Monday, April 29, 2013

The Alternative Troopers

As I exited my bank’s ATM annex yesterday, I saw a flock of locals feverishly congregating around a table of children. I’ve craved two kinds of Girl Scout cookies for almost three years (and, for just as long, I’ve griped about not being able to find any). The agony was over.

When I come across girls on Scout business, I like to share that I was once a Girl Scout too. But the more I think about it, who knows how technically accurate this is? If I were hooked up to a polygraph machine and answered, “Yes, of course” to “Were you ever a Girl Scout?” would there be consequences?

A friend recruited me into a troop in fifth grade. Our leader, a new acquaintance’s hippie mom, seemed fearless. We never had uniforms (I fuzzily recall a sash of some sort, but that could be all in my head). We never went camping, unless taking one unchallenging nature walk counts. Although the “meetings” were invigorating and hilarious, I didn’t stick with the group for long and wouldn’t be flabbergasted to learn that it was unaccredited.

Since my troop time didn’t amount to much more than socializing in a somewhat organized manner, I’m fascinated with the lines of text (aside from the “Nutrition Facts”) on my Thin Mints box. There’s a list disclosing that the Girl Scouts experience (or at least the cookie-selling component of it) is designed to help girls develop 5 skills: Goal Setting, Decision Making, Money Management, People Skills, and Business Ethics.  

(Money Management? Should this have been a topic of discussion in between rounds at the bowling alley we went to?

Business Ethics? When the town mayor’s granddaughter and I spent an afternoon going door to door and deliberated whether to call it a day and “go to Dairy Queen now or do a few more houses first,” we opted for the latter.)

If any future tween of mine wants in on a stimulating organized troop, I’ll be a hippie-mom overseer. We’ll bowl and kickbox, have tea parties and dance marathons, travel to the nearest trampoline park, deify the arts, practice eco-consciousness even when it’s not Earth Day, and donate more snacks than we sell. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

School Zone – Slow Down

I live within a 10-minute walk of a university campus and treat its grounds the way others treat their backyards or a spa. Less crowded (particularly when most of the students clear out for summer recess) than the city parks, it’s become one of my nice-weather, daytime decompression spots. Passersby assume I go there (enrollment-wise) and the reading I’m engrossed in is my schoolwork. Parents on the guided tours glance over and smile approvingly. “That could be our little Natalie in a couple of years,” they’re thinking. I lead some of my overnight guests through the quads and we might take our morning coffee and the Sunday Times to a table outside of what could very well be the fine arts building.  

I was on campus the other day, tanning, texting, and reading the Times on my phone, behind a professorial-looking man and his young daughter. There were several open tables on that empty patio, thus it beats me why they chose the one closest to the ledge I sprawled out on. Maybe it’s because I looked so scholar-chic with the unassuming canvas bag, sensible shoes, and unopened library book at my side. I was role-model material for this guy’s growing girl, which put an added pressure on me to do everything I could to shield her from seeing me pop ibuprofen tablets like they were Skittles.

If I’m even considering the idea of swallowing an over-the-counter pill, it means I’m melting. I’ve reached last-resort row, where it’s swallow or be swallowed. When I’d been writhing in toothache pain the night before, I thought about the first time (and one of the only times) a similar 5-alarm fire broke out across my jaw. It was years ago, when I lived in Boston, a metro area that had been on my mind all day. After monitoring my mouth and asking all the right questions to size me up as a compulsive gum-chomping, teeth-clenching Type A personality, the late-night Emergency Room examiner advised me to cut back on stress and periodically toss back ibuprofen tablets like they’re Skittles until the symptoms sail away. No problem. 

Monday, April 15, 2013

Sunday in the Family Room

After hours of pulling out my wallet every 25 minutes, I desperately needed to end an afternoon of non-stop commercial transactions with some culture, preferably at a quiet and climate-controlled indoor venue. Guess where I happened to be? Across the street from a museum that’s free on Sundays. Timing, probably more than money, changes everything.

I could hear them as I walked down a staircase toward the exhibit hall. A multigenerational family carried on as if they were at home, keyed up after Sunday dinner. So much for noiselessness, but they were likable and the gallery space had central air.

The room was devoted to a photojournalism project on civil-rights-era urban poverty, spotlighting a married couple who had 8 of their 10 children living with them in an Upper Manhattan tenement. Many of the photos ran in a 1968 issue of Life magazine, every image slayed me, and I wondered where everyone was today.

Now a few of the talkative visitors were taking pictures. One was crying.

“If she was in the midst of a struggle, how come her curls were poppin’?” a teenager asked.

“Because she was an unlicensed beautician.”

These visitors were younger generations of the family featured on the walls. I thought two of the older relatives in the room might have been kids in the photos, but now that I’m obsessed with their story, I just Google-read that only one of the photographed kids made it past the age of 30 – and this longest-living offspring died at 48, 5 months ago, 3 days after the exhibit opened.

When I was on my way out, most of the clan posed for a picture taken by another not-tacky-at-all visitor who must have overheard who they were. The one who’d been crying said this family’s second generation “has done just fine.” It was nice to have that confirmed, but I’d suspected as much midway through my first lap around, when I really got a sense of this team’s spirit.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Let the Tear-Jerkers Take All

As the head of my household, I go to great lengths to keep the overhead low, the d├ęcor distinctive, the refreshments flowing, and the clutter at a minimum. I give away, throw out, recycle, or shred anything I don’t like, need, or have any conceivable use for, and only hoard the sentimental stuff.  

It takes hours to go through my keepsake stash and I don’t have the time to do so more than once a year. I’ve saved Valentines, personalized cards and letters, bibs from the first road races I ran, ticket stubs, formal invitations, playbills, my ID badge from when I volunteered at the state mental hospital for an Abnormal Psychology class, notes sent on frou-frou stationery from individuals who drafted statements like “I’ll always be there for you” mere months before they were nowhere to be found when they were needed the most.  

The best recent addition to the collection comes from a co-worker who filled his Christmas card’s entire left-hand side with a series of beautiful handwritten sentences. When someone has had a uniquely positive impact on you, it doesn’t require much to make this person aware of it. The last time I saw my childhood dentist I basically relayed that I place him in the top tier of the most honorable human beings I’ve ever known. He, who might not hear explicitly heartfelt praise very often, looked ready to cry. If I have regular contact with people whose character, caliber, or contributions are above average in any way, I’ll tell them - and there’s usually that similar element of choked-up surprise on their end. They don't necessarily need the validation to continue on as themselves, but the immeasurable extra incentives that come with it stretch deep and far.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Such a Smoky Spring Cleansing

Oprah Winfrey wins the award for “The Only Live Graduation Speaker I’ve Heard Who Was Worth Fighting Traffic For on a Weekend Morning,” and I expected nothing less from her. It’s the completely self-made ones who pass on the most stimulating perspectives. (Although I find it hard to believe that anyone has completely “made it” alone, without a support network - possibly a support service of one – that somehow helped during the trek up.)

As Oprah intoned, and I’m now paraphrasing, we ought to hold ourselves accountable for the type of energy we bring to a table. I’ve started to view people, environments, and situations in terms of the energy they give off. A person’s energy is more adjustable and more contagious than his or her personality.

A little bundle of sage (an herbal energy cleanser) has come into my world and I finally burned a stick of it in my current home, a place where I haven’t experienced much outright negativity (other than a few buzzkill guests), but who knows what’s dormant? I occasionally get the junk mail of two previous tenants. One has an interest in literary events; the other either suffers from Crohn’s Disease or strongly empathizes with those who do. Both seem harmless, and I know famous last words when I write them.

I would love some liquified sage that I could carry around in a reusable spray-pump bottle and release into the atmosphere whenever someone has tainted a decent vibe. Liquid sage, which bottlers should market as a kinder and gentler alternative to Mace, is out there somewhere and that’s what any Bunnies of Easter Yet to Come should plan on leaving in my basket.