Monthly Archives: April 2009

The Door!

I’ve had some horrible writer’s block for the last three years (wah wah wah, I know). I purposefully coincide the date with the day I graduated because the Creative Writing Department at UCSC pretty much beat the shit out of me. Not because it was rigorous, but because I found it very hard to write what I liked without being judged. But that’s another subject. Basically, I’m tired of wallowing in blank-page-self-pity and I’d like to get the juices flowing again.

So, like all desperate writers are wont to do at some point, I’m exploiting my childhood memories. I have no agenda other than to get me writing again, so I don’t promise chronological order or any story arc or even a moral. I have a feeling that most posts will involve my experience at Cult Camp.

Some of you may have already heard these tales of infamy, adventure and oddity. To those of you who haven’t, well, you’re about to understand a little more about me. The names have been changed or omitted to protect my ass.

I’d like to start out with one that I most recently retold to my coworkers at a business lunch.

Memory #1: The Trailer

When I was sixteen years old, my mother told me that we were going on a family vacation to Montana. The “family” included my mom, her boyfriend, my fourteen-year-old brother, my autistic ten-year-old sister, my mom’s boyfriend’s daughter and son, aged twelve and nine, and me. The “vacation” included driving in a camper sitting in the bed of a pick-up truck from Southern California through Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho and camping along the way. And by “Montana,” my mother meant we were going to be staying in a teepee on piece of property owned by The Divine Unity, a group of middle-aged hippies who got together and banged drums, lit incense and meditated while their charismatic leader talked about how she was the reincarnation of various famous people from world history. Cult Camp.

While my mom, her boyfriend and my sister sat in the air-conditioned cab of the truck, the four of us teens and tweens were shoved in the camper along with enough camping equipment to supply an army, several duffel bags, a fridge full of food and Coke we were forbidden to eat or drink, a piddly boom box and a limited amount of CDs and a sink that did nothing but hold dripping bags of ice. My mom’s boyfriend, who was a bit of a redneck crazy-pants, had rigged an army phone that had a single, fragile wire that we laced through the camper and into the back window of the truck to a receiver. This was to be used in case of emergencies and/or if one of us desperately had to pee. The phone worked, amazingly, except that while our bladders were exploding in the hellish heat of the camper, my mom and her boyfriend rarely heard the ringing of the phone over the cool blast of the air conditioner and the drone of sitars from Ravi Shankar’s Greatest Hits.

One night as we drove through the wastelands of Utah, I was awoken by a bright light in my face.

I’ll explain the sleeping set-up before I continue. Imagine a space the size of a ten foot-long hallway. At one end of the hallway, on a raised platform, my brother and mom’s bf’s son sleep in a nest of bags and coats. Along one side of the hallway is the “kitchen” (including forbidden fridge and dripping sink) and along the other side of the hallway about a foot away sleeps Jasmine and mom’s bf’s daughter, laying on a kitchen table converted to a bed, sleeping in opposite directions so as to fit. At the mouth of the hallway, is the door to the outside world. My face was pointed at this door.

Bright lights blinking on and off. Familiar banging, reminding me of the screen door during summer time. I opened my eyes. The road was racing behind us as my mom’s boyfriend ripped along back roads at 90 mph. I could see it because the door to the camper was wide open and flapping in the wind. A car’s headlights blinked on and off, trying to warn our lunatic driver, who was oblivious. The camper was shaking and the cabinet doors, mostly tied and taped shut, rattled violently with their contents. An apple escaped and rolled out the door to its smushy doom.

I have no idea why I pretended to be asleep. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything or why I didn’t just jump up and close the hysterically-flapping door. But I didn’t. I acted as if nothing was happening.

Then bf’s daughter woke up and started screaming my brother’s name. “The door! The door! Shut the door! Help!” And my brother, like the little hero that he is, leapt from the platform, over my head as our vehicle jettisoned down the gravelly road and contents from every available cubby hole freed themselves and banged around the cabin, leaned out over the edge and shut the door. Wordlessly, he returned to the nest.

In the awkward, relieved silence, I burst out laughing.

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Finding Matzo and Unexpected Maror on Easter Sunday

So today was absolutely gorgeous. I emailed an animal shelter to ask about fostering kittens (eee!), the sky is brilliant blue with patches of fluffy clouds, the breeze is crisp, clean and cool and colorful flowers are in bloom on every corner (what can I say, Redwood City citizens like horticulture). M Fox and I decided to get out of the house and run some errands.

Then we remembered it was Easter and nothing was open: two paint stores, Costco and Victoria’s Secret (I had a coupon, okay?). The only other two things left on our list were shoe polish and more matzo. Admittedly, I’d put off buying the stuff early this year, mostly because I didn’t want to buy the 5 box pack since I’m the only Jew I know in a 50 mile radius and I was too stingy to buy one box for $5. God, that looks so bad when I write it out. Oh well. I ended up with one box of whole wheat matzo the night before Passover started, which taste-wise wasn’t too bad, but only lasted me half the week. Breakfast was slightly confusing for my psyche this morning: leftover turkey, mashed potatoes and charoset. Good, but I was cravin’ some cardboard and peanut butter, so it didn’t hit the spot as I had wanted. ..

Anyway. This was the dilemma in trying to find a box of matzo on Easter Sunday. In general, asking for matzo in a predominantly not-Jewish area after the first day of Passover is a little like asking for a burger at a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. No one’s really sure if you’re serious or not and they don’t know how to help you except to quickly answer your question wrong. My favorite experience of this was when I asked if the Safeway in Santa Cruz was going to be getting any more matzo. The friendly employee responded, “We don’t have any in back, but don’t worry, we’ll have plenty before Easter Sunday.” Awesome.

We went to two Safeways (knowing that the Safeway closest to our house was out). The employee from the first one acted like I was speaking another language and fearfully shook her head, worried I might ask for goat’s blood next. Unsurprised, we left. At the second Safeway, located in a ritzy part of town next to Stanford (I figured there hadda be a bigger Tribe population near a university, right?), after finding the kosher section as barren as the water aisle during Y2K, I went straight for the manager, figuring that this person would at least know what I was talking about. The woman heaved a laborious sigh. Because, you know, I was BOTHERING her. Imagine. A CUSTOMER asking the MANAGER about FOOD PRODUCTS sold in her GROCERY store. In a voice tinged with the pain that I was clearly causing her by politely asking a question, she pointed back toward the kosher aisle and said, “Over there.” When I mentioned I had already been there, she interrupted me in a louder voice and said pointedly through gritted teeth, “OVER THERE BY THE WOMAN WITH THE BLACK SHIRT. MAKE A LEFT. Anything I might have left will be on the Customer Service counter.” The irony did not escape me as I made a beeline toward the counter, ignoring her rudeness and heading for the prize.

Stupid woman. It’s not like I was asking her how to preform a lobotomy, although her minuscule capacity for human compassion might have suggested she was acquainted with the subject.

There they were. The last two boxes of matzo in San Mateo County. Streit’s Matzo. Then I saw they did have two Manischewitz megapacks left. Remembering my “$5 off any Mani products” coupon, I thought, what the hell? Mani is good, it’ll only be $7. Let’s just do it. I get to the counter, racking my brain for how on earth I’m going to get rid of 5 boxes of Matzo in three days, and hand the cashier my coupon. Except it wasn’t a coupon. It was a “You COULD save $5 on Mani products, IF you buy another $25 worth!” piece of paper. I was annoyed. I was REALLY annoyed. Especially when the bagging lady said in a bewildered tone, “What the heck is this? Crackers?” Usually, I would use this as a “Teach the Gentile Something About Culture” moment, but I just glared at my PIN number as she continued reading the package and said in a hushed voice, “It says here these are for Passover. . . Oh.” I grabbed the huge orange box and my poor boyfriend and marched out of there. Twelve bucks for five boxes of matzo. It would be a deal, if I didn’t know I would only eat one before the holiday was over.

We went to a few other places looking for shoe polish. I bought an oven mitt (which we’ve sorely needed) at Rite Aid, but they didn’t have the kind of shoe polish M Fox wanted. Then we went next door to Lucky’s, our last shot to get something right.

He should never have pointed it out to me.

Mani Matzo. On sale. One box each. $3.50. And next to it (I kid you not)? The exact same oven mitt I had just bought. For 20 cents less.

I don’t know that anyone has ever been filled with the amount of self-righteous rage that boiled in my Chosen blood. I wanted to scream. I wanted to cry. M Fox wisely bought his shoe polish and ushered me out before I could create a scene. He kept trying to make it funny. “Isn’t this crazy? You couldn’t write this stuff! Oh man, what a silly thing!” He’s such a sweetheart and he was right. It would be funny. Maybe in a couple weeks after a couple of drinks, it would be funny. But not right then. The poor kid had to listen to me rant and rave and say unflattering things about uncultured human beings on the car ride home. As I took a deep breath to unleash some more, he cut in brightly, “Well, you said that you didn’t have the time to get the horseradish to represent the bitterness. So here it is! You got everything after all!”

That, actually, made me laugh. Yes indeed. Well done, my darling.

A few episodes of the Simpsons, some matzo pizza and snuggling later, I was in a good mood, but chagrined. Some more kisses later and I was just in a good mood. It would be bold of me to call it a Passover miracle, but I’m pleased nonetheless. Maybe the moral is simply, “Lucky’s Has Everything.”

I leave you with this touching, domestic scene that happened moments later:

The Dame sits at the kitchen table on her laptop, preparing to blog. She faces the large mirror that reflects their modest kitchenette behind her. M Fox walks to the fridge, opens it and takes out the orange juice. He removes the cap and raises the bottle to his lips before he notices that The Dame can see his every move. He smiles sheepishly and puts the juice back.  She laughs.

“Do you want me to pretend that I’m not looking so you can do it?”

“No. It’s alright,” says M Fox happily as he exits, his satisfaction renewed with a bubbly hiss as he pops open a can of Miller instead.