The Saturday Ramble
GETTING RUBBED THE RIGHT WAY
I knew a guy once who had a thing about feet.
He didn’t want a photo of my face, or even my feet in high heels. He wanted a photo of the soles of my feet. He saw my soles – walking away.
I thought about him for the first time in a long time on Thursday, as I sat nearly boneless while a slender young Asian man spent almost an hour lavishing attention on my feet and legs. He seemed quite happy to do so – other women came and went in the chairs next to mine while he worked. I’m sure he did it for the tip he received (a generous one, of course), but I wondered idly a few times if a camera would emerge eventually.
If it had meant another 20 minutes of massage, I don’t know that I would have disagreed this time.
I’ve heard men complaining at times about the expenses of women’s professional grooming: haircuts, manicures, pedicures, facials and the like. A “manly man” would not submit to the fussy frivolousness of such activities. But I think they’re missing out – on two different levels.
Women, you see, have the inside track on what this grooming actually results in – someone massaging you, relaxing you, for long periods of time. Last weekend I made an impulsive foray into a huge shopping mall, intending to get a quick hair trim and buy a few books. I wound up with the shortest haircut I’ve had in over a decade, and bags of makeup and bath gels. At the hair salon, an energetic, gregarious Israeli woman took her time washing my hair, giving me a good scalp massage in the process, then took another 30 minutes to cut, brush and dry my hair. Besides the pleasure of dishing about Sharon and Netanyahu with her, I got the benefits of major relaxation from all the work on my hair. That’s always been one of my favorite things; I’ve been known to give friends massages in exchange for having them brush my hair for a long time. I think a lot of women are the same, and many men – although one man I dated didn’t want me to touch his hair. The relationship didn’t last long.
But haircuts are not the only source of such pleasure, as I well know. Since it’s approaching summer, I determined earlier this week to get my first pedicure of the season. There’s a little nail place near where I work – one of literally dozens in the city – where on Thursdays you can get a pedicure, manicure and eyebrow waxing for $20. Considering that the little massage place in the middle of the local mall charges $10 for a 10-minute massage, it’s not a bad deal at all. Knowing the routine, I took a pair of baggy pants with me to work and changed into them before going to the nail place. When I arrived, there were already more than a dozen women in various stages of beautification throughout the shop. The shop owners, and most of the workers, are Asian – I suspect Korean immigrants, although I didn’t ask – so I not only was encouraging the economy and supporting small business, but was fostering international relations as well. Heady stuff for $20.
This is the pedicure routine: You sit in a cushioned chair on a stand that includes a foot-tub with jacuzzi jets right in front of you. After a few moments of soaking, the pedicurist begins rubbing and grooming your feet. He takes the lotions and scrubber foam all the way to your knee, massaging and rubbing. After rinsing, he takes one side at a time and spends 10 minutes or more massaging lotion into your skin from knee to toes. That’s the part where you nearly melt into the water-jetting foot tub - I personally think they need seatbelts on the chairs. By the time he’s done and starting the actual nail polishing, it’s quite anti-climatic.
Manicures involve massaging too, but not as long, and not above the wrist. It still feels good, but … well… it just can’t compare. I know some people are horrified at the thought of someone touching their feet, but once you’ve had a pedicure I don’t think you’ll be able to find that horror again. It just feels too good. And for the manly men – nobody says a pedicure has
to end with nail polish!
And the second way men are missing out? As if not getting a massage isn’t enough? Glad you asked. You see, the benefits don’t come just from receiving
a pedicure or manicure, but from encouraging your lovely partner to get one, or – if you really want the points – giving her one yourself.
A woman who has been exquisitely pampered with a manicure and pedicure is going to come home refreshed and feeling beautiful. And what woman isn’t more open to advances from her special guy when she’s feeling like a lovely little kitten that’s been rubbed the right way? If that special guy went out of his way to make it happen – made sure she had the wherewithal, took the burden of kids and dinner off her hands, etc. – well, the only thing that could improve on that
would be a box of Godiva chocolates. That’s not to say that you always expect a one to one benefit; you’re not that kind of guy, right? This is one of those things that pays cumulatively, and usually with compounding interest.
And then for the truly brave… you can give her a pedicure yourself. Now, this takes practice and dedication, but few women could resist a guy who would take an hour out of his day to sit at her feet, literally, to pamper her. It hits on several levels – how sweet that he took the time, how wonderful it feels to be pampered, how cute he is trying to figure out how to polish her toenails without getting it on her ankles and all over the floor – I could go on for a while. But it’s the massages that turn the tide. Any man who regularly gives his partner massages – including foot and leg massages – is going to win some serious points. One note of caution, however: Do not under any circumstances do this in public. A talented yet disinterested pedicurist rubbing you down in an open salon is one thing; a pedicure between partners is something else entirely. As one who has unwillingly observed them in action, I beg of you -don’t do it.
My own little pedicurist wended his way from scrubbing lotion to massage lotion to strategic pounding of my calves to a final blissful hot-towel wrap around my lower legs. I contemplated asking him if he made house calls. Or if he was available for full-time employment. I never quibbled about the cost, or worried about how much to give in tip; I nearly dumped the contents of my purse on his head in a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude. In these stressful times, ladies and gentleman, I can’t sing the praises of personal grooming enough.
And I don’t think I have to take a picture for you to see it.
The Diary of a Friendship
On a warm late August morning in 1979, my dad put me on a Trailways bus in London, Kentucky, headed for my first year of college near Tampa, Florida. In my excitement and apprehension, I forgot to hug him goodbye, then cried for the first 20 minutes of the trip when I realized it. I wouldn't see my family for four months, and I was going to live among strangers - I had no friends, no family where I was going. Daunting for a teenager who hadn't been away from her parents before for more than a week at a stretch. But, Florida! College! By the time we reached the Kentucky - Tennessee line, I was eager to see the palm trees of my new home.
I met Desiree my second day there, when I showed up at her dorm room looking for her roommate Jane. A slender, petite redhead, Desiree was an Air Force brat used to making friends, and soon I became one. We had in common our southern roots, a sharp sense of humor and an intellectual curiosity that led to late night talks over pizza, in t-shirts with our hair piled up any old way. Sometimes I french braided her hair, which reached her waist; when she got it cut in layers, still as long as before, I spent hours with a curling iron, rollers and a brush, helping her fix it in the mornings.
During our first year there people often thought we disliked each other, because of our tart public exchanges, until finally we developed a warning system around the word "pudding" - okay, we were 18. It worked, although then people thought we were fixated on dessert:
Me: "So, anyway, Desiree is a..."
Desiree: "Susanna - pudding!"
Me: "Um, a lovely person, yessir, Desiree is just a jewel, God love 'er."
She left midway through our second year, going back to Arizona where she worked for a law firm. I finished up in Florida, then moved back to Kentucky to get my undergraduate degree. We kept in close touch and, the July after I graduated from college, I went to Arizona for a month long visit.
Have you been to Arizona in July? If you haven't, I have one word for you: Don't.
Temperatures over 75 make me unhappy, and when it crawls into the 90s I do a turtle and refuse to come out. The concept of temperatures over 100 at night was beyond my comprehension. Yet they hauled me out, Desiree and her younger sister Dawn, and made me go to Flagstaff, to the Grand Canyon, to Tucson and Nogales, Mexico, and to the Saguaro National Park, still on my list of beautiful places. But the temperatures were unkind to me, and I developed a nasty heat rash that prevented my wearing a bra for almost a week (crushed by that, I was). In the midst of that uncomfortable week, the three of us decided to make a quick road trip to Las Vegas in Desiree's little tin-bucket car.
Me: "This is a good idea? We don't gamble. And it's hot."
Desiree: "Get in the car."
So there we went, zooming across dry flat desert in a tin bucket with wheels, forked lightning splitting the horizon ahead. A couple of hours into the drive, as time edged toward a sultry, pitch-black midnight, I took over the wheel, driving fast, as usual. The only other traffic was a pokey 18 wheeler ahead, and I whipped out to pass it.
Me: "Oh no!!"
Ka thump! Thud! Bounce bounce bounce...
Me: "I JUST RAN OVER A WOLF!"
Desiree, teeth snapping together: "A WHAT?!"
Dawn, in the backseat pulling her head out of the car roof: "WHAT?!"
Me: "A wolf! It was a wolf in the road!"
Desiree: "Was it dead?"
Me: "It is now."
Silence. A furry lump disappeared in the distance, along with the truck's headlights.
Me: "I think it was dead already."
Me: "Do you think I killed your car?"
Desiree: "It's still running."
It was still night when we drove through The Strip on our way to Desiree's friend's house, and it looked amazing. It was less so in the daylight, an aging showgirl with sequins missing. But we went into Circus Circus anyway, where they tried to toss me out for being underage (which at 21 makes you huffy, although within only a few years you're grateful) when I played the slots. Five dollars poorer, we left for home, driving through a rainstorm that ended in a tiny town halfway home, leaving behind a rainbow ribbon of color arching through the sky.
The next years found the two of us moving all around - she to California, me to several places in Kentucky - but we always kept in touch and sometimes she visited. My first year of graduate school, I flew to San Francisco for a conference and squeezed in a weekend visit to LA, where Desiree lived. We drove to Santa Barbara, blocked traffic while I stood in the middle of the street photographing the Hollywood sign, and rediscovered pizza conversations. She was by then engaged to a man who grew up in Louisville, where I lived, and soon after, for the first time, we lived minutes from each other instead of hours. They married the summer I graduated with my master's degree, and I photographed their wedding. We won't discuss that, other than to say the photographs are very nice and we're still friends. It had nothing to do with my moving to New Jersey a few months later. Really.
The next few years were rough. Desiree's sister Dawn became ill with cancer, and Desiree went through some personal tragedies of her own. We talked a lot, me in Yankee New Jersey, her in Kentucky, and it was a comfort to us both. Not long after I bailed from my graduate program and returned to Kentucky, she and her husband moved to Chicago. There, early one July Sunday, she gave birth to her first daughter, Hannah, premature but strong. That afternoon, Dawn, younger than us both, died of breast cancer. The night before, at her parents' home in Alabama, Dawn had stirred briefly from her coma to murmur, "The baby is coming." Desiree and her husband were already at the hospital by then, but neither had called their families. There is an odd, sad comfort in the thought that Dawn may have passed Hannah
on their ways to and from heaven.
The years continued, the bonds strengthened, Desiree and family moved to Texas and I returned to New Jersey. Before leaving the cold north, Desiree and David added Natasha, another scrappy preemie, to their family - and Desiree gave her my middle name, Lyn, an honor that brought tears to my eyes then and still does now. James came along soon after, a sturdy boy full-term and full-bore from the start. All show their mother's intelligence, curiosity and independent spirit (traits their father also can claim, but which I staunchly advocate carry their mother's flair). In the past few years, we've met in Texas, New Hampshire and New York City, sharing thoughts, emotions, time with her family. I even pulled their daughter Hannah's first loose tooth while Desiree and David were at a Broadway show.
Hannah, six years old: "My tooth is loose."
Me (wiggling tooth): "Yes. Do you want me to pull it?"
Silence. Natasha and James play in the floor. Hannah wiggles her tooth.
Me: "Do you want me to pull it?"
Me: "Are you sure?"
Stand Hannah on the toilet. Push on her tooth.
Me: "It's going to hurt. Want me to pull it?"
Hannah, staunch: "Yes."
Push. Pull. Wiggle. Push HARD - root is rotted away but the enamel sticks like a burr to her gum. She starts crying, mouth filling with blood.
Me: "Hannah, I have to finish this now."
Finally pull tooth out, wash her mouth out with cold water, give her a wad of tissue to bite on.
Hannah: (crying) "You pulled it!"
Me: "You told me to!"
Hannah: (crying) "Next time don't listen to me!"
Trust me, next time I won't. We sat on the couch, hugging, Hannah calming down only to remember again and start crying. When her parents returned, she tragically showed them the hole and they were swift in their praise of her bravery. Praise goes a long way with kids just like with adults, and soon she was a heroine.
But she still won't let me near her mouth.
Last weekend was Desiree's birthday, two months before mine. We've been friends longer than many marriages last, these days - 23 years in August - through moves, tragedies, funny times and the death of loved ones. It's not been perfect - she has her quirks, and I'm...well...volatile, at times - but she is precious to me, and our friendship has been a strength and stabilizing influence throughout my adult life. She has so much knowledge, so much passion for what interests her, and a drive to do what is right, in every instance, that I can only admire and try to emulate. I'm blessed that on that day in August 1979 a petite Air Force brat with red hair clear down her back took me into her heart. I'm even more blessed that 23 years later, I'm still there.
I love you, Desiree. Happy birthday.
My dearest Amanda,
When you walked across the stage yesterday, graduating from high school with distinction, I didn’t see the beautiful young woman striding out to take on the world, but rather the little girl brushing her hair out of her eyes, the 8-year-old seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time, the young teenager crying in my arms because, sometimes, being a teenager hurts so much. You waved at us, sitting in the stands, and it felt like goodbye. Not in a sad way, but I know, in ways you cannot as yet, that yesterday you closed a door and no longer are you my little Manda Panda.
Your mother was so proud when she was pregnant with you, your dad excited and your brother happy but uncertain about just what a “little sister” meant. I think he found out, don’t you? Your birth rounded out your little family, and gave me a niece to love.
And I have loved you, very much, more than you really know. I remember holding you when you were a little baby, how warm and sweet, and I wished so many good things for you. One of my clearest memories is the day we spent together when the rest of your family went to Kings Island. You were only 2 years old, too young to remember it now. We walked around EKU’s campus, playing in the amphitheater, getting a Coke at the student center, just hanging out. Did you know that sometimes I wished you were mine? Because you are precious to me.
It wasn’t all easy and fun. We’ve had long talks, about things that hurt you, about ways to handle the world’s pain, about how life sometimes is just no fun at all, but you have to find the strength in yourself to do what’s right. And you’ve taken some big hits, had some times when your faith in yourself washed away in tears and you felt empty, sad, trying to fit in and making choices that ultimately were the wrong ones. Honey, I know you feel regret for that, but that’s how life goes. It won’t be the last time that happens. Your Aunt Susanna has a list longer than she wants you to know of times life smacked her and she didn’t get back up right away. And times when she knew
what the wrong thing was, what the right thing was, and deliberately, knowingly, did the wrong thing. Forgiveness is tough to come by, especially for those things, but Amanda, that’s part of learning to be an adult. Forgiveness not just of others, but of yourself. A good life is not one with no trouble, no bad choices, but one where you met trouble with courage and got beyond the bad choices to do the right thing.
Do you know that you inspire me? Since you and your brother were born, I’ve wanted to be a better person so you both would be proud of me. Your respect is important to me, and at times when I’ve been tempted to make bad choices, I’ve thought about you and how disappointed you would be if you knew, how it would make you sad and maybe even cause you to question your own choices. You inspire me to be a better person. And you continue to inspire me with your talent and your sweetness.
You are such a wonderful person. I watch you sometimes, laughing and silly, serious and thoughtful, or deep in concentration while playing your violin, and I think, “What a gift Amanda is to the world.” What a gift you’ve been to me. There’s so much I’d like to say, a gift of my experiences to guide you through, but I realize the bigger gift is to stand aside and let you go. Let you learn. Let you be.
On the other hand, you know I don’t always choose the bigger gift, so here are a few things I think it will help you to do:
Meet everyone as if you know they will like you, because most of them will, and if they aren’t inclined at first, you don’t need to give them reason to think they were right.
Call your mom. She worries. What’s more, she’ll call the police if you don’t stay in touch.
There’s always something to spend money on. Choose wisely.
You will find many men exciting physically, and many will find you exciting. A lot of them have as much substance as morning mist. Find a man who cherishes your mind and your heart and choose him; he will love you when you look awful, when you grow old, when he’s holding your head over the toilet when you have morning sickness, and when those pregnancy pounds don’t quite make it off. A man who cherishes you will stay with you. Just make sure you cherish him back.
The mind is the sexiest part of a person. Find a man whose mind spends as much time north as south. (But one who makes you think of south too.)
Make time for your friends.
Be silly - walk on curbs, powerbrake your car, wade barefoot in a public fountain, sing in the grocery store. Life is too short to not to be silly.
Stay connected to God. You will sometimes feel distant from Him, but know He isn’t the one who moved. And He’s not going anywhere - He’s always right there. A life lived with faith has a richness beyond words.
Skip class to go to the beach, but not enough to hurt your grades.
Always be skeptical. Don’t believe what you hear without knowing the source is trustworthy. Question the preacher. Question your teachers. Question the news media and society trendsetters. Be respectful, but ask for proof.
Don’t question your aunt. Where you’re concerned, she’s always right.
A part of me wants to hold you tight and protect you, to clear your path. I want to laugh with you, I want to cry for you. I want you to be safe. But my little Manda Panda is all grown up, ready to take off the training wheels and go it alone.
Be well. Enjoy life.
Reach for the stars.
Of concrete canyons and crawdads
Hot summer days in the early 1970s usually found me barefoot, hair in a ponytail, wading in the creek near our house. The creek flowed down between two hills, in a shallow gully running beside a narrow flat section of field, once a dirt road over the mountains but by then grown over with blackberry bushes and tall weeds. The clearing around my house was flatter, so the creek meandered more, making little pools, backing up into stagnant corners, digging down in places until it was hip-deep on a 10 year old. Waterbugs skittered over the surface, and, if you sat still enough on a rock with your feet in the water, the minnows would come over and nibble on your toes.
Sometimes, as the locusts made their peculiar piercing sound in the still afternoon, I would crouch down, letting the water settle, then pick up a rock very slowly to keep the sludge from swirling up. A crawdad or two would rush backward from the sudden exposure, like little gray lobsters snapping their pinchers. If I was really quick, I could scoop the little ones up in my hands, watching them searching for a hiding place in my hand, until they rested still as their only defense. Game over, I would drop them back in the water, and move to something else – maybe playing baptism with my older sister in one of the deeper sections of the creek, or going up on the highway – a narrow two-lane going from no where much to not much more – to pop tar bubbles with a bare big toe. There were few children nearby, none within a mile, so usually I was alone but not often lonely.
Last week friends of mine visited from Memphis, and we went into Manhattan to see what could be seen. We walked from a subway station toward Wall Street, and at one point in the walk, we stood beside Federal Hall and looked down Broad Street toward the New York Stock Exchange. The buildings are very close together there, imposing edifices of granite, concrete, marble, brick; an American flag taller than my childhood home hung rippling over the front of one. The streets there are very narrow, and the gentle curve shut off the distance so I felt closed in, as if in a concrete canyon, unscaleable. People sat on the steps of Federal Hall while cars and trucks, taxis and a limo thrust their way through the tourists sauntering across the street.
For most of the day, we were captured in a swirl of ever changing faces and scenes. Wall Street gave way to Water Street and then the Staten Island Ferry dock; across from there a small house sits nestled between two skyscrapers, like one of my favorite childhood books, The Little House
. I felt an affinity for that house, watching the world change into something its builders could not have imagined. We later walked through Chinatown, the tiny streets pungent with the odor of seafood and bright with silks and a Buddhist temple, finishing the day sitting in a noisy restaurant in Little Italy, eating gnocchi.
The day was exhilarating, as Manhattan always is, but by the time I left I was full. Many people find cities a source of energy, as if the constant stimuli flow through them like blood through the body, their very cells drawing emotional nourishment from the kaleidoscope of activity. I find myself becoming full, the banquet of experience beyond my ability to take in. I need process time; I need a hot afternoon with locusts and crawdads, no people or cars.
I wondered, for a while after moving to the northeast, if it was a matter of sophistication – was I too much of a country rube to appreciate the finer things of life? I came to realize that it is a question of comfort, of what you are used to, but also of temperament. Even in the country, I would always carry around a book in my back pocket – Nancy Drew, Echo comics, biographies and, later, The Phantom Tollbooth
or a romance novel where a kiss at the end was pretty hot stuff. I would sit under a tree, curl up beside the creek or, sometimes, hide in my basement bedroom sprawled across the sheets. Now, in this faster, more hectic place, where nothing is slow, people are everywhere, and nature is either carefully orchestrated or ruthlessly killed, I get tired. There is no place for my insides to rest. It’s like a modern painting where the eye moves constantly until you turn away, exhausted and not quite sure what it was supposed to mean.
Others love it, and I’m happy for them – someone has to live here. I also know, after 22 years away from the home of my childhood, I couldn’t go back completely. Some of the city is a part of me now; my pace has quickened, I would become impatient when I couldn’t find a restaurant open, or I had to drive 70 miles to a bookstore. But still, I know some day before very long, I will again seek out a place where I can lift rocks to find crawdads, where traffic is rare enough to safely pop tar-bubbles, where the locusts sing and in the long dusks of summer, whippoorwills call as the grass gets too chill for bare feet.
CARS I HAVE LOVED
My little silver car with the orange nose sits abandoned, for the time at least, on the side of my urban street. When I turn it on, the “check engine” light glows an admonition at me. I did check it, I even checked the oil – the only proactive checking I know how to do – but the oil was fine and the light remains implacable. So it’s the bus and subway, for a few days, until I get myself together to take my little silver car to the shop.
It’s another in a long string of car trials.
As I’ve mentioned before, I love to drive, and I tend to drive pretty fast, with one hand, the other hanging out the window, adjusting the music, holding a hamburger, fiddling with the phone – something other than driving. It’s a long-term love – I went on my 16th birthday to get my learner’s permit (the state police officer administering it sang happy birthday to me), got my license about two months later, and it’s been hard to pry me from behind the wheel since.
Except, of course, when the mechanics of the car defeat me.
I took my driver’s test in a 1974 Chevy Impala station wagon, about the size of today’s average stretch limo, only wider. But I managed, even passed parallel parking. The first car I owned was also a station wagon – a hand me down from my parents, a 1970-something LeMans station wagon. The less said about it the better, other than it was pretty handy for piling in a bunch of sleepy college girls heading to the gym for a 6 a.m. gym class and – since it was Florida – to the beach.
The real fun didn’t start until I traded cars with my brother in law, when my sister was pregnant with their first child. They wanted the station wagon. I was gracious and agreed to accept his in return – a 1976 black Chevrolet Camaro with black vinyl seats, Mag wheels and a hot prowling growl. Mmmmm….wish I still had it. Kinda. Because it was hot, but in more ways than one – it didn’t have air conditioning.
Some things you learn to live around.
I got the car my senior year in college, 1983, and it wasn’t long before a friend of mine taught me how to power brake it – one foot on the gas, one on the brake, pressing down one as you lift off the other… and peeling out of wherever you are. It especially amused me to power brake it on my way to church, on Sunday mornings: peeling out at a light, ripping into the lot, turning off that growl – and climbing out in my neat, prim dress and heels, calmly strolling into the building.
The lack of air conditioning became more of an issue when I took my first real job, as a reporter for a small daily in Tennessee. I wanted to be cool, collected, smooth – a difficult image to project when you descend on a scene in loud blackness, emerging windblown and, in the dog days of hot September, with that liquid glow. Then… the door stuck. The old Camaros had very long, heavy doors that allowed access to the back seat, and over time the doors began to sag and damage the closing mechanism. Finally, the driver’s side door stopped latching at all, and I had to drive to the service station holding it closed. They did get it closed – but they had to order the parts to fix it, which took a couple of weeks, and in the interim, they said, “Don’t open it.”
Don’t open it? How was I going to get in? Climb through the window?
So climb through the window I did, for over two weeks, except for the times I wore a dress and crawled in from the passenger side, more often than not catching the hem on the gear shift. The firefighters and police officers I saw on my daily reporter rounds thought that was very funny, and dubbed me “Daisy Duke” – a double meaning, since I also hailed from eastern Kentucky, another fact that amused them. The name stuck long after the car door was fixed.
My next car was prosaic by comparison, another hand-me-down from my parents – a blue Cutlass Supreme, sedate but roomy and air conditioned. What a blessing. My years with that car were uneventful, except for the time a guy in Newark changed my tire at a service station, and then wouldn’t let me leave until I agreed to have dinner with him. Or tried not to, any way. We stood in the gathering dusk of a spring evening, a misty rain falling, him between my car door and me, as he kept upping the ante – dinner next door. Ok, dinner at a place on the shore. Ok, dinner at the place on the shore and he would give me the cost of dinner if I didn’t like it. Ok, no dinner but he would drive me to my friends’ house. No no no. Finally I said, give me your card and I’ll call you when I’m back in town. He said, don’t do me any favors.
That was also the car that threw a rod, because I forgot (repeatedly) to check the oil. Oops. My dad, who was driving it at the time, was not happy – because he had asked me if I had checked the oil recently (to which I replied, injured, “Of course!”). Not long after, I upgraded to their next old car, a Pontiac Bonneville – back to tank status. Unexciting, boat-like, again perfect for piling with girlfriends and heading into whatever sunset looked good that day.
Finally, after many years of hand-me-downs, I bought my first new car.
My little silver car.
I shopped and shopped. I read books. I checked the “what should it cost?” books, and learned things I never wanted to know about car dealing – for instance, that car dealers are paid a bonus from the manufacturer for every car they sell, at the end of the year. Good information for negotiation purposes. I test drove several cars, settled on a little silver Nissan Sentra, and dragged my friend Bill to the dealership with me as backup, making him promise to keep his mouth shut unless I was about to pay more than the asking price for the car. We sat in the negotiation circle, me, Bill and John the salesman, who was almost literally salivating at the fine fish he was about to net. He said, what do you think would be a good price for this car? This was my response:
“John, we know that the asking price for this car is $17,000. However, we both also know that your actual cost on the car is $13,000, and you receive a $250 selling bonus for the car at the end of the year. So your final cost is $12,750. I think you could make a reasonable profit at $13,500. So that’s my offer.”
He nearly fainted. My friend wouldn’t look at me (he told me later he couldn’t, because he would have fallen out of his chair laughing at the salesman’s face). Of course that wasn’t the offer they accepted, but after some finagling, I got the car for $100 less than what Bill’s friend the bank loan officer had told him was a great price for it. For this reason, I love that car more than I would have anyway for its sunroof and glove-like driving fit.
It survived a few years in Kentucky unscathed, shiny and fun to drive. I had been in New Jersey less than a year when some college guy in a sports car, late to class, saw a parking space on his left and gunned his car to nab it. The only problem was, I was in the lane between him and the parking space, a little behind him on the 4-lane, one-way street. I stood on the brake, but still the right front corner of my car buried in the driver’s door of his car. Neither of us were hurt, but our cars were. The insurance money came the same time as my semester tuition bill, so little silver car continued with its rakish, one-eyed appearance until two Hispanic men in a vintage Cadillac stopped beside my car one day after class in Newark.
“I can fix that body damage,” said the driver, an earnest, heavy man in his 20s. “I have the tools in my car. I can do it cheap.”
Cheap sounded good. Knowing I was defying every lesson I’d ever had in safety, I let them follow me to a street near my house, then watched as the young guy took the tools out of his car and began pulling out the dents. The other man, in his 50s, with greased back Elvis hair and brown polyester pants sewn with gray thread up the back seam, regaled me with tales of the church where he preached. I listened to him and watched as the younger guy mixed some white thick paste and smeared it over the nose of my car. He smoothed it carefully, as the March afternoon turned colder and a light mix of snow and sleet began falling. It wouldn’t dry in this, he said, and he pulled out a can of white spray paint and a small torch. Soon the corner of my car had flames moving over it as he burnt the fumes from the spray paint with the torch, the heat drying the compound. He finished up with orange anti-rust paint, I paid them and off they went into the dark.
That is how my little silver car got its orange nose.
Last week I drove over something that messed up the muffler, so now it sounds like my Camaro without that sports car cachet. Then on Tuesday the engine light came on. I feel very New Jersey in my car, these days – a moving disaster.
But that’s okay. When I’m away from thousands of crazed drivers packed into tiny, confusing spaces; when I am again more gainfully employed and done with school; when I know the changes will stick, I will take my little silver car to someone who will admire her, as I do, and fix her so she regains her outward charm. She never lost her inward charm, and I am still happy I bargained with the salesman and brought her home with me.
Even if, for now, I’m going to be riding the subway.
I’ve never been a girly girl.
My sister is; even in her baby photos, she had long dark eyelashes and a little coy smile. In mine, I looked like I had just woken up and wasn’t very happy about it – kind of startled and pale. Very pale. Does-she-have-eyelashes pale.
My sister and I are only two years apart, so there were plenty of opportunities to compare. She had her first boyfriend at three; I had to wait until I was 7, and then he moved away after a big splashy Valentine’s Day gift of a gold necklace and a card that covered the top of my school desk. Things went downhill pretty rapidly after that, when I began to revel in the joys of beating the boys in races on the school grounds. Afterward, I would be panting and sweaty at the finish line while on the sidelines the girls whose knee socks stayed up admired the strong, tough boys.
My sister’s knee socks always stayed up.
Cut to me at 10, her at 12, as puberty swept us both up in its turbulent waves. Family photos show my sister, on a trip to Florida, standing ankle deep in the gently lapping surf, posed daintily in a neatly pressed lavender skirt and white blouse. The photo of me from that trip is face-on right after a belly-flop in the water, wet hair like seaweed and face screwed up from drinking a mouthful of saltwater. A few years later, when my sister was 15 and on a date with the 17-year-old valedictorian of the senior class, my parents made me sit with my sister and her date at a ballgame. I got into an argument with my sister’s date – about whether Golda Meir could, as a woman, be an effective leader in Israel. I was 13. My sister was not happy – that wasn’t very girly girl.
The trend was established.
I did learn how to curl my hair, how to put on eyeliner without blinding myself, and how to balance gracefully on high heels. I never quite got the knack of an eyelash curler, and I quit even trying after a friend of mine pulled out all of her eyelashes on one lid trying to curl after
putting on her mascara. I managed to stop biting my nails in high school, and in college I became a fan of Mary Kay. Not that I used the products much, but I felt very girly, having those rows of pink plastic tubes and bottles lining my bathroom shelf.
Somehow, it didn’t quite take.
I remember once, when in my late 20s, standing behind two women in the aisle at church after morning services. Both were my age, nice, very attractive, always well put together. I had never been able to quite connect with them, though, and I wasn’t sure why. I listened in on their conversation, hoping to be able to interject a comment. The topic: when do you put on your makeup, before dressing, or after? One of them always put on her makeup first, dressed, then did her hair. She would put a small towel over her face to keep makeup off her clothes as she pulled them on. The other woman dressed, draped a towel around her shoulders, put on her makeup, then did her hair. They debated the merits of each for several minutes. They were true girly-girls.
I had nothing to add. When I even wore makeup, I put it on in the car and prayed for long red lights.
It wasn’t that this was a problem with the men in my life over the years, two of whom even wanted to marry me. Not all men are after the girly girls, and that’s a good thing; of course I bless them daily. And this is not a criticism of the girly girls, either. Many of them, like my sister, are smart, funny, excellent wives and mothers, and, if that’s their path, excellent in their careers. It’s just… well… they make me think of one of my favorite Hallmark cards:
I ran into a friend today from my high school days, and she looked really great.
So I ran into her again.
It just makes me itch, all that unmarred perfection. I can occasionally attain it, but I cannot sustain it. No elaborate hair-sprayed do for me – I have to be able to run my fingers through my hair. High heels are “sittin’ shoes” – only to be worn if you’re going to be “sittin’” a while. I can be very convincing in a power suit, with matching pumps and discreet pearl necklace, but for any serious work you’re more likely to find me in leggings and a long baggy t-shirt. And I’m okay with that.
I just wish I knew how they did it. It is nature or nurture?
Recently, two young friends from Texas, 18 and 22, came to stay with me so they could shop in New York. I asked them what sights they wanted to see. They said, Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Tiffany’s. Every day they dressed up. Every day one of them wore three-inch heels. And every day they came home with bags and bags of clothes, shoes and purses. By the time I left them at LaGuardia at week’s end, these girly girls had liberated enough NYC merchandise to fuel the local economy for at least three weeks.
I don’t shop that much in a year.
But I’ve come to terms with my un-girly girl status, accepting that by some freak of nature I share a gender with these females of exotic plumage. I have girly friends and ungirly friends, multi-cultural as I am; I just can’t trade hair care secrets or tips on the best nail salon with the girly ones. I find that the older most women get, the less girly girl they become – and the older men get, the less it seems to matter. This is a happy thing.
Still… down deep in my heart… when I think of the girly girls… I want to run into them again.
Testing... testing... The Saturday Ramble is commencing. Just a short walk, today. Longer hikes forthcoming.