What I’m Thankful For or For What It Is I Am Thankful

Earlier today, I was at the Phoenix International Airport. Layover. It was hell finding a direct flight out of Los Angeles. Anyway, I was sitting at the gate with a Vanity Fair magazine opened across my chest, a Starbucks holiday cup in one hand, and my phone open to Instagram in the other. I was laughing uproariously, tears welling in my eyes, the magazine threatening to slide to the floor, and the coffee sloshing over the sides of the cup. I was shaking with laughter at Instagram; complete, unadulterated delight. Ina Garten had posted a positively absurd photo of a gigantic gleaming hot dog slathered in mustard and it killed me. It absolutely slayed me. Why did it slay me? Just look at it! Look at that picture of a gigantic hot dog and tell me it’s not hilarious. Bonus: scroll through the comments and find the one posted by happylakegrandma and then proceed to not be disappointed. Nay, read all the comments! There are so many layers to this post being amazing! Ina is my queen but this photo is too much. Tony had gone to the bathroom and when he came back, I could only show my phone in order to convey why I was laughing so hard. Motioning to my array of goodies and entertainment he said, “Just look at you.” I said, “I know. This is who I am.”

This Thanksgiving, at a particularly transitional time in my life, I am thankful for all the things that keep me tethered to who I am.*

When I first got to LA (a whole month and a half ago), I was having a conversation with a friend who has also made his way to the west coast from Ohio. He said, “If your experience is anything like mine, you’re about to feel more Midwestern [but also] more connected to your Midwestern-ness than ever.” I imagined the space station Midwestern-Ness, careening around the earth in orbit; and me on a space walk, attached by nothing more than an umbilical cable, my space-suited appendages floating in anti-gravity, the craft Midwestern-Ness barely visible in the distance but assuredly still attached to me. I’ve never been sure of how to define “Midwestern” as it applies to me. It always felt like a label that was foisted upon me out of geographic convenience, but not necessarily true from a cultural standpoint. I might be making this up, but I swear my grade school Social Studies classes never talked about Ohio being solidly “the Midwest.” If you don’t know, Akron, Ohio is not rural (as in, farmland) at all. This isn’t to assume that Midwestern necessarily means rural, but to most people, that’s exactly what it means. Akron is quite eastward in the state, actually, not all that far from the hilly and wooded Pennsylvania state line. The area in which I predominantly grew up is in the Cuyahoga River Valley, making my childhood one of winding, steep roads, lush trees, peaceful creeks, and plenty of unique wildlife. I don’t like going outside, so I saw all of this through car windows. But this is all to say: I can’t stress how not rural it is.

In addition to the nature, though, it also boasts a thriving population, lots of concrete and railroad tracks, and the decrepit remains of rubber factories. You can view these by looking at a Black Keys album cover or a Cleveland Cavaliers pump-up video. In a pinch, that burnt out shoe factory in Jumanji is pretty close, too. It’s solidly Rust Belt, both because of its one-time monopoly on the rubber industry, as well as its residents having what I call the Rust Belt Chip On the Shoulder. That’s when your first instinct is to be defensive and to respond with some variation of, “Hey! You don’t know me!” (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then congratulations, you’re a bigger person than me, but that doesn’t make you better than me, ok?) ((See, that was an example of another way you might suffer from Rust Belt Chip On the Shoulder: deciding that you are not better than me.)) (((The third defining factor of Rust Belt Chip On the Shoulder is not wanting to be told what to do, i.e., “Don’t tell me what to do!”)))**

When I moved to Chicago, one of the first things someone said to me was, “…And to move here from such a small town in Ohio? My god, you must be so scared in such a big city.” A resounding angels’ chorus of You Don’t Know Me’s filled my head in that moment, as it always does when someone thinks they know me or where I come from. This is only tangentially related, but in college I was working a new student program and a woman (a new student’s mother) approached me and had some questions. We got to talking and she said she was from [redacted Coastal Elite city]. I said that was cool and that I was from “around here.” She then looked me up and down–head to toe and back up again, the fire of boho- yuppie scrutiny in her eyes–and said, “I know.” In other words, she had sensed my Midwestern-ness. I also Didn’tGAF that whole summer about ways to make my orientation t-shirt look stylish and I didn’t have a haircut yet. But all the same! It is always shocking when other people are disgusted by or worried about their perception of my Midwestern-ness. This happens all the time. Do you see why the Rust Belt Chip On the Shoulder is a thing?

My meandering affirmation brings me to this: I am thankful for moments where I can read Vanity Fair, because the interest in the magazine is something my mom and I have always shared, and her 6-year-running housewarming gift to me is my subscription. I am thankful for a sense of humor that allows me to fucking lose my miiiiind in public when I see a very fancy lady post an egregiously phallic photo of a hot dog. I am thankful for every new person I’ve met who has asked “Which one is Ohio? I don’t know any of the ones in the middle.” I am thankful to be tethered to a thing I never thought I was tethered to in the first place. I am thankful to be a 21st century person who still earnestly says, “You don’t know me!” I am thankful to have seen Lady Bird, loved it, but booed quietly when the titular character declared that Sacramento is the Midwest of California, in that it’s where your soul dies. I am thankful to not live in the Midwest anymore. I am thankful to be allowed to go back.

 

 

*To review, the things that “keep me tethered to who I am” was: 1. A small coffee 2. An article about Margaret Trudeau in which she talked openly about taking peyote before a state dinner and 3. A picture of a hot dog. I am a woman of simple tastes.

**This is not the correct usage of parentheses, don’t use them this way. 

 

Eavesdropping

The other day I saw a former child star at a coffee shop. He happens to be one of the stars of my favorite 90s sports franchise, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a split second of blind fan girl excitement. IT’S HIM blinked the neon sign in my brain, all but sending out the signal to raise my arm and point at him directly. He was there with a writing partner, though, sussing out handwritten notes and converting them into a screenplay. I watched as they spread out their legal pads, crossed through ideas with ink, rearranged plot points, pitched new ones. At one point, the former child star went back into the coffee shop, and when he reemerged he exclaimed, “I got it! I got it. It just came to me. In this scene, [female character name] should…not want to die.” His writing partner nodded his head emphatically, typing this new great idea into their outline. “Yes, yes, that is exactly what needs to happen,” he said. Now I can’t claim to know the specific nuances of their screenplay, nor can I speak for the female character who might be more valuable for realizing she maybe doesn’t want to die, but I can say this: everybody is just trying to make it in this town. Every last person. Even people who had the privilege of appearing in not one, not two, but THREE 90s sports franchise films are still trying to make it. Maybe that should be a little depressing, all these years he’s been working and hustling, and he’s still the guy with crumpled up legal pad notes to himself. But aren’t we all this person? Here are some notes from my notebook about a project I want to start writing:

  • like a really dark Christmas in Connecticut
  • she killed a guy? Not sure how that would work
  • **should absolutely eat trash in her spare time (what about literal trash? Does she have pica?) NOTE: there are in fact multiple stars next to this idea in my notes

I write a lot of notes to myself. They are usually not this coherent (yeah, that’s right, this coherent). So solidarity, former child star. Simpatico. Hate to break it to you, but you and I? We’re in the same boat.

(One last thing, Christmas Eavesdropping, how do we feel about this? Would you watch that? I’ll write it down, come back to it.)

I stopped writing a cover letter to tell this story

Baked beans are disgusting.

I think the flavor profile is acceptable and the smell is nice. But I attended one too many barbecues as a kid in which a big old aluminum tray of baked beans sat out in the sun, gathering weird liquid at the bottom, developing a matte finish in the hot Ohio sun, turning from alleged food to mush before my very eyes. When I see food remnants caught in the kitchen drain now, as a baggage-free totally undamaged adult, and I see those soggy chunks of dinner that can only be tackled with a paper towel, I think, “Man, this reminds me of baked beans in its inherent grossness.” Don’t get me started on adding hot dogs to baked beans. The number of child lunatics I encountered with baked bean juice crusted to their lips, dirt under their nails, a demonic craze in their eyes, and exclaiming “Beanie Weinies! More Beanie Weinies!” was just enough to make me sick.

When I was in high school I had a huge crush on a guy whose feelings towards me could best be described as the action of patting someone on the head. His graduation party happened to be the same night that I had to work (at an ice creamery), which was not unusual in those days. I rolled into a lot of graduation parties with ice cream kneaded into my arm hair, my fudgey hand prints outlined on my back pockets. I hugged a lot of moms with my Superman blue-pink-yellow arms just inches from their Eddie Bauer pullovers. The same can be said of this particular night. There’s only so much you can do when you’re already running late and a bag of hot dairy trash tipped over on you while putting it in the dumpster.

So I rolled in late and all my friends were already drinking around a bonfire, and they greeted me with like a half-hearted “meh.” You know why? Because I was a COOL GIRL and I demanded literally nothing of any of my male friends and it has taken me years and years to understand that I should have been demanding a lot more the whole time. Anyway. I went inside to say hello to the parents, because that’s what you do when you’re in high school and you want adults to think that you, too, are an adult. The crush in question was still outside; I wasn’t even sure if he saw me come in. (Again, I asked for nothing of anyone.) But when I greeted his mom, she apologized for having put all the food away already. She stopped and said, “You know what? I know exactly what I can warm up for you. They’re kind of my specialty.” That’s when she pulled a gallon of baked beans out of the fridge and spooned them out onto a styrofoam plate.

My mouth filled with saliva, the kind the kind your body makes in preparation of barfing. I had to look away. I had to breathe through my mouth. I couldn’t be near it, and yet, I also had to eat it. I had to eat it with a god damn smile on my face and make yummy noises. No you didn’t!!! you are saying. Well, yes I did. When you’re standing in a very nice house, and you’re hyper-aware of strongly you smell like sprinkles and soiled milk, and you just want people to finally figure out how great you are, you gratefully accept a plate of food that gives you nightmares.

I ate every last bean outside in the dark and dreamt about going to college.

 

My Own Customized NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month! The goal is to write every single day in the month of November, and by the time the month ends, you should have 50,000 words, the minimum amount for a piece to be considered a novel. The purpose of the exercise is to write often and without filters. In other words, just get it on the page. In order to hit 50k words by the end of the month, you would have to write 1,667 words every day. That’s a lot of words! Which is why I customized this challenge and gave myself a 600 word a day challenge. In addition, my project will not culminate in one linked story; rather, my goal is to create 30 unique characters or perspectives (basically monologues) because that sounded like more fun to me. It’s also a fun and fresh way for me to document what I’m experiencing on a daily basis without being head-down in my diary.

This was my Day 1 (November 1) entry. Remember, this is a first and ONLY draft, i.e., no editing or re-reading or any revising was done. I wrote this during a job application break.

“The Interview” (613 words)

Here’s the thing about why you have to hire me: I know I don’t look good on paper, I get that, the credentials are lean. But the thing about why you have to hire me is I can fill in all areas that you never thought you’d needed filling in. Does that make sense? I’m a gap filler. Need someone who is going to reliably make coffee when it runs out? That’s me. Need someone who will gladly (and I mean, gladly) carry old computers out to a dumpster? I can do that, too, and with no sweat about it. I will happily tape loose cords down to the floor. I am not above that. And here’s the thing about your company. I feel pretty sure it’s chock-a-block full of young, arrogant employees, there to prove to you how very dedicated they are to the work, how innovative they are, how they’re really going to make something of their time here. How they are going to reinvent the goddamn wheel! That’s not what I aim to do. I aim to look you in the eye and tell you the wheel is already working just great. I am here to make minimal alterations to the wheel. What you will get out of this is a sense that you’re doing it all perfect already, and that things seem to be just a hair tidier around here. That’s what I can offer you. Everybody needs a thing, and my thing is staying out of the way by being in the way. Do you get that? Can you picture it? Let me make myself crystal clear:I will not make waves. I will not question you. But I will refill soap dispensers. I will help you carry coolers at a work picnic. My greatest asset is my ability to do. I’ve been like this my whole life. I can do the things you need help doing, or better yet, the things you simply don’t want to do. Am I a bottomfeeder? I think that language is a little harsh but yeah, maybe I am. But this will always work out in your favor, do you see what I’m saying? There is no way this can go poorly for you.

Now I was asked to leave my previous job, yes, I was removed from the position. There is nothing for you to be worried about, though. That was simply a matter of opinion, it’s subjective, right? I think it is, and I can tell by the way you’re looking at me that you agree. You agree, don’t you? One man’s trash and all that? They felt that I was putting too much of myself into these side tasks, but as far as I’m concerned, why should those be called “side tasks” ? We need these things to smoothly operate day-to-day. You know, a lot of people take it for granted, but I can tell you, people start to get cranky when there’s no fresh coffee brewed. When there’s no paper towels. When there’s a stack of busted keyboards out in plain sight. It’s unprofessional, is what it is! I enforce professionalism, it’s my specialty. So you have to ask yourself, do you want a professional or not? Do you want to work in a professional office or do you want to work in an unprofessional office? Do you want a person who will consistently maintain the stasis you need to get shit done around here? I think the answer is obvious. And the choice is obvious. I’ll be awaiting your call, though I can anticipate now that you won’t need very long to decide.