Wednesday, October 24, 2012

When Your Brain Goes MIA

Anyone who reads my blog even once in a while knows that I spend way too much time inside my own head. Always analyzing, considering, evaluating, thinking. What's much more unusual for me is losing my head, spacing out, forgetting to think, behaving blondish. Aside from those momentary brain farts/senior moments we all experience, I can only remember two distinct occasions when I lost my mind entirely for an extended period of time.

The first time I had this experience I had an excuse. It was a boy's fault. I was home from college and visiting NYC with my mom and sister. What should have been a lovely day, however, turned into a complete mental mess for me. As was frequently the case in those days, I had had a fight with my then-boyfriend that resulted in a late night filled with lots of tears and little rest. Often I could recover from these emotional smack-downs with extra sleep, but our trip to NYC required an early bus departure and I had little time to pull myself together. The results were memorable and somewhat hysterical (only in hindsight):

  • On the bus I realized I had on two different shoes. One had a heel, the other was flat.
  • Getting off the bus I discovered my pants were on backwards. Honest to God.
  • In one of the department stores I tried in vain to use what I determined was a broken escalator. It wasn't broken, it was just going down while I was trying to go up.

The highlight of the trip? When I pointed out to my mom and sister a worn out, extremely haggard and unattractive young woman...and then realized to my utter dismay that I was looking in a mirror. Seriously.

That was my ultimate BMIA moment (Brain Missing In Action), but this week I had another doozy for which I had no fight-with-my-boyfriend (or even my husband) excuse.

It was Monday evening around 6:20. I was 10-minutes early for my Beginner's Italian class at our local high school. This was the fourth week of the 8-week course. I walked down the hall to my classroom and noticed a young lady whom I hadn't seen in our class before. I kept walking, thinking maybe I had the wrong room, but each one after it was dark with a closed door. I returned to the original classroom and sat down at a desk. The young lady asked me, "Is there a class in here tonight?" I replied, "Yes, at 6:30. It's odd that there's no one here yet, I rarely arrive before the professor or any of the other students." She explained that she was waiting for her teacher. I learned she was on the high school volleyball team. They're having a great year, playing a post season clincher this Thursday. I asked her if she knew my exchange student to-be (a later post, I'm sure) or one of the girls in my neighborhood. She knew them both and we chatted for quite some time. I thought she was very mature and outgoing. I said I would come see their game on Thursday evening. I suggested the school do a better job of promoting these things.

Her teacher entered the classroom and greeted me. I told him how much I liked his room d├ęcor and art. But then I noticed it was different. Much more artsy and nature-oriented whereas last week it had a more radical and political theme. I asked him if he had changed it all. In particular, I noted that I liked the quote he had had on the far right wall.  It had looked painted on, but I asked if perhaps it was one of those cling type images that you can peel and replace.

He suggested I might be thinking of his colleague's room. The one upstairs from us. On the third floor. Where my Beginner's Italian class was held.
"Oh, shit damn crap." 
Later that evening, after a class in which I understood absolutely nothing and was only physically present, I reflected on my second significant BMIA moment:

  • How did I fail to note that no other student or the Italian professor had come into the room during the 10 minutes I sat there? 
  • Why didn't the presence of a high school volleyball player waiting for her teacher tip me off that I wasn't in the right place?
  • What made me think that the teacher must have changed every single picture or quote on his walls during the past week? 
  • Did I really ask if he "took down" what is surely a quote painted on the wall?
I'm still stunned by my complete absence of any logical thought whatsoever.

Let's just hope this mental escapism subsides real soon. I won't make a very good impression at Villanova if I'm found on the first day of my employment, sitting in the wrong office of the wrong building, wearing my pajamas and speaking unintelligible Italian.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I Finally Know Where I'm Going (for now, anyway)

For the past several couple months I have whined, complained, and pouted thoughtfully reflected on my life. More specifically, I've asked "What's next?" and "Am I living up to my potential?" I was becoming increasingly discontent with the path I was on, even though on paper there was absolutely nothing wrong with that path.

So I found a new job.

And the backstory is pretty good.

Over the summer I went on a resume-sending spree, primarily focusing on marketing and communication jobs in higher education. I've always wanted to work in a college or university setting. I think it would keep me in complete denial about how old I'm getting young. So, despite knowing full well that almost no one finds a job by haphazardly applying online for desirable career opportunities, that's what I did. It made me feel better. I could tell myself I was doing something.

At the same time I was making this half-hearted effort, I was struggling with my freakin' depression. It got to the point that I decided it was time for a little talk therapy. I looked up a doctor I had seen a decade ago.  Would you believe she went and died on me? Talk about inconsiderate. The next doctor I called kept me on the phone for 20 minutes trying to find a way to fit me into his schedule. Just when we had agreed on a date and time, he casually mentioned that he doesn't take insurance and he charges $140 an hour. My family doctor was of little assistance in recommending anyone and so I stopped looking. Figured I'd be fine without professional help. (Insert laugh here)

Then one day, when I had used up all my self-preservation and mental well-being reserves, I had an epiphany. An "A ha" moment. I decided to stop the frantic and useless job search (not a single nibble on the dozens of jobs I applied for), and concentrate on addressing the the crap clouding my brain. Figured if I could get my head on straight I would have a clearer sense of what I needed to do, where I might want to go, and how to get there. I also did the "at wit's end" shout-out to God, remembering that in Jeremiah 29:11 it says:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
I was looking for plans. Prospering is good. Hope and a future are excellent. And all that without harm? Bonus! With that, I handed my heavy heart over to the Big Guy.

Less than 24-hours later I was on the phone scheduling an appointment with a therapist when another call came in. I didn't recognize the number so I let it go to voice mail while I finalized my visit to the brain whisperer. When I checked my voice mail, this is what I heard:
Kim, this is Barbara from Human Resources at Villanova University. I am calling to arrange an interview with you for the Director of Communications job with the College of Engineering. 
God really likes to show off sometimes.

Three weeks after my call from Barbara, at 9:00 a.m. on a Friday I sat down for a three hour series of interviews with seven different people from Villanova.  At 4:45 p.m. they called to offer me the job. It's all terribly exciting and slightly terrifying.

In my next post I'll describe the stages of grief one experiences when leaving a place of employment that has been like home and family for elven years. It just wouldn't be a Freakin' Angel post if I didn't have something to be upset about, right?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Let's Not Make a Federal Case Out of This

My guest blogger today is Rob M., a.k.a. Freakin' Angel's husband. Enjoy. 

My sister has a tendency to get worked up when discussing, well, anything – which is sorta like saying the sun has a tendency to rise in the east every day. Growing up, when my sister was wound up, my dad, the late great Bob MacPherson, would quell the madness by dropping one of his go-to phrases into the conversation. A common one was “OK – let’s not make a federal case out of this.” So it was with this soundtrack playing in my head that I passed through security with a smirk on my face at the Federal Building on 6th and Market last Tuesday. I had been chosen for jury duty in the federal court – and there was a possibility that I would be making a federal case out of my work week. I couldn’t help but chuckle a little bit on the inside.

I reported to the jury assembly room on time and my mind immediately started grappling with the day’s biggest issue – with all of these great options, where should I have my downtown lunch? (Ended up at Campos - chicken and broccoli rabe - seeded roll). My game-planning was disrupted when a young lady entered the room and began making announcements. Before she was done, she called 30 names, including mine, to form a panel. Our panel was escorted to the trial room, where our group of 30 would become eight, and the eight would serve as the jury for the case. We endured "voir dire" questioning by the judge – a process meant to expose any biases or prejudices which might make one a less-than-impartial juror. The highlight of this process was my fellow panelist from South Philly (he told us, I’m not assuming) who explained that his book-making uncle and loan-sharking cousin were the relatives with whom he most looked forward to sharing a glass of vino, thereby making him sympathetic to the cause of the petty criminal. I haven’t had a relative behind bars in years, so I really couldn’t play that card, nor could I think of any other way to weasel out of my patriotic duty. After a few more minutes and a bundle of lame excuses, I was called as a juror – juror number 5 – and I and seven others would serve as the proverbial jury of ones peers, with the responsibility to render a verdict in the case.

The case was a civil proceeding. A man from West Philly – the plaintiff - was alleging that three different Philadelphia police officers from the 19th district used unlawful force in arresting him on two different occasions. He was looking for financial compensation. Long story short, after about a day-and-a-half of testimony and a half-day of deliberation, the plaintiff received nothing and the cops were exonerated.

Then things got interesting. The judge’s deputy – our main point of contact throughout the process and a good dude – asked us to stay for a few more minutes because the judge wanted to talk to us – he said it was common practice. The judge entered the deliberation room with the deputy, his law clerk and a couple of interns. He explained to us that our system of justice, while not flawless, is the greatest in the world. Eight fellow citizens just decided the fate of a man’s complaint – not a king, not a dictator, not a magic eight ball. This man received justice based on the findings of a jury of his peers.

After his preamble was over, the judge asked us a few questions and answered some of ours – including one about the whole jury selection process. Striking his most Socratic pose and squinting his eyes just so, he asked “Why do you think you were selected?” After enduring a few incorrect answers from this group of legal neophytes, he enlightened us, informing us that we were not selected, rather, we were DE-selected. The “crazies” are the first to go, he told us, then anyone who would appear to be overly-sympathetic one way or the other usually gets struck – each attorney gets three strikes. What are left are 45-year-old guys from Delaware County with anglo names whose relatives earn a taxable income (that description actually fit two of us). And two guys from Horsham, a woman from Willow Grove, another from Lititz (near Lancaster), another from New Tripoli (north of Allentown), and one from Northeast Philly – all white. The plaintiff was an African American man from West Philly – and we formed the jury of his peers.

Suddenly it hit me – I felt like Chazz Palminteri at the end of "Usual Suspects." In being de-selected from the panel and becoming a member of this jury, I had been profiled to meet a set of criteria favorable to the defense – the attorneys for the police. The irony was thick – we as a jury had just ruled that the plaintiff was off base in his own profiling allegations, while our mere presence on this jury came as a direct result of being profiled. The defense wanted as many “me’s” on the jury as it could find – trying to make the jury as non-peer-like as possible to the plaintiff. The plaintiff’s side was fighting an uphill battle from the time he filed his paperwork – considering the geography from which the jury pool was drawn and the uniquely urban environment from which the plaintiff hailed, the odds of this man receiving a trial featuring a jury of his peers were Calista Flockhart-slim – even if his attorney had 10 strikes.

So – knowing now that the system was not real plaintiff-friendly, do I regret our decision? No. The burden of proof was on the plaintiff, and he and his attorney failed to meet that burden. Instead, I was left with an uneasy feeling about how little I really know about our legal system. I’m glad I had the opportunity to serve as juror – the process was fascinating, and many of my long-held beliefs about human nature – good and bad – were affirmed. As the judge said, the system is not flawless. Having said that, as I write this, there is someone wallowing away in a third-world prison, jailed unjustly by a corrupt government, who would give all he or she has for the chance at justice my plaintiff just received.

If I am ever in need of the system – there are days where people cause me to want to commit crimes - I would not hesitate to lawyer-up and file my petitions. I’m just not likely to make a federal case out of it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Adventures of a High School Chaperone

This past weekend was a whirlwind of activity and an emotional freak show for me. I know you find that very hard to believe. It's rare that I'm swept up in a whirlwind of activity. Emotional freak shows, on the other hand, are quite commonplace.

On Saturday morning I joined my son's high school choral group trip to NYC. After seeing the itinerary which included War Horse at Lincoln Center and the students performing the Earth Mass for the Blessing of the Animals at St. John's Cathedral, I shamelessly begged offered the choral group director my chaperone services to assist in shepherding the rowdy teens who make up this rag tag group of singers. That rowdy / rag tag thing was pure creative license. This group is nothing of the sort. They do, however, have their own "Glee" characters, but I suppose that is to be expected.

Along with the "Glee" characters, the weekend also proved revelatory in a number of other ways. Here then, are the top 10 things I learned on my NYC chaperone weekend.

One of the high school
students drew this for me.
  1. "Chaperone" is a very loose term. Most likely a school district requirement that in reality serves almost no purpose whatsoever. I'm totally okay with that. As long as Ian still likes me, I'm happy to travel to Broadway or Italy to chaperone his adventures.
  2. Ian is taking small steps toward not liking me any more. Well, maybe he likes me, but that doesn't mean he wants me anywhere near him and his friends. He didn't shout "I love you" from across the room, or hug me once during the whole weekend, and for some reason he didn't want to snuggle before going to sleep with the other kids on the floor of the gym at the church. Weird.
  3. You know how I often reference my lack of maternal or nurturing instinct? This weekend was a case in point. When packing for the trip I brought MY stuff. The other moms? They brought OTC meds of every kind, tissues, antibacterial wipes, hand sanitizer, bandaids, feminine hygeniene products, etc. in case any of the kids were in need. Of course, guess who needed the bandaid?
  4. You know you're with a special group of kids when not only is there no complaint about watching "Dream Girls" on the bus ride, but there was complete silence because everyone was listening with rapt attention. I'm thinking the high school football team would not have had the same response. Just a hunch.
  5. Being the mom of a freshman is kinda like being a freshman yourself. The moms of seniors know all the kids and the teachers and how the whole system works. You feel awkward and insecure and wonder if anyone will like you. But then you go to the Hungarian Pastry Shop and you feel better.
  6. The Hungarian Pastry Shop is to die for. It's even better when enjoying great conversation with a new friend over a cup of hot tea. I met someone with the same sense of humor as me. Welcome to Snarkville!
  7. Speaking of tasty treats, I recommend Mel's Burger Bar. A long wait but a damn good burger and you know I'm an expert in hamburgers.
  8. There is something about 232 ft. ceilings that truly makes you feel closer to God. I could spend hours exploring cathedrals and soaking up every bit of their history. Geeky, huh?
  9. The Earth Mass at St. John's is always the first Sunday of October. Put it on your calendar for next year. Go ahead, I'll wait. Everyone must see it at least once in their lifetime. 
  10. When PMSing or in any kind of hyper-sensitive emotionally vulnerable state, avoid seeing War Horse. I lost it. Had to leave early. Couldn't talk without crying for about an hour afterwards. In retrospect, I'm thinking I may have had some kind of breakdown cause that reaction was way over the top, even for me. 
That's it folks. Coming soon (but don't hold your breath), my husband claims he will post on my behalf (so I can clean the bathrooms) since he doesn't have anything to do this October. Phreakin' Phillies. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Secret of Store-Front Nail Salons

I don't have a lot of time to write, so allow me to quickly pen a brief politically incorrect post about Vietnamese nail salon technicians. I think they're a form of organized crime.

Being the cheap frugal woman that I am, I prefer not to splurge on manicures, pedicures, or waxing at high-end, a.k.a. expensive, beauty salons. Hell, my last haircut was a Hair Cuttery splurge. Where other women start to improve their beauty routines with age, I'm sliding backward. Anyway, for those who aren't "in the know," these Vietnamese-owned and operated nail salons are on every street corner of every town in America and they charge half of what the fancy salons charge for the same services. And they don't just offer every nail technique known to man, or in this case, woman, most of them also provide waxing and even neck, hand. and foot massages. And they're really good at all of the above.

And that's where they get ya.

Yesterday I hit one of these storefront oases knowing what I wanted and what I needed. Or so I thought. I walked through the door and one of the women looked up from the pedicure she was giving to ask me in her broken English, "What you need?" I gestured and replied in stilted, awkward English as if that would somehow make clear what I was there for. As if they don't know English perfectly well and only speak their native language so they can make fun of you with their co-workers. I asked for a manicure and lip and eyebrow wax. She suggested a neck massage. I've been tense. I said "Yes, for just five minutes". (They charge by the minute.) She started with the best neck massage I've ever had. When the timer went off, I asked for five minutes more. That's how they get ya.

And then my manicure began. Little room for error there, unless of course their instruments aren't sanitized, but that's another post. When my nearly perfect neck massage came to an end, the waxologist (I don't believe that's an official term) moved in. She asked if I also wanted my chin waxed. Um, no. I think I'd know if I had hair on my chinny, chin, chin. She started on my upper lip. And then suggested my chin again. I asked her if I needed it. She said yes. At this point, you're stuck. You're head is tilted back without a mirror in sight. You don't think you need a chin wax, but you don't want to find out later that you were wrong. Women with hairy chins are straight out of scary fairytales. You don't want to be that character. You give the okay for the damn chin wax. And then she suggests the sides of your face. As in your "side burns." She doesn't really ask, just goes ahead and layers on the hot wax. As she rips off the cloth, you're tempted to ask to see the proof of this wolf (wo)man condition you apparently have. But you're sure every other woman in the salon is is staring with pity and wonder at the woman who just received a total face wax so you keep your mouth shut. And then there's that language barrier my ass that keeps you from trying to discuss this matter or ask how much all this freakin' wax is going to cost you. I guess I should just be thankful she didn't ask me to drop my drawers.

The crafty waxologist tells you what you owe and you wonder how the hell it added up to that. But the price list is way up by the front door and you don't want to get up and go look at it like some suspicious, anti-Vietnamese cheap skate, so you pay the damn bill. And then you stick your nails under the dryer and you stew about it. And you wonder how it is you can shut down a used car salesman when he tries to sell you the bells and whistles, but you can't hold your own against a store front nail technician.

As you're driving home it occurs to you that if you'd have gone to the high-end salon you would paid half as much because you'd have only received the services you actually requested, not those they scared you in to. And then you start to break out in hives from an apparent allergic reaction to what was probably cheap and inferior wax.

And that's how they got me.