Tag Archives: childhood

Happy Dead Jesus, or Easter for Catholics

I might finally be turning the corner on my dread of Easter. I’ve written before about my religious disposition and how that whole Catholic thing just didn’t seem to take in me or in my family. In fact, one might say I ran screaming from being Catholic, and there are many reasons why, but the big one was Easter. Or should I say, the three bloody, gory days leading up to Easter. Despite my potty mouth and my penchant for channeling my gin-soaked, cigarette smoking alter ego Blanche, I’m a sensitive person. Well, at least in a squeamish sort of way. They call it the “Passion of Christ,” but I like to think of passion as either doing something you absolute love that feeds your mind, body, and soul, or, alternately, going at it with someone hot and sexy who thinks you’re hot and sexy. Call me crazy, but I’ve never associated passion with getting the snot beaten out of you and getting nailed to wood.

But growing up that’s what Easter was for me EVERY SINGLE YEAR. Rehashing the gory details of a man’s crucifixion for three days straight — a guy who by most accounts was just trying to be a decent person. Then, on Easter Sunday, the fact that Jesus is risen and the appearance of chocolate bunnies and jelly beans are supposed to erase all that. But it never did for me because my Catholic guilt had been honed to perfection. It was made perfectly clear to me that I caused his death. Jesus was getting beat up for me, specifically; the text is very clear on this part. Believe me, I was always looking for some loophole to pin it on the lame people of the time. No such luck. So you can perhaps forgive me if I wasn’t quite getting the joy of Jesus going to heaven thing.

Intellectually, I get that for some people Easter Sunday is just that. I only kind of understand it from years of asking enthusiastic Catholics what they get out of their religion because I was 1) stumped and 2) genuinely curious. The most common answer is they like the ritual, pomp, and pageantry. I thought that’s what the British monarchy is for, but apparently that’s just me.

The only thing that saved me from the Easter horror was the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. Yes, I get that Andrew Lloyd Weber ain’t no Stephen Sondheim, but I didn’t need Broadway perfection, just a transmutation. The music made me finally realize this is a rich human story set to some ass-kicking guitar riffs. I’ll never have the faith required to forget three days of pain to revel in the euphoria of the Easter morning, but I can sing, “Die if you want to, you innocent puppet!” like a Broadway bad-ass.

But I think I might finally be getting past all this — you all may only have to endure another year or two of an “Easter is gory” blog. Did I mention I tend to have a hard time letting things go?

I offered to bring dessert to my sister’s house for Easter — my sister’s extensive wine collection helps me keep everything in perspective and keeps my gory observations to myself. On Saturday I went to the Italian bakery in my neighborhood, and it was a beehive of people buying cakes, pastries, and cookies decorated with bunnies and chocolate eggs. There were eight people behind the counter, and the door to the back room swung open to reveal an additional small army of bakers and decorators. People were smiling. People were happy. One older couple laughed about spending $90 on pastries. We both knew they’d be bringing it to some big family gathering and enjoying each other’s company. I wished them a happy Easter as I lugged my own 7-pound box of fruit tarts and chocolate cake heaven back to my car. I wasn’t thinking about dead Jesus, I was thinking about blazing guitar riffs, heavenly bakery goodies, the cold spring day filled with the promise of warmth, and being with people you love. Happy Easter.

Photo credit: Heavy.com 20 creepiest Easter bunnies

Top 5 Things that Make Me Crazier than I Need to Be

Besides my natural inclination for being crazy, I also have to wrangle with the hormonally-induced crazy thoughts of perimenopause. Like the time I had a random moment of intense hatred for a stranger because of the coat she was wearing. It was an odd geometric pattern, and it pissed me off. I just laughed it off with my friends, but honestly, what does that even mean?!? All I can say is you people are just lucky I’m a pacifist and that I never took karate.

So I really don’t need any encouragement to be crazier than I currently am.  And I do so try to mind my own business, but while I’m doing that, these things happen. Stupid annoying things that shouldn’t because my rules make sense. If everyone would just follow them, we’d all be better off. Well, I would be better off, and that’s all that matters, right? I’m the one having anger issues over patterned coats. Here are my current top 5 things that make me crazier than I need to be:

  1. Online recipe fiddlers. See, foodies, some of us actually need recipes. Our creativity has other outlets, so when we go to Epicurious.com we’re actually there to find and follow a recipe. When we read the comments and ratings, what we’re looking for is a confirmation that the recipe works and is tasty. That’s it. We don’t need this:

“This recipe is great! I substituted Marash chili (from Turkey) for the pepper and added carrots, onions, white wine, thyme, and simmered 30 to 35 minutes to meld the flavors. Then I added fresh Parmesan cheese before serving.”

OK, that’s great smarty-pants foodie, but that’s not the ‘effen “Fast White Bean Stew” recipe. If I had wanted white bean stew with fancy pants spices and lots of extra ingredients, I would have looked for that recipe. Oh, and thank you for telling me where your fancy pants spice comes from. Like I care. Your review is absolutely useless to me because I’m not getting Turkish spices or adding cheese or simmering an additional 30 to 35 minutes because that’s not fast, which, BTW, is in the title.

2. Cloves. Just, no. They smell disgusting. They are disgusting. You might as well substitute that gross incense the Catholics use. Why, why, why, must those weird little brown flower buds and stems desecrate a ham? You want to stick decorative things in a ham? How about toothpicks with those frilly ends? I still haven’t recovered from my childhood run-in with a salad. Mind you, the salad was meant to encourage kids to eat it. Half a pear for the body on the bed of lettuce and a cottage cheese tail. Cute, right?

But then guess what the eyes and mouth were? Yummy raisins? No. Peanuts? No. Disgusting cloves. Even when you pull them out, the flavor remains and infects the canned pear goodness.

God, I hate cloves.

3. People who walk in the road when there’s a perfectly good sidewalk to use. At first I thought this was a peculiarity of my town. This generally doesn’t happen in Boston proper. If it did, between the cars and bikers, you could clog all the ERs in Boston hospitals with pedestrian accidents. But I’ve seen it in other surrounding towns. What the hell is that about? Are these the same people who don’t wear seat belts because the “man” told them to? Do they think sidewalks are for chumps?

Attention, Roadwalkers. Do you not understand that we Masshole drivers have the worst driving reputation? We will hit you and it’s a 50-50 chance it’s intentional. OK 80% chance. Use. The. Damn. Sidewalk. Freaks.

4. Commercial du jour. That commercial for a big box electronics store that suggests when your kid’s science fair project, such as an anemic exploding volcano, isn’t quite exciting enough, go buy a big screen TV. Then it shows the family watching some other, more exciting exploding volcano on the new TV because that makes sense…um…how exactly? You still don’t seem to get out of doing the stupid science fair project, which should be the main goal. Unless they mean for you to get out of doing it by bribing the teacher by giving him/her the TV? I’m the first to admit I hate the school science fair projects–all that angst and frustration and misery. I think a better commercial would be for an iRobot: Science Fair Edition that could make the damn project for you. That is a much better electronic solution I would pay top dollar for.

5. Fellow drivers. You didn’t think I was going to get to number 5 without doing something driving related, did you? There are so many road violations around here, it’s really hard to pick one, and it can depend on the day. But this week, I’ll say that the one that annoys me the most is when I get beeped at for obeying the traffic rules, such as not running down those people who don’t use the sidewalk, but they will use the cross walk in front of my car even though I have a green turn arrow. Clever bastards. I should’ve hit them by “accident” when I had the chance driving alongside of them. Now if I hit them, I’m clearly “in the wrong” because the cowards are hiding behind the cross walk right-of-way rule.

But do my fellow drivers behind me feel my pain? No, they lay on the horn because I’m not turning on the green arrow. I’m fairly sure that even if I did go ahead and run the people over, the drivers would still beep at me because my small Toyota Corolla couldn’t properly flatten them, and they would have to drive over the bumps.

So there you have it. I’m actually pretty proud of myself for getting the list down to 5. I must really be growing and maturing. Just don’t wear a weird geometric coat near me or walk in the road while I’m driving. Freaks.

Jesus Christ! Oh, Superstar! Part 1

I’ve written before about my religious disposition and how that whole Catholic thing just didn’t seem to take in me or in my family. In fact, one might say I ran screaming from being Catholic, except for one thing. I love the rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. Sure you could say I was only attracted to it because the Catholic Church banned it when I was first listening to it in the 70s. If fact, I’m not even sure how the record was allowed in my house or who bought it, what with my mother being a devout ex-nun and all. I think she didn’t realize it was banned until it was too late, and by that time she was just as hooked as we were on the thing. My theory is that since she spent her teen years in an all-girl Catholic boarding school in Canada, she was predisposed to reliving her adolescence during middle age. But instead of running off with a secretary in a red sports car, she started rocking out to Van Halen, J. Giles, and Jesus Christ Superstar (JCS). All the better for me.

Even after the church came around to endorsing JCS in 1999, that didn’t diminish my passion for, er, this Passion musical.  I listened to that album multiple times annually for years until it was grooved in my brain as much as in the vinyl. Yes, vinyl; double album, paper sleeves with the lyrics printed on them, housed in a slim, but sturdy brown cardboard casing that made it stand out in the record cabinet among its slimmer brethren. It was the Superstar among the records. And with the Broadway cast perfection within arm’s reach who needed to see it produced? I didn’t see it performed until I was an adult—I’m not counting the movie made in the 70s. That thing is best left behind with random rituals like fish sticks on Fridays or, say, going over the gory details of a man’s crucifixion for three days straight EVERY SINGLE YEAR, just before you’re supposed to be celebrating spring and chocolate bunnies and colored eggs. I’m not much of a math person, but even I can see the three days of actual bloody gore to one day of rising up to some unconfirmed heavenly reward is not a favorable ratio.

But why JCS affects me goes deeper than that. The church I grew up in not only never put on a bad production of the Passion play, they didn’t put one on at all. I didn’t know churches even did that until I moved away.  So in addition to never seeing even an amateur attempt to infuse some human emotion into the story, I got to hear, year after year, a lifeless, monotone recital of this gruesome tale. Add to that fact that we had Mass in the school gym because we’d outgrown the actual church, and you can see how I might be ripe for some JCS. I ask you, how can anyone really understand what Jesus and the clan are going through while sitting on gray metal folding chairs in an echoey concrete block gymnasium with the basketball boundary lines affixed on the shiny wooden floor? As the flat voices of the readers droned on, we didn’t even have stained glass windows depicting the crucifixion to console or inform us. I’m thinking even Jesus would have been a little pissed off. He’s been through the wringer for us, and metal chairs and a gym floor are all he has to show for it. No pomp, no circumstance, no maudlin statues. Just voices that sound like the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

And despite the lack of passion portrayed in my church’s depiction, at the same time—and this is where that Catholic guilt has been honed to perfection—somehow it was made clear to me that I caused his death. Jesus was getting beat up for me, specifically; the text is very clear on this part. Believe me, I was always looking for some loophole to pin it on the lame people of the time. No such luck. So there I’d be on Easter Sunday, trying to enjoy my chocolate bunny, but I couldn’t because I was feeling guilty and I was unable to dislodge the images of whips, piercing thorny crown, and banged nails from my mind. Instead I had to endure the mocking of the brightly colored jelly beans nestled in green plastic grass.

Is it any wonder that JCS saved me? It finally it gave me emotions to what otherwise was a violent tale told by zombies. The music made me finally realize that this wasn’t a boring religious story, This was a universal human story. I could understand the height of Jesus’s fame and the lows of his rejection, Judas’s struggle to control everything and then betraying it all when he couldn’t, and the dilemma of Pontius Pilot getting caught in the middle. This is a rich human story set to some ass-kicking guitar riffs. I’ll never have the faith required to forget three days of pain to revel in the euphoria of the Easter morning, but I can sing, “Die if you want to, you innocent puppet!” like a boss from Broadway Roman times.

And I often did when I was in church. My siblings and I would sing the responses, the JCS music running though our heads. “We have no king but Caesar!” we’d singsong a little too intensely and startle the parishioners around us.

So, yes, I was somewhat obsessed and other than my siblings, I didn’t really know anyone else who shared this obsession. If it ever came up randomly in conversation, which trust me it nearly never does, only a handful of people would own up to having heard of it. I’d get all excited and start quoting lyrics randomly and enthusiastically, which at best got me a blank look (“Look at your blank faces, my name with mean nothing ten minutes after I’m dead!”) Or a look of complete incomprehension (“What…do…you mean by that?”). Even Broadway musical freaks were of no use because they have super high standards, and let’s just say in musical theatre circles, Andrew Lloyd Weber ain’t no Stephen Sondheim. So after a brief excitement of hearing someone actually knew of the production, I’d have to endure crushing disappointment while they told me point by point why it was inferior (“Who…is…this broken man, cluttering up my hallway?”)

But then in my late 20s, I met my friend Lora. Fairly early on in our getting to know each other, one of us said something about truth. And without skipping a beat the other one said, “And what is truth? Is Truth unchanging law?” And then we both answered together, “We both have truths, are mine the same as yours?” And we have been quoting JCS to each other ever since.

It was only a matter of time before we started seeing productions of it together. Yes, I said productions. We’re JCS whores—if a theater puts it on, we do our best to be there. It’s not quite as popular as, say, Annie, though, so we’ve only gotten to see it four times in the last ten to 15 years, but that’s a blog for another day. Next Monday to be exact, so stayed tuned for a tour of the Boston area JCS productions. Spoiler alert. It ain’t pretty.

Edit credit: Thanks to Lora for helping me sort through all the ideas in this post and for being as obsessed with JCS as I am.

Photo credit: This still from the movie should make it clear why you should never see it.  http://sf.funcheap.com/singalong-jesus-christ-superstar-chunky-jesus-contest-sf/

Long Winter? I Think Not

Saturday was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 148th birthday. Being an obsessed fan of the Little House on the Prairie books, I had a very visceral reaction to the Google doodle, which was made out of some kind of textile. First, I uncharitably thought that the textile image was some cheesy nod to being a pioneer. Other doodles don’t get that kind of patronizing treatment. Then I got mad because in the scene Laura and Mary are next to each other, with Laura in front, but still close to Mary; yet she’s noticeably taller than Mary. Laura is the younger sister and she shouldn’t be taller, even given the perspective of the scene. (I told you I was obsessed). Third, Mary is holding a stick with a ribbon on it. That’s just plain ridiculous. They never played with a stick with a ribbon on it. If there were a scrap of ribbon around, and that was a big “if,” she would have put it on her corn husk doll, not tied it to a stick to run around with. On top of it all, the proper visuals for Little House on the Prairie, as anyone with any brain cells knows, are the marvelous illustrations of Garth Williams. Although the first book, Little House in the Big Woods, was originally published in 1932, a revised edition with Williams’s drawings was published in 1953, and then again in 1970, which is the version I have. Sadly, I only have the slowly disintegrating paperbacks that I painstakingly bought over a period of years, on an allowance of 25 cents a week. I know it sounds like those stories of being a pioneer and walking 10 miles in the snow to school, but it’s true. And at $1.50 a pop, plus tax and having to wait for the trip to the mall, that was a labor of serious book love. It should not be a big surprise that I could slip comfortably into an indignant rant about this weird doodle.

But then I clicked on Google doodle link.

And of course it was a fascinating (and I begrudgingly admit fitting) story about twins Jack and Holman Wang, the creators. They are about my age and remembered the show fondly. Harrumph! The image depicted is loosely based on the opening credits of the TV show. Hmpf. The fabric was created by needle felting, a labor-intensive process that enables sculpting with wool. All right, all right. Uncle! I still went to my bookshelf and pulled out the books to look at them again. Look at the real illustrations.

The Google doodle was timely–Laura Ingalls and her books have been on my mind this past month as part of my no-heat saga. If you missed it, my house was approximately 60 degrees for about three weeks—not life threatening, but certainly annoying. One of the thoughts that kept me calm was comparing it to a couple of winters described in the Laura Ingalls books. The scenes are so vivid and well written, you can’t have been a kid and read them and forgotten. In fact, a friend had a similar thought when she was reading my no-heat blog posts. For her the stand out scene was during a days-long blizzard and Pa had to hold on to and follow a rope from the house to the barn to feed the animals. It wasn’t that far away, but the wind was so severe and the visibility so bad, Pa could have easily gotten disoriented and frozen until spring. Which at that time on the prairie came in July.

For me there are two other scenes that made me feel like my no-heat situation was the height of decadence. In one of the houses they lived in, Laura and Mary slept in a loft in the same bed with like 100 quilts. One morning they woke up to snow on the quilt. Snow. On the top quilt. It had come through the cracks in the roof. Think about that for a minute. Um, yeah, 60 degrees is a pretty lame thing to complain about.

The other scene that I remember is in The Long Winter, which I should reread because we here in New England are definitely feeling like we are reliving it. We’re not, and here’s why: For Laura that winter on the prairie was an ongoing series of blizzards that lasted three and four days. As a kid I was astonished that a blizzard could even last that long, never mind have them one after the other. The trains from the east couldn’t get through, and the supplies dwindled, including firewood. But they did have hay and Pa devised a way to twist lengths of hay into hard sticks they could burn. Of course it burned quickly, so Laura and Pa had to twist hay whenever they weren’t doing anything else to survive. It kind of blew my kid mind. And if that wasn’t hard enough, when they weren’t twisting hay, they had to grind up wheat kernels into flour. Constant hours of survival tediousness for months. Wicked fun.

As I stare down the naked barrel of yet another multi-day storm that will dump up to two feet of snow in the Boston area, I realize not only have I completely mangled that metaphor, but I have also very little to complain about. I have to hoist snow up a five-foot pile. I have to work from home. I have to negotiate two-way streets that the snow has reduced to one lane. Boo hoo. Laura turned 148 on Saturday, and if she were here, I’m sure she’d brush the snow off her quilt, turn over and tell me what I could do with that pile of twisted hay sticks she made while I was moaning about shoveling. Happy birthday Laura.

Photo credit: http://www.guy-sports.com/humor/christmas/christmas_snow.htm 

Top 11 Posts of 2014, With Thanks to Spinal Tap

Here we are at the end of the year when those of us in the entertainment industry run out of funny steam and cover it up with top 10 lists. Because I really want to push up the volume, I’m going for the top 11 posts. I was going to list a mix of posts that WordPress stats tell me you liked and add some of my own personal favorites. But as I reread them I realized I had a lot of fun writing most of them, so it’s too hard to pick. Plus, if you don’t like the list, you only have yourselves to blame.

Thank you for hanging out with me this year, and I promise more shenanigans in 2015. Have a happy new year!

11. Black Lives Matter Thanks for reading this one. It was a bit of a departure for me and more serious, but something I needed to write.

10. I would Have Gotten Away with It if It weren’t for that meddling Hamster, Who knew a hamster could be such a rich source of blog material? As a follow-up to this post, yes, he did need surgery, it cost a bundle, I learned that there is actually hamster medical literature, and he is still with us to ring in 2015. More Hamphrey posts to come!

9. Real-Life math Sucks. It still sucks, but I got to let off steam about my divorce and laugh at math, so it’s all good!

8. Let’s Do Things Without Shoes. This was the oldie, but goodie–misheard lyrics. I had a lot of fun reading people’s responses to this one.

7. It’s All About Me, Hannah. Alas, I never did get Lena Dunham to comment on this or respond to my tweet about it. I’ll increase my celebrity social media stalking next season.

6. California Steamin’ I wrote about two East Coast friends who left me for the Left Coast. I saw one at Christmas and I am happy to report he still has his Masshole chops. To the other one, who still hasn’t read this post and is from New York, I say, Boston’s bettah and Yankees suck!

5. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Divorce.  If your divorce isn’t funny, please feel free to laugh at mine.

4. I’m Sexy (if Only in My Head).  Perhaps it’s bad taste to be amused by your own writing, but this one still cracks me up. It made the top 5, so both you and I have excellent taste.

3. Radishes, Carrots, and Kale, Oh My! I love that this post is the third most popular and it was the second one I wrote this year. Foodies and their gastronomic obsessions are all over the blogsphere, but I’m a Cheez Whiz and Parmesan-in-a-can girl, as this post proves. Seems like I can work with that.

2. Thanks a Lot. I was surprised by how much the “kid table” really resonated with people. I also need to add a post script about my brother. For the record, I was describing our holidays from 20 and 30 years ago, because I’m a bratty youngest sister and that’s how I roll. He actually has been attending our holiday get togethers in recent years and seems to enjoy himself (as much as anyone can when they are with their bratty younger sister for more than 24 hours).

1. And what continues to be the Number One, most visited piece on my blog? Yes, It’s still that crazy serious piece I did about women and shaving many years ago. Shaving, Waxing, Electrocution: A Primer on Women’s War on Hair. So much for my humor ego. Go figure. Next year, I’m leaving that thing out of my stats or will try to sell the movie rights to Seth Rogen.

See you next year!

People Who Forget History Are Doomed to Have a Crazy Homework Assignment

Yesterday evening, I was just settling in to polish the draft of today’s blog about fun with Craigslist, when my son came home early from his Dad’s. At first I was psyched because that often means he finished his homework early. And then I saw his face. It went beyond normal teen indifference to downright morose. Uh-oh, there’s trouble in Homework City. With no prodding (also a bad sign) he said he’d been feeling bad all weekend about a history essay assignment. So much for my superior parenting skills – I’d just thought he was in a classic teen bad mood. He had to read two original, dense articles published in academic journals in the late 1940s, one calling for peace with the Soviet Union and one calling for containment. He had to outline each article, then choose a side, and write an essay using one of the articles as a source. He’d been at it for over an hour and had barely gotten though a page and a half of the first article. I saw the despair on his face and looked at the blinking lights on my laptop. I took a deep breath and closed it.

Moving quickly into efficient mom mode, I told him brightly that he could do this, and I would help. I assumed the issue was his tendencies towards perfection and detail. Math and science are easier for him, and in those subjects perfection and being detailed is useful. In writing, though, perfection is like Superman’s Kryptonite. So feeling the return of my parenting A game – one might even say overconfidence – I took a look. As predicted, the outline was highly detailed, with a maelstrom of roman numerals, letters, and numbers. I barely started to tell him that he just needed to highlight the main ideas of the article (In my mind, I was already triumphantly wielding that essential college tool, the highlighter, like Excalibur) when he showed me the teacher’s outline instructions. The happy, free-spirited highlighter got ripped unceremoniously from me. My son was actually following the instructions. For each paragraph (whether it was three sentences or 20) he had to write the main idea (roman numeral), then the main points (A, B, D), then examples of the main points  (1,2,3). I really wanted to head to the unopened bottle of wine on the counter whispering my name. But even I could see this would require sobriety. Did I mention I hate the word “rubric”?

Now, I started to panic. Yes, he started this monstrosity way too late, but I learned long ago that finger-pointing just makes him fold in on himself, and then I have to feel guilt over both the pointing and the folding. Better to stick it in my back pocket, and then vigilantly pester him every weekend, “Got any history homework? You don’t want to repeat the Soviet Union essay do you?”

Much like the Soviet regime, which I learned about from the containment article, we needed to brutally ramp up production, only we’d be sacrificing that insanely detailed outline instead of the Russian population. See? We already have learned from history. He’s an auditory kid, so I read the paragraphs aloud and we talked through summarizing the main ideas and he wrote those down: no main points, no examples. It still took nearly three hours. It was close to midnight, nearly two hours past my bedtime and past any time my brain can actually work. I desperately wanted to go to bed, but then he gave me a big hug and thanked me, saying he couldn’t have done it without me. Damn that kid and his gratitude! I could see from his face that he needed me to hang around a bit longer for moral support as he started the essay. I stayed up another 30 minutes, floating in an out of consciousness. until his essay was well under way. Ah well, that’s how the Communism crumbles.

NASCAR Shmazcar

So a bunch of people get into their finely tuned, high-performance racing machines, drive around a track for a bit, get all their automotive needs taken care of by a highly expert team, and go racing around again until someone wins. Ha! Anyone can do that. What’s a bigger challenge is getting a sleepy teen out the door and to school and then getting myself to the train station on time every day, a nearly four-mile, white-knuckled  obstacle course. And no team is cheering me on or offering to fill my tank and the only things waving at me are people’s middle fingers.

Let me recount a typical weekday morning commute that includes:

  • 14 traffic lights, a number of them less than half a block away from each other.
  • 5 stop signs, plus a three-way stop, which means taking turns, and you know how great adults are at that.
  • Driving near or by 4 schools, which attract small children who are unnaturally excited by school and jump and dart unpredictable and uncomfortably close to the curb or near a street corner, usually just as I’m driving by.
  • Most of the trip involves older, narrow city streets that have cars parked along the side, reducing visibility and creating numerous opportunities to play chicken.

Oh yes, I understand professional race tracks have all kinds of “challenges” like a hairpin turn and a corkscrew. Would you like a brush and bottle of wine with that? Throw in other manic commuters who don’t follow any known traffic rules and 14 random stop lights and we’ll talk.

My morning commute starts as I stand gripping the front door handle, eye on the clock, while my teen takes his time getting dressed, putting on his shoes  and collecting his backpack, glasses, and ID. Ready? Go!

The Triple Chute

The first half mile is all downhill and an odd configuration where three parallel streets all feed in to one at the bottom of the hill. Although there are six stop signs on my trip, there is only one at the bottom of the hill, and there is no indication of who has the right of way as the three streets converge. I never encountered this situation on my driver’s ed test, so it’s every driver for himself right out of the gate. And don’t forget to dodge small excited children (for the love, why are they so happy about school?).

The Zig Zag Fake Out

At the bottom of the hill, the fun is just beginning. I now need to take a right onto one of the most heavily traveled streets in my city. On a day I’m running extra late there will surely be four cars backed up because the first one needs to take a left on this, the busiest main drag. Finally I get to turn right and pray the light 60 feet away stays green so I can bang a left, just in front of a car that I hope is actually going as slow as it seems. If I don’t, a minute of precious time gets wasted at the light, and I still have to play chicken to take the left.

Blind Catholic School Curve

A mere three blocks later I have to make a 45-degree blind  turn in the road and only then will I discover if  there is a backup of cars lined up at the next light, which is a block and a half away. There is a Catholic school at the corner of this intersection, so in addition to the small excited tots and parents hauling them and their infant siblings across the street between the waiting cars, there is a crossing guard with her dastardly stop sign holding up the traffic. Did I mention that this green light lasts about as long as it takes to say, “Please, I just need to get through this light,” and then it turns red? On a bad day I can sit at that light through four cycles and maybe move up a car length. When I finally get close enough to the light, I have to be merciless and go, playing chicken with the cars on the opposite side of the light who are desperately trying to take a left because they have sat through five light cycles. I only mention the school is Catholic because that corner inspires a lot of taking the lord’s name in vain, which is probably not in its mission statement.

Triple Stop Free-for-All

The next obstacle is the back up to the three-way stop sign intersection just before the high school entrance. Thankfully the dangerously unpredictable small children have been replaced by the teens who are walking much more slowly and predictably. There can be a line of 20 cars backed up on this last stretch. Once you finally get to the intersection, you get plenty of chances to play chicken as you nudge out into the intersection to take your turn before the person to your left or right does that “I’m riding the bumper of the person in front of me so you can’t get in, even though it’s not my turn” thing. There really is no defense against that move except to hope that just at that moment, a pack of teens will saunter into the road not looking, making the car slam its brakes. Finally a use for indifferent teen behavior!

Lawless Labyrinth

After dropping off my son and winding through to the back of the school, I need to weave through a series of turns and stop signs on some small neighborhood roads. At the four-way stop, I need to go straight, but I’ve learned to wait that extra half a second because apparently the stop signs don’t work here. As I watch the car approaching from the right blow through the stop sign, someone in the line of cars behind me thinks I’m texting and not paying attention and lay on the horn. For the record, I don’t text and drive, but please don’t ask me about that flask under my seat. If I don’t get clipped by a sign runner, I may get clipped by a car suddenly backing out of its driveway, another hapless commuter just beginning the race.

The Split Decision

I’ve now come full circle to a light I already went through, but I’m coming from a different street. I can either turn left and go back through Blind Catholic School Curve or go straight and head back to the busiest street. Technically, and I use that term very loosely, it’s a shorter distance by way of the Curve; however, city streets defy the laws of physics and distance rarely equals rate x time. Distance is irrelevant if the timing works. I make my choice, I’m going straight in to…

Main Street Mayhem Flats

At this light I need to take a left on to the main street. This intersection is shaped like a T so that would seem to be an easy left without oncoming traffic. However, there is another light at the next block which is not in sync with the first light, so as I turn left, I have to stop at the backed-up traffic at a red light. There is also a fire station here, and a weird lot in which a bus turns around, as well as an exit from a Walgreen. All vehicles from these outlets are jockeying to get into the fray, which is kind of pointless considering that in addition to red light I’m at, way up the street at the next light is another crossing guard wielding her dastardly stop sign and holding up the traffic. Still, this slow crawl is better than the Curve.

Paradise Lane

Once past the crossing guard, the next mile of my trip is fairly sane, only dealing with the kind of traffic rules you actually did learn in driver’s ed. But I have to beware to not get too giddy at this oh-so-brief respite, because coming up is…

The Widow(er) Maker

Just before I park for the train station there is an intersection that has five roads feeding into it, a train track bridge over it and the entrance and exit to the station next to it. Oh, and there is some station parking across the street from the entrance, so guess where gobs of people are trying to go when they are going to or leaving the station? Yeah, right. There are probably an infinite number of ways to die at this intersection. But it wouldn’t be because of the traffic light, which is actually pretty logical and timely, especially considering all the various cars and people who need to move through it. The problem is, of course the drivers. At this intersection I turn right, and yes, by law, I can turn right on red, but I often choose not to because 1) the bridge obscures the cars that are driving by until they are right in front of me, 2) it’s a very busy street and 3) people often dart in front of my car when the train is coming. Oh, but how the people behind me hate that I don’t turn! Never mind that I would merely be inching up to the corner and by then the light would turn green. The honking is early and often. I’ve learned to go to my happy place. But there is some justice in the world. One day, one of the honkers decided to take matters into his own hands and pulled out and around me, so that he could inch to the corner. There he sat waiting for a break in the relentless traffic. That was actually satisfying enough, but then a car drove by him and pulled up right next to the curb to let out a passenger. The passenger had barely shut the door, when crazy-mad-right-on-red driver hit the gas and rear-ended the other car. The passenger on the sidewalk raised his arms and yelled, “What the hell is wrong with you?” What indeed. As crazy man pulled over to exchange information, I cheerfully turned right with the green light, driving around them. It was better than a victory lap.