Friday, August 28, 2009

Teenagers are stupid. I know from personal experience.

I'm not one to weave in and out of traffic and I don't believe I'm a menace to other drivers on the road. Quite the opposite, in fact. I use my blinkers, my headlights, my seat belt, and my middle finger when conditions call for it. I, however, do not use my horn since I drive a Hyundai Accent and people would just laugh at me because my little horn just sounds like a squeaky fart.

My driving record is blemished only slightly and nothing of great importance stands out. I've never hit a pole, another vehicle, or a pedestrian (on foot or on bicycle) though it is quite tempting seeing as how I work on a University campus and these students often think they own the damn place. Which, when you think about it, they kind of do. And I received a ticket today for parking in my own parking lot with an expired permit. I have a strong feeling that plowing into a jaywalking freshman who never learned to look both ways before running out in front of traffic would only get me another ticket. I can't afford any more tickets.

Getting any kind of ticket always reminds me of the first ticket I ever received. It was quite memorable. I was fifteen, unlicensed/without a permit, and driving in an empty parking lot with the owner of the car sitting in the passenger seat. It was after midnight so the darkness of the parking lot lit up like a Christmas tree when the police officer flipped on his red and blue lights. I pulled over and tried to not pee all over myself. I wasn't afraid of the officer. I was afraid of my father who happened to be the officer's boss and would find out about this little oops of mine when he went to work in a few hours.


In all honesty, I had never pulled my father's name and status to get myself out of trouble. Until this night.

Ssgt. Jabar detained me for two hours. I was never arrested, never handcuffed, and never given the opportunity to call my parents (critical mistake number one). Remember, I was only fifteen. A minor out after curfew on a military base.

I kept saying to Ssgt. Jabar, "Look, you really should let me call my father. Do you know who my father is? You don't want to do this without calling my father."

His response was, "I don't really care who your father is. I don't know him." (critical mistake number two)

Oh, but you will. Yes, sir. You soon will. And, by the way, I'm sorry my friends won't get their butts off this nearby curb and stop singing "Pigs" by Cypress Hill.

I was eventually released around 3 am to another minor and was never offered a ride home from Ssgt. Jabar. My citation was for $267.00. To a fifteen year old, that was practically my life savings. So I found a ride home, as a passenger, and walked into my house just before 3:30 in the morning. My father would be waking up in two hours to get ready for work and I figured I'd let him know the trouble I'd gotten the two of us into before he headed into the office at 7 am.

(If you know the military then you understand what I mean by "the trouble I'd gotten the two of us into". Sure, I'd been the one to get pulled over by the cops for driving without a license and being out past curfew. But everything I did reflected on my father. This was one of those infractions that would get his ass chewed out by his Commanding Officer. Military personnel have lost on-base housing privileges because of the dumb shit their kids have done. This was one of those things that fell under that category.)

I woke up my dad and he didn't seem to care. I was the only teenager living in his house at the time and, quite honestly, I was his biggest pain in the ass. He asked how much the citation was written for. I told him. He snickered at me. He then asked what was I cited for. I responded, "Driving without a license on a federal highway."

My dad jumped out of the bed and screamed, "Fuck!" and I knew I was in big trouble.

In the end, my father didn't kill me and I'm eternally grateful for that. We didn't lose our housing privileges and my father wasn't demoted. Ssgt. Jabar was invited to my house around 4 am by my father personally so that they could be formally introduced.

Ssgt. Jabar, meet your boss. I told you you'd want to give him a call. Aaaah, consequences, consequences. Ssgt. Jabar learned a lesson that night, too.

The state of Maryland didn't allow me to obtain a driver's license until I was over the age of 18. I paid the $267 to my parents since they'd paid my original citation in full. On Christmas morning in 1991, I opened a small box containing my original citation with the word "VOID" written in red ink and block letters across the entire ticket.

Awesome!, I thought.

"So when can I get my $267.00 back?", I asked my parents.

"Never! We're opening it. Merry Christmas!"


Maryland has been kind enough to erase this tiny snafu from my record. Actually, this is the only public mention of the incident and because there is nothing to back it up, officially, I could totally be making this up.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Planes, trains, and automobiles

My parents always said I was a good traveler. When I was three weeks old my father graduated from Air Force bootcamp and earned some leave time before heading to his first duty station in Lower Michigan. The drive from San Antonio to South Florida consisted of quite a few stops - not only to feed me my many bottles of the day but to also cool the radiator. This radiator was my warm bottled milk's heat source. Their stop-n-go system seemed to work out well for them (including my older brother who was about 2 1/2 years old at the time). It was my first travel experience.

Later my family would take advantage of our close proximity to the Milwaukee area by floating over to Wisconsin via the Lake Michigan ferry to visit my mother's side of the family. From what my mom tells me, she and my father spent most of the ferry ride in bed or hovering head first over a toilet from motion sickness. The rocking of the boat affected my brother, too. Apparently I was superhuman and spent many hours running around the lobby-type area of the floor while other adults played with and took care of me. It is my first travel memory.

I don't remember the flight to Italy, but the country became my home for the next four years. It was fairly cheap in those days to take the train into Venice (or anywhere in Italy, really) and spend a day walking around the city, visiting the square and listening to the string quartet while trying to avoid getting crapped on by pigeons. You were always exhausting yourself by shoving one foot in front of the other for what was probably miles and miles. The train ride home was always expected to be a time for relaxation and recovery. At least for my parents, it was expected to be. That is until I was allowed to use the train's tiny little restroom all by myself. Like a big girl. I was five years old. Damn right. I was independent and about to experience my first travel mishap.

The toilet was metal and filled with blue stuff, much like a toilet on an airplane. I remember sitting very comfortably and humming a song, because that's what cute little girls do when they're trying to be big girls by going potty all by themselves. My dress was a red and white checkered thingamabob and my shoes were brown walking shoes. Boy, I sure was cute. Especially when the train hit a bump and the metal toilet lid came down on me and pinched my ass so hard that I went tearing out of the restroom, underpants tripping me up at my ankles as I tore down the center of the train screaming for my mother and declaring, "The toilet bit me!!"

Yep, that's cute. And I haven't been on a train since.

We eventually left Italy and flew back to the United States. I was about eight years old and very attached to my Strawberry Shortcake dolls so my parents allowed me to pack them and their little pets into a carry-on case. This would obviously give me something to play with during the hours-long flight from Frankfurt, Germany, to Philadelphia. But when I say "very attached" what I really mean is "obsessed". And when the heavily armed guard at the Frankfurt airport asked me to hand over my case, I gave him a very stern "No." I even remember my father trying to coax me into handing over my dolls and I freaked out. NOBODY.TOUCHES.THE.DOLLS! After a few minutes, I won and we boarded the plane. Somehow I was seated next to an older gentleman who I found to be very nice. Until he asked to see what was in my carry-on case. Look, the guy with the high-powered rifle and ammo strapped across his chest didn't get in and neither are you, Mister!

Unfortunately, that kind of behavior would get me arrested today. I'm pretty sure the TSA and local authorities wouldn't give a rat's ass if I was only eight years old and protecting my dolls.

I've only flown twice since then. When I was fourteen, my parents booked us all on a flight to Milwaukee from Washington, DC (my then home). Because I'm obviously an anxiety-riddled traveler, my inner senses told my brain to shut down completely and, as a result, I don't remember a damn thing for nearly that entire week. Except for walking out of the Milwaukee airport after we arrived. Or drinking with my cousin and his friend one night. Or the man sitting next to me on the flight home to DC asking if I'd like to look out the window. I was so freaked out about flying that I completely blacked out (in a sense) and my body ran on auto-pilot.

That sucks. And I haven't been on a plane since.

My next opportunity did come in the form of a gift. My aunt had paid for a non-refundable ticket to fly me to Milwaukee and stay for an entire week. Another cousin of mine was getting married and I had arranged for my best friend (who'd recently moved from DC to Milwaukee) to be my "guest". I was excited. No, really, I was! My first time on a plane without my parents. ALONE. Then I remembered: I don't like planes. My anxiety attack led me to the garage at 1pm where I proceeded to smoke an entire pack of cigarettes over the next two hours. When my mother came home from work, she didn't hide how eager she was to be rid of me for the week (in that loving "Mommy will miss you but you need to go away" kind of way) by announcing we'd be leaving at four o'clock to take me to the airport.

Oh, no you won't. I could already see the little gremlin pulling apart the wires from the plane's engines and sparks were flying and setting off fires that were blowing out the power source to the plane and I was totally becoming John Lithgow. You know, from The Twilight Zone: The Movie? My parents watched me fall apart in their garage and I smoked another pack of cigarettes as I took those deep breaths that my psychiatrist had instructed me to take in between my hysterical sobbing. It was pretty evident that I wasn't getting on a plane. So I didn't.

My mother went in my place. She visited with her family, her brothers and their wives, their kids, their kids' kids. Mom had a great time. And for sixteen years I've kicked myself for not just getting on the damn plane. But you know what? I still can't do it.

So I drive. Everywhere. And I love it!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Welcome Home!

I painted my daughter's room while she was in Fort Myers. It was supposed to be a surprise. She figured it out even though I tried to play dumb and Elle wasn't the least bit surprised that I had actually done it. She was surprised, however, by the little aquarium I put in her room. Of course, there were fish in it. Guppies. Three gorgeous guppies.

One morning, about two days after she returned home, I was awakened by the sound of my bedroom door being blasted open (seemingly by bombs, but really just by a panicked little girl who tends to throw doors into walls) and the following statement being shouted into the room: "Mommy, someone chopped Tiny's tail in half!!!!!!!!"

Tiny had developed fin rot and rather than allow my daughter to feel guilty that she hadn't been a good enough Fish Mom, we took Tiny back to the pet store and exchanged him for Superman. It was Elle's first major life-or-death decision and she handled it very well. Sure, she cried. But she was promised that Tiny would receive medicine for his tail and, once he recovered in approximately two days, he would be put back into a tank and ready to be sent home with another Fish Mom.

Elle: "Will he get better if I leave him here with the Fish Doctor?"
Me: "Probably."
Elle: "Will he get better if I take him home with me?"
Me: "Probably not."
Elle: "Okay, he should stay here with the Fish Doctor."

Tears. Broken heart. Time to take Superman home.

Superman is rooming with two other guys named Manny and Happy. Those two guppies love swimming where they can be seen and they eat like they're related to cows or something. And they poop unbelievably long strands of poop that Elle and I have constantly joked that if fish could be walked around the block then they have already provided a leash. I know, gross. But the worst part is watching Superman hanging out at the bottom of the tank, getting crapped on and missing out on the comaraderie between Happy and Manny. Even when I feed them, Superman just sits in another side of the tank with his back turned to Manny and Happy while they eat and eat and eat and eat. Then poop.

I'm not quite sure what to do about Superman. And after the very recent emotional decision Elle had to make regarding Tiny, I'm concerned that something may also be wrong with Superman. His top fin looks a bit mangled and I'm convinced that he has also developed fin rot. So I've explained to Elle that Superman might be sick and that's why he isn't eating or trying to make new friends with Manny and Happy.

And if that isn't enough misery for a child, throw on top of that a stomach flu that results in three separate loads of laundry, her best friend moving away to Virginia, and not being able to go to Adventure Landing with her Uncle Buck because, well...I can hardly get her to move fast enough to make it to the toilet. So now she's back in her bed watching VeggieTales and worrying about her half-dead fish.

Oh, and school starts Monday.

Monday, August 10, 2009

A letter to y'all

My daughter is in Fort Myers for the rest of the week. It's the first time she's been away from me for more than two days and as far away as a six-hour drive. My aunt and I decided to meet halfway in Orlando so that neither of us would be stuck with the twelve hour round-trip.

During our drive from Jacksonville to Orlando this past Saturday, Elle reminded me that she had written the family a letter. Before we left the house, all of us were given strict instructions not to open it until she was long gone. I promised her that we would wait until dinner. But in the car she felt she needed to explain one part of the letter.

Elle: "I don't want Uncle and Papa in my room playing with my dolls!" *
Me: "I don't want Uncle and Papa in your room playing with your dolls either."
Elle: "Well, I'll tell you a little bit about my letter. Nana's in charge of everyone. Except for you, Mommy. You don't do anything wrong."
Me: "Thank you, dear."

The kid-exchange went rather smoothly considering I was a total trainwreck on the inside. It was all I could do to keep from flooding the city of Orlando with my anxiety-ridden tears when Elle rolled down the window to blow me a kiss and remind me to "Have fun, Mommy!"

(sniffle, sniffle)

After bawling my eyes out through downtown Orlando traffic (note to self: don't drive I-4 ever again if it can be avoided) and having a delicious mexican lunch (made by real mexicans) with my good childhood friend named Fuz (who is neither fuzzy nor mexican), I made it home. Childless. It's an odd feeling.

But...aha! She wrote us a letter!



It says:

Dear, Papa, nana, uncle and mom.
I am gonna miss yall. and I (heart) yall wen I come back. I will tell yall about My Adventures an trips. an papa an uncle. Nana will be in charge of everything exept mom. cause she does anything wrong.

I'm fixin' to teach her t'add the apostrophay to yall since she likes to use it so dern much. Phew...I sure do miss that kid, even though she insists I'll do anything wrong. Good thing she explained it all to me in the car first...y'know, so my feelin's an' such woon't be hurtin' an' all.

* My brother and father don't play with Elle's dolls. It's an inside joke. Yeah, I'm pretty sure it's an inside joke. *

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Is there a "How To Deal With A Pervert" manual out there?

A few years ago I worked part-time at the local college library. They paid me a decent hourly wage, gave me $65,000 to spend on books and materials to fill their shelves, and handed me the opportunity to go to college for free. This particular library was both a college library and a public library so not only did I get to interact with students, I had the pleasure of working with many different types of people.

Ken and his wife were avid kayakers and constantly visited with one of our library employees (also named Ken) to share their kayaking tales. Lynnette was like Supermom to her three young children in tow (and one on the way) who always returned their books on time and never failed to use their manners. Brandon, one of our nicest college students, was constantly getting failing grades on his composition assignments and visited with our tutor nearly everyday. There was a Sunday School teacher who liked to scream obscenities at our computers alot. Then there was Rinaldo.

Rinaldo was very friendly but a little different, though how different we wouldn't know until much later. For months he would bring in his little girl (we'll call her Jenny) and chat with the staff for a bit before taking Jenny to the children's section. Jenny would collect a few books for herself and sit patiently, usually for hours at a time, while Rinaldo used one of the public library's computers and wasted the day away.

Now I feel I can justifiably say that Rinaldo wasted his day because he had already explained to me many, many times that his wife was the breadwinner and they comfortably decided he would be the one to stay home with the kids (besides Jenny, there were two older boys). His wife also spent alot of time out of town on business but during her periods of in-town business, Rinaldo took advantage of his free time and opted to volunteer as a nude model at Jacksonville University. He oftentimes apologized for forgetting his portfolio as he believed that I, a fellow creative-type, would be highly interested in seeing him in his birthday suit.

Um, no thanks. For the tenth time.

Eventually, the library staff began to notice some questionable content popping up on the corner-facing computers he preferred to use (location, location, location!) and decided to start checking each computer's history after he left every day. There was alot of PORN and nobody was really surprised. However, politics came into play as we had to report these findings to the public library staff. Other public library branches would not allow such generous access on their computers but because our library also served the college population, no blocks were ever permitted to be installed. The reason being this: If a nursing student needs to look up sexually transmitted disease, then that student needs to see and read everything related to sexually transmitted diseases. This includes pictures of boobies and vajayjays.

We warned Rinaldo that he really needed to cut the crap, to be a little more considerate of the fact that other people were being exposed to the same perverted scenes he so thoroughly enjoyed watching on the computer. He would become embarrassed, apologize profusely, then take his little girl home until the next day. This went on for about a week. Finally, we did another history search and found a porn site that just sent our head librarian over the edge. It wasn't kiddie porn but it may as well have been. The adults involved in this porn site were dressed up as if they were little kids. And that's sick as shit. When Rinaldo and Jenny showed up the next day, they were turned away and told to never return or he would be trespassed. I hated to send that little girl home with him as our suspicions had worsened, but there was nothing we could do.

So you can imagine my disgust when I took my daughter to her gymnastics class on Tuesday night and saw him, Rinaldo, sitting on the waiting room couch, watching Jenny (and every other little girl, including my daughter!) do her warm-ups. We quickly acknowledged each other's presence but didn't exchange a word. He knew better. I bit my tongue and wondered what I should do about this, if anything. Of course he has every right to be there, to watch his daughter enjoy the companionship and plain good fun of learning gymnastics with other little girls. Except I have already seen what goes through this man's mind when he sees other little girls, or legal-aged girls pretending to be little girls. I wanted to kick him in the nads and drag his ass into the parking lot and let every mother in the room have a swing at him. It will be interesting to see if he returns next week.

What would you do? I'm really curious to know how other people might react to something like this. While a part of me wants to tell every parent who is also there with their child, another part of me wants to believe that he simply leaves his fantasies at the computer. Am I overreacting? Am I giving him too much of the benefit of the doubt?