Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Yeah, so

So I haven't posted here since September. I underestimated how much time and energy it would take to go to school full time and work full time and still attempt to have friendships, sleep, and keep up with Grey's Anatomy (priorities, people).

And so. I'm not here.

But I will be again some day.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

It's This That Worries Me Most

I am rarely stressed. I approach most of my life calmly. I don't process things on my own all that well, so I have to talk out loud to get to the heart of most matters. Members of my personal Board of Directors are chosen for their ability and willingness to listen to me prattle on, sometimes well past when I probably could stop, about whatever topic I'm not quite settled about yet. Some might think that my need to talk about most things may indicate stress about them, but really, it's what keeps the stress at bay.

Physical manifestations of stress is another situation. Since I was young, most fear, anxiety, and stress I feel has come out physically. Trembling, sometimes faintly and other times uncontrollably, back pain, headaches, stomach butterflies, exhaustion, and more have plagued me at different times of my life and in different situations.

This week - a low-grade headache most of the week coupled with ongoing back pain and aching jaw. Sleeping 11 hours Friday night and two spinning classes have helped some. But what really has helped is finally admitting out loud to myself and to two of my Board that I am worried about school. I don't have one of the syllabuses yet. I am still awaiting some books from the library. I don't have an English lit background and am going into an academic situation, for the first time in my life, under prepared. (Okay, so I'm not under prepared really. I'm prepared. But in the past, most of the time, I've had more information that the average person on the topics I'm faced with. This time, not so much.)

Yesterday, I received in the mail, a little Hello Kitty school bus colored in by Sonia, my niece. My sister had written on the top - Good luck on your first day (or something along those lines). I called Sonia and thanked her for the note and drawing, telling her "I'm a little scared about starting school and your note made me feel better." She beamed at this, reported my sister. She herself struggles with new things and so I think hearing that she made me feel better and that I, too, am struggling, was probably a nice message for her.

I am starting a new adventure. Each time I've done this before, I've been scared. This is no exception. I'm sure I'll be fine. But I want to be more than fine. I want to excel. It's this that worries me most. That I might not.

Monday, August 08, 2011

If Once on an Island

I have slept on a lot of islands. I have even lived on two. I love them. I love being surrounded by water. I love that the sun rises out of the ocean on one side and sets into the ocean on the other. I love the sound of the waves as I sleep and sitting with a coffee all morning, looking at the tide going out or coming in. I love searching amongst the rocks for beautiful ones and searching amongst the flotsam for treasures. I love having to get on a boat to get there and needing a boat to go home. I love the smallness of island life, the community of it, the reliance of people upon each other for the things they need. I love not needing to lock the doors, or the car, or the bike.

Every single time I've been to an island, I have wanted to live there. It still happens, each and every time. I spend the next weeks or months plotting how I'll overthrow my life and move to the island I have recently visited, trying to figure out how to make it work. Twice, I did it. Once on Block Island in RI in college and once on Koh Tao in Thailand as an adult.

I have gotten to a lot of islands on my own; created my own paradise. But for the past two summers, I owe my mother for allowing me to once again sleep on an island. Long Island, Maine, off Portland, in Casco Bay, where my mother's grandmother once owned a house. She loves that island like she loves me and my siblings. She cares for it. She treasures it. She calls it hers - like she owns it. She is a pretty smiley person anyway - amused by most things, but on the island, it is like she is lit up from inside. She is untiring in her desire to show others the island, to tell her stories from her times there. She is blessed to have two cousins and their families who feel the same way and this summer, they all went at the same time. In three different houses, with three different family groups, but coming together for a morning walk, a morning chat, an afternoon at the beach, an evening s'mores fire. My dad loves it too. He loves sitting and reading in a rocking chair on the porch or having an evening cocktail in the last of the sun before it slips behind the trees.

I have never been the same since I first started going to islands, and it was when I was very small, thanks to my mother. And now that I'm grown, she continues to help me spend time on one. Thanks, Mom.

Mom, waving goodbye from the pier as I departed on the ferry.

I have always loved the poem "If Once You Have Slept on an Island," by Rachel Lyman Field. It says, in a lovely, provincial manner, exactly how I feel. It is entirely true. If you've never slept on an island, I suggest you try it sometime. You, too, will never be the same.

If once you have slept on an island
You'll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you'll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you'll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh! you won't know why and you can't say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You'll never be quite the same.

The ocean from my bed on Long Island last weekend.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Great Betrayer

Dear Body,

If I had a friend or boyfriend who ever betrayed me like you do, I'd leave them. Break up with them. Do what I do best, and close an emotional door and never speak to them again. But there's no solution for my problem with you. I've tried ignoring you. I've tried goading you. I've tried using all my energy to please you. You give a little, sure; for a while, yes. And then you betray me again. Yet we are stuck with each other. Like a long-adult child and an overbearing mother - we're tied together. Like a ne'er-do-well son and an alcoholic father - there's no getting away from each other.

I just don't understand what you want from me. I eat well. I give you vegetables, and milk and healthy proteins. I feed you three times a day in balanced intervals. I don't fill you with too much garbage (a cookie here and there never killed anyone). I work you out. I run you and strength-train you and we ride my bike together so well (what with my common sense in the traffic and your strong quads and hamstrings - we're a match made in heaven on a bike). I give you vitamins. I protect you from caffeine. So rarely do we drink, and when we do: beer, mostly. I ensure you get plenty of sleep. I stay organized and keep clear eyes and a full heart and this results in very little stress. Seriously, what more do you want from me?

I know, I know. You would say you do your part. We're healthy. So very healthy. No real complaints. Cholesterol - great. Annoyances (like boils or hemorrhoids or hammertoes) almost non-existent. Skin? Yeah, yeah, it's great. Allergies? None. Generally feeling well? Absolutely. No digestive issues for us. Aging? We're doing well for the most part aside from those three chin hairs and the increasing white hairs on our head.

So why, oh why, dear body, can't you just stay trim? Why must you insist on gaining back ounce by ounce, pound by pound slowly to ruin the party? Why react so passionately to exercise and diet only to give up after a year and get soft again? (I've done my part! I've made sure we get up at 5:40 every morning for over two years now to go exercise! I've helped you sweat out your toxins and strengthen all your muscles!) And yet, you insist. Insist on our hips broadening again and our ass rounding out, and our stomach having that extra little padding.

I don't want to fight with you. Our lifelong argument has done a number on me and my psyche. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you? You're just flesh and bones and blood; you don't have to deal with the brain part - that's my area. You just show up and expect me to live with the fact that this year we're bigger again and don't fit in our cute dresses from last summer. You expect me to just put on a smile and hope nobody notices how much you've betrayed me yet again.

And I'll do it. I'll put on a happy face and shore up my confidence and I'll dress you in a bathing suit. (I will! Because we love the water and the sun and we don't want to miss that, right?) You don't care, do you? You like us this way. Why else would you keep going back to this?

You make me tired, body. I wish you'd just play nicely. But you won't. Fuck you. Happy summer.



Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sara and Muriel Help Me Keep Morphing

Twice now I've encountered women in books who have no interest in being married and encumbered with the burdens of being a wife and mother. Both times in young adult fiction. Both times in novels written in verse. Both times in period pieces; in the past. One was a full-grown woman, completely ensconced in her life choice, the other a girl, headed toward her choice and destiny. Both times made me think about being single myself. Both times I was so drawn to these characters, it caught me by surprise.

The first is the character of Sara Chickering in Karen Hesse's novel, Witness. The narrative brings together the voices of multiple members of a small Vermont town in 1924 as they are dealing with the influx of the KKK. Each person's voice offers information that weaves together to tell a story. Sara Chickering is a single farmer-woman who chose to remain single after watching her own mother labor as a farm wife and mother. She has not "ended up" single and her aloneness is not the result of being shunned or not chosen by men. Instead it is a clear choice born in young-womanhood and followed to fruition, although it has made her stand out in her community. She is able, as an older person, during the time of the narrative of the book, to provide shelter through a government program for a recent immigrant and his young daughter.

The second is Muriel, in Helen Frost's Crossing Stones. This narrative brings together the voices of two families in rural Michigan in 1917 as their sons go off to war and their daughters struggle to define themselves. There is an easy symmetry in the families and an assumption that the boys and girls will match up and be partnered, but Muriel finds herself questioning this arranged destiny. "Mother: I have no intention of becoming the Mrs. Norman of your imaginary future. Who I am remains to be seen - and I alone intend to be the one to see it." Muriel tells us this on page 15! So early we learn this young woman in 1917 will not be molded easily. And luckily for her, she has a paternal aunt who is fighting for suffrage.

As the reader gets to know Sara Chickering better through her words and thoughts and deeds on Hesse's page, we see she is as maternal as any woman. Her spinsterhood has not rendered her unable to nurture; her singleness has not hardened her femininity. She cares for (the immigrant daughter) Esther as a parent would. As I have experienced myself, the desire to remain child-free does not necessarily mean one is unable to care for children, just that we prefer not to spend our lives doing so. But many assume there is an intrinsic link. "I am not going to have children," I often say to people I encounter in my life. "But you are so good with children," they cry. Yes. I am. I love them. And they love me. But my ability to be good with children and nurture them does not mean I must use that skill as a parent. I get to not do that if I want. And children will come into my life (and have) in other ways, just like Sara Chickering.

Muriel is still a child herself. At 16, she is already questioning the status quo at school and at home, and her parents, although supportive, are cautionary. They tell her she must learn to mind her tongue, to think before she speaks, to not be too forthright with her thoughts or questions. They are raising a daughter, after all, in 1917. When Muriel attempts to write to her friend (not boyfriend) Frank, away at war, her mother is quick - "I'm not aware I know this rule, until I'm embarrassed to be caught breaking it: The gentleman should always be the first to write, Mama informs me. A lady never writes before she has received a letter." Yet two pages later, Muriel's mother says to her daughter after a bout of questioning: "Maybe you won't rock the cradle, Muriel. Some women prefer to rock the boat."

My own parents raised me with similar seeming contradiction in the 1970s and 80s. They raised me that I could be whoever I wanted and do whatever I wanted. But they also asked me to dress more like a lady (in a pre-grunge and grunge world!) and Mom often asked if it would kill me to wear a little make up. They didn't admonish me so much as gently insinuate that being so opinionated might make the boys not like me so much. More than once, my mother said that chasing boys was not appropriate, and that they should call me first, talk to me first. It being a supposed feminist world at that point, I just told her she was crazy and went on with my life. And today, in a supposed post-feminist world, I sometimes wonder if my habits and choices and refusal to live by these rules has contributed to my singleness.

Unlike Sara Chickering and Muriel, I did not know when I was young that I wanted to remain single. I didn't watch my mother stay home, volunteer on the town's finance committee, found the PTA at my elementary school, cook every night of her life without fail, and raise three kids with distaste. I didn't see any of that as burden. I perhaps looked upon my father's life - two jobs and then a switch to a job he was good at but didn't get any real satisfaction from other than being able to provide for us - with a bit of disdain. All that work. Just for money. How tedious. I knew I was a girl, though, and would be a woman. In my family, with all its gender-based practices, I let myself believe I would follow in my mother's footsteps, becoming a wife and mother myself. It wasn't until high school that I started to realize that I wasn't going to easily fit my little square self into that seemingly perfectly round hole.

As I discussed Sara Chickering in class with my classmates this semester, all of whom were far younger than I, I found myself passionate about her. "But," I argued, "here she is, an outsider in her community because she's single and running a farm on her own, but she's got Esther and Leonora to care for. She probably didn't even allow herself before this to know she was so nurturing!" My classmates looked at me, nodded, and moved onto some other topic in the discussion. As I read the end of Muriel's arc of development, leaving home to head to Washington, D.C. to join the suffrage movement herself and to work as a kindergarten teacher (because she is so good with children!), I shed a few tears. There have always been women who have chosen different paths from the norm and there will continue to be.

As I get older and even less romantically attached than ever (if that is even possible), I keep wondering what this is all about. There are a slew of posts on this blog over the past 5 years on this very topic. The past year though, my thoughts have been less about lamenting this state and more about thinking that perhaps this is what was meant for me all along. Perhaps when my revelation came that I didn't want kids, when I was 24 years old, I just wasn't listening enough to catch the other half - that I wanted to stay single and have my life for my own. Is that possible? Could I join the ranks of Sara and Muriel?

Just over 2 years ago, in the heart-broken throes of another lost love possibility, I screamed at my family "If I stay single I will change and never be the same! I will be bitter and I'm so afraid of that!" I was hysterical that day. Losing myself in paranoia and fear and pain. What have I meant when I've said that? I think I mean that I have always wanted to be in a partnership; to be paired up and have another person with whom to face the world and all its adventures. And if I didn't get to have that, I would be so angry, so upset, so disappointed, I would morph somehow into a different person than I was supposed to be. This is a fair assessment, I think. I've never not gotten the things I want: school, jobs, travel opps, adventures. I dream up shit and then I go do it. But this one - not so much.

I think I'm wrong, though. I think I've been wrong. Because I am morphing. I am changing. And it's not for the better or the worse. It is just change. I'm settling into myself. I am feeling more and more like an adult every year. I'm starting not to miss what I've never had. I'm starting to wonder what my life might really be like if I stay single. I think it might be pretty awesome to keep on in this hedonistic, self-centered paradise I've created.

I make choices based on what I want. I love that I have time for things that most of my peers don't because they are so busy being married or being parents. I love that I rent and could care less about owning a house. I love that I can live wherever the hell I want and who gives a shit how good the school system is? I love that all my money is mine and every dime gets spent on me or on whoever I'm giving a gift to that week. I love that all my decisions are made by me and I don't have to check with anyone before I say yes to a request for dinner or a movie or going zipping on a Sunday in October. I love that only my sicknesses mess up my plans. I love that I don't have to worry about anyone else's eating habits. Or anyone else's family. I love all that stuff. LOVE IT.

Sara Chickering and Muriel were both so sure. I'm not. I'm okay with that. I'm often sure about stuff that ends up changing by the time I'm half-way through it. So no matter what comes along, I'll try hard to listen to the messages and not miss things. As I get older, I listen better, because I'm less scared of what I might hear. I can deal with anything. And so I'll carry on, and I'll keep building my rockin' life.

I can tell you this, though. I'm done wasting energy on worrying about it. And that, folks, is true morphing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Seeking the Great Perhaps

I'm going back to school! First there was this post from 2008 and then this one from last May. And now there's this one. The one where I get to say: I'm going! I'm starting with my first class in July and then 2-a-semester beginning in the fall. YAY! To honor the moment, I thought I'd post my essay for admission to the program.


I’m a bit like Miles in Looking for Alaska, and I’ve been out seeking a Great Perhaps for most of my life. I’ve called it different things at different times, but when I recently read John Green’s novel, I got this new vernacular to describe what I’ve been doing all along. Through all the seeking, all the roads, all the choices, all the adventures, and all the work, there’s one central thread. One thing that never changes. Books. They are always there with me.

I did the traditional route. I went to high school, applied early decision to Simmons and headed to the residence halls in 1991 as an 18-year-old who had never spent more than a week away from my parents. I finished in four years with a double major, sociology added to communications after a distressing first-semester-junior-year discovery that I didn’t want to be a journalist after all, having ethical issues with the expectations in the field as I understood and perceived them. I held editorial positions on the student paper, was secretary of student government, and served as senior class president. Through my involvement in student activities and leadership development, I applied to go directly to graduate school for higher education administration and student development. I was admitted to the University of Maryland’s program, the best in the nation, and went straightaway. It was something I understood, something I cared about, and something I convinced myself would be my path for life – after all, that’s what we do, right? We find a career and stick? Recent studies confirm this isn’t so, but in the early 90s, there was still the idea that this was the expectation. Throughout my college and graduate school careers, I made time to read for pleasure, astounding pretty much everyone around me. I knew that if I didn’t read for me, I would lose something essential in my identity. So I made time. My graduate school roommate recently reminded me that she lamented not having time to read in grad school and I suggested she read children’s books as they were less of a commitment, but equally as good. She began with my collection and then headed for the library. She remembers me giving her this double gift – reading for pleasure and discovering children’s literature – during a stressful academic time.

By 1997 I’d successfully completed my graduate degree in the requisite two years and held the distinction of being the only member of my cohort to defend my thesis in time for May graduation. I’d taken a job at Occidental College in Los Angeles and moved across the country to work at one of the most diverse small colleges in the United States. Work was good, life was good, and I was creating programs, teaching leadership courses, building an on-campus ropes course, and advising a seemingly unending list of student groups. It was perfect.

It was here that I revisited Children’s Literature. I’d been so focused on other academic pursuits for so many years that I’d not looked seriously at this area for a while. I was still moving my books around with me – Charlotte’s Web, Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, Harriet the Spy, Phantom Tollbooth, Trumpet of the Swan, The Trouble with Jenny’s Ear, Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Heidi books and more. And I was adding new ones – No, David (signed by David Shannon when I went to a gallery in LA featuring his artwork when the book came out in 1998), Series of Unfortunate Events when Snicket hit the scene, James and the Giant Peach when I realized I didn’t own a copy. I took a survey course at Glendale Community College in 2000. I always knew I liked to read, but I was an adult now, experiencing children’s literature as an academic experience. I had no kids in my life, so I wasn’t reading for anyone’s benefit other than my own. I would go to Storyopolis in L.A. and just browse. I started trying to discern what was good and why.

By the time I took that survey course, the Great Perhaps had already called to me again. Just as it did when I decided to go to a college for women. Just as it did when I moved all the way out to L.A. This time, it took the form of travel. Leaving. Going to see a world I was completely unfamiliar with, having never been further than L.A., assuming Toronto doesn’t count. So I recruited a friend and we planned for 18 months and we headed out on a one-way ticket to Beijing, with the intention to circle the globe in a westward manner until we arrived once again on home soil. The Perhaps got the better of me again when I decided, after 6 months on the road (China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal and Thailand again) to stay on Koh Tao, a tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand and learn to be a divemaster and then a SCUBA instructor. I lived there, in a community akin to a model United Nations for 20 months using my counseling and leadership skills to teach diving to strangers (many of whom were learning in a language not their own) and help run a busy dive shop in a developing country.

While travelling, I kept children’s literature on my radar screen. I bought Adventures of a Nepali Frog by Kanak Mani Dixit in Kathmandu and read the Harry Potter books as they came out (the UK versions, which was great). Books are a commodity when travelling; meeting other travelers is imperative for many reasons, not the least of which is to trade for a new book.

Two things led me to leave Thailand and head back stateside. First, while I cared about my colleagues and students greatly, I was working in a hedonistic paradise with no intellectual curiosity or challenge. I found I was hungry for discourse – about anything, really. Second, I was relatively sure that if I stayed out of my profession – higher ed – longer than I’d been in it to begin with, I was going to lose it. And so I headed home and found a proper job again. One that required shoes. After a while longer in higher education, I translated my skills over to the non-profit world. And a while after that, I went back to higher education in a different capacity.

Because proficiency in another language is preferred the M.A. in Children’s Literature program, I’ll add that in the middle of all this was my pursuit of Spanish. I tapped out Brookline Adult Education on their offerings, spent two weeks in Sucre, Bolivia one summer doing intensive study while living with a host family and then three months in Paraguay doing the same thing. Between 2005 and 2010, I chose Spanish-speaking destinations for my travel with only one exception (Spain, Bolivia, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, and Turkey, the exception). The last time I was orally tested, in 2006, I was high intermediate. I never reached fluency, but I can hold my own in varied situations and places and I can read enough to get a full grasp of what I need to know.

And so here I am, at 37, back in the U.S. for nine years and in Boston for seven, trying to find my way professionally and figure out how all this seeking the Perhaps weaves together and how the constant of books fits in.

In 2008, when Simmons announced the dual degree with Children’s Literature and Library Science, I finally began to think seriously about how to finally make this thread into something. The constant of books and the hum of books for children that had been coursing through my body for almost 10 years needed attention. But I dismissed it after some brief fantasizing as too expensive, too crazy, too late. Here I am in 2011, and I’ve cycled back to it again. It’s not going away. It doesn’t matter how old I get or how crazy anyone thinks I am for knowing about Walter and Gossie and Martha and Katniss and Keesha and Jerry. This is what I’m supposed to do; supposed to study.

For the past six months, in preparation for applying and matriculating, I’ve delved back into literature academically again. I attended the Horn Book Simmons Colloquium on October 2. Because I work at Tufts and have access to free courses, I took Slavery’s Optic Glass, a 19th century literature course looking at slavery through the writing of authors such as Thomas Jefferson, Lydia Maria Child, Edgar Allan Poe, and Frederick Douglass. I am registered for Children’s Literature with Marion Reynolds for the spring semester at Tufts. I sat in on a session of CHL410 with Megan Lambert in October, doing the reading and participating in class. I get the Horn Book eNewsletter. I have read close to 75 picture books and young adult novels in this time, both new titles and classics I’d not read before. I read most of the reading list for the freshmen at Lowell High where my mother works after she passed the list along.

Yes, I will be 38 when I begin. And 40 when I finish. And no, I don’t know what’s next after I earn a liberal arts masters. That’s part of what excites me. What could I discover? What might I find out I care about that I don’t even know exists right now? What talent might emerge that will surprise me? What internship might I try out that scares me? As a life-long seeker of the Great Perhaps this kind of unknown is okay with me.

This essay is meant to be partly about how this program fits into my professional goals. I did some math. Let’s assume I will work until I’m 70. (This seems increasingly common, and I’m single and healthy.) That is another 32 years. And I’ve already worked 14 (not even counting graduate school). That’s a total of 46 years for my working life, of which I’ve worked 30 percent so far. That, of course, means that I have 70 percent to go. When I figured this out about 6 months ago, I was first horrified because I wondered how would I ever make it through the rest of my work life with no real career path or clear focus– the state I’ve been in for about 3 years now. Then I was elated because this was the justification I’ve been looking for to make pursuing another degree at this stage in my life less crazy than one would think.

I want, in the end, for books to be not only my center thread, but my career. I will better understand them; be an expert in them. I will work in publishing, or buying, or an agency or somewhere I cannot yet imagine and will work with other people who share my love. I will not be the weirdo with the book in her bag or talking about some book she just finished to a bunch of people who could care less. I am tired of saying “I love children’s books.” Who doesn’t? But, loving them versus making them my work and my passion and my Perhaps? Those are two very different things, and this degree will act as my bridge from one to the other.

I will give Simmons and the Center for Children’s Literature everything I have. All my focus, all my brain, all my heart. One thing about me as a seeker, I’m not a lazy one. I set my mind to things and do them, and do them well. I am a fantastic colleague and classmate and am a thoughtful and dedicated learner. I am organized and interested. I make mistakes and learn from them. I write what I think is a great paper and get a B- and diligently work to understand what happened and improve the next time. I get frustrated sometimes, and disappointed, but filter that energy as positively as possible and inquire to figure out how to avoid it in the future. I know and care about Simmons; I started my intellectual and professional career with you and hope Simmons will help me continue that journey.

I believe strongly in the idea that “when you want something, the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it,” a theory I’ve appreciated from Cuelho’s The Alchemist for many years. I also believe that …”when you really love something, it loves you back, in whatever way it has to love,” one of Phineas’ theories in Knowles’ A Separate Peace. I am sure that today, as I write this, the universe is telling me it is time for me to seek the Greatest Perhaps and to honor the love affair that children’s books and I have been having for many years. I can’t wait to get started.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Death of Customer Service

Customer service is officially dead. Check this story:

I go into the bakery to pick up the cake for my mother's birthday. It is 11 a.m. and I'm in a tad bit of a hurry and there's a cast of thousands of kids and moms in there all lined up. So I hunkered down to wait patiently. And wait I did.

The final mom/child pair in front of me ordered two plain bagels toasted with cream cheese. The child was about 2 and was climbing all over everything and mom was trying to get out of there. When she placed her order with the woman behind the counter, she said "Whoa! You smell good! Are you wearing perfume?"

The mom said, while chasing her child, "No. It's not me." (Believe me, that woman was likely smelling like last night's dinner since she probably wasn't able to even bathe that morning with all the work the child was.)

"Well, someone smells fantastic! I just got a whiff of it!" and she fanned her hand in front of her face to show how the whiff came through, as if we didn't understand how whiffs work. Finally, able to focus again, the counter-woman said "What did you want again?"

And the poor, exasperated mother repeats "Two bagels." "Toasted?" "Yes." "Cream cheese?" "Yes." And so, the order placed completely over again, this time in parts, the girl finally gets the two bagels, saunters back to the cooks and tells them what she needs. She comes back, rings the woman up, and it is finally my turn.

"I'm here to pick up a cake," I said. A blank stare.

"A cake. I ordered it." Blank stare. "Can you get it for me?" I allowed about 5-10 seconds to pass between each utterance on my part. "I'm in a tiny bit of a hurry, and this is taking a while, could I give you my name?"

Finally, she speaks. "No." She walks around to the cake counter and says, "Are you Amanda?"


"Are you Anne?"

"No. I'm Karen if that helps you."

"Oh! 66?" "Yes, that's mine."

Oh my god, I'm thinking at this point. I should've just pretended to be Amanda. Perhaps Mom would've gotten a cake with a Winnie or Minnie on it, but she would've gotten it that day.

She puts the cake in front of me and goes to get the box. When she arrives back, she has to build the fourth side of the box, but the top is not folded yet, so it keeps flopping back on her. So she flips it up and it flops back 3 times. Finally, unable to contain myself, I say, "Here, I'll hold it for you." She does the fourth side of the box and then places the cake inside. I hand her my credit card and tell her I'll finish off the top of the box, lest the flip-flop gets the best of her.

She runs the card and hands it to me along with the slip that requires my signature. I stand there for a couple of beats and then say "Do you have a pen?" She hands me one and says "You are in a hurry, huh?" What? Well, yes. But more than that, my strongest state at this point is not hurriedness. It is complete amazement at your idiocy. But what I say is "Yup! Gotta go." And I sign, grab the cake and head out the door.

I realize it's a coffee shop/bakery. I realize at 11 in the morning, perhaps folks are more leisurely than at 7:30 during the morning commute when everyone wants in and out of there. But I don't need to hear all about the smells you're smelling, I don't need to watch a tortured parent have to order twice, and I don't need to know every woman in JP who ordered a cake for that morning. When someone says, "I'm here to pick up a cake" the answer is generally "What's your name?" or "What's your order number?" or "Do you have your order slip" or "What does it look like" even. Not a blank stare and a poll of women's names.

This is just the most recent in a long string of lunacy that seems to be attacking the service sector. The week before, I'd called the delivery service that Delta uses to deliver lost bags, looking for 8 missing bags belonging to Singaporean students who had travelled for an event at my work. I dialed the number. The woman said only "Hello." Not sure I had the right number, I said "I'm trying to locate 8 suitcases." She responded with "I don't know who you are!" So I apologized for calling the wrong number and dialed again. Same lady. Same exact exchange. Holy crap. The bags ended up located and delivered, but only after I heard every address of every person in the entirety of Massachusetts who was awaiting a bag delivery and asked her a few times to please stop yelling at me. And this was AFTER I'd told her our reference number for the bags, which she claimed the entire time was attached to an order going to Sudbury.

The economy sucks. Lots of people are out of work. Perhaps some of them want these jobs at the bakery or the delivery service or any of the other places people have been idiots lately. I think they might do a better job than these folks are.