Saturday, December 16, 2006


What are these words?


Without knowing, I might guess they’re the names of some unknown countries located anywhere but North America. But as it happens these were some of the kindergartners in the class I subbed for the other day. Interestingly, the class comprised an accurate ethnic snapshot of my town: maybe 60% white, 25% black, 10% Hispanic, 5% Asian.

Growing up in a predominantly white town in the 60s (meaning, there were NO discernible blacks living within Wenonah’s proper tony borders), we had no idea about blacks. Oh sure, we’d see them in the supermarket, or sometimes driving by in cars, but we didn’t know where they came from. They were very mysterious. We later learned they lived in Jericho, right across the road from Wenonah, and we talked about Jericho in hushed tones. It seemed odd even then that one road cleanly separated white from black.

Then some black kids joined the party. They moved to Wenonah, but they lived on the farthestmost street in town: the street right next to Jericho. We weren’t quite sure what to make of them at first. They were a novelty, which made them immediately popular. And they had 60s-era, whitebread names: Bruce, Mike, and Sheila.

In a totally white town, we could have given these kids a headache. But after the novelty wore off, their color simply didn’t seem to matter, right through high school and beyond.

Nowadays it seems like, hard as we try, color still does matter. Kids are brought up embracing their culture of origin, and rightly so. But sometimes kids are the unfortunate victims of bad or absent parenting, perhaps falling under the influence of their ne’er-do-well peers, and color becomes a divisive issue that stays with them.

So when Remy spouted off the “N-“ word the other day in school, we all had something to learn. More later.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mr. B

My brain is foggy now, as headsnot and viral interlopers have taken over its functioning. Yeah, that's right: my previously superior immune system is now fighting off whatever stupid cold my family spread around. It's doing a pretty good job so far. I've got a big ol' turkey carcass simmering on the stove, so I can make turkey soup: clinically proven to reduce cold symptoms. I'm guessing turkey and chicken are interchangeable.

While we're mired in a 13-day shopping frenzy, for the true meaning of the Christmas spirit, I need look no further than Mr. B, my auto mechanic.

I took my van in for a winter tune-up a few weeks ago. When I got it back, I noticed it was hesitating and idling roughly, and when I gunned the engine there was a pop under the hood. Like a small explosion. I let it go on for a week or two, hoping it would work itself out, which is my reaction to any potential unpleasant confrontation with humans or auto mechanics or salespeople. Not surprisingly, it didn't work itself out. So I took it back to Mr. B.

I politely explained that this problem started after they had previously worked on it. They said they'd take a look at it. After two days, they still couldn't figure out what the problem was and kept it over the weekend.

Finally, yesterday Mr. B called and said he'd gone in over the weekend and fixed it. No charge.

I'm cynical, so I assumed this was just a way for him to sound like a nice guy, and knowing that if he offered to do it for free (in fact, fixing what they kinda screwed up in the beginning) I would jump in and say, no, no, let me give you something for your trouble. And then he would be a doubly nice guy by refusing it. What a manipulative jerk.

Which is exactly how it played out.

I went in and offered him some money. He refused it. Manipulative jerk!

"But you came in over the weekend!" I argued.

"Yeah, but I do that sometimes."

"But you're an independent businessman. You can't go giving away your services for free!"

What the hell is wrong with me? He fixed my van for free, it took a lot of his time, it required parts, and I'm telling him how to run his business and trying to give him money when I don't have to. Who's the manipulative jerk now?

" pick and choose who you do that for. You're a good customer, and you've spent a lot of your hard-earned money here. So, that's what I do. Merry Christmas."

I lamely tried one more time, gesturing my arm forward, check in hand. "You sure?"


So, Mr. B is in fact a very nice guy. I think he digs me. I graciously accepted the win, thanked him profusely, shook his greasy hand and left, knowing that even though Mr. B won this round, I'll get back at him next week with a big tray of cookies.

Thanks again, Mr. B.

Friday, December 08, 2006

it's hot or it'snot

I wonder how many times I have to say "I have a superior immune system" before some serious illness knocks me completely off my feet, perhaps horizontally into a coffin.

It'll probably be necrotizing fasciitis. I'm pretty sure of that. Or some kind of killer staph infection. Whatever it is, it'll be unexpected. Maybe I'll be plowed under by a meteorite or run over by a train or something.

I simply don't get whatever "bug" is going around, whether it's flu or some intestinal disorder. The heart disturbance doesn't count, because that's an electrical issue unrelated to the immune system.

This week my entire family has been bogged down by a cold. They're all coughing and hacking and sneezing and generally blowing their germs all over the house. Meanwhile, I'm walking around gloating about my superior immune system.

"It's true," I tell the boys. "I didn't get sick much as a kid because of my superior immune system. And I still don't! Yay for me, because then who would take care of you? That's right: moms can't get sick. That's because we have an adaptive genetic mechanism that inhibits bacterial and viral growth!"

Fortunately, my kids don't get sick often, and they rarely vomit. I hate vomiting more than anything. I'd rather change an exploding diaper than clean up vomit. Each instance of my kids' vomiting is permanently etched into my brain (years ago, Remy vomited at the doorway of Olga's diner, just before we walked inside. We went in to inform them of the mess. We did not actually eat there. They felt bad for him, and gave us donuts to take home. Nothing like a dozen deep-fried, sugar-laden donuts to settle one's stomach.)

So I'll continue to thank my lucky stars--or errant meteorites--for my superior immune system. And just for good measure, I think I'll avoid Taco "would you like some hot or mild e-coli for your burrito?" Bell.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

what's that smell?

I woke up this morning and noticed my palms smelled like potatoes.

Is that just me?

Is this that "old person" smell that I keep hearing about?

I understand old people might develop that musty old person smell because they probably don't bathe as frequently. Or maybe they don't get out as much, get fresh air...or their skin dries's kind of gross, thinking about what happens to your body as you get older. I'm sorry I started. But I DO bathe regularly, I get out every day, my skin is just normal skin. So what gives?

My goal now, for when I'm officially an old person, is to smell like violets and Ivory soap. I'll bathe every day, even if I can only manage a T & A. I'll wear a hidden sachet in my bosom and spray room freshener on my privates. Whatever it takes.

I'm not going out smelling of potatoes.