A Journal of My Mid-Life Crisis
27 December 1998 - A Week in the Life
I am continually impressed by people who manage to write daily or near daily journal entries. I'm compulsive enough that if I were to miss a day I'd think the whole thing was lost and just give up; at least, that's what I've done with paper diaries when I've tried to keep them. But I thought it would be an interesting experiment to try writing something each day this week, even though I still intend to connect it up as a weekly entry on Sunday night.
Monday: In the Beginning G-d Created Caffeine
I often listen to a program called The World on NPR when I go out at lunchtime. Today, just as I was getting in the car, I heard an endorsement that ran "The World is made possible by Merck." I couldn't help thinking that would make an interesting opening to the Bible. It's also particularly ironic because Merck manufactures several chemicals that can cause fertility problems. I have a college friend whose husband works for them and I've learned from her that they produce certain things in Puerto Rico and in Ireland because even New Jersey has some environmental regulations.
Today my life was filled with a particularly insidious chemical - namely coffee. I didn't actually drink any coffee, since I've been in vanilla ginger tea mode for weeks. But people kept filling my environment with coffee. I drove Penny to the airport and she left a coffee mug with an inch or so of coffee in my car. (At 6 a.m. I didn't have the heart to mention how much I hate people eating or drinking anything in the car. Not that I have all that fancy a car but anything other than water consumed in cars irritates me. I have no idea why.) Her coffee mug will probably stay on the front passenger floormat until Community Storytellers in January.
Then Milo came over to my office to do my (much delayed) performance review. And promptly spilled coffee all over my desk. There had been some question about whether or not we had to do a performance review, but our division administrator decided that I needed one for the quarter of the year that I'd worked. Milo wrote generally laudatory things and didn't have much to say. I still got a meager raise, but it is rather hard to argue that you've been valuable to the company when you were gone for 9 months.
After work I stopped by Mailboxes, Etc. and finally shipped off the two jars of salsa I bought for my friend, Gulsen, who lives in Paris. France may have great food, but is habanero-deficient. And I had promised it back in July. The packaging and shipping cost about 5 times what the salsa did! At least nobody there spilled coffee on me.
Tuesday: Etiquette 101
I got a very weird phone call at work. The caller identified herself as "Stephanie" as if she expected that to mean something to me. I spent minutes trying to figure out who I knew named Stephanie before she said she was from our company's HR department. It was a fairly simple matter, actually; savings bonds don't get forwarded and she needed to verify my current address because a bond sent to me in February had been returned to them. Still, I thought it was normal manners to identify what organization you're with when you call someone on a business matter.
The part that made it weird was that she went on to ask a lot of questions about my trip, primarily about Africa. I seem to have become quite a legend within the company - complete strangers stop by my office and tell me they've read my travelogues. Eventually she mentioned my boss by name and I figured out she knew about it from him.
I have my own etiquette problem today and it involves writing Christmas cards. I am never sure who I am supposed to send them to. Obviously, there's a long established tradition of annually catching up on the lives of a few people I've known forever. (In the case of Jewish friends, it's done at Rosh Hashanah but it's the same idea of an annual card and a brief note. And, yes, for those who know what the etiquette books say, I write the notes by hand and personalize them. No tacky newsletters here; they can read my web page for that!) And there are some people I am obviously quite close to who I sincerely do want to wish happy holidays to. The problems are easily categorized. First, there are the situational friendships. If I send a card to one person in the group, I then feel obliged to send cards to all of the people in the group because otherwise they might talk to one another and the person I neglected will feel slighted. Then we have the people I sent a card to last year who didn't send a card to me. My parents always dropped such people from their list unless there was an awfully good reason they hadn't sent a card. But that requires you to actually keep the list and it just seems awfully mercenary to me. And, then there's the flip side of it when someone sends a card to me and I hadn't planned to send them a card. Inevitably, those people are among the situational friends and I am back to the dilemma of whether I then need to send a card to everyone in the group.
All of this is complicated immensely by electronic cards. In one case, I got an electronic card from someone whose current snail mail address I don't know. (And, come to think of it, they probably don't know mine.) That one's easy - I can send an electronic card in return. Or is an email note better, a more personal way to reply? But can I reply to a physical card with an electronic card? And, if I do that, do I have to then send electronic cards to the other people in the group who do have email?
Maybe I should be sending a Christmas card to Miss Manners, too.
Wednesday: To Do Lists
No, I am not going to put my entire "to do" list here. I have a huge master list on graph paper, subdivided into various categories - work, administrative matters, storytelling projects, household chores, crafts projects and so on. The master list isn't the sort of thing I ever expect to have completed everything on, but is used more for making the day to day lists. So it tends to be a jumble of things like "learn to speak Japanese" to "find out about horsebacking lessons" to "type recipes into computer" to "research Mary Somerville."
My day to day lists tend to be more modest and get down to weird levels of detail, like "wash pantyhose" and "rewrite second paragraph of profiles memo" and "buy silly putty." The reason I am bothering to write about this at all is that I heard something on the radio last week having to do with "to do" lists that I thought was a personal quirk and never imagined anyone else doing. Namely, I will add something to the list after doing it so I can have the pleasure of crossing it off. It had never before occurred to me that anyone else would do this.
Now I can go and write down "write journal entry" on tonight's list of things to do and cross it off right away.
We had a half day off (at management discretion, but my boss is never one to turn down time off) and I succumbed to an impulse to go and pick up some food at Pico Kosher Deli, which is about the closest Los Angeles comes to a real deli by my spoiled New Yorker standards. They didn't have any tongue, alas, but I picked up a few other things and decided it would be quickest to drive home on Pico Blvd., since I only needed to go a few miles west. The ridiculous traffic jam started at Fox Studios, but it wasn't until I got to just outside the entrance to the Rancho Park Golf Course that I could see what was going on. A major accident was blocking the eastbound lanes and one of the two westbound lanes.
Usually when you see a car wreck, you can fairly easily guess what happened. Most of them are either a matter of one car rear-ending another or a side impact at an intersection. This was weird, though. There was a pickup truck on top of the hood of a car. Well, the rear two tires were on the hood of the car; the front two were on the road. It was as if the truck had gone off an overpass or off an upper level garage. But there was no overpass or multilevel garage nearby. I am still puzzled over it. Flying trucks perhaps? Oddly and reassuringly, the car appeared almost undamaged.
I've also been thinking about shipwrecks. Part of my interest is because I am immersed in Shackletonmania (reading South, which is Shackleton's own account of the Endurance expedition, with two other books about Shackleton in the unread stack). But I also happened to read that 3 boats ran aground in the Marina the first week of December, due to low tides. Perhaps I am naive, but in this era of GPS navigation and accurate tide table, it seems downright incompetent for somebody to run aground in the well-charted waters of Marina del Rey. In fact, you could say that I find the idea of running out of water underneath your vessel to be unfathomable.
Friday: Casual Greetings
I was going to claim I celebrated Christmas in the traditional Jewish way by going to a movie and eating Chinese food, but actually I took a nap instead. I did see one very weird Christmas thing yesterday, by the way. I was waiting for a traffic light and noticed that the car next to me had a dog sitting in it with reindeer antlers tied to its head. Why anybody would do this to their pet is beyond me, but there area lot of things about modern culture I don't get.
I didn't laze around all day. I went for a hike in Franklin Canyon in the morning. One thing I find fascinating is that people encountered on the trails always call out "good morning" to one another. (I only hike in the early morning. I assume people do greet one another in the afternoon, too!) I had found it so hard at first when I was traveling in Eastern Africa to be obliged to greet strangers, but I quickly learned to cheerfully call out "Jambo!" to people I encountered. Anyway, I like this custom of friendliness but I am not about to start greeting strangers in other circumstances, lest they think I am a lunatic.
The best part of the hike, by the way, was walking past the beehives. They are rather unsightly, since they look like a jumble of white filing cabinets. But I like the sound of thousands of bees buzzing at once. And it was good to feel like I was away from the city for a bit.
Saturday: Silly Putty and Cereal Wars
This was one of those days where I was determined to get things done. I paid bills and even stuck them in the mail, made several phone calls, answered John's last three emails and bought a new pocketbook. This last item had become a necessity as the old one was falling apart. Shopping is one of those things I often find irritating, because when I am looking for certain things I am extremely picky. In the case of pocketbooks, it is both easy and hard. About 7 years ago I found the perfect pocketbook with exactly the right configuration of pockets. And it is made by Le Sportsack, which is hardly an obscure brand. So it should have been a simple matter of a trip to the mall.
Aside from the day after Christmas being the single worst day in the year to go to any shopping mall, things are never fated to be that easy. I have parking lot tricks at almost every nearby mall, mostly based on my willingness to walk a bit instead of trying to park immediately next to an entrance. I can also be very focused when I need to be. The first problem is that nobody else inside Fox Hills Mall (which I went to because I had another errand to run over that way; the Westside Pavilion is closer) was equally focused. So I found myself irritated at how slowly people were walking, blocking my path on escalators and such. And then I found that only one store in the mall had any of the right bags in stock and they had exactly one, which was navy blue. Not terrible - at least it wasn't pink - but not as exciting as I'd hoped, given that the old one was a bright purple floral print and the one before that had been red polkadots. (Yes, I know this is all unprofessional. But if I am being professional, I am sticking my pocketbook into my briefcase. Not that my canvas Land's End attache is all that professional, but since at least 3 other people I work with use the same one, I don't care.)
I was also attempting to buy one other thing which should have been easy and wasn't. I happened to think of Silly Putty the other day. I've already forgotten what happened to make me think of it, but I decided to see if the drugstore had any when I stopped to pick up something on my way home on Wednesday. And they didn't have any. This made me more determined to find some. I will save you some time and tell you that there does not appear to be any silly putty for sale anywhere that I normally shop. It's bad enough that you can't get full size metal slinkies anymore. They have metal junior slinkies but the full size ones seem to come only in plastic. And now you can't just buy silly putty at any random toy store or drugstore. What is this world coming to? This quest will continue - I shall not permit silly putty to vanish from the face of the earth!
Finally, I did happen to see something for sale that I never expected to see ever again in my life. Quisp is back! For those of you who are too young to know about this, Quisp is a sweetened corn cereal with an alien as its mascot. When I was a kid, there was this whole big cereal war thing about Qusip vs. another cereal named Quake. I don't have any idea if there was actually any difference between them. But I was a firm devotee of Quisp. Of course, I had to buy some for nostalgia value. I am almost afraid to taste it, as I am sure it is fairly vile. But the alien is just too cute to resist. And the box has these great fake newspaper stories on the back.
Okay, I went and opened the box. I was right - it is vile sickly sweet stuff. I will probably eat it anyway, but maybe I can keep the box and transfer decent cereal into it. (Hmm, Trader Joe's ginger granola comes in a bag, not a box....)
Sunday: It Seems Like Coffee Is a Theme
I started the week with people spilling coffee around me. I finished the week by discovering that I had a large stash of coffee stained clothing.
Actually, what I did was finally get a start on going through clothing in this large grey footlocker. This is clothing that had been stored for a long time. Clothing that didn't fit when I put it in the footlocker and that I didn't want to get rid of on the grounds that it might fit again some time. But I also don't like having clothing that doesn't fit in the closet. That's just depressing, a way of not living in the here and now.
Anyway, since I had lost a lot of weight while traveling, I thought it was reasonable to see if there was anything in the footlocker which did fit now. And, actually, there was quite a lot. A couple of dresses which used to be favorites, for example. And the Evan Picone suit I bought for my very first job interviews. A whole new work wardrobe without having to deal with shopping!
However, there were also things that I managed to put away in there without somehow noticing large coffee stains on them. A blue and white striped blouse with contrasting white collar that I remember fondly. Another red dress. (I firmly believe one can never have too many red dresses.) An offwhite jacket. I will attempt to get the stains out, not expecting much success after G-d only knows how many years this stuff has been in storage.
As I bought coffee this morning at the supermarket, I resolved to be very careful never to ever spill a drop on anything I care about. It's a good thing I only drink one cup in the morning at home and I am usually still in my bathrobe while I do that.
Copyright 1998 Miriam H. Nadel
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