Time Warner Cable: A Study in Nomenclature

This post contains the F-Word. I’m sorry, but I’m writing about Time Warner Cable, so the F-word is absolutely necessary. If you have ever interacted with them, you will understand.

I originally wrote a 1,200 word post describing my ordeal, but you don’t really want to read that, do you? Believe it or not, I try to distill these posts of mine to just the funny parts or the parts where I learned something. I’m trying to be either entertaining or helpful— that’s my goal.

Hey—that should be TWC’s goal, too! Someone should tell them that! Only you can’t tell them anything, because there is no way to communicate with Time Warner Cable. You can call, email, walk into the store, actually scream and cry, but no information will be received by anyone with a soul or a sense of accountability.

Over my two-month struggle to regain internet access, I have realized that Time Warner Cable needs a complete overhaul of their entire organization. Let’s start calling things what they really are, Time Warner. Here are some suggestions.

National Help Desk: The National Help Desk is neither helpful nor anywhere in my nation. I’m not sure what nation it’s in. I suggest we call it the Foreign Frustration Desk.  I have called the Foreign Frustration Desk at least 50 times in the last few months. I received no help, only frustration. The frustration delivery mechanism is superbly effective: a protracted automated answering system subjects you to the same recorded advice each time you call (Reboot your modem! That’ll fix it!) until your call is finally answered by a Frustration Specialist who barely speaks English but has been instructed to apologize excessively while calling you ma’am until she transfers you to another Frustration Specialist who  makes you repeat all your identifying information and tell your entire story again. Repeat ad nauseum.

Service Technician: Again, there is no service actually being provided by these individuals. These are the guys who show up to your house, plug and unplug some things, tappy-tappy-tappy on your keyboard, and say you are up and running. Then they leave and you lose connectivity again. I have had at least three of these guys out in the past couple months. One of them (in collusion with the Foreign Frustration Specialist) told me that the problem was my computer. Everything was fine on Time Warner’s side, so it must be my old computer.  I actually bought a new computer, but guess what? He was wrong. I spent $1,300 and I still couldn’t connect.  These “service technicians” don’t actually have any technical skills, either. I hereby dub them “Workload Shufflers”.

Local Cable Store: Okay, this isn’t actually a misnomer, because I suppose you can buy stuff at the Cable Store. Maybe you can even buy cables there. But these should actually be called Local Apathy Centers, because if you go in there, they don’t give a shit. I went in and desperately pleaded for some help after weeks of no service. Apathy Centers are staffed by Customer Deflection Specialists, who are trained to make sympathetic noises while tapping on their keyboards (aka “updating your account”) and saying whatever is necessary to make you leave the store as quickly as possible.

Supervisor: At the Apathy Center, when I asked, “Who can help me? Who can be accountable and get me some results? Nothing I try is working.” They said, “Well, you can call our Supervisor.”  “Is she here?” I asked, believing that supervisors, well, supervise. But I have been to the store three times and left two voicemails for Supervisors, and they have yet to materialize. I think the supervisors are actually Voicemail Decoys, tricks employed by the Deflection Specialists when you become too persistent.

Construction:  After I bought a new computer because TWC insisted that it was my problem, and I still couldn’t connect, I called the Foreign Frustration Desk and they said, “Oh, we’ll have someone check the line.” Excuse me? You didn’t check the line before you told me it was my computer? This is CABLE INTERNET and you didn’t check the CABLE?  They sent another Workload Shuffler to check the line but he couldn’t solve the problem (shuffle, shuffle) so he placed a work order with “Construction,” who was supposed to replace the line. “They’ll call you,” the Workload Shuffler said.   I would rename Construction, “The Magical Internet Fairy,” because it doesn’t actually exist. No one called; no one came. Ever.

Customers: This one is easy. More than one person told me that if you want results from TWC, you have to freak out and throw a fit. That is not my style. When I am interacting with customer service or retail workers, I try to remember how it was to be the front line—you make very little money, you have no authority, and you take all kinds of crap. Low-class people love to lord over receptionists, retail clerks and other people who are required to interact with them; I am a classy chick and I try to treat others with respect.  There is a limit, however. If you offer a faulty product and appalling customer service and provide no means for resolution, you leave your customers feeling utterly powerless and they become Ticking Time Bombs.

So, after countless hours on the phone with the Foreign Frustration Desk, three visits by Workload Shufflers, two new modems and a brand new computer and still no internet, my fuse was just about gone. I went to my Local Apathy Center and explained the problem to a Customer Deflection Specialist. He scheduled me for a visit from The Magical Internet Fairy the very next Saturday. And on Saturday, I, a Ticking Time Bomb, opened to the door to another Workload Shuffler.

“Are you from Construction?” I asked him.

“No.”

“Do you know what’s going on with my job? Did they tell you anything?”

“No.”

“Someone is supposed to replace the outside line. Someone from Construction. Do you know about that?”

“Construction?”

I started to lose it.  My voice began to escalate as I repeated my story for the 743rd time.

He went outside to call his Voicemail Decoy. My mistake was that I tried to call the Frustration Desk while he was gone. “For technical support, press 1.” “Most problems can be corrected by restarting your modem.” The automated voice-recognition system goes into panic mode when you scream at it. “I’m sorry…I didn’t understand that. Please try again. To cancel your appointment, say, ‘Cancel.’”

I was in full-fledged Automated System Rage by the time the Shuffler returned.

He told me–this was his mistake, using these words–that someone from Construction would call me.

At this point I can no longer accurately relay what happened, because I lost my fucking mind. I’m not kidding. I was shaking and shrieking and probably frothing at the mouth. I heard myself screaming but I could not stop. The kids rushed downstairs to stare and the dogs cowered in the corner of the yard. The Shuffler turned to flee. I chased him out the door and kept yelling. He tried to reason with me. There was more screaming and I’m pretty sure I told him to “stop fucking lying to me and give me someone’s phone number who will actually help me.”

I never saw that Shuffler again; he got in his TWC van and drove away from the crazy lady. But guess what? That very afternoon, some guy showed up to replace the line. The guy said he was from “Quality Control.”  Another giant misnomer: Quality? Control? At Time Warner Cable?  REALLY??

Feeling exhausted and broken after my morning rage, I meekly relayed the story of my TWC ordeal. The guy poked around outside for about 10 minutes and returned with a length of cable that looked as if it had been gnawed by a beaver. “Here’s your problem,” he said, “I don’t know why no one saw this before.”

So in about 20 minutes, this guy—who seems like a figure in a dream; I wouldn’t believe he actually exists except that the internet works now—fixed the problem that I had been fighting for months. All I had to do was make one more trip to the Apathy Center for another modem since the one they’d given me a month before was defective, of course.

The moral of the story is this:  avoid all contact with Time Warner Cable if you can. If not, try screaming first. And please, let’s all call things by their proper names.

Cupcakes and Competition: Lessons from a High School Bake-off

Hot Fudge Sundae Cupcakes with Cookie Dough Centers. Yeah baby.

“Mom,” my daughter said. “I have to bake cupcakes for Huffman’s class. It’s for a bake-off and I get 25 points for entering.”

“Great,” I answered. “How many points do we get when we win?”

Oh, we won. We don’t mess around. We made Hot Fudge Sundae Cupcakes (a la Joy the Baker) with a cookie dough center, complete with whipped cream and cherries. Some of the other kids—kids who brought inferior baked goods–criticized Maddy for trying too hard.

Trying too hard?? It’s a competition! Do you criticize your basketball team for trying too hard? Do you tell your track runners to slow down? No. You tell them to WIN.

My daughter and I are both highly competitive. Our competitiveness is exceeded only by our lack of athletic ability. So while we can’t run faster or jump higher or hit harder than you, we will KICK YOUR ASS in a bake-off. Our cupcakes will mop the floor with your lousy cookies and then stuff them down your throat, LOSER.

Only we won’t say that out loud, because we’re ladylike.

Maddy and I were cracking ourselves up, talking about our aggressive baking and how our thwarted competitive natures spill over into non-competitive arenas because we have no other outlets. Maddy said something like, “Yeah, I’m good at all the lame stuff—baking, board games, logic puzzles…”

Then, because I am a mom, I jumped in with a little lesson that I wish I’d learned earlier in my life.

“Baking isn’t lame. Logic puzzles aren’t lame. You think it’s the lame stuff because it’s what you’re good at,” I told her. “Other people wish they were good at the things you’re good at—it’s not lame stuff. You just don’t value your talents because they come easily to you. But they don’t come easily to everyone. ”

When I was younger, I felt like I was only good at easy things. My strong suits are words, pictures and people.  To me, those are all easy, fun, fluffy talents. Even my strongest skill, which has always been writing, seemed inadequate to me. Because I have a simple, straightforward style, I felt like my writing was unsophisticated and childish. I always believed that the real value was in the numbers skills–the logical, left-brain sort of talents. Yeah, I can make things look nice and I can get along with people but who cares? Who’s going to pay me for that?

As I entered corporate America, I was subjected to personality and aptitude tests that reinforced that belief. No matter which test they administered, I was cast straight into the bimbo category: you’re a Sanguine! A High I! An ENFP! They all seemed to indicate that I talk too much and I can’t keep my act together. I think my elementary school teachers were in on those tests.

I wished I could be more like the analytical types, or the bold, Type-A types. I wished my skill sets were more practical. Basically, I just wanted to be what I wasn’t. Don’t we all?

One perk of getting older is that as we gain perspective through experience, we are able to see ourselves more clearly and understand how we fit into the big picture. I have now read enough bad writing to realize what a gift it is to be succinct and articulate. I have now worked for enough terrible bosses that I see the value in people skills. I have seen enough ugliness to appreciate my own ability to make things beautiful.

I’ve also figured out that not everyone thinks that what I do is easy. Even smart people with great ideas can’t always put them in writing. They think it’s some crazy superpower, just the way I feel about people who can do math in their heads.  More than one employer has capitalized on my people skills—turns out that people skills, or “soft skills,” as they are referred to in corporate-speak, are very hard to teach.

I’m not sure if this is universal or just women who do this, but it took me a long time to understand that the “easy stuff” only seemed easy to me because I am good at it.

This phenomenon of downgrading our own talents seems to be an extension of the grass-is-always-greener mindset.  We always think someone else’s talents are more valuable than our own.  Someone said, “If the grass seems greener on the other side of the fence, try watering your own lawn.”  Genius.

In this case, we need to recognize that just because it comes naturally to us, doesn’t mean it’s cheap or lame—someone wishes it came naturally to her, too.  Someone wishes he could write a better sentence, or bake a better cupcake.  My abilities are unique and valuable, even though it took me several decades to realize it. They are worth cultivating.

Another perk of being middle aged: I still have time to implement all this wisdom I’m trying to impart to my daughter. It’s not like I’m croaking out advice on my deathbed. It’s not too late to capitalize on those talents—not too late to water my own lawn.

The Mattress Adventures of Meg

Alas, this isn’t a steamy sexcapades memoir.  How I wish it were.  Really, it’s about mattress shopping.

Recently I visited my chiropractor to address my nagging low back pain. He gave me this bit of common sense advice:  if your back hurts in the morning more than it hurts at night, your problem is most likely your mattress.

My back definitely hurts more in the morning, and I was aware that my bed was a torture rack, but it was nice to have it confirmed by a professional.  Now I can justify spending the money on a new mattress without feeling frivolous. We are not going to delve into why I can’t spend money without a flurry of self-judgment. We’re just going to be happy that I get a new mattress.

The first store I went to was a local, custom mattress store and the basic models started at $1,000. I was okay with that; this is my bed we’re talking about, and I’m tired of back pain. So I am open to spending $1,000. (I’m aware that you also can spend $15,000 on a mattress, but those mattresses are not for regular humans.)  However, $1,000 is like a bazillion dollars to me, so I wasn’t going down without a fight—I was ready to shop my head off.  If they’re getting my thousand dollars, I am getting ONE HELL OF A MATTRESS. I tried a few beds in that store, but mostly I was freaking out about the money too much to make any progress.

The second mattress store was less fancy.  As I walked in the front door, I bumped into a mattress that was clearly labeled, “Back Support” and it was $399. I was able to settle down and think for a minute, but then the mattress salesman came over. And he was cute.

This is a problem.  Mattress shopping is already exceedingly awkward. First of all, mattress stores are almost always empty except for you and the salesperson.  So you walk in, explain that you are shopping for a mattress (duh) and then you LIE DOWN and try to act like it’s no big deal to lie down and talk about beds in a big empty room with a total stranger.  Throw a little attraction into the mix and you can crank that awkwardness up a few notches: just act natural, while you talk to the cute stranger about how sometimes you like to lie on your back but sometimes you lie on your side and never mind that beds are also for sex but not mine, we’re not talking about that, I’m just lying here trying to act natural.

(There is a bigger problem here: I don’t know how to pick up men. So even if I’m all alone with a cute guy, and I have his undivided attention in a room full of BEDS, I still don’t know how to close the deal.  Pathetic.)

The good news is that I really liked the $399 bed.  It felt as good as the custom, expensive beds.  However, you can’t return a mattress, so you only have one shot to get it right. Must…keep…shopping…

Store #3 had the biggest selection and a very knowledgeable salesperson. She showed me a very comfortable bed that was $1,100. Empowered by my $399 secret, I asked if she had anything that felt that good but was cheaper. She said, eyebrows raised, “Cheaper than $1,100?” Yes, lady; I am a low-digit girl and I need an awesome mattress that is super cheap. What’s the problem?

She might have been a little snooty, but she gave me this useful advice: if you are shopping for a mattress, you must lie on it for at least 20 minutes, because that’s how long it takes your body to relax and get a feel for it. She showed me a very comfortable mattress and encouraged me to lie on it for as much time as I could spare.

I lay on that mattress for a good 25-30 minutes. I may have even dozed a little, right there in a public mattress store. It felt great. I was pretty much in love.  “How much is this one?” I asked.  “It’s a closeout,” she said. “It’s normally $3,000 but I can sell it to you for $1,300.”

$1,300 is not less than $1,100. Am I the only one who thinks so? Because she failed to come to that conclusion. Also, $1,300 is way more than $399.

I left without buying a mattress. I ate a sandwich. I walked my dogs. Then I concluded that mattress shopping is a crap shoot. Both mattresses felt good in the store, but either one could end up being uncomfortable after a whole night’s sleep. If I was going to gamble, I would rather risk $400 than $1400. I’m not much of a gambler.

Back to store #2, home of the cute mattress salesman. It was twenty minutes to closing.

Cute Salesguy:     Oh, you’re back! I was worried that you found a better deal.

Meg-in-my-head: He remembers me! Of course, I am probably the only customer he’s  had all day.

Meg-Out-Loud:      No, I’m just having trouble making up my mind. I know it’s close to closing, but would you mind if I lie down a little longer? Someone told me I have to try it for at least 20 minutes.

Cute Salesguy:        Not at all! I’m glad you want to lie on it for a long time; that’s the smart thing to do.

Meg-in-my-head:   He is cute AND nice! I wonder if he would be willing to spoon me while I  try out this mattress?

Meg-Out-Loud:      Thank you so much. I hope I’m not keeping you.

Cute Salesguy:       I have plenty to do. Take your time. Get comfortable; I’ll even dim the lights for you.

Meg-in-my-headBow chicka bow-wow…

Meg-Out-Loud:      Okay, but if you turn on Barry White I’m going to be suspicious.

I didn’t hear what he said after that because of the blood rushing to my ears in complete horrified shame that I’d spoken the Barry White comment out loud. He turned down the lights (probably so no more weirdo customers would come in) and turned on some kind of normal music that was not suggestive at all. Of course, I couldn’t relax and feel the mattress properly after that anyway, because I was mentally berating myself for not filtering my dumb jokes.  I just lay there feeling like a dork for 15 minutes.

I bought the mattress. While we did the paperwork, we made small talk and he really was very nice. And then, get this: there was an earthquake right while we were sitting there.

Now I’m all alone, with a cute guy, in a room full of beds, AND THE EARTH MOVES, and I still cannot manage to ask for a phone number or make any romantic-type advance.  Somebody help me.

My new mattress was delivered yesterday and ironically, the delivery guy hit on me! No one ever hits on me, so I was flattered, although the delivery guy was…well…let’s just say he was no mattress salesman.

But my bed feels great.

P.S. for grammar freaks: I had to consult the lay v. lie reference about fifty times to complete this post. How did I do?

It’s June 15; do you know where your New Year’s Resolution is?

2012 is almost halfway over already. I’m shocked by that, and I’m also shocked by the notion that I can continue to be shocked by the same thing that shocks me every year. Time flies. I should be used to it by now.

What did you vow to change in 2012? Have you done it? Are you still working towards it? Or would you like me to shut up now?

I could be doing much better, but it’s not too late to work on it. I’m putting mine out into the blogosphere—it will create accountability for me and maybe it’ll inspire you to keep trying, too.

My resolutions

I was mentally kicking my own ass the other day, thinking about how I have once again fizzled out on all those things that were so important to me just few a months ago. I looked back in my journal to where I wrote them down. (You have to write them down or they don’t count.) After a little evaluating, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that while I haven’t excelled, I haven’t completely bombed, either.

I have three resolutions:

  1. Lose 50 pounds.
  2. Publish something.
  3. Finish the year with the bills current and a certain (secret) amount of savings in the bank.

The First Six Months

Weight loss is the worst of the bunch. I’m up four pounds. I should be down 25 or so by now, or maybe 15 if my body were being uncooperative.  There’s no excuse for gaining—my eating is out of control. However, I have exercised fairly consistently for the first time in my life, so I will give myself credit for that healthy habit.

Publishing is a little bit better.  This blog was the first step towards that goal. Blogging is self-publishing, and I would really like to get some articles published traditionally, but there is more value in blogging than I realized. First, it’s super fun—I highly recommend it—and inspiring, too! I’ve found a number of kindred spirits in the huge, diverse blogging community. I didn’t see that coming. I also didn’t anticipate so much support from you lovely readers.  I am so surprised at who’s been reading this. People mention it and I think, “REALLY?? YOU READ IT?”  Your encouragement has bolstered my ego and my resolve to pursue a freelance career, and it feels pretty wonderful, too. Thank you for all the feedback.  Finally, the process of blogging keeps my writer-brain active and fuels my creativity. I put off blogging for a long time because I didn’t think I had anything to say. Turns out I have all kinds of stuff to say.

I think I’ve had the most growth financially. Much of it is circumstantial; my circumstances sucked last year and they’re getting better. The bills are current and I feel a level of control that I haven’t felt in a long, long time.  My savings goal is lagging; I should have twice as much saved by now. The money that’s in my savings account is not a result of disciplined saving, which is what I really want to develop. It’s there because I resolved a tax issue and it worked in my favor. But I am giving myself credit for resolving the tax issue, because that is part of financial health, too. In recent years I have been so overwhelmed and hopeless that I avoided the tax issue and other things like it. I’ve made great strides in dealing with those financial uglies, and I feel much, much better.

The Next Six Months

Here’s the good news: there is still plenty of time. Six months is enough time to hit every single one of my goals, although it’ll be harder now.

50 pounds in six months may not be realistic, but I would be delighted with 20 or 25. I know how to lose weight; I could write a book on eating for weight loss. However, my motivation is dead in the water. I have to find a way to get it back. I need something different.

Inspired by my friend, Linda, I tried a new gym yesterday called Train Insane.  Linda has lost a lot of weight through their program, and she has developed a love for working out. I want that! I do not love working out. Train Insane offers a weight loss plan and accountability, so I thought I would give it a shot. It was horrible. And painful. I cursed Linda throughout the entire workout. I almost cried in front of the trainer at least four times. Today my muscles are so sore, I am jerking around like a corpse who’s been reanimated by an alien. It sucks.  I will probably sign up for Train Insane. I can’t even tell you why. Maybe so I can get strong enough to beat up Linda. We’ll see how I do.

On the publishing front, I want to continue this blog, of course. But I need to start sending out query letters. (That’s how you get articles in magazines: you come up with a story idea and send it to the editor of a publication.) If I don’t do that, nothing will ever get published by anyone but me. It’s pure procrastination that’s holding me back.  Maybe I need an accountability partner for that. Any takers?

And the money…that’s harder.  I can tell you I’m 50 pounds overweight and not flinch, but the shame I feel about my poor money management is actually painful. The reason my savings goal amount is a secret is because it is so small, I fear that most people would laugh at it. Shame makes it hard to ask for help, but I am learning to be open.  No one can help me save money, but being transparent with people helps me stay on track. There is no way to increase your savings without ACTUALLY LEAVING THE MONEY IN THE BANK, which seems to be where I have trouble. Hopefully, the momentum I’ve gained this year will make it easier for me in the second half.

There you have it—the good, the bad and the hopeful. If you have resolutions you want to revive, comment—maybe we can help each other.

Good Times in Riverside. Really.

So far, my posts have been musings and observations, maybe a recollection or two. I, Midlife Meg, don’t have many actual adventures.  I mostly just think about things.  However, blogging has inspired me to try to find some adventures, so I will have something to tell you about.

This post will be about me actually going somewhere and documenting it for you, dear reader.

The somewhere is Riverside, California. I went for work, which wasn’t very adventurous of me, but I ventured briefly off the business path had some fun. In Riverside, of all places.

For my readers who aren’t from SoCal, Riverside is a decent-sized city directly east of Los Angeles.  It’s not exactly known as a mecca for entertainment. Although it has a university and some historic landmarks and blah blah blah, I knew Riverside as the place I get stuck in traffic on the way home from Vegas, when I am hot and hungover and just want to get home. I’ve always thought of it as a smoggy, dusty place that really needs to trim its palm trees. From the freeway, it ain’t pretty.

However, I have now been there three times, and I kind of dig it. I went to the downtown/ City Hall area. The first day I went, I was surprised at how pretty the downtown area is.  The courthouse was so striking, I snapped a picture of it.

The Riverside Courthouse was built in 1903. Beautiful, isn’t it?

I don’t know about you, but when I am in a new city, the first thing I want to know is, where can I get a cookie? Turns out, Riverside City Hall has a café that sells cookies—big ones. I got an oatmeal raisin cookie as big as my face, and I am happy to report that it also contained nuts and coconut. Bonus! I took a picture of the cookie (with only one bite missing).  I placed it next to this chubby, middle-aged hand as a size reference.

I noticed a cute storefront on Market Street called Old Glory General Store—antiques! I love antiques. I live near Old Towne Orange, which is a hub for antiquing in Southern California. Most of the stores in Old Towne are a little pricey, though.  Since I am fairly ignorant about antiques, i.e. I can’t always tell a real antique from a reproduction, I am unwilling to spend much money on them.  (That is the difference between ignorant and stupid, see?) I have learned that antique stores outside of my beloved Old Towne are often much more affordable, so I feel more comfortable indulging elsewhere.

I took my cookie into the crowded, adorable store and meandered through the spaces. Furniture, housewares, pottery, art…it was overstimulating and wonderful.

Now that I am officially old, the toys I played with as a child are considered antiques. I don’t even care; I am still happy to encounter them.  I found a Snoopy dog, not the Charles Schulz Snoopy, but the wooden pull-string toy with the wobbly wheels. I clearly recall my own Snoopy and the odd, honking squeak his wheels made when I dragged him along beside me.  Did you have one of these?

Right behind Snoopy in the photograph is a Shirt Tales lunchbox.  I loved the Shirt Tales when I was a little older, in the early Eighties. At my elementary school (go Taft Tigers!) we traded stickers at recess, and Shirt Tales stickers were my favorites.

Although I loved marionettes as a kid, I’m grateful that my parents never gave me any like these.

These are like punishment toys, aren’t they? Terrifying. You could hang one at the foot of your kid’s bed, so he wouldn’t be able to sleep. He’d have to lay there, wide awake, thinking about what he did wrong and whether that witch puppet would come alive and eat him for it.

Speaking of inanimate objects coming to life, I turned a corner and encountered this torrid scene:

I felt like I must have interrupted something.  Her panty hose are all jacked up and everything! Maybe mannequins are like Toy Story toys, and they come alive when we leave the room.  Maybe there is another mannequin hiding under the chaise, or in that armoire. Or, maybe she was having fun all alone…whatever she was doing, it must have been fairly vigorous—her arm flew right off! See it in the background?

The best part of the store was behind a beaded curtain: a magical room with sparkling lights, full of vintage clothing and accessories. I found a trunk with a sign that read, “These items belonged to a retired belly dancer. Some of them are quite provocative.”  Of course, I had to dig into that. And put something on.

I’m not sure how provocative I look in this. Guess I won’t be doing any belly dancing.

I don’t think I saw the whole store; there was so much to see. I wanted many, many things but I left with three.

This is a framed piece of vintage fabric. I love the colors; those burnt Seventies golds, browns and oranges always do it for me. Throw in some avocado green and I’m in retro heaven.  This little sweetie was only $6!

I also bought these bookends, because I liked the grumpy owls on them. I know I’m a little late to the owl party, but ever since I painted that owl, I’ve developed a fondness for them.

The last item was birthday present for a dear friend, but I can’t show you a picture because she is a faithful reader of this-here blog.

All in all, that was an unexpectedly fun foray in a town that is much more interesting than I realized.  It was only a lunchtime adventure, but it was a start. Maybe when you go somewhere looking for a story to tell, you find one–even in Riverside.

Dancing for The Rest of Us: Meg’s Big Idea

I have this great idea. I’ll tell you, but first I have to give you the backstory. I’m all about the backstory. (It’s not enough that you have to hear my every random idea; you must know where it came from, too.)

I really want to go dancing. I’ve had this urge for a while, but I don’t know where to go. The problem is that I am too fat and old for your average Southern California dance club. I don’t want to go where the clientele is barely 21, or even younger with fake IDs, and the girls wear Lycra Band-Aid dresses and five-inch platform heels. (Have you seen height of the platforms these youngsters are wearing? If I tried to pull those off, I would snap both my ankles within an hour. Orthopedists must love those shoes.) At a club like that, I would just feel like everyone’s mother. And worse, I would LOOK like everyone’s mother.

So where do grownups go dancing? I asked around and came up with two options: one for fat, and one for old.

Apparently there is a club in Costa Mesa called The Butterfly Lounge. It’s a size acceptance club. BBWs (Big Beautiful Women) and the men who love them go dancing at The Butterfly Lounge.

At first, this seemed like it might be an option. I’m not sure if I count as a BBW. I’m a size sixteen, which is right on the border of plus size—sometimes I shop in regular stores; sometimes I shop in a plus size store. In most of the country, a size sixteen is considered average. In Orange County, women are expected to wear a size four (and have D cups—it’s a tough crowd in the OC) so I’m pretty large by local standards. I’m probably closer to BBW than Band-Aid dresses. Still, when I checked out the Butterfly Lounge web page, there were lots of very large women, and guess what? They were STILL wearing Band-Aid dresses. And crazy platform heels. And bustiers! Lots of bustiers.

I’m all for size-acceptance and for women being comfortable in their bodies. We should all be able to shake our thangs, no matter how big our thangs are. But if the whole club revolves around body size, does it matter what size we’re talking about? Seems like just another way of defining the woman by her shape. It’s kind of a two-wrongs-don’t-make-a-right thing. Mainstream society glorifies one body type; glorifying another body type doesn’t correct that. I don’t want to go dancing in a club that’s all about size. And I sure as hell don’t want to wear a bustier.

The second option, for old people, was The Foxfire in Anaheim Hills. I hear this club caters to two sorts of folks: people who have been dancing in clubs since the early seventies and are still wearing the same attire, and Cougars/cubs. That makes for some interesting choices in dance partners, I guess. Shall I dance with the guy whose gray chest hair is nicely accented by his gold medallion and silk shirt? Or the young man with the Oedipus complex? Tough call! I have never had any Cougar instincts, but I guess if I were both drunk and ovulating I might consider it….for as long as it took me to do the math and realize that he was closer to my son’s age than my own. Ugh. Shudder.

Okay—that’s the backstory: there are no good dancing options for the likes of me. What I want is to go dancing at a wedding reception thrown by my awesome, ginormous Midwestern family. You know– lots of alcohol, lots of friendly people, and something to celebrate. Everyone dances with everyone, and everyone’s glad to see you.

Here comes the great idea: I should open a dance club like that. Genius!

If I could make a club that felt just like a wedding reception, everyone could come and dance. There are plenty of fat people and old people at wedding receptions, and everyone loves them because they are friends and family, not because they’re fat or old.  There are also young people at weddings, and skinny people—all sorts of folks, including your wacky uncle and ancient great-aunt, and even total strangers—like those hot, single friends of the groom. My club would have a great crowd.

People might look at you funny if you wore Lycra and platforms, but they would be perfectly accepting of mom shoes. And if you did look a little slutty, well, you could be that cousin, the one who makes questionable choices.

The DJ would play good dance music, but he would have to include “Celebrate” by Kool & The Gang and “We are Family” by Sister Sledge. Also “Shout”. Maybe even an occasional polka, so everyone could clear the floor and let the old gals take a spin. Oh, and “The Cha Cha Slide”…one hop this time!

This might be a club for dorky white people. I don’t care.

My club would be perfect for people who have courthouse weddings or those who need a cheap reception. Just show up; the reception is already in progress. We’ll let you do your first dance and your toast if you bring us some cake.

What do you think? Would you dance at a club like that? What should I call it?

I’m pretty excited about this. I need to shop.

 

 

Butterflies: This is How it Starts…

I have a date in two hours. So, I look considerably nicer than I usually look at work, and I’m starting to get a little bit nervous.

It’s an internet date. That means there’s a 98.9% chance that there’s absolutely nothing to be nervous about—since that is the likelihood that it will turn out to be lame.  If you haven’t experienced the joys of internet dating, you probably think that sounds very cynical. If you have done any online dating yourself, you’re thinking, only 98.9%?  Get real, Pollyanna.

Here’s how it works. You sign up for a dating web site, attempt to encapsulate your dazzling personality into a one-or-two-paragraph description of yourself, and post a couple photos. (Taking the photos is a whole ‘nother blog post. Actually it’s a whole ‘nother blog. If I was a mean person, I would start a blog that just shows horrible dating web site photos with snarky captions. It would be hilarious, but it would also be really mean. Some of us online daters are woefully vulnerable.)

You also have to classify yourself into a number of searchable categories. My favorite field is always the “body type” field. You have to check a box to categorize yourself as “Athletic and Toned” or “Curvy” or “Skinny” or “Full-figured”.   I need a 150-character text field, not a check box. My category is, “I’m-overweight-but-I-still-have-a-waist-and-some-people-still-think-I’m-hot, goddammit!” There’s never a check box for that.

Anyway, you set up this profile, which is a demoralizing undertaking in itself, and then you start searching through profiles to find someone who suits you. More accurately, someone whose representation of himself suits to you.

If by some magic you find an appealing profile, and the owner of said profile also finds yours appealing, then you start trading emails. If no apparent psychoses* manifest, you trade phone numbers and begin texting or talking on the phone. Another crazy-check ensues, and if both parties pass that test, you find yourself in the place I am in right now.

*I originally used the word neuroses, but I looked it up first and discovered that by definition, I may actually be neurotic. If you’re delusional or hallucinating or REALLY wacked out, that’s psychotic. So that’s where I (and other neurotics, apparently) draw the line.

For me, no matter how many lousy internet dates I’ve been on—and that’s a lot—there are butterflies at this phase. I have a little argument with myself every time, a heated debate between my internal romantic and my jaded alter ego.

ROMANTIC: I’m so excited!  I think I’ll wear my new blouse and these cute, girly heels.

JADED: Aren’t you trying awfully hard?

ROMANTIC: It’s a date! You wear pretty shoes on a date.

JADED: It’s an internet date. You’re going to know within five minutes that you want to leave, but you’ll be too polite to do it, so you’ll sit there awkwardly until courtesy permits you to excuse yourself. At least you could be comfortable.

ROMANTIC: You don’t know that! This one sounds funny and smart!

JADED: So did the last one. Remember those tight sweatpants he wore?

ROMANTIC: You have a point. But I’m still wearing the shoes. And the sparkly earrings, too.

(For the record, this is just normal talking-to-myself behavior. It’s not an actual hallucination. That would be psychotic.)

Both imaginary parties in the above conversation are correct.

Yes, the last guy seemed funny and smart—in fact he was funny and smart, and very nice—but he just wasn’t for me. At all.  That happens frequently; they seem great but the connection just isn’t there. Or if I’m interested, they’re not.  (I can’t imagine why, but it happens.) Internet dating is a numbers game. I once heard that dating is the process of ruling out the bad ones. Chances are, today I’m going to rule out someone else.

But what if I’m not? What if he really is wonderful? What if all that smart and funny I’m getting over the interwebs shows up in the form of an attractive, available guy? That happens, too. Less often, and not to me, yet—but it has happened for other women. I have met actual, real live men who were actually found via the internet who turned out to be actual nice boyfriends.

It reminds me of the DMV. (Just work with me. There’s a correlation here.) When I go to the DMV, I see all the government employees sitting behind the counter. They deal with a bazillion people every day. They probably meet a lot of dummies, and whiners, and excuse-makers, and people who don’t read the directions—all manner of irritating folk. By the time they get to me–a charming, pleasant, well-intentioned direction-follower—most of them treat me like I’m another idiot. They don’t bother to notice that I’m exceptional. They’re rude out of habit. They’ve been conditioned.

I don’t want to be like a DMV worker. Yes, I have dated all manner of irritating menfolk. But this guy that I’m meeting today just might be exceptional.  I can’t become conditioned to think, oh great, here comes another dud. I can’t just wear my frumpy mom-shoes because whatever, he’ll probably wear sweatpants anyway. Every guy I meet—every person, actually; this works for all human interaction—is separate from and not responsible for the behavior of the one before him. Some conditioning is inevitable (that’s why you meet in public places!) but I still have to open myself up to a good experience and not let the bad experiences dictate my responses.

Even if I’m disappointed two hours from now, I will wear the cute shoes and the sparkly earrings and show up ready for an exception.  I have to feel the butterflies and do it anyway.

I’ll keep you posted.

Notes on The Avengers: Lots of Superhotness

It’s been a while since I posted. You may have noticed that despite the title of my blog, I don’t have many adventures. And by adventures, I mean dates. Or any other interesting occurrences, really…nothing much goes on in my life. I could change the title of this blog to The Midlife Musings of Meg, which would be nice and alliterative, but I’m still hoping for some adventures (dates) to kick in sometime soon, so I’ll leave it for now.

Anyway, it’s been a dry couple of weeks. In the meantime, I did go see The Avengers today. I watched something adventurous; that will have to do.

Since the movie has been out for weeks and anyone reading this probably already saw it, I will not attempt to review it. I did make some observations, which I will share now for your reading pleasure.

  1. I like superhero movies. Anything can happen in a superhero movie, without any concern for realism, and I like that. I get enough reality every day. I want unreality, served up with snappy one-liners, please.
  2. One true-to-life aspect of The Avengers is this: the smart, funny guys are the hottest, even if they are not the biggest or buffest. Yes, Thor’s spectacular biceps inspire some lusty sighs. But for me, the sexiest scenes are Bruce Banner and Tony Stark talking tech in the laboratory. Hubba hubba. If I am ever about to be slaughtered by horrific animatronic alien death machines, I hope I am rescued by a dreamy brainiac with great comedic timing. That would be way cooler, in my opinion, than being rescued by a plain-ol’ beefcake superhero.
  3. Who is hotter, Robert Downey Jr. or Scarlett Johansson? It is a tie. I am a heterosexual woman. Still a tie.
  4. Regardless of how dramatic the action is, or how fantastic the effects are, or how dire the stakes—really long, uninterrupted action sequences bore the shiznizzle out of me. Another explosion! Oh, here come more alien soldiers! And more alien soldiers! What, the portal in the sky is still open? Whatever…are there more Junior Mints? Because I just lost interest.
  5. Black Widow= totally badass. I love that she has knock-down drag-outs with demigods and fights alongside superheroes, but she herself doesn’t really have any superpowers, except some bio-enhancements to slow down aging and reinforce her immune system. Black Widow is just a highly-trained, well-equipped woman. Imagine that.
  6. Speaking of women, we really need to start a movement to banish high-heels. Yes, they’re sexy. But the whole time Loki’s forces were attacking New York City, I kept thinking of all those women trying to flee in high heels. It just isn’t fair. We do everything with our feet contorted and our balance thrown out of whack. Normally we take it in stride—maybe that’s every woman’s superpower—but if the sky is falling and we have to dodge bullets and climb through rubble, we need to be prepared. That means sensible footwear.

So there you have it: one white, middle-aged, suburban mom’s response to the cinematic phenomenon that is The Avengers.  Also, I want an outfit like Scarlett Johansen’s; maybe then I could get some “adventures.” But I should probably lay off the Junior Mints.

That’s why they call it The Present

Lately I’ve been yo-yoing between two unpleasant feelings: the feeling of being stuck and the feeling that I’m careening through time without brakes.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, think about payday vs. rent day:  it takes forever for payday to roll around, but the rent is due every time you blink, right?  How is that possible, when it’s all on the same calendar?  (Maybe that illustration only works for broke people. Financially stable people, you will have to come up with some other example. I know you have one.)

Of course, it’s a matter of perception and how we feel about those two events.  A twenty minute wait in the dentist’s office feels like three hours; three hours having coffee with an old friend feels like twenty minutes.

Right now, that paradox is my whole life.

In the slow lane: weight loss. I have a tiny mental tantrum every time I stand on the scale. Even if I’ve been good all week, I’ve only lost a pound—at this rate it’ll take a year for me to get to my goal weight.  A WHOLE YEAR. 52 weeks of protein shakes and veggie sticks? Forget it. Just order a pizza and pass the ice cream already.

On the other hand, I have very real panic when I think about how fast the year is passing, because at this time next year, my baby will be graduating from high school.  She wants to go away to college—away from me!  Can you imagine? My eyes tear up every time I think about that, even right now while I’m typing. ONLY ONE YEAR. Oh my god, skip the ice cream and bring wine.  Lots of wine.

There’s a lesson here somewhere, a big-picture angle that I’m struggling with.  Something about balance, focus, priorities…maybe it’s time management, the lesson I’ve struggled with my whole life. It just feels more important now that I’m older. The stakes are higher. My priorities have shifted.

The stuff that I want to rush is accomplishment stuff: I want to lose weight faster, save money faster, get the heck out of this dumpy apartment faster. The stuff I want to prolong is the beautiful stuff: I want my daughter’s childhood to last. I want a few more years with my dogs. I want time with my girlfriends to linger. I want to stretch the sunny afternoons so I can plant more plants, paint more pictures, and still have time for a nap.

It’s exhausting, this push and pull of time. I can only make things happen so fast, and I sure can’t seem to slow anything down.  I make my to-do lists, cram as much as I can into each day, work towards goals that seem light years away, and try to hang onto the fleeting moments in between.

Hmmm… something about balance…something about focus.  I need to focus on what’s beautiful, the things that speed past, so I don’t miss them.  Accomplishments are important—I do need to save money, I do need to lose weight—and if I do those things, everything gets better.  But weight loss and saving money are auto-pilot functions; I can put systems in place to address them and not make them the center of my attention.  That frees up time to pay attention to the areas of my life that deserve it:  the people and passions that bring me joy.  And a fringe benefit of focusing on what brings me joy is that I will be satisfied, and less likely to mindlessly eat or spend money and derail my material goals. Ha! Now I am getting somewhere.

The older I get the more I realize that time really is precious.  (Also, the older I get the more happily I toss clichés around. They’re cliché for a reason, you know.)  The bottom line is that another year is going to pass, just like the last thirty-nine have, and at the end of  the year, I will be thinner or not, I will be broke or not—but the year will pass either way.  If I spend the year racing towards accomplishments, I will run right by the important things—things that are moving fast enough already.   If I recognize that time is a gift, I will never rush—instead, I will spend it on what’s truly valuable. Yes, it may take a year to lose the weight. In the meantime, I will just enjoy the beautiful things, like my daughter. I’ve only got one more year.

Kirby-free: How I lost 500 pounds in one day!

I sold my Kirby Sentria this weekend. It cost me $1,200 in 2005, and I sold it for $100.That’s right, $100. And woe to the sucker who paid $100 for it.

Remember that episode of The Brady Bunch where they find the ancient tiki and it brings them bad luck? The Kirby is my ancient tiki. Tarantulas never crawled on my bed because of it, but they might as well have.

What is a Kirby, you ask? Well, it’s a WHOLE HOUSE CLEANING SYSTEM.

Oh, you thought it was a vacuum? It is, but it is SO MUCH MORE.

The Kirby comes with a myriad of attachments that do everything from blow up balloons to massage your scalp. I am not making that up. The woman who sold me the Whole House Cleaning System actually showed me them. And because she also sold her soul to the devil in exchange for supernatural powers of persuasion, I bought them. For $1,200.

How many balloon inflations and scalp massages have I performed with my Kirby since 2005? Why, zero, of course.

Two things you should know about a Kirby:

1)     It weighs about 500 pounds. The soulless Kirby salesperson will make this sound like a selling point, because Kirbys are made of solid metal, “like real tools. Plastic is for toys.” As a matter of fact, plastic is also for 21st century vacuum cleaners and for people who don’t like to lift 500-pound machines.

2)     While a Kirby does offer many exciting and useless attachments like balloon inflaters, if you want to actually inflate a balloon, or even use a tool for something legitimate like sucking a spider off your ceiling, you must DISMANTLE your Kirby and reconfigure it. This will not be a problem if you majored in mechanical engineering. I did not, which means that by the time I reconfigured the Kirby and got the extension hose in place, the spider would have disappeared, most likely to resurface directly above my bed as I tried to fall asleep.

The Kirby does come with a hefty instruction manual and a helpful DVD. I have watched the DVD three times, making it my third most-watched movie after Enchanted April and The Princess Bride.   I know all the lines by heart. I still cannot properly configure the carpet-shampooing attachment.

Some of you may be wondering what the heck kind of vacuum requires an instructional DVD.  I wondered that too, once the Jedi mind trick cleared and I realized that I had paid $1,200 for a vacuum. I mean Whole House Cleaning System.

I began to fantasize about creative, Kirby-themed retributions to spring on that sleazy saleswoman, should she ever pop in to see how the Kirby and I were getting along. She never did, because she was off enjoying the cruise she earned by putting the whammy on me. (Had I known that was her goal, I would have just paid for the cruise and still spent less than I did on the Kirby.) No, I had to settle for imagining her strangled in the generous 32-foot power cord, or bludgeoned with the handy extender wand. And then there’s the crevice tool… exactly.

If I sound a little bitter, I am. I have lived with that godforsaken behemoth of a vacuum for seven years. I kept it around as self-punishment, to remind myself not to be so stupid. Every time I vacuumed, which wasn’t very often because the Kirby is a bitch to maneuver, I mentally berated myself for being a sucker. “Dumbass!” I’d mutter to myself while cleaning house. “Why did you open the door for that Kirby woman? Who makes payments on a vacuum? Stupid!”

Oh yes, I made payments on a vacuum. I, a woman of very humble means, financed the Kirby. Each payment was a reminder of my exceptional decision-making skills.  It occurred to me as I wrote those checks that I could have paid for a year of maid service for $1,200, and the maid would have brought her own damn vacuum.

Is this getting depressing? Sorry. I am getting to the happy part. But not yet.

You could say my life has been in a downward spiral since I got the Kirby. I was laid off three times in three years, lost just about everything I own and had to sell our family home. I packed up my daughter, my dogs and my cursed vacuum and moved to a dumpy apartment in Santa Ana.

Boy, has it sucked.  No, I am not going to make the vacuum/ suck joke. I just mean my life has pretty much sucked these last few years.

But today, I finally put it all together: the Brady Bunch episode, the Whole House Cleaning System, the curse… and I realized, HEY!  I am just like Peter Brady! If I unload the cursed tiki, everything will turn around!

We are going to change pop-culture metaphors now. Remember Dumbo and the magic feather? He believed he could fly because he had the magic feather. Of course it wasn’t the feather–Dumbo was a sucker, too–it was his belief that gave him the power to fly.

Well, the Kirby is the opposite of a magic feather. It is a magic brick. Magic cement shoes, if you will. I’m pretty sure that as long as it’s been parked under my stairs, it’s been weighing me down. That’s why I’ve been having all this lousy luck.

Ladies and gentlemen, my luck is about to change. The Kirby is gone. To be on the safe side, I probably should have journeyed to Mordor and cast the Whole House Cleaning System into a volcanic lake of fire, but who has time for that? I just sold it on Craigslist to some unsuspecting vacuum re-seller from Sylmar.

Bottom line: I have thrown off the chains of my overpriced vacuum. No longer will I call myself a gullible, poor-decision-making dumbass, but a strong, victorious, Kirby-free woman!

This is the voice of my empowerment:

Am I capable of getting my finances under control and saving money? Heck yes! I sold the Kirby, didn’t I?

Will I finally get in shape and lose these extra fifty pounds? Why not? I just lost 500 pounds of vacuum!

Will I meet the man of my dreams at last? Of course! I am so much more attractive without that dated vacuum and all its baggage!

See how it works?  Anything is possible if I just believe.

Today is the first day of the rest of my Kirby-free life. Soon I will have a sleek, new, lightweight vacuum with tools on board, a lot more storage space under my stairs and a powerful mental placebo to change my reality.

That might even be worth $1,200.