The Devil You Know

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The devil you know is great. You don’t like him per se, but he’s your favorite devil because he is predictable. You know exactly what sets him off or gets him off your back.

His sales pitch is simply: Better than the devil you don’t know! Which isn’t a ringing endorsement. Not really a good enough reason to stick with him.

In seventh grade art class, our teacher used to separate us into four teams. There were four supply cabinets, and each team would get the chance to pick what was behind one of the doors. The odds of winning were stacked against you, with only one cabinet containing a pile of Kit Kat bars. When my team chose one with rocks in it, I was sure it was a joke; that my teacher would say, “Just kidding!” and give us a real prize.

Seriously, three cabinets contained rocks, and one had treats. The game felt demotivating; nay, crushing. To see one team scarfing down chocolate bars while the rest of us didn’t even bother collecting our rocks…It was cruel. Yet, it was real life. We may not have won, but we took a chance!

What that teacher taught us is literally the only lesson I recall from seventh grade.

Let’s get back to the devil. Even if you despise him, you still prefer him to the devil you don’t know. But – the devil you don’t know might not even be a devil. Yet, you’re unwilling to find out. Because the unknown is scary. Change is scary.

It just might be worth the gamble to find out whether the devil you don’t know might be something other than a devil. Even a slightly more tolerable devil is still an improvement.

Bee vs. Human Dignity

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Why must bees rob us of our dignity? You’re sitting at a table outside a cafe on a sunny day, and you lean back in your chair and take a deep breath of fresh air, exhale, and smile as the sun warms your face. Then, out of nowhere, a bee comes at you. You swat it away.

Ok, no problem, it’s gone, you think. And no one was the wiser.

But the bee comes back around for a second pass. Now it’s perched on the edge of your beverage.

What does this thing want?!

You wave it away, angrily. But, like a boomerang it comes back, faster and closer. Now it’s got a hard look in its eye. Before it just wanted to mess with you; now it’s out to get you. You know you’re mere seconds from getting stung. You haven’t been stung in a long time and don’t know how you’ll handle it – will you cry in public? Will your face swell up, because it turns out you’re allergic? You don’t know, and the unknown is scary. So you’re swatting and swatting, but this darn bee won’t take the hint and leave.

You’re forced out of your seat, backing away from the table, all the while keeping your eye on this bee that’s completely unstable. You’re being terrorized by this tiny, fuzzy flyer, and you have no choice but to cave to its demands.

Everyone around you is a witness to your cowardice as you’re ducking and diving and shrieking. Why does this bee have it out for you? It’s not going to anyone else. It’s not locating flowers like it should be doing. It came here, to this cafe, all with the intent of stealing your dignity! What did you ever do to deserve this?

Happy Spring, everyone. Stay safe out there.

To Mansplain or Not to Mansplain

Source: Wikimedia Commons

In college I had an English professor whom I admired. Not only was he knowledgeable, but he also had a sense of humor. Especially, whenever he recited Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in old English (entertaining, but also exhibitionistic).

I was struggling a bit to keep my head above water and met with the professor during his office hours. Before fully hearing me out, he declared that I had a time management problem. Then he went on to describe left brain versus right brain gobbledygook. I looked at him with an eyebrow raised.

“Do you know what I’m talking about?” he asked me. “Because you look confused.”

Yeah, I’m confused, I thought, why you’re talking down to me like this.

I was a grown woman with a job, a husband, and bills to pay, not some eighteen-year-old living on campus. The struggle was real!

As a left-handed person, I very well understand the differences between left and right-brained thinking. I just couldn’t for the life of me understand why this man was prattling on about that, of all things, when I had come to him to discuss competing priorities in my life.

The professor didn’t give me a chance to explain myself, what all was going on in my life. Instead, he made assumptions and talked at me like I was a child. Unfortunately, like a child, I didn’t realize I had the right to call him out. This was my first time experiencing classic mansplaining. To this day, it remains the best example I’ve ever experienced.

If I could go back in time, I would tell him off in Chaucer’s own language, not have sat there silent and resentful.

How dare ye scallywag besmirch my good name this morrow? OK, that’s more pirate than old English, but something to that effect. It would’ve really blown his mind in language he understood.

Government-issued astronaut diapers

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Remember when that astronaut got busted for her ill intentions toward the other woman in her love triangle?

“No, that doesn’t ring a bell.”

The one who wore diapers on her road trip?

“Oh, yes! That astronaut!”

Everyone remembers the diapers. Everyone mocked the diapers. But I can tell you, as the mother of a toddler who has just gone through potty training, the diapers make complete sense. Whenever we leave the house now, I have to plan our itinerary very carefully to ensure my daughter will have bathroom access at least every two hours, whereas before she had a portable and disposable toilet. All that was required was a backpack to tote extra diapers around in. Now, I have to locate a public bathroom, repeatedly insist that she not touch anything, and hold her so she doesn’t fall in. It is laborious, unpredictable, and often more unsanitary than a soiled diaper.

Let’s forget for a moment this astronaut’s goal, which was to eliminate her competitor. The level of dedication she displayed is admirable. We should all be so single-minded and productive. Pit stops didn’t factor into her itinerary.

The thing us earth-dwellers didn’t seem to consider is that this woman was doing exactly what she was trained to do – wear government-issued astronaut diapers on missions. These astronauts are constantly carrying out complex, time-sensitive tasks – tasks that cost the US government millions of dollars per second. There’s no time for potty breaks. There’s no way you could get out of that bulky astronaut uniform quickly enough, anyway. Especially in zero gravity.

The only thing that doesn’t make sense to me about this story is the irony of an astronaut – someone used to traveling at upwards of 10,000 MPH in space – choosing to drive hundreds of miles instead of taking an airplane. That’s like depositing your check at the bank instead of uploading it electronically from the comfort of your own house.

Driving? Doesn’t make sense. Adult diapers? Makes complete sense.

Queuing for Nutella

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Don’t fact check me on this, but the heavenly combination of hazelnut and chocolate became a global sensation during WWII. When supplies were in short order, they had to cut chocolate with hazelnut. And thank goodness they did, because this combination has become my favorite.

I’m such a fan of Nutella that when a cafe dedicated entirely to this substance was scheduled to launch in Union Square NYC in the winter of 2018, I stood in line for two hours in 35-degree weather for the doors to open.

Did I mention I was in my third trimester? A salesgirl who came outside to dispense tiny cups of hot chocolate to the queue kindly brought me a chair, noticing my very large occupant.

If you’re from NYC or have spent enough time there, this scenario will make complete sense to you. If you’re not, it may sound like lunacy. In fact, just the year prior, my husband and I passed a long line waiting in 20-degree weather to get into a shop that sold heart attack inducing ice cream sundaes – the ones you’ve seen in pictures that are in a tall glass and laden with candy, pretzels, bacon, cookies…I was aghast that people would wait outside for ice cream in the dead of winter.

But – offer me the right treat, and I’m totally willing to put myself out.

The couple just ahead of me earned the honor of being the very first customers. For that, they got their photo taken and were interviewed as soon as they were granted entry. I was a bit envious, but then again, I worried it might make me look bad being seven months pregnant and subjecting myself to such extremes as freezing temps and an abundance of chocolate hazelnut spread.

Top brass had come all the way from Italy to cut the ribbon before opening the door to five guests at a time. I sat next to several of the suits as they drank espresso from tiny cups and spoke in Italian with excitement about the cafe.

I enjoyed a grilled Nutella panini while my hands thawed out. The cafe gave me a free jar of the spread to take home, which was as good as getting paid for my time waiting. Totally worth it.

Sweet Tooth

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Scientists claim that a rat will choose sugar over cocaine any day. What I want to know is, why are these a rat’s choices? What kind of high-octane party life are these rodents living?

“Welcome to the club, Mr. Rat. Would you like sugar or cocaine?”

“Oh, I’d take sugar any day!”

The insight from this scientific study is supposed to frighten us into eschewing sugar. But who can eschew something sweet that activates the pleasure center of your brain? We’re talking legal, affordable drugs that you can pick up in your local grocery store’s cookie aisle.

Let’s review the findings of the study over a package of Oreos, shall we? Just kidding — I’ll take the Oreos and not the information. No conclusion is a sufficient motivator to give up sugar!

Despite it having occurred nearly a decade ago, I vividly recall picking up a glazed vegan donut at DK’s bakery in Santa Monica, which I waited to eat until I was standing on the Pepperdine campus overlooking the Pacific Ocean. As I bit into the pillowy donut, my brain instantly registered the sugars and fats as though I’d won the food lottery. If I were hooked up to electrodes, the visual of my brain would have been flashing like a disco. Eyes widening, my “Mmm!” echoed across the canyon. I regretted having purchased only one donut and driven so many miles away from the bakery. I needed a second donut as a chaser.

Once I was at a coffee shop and a man who watched me dump five packets of sugar into my cup raised his eyebrows and said, “Ooh — you’re gonna have a real energy crash later.”

I was like, “Oh, yeah?! Well — (yawn) what’s it to you, anyway?”

You know those long cigarette holders women used to use? I wish there was an equally elegant way to hold a candy bar. I never see other adults eating candy bars. I feel like I’m buying contraband every time I go into the store to pick up Whatchamacallits. And because I can’t buy just one, it feels all the more shameful.

If anyone looks my way, I’m ready to say, “These are for my kid’s party. Gotta lotta kids coming over!”

I’m like a ten-year-old spending her allowance on sweets that won’t make a difference to her well-functioning metabolism.

If I ever go into manufacturing, I’m going to launch a sugar cane company called Rat’s Choice.

All of this is to say, I understand the humble rat’s preference. I’m in good company.

The Callousness of Birds

Source: Wikimedia Commons

You know when you see a bird couple, you can just tell that they’re together. You look out your window and you see two doves pecking around on your lawn. I love how, when one bird feels like leaving, they just take off. They don’t tell their partner, “I’m going over there now. I need my space.” or, “I’m off to the parlor.” They just ditch their mate. And the other bird plays it cool and pretends to keep pecking. They don’t want to risk catching someone else’s eye and confirming that their moment of humiliation was observed.

“I’ll catch up with you later, Honey!” the abandoned bird calls after the other one. “I’m just gonna – I’ve got some more pecking to do. Over here.”

I’m a bird watcher. Not a birder, with binoculars and a dog-eared copy of the Big Book of Birds under my arm; more of an onlooker. I’ve noticed everywhere I travel, no matter the time of day or the weather, there’s always a male pigeon trying to impress the ladies. How can he even tell who is female and who is male? Does he even care?

He gets himself all worked up, puffing up his feathers, strutting, bowing, and cooing suggestively. Meanwhile, the other bird just keeps pecking away at the sidewalk. Eventually she’ll walk a few steps in the opposite direction, a blank look in her eye. If the wooer stays in hot pursuit, she’ll fly away. And the snubbed pigeon will try to play it cool. He’ll stop to peck at the ground. As soon as he notices another pigeon, he repeats the whole dance. Turns out that first dame wasn’t one in a million. He’s not looking for Ms. Right, he’s looking for Ms. Right Now.

I feel embarrassed for this guy, trying so hard to get with another pigeon – any pigeon. He’s not picky. He’ll even take the one with the big white splotches all over its head and feathers that make it look like other pigeons used it for a toilet.

“The thing is, Mack,” I imagine the lady pigeon saying to the wooer, “you’re basically a rat with wings. I could never find you attractive.”

“But you are, too,” he says, earnestly. “And I’m not complaining.”

“Eh,” she says, shrugging. “I do alright.”

The trouble is, the male and female pigeons are never on the same schedule. The man pigeon is always in the mood, while the lady pigeon always has a headache. He believes in shots on goal yet has never scored.

Pigeons will soon drive themselves to extinction.

Coffee Mug, Interrupted

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Upon starting as an Administrative Assistant at a manufacturing plant in New York, I was given a tour of the long building by the fifty-something head Administrator. She had short auburn curls, wore wire rimmed glasses, and kept her lips tightly pursed as though everything big or small, alive or inanimate, tested her patience. Slight of figure, she dressed like a 1960’s high society woman in sheath dresses with three quarters sleeves and matching flats.

The tour wrapped up in the kitchen, where the Administrator beckoned to the sink laden with used coffee mugs.

“You are to wash anything left here by other employees.” I thought she was joking, but her pursed lips told otherwise. Employees were supposed to wash their own mugs and store them upside down on the drying rack, but didn’t, and evidently it was my problem.

“Now, where to keep your mug,” the Administrator wondered aloud, as she tapped her rosebud mouth with her pointer figure and scanned the kitchen.

Why not the drying rack, same as everyone else’s? I wondered.

There was no space in the entire kitchen to store my coffee mug, determined the Administrator. 

“Follow me,” she said, holding the mug I’d brought from home far from her body as though carrying a bag of dog doo.

I followed her obediently as she zigged and zagged, got up on her tiptoes and crouched down low, looking for a good storage option somewhere in the building. Aside from the room where products were made, literally the rest of the property was designed for storage of said products.

I found myself standing with the Administrator in the reception office’s single-occupant bathroom. 

“Ah!” she exclaimed exuberantly. “Here we go!” 

Beneath the sink was a cupboard, which the Administrator opened. She hinged forward and set my mug on the top shelf, just above the stockpile of toilet paper. Closing the cupboard doors, she rose with her pink lips upturned in a prim smile. One more crisis averted, one more battle won, one more feat accomplished. 

I frowned at the cupboard, then at the Administrator’s back as she left the bathroom.

I’d rather just keep it in my hand, thanks! I wanted to call after her.

After all, what was the plan for when another employee beat me to the bathroom with a newspaper tucked under their arm? Would I knock on the door and ask the occupant to please pass me the mug from the cupboard? 

I never touched the mug again, needless to say. It’s probably still in that cupboard, collecting dust and spiders.

A Near Drowning

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I would have drowned – if I didn’t die from hypothermia first – when I was nine. My then seven-year-old brother Ben saved my life.

The river near our house was half frozen over. My brother and I walked out onto the thick sheets of ice and peered down into the rushing water. When the surface I occupied snapped under my weight, down into the frigid depths I sunk. Water-logged, my one-piece snowsuit was suddenly a liability – I may as well have had a cinder block tied to my ankle. I gripped the edge of the ice like a rock climber, even as my fingers turned red and ached from the cold.

The meditative sound of water trickling over rocks and swirling away downstream filled my ears as the current pinned my legs against the underside of the ice. I saw the gray sky above, threatening snow. Saw our house just up the hill, knowing the rest of our family were safe and warm inside. I felt my untimely end was nigh. Being so young, there wasn’t much life to flash before my eyes.

Then, Ben grabbed my arms. Deploying impossible strength for a child, he heaved me up over the jagged edge onto the ice floe. I lay on my belly like a stunned seal.

Struggling to get to my feet, water dripped down my boots as I waddled home. I stripped off my soaking winter clothes and was given a warm bath by parents who were perturbingly unperturbed. In fact, I don’t even recall their response, that’s how little of an impression it left upon me. I know they didn’t rush to my side, engulf me in a group hug, and gush, “Thank the Lord for sparing our second daughter!” My brother didn’t receive a medal for his heroism. The response was basically: “OK, that happened. Here are some dry pajamas.” My parents did have four children to spare, after all.

Was there a lesson to be learned from this experience? Nah. I lived to see another day. We were based in a rural town in New England where we spent our summers exploring the woods, using fallen leaves as toilet paper, prying leeches from between our toes after swimming, and setting off bottle rockets at the quarry. Like a cat, I had nine lives. As did each of my siblings.

I don’t tend to stand on ice anymore, though. I’ll leave that to the polar bears.

Suddenly Old

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The moment you realize you’re old. It comes for all of us.

For me, it started when I asked the twenty-something hostess for plastic cutlery to go with my take-out. She met my gaze with a blank stare.

“Cutlery?” I repeated.

Still, she looked confused.

“A fork and knife?” I mimed eating.

“Ah! Yes!” she said, offering me a sealed packet of plastic cutlery.

I must have sounded as extravagant as the upstairs elite.

It makes me uneasy that my primary care physician is younger than me. Not because I fear she lacks adequate experience, but simply because my doctor isn’t supposed to be younger than me.

It looks like a chess match is under way in my medicine cabinet there are so many bottles of supplements and prescriptions. Mammograms and colonoscopies are suddenly a thing. My knees creak. I’ve got a turkey wattle forming under my chin. The flesh where my biceps should be swings back and forth when I use a hair dryer. Where did that extra skin come from?

All I can do is try to take these realities in stride just as I must when my three-year-old tells me I look like a dinosaur and my husband tells me my hair smells like a goat.