I’m not really a tourist.

This really happened.

I know I say that a lot, and I’m not sure why I would think that you wouldn’t believe me. In this particular case, I’m not sure I believe it myself.

But, as far as I know, this really happened.

On Friday I walked over to the White House to get in one last glimpse before they board the place up following GateGate.* The whole area was abuzz with tourists, protesters, security personnel, construction crews, and others like me, out for a lunchtime stroll.

Pay no attention to the crane behind the curtain.

Pay no attention to the crane behind the curtain.

On my return walk, I approached the corner of 13th and Pennsylvania still processing the image of a woman I’d just passed who was sporting jeggings and a skimpy top with exposed undergarments, along with a traditional religious headscarf, which she stopped to remove after leaving the White House grounds.

It’s no secret that my mind wanders into “There’s A Story There” territory more often than it should, yet I struggled to come up with hers.

And so it was that I was lost in that state of perplexion when I realized that there was a man standing next to me waiting to cross the street. Contrary to instinct, I looked in his direction, probably hoping he’d bear witness to what I’d just seen.

But, no. It was even better.

At first glimpse I thought, “I know him.”

My mind searched its memory banks for a name to put with the face. Then I realized I didn’t know him. I knew the face: it was President Obama’s face.

I don’t mean he was a tall, thin black man with distinguished greying hair.

I mean that I was looking into the face of  The.Spitting.Image. of the Commander-in-Chief. (Let me be clear: he wasn’t really spitting. That’s a figure of speech. I use those sometimes. They get me into a world of trouble.)

I know what you’re thinking because it’s exactly what I was thinking. Why on earth would President Obama be standing on a street corner?

Gone was my confusion over the jeggings-wearing headscarf woman, whose story no longer held any interest to me. Not after finding myself face-to-face with a mom-jeans wearing doppelganger of the President of the United States. (Let me be further clear to avoid casting fashion aspersions toward an innocent impostor: I don’t know for sure that they were mom jeans. I’m still processing the whole event.)

He looked back at me as if to say, “Yeah. I know, right? I get that a lot.”

Then, and I swear this happened, he jaywalked north across Pennsylvania Avenue, then west toward the White House, leaving me staring dumbfounded at a disappearing swagger in brown sports jacket and jeans. There’s a story there. I still don’t know what it is.

It was without a doubt the craziest lunchtime walk ever. I can’t wait to go back on Monday.

* I wish I had thought of “GateGate” myself, but it’s plagiarized from someone whose name I don’t know, who cleverly pointed out that eventually it would come to a scandal named GateGate. 

Better times.

Better times.

February 43, 2014: the siege continues

Just a quick hello because I’m sick as a dog, tired as an old dollar bill, and in the middle of writing lesson plans on figurative language (next up: idioms and cliches). I wanted to let you know that I’ve been thinking of you because — and isn’t this always the case? — the most blogworthy things happen when I don’t have time to write about them. Here are just a few:

  • I’ve spent much of the past couple of weeks hanging out with the gym teacher and a group of students who were not taking a state-mandated test, while the test was being administered in my classroom. We alternated physical activity and quiet activity. While basketball and juggling are not my sports, I was aces at word searches and hangman.

Interestingly enough, Words With Friends hasn’t really taken off with middle schoolers, nor do they appear to be aware of the basic Wheel of Fortune strategy of guessing R,S,T,L,N and E. In five consecutive games, they guessed the letter Z, so in the sixth game, the teacher took it easy on them, and the puzzle came into play thusly:  TAR__AN. They tried TARQAN, TARWAN, TARXAN. This time no one guessed Z.

  • On a related note, you wouldn’t believe how many jokes I’ve heard about balls in the past two weeks. You wouldn’t believe how many of them were up inside my own head.
  • Also on a related note, I’m starting to think like an 8th grade boy. Everything sounds like a dirty joke. I am not proud of this. I like to think of it as a survival tactic enabling me to think two steps ahead on anything that’s going to set off the rabble-rousers. Not that it helps much. At this point, I doubt we could recite the alphabet without madness and mayhem ensuing.  (…L,M,N,O,P, BWAHAHAHAHA, Ms. Cahier said “Pee!”).  Future Bloggers of America.
  • This really happened: during a planning meeting discussing an upcoming mandatory test, an administrator popped in (possibly right after a parent conference) and reminded everyone not to use sarcasm in the classroom because students at this level are not capable of processing sarcarsm — their thinking is literal at this age. Then we went back to discussing benchmark measures on figurative language and curriculum planning for achieving them. Sensing I was the only one who found this amusingly ironic (probably because my paycheck isn’t on the line), I kept my giggle to myself.
  • The school is in a rural area. The building was closed one day this week for what can best be described as an Act of God. Death and destruction were involved (non-human). In the more suburban, cosmopolitan area where I used to work, the rest of the week would have been dedicated to post-traumatic stress counseling, homework would have been canceled while students processed the horror, and a parent task-force would have mobilized to find somebody, anybody to blame.  Country kids and their families just roll with it.  It was wild. It was a day off. We came back and it was over. After all, there were ball jokes to be made and a scandalous alphabet to recite.
  • Lest I give the impression that I’m loving it, let me state emphatically that I am not.  I’ve met a number of really great kids and nice parents and absolutely fabulous teachers. Unfortunately, the small group (of students)  that always has and always shall exist to perpetuate chaos is louder and more disrespectful and defiant than ever.

It breaks my heart that I can’t get to know the good kids and teach the fun lessons I’m preparing because of all the noise. They walk around the classroom at will. They sit where they want. They do what they want. They say what they want. They tell you they hate you (it’s not that I’m here to be liked, but it makes me sad that they’re capable of ‘hating’ someone they don’t even know) . . . and worse. They pretty much dare you to try to stop them. My goal for however long I’m here (possibly the rest of the year) is to somehow keep enough peace for the respectful kids to have a relatively decent day.  Such a waste for all of us. The good news for me is that this is exactly what I wanted to know before committing to the expense and steps necessary to reactivate my teaching certification. Most likely I will not.

  • What I mean to say by that bummer of a paragraph is this:  this week I morphed into Heisenberg. I mean, I didn’t start a meth lab or
    I wonder if Walt spits in chemistry class.

    I wonder if Walt spits in chemistry class.

    anything. I just went mean, only I didn’t do it in that calm and deliberate, “I am the danger” tone. I was loud. I’m never loud. I reached down inside myself to that place that does not like to yell and let it out.  It was the only way to stop things from escalating to a point where they were going to start throwing furniture. They laughed and pointed out that I spit when I yell.

  • We’re expecting more snow tomorrow night, which may be the universe’s way of giving me another day to get this spitting thing under control.
  • On a brighter note, yesterday was Pi Day. My classroom is next to a math teacher and across the hall from another.  One loves Pi Day and made a big to-do. The other wanted no part of it.  So I decided to remain Switzerland.  Here’s my post from a couple of years ago on the subject.
  • Today is (theoretically) March 15, but if you ask me it’s more like February 43.  Beware the Ides of March. . . and watch out for spitting teachers.

Peace out,

Heisenberg  (“Spitball”) Cahier

I’m not really an actress.

One of my Ally McBeal reveries involves sitting across from James Lipton, humbly relating poignant stories about my fascinating life, bemused by the fact that anyone would care to know.

James, on behalf of America’s enquiring minds, wants to know what makes me me.  I, on behalf of me, quietly share mysterious tidbits, demurely grinning at James’s curious probing.

Inside, though, I anticipate the questions that I know are coming — James Lipton’s Famous 10 Questions — with the enthusiasm of a high school senior the day yearbooks come out.  What will I say? How will I choose just the right words to convey the real me . . . for eternity? 

I know the questions, so you’d think I’d be prepared. But I also know myself.  Consistently inconsistent.

I tend to approach life the way John Gorka approaches a set list:  controlled chaos.  All the answers are there. It’s just a matter of how they arrange themselves in any particular moment.

As with most of my Ally McBeal reveries, there’s usually a That Would Never Happen clause that brings me back to the mundane reality of sitting in traffic at the intersection of workday and errands.  This particular scene comes to a close when I remember that to be seated across from James Lipton, one must be, you know, an actress.

Today I was greeted with the opportunity to answer Mr. Lipton’s questions without setting foot on a stage.

No auditions, no makeup and wardrobe. No step-and-repeats or red carpets.

No pretending that I’m not dating George Clooney just because we have a movie coming out in six months.

So, here it is. My controlled chaos approach to the ten questions James Lipton asks of his guests on Inside the Actor’s Studio.  I reserve the right to change my answers. In ten minutes.

1.What is your favorite word?  Grace. Big G, little g. Grace Kelly, Amazing Grace. As far as I know, there isn’t a sense of that word that I don’t love.

2.What is your least favorite word?  Goodbye, in any language.

3.What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?  Authenticity.  I don’t happen to believe, by the way, that everyone who puts it all out there in the name of “just being themselves” is necessarily being authentic. A lot of those who do that are just competing to be heard above a crowd of boorishness, which, granted, is an authentic endeavor. I think it takes a lot to figure out what is truly authentic about yourself and then allowing yourself to be that.

4.What turns you off?  Exactly the opposite of authenticity.  I’m a vibe-y person and sometimes I just feel it about someone. I worry about that making me a judgy kind of person, so I try to give the benefit of the doubt. Often, in fact, I’ve gone too far to give someone who didn’t deserve it the benefit of the doubt. Much of the time, my

Hell's Bells?  You kissed your grandmother with that mouth? (photo via Wikipedia)

Hell’s Bells? You kissed your grandmother with that mouth? (photo via Wikipedia)

first vibe turns out to be correct.  If you’re not for real, please don’t waste my time.

5.What is your favorite curse word?  Hell’s Bells.  Ok, that’s two, but when Richard Gere got this question, he declined because he’s a better person than I am.  So, I’m taking Richard’s word.  Both of my grandmothers were Southerners and the attic of my brain is cluttered with their expressions.  Hell’s Bells is one, but I hear it with my grandmother’s gentle frustration, not AC/DC’s screech.

6.What sound or noise do you love?  Laughter, especially children’s laughter. I loved Antonio Banderas’ answer to this question, but he already gave it.

7.What sound or noise do you hate?  That sound that styrofoam packing makes when two pieces of it rub together or when you break it. Anything to do with styrofoam packing.  *shudder*

8.What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?  I’m on record as wanting to be a tambourine/eggshaker girl and/or a bookstore/patisserie owner, but — and I swear I am not making this up — lately I’ve been thinking it would be interesting to be a WordPress editor, coming up with creative ideas and watching what other people do with them.  Reading all sorts of things, choosing good ones to highlight, making someone’s day.  And, in my Ally McBeal impression of that job, there’s no commute.

9.What profession would you not like to do?  Publicist, handler, spokesperson, personal manager. See “authenticity,” above.

10.If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  Well, Hell’s Bells, c’mon in. Your grandmother said you’d pull it out in the end, but I admit I had my doubts. See “grace,” above.


Daily Prompt: Inside the Actor’s Studio. On the interview show Inside the Actors’ Studio, host James Lipton asks each of his guests the same ten questions. What are your responses?

Halloween for bloggers: how to be sexy spam

Today is October 31, All Hallow’s Eve, a day to celebrate . . .something. Death, blood, monsters, witches, chocolate, pumpkins, pretending to be someone or something you’re not, checking apples for razor blades — all wrapped up in the sexy.

This might be a good time to revisit my blanket disclaimer that if you’ve come here looking for homework answers, you should probably move along.  That definition of Halloween isn’t going to land you on the honor roll. I make stuff up.

I don’t really get Halloween. I know this doesn’t add up: I’m a big fan of chocolate. I’m a big fan of creativity.

Walking up to someone’s door and begging-slash-extorting them for candy was just never my idea of fun.  Granted, no one in my neighborhood  thought the sweet little girl in the store-bought majorette costume was going to strong-arm them if they didn’t deliver the Hershey’s. Still.

Even if you’re not a fan of the holiday, it’s hard not to be aware of it, beginning now in mid-August when the candy, decorations, and costumes hit the store shelves.  The influence has slowly seeped into my brain and I’ve been thinking about costume ideas, even though I’m a little . . . tall . . . to be trick-or-treating and I haven’t been invited to any Halloween parties.

Great costume, but he didn't get the sexy memo.

Great costume, but he didn’t get the sexy memo.

I got to thinking about a classic post I once read about sexy Halloween costumes and I challenged myself to come up with costume ideas that would be difficult to convert to sexy.

You wouldn’t believe the images NSA has seen in my Google images cache on searches of “sexy” plus oddball things such as “rock” or “plumbing fixtures.”  You also wouldn’t believe the things I can’t unsee.

While I’m sure it’s not an original idea, I’ve decided to be spam for Halloween.  But not just your run of the mill spam. It’s Halloween, after all, so I’ll sexy it up.  Plus, the best spam doesn’t come right out and TELL you it’s spam. The best spam, like the most savvy of trolls, is sexy, seductive.  Think Catherine Zeta Jones (CZJ) in a black bodysuit.

Here’s the plan:

Dressed like CZJ’s character Virginia Baker, from the movie Entrapment, I’ll wander into whatever Halloween parties I feel like wandering into. Invitations are for sexy nurses. I’m Spam! I can go anywhere!

Trick or treat!

Trick or treat!

I’ll walk up to a group of sexy vampires in conversation, maybe about the weather or politics or the latest blockbuster movies — no matter — and say, “When the music group is this : pulled off, going to be the surface skin body cells and going to be the facial/nose hair utilize them.”

They’ll probably ignore my fascinating banter at first, but I’ll press on: “But despite it being printed on the back of a Trivial Pursuit card, it’s simply not true.On Clive Hills Road a resident reports that someone entered an unlocked 2009 Buick Enclave and rummaged through the glove . Once again, the price range was WAY too high for me, so I ended up just walking around, enjoying the holiday spirit.”

Maybe they’ll turn away. Maybe they’ll ask me to leave.  Whatever.

I’ll just mosey on over to a group of sexy zombies  in the other corner, talking about their vacation plans or renovating a house, and I’ll cheerfully join in,Hi everybody, here every person is sharing these experience, thus it’s good to be at this party, and I used to pay a visit this party everyday but it’s not as good as it used to be. What happened?”

If anyone questions who I am or why I’m there, I’ll just pretend I’m not from around here: “Lub ów szczyl w autobusie, przy stadionem Legii, proazek z piętnaście lat, ogolony makówka. Wykrzykiwał z.”

Undoubtedly at some point  I’ll be filtered from the party, so I’m planning on leaving with one last poignant shout out: “Get rid of the plug by hand and be careful with the rush of scorching oil. Sporting gloves is really an excellent concept.”

While it isn’t my thing, I don’t have any major issues with Halloween. I hope those of you who love it have a wonderful time. Happy Halloween!

I mean,  “Toddler web masters!!”


If you’re reading this after October 31, the comment references to my gravatar are to my Halloween “costume”. 

To complete the holiday spirit, I “dressed up” like Catherine Zeta Jones for the day. . .

My Halloween costume, 2013.

My Halloween costume, 2013.

Your spirit of adventure leads you to read this.

Maybe you have one of these where you live, too:  a modest house situated on the cusp of the town’s business and residential districts, the place where Madame Flora or Mrs. Miller and her relatives run the family fortune-telling empire.  In my town it’s a cute little pink cottage near a  busy intersection, cheerfully  lit by the welcoming glow of white Christmas lights at varying times of the day or night.

This pleasant beckoning might tempt even the staunchest skeptic to stop in, if only out of curiosity.

At some time in the past couple of years, while I wasn’t particularly paying attention, a new Madame Flora moved in or Mrs. Johnson took over for Mrs. Miller or something happened at the fortune-teller cottage and business is now booming.  I think whoever’s in charge might be the real deal.

The place used to have the appearance of a business past its prime, with a weather-worn clapboard exterior and overgrown shrubbery, and most telling of all, a

Shouldn't they know I'm coming?

Shouldn’t they know I’m coming?

prominently displayed notice that services were BY APPOINTMENT ONLY.

All that’s changed now.  The sign is gone. The cottage exterior is fresh and appealing, the landscaping is tasteful and inviting, and most interesting of all, the hours seem irregular.

Some nights I’ll drive by near midnight and business is brisk.  Some Saturday afternoons, nothing.  They truly do know when you’re coming and they’re there for you.

I’m not normally the type to visit a fortune teller/crystal-palm-tarot card reader.  I’m pretty sure that one sleepover in tenth grade, when we disobeyed house rules and snuck in a Ouija board, is the root of all misadventures that have befallen me since. Was it really worth a lifetime of bad luck to know if Jeff thought Cindy was cute?


It was not.

Particularly since Ouija’s answer was something like E-Y-N-R-S-Q and Jeff never so much as offered to carry Cindy’s books to class.  Stupid Ouija board.

I do keep a decorative dish near my door full of the little slips that come in my occasional weekly Chinese take-out, but those are strictly for entertainment purposes.

Whenever I wonder what the next hour to day-and-a-half will hold, I’ll pull out a slip, as if I’m calling bingo numbers or something, and decide whether or not I care for that fortune.  If I don’t think it suits me or my particular desires in that moment, I put it back and try again.

I prefer to choose my own destiny.

One of my friends mocks this little ritual. That doesn’t stop him from casually sneaking a slip out and taking a peek when he doesn’t know I’m watching.

I’m considering replacing all the slips with new slips, all of which say, “Your thinning hair will soon be gone,” or “You enjoy home-baked chocolate chip cookies. Perhaps too much, Pudgy.”

The problem with fortune cookies lately, as some of you well know, is that they don’t so much predict the future as make some over generalized statement, such as one I get  frequently:

“Culture and customs of China attract you.”

Ya think?

Ya think?

This revitalized fortune-teller cottage is the only positive indicator I’ve noticed in an otherwise dismal psychic industry lately.

Along with the Ouija’s sensitivity to wishful thinking and heavy hands, and the increasing mediocrity in fortune cookie slips, I’ve given up on an astrology website that used to be a fun end-of-the-month check-in.  Used to be it was interestingly accurate to read at the end of the month and compare to what had actually gone on.

Then I started to notice it wasn’t so accurate, right around the time I started to notice the astrologer started telling personal stories illustrating examples from her own life.

When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, you are prone to broken bones,” she would write. And then she’d go on, “For example, in 1997, when the moon was in my seventh house, I fell down the stairs and ended in a full body cast.”

Once, maybe twice, I could see this happening. Eventually I came to feel sorry for this poor woman’s tragic life. And then it occurred to me: she’s an astrologer. How are all these things that she’s cautioning readers about happening to her . . . repeatedly? When Jupiter aligns with Mars, shouldn’t she know to stay home in bed?

And then THIS happened.

A woman in my office has an online fortune-telling business, along with a jewelry business she’s pitching to QVC, a real estate empire that requires frequent trips to landlord court, and a recently incorporated travel agency.  With all this going on, she barely has time left to deal with all the accident claims and traffic citations she seems to rack up. But somehow she manages.

It’s the fortune-telling business that’s germane here.


A few weeks ago, I made the usual, casual workday greeting, “How are you today?”

To which she replied with a story that amused and fascinated me beyond levels I could have imagined upon mumbling the initial greeting.

She was happy this day to have finally finished traffic class. And it had been easier than she thought.

I was happy for her, noting that I hadn’t been aware of her traffic class, to which she responded that she didn’t belong there. It was the psychic’s fault.

“What psychic?” I inquired, suddenly more than casually fascinated. I thought the scandal that was about to break would reveal the true source of her fortune-telling prowess. Was I about to learn she’s been outsourcing to China, just as she had with her jewelry designs?

So much better:

Her latest traffic violation carried a potential fine of $125.  In an attempt to avoid paying the fine, she visited a psychic to ask for advice.  The psychic asked what she wanted the outcome to be. She told him.

So, for a modest $50, the psychic promised her that the ticketing officer would not appear in court for her traffic hearing. She paid her $50 and went to court, assuming the officer would be out with a toothache or groin injury or mild apoplectic seizure. Whatever honorable psychics are able to accomplish for a mere $50.

I’m willing to bet that you, dear reader, regardless of your psychic abilities, are able to predict what happened in traffic court that day.

My favorite part of her story was the cliffhanger: she was so angry  that the ticketing officer appeared in court, sound of body and mind, that  she was planning to make a return visit to the psychic and demand her money back.

I haven’t asked how that turned out yet.  I predict that one will bring a good chuckle.

Everyone should have a theme song.

If you caught this week’s Major League Baseball All-Star game, you may have seen the touching moment when Mariano (“Mo”) Rivera was brought in to pitch during the 8th inning in his final appearance in an All-Star game.

This is what Mo does, usually a little later in the game: he comes in to save the day, sort of like Superman or a home-improvement reality show star who manages to pull off the impossible surprise renovation just in the nick of time.

When he does it in his team’s home baseball stadium, Metallica’s song “Enter Sandman” blasts through the stadium. To honor his final appearance and his career accomplishments,  the other players (except his catcher) stayed off the field as the song played and Rivera took to  the pitcher’s mound for his warm-up pitches.

It was poignantly awesome, even if you’re not a fan of the New York Yankees. Or baseball. Or Metallica.

I rather think everyone should have a moment like that in their lives even if just for a minute or two, to be recognized for something, whatever that thing is, while their theme song plays to a standing ovation.

I like to be prepared, so  I’m working on picking my theme song.

You never know.

I’m not really sure what my moment will be, although I’m fairly certain it won’t be a stroll in from the bullpen to the pitching mound.

About the only thing I do regularly to some degree of personal success is make my way  through Washington DC traffic twice a day.

Until a recent rear-end collision at the corner of 16th and K, I had an accident-free record that might one day have led  to my moment being a solo ride down Pennsylvania Avenue, with no other cars, taxis, or buses and the sidewalks teeming with pedestrians and bicyclists giving me a standing ovation for my lifetime achievement in traffic navigation.

(Note to self: Add  Traffic Jam to the theme song short list.)

 I’ve been trying to decide on a theme song for months now.  Turns out, it isn’t as easy as I’d thought.

I started shopping theme songs several months back when a friend posted a simple Facebook question:

What song would you like to have played every time you walk into a room?

Oh, did I love that question! Thinking of my answer entertained me for weeks.

It just happened that when my friend posed the question, I was preparing to give a presentation to a few dozen serious-minded people in a sophisticated,  state-of-the-art conference center. I instantly envisioned my entrance to be something like this, cape and all:

Of course, that idea was just a cape-adorned  flight of fancy. I needed to choose my own song and since you never know when your moment is going to arrive, I needed to get to work.

Some things to consider when choosing your theme song.

1. There’s only one Elvis.

 One thing about a good personal anthem is that it becomes distinctly  associated with one person so that no one else can use it. I’m willing to bet that if the supermarket music system played Also sprach Zarathustra / See See (aka C.C.) Rider, everyone in the store would expect to see Elvis. Several probably would.

For that same reason I ruled out Hail to the Chief and God Save the Queen, not that I’d expect the President or the Queen to show up at the Winn-Dixie, mind you. Be honest — if you were in line at the deli counter and one of those tunes started playing, you’d wonder if Her Majesty was going to jump the line for some liverwurst and swiss, wouldn’t you?

2. Go with your brand.

My friend’s question also came a time when I was brushing up on all things Oprah via her satellite radio station.  That day’s life class had included the reminder to set your intention before entering any room.

I like to think that I enter every room with the intention of bringing peace and love and maybe a little hyperbole. In a perfect world, my theme song would be Cat Stevens’ Peace Train, which I could have played up big and joyful for certain rooms . . . or played down quiet and meditative for other rooms.

The truth of the matter is that it isn’t a perfect world and there are some rooms I enter where people can smell that sort of intention coming and they will eat you alive.

My intention when entering such rooms is, well, not to be eaten alive.  Which brings us to  . . .

3. Go big even if — or especially if —  you’re not.

Elvis, the President of the United States, and Queen Elizabeth walk into a bar. What do their theme songs have in common? Majesty. Grandeur. Brass. Do these people know how to set intentions or what?

Professional sports teams know this as well.  Imagine the Pittsburgh Steelers entering the stadium to the booming backbeat of Muskrat Love.  Actually, even as I type this, I’m enjoying that image quite a bit. And now that I think about it, it might be an effective way to throw their opponents off their game.  But I digress.

A good theme song — especially for those hoping not to be eaten alive —  is loud and proud.  A nice marching band or symphony commands respect as does a good AC/DC or Van Halen blowout. Heavy metal or arena rock anthems are particularly popular for professional sports teams and they can work for you, too.

I’m not ashamed to admit that my short list of potential theme songs includes some Good Charlotte and Three Doors Down. You got a problem with that?

I’m still working on my list, searching from something between Nirvana and The Carpenters, something that says, “I come in peace. But you don’t wanna mess with me.”  I only hope I find it before my moment arrives.  Speaking of which, I need to get to work.

What about you? Do you have a theme song or a vision of your own moment?

I’m not really an advertising genius.

The other day  I was listening to Bloomberg radio when an advertisement recaptured my attention, which had drifted off to plans of s’mores and fireworks and a long-overdue period of lolly-gagging and dilly-dallying.

What caught my ear was the language of the ad. Roughly translated, the message was that this is a company you can trust because, “Hey, you might not have a clue who we are, but at least we’re not in a heap of financial trouble like our competitors. So,  there’s that.”

I found this approach somewhat refreshing and honest. I wish I could recall the company name, which is less a reflection of the ad’s effectiveness than it is  further evidence of the cognitive decline that has accompanied my own aging process.

Whatever the company’s name, the commercial concluded with the company slogan, or “tag line”: Acme Corporation: Solvent.

This reminded me of another refreshingly honest and not-understated slogan that I see all the time.

There are worse places you could live.

My commute crosses through Prince George’s County, Maryland into the District of Columbia and back again each day.  The welcome sign in either direction reads something like, “Welcome to Prince George’s County: A Livable Community.” 

Whenever I notice the signs, I read the message as “Meh.::shoulder shrug:: It’s livable.”

It makes me laugh.

As with Acme Corporation’s soft-sell on the virtue of solvency, Prince George’s County’s self-promotion seems to be a matter-of-fact acknowledgement that many drivers passing through are aware that the district has suffered some difficult times  since the departure of one of its most notable citizens.

Meh. It's livable. (Photo: collegepark.patch.com).

Meh. It’s livable. (Photo: collegepark.patch.com).

Some might be inclined to read “A Livable Community” with the subtext of “Sure, our last county executive is in prison for corruption, but that’s only because his wife was found stuffing the cash in her bra when the officers arrived. It was simply a matter of poor timing — she hadn’t had a chance to convert it to saline in the time-honored tradition of other political wives.

On the bright side, we’re not Detroit.”

A new trend.

Maybe  this is a new, pre-apocalyptic trend: a shift away from superlatives such as best, biggest, ultimate, ultra-, possibly influenced by the cynical irony and ennui of a hipster generation consumer. A return to a simpler, less pretentious branding.

Prince George’s County is, in fact, livable.

It has essentially the same  access to oxygen and other life-sustaining elements as surrounding counties and Washington DC. No further promises implied, no promises broken. Simple, effective, and most of all, true.  It doesn’t need to pretend to be the best place to live, just, well . . . livable.

I think I’m on board with this new trend of choosing one truth about your product or service, all the better if it’s something less true about your competitors, however miniscule, and making that your brand.

I’d like to pitch a few ideas I’ve been tossing around. Feel free to add your own . . .

Spirit Airlines: It’s a plane.

Whitman’s Sampler: Chocolate.

Shell Oil: Environmental catastrophe-free. So far. Recently. (Revised – thanks Linda.)

Sony: We used to be great.

Fiat: It’s Italian.

Hoover’s: We suck.



FedEx: Shorter lines than the post office.

Crossroads Diner: No confirmed reports of botchelism.

House of Pain Tattoo Parlor: We own a dictionary.

Joe’s Pizza: Two out of five Yelp reviewers didn’t hate it.

Boone’s Farm:  Gets the job done.

Vegas and Me: A Love Story.

I first laid eyes on Vegas the night before Thanksgiving, 2011.

He was shy then or maybe playing the male version of the coquette.  That night it was just a fleeting glance, but our relationship has since blossomed.  I see him just about every day now, sometimes several times a day.

That first night my instincts told me Vegas was not the man for me.  He had a dangerous air about him, bearing a striking resemblance to  James Brolin in The Amityville


No, definitely not the man for me. That movie scared the bejeebers out of me.

Still there was something intriguing about his rugged handsomeness and the clean-shaven charm of  his wing man,  whose name escapes me now. I’ve only seen Wing Man a few times, but Vegas remains a steadfast suitor.

Update: Wing Man reappeared today. His name is Trevor7878.

Update: Wing Man’s “real” name is Trevor.

On that night that I first spied his come-hither glance, I’d just arrived home after a long day at work and logged on to check personal email. While I sorted through the latest batch of possibly virus-laden video jokes from a friend in Myrtle Beach and the dozens of emails from Restoration Hardware, Talbot’s  and Pottery Barn, I noticed in the side-frame that a popular online dating service was thoughtfully reaching out to me, there in my pre-holiday moment of solitude.

Maybe  they’d caught a whiff of the Progresso soup heating up in the microwave at a time when everyone else’s kitchen smelled of pumpkin pie and turkey trimmings.

Whatever it was, this Cyber Yenta wanted me to know that there were men in my hometown online — at this very moment! – just waiting to meet me (!), so, you know, maybe I should’ve picked a soup without onions and garlic and would it kill me to run a brush through my hair and put on some lipstick? Oy vey.

I admit to feeling a little sorry for Vegas and Wing Man. I mean, what kind of losers hang out online at a time when everyone else is traveling to Grandma’s or getting ready for Black Friday.  Did these men have no families, no need to strategically plan  for midnight procurement of a 60″ plasma tv at a ridiculous bargain price? Were they drinking Cup-A-Soup at this very moment? Where were my lipstick and hairbrush?

This isn’t a terribly small town, but it isn’t a terribly big one, either.  Surely such hunka-hunka bachelors would’ve shown up in the society pages by now. I couldn’t place ever having seen them.

 I would not date this man. (James Brolin as George Lutz in The Amityville Horror, 1999, 20th Century Fox).

Online Dating Tip #1: Probably best to skip the guy whose profile pic includes an ax, regardless of how brooding and thoughtful his expression might be.  (James Brolin as George Lutz in The Amityville Horror, 1979, 20th Century Fox).

Along with the Dad-from-Amityville image, all of these nagging questions led me to believe that  Vegas was a heartbreak waiting to happen, but I clicked the link anyway. Why not? The soup still had about a minute and a half to go. What could it hurt?

And with that, Vegas and Wing Man vanished and  Cyber Yenta, who just moments before had been so concerned and sympathetic about my being alone on a holiday eve, now wanted to know my life story before allowing me to see anyone’s pictures.

Suddenly, I was in love with Vegas and I could not accept this cruel obstacle to our destiny. I needed to find him, to connect, to know if his house were finally free of poltergeists and if he had tried Progresso’s new international line, like the chicken tortilla. I was sure he wasn’t a smoker because Fate couldn’t be so cruel as to have matched me with a smoker. Or a joker. Or a midnight toker. Nothing like that.

No, Vegas was a good man. A kind and thoughtful man, intelligent and funny, warm and gentle toward old people, children, and animals.  A poet and self-made millionaire who loved working in his woodshop and who’d once rescued a group of stranded hikers while climbing Mount Everest, giving them his provisions and calling for his personal helicopter to pick them up, then going on to finish mounting the summit alone. And barefoot.  Thrifty, clean, reverent, and brave. Oh, how I longed to find him again.

I told Cyber Yenta everything s/he wanted to know, filling out each screen as quickly as possible, before Vegas slipped away, possibly falling into the clutches of that tart who lives over by the docks. She wasn’t good for Vegas. Sure, she owned a hairbrush and was always slathered up with lip gloss, but Vegas and I were meant to be together.

Yes,  I am a dog person.

No, I don’t smoke.

Look, Cyber Yenta,  I am perfectly capable of telling Vegas these things myself. Please bring him back. My soup is getting cold.

Vegas and I weren’t meant to meet on that Thanksgiving Eve. I finally gave up, closed the laptop, ate my soup, went to bed, and put the whole thing out of my mind. I forgot all about Vegas because the memories were just too painful.

I moved on.

To the following Monday, when upon opening my email, I received dozens of notifications that eligible bachelors  were interested in meeting me (!) — none of whom appeared to be possessed of Vegas’s rugged looks or daring bravery or generosity of spirit or moving sensitivity, although I will concede it is hard to judge these things through profile pictures alone.

The pain of having loved and lost Vegas was too fresh, too raw, too third-and-equally-incongruent adjective.   I told Cyber Yenta to call off the search. If I couldn’t have Vegas, I didn’t want anyone.  Besides, I knew it would hurt him, too, to know I’d moved on so quickly and so callously.

A few months ago, through the miracle of the Internet, Vegas reappeared.  Barely a day goes by that I don’t log on to find his warm smile beaming at

Reunited at last.

Vegas, my soup-mate. Reunited at last.

me, lovingly reminding me that one out of five relationships start online.

I try not to think about the fact that most of those online relationships probably start with Vegas, whose given name is Vegas90403.  I used to think 90403 was a zip code, but I suspect it’s the number of online relationships he had to go through before he found me.

All that matters is that he found me and that we can share our evening soup together, he with his ever-present grin, me searching for my hairbrush and lipstick.

Sick day ramblings of an influenzic brain

I’m sick.

How sick?

Really sick.

If the molecules of air would stop attacking my skin, I could finally get around to reading this. (Photo from Wikipedia)

If the molecules of air would stop attacking my skin, I could finally get around to reading this. (Photo from Wikipedia)

Really, really sick.

So sick that the only words I can summon to describe how sick I am are “really, really.”

I’m so sick that yesterday afternoon I had three cups of tea. That’s literal,  not  literary. I don’t particularly care for tea, except when I’m this sick. It just seems like some magic elixir I’m supposed to be drinking. Maybe it’ll hasten the onset of death.

So  sick that I’m following through on my intention to have a Smash marathon to catch up on last season before the new season begins. My healthier self can never sit still long enough to finish a viewing marathon. A year and a half ago, while recovering from surgery,  I got through the first two seasons of Ally McBeal. I haven’t seen another episode since.

I’m so sick that while I was sleeping through Episode 14 (the one where someone slips peanuts into Uma Thurman’s food) it started snowing here. Instead of my usual happy snow dance, all I can manage is detached ennui.

Oh. Snow. That’s nice.

So sick that my whole body aches. I have sick eyes. And sick hair. And my sick hair hurts.

It was yesterday morning when my hair started to hurt that I realized I might be too sick for work. I was one hour and fifteen minutes into my hour-and-thirty-minute commute.

Turning your car around and going home is apparently the white flag of surrender that this particular strain of the flu thrives on. Almost immediately, all systems started shutting down.

There’s no telling how many traffic lights I ran while pondering the origins of the phrase “sick as a dog.”  I wonder if it started in Kentucky. I made a mental note to check my heavily flagged copy of Pretty Babies Grow Up Ugly to see if it’s mentioned there and maybe to find a cure for sick hair that hurts. I imagine it involves polecat grease or some sort of bean soup. Then I wondered where I might stop to pick up a polecat on my way home.

What I’m trying to say is I’m sick. Really, really sick.

In fact, I might be dying.

Portable polecat. (Photo from Wikipedia)

Portable polecat. (Photo from Wikipedia)

More specifically, I’ve spent the better part of the last 24 hours praying for the sweet relief of death.

I know I caught at least one traffic light because I remember seeing two priests in a Ford Fiesta in my rear view mirror — I’m sure they were real;  I hadn’t had Nyquil yet — and wondering what the Church’s guidelines are for flagging down clergy to request last rites in a five-way intersection. There are certain disadvantages to being raised Protestant, not the least of which is having no understanding of priest etiquette. I regret that now.

Because  I’m sick.

Really, really sick.

It’s times like these that lead us to re-evaluating our priorities. As appealing as the sweet relief of death might be, I realize I have things left to do before I can check out. So I’m working on revising, amending, and fast-tracking my bucket list. Here’s what I have so far.

Revised, Amended, and Fast-Tracked Bucket List (a work in progress):

1. Take a romantic walk at midnight in Paris. Make sure my loved ones know how much I care.

A. To my children: I love you both from the bottom of my heart. Mommies don’t have favorites.  I love you equally for your unique talents and individual beauty. I am so proud to be your mom.

B. To my daughter: I know I said Mommies don’t have favorites, but truth be told you have always been my favorite. My first-born. Your smile that lights up a room. Your kind heart. Your thoughtfulness in taking care of others . . .like maybe picking up some chicken soup and a box of tissues for your mother who is sick. Really, really sick.

C. To my son: Pay no attention to what I said to your sister. She’s under a lot of pressure. She needs all  the support we can give her right now.  In truth, you have always been my favorite. I love the way you have grown into a responsible and serious young man but maintained your child-like view of the world. Also, I forgive you for the tattoos, neither of which mentions, “Mom.” But stop. Seriously.

D. Why are you both still reading this? The woman who gave birth to you is lying on a couch (or sofa or davenport, adjust to your own belief system), clinging to life while simultaneously praying for death. Would it kill you to pick up the phone?

2. Create the perfect workout playlist, custom-tailored to my cardio beats-per-minute Create a funeral playlist. To anyone reading this who might be involved in planning my final farewell, please, for the love of God do not include Bette Midler singing “The Rose.” Or “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Or anything. No Bette Midler. Also, no Celine Dion. And I hope it goes without saying: no bagpipes. I really have to get on this.

3. Take a pottery class and make at least one special piece. Microwave a bowl of soup. (Without passing out on the kitchen floor.)

4. Make an authentic Thai dinner that tastes as good as what I can pick up in take-out. Review list of people who annoy me to see who has peanut allergies. Act accordingly.

5. Exchange meaningful glances with Keanu Reeves across a crowded room.   Watch every Keanu Reeves movie available on Netflix. Even The Lake House.

For now I’m off to continue working on the revision and/or to sleep. Just in case this is the last you hear from me, I loved you all equally.  Be excellent to each other.

(And, seriously, no Bette Midler.)

Post-almost mortem addendum:

FluView, via US Centers for Disease Control. Nevada, Montana, Maine and Kentucky appear to be the healthiest places in America. Must be the polecats.

FluView, via US Centers for Disease Control. Nevada, Montana, Maine and Kentucky appear to be the healthiest places in America. Must be the polecats.

This map tracking influenza activity from the US Centers for Disease Control  suggests Kentucky’s onto something with its home remedies.

How I spent my apocalypse

So, how was your apocalypse?  Mine was fun, thanks. A little low key, but there was still enough adventure, intrigue, night-sky explosion and total darkness to make a person re-think her skepticism toward Mayan wisdom.

I realize the day is young and there will be more apocalypse to come. Last night’s kickoff was rather interesting, so in a sense I’m looking forward to the main event.

Here in my little corner of the world, at 8:53 p.m.by the clock in my car, several explosions lit the night sky and then the power went out. . . all over town. (See video below.)

On my way home I decided to take a drive along the bay, through a wonderful little family community where the women are strong, the men are good-looking and the children are all above-average (and the dogs are pretty special, too).

I passed the local nursery and garden center just as its Christmas light display fizzled out and I wondered if they’d regretted adding just that one last string of lights. Apparently I was missing the show behind me — explosions around the city!

By the time I got to the neighborhood, I realized something was afoot. Whereas normally just about every house is Pottery Barn meets Griswold, there was almost total darkness, save for those who wisely invested in generators during one of our many recent pre-apocalypse power outages.

People with generators can do this, while others dine on cold roast beef by candlelight. (Dramatization of actual house.)

People with generators can do this, while others dine on cold roast beef by candlelight. (Dramatization of actual house.)

As an aside, and maybe a helpful hint to those with generators: when tens of thousands of people around you are in total darkness, it’s rubbing it in to have your entire 10,000 square-foot home lit in Christmas lights. Plus, aren’t you worried about zombies?

From the road by the water, where one can normally see the US Naval Academy and the lights of the city, nada. Dark.

I made my way back to Villa Cahier, greeted by a text from my neighbor asking when the lights would be back on.

Along with often being mistaken for a certain Lebanese waitress, I am also frequently mistaken as someone who knows things.

I was hungry, tired, and fighting off a sore throat and runny nose when I absent-mindedly replied, “According to the Mayans, never.”

She’s a little excitable. That got her a lot excitable. When will I learn?

Fortunately for us all, and by that I mean me, I am a hopeless romantic with by all accounts far too many candles, and it’s Christmas-time, so with no conscious effort, I was prepared for this particular aspect of The End.

I did my best impression of Lisa (Grace Kelly) in Rear Window, when she enters Jeff’s (James Stewart) apartment and spins around turning on all the lights, only I was fumbling around lighting candles.

Dramatization of actual events. This is how I light candles during a power outage.

Dramatization of actual events. This is how I light candles during a power outage.

Grace was in a lovely chiffon and tulle dress. I was in a sweater and slacks. She had a wrap. I wore a winter coat.  She was Grace Kelly. I am Xena, Worrier Princess.

Ok, so it was nothing like Grace Kelly in Rear Window. Just forget I said that.

Anyway, I managed, without benefit of being anything like Grace Kelly, to get enough light going to scrounge in the refrigerator for some leftover roast beef and as I sat there in the semi-light, I thought about my apocalypse joke and how maybe this wasn’t all that funny and maybe this was my last meal… cold, leftover roast beef, under the lonely mistletoe.

Man, did I bum myself out.

I sent my farewell messages to each of my loved ones, who are quite accustomed to my hyperbole and played along, and then I popped some Vitamin C, grabbed a box of tissues, and went to bed.

The lights came back on about 2:30 a.m. and according to the latest news, several electrical transformers exploded and several substations went offline, plunging all of us into darkness.

Including the mall.

Five days before Christmas.

Talk about the end of the world.

Nobody knows why the transformers blew up, except perhaps, the Mayans. They tried to warn us, but did we, and by that I mean I, have anything better than cold roast beef on hand for a last meal? No. I did not.

Several videos of the explosions have been uploaded.  I’m grateful to Timmy (whoever he is) for not including audio, because, although the others are entertaining, they are raw and uncensored accounts of people witnessing the end of the world.  Feel free to go search for those on your own.

Here’s what the night sky looked like, and it was just a little bit unsettling to not know what in the world was happening. Unsettling in a fun kind of way, now that the lights are back on.  Hope your end of the world is just as enjoyable!