Captain Underpants

We were skiing in Vail, Colorado, and it was a fabulous weekend with warm temps, bluebird skies, and decent snow.  It wasn’t a dramatic crash, it was just a simple turn on a steep slope and POP!  It didn’t hurt enough to stop skiing, but at the same time it felt awful, and adrenaline whooshed into my brain and made my hands shake and my whole body seem like it wasn’t even mine.  So, I did what any reasonable person would do:  I continued to ski.  Which did not go well.  Nevertheless, I made it down, made it back home, made it to the doctor’s office, and showed up on time for surgery to get my brand spanking shiny white new Anterior Cruciate Ligament.

My leg was unbelievably, haltingly swollen.  Surely there was a mistake, I didn’t have an appointment to swap my leg for a giant watery bratwurst, and yet, here it was: shiny and pale, lumpy and foreign, and feeling like it had been through a meat grinder in the ocean.  Trying to move this thing, which was strapped into a hulking black brace with gadgets on the sides and four straps across the front, padding, stabilizers, bars and clips, was quite a feat.  I sat in bed with this monstrous appendage propped in the air on a pyramid of pillows, crutches in reach, a tray with necessities: pills, water, tea, paper, phone, computer, apples, and a minefield of charging chords.  It was a great set up until I had to get to the bathroom, in which case it became a sea of tangles and impediments that reduced me to tears until my husband would bound in and scoop me up.

And under these conditions is when my parents arrived on their white horses to lend four helping legs and hands to the helpless, reckless daughter whom they have helped so many other unfortunate times before.  They tied their animals and poured glasses of wine.  Once properly nourished, they went to work: washing and folding clothes, straightening and cleaning, making beds, necessities shopping, child carpooling, cooking, everything we do on a daily basis without ever thinking twice about it.  All under control, my husband was free to go on a business trip, and I was headed to my first physical therapy appointment.

It was a big day, a first post-surgery outing.  I pulled on a pair of black athletic pants, a pair I wear all the time, that stop loosely at the knee.  Mom opened the car door for me.  I leaned over to lift my heavy leg into the car when she said with a casual lilt, I can see your underpants, and shut the door.  As she walked around the car I thought to myself, What an odd thing to say! Who says underpants??  We made a few stops, since this was my first day out of the house, the first of which was my morning book club.

Once arrived, I sunk into a chair and elevated responsibly while we watched a video pertaining to our last read, a political treatise on the state of the nation, a brilliant nail-biter leaving you excited and terrified; a leaf in a gust.  Mom met my friends and we had a lovely visit, all sending us off with well wishes and genuine offers to help, and we hobbled out the door together.  At the car, again, I leaned over to help my leg in, slid into the seat, and mom said with the same lilt, I can see your underpants, and closed the door.  I thought, furrowing my brow, Is she trying to be funny??  She climbed in the driver’s seat and off we went, recounting key points of the meeting and no other mention of underpants.

We didn’t have time to go home and rest before physical therapy, so we stopped at a great place on the way to our final destination to have lunch.  By this time I was fading, woozy and tired, leg throbbing.  The waiter made a nice place for me to prop my foot and in we settled for a quick bite.  He seemed slightly inebriated, a huge, hairy dude with curls all over his head and beard and probably a suit of hair armor tucked under his clothes.  Maybe it wasn’t he who was slurring, maybe it was me, hearing him slurry because the meds were making me slurry.  Did I dream the underpants comments?

We moved as quickly to the car as was possible, a pace so slow even time took pity and halted.  At the car, exhausted, I lifted the impossibly laden leg up and in, and as I leaned over to do so, my mom said, I can see your underpants.  I snapped, Please stop saying that!  She just giggled and shrugged and closed the door.  As we pulled out of the parking lot we talked about the hairy waiter, the great lunch, and a bit more about book club, but not one mention of underpants.

Finally, we arrived at the soviet-like brick building just off the highway for my much anticipated appointment.  My eyes were drooping.  My knee was filling with fluid, getting tighter and tighter against the bindings of the brace.  My foot was so swollen it looked like a fat flounder jammed into a sock.  We didn’t do much for that first appointment, we bent the knee a bit, flexed the quad, and then, anticlimactically, it was time to leave.  At the car mom helped me in, but before closing the door she threw her hands onto her hips and said emphatically, Erin, I can see your underpants!  I yelled back, What are you talking about!  I felt around my waist to make sure a) my pants were still there, and b) my shirt was still there, and before I could open my mouth to argue she boomed:  Your pants are see-through!  And then she shut the door.

The moral of this story is that being straight forward and precise with your words in order to save a loved one from a potentially embarrassing or mortifying experience is always the preferred course of action.  Also, if one is over four and under eighty, do not use the word underpants; it doesn’t make contextual sense.  And finally, if someone has been unfortunate enough to slip into a pair of pants that happen to be see-through, throw subtlety out the window.  Most of us do not wish to be seen in public in transparent garments, and those who do, probably should rethink it.  Try something, such as:  Hey, your ass looks like the harvest moon, or Wow, did you borrow those pants from Miley Cyrus?, or, and this is my favorite, Honey, your pants are see-through.  

You Have Beard Like Man

There is a nail salon down the street, exactly three miles from my house in a white colonial-style strip mall, intentionally designed to look like it’s not a strip mall.  There are upscale shops, for the most part everything upper-middles need to function smoothly:  grocery store, camera shop, book retailer, ice cream parlor, toy store, Pei Wei, and a nail salon.  Having a decent mani-pedi is an imperative in a charity gala-driven town like Saint Louis, where every weekend it seems one auction fundraiser or another is aiming to overshoot their previous year’s goal by that magical ten-percent.  And so, given the abundance of open-toed shoe events, we have nail salons on every corner.

These establishments are not truly salons, which implies a certain degree of sophistication, no, they are testaments to the sheer business prowess of the resident Asian community.  The one closest to my home is primarily Vietnamese.  Some speak perfect English and remember your and your children’s names and chit chat like old friends; and some go out of their way to pretend they do not see, hear, like or understand you.  My favorite is a young, charismatic girl who dreams of breaking out of the faux pampering factory and being a teacher.  I refer everyone to her, even though she nearly ruined a perfectly good open-toed shoe charity auction fundraiser night for me.  I forgive her.  Completely.

Three of us heading to the same event decided to mani-pedi together and were lined up in a row of vibrating thrones.  The husband of one of my friends surprised us with a carafe of cocktails, which we giddily gulped and then became loud and silly, and maybe a bit inappropriate.  It was then that our fate was sealed, judgements sufficiently impaired.  My nail friend leaned in close to me, and between clicks of her gum said, You have beard like man.  The look of horror on my face let her know that, no matter what, she had me.   She sat back and smiled.  I do not have beard like man!,  I protested, instinctively covering my chin with my newly softened hand.  Hmph, come with me, and off she marched to the room of slathering and follicle ripping.  My friends were protesting, they had beards like man, as well, apparently, which we knew was ridiculous, but our confidence was clouded by contraband martinis and like lambs we were led to the waxing slaughterhouse.

I had heard of stories where your skin and dignity are stripped in a regrettable expression of vanity, but until this moment I had not counted myself among the victims.  My favorite girl told me to relax and asked me questions about my daughters and their school, to make her seem less threatening, I presume, while she stirred the hot honey pot with an extra large popsicle stick.  In seconds she had slathered my cheeks, my jawline, my chin, my upper lip, or my beard, with burning goo and ripped it off so quickly my lips stretched out and slapped back together, jiggling cartoonishly.  My skin was in shock.  It tingled and buzzed, heat outlining the abused area, my heartbeat coursing through it.  Stunned, I emerged from wax room one to be met by my friends.  With similar expressions, and shiny red skin beards, we laughed because there was nothing else that could be done.

My husband found this mildly amusing, another melodramatic incident where I was forced to suffer publicly.  When he inspected the aftermath, tears rolling down my cheeks, he wondered aloud with incredulity, Why didn’t you just say, no??  I decided to not speak to him for a while.

This particular night was a hot one.  Our event was in an historic bowling alley upstairs in an old building, a small space with lots of overhead lighting, wooden everything, and no air conditioning.  It was still well above ninety degrees when my husband opened the door for me, my poor cheeks throbbing in the summer humidity and all I could do was pray the lighting was dim.  At the top of the stairs, the bright fluorescents bore down, like stepping into a tanning bed.  Vampiric desperation scurried me to the darker side of the bar where I sunk under my husband’s silhouette, rolling a cold beer bottle along  my roasted cheeks, which immediately began to itch.

A few passers-by stopped to say hello and it went something like this:  So nice to see you!  You, too!  How are you?  Great, I just had my Beard Like Man waxed and I’m in excruciating pain, how are you?  Over and over.  That I looked like an oily fifteen year old boy with raging hormones was certainly embarrassing, but feeling the need to explain my shocking appearance to acquaintances was flirting with the too-much-information boundary rule.  I violate that one a lot.

One of my fellow-denuded friends had the sense not to show, an option that never even crossed my mind.  But salvation arrived with the other, who dragged me from my protected perch under my husband’s shadow and into the ladies room.  What soon became apparent to me is that when you are not alone in suffering it becomes much more tolerable, heroic even, and the ability to laugh in the throws of calamity can assuage a whole lot of discomfort.  We stared into the images in front of us, red inflamed bumps dotting swaths of shiny pink rice paper, and we laughed.  As more entered the ladies room, we recounted our story, which grew more dramatic and harrowing with each retelling.  We had drinks brought to us and continued with our ladies room monologues for a long time, until an ally popped in to say our husbands had been looking for us.  We said good bye to our not-as-traumatic-as-they-were visages and headed into the sea of charity goers with newfound acceptance, having brought self deprecation to a new level.

The moral of this story is threefold.  One, when someone sells you something on a blatantly false premise, and your ego suffers greatly for it, do not expect sympathy from your husband.  Two, if you find yourself in a challenging position, find a good friend who will laugh with you.  And lastly, when someone with hot wax at their immediate disposal says You have beard like man, just say NO.

Technical Difficulties

It has been a long time since I have written.  Actually that’s not quite true; I write all the time.  It has been a long time since I have posted a new anecdote, or a string of unintentionally offensive observations, or a self-deprecating reminiscence.  There are several drafts in the holding pen on this site, but I haven’t the heart to finish them, and for very good reasons.  If you’ve ever baked a cake from scratch, you understand the amount of thought, time and effort that goes into it.  The same is the case with writing.  First, an idea pops into your head, you craft your story, you sift and mix words furiously before the inspiration disappears into the ether, and then you go back and edit, if you have time to do so before being called to the carpool line.  Very similar, these two endeavors.  When a cake is finished, it’s beauty and deliciousness on full display, through the nose and palette and into the brain, spreading joy to all ages, one sweet tooth at a time, and a feeling of triumph floods over you.  When you polish a piece of writing, and watch a reader relish your labor of love, the same wash of endorphins cleanses the self doubt that plagues most writers, and perhaps bakers, and you feel new shoots of creativity sprouting from your scalp like wild onions.  It’s mildly addictive.

Now imagine that your cake tastes like cardboard because you were distracted by some sinister happenstance and you forgot, rhythm having been interrupted, to add the sugar.  It’s ruined.  You cannot go back and fix it.  You are left to swear and dump the bland mess into the trash, pan included because it must be punished for its compicitness (autocorrect tells me this is not a real word, but I like it and it is working for me, so complicitness it is).  And a voice riding high on disappointment leaps inside your ear and whispers, I will never bake, again.  So it is when you complete something truly extraordinary only to click Publish and have most of it disappear, never to be seen again aside from bits and dots that flash in your mind, cruelly, recent flashbacks, dream-like remembrances that you try to grab ahold of only for them to slip away, always just out of reach…

It sounds like a nightmare, I know, because it is, and it is exactly what has happened the past several times I have sat at my dining room table tapping on a silver metal thing with a glowing apple on it, attempting to entertain family, friends, strangers, and myself, and ending helplessly in futility.  All those gorgeous run-on sentences lost…forever.  So many spam bots deprived of yet another blog posting to hound with incoherent pleas for URL’s and such.  So many laughs that will never have been born, their breaths ripped right out from under them, just as they were forming.  I know what you’re thinking.  You are wondering why on earth I would repeat the same mistake over and over when it grieves me so, the suffering so palpable that the voice would declare with confidence and triumph, I will never write, again.  In fact, would you believe that as I type presently I am playing roulette, exchanging glances between the Save and Publish buttons, wondering if either will dare betray my trust?

It is impossible to know whether or not technical difficulties are personal or simply things that happen.  I suppose a computer could develop a passive-aggressive personality disorder and play it out in subtle and irregular acts of sabotage, if computers are so darned smart they would be able to do exactly that and at the same time make it seem perfectly irrational, and impossible, for such a crazy proposition to have any bit of legitimacy.  If I were a computer regularly abusing my tapper for kicks, eating the fruits of their labor would be a good way to torment them.  I’m not suggesting that computers are conspiring against us, merely stating that if they figured out a way to communicate any sort of displeasure, this would be the perfect way to express it.  Like when you go away for a long weekend and leave behind only bowls of dry food and water for your cat, and it poops on your pillow.

So, to cover my bases before I hit the blue rectangle at the bottom right of this page, I say this:

To my little frienemy, temperamental fruit of the rose family who opens and closes at my will, forgive me for my indiscretions.  However I have neglected you, improperly fed and cared for you, I am profoundly sorry, especially for the powdered sugar donut crumbs that grow stale between your perfect keys, and for the smudges and fingerprints on your wide flat face, and the encrusted dust that can be seen but not reached in all of your edges.  I promise to be a better partner and caretaker.  I implore you, reward my forthcoming diligence and attention with rapprochement, with an end to the technical difficulties, the glitches and freezes, the buffering, and especially, the lost words.  We once worked well together, harmoniously, you and me, like butter and sugar, partners in crime and taste.  Let us go back to the days of unicorns and rainbows.  Sincerely lovingly, Me.

Oh, and, just in case I am the sole instrument of destruction responsible for all of my computer woes, I have just copied and pasted this into Word.