Monday, October 26, 2009

Is That a Banana on the Bus or Is It Just Happy to See Me?

Ahh, Halloween, the holiday that conjures up visions of giddy young children frolicking about the neighborhood in search of the one house dishing out full-sized candy bars and average adults dressed up like dead celebrities.

Children high on Nerds and Tootsie Pops are darling and all, and I love an army of teenage mutant transforming X-men marching up and down my street as much as the next mom, almost as much as I cannot wait to see the thrilling throng of Michael Jacksons sure to moonwalk their way around town this year.

But it is revelers like my brother, Otis, who help make Halloween one of my favorite holidays.

Otis lives the happy life of a hot and happenin’ 30-ish-year-old in Chicago. He has a great job, lives a few blocks from Wrigley Field, and can play guitar as late as he wants every night of the week, for Otis has no wife, no fiancĂ©, no live-in girlfriend. (He is a catch, ladies.)

Last year for Halloween, Otis decided (at the last minute, because when one is single one can do anything one chooses on a moment’s notice) (from what I recall) to attend a Halloween party downtown.

Wearing a banana suit, of course, because he lives alone, with no one around to talk him out of it.

Taking a cab from Wrigleyville in a banana suit on Halloween was not a problem. The cabbie did not question him. In fact, he hardly seemed to notice.

Attending a party dressed like a King-Kong-sized banana was not a problem either. Sure, he may have stood out among last year’s many Sarah Palins, but after a few goblets of witch’s brew I imagine he began to blend right in.

No, the problem came the next morning when Otis, still dressed as a banana, woke up at a (female) friend’s house, nowhere near his home. His friend did not pass judgment on Otis for staying overnight on her couch wrapped up in a yellow foam – and surprisingly realistic-looking – peel. That is a true friend. A truer friend would have discretely driven Otis back to his car, but this friend did not own transportation.

The best she could do was loan Otis $2.25 for the bus and send him on his way.

Otis contemplated his next move. While the $2.25 was most helpful, as Otis had left his wallet behind at one of the haunts from the night before, a change of clothes might have come in just as handy.

For some reason, however, the thought of changing into a girl’s clothes was out of the question. That would have completely stripped my brother of his dignity.

And so off to the bus stop Otis went, wearing black tights, a black t-shirt, and an overgrown banana peel.

He arrived at the stop just as the bus was pulling away, taunting him into running after it, waving his arms and yelling, unconcerned with the stares he was receiving on the streets of Chicago in the early hours of November 1st.

Fortunately the bus slowed down, and Otis, the Man-Sized Banana, hopped on, breathing heavy from the short run and was greeted by a busload of awe-struck passengers and one crying toddler.

“They started yelling at me to slow down for the banana,” the bus driver said, pointing to the people behind him.

Otis chose a seat near the middle.

One passenger was sympathetic to his plight, though. A young guy who leaned across the aisle to Otis and simply patted him on the back saying, “It’s okay, man. Everyone’s done the banana walk of shame at some point.”

I like to think there is a special place in heaven for people like Sympathetic Bus Guy.

So remember this year, when November 1st rolls around, to be kind to those still in costume from the night before. For you know not their struggles. But feel free to photograph, otherwise no one will believe your story. Which is why I have just one more detail to add before bidding you a happy, happy Halloween:

Monday, October 19, 2009

Does Not Compute

“Welcome to Seventh Grade Algebra,” Mrs. Houston began. I had been looking forward to Parent Night at the junior high ever since putting Ellie on the bus earlier this fall.

Ellie had been kind enough to let me not only walk her to the bus stop the first day of school, but take her picture at the corner while waiting for the bus as well. Unfortunately the bus showed up a little earlier than scheduled, and I had to leap behind a bush – camera in hand – to avoid being spotted by a busload of seventh graders.

(Ducking behind the bush in the early morning hours wearing my jammies and holding a camera was not nearly as embarrassing as jumping back out after the bus had passed, startling and confusing my poor neighbor who happened to be jogging by that very spot at that very moment.)

Junior High got a lot easier after that first morning, with the exception of one class.

Seventh Grade Algebra.

“Your child has been recommended for this class because he or she excels at math,” she continued.

This statement might have had some element of truth, but just the night before, Ellie and I had both cried over her algebra homework. Neither of us knew what the textbook wanted out of us, and I ended up Googling the instructions for her calculator.

Until then, I had considered myself to be quite bright.

“You should be proud of your child for falling into this category,” she said. “These are the students who will likely go on to be engineers or physicists.”

Physicist? Ellie? I thought. She told me she wants to be a fashion designer...

“Many of these students are smarter than I am,” she explained.

Oh, crap.

“… work for NASA someday… “ umm, Mrs. Houston? We have a problem “… go on to promising careers as adults.”


Mrs. Houston seemed oblivious to my dropped jaw and furled brows. “This class puts them on track to be finished with college statistics before they ever even enroll in college.”

She isn’t going to need college statistics to design the skinny jeans of the future. She only needs to be able to convert inches to yards…

“… a lot like Doogie Howser… “

Maybe figure square footage…

“… keep them challenged… “

Like Tim Gunn or Heidi Klum?

“We will cover exponential expression, convergent sequence, and harmonic mean,” she said, as if they were Christmas presents I should look forward to opening. I quickly scanned the room and realized I was the only parent who had lost all coloring in her face.

“… compete in national mathematic… “

… but she’s a real blonde…

“… really, really, really smart… “

… and cute…

“… motivated… “

… and likes makeup…

“… genius level… “


Fortunately Mrs. Houston could not read my thoughts nearly as well as she seemed to be able to integrate and differentiate (I have no clue what that means).

And, as it stands right now, my real genius is pulling a B in the class by sheer willpower and has had exactly one boy ask her over to watch “Star Wars” and play with Legos, confirming that my daughter is in way over her head.

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Fall Line-Up

"We need to talk," Dave began with a long sigh after putting the kids to bed last week.

I had suspected this would be coming for some time now. After avoiding the topic all summer, the time to address it had arrived. We had some very big decisions to make.

“You know as well as I do that we have to stop trying to take on more than we can handle,” he said. And he was right. For months we have been trying to juggle entirely too much as a couple.

“So, where do we start?” I asked. Conversations like this are never easy.

“You have to let go of ‘Glee,’” he said apologetically.

Reprogramming our TiVo. We take it very seriously.

“Dave, I really think we can do it,” I was already getting emotional. “’Prison Break’ ended months ago.”

“I can’t believe that show lasted three years,” he said. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was four.

“I broke free from ‘Desperate Housewives’ in 2008,” I reasoned.

“Really? Because you’re starting to sound a little desperate to me right now,” he replied.

“And ‘24’ won’t start up again until January. We have plenty of time for ‘Glee!’”

“One more season of ‘24’ and we will have officially spent a solid week of our lives watching Jack Bauer save the world,” he said, “and you are forgetting that we’ve also picked up ‘Dexter’ and ‘Chelsea Lately’ since then.”

“But Chelsea’s more of a filler,” I reminded him, “for re-run weeks, you know? That leaves us 26 weeks we could watch ‘Glee.’”

“Honey we’ve had the ‘Glee’ pilot saved since mid-September and are only 15 minutes into it.”

“That’s because you fell asleep,” I tried not to roll my eyes.

“So, why do you think I would stay awake next time?” He posed a good question.

DA-boop! went our TiVo, and gone was “Glee.”

“That’s fine, I said, but don’t take away ‘Modern Family,’” I pleaded. “I haven’t related to characters this much since Paul and Jamie Buchman back in the ‘90’s.”

“Plus,” I added, “I can’t let another season go by without adding a new show. We missed out on ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Weeds,’ and ‘Grey’s.’ I can’t let something so socially tragic as that happen again, and I'm not waiting for the midseason replacements to do it!”

“Fine, we add ‘Modern Family,’” he said with the push of a button.

Ba-DOOP! Yesss! “Modern Family” survives!

(Great show, if you haven’t caught it yet, btw.)

He continued to scroll through our list.


“Don’t you dare—“

“I’m just kidding!” he laughed as he continued scrolling down our “to-do” list. “We’re definitely keeping ’30 Rock,’ ‘SNL,’ and ‘The Office,’” he said, as if NBC were cutting a check each week to do so.

“Duh,” I replied. How does one become a Nielson Family, I wondered to myself? Talk about a job I was made for…

My thought was interrupted. “’Project Runway?!?’”

“It’s for the girls,” I lied. Not really, though. I’m a girl too…

“Wait a minute,” I said, pointing to the screen, “How many ESPN’s are there?”

“It’s for Fantasy Football,” he explained. As if that made it right. And I was just about to lecture him on the difference between fantasy and reality when he uncovered a secret little indulgence of my own.

’My Antonio?’” he raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, I, uh, I have no idea how that got there,” I said, which actually was a complete lie this time. It got there because I put it there. On purpose. And I love it. Antonio Sabato, Jr.? Looking for love in Hawaii? If I didn’t have a husband, four kids, and a modicum of pride and self-worth, I would be all over the man once known as Jagger Cates. But since I do have said qualities, I’m totally pulling for Brooke.

Don’t judge me.


(I must have said that last part out loud.)

(No worries, though. I’m adding it back as soon as he leaves for work today.)

(Antonio is down to his final three; I’ll keep you posted!)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Ringing my Cowbell

Tuesday is my birthday.

It seems that the more of these I have, the simpler my wish list becomes. The list that used to be filled with Fashion Plates, roller skates, neon bracelets, and a Bruce Springsteen poster has been whittled down to just a few items: peace, quiet, and for someone to ring my bell.

The October I turned six, my parents treated me to a birthday party at Happy Joe’s Pizza Shoppe (with an “e”). Surrounded by friends and a pitcher or two of Pepsi, we ate, laughed, and burped and watched table after table of giggly birthday kids receive the royal treatment from the Happy Joe’s staff, who presented each birthday boy and girl with a cake, ice cream, and a song, accompanied by (most importantly) a cowbell.

Yes, even at that tender age, I understood the importance of the cowbell.

After eating all the pizza and opening all the presents, it was little Jules’ turn for the restaurant serenade.

The wait staff paraded out with a chocolate and whipped-cream coated masterpiece, ice cream, and candles. They sang, they clapped, they cheered.

But they did not ring the bell.

Let me repeat, no cowbell.

Suddenly the cake, the presents, the pizza, the ice cream, the candles, the decorations lost all meaning, and the happy little birthday girl was morphed into the birthday diva, throwing a fit that would make Whitney Houston shake in her platform boots.

Pre-Kabala Madonna could not have made as much of a scene.

Even Kanye West would not have dared steal the moment, as I refused to breathe on, much less blow out, the candles atop my whipped-cream-and-chocolate-covered-with-a-cherry-on-top cake until that poor wait staff marched their suspender-clad selves back out to our table and did it up right.

With. A. Bell.

For the rest of my life, no matter what I do, no matter who or how I serve my fellow mankind, I will never live that down --- at least, not as long as my parents, who bore the burden of their ungrateful, demanding firstborn crying out loud about this grave injustice to the patrons in the restaurant, are still alive.

And so, in my ongoing, life-long effort to redeem myself as an “others-centered” human being, I would like to ask you all to ring – not my bell – but that of my BFF, Wheels, this week for my birthday.

Wheels is running her fifth marathon in the past three years. “Why would anyone ever do that?” you may ask. Knowing that until 2006, when she had found herself separated (from her alcoholic ex-husband) (with three children) (ages 3 weeks to 3 ½ years at the time), she had never even run to catch a bus, I often ask the same thing.

Her answer every time? Her three beautiful boys, all of whom - ALL of whom - have been diagnosed with Autism.

Wheels is getting ready to run this fifth and final marathon to raise money and awareness for the Organization for Autism Research (OAR).

But Wheels not only runs, she laughs. She laughs fully and often and easily. (And she has great legs and an enviable rack too, but that’s not the point.) As she is quick to point out:

Autism may serve me a drink that’s half-empty, but my glass is always half full. For example:

Half-empty: My son can’t talk.

Half-full: My son can’t sass me.

Half-empty: My son will only wear purple shirts.

Half-full: I don’t stress about his school clothes everyday.

Half-empty: My son arranges his toys in rows.

Half-full: The playroom is very tidy.

Half-empty: My son isn’t mindful of his successes.

Half-full: My son isn’t mindful of his failures.

Half-empty: My son watches the same movie repeatedly.

Half-full: My son is very easy to please.

Half-empty: My sons attend 14 therapy sessions a week.

Half-full: I am never bored.

Half-empty: My son can’t use scissors.

Half-full: My son can’t cut his brother’s hair.

Half-empty: My son can’t read the newspaper.

Half-full: He thinks the world is wonderful.

Half-empty: There is no known cure for Autism.

Half-full: There will be.

So this year, all I ask for my 30-something-th birthday is that anyone who has ever gotten a lift or a chuckle from my weekly bell-ringing take the time to check out her page, read her story, and maybe even kick in a few dollars if you are so inclined.

(Click Here)

In exchange, I promise with all of my heart to never go all diva again.