Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hardly a Housewife

"So, do you, like, feel like a housewife now?" my friend and former co-worker asked curiously over taco salads, about a month after I delivered my baby. My hemorrhoids had barely healed and I was delirious from dirty diapers and sleep deprivation. I was much more concerned with sitting than sweeping.

"Not even a little," I laughed, through a bite of lettuce and guacamole. "Not even a tad."

I may be on "eternity leave," but I am hardly a housewife. At least not a very good one.

To be a good housewife, I think, I must go to the supermarket more frequently than once every 5 weeks. And I must buy ingredients that can be used to create an actual entree for dinner, perhaps with assistance from a real recipe. What good are Sourpatch Kids, Puffed Kashi, and Cool Ranch Doritos in my pantry when I have long outgrown the munchies?

To be a good housewife, I know that I must clean often and often means not just the half hour before my housekeepers arrive, in a sheer panic. Sure, in my broken Spanish and over-the-top hand gestures, I can offer my housekeepers anything that I don't feel like cleaning, like my cluttered desk and chair, (which they took, happily), but if I keep that up, eventually, I'll be left without my walk-in closet, refrigerator, and toilet.

To be a good housewife, I'm pretty sure it's my job to keep all bugs, rodents, and other small animals out of my home. There is no excuse for a bird flying around in my living room, shrieking and flapping its wings, banging into the sliding glass door. And there is certainly no excuse for me to be hiding in my bedroom, door slammed shut, while my hungry baby watches me, eyes like saucers, as I scream into the phone, "Send Maintenance now...and send someone with a key! We're trapped in my bedroom and there's no way in hell I'm coming out to answer the door!"

To be a good housewife, I really should entertain. And I think "entertaining" means more than singing lullabies off-key and doing primitive African tribal dances for my husband with the musical accompaniment of Paul Simon singing Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.

To be a good housewife, I obviously need to cook. A history of starting fires while baking cookies and getting banned from my mom's kitchen for the next year does not help. Neither did the squishy sounds and pops of chicken bones breaking in my 9th grade foods class as my teacher demonstrated how to make chicken soup. Even though I now possess my mother-in-law's famous meatball recipe, the only thing that I can make is a watery bolognese sauce which my husband is kind enough to eat. And although I'm growing basil in my kitchen, I have a long way to go in the culinary arts. Sure, I can chiffinade now thanks to a Williams Sonoma class, but I still can't stand to touch raw meat. When my cousin and I made our first brisket together last winter, we wore surgical gloves and I even considered putting on scrubs. Nevertheless, I am cooking. Recently, I created some concoctions reminiscent of when my sister and I used to mix orange juice and Pepsi back in the early '80s and dare one another to drink it. Last week I made ground sirloin nachos for dinner, inspired by Qudoba. Pathetic.

To be a good housewife, I must do loads of laundry every day. Finally, jackpot! I do, in fact, do laundry from the moment I wake up until the moment I pass out at night and I even do it in the middle of the night, in between making bottles. The problem is, I only do the baby's laundry and I allow mine to pile up like Mount Everest. His laundry comes first because he changes clothes about 8 times a day due to his tendency to spit up as regularly as Old Faithful. I confess, I don't help the situation much. Moments after I feed him a bottle, I dance him around and get him all riled up just because I love to see him smile and hear his angelic laugh. Now I'm changing clothes 8 times a day too. But, so what if the left shoulder of every shirt I own has a spit-up stain on it. Maybe that is the sign of a good housewife. However, I doubt a good housewife would have a mountain of those shirts sitting on her bathroom floor while she's laying in bed blogging.

So, due to my unexpected eternity leave, am I saying, "Adios attorney....hello....housewife?" I don't think so. Not today anyway.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Client I Can't Forget

"So you say you like civil rights?"
"Well, tell me, does this inmate have a case?"
60 years old, chronically ill, walks with a cane
Prison guards think he's insane…a real pain
He thinks he's a lawyer, just missed his calling
caught up in drugs, burglary….many things led to his falling
When he yells out, fights the system
They tighten his handcuffs….to stop him from writing
Swollen and bruised, he cries out for help
On a wing, everyone hears….and they've all heard cries before
from their victims, their cellmates….or from their own mouths
But "maximum security" offers none to them now
They are trapped inside a living hell
Where the line between good and bad is too often blurred
Prisoner or guard, the distinctions become absurd
"Yes," he has a case, excessive force
I'm straight outa law school, passionate without remorse
I drive to prison, put on my toughest face
When my client greets me, I take a deep breath
He is my father's age, just walked a different path
I believe your story, look him straight in the eyes
I know what happened, and sir, they heard your cries
You'll have your day in court, judge and jury
We're in this together, it's gonna be a journey
A year passes and we enter the courtroom
dressed in my husband's suit, my client looks dapper, smart, prepared
On the witness stand, he tells his story, and the judge is the only one who cares
The guard says he had contraband
Pen and paper were his weapons, they argued from the stand
My partner and I fight and fight
The jury looks away just like the guards did when his handcuffs were brutally tight
"Well, no broken bones," they say
"I'll believe a guard over a prisoner any day."
The verdict is in and there is no justice, yet a smile appears on my client's face
“I’ll never forget y’all, the dignity you've shown me, or your grace"
We shake hands and send him the suit as a gift
"please wear this, sir, when you are free and need a lift"
"I'll never forget you either, your story, or your face
The dignity you've displayed, your intelligence, or your grace."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Reflections on a job, well, . . . done.

I am 6 months into my maternity leave and I just learned that it has somehow morphed into "eternity leave."

I have been laid-off. Outrageous? Of course. Unjust? Absolutely. Am I bitter? Nah.

In fact, in my reflective and nostalgic state, I have compiled a list of things that I will miss most about my old job and things that I certainly will not miss. So here it is:

The things that I will miss most:

1. Peering out the window of my Center City high-rise office and catching a glimpse of a topless woman brushing her long blond locks in a luxury hotel room window across the street.

2. Calling my colleague and confidante down the hall and screaming into the phone, "NAKED DUDE! OH MY GOD! NAKED DUDE IN WINDOW WITH WOMAN BRUSHING HAIR! Do you SEE THIS?!"

3. Listening to my confidante reply, "Oh my god! He just took the brush! He's brushing her hair! I can't believe this! I'm blushing, I'm shvitzing!"

4. Hosting "Friday concerts" in my office and playing DJ on my ipod set-up while my friend belted out everything from the Dead's Sunshine Daydream to Neil Diamond's version of Chavah Nagilah despite her complete lack of rhythm.

5. Overhearing one of the partners, a former school teacher, telling an associate sternly, "No hugging in the halls!" when she was caught embracing the mailroom guy.

6. Getting e-vites to sex toy parties hosted by the mailroom guy's baby mama.

7. Opening emails inviting the entire staff to the "caf" for leftover pastries, excess halloween candy, or best of all, hot soft pretzels.

8. Watching 4 out of the 4 parnters fall asleep at the monthly attorney lunch, sometimes with their heads bowing dangerously close to the tuna sandwiches on their plates in front of them.

9. Blindfolding the partners and watching them try to smash a pinata at our firm bridal showers after throwing back a few margaritas.

10. Watching a 10 pound bunny rabbit with a 5 pound goiter hopping around under my associate's desk. Harvard Law School's finest!

11. Celebrating major milestones in my life (engagement, marriage, pregnancy) over Dunkin' Donuts in the "caf," even though certain members of the firm tended to fight over the ever popular "manager's special" doughnut with chocolate frosting on the outside and white cream inside.

12. Seeing the blur of one of the partners whizzing by my office door as she ran faster than a speeding bullet down the hall. (Late for the train? Bursting bladder?)

13. Seeing that same blur whizzing by my office in the other direction. (Was she running suicides through the office? Training for the Broad St. Run?) We will never know.

14. Listening to the double-amputee outside of my office building sing, with great enthusiasm but little ability to carry a tune, "I Just Called To Say I Love You," on his karaoke machine that he rolled with.

15. Keeping the local economy alive by dining out for lunch every day with my girls, eating more guacamole than any human being with my body mass index should ever consume in a lifetime, and laughing about topics that I would not dare post on this blog.

16. Getting urgent phone calls from my friend down the hall, whispering, "Stace, you gotta come help me! I need to pee and I'm stuck inside my suit pants! My zipper is broken! (pause) Can you please bring your scissors?"

Things That I Most Certainly Will Not Miss:

1. Creepy Christmas elves that two partners hid in every nook and cranny throughout the firm when December 1st rolled around. Even the ladies' room was not spared.

2. Suspicious smells and sights in bathroom stall #4.

3. Security updates alerting us about anything and everything deemed a threat; from hundreds of Mumia Abdul-Jamal supporters protesting outside City Hall to a dozen musicians playing string instruments along with a seasonal choir group infiltrating our building lobby.

4. Needing to pump iron at the gym just so I could carry loads of files and boxes to court or a deposition while the partner carried his briefcase only.

5. Getting a new office phone list every day and trying to figure out who had been fired secretly.

6. Smelling the pungent plant in my neighbor's office mixed with the greasy spring rolls he enjoyed eating for lunch. Every single day.

7. Getting reamed out by 25 year old snotty court clerks who would respond to my filing questions by screaming into the phone, "Miss, you really should consult a lawyer!" "Uhhh, okay, thank you."

8. Suffering through painfully awkward silences at attorney happy hours, (hosted in our main conference room) and figuring out how I could contribute to the usual conversations about hunting or UFOS or the complexities of being a vegan in this day and age.

9. Scrubbing the fluorescent orange crumbs from my fingertips after attorney happy hours filled with Jack's, Cheetos, and other orange staples from the 1980s.

10. Getting lectured by the plant lady who came biweekly and frowned at my cactus and other Little Shop of Horrors-looking plant while warning me that I needed to be a good "parent" and "nurture them." "I'm too busy nurturing this baby," I would say patting my protruding navel while throwing back a full box of srawberry Nerds.

11. Counting the times that the partner/former schoolteacher patrolled the hallways each day with her bowl of cheerios, watching us wayward schoolgirls like a hawk.

12. Having to dress up in "business casual" attire for "Casual Fridays," as jeans were strictly forbidden.

Now that I'm on "eternity leave," I plan to gorge on guacamole, wear jeans whenever the spirit moves me, and nurture my baby boy, my writing, and my plants. And here's a security alert: TO THE NEW GUY WHO "TEMPORARILY" took over my office when I was 8 months pregnant, watch out for the topless woman brushing her hair in the hotel window across the street and don't be surprised if you see her give you the finger.

Last to Arrive, First to Depart

It was supposed to be the best day of the entire summer. It was supposed to be a time for joyful reunions. It was supposed to be a day when we could get anything we asked for, sort of like Hanukah in July. Simply magical.

It was 1984 and I was 8 years old, away from home for the first time for 8 weeks at Camp Akiba, along with my 11 year old sister.

Every camper began contemplating visiting day from day 1. I wrote home to my parents, sweet letters full of, “I learned to dive today,” “I got up on water-skis,” “the food sucks.” Then came the real purpose: “On visiting day, please bring: a leather jacket for Snoopy, new Guess jeans (because I need something good to trade with my NY bunkmates), jelly bracelets, 5 pounds of salami, squirt cheese, crackers, Doritos, chocolate covered pretzels,…” It went on and on. Most campers saw visiting day as simply a time to stock up the candy trunk, get new clothes, or anything else on their wish lists.

The preparations leading up to visiting day were intense: there were lice checks 2 weeks out so that any infestation could be discovered and wiped out before the parents arrived. There was a field trip one week out to a Pocono beach, which was really just a parcel of gravel overlooking a roped-off lake so full of e-coli that we were not allowed to swim. Nevertheless, this exciting excursion would be fresh in our minds when our parents arrived. There was a steak dinner 14 hours out so that we could tell our parents about the “gourmet” camp food and beg them to sign us up again for next summer.

Visiting Day was a thrill for spectators. All of the campers were split up alphabetically by last name and sent to one of four locations to wait for their parents to arrive. The counselors, in their brand new staff polo shirts acted as preppy security guards who formed a human chain link fence to keep the kids sequestered. As soon as a camper spotted his parents, he would dash through the counselors’ arms at top speed and launch himself through the air. We all watched this scene over and over again, clapping, hooting and hollering, as 50-pound little boys and girls defied gravity, knocking their mothers to the ground, then rolling and hugging and laughing as the moms wiped dirt off of their brand new shorts outfits.

This scene played out over and over again, but not in my family. My parents were the last to arrive.

As an 8 year old child, away from home for the first time, it was so frazzling that my 11 year old sister and I decided to make believe that we saw our parents, just so we could slip out of the counselor fence. We ran a short distance, hid behind a tree, and looked at each other bewildered that our parents still were not there and now we were trouncing in the woods like Hansel and Gretel.

At that moment, I felt sweat dripping down the back of my neck onto my brand new Camp Akiba special visiting day tee-shirt. My sister must have seen the fear in my eyes because she stared at me as if to say, “What?!” I leaned over and barfed in the bushes. I mean, parents from California and Florida, married, divorced, and estranged, were all there before my parents!

Once my parents finally got their asses up that Pocono mountain, a whopping 90 miles from our home, hugged and kissed us for 5 minutes, they decided they didn’t really want to be there at all. They couldn’t stand the heat, the mosquitoes, the bug juice served in the dining hall. They didn’t want to tour our bunks, play tennis, meet our friends and counselors. No, they had another idea.

Despite the camp rule that insisted that parents remain on the premises with their children, my parents wanted to break us out like fugitives. Yes, my parents, who once out-ran a Pennsylvania state trooper on the turnpike and who grew pot in our backyard, which the elderly neighbors raved were the most beautiful tomato plants they had ever seen, were not going to follow a stupid Visiting Day rule. Hell no! Nancy and Tom relished rule breaking.

Duck down!” My mom commanded us, giggling, as my dad’s Mercedes flew by the camp security guard in the exit gate.

“Don’t let him see you!” My parents smiled and waved at the guard, while giggling like two schoolgirls up to no good. This caused more anxiety for me, a child who had just lost her breakfast under a tree only thirty minutes earlier. But, I ducked in the backseat, along with my sister, as my dad cranked up Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.”

“Step on it, Tom!” my mom encouraged him, just as she had done when they had eluded the state trooper.

“Don’t worry, doll, I got my training on the Autobahn!” My dad laughed, as he leaned to the right, rounding a curve.

“Whooohooo!” my dad yelled out the sunroof, throwing his head back, elated to have his three girls back together again. We laughed in hysterics as my dad sped off down the windy mountain road.

After all, camp was about the adventure.

Where my parents took us didn’t really matter.

“Who wants pierogies?” My mom asked as if they were a delicacy. My family ate pierogies exactly once a year. On visiting day. During our jailbreak. At any random Pocono snack bar that sold them.

“I’ll have pierogies!” I said, “but what if my counselors are looking for me?”

“Oh, stop being such a worry wart!” my sister chided.

“But none of the other parents sneak their kids . . .” I attempted.

“Bor-ing! The other parents are sooooo lame! My mom declared.

“Sweetheart, you know Heenans hate rules!” My dad my added.

“I just don’t want to get in trouble,” I said more to myself than anyone else in the car.

“We’re with mommy and daddy…like, what’s going to happen?” my sister prodded, rolling her eyes.

I flashed back to 4th of July weekend, when I was two years old, and I ventured down the beach to fill up my yellow bucket with ocean water and somehow got lost amidst hundreds of beachgoers. “Don’t come back until you find her!” My mom had warned my dad.

My mind wandered to the time that my mom missed a train to New York City because she jumped off to get a snack moments before we departed. I remember my grandmom shaking her red hair in disapproval, as the train left the station without my mom. “Your mother is so irresponsible!” She seethed, as my sister and I looked at one another and giggled.

I secretly hoped my dad would just speed right down the Northeast Extension and back to Bryn Mawr with us in the backseat.

After our unlawful field trip, we returned to camp and my parents seemed a bit bored. Maybe they had adult A.D.D. Maybe they just hated camp. Maybe visiting day brought back suppressed memories of my mom’s torturous days as a camper, begging to come home every day. Maybe my parents just didn’t know the proper visiting day etiquette. Whatever it was, even though they were the last to arrive, they were the first to depart.

“Really, you’re leaving NOW?” My sister asked mortified, glaring at my mom. “But you just got here!”

“Honey, visiting day is over in an hour,” My mom explained in a sweet tone, hugging and kissing each of us. “And, besides, you’ll be home in just four more weeks!”

I wanted to explain to her that all of the other parents literally had to be pried away from their children with the “jaws of life” one hour AFTER visiting day officially ended. In fact, there would be one, two, three or more announcements over the PA system: “Attention parents, visiting day is NOW OVER!” These messages would grow more and more urgent for the final stragglers who could not bear to leave their children.

My parents never heard these messages. They were long gone by then, back in their central air, reminiscing about our successful jailbreak, probably eating some version of chicken that my mom made for dinner from her favorite cookbook, “365 Ways to Make Chicken.” Back at camp, my sister and I managed to find loving families from Long Island to “adopt” us for the next hour or two.

To this day, when I think of visiting day at summer camp, I shudder remembering the trauma of my parents being the last to arrive and the first to depart. When my son goes away to summer camp, rest assured I'll be first in line on visiting day and last to leave. And, of course, I'll bust him out for some pierogies!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

About Me

Plan A: Break into broadcasting and become a writer/producer. Check.
Plan B: Trade in my Gucci bag for a beat-up backpack and head off to law school. Check.
Plan C: Run from the law. Write what you love.
Mantra: Enjoy the wild, white knuckle ride called life.