Life in a Bubble

The best thing about my local mall is the bubble tea kiosk. I like to go there just for that.  Well, that and the movies. I love tea and I love movies. The bubble tea place has all different kinds, something for everyone. Obviously, you can find the usual like green, black, and white, but there are also exotic mixtures to choose from, like pomegranate and lime or marshmallow root and licorice, you name it. My fave is Rose of San Francisco. No idea what’s in it and maybe that’s for the best. But I’ll tell you this much… it is yuuummmmyy.

The mall itself? Meh. It’s humongous. I’ll give it that. Now, it’s not “Mall of the Americas” humongous, but it’s up there… the largest in our state, for whatever that’s worth. It’s a trek just to get to an entrance, of which there are many, from one of the parking lots — a veritable exercise in stamina. St. Petersburg has its Hermitage, for Paris it’s the Louvre, my city has a massive mall, oh, with an adjacent casino. Just like those famous European art galleries, you can walk this sprawling mecca of capitalism in an afternoon, but not if you try to look at everything. That’s a rookie’s mistake. Another mistake would be thinking you could afford anything in this place.

See that pair of mustard-colored chinos in that H&M store over there in Neighborhood Q (oh, yeah, this mall has neighborhoods)? That’s the equivalent of a commissioned Rembrandt. That chemical cocktail of avocado and raspberry and something you can only describe as “mossy” coming from Lush in Neighborhood A? That’s an M.C. Escher right there. And that fancy store selling Prada and Gucci handbags… the one that never seems to have any customers, but all they need is one sale per month and they make their cut anyway? The Mona Lisa, of course.

I’ll admit it, I’m the worst kind of patron. Oh sure, I’ll go to the movies and I always get bubble tea, but as for shopping-shopping, uh, no. Sometimes, I go and just meander around and check out random things in shop windows, just to have something to do. I may have mentioned this before, but it’s a LLLLOT of walking, with an obstacle course through aggressive kiosk hawkers thrown in. I have found that it’s almost worthwhile to don your hiking books and backpack – complete with snacks, a high-beam flashlight to make S.O.S signals, and an emergency whistle just in case of shopping mall fatigue… that state of utter exhaustion where you find yourself lying helplessly on the shiny tiled floor, one hand outstretched, in vain, toward the nearest escalator only ten miles away. “Can’t … go on … no … more … shopping!” And yet, here you are, clear on the opposite side of the mall from where you parked.  As despair hits you full in the face, you resolutely straighten your shoulders, throw back your head, take a fortifying swig of your bubble tea, and stumble off on aching feet … back from whence you came.

So why do I do it, I ask myself?

It’s all about that Rose of San Francisco.

Like a Rolling Stone

So, last week I went to the doctor and to paint you a picture, I’m standing there at this open-air front desk with absolutely no privacy in a waiting room as crowded as a 1980s U2 concert when the receptionist boisterously (read, loudly) asks me, “Why are you here?”

“What, like existentially you mean? Let me just whip out my copy of Jean-Paul Sartre for a moment: um … Nausea? Um … well, you see, I’m feeling the nausea of existence, of existing, I’m feeling an unbearable lightness of being in my upper abdomen … No, that’s right. I remember now, even if you, dear receptionist, do not. I have a kidney stone. Yes. A kidney stone. Happy now, all you people listening in from the waiting room?”

At this point, I feel like turning around to them and with outstretched arms, boldly asking, “Are you not entertained?” Because you just know they’re listening. And now, someone’s nodding to their partner and saying, yep, guessed it!

You see, there’s not much to do in a waiting room, and yes, everyone plays that same game you play. The game of ‘keep yourself from falling asleep while waiting 500 hours for a doctor to show up,’ officially titled “What are they in for?” It works like this: observe people in the doctor’s waiting room and ask yourself, “What are they in for?”

Simple, right?

That tired looking young man with the hand in a kerchief who just walked in? Lost a fight with a rabid raccoon, no doubt. The young child playing with the toy tractor on the carpet? That’s an easy, and boring, one. He obviously has the plague with accompanying free-flowing mucous… which he’s now so generously sharing with everyone in the room because he doesn’t cover his mouth when he coughs (instead, choosing to aim it quite purposefully toward his waiting room neighbors) and the same hand he uses to wipe at his nose also touches every surface within a 10 foot radius. The elderly woman clutching her right knee while staring stoically at the opposite wall? Well, you’d think arthritis, but no, trampoline injury. Oh, you thought you were the only one who plays this game? Nope.

Sadly, in most medical offices, the staff take the fun out of this harmless entertainment by announcing to all and sundry exactly why a patient is there in the first place before the peanut gallery even has a chance to guess. Or else, they force the patient to divulge such information with little empathy for any embarrassment such an admission might cause.

What was that? Can you repeat that, sir?”

“I SAID, I CAN’T PEE STANDING ON MY HEAD ANYMORE!” 

I’d like to offer this open letter to medical receptionists everywhere.

Dear Receptionists: please, in future, understand that I’m a very private person by nature, and no, even in this day and age when everyone seems hellbent on informing everyone else of the exact flavor of icing adorning their morning cupcake, I do not want a crowd of people to know I have a kidney stone. Or a cold. Or a case of raging foot rash. Shouldn’t you already have that information written down somewhere? In the system? I mean, you’d think that the 20-question pop quiz I was given when I made the appointment over the phone would’ve sufficed. Not to mention, we’ve had the benefit of computers for a good forty years now. We’re not living in the age of Pong anymore. We’re living in the golden age of computers and databases and cloud-synced note-taking software and I would have thought it’s pretty easy, when I tell a receptionist over the phone that I want to see the doctor about my kidney stones, to therefore just make a note of “kidney stone.”  Or forget that, if that’s too hard, just write “kidney.”  That’s six letters for God’s sake. And when I get to the waiting room counter, I can just sing the chorus of Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone and you can put the puzzle pieces together.

But no, they want me to announce my exact condition to the world, as if I’ve suddenly been thrust into an intervention, and admitting my problem to a circle of total strangers is the first step. Hello, my name is Wendy. I have a kidney stone. Yes, it is a problem, Yes, I admit it. But I don’t want to tell others about it. Please. Is that so hard???

If the receptionist is doing triage to see if you take precedence over the next person in line, I have to ask why? You have a set appointment. Receptionists shouldn’t be doing triage. That should be done over the phone as well. It’s called streamlining the process, people. It’s called efficiency. It’s called organization. Not the world-famous best-selling author of a dozen minimalism and organization books, Marie Kondo, organization but … no, wait, hang on. Marie Kondo would be a marvelous help here.

Does this kidney stone give you joy?” she would ask.

And I would reply, “Why, no. No. It. Does. Not.

And she would say, “Then it’s high time you remove it from your life.”

Either way, that’s a vital conversation. But it can be done over the phone. Not in the waiting room. I’m not Bono. I’m not a dancing monkey. I have a medical problem. And I want it fixed without the eyes of the world watching.

If you do decide to forego any sense of privacy and give the receptionist all the gory details of your predicament, be prepared to say it all again, verbatim, to the nurse who takes you back. Because, guess what? They didn’t take notes either.

Finally, you get to the doctor, a man who looks suspiciously like U2’s The Edge and he asks, while looking at nonexistent notes, “What can I help you with today?”

And having repeated the story of your ailment 200 times by now, you explain, “I’m on the edge of insanity, doctor. Even Jean-Paul Sartre could not explain my existential nausea.”

And the doctor kindly admits you to the hospital where you get locked up in a nice padded cell, feeling more nauseous than ever, with Marie Kondo shaking her head at you because you still haven’t gotten rid of your kidney stone.

But hey, in the spirit of that aforementioned intervention, at least something got admitted, and that’s the main thing.

I’d just prefer it wasn’t me.

 

P.S. I made the kidney stone thing up.

The Faults of Facebook

So, here lately, I’ve been thinking about Facebook and social media in general.  While an amazing feat of modern technology that allows news to spread in the blink of an eye, social media also has its pitfalls. There’s the obvious cyber-bullying issue… that’s too great of an issue to discuss in one blog entry. But there is something more insidious at work here. People get lost down the rabbit hole of social media never to return. My ex was – and remains – mired in the faux-emotional muck that is Facebook. The 5,000 close friends, the groups, the pages touting the benefits of the radical survivalist communes you long for (you know, as one does), all of it.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my daily foray into Facebookland as much as the next person. It’s just that so many people are on Facebook and other social media, spending their time trying to impress (aka convince) an online audience that their life is perfect… to get the attention, the validation, and the “approval” they think they deserve.  Many of these rabbit hole divers have family or spouses or significant others at home who would love to be a part of that perfect life portrayed online, but are ignored … because, Facebook.

Some people use Facebook as a time-killer (that would be yours truly), but others live on it as a reality-killer. Or rather, a reality enhancer. It just boggles the mind, truth be told.

Generally speaking, Facebook posters fall into several broad categories.  We all know at least one from each.

The meme sharer:  Also reposts lost pet photos.  This is the person who has such a mixture of friends on Facebook that posting anything at all personally will offend at least a third of them, so they play it safe and post generic memes.  I would … ahem … likely fall into this category. I save my demented mental-meanderings for you, lovely readers!

The vague status: “I can’t believe it.  I’m so heartbroken.”  This generates a flurry of concerned responses from people far and wide, to which the next status update is “Thanks for all the concern, I’m so touched.  I just don’t want to talk about it.”  The obvious question would be, if you didn’t want to talk about it, why the hell did you post anything at all?

The perpetually sick person:  This is the person who posts every sniffle, papercut, broken fingernail or stomach cramp for the world to see.  And no matter how inane the medical “issue,” the support is overwhelming.  “Unreal. I have a hangnail (picture of offending hangnail covered under eight layers of bandages).  And the comments roll in. “Oh, no! (sad emoji) Feel better soon!” “I’m so sorry! (sad emoji) I hope it clears up soon!”

The knower of a perpetually sick person:  “Prayers, please.  My friend has a hangnail.  It doesn’t look good (sad emoji).”

The offender:  Posts deliberately annoying and offensive comments just to get notifications on his phone.  “Clean air is stupid.” “Drinkable water is overrated.” At some point, this person will be placed in Facebook Jail for a week, unable to post, and then brag about it when he comes back.

The sharer of fake news:  No matter what your political beliefs are, fake news abounds.  The sharer of fake news will defend the most ridiculous and unsearched “news stories” as truth.  “Aliens landed in downtown Hollywood today and while wearing kilts and playing kazoos, they spirited away Grauman’s Chinese Theater! The. Entire. Theater. No, really, it’s true!”  Eventually someone will blow her out of the water with the definitive Snopes judgment, and then the circle begins anew as everyone debates whether Snopes is actually impartial.

Perpetual Optimist:  Just wrecked my car, but I saved my fuzzy dice! Life is GREAT!

Perpetual Pessimist:  Just won the lottery.  Great big gobs of money.  Life stinks.

The new reality for many is that social media has become their fountain of validation. They prefer the adulation of hundreds of friends acquaintances people they barely know to the love of their own family. I mean, really, with untold hours spent connected to the internet perfecting their online persona, who has time for loved ones?

I would say more on this, but I gotta go. My notifications just went off and it looks like my friend’s dog’s mother’s uncle has a sprained pinky toe. Boy, I sure hope he feels better soon.  (Sad emoji)

For the Love of Books

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that I just moved. If you haven’t been paying attention, no worries, I barely pay attention myself.  However, this latest move really brought home (ha! Pun!) a harsh truth. I have too many books.  Although, really, are there ever too many books?  The movers who carted my stuff from the old place to the new place might say yes. They might even add in some colorful sentence enhancers.

After my last move, I downsized quite a bit and no longer have the “houseful of stuff” I’ve had in the past. I’ve narrowed down my possessions considerably. Still, it doesn’t seem to have made moving any easier. You see, I had only two different categories of boxes for the movers to sort through: fragile and books. The fragile items include a teacup collection, a vintage/antique plate collection, and other such sentimental possessions. I’d have to say though, the books won. You know, if we’re keeping count. Which I suppose we are.

I loathe giving up a book. In the past, I have donated a select few to a nursing home and a preschool. But in general, if I like a book enough to buy it, I like it enough to keep it.  So here I am, surrounded by books and fragile things. Not sure what that says about my state of being, but there you go.

If I’m honest, there’s really something comforting about being surrounded by books and if you’re an avid reader, I’m sure you can relate. I guess it’s why I love libraries and bookstores, and my own “not quite to the hoarding point” collection. I’ve always dreamed of having a library the likes of which are scene in Beauty and the Beast.  There’s just something about mountains of books that feels like home.

To start, there’s the soothing smell of an old book. Hell, even brand-new books have a comforting aroma. I’m willing to bet that you know exactly what I’m talking about. Next, there’s the satisfaction to be found in a page flip. As you progress further and further into a tale and flip a page, a feeling of accomplishment that’s almost addicting always follows. I’m not even going to get into the sheer excitement of delving deeper and deeper into a good story and the need – the absolute need – to find out how it ends … I mean, that would probably be showing a bit too much of my “crazy.”

To say I owe a lot to books is probably also showing a bit too much of my “crazy.” Doesn’t make it any less true though. I’m able to look back and see every book, every story, every adventure, and connect it to the time in my life when I first read it. When I need to reconnect to that time in my life or that feeling, I re-read certain books. Some books are just “comfort food” for my soul. Others take me on an adventure or thrill me with the ghosties that I love so much.

Heaven for me would be my own little kingdom of books, books, and more books. Nerdy? Yes, but it’s my thing. We all need to find that thing in life that brings us joy and, for me, that’s books.

Beauty is as Beauty Does

I think YouTube’s beauty community tends to be a bit underappreciated. Underneath the drama and obviously forced collaborations lies a community that inspires me. No, seriously.

It’s easy to forget that the talented young people on YouTube do more than apply makeup under carefully positioned lighting. These influencers run a business. Although it looks like fun, I imagine that they work hard. I’m not sure if it’s worth multi-millions a year hard, but still. I can’t even get my life together to buy groceries and gas in the same week, and here these people are, figuring out contours and crafting the perfect cat-eye all while maintaining cosmetic sponsors worth more money than I could ever hope to have … and that includes my “win the lotto” retirement plan.  And have you seen the ones that can curl their hair WITH A FREAKIN’ FLAT IRON? I didn’t even know that was a thing. It’s impressive.

I can’t do makeup for shit. I’m horrible at it. But I do find myself giving the tutorials a try from time to time. Is it always a successful recreation? Ummm, no. Is it a hell of a lot of fun to try? Absolutely. Well, mostly. Okay, usually. Fine, if I’m being completely honest, it can be almost as frustrating as driving in heavy traffic, and we all know how I am when I’m driving in heavy traffic. One side of my face ends up tolerable and the other side, well, it turns out different, shall we say.

I still like watching the videos though. The whole thing with social influencers profiting from these beauty tutorials is a relatively new phenomenon.  Back in the day, if you wanted to learn how to do makeup, you experimented with a best friend (makeup… yeah, we’re talking makeup here…sheesh, get your minds out of the gutter, people!). Or had a visit with your friendly Avon or Mary Kay representative – and the pushy sales pitch that went with it. The lovely Elizabeth Arden coined the phrase “makeover” and provided the service in her salons with many others following suit. However, this was – and remains – an unattainable decadence to many, if not most. Now all you need is a WiFi connection and boom! you’re on the road to a perfectly contoured and highlighted night out on the town.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that a lot of you are rolling your eyes right now. YouTube in general, and especially the “influencers,” are an oft-maligned group. However, much like the song lyric sites that save us all from embarrassment during our daily mobile concert commute to work, online tutorials (makeup or otherwise) are changing how we access information and learn new things… and they’re making this information available across the board. And given the fact that the individuals who do these sorts of things have managed to snag jaw-droppingly lucrative sponsorships as recompense for their time, I can’t help but think this younger generation has got it all figured out.

Long Distance Call

I will admit, since last October, life has been weird. I appreciate all of you sticking with me during my “sporadic writing phase.” It’s kind of like Picasso’s “blue period,” just not as… well, blue. Or paint-y. Definitely not as paint-y. Or hanging in a museum. Okay, fine. So, it’s not like Picasso’s blue period. Happy now? Sheesh.

Today would’ve been my Dad’s 78th birthday. Yeah. It’s still all so strange. We had his memorial last month. We’d been holding off for a number of reasons, not least of which, we simply did not want to officially say goodbye. There were military honors, and they gave my Mom a flag. One of his siblings spoke about his life. It was a lovely ceremony. I wanted to speak as well, but my severe anxiety, as it so often does, got the best of me. I think my Dad would’ve understood though. Neither of us were known for lengthy conversations, though we knew the love was there. That, we had in spades. As they are wont to say, we have closure, whatever the hell that means. All I know is, my heart still hurts.

And now, it’s summer. In our family, we all knew what that meant.

Hope the fishing’s good where you are, Dad.