Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bring The Car Back Around, Please: Driver's Re-Education

Approximately eleventy hundred years ago, when I was sixteen, high schools offered Drivers' Education classes.  A whole herd of us paid our forty dollars to the secretary, handed over our parent-signed cards, and made plans to show up from 6:30 until 9:00 in the evening for as long as it took to fulfill the requirement and "get our temps."  I got mine, no problem (except for the gruesome movies of car accidents with people's blood foaming out of their mouths like cherry Icee).  I went out for my driving time with a strange old lady instructor whose idea of driving practice was to do all of her errands:  we picked up her dry cleaning, went to the post office, drove by her bridge partner's house to see if she was home, and once, even dropped off a little brown bag containing what we later found out was her stool sample to the hospital lab.  I shared a car with Esther, and we tried not to laugh as we drove and drove and drove.

And after all of that, I sort of...stuck.  My parents didn't feel the same urgency I felt to get me out on the road, let alone get my permanent license.  It was incredibly frustrating.  I asked them both to take me out driving.  "Oh, not now, maybe later," they'd say.  If we were in the car coming home from school, church, an errand, I'd say, "Hey, let me drive home!"  And Mom or Dad would say, "Next time."

Next time never came.  I had to renew my temporary license every six months to keep it current, and I did, three times.  Three times!  Before you laud my Patience, don't.  It was Spite.  Pure, unadulterated Spite.  It cost them time, inconvenience, and whatever the fee was each time I renewed.  And I was hoping it kept reminding them A) that I had yet to have a driver's license; B) this was ridiculous; and C) they were wasting time and money.

Suddenly, The Time came.  And when I say Suddenly, that is precisely what I mean.  One day, my (not yet canonized) mother said, "Nance, your father and I are planning our vacation up to eastern Canada.  We'll be leaving on the same day you start your classes at community college.  So!  You're going to need to get your license.  I'll practice with you, and your brother will help you with parallel parking."  I had mere weeks.

Mere weeks and the family cars, which consisted of a 1967 Chevy Impala and two 1969 Buick LeSabres, all fine for driving, but not so nifty to parallel park.  But this wouldn't be a problem, my mother assured me.  We would borrow a car belonging to my sister's roommate!  It was a Chevy Nova, small and easy to park.  Did she need it during the week?  Yes, but she would be happy to trade cars for the weekend so that I could practice with it.

I was overwhelmed by all the machinations and arrangements.  I felt pressured by the deadline.  Still, the final result would be that I WOULD HAVE MY DRIVER'S LICENSE.  At age eighteen, every single one of my friends had been driving for years.  Years!  And I was always their passenger, forking over gas money and thanking them for rides.  If all went well, those days would be over.

My mother, to be fair, is an excellent driver, far better than my father ever was.  Dad saw most traffic laws as guidelines when it came to his own driving.  He coasted through stop signs if he saw no one coming, and he was turning right on red decades before it became permissible by law.  He invented the wide left turn.  As a matter of fact, his left turns were so very wide that once, when he was taking the dog to the park for a run and Dusty was perched with her front paws on the edge of the open window, he turned left down 33rd Street and she fell right out of the car.  Dad told us later, "As soon as I saw what happened, I pulled the car over and got out.  There she was, just sitting on the tree lawn, looking up at me.  I felt all of her legs and her back to make sure she wasn't hurt.  I felt terrible.  I had her walk a little bit, and she was fine.  So we got back in the car, and she ran in the park like usual.  From now on, I'll have to keep that window at least halfway up."  And it was a stop street, too.

But I digress.

Mom and I practiced driving, mostly in the blue Buick.  Which was unsatisfying because not only was the cable to the speedometer loose, rendering the speedometer unreliable, but also because said cable produced a constant chirping noise that drove me jaw-clenching crazy.  When we got the little yellow Nova, I practiced driving and parallel parking, the latter eluding me completely.  My brother was the Soul Of Patience, but I have no sense of spatial relationship.  "Use your mirrors," he kept reminding me helpfully.  "For what, for what?!" I kept crying inside my head.  There was something about thirds and something else about something, and I was ready to hit everything I saw at full ramming speed.  It was all the worst.

But it had to be done, and I had to take my test.  I did, and I failed parallel parking.  I hit a cone practically the minute I put the car into reverse.  I didn't dissolve into tears because it was exactly what I had expected.  What I didn't expect was the reception I received once I got home and Mom and Dad wanted a confab with me in the kitchen.  What it amounted to was this:  D Day (Departure Day) was fast approaching, and I was kind of tossing a monkey wrench in their vacation machinery.  I would therefore need to call the BMV ASAP and schedule another test.

So much for sympathy.  And wallowing.  I remember feeling very put upon. Things didn't get any better when I called to get my testing appointment.  There weren't any available for the next two weeks.  I needed one well before then.  The clerk checked in other cities.  "We have one available in Sandusky next Saturday.  How is that?"  I booked it and thanked her and went to tell my parents that someone would have to drive me forty-five minutes west in order for me to try and pass a parallel parking test so that they could go to Canada the following Monday.

My dad took me.  It was ungodly early, and he drove (of course), so I slept.  My test administrator was a kind woman with blond braids.  I must have looked like I wanted to chew my limbs off or something because she said, "Try to relax and take your time.  There is no time limit for this.  You can take an hour if you need to, okay?  You can do it."  I had never heard anything so ridiculous in my life; I was certain of it.  There was no way I could do it.  Then I was seized with an astonishing realization.  I could name about a dozen kids I knew who were a lot stupider than I was who had gotten their license.  Kids who were real idiots.  How hard could this be?  I took a deep breath and started the car.  What followed probably looked like a super slow motion YouTube video of a one hundred-year old woman trying to parallel park a car.  For approximately seven minutes.  It was gut-wrenching and epic.  It was nerve-wracking and suspenseful.  It was so intensely...intense that my knuckles ached and my head hurt.  I passed.  I passed, and the blond-braided woman simply patted me on the back and said, "Great job!"

We walked into the test center and she nodded and smiled at my dad.  I wanted to collapse into a knot of bones and sweat, but I couldn't.  My knees wouldn't bend anymore.  So I tottered over to get my picture taken and sign my Real Driver's License.  My picture looked like I wanted to throw up.  Probably because I did.

Without even asking, I knew to climb back into the passenger seat for the trip back home.  I had a headache anyway.  I didn't drive again until it was time to go to school, and on the first day of classes, I locked my keys in the car.  Driving became a chore for me; I hated it and almost feared it.  My poor sense of direction compounded my distaste, and I wondered why anyone drove at all, beyond necessity.

My dislike of driving continued until my husband gave me a GPS as a gift.  That one small device took away my fear of being endlessly lost.  When I stopped working, that took away my distraction and stress.  I gave myself a road test, a solo trip to visit friends in Virginia.  I passed.

Now, driving is freedom to me.  I chauffeur St. Patsy around, do all the shopping, run errands, and go meet friends all over the place.  When I hear stories about elderly people who fight against giving up their driver's licenses, I empathize.  I understand what it will mean for them.  Waiting.  A whole lot of waiting.  And being on someone else's schedule.  Feeling like a kid again.  Giving up.  All terrible feelings that I can remember.

Our early experiences go on to shape us later in life.  What I've been happy to learn is that those attitudes and interpretations don't have to be forever.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A New Feature: Dear Nance

Surprisingly, a number of people click my email link and ask me for my opinion and advice on many wide-ranging topics.  Maybe not so surprisingly--I'm way cheaper than seeing a therapist or life coach.  I offer anonymity (if it's sought), and because I have nothing to lose, they are going to get an unvarnished reply to whatever question they submit to me.

Here are a few that landed in my Inbox.  I'm of course going to keep their identities a secret.

Dear Nance,

I'm not sure why I'm writing to you, other than a friend of a friend gave me your email.  I mean, you're not sports oriented at all, but maybe that will be good in that you'll have a more objective perspective.

I was in my first Olympics when I was really young.  I did okay, but I wanted the gold medals.  Since then, I have been chasing that Olympic dream.  I train and train so that every four years, I can compete.  I've been in several as a result, and I did get gold.  Now I'm plagued by injury and have had to drop out of competitions due to constant surgeries and rehabs.  Basically, I don't think it's entirely fair that I should have to qualify for the Olympic team.  My past history and performance is on the record.  Why shouldn't my spot be a given?  Let these newbies have to qualify for the remaining spots.  Do you see what I mean?  Sochi may be my last shot, and if my knees hold out, I deserve to go.

Dynasty Athlete

Dear DA,

Let me tell you a little story.  Back in 1981 when I got my teaching degree, I had a hell of a time getting my first job.  I finally got my foot in the door, subbing for a teacher who had been there a long time.  So long, in fact, that she had trouble getting around and problems in general.  So her schedule kept her in the same room all day, teaching the same thing all day.  Her duty was hall duty right outside her room.  Unheard of for a high school assignment.  She retired only because she became legally blind.  Fast forward thirty-three years later. I am retired, but the English teacher my husband had in tenth grade is still teaching.  The teacher the district hired to replace me is long gone, cut due to budget concerns.  But my husband's former sophomore teacher is still there, going on year eleventy million.  So, no.  I don't see what you mean.  You make millions in endorsements.  You are taking someone else's spot.  Grow up and get a real job.  You are a selfish, stunted child who is afraid to face the real world.

Dear Nance,

I'm sick and tired of my hair.  When I was working, I truly did not have time to do anything with it even though I could certainly afford to have any stylist I wanted come to my office or home and give me a cut and blow-dry.  Besides, I felt like it would reflect poorly on my sense of priorities at the time.  Now, as a private citizen, (at least for now) I can do pretty much whatever I want.  I'm still in the public eye, so I can't do a big change, but I want a transitional look that will soften my features a little.  Can you suggest anything?  Oh, and just in case I decide to get back into public life in a big way, I need it to be able to look very capable and businesslike easily.

Thank you,
Party Grrl

Dear PG,

So easy!  Feather it around the front a little and go for bangs.  Not a heavy London Girl fringe, just a soft light bang that can easily grow into a sideswept, then off the forehead look.  Later, when you grow out more, you can work into a French twist with a few tendrils.  You know, feminine but capable.  Like, Red Phone Capable.

Dear Nance,

I hate my job.  Well, not so much my job, but mainly the people I work with.  Some of them are just plain awful.  If I say yes, they say no.  If I say it's up, they say it's down.  If I say we have to have more money for something, they say we have to cut out money for something else.  It's ridiculous.  It's like they hate me on principle.  What did I ever do to deserve this?  I can't get anything done with these people around.  And the worst thing is, I'll get judged by the work these people do.  The whole thing is lousy.  Thank goodness I only have a little more time left, and then I'll never have to work here again.  Ever.

Counting Down

Dear CD,

Didn't your parents ever teach you to stand up to bullies?  If they didn't, certainly you saw it on "The Brady Bunch" or "Leave It to Beaver" reruns or the holiday film "A Christmas Story."  If your co-workers hate you on principle, then you have nothing to lose.  Start with that as your reality and lead from there.  They're going to spin negative everything you do, so do everything!  Don't be like the Puritans.  The Puritans believed in Predestination, the idea that God had decided at birth whether a person would go to Heaven or to Hell, and no amount of good works or evildoing would change that destiny.  Now, to our modern way of thinking, why didn't the Puritans live sinfully and play hard and fornicate day and night since their behaviour did not determine the destination of their souls?  Instead, they tried to live lives of strict purity and goodness and deprivation, hard work and prayer.  Why?  It didn't matter; it wouldn't influence God.  So, CD, don't live your life like it's 1634.  It's 2014.  Get in there and mix it up.  Show those bullies who's boss and bully a little yourself.  Knock some metaphorical heads and make some deals.  Call in some markers.  Leverage, CD.  Use your remaining time as Leverage.

What fun, right, Readers?  Do you have anything to add?  Who else do you think needs my advice?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Today Is The Day That Walgreens Has A Deal For You! Bring A Red Pen, Though.

I had another post in the works, but my daughter Kait snapped this shot for me at a Walgreens, and I could not--no, I dare not--make it wait.

How--please, do tell me--how does one go so terribly, horribly wrong like this?  I mean, really, not even close.  Where is the L ?  Was he or she making a sign for candles and suddenly his/her boss said, "Hey!  How many times I gotta axe you?  Get that calendar sign made and up, like right now!"?  And in his/her panic, this sign was unfortunately born?  Why is it still here?  And, most importantly, since this is Jared's favourite Walgreens, why has he not done something about it?

I'm worried that this sort of thing is epidemic among Walgreens stores.  My local Walgreens constantly misspells words on their marquee sign out front, and I am continually having to call them to gently bring it to their attention.  My kind admonition remains:  Look at the item in front of you. Likely it has the word ON IT.  USE IT AS YOUR GUIDE.

And how many of us are appreciating the kind placement of the Cleveland Browns travel mugs above said candendars?  "Hey!  You know what day it is?  The day you buy a Cleveland Browns travel mug to go with your puppy-, landscape-, Hello Kitty-, lighthouse-, horse-, kitten-, or floral-themed candendar! YESSSS!"

Full price on those, though.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

So Sorry, But There Was A Snow Ban In Effect, And My Mantra Stopped Working

Listen, I don't even know what to say.  I mean, I literally do not know what I'm going to say in this post; I'm putting something up here because it's way past time and I feel obligated and ashamed.  This could be terrible, it could be wonderful, it could be horrifying--neither of us knows how it will all turn out.

I suggest alcohol, perhaps a nice glass of cabernet or maybe a good martini.  Two olives in case things get long-winded and you need a little snack.  Okay.  Let's go.

1.  The Dept. got all the way to Christmas Eve, and I thought we were home free, but then no, the dishwasher refused to drain.  Rick came home from work, took some stuff apart, cleaned some gunk out of some stuff, tried it again, but alas!  No compliance.  I Googled for remedies, watched some YouTube videos (how boring that was, let me tell you), then resorted to My Plan B.  I stood right in front of it and called it out for the Betrayor it was.  And I called into question its lineage as a goddam Frigidaire, which we never should have bought anyway, may they burn in hell.  Then, after totally humiliating it, I called the appliance store where we buy everything that fails us, and they sent out a repairman--who remembered working on our icemaker during Thanksgiving last year...or was it the year before?  It's all a blur.  Anyway, he fixed it easily, and well before my family party.

2.  Which leads me to what became my new Holiday Philosophy.  A couple nights before Christmas Eve, a house near us simply exploded.  Completely. (It was later traced to a gas leak from the furnace.)  Luckily, it was vacant, a rental that was without tenants and on the market.  Shockingly, the house next door to it had to be torn down a few hours afterward because its second floor had come crashing partway down into the first floor as a result of the concussion.  The people inside had no way to extract any of their belongings upstairs or in the part of the first floor that had been structurally compromised.  Imagine sitting in your home, cozily watching TV, your Christmas tree shining brightly at 9:45 PM, then a huge explosion blows your windows out, and by 1:00 AM, you have no house, no Christmas, and over half of your belongings are gone forever.  I was completely overwhelmed by the idea of it.  So when my dishwasher gave out, I said, "At least my house didn't explode."  And that became my mantra for anything that blipped my radar.  Everything pales by comparison.

3.  But I have to admit that my New Mantra and I are getting Sorely Tested lately by this Effing Snow, which is relentless and overwhelming and quite honestly, getting Personal.  It just KEEPS SNOWING AND FOR NO REASON.  We don't really need it, thank you, as we have right now an Overabundance Of Snow.  Eight inches is plenty for anyone, and that crap is EVERYWHERE.  For two days it kept me in the house because of blizzardy conditions and JUST SO MUCH SNOW EVERYPLACE.  And, just for the record, No, it is NOT PRETTY.  It is TREACHEROUS AND, IN CASE YOU ARE UNAWARE, FROZEN.  This kind of snow makes me housebound and, therefore, Mushbrained.  The more it snows, the stupider I get.  Just yesterday, I lost track of my phone about eleventy hundred times.  And I was only on the first floor of the house.  And I was irked because the Cats are No Help.  It's only going to get worse; a bigass storm is forecast for Sunday which will bring MORE SNOW.  And BELOW ZERO TEMPERATURES.  I would cry, except that it would be Truly Shameful.  I had a blissful Christmas in my home which is intact.  Sigh.

4.  Rick and I were roundly criticized by the boys for having boring Christmas gift idea lists.  Sam especially was disgusted.  Finding himself a little more flush this year, he was finally looking forward to getting presents for the family.  In a text message discussion with Jared, he compared notes about shopping for his dad.  Jared, ever the dutiful son, told Sam that I had suggested some warm sweaters or sweatpants.  Instantly by return text Sam said, "Fuck that.  I'm getting Dad a bear shooting game and a gun for his Wii."  Of course he did, and there has been an endless parade of dead, bloody animals across my television ever since.  Thank goodness Downton Abbey starts tomorrow.

That's enough, I think.  How are all of you?  Resolute?  Virtuous?  Warm and balmy?  Most importantly, have you a good idea where your phone is right now?  Check in.

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