Saturday, May 16, 2015

"I was the kid next door's imaginary friend." (Emo Philips)

So, this week, a friend of mine posted a story about a man who killed his imaginary friend, then turned himself in to the cops:

"Geoff Gaylord walked into a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and confessed to his crime: he had repeatedly stabbed his friend "Mr. Happy" with a kitchen knife, cut up Mr. Happy with a hatchet, and buried him in his backyard. Let me remind you again that this occurred in Florida, so perhaps it should come as a surprise to no one.

Gaylord and Mr. Happy were friends for seven years but, according to Gaylord, he killed him for a few reasons:

"He left his empty vodka bottles all over the kitchen... never picked up his empty cocaine baggies...He messed up my apartment to the point where I just couldn't get it clean...Before Hap started doing drugs and acting weird he was my BFF...We'd go
dancing, play on the children's park equipment, both huge fans of doom metal – listened to it for hours with the lights turned off."

When Mr. Happy crashed Gaylord's car, and Gaylord got arrested instead, Gaylord had had enough.

"That drunk driving incident I got unfairly blamed for and just how messy he had become put me over the edge and I murdered him."

Gaylord was eventually taken into custody when he threatened police for not giving him the death penalty. Police found drug paraphernalia and a machine gun in Gaylord's house, and was booked on multiple charges.

So much for the BFF bracelets these two exchanged."

Apparently, it's a story from a fake news site, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
It reminded me of my imaginary friends, Mrs. Seal and Mrs. McGillicuddy.

Imaginary friends are awesome- Calvin had Hobbes, James Stewart had Harvey, Big Bird had Snuffleupagus (by the way, only Big Bird can follow Snuffleupagus's Twitter account. No one else that tries to follow Snuffie gets accepted. It's brilliant.)

But my imaginary friends weren't too imaginative. We didn't have crazy adventures or exciting mishaps. They were really pretty boring. Mrs. Seal was a retired schoolteacher, with cat's eye glasses, who always wore plaid wool suits. We tried to win a rubber raft in a radio contest once.

I don't really have an idea of what Mrs. McGillicuddy looked like. I think she was sort of an absentee imaginary friend. I used to beg to buy postcards on which I would scribble barely legible notes to Mrs. G and pretend to mail to her. We were more pen pals than friends, I guess.

With my dad having been a Navy SEAL, I think that explains where Mrs. Seal got her name. I watched a lot of I Love Lucy when I was a small child, and the fact that Lucy Ricardo was born Lucille McGillicuddy is my only explanation for my Mrs. McGillicuddy. I never did learn either of their first names.

Lawrence Kutner, in Insights for Parents: Midnight Monsters and Imaginary Companions says that, 

 "Imaginary companions are an integral part of many children's lives. They provide comfort in times of stress, companionship when they're lonely, someone to boss around when they feel powerless, and someone to blame for the broken lamp in the living room. Most important, an imaginary companion is a tool young children use to help them make sense of the adult world."

I'm not sure how Mrs. Seal and Mrs. McGillicuddy fit into that description. I didn't feel any kind of fondness for them and they disappeared pretty quickly from my life, without much emotion on my part. They weren't particularly fun or jolly ladies. I don't remember having a lot of laughs with them. I don't remember being particularly comforted by either one. I may have bossed them around, but that's not out of the ordinary. I had no need to shift blame to them for my misdeeds, as my brother Kevin's escapades went above and beyond a simple broken lamp in terms of occupying my parents' attention. They were a lot like Mary Poppins without the magic or
the singing- more governess than friend, really. I guess they taught me something about how to navigate the adult world; they were good preparation for the humorless, straitlaced folks you encounter as a grown-up.

I feel like this was a huge missed opportunity. I was usually a very imaginative child- almost too much, sometimes- and I can't believe I wasted the role of an imaginary friend on two such dull women. But maybe it's time to revisit and reinstate the imaginary friend. Today I learned that both my bus driver (Bus Driver Ralph) and our mailman at home and work (Mailman Carl) are getting assigned new routes and I won't see them regularly anymore. Without these characters in my Sesame Street-like world, I'll need someone new to chat about vitamins and the euro's value against the dollar, and to bring the gossip about the people in my neighborhood, the people that I meet each day. I'll be accepting applications until the end of the month.

And a quick link to show that my imaginary friend situation was nowhere near as effed up as it could have been.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

I hope that giraffe isn't constipated.

For the past couple of years, my sister and I have taken our brother on a little adventure for his birthday. Last year we drove up to the Syracuse zoo; this year we went to the Buffalo Zoo. It was our most ambitious outing yet- we stayed in a hotel and ate at the Anchor Bar- home of the Buffalo wing. Here are some photos from our trip, along with some choice Kevin comments that were made along the way.

As we passed signs for Niagara Falls, we got talking about the family trip we took there once.  I corrected Kevin that we stayed in Niagara Falls, Canada, not the American Niagara Falls. He seemed to ponder this for a minute, then said:

"Wait a minute- I just thought of something- is our family Canadian?"

I was very excited to see the river otters.

We drove by a surprising amount of cemeteries on this trip. Every. Single. Time. he asked,

"Is that scary old guy from Poltergeist buried here?"

Kate had no answer for why he was obsessed with this, but apparently he asks this about every cemetery he sees.

My siblings love a good poop kiosk.

The baby gorilla killed us with its cuteness.

"Are those restrooms over there? Do you think there's a men's?"

The mama and baby rhino were amazing. This zoo is one of the few to have a healthy baby in captivity. At this and several other exhibits, we'd be looking at fantastic creatures we'd never encounter in our day-to-day lives. Often some small ordinary bird would fly by the enclosure and Kevin would get incredibly excited and say,

"Wow! Look at that bird!" 

Baby rhinoceros in front of him, but what really impresses him is that sparrow that's eating garbage off the walk in front of us.

First of all, how weird must it be to live in that house across the street from the zoo and see a giraffe out your windows? For no reason we could think of, when we rounded the corner and saw the giraffe out in the enclosure, the first thing Kevin said was,

"I hope that giraffe isn't constipated."

The capybara just fascinated me. Katie and I both agreed it reminded us of the from The Princess Bride. Kevin made a point of saying its name over and over, to emphasize that he knew exactly how to pronounce it.

I ended up not purchasing the bison hat. It was too top-heavy.

Kevin outside the Anchor Bar.

After dinner at the Anchor Bar and some celebratory Prosecco in our hotel room, we went to a nearby bar for a drink, then back to the room. Apparently the fact that our hotel was next door to a Walgreens was a huge plus in Kevin's book. He paraded through the store announcing to everyone (whether they cared or not) that it was his birthday, and insisted that Katie buy an 18-pack of beer instead of a six-pack, even though I was done drinking and we'd already been out all night. We all woke up around 3:30am with heartburn (too much buffalo wing sauce?) and Kevin had some more interesting conversational flights of fancy that, to save my parents the embarrassment, I won't share here.

All in all, I think he had as good a time as we did, and we've already started planning next year's adventure. Hopefully, wherever we end up, the giraffes will not be constipated and all the public bathrooms will include men's rooms as well.

PS- Katie reminded me of a story I forgot to include. I was very excited that our hotel was across the street from the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site. It's the house where Teddy took the oath of office after McKinley was assassinated. After one such mention, Kevin asked, "I don't have to go with you to Mark Twain's house, do I?" I corrected him and said, "It's Teddy Roosevelt, not Mark Twain. And, no." He thought that was funny, so he kept referring to my visiting Mark Twain's house, just to get me to correct him irritatedly. "When are you going over to Mark Twain's house?" "It's Teddy Roosevelt, Kevin, dammit!" I'd look over at him and he'd be grinning slyly.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Marianne is a BOSS

Just a little story to share about a conversation I witnessed on the bus.

My new (as of January) bus route includes stops at Ithaca College and South Hill Business Campus.
The majority of passengers get off at I.C., leaving a small contingent of us to travel on to the SHBC.
The South Hill Business Campus is home to a large number of organizations, like Better Housing for Tompkins County, Broom Hilda Cleaning Service (best business name ever- second only to Stinky's Septic- tagline- 'we're #1 in the #2 business'), Serendipity Catering, Ithaca Piano Rebuilders, Z95.5 FM, Ithaca Flooring, and Challenge Workforce Solutions.

 My old bus went straight from downtown, past my house and right to my work. I was almost always the only person on it. (Hence the change in service, I guess.) My new bus is much more social. I love overhearing the little interactions that take place among riders. There's a couple who get off at IC who have deep, involved conversations in Portuguese every morning. There's a young bearded guy who is sound asleep until the moment we reach his stop. (He looked like a student to me, and I got worried the first time I noticed him. I woke him- with some effort- at the last IC stop. He smiled kind of sleepily and said he was going on to South Hill Business Campus, but thanks for the concern. And then he went back to sleep.) But, by far,  the Challenge girls are my favorites.  

(Note- I have no idea how old these women are, and I don't mean to be dismissive by any means by referring to them as 'girls.' They're a youthful bunch and quite adorable, so hence, I refer to them as 'girls.' Trust me- I'm kind of sensitive on this issue- once I had a resident who came up to me in the hall and admired my dress. After I said 'thank you,' she told me, beaming, that I looked just like a little girl. And just this morning, I had a resident ask if I was six years old. I wasn't sure if I should take either of these comments as compliments or criticism.)

There's a group of 3-5 young women who get off at South Hill Business Campus to go to work at Challenge. They sit together every morning and talk about work and what's going on in their lives. There's one girl in particular who is very chatty and likes to interact with the other people around her.
Most of the bus-riders are pretty out of it at this time of day and not really up for engaging with a stranger, but it doesn't stop her. (I'm embarrassed that I haven't caught her name yet.)

For awhile, she was grilling me about my lunchbox. Every day. We had the exact same conversation for a week straight:

"I like your lunchbox."
"Where did you get it?"
"L.L. Bean."
"Are those dinosaurs on it?"
"Yes. Yes they are."

She's very curious and likes to quiz folks on what they have planned for their day. I often get asked about my lunch plans. In detail.

I know some people would find this annoying, or even obtrusive, especially if you're not a morning person. But I enjoy these little conversations and always make sure to answer her back; I ask her about her lunch or her bag, if I get the chance to get a word in.

The one girl whose name I do know is Marianne (although I'm not sure of the spelling). I know Marianne's name because MARIANNE IS A BOSS. In the best use of the word.

One particularly nasty cold day, the kind we had this winter where you never really get warm even once you're out of the cold, the Challenge girls were all chatting about something or other and all of a sudden, Marianne holds up her hand, halting the conversation in its tracks. She reaches into her pocket and whips out her phone. She flips it open one-handed with the easy cool of Fonzi fixing a broken jukebox with one beat of his fist, and presses only one button- speed-dial- before putting it to her ear. With her hand still in the air quieting her friends, Marianne proceeds to have this conversation:

"Yeah, Tim? Hi. It's me. I'm gonna need that waiting for me as soon as I get in. As soon as I get in. You hearin' me? You got that, Tim?  You sure? I'm gonna need to see you with that waiting for me when I walk in the door. All right. See you in a few."

With a flourish, she flips her phone shut, slips it back her in pocket, lowers her hand and goes back to the group. They- and I- were all staring at her agog, eyes wide. My lunchbox friend sort of gasped and said, "Marianne! What was that all about?"

Marianne shrugged, tossed her head and said, "I told Tim I need a hot cappuccino waiting for me when I get to work. It's too cold out."

We are all identically flabbergasted at Marianne's casual display of power.

"And he'll do that?" lunchbox girl asks, mind still blown.

Marianne shrugs. "I told him to, didn't I?"


I've been watching her pretty carefully since then. There's a lot I could learn from her.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

I Am My Own Lilly Pulitzer

I started out intending to write this post about the Lilly Pulitzer-Target kerfuffle that happened over the weekend, but that story seems to have lost its fizz and even I'm tired of reading about it. To make a long, and frankly, not very interesting story short, I've been inspired to start making my own dresses out of quirkily-printed fabrics and be my own Lilly Pulitzer. After all, she allegedly made her dresses with those wild prints to cover up juice stains, a gal after my own heart.

But then I realized that I only have one more week with my work study student and our intern who will be graduating in less than a month. And this year, it'll have been 20 years since I graduated from college.

Yeah, I did the math. It did not seem right at first- 20 years?? Not possible. But yeah. 
2015- 1995=  20 years. 
These pretty people are in no way old enough
to be 20 years out of undergrad.

Oddly, I got to thinking more about the beginning of the process today- the research, the visits, the applications to colleges. Maybe it's all the prospective first-years that have been making trips to campus, strolling around the Commons and gawking with their parents, that reminded me of my own road to Ithaca.

They're everywhere here.
I went to swim camp at Ithaca College when I was 16 and I knew the minute I set foot in town that I loved Ithaca. I knew I belonged here. A year or so later, my dad started talking to me about what I should study when I got to college. He told me that because I liked to write and create (I'd written and designed a computer-illustrated book and won an honorable mention award at the area media arts festival, in addition to other projects) I should study communications or media arts. My dad is a pretty astute judge of character; he's always been able to observe someone and then offer up a remarkably on-target assessment of their abilities. I agreed with his suggestion and I started researching schools with good communications programs. (As we were pulling out of the visitor's parking lot at Ithaca College after our visit, my dad turned to me and said, "You know, if you go here, you'll be surrounded by weirdos." It was really the deciding factor for me in I.C.'s favor. He was right, and they were glorious.)

My parents didn't put any limitations on what colleges I could consider- the only rule was that I couldn't go out to the west coast for my first two years. I initially thought this was because they just didn't want me so far away, but after a trip to San Francisco many years later, my first trip out west, my mom confessed that they'd made that rule because she and my dad knew that if I ever got out to California, I'd never come back.

Starting around 10th grade, I think, we had to start having conversations with our guidance counselor about our future plans. I remember sitting around a small round table with a couple classmates as the counselor made us go around the room and talk about what we wanted to do after high school. I listened as one of our group- a really talented guy- said he thought he might like to become an actor. The counselor pretty much tore that to pieces, dismissing it as an unreliable career choice. Another classmate was applauded for wanting to be an accountant. (I'm not entirely sure she even knew what that job entailed- it might have been the first thing she thought of on the spot.) I was derided for saying I might want to be a writer. There's no future in that, I was told. Do you really think you're talented enough to make a living writing? I remember her saying that in particular. 

Do you really think you're talented enough to make a living writing? I shrugged it off at the time, but it burns me now. Is your job really to make kids doubt their abilities and destroy their confidence in themselves? And for the record, there are plenty of careers that involve and require writing skills. I write everyday for my job. What kind of guidance counselor doesn't know of the options that are out there? She could've steered me into speechwriting or journalism or copywriting or even technical writing, but instead she put all her effort into squashing any latent dreams of being another Stephen King.

In 11th grade, we had to sign up for one-on-one talks with our counselor about our college or trade school plans. I saw it as a nuisance. I knew what I wanted to study, and I had it narrowed down to two colleges. I'd done my homework. I knew the requirements of my chosen major. Hell, I'd even spent a week on campus at one of my choices. I went in to the appointment with my counselor and she frowned when I told her I planned on studying communications. 

"That's not very practical," she said. "Did you give any thought to law or business?" 

"Yeah, and I ruled those out.  I want to study communications. It's what I like and it's what I'm good at." (Ignore the grammar, this was a 17-year-old's conversation.)

She frowned some more, made some notes in my file and decided to let that pass for now.

"Do you have some schools in mind?"

"Yes, I've narrowed it down to Ithaca College or Lycoming College. My parents are making me apply to a couple state schools as backups."

"Oh no no no," she said, reacting as if I'd announced my intention to spend a semester farming in Chernobyl. "I don't think you could handle Ithaca."

"What? Why not?"

"It's too big a school. It would just be too much for you."

Okay, now wait a minute here. Let's pause for a second. I was at the top of my class, excellent grades without much effort, involved in music, theatre, dance, and sports, juggling them all easily. I had been put into a gifted and talented program when I was seven. I was in our local and National Honor Societies. I had no history of mental breakdowns or given any indication that I would crumble under pressure. I was a quiet, pleasant, talented kid. This woman had absolutely no reason to believe I was incapable of attending a mid-sized school like Ithaca College. There was nothing in my history or background that would lead someone to believe that I wouldn't succeed and thrive in that kind of environment. If anything, I was one of the few kids in my class who could handle the academic rigors and atmosphere. Yet, here she was, once again doubting and discouraging me.

"You should think about something smaller and less challenging. Maybe a two-year school close to home?" (I should mention that Ithaca is about 1 1/2 hours from my hometown- not across the country or in a different time zone.) "That would be a good place to try and see if this is really what you want."

I think my face might've revealed my disdain and disbelief. I had no idea what to say to her. She actually ordered me to rethink my choices and she scheduled a follow-up appointment with me.

I fumed. I went home and told my dad and he reassured me that this lady was full of bullshit. He knew me and I knew me, and ultimately, we knew what was right for me. "Just do what you have to to keep her off your back," was his advice. I decided to do it one better.

At my follow-up appointment, she smiled condescendingly at me and asked if I'd found some "more appropriate" choices. 

"Yes," I said, grinning.

"Where?" she asked, eagerly.

"St. John's University in Queens, New York," I answered. "I know they don't have dorms, but I'm pretty sure I can find a place to live and figure out how to get around."

Her heart may have stopped beating for a quick moment (a New York minute, dare I say?). She dropped the subject and let me go back to class.

My dad & I at graduation.
Good god, we were tired from
getting up so early.
I did go to Ithaca College. I studied public relations and advertising in the Roy Park School of Communications (along with a writing minor). I made dean's list. I ranked in the top 25% of my class. And I graduated. 20 years ago next month.

As I was thinking about my struggles with the guidance counselor, I tried hard to figure out what her motivation had been- why would she discourage one of the more successful students from challenging herself? I mean, good lord, if that's how you are with the students who are doing well in school, what the hell are you saying to the kids who are struggling and really do need guidance??? 

I continued to have run-ins with this lady. She gave me grief when I insisted on not taking pre-calculus. I'd looked up the regents diploma requirements which stated I only had to take three years of math,
which I already had covered. She tried to tell me that no college would accept me if I didn't have pre-calc. I replied by quoting from the course catalog from my chosen school and program, which had no math requirements whatsoever. I still have never taken a math class past high school Math III (no idea what they call it now) and I have not felt its absence in any way.

She also tried to tell me what topic I should write my application essay on, although by that time I completely disregarded anything she had to say to me, even though I was still required to have regular visits with her- total wastes of time, in my book. Jim Henson had just died unexpectedly, and I felt real grief and sorrow from this loss. I wrote my essay about his influence on me and how his work had inspired me creatively. According to this deranged old bat, I didn't stand a chance unless my essay was less about personal experience and more about current events, like the fall of communism or the Berlin Wall coming down. 

Turns out, my essay on Jim Henson was one of the deciding factors in my acceptance to the Park School. I found out later that there were plenty of kids who got into I.C., but not the Park School. The Dean made the final choices, reviewing the essays. The Dean at the time was on sabbatical when I applied; the Interim Dean who read my essay and decided whether I made it in the Park School or not happened to have been heavily involved in the creation of the Children's Television Workshop and had known Jim Henson personally. A lot of good the Berlin Wall would've done me.

And so, to all you bright-eyed, enthusiastic, excited, and a little scared high school and college seniors pondering your future, don't let anyone discourage you from pursuing what you love. Don't let well-meaning "professionals" pressure you into putting your dreams away in exchange for a life of conformity. Yes, think about how you're going to make a living, but don't forget to make a life. Give some serious thought to the life you want for yourself, then figure out what you need to do to get it. Talk to people who are doing what you want to do- ask them how they got there. Trust me, they'll be happy to share their story with you. And most of all, trust yourself. You know you better than anyone. Learn to trust your judgement. It's tough- we're conditioned to follow the crowd, not our instincts. The best piece of advice I can offer you is from a slip of paper my dad gave me that I kept above my desk all four years of college and that I remind myself of regularly to this day: 
It's sometimes scary to trust your intuition.
But it's always disastrous not to.