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Fargo, ND was recently awarded the title America’s Worst Weather City by the Weather Channel.  This dubious honor is something I voted for three times, told my friends to vote for and filled me with pride when I found out that the place I spent eight years of my life is now considered the hardest to live in.  I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with being tough, but there it is.

Only problem, one of the custodians at work, independent of this contest, has picked up on the fact that Fargo, and North Dakota in general, has very miserable weather, and won’t stop talking to me about it.

At first it was funny, “Fargo is so cold!” “Yeah it is!”  har har har.  But now it’s getting really old.

I’ll be sitting at my desk working or on break, and he’ll come up to me and say something like:

“My dad was stationed at Minot Airforce Base.  He used to do the trick where he’d throw a glass of water outside and it would be frozen before it hit the ground… he was just miserable, after that he wanted to go to Vietnam.”

“Man, I can see why you left–48 days of below zero temperatures!  Who can live like that?  What’s wrong with people that they stay there?”

“Do your parents still live there?  Do you ever have to go visit them or do they just come here?  If I was them, I’d come here.”

This is officially out of bounds.  As the old saying goes, you can’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile  in his shoes.  Or my versions: You can’t make fun of my parents because you haven’t had to live with them, and you certainly can’t make fun of North Dakota unless you’ve been there.  You haven’t earned it.  This is a rule that is very important to me.  This is a rule that has lead me to read many, many lousy books so that I can hate on them with authority.  Although I know his good-natured ribbing is intended to be good-natured, it has gone too far.

Let me dispel a couple myths about Fargo:

  1. Yeah, it’s cold, but it doesn’t feel that cold.  I lived in Fargo for eight years, and during that time, I barely wore gloves.  This wasn’t because I was a moron or wanted frostbite, I just didn’t really need them.  In talking to another North Dakotan who now lives in Providence, both of us have increased the amount of weather “gear” we own since moving east.  There is a constant blanket of snow in Fargo from November-April, and that makes it feel warmer, plus, it’s very dry.  I feel colder in New England than  I ever did in Fargo because here the air here is damp and it gets into your bones.  Also, New Englanders don’t seem to know how to heat their houses properly.
  2. It’s kind of an adventure.  My brother put it very succinctly recently when we were talking about the impending flood.  “It’s that ‘we’re all in this together’ bit. You put out sandbags, you work with your neighbors, and you know that everyone is putting up with the same thing as you so no one whines about it.”  Stoicism in action.  Whenever I try to make plans with baby-having best friend, she usually says something like, “well, I won’t be able to go then, we’ll probably be under water.”  But she never says it in a ‘woe is me’ way, it’s just a fact of life.  Every winter, there will be blizzards and every spring there will be a flood.  There might be a couple days of anxiety and a “Floodwatch!” graphic on the local news, but life goes on.  In Rhode Island, you get a few snowflakes every year, and everyone flies into a panic.

I may be romanticizing my time in Fargo, and I certainly don’t want to move back there, but I’m also sick of people who don’t know anything about it calling it Frozen Hell on Earth just based on looking at some numbers.  If you are a person who is terribly interested in slamming Fargo to everyone within earshot, please, go visit it first.  After you’ve been, I will join you in mocking the overabundance of strip malls, and that desolate stretch of road between 32nd ave and 45th street where you seem to run out of city and then meet up with civilization again, or the ridiculous Multiband Tower, which looks more like a blue wart on the Prairie than a tower of any kind.  But making fun of the weather?  It’s just unimaginative.

I took piano lessons for about five years, and really liked them.  I only gave it up because I didn’t like my teacher, and I had reached the point where they weren’t so much lessons as her giving me new and increasingly difficult music.  so I figured I could continue on my own just fine.

Then my parents sold the piano with the logic that since I wasn’t taking lessons anymore, why keep that huge thing around.  Needless to say, I was a bit disappointed, but not disappointed enough to pay them their asking price, and so the piano was taken away.

Throughout junior high and high school, I was in band (flute) and I had bought myself a recorder for those times when I wanted to mix it up at home.  I never really wanted for pianos, they were always just around, and so I didn’t mind too much that the parents had sold ours.  I bought a guitar after quitting band, which I never learned to play, but still moved from apartment to apartment as it slowly became warped from improper storage.

Finally I realized a couple years ago, that I no longer know how to read music at all.  Even though I can look at a piano, find C position and still play the song from my very first recital, if someone were to ask me if I could play piano, I’d be forced to say no.  I never thought you could forget how to read music–it seemed as impossible as forgetting how to read words, but I guess if I didn’t read daily, maybe that would fade away too.  Also, as someone who has always secretly yearned to be a musician, you can see why this is problematic.  Sure, plenty of rock stars don’t know how to read music, but they do know how to play an instrument other than the flute (which I’m not sure I could still play and certainly don’t want to find out).  Lacking both of these skills is a huge setback, and I intend to rectify it.

I borrowed a few basic piano books from a friend, certain that once I got in front of a keyboard, all the knowledge would come flooding back.  Turns out, not so much.  I mean I can still play that recital song, but lacking a basic music chart, I’m left guessing which notes are which, and nothing I’ve produced so far sounds good at all.  Also, I take umbrage with the fact that Alfred’s Basic Piano insists on inserting a ton of unfamiliar songs.  If I was  attempting to play songs that I was already familiar with, I could learn the notes that way.  Instead, I’m flying completely blind.  Damn you, Alfred!

So, in my quest for hobbies, I’ve basically unearthed an old one, but I’m not down about it because this is going to leave me with a huge sense of accomplishment, and tangible results– for free.  Plus, it might make me smarter.  Remember all those Save the Music, Music=Brainpower commercials?  I could always use more brainpower.

I’m a fan of facebook.  I’m not proud of the fact that I’ve been called an “active facebooker” by more than one person (though never to my face), but I find it a handy means of communication for a number of reasons:

  1. I hate talking on the phone.  I rarely call people because I feel like I’m bothering them and what I have to say just isn’t important enough half the time, and though I feel special when people call me, most of the time I’m doing something that I don’t want to stop doing.  Plus, most of the people I’m closest to don’t live anywhere near me, so I spend a lot of time on the phone just because of that.
  2. I’m a writer, not a talker.  See above.  I’m a fan of the email, the text, the chat (though that feels like the phone at times, and I avoid it a bit) etc.  I like thinking through what I’m going to say and organizing my thoughts.  I like commenting on other peoples’ thoughts without having to have a long, drawn-out conversation about it.
  3. I like a lot of people.  There are plenty of people who I genuinely like and like having in my life, but whom I would never call.  I used to get little dribs and drabs (what’s she up to these days?) from other people, but asking about other people all the time seems rude and a bit stalkerish.

Facebook solves all those problems, but creates a whole batch of new ones that plenty of other people have elaborated on, so I’m not going to.

Recently, facebook suggested I add a friend from Jr. High.  This is not shocking news, that’s all facebook seems to do these days.  Facebook was particularly aggressive in suggesting this person.  His face was always in my sidebar under “people you may know” and all my other friends from high school were connecting with him seemingly hourly. I barely know this guy. He was a classmate in 7th grade, and then went somewhere else to school, but I thought I’d see what was up.  I looked through his profile, remembered some things he had said that one year we went to school together that I didn’t care for (also recalled that I don’t think we’ve ever actually spoken to each other), and decided not to add him to my arsenal of friends.

As soon as I made the conscious decision to not friend this guy, another person posts on her page, “praying for the family of x.”  I did a little sleuthing, and it seems that the same day I rejected him, he died.

He was hit by a car while on a bicycle, and died a few hours later at the hospital.  I haven’t thought about this person for 15 years, then for two weeks I see his face every day, then he dies suddenly and tragically.  It was the most surreal turn of events possible, and now I almost feel like I should feel guilty that I’m not more upset.  Also, every time I search for another of my blogs in facebook, his regular profile, and memorial page show up second in the list.

I was telling Jewish Friend about this the other day, and it seems mere hours before I mentioned it, a friend had sent her a New York Times article about that same situation.

So many of Facebook’s early users were young, and death was rare and unduly tragic,” Mr. Katz said.

Now, people over 65 are adopting Facebook at a faster pace than any other age group, with 6.5 million signing up in May alone, three times as many as in May 2009, according to the research firm comScore. People over 65, of course, also have the country’s highest mortality rate, so the problem is only going to get worse.

Tamu Townsend, a 37-year-old technical writer in Montreal, said she regularly received prompts to connect with acquaintances and friends who had died.”

I guess I should get used to stuff like this as I get older, and certainly this is not the first person I went to school with who has died, but I’ve never felt so involved before. In terms of connecting people, facebook has officially succeeded.  It would be insincere for me to be more upset about his dying than I would be about anyone my age who is suddenly killed, but I’m glad I got to know that he had a good life and was loved.

I was a Girl Scout for a number of years.  I started as a Brownie, then dropped out because I hated selling cookies. My mother had this notion in her head (for reasons still unknown) that I should sell 100 boxes in my first year so that I could get the “100 Boxes” badge for my Brownie sash.  This idea sounded very good in theory, as that sash was the ugliest of browns, and I hadn’t really earned any badges other than the ones you just get for showing up.  In practice, what we both failed to realize, is that I hate selling things, and I am shockingly bad at it even as an adorable, freckled little kid, which should have meant that all I needed to do was smile and proffer a box of Thin Mints.

When I was Brownie age–must have been second grade, I was shy around strangers.  This is certainly not a bad thing since it’s something I was taught to be to avoid being kidnapped, but it was tremendously unhelpful in the art of cookie selling.  My mother dragged me from door to door trying to persuade me to go up alone and sell someone some overpriced (but delicious!) cookies, and I just wouldn’t do it. If she got me to the door, I certainly wouldn’t smile.  Finally, she acquiesced and went up with me, eventually she just let me stay in the car or at home because my foot dragging was just too much to deal with.  That is one of the nice things about my mother, my brother and I both realized early that she had little patience for incompetence.   That realization got us both out of many, many unpleasant tasks.

I earned my badge, sewed it on my sash, and then promptly quit vowing that I would never again sell a cookie.  Over the years my mother would bring home box after box of girl scout cookies that her co-workers would sell at work.  “I don’t know why I never thought to just do that,” she remarked, “It really saves time.”

Years later, a friend convinced me to come back to the troop.  By that point, I would be automatically upgraded to Girl Scout (no more of that Brownie crap) just by virtue of my age.  I liked the idea of  earning a promotion for doing nothing other than getting older, but I was wary of scouting.  “It’s fun,” she assured me, “Besides, you can always quit.”  That is the kind of convincing I respond well to, so I demanded that my mother buy me an ugly green vest (“I have to wear it to meetings or they’ll laugh at me!” I said), which I never wore, and gave it another shot.  By this point, my brother was a Boy Scout, and had a Swiss Army Knife, which I coveted, so I figured that if he was learning and doing cool stuff, I might as well too.

Of course, I never got a Swiss Army knife, until I bought one for myself years later, but I actually do have fond memories of my time as a Girl Scout.  Gentleman Scholar asked me recently, “what do you actually do as a Girl Scout? Do you guys camp and stuff?”  I had to think about that, because I honestly never quite knew what the point of it all was.  Boy Scouts is very cut and dried, everyone knows what they do, but the point of Girl Scouts, at least my personal experience with it, seemed to be quite ambiguous.

I remember vividly when I was a Brownie, we had a cooking lesson one day.  As our troop leader was not, apparently, much of a cook, we made ants on a log and then mixed a can of corn with a can of chicken with stars.  It was insanely delicious, and I frequently made it for myself over the years.  I get embarrassed actually thinking about what we did and learned because it seems to antiquated and 1950s housewife.  Because I have a huge crush on Mike Rowe, I’ve read his wikipedia page more than once, and learned that he was an Eagle Scout.  That’s a title that carries weight and prestige–I don’t think Girl Scouts have an equivalent, do they?

Regardless, I’m sure the scouts of today are quite different than the scouts of my time, and I tried to find out by being an assistant troop leader, but no one ever called me back (still a bit bitter).  What I finally told Gentleman Scholar to sell him about why scouting was awesome, was the series of weeks when we talked about hobbies.

Everyone has hobbies, or is supposed to have hobbies, I’ve talked about this before at length.  Except, just like I often struggle to understand what people do for work, I also don’t quite get what people do for hobbies.  Gardening, running, knitting–these are all pretty obvious and straightforward, but I have a sneaking suspicion that people out there are either pursuing some pretty unusual hobbies that they don’t talk about, or watching more tv than they’ll admit to, also that lack of hobbies or things to do is why people end up having kids.  Since my hobby for many years was going to college or grad school, and the whole lifestyle that goes with that, I still don’t have an hobbies besides running, drinking and reading.

In the hobby exercise that we did for Girl Scouts, each girl had either one meeting or part of a meeting to talk about a particular hobby that she did.  It could be anything, the more unusual the better, and even in our small group, we had some good, weird stuff.  One girl taught us to make gum-wrapper chains.  This was fantastically rewarding to me because the girls in Babysitters Club books were always making gum wrapper chains and they never explained how to do it.  Learning, finally, how to do this made me feel somehow more normal, and more like a character in a novel.  Another girl taught us how to latch hook, which was amazing because we had always had this hideously ugly latch-hooked scene hanging on the wall in our house, and I always wondered how it came to be.  After each meeting, I would rush out to get the supplies necessary to try this stuff out, and then abandon it after a few weeks, but it was fun to try something new.

The best part was that though some of these hobbies were a bit embarrassing, each girl started out a bit sheepish, then transitioned to authoritative, and finally landed on proud.  It was like all of a sudden, this weird thing that you learned from your grandma was cool.  So I still don’t really know what real Girl Scouts do, I suspect it’s better than this, but this was what we did, and it was pretty awesome.  Thankfully, selling the cookies didn’t render me unable to enjoy eating them, or I’d probably be a lot more bitter about the whole thing.

I’ve had people tell me for years that I should exploit my odd upbringing by writing about it.  I’ve kind of done that with this blog, but I don’t think it’s in the way people intended.  The first time I heard that, I was perplexed.  I was raised in the upper midwest in a solidly middle-class, two-parent household in a small town–it’s seriously textbook.  I  wasn’t raised by wolves or by a traveling circus, or anything else that seems like it would make a compelling story.

People kept insisting. People who didn’t know each other would tell me at different times that I needed to start writing stuff down.  I kept wondering though, if what I consider normal is actually a bit odd, how the hell am I supposed to figure out what others find interesting?  One of my writing professors went nuts for an anecdote that I told about how my parents tried to keep me from reading The Catcher in the Rye when I was in 7th grade.  He’d bring it up at parties, when we were planning my class schedule–really emphatic.  Since this is a man I revere, who basically made me the writer I am, you’d think I would have listened to him, but I really didn’t get what it was he liked about it so much.

But here goes.

I used to read The Babysitter’s Club books religiously.  I loved these books from the time I was in 3rd grade until actually two summers ago when I finally went back and finished the series.  The library in my small town didn’t have the complete set, so I managed somehow to work out a borrowing system with a classmate’s older sister wherein he (classmate) would bring me five books at a time, I’d read those, then get five more.

Aside from entertaining me to no end, and giving me ridiculous fashion tips that I never had the guts to act upon, The Babysitter’s Club often subtly made book recommendations.  A character would occasionally mention a book that the kids she was sitting for enjoyed, or a book that she was reading.  I made a point of reading every book they told me to, and one time it was The Catcher in the Rye.  Stacy mentioned reading that book in Super Special #2–the one where they go to camp, and though I forgot about it for a few years, when I was in 7th grade I found it on one of my dad’s bookshelves.

I started reading it, was fascinated by the amount of swearing, but felt like I didn’t really get it.  Nonetheless, I was thrilled to be reading a “grownup” book, and pressed on.  Eventually, my mother saw me reading it, and told me that she didn’t think it was appropriate for a girl my age.   This baffled me.  My parents had never commented on anything I read before, certainly they had never told me that I couldn’t read something, and by this point in my life, I’d already read some seriously graphic romance novels. Plus, Stacey in BSC had read and recommended it–what was the deal with Catcher?

My Mom took the book away and secreted it on a shelf in the basement.

As she was a terrible hider, I found it shortly after, and re-hid it in my room.

Perhaps as a result of my spiteful nature toward being told no, The Catcher in the Rye became my go-to book.  It was the book I would carry around with me everywhere I went (not an original habit, but I didn’t know that at the time) and read when I had nothing else that sounded appealing because it never let me down.  I honestly don’t know how many times I’ve read the book all the way through because I’d usually just pull it out of my bag, pick a random page, and read until interrupted.

The copy that I carried around for years was one that my dad had either taught from, or used as a student, and all of his underlining in green and red was in there.  I made sport of trying to figure out why he underlined certain phrases and not others–I’ve never been a big underliner, or a good note taker so the behavior baffles me.  I will never forget that he underlined, “I was feeling pretty horny” in red ink.

When the book eventually started to decay, I patched it back together with Elmer’s glue as best I could.  When I forgot that copy at home after going off to college, I went to the bookstore and bought a new version with a different cover.  That prompted my best friend, Map Fleece, to start buying me copies of The Catcher in the Rye every time she saw new cover art, and now I probably own six or more various copies, but they’re all in storage in Minnesota.  I haven’t read The Catcher in the Rye for years, and I’m almost afraid to because what if it’s not what I remember?  I got into a fight with my father about the themes and symbols of the book once and remember thinking that he was a total moron, what if I come to agree with him upon re-reading it?  It’s a dangerous proposition.

Someone heard that original story–the reading, losing, stealing, reading– and found merit in it, which was completely unexpected.  I still struggle with, and I think many other people either do as well or should do: what’s a story and what is not.  I have a bit of an obsession with the memoir genre because I feel like everyone has a story to tell, but rarely are they capable of both recognizing the real story and relaying it in a way that makes anyone care.  I compulsively read memoir looking for something powerful that’s rarely there.  When it is, it’s incredible.

That’s probably why I’m hesitant to write anything about myself outside of this self-indulgent blog.  Blogging is one thing, it’s a soundbite, and you can quit at any time; memoir has the potential to be something bigger than the author and bigger than the experience.  Plus, how do you know what your story is unless someone from the outside recognizes it, or unless you’re the type of person who can completely remove yourself and look back?  I don’t know if that’s me.

Gentleman Scholar and I were walking to a dance club in Providence’s Jewelry District one night (long story, completely about free food), and we passed a pizzeria near our house.  The pizzeria had sidewalk seating, like many restaurants in Providence do, and a festive awning with music playing.  The music as we walked by, was a Madonna song from the 80’s (I can’t remember which one) and in that moment I felt an intense longing to go back to the simpler days of the 1980’s working at a seaside pizza joint with my friends.

Of course, I never worked at a seaside pizza joint in the 80’s with my friends, I grew up in a land-locked state. That was the movie Mystic Pizza, which I actually only saw for the first time about a year ago, and wasn’t terribly impressed with.  In the 80’s, I topped out at age 10, but the feeling of nostalgia was so intense I was taken aback by it.

When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up.  As a grownup, I would be able to wear radical outfits, and drive a car like the one my Barbie had, and have tons of cool friends who also had cars and outfits.  We’d party, and have boyfriends, drive our cars and wear our outfits (really, that’s all I thought twentysomethings did, at least in the summer).  Of course, my life hasn’t quite worked out the way I envisioned when I was a pre-adolescent, but does that really mean I should be nostalgic for a life I never had?  It’s weird, right?

Maybe this is what happens when you have to admit you are officially a grownup, and things aren’t the way you once planned.  I don’t even covet any of the lives in Mystic Pizza, and my idea of what my life was going to be, wasn’t much of a full life, so I’m not sure what I’m clinging to.  The idea of things being simple and straightforward enough that you can act like a total moron about petty issues?  Teen sex and sports cars?  Being screwed over by an older man?  What else even happens in that movie?  None of that sounds particularly appealing.  Perhaps this is my latent crush on Vincent D’Onofrio waking up.

Rarely have I ever had such an intense reaction to a song/setting/smell.  I guess that in that moment I realized that the world I thought I would be a grown up in has changed, which I never thought about before.  It’s less about any choices I’ve made than it is about…progress, I guess.

I’m going to deal with this strange sensation by listening to old school Madonna and eating pizza outside.  I think that’s healthiest thing to do.

Hats_bannerWhen I was between ten and thirteen years old, before I became a total Anglophile, I was a Francophile.  I dreamt that the French I picked up watching Canadian Sesame Street would catapult me handily into the world of “fluency” and that I would eventually live in Paris, wear berets, eat cheese, and be wildly, effortlessly sophisticated.  I express this desire by wearing an ill-fitting t-shirt with the Eiffel Tower on it under a pink scrawl that read “Paris,” for anyone who didn’t already know, I guess.

The same year that I wore that t-shirt so much people finally remarked upon it, I also got my first beret.  french-beretMy mother bought it for me with the idea that it would keep my head and ears warm since I had decided that I was too cool for earmuffs, and other hats flattened out my meticulously coiffed hair.  I requested it so that I would have years and years of practice wearing a beret, and once I got to Paris, I would fit right in with the natives.  I would settle the hat jauntily on my head, with a minor adjustment just for flair, and leave the Bistro where my sophisticated friends and I had been having a late lunch, and saunter back to my office to put the finishing touches on my next bestseller.

The dream started to die once I got my beret home and realized that no matter how I placed it on my head, I looked like a total asshole.  It was like the hat wore me instead of the other way around.  It was all you could see, and just looked…odd.  I spent hours in front of the mirror arranging, and flattening, and pouffing, and tugging, then ironing, then deciding that it must be my hair, and experimenting with up/down looks, curls, straight, low ponytail, bun etc.  Finally, I found one way of merely placing it on the top of my head that didn’t make me look completely foolish, but I had to be careful not to move my head too rapidly, or it would fly off.  I wore it out of the house exactly once before it was relegated to the hat collection in the back of my closet.

Since that time, I’ve purchased half a dozen other hats, all with the idea that I would actually wear them.  They all looked incredibly cute in the store, and matched outfits in my collection, but once I put them on, friends would screw up their faces and say something like “it’s cute, but… I don’t know.”

So I’ve accepted that hats are not for me.  I simply do not have the face/head shape that hats suit, so I’ve stopped trying.  Since I don’t often go to the Kentucky Derby, or any other place where a hat might be required, I don’t  feel like I’ve missed out too much.  I have a ridiculous sun hat that I bought to keep the top of my head from getting sunburned in the summertime, and whenever people see it, they laugh, but I don’t care.

Last night, I was watching the HBO version of the movie Grey Gardens about the two “free-spirited” society ladies who eventually live in squalor in a house in East Hampton.  The squalor was obviously unappealing, but when times were good, these women wore some fabulous hats.  I didn’t realize how much I’d internalized it untilI was driving to work this brisk October morning thinking that my outfit would really come together if I had a kicky hat.

But I know better…

When I was little, and growing up in the teeny tiny town of Hallock, MN, one of the most fun things to do was to drive to the big city of Grand Forks, ND.  That’s where the mall was, the movie theatres, and (I thought) the sophisticated people.  One year, for my birthday, my mother drove a vanful of squawky pre-teens to the mall, out to late lunch, and to a showing of Weekend at Bernie’s at the dollar theatre. Considering my friends and I were only about 11 years old, this was a rather risque choice for my mother, but paying $.99 apiece was clearly a lot more appealing than full-price for more family-friendly fare.

That’s the last time I saw Weekend at Bernie’s (that I can recall, although I’m sure I caught a late night showing on USA or TNT), and  I remember liking it quite a bit– laughing a lot, and respecting my mother afterward for choosing so well.

A while ago, Gentleman Caller and I got to talking about Weekend at Bernie’s both the first one, and the sequel.

“What happens in the sequel?” Gentleman Caller asked, “Is it the same dead guy?  How the hell does that work?”

How indeed.

So I decided that we should Netflix these movies, watch them, and then have the answers to these burning questions.  Yes, as Joe Roch pointed out, I could have gone to imdb and read a full synopsis, but that may have left me with questions, so I decided to be thorough.  To sweeten the deal, I suggested that we watch these movies at Gentleman Caller’s house where the heat is free and there is a blender.  We turned up the heat, put on Hawaiian shirt (for him), and sundress (for me), ordered Hawaiian pizza, and drank pina coladas.

Unfortunately, even drinking rum to excess doesn’t make these movies good, and I was left wondering why the hell I even though Weekend at Bernie’s was entertaining.  I didn’t expect it to be smart, but I expected to have a few mindless chuckles and enjoy myself– not so.  It was slow-paced, and Andrew McCarthy’s character was so annoying that I couldn’t enjoy it at all.  The second one, I’m not even going to talk about– it was beyond horrible.

So I’m a bit bummed about the fact that I couldn’t enjoy these movies at all, but I’m willing to try again– With Teen Wolf and Teen Wolf Too.  I just need to come up with a cocktail and overall theme that goes with teenage lycanthropy.

Nancy Drew is always on vacation.  I just started reading The Mystery at the Moss-Covered Mansion— the original one from the 1930’s complete with all of the racism that was later taken out in the 1960’s– and, yet again, Nancy, Bess, and George are in Nancy’s roadster on their way to a vacation destination.  I know that Nancy has been in charge of running the household since her mother died (in the early books, housekeeper Hannah Gruen is either less reliable, or just not mentioned), but does she really need to “get away” that often?

Also, in this book, Nancy has had a likeness of herself rendered in oils by a talented local painter.  She mentions how expensive it was, but how excited she is to give it to her father for his birthday.  In my mind, if you haven’t earned the money to pay for a gift, make something or do something where the effort rather than the product is the gift.

My feelings could be a result of my coming from a family that was never very good at the gift-giving (my brother and I would go to Target, each pick out a DVD of equal value, trade them, pay for them, and then trade back), but it seems like if you buy something for someone with money that they, not you, earned, it’s a bit pointless.  It also worries me that someday if I do get married, or share finances with someone, I’ll end up with a birthday present that I feel lukewarm about, and that ambivalence will be made all the worse because I technically paid for it.

Nancy does, kind of, work outside the home solving mysteries, but she is strictly an amateur and never takes money  for her work.  Her father, famous attorney Carson Drew, disapproves of her mystery solving, but indulges her as she is his only child.  Maybe he’d look more favorably upon it if he wasn’t always footing the bill for her adventures.

Perhaps my feelings are just jealousy toward Nancy.  I’ve never solved a mystery, at least, not a major one.  I’ve never tangled with baddies and been knocked unconscious by a swift blow to the head. My hair is a rather normal “brown” rather than “titian”. My high school chums and I spent our time drinking in fields and Canada rather than horseback riding at Red Gate Farm, or having luncheon at Lilac Inn.

The problem could be the difference in the eras that the two of us grew up in.  In Nancy’s time, people had to leave the house to accomplish most tasks, and while that sounds a bit tedious and time-consuming to me, I bet in puts you in the path of a lot of mysteries just waiting to be solved.  Nancy goes to the dressmaker’s and sees a mysterious figure duck around a corner and head for the docks!  I go to Old Navy where the music is too loud and the only mystery is how some of the girls in there really believe they can get away with a size that small.

I’ll continue to look for secret passages and hidden luggage compartments.  I’ll keep my eyes peeled on my daily walk to work, and maybe a case of mistaken identity, or a suspicious package will present itself and throw me into the world of mystery.  Of course, I’ll probably have to pass on it, and continue on to work.

For all of the faults and quirks that my parents have, one area I feel they really succeeded in was making sure I see AMERICA. My dad is one of those guys who I suspect is always humming Proud to be an American silently in his head (ain’t no doubt, he loves this land), and he and mom made it a point to see as much of the lower 48 states as possible (apparently, they have no interest in Alaska or Hawaii).

When I was growing up, we took a major family vacation every summer, usually in the car. We saw all of the roadside attractions: Storybook Village, Storybook Island, Olde Tyme photo places, Flintstone Village, the Wisconsin Dells, the place where Al Capone died (or maybe it was just where he hung out), we took DuckBoat and Trolley Tours, and a whole lot more. They were also willing (albeit reluctant) to occasionally fly places, which is how, at the somewhat snarky age of ten, I first found myself at DisneyWorld (which is the one in Florida).

At DisneyWorld’s sister theme park EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow– bet you didn’t know that, or its rather hilarious, and true in the early 90s acronymal nickname Every Person Comes Out Tired), they celebrate the world of the future as well as the world most people who long for a vacation at DisneyWorld are less inclined to seek out– the rest of the world. The World Showcase Pavilions. You can experience a country in 15 minutes and speak to people who are actually from there. Drink beer in Germany, buy tea in England, eat pasta in Italy, and get heckled by vendors in Mexico– it’s all there!

EPCOT’s popularity has been dwindling in recent years because the entire premise of the park (besides the World Showcase), is the marvel and wonder of the future. Unfortunately for the park, the future is now, you can’t build rides fast enough to keep up with things, and videophones stopped impressing people years ago. One of my favorite bits is The American Adventure. While the other countries are merely named as what they are, American becomes an adventure complete with a 1/2 hour movie about the history of our great nation narrated by animatronic Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain.

As awesome as that is, it really pales in comparison to the Hall of Presidents at DisneyWorld. Located in Liberty Square, which was called New Orleans square before Katrina (seriously, kick them while down), Liberty Square is where you go to buy all manner of Americana and take in the greatest animatronic spectacle ever.

I first took in the wonder and majesty of the Hall of Presidents with my dad choking back sobs next to me, and I do think that we had to re-visit before the end of that vacation. He occasionally still talks about the experience in hushed tones. I was more dumbfounded by the fact that they had created robot replicas of every single president (even the crappy ones), and all of these robot replicas moved and twitched and seemed to really resent Lincoln as he got to get up and made a speech while they were forced to just sit there and fidget. So, many years later when I visited DisneyWorld with friends, I insisted that we re-visit this hallowed space.

I was with a friend who is generally a good sport, a former history major, and a friend who can’t read. I thought the non-reading friend would be the loudest complainer since all of the rides at EPCOT had been “too talky” and “fucking boring” for her. Turns out all three were equally vocal about their displeasure, and that was even before we were told that we’d have to wait 35 more minutes until the next presentation.

I don’t regret forcing my friends to wait 35 minutes, maybe they didn’t appreciate seeing Calvin Coolidge bob his head, or Franklin Pierce stand in the back looking confused, but I think my joy was enough for everyone.

Now I’m reading Sarah Vowell’s Partly Cloudy Patriot, and she’s mentioned that at the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Library there’s an animatronic LBJ who tells folksy jokes. I immediately started thinking of ways to get myself to Texas, which is an urge I’ve only ever had once.


It’s a bizarre fixation, and a misunderstood one, but the friends I made visit the Hall of Presidents with me admitted that it wasn’t as bad as they had thought. Perhaps others will come to feel the same way.