Thursday, August 20, 2015

College "Needs:" Now vs. Then

(post copyright 2015, Dawn Weber)

Well, it's back to school time, and you know what that means for parents. Freedom!

And bankruptcy!

Bah. Don't mind me. I'm just a little sticker-shocked this year because my daughter starts college soon. One semester at the Princess's school costs more than my first two cars put together. Admittedly, both vehicles were used -- and complete, utter pieces of shit -- but still, the numbers don't lie. One semester = two cars.

Hold me.

Equally as alarming as the tuition bill are the college and dorm supply lists she came up with not long ago. Emailed to me at work in Amazon links, the Princess made it easy as pie to shop for her lengthy roster of items, which included "needs" like:

"Deluxe Lighted Makeup Mirror."
"Relaxing Sleep Mask."
"Soothing Lumbar Pillow."

Aw. Isn't she "cute?”

When I got home from work that night, I talked to her about her "college needs."

"I got your list today," I said.  "Haha! You're so funny."
She glanced up from her iPhone with a frown. "Don't you want me to have everything I need for school?"
"Of course I do. But it's college -- not a day at the spa. Grandma sent me to school with four ratty towels and a broken typewriter."
"Well that was 25 years ago," she said, rolling her eyes. "Things are different now, Mom."

Different indeed.

Now, I love her, and though I may not be able to get her everything she "needs," I did buy her all the things she requires. Also, I have to give credit where it's due: she and I compromised on her list. I bought some of the requested day-spa, er, dorm items, and she worked this summer and purchased the rest.

And surprisingly, as we visited schools and watched the students meandering about on campus, I realized her registry wasn't too far removed from reality -- at least by 2015 standards. Though I certainly don't question anyone else's choices, it soon became abundantly clear that things are, as she said, very different these days.

With that in mind, we here at the Center for Back-to-School Bankruptcy have comprised a handy comparison of college needs now, vs. college needs then.

"Here's your new iPhone 6 Plus, darling! Be sure and Facetime us every other day. We got you the $100 per month/10 gig data plan. Let us know if that's not enough!"

"Call me collect. From the phone in the hallway. After 9 p.m., when the rates are cheaper. Once a week, but no more than that -- I have bills to pay, you know. This tuition is killing me."

"Be sure and fill out your housing questionnaire so we can find you a suitable roommate. Now, would you like the two-person suite with private bathroom? Or would you prefer a three-bedroom townhouse with off-street parking? Whatever you want, sweetheart!"

"Four beds. Four total strangers. Cinderblock walls. Filthy, communal bathroom. Despair. Yep. That's what makes up dorm life, so stop complaining."

"Do you like your new MacBook Pro, honey? I got it on sale -- only $2,495! Sure, you have that Dell we bought at Christmas two years ago. But, hey. Everyone knows you need the very latest technology to open up a Word document and surf the web during class!"

"Take this. It's my typewriter from 1963. The "N" and "S" keys don't work, but you can make do. It needs a ribbon -- they have them at the office supply store, but you'll have to buy it yourself. This tuition is killing me."

"I just ordered your throw pillows, deluxe bed-in-a-bag set and coordinating easy chair from Pottery Barn. I sure hope it all matches, and that you'll be comfortable and warm! Oh, I worry about you!"

"I guess you can have that blanket the dog gave birth on a few years back. A chair? I don't know why the hell you'd need a chair, but I think there's one in the basement. Dust off the spiders, and it's yours."

So there you have it, the Center for Back-to-School Bankruptcy's guide to college "needs," now vs. then. I plan to show this handy dandy guide to my daughter, and tell her that college is not all knowledge and fun and soothing lumbar pillows. Nope. College is about poverty and sacrifice. But I know she won't buy it.

I'll be the one "buying" it.

I tell you, this tuition is killing me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Five Stages of Vacation Grief

(post copyright 2015, Dawn Weber)

It's Monday and I'm happy.

As you know, "Monday" and "happy" don't usually go together. So my great mood means I'm either A) drunk, or B) on vacation, and since it's the beginning of the week, I'm not drunk, but more likely on vacation -- the only week of the year that Friday sucks, and Monday rocks.

Despite this backwards progression of despair, every year, I do it anyway. I take a week off, eager to get to the beach, overjoyed to be out of my cubicle, thrilled on Monday, and devastated on Friday. I have a name for this phenomenon. Please -- read on for your handy guide to the Five Stages of Vacation Grief.

Toes in the water, ass in the sand. It's your first day at the beach, and you stare out into the ocean, troubles slipping away with each receding wave. You have a dim awareness of a previous life in some sad fly-over state, but you choose to swallow these thoughts down, down, down with your first sip of Corona, along with the vague idea of going home and back to work next week.

What are these things called "home" and "work"? You laugh at such silly words!

Feeling spiritual from the water, the sand and the beauty, you have conversations with God. "God," you say, "Please let me stay here. I don't need a house . . . or a job . . . or a family -- I'll work on a shrimp boat and sleep alone on the beach. Like a hobo. It will be fine."

God doesn't answer.

You have another beer.

Why? Dammit, why do I voluntarily live in a place where my nostrils freeze shut six months a year when I could live on the coast? This you ask yourself while fuming and stomping down the shore, questioning your life choices and hating the locals, what with their smiles and tans and wide-open nostrils. Other people get to live by the beach. Other people get to go to the beach every day.

Be calm, young grasshopper, for you should have learned long ago: other people suck.

Reality sets in. You don't live at the beach. No -- you're an imposter, a tourist, and only here temporarily. Worse, you have to leave soon, even though you don't want to go. It's in this miserable frame of mind that you come to one conclusion: Life is too short to live in Ohio/Nebraska/fill in your own pathetic landlocked state here.

Alas. There's nothing you can do. That's it, it's over, and you must get back to maintain the mortgage and health care policy. So pack up your clothes, your smile, your will to live, and slouch on-board the plane, because before you know it, the wheels will touch down and you'll arrive home to the drudgery, endless to-do lists, and soul-killing routine that make up the average adult life.

But, hey. At least the next time you feel happy at the beginning of the week and sad at the end, you'll know you're not drunk -- but perhaps you should be -- because you're experiencing the Five Stages of Vacation Grief: Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Depression and Acceptance.

Otherwise known as Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Stay strong, weary traveler, for it will be difficult to ease back into the misery of everyday existence. I recommend wine, more denial, and sobbing quietly in your cubicle.

Until next year.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Leave Your iPhone Alone

Summer's here, you're finally free now,
To have some time of your own,
It's gorgeous and sunny and warm out,
Still you won't leave your iPhone alone.

Birds sing, flowers bloom, oak trees swaying,
The dog's in the yard chewing bones,
She'd like to go walking with you, love,
If you'd just leave your iPhone alone.

It sure looks magical out there,
Like there's unicorns in the ozone,
Or maybe some fairies and wood nymphs,
But you won't leave your iPhone alone.

Your room, dear, is utterly filthy,
Your chores are completely undone,
The laundry piled high in the corner,
'Cause you won't leave your iPhone alone.

Grandma would love to hear from you,
You could dial her with the house phone,
That way you could talk and scroll Twitter,
Since you can't leave your iPhone alone.

Finally, you rise from the sofa,
Hallelujah! You shower and go,
To the car for a night with your girlfriends,
Honey, please - leave your iPhone alone.

You pick up the crew and head downtown,
But end up sitting still as stones,
All of you hunched over wee little screens,
You guys can't leave your iPhones alone.

They're like crack, I know it, I feel ya,
I have a smartphone of my own,
But you are becoming an addict,
You just won't leave the iPhone alone.

And that is why I get so crabby,
I grumble. I complain. I groan,
You're letting an amazing life pass you by,
For God's sake - leave your iPhone alone!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Some (More) Damn Assembly Required

"So," he says. "What tools do we need?"

I flip through the bulky 63-page multilingual assembly manual. "It just says 'one screwdriver.'"

I'm on the cold cement floor of the sunroom with a book, carton, packaging, boards and several thousand screws belonging to our new piece of furniture. The husband stands over me, a skeptical frown on his face.

"Really?" he asks. "Just a screwdriver?"

"That's what it says -- a Phillips head," I look up at him with a smirk. "It also says 'Assembly time: one hour.'"

At this, we double over in laughter. It ain't our first rodeo of assembling cheap furniture from a big box store. And he and I don't argue much, except when faced with some damn assembly required.

Still chuckling, he fetches a Phillips head from the junk drawer, and I begin attempting to screw shelf LL into B2 using screw J38. I twist and twist and get nowhere.

Screwing: Sometimes, it's completely futile.

"This isn't the right size screwdriver," I tell him. "I need a bigger one."

He hoists himself from the pile of particleboard and gestures dramatically at his swimsuit area.  “Well, I got a big one for ya! Heh heh!"

Oh, how that man amuses himself.

As he heads back to the kitchen to root around, I realize that I haven't eaten anything yet today, which is very bad news for him. Because I don't get hungry, I get fungry: fucking hungry.

You wouldn't like me when I'm fungry.

"Hurry it up," I yell. "I'm starving!"

"I'm coming, dear," he says. "Why don't you just have a cheese stick?"

Ah. Behold the power of the cheese stick. It's the disappointing solution for a snack at our place. In fact, it's often the solution for breakfast. Also lunch. Sometimes dinner.

In fact, are you hungry? Well have a freakin' cheese stick.

But I can't have one now -- we are out of them. My stomach growls. My head hurts.  My mouth waters. Years pass, and the husband returns with a big screwdriver, a different, even bigger screwdriver, and no cheese sticks whatsoever.

The mid-size Phillips-head does the trick, and we make some headway on our project -- for a while. Until Step 7: Screw side piece CC into shelf LL using screw B11-a. I push and wrestle with B-11-a, but try as I might, I can't get it to bite into shelf LL.

"You know," I tell him, "I think the cordless drill might work for this."

He grabs the manual and flips back through the pages. "I thought the instructions said we'd only need a screwdriver?"

I stare at him with eyes as empty as my stomach. "It does say that. Now go get the cordless drill and the Phillips bit."

He slouches his way back through the rubble. "Yes, dear."

While waiting for him, I think back to the groovy day, to the 70s and 80s, a time when furniture -- made of actual wood, mind you, by actual Americans and carried by actual delivery men -- arrived already put together. True, compared to our income, this furniture was so prohibitively expensive that my mother could only afford one piece every decade or so, but by God, it was worth it, because it was what?

Fully assembled.

I snap back to the present and glance around the room, filled to the brim with some damn assembly required items, all of it clumsily put together by my husband and I. It is a strong marriage that can survive cheap furniture.  We have been married 20 years now. That's a lot of IKEA. From the tables to the kids' beds to several large shelves, our home is chock full of "wood" fabricated in faraway countries, probably by small, hungry children.

And speaking of hungry, that reminds me . . .

"Hurry IT UP!" I yell.

Glaring, he re-enters the room with the cordless drill case in hand. He opens it up, pushes in the battery, pulls the trigger, and . . .


Nothing. As usual, the battery is dead.

"I'm not sure why we even have that thing," I say. "It's never charged."

He studies the dead drill in his hands. "I'll go get the electric one."

"Hurry . . ."

"Yes," he hisses. "I will hurry it up!"

I wait for him again, growing ever older, ever angrier, ever fungrier, and study the diagram in the the instruction book. If it gets assembled, this particular piece will be a snazzy-looking television stand with a built-in electric fireplace. It was my idea to buy it.

Obviously I have had better ideas.

But this is no comfort, as I sit in a mountain of MDF, tool boxes, several thousand screws, a half dozen screwdrivers, one dead cordless drill, and exactly zero freakin' cheese sticks.

"Assembly time: one hour."

Yeah. Sure. One hour.

"Tools needed: one screwdriver. "

And one screwdriver indeed.

With double vodka.

Friday, May 1, 2015

One-Eyed Jack and the Kayak

Cloudy. Cold. Seventy percent chance of rain.

"Great day for kayaking," he said. "You'll fall in and freeze to death."

This from the Voice of Reason, better known as my husband. He was concerned about me, the water temperature being 49 degrees and all.

But I make it a point not to listen to the Voice of Reason.

"Nah," I said. "It's time."

He shrugged and helped me load the gear into the truck.  

You might remember the kayak, a.k.a. My Damn Boat. Made of recycled two-liter bottles, purchased online from a big-box store, it is the only vessel the VOR would agree to, and so I bought it my damn self. It's small and inexpensive and shockingly, aggressively yellow. But it floats. Like a good two-liter bottle should.

I'd been waiting weeks -- WEEKS, I tell you -- to use it. Nothing was going to stop me, up to and including hypothermia, so I chose to sail for the first time at a friend's pond, figuring that if I fell in, it would be easier to swim to shore in a smaller body of water, before I drowned or froze to death.

Positive thinking: I gots it in spades.

Arriving at my friend's place, I pulled the kayak from the truck, then paused to glance across the pond. It looked choppy. It looked muddy. Most of all, it looked cold.

Great day for kayaking, he said. You'll fall in and freeze to death.

I pushed the boat into the water.

Hopping in, I paddled to the center with ease. I'd only kayaked a handful of times, but it was pretty much like riding a bike, and I felt happy to be out of the house, happy to be out of my cubicle, and most of all, happy to be alone.

Except, as I soon figured out, I wasn't. Alone, that is.

Because I felt eyes on me. Dozens of pairs of eyes. And I heard something.

"Peep-peep!" they said. "Peep!"

I headed to the far shore, drawing as close to the noise as I could.  There in the marshy weeds, I saw them, and they saw me.

"Peep-peep!" they said. "Peep!"

Frogs. Frogs for days, frogs galore, peeping away in pairs. And oh, were they busy, dozens upon dozens of them, "upon" as in on top of each other, "upon" as in cheerfully mating and supplying the better part of Ohio's frog needs for the next year.

I'd floated into the world's largest frog orgy.

They didn't seem to mind, though. Usually frogs will dive right underwater upon seeing a human, however these guys and gals weren't the least bit worried about me, engaged, um, as they were.

I made my way around the shores, noting the amorous couples and naming them according to their appearance. Here were Mike and Molly, a couple of middle-aged fatties going at it on the north shore. On the west side, you had a lithe young Brittany and Kevin swimming in angry circles, their arguments turning into splashy make-up sex. Things were really swinging in the weeds of the south shore with tons of randy couples: Angelina and Brad, Will and Jada, Miranda and Blake . . . and many more, all of them getting it on in close proximity, everybody having a grand old time.

Except for One-Eyed Jack.

As his name suggests, he was a frog of one eye. There was a bump where the other eye should have been, but the eyeball itself was curiously absent, not plucked out so much as just not there -- a birth defect.

And, like so many of his one-eyed brethren in the animal kingdom, Jack wasn't having any luck in the love department. He squatted in a little cove, all by himself. Bereft. Forlorn.


"Peep-peep!" he cried. "Peep!"

Ah, but there was nothing I could do for him. So I kept going around, marveling at the ease of kayaking, and the fact that I'd made it into and around the water without getting even one foot wet.  As long as I kept my body in the vessel's middle and made no sudden moves, the boat remained stable and true.

Huh. Stay centered and still, and everything will be OK. What a concept.

Before long, the sun came out, tentatively at first, but soon hot enough to burn away the clouds. I circled the shore several more times, visiting Mike and Molly, Blake and Miranda, Angelina and Brad, etc., all of them in the same spots and busily engaged in frog-producing activities. I stayed out for two solid hours watching celebrity frog porn, and I am proud to report I neither fell in nor froze to death.

I had a great day, paddling My Damn Boat by my damn self. In fact, despite the weather forecast and the dire predictions from the Voice of Reason, it had turned into a fantastic day at the pond for all of us.

Except for One-Eyed Jack. You'd think Jada, Miranda, Angelina, Molly -- hell, even Mike -- would take pity on him. You'd think some frog somewhere would give him some froggy love.

I mean, really. Those fucking frogs.

But no. It was not to be. Poor, poor One-Eyed Jack.

"Peep-peep!" he cried. "Peep!"

That guy got nothin'.