here’s to you, number 12

If this is your first trip to The Half Truth, you’ll need to have read this post before continuing. Otherwise you won’t be able to achieve the appropriate level of moral outrage.

The other day I was listening to an audio book on my new speakers that the hubs bought me while playing dusting ninja on the shelves that I’m certain are responsible for my inability to breathe anywhere in my apartment. (That or Stuart, but the kid can fetch and play catch so getting rid of him is out of the question.) The book was David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day, which is one of the finest pieces of literature–audio or otherwise– ever published. It’s a cruel joke that people often compare my style of writing to his because the truth is that he is such a rich and captivating story tellerm, able to do exactly what I cannot, keep people engaged for more than 1200 words. But I was reminded while listening to him tell stories of his family that I need to work harder at improving my writing style… and finding ways to talk about my family so that they laugh too. (Currently not the case.)

During the course of one the stories he tells, he talks about a conversation with his sister where she asks him to please not exploit her current strife in one of his stories. His response, and I am paraphrasing, is, “Why? You’re not going to do anything with it.” The narrative continues expounding upon the idea that as a writer, you watch the pain and humor of others march off into the abyss because no one captures it. To a writer it begs the question “why waste a perfectly good story of humiliation and personal tragedy?”  Why not share it? Why be so wasteful? Of course to our friends and family it seems so clear, “because, you asshole, it makes me feel stupid and vulnerable.”

But there is more to it than that. Imagine if a painter was told not to paint certain things, a photographer not to photograph certain things. (Well, I guess then you’d just have American media. Pretty pictures of the things they want you to see, not the things that are actually happening.) I was always under the impression that to be written about was the highest human achievement. You enter the ranks of Oprah, Kennedy, Jesus. You are immortalized in ink. Despite your misgivings about the judgments of others, imagine for a moment a picture bigger than you. Someday all the people you know will be dead, but you’ll still have your name in a work of literature. You will, quite literally, have the last word. What’s better than that? Nothing I can think of.

The obstacle is being a good enough writer to write about people in a way that makes their grating personality attributes seem charming and enduring. Some of the great characters of our time were likely based on someone who was painful to be around for more than 15 minutes, but the way that they were crafted in prose made them seem lovable, even a little vulnerable. (For example, the great Elizabeth Bennett. As a woman it is my duty to claim her as my literary heroine, a woman of such great character and morality that I aspire, daily, to be a living homage to her. In truth, I wouldn’t invite the pious bitch out for a cocktail . Plus the fact that she likely doesn’t drink, which would only make her more socially awkward and harder to be around, and then you factor in her obscenely wealthy husband and there’s a girl I don’t want at my birthday party.)

The final layer is that of truth and transparency. The blog is such a tattletale. We live in a world where honesty is confined to passive aggressive non-verbal, non-confrontational electronic means. You don’t tell someone you don’t like them, you simply defriend them on Facebook and then wait to see how long it takes them to figure it out. Mad at a boyfriend or husband? Don’t tell them in the moment. Wait til they leave for work and then send a text. It stands to reason that the blog is going to tell a slightly more colorful story than the one that really happened. It pains me to not have written about Hawaii, but the truth is that I’m no Sedaris. My mother in law would be outraged, my grandmother in law would think I was an ungrateful bitch, and my sister in law would cut me out of family photos. It’s a lose, lose. The fans want funny, but no one wants to be the subject of funny.

Fortunately for all of us, there will always be my mother. A woman who values infamy almost as much as fame. To her, to be mentioned in any capacity contributes to her notoriety amongst a select group of blog enthusiasts. You have to be careful though, there are a few taboo subjects, things that therapy hasn’t sorted out and time hasn’t scarred. Those are the things I will write about when she is dead. (After I’ve given her 2-4 months to come back from the dead. I’m sure that if there is a way to get back from the otherside, she will figure it out. I’m also no fool. If she can’t do it in four months, it can’t be done. It’s not like she’s got a lot of body matter to lug around.)

Other than those things, though, it’s open season. Including continuing the tale of my mother, The Kitty Killer.

After posting about my mother’s inability to keep dogs, cats, gerbils, guinnea pigs, small birds, and squirrels alive, I did spend some time pondering whether or not the SPCA could have grounds for throwing her in prison. It’s not like they were all poisoned at her hand or drank funky Kool-Aid, but the mortality rate near my mother is alarming, not to mention suspicious. It’s almost like Munchhausen by Proxy with dead pets. Which is creepy. I realized, though, that if the SPCA decided to take interest in any part of my mother’s theater of animal cruelty, they would first have to wade through the six or seven thousand rednecks selling un-vaccinated hybrid puppies out of shoe boxes outside the Fiesta mart before they could worry about a little old lady whose pets “accidentally” die.  By the time that investigation was over, my mother would have commissioned portraits and albums of each dead pet to showcase her love. She would flip through the albums with unsteady hands, pausing occasionally to sip from a chipped tea cup of hot water with lemon, and then look down and take a deep breath– the only way to fight back the inevitable tears. To endure such loss–and in such abundance–would break a lesser woman. Not my mother. She was of pioneer stock. To love is to lose. The happiness always comes with heartbreak.

I also decided to keep it from everyone that she procured another kitten just weeks after the death of number 11. I hung up on her when she called and later refused to participate in any conversation about the kitty. (For all I know the SPCA and the CIA are after my mother and her phones are tapped. This could go all Michael Vick on me and I am not going to be standing there with my proverbial pants down. Let me be clear: I DO NOT CONDONE THIS.) I didn’t hear much about the cat, but that she had eventually decided that it couldnt make a life for itself on her farm. She gave it to a neighbor, who promptly returned it on account of it being evil.

Later that same day (the day of the return, which happens to be today), I get a call from my mother.

Mother: “Well, I have to call the doctor to tell him I’m going to be late on account of my dead pussycat.”

Me: You’re a terrible person. I can’t even have this conversation.

Mother: I know. So tragic. So tiny and cute.

Me: How old?

Mother: Oh, you know, about ten weeks.

(I could tell from her tone that this one had died too soon. It still showed signs of needing her and it was for that loss that she was mourning.)

Me: How ?

Mother: I backed over it.

shut the front door! it’s ask caroline wednesday!

Womens Bathroom
Image by Jdmrhd via Flickr

It’s a bathroom-tastic week here at The Half Truth.

Dear Caroline,

What is your opinion about talking and socializing while in the bathroom? It happens a lot but …what if it continues while you both go to your respective stalls?

Or what if it is taking place while you are in the stall and others are all around you chatting up their outfits while grooming and hand washing?

Love,

No Chatter in the Shatter

Dear Chatter,

How nice for you that this is your biggest concern in your bathroom life. My more immediate concern is what do you do if you need to doo and someone walks into the bathroom with you? Is the courtesy flush passe? But, hey, if chit chat is your big concern, chit chat we will discuss.

What I really wonder is whether the gents are chatting it up while holding their members and standing like criminals in a lineup. There is nary a story I’ve been told from the male perspective that doesn’t have something about “my buddy and I were in the bathroom, talking about tits”– or some variation and it does give me pause to think that us women folk feel so awkward about talking and tinkling. (Then again, there is something that the closed door brings to the the situation. It’s another thing entirely if we were all sitting on stall-less potties, I imagine that then it would feel awkward not to talk. You’d just be staring at your fellow coworker sitting there… doing whatever she is doing…)

My first response? No. No talking in the toilet room. But then I think to myself, “self, you talk while flossing, brushing your teeth, you’ve likely talked while passing gas, or thinking about random sweaty sex with a stranger. When, then, does it seem so taboo to talk while tinkling?” And then I remember. It’s about poo.

Sure, if every girl was simply having some tinkle time, I’d say talk away. But there’s no telling. You have to pretend that anyone, at anytime, needs some personal time. There could be poo in the equation and as long as there is that chance, you need to shut the fuck up and get out of the bathroom. Quit your gossiping and hair primping and leave the potential pooers in peace.

Think of it… the men have an automatic silent signal. If there is an open urinal and a man chooses the stall, he’s either got a stream issue or a poo sitch. There’s no conversation about it amongst the masses, simply a silent reverie. A man is having a moment. Leave him and speak not of this to anyone.

Not so with the ladies. There is a Victorian-era hangover that assumes ladies don’t use the toilet. We simply enter the stall to think about fairies and butterflies and take deep breaths. We gather, clump even. We chat about the weather (or each other) without considering even for a moment that the shoes under the stall door, the ones that havent moved the entire time we’ve been there, belong to someone who is breaking out in a cold sweat waiting for us to leave to they can have some peace and quiet.

My advice to you (and everyone else) is to keep the porcelain palace sacred. There exists no greater concentration of karma in the entire universe then right there between those tiles. If you choose to talk, do it only with the full and binding knowledge that someday its going to be you in there, listening to girls twirl their hair and talk about white wine while your fight back the sweet water and full body chills, bartering with God to please, please, please make them leave. Please.

To a peaceful…

Caroline

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saturday night

me: on a scale of one to ten drunkness, you’re at least a seven.

the hubs: well, yeah. but it wasnt all the drinking.

me: and your eyes are super blood shot

the hubs: the pot was a super bad idea

me: i bet

the hubs: yeah, i was kind of looking to you to be all bitchy and say, “no!”

me: well, what can i say, I let you make your own decisions.

the hubs: well, in the future i’d appreciate it if you wouldnt do that.

and they’re off!

Toilet paper tower
Image via Wikipedia

No matter where you work, what you do for work, or how you feel about your work, this one thing is irrefutable: the microcosm of the workplace is truly one of the most entertaining and perplexing entities in human existence. I don’t watch The Office, but I don’t need to. I know that it’s genius, the same way that I know a show similar  about a gym would be awesome. Those two places are cesspools of human bacteria and culture and I cannot get enough of it.

The biggest work drama in my life is currently is the toilet paper in the ladies’ bathroom. I won’t even get into the brand situation, which was an issue for me long before the present shenanigans, but it’s dire. (I will say, however, that this is clearly recycled and there is not a bear ANYWHERE on the packaging. As far as I’m concerned if there isn’t a bear on the package it’s not toilet paper. It’s crepe paper. Useful for random crafts and birthday parties. Not sanding your sexy parts…) The situation breaks down like this:

A few weeks ago there was an toilet paper emergency. It was similar in nature to the copy paper emergency and can no doubt be traced back to our office manager leaving and us finally figuring out what she was up to all that time. Anyway, one afternoon (while I was out of the office) I get an email from the president of our company assuring all the ladies that he had been made aware of the TP drought and would solve the short term problem and implement a system for long term toilet paper availability. Its an odd email, but frankly weirder shit (no pun) happens around HM on a daily basis. I was mostly just disappointed that the new toilet paper was slated to be the same recycled crepe paper as before.

By the time I returned from the office (I think I was in Hawaii) the toilet paper situation was under control. Each stall has a two roll dispenser and we’ve also gotten in the habit of hanging a spare roll on the purse hook on the back of the door. (Sometimes I laugh a little when I think about the times my lady coworkers have had to do the pants down waddle to get a roll from under the sink. At least I assume they’ve had to do it…I have.) Everything was back to normal. Sort of.

It’s hard to remember a time when normal toilet paper rolls existed. While Schick and Gillette battled it to see who could create a six bladed weapon for those scary Latino girls who stalked me in high school and beat each other with lunch trays, Charmin and Quilted Northern were in competition to release the thickest roll of toilet paper known to man. Do you remember roll extenders? There is something so disturbingly American about the roll extender. I think that roll extenders and Double Downs are cousins. Or at least one leads to the other. Apparently, during that same time, Marcol, the red headed, recycled step child of the toilet paper world was having a little competition of their own. The goal? Create the thinnest ply toilet paper that can be spun into the tiniest roll of toilet paper the world has ever seen. The problem? Two work time PBTs (personal bathroom times) and the role is finished. Not a serious problem unless there are more bathroom users than roll replacers.

In my score plus years of life, I have never known a group of ladies more incapable of roll replacing. I’ll admit that the roll holder contraption is tricky and it does take some time to figure it out, but it’s not a Chinese finger trap. (I do feel a twinge of guilt as I’m typing, as I clearly remember my first year of marriage when I came home to find the hubs standing in the living room holding a fresh roll of Charmin and the bar that holds the roll in the holder. He then proceeded to perform a step by step live tutorial on how to change a toilet paper roll. I never liked him.)

The stages of toilet paper replacing anger are many, but distinct. It starts with ignorance. You go a few weeks constantly changing the roll before you realize you’re the only shmuck doing it. Then there’s the disbelief stage, followed by frustration, then anger, and finally (I think) the stage I’m currently in, humor. I know use the toilet paper “sitch” like my own personal daytime soap. Actually, I use it like my own little game.

It’s clear what’s happening, and as much as I don’t want to be a part of it, I also don’t need to be a loser. The fire of competition burns too deeply to allow me to ignore the game that everyone else is very clearly playing. It starts with initial observation. Is there a roll that is clearly the safe choice? The object of the game is to not be the person who has to change the roll. If there is a roll with clearly more TP, super. Done. Level one complete.

The midlevels of the game mostly involve keeping the rolls even. It’s then incumbent upon your opponents to make the tough choices. It’s like peace times. Yes, everyone is pretending to relax, but what’s really going on is highly strategic thinking. More vicious than defensive strategy is offensive strategy. Keep the rolls even until you force someone to make the choice. When one dips below the other, you give the next stall occupant and obvious choice. They advance because of your sacrifice. Sometimes you have to play dirty. Sometimes you have to be a soldier, make the tough choices, use less than the desired number of squares. Force a hand washing, if you understand what I’m saying.

And then there are the final levels, the ones where mind games and physical sacrifice are not enough. You must employ foresight. This is where the cheaters and pansies are revealed. Those who lack the mental fortitude to play the game. Instead of risking defeat, they go AWOL. I’ve entered the game only to find two empty rolls and the extra roll–still on the purse hook– with a trail of paper hanging almost to the floor. A flag of surrender. The sign of a coward.

There is also peculiar behavior derivative of the game. The bathroom, which was never a social scene in the office but was at once a place for at least two people, has become a one-at-a-time bathroom. You cannot risk someone seeing you leave your stall, know what your move was. The integrity of the game must be maintained at all costs. It is a game of stealth, silence, night moves and trickery. This is not about relief this is about victory!

I don’t know how long the game can continue. Eventually we will grow tired of the lies and someone will suggest we buy toilet paper with more than eight squares per roll. Or maybe we’ll spread a rumor that there are web cams in the stalls. But for now, the game is alive. And until there is a unanimous (though silent) understanding that it has ended, I will slip silently into the stalls and make my move. And my movement.

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better yet, let’s wear bathing suits to work!

I don’t need to give my work community any further reasons to poke me in the eye with a hot stick. If it’s not bad enough that I don’t partake in the happy hours and pub crawls, I’ve also developed an apparent disdain for gatherings that smell more social than business, re: meetings that are excuses to talk about “things” and “feelings” rather than “clients” and “marketing.”

I don’t know how it happened. I think my years working at the venerable, and by that I mean completely dysfunctional and emotionally wounding, Louis Boston in college taught me that the people you work with should not be your friends. Sure, you may cherry pick one or two people to cross the line with, but taking on the lot of them is dangerous. Deep down you have to remember that these are convenience friends, their love and support is mostly contingent upon their continued employment. You don’t want to be the shmuck who shelled out $20 for every Pam, Tami, and Donna who had a baby or got married and then end up realizing that none of them are coming to your baby shower six years down the road.

I don’t feel guilty about my work/life separation. On the one hand, for the first 18 month I worked here the staff thought I was sleeping with my boss, and even still I can’t be certain they’re all convinced that I’m not. On the other hand, they’ve got each other. Come morning someone is always polite enough to tell me that they missed me, but I’m quite certain that mid-Jager bomb not a single person is toasting my name or lamenting over my absence. Why? Likely because I’m unpleasant.

And don’t get me wrong, I work with great people. Some of the best, in fact; I’m just very, very cautious about getting to close and friendly. Believe it or not, it makes things harder. Become besties with a work friend and then I double dog dare you to try to have a serious performance conversation. Either you’re freaking out on the inside or their internal monologue is going on about how “totally ridiculous” this whole thing is, “like, aren’t we friends? You know I’d totally have your back.” Bad idea jeans, kids.

But there remains the basic truth about work relationships: no matter what, keep it friendly. If you’d care to take on the wrath and hatred of your entire company, be my guest, but I am way too insecure about my performance and breath to go alienating my fellow ad friends. And so it is that I have to do things that deep down inside make me so uncomfortable that I get a rash up near my ears just thinking about it. One such thing? Summer outings.

They sounds so harmless. In fact, using an antiquated, pre-pre-marital sex word like “outing” makes it sound downright lovely. “Yes, yes, friends, let us all gather on the veranda and set upon our outing. Where ever shall we go? I do hear that kind Mr. Hawthorne has some lovely berries this time of year. What say we pick and giggle? Oh! Yes! Let’s do!” I think breezes and ice cream cones, the warm sun dancing off of Indian Paintbrushes or something. What I don’t think of is frolicking around the co-workers in a bathing suit.

This year we’re going on a lovely summer outing to the beach. Come Friday we will pack ourselves into a party bus and head towards the ocean. We will play games and drink beverages, eat seaside and play volleyball. And twelve hours later, when we’re exhausted and spent, we’ll gather ourselves back on the bus of eternal merriment and travel back towards Boston with love and camaraderie in our hearts, the warm glow of booze in our blood, and our eyes towards a better tomorrow.

To me this means two hours of diligent focus and Zen-like ignorance of the jiggling and jogging happening around me, motions that will certainly cause me to yiff up anything I’ve chanced to eat for breakfast. Assuming my first application of SPF 55 lasts it’s optimal 4 hours, I’ll be primed for a reapply right around lunch time. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity to ask one of my coworkers to rub the lotion on my body, as I’d hate to maintain dignity and decorum in the midst of our bonding. I can then look forward to the quizzical demenor of my comrades, wondering why I wouldn’t want to have a few brews before getting on a bathroom-less bus and swerving back towards the city after dark. I’m really, really hopeful that I’ll get some sand in my lady parts so I can try to appear calm and collected while a seaside infection makes it’s way into my body via my dampened bathing suit.

All in all, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get my ass kicked in a super-charged game of volleyball dripping  with passive aggressive angst while wearing a bathing suit in public.

Better yet, why don’t we wear bathing suits to work and spend the day playing passive-aggressive volleyball with our families (which would likely be very productive)?  No? Bad plan?

Oh, summer outings. How I love thee.