Coffee Table Declarations
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
It's hard to believe that I can remember something from 20 years ago. That just sounds like a long time. It's easier to imagine something that happened when I was 10 or something that happened in 1986 because, really, who doesn't remember 1986?

When the Challenger disaster happened I was in fifth grade and our class went to the library to watch the space shuttle take off on television. We had been talking about it for weeks - a teacher was going to space! It was so exciting that I got a front row seat. Moments later the tv was off and we were being led back to our classroom. I don't think we understood what was going on. I don't think most adults watching grasped the sudden drama unfolding. I wish I remember more about afterwards. I wish I remember how the teachers handled it or what I thought. I wasn't thinking in terms of how I would see backwards from the distance of twenty years. I was thinking how sad it was the teacher wouldn't get to go to space after all. Probably.

On a related but different subject, Sunday was my dad's 60th birthday. When I was there, he pulled out the "decade" pictures. The first picture was taken in good old 1986 (which we all remember, right?) It is a picture of my dad showing a rectangular cake with "Happy 40th" written in m&m's. They didn't have blue m&m's then by the way. I know because the next decade picture, taken in 1996, showed a cake with "Happy 50th" in m&m's, including blue. I remember when there weren't any blue m&m's, but I don't remember how I felt when the Challenger disaster took place.

Anyway, in the 1986 picture the three of us kids are gathered around my dad, gazing at the cake. The cool thing is, we purposely posed the same way for the 1996 picture. So in the 1986 picture you see my dad on his 40th birthday (how old that must've seemed to me at the time and how young it seems now!) holding the cake. On his right is my brother looking quite young, and on his left is a high chair where my little sister was sitting looking every bit a baby, and between my dad and my sister with an arm around each, is me. I had my head turned down toward the cake and really you can mostly just see my hair. But you can see the smallness of my hand draped over my dad's shoulder.

In 1996 my dad is holding his cake and on his right is my brother in the height of adolescence, with shaggy hair and looking so different from 10 years earlier. Perhaps the most different is my sister, now sitting in a chair on my dad's left, smiling with teeth missing and looking as sweet and cute as any kid from a sitcom. Between them I stand looking, as my mom pointed out, basically just the same as I do now. It was startling to realize why - I was already 20 when the picture was taken, already sort of an adult - and it hit me that I haven't been a kid in a long time. Especially when I compared the size of my hand draped over my dad's shoulder in 1986.

We haven't taken a decade picture this year yet because my brother's in California. But when he visits this summer we will stage a "60th birthday" for my dad, complete with an m&m cake. I look forward to continuing to compare our pictures for decades to come.
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Earlier this winter it was snowing and I got to leave work at 4:00. On my way home I headed for a familiar road - a street that winds down a hill. I knew it wasn't ideal but I told myself I would be careful and drive very slowly. I started down the hill without realizing it was sheer ice.

I started to slide and with no control whatsoever, spun 180 degrees and landed in a snowbank facing up the hill. My little Neon was stuck. Frustrated, I got out of the car and saw a girl walking toward me. Turns out her car was stuck a little further down and wouldn't even start. The two of us watched as, moments later, a third car became lodged in a snowbank. The lady in the car rolled down her window and jokingly asked if we should order pizza since we weren't going anywhere for a while. It was troubling because I couldn't think what to do or who to call to help me. It's not like anyone could get there anyway without facing the same fate. But yet I was calmly accepting of the situation, probably because it was one of those weird moments where you are brought together with strangers who are suddenly like old friends.

The three of us watched in horror as cars lost control coming down the hill. The tires weren't even spinning, which indicated that the drivers were not driving, just sliding. One car came within about three inches of hitting mine. Surveying the cars strewn about the street, I knew it was only a matter of time before one of ours got hit. I've only had this car a couple of months and I sure as heck didn't want anything to happen to it. I took up a post watching for other cars appearing at the top of the hill. Whenever I saw one I frantically waved my arms and yelled "go back, we're stuck here!!" At one point a car stopped at the top of the hill and I heard a guy's voice yell, "I can't go back - I'm stuck too!" Seizing the opportunity to have a guy help us push our cars out, I yelled back "Can you help us?"

The guy made his way down the hill and with the help of a resident who happened to be out shoveling nearby, he pushed the third lady's car out and then went for mine. The street was so slippery that we were falling just walking across it - it was literally ice. I offered a ride to the girl who couldn't get her car started. After all, I would want someone to help me and besides, us girls have to stick together. She said she just wanted to get a bag out of her car and headed for it as the guys were pushing me free. After sliding gently down to the end of the street and making sure I was on solid ground, I parked to wait for the girl to get to my car.

All of a sudden out of nowhere, a car was behind me beeping the horn. There was no room to pull over so I had to drive out onto the main street and then go a little ways down into a parking lot that was mostly clear. Then I got out and made my way back through the snow. I was stepping in drifts up to my knees but I was afraid to walk on the street. It was slow going and my ears felt like they were potentially going to fall off but I couldn't leave that girl stranded. By the time I got back she was gone. The only person still around was the shoveler. He told me the girl got a ride with the other guy. I was a little bit glad because that meant I could go right home but I also felt bad because she must not have thought I was coming back.

I climbed back through the deep snow. My throat was aching in the way it only can when you are exerting yourself in extreme cold. I think I was never so happy to get into the car and crank the heat up. I got home in one piece, about the time I get home when I leave work at my normal time, and thought grumblingly about how much I hate winter. And then I thought about strangers helping each other and I realized that not one of us had even exchanged names.
Friday, January 13, 2006
What people don't seem to realize is, I don't need advice for conversation starters, casual invitations, sly schemes, plots, and plans. I've got all that. I know how to ask someone out and I'm not afraid. I have conversational topics and common interests and friendly overtures galore.

What I need help with is how to deal with someone who is so desperately shy, they don't even converse in the first place. I know there is potential, after all, we spent the whole time together at a recent work function. But I sit here day after day in the center of everything, watching him walk by and smile, or smile and wave, or keep his head down. What am I supposed to do, call him over? I can't just tackle him in the hallway. Especially because I'm a little shy too.

And all I hear people say is how since he's so shy, I have to take the initiative and ask him out. Yes I know that and I am fully willing to do so, if for no other reason than to find out one way or the other instead of sitting here in limbo-land. That's not the problem. The problem is how to get him to talk to me in the first place. Every day I see him and I feel like banging my head against the wall repeatedly. He is making me crazy and I want him all the more.
Sunday, January 08, 2006
O.K. so it's Christmas Eve and you're lying in bed listening for sleigh bells when suddenly you hear noise coming from the chimney. Who is there bringing presents for you? If you answered Santa Claus, you'd be wrong - at least if you lived in Switzerland. Oh yes, I learned all about Swiss Christmas this holiday season.

For one thing, they use real candles on the tree. Real candles on the very flammable tree. A little crazy perhaps, but traditional nonetheless. And Santa Claus? No he doesn't bring presents on Christmas, he brings presents on December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day. I guess technically that makes more sense. So who leaves presents for you on Christmas you might be asking? Well it's your good friend Jesus, that's who. I'm not sure if he actually scoots up and down the chimney, but he does bring you presents, even though it's his birthday. Which, thanks to special holiday educational programs on PBS and the history channel, I can now say most assuredly that it is not actually his birthday at all. His real birthday is approximately April 17th, 6 B.C. (after telling that to my mom I asked, "hey, isn't that your anniversary?" to which she replied "yes, but not the 6 B.C. part - although it feels that way sometimes.") But I digress.

I'm not sure if Jesus leaves coal or withholds presents from you if you've been bad, but on St. Nicholas Day look out for Santa carrying a club to knock some sense into unruly children - for real! Coal? Those American children get off easy. And lest we forget about the third holiday of the season which doesn't even exist in America, I'll tell you what I can about Three Kings Day which takes place on January 6th - the twelvth day of Christmas.

There is a special cake or cakes for Three Kings Day and in one cake is a small plastic king (or in modern times, perhaps a queen just to make everything a little more inclusive). If your cake has the plastic royalty in it, you are the king/queen of the day and you get to wear a crown. So there's something else to look forward to after Christmas is over.

I tried to determine if Swiss people feel betrayal at the discovery that none of these things are real - Santa doesn't bring presents, Jesus doesn't stop by to drop off goodies, etc. But there seemed to be no anger to report. I remember feeling outraged at the revelation that Santa wasn't real. I wasn't so angry at my parents necessarily, but at adults in general for taking part in the grand conspiracy to manipulate children into behaving. I long ago decided that I won't tell my future children an outright lie like that. But I will still make sure they have magical holidays.

Oh and speaking of magical holidays, my brother didn't come home for Christmas this year but at least my sister's boyfriend was there in his place! My brother decided to spend Christmas in the magical California sunshine and he was greatly missed. But at least Santa wasn't waiting in a darkened living room with a club in hand ready to beat the crap out of us, so there's a plus.
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