brown finger stabbed in my direction. 

I was the lumbering, pasty ogre. Not genteel enough to go toe-to-toe with the local flowers. I was obscene.

I measured myself against my girlish mates. Height and width, color and tone, I found my over-sized and under-colored body to be lacking. The fault of my boring heritage. I tried to emulate the exotic femininity that came to them so easily. But, you know, I was a kid. I copied them badly.

I sneaked chocolate-hued lip liner out of the house to apply at school, outlining my mouth like a budding vato. I used a Bic pen to dot the Mi Vida Loca symbol on the web between my thumb and forefinger. I swayed my head like a cobra when talking at a sad attempt in sass. I gelled my hair to the texture of aged glass, and perfected a Rosie Perez-esque accent that my round, freckled face belied. I never wore hip-hop with the natural flair that fellow white-girl Gwen Stafani later would- I looked downright costumed. This made them hate me. For those that didn't take me in, I was the "rich white girl." I wish. A family of four on a school teachers salary? It didn't matter that I shopped at the same Family Bargain Center, and could chomp Habenero peppers like a pro. It didn't matter if I could copy their style, sound or culture. Standing next to them, I looked like Will Ferrell socializing with Penelope Cruz. This started a life-long envy of every woman born dark and petite.

As I got older, I tried to stay as slender as possible. I invested in self-tanners. I bought loads of hair thickeners to coax my limp wisps into the gloriously heavy tresses they wanted to be. Sought makeup tutorials to exotic-ise my eyes. My perfectly ingrained posture withered in the company of others, lest I loom over them. Seeing any love interest with a delicately dusky creature- I cursed my pink skin and alpine anatomy.  I don't wanna be built like a brick house.  There is nothing tender or sensual about brick.

In my early twenties, I dated a wretched and handsome man. A rugged Italian with wide, dark eyes, and a wicked, dark heart. Though a man's-man, he didn't hit high on the meter stick. 5'10 on a good day. Strolling down the Las Vegas strip one summer evening, we pass a middle Eastern beauty with her beau. Faintly bronze. Darkly sexy. Tiny.  Compact. A real 'spinner'- if you still have that Urban Dictionary tab open. Seeing her linked arm in arm with a strapping older gentleman, head just brushing his shoulder- I was reminded of all that I wasn't. I felt like a Polar bear beside a jaguar. I was slouching in my stillettos before you could say 'gigantic gringa.'

"Stand up straight." My boyfriend instructed, without turning his head toward me.


"One of the things I liked about you was your impeccable posture. You walk like a dancer. A ballerina. But sometimes you slouch. It looks bad. Stop."  All sensitivity and flowers, he was.

I mull on this a moment before admitting, "I’m too tall next to you in high heels. I feel funny."

"Well, duh, Katie. You're a tall girl. Get over it. I'm not a tall guy, and I'm over it. When I go out with you, I feel like I'm with a supermodel. So stand up straight."  This would prove to be his most positive act in our time together.

I've become reasonably respectful of my physical lot in life.  Aspects are aging, but I try to keep the vanity to a minimum.  Or at least try to only be concerned about what affects my health.  All before Dove soap told me to. I stand up straight. I rock 4 inch heels. I grin over the tops of others heads while crowded at the bar, and call my order while the shorties still wait in front of me. I can wear some dramatic styles that might overwhelm a smaller girl's build.  I haven't tried to pull off mahogany hair in ages, yet I still buy self tanners. I still try to tease volume into my hair.  I did, however, ditch the brown lip lines for some plain old Chapstick. I've grown more comfortable in my skin, regardless of color or girth. I no longer rue my humdrum European lineage.

Christine and I banter the stereotypical, southern California chola uniform, piecing together our garb. We Google gangsta chica images to email across the office. "Ohmygod- we need suspenders."  I brag about my cursive name plate necklace, and the 'K' initialed buckle on my old, cloth belt. I get excited to drape myself in those ghetto-fun fineries. At some point I mention my upbringing on Bakersfield's decaying east side.

"Really... That explains a lot." She muses. One doesn't need to mention the demographics for another local to understand.

Later that day, I stand at the printer, mindlessly faxing. A salesman approaches. A tall guy. 6'2' probably. His wife is a petite, Asian stunner.

"Exactly how tall are you in those things." He eyes my heeled boots in offense.

"Meh. About 6 foot." I smile. 

I'm so obscene.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Let The Chips Fall

I now have two tattoos. Both about the size of a silver dollar. Both kinda crappy.  The first was a Celtic knot in homage to a pendant from Scotland that I wore through high school. The intricate weaving has since bled together to leave a sweat-me sexy blob on my hip.  The second, a desperate plea to my self to stop the madness.  Immature, I know, but I branded myself a promise.

It started the spring of 2012, at 29 years old.  Finally graduating Cal State Bakersfield with a BS in Business Marketing.  Okay, okay. It's not physics. It's not law. It's not Berkley or Brown... But man- you don't know what I've been through. I spent my 20's working every weekend, paying my way through school, sometimes two jobs.  Up late, slinging booze, pretending to enjoy the company of assholes treating me like a second-rate citizen.  Turning down trips, parties, and evenings out in the name of term papers and dinner rush shifts. Investing in real-estate after the crash, buying a home on the nice side of town at 25. Making grown-up decisions. Changing majors from teaching, to psychology- to something that both utilized my creative needs, and could make some real dough.  My mother would later tell me that I made some very wise choices, but perhaps ignored what I truly wanted.

Spring of 2012, I 'm a month out from graduation.  I'm in the interview process for a major produce company; my foot in the door of the sales department.  No other graduates have found a job as quickly as I have.  I'm very lucky. Also- so panicked, that most days I'm on the verge of barfing, or punching the next person to ask, "So what now?!" I should be thrilled to be finishing this trying chapter that I've bitched about for 9 years. But I'm not the barrel of monkeys I expect to be.  I'm anxious. Dreadful. I feel both lost, and glued to the tracks by momentum.

Graduation comes, and I parade around with my square hat and get thoroughly plastered like any over-aged college student worth her salt does, yet the dread stays.  "So what now?"  All that hard work for a goal. The goal is in, nothing but net, clean score, job on the way; what's my beef? My good friend Kyra, whom I met working the seedy steakhouse scene, was always a rather- bohemian character.  I say bohemian, because it is the sophisticated version of 'hippy.'  Kyra-the-sophisticated-hippy thinks this is my Saturn returning; the either chaotic, or reassuring season in ones life every orbit, or 29.5 years.  Maybe I need a new goal.  Maybe it's the structure and striving that keeps me going.  I pick up cycling again, join a team, and that summer I make it my mission to tackle every local challenge available.  I wake at 4 am, climb thousands of feet, ride 65 miles at a time, my wheel inches from the cyclists' wheel in front of me, building myself the ass of back-up dancer. This is good medicine for a while.   

Come fall, THE CAREER begins.  I wear a Banana Republic wool suit.  I carry my coffee mug to my desk at 7 am.   I have a badge, full bennies, dual monitors, a chair that spins.  Everything is going according to the plan I laid out like first day of kindergarten school clothes.  The salary is competitive, yet I'll be paying some real taxes now, so I'll get a roommate.  I'll tend bar here and there, but I'll see what real-life weekends are like.  What do people do every Saturday evening?!  I envision laughter and live shows, dining out, beach bonfires, carefree BBQs. I see some frozen imagery that looks a little like a cigarette magazine ad.  Attractive, worry-free folks mingling, and being.  On a Friday night.

A respectable career. Something that people innocently and insultingly call "a real job."  A future. 

Two weeks in at this opportunity filled mega-company, and I've declared an outright war on the very nature of my day.  Yes, my chair spins- and I know- that's a huge deal.  I'm not ungrateful for that. But as the dust settles, and I see the tracks I'm following- I realize I've made a grave mistake.  I'm simply not the girl that's built to sit sweetly in a grey padded cubicle for 40+ hours each week, eyes fixed on spreadsheets, my soul withering with each manila filed, field trips to the bathroom to play with my phone twice a day. 

The atmosphere is competitive, and never the positive kind.  Egos bloat to overshadow others, loss of temper equals power, image is almighty, and the more nonchalantly and expertly one lies, the more he is to be admired.  The days are spent hunched over inventory databases, and chatting about golf scores through headsets in the phony voice of that newscaster, Troy McClure, from The Simpsons.  No creativity, little face-to-face interaction.  Vacations are still working, and I don't care if little Becky is on stage for her first recital, if that phone rings, you damn well better answer it.  This group lives off kudos and success.  A real- 'live to work' environment.  Which I get, if you love it, and man- they fucking love it.  You can tell from the smug smirk after a big sale, by the saunter down the hall to the Starbucks machine, the sarcastic barking to those lower on the pecking order, or when one of them let slip, "everyone else in the company is jealous of our department; we are KINGS."  One particular salesmen, a native to the small, poor, immigrant town that hosts our massive plant, eyed me one afternoon over a beer with co-workers. 

"You're weird, Katie.  You're different." He slightly sneers, a look of distaste crossing his upper lip.  I look at his watch the size of a small apple, and the meticulous attention to his brand embossed, pastel polo shirt. I remember his habitual bragging, his stunted swagger and his imminent divorce.  I nod. 

"That's okay," is all I say, thinking, "Thank God I'm not mistaken for one of you." 

I start a ritual, unbridled sob each evening all the way down 99. I don't just hate the job I've worked so hard to secure, but I kind of suck at it too.  Go figure, data entry just isn't this day-dreaming 'weird' girls' cup of tea. Strapped to a desk, drooling at a screen.  I look like an extra off the 1984 Macintosh commercial. Mistakes can't be glossed over with charm, or replaced by a beautifully crafted cocktail.  Hard work just doesn't fix a mis-shipped pallet of fruit. No, it costs some suit upstairs some big, green, crispy bucks.  My name is recorded in some digital fuck-up file and emailed to my superiors.  My self-esteem plummets.  Stress rages.  Each weekend, because that generous salary still doesn't match un-taxed tips, I flip my early-bird, on-the-road-before-dawn schedule to tend bar til the wee hours for the sake of the mortgage.

The mortgage.  The large house and it's hoard of domestic goods and solo honey-dos has become my own suburbian iron maiden.  Too many tablecloths, linens and towels.  A weighty collection of beveled mirrors and casserole dishes.  Napkin rings. Spare furniture. Why do I have four TVs?  Pool supplies.  Lawn fertilizers.  A pump that needs replacing.  Sprinkler lines needing to be dug up and replaced. A broken AC in a heat wave. Property taxes.  Tree trimming.  Grids of houses in the same hues and floor plans.  All of it, it smothers my airways with an invisible pillow embroidered in the Morning Glory vines that never stop taking over my yard no matter how often I hack at them.  I tell myself I have an acute case of White People Problems. 'Dear God! Whole Foods is out of arugula!'  Let's put on our big girl pants and figure out how to fix this.  But my throat is too tight.  I tumble and scratch my way down a long Wonderland tunnel of a dreary, predictable, cubed future.  I become anti-social.  I can't get enough sleep.  Melanie squints through her cigarette smoke one night and flatly accuses me, "You don't belong in an office, Katie."

A relationship softly ended a couple years ago when my boyfriend could no longer stand living in this great, twisted country.  Starting my senior year at the university, I balked and declined the invitation to join him as he sold his worldly possessions and took off to Costa Rica.  To live in paradise... and see what happened.  His sister had ran abroad after college to teach English in Germany.  A childhood friend now lives in Canada. Another in London. A writer friend tells me of traveling to Europe to speak publicly and run marathons.  Spending his winters in Mexico writing his memoir and deep-sea fishing.  Recording music, hopping between the US coast lines, popping up into Canada, writing a comic book, blah, blah, all this excitement I'm not having- BLAH.  I've grown envious of these people.  Traipsing about like they don't have a goddamn lawn to mow.  Bastards.  I always envisioned myself traveling the world.  Accomplishing great things. But I was much too level-headed for a plan that ridiculous.  Where is the security?  I mention to someone once that my ex boyfriend left everything to go live in the lush and lonely South American jungles.  "Sounds like a smart one,"  they scoffed.

"Actually...yes.  He's bloody brilliant."

Come the holidays, I'm so scared that I might soon be lost in my stagnant swamp of self-pity, that on a whim, I stamp myself with a vow.  Another crappy tattoo; a compass rose on my inner wrist- not as easily hidden as my first. To be conscience and of my direction.  To go beyond this dusty San Joaquin Valley, no matter the cost.  Because apparently, I'm a dramatic, 13 year old girl.  You had no idea, did you. By spring, I begin to feel fierce again.  I paint again, and sell a piece in a gallery in LA.  I pick up running, and kick ass in a San Francisco half marathon.  I look for new opportunities, jobs, and roommates in new cities, industries and weather zones.  I start to actually DO something about my life crisis instead of whining and waiting for Mom, or God, or Prince fuggin Chumbag to pull me out of my pit of despair.  Nearly a year later, my friend Tim- a mischievous conservative- spies my new accessory and says, "Real classy, Kate.  Did you have to announce to the world that you're still not a slave to the 'man'?"  Keen guy.

One summer afternoon, I stand in the kitchen and chat with my brother on the phone.  He- as a much more adventurous spirit than I-  suffers a similar trial.  His trial is cushioned by a beautiful baby girl and devoted wife, but it's a bit of a harder cell.  A marriage and offspring have a way of capping your options.  He tries not to dwell on this, but I can hear the strain in his voice when he reminds me around the time of my graduation, of my position.  I have the freedom to do so much. Things he might do were he in my shoes.  I should not forget my options.  On the phone, he updates me on his long-time best friend, John.  John finished school with me, and spent some time backpacking around Europe.  He returned home, became certified in teaching English as a foreign language, sold his shit, and took a single suitcase on a one-way flight to China.  CHINA, man.  He didn't just move to Orange County, or even Boston, like most of the local brain-drain phenomenon participants.  He picked up, and moved to freaking China.  He loves it.  He may never return. 

"That's so John."  My brother and I sigh, pausing before one of us, not sure who, says, "I'm kinda jealous..."

"Me too..."  Who said that?

My ears pop.  Something in one of my chakras rattle (that's for you, Kyra.).  Clouds part, and some length of my intestine twitches.

"I could do that." My words drop, causing a poof of dust.

I could DO that.

I don't have a reason not to.  I'm single.  No kids. To be in that state at 30 'round these parts is rare.  What else have I been wanting but to break free- Eddie Mercury style (kinda)- and find my adventure? I can rent out my house.  I can move abroad.  Hell, for many years I'd wanted to teach English, study the arts, travel in my off-time, trot the globe.  This could be my means.  Some women talk of meeting their future-husbands for the first time, and just...knowing.  I'm the same kind of romantic. I fell in love with the concept the moment I considered it for myself.

I get in touch with China-John and he gives me the low-down.  I read everything I can get my Google hands on about teaching English as a foreign language overseas.  My sights are first set on the wine, art, and food mecca, my dream destination: Italy.  But after reading of the immigration red-tape in Western Europe, I look towards South East Asia.  Thailand; the 'Land of Smiles.'  Bangkok, the other 'City of Angels,' offers both an old world culture still intact, any Western convenience desired, some of the best cuisine to ever touch tongues, and elephants jamming traffic alongside rickshaws and sky trains.

A boy I briefly dated, and still admire, once talked about making life decisions.  He said there is a time when one can toss the chips into the air, and just see where they fall.  One can do this for a while.  Make mistakes, see cool stuff.  For most, there is then a point of no return.  Whether it be children, or marriage, or some other life change, there is a time when one can simply no longer just throw their life chips into the air to see what happens.  I don't know where that line will be for me, but I realize I'm on the side where I can do just that. Wait a few years, and I might cross over. I might have to play it much safer, if I cross that line.

I tell my family.  I tell my closest friends.  I contact a property management company for my house, arrange to rent a room from my buddy, Schub, around the corner,  promise away furniture, schedule a yard sale, and select my certification school.  I give myself til Fall of 2014 to save my money, make my arrangements, single-file my ducks, and buy a one-way ticket.  I expect patronizing compliance from my nearest and dearest, but either I am blissfully blind to it, or they are downright supportive.

One evening after cooking dinner for my family, I put clean sheets on the guest bed for my visiting father.  My brother, Robert, stands against the door jam and watches me before coming to help make box corners.

"You really need to do this, Katie."  Rob looks intense.  He sounds desperate.

"I know.  I'm scared I'll fail.  Scared I won't get it together.  But more scared of not trying."

Melanie's first response is explosive.  For her, anyway.  Through her typical stone-faced expression she scolds me, "You're gonna end up in some Thai prison like Claire Danes in that one movie.  You're gonna end up some unknowing drug camel or something, and get put away and I'm not gonna come rescue you.  You can rot."

I tell her how safe Bangkok is, how it's the number one expat country for westerners.  I tell her about the paradise beaches, the food, the palaces, the water markets.  I tell her I feel good about this.  For some reason, this shuts her up for a moment.  Probably because most every mistake she's watched me make, I made knowing it was a bad decision.

A few days later, a text comes through from Melanie.  "What about your car?"

"I will probably sell it."

"Health insurance?"

"The schools provide it, otherwise international coverage is affordable, and equivalent care is a fraction of the cost as it is here."

"What about your DOGS?!"

"My dad has agreed to take them on his ranch.  They'll have more exercise."

Some time passes before the next text.

"This is what you are supposed to do.  This is your destiny."  And that, is what I call, a Melanie-blessing.

I will probably be swindled.  I will probably be homesick.  I will probably get lost, get food poisoning, get stuck at the border on a Visa run, and get caught in a monsoon.  I will hopefully get to experience all of these things because this is the kind of life I want to have led, instead of racking up years alongside filing cabinets.  Maybe a year in Asia.  Maybe skip over to Prague.  Maybe return to the states soon, maybe return later.  I want to make a decision that I'm excited about, instead of one that makes total, my-what-a-good-head-on-her-shoulders sense.  So give me one year, I'm throwing in chips.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Fight On.

I always half-wished I could be that sports-savvy girl that can fiercely debate new player's potential, or roster picks, or the reason behind a team's dismal season, but I'm not.  Might've helped me out behind the bar- but I told jokes instead.  My mantra: "I love going to live sporting events, but I just can't watch it on TV.  Wasn't really raised around it, never dated a 'sports guy'."

I'd say I was a teensy bit jealous of those with that passion, but it'd only be true if you included the 'teensy'.  I never really got it.  A dear and brilliant ex-boyfriend who was artsier and fartsier than I ever was, once spoke of his beloved basket ball crazed sister. The draw to sports fandom,  he said, is for those who don't have their own passion.  They need that brotherhood of fellow fans, in part because it replaces real connections they might otherwise have.  But it's a false community.  They don't play on the team, they don't benefit nor pay with any win or loss, and the emotion they feel with every season's pitch and point is yet another opiate of the masses.  Not to say he didn't love sports- he was naturally athletic and generally pretty excellent in all those things.  Despite his own sporty skills, we stood with cocked heads of confusion. Bewildered at the intensity of the draw for his sister shouting and sweating out her painful power claps when the Clippers or the Giants just did something good on the TV.

But when Tim, a quirky and contrary old regular of mine from KC Steakhouse invites me to join in   on his season tickets for a his Alma Mater USC game and tailgating- I wholeheartedly take him up on his offer. Even if you don't watch the game, there's food!  And drink!  And happy (at least at first) crowds, and a fever pitch that is only come by when a mass gathers in consensus.

We meet at 6 am for the caravan to L.A.  This is serious.  Tailgating begins at 8-ish sharp-ish, with an entire tetris trunk packed full of Trojan tailgating gear, collected and perfected over decades.

Once the cardinal and gold tent, tablecloths, coordinating plates, and napkins, logo emblazoned BBQ, and greasy eats are out- the mimosa/bloody beer communion begins.  Communion before ritual.  Tim befriends the Boston College rivals on either side of us, and seals an invite to a local's tailgating party for his next away game visit. Illegal bacon-wrapped Mexican hot dog carts dart through crowds, avoiding officials, and generally smelling like a porky, onion orgasm.

The sense of community found at an event like this does warm the very cockles of my heart. After I mention this, Tim talks of visiting Lincoln, Nebraska for a game, and mixing with the locals at a tavern the night before.  No trash-talk tossing between opponent fans was found that day; the gracious Nebraskans were welcoming, happy to have a like-minded stranger in their midst, no matter his team. When later in the night, one pimply kid did begin to slur some taunts Tim's way, a 97 year-old woman grabbed the kid by the shirt collar growling, "This is Nebraska.  We don't treat our guests this way."  I'm sure Nebraska's friendliness is an exception, but man, does this illustrate the intensity of what it is to represent a team.  Maybe Raiders fans (Totally superfluous example. Maybe.), show their intensity in a culturally different manner, but none the less, what it means to rep your colors as a real fan is some serious shit, no matter the region.

A walk though the historical campus is like visiting the kingdom's royal courtyard during a festival.  I feel the vibrations of Game Day in my gut.  Like the excitement during a concert sound check, I prickle with goosebumps despite a slick forehead in the 90-something degree weather.  This sense of pride is getting contagious.  It's coming on.  We stop to watch the USC marching band play a pre-game show, and I start feeling a vague ownership, a part of the rising synergy.  I did play in the band.  Brass even.  And my high school mascot was the Trojan.  Still, as I look at a fellow tailgater's USC flip flops and USC iPhone cover- I can't wrap my head around spending so much time and energy devoted to a game, that you're not even playing in. Plus, wearing sports logos isn't stylish.  It offends my aesthetic senses.  Says the girl in ragged Converse. Exiting the campus gates to cross the train tracks back to camp, Tim kicks the loose, aluminum base of a tall light pole.  He shrugs, "Good luck,"  and smirks, "You'll hear it all day."  Sure enough, waiting to cross the tracks I hear a metallic bang and rattle every 8 seconds, as students, alumni, faculty and devotees, kick, and maybe pray their way to the arena.   

Packing up to head into the Colosseum- which doesn't serve alcohol- my good buddy Schub says we should have brought flasks.  "No."  Tim says.  "That's for high school.  If you can't drink enough to watch a game for a few hours, you're doing it wrong."  Communion.  Ritual. Music. Discipline.

Scholars argue which first preceded religion: music, or ritual, and I have personally always been in the music camp.  There is something palpably powerful about rhythmic beats amongst a crowd.  From the Pentecostal spirit-filled altar where I was raised, to the chanting mob- be it for revolution, lynching, or encore.  This football game is no exception.  I imagine ancient humans dancing around flames, feeling the percussion pounding their belly. And as the Trojan torch is lit, the drums of the fight song both threatening and triumphant, I see the Colosseum stands- masses of crimson- shifting in unison as they hammer their right hand forward to each beat in rows of gavels. Thousands chant the same chant, hammering that same arm, hoping the same, all in agreeance.  I soak it up, getting high off the fumes of the dedicated.  If I were at that Pentecostal alter, this is when the pastor would have said, 'Brothers and sisters- God is in this house tonight.'

Yeah, I watch the game too.  I get those mini adrenaline rushes, just like every time I almost rear-end another car (which is sorta too often for a sorta grown-up)- where a prickly heat rushes to my skin- each time a pass is completed.  Or even when it's not, really.  Sometimes I forget about the players, and get caught up in the unity of the crowd, but I start to live and die a little each play. 

This intox never lasts too long for me once I've gone home.  A few days, max.  Maybe that brilliant ex boyfriend iss a little right, in that the team brings a false connection to it's fans.  A passion not backed by anything solid or real.  But maybe that's what any decent opiate is.  If it's an opiate that lets us feel, better to feel it with everyone else as a whole.  A freaking cuddle puddle of team pride. And as for a false community- you bet your ass Tim is going to make some life-long buds in Boston over beer, brats, and a fight song of drums.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Father Knows Best

I went to my first optometrist appointment.  Not because I needed it, but because: fuggit. I finally have vision insurance, I'm 30, and I'm starting to get crispy crows feet from squinting at the wicked computer screen all day.  Or from smoking in the bars.  Whatever. They tell me I'm fine, give me an optional, mild prescription for reading glasses, and send me to the front to make my $25 co pay.

 Dr. Ng's optometry office is across the street from home-girl Melanie's flower shop, where she deftly whips up botanical masterpieces between chain smoking Marlboro Reds with her trademark scowl.  I watch her sweep green clippings from the floor and lock up.  It's easy to visit Melanie when I don't feel like being social, nor alone, because I never have to smile for her, or say anything nice if I don't feel like it.  She's fine with that. We can sit in silence and nobody gets bored or thinks the other person is mad or rude. This day she notices I'm in emo-Katie-mode.  She knows that in the last year since I've made a major life change and started a career, my finances (along with other life aspects) went down the crapper.  I have yet to find a roommate to ease the crunch.  Some romantic failings sprinkled though the months. The last year has been quite the trial, and I'm not handling it with any grace. What she doesn't know, was the humbling request I just made to the nice lady at Dr. Ngs front desk.  With three days to a bar shift, and ten days til pay day, I have $1.86 in my account,  and just enough gas in the tank.  "May I return to pay?"  I quietly ask the nice lady who is only requesting a meager 25 dollars.  None of this I feel like sharing with Melanie, so instead I tell her of the shitty-guilt rock anchoring my stomach from this past weekend.

Dad has been needing to come down for a visit.  He retired this spring for sad reasons (which I will rant about later), he just wrapped up his second divorce, his dog ran away,  and he has little human contact on his breezy ranch. We miss each other.  He's lonely.  But I'm busy.  I'm broke.  I'm too stressed, and too tired to properly host my father. When a bar-shift-free weekend comes up, however, I send him an invite before I think about it too much.  His bags were packed before his email RSVP made it into my inbox.

Now, I know my dad drives me nuts.  After 30 some-odd years of teaching, it's tough for him to have a conversation where he doesn't dominate, lecture, and repeat.  This makes for a long weekend for someone used to living alone in selfish serenity.  I should have done some stronger mental prepping, but I blasted out that invite without much thought. 

Over the next few days, I have small moments where I feel connection, warmth and affection for my Pops. I want him to feel the love. An old regular bar customer of mine gives me VIP passes to the local Village Fest beer, wine and food festival; which lands right up father/daughter alley. Bands from multiple stages make it too loud for us to chat, but this may be the evenings saving grace. I gorge, he takes pictures, it feels good share it with Dad. But on returning home, the spell is broken. I slip back into feeling scrape-my-skull irritated with not only everything Dad does (pointing out every weed and ant-hill, torturous droning about the weather), but the very presence of another human in my space. I've been too bound up in my anxious shell to be at ease with someone invading my self-indulgent pity-party.  This irritation shows.  I know it shows.  I only half-ass try to hide it when I think of how guilty I'll feel later, which reinforces that I only behave for selfish reasons.  I'm a prick, nobody likes me, everybody hates me, I'm gonna go eat worms.

As expected, I return home from work Monday evening to an empty house. No Dad on the recliner reading his daily word and making his mundane commentary. I now remember it as soothing instead of grating. His presence: reassuring. A note on the counter lists the sprinklers and pump he's fixed after I left for work, signed, "Love, Your Dad." Crap. Every snide remark I made about his Fox News-Glenn Beck leanings, every sneer I wore after his naive remarks about college party-goers freezes onto that shitty guilt rock in my stomach, and I start thinking about how much harder that lump will get when he keels over someday.  I snivel, and feel more pathetic than I did before he came, and guilty for feeling guilty for behaving as I did when I knew what I was doing.

When Melanie asks what's wrong with me, I don't tell her about my sad checking balance and the $25 co-pay.  I'm good on the humility helpings.  Instead I tell her about my weekend with Dad, and how I behaved like a rotten princess.  Good 'ole Mel.  She doesn't indulge. She never does.

"You know he noticed how you were being. You know you're gonna miss having to put up with him when he's not around anymore.  Your parents are getting older. You should have known he was going to irritate you, and told yourself that it's only for a few days. You should email him and apologize.  He'll forgive you. He loves you."

Thanks, bro.  Nothing in that pep talk made me feel any better.  Why do I even tell you these things.

Sometimes it seems the universe has its feelers out the way facebook does, popping up with ads and articles in my news feed directly related to my most recent Google searches.  No facebook, I didn't need a reminder at this very moment that I may need debt counseling for student loans.  No Universe, I don't need my dad calling at this very moment to remind me that I have amends to make.

"Dad... I was just talking about you...."

"Yeah?!  I was just calling to tell you thank you for having me this weekend and for being such a great hostess."

Freaking shitty guilt rock plopping into my lower intestine.

"About that Dad... I know I wasn't the greatest company this weekend."

Saturday afternoon before Village fest, Dad takes me to the dump to get rid of the palm branches that I cut down and left laying in the yard for months. After, I offer him an ice cream treat as a good daddy reward.  The ice cream parlour we had our eyes set on, however, recently had roadwork done in the area, and Moo Creamery's original entrance is now closed off.  How do we get in there?  A half hour of looping back and forth, with Dad cruising at the alarming speed of 55 miles an hour on the new Westside Parkway express, we still have yet to gain entry.  I politely drop hints to how tired I am, and that there is a great fro-yo place near the house.  Two hours after we've left the house for a quick dump run, my dad is introduced to the exotic culture of the fro-yo topping bar.  He wants to sit, not take the damn things to go.  He wants to chat, not get the ice cream in, and get out.  After the third weather comparison between his area and mine, while his dessert sits and smirks at me- I drop all guise and put my head down next to my empty paper dish.

"Are you ok, dear?"

"Yeah, sorry Dad, I'm just pretty tired."

Pathetic excuse for being a balls-out rude, spoiled child.  Did I mention I haven't seen this man in six months?

On the phone, after my half-apology for general weekend brattiness: "Not at all, Katie!  I had a great time!  You always make your guests feel so comfortable.  I have my own room where I can shut the door, you do your own thing sometimes, and I don't feel like I always have to be 'on'.  I really enjoyed our time."

I tell Dad that no, I was cranky, and while there is NO excuse for it, I gave a LOT excuses. I've been pretty run-down.  The stress of working six days a week, sometimes being up for more than 24 hours to fit in both gigs, trying to keep a household in decent repair on my own, choosing which bills need most attention, and generally feeling stretched too thin for too long, I don't have the ease about my aura that I should.  No, I never say the word aura.  But I think it sometimes.

"Katie.  I went through the exact same thing, for the same length of time a couple years ago trying to keep the ranch after Kathy left.  Between school, and the janitor job at the car wash, I have no idea how I managed not to lose all my crops.  You're doing great.  You're not a failure.  This won't be forever, and things will get better, and the dreams you have are going to come to pass, because you made them happen. I know you're not the praying type, but maybe you should try.  Ask for help, and peace of mind, and guidance. You're my favorite daughter, and I love you."

Of course I cry;  adult-child that I am.

Maybe I should mention that I'm only his favorite daughter because I have no sisters, but that's not the point.  I paid my copay the next day.  I've come up with a grandiose plan for changing my life.  I might never forget the way I treat my parents when they bug me, but they already have (or are wise enough not to care).  I bought Dad some fro-yo, facebook asked me if I was interested in a Groupon for beer tasting, and all of it is slowly starting to make sense again.

Until my next 30-year-old temper tantrum.