Thursday, February 25, 2010

Scout's Tennis Ball

This was a dog tennis ball:

Why don't tennis balls made for dogs last as long as regular tennis balls?

Monday, February 22, 2010

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

A few days ago I found out that a blog post I wrote about a year ago had been discovered by the person I wrote about. Why? Because I actually used the person's real first and last names. That was a colossal mistake. Let this be a lesson to ye all. 

I'm actually quite embarrassed about this after having been given a stern talking to by Peter for putting the names of his family members on this web site. I had systematically gone through and changed all the names to extremely long and difficult to cull together strings of "Peter's sister's husband's children from his first wife" and "Peter's brother's wife's sister." I guess I missed that particular blog post during my slash-and-burn session. I've gone through and reworded things so that it's more generic and not quite so caustic.

The thing is that blog posts are written quite off-the-cuff and so posts get written quickly (and sometimes in an emotional rant) without input from editors...SOME people find that trait charming and others find that they would rather lie down for a colonoscopy than read some stupid girl's trite internal monologue. 

Suffice it to say that I received a ton of comments that I did not post--mostly because it ranged from, "I knew those guys in high school and they are SO NICE. You need to GET OVER IT" to "God, that guy is still SUCH an ASSHOLE." None of the comments really added more to the conversation and it actually just kind of regressed people back to junior high. 

I mean, we're all supposed to be adults now. In fact, we're all middle-aged! Wow, how did THAT happen? 

The "These guys are nice to me" comments made me laugh because people are so narcissistic that they think that the only thing that matters is their own experience. Yes, I'm sure SOMEONE loved John Wayne Gacy and thinks he was TERRIFIC. But is that what I was talking about? I mean, if I read that some kid I knew in high school acted like a bully, no matter how well I knew the kid, it's still within the realm of human behavior. This is just a pet peeve because I hate that kind of comment. It's ignorant. 

We all did stupid things when we were young. We all did extremely hurtful things to people that we never thought twice about. I'm sure that Tom from high school could rant on a blog about how once he wrote me a love note and I threw it in the trash in front of all my friends. I had my reasons, among them, when he gave me the note I told him, "I DO NOT want it," and handed it back to him four times. He thought my being a generally nice person who did not want to treat him like an outcast like everyone else was (since I understood what that felt like first-hand) repaid me in dividends I did not want. Boy, I never made THAT mistake again. 

If he had used my real name, I would have written:

You know Tom, I'm really sorry that I did that and you're quite right to post anything you want on your blog, but can you please take down the part with my last name on it because I really don't want this rant to show up first on Google when I go for a job interview and my potential boss types in my name.

It's embarrassing to go back into your childhood and see all the crap that you once did or said and I'm glad you could make a funny story out of it so people on the internet could laugh about it. In fact, it's great that we can ALL laugh about every stupid thing we used to think was so insanely important and The. End. Of. The. FUCKING. World. when it wasn't. Aren't you glad you're not 14 anymore?

If I had gotten an email like that, I would have totally dug it. And I would have posted it. AND opened it up for comments.

I think the rant I wrote wasn't really about some jerk in junior high, but it was about the whole oppressive nature of the elementary school I attended. It was all uniforms, "boys-on-one-side, girls-on-another" and "stand in line" and "open your books" and "repeat after me." Of course, that, along with the whole fire and brimstone and Jesus will send you to the devil thing. 

In elementary school, when I read the Bible, I couldn't understand it. It was so confusing being a non-Catholic in a building full of Catholics who genuinely believed that they were going to heaven just because a few drops of water fell on their foreheads as infants regardless of how callously and cruelly they acted in life. We studied the Bible in school, but it was just pretty words on a page. In their day-to-day life, the teachings of Jesus were just fairy tales and their actions were, let's just say, not full of Christ-love.  

After junior high I entered high school and the experience was like Dorothy entering Oz. Black-and-white morphed into Technicolor. I checked out of elementary school and never came back. 

In high school, the teachers wore jeans and you could call some of them by their first names. They were passionate and supportive. There was no lines and girls and boys were all mixed together. Everyone in school was there to LEARN and even as a teenager, a lot of the kids were at the top of their game. Some were dancing at the American Ballet Theatre or taking lessons at Juilliard on weekends or singing opera on Broadway when they weren't at a science lab pursuing research for their prize-winning Westinghouse project. The craziest part about this school was that the door was wide open. No one was forcing you to be in class. If you wanted to cut class, you just walked out that door. Greenwich Village was just a few blocks away, so it was pretty damned tempting. 

But if you wanted to read To the Lighthouse as a sophomore like I did, even though the whole Virginia Woolf modernist psychologically deep philosophical story with no plot whatsoever is really WAY over your head at that age, your teacher will take you by the hand and guide you through it because if you NEED TO read Virginia Woolf before you're ready, then BY GOD, WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER. And yes, it was WAY over my head and I didn't understand it at all, but when I read it now, as an adult, Mr. Greenburg's kindness makes me want to cry and that kindness, internet? That is SO VERY To the Lighthouse. In fact, that kindness is the very reason why To the Lighthouse EXISTS. 

My elementary school experience became a sort of thing that I made fun of and told people about at cocktail parties. I would tell people about that time a girl in my class accused my race of taking over everything and wanting all the jobs, and my punch line was, "Yeah, like I wanted to become a checker at the Silver Barns grocery store." 

I did not maintain one friendship out of that group of kids. I left that world behind. I saw my ex-classmates as people who were stuck in that world and I wanted OUT. 

It was meeting Peter that helped me feel differently about this because he grew up Italian-Catholic in the Bronx and came from that world of Catholic school--he was an ALTAR boy, if you can believe it. He also grew up feeling different from all the kids he went to school with and he was one of them. He became vegetarian and his friends did not get it, they're still trying to convince him to eat a Big Mac. When Peter quit his promising job at CBS to go on tour with his band, they were the first to attend his gigs and buy his band's CDs. When Peter came back home flat broke after the band naively spent ALL of their six-figure signing bonus on recording their album, his friends took him out and paid. 

I always felt that I had such a difficult time because of my race and perhaps that wasn't fair. Yes, kids made fun of me for my funny lunches and the shape of my eyes, but I really could have given as good as I got instead of retreating. I mean, IRISH people making fun of immigrants and the way we look and talk? C'mon! And at least Chinese people are known to be smart in pop culture, unlike Italians. I could have opened up a dialogue but I didn't. And perhaps I missed out on something there. And perhaps I didn't. We'll never know. 

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sent From Heaven

The past few days I've been mulling over the plot of an epistolary novel that I'm working on and I've been thinking a lot about my grandfather because one of the characters is inspired by him. For the past few weeks, I've been thinking about scenes from my childhood with him. 

My grandfather, who I called Akong, was the only doctor in a very small, rural part of Japan and his patients were mostly the older rice farmers. Some of them had spent so much of their lives hunched over their fields that they were permanently hunched over and could no longer stand upright. And yet, they were always quick to smile whenever they saw me. 

Akong's office always smelled like iodine and he had a leather examining table that had felt the weight of everyone in town. There was such a sense of security growing up in his house because whenever something ailed me, I knew that he would have all the answers. 

Akong earned his license during a time when a Taiwanese medical student had to learn Japanese and German because the professors were Japanese and the textbooks were written in German. He also spoke Russian, Mandarin Chinese, a bit of French, and since my great-grandfather understood that if his children spoke English, they would be able to communicate in any part of the world, he hired an English tutor (a real English tutor from England) for all of his children. This would explain why I have relatives who live all over the planet, including several Parisiennes and a South African uncle. 

My sister inherited his love of languages. She speaks French, Mandarin, Taiwanese, English, and Swahili fluently. 

My mother told me this story which is a scene in my novel. She said that whenever he would finish with a patient, he would come into the kitchen (his office was at the front of the house) and ask her what color she dressed me in that morning as he washed his hands by the sink below the window. And then he would search for me in the schoolyard. She said that he was always so happy to spot me and he would tell her whatever it was I was doing. Hearing my mother tell this story always made me feel so cherished. 

Akong died the day after the Chinese New Year in his sleep. He had been in good spirits because his entire family in Taiwan had visited for the holiday. He couldn't stomach the rich foods and went to bed early. The next morning, my aunt came in to check up on him and he told her to go back to bed because he was still tired. When she returned, he was gone. He was 94 years old.

When I heard the news, I thought how strange it was that I had been thinking about my grandfather so much the last few days. And then I realized that for the very first time, I was living on this earth without him. It was difficult to grasp the concept. Because he lived so far away, I told myself that I could pretend that he was still there on the other side of the world. But even as I told myself that, I knew that it would be impossible. I feel as if a part of me has become a bit untethered. Perhaps that's what we all go through and we keep getting untethered until it is time for us to leave the earth. 

I asked Peter, who lost his father four years ago, how long he mourned for his father. 

"I'm not sure how long it lasts. I might mourn him for the rest of my life," he said.

When I called my father, he told me that when he was young, his mother had taken him to an oracle of some sort and she had told them that my grandfather was a god who had been sent back down to earth. 

My father said that at the time, he didn't quite believe it, but hearing about Akong's amazingly peaceful death, he was reminded of this and thought that perhaps it was true. 

Akong was such a kind man and a gentle person. While he practiced medicine he saved countless lives and genuinely took care of his patients. He was a brother to eight sisters and truly loved his wife, so when he birthed babies, he understood that this took time and never rushed the process. Years later, women would approach my mother and tell her how lucky they were to have had him as their doctor. 

He and my grandmother taught me what love could be when you found the right person. Every morning, he would bring my grandmother a hot towel as she was waking up so that she could wash her face. Witnessing this relationship gave me the faith not to settle and to search for the right man for me. 

Akong was a lucky man. Unfortunate things did happen in his life. He lost his hearing in one of his ears as a child when an uncle clubbed him on the side of his face. He lost out on his father's medical practice when he had been sent to mainland China during the second world war. Later, he would have to lead his young family aboard a smuggler's ship and brave the pirate-infested seas to return home so that his children and grandchildren would not have to live in Communist China. He borrowed money on some very bad terms from an old friend which ruined their friendship. He underwent major surgery, I think it was an appendectomy, without anesthesia because the surgeon, ignorant of Akong's identity, didn't want to waste anesthesia on a patient who wouldn't be able to afford it. Imagine his surprise when my great-grandmother came to visit her son in her mink coat and imported European fashions. I always picture this surgeon quaking in his shoes once he found out that my great-grandfather was a member of the Taiwanese parliament. 

Akong was lucky because he was born the eldest son in a wealthy and generous household. He was beloved by his family. He had a father who valued intelligence and encouraged Akong to study, and study he did, for his favorite story of his schooling was that he never scored lower than a 96 percent on a mathematics examination. 

His eight sisters filled the house with music on the piano my great-grandfather had bought for them (at a time when a piano cost as much as four houses). Akong was able to work in a profession he loved. After failing his hearing test three times, he valiantly strived to take it again and was rewarded with a broken machine and a lax administrator to become the doctor he always wanted to be, a profession that suited him. 

Later, he married my grandmother, a beautiful woman who was the love of his life, and they were together for more than five decades. They had two sons and two daughters.

Then, during a time when most men were considering retirement, Akong embarked on another adventure, and that was moving to Japan to take up residence as the town doctor in a small village. He was able to invest wisely in this new country and that's where he made his own fortune. 

It's almost impossible to fathom the world Akong was born into during the early part of the twentieth century. He loved technology, so this was an exciting century for him to live through. He was an avid photographer who fashioned a darkroom out of my father's childhood bathroom. Towards the end of his life, he was converting all his files into digital format and Akong was on his computer every day answering emails from his children and grandchildren.

I know that Akong was afraid of death. I think that's partly the reason he was so careful about his health. And as a doctor, he always monitored himself carefully. His own father died in early middle age of a heart attack while hiking in the mountains. I'm glad that his last moments were in his comfortable bed with his family by his side. 

When my father told me the story about the oracle, it does make sense to me. Perhaps Akong was a god sent back down from the heavens. And now he has returned home. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My Brother Has One of You

For Valentine's Day, we decided to go up to Kingston, NY to look at a Roadtrek RV. Yup, I'm interested and Peter was dragged along so that he could convince me that these were a TERRIBLE idea. I bribed him by enticing him with a trip to The Apple Pie Bakery at the Culinary Institute at Hyde Park. 

All week Peter kept asking me to call the place to MAKE SURE THAT THEY'RE OPEN SUNDAY. I looked on their website and it said that it was closed on Monday for President's Day, but no mention about Sunday, so I assumed they were open. 

When we drove up to the place, there were hardly any cars in the parking lot, which kind of made me nervous, but I was still hopeful...I'm an optimist (or maybe simply delusional). When we reached the door and it was LOCKED, Peter was s'mad.

"I told you TO CALL THEM!" Peter said.

"Yeah, uhm. I guess when you said, 'Make sure that they're open on Sunday,' I just went to the website and it didn't say that they were closed THIS Sunday--it didn't occur to me to check their hours because it's a bakery--why would a bakery close on Sunday?"

"It's not a bakery, it's a SCHOOL and SCHOOLS ARE NOT OPEN ON SUNDAYS."

Apparently, this turned out to be true.

Wow, this was turning out to be the most terrible Valentine's Day ever.

Fortunately, we had discovered another great bakery, Bread Alone, in Rhinebeck last summer so we headed on over there. It was super-packed, but it was OPEN! Yay! 

When I ordered my food, the cashier asked me for my name. Here's the conundrum that I face whenever restaurants ask for a name--I have such a strange Taiwanese name that it always throws people off. Most of the time I use Peter's name, but this time I chanced it and told her my name. 

She smiled and told me that it was a pretty name, so of course, I thanked her. And then she said:

"My brother's girlfriend has a name that sounds like yours. I love her, she's so cute. And my brother's learning her language. It's Korean or Japanese, I can't remember which one."

That was sort of strange. My sister speaks Swahili. I know which African language she learned. I'm not telling someone,"Oh, Swahili or Bantu, one of those..."  

I mean, she can't be bothered to learn what country her brother's girlfriend is from? What kind of person is she? 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I was IMing with my friend Andrew, who is one of the funniest people I've ever met. He can make me laugh just be saying one word. (The word is HUUUUUUUGE--it's not the word, but the way he says it--he's mocking someone we used to know in college and it's DEAD-ON)

When we talk, we tend to come up with our own phrases and today, he wrote that he lost 23 pounds! And afterwards, he said, "I am SO Valerie-ing!" 

So funny! I'm going to start using that phrase for weight loss--such as:

"In order to Valerie, I had to stop eating carbs."

"I'm gong to eat this cheesecake now, but I'm really REALLY going to start my Valerie tomorrow."

"I got s'Kirstie that I totally had to do some serious Valerie-ing."

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

You Can Go Purell Your Iphone Now

It's no secret that I am severely paranoid about germs. I hate shaking hands with people, I hate touching doorknobs, I hate touching shopping carts, I mean, I'm not Howie Mandel-crazy, but I'm crazy enough that it can annoy people around me. 

The other day, we had trouble with our cable service. Our phones kept dropping calls and the internet was constantly not connecting to whatever it is it's supposed to connect to so I called the people over at Cablevision, who, by the way, are a bunch of budonkadonk-heads.

The first time I made an appointment, they never showed up. When I called the next morning, their records said that the guys fulfilled the appointment. Hmmmm... Fine, whatever, so I set up another appointment between 2pm and 5pm the next day. 5pm came and went and when I called, they said that the guy was running late and would be here by 10pm. Then 10pm came and went--soooooo the long and the short of it was that FINALLY by the NEXT day, one of their guys miraculously found his way to our house. 

He fixed some stuff and replaced some wires and kind of chuckled when he asked me to check the modem for some stuff that I was apparently not checking the modem for because I was looking at THE ROUTER the whole time, which apparently is an entirely different thing altogether.

Peter called when the guy was almost done and the guy asked to speak to him (since Peter's the only person in this house who actually knows the difference between a router and a modem). I reluctantly handed him my iphone because he's a stranger and carries germs and I hold that thing to my face! But I didn't want to appear rude so I gave it to him. After he finished talking to Peter, I took the iphone back and Peter said:

"Okay, everything seems to be working okay right now. I'll be home in a few minutes. YOU CAN GO PURELL YOUR IPHONE NOW."

Friday, February 05, 2010

Nine Stories

The day I met Peter, I suggested that he read Nine Stories. I was obsessed with Salinger at that time and I was writing short stories. His were just so perfect. Each one just hits you right in the heart and it was my barometer for the guys I was dating. If you didn't understand Salinger, I was all, "I think it's about time we start seeing other people."

The stories in that collection are deep without being sentimental, powerful without whacking you over the head, funny and meaningful.  

Little did I know that just that day, Peter said to himself, "I don't think I'm going to date a girl until I find one who recommends a book to me."





My guess is all of the above.

Peter picked up the book at Borders the next day. And we're still together twelve point five years later. 

Thanks Jerome David. Rest in peace.  

Monday, February 01, 2010

He Must Really Love Her

I was brought up by people who feel that romantic gestures are phony. In fact, the thinking is that the couple who is at your party who can't keep their hands off each other, making out in the corner, winking at each other all evening? They're the ones who are MOST LIKELY to be on the brink of divorce.

In my experience of observing people, I find that the most fragile relationships tend to put on a big show of affection around others.

When it comes to romantic gestures, Peter puts up a giant red circle with the slash across it. It's not that he's uncomfortable with them, he doesn't put any effort into it. He doesn't value it.

That's okay about 99 percent of the time, but it kind of went really wrong the day he proposed to me.

First of all, I had warned him that it was a HORRIBLE IDEA to propose at a restaurant or at a ball game. Why? Because you are subjecting people, in fact, STRANGERS, to your intimate moment--and I don't want my entree being held up because of some stupid couple who are probably going to be divorced in 7 years, anyway.

Peter planned a 30th birthday party for me and invited all of our closest friends. Unfortunately, a lot of my closest friends couldn't even come to the event due to circumstances out of their control. So that should have been a clue to him that maybe proposing at that party was NOT A GOOD IDEA.

Unfortunately, when men get it in their head to do something, it's difficult for them to see those signs.

A friend of mine knew her husband was going to propose to her one horrible night when mosquitos were eating her alive and they were sweatily trudging along a hiking path in Vermont. He kept bringing up their FUTURE and she kept changing the subject and trying to get him to take the hint of NOT NOW!! I'M NOT IN THE MOOD FOR A PROPOSAL RIGHT NOW WHEN I AM CRANKY and SWEATY!!

Unfortunately, he just kept plowing ahead and he insisted. When she relayed the story to me, she told me she said yes, of course, but she was a bit bummed out that he didn't take the hint.

My advice to guys out there? Girls dream of the moment they are proposed to so try to make it a sweet, memorable moment. And if she's giving you signs that she's not into it, or it's a bad time, do it another time.

My fantasy proposal goes like this: A beautiful walk in Vermont in autumn when the trees are all turning and gorgeous and my boyfriend takes me to a scenic spot and gets on one knee...(notice that there aren't any other people in this scenario?)

So the afternoon of the party, a party I was all frazzled getting the food ready for and setting the apartment up and a million other tasks I needed to do, the phone rang and one of my friends was at the train station. I went to go pick her up and Peter asked me to come into the bedroom...and that's when he proposed.

I literally was so shocked and I'm the kind of person who needs to take time to process things. As soon as Peter proposed, I felt that I needed to lie down and take a nap. BUT I COULDN'T because I had to pick up my friend at the train station. So about two minutes after Peter proposed, I was sitting in my car freaking out.

I didn't want to tell people, but then I realized that PEOPLE MUST ALREADY KNOW. So it would be WIERD if I was all proposed to and I put the ring away and pretended that I wasn't engaged. So the whole rest of the party was kind of a blur. I was newly engaged and I had some random collection of people at my apartment, including my real estate agent, Scout's dog trainer, Peter's web designer, the web designer's pregnant wife, and Peter's friend whose sister is best friends with Peter's web designer's ex-girlfriend. An ex-girlfriend of ten years who he dumped and then went on to knock up this other girl 6 months later. Why do guys do this?

Anyway, let's just say that it was an awkward group of people to be celebrating MY ENGAGEMENT with and I just wanted to go into the bedroom to be by myself and process what just happened and maybe spend the day with Peter getting used to the idea of getting married.

And another thing, Peter got me a sapphire ring, which was really pretty and I loved it....up until I asked him why he chose that one. He said, "Well, there was this other one I wanted, but it would have taken an extra week to get, so I bought this one."

To this day, he can't understand why this would upset me so.

Then, I freaked out. Like, I'm not worth that extra week? And why did he propose to me right before I had to pick up my friend? Doesn't he KNOW ME? He doesn't know me! How can I marry someone who thinks that I want to be proposed to right before a bunch of random people are going to come to my house? How could I marry someone who would choose to propose to me right after I get a phone call from my friend at the train station while I was putting sunscreen on my face in the bathroom?

Later, he explained that it took everything he had to ask me to marry him. After all, we had been together 7 years at that point and he was so against marriage that he never thought that he would ever marry. Finally, after SEVEN YEARS, he decided that he was ready, so he went to the store and wanted to go home with a ring THAT DAY. And he knew I didn't want to be proposed to at a restaurant, but he didn't know it was because of the PEOPLE. Then he said that he would make it up to me.

Plus, there was a bit of drama with that sapphire ring. Because he didn't get me a diamond, everyone from my mom, to his mom, to people I thought were my friends, made comments like, "Oh, why isn't it a diamond?"

When I told people that Princess Diana's engagement ring was a sapphire, they were all, "Ohhhhhh."

When I told my mother-in-law that my mother's engagement ring was a pearl ring, she said, "Pearls are CHEAP."

Well, at least they were able to BUY THEIR OWN HOUSE a few years later. Because they didn't SPEND ALL THEIR MONEY on diamonds and ugly Hummel dolls.

So a few weeks later, Peter got me another ring. A diamond ring. 'Cuz sometimes when you do things different, people judge you and one thing that Peter hates? It's for people to judge us and think that there's something WRONG. Then the person I thought was my friend got SO MAD that I got TWO RINGS!! (Her exact words were, "Why do YOU get TWO RINGS!!")

Of course, now I'm totally anti-diamonds because of what happens to people in Africa over conflict diamonds--I'm glad that the ring Peter got me was an antique ring from the 1920s.

Suffice it to say, with all that stupid drama from me, proposals are a very sore subject for Peter. Although now I find that the story is very cute and much more interesting than other people's--also, a lot of people who had lovely proposals are now divorced. I mean, look at Jessica Simpson.

The other day, I saw a cool post on designsponge. A guy made this gorgeous illustrated book and hid a ring in the book as a proposal.

When I showed it to Peter, he said, very sarcastically:

"He must REALLY love her."