Tuesday, January 29, 2008

San Diego, Dude

I fell in love with San Diego the moment my feet first hit curbside at the airport in 1998.

There was a conference going on for a company I formerly worked at and the guy I was seeing at the time (who worked there) convinced me it would be a great idea to tag along so I could see everyone. That trip was possibly the one good thing that came out of our relationship so I will forever be grateful that I went.

My flight, after an unplanned overnight in New Jersey and subsequent upgrade to first class, arrived a day after the conference began. I missed the company shuttle service to the hotel.

At the time I was twenty five years old and in the furthest geographical point from my home that I had ever been alone. But it was an area of the country I had wanted to explore for eleven years and I could not contain my excitement!

I stepped outside the airport, lit up a smoke, and pulled on my sunglasses, mentally recording every millisecond of my experience in the most wonderful city on earth.

Moments in my life that carry some kind of nostalgic meaning always stand out. I can recall even the strangest details related to the experience. For example, I'll never forget what I was wearing that day - a business casual outfit screaming “soccer mom” long before the term had been coined as a thing.

My taupe, ribbed, sweater paired with khaki pants and brown boots. The pants had a skinny ankle and the sweater had three mock, mother of pearl buttons just below the v-neck. To complete the look I tied a peach, floral scarf around my neck, wore small pearl earrings and the one piece of jewelry I always wore when traveling solo – my huge fake engagement ring.

As I stood there, looking like a flight attendant from 1988, smoking a Marlboro red, and way too young to have a fiancé, I took the first breath of air in my life.

Upon extinguishing my smoke I had to find alternate transportation to my hotel and there were plenty of shuttle vans available. The van I settled on was white and I don't recall the company but the driver is another detail of the trip I'll never forget.

He was loading luggage for a few passengers so I approached and asked if he could get me to my hotel. He glanced into the van at the other passengers and asked if I would mind taking the ride to Poway first. Not knowing what Poway was I said sure and climbed in.

Everyone started chatting before we even left the airport and I was shocked, but excited, by how friendly everyone was. A far cry from the guarded personalities back in my hometown of Boston.

One couple just got back from an anniversary vacation and a single guy, who was dropped downtown first, yakked our ears off the whole way. Poway, I quickly discovered, was a town a short distance away and would be where we dropped the couple.

To get there we exited the city and headed into more mountainous regions. The drive was amazing, I wished I'd taken my camera out of my suitcase to snap some shots of the breathtaking views and scenery we rode through. Even after this many years I can still see those vistas. It makes me smile just to imagine being there.

We dropped the couple at their house and I remember thinking it would be hard to navigate through that neighborhood after a night of drinking. Every house looked exactly the same. Another thing my nor'east 'hood was lacking. The driver asked if I wanted to hop up front instead of riding in the back alone and I said sure.

Before pulling away my driver introduced himself and extended a hand for me to shake. I smiled, shook his hand and introduced myself. He smiled back and we were on the road.

This man had a name I always associated with girls, not boys, but since I don't have his permission to use it, let's call him Casey.

Casey had sun kissed, shoulder length, brown hair, and was wearing a white button up shirt in thin cotton that only had a couple buttons done at the bottom. Like he ran out of time getting to work and just said screw it.

Tight jeans and a funky necklace completed his distinctive California look. He had a sweet and genuine smile, a warm laugh and a killer tan. The moment I laid eyes on him I pegged him as a surfer and there was no question he was a hottie.

Moments in my past involving adorable men who had that much confidence usually all ended the same way – I was too shy (or too monogamous) to do anything about it no matter how much I wanted to try to flirt.

On my way to meet up with my then boyfriend meant  it was one of those monogamous times. I decided to just enjoy his cuteness for as long as I had him and filed him away in my memory bank of guys I didn’t screw it up with. He'd thankfully remain tan and perfect forever.

Once we were safely away from the couple’s front door, Casey asked me if I wanted to get high.

There I was looking more straight-edge than a pot head but he pegged it dead on. A nice pull off a joint was exactly what I needed at that moment. I mean, how could I possibly have said no? I was in California, sunshine as bright as my scarf, and a van with a super cute surfer-slash-shuttle bus driver.

After we smoked we chatted away about our wildly different coasts until, seemingly too soon, we pulled up to the front door of my hotel.

This is the part where bold, single girls ask the cute surfer to hang out while they check in so they can spend the afternoon riding around town, seeing all the sights, while he shuttles back & forth before ending the day in a perfect California sunset. But as I already established, I've never been one of those girls.

Instead, I settled for a business card, a hug and a promise to “totally” look him up the next time I was on the west coast.

The conference went on and I spent hours by the pool during the day then evenings with my boyfriend and friends. We hung out at bars and made a trip to Tijuana, Mexico. It was nothing like I would have expected my first trip to SoCal to turn out, which made it just perfect.

• • •

Like short fiction? Get a brand new story every month (one you won't see anywhere else!) when you sign up for my newsletter Facts & Fiction.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Subtle Joys of Self Employment

I started looking for opportunities in self-employment almost twenty years ago, roughly two days after starting at my first job. I am a free spirit with an over-active imagination, so finding something that didn’t become boring was always my greatest challenge. No MLM or sales position was left unturned. I invested countless hours into envelope stuffing as a teenager producing only one reply, sold beauty products door-to-door and found out that what I really sold was about 200 catalogs to myself. I originated Mortgages, contracted as an Office Manager and was as a Unit Manager for a popular plastics line. Perhaps what I was craving all along was simply freedom.

Most people that run their own business will undoubtedly tell anyone who listens, that freedom is the key reason to be self-employed. They will boast that being your own boss is the greatest feeling and that setting your own hours makes everything worthwhile. In my estimation that is all just a bunch of hooey and I would like to share the reasons why I personally would never go back to corporate America now that I have had the taste of life on the other side.

Pee on the community toilet seat. I once worked in a building which was also home to two clinics: an eye center and a cardiologist. My office was on the same floor as the eye clinic, whose patients were primarily over 75. The fact of nature is that as a person gets older their bodily functions do not cooperate as well as when they were young. Throw blinding eye drops into the mix and ironically the picture becomes clear. One day our Department was told that our office would be moving. I thought for sure it would now be safe to sit since the elderly ladies with eye drops would be no more and the only users of the bathroom would be fellow office mates. Not more than a week after our arrival to the new space is when I realized that a person doesn’t have to be older and blind to pee on the seat but they actually have to be human to clean it up.

Boredom. In the world of ties and pantyhose most people will do anything just to hang onto their job. With rising mortgage rates and falling house prices, not to mention so many layoffs, there is a panic that sets in among worker bees that if they are not constantly busy they too will be downsized. I would like to point out that no matter how hard a person tries to hide it, there is no way to disguise the glassy eyes that could have only occurred from playing three straight hours of spider solitaire after taking a two hour lunch paid for by the company. Add to that sneaking out of the office a half hour early and it is basically the makings of a typical day at my last company. I try to recall even one detail of something I did at that job to garner such a huge salary but all I come up with is a 4.0 GPA in school and a journal where I jotted down quips about how I must have been working what the Sopranos refer to as a “no show” job, even though I was there. There were many days I felt like Peter Gibbons.

Talking for the sake of hearing one’s own voice. Idle chatter about nothing in elevators and inane questions with no logical answer are two great examples of this. One good one I always got was “How are we doing today?” Did I miss something? Was I sharing my desk with someone else? How can one person be a “we”? Was my co-worker referring to me and the inner dialogue that is constantly running in my head? That response would go a little something like “Look I’m having a really busy day today you see my eBay auction is coming down to the wire, I have so much schoolwork to do and I’m just so bogged down with all the smoke breaks I plan to take later so I don’t feel as if I can fit your ridiculous questions into my already jam packed schedule.” Although that one is good, my all time favorite office question was “How was your weekend?” I knew no one would ever want to hear my true response which goes a little something like “It was fantastic because I didn’t have to see you people and I got to spend all the money I made here last week which is pretty much the only reason I am back today.” It was a good thing I always brought a journal to work so I could write down what was in my head otherwise I would have taken up roof archery years ago.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Please, Be the Last One

Here it comes again, the very thing that makes my face twist into a contorted mass of ugh, snow. When I wrote about the last huge snowstorm we got here at the beach it was wishful thinking that it would be the only time I would have to, considering I keep trying to convince myself that type of weather is rare here. Apparently there is some magical force in me that just brings multiple feet of the white stuff everywhere I go. The year we moved to Long Island – record snowfall in the last 100 years just one week after we moved. This winter at the beach – sixteen inches of heavy stuff right after we settled in. No need to thank me, you’re welcome.

A dusting, a flake or two falling here or there, a small coating just to give sparkling loveliness to the trees is one thing. I can even agree that is beautiful because it is pretty, generally melts by the middle of the next day and does not interfere with driving or grocery shopping. Here comes the next foot overnight however. This is not pretty, especially at grocery stores where so many people flock apparently thinking they will never eat again. It should also be fun to shovel off our sand and gravel driveway; a comedy show all in itself.

A snow shovel should be something every northerner just has on hand but is a concept I can not seem to get; maybe because I prefer to live in denial than the northeast. Before the last storm, the only one I could find here at the cottage was a garden shovel. Luckily it was at least flat and not one with the point or I would still be out there now trying to move the stuff. Although it is flat the thing is taller than me and the shovel is rusty metal. After bundling up in as many layers as possible, while still maintaining the ability to move my arms, I had to push snow off the deck with the front door just to get out and then each load immediately froze to the shovel. Something tells me this scene will repeat Tuesday morning.

I can not help but think that the minute I buy a shovel the snow will stop falling for the year. I wonder what time the hardware store opens?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Things That Make Me Say Hell Yeah!

First and foremost right now is my job. I love my job and I am finally starting to do it. Recently I was hired to finish a family room, this week I am working on a kitchen, and it looks as though things are starting to pick up more so after that as well. The family room was a wonderful light color wash over a deep blue base and everyone (including the homeowners) was a little scared to see that initial color go on the wall. Not me though. I kept saying ‘trust the skills’ and everyone stepped back to let me do my thing. The homeowner called me two days later to say how they both loved it so much now that everything was back in the space. I don’t have an official final photo yet but here is the gist of the finish.

This email is something that made me smile and laugh this morning so I really wanted to share it.

A man in Topeka, Kansas decided to write a book about Churches around the country. He started by flying to San Francisco and started working east from there.

Going to a very large church, he began taking photographs and making notes. He spotted a golden telephone on the vestibule wall and was intrigued with a sign, which read

'Calls: $10,000 a minute.'

Seeking out the pastor he asked about the phone and the sign. The pastor answered that this golden phone is, in fact, a direct line to heaven and if he pays the price he can talk directly to God. The man thanked the pastor and continued on his way.

As he continued to visit churches in Seattle, Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, and around the United States, he found more phones, with the same sign, and the same answer from each pastor.

Finally, he arrived in Massachusetts. Upon entering a church in Boston, MA, behold - he saw the usual golden telephone. But THIS time, the sign read

'Calls: 35 cents.'

Fascinated, he asked to talk to the pastor, 'Reverend, I have been in cities all across the country and in each church I have found this golden telephone and have been told it is a direct line to Heaven and that I could talk to God, but in the other churches the cost was $10,000 a minute. Your sign reads only 35 cents a call. Why? Why?'

The pastor, smiling benignly, replied 'Son, you're in Boston, Massachusetts now, home of the Boston Red Sox, the Patriots, Celtics, Bruins and Boston College! '

You're in God's Country, It's a local call.

Learning to play the drums, sort of. I am working on that kitchen this week and because the home is that of my best friend’s Mom we are spending a lot of time hanging with S & B. They are gamers, specifically Xbox, and have introduced us to all kinds of entertaining game play over the years. None of those games ever made me want to purchase a video gaming system until now. Their latest purchase was Rock Band. You build a band that initially has no money and no prayer of ever making it big and after a few days of singing and playing along to some seriously crazy rock tunes at gigs all over the country the money and fans begin to flow in. The game comes with a mic, guitar and drum kit. B is typically the singer, although Matt gives him a run for his money now when he isn’t on bass, S plays guitar and I have decided to follow my life long dream of learning to play the drums. All of them admitted that the drums are the toughest to play because the timing needs to be just right but after a handful of tries I was scoring an 80% on ‘Say It Ain’t So’ by Weezer. I am hooked and have the blister on my right hand ring finger to prove it. I generally don’t make resolutions so let’s just call this a goal for 2008 – I am going to finally take drum lessons which is something I have wanted to do since about age nine.

The last thing that really makes me scream hell yeah is the power of positive thinking. For the past three months I have been working to build a business and decided that there is no need to worry about it working out even though money is a little tight and I am doing all of this on faith; all of the seemingly random directions my life has taken to get me to this point, the skills learned, my ability to be organized and my positive outlook will provide more than enough for our little family to survive. You know something, it is working and I am not afraid of it nor am I going to walk away from it like I have managed to do so many times in the past. This is exactly where I am meant to be and it feels great.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Bad Things Always Move In Slow Motion

There are few things in this world that make me heated to the point of pissed off; the number one thing to get me there is to play me for a fool. This is a two fold issue for me. First there is the fact that apparently I somehow allowed this to happen to myself, which makes me conclude that I am an idiot. That is a problem for me because I hate idiots, no I mean really hate idiots because I think logic should be something we are all born with. Stupid people should not be allowed to breed more stupid people. An occasional “duh” moment every now and then is one thing, we all have those, I am talking about saying stupid things and making stupid choices over and over again, knowing it is not smart and glazing right past the logical, bright choice. That wins an idiot award in my book. Second there is this thing that I find out about which brings up feelings of dishonesty so my trust in the person who withheld flies right out the window.

How ironic to be watching a show with the exact same premise when this discovery is made. I really dislike when irony becomes coincidentally real so perhaps I should back up for a moment and fill you in on where all this anger is coming from since it is really not my style.

I have not been fully open about the fact that quitting smoking didn’t go exactly as planned back around Thanksgiving but it is time to share it now. Yes I fell off the wagon on Turkey day because I was literally surrounded by smokers and it was just too new for me to be strong. After smoking for roughly sixteen years it would be tough to quit anyway so plunk me in a room with little, rolled, white paper, tar enhanced, glowing end sticks everywhere the eye can see and the situation is just hopeless. I am back on track now though, last cigarette extinguished at 11:51 PM on 12/31/2007. Sorry, I’m too high strung to figure out the length of time, but suffice to say it is new and I’m jonesing hardcore, so it is important to find alternate ways to keep entertained.

Our best friends lent us season one of the show 24 which has become the new obsession. Sleep falls by the wayside to get in just ‘one more episode’. How sad, yet I admit, it is true. We’re only in season one but our friends have seen everything available on disc and are possibly worse than us. In fact, they became so hooked on the show that here is one of the stocking stuffers S gave B for Christmas this year.

Yes that is a bad-ass Jack Bauer action figure complete with shell casings on the ground, high leg kicking action and busted hinges as he knocks down this door to somehow weasel his way out of yet another completely inescapable situation.

As we are watching the show last night I yell out something to the effect of ‘if I had to pick between finishing this season of 24 and having a cigarette right now…’ and then I trailed off because I knew that what I really wanted was to watch the show and quit smoking. Because I am still going through nicotine withdrawals, yelling little things like this helps remind me that smoking is stupid and I will not be doing it (again, can not be an idiot). From across the room I suddenly hear “what if I told you there were contingency cigarettes hidden in this house?”

Cue Jack Bauer’s foot in my chest. It takes what feels like ten minutes for my head to fully turn to look at Matt as I drop my jaw in disbelief. He looks back at me as if nothing is amiss, as if this should have been something for me to expect and suddenly I am taken back to my blog from November again. This is the part where I feel played, foolish and distrustful. Armed with this information I will now never believe that he has actually quit smoking. I will never trust that he doesn’t smoke all day while he’s at work & just “quits” for the evening while he is here, just to appease me. So I say to him ‘Are you f’ing kidding me? Put them in water and throw them away right now.’ But it is no use because now I know they are here and I wake up this morning ready to toss this house like I have a search warrant from CTU.

I only went through two rooms until I allowed my logic to kick back in. First of all, there is a convenience store not even five minutes from my house so if I really wanted to I could drive on over there and buy a pack. Second, why should I allow myself to do the very thing that I am now distrustful of him over just to feed into some addiction that should be out of my blood stream in a matter of hours? If I smoke now then he wins and if you know me at all you know there is no possible way I will ever let anyone beat me at anything. Well good, secretly then I hope that he is still smoking. Let him smoke all day if he wants to, let him have to go through this feeling every night and weekend because he’s trying to cover something up for me. I will be over these withdrawal symptoms in about 24 more hours but he would have to suffer in silence every day; the price paid for being dishonest.