Body parts

As it’s Halloween tomorrow, it seems as appropriate a time as any to discuss the body parts we have hidden around our house.

I saw my best friend this weekend and we compared our collections. Her son has teeth, scabs, and a black fingernail in his stash. My daughter has lovingly kept her own black fingernail in a little box that she trots out on special occasions. Last week, my son got four permanent teeth removed in preparation for braces and was sent home with a plastic tooth-shaped box crammed full with the teeth, giant bloody roots and all. And somewhere in our house is the treasure above all treasures, the jewel in the crown, the pièce de résistance

When my oldest son was a newborn, we anxiously waited for his umbilical cord to fall off. We gingerly swabbed at it for weeks with rubbing alcohol. We fretted that he’d go off to college with the stump still dangling from his belly. I was delirious with joy the day it finally came off. As a joke, I hid it in a velvet jewelry box and wrapped it up as a gift for my husband. I felt really guilty when he looked genuinely touched as he opened the box, but because I’m kind of a jerk, I felt totally gratified when he gasped in horror when he opened the lid to reveal the gnarly, wizened, black stump. Having had my fun, I put it away and completely forgot about it for years. One day, I was cleaning out a drawer and found the box. Out of idle curiosity, I opened it and almost peed myself when I saw the shriveled, monkey-paw-like stump inside. 

(No pictures today, because that would be in poor taste, obviously).

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Prince Rupert’s Drops

My husband recently became fascinated with Prince Rupert’s Drops, named after the German prince who first brought them to England to present to the King in the mid-1600s.

The drops form when molten glass is dropped into cold water. The resulting shape looks like a tadpole and has curious physical properties. The outer part of the bulb hardens more quickly than the inner part of the bulb. As the interior portion cools, an incredible amount of contraction and compression takes place. As a result, the bulb end of the shape is so strong that even the hardest hammer blows won’t cause the glass to shatter. If the slightest tip of the tail, however, is broken off, the entire structure explodes into powder.

“It’s a good analogy for a certain personality type,” my husband said as he concluded his explanation.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“On the one hand, they’re extremely solid and stubborn, but at the same time really brittle and explosive.”

“What are you trying to say?” I asked suspiciously. “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TRYING TO SAY?!

Check out this video:

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Speaking of jeans…

Yesterday’s post was inspired by my daughter. This is her wearing her first pair of jeans. It was the first and last pair of jeans she would wear for the next eight years of her life:

When she got old enough to express her own clothing preferences, she became a strictly yoga pants kind of girl. Last weekend when we were out and about getting some things for my oldest son, (who outgrows his clothes approximately every two weeks), she told me she wanted to give jeans another try. Here she is modeling her second pair of jeans:

Sassy, no?

Happy Weekend, Everyone!


When we were children and my parents still hadn’t been in America very long, there were certain cultural short circuits that had to be sorted out. Some customs of the country were so foreign as to seem outlandish to my parents. Sleepovers, for example, made no sense at all to them. When we’d ask if we could spend the night at a friend’s house their faces would register astonishment. They would ask, “Why would you do that? What’s wrong with your own bed at home?” Trick or Treating was another concept they found bizarre. They were mortified by the idea that their children would dress up in costumes to go begging door to door for candy.  And then there was the issue of  jeans. For many years this particular article of clothing did not exist in our wardrobes, because my parents insisted that it would be disrespectful to our teachers to wear jeans to school.

They finally realized that the dress code was different in the States, when they had their first parent teacher conference with my little brother Teddy’s kindergarten teacher. Teddy’s teacher had a long shaggy beard, he often tucked a daisy into his grey mane behind his ear, and he always wore a pair of denim overalls to school. Faced with this incontrovertible evidence, my parents had to concede that wearing jeans to school would be acceptable. It still wasn’t smooth sailing, by any means. My mom decided that rather than buying jeans, she would make them for us. She threw herself wholeheartedly into the project. She even used red thread along the seams and to stitch artful, free-form designs on the back pockets. To give you an idea of how successful we thought this particular DIY experiment was, we would choose to wear our velvet upholstery pantsuit ensembles rather than the homemade jeans.

One day the inconceivable happened. This man, my father, aka the Easter Island Head:


…emerged from his room wearing a pair of jeans. For a moment the earth stood still. We all stared, blinking, dumbfounded, our mouths agape. And then my sister broke the silence when she started singing under her breath, “Here comes Wrangler. He’s one tough customer. He knows what he likes, when he sees it.”

I’m an overachiever

I hate to brag, but I’m going to give myself some props for some things that I do better than most people. I wrote about one of those rare talents yesterday, when I revealed how I can get telemarketers so mad by being nice to them that they hang up on me. And then there are certain driving maneuvers…the three point turn, for instance?…I pretty much kill it. Three points are for average people. Me? I do it in seventeen. I would imagine it’s pretty breathtaking to watch, though perhaps not quite as breathtaking as watching me dance. Jaws literally drop when I start busting a move. I’m guessing there aren’t many others in the world who can actually get people to weep when they dance like I can.

In case you’re feeling really jealous of me right now, let me make you feel better by telling you that there are some areas of my life where I struggle. Punctuality, for example, has never been my strong suit. Lately, circumstances have conspired against me, making the task of getting my daughter to school on time even more of a challenge than usual. We used to cross a rickety, one-lane wooden bridge on our way there. They’ve recently closed it and are rebuilding it. In a year’s time when they’ve finished the work, it won’t feel like you should be driving over it in a covered wagon. In the meantime, unfortunately, the detour we now have to take makes the drive to school five minutes longer. As we all know, five minutes in the morning is equivalent to at least half an hour during the rest of the day. (Have I mentioned that I’m also really amazing at math)?

This morning I was driving my daughter to school and it became clear that we were going to be late. When I announced this fact out loud, she heaved a sigh.

“Hey, it’s not that bad. This is the first time we’ve been late all week!” I said.

And then I realized it was Tuesday.

I’m on a roll.

Telephone Hang-ups

I could talk to someone face to face for hours, but talking on the phone with that same person would fill me with crippling anxiety.  I rarely answer the phone. When I do, I have to take a deep breath before picking up and pretend I’m someone else to get through the experience. This might have to do with the fact that I’ve been burned so many times over the phone.

Just last week I got tricked into answering the phone, because the number on the caller ID was so similar to my sister’s cell phone number. As soon as I answered, I realized I’d made a mistake. When I heard the person on the other end ask for Dr. Colin X, I knew it was our graduate school making yet another one of their endless fundraising appeals. In my politest voice I said, “I’m sorry, he’s not here right now. May I take…” Before I could complete the sentence, I heard a click and then the hang up tone on the other end!

This is not the first, or even the second time I’ve been hung up on by someone who called ME in the first place. On one occasion, a complete stranger called me up when I was a grad student in New York City. I picked up the phone and he introduced himself and launched into his life story. Entirely unprompted, he described the color of his eyes and hair and gave me his body measurements. He told me he was trying to break into modeling. He had just moved to New York from California and he was feeling lonely and wanted to meet people. I was fascinated by this bizarre modus operandi.

“So…you’re trying to meet people by calling random numbers in the phone book?” I asked.

“Uh-huh!” he replied with no hesitation or embarrassment at all.

I thought I was being kind and doing him a favor by suggesting that he try one of those chat lines  that were always being advertised in the Village Voice. He got really huffy, told me I was rude, and hung up on me.

On another occasion, a salesman called and performed the usual preemptive maneuver of speaking in whole paragraphs, thereby preventing me from saying “I’m sorry, I’m not interested” or “Please, stop, I’d rather drive a fork through my temple than buy aluminum siding from you.” I guess what normal people do is to just hang up. I, on the other hand, listened to the whole song and dance as an act of charity. When he finally came up for air and said “So let’s go ahead and schedule your free estimate,” I was able to say at last, “Oh, thank you so much for taking the time to let me know about your fascinating product, but I really don’t need any aluminum siding right now.” At this juncture, I was thinking that if not the Nobel Peace Prize, well then some kind of humanitarian award was definitely coming my way. After all, I had just endured the longest, most tedious ten minutes of my life and had very sweetly refrained from slamming the phone in the poor schlub’s ear. Imagine my surprise, when he became enraged and screamed, “Well then why did you let me go on talking for so long?” And yes, he slammed the phone in my ear.

From now on, I’m going to channel my mother, who always deals with unwelcome solicitations with real panache. Although English is her second language, my mother speaks the language beautifully. When she picks up the phone and suddenly switches into broken English, we know there’s a telemarketer on the other end. “Sorry. Sorry. No speak English,” she says with an exaggerated accent. She even waves her hand back and forth as if they could somehow see this gesture. She always manages to hang up the phone on her terms and with a giant smirk on her face. What I really appreciate is how she’s able to turn these situations into a sort of performance art. Once, some very persistent Jehovah’s Witnesses came knocking on our door. No sooner had they plied my mother with free issues of the Watchtower, than she ran to get her own Bible. “Let me tell you what I believe!” she began, waving the book joyfully, wildly in their faces as she started spouting an impromptu sermon. In no time at all, they were propelling themselves away as fast as their legs could carry them, stealing fearful glances over their shoulders as they ran.

English as a Second Language

I had a conversation with my son this weekend and it was as if he were talking in a foreign language.

While I could more or less understand the individual words, I couldn’t make sense of what he was saying at all. It got me thinking about how confusing it must have sometimes been for my parents, for whom English is a second language, when they talked with us.

My mother began studying English when she knew she would be joining my father, who had come to America to embark on the first of many degrees. She still recalls the stilted and unnatural intonation of the recordings she would listen to over and over again: “I am a boy. I am a girl.” She never stopped working on improving her English. In later years, she always had an old paperback copy of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style stashed in her purse to study whenever she had a free moment. She read it so many times, it eventually had to be held together with a rubber band. The spareness of her Strunk and White-influenced English was enriched by the ornate language of the 19th century novels she also loved to read. From reading Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters, for example, she talks about “countenances” rather than “faces.” But it’s her adoption of more modern colloquial expressions that always takes us by surprise. I was once driving her somewhere when she discovered that she had been sitting on my sunglasses.

“Oh! I was wondering what was poking my butt!” she said.

I started cackling.

“What?” she said with a grin, “Should I have said, ‘I was wondering what was pricking my ass?!'”

After all his long years of study and the countless hours he’s spent poring over philsophical tomes, my dad lightly bandies about words like hermeneutics and teleological with the Korean accent he’s never lost. As children, our own native English skills would be called into service from time to time to edit articles he’d written. I still die a thousand deaths whenever I think of the time I changed all his “Platonics” into “Platoics” in one of his articles. Callow adolescent that I was, what did I know of philosophy? I hadn’t yet gained the wisdom to know that I knew nothing. Native speaker that I am, I will never know the meanings of half the words that are part of my dad’s lexicon.

My dad’s English is also nuanced with phrases snatched from more popular sources, and especially from the television shows that he sometimes watched with us when we were children. His discourse is peppered with phrases like “Aw, shooks.” Thanks to some old cartoon, he says “meeses” instead of “mice.” When my incessant  prattling got too unbearable, he’d interrupt me midstream, waggle his thumb and say like some hoodlum in an old gangster movie, “Hey. Get lost, will ya?” or sometimes just, “Shaddup, will ya?”

The substandard language his own children used also added to the linguistic confusion. I’m ashamed to admit that my brother and I went through a regrettable phase when we used to call each other “booger.” My dad bore it for as long as he could, and then one day he pulled us aside. “Adrienne, Teddy,” he said gravely, “I don’t want you to use that word anymore.” He heroically soldiered on, though it was clear that each word he uttered was causing him pain, “I know you don’t realize it, but it has sexual connotations.” Teddy and I were mystified and also a little horrified as we tried to imagine what kind of monstrous sexual perversion could take place via the nostril. It was only years later that we learned the word he had thought we were saying…bugger.

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Rick Riordan, you’ve created a monster!

My daughter got into the Rick Riordan Percy Jackson series in a big way. She has blazed her way through every hefty volume in record time. She drags them everywhere she goes, reading and re-reading them over and over again until they are literally falling apart at the seams.

After a hard-fought campaign of constant hectoring and pestering on her part, I got Mark of Athena for her last year. At the back of the book she saw that House of Hades, the next book in the series, would be coming out on October 8, 2013. As you can imagine, she’s been pining for that book all year long. She started the countdown back in August. In September she slung me over her shoulder and hauled me to the bookstore so that I could pre-order the book for her. At the customer service desk I asked if it would arrive on the 8th, or be mailed out on the 8th. The saleswoman assured us that the book would be mailed out so that it would arrive at our house on Tuesday, the 8th. She tortured me every single day that she waited for that book to arrive. Only twenty-seven more days until the 8th! Only sixteen more days until the 8th! I wish Tuesday would get here already! Only 53.273 hours until it comes!

I don’t know how the girl made it through the day at school. She ran to check the mailbox as soon as she got off the bus. NO BOOK! She concluded that it would be mailed out by UPS and would therefore be delivered to our doorstep later that afternoon. For the rest of the day she kept opening the front door to see if the mail carrier had left a package on our doorstep. As the evening wore on, I seriously thought about driving to the store to buy another copy just to put the poor girl out of her misery. Sure enough, when she had at last resigned herself to the fact that the book would not be arriving, I received an email notification that it had only just shipped.

The long-awaited book finally arrived on Friday. We all said our good-byes to her knowing full well that she would not be entertaining any further meaningless chitchat from us for as long as it took to read her book, and she disappeared into the bowels of Hades.

When she finally resurfaced on Tuesday, having finished the 583 page book, we all exhaled a collective sigh of relief…

And then she showed us this:

Thanks. Thanks a lot, Rick Riordan. You’re killing us here.

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