Friday, August 22, 2014

Sh*t My Co-worker Says

"I think my skin's melting off!"

Holy crap! you say. Where are you? What's going on? Industrial accident? Ebola outbreak? Zombie apocalypse?

Nope. Do not be alarmed. It's just Monday. And that's just Tim.

I sit right next to him at work, and we've been side-by-side for so long that I can usually tell what he's doing just by the noises he makes. I can hear everything: I can hear him breathe, I can hear his stomach growl, and I spend more time with him than I do my family, which is a sorry state of affairs indeed. You've heard the terms "work family" and "work spouse," but it isn't like that at all with us. Anyway, one spouse is quite enough, thanks. I don't need anyone else pestering me for dinner, or poking around at my swimsuit areas. Tim asks for nothing - except the occasional Tums or ibuprofen.

Although I can't see him because we're behind one-inch-thick cubicle walls, I know that he's over there squinting worriedly into a little mirror he keeps at his desk to assess his many imagined ailments and conditions.

"These lights make me look all spotty!"

I grab my pencil and tablet. For amusement, I like to keep a record of Tim's pseudo-symptoms. Here is the actual list from my desk, along with - for some reason - a doodle of a pine tree.

I know. I have the penmanship of a mentally challenged first-grader, don’t I? The only legible thing on that paper is the pine tree.

So allow me to transcribe for you. Below are some of Tim's Imaginary Zombie Ailments, along with handy-dandy Regular Person Translations:

IZA: "I think my brain stem just snapped!"
RPT: He has a crick in his neck.

IZA: "There's liquid lung juice dripping on my liver!"
RPT: He has gas.

IZA: "I feel like I have a nail in my hand!"
RPT: He's having a minor muscle spasm.

IZA: "Something is moving up through my neck!"
RPT: He has gas.

IZA: "I can hear this dripping in my head!"
RPT: His allergies are acting up.

IZA: "My eyes feel like they're going to shrivel up!"
RPT: He's tired.

IZA: "I think my esophagus just separated from my stomach!"
RPT: Still gas.

You might doubt the veracity of my claims. You might think I'm exaggerating about Tim, that no one could make up such whack-a-doo maladies. But I assure you: It's all true. The list doesn't lie.

I put down the tablet, rise from my chair and walk over to stand in his doorway, where I watch him frown into his Worry Mirror.

"Were you always like this?" I ask. "I mean, when you were a kid, did you sit in classrooms narrating your body's rapid and disturbing disintegration?"

"No, no," he says, shaking his head. "It's only since I've been here. This building is killing me." 

He looks up from his mirror, brows raised. 

"I'm gonna bring in my Radon detector!"

You know, he may have something there. I've always said that cubicles are just glorified coffins.

And really, Tim is a very smart, apparently sane person in other ways. Plus he's super nice - always saying good morning, giving me coupons for my brand of Greek yogurt . . . I once convinced him to put a bowl of water out for some stray cats that he'd told me about, a litter of kittens living under his porch.

So yeah. He's a really good guy.

I mean, as far as zombies go.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Get Your Butt Outside

(Post copyright 2014, Dawn Weber)

The sun shines bright on the sidewalk,
Your bike's in the garage, cast aside,
While you sit, transfixed to an iPod,
Please - get your butt outside.

A pool shimmers blue in the backyard, 
The bank-loan for it made us cry, 
But I'm not sure you know that it's there, son,
Since you won't take your heinie outside.

The grass sure could stand a good cutting,
Though I don't think you'll really comply,
As mowers don't feature PlayStations,
And we don't have a TV outside.

The dog waits in vain by the side door,
A real worried look in her eye,
She knows she can't count on you, boy,
There's no way that you'll take her outside.

A trampoline rusts by the driveway,
It misses your feet, that's no lie,
But COD won't play itself, you know,
Hell no, you ain't going outside.

Things sure were different for me, kid,
Back in nineteen seventy-nine,
"Don't come back in this house till the streetlights come on!"
Had no choice. Put on shoes. Went outside.

Anyway, I was glad to go out there,
Especially in June and July,
No A/C makes houses infernos,
And I much preferred frying outside.

There are woods that you should be exploring,
Mitts that could catch a pop-fly,
But Minecraft is what you're adoring,
And it's hard to see laptops outside.

I sure wish I was there now, son,
I'm at work to pay bills for wifi,
But this weekend I'll change up the password,
You can bet - your ass WILL BE outside. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Chocolate. And Other Reasons to Live

(post copyright 2014, Dawn Weber)

There I sat, in the grocery store parking lot, feeling confused and very tragic.

I'd just finished my first day of work after a week's vacation at the beach, and I stared straight ahead, watching the heat boil up from the asphalt. What happened to the ocean? I wondered. Where is the rum? What do you mean I have to wear pants all day?

Reality: such a disappointment.

And I knew not this thing they called "Monday." Just minutes ago, it seemed, the time had blended into a pleasant blue haze of laughter and friends, waves and great food and complete relaxation, wherein someone would occasionally ask, "Does anybody know what day it is?" only to receive the same replies: 

"Who knows?"

"Who cares?"

"Pass me another drink!"

Yet, there I was, back in the work-week with all the other dummies, forced to wear pants. It had been a day like so many others before it, and so many that will be after it: ten hours of email, canned soup for lunch, and no rum at all. 

I mean, why go on, really? 

At least I could fix the rum problem. I got out of the car, locked it, and headed through the sliding doors. 

Inside, I continued my depressive internal monologue, muttering like a crackhead all through the produce and frozen goods. I had just grumbled my way past the hamburger buns when I stopped short.

Because just then, I saw it. A post-vacation reason to live. In aisle three:

That's right. Just when you thought your clothes might fit again, holy insulin, Batman, here it is: Chocolate! Melted! In a jar!

It was displayed beside the peanut butter, and the ever-popular Nutella, which I've never tried, because I don't like hazelnut flavor. Also, most of the people I've heard gushing in the media about Nutella appear to be rich, or granola-hippies, or rich granola-hippies - Gwyneth Paltrow types - none of whom I like, all of whom I wish to slap. Upside the head. 

With a big ol' pack of Walmart bacon. 

I sound all stubborn and judgmental and misinformed up there, like a member of Congress, don't I? That is what granola-hippies do to me.

But this Hershey's business was a whole different story. I grabbed the jar off the shelf and gobbled up the label with hungry eyes. It looked like heaven. It looked like trouble. It looked like diabetes and bigger pants and bad decisions. 

I bought it immediately. 

Then, I rushed home so that I could dip into my new love. And let me tell you, friends - the stuff lived up to its promise. It tasted wonderful, the way you'd imagine, the way chocolate should: like fun and childhood and Jesus kisses. You can put it on strawberries, pretzels, fingers - doesn't really matter, because they're all just a vehicle, a utensil, if you will, to get the chocolate in the mouth. 

I know. I sound like someone is paying me to promote their business or do something for them. I sound like a member of Congress again, don't I? 

Sadly, no one is paying me to do anything. (That's what she said!) No, I am just giving you my thoughts on Chocolate! Melted! In a jar! Hey. Everyone's entitled to my valuable opinion. 

So the next time it's your first day back to work after vacation, you're forced to wear pants, and you're feeling sad and confused and like there's no reason to go on, know this:

You're right.

But if you're ever experiencing these emotions, may I recommend heading to the grocery store after work, to pick up some Chocolate! Melted! In a jar!, or your own particular brand of diabetes (even if it's Nutella, you granola-hippie.) Oh, and don't forget the rum.

Because, remember: Depression hurts. Bad decisions can help. 


Book update: The manuscript is still finished, and I spent the spring writing a 22,000-word book proposal, which is basically a comprehensive business plan for a book, a very left-brained task for a very right-brained person, but I made it through. From here, I will begin querying literary agents. This process can take years, and I won't even tell you how much rejection I'll likely endure, but, hey, that's how it is. I've had a few writer friends read the book, and they gave suggestions, along with some rave reviews, so there's that, right? Send me good wishes, please - and maybe chocolate! Melted! In a jar!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Adventures with Ikea. And POS Pickups

(post copyright 2014, Dawn Weber)

Drive to Ikea in your husband's jacked-up pickup truck and buy a couch! I said.

It will be fun! I said.

Ha ha ha!


Let's see. Piece-of-shit Chevy - check.  Six hours round-trip - check. Self-serve furniture store - check. Two hundred pound sofa - check.

All by myself - check.

These sound like a bunch of bad ideas, and lo, they were indeed bad ideas. Yes friends, they were.

Oh, the things I will do for some cheap Scandinavian furniture.

I can't help it. Like so many Americans, whenever I get my grubby hands on the tax-refund check each spring, I start thinking thoughts that involve heavy lifting and rampant spending. That's how I found myself one recent Saturday, driving, sweating, cussing and wondering if I'd make it to Cincinnati in the husband's POS Silverado.  

That truck. Four-wheel drive, relatively new (for us), nice interior, white with silver trim - great-looking, yes, but it runs terribly. I call it the supermodel of pickup trucks: easy on the eyes, but otherwise, pretty much worthless.

It's been in the shop at least nine times in the 1.5 years we've owned it, for various reasons ranging from ignition troubles to transmission problems to vague sensor issues that have left our mechanic scratching his head, saying, "Hell, I don't know what's wrong with it!" then handing us a $650 invoice for 28 hours of labor.

The husband bought the pickup on his own. He did not have my helpful guidance and vast mechanical expertise when he made this purchase, and we ended up with a piece of shit. In case he forgets, I like to periodically remind him:

"This truck is a piece of shit!"

"I know, dear. You've mentioned it."

We just had an alignment and some new tires installed, but one of the truck's latest major problems is some kind of issue that leaves you bopping down the road as if driving on four basketballs - only bouncier - and it was in this state that I spent that particular Saturday thumping south on I-71 to the Ikea store.  Anything above 65 m.p.h. made the shimmying unmanageable. So I rattled along in the slow lane at 62, glaring at the campers, the Buicks, the box-turtles on the side of the road as they passed me.

I drove. I sweated. I cussed.

Around noon, I became incredibly hungry. I also had to pee, which was no surprise: If I'm breathing, I have to pee. But I wouldn't stop for any of this, as I knew that if I did so, I might not start again.

You do not tarry with basic needs when driving the POS Chevy.  

The husband had stayed behind to watch the kids and take our son to ball practice. Since he wasn't around for the joy of this trip, I decided to call him up and give him my valuable opinion.

"Hello?" he said.

"This truck is a piece of shit!"

"I know, dear. You've mentioned it."

"That is all."  


I hung up on him, so that I could better focus on seething, bouncing and glaring.

After many days, hours, years, it seemed, my basketballs and I thumped thankfully into the Cincinnati Ikea parking lot, right along with what appeared to be the entire state of Ohio. And Indiana.

And most of Kentucky.

Apparently, the people of the Midwest - and part of the south - had also received their federal income tax refunds that week, and decided on a fun day of seething humanity and cheap Scandinavian furniture.

I grabbed one of the last available parking spots and rushed inside. Sprinting to the restroom, I gratefully emptied, washed up and headed to the sales floor, where I joined the tri-state area as they trudged, like dead-eyed zombies, through the giant super-mega-store.

Thanks to my harrowing trip down the interstate, I didn't have energy to deal with the throngs of people crowding every inch of available space. Babies crying, children whining, elderly folks stopping in the middle of the aisles . . . Ikea is set up like a giant maze, constantly clogged with human traffic, and there are really not many shortcuts. If you don't know where you're going or what you want for sure - which I didn't - you have to snake through the entire store with all the other dummies to your eventual goal: the warehouse section and cheap Scandinavian furniture in boxes.

Big boxes.

Very big boxes.

I arrived at my destination and stared open-mouthed at Ektorp, the sofa I'd chosen, inside its mammoth carton. The physics alone were frightening: I am 5'2" and weigh, well, none of your business, but the box looked to be roughly twice my size on both counts, and I wondered how in the world I was supposed to get it from the shelf to the cart without flattening myself like an ant. In true self-serve Ikea fashion, personnel were nowhere around, and as I stood and contemplated the box 'o sofa, an old, stooped woman paused beside me.

"You need some help with that, honey?"

I turned and eyed my fellow customer: white-haired, frail, a couple inches shorter than me - I doubted her couch-lifting abilities.  "Well, yeah, but are you sure?"

I should not have doubted.

She whipped my buggy to the front of the box, wedged it underneath, stood aside and pushed the sofa down with a flick of her wrinkly wrist. The carton landed with a confident whump!, stable and ready to roll.

"Wow! Thanks! That was just . . . amazing."

"I come here all the time," she said. "That's how you do it. Just flip it down."

Couch on cart, I thanked her again and re-joined the populations of Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky at the registers, where we waited oh, four, five hours to check out? I don't know.

Time has no meaning at Ikea.

I should have taken a nap. By the time a rare stock-boy and I wrestled the gargantuan box into the pickup, I was once again exhausted.

And I had a bigger issue.

The carton, too long for the bed of the truck, tilted up and rested on the closed tailgate, which would be no problem except that our particular tailgate latch is - you guessed it - broken, and given to popping open at the slightest pressure. I had no rope, and no help again, as the elusive Ikea stock-boy had vanished into the ether, so I shrugged, started the engine and shimmied onto the freeway, anticipating the worst.

Driving, thumping, driving, 62 m.p.h., my eyes flipped maniacally between road and rearview mirror. I fully expected the shuddering tailgate to collapse at any time, my hard-won cheap couch crushing cars Godzilla-like as it bounced to the side of the road.
I drove. I sweated. I cussed.  

Hours went by, and I grew hungry again. I had to pee, again. And turtles and Buicks passed me. Again.

It was time once more to give my valuable opinion. I dialed the husband, who picked up the phone without saying hello.

"I know, dear. You've mentioned it."


Huh. He hung up on me. I can't imagine why.

Eventually, finally, amazingly, the decades passed, and I made it, shuddering up the driveway at 8 p.m., angry and spent. I rushed in the house, shouted "Never again!" and pushed the children down on the way to the bathroom.

Never again indeed. I had been to Ikea before, but not alone, not for a large couch, and definitely not in a POS Chevy. It was a harrowing, epic journey in three or four parts, a terrifying odyssey I will not repeat.

Ladies, ladies, by all means: Learn from my mistakes, and mark my words. A trip to Ikea requires strategy, patience, fortitude and preferably, Xanax. Before you go, make sure that you rest up. Eat something. Pee often. Bring along some sort of willing male - or an old, stooped woman - then, ride shotgun and get drunk. 

All the better.

And for the love of God and cheap Scandinavian furniture, please, I beseech you: Take a functioning pickup. Do not borrow ours.

Because I don't know if I've mentioned it, but that truck is a piece of shit.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Meeting Maya (and Remaining Conscious)

There she sat, across the room. Maya Angelou.

Regal and lovely, she held court with other VIPs in a Columbus banquet hall, where I was working that evening in 2001 as a corporate photographer for a direct sales company. We'd had the phenomenal luck to hire Dr. Angelou as the keynote speaker for one of our conferences.

I kept a sweaty, respectful distance. In awe of this woman since reading "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" in my AP English class at age 17, I'd devoured many of her other books in the years since. I admired her creativity and her ability to overcome unbelievable difficulties. Racism, poverty, childhood rape - these things have killed others, but only left Maya stronger and wiser. 

As a news and corporate photographer, I had encountered several celebrities over the years, so you'd think I'd have grown used to meeting the occasional famous person. 

But the truth is that whenever I saw one, I always managed to make a blithering idiot of myself by either A) Gaping in open-mouthed shock (the Aretha Franklin in the elevator incident); or B) Gaping in open-mouthed shock, and then shouting "Holy shit!" (The Peter Gabriel backstage incident).

As if the ridiculous random swearing wasn't bad enough, I also had some kind of affliction that made me tremble during important events I photographed. This in turn caused me to move the camera at crucial moments and blur the picture. And, if I managed to get past all the involuntary gaping, swearing and shaking, my camera would sometimes short out - probably the combination of terrified neural firings and profusely wet hands.

So the desire to meet this famous lady was counterbalanced with a hefty case of nerves and fear of my celebrity-induced Tourette's Syndrome. Avoiding the VIP area, I busied myself taking other sales convention pictures, secure in the knowledge that the other, more senior corporate photographer, Tom, would likely photograph any needed pictures of Maya Angelou. I figured it was better for everyone if a short, perspiring white woman didn't shout "Holy shit!" and faint in front of a national treasure.

Heavily engaged in ignoring the situation, I almost didn't notice when the chief executive officer of the company tapped my shoulder. 

"Dawn, can you take some pictures of Dr. Angelou with us?" 

I turned to the CEO, another female who both intimidated and impressed me, hoping maybe she had just forgotten that senior photographer Tom was there.

"Um," I stammered. "Don't you want Tom to do that?" I glanced around the room, feverishly hoping to locate him.

She shook her head. "They said he left for the day - he'd been working since 7 this morning. You're the only one here."

My heart dropped to my feet, and the faucets in my fingers switched on. 

"Sure! Yeah! OK!" I yelled, my voice already inappropriately loud.

Dammit, Tom.

I followed her across the room for what felt like days, glancing repeatedly from the camera to my dripping hands. I prayed my body wouldn't cause another freak equipment failure.

We drew near Maya's chair, where she sat talking to another VIP. The boss pulled me to her side.

"Dr. Angelou, we were hoping to take a couple pictures with you," she said. "This is Dawn, the photographer."

Dawn the photographer stood in front of a living legend, and concentrated very hard on keeping her mouth shut, her hands dry and her heart beating. Better to say nothing, Dawn figured, than loudly shout expletives.

Maya Angelou turned from her conversation to our CEO, whom she'd already met. 

Then, without hesitation, she rose slowly from her chair, grasped both my cold, damp paws in her warm, soft hands, looked me in the eye and said:

"It is such a pleasure to meet you!"

She held my gaze as I stood, saucer-eyed and speechless, at her kind, genuine, loving greeting. I wondered if she thought I was someone else. When wearing a business suit, I was often mistaken for one of our company's owners due to our close resemblance. But this particular evening, I wore my de rigueur photo-lackey uniform: black pants, tons of camera gear, raggedy ponytail and lunch-spattered polo shirt. 

I found some words. Eventually.

"It's . . . so . . . nice to meet you, too!" I shouted. 

She smiled even broader. 

"Thank you for . . . your . . . your everything!" I added intelligently.

Meetings out of the way, I shuffled everyone into position. Trembling as I raised the camera, I positioned my sopping index finger over the button, and said a silent prayer that my gear wouldn't short out on me. Again.

"Smile!" I hollered, with more inappropriate loudness.


The shutter slapped, the flash fired, and I breathed a little sigh of relief. 

"Thank you very much for doing that!" she said, grasping my hand again as I nodded vigorously in an attempt to stay quiet.  

And she walked away.

I went back to shooting the banquet, but snuck glances her way the rest of the evening. I still felt flabbergasted at her amazing, genuine demeanor and wondered if it was a fluke. I'd not had such positive experiences with other famous folks. Though there were exceptions, the celebrities I encountered had generally brushed through rooms, avoiding eye contact and stifling eye rolls if asked to stop, meet, and - God forbid - take a picture with a fan. 

With Maya Angelou, it was a whole different ball game, and I watched as she talked to anyone who approached, and snapped a photo with everyone who asked her. From executive to sales consultant to A/V staff to the guy filling her water glass, she treated everyone . . . the same. Exactly, unequivocally, wonderfully the same.

I finished the rest of my work, and drove through the evening feeling good, but not without reservations. Though I'd managed to muddle through the all-important executive shoot with Ms. Angelou, it remained to be seen whether I had a usable photo - these were the unfortunate days before commonplace digital photography, and I'd need to get the film developed to find out if my nervous hands had failed me.


I dropped the canister off at the camera store, hoping for the best. And in an hour, I rushed back, paid for the prints and ripped open the packet. 

For once, the photo gods had smiled on me. I'd managed to take a steady, in-focus picture of an important person and irreplaceable moment, accomplishing this with the added bonus of maintaining consciousness and (most of) my bladder control. 

I flipped slowly through the pictures of Maya. She stared straight into the camera, her expression reminiscent of a friend, or even a beloved aunt. She was tall, elegant, kind, self-assured, and the color of a warm cup of coffee. 

Then there was me, on the other side of the camera. Short, pasty-white, tragically sweaty and hoping to keep my mouth shut. 

I put the packet aside, the car in drive and smiled to myself on the way out of the parking lot. We were very different - weren't we? - she and I. 

But somehow, also the same.

Exactly, unequivocally, wonderfully the same.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Soup In My Hair

(post copyright 2014, Dawn Weber)
I'm the most excited I've ever been with my pants on.
Not good to end a sentence with a preposition, but such is the depth of my enthusiasm. That's because I recently lost a bunch of weight, thanks to a diet of Really Depressing Food.
I know, I know - nobody wants to hear about my diet/exercise plan unless I've choked on some tofu or fallen off the treadmill. But I tell you this because I was a little confused and shocked about how it happened at first. I've been dieting and exercising pretty much since puberty. With a few short-lived exceptions, I've never had much success.
So I sat down and thought about it and finally put two and two together, and I came to the conclusion that the weight loss resulted from my diet of Depressing Food and Very Bad Beer. You'll have to read about the Very Bad Beer part of the equation in my upcoming book, but I can tell you all about the Depressing Food:
And more soup. Soup for lunch, soup for dinner, soup all the time. A gott-dang liquid diet. Apparently, I'm 80.
My disappointing, old-lady meal plan happened by accident. I started bringing Progresso Italian Wedding soup into work for lunch each day, because it's very good. And no - Progresso isn't paying me to tell you that. Although they should.
You can trust me when I say it's yummy wedding soup, because I grew up in greater Youngstown, Ohio. My DNA may say I'm a pasty little German woman, but at times, I'm pretty sure I have some Italian in me.

Oh wait - he's German, too.
But my point, and I had one here, is that thanks to the mother lodes of incredible cuisine I grew up enjoying with my Italian friends and their old-country grannies, I know authentic recipes when I taste them. And even though it's canned, this stuff is fantastic. Since it's relatively low fat and high in protein, I started bringing it to the office and eating it in my soul-killing cubicle for lunch. I work so late that I eat dinner there, too. What do I have? Exactly. More soup.
I wanted some variety, and eventually began eating other kinds in addition to the wedding soup. But still, it's always the same thing: another day, another meal, another exciting can of soup. For more than a year.
That's when it started to get depressing. Because although I like the stuff, I will admit it's become disheartening that I eat it all the damn time. I suppose I could change things up and bring in other foods - sandwiches, salads, those crappy little Budget Barf frozen dinners - but buying and fixing new things would require some planning, and as a rule, I'm against planning. I avoid planning whenever possible.
So, even though it's dismal, soup it is. And while slurping my 309,873rd bowl the other day, I glanced down to find I had a guest for lunch:
My hair.
Yes, it's so long that it hung from my head directly into the chicken broth, where the strands mingled languidly with the spinach, noodles and meatballs. I've needed a haircut for a while, but in typical senior-citizen fashion, I can't seem to remember to call and make an appointment. The only day I ever seem to think about calling the salon is on Monday. And when is the salon closed? Mm-hmm. Monday. I could work a little harder to get an appointment for a haircut, but again, that requires planning. See comment re: avoiding planning, above.
Back to the day of the sloppy strands. I stood up and lurched to the restroom, trying not to drip on my clothing, then bent over the sink and attempted to rinse lunch from my hair. But without shampoo, I really couldn't quite get all the food out, so I went about the rest of my day at the office with brothy bangs.
And later that afternoon, eating my usual liquid dinner in front of the computer, guess what happened?
I lurched to the bathroom, again, trying not to drip soup on my clothing, again, and attempted to rinse pasta and spinach off my head.

With my cranium under the faucet, I wondered what was saddest about the situation: A) The fact that I can't remember to get a haircut; B) The fact that I eat the same thing twice a day, almost every day; or C) The fact that I'm under 85 and there was actual soup in my actual hair.
I stood up and looked in the mirror. All of a sudden, there in my darkest, most geriatric hour, I had an epiphany and became inspired to create something.
That's right. I wrote a song about it. Wanna hear it? Here it go:

Soup in my hair, soup in my hair,
Lookin' like a fool with some soup in my hair.

I finished singing my little song, then I smiled the smile of the mentally ill.
And I kept grinning. Because as my eyes traveled further down my reflection, I saw something I hadn't seen in years:
Pants that actually fit.
No, I decided, even with a twice-basted coif, things weren't so bad. Soup in the hair beats a hair in the soup.
Anyway, what can I say?
Soup happens.