Wednesday, February 23, 2011

There's something about Bacon...

I decided to out myself on Facebook today. My conscience could no longer tolerate living a double life. It’s tough on the soul to keep saying one thing on the outside while suppressing feelings completely contrary on the inside. I needed to have the burden lifted from my shoulders, so today I let the world (well, 267 people of the world) know what I have always known to be true: I have a deep and abiding lust in my heart - pork lust, that is.  Judge me if you will, but the Pig love is strong with this one, and I'm not going to hide it any more.

It is well-known that I regularly stand on my soapbox and denounce the Pig as a clogger of arteries and a producer of love handles, but just like a TV preacher who advocates the sanctity of marriage while covertly arranging midnight dalliances with a male prostitute, I, too, have been known to discreetly scarf down a slice or two of bacon while professing my lightly toasted, whole wheat bagel to be just enough for me. I knew it would come out sooner or later that I secretly have a nibble or four of the country sausage I make for Sunday breakfast on occasion. The mere fact that I continued to allow the Pig into my home after declaring my diet to be free of all meat should have been a dead give away. I kept inviting the fox into the hen house so to speak, yet I still played along like tofu was making me happy.

How can I not love the Pig? Bacon is so irresistible when it’s dancing that juicy little dance in the frying pan, teasing me with each of its pops and crackles. Who among us can deny the attraction of the glamorous spiral-sliced ham when it’s decked out in exquisite capers and rings of pineapple, making us feel like we came underdressed for the party? It’s scored in such a way that we only get a glimpse of the salty delight beneath the decoration, enough to make us want to rip off the sweet accessories and dig in with reckless abandon. There are nights when I bite my lip and gently close my eyes to sleep only to be tortured with images of the Pig slowly turning over an open fire, begging me to pull him apart and cram that piggy goodness between two slices of soft, white bread. The Pig is the stuff of fantasies - luscious, greasy food fantasies where the mention of bad cholesterol and blood pressure medicine is strictly forbidden. It’s a place where spicy pork rinds are smiled upon, and the only health food allowed is the kind that has been seasoned with fatback.

I have tried the imitators. I had to know if they could quench that desire in me that screams for pork barbecue and lovingly-prepared sausage balls. I won’t pretend to be impressed with their lackluster performance. They were just posers and never measured up to the high standard that my beloved Pig has set for my discriminating taste buds.  The intentions were good, but the texture was an epic failure. Such is the way of the Pig, often imitated but never duplicated.

I’ll go on now helplessly loving the Pig from afar. I’ll keep playing the game, ignoring the fact that the mere scent of the Pig wafting up my stairs in the morning makes me drool on my pillow.  He’s the bad boy of the meat world, and I have a thing for bad boys who go great with eggs…and melted cheese…and potato salad...and hash browns...

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Worst-Kept Secrets of Adulthood

I can't get the Happiness Project lady out of my mind.  You know, the one who is on a daily quest to make us all a generation of smiling, happy people.  She almost had me.  She almost convinced me into thinking that happiness can be found in the musings of a New York City-dwelling writer who has no idea what makes me want to throw open my window and scream, "Good morning, Sunshine!"  I'm a firm believer that you can't force or fake happiness.  It's not something that has a formula which, once discovered, will ensure that you are always on the sunny side of the street. This woman seems to believe she has a firm grip on it, though.  She posted a couple of nuggets of wisdom on her website that I found particularly hard to swallow: "Happiness doesn't always make you feel happy" and "You're not happy unless you think you're happy".  Huh?  I'm fairly sure that if I keep reading those sentences back to back, my head will explode.

Even though I can't quite get on board her train to Blissville, I did find the "Secrets to Adulthood" mildly amusing. (I'm not sure they were meant to be, though).  Some of her secrets are simply common sense, such as "Soap and water remove most stains" and "Don't be afraid to ask for help".  However, there were a couple that made me bristle with anger: "Don't let yourself get too hungry" and "It's nice to have plenty of money".  You think so, huh?  Don't we all want to have an endless supply of cash?  I'm sure that a hardworking, single mother with three kids and barely enough money to keep them all from being the next homeless statistic would love it if  she and her children never got "too hungry". 

This list started the wheels turning in my brain as to what Secrets of Adulthood I might impart to the younger generation.  My friend, Aimee, who has a well-honed sense of snark, offered up a few of her own to get me started:

* Scrapbooking is stupid.  Don't waste your time because your kids are just going to chuck it some day.
* Never turn down a man who offers to buy you a margarita. (My personal favorite)
* If you don't make your bed, you might as well go outside in your pajamas.  Bed-making is an essential part of having a good day.
* Iron everything. Wrinkles make you look sloppy and hungover. (Okay, I added that last part.)

After a few minutes of serious thinking (and Facebook surfing, and coffee drinking, and toenail painting), I came up with these Secrets of Adulthood that might enlighten the Red Bull and Axe spray set:

1. Algebra really does suck.
2. You're going to end up drinking skim milk eventually.
3. Regularly staying up late is only fun if you aren't gainfully employed.
4. Know how to calculate percentages if for no other reason than proper tipping and shoe sales.
5. You'll wish you had time for a nap.
6. Smoking as a teenager doesn't make you look cool.  It makes you look like a felon-in-training.
7. Dance like no one is watching only when there really is no one watching, especially if you've been hitting the tequila.
8. The Tooth Fairy sometimes forgets to go to the ATM.
9. Your parents were right.
10. Having children really does change everything.
11. It's okay if you don't like people you are related to.
12. A tan doesn't make you look skinny.
13. Don't stop believing in Santa Claus.
14. Use the word "like" half as much as you usually do and "totally" even less.
15.  Never buy sushi on sale.
16. You probably won't find happiness in a New York Times best selling book.

Or something like that...

Sunday, February 6, 2011

In Pursuit of Happiness...

A friend of mine recently turned me on to a woman who dedicated a year of her life to finding out the secret of happiness.  This writer is a woman who has obviously never had a grande white chocolate mocha latte while sitting in a clean, quiet house watching "What Not To Wear" and rocking a pair of jeans made with just enough spandex as Robert Downey, Jr. gently rubs her shoulders and asks if he can finish packing her bag for their whirlwind tour of Paris.  ( either, but that sure sounds like happiness.)  She must have found the answer for herself because the book she wrote on her "research" was a number one New York Times bestseller. (Sigh, again.)

My first thought after visiting her website was, "Who bankrolled this endeavor?"  I would LOVE to have the opportunity to spend a year of my life outside of the cubicle walls exploring "the wisdom of the ages, current scientific studies, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier".

I needed to know more about this woman.  I was really hoping that she was the product of a broken home who worked her way through college as a waitress at IHOP, barely making ends meet but graduating with honors by her blood, sweat and tears.  I wanted her to be the person who runs a no-kill shelter for unwanted dogs or perhaps the counselor at a half-way house for pregnant teenagers. You know, someone who has lived through the bowels of despair and wants to know what really makes humans happy despite their lot in life. However, this line from her bio confirmed what I suspected, "Before turning to writing, I started out in law. At Yale Law School, I was editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal, and I was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor when I realized that I really wanted to be a writer." The woman needed an interesting hobby, so in the immortal words of Keith Partridge she decided to, "Come on, get happy!"

I have no beef with anyone wanting to find happiness, even if they do already have plenty of money and good hair.  Uncovering this elusive secret would be a daunting task for sure, and only the bravest J. Crew warriors should apply. I assume it would mean no dentist appointments, carpool lines, express lanes at Wal-Mart, or mammograms.  Certainly she avoided the DMV on the last day of the month and Target on Black Friday, because we all know that no happiness dwells in those places.  I am guessing that she declined all invitations from the PTO to bake enough cupcakes to feed a small army for the annual fall festival, and, while we're on that subject, she would definitely be staying as far away as possible from the PTO meetings in general.  I'm willing to bet that her feet steered clear of any and all gynecological stirrups for those twelve months, and she probably made every effort not to hear a single Justin Bieber song.  That year must have been nothing short of brutal.

 I realize that I am the last person on Earth to be mocking someone for wanting to make her life happier.  I totally own the fact that I am very much like Eeyore walking around with a black cloud over my head.  But spending a year searching for happiness makes me tired.  Is it supposed to be that hard?  Is every waking moment meant to be filled with glee?  I'm guessing that the very unhappy times are there by design.  Maybe you should let the little things thrill you like getting a shopping cart at the grocery store that doesn't sound like the space shuttle launching with each step or  hitting every green light on your way home from work.  Maybe it's just me, but being happy and being popular are just alike in that if you have to ask yourself if you are, then you aren't.

**Coming soon - Another look at the Happiness Project and my take on their "Secrets of Adulthood". It turns out it's no big secret after all.**

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Parent Trap

My father turned eighty-years-old at the end of January. Well, I guess I should say that the eightieth anniversary of his birth just passed. He died twenty-one years ago, a lifetime ago but like yesterday all at once.  An entire generation of people grew up never knowing this man at all. My kids didn't question why there wasn’t a Grandpa to go along with their beloved Granny. It had just always been that way. January tends to bring me around to thinking about him because it is both the month of his birth and the month of this death, and I’ll be brutally honest here: I really don’t think about him much any other time of the year.

To say that my father and I weren’t close would be a gross understatement. Until the last six months of his life, I made a conscious effort to avoid him at all costs. I resented him for not being the kind of man I expected him to be.  Is it so hard to hug your kids or tell them you love them? I hated him for not being the dad who wears a tie to work and plays ball with his children or helps them with their homework. I was furious because I didn’t have the Daddy whose lap you climb onto and feel protected from the mean, scary world.  More than anything, I wanted someone to protect me from him. He was never physically abusive, but more like the icy dictator who forced his minions to tip-toe around him, lest we wake the ire of the sleeping beast.

However, when someone - even your nemesis - is painfully dying of cancer, the river of hate flowing between you can sometimes be diverted long enough to let a little bit of sympathy and caring seep in, possibly even drying up the toxic feelings forever. When my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I wasn’t sure what I should feel. There was sadness of course, but only because my mother was devastated. I kept it to myself that relief  was the emotion that came to mind first. (Daughter of the Year, I was.) More than anything, I just felt nothing. I was twenty-one and stupid and consumed with myself.  I just went through the motions of doing what my mom needed me to do until he was gone, careful to suppress any feelings that might bubble to the surface.

Now that a couple of decades have passed, I’ve had time to consider what kind of legacy my father left for his children. We are, by definition, one of the most dysfunctional families around. We are scattered, disjointed and disconnected from each other, and I have stopped trying to mend that. It takes two (or six in this case) to tango.  I’ve embraced the idea that even though you are meant to love your family, you don’t have to actually like them. What I have also come to realize after twenty-plus years is that (gasp!) I am just like my father.  Even though we are cut from the same cloth, I - unlike my father - have the alcohol-free clarity of mind to work toward being a better parent. I know I fail most days. I’m ill-tempered. I’m moody.  I’m demanding in that I probably expect too much from a couple of elementary school kids (and the rest of the world), but I hug them and hold them and tell them I love them every day, and that alone means that I’ve done better.

I understand now that he wasn’t really the monster I painted him to be in my childhood. Like me, he didn’t have the clearest picture of what good parenting should resemble, and I have come to the place in my life where I don’t hate him any more. At the end of the day, I learned one very valuable lesson from my father if nothing else: how not to act as a parent.  For me, that’s big.