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Planet PamJ

Covid Calls

Every morning it's the same thing: I brew a pot of coffee for the long day ahead and call my mother. Every morning I get the same deadpan reply: "Yes, we're still alive." I can practically see her eye-roll though she's not there. I'd video chat but she has to be dolled up a tad to show her face, even to her own child.


If I get a late start and interrupt her show, "The View," she might want to stay on the phone even though she can barely hear me over the blasting of the television. "It's not an exciting show today so I can talk." I can't hear her either so our conversation turns into a yelling match. "You don't have to yell," she yells, which is somewhat ironic.


Also, we have nothing much to talk about because yesterday was just another ordinary day in Covidland. But wait, my mother has some gossip. Did you hear about the neighbor who stole a set of postcards from a museum gift shop and cheated on her husband before trying to save the human race from Chanel-clad aliens? She had me going there for a second. But it's just another Netflix show that I absolutely have to watch, like the other twenty-six new shows we discussed this week.


I point out that that the person she'd like to talk some sense into is a fictional character,  but she persists, out of what sounds like genuine concern.  "Can you believe she really did that, especially since she just got a diagnosis of restless leg syndrome? It's awful."


But even if the best conversation topic we can come up with is about a person who's not even real, it's surprisingly entertaining. My mother and I can have a fun conversation about the dwindling population of red squirrels for that matter. Mostly, I'm just happy that she answers when I call.

Being Old at the Grocery Store

Binoculars at the ready, I can see Middle Age in the horizon, packing its bags to leave. Prompt little devil. In other words, and according to modern society, I'm old.


I know I'm old because if I make it to my neighborhood grocery store cash register before I have to pee a second time, I am giddy with excitement.


This doesn't happen too often, unfortunately, since I typically am forced to break out the reading glasses and gaze at labels for questionable ingredients while also making sure I get the best deal on creamed corn, which I don't even like. Then, I might forget what I'm shopping for, especially if I've left the shopping list in the car again.


If I am lucky enough to have found the list at the bottom of my purse, which I have now dumped out onto the floor in the spice aisle, I belt out a happy tune. Unfortunately, this turns into The Lord's Prayer as I try to get up from said floor. I consider whether swigging the vanilla extract on the shelf in front of me would help dull the pain of creaking body parts.


Next, I am in the middle of the medications aisle, deliberating on whether I should start taking energy supplements, to help build up the necessary enthusiasm for enduring life with sagging arms and declining looks.


So, of course, when I finally make it to the finish line, I have to celebrate by snagging something chocolate off the shelf. I will then scan the items on the impulse purchase rack to select something I don't need, like a bottle of Herculean-strength glue because it's small enough to fit onto a key ring. Also, you never know when you'll be stuck on the side of the road and need to glue something.


If I am forced to wait behind someone who is buying more cans of cocktail wieners than is probably healthy, I am both annoyed and glad, because now I can peruse a magazine highlighting which celebrity did what to whom. I am smug, taking pride in the fact that I have not tattooed the inside of my nose or had a baby out of wedlock who I then named Ocean or Tangerine.


Meanwhile, despite my best efforts to get out of the damn store, I am forced to endure a sullen, pimply teenager who snaps his gum and grunts as I ask him to kindly not hurl my two-for-one bottles of laxative onto the eggs. 


After all of my items are rung up, sweat dripping down my chest mid-hot flash, I am then faced with a bill that makes me weak in the arthritic knees. The cashier sees my face whiten with disbelief as I put a palm to my chest, and hands shaking, she reaches for the phone to call 911. 


I make it out of there alive, thankfully (after flirting with the cute paramedic who is half my age) and hobble to the car, praying not to throw out my back while putting the bags in the trunk. I typically refuse the offer of help out of the store and really am quite offended whenever they ask. I may be old but I'm not that old.

Desperate Home Cook Crashes Neighbor's Holiday Party; Steals Turkey Leg.

If you ever see the headline above, it's probably about me. Because on Thanksgiving, for example, the beautiful turkey that I poured my heart and soul into could be served frozen in the middle.


Executing a holiday meal for human guests (as opposed to the family dog, who thinks I'm a top Michelin star chef) always involves two things: heavy drinking and prayer. It also requires phone calls to my friend, Lisa, in order to feel superior. Because if I haven't burned something yet, chances are, she already has.


Food plays a big role during the holidays and my "customers" relay their special requests in advance. Most of these revolve around different restaurants, in order to keep me from cooking. 


My parents, on the other hand, say they look forward to my food. This doesn't mean much: My father drowns his plate in ketchup and I'm fairly certain my mother is trying to score brownie points so I don't put her in a nursing home one day. "Everything you make with your magic little fingers is the most delicious thing I've ever eaten," she says, proving my theory.  


I am a conundrum in the kitchen: I either perform culinary miracles, turning out dishes fit for royalty or, I turn a perfectly good piece of meat into a high-quality brick. This is why the pizza delivery number takes priority over 911 on my family's emergency phone lists. 


Having a vegetarian in the house makes holiday meal planning even harder. One New Year's Day, I made a colorful "veggie loaf." After laughing then spitting out pieces into their napkins, everyone at the table took pictures of it, which they forwarded to friends and family. The daughter said she'd rather eat her own leg, which was particularly insulting as she is the vegetarian. To be positive, though, she did add that it was scary and suggested I make it again, for Halloween.


Last year, an attempt at a rather mundane garlic bread in the toaster oven (to accompany spaghetti and heart-shaped meatballs for Valentine's Day) went awry and the next thing I knew, the kids were roasting marshmallows over the flames. "What are you doing?" I hollered, hoping the fire extinguisher still had some juice in it. "The kitchen's burning down!" 


The teenage son, biting off a perfectly browned marshmallow from his skewer,  looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. "Mom, wouldn't that be a good thing?"


My friend, Lisa, didn't offer much consolation. "You know, there are easier ways to convince your spouse to remodel the kitchen," she said.


Meanwhile, the last time the family sat down at the holiday table, I finally got my most gratifying reward. As I sat beaming at the spread, after everyone took their first bite, I received the ultimate compliment: "The food's not five-star, but it's too late for take-out."

 The Death Machine

Here are a few things you don't want or expect to happen when you walk into a gym:

1. Almost breaking every single bone in your body and
2. Nearly busting an expensive piece of gym equipment at the same time.


So, actually, there are exactly two things you don't want to happen at the gym. Sure, there are others, like peeing a little in one's pants while getting up from a squat or sweating into your eyes and being temporarily blinded so that you walk into a wall. But we won't get into all of that now.

I, unlike other people, have extremely low expectations when it comes to getting into shape at the gym. If I get out of there without hurting a body part or having a stroke, I have had an excellent workout.  

The other day, a friend who is much more coordinated than I am and always remembers to tie her shoes before getting on a treadmill, told me she discovered a machine that has changed her life. Since I am always looking for ways to make my life better, because who isn't, I decided to take her up on her offer to show me this miraculous piece of equipment. 

We stood in front of its steel, rubber and faux leather hulk and she gazed at it with a tear in her eye, shaking her head. "I don't know how I lived without it. For the first time in my life since middle school, I can do a pull-up."

She shows me her biceps, which are quite firm after two days of pull-ups on this machine and also because they are attached to a body devoid of any mushy parts. I am very happy for my friend having such firm upper arms. But also, I want to kick her.

Meanwhile, I had a sudden flashback of childhood PE class and my rather monotonous failure to master the pull-up bars and earn the highly coveted presidential physical fitness award. "So you can't do a pull-up. So what. You have other strengths," my mother tried to protect my fragile pre-teen self-esteem, but she inevitably cracked, of course. "But seriously, not even one?"

So you can see why I, too, became excited about this pull-up machine. 

"The weights use gravity to help you do the pull-up and easily work those muscles," the gym manager gushed.

I felt like I was watching the QVC home shopping channel and that at any minute, a low, low price of $999.99 would flash on the screen for the first nine billion customers who called to order.

But still, I was sucked in. My spirits buoyed by the hopes of finally, finally doing a pull-up and making my mother proud, I climbed onto the beast. 

And drumroll please...I did a pull-up. I pulled on the handles and brought my chin up past the bar. Then I did another. And another. I did 25 of them, in fact. Well, it felt like 25. In reality, it was probably five.

My will to live was renewed. I was Superwoman, strong enough to save the world. I was the queen of the gym. One day, I would get that presidential physical fitness award (if i awarded it to myself and found an appropriate ribboned medal on Amazon.com. I would climb onto the pedestal and lower my head to receive the medal, which I guess a friend or family member could put on me, and....)

It was at this moment that I realized all was lost. I was not presidential material and I was not the impressive gym giant that I was just minutes ago. Needless to say, I would not get a medal. 

Because, regretfully, I could not figure out how to get off this death machine without morbidly hurting myself, damaging my towering captor and frightening everyone in the gym with the eardrum-shattering noise that would ensue when the weight came crashing down.

My friend tried to help me get off the thing with a barrage of directions about where to put my arms, feet and various other things, but I still couldn't figure out how to do it. I imagined someone calling 911 and a team of firefighters surrounding me. 

But a gym trainer came over and talked me down and I escaped this menace to society without a scratch.

At least no one ended up crying over the incident. Well, except for my friend, who you would think could summon up just a smidge of remorse for making me try her favorite, life-changing workout machine (you know, the one that almost killed me.) 

Yeah, she was crying, all right. Tears streamed from her eyes from laughing so hard.


The Hot Seat

My mother texted me some exciting news. "I am sitting on the best thing since the invention of fire." 

She then sent along some eye-candy for effect: a picture of Elmo sitting on a toddler potty.

Of course, this life-changing event required a phone call for details. 


It seems that even during the heat of summer, one might long for a heated toilet seat. 

If that someone is my mother. Apparently after visiting a friend who had one, jealousy and longing overcame her and she had to have one too.

"Can I come over and use it this winter?" I asked, of course. Because who wouldn't want a warm and cozy toileting experience? 

This got her very excited.

"Maybe I'll sell tickets...they'll be lining up at the door to use it. I'll make millions."

I wasn't entirely convinced. "What else can it do?"

Because if I was going to invest in a new toilet seat, I'd need some more bells and whistles...and maybe music. Have they invented a toilet seat that plays soft music when a rear is placed atop it? What about a read-aloud poem or short story for particularly lengthy bodily business? 

Or maybe...no, absolutely, it would be nice if my toilet seat had something nice to say, like, "You’re doing very well. Keep at it. You're smart enough, you're funny enough and by golly, you're good looking as hell."

Now, that's the kind of positive reinforcement I could really use in a toilet seat. 


50, Facebook Style

A Facebook pal posted that she looked in the mirror on her 50th birthday and liked what she saw. On my 50th birthday, I looked in the mirror and was grateful that there was a layer of dust on it, due to my lack of housekeeping. 

Meanwhile, today, a month before my 53rd birthday, I looked in the mirror and had to grip the edges of the sink, as a swell of nausea and faintness began to take command of my legs. (Unfortunately, I had unthinkingly assigned my son the task of cleaning the mirrors recently, which, incidentally, took him a rather long time what with all the accumulated grime and dust.)

So I called my friend, the bone-chillingly honest one, to commiserate and also, to agree with me that my Facebook gal was either straight up lying, or delusional, the poor sap.


"She said she's proud of her gray hair, wrinkles and stretch marks because she’s earned them," I spat into the phone. 

"She probably had an empty bottle of whiskey in her hand when she wrote that," my friend deadpanned. 

Of course, that explains it. 

Road Trip with My Teenage Son

I love him.

I want to kill him.

I love him.

I want to kill him.

But mostly, I love him.

Road Trip with Teenage Son, Part 2

I love him.

How could it be that this handsome, brilliant and hysterically humorous creature who joyously yet painfully sprung from my loins, full of promise and sound mind is now, quite frankly causing me grief beyond what should be humanly necessary, without a modicum of manners or remorse?

I love him.

Are there enough hours of therapy that would address the post-traumatic stress disorder that I will likely face after being subjected to hours of time trapped in an automobile with a mutant hormonal alien creature who is hostilely but hopefully not permanently destroying my will to live?

I love him.

Please, have mercy on me, universe who has laughingly bestowed upon me this mystifying monster inflicting parental pain when all I was trying to do was have some fun during my summer vacation while bonding with a boy who I now would like to heave out of the car, for the sake of my own sanity and also, to avoid prison time (because I would not do well in prison.)

Still, I love him.

I Am Superwoman in My Dreams

Two questions that I didn’t realize I had recently were answered: 1. Is it possible to receive a bonafide concussion in one’s own bedroom, while lying upon a bed? Yes. 2. Can the worlds of dreaming and real life intersect? Yes.


But wait! A third question I didn’t realize I had is this: 3. Can a grown woman purchase and install guard railing, such as the type typically used to keep a baby or toddler safe during slumber, for her own bed? Yes.


Here is the very short, ridiculously true story:


I was dreaming that I was flying out of the shower (to escape the alligator that was climbing in to bathe with me (of course) when suddenly, the dream ended and I was half lying, half sitting, limbs akimbo like a pretzel, not knowing where I was. Also, the place I sat in was spinning and the pain, oh the pain. This is what it must feel like after time in the boxing ring with an orangutan who has just beat you to a pulp. 


It seems that my body did not understand that the dream was over, which caused me to fly out of my bed, smack into a nightstand and knock my noggin on a wall. Then, a cry in the night, “Help.” A teenager from the bedroom next door dashing into the room. A husband sitting up in bed, rubbing his eyes. A dog, lounging on my pillow, vigorously chomping on his chew bone.


Twenty minutes later: Surrounded by bags of ice on offending body parts. Two weeks later: a sudden bout of vertigo and a trip to the hospital to scan my brain, which was bruised, but good (well, as good as my brain ever was, at least.)


One month later: 1. I can now distinguish the floor from the ceiling on a mostly continued basis. 2. I am still using the injury to gain sympathy, get out of chores and avoid the gym. 3. I have a very short, ridiculously true story to tell (which is almost as good as the story about when a bathroom purse hook got stuck in my ear. Don’t ask. Well, actually, do ask, if you would like to find out how to avoid a similar fate one day.)

The Other Woman is a Washing Machine

I have a problem. My husband is in love with our new washing machine.


"It's so quiet," he says, rubbing the top gently.


For weeks, he had shopped to find the best deal on this new paragon of clothing cleanliness. He found her one glorious Saturday afternoon, but still, he didn't rush it. He visited her frequently, to make sure the fit was right.


One day, a big truck appeared in front of our house. Big, strong men carried her in, while my husband watched, a wide grin on his face.


I think he loves the new washing machine better than me.


But I can't say I blame him. In fact, this state-of-the-art front loader has loads of attributes that I don't. For example: 1. She sings a song when she's done with each cycle. 2. All you need to do is gently tap  a sensitive digital power button to turn her on.  And: 3. She doesn't curse while she's working.


I can't compete with that.

I am Not a House

I met Alaya at a "meditative dance" class. I was dragged, I mean, invited, by a good friend (who I now think may be half out of her mind, like the rest of the people in that class.) Meditative dance – to me, that's an oxymoron. I can't concentrate on my dance moves if I'm busy meditating. Who could? (Of course, for me, meditation means it's time to think about what I'll be having for lunch and whether or not it'll involve chocolate.)


Alaya told me her "spritual teacher" named her Alaya because it sounded like something "beautiful and flowing." The sound of the name her parents gave her, Iris, didn't suit her, she said. Which makes me rethink my own name: Pam. Because come to think of it, my name sounds like a big, old rock, an immobile lump. Pam. My name isn't flowing, like Alaya's. It's not fair. (Maybe I will change it to "Stream.")


Meanwhile, another problem with meditative dance is that you have to dance in a circle, holding hands. Maybe it's just me, but it seems that when you're holding hands with someone for longer than 10 minutes, hands tend to sweat profusely. This makes me start fantasizing about the moment I can, finally, wash my hands. Then, just as I was thinking I'd make a break for it or maybe sever the cord to the CD player playing what sounded like a spaced out hippie randomly plucking a harp and sighing, the sprightly, white-haired gentleman on my right turned to me and said, "I'm so glad you are here."


"Enjoy it while you can, old man," I thought to myself. 


So, of course, when the two-hour torture session, ahem, dance class, broke for a break halfway through, I ran outside for dear life, screaming something like, "Take me into the light. This is most God-awful class I've ever had to suffer through. Oh, the humanity." And because this was incredibly irreverent on my part, since after all, we were dancing in a "sacred space," the Goddesses decided to have me trip over a rock and fall onto my shoulder, possibly dislocating it for the rest of my life. But that can't be as painful as meditative dance. Because it got worse.


When we circled up again, I was forced to be a "house," arms held high so I could open up my "roof" to the new season of spring. Then, some of us were instructed to dance into the middle of the circle (without tripping over the lit candles, of course) to our "source" and "sprinkle water" over our bodies to be "renewed." Then, the others gently placed their hands on our backs. Afterwards, during group "reflection," one woman said she felt "comforted by the supporting hands on (her) back."


Funny – what I'd been thinking, of course, was, "get your sweaty hands off me." Guess maybe I deserve the name, Pam. My spirit is not beautiful and flowing, like Alaya's. But maybe that's o.k. We all have our strengths. Mine don't include pretending to be a house.

My Daughter Lives at the Mall

My daughter lives at the shopping mall. I bring her food sometimes. I'd give her money – they have a food court – but it would become too expensive.


You'd think someone would tell her to leave. But she is so small – barely five feet tall – and they don't notice her.


I don't know what she does there all day long. She does not tell me much. I try to watch her - from afar, of course, so she will not order me to leave. But she is so quick, flitting from store to store like a butterfly, and evades me.


I wonder who she meets at the mall. She is such a social creature. Do her friends visit? Do they have teenaged sleepovers at J.C. Penney, in the bedding department, perhaps? After the night watchman has gone and the lights are low.


I never knew it would turn out like this. But then, my child has always gone her own way. She knows what she likes. Apparently, she likes the mall.


One day I will go there and find that she has become a permanent fixture. Carved in stone or perhaps, sculpted in metal. A statue placed in front of Claire's. I will bring her flowers and talk to her as if she is real. They will think I'm crazy, but I will know better.


You may be thinking that I am a bad mother. After all, I didn't put up a fight when she wanted to go. But I'm not selfish. I've given my daughter freely. I can't keep her all to myself.


So the mall she roams. She is happy there. And why not? She does not have to clean her room. There are no dishes to load. Nobody cares if her ear phones are permanently cemented inside her ears – they understand that music is her life now. And what joy – she does not have to bathe! She's too busy shopping, after all.


I'm not sure if she's ever coming back. But if she does, I will tell her I love her. I will admire her new skinny jeans, even if they may be too tight.


But since she just moved there last week, I think I have awhile. So I will get her a housewarming present. A gift certificate to her favorite store, perhaps, or a sturdy pair of walking shoes.


Or maybe I'll buy her a potted plant to put by her favorite store. Isn't that what you typically bring people who have moved somewhere else?