Tag Archives: Mid-life

The Mother of All Aches and Pains

We all have aches and pains from time to time, except maybe people in their 20s who spend a lot of time drinking and ignoring their bodies without consequence, and we all hate them for it, except when we remember we pissed off people the same way in our 20s. It’s the circle of life coming to bite us in the ass.

Throughout our life, our period’s aches and pains change, but mostly they are variations on theme: sometimes you get more cramps than usual or less (ha ha, I’m just messing’ with ya, that never happens). Maybe you get a new headache or your mood swings around a little more like a drunken boxer in a ring, rather than a 1940s swing coat, but mostly it’s just a new pattern settling in. You complain to your friends for a few months, and then forget it was any different until the next shift.

All that goes on for 35 years, give or take. I heard about perimenopause, but I thought it was more of the same variations. But let me tell you, 12 years into perimenopause, I can safely say that experience does diddly to prepare you for the slow creep and then onslaught of bizarre symptoms of perimenopause. I mean this shit is wacky. Sure there are the symptoms everyone talks about and make it into the one-woman Broadway shows. Things like hot flashes that feel like Satan has decided to start a fire inside you, and I’m not talking about fiery passion. More like the fires of hell that don’t give a damn that you might be in a work meeting or on a date, or just generally trying to be a normal person.

Mood swings are also a popular topic people like to parody. I’d like to be able to say that our mood swings are directly related to all the other weird hormonal shit that’s happening to us, but the truth is, it’s random. I wanted to rip a woman to shreds with my bare hands simply because she was wearing a coat with an unusual geometric pattern. I think it was what sharks feel when they taste blood. Lucky for her and me I’d been having these bouts for a while, so when I saw her and wanted to pummel her to the ground, I understood it was only perimenopause. I shrugged my shoulders, let her be, and regaled my coworkers with my humorous insanity and we laughed about it.

But all of you who make fun of us should know that’s the tip of the iceberg of what we’re dealing with. If feels like our hormones are running amuck like drunken teenagers without a curfew, and that shit gets old really, really fast. Here are bunch of other lesser known symptoms:

Every once in a while my heart feels like it beats inward instead of out. It’s just a few beats but it’s annoyingly weird. My friend gets random tingling in her arm, and, no, she isn’t having a heart attack. She checked the first time it happened. I’ve gotten a weird thing in my hip socket where one day I’m perfectly fine, then the next day if I turn sharply right while I’m walking, my leg suddenly collapses. That’s super fun, let me tell you. I only fell once, and then I learned to catch myself before it happened. After a few days it disappears. And that’s the really annoying part. Most of these things come and go, and with each new thing, you get super worried because it always seem to resemble a serious illness. If you freak out, and get an urgent appointment with  your doctor, you soon realize you’re not dying. You’re not even close. Your doctor will ask you questions that describe a serious illness, and you hear words like “uncontrollable bleeding,”  “incapacitating pain,” and “excessive or no bowel movements.” You sit there with your perplexing, yet comparatively harmless afflictions, and sound like a big symptom loser.

“Well, doc, when I make a sharp turn to the right, my right leg tends to give out, but I can walk fine if I’m careful, and then it goes away after a few days.” And then she looks at me with raised eyebrows as if to say, “Are we done here? I need to attend to people with real medical issues.” At that point, I start to wish I did have full-on symptoms so she would be sympathetic and give me something. Of course anyone having the full on symptoms, say sitting in a pool of sweat at work, will want to pummel me as if I were wearing a stupid coat, which I’m not. I’m just wearing stupid.

Other symptoms include getting a nice ax-embedded-in-the-side-of-my-head kind of migraine. For a while it was a sign that my period would come the next day, so that was actually kind of useful, until peri realized she was getting too predictable, and I started to get a headache during and after my period. Thanks, bitch.

Don’t get me started with my periods. They have gotten longer and always show up early, unless they come late. I’ve yet to even get to the point where I skip some months (usually the sign that you are getting close to the finish line), and  I’m 51 for fuck’s sake.

Also don’t talk to me about how much I spend on supplies–it’s obscene. I was with a group of four women, all the same age–two of us still had our periods and two didn’t. The two who finished had, of course, just stocked up on tampons and napkins. We thought we could start a charity that could take the supplies of women who finally finish and re-distribute them among those of us who are still going strong. I know I could really use that tampon money for my kid’s college tuition.

And did I mention I’m 51? I should be done with this stuff by now–is it any wonder I want to pummel people? But maybe I shouldn’t be so eager to quit. I recently saw my two older sisters. One finally stopped, but then she gained 10 pounds doing nothing differently. My other sister is sputtering and was telling me about her thinning hair. Her period comes anywhere from every three days to every three weeks. What fresh hell is this??

So go ahead, make fun of us and have a good laugh. But do so at your peril. I may not like the coat you’re wearing.

Jesus Christ, Superstar? Part 2

Last week, I wrote about my love/obsession with the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar (JCS), and this week is about my adventures skulking about the Boston area in search of productions. It’s performs infrequently—my fellow obsessed JCS fan Lora and I have only seen four productions in the past 15 years. There was a big tease last year when John Lydon (of Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd fame) announced he was going to play Herod. That was as close to feeling religiously saved as I’ve ever come—my favorite punk singer in my favorite rock opera. But then he got sick and had to cancel, and it seems the whole project went circling down the drain. So while I continue to stalk Lydon on Twitter, pepper him with JCS related tweets, and hope for the best, the only other thing I can do is relive the memories of the previous productions to sustain me. Which is truly unfortunate.

The JCS journey starts with that black vinyl record of the original Broadway cast perfection: double album, paper sleeves with the lyrics printed on them, housed in a slim, but sturdy brown cardboard casing that back in the day made it stand out in the record cabinet among its slimmer brethren. Lora and I have since replaced it with the CD version. No matter what the source, that sweet singing perfection is the same, and I’m starting to think that may be our downfall. Humans have been able to sing these parts before, why can’t they again? But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Being a JCS groupie requires patience and stamina, and Lora and I have honed both. We have to scan all the theatre outlets regularly for JCS productions—they can show up anywhere, from community theater to Broadway. The net must be cast wide. Once JCS is detected, we contact each other immediately to clear calendars and get tickets. Our excitement builds as we anticipate the production and do a full listen of the CD, and quoting lines to each other begins in earnest.

Our first production was probably about 15 years ago at the Turtle Lane Playhouse in Newton. Having only the music in our heads to compare to, we were full of bright hope and anticipation. While we are devoted, we don’t expect perfection, and when Judas appeared in a leather jacket, we were cool with that. In fact it seemed rather promising. JCS is written to make sense in any time, so that was OK.

And then Judas began to sing.

A big Broadway-wannabe sound that strained the acoustics of the small community theater. Lora and I shot each other look, slightly panicked. We each took a deep breath, it was going to be OK. His voice was good after all, so that was something, and he was alone on stage, so maybe he was just starting out with too much nervous energy and he’d settle down. Maybe the leather coat was egging on the Elvis in him. We pushed back our seats a bit and sang along in our heads. And waited. The next scene involves most of the cast—the disciples, Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Judas—and the voices were pretty decent standard community theater—Jesus was a little low on superstar wattage, but maybe he’d get better.

And then Judas sang.

A big Broadway-wannabe sound that blew all the other people off the stage. You could almost see them holding up their arms against him as if they were fending off a gale force wind. Lora and I looked at each other, now with a kind of despair settling in. And so it went. A not-so-superstar Jesus limping through his songs, Judas showboating all the other actors off the stage. I’m not kidding, in one scene he pranced across the stage and nearly knocked some the cast out of his way, like a demented version of Chorus Line.

And so began our tradition of going out after a production to deconstruct, console ourselves, and recover from a JCS production.

We had to wait a number of long years for our next opportunity, and the time did facilitate the healing process. We were so excited when JCS popped again as a professional production at the Wang Theatre in Boston. Yes! This would be the one to bring alive our beloved music. We listened to the CD, quoted lines, and let the anticipation build. And we think it was actually pretty good. Why aren’t we quite sure, you may ask? Well, in addition to being seated in the nosebleed section of the Wang, we were also seated near a disheveled woman with a large bag of loud snacks. There weren’t that many other people around us, so there wasn’t much a buffer. In between digging into her bag constantly and pulling out snack bags and crinkling them open, she sang all the songs even more loudly and obnoxiously than Lora and I do. We honestly didn’t know that was possible. After the intermission, we moved down a few rows to try to salvage the second half, which has our favorite Jesus/Pilate interchange about the Truth. But it was no use. Like the guilt Judas couldn’t shed, the Loud Singing Crinkly Bag Snacker dogged us the entire time, moving around to sit behind us, then on the side, over here, over there. Before we knew it the terrible sound of nailing Jesus to the cross was emanating from the stage. It was done and into her hands we commended our attention. At least she, also a clearly devoted fan, had a good time.

A few years later JCS came to Broadway. We were tempted, and maybe it was a mistake to miss it, but we were too afraid to spend all that money to see a professional version of the bigger-than-life Judas and smaller-than-life Jesus. Plus we’d be too far away from the comforts of home and family if it turned bad. Seeing JCS takes planning and foresight. And if they messed up the Pilate and Jesus scene, we might jump up to show them how it should be done, and getting arrested in NYC is something I try to avoid. So we passed on that one.

Another long drought led us to a production a few years ago at the Umbrella Community Arts Center in Concord. The long time between productions helps hope spring anew that this time will be different.

Alas, it was not to be.

Being more hardened now to the realities of how difficult a musical this is to pull off, we managed to get through the first half without too many panicked glances. True there was some subtle elbow jabbing at the now familiar overacting Judas and the Jesus who was more milquetoast that messiah. But if the Pilate and Jesus scenes were even half good, we’d be willing to forgive a stage full of sins. But the second half brought more misery, including a gratuitously violent scene where Judas committed suicide by putting a gun to his head. Right onstage and we saw him collapse. We’d hardly recovered from that poor direction choice when we were assaulted with something even more ghastly—post gunshot, Judas came out to sing the finale in shorts. Gold lamé to be exact. And his prancing about in said shorts put the Turtle Lane Playhouse Judas to shame. Believe me, you can’t unsee that. I can’t even go into the additional excessive violence that went into scene where they nail Jesus to the cross. The only thing missing was squirting us with fake blood when the nail bit into his hand. That was a tough production to recover from. The beginning of healing took the whole ride back from Concord to Boston, many drinks at the bar, and a number of follow up support sessions.

So that brings us to a few weeks ago. Lora’s girlfriend Crista saw there was a production for JCS at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester and alerted us. She had also seen the Concord production on a different night, but she was smart enough to have left at the intermission. She’s more of a community theatre advocate than a strict JCS fan, so she obviously has more sense than we do. She was game to go again, and we were recovered enough, so we got tickets. Surely it couldn’t get any worse than gunshots and gold lamé? Right?….RIGHT?

Oh, dear Jesus Christ Superstar, so wrong, wrong, wrong. Older, wiser, but still ever hopeful, we went through our routine. I downloaded the album on my iPhone and listened to it on the way to work. Lora listened to her CD while cleaning her house. We three went to dinner before the show and talked about some nuances I’d discovered on this most recent rash of listening. And we were careful with our wishes. We get that it’s a difficult performance. We get Judas is always going the be over the top. Could we maybe just get a charismatic Jesus this time?

We weren’t careful enough.

We sat down and saw the scenery of the bombed out buildings of 9/11 and exchanged a full-on, three-way panicked look. It was going to be a long night. We haven’t yet quite recovered from this production, and poor Crista took the brunt, not having been exposed to a director’s questionable choices as long as we have. But suffice to say, that Jesus was more charismatic, and Judas melted into the background. Mary Magdalen was a played by a man, and like the 9/11 background, it wasn’t well incorporated, so it just felt exploitative and sensational. The one good thing was that we only had to suffer for an hour and a half. The actors flew through the songs and skipped the intermission. They didn’t come out for a curtain call–not even one. We were in by 8 pm and out at 9:30. Flat. I doubt they were trying to minimize the terrible creative choices, so the only other logical explanation is that they needed to catch a bus. The number 16 bus runs once an hour at that time of night and was due near the theatre at 9:40. I think they made it.

We weren’t so lucky. We stumbled into a bar shortly after, glassy eyed and forlorn. Crista was having trouble speaking, and Lora and I couldn’t stop enumerating all the tragic wrongs. It almost made us wish for lamé shorts. Almost. We’re still recovering.

But as I was looking at the JCS website for this blog, I saw that there is a tour going on in the UK this summer and fall. The original recording was mostly Brits. Maybe they could do it right again. What could possibly go wrong? How could it get any worse? It’s in Cornwall in October. The UK is so lovely in the fall…http://www.jesuschristsuperstar.com/uktour/

 

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/

It’s Nothing Personal

So here I am four years post-separation and marriage. During the summer I amused myself by getting reacquainted with girlie things—dresses, shoes, and those whatchamacallits…oh, yeah, accessories. I couldn’t quite pull off sexy, but I got and had a lot of laughs. Summer slipped into autumn and winter is nearly upon us, and even though the girlie dresses are getting cold, I still want to wear them. Out. Somewhere. With sincere apologies to Keats, I now find myself slouching towards dating Bethlehem. I’m still not interested in actual dating, but I’m interested in the idea of thinking about maybe seeing what might be out there. Makes me a perfect catch, don’t you think? I am the consummate researcher and thinker, which, for your information is absolutely very different from a procrastinator. I’m a writer, I know the nuances of language better than you.

In any event, I realized I’m in a good position to evaluate the personals. What do they look like compared to when I answered my ex’s personal ad in the Boston Phoenix, Boston’s alternative weekly newspaper, more than 25 years ago? Of course the internet and apps have intervened in the interim, but I limited my research to just personals because 1) I’m too lazy to actually create a dating profile on a site like Match.com, 2) I’m still scarred by my friends’ stories about how brutal and dishonest these dating sites are and 3) I’m not quite ready for an app like Adult Friend Finder—no explanation needed for that I think, except to emphasize that the technology allows you to meet someone RIGHT NOW. No judgment and call me old fashioned, but I just like to get a drink or two and dinner first.

So where to go? Craigslist personals, that ubiquitous, democratic, free internet space that provokes pretty much the same response from people as the Boston Phoenix personals did 25 years ago. Mild shock quickly followed by admonitions to be careful of all the murderers on there. The similarity was downright heartwarming. So far so good! I plunged on with my research, and here, dear reader, is my take on personals then and now:

The Phoenix had the regular personals and a section where sex was a main feature. I believe it was hip enough to also have the basic categories for gays and straights. Craigslist has nine sections and within in them, evidence of the wonder of human variation and preference. Since I’m kind of boring, I stuck with two, “casual encounters” and the “men seeking women.”

All I remember from the Phoenix was that the personals pretty much sounded all the same. The guys liked dinners, movies, and walks on the beach, which was pretty useless—what kind of food? What kind of movies? My ex’s ad actually had specifics, which made him stand out. Now? Holy acronym Batman! LTR, BBW, HWP. Within minutes I was Googling “Craigslist acronyms”: long-term relationship, big beautiful or black woman, height-weight proportional. And that’s when things really got interesting. At one point I forgot I was looking to see if there was anyone I maybe wanted to think about contacting because the specificity is fascinating. This ain’t no dinner and movies crowd.

First there are all the attributes. Ladies, if you get discouraged about all the ways the media reinforces ridiculous standards of beauty, just go to Craigslist—fair warning you are going to see more pictures of men’s junk than a porn site and the fetishes are rampant, but once you get past that, you will find guys looking for BBW, bubble butts, big breasts, small breasts, requests that a woman have a little meat on them. Tall women, petite women, single mothers, HWP, geeky women, tiny waists with big hips. Something called “thick” which even the guides can’t agree on. I thought it was maybe somewhere between HWP and BBW, but then I saw a picture of a “thick” example, and I thought she was actually HWP, so what do I know? I guess the poster will know it when he sees it. Of course there are the straight out requests for being hot looking and thin/athletic. But there are not as many as you would think, and the guys claim to be the same. And that has been going on since Adam was hoping for a hot babe who was an independent thinker and had healthy eating habits.

When men do make very specific or even wacky requests, they often apologize for it and explain they don’t mean to offend, it’s just what they prefer, which I found kind of touching. Sure they may have gotten flamed by some pissed off women or they are simply savvy marketers. But I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. It’s a nice touch.

The details included in the personals turned out to be my downfall. I stopped looking for myself and got lost in my writer’s curiosity. I tend to be attracted to guys who make me laugh, and so don’t really have a type. How do people get such specific types? For example what is it about a bubble butt that gets you going? Honestly, thank goodness they included a picture, because I wasn’t even sure what that was. Of course the pictures, clearly of real people, got me started on a whole other line of thought. Where are these people now? Do they know they are a Craigslist poster girl for a ______ (fill in the blank). Then I think how many women actually respond? How many of a type can there be?

Which of course brings it around back to me. I’m happy for all the women out there whose type is being called out and worshipped (a lot of guys promise to worship these various parts). But then that means I have the opposite, but equally annoying problem of 25 years ago when the ads were too vague. Then it was OK, we both like movies, but what if I like “Equalizer” and you like “Her”? Now I have to figure out where my body fits into the acronyms. I can knock out the extremes—I’m proudly not fit or athletic. Which is just as well because the guys who ask for a fit or athletic woman always list their hobbies as hiking, running and all manner of exercise—ugh. I tend to gravitate to the guys who talk about food and wine. Also, I’m not a BBW or a bubble butt. My breasts have never been big, and thanks to my recent weight loss, they have actually gotten slightly smaller (you really can’t win sometimes). I have big hips, but my waist ain’t anywhere near tiny. It actually was a while before I encountered HWP, which shows you how many requests there are for just a regular gal—not many. I guess they are all on Match.com.

Once I could tear myself away from these fascinating guys and their requests and I decided I was HWP, I started lurking among this small number of ads. I could eliminate at least 75% of the guys off the bat. They are in their thirties or younger, and I’m not quite ready to be a cougar (although that is not an infrequent request).  Of the remaining men, there are the people who are looking for love and long-term, while others are uncomfortably honest (married seeking same). A few are just liars/too creepy if true. One guy claimed to be very successful and was looking for someone to travel with him on his boat and winter in Florida. Um, I was just looking for dinner, wine, a few laughs, and home by midnight, thanks! And that leaves me about one possibility every few weeks. And even at that point the general rule of Craigslist is that half the time, people will flake out on you and not show up.

So through very careful, research, combing through pages of original documents, I have come to a very scientific conclusion about dating today versus 25 years ago. It ain’t any easier, whether you are looking for an LTR, an Adult Friend, or just looking for dinner, wine and a few laughs. But at least if you have been hiding your Craigslist lurking habit, you can tell people you only know about it because you read it here. You’re welcome. The girlie dresses can wait until spring.

Photo credit: Glamour.com, “Here Are a Few Not-So-Solid Dating Tips From the 1930s”

Respect the Scarf

My friend Mike (from the “You Should Be Dancing” post) and I have continued our dancing shenanigans. We found a club that plays 70s disco on Sunday nights from 5 to 10 pm. It’s like a middle-aged dream come true—it’s our music and it’s at our time. It is technically called a tea dance, but you can call it anything you like in my book if I can dance hard and be home and in bed by 10:30 on a school night. Mike and I made it our mission to become at least semi-permanent fixtures on Sunday nights and what has helped us succeed is our fabulous dancing and my prop: a big flowing scarf. It earned me the nickname butterfly, or 8i8, for the cool kids in the room. I discovered the magic of the dancing scarf many years ago when I wore one to a birthday party. It took on a life of its own as it made its way around the dance floor, people passing it around like a cheap, but inspiring bottle of gin. It made shy dancers bold and good dancers invent new moves on the spot. Eventually it found its way back to me and, sure, it had everyone’s sweat on it and gotten more action than I’ve had in years, but that was just proof of how good it was.

So of course the first night out dancing I brought the scarf, the same one from that party long ago, and Mike recognized it immediately. I have since instituted a scarf rotation. Sometimes the scarf solicits a smile and other times I can tell someone is eyeing it, covetously. Similar to Linus in the pumpkin patch, if the dancer seems sincere, I will present the scarf with great flourish to him (it’s mostly hims as it’s a gay bar). Then I stand back and enjoy the show. Some will wrap it around themselves or envelope a nearby dancer; others will work it like a chorus line girl. One of our dancing friends, also a fixture, likes to wrap it around his head like a turban.

But there is a dark side to the scarf, I mean besides people having to witness my dance moves using it. Once a straight couple had somehow found their way into the club—it happens occasionally. They had just come from seeing “The Book of Mormon” musical, which the somewhat drunk guy informed me was the wildest thing he’d ever seen. He couldn’t have been more than 25, so I forgave him for that. Plus, they struck me as people who were fairly buttoned down, and finding themselves at this gay dance club had given them permission to let loose. I was in favor of this until the guy continued to get drunker and say random things to me; meanwhile his girlfriend was getting squired around by various gay men. Mike and I were trying to get on with the business of our own dancing when the girl came up and complained petulantly that she didn’t have a prop like me. She was wearing a thick bolero sweater and rather than figure out how to use that creatively, she whined about the scarf until, just to shut her up, I gave it to her. She handed the sweater to her boyfriend who then handed it to me as if I was his mom mule. No matter, I used it like a scarf—it wasn’t the most elegant prop, but hey, I’m a professional, so I made it work. Then she was happily dancing among the smiling gay men. Perhaps feeling out of his element, the guy continued to gravitate toward me and shout drunkenly, “Is it always this fun?”

I admit they were starting to wear on me.

Eventually the girl reluctantly brought back the scarf, like Cinderella having to watch her coach turn back into a pumpkin, and the next thing I knew they were arguing. I moved as far away from them as possible. Mike, who likes to get the scoop, informed me that the girl had put her purse down and someone had taken it. I was unsympathetic because 1) that’s what you get for taking a purse to a dance club, and 2) they are fun, gay men, not saints. What did she expect?

Well, they got the last laugh, or at least the straight guy did. As I was leaving I walked by him and smiled goodbye (and good riddance) and was rewarded with a hard slap on my ass. I whipped around to see his goofy smile and thumbs up, but I was too shocked to respond except to shoot him a dirty look, which was certainly lost on him. I vowed to be more judicious in granting scarf privileges in the future, which is harder to do than you might think.

Another time the scarf caught the eye of a very drunk younger man who was with a much older boyfriend. Younger drunken man looked sincere, and I knew he wasn’t going to slap my ass, so I bestowed the scarf upon him. He theatrically wrapped it around himself, did a back bend onto the little dance runway, and did some passable dance-like rolls. Then he sashayed to his boyfriend and tried to envelop him in the scarf (a nice romantic touch, I thought). Then the boyfriend took the scarf and with a look of distain, dropped it on the floor. That was worse than slapping my ass! The scarf must always be respected, not to mention lord only knows what the hell was on that floor—sweaty bodies are one thing, but dance floor effluvia is quite another. Being a mom, I invoked the 10-second rule and rescued the scarf. Drunken guy wandered over a number of times, but it was game over for him. The scarf, my friend, is a privilege, not a right, and you might want to rethink your choice of boyfriends.

Speaking of older gentlemen who should know better, I was once fooled by one who had gotten up on the runway and was dancing in a funny/sexy way. Some of the younger guys started stuffing dollar bills in his pants—half joke and half approval, like saying, “Go for it old queen!”  We were all generally encouraging. I mean who among us doesn’t want to be pushing 70 and rocking it out on the dance floor? So when he not only eyed the scarf, but outright asked for it, I leaned toward yes, when I should have realized this was a violation of the unwritten rules of the scarf. These rules, by the way, I silently make up as they occur to me. One of our wise dancing friends heard the request and said simply. “Don’t do it. You won’t get it back.” I was torn. On the one hand, I knew he was right, on the other hand, the scarf had a life of its own and another unwritten rule of the scarf is he who needs the scarf must have the scarf. Old Queen continued to ask for it, and I thought, no one would really take the scarf, would they? (Clearly I hadn’t learned the lesson of the young woman’s purse from the first story).

I relinquished the scarf.

At first it was OK. He was working it in a little routine and getting more dollars. Then he stuffed it in his back pocket—more a sign of ownership than borrowing. Still, I wasn’t worried until he asked if he could keep it. Then I thought he was joking, playing up his part as a runway tart, so I laughed nervously and said, “I’d rather you didn’t.” He continued to keep it in his pocket, and now my posse of fellow dancers were keeping an eye on the guy. The scarf’s honor was clearly in jeopardy, and they were mobilizing like a disco version of West Side Story. There was a scuffle when one of my friends took the scarf and one of the Old Queen’s posse took it back. The Old Queen then headed to the bathroom and Mike bravely followed him in and snatched the scarf back, only to be confronted by another of the Old Queen’s posse. Of course Mike emerged as the victor and the scarf was safely rescued. Old Queen came up to me later, claiming he was going to give it back. I should have said “Sure, I believe you!” and slapped him on the ass.

Why Do I Always Have to Be the Oldest One in the Room?

Remember that entry about how I had to go to the kids and divorce class and I was the oldest one there and most likely the only one there who recognized the video tapes as a form of media? Well, I should have predicted that it wasn’t going to be any different in the actual divorce court. My soon-to-be ex and I appeared on our appointed day, for the afternoon shift. The instructions said to come at 3 pm, which we did, but it was like waiting for the doors to open at a show—everyone was in the courtroom and there was a long line of people waiting to get checked in at a desk near the front. How did these people know to show up earlier? Had they done this before? There was a court session from 9 am to 3 pm, so I had figured there was no point in coming earlier—the court would have had people from the previous session in it. As we became the last people to get in the line, I hoped this wasn’t first come first served. I was grappling with that idea when I noticed the youthfulness of our fellow court mates. Then the judge began to call us forward two by two, like some sort of demented Noah’s ark. She confirmed—out loud—each couple’s marriage date and the date they last lived together. She made the two people state their names and affirm that they had read and agreed with the terms of their divorce, and then she pointed out any problems in the agreement. The marriage dates rang out—2009, 2011, 2007.

I looked around the room. No gray hair, not even any covered up with blonde dye. At 49, I have already been having some small anxieties about age, especially as it relates to my career. Boston is full of start-ups which is very exciting to think about as I contemplate my next job; however, a few informational interviews revealed there is hardly anyone over the age of 30 working at these places. I was starting to feel not just old, but worse, irrelevant. I was still struggling with this new information, so I was not happy to also have to face it in my personal life. Here I was awash in young people who clearly had thought marriage was something else, or maybe they had mistaken the wedding for marriage, or maybe the statistic I read was true—that 30 percent of people who get married know before the wedding they are marrying the wrong person and do it anyway. As I did with the children and divorce class, I wanted to jump up and tell them to get back in the ring—did they think life was a fairy tale and there was a happily ever after? 2005, 2008. Finally there was a couple who got married in 2002—she wasn’t my age, but closer than the rest. I wanted to run over to her and kiss her, but I don’t think the stern looking court officer would have approved. And just as I was calming down, I heard, “Married October 2012, stopped living together April 2013.” Whaaat? What this some kind of Vegas wedding? They looked younger than 20. I wanted to punch them both. Then I wished every person in this country who claims that gay marriage degrades a “time-honored institution,” would sit in divorce court for 10 minutes. We straight couples were doing a pretty good job of destroying the institution ourselves. The judge called us up. “Married in 1991, stopped living together in 2011.” I wanted to answer with a championship game-winning fist pump—THAT’S how it’s done, people—but I think courts frown on that sort of thing. I wonder if it would work at one of those no-one-over-the-age-of-30 tech startups?

Photo credit: The Guardian

Real-Life Math Sucks

In honor of the start of another school year, this post is the answer to “When will I ever use this math in real life?” If you have a child and want to get divorced in Massachusetts, the state does a great job of giving you an opportunity to use every math skill you’ve ever learned and may send you to the book store for “Math for Dummies.” It could also be a discriminatory way to discourage divorce among humanities majors—but I digress.

In Massachusetts if you have a child, the divorce process begins by filling out the Child Support Guidelines Worksheet. I would love to know the number of web hits this form gets, because believe me, right on the heels of “I can’t stand to be married anymore” comes “Oh my god, can I afford to be divorced?” which sends you careening to the web and you land on this form. It sounds promising—the “guidelines” part lures you into a false sense of security that you will be guided along this serpentine bureaucracy. At first glance it looks simple enough, although the impersonal use of the word “payor”—I assume they mean your child’s other parent—should have tipped me off. They ask for income and then four other amounts for you and the payor: child care costs, health insurance, dental/vision insurance, and other support obligations. Even a busy working mom like me can make quick educated guesses, and I was relieved that I didn’t have to go digging into my financial paperwork like I would for my taxes.

But then I notice they wanted the weekly amounts. I get paid weekly, but my ex gets paid bi-weekly, so that involves some math—I’m an English major, but I have my pride, so I took a deep breath and  whipped out the calculator on my smart phone. I did the simple math and get some basic numbers. So far, so good, until I see the next section. It’s a small sea of numbers, letters, math symbols and instructions that put me into a mild panic. The letters refer back to the five amounts I just entered, and now I have to go back and forth between the letters that stand for a number, consult two different tables, execute an “if, then” statement, and perform the required math. Now I’m in a full-blown panic—it’s the SATs and my failed college computer programming class all over again:

CHILD SUPPORT CALCULATION

  1. Combined amount for one child (See Table A)
  2. Adjustment for number of children covered by this order (See Table B)
  3. Combined support amount 2(a) x 2(b) d. Recipient’s % of combined income Recipient 1(f) ÷ 1(g)
  4. Recipient’s % of combined income Recipient 1(f) ÷ 1(g)
  5. Minus Recipient’s share of combined support amount 2(c) x 2(d)
  6. Payor’s proportional weekly support amount 2(c) – 2(e)
  7. Weekly support amount as % of Recipient income 2(f) ÷ Recipient 1(f)
  8. Payor’s final weekly support amount if 2(g) is 10% or more, then enter 2(f) here _______________, otherwise, enter the lesser of 2(f) OR (10% + 2(g)) x Payor 1(f)

Say what, now? Here I am, reeling from the breakdown of my marriage, worried about making sure my son is OK, and you want me to do higher math? WTF? I’m guessing most of the non-math people stop here—the pain of doing math could very well outweigh the pain of divorce and make you go back into the ring for another go. I actually learned how to do this math at one point in my life, but what about people who never did? What chance do they have of figuring this out? For those of us who manage to persevere, more shocks await. After struggling with the math, I discover the form says my ex should be paying TWICE as much in child support than what we have decided on our own, based on our real life, not a disembodied math formula. I checked my math again, (it’ wasn’t any less painful the second time). We both make about the same amount of money and neither of us make six figures, so I know the state’s number would seriously affect his life.

So why does my ex need to pay so much? Apparently the underlying formula has not been changed substantially since the 1970s, when it was made for couples with one main bread-winner and one stay-at-home partner. Perhaps it still works for those couples, all 25 percent of them. Without negating the very real issues of child support, having the non-custodial parent living in a hovel because of an outdated formula isn’t any better than having the custodial parent and child living in a hovel. Without trying to sound like a revolutionary rabble-rouser, could we have, say, um, two or three formulas, based on real world scenarios? I know some data people who could not only come up with any number of alternative formulas, they could test them, refine them, and test them again all before breakfast and they would actually enjoy it. Heck, a couple of MIT students could probably fit it in between building their solar car from a hobby kit, designing a bionic body part, and launching a start-up. Maybe the state is afraid that if it makes the form easier and the formula more fair, it will encourage more people to get divorced. On the other hand, it just might help improve the population’s math skills.

Photo credit: The Neiderkorn Library