Hung Up

I’d never noticed these little thingies on the palm trees at the beach.

Miles run today: 3

Words written in my novel so far: 37,574

Car essays I should write for a best-selling memoir: 52

You may not believe this, but I have another car episode to share with you. If you’re playing catch-up, you can check out some of my earlier angst here.

So today, I was over at my hubby’s work, helping out around the office and finishing Cutting for Stone, crying and hoping the person on the other end of the phone thought I had a cold.

After lunch with the hubs, I rushed off, thinking of the ten million and one things I needed to get done.  I turned out of his industrial street singing “Call Me Maybe,” sunshine and happiness, and all heck broke loose.

Just over my left shoulder, on the driver’s side in the region of my Achille’s heel, the sliding door, a God-awful metallic thumping-and-banging started up.

My first thought: my door has decided to take leave of the minivan, all on its own.

My second thought: crime has finally come to my town, and someone has jumped on the side of my car, Fast and Furious/Jason Bourne-style, trying to get in, wielding a machine gun. Or machete. Yes, machete sounds more ominous.

So I pulled into a right turn lane that I had never seen anyone pull into so I could climb out and do battle with the machete-wielding dude on my rear wheel-well, and the car right behind me was turning right. I’m serious: people never turn right there.

I hop right out with my best ninja pose.

And there was no one there. The door was still on the car (albeit missing a handle).

But a mangled, twisted clothes hanger was sticking out of my rear tire. And it had been beating my car, trying to get unstuck.

So I used my big-girl muscles and yanked it out, expecting air to come shooting out of the tire in a big WHOOSH!

Nothing.

I drove into a nearby parking lot and did what every self-respecting, independent woman does when confronted with tires that are supposed to be spewing air but aren’t: I called my husband.

Two calls.

Three calls. I mean… I was just there.

“Hello?”

“I got a coat hanger in my tire.”

Silence.

Sometimes I get the feeling people aren’t excited to talk to me. This was a time like that.

“What did you do?”

“I pulled it out.” Duh.

Sigh. “I wish you had called me.”

This is when I kept my mouth shut so it doesn’t say things I don’t want it to.

That’s how I ended up about a quarter of a mile down the street at Tire King, which I’ve never visited, which is right next to the defunct Dog House, which looks like a large version of a dog house with a huge hot dog on top, which I also never visited but never ceased to interest me, which is just across the street from Capi’s Deli, which is actually a gas station which everyone tries to convince me sells the best sub sandwiches this side of the Mississippi.

So I enter Tire King in my old running clothes, no makeup, all ready for The Run That Never Happened (or really, the run that happened after all this, in 90-degree heat and sun).

I told the woman at the counter my sob story and asked if they could plug the hole.

She had the cool kind of silver hair that’s all spiky, and you could tell she ran the place, man. I bet if Larry the Tire Guy said the “F” word, she would probably give him a Look and remind him how profanity doesn’t happen on her turf. I knew all that about her and more just by seeing how she tucked in her Tire King polo shirt all neat-like even though she dealt with greasy guys all day long.

“We don’t plug; we patch,” she said.

Believe me when I say that if she had offered to stick part of her turkey sandwich in the hole just so I could finish my errands, I would have paid her $25.

She gave me an I’m-so-sorry look. “I have 25 cars in front of yours; it’s the Friday of Labor Day weekend,” she said.

But inexplicably, she followed me out to the car, leaving her turf unwomanned. The tide of my luck was turning.

We both bent over the back tire and made faces at the scratches the hanger had made on my sliding door’s paint job. It’s amazing how much damage can occur in a quarter-mile.

Then I got in the car and did a cool reverse jobbie with the door open that I never get to do, so I felt cool and kind of like a car expert. Next thing you know, I’d be jumping in the driver’s side window, Dukes of Hazard style.

A Tire King jumpsuited guy came over and sprayed the tire with Windex, which made me think, “Well, now, I know it’s dirty, but uh…”

Supposedly, magic bubbly things would happen had there been a hole.

No magic happened.

“So, wing and a prayer, huh?” I asked them, trying not to imagine my crunched-up body landing in some ditch with a tire blowout.

The Tire King directed me to an open bay and filled up all of my tires.

And there you go: I got all of my tires filled up for free. I mean, that doesn’t happen every day, folks. Even the gas stations charge you 25 cents.

“Well, you might have a slow leak…” Tire King said, who smiled and said he was headed out to a local lake for the long weekend. “Have a great weekend!”

Do you remember in The Princess Bride when Billy Crystal/Miracle Max is in the little hut, watching the heroes leave, and his wife asks if he thinks they’ll make it, and Miracle Max says, “It’ll take a miracle!”

Yeah, that’s the way I feel about whether I get most places these days. Cross my fingers, say a little prayer. Try not to get hung up.

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Sitting Under a Single, Exposed Bulb

I love beachy foliage.

Miles run yesterday: 10 (apologies: I started this post yesterday)

Words written in my novel so far: 36,059

Forms I have filled out for school in the past three days: 13

Update: The Powers That Be have taken down the odd, middle-of-the-road stop sign from our wacky intersection and made the whole thing a three-way-stop. In the end, the poor sign was hit or the reason for at least four accidents.

So, I was both tagged and honored with another blogging award recently.

Thank you to Ravena Guron, Wonder Teen Writer, for tagging me with questions, and the lovely Poe over at The Poe Log (love that name!) for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award.

Ravena posed these questions to fellow bloggers:

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?

I thought for sure I would be an actress, writer or stay-at-home mom. At least I got two of the three in the end!

2. If you could marry a celebrity, which one would it be?

Hmmmm. Wow… hem haw hem haw… Yeah. Daniel Craig. (The hemming and hawing was fake. I had my answer a while ago.)

But I think I’ll keep my hubby. While my husband does not emerge from the ocean wearing tight swim shorts, he fixes things like minivan power doors, and I doubt Daniel Craig knows a single thing about those.

3. Do you think aliens are real?

I live with one. (“I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien, I’m an Englishman in New York.” Ten points for anyone who remembers that song and has heard it sung in concert.)

4. Which season do you like the best and why?

Summer is the best season. Don’t even try to convince me otherwise. I love water, sunshine and being outside. I love milkshakes and sweet tea and eating dinner on our deck. I love vacations and the beach and the mountains and running in the morning before it gets too hot.

5. What sort of books do you read?

I read all kinds of books, including women’s fiction, literary fiction, narrative nonfiction, biographies, memoirs, YA, and some mysteries.

6. What is your favorite book?

What a loaded question! How could I choose? But one of the first books to impact me like I’d been hit in the gut with wonderfulness was T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Because I read it at such an impressionable time in my life, I’d have to say it rocked my world.

7. Why did you start blogging?

Writers write. And I wanted my writing to get out there in the world. What a fun way to riff on a wide variety of topics and complete short-term writing goals!

8. If I gave you a million pounds (well, dollars for those of us in the U.S.) right now, what would you spend it on?

Travel, clothes and braces for my kids. First up: a trip to Water Country USA. Maybe I would close the park down and invite 100 of our closest friends. No lines!

9. What is your favorite TV show?

We are very opportunistic; we get hooked on whatever is available at the time. Our faves this summer have been So You Think You Can Dance, Psych, Warehouse 13 and Perception. When the new fall shows start, we’ll be watching something completely different.

10. If you gave birth to twins, would you give them rhyming names?

No. I think I might pick a theme and run with it… like Goodberry’s sundaes: Better Butterscotch and Totally Toffee.

11. If you could, would you go back in time and be 17 again?

Hell, no.

I’ll post some great blog links in my next post to pass along the tag and award. Stay tuned.

The Myth of Omnipotence

My husband and daughter competed in the “Tractor Pull” competition in which my husband’s feet could not find purchase on the slippery bottom of the pool. There was much cheering.

Miles run today: 4.5

Laps swum yesterday: 5

Efficient, impressive laps swum yesterday: 0

Just after college, my good friend had a roommate who came from Old Money. Her father had told her she could be anything she wanted to be.

I remember that we scoffed at this: the girl was nice and smart and probably at or above average intelligence. But we did not see her becoming a brain surgeon, an Arctic explorer, or a CEO of a major corporation.

Especially when it was taking her roughly six or seven years to complete college, and she still didn’t know what she wanted to do. She was not setting the world on fire.

I still feel that parents who tell their children they can be anything in the world are performing a disservice: some children come out of the womb predisposed to certain skills, full of personality quirks and tendencies towards certain careers, even early on.

If a child (or an adult) is passionate about something, the skill set often catches up to meet the passion. With diligent practice, many things are attainable.

In fact, most things improve with practice.

And many things you don’t practice can show off your ineptitude. I challenge you to try some things at which you might fail.

One time, a few years ago, a friend of ours who owns a Thai restaurant offered to let me learn how to cook a couple of dishes in his kitchen. (Keep in mind: I cook at home about six nights a week; it’s not something new for me to be handling food.)

But when I entered the pristine kitchen with glistening stainless steel surfaces, all of the implements of the meal preparation were foreign. There was no large knife to chop with; each tool was a different one from what I had at home.

My husband and kids watched as I listened, watched and tried to mimic the motions of the Thai chef. Later, my husband said he felt kind of sorry for me; I was like a fish out of water.

I thought it was incredibly interesting.

Here was a skill not so far away from one I had mastered… and yet, it felt completely new and fresh. And I was bad at it. Really bad. If I had had the opportunity to continue taking lessons, I would have. I could feel my brain growing as it tried to wrap around the new ideas.

Yesterday, our neighborhood swim club held its end-of-summer bash, complete with swim competitions and cheering.

I felt I had done a fair job of dampening expectations of my swimming abilities all summer by reminding all of the former high school swim champions/volunteer moms and dads that I’d never been a swimmer in that way. My swimming consists of the fun kind of swimming: diving down and holding breaths and doing somersaults and trying to catch my kids and diving into waves.

But still: I signed up for the 100-meter freestyle because I wanted to prove to myself that I could swim four laps without being rescued.

I almost failed.

Up against three other “real” swimmers, I knew already that I would be lucky to finish within a few minutes of that bunch. But when I paused, huffing and puffing, at the end of the pool before starting my fourth lap, and onlookers yelled, “Don’t stop! Don’t stop!” it was truly humbling.

I believe in doing things that scare you. In making a fool of yourself. In trying things that you’re not sure you can conquer.

And I did.

What it made me want to do next: conquer it. I plan to get better at swimming. How is it that someone who can run 26.2 miles can’t swim four laps without her heart hammering in her chest and gasping for breath? I’ll tell you: because swimming is difficult… and it’s not something I’ve practiced.

The difference between my wanting to practice and improve and thinking that I’ll become the next Olympic hopeful in the 500m freestyle is the difference between wanting to give your kids opportunities to learn new skills and thinking you can train a sensitive, artistic type to be a Chief Financial Officer of a Fortune 500 company. And really, please don’t go there.

What have you tried lately that you weren’t sure you could master? What scares you the most about trying something new? When did you feel like a complete fool?

Ennui and Pee

I love how all of the flowers at the beach are different from the ones we have at home.

Miles run today: 10

Words written in my novel so far: 35,605

Goodberry’s sundaes I ate yesterday: 1

I hate cleaning. I am of the firm belief that you don’t get Cool Points for dusting under the bed or exacting flawless baseboards. And I’m pretty sure people won’t stand over my grave and say, “Wow. Her house sure was clean.”

Unfortunately, my children have a.) learned to make do with substandard/imperfect house-cleanliness and b.) learned to see massive cleaning jags on my part as the sign of the Rapture or an upcoming party.

Sometimes I get a weird feeling that I need to clean the master bath or mop the kitchen floor. I have to go with those impulses, because they don’t happen very often.

So there I am yesterday morning, leaning into the shower, wearing only minimal clothing so the bleach doesn’t get all over my real clothes. And I’m sweating and scrubbing and getting all Cinderella on that soap scum.

My son runs into my bedroom, does a flying leap onto my bed and moans, “I’m boorrrred.”

That maybe was not the smartest thing to say. I lean back out of the shower and say, “I’m sure you can find something to do.”

Most adults would see this for what it was: the last stepping off point before Bad Stuff Happens. He did not.

“Aaaahhhhhh. What can I dooooo?

“Oh! Guess what? I have something!”

The cheery, Mary Poppins-like tone of my voice lulled him into a false sense of security.

He perked up and slightly lifted his head off the bed. “What?”

In my minimal clothing, carrying a dirty paper towel, I led him into his bathroom. “See this? It desperately needs cleaning. It is calling out to you for help. Let me get you the tools you need.”

Like a young Bambi, my son followed me to the cabinet that houses cleaning supplies. He was intrigued, looking at each container of Scrubbing Bubbles and Windex with mild interest.

I got the toilet cleaner and started its magic and set him to work on the sinks. Then I went back to the arduous task of restoring our shower to normality.

A few minutes later, he yells, “Mo-om! The toilet still has blue stuff in it!”

So I scrubbed out the toilet and handed him the spray to clean the top part.

“Ack. What? You mean I have to… touch it?”

“Yes, Grasshopper. Do you think fairies magic away peepee?”

He looks at me with a dawning realization that the grownup world is not what he imagined it to be. He walks out of the bathroom and sees his sister at the computer. He points at her with disgust. “What is she doing while I’m touching the toilets?”

Her eyes turn to him, the wounded look of betrayal in their depths. “Was I supposed to be doing something?” Her blue eyes widened a few inches.

“Make her do something,” he says imperiously, as he returns to the toilet.

She leaves the office as I suggest that she clean the glass front door. “Noooo. No. Please. Not that.”

“Okay. I have something better,” I say, and as I walk away, I can hear the wheels turning in her mind. Oh, shoot. Maybe the door isn’t so bad.

I hand her the wood floor cleaner. “The downstairs floors. Need cleaning.”

“Mommy? Why? Why are we doing this? What’s happening?”

Only in my house would cleaning take on such an Armageddon sort of feel. Under siege, the Woodman household must rise to the challenge… the young members in turmoil, the patient Queen of Avoiding Housework helps her progeny learn life skills.

At this point, as long as the house was clean, we might as well throw a party. Who knows when I’ll get the cleaning bug again?

Rhyming and the Dodo

Would this generation understand these signs if they rhymed?

Miles run today: 4.5

Words written in my novel so far: 35,220

Days until school starts: 5

My kids had a really, really hard time learning to rhyme.

I’m embarrassed to admit this, because it’s like a basketball coach with a kid who can’t bounce a ball or a dance instructor who has a kid who runs into doors.

I did all most of the right things: they watched The Wiggles and sang, “Rock-a-Bye Your Bear” and “Fruit Salad,” and we really did read books that had rhymes in them. We sang songs. Really, we did.

Still.

I staged a sort of intervention a few years ago during dinner and started “poems” like this: I drove to work in my little car… and then asked my son to finish the rest of the sentence. He would say something like, It was far.

I tried very hard not to cry.

My mom used to read children’s poetry to me. She doesn’t like poetry; who knows why she did it. But I grew up knowing poems like this stanza by Robert Louis Stevenson:

In winter I get up at night

And dress by yellow candlelight

In summer quite the other way

I have to go to bed by day.

Do you hear the rhyming? Do you like it? Do you hear the rhythm and flow and how the words play so well together?

So many poems these days don’t rhyme, and that’s okay. By the time most poets begin creating amazing poetry, they have heard plenty of rhyming, they know how words work together, how they flow.

Growing up, rhyming was everywhere, it seemed. Commercial jingles rhymed: even Shower to Shower told us that “just a sprinkle a day keeps the odor away.”

In high school, the big movie was “The Princess Bride.” One of the memorable interchanges between two of the characters was, “No more rhyming now, I mean it/Anybody want a peanut?”

Everyone knew that phrase. Everyone.

We watched The Scarlet Pimpernel in high school English class, one of the few movies we were allowed to watch in lieu of reading. The main character was “a poet/and I didn’t know it.”

Rhyming is a little like a gateway drug; when you have picked up the rhythm, it leads you into more complex ways of using words. If you haven’t mastered rhythm and flow, your words can have a clunky quality like I see in some books these days.

The kids and I are just finishing up the second book in the Divergent series (Insurgent). Don’t get me wrong: I’ve enjoyed the two books immensely. Veronica Roth has a knack for suspense and careful plotting.

But the focus is on plot. The words are merely there to get us from point A to point B. Here’s an example:

Tobias doesn’t look back at me. He just touches his fingertips to the back of his head. After a moment, I do the same. Dauntless soldiers crowd around us.

There are some books I’ve read where I want to bathe in the words, let them wash over me. Some make me cry with how unworthy I am as a writer, as I listen to the rhythm, like a stream rippling over stones.

I read those books and can’t even study the words because they’re so beautiful. They’re the same words everyone else uses, but the writer has put them together in a better way than they’ve ever been put together before.

My son finally wrote a poem this past year about a dying star that gave me hope for his literary future. Maybe when he is writing code one day, it will have good rhythm and flow.

But until he is safely ensconced in a non-poetic career, I will continue to sing rhyming songs (like Nicki Minaj’s) loudly:

Starships are meant to flyyyyyy

Hands up and touch the skyyyyy

Can’t stop cause we’re so hiiiiigh

Let’s do this one more time.

Turning 40: Plans and What I’ve Learned

This is how I want to be remembered.

Miles run today: 4.5

Mornings spent at the beach last week: 6

Years I’ve been alive: 40!

I’m back! My husband, two kids and I spent last week at the beach with: my sister and brother-in-law, Mom and Dad, my aunt and grandmother and three dogs.

It was every bit as crazy and fun as you would expect. We spent every morning on the beach, spent most afternoons playing Apples to Apples or dominoes (Mexican Train, which I hadn’t played before) and laughed a lot. My good friend and her family happened to book the same week at the same beach, so we got to visit on the beach and share a meal together.

While I was there, I turned 40.

I’ve thought a bit about what I want to do before I’m 50 and what I’ve learned by this mid-life point. I thought I’d share them with you.

To Do List Before I Turn 50

1. Learn to surf. I don’t mean that I plan to win competitions in Tahiti with the kind of surfing where they drive you out on a high-powered jet ski and drop you off on waves that would top my two-story home. I mean that I want to learn to stand on a board and catch waves and wipe out a lot and not care.

2. Publish a (New York Times bestselling) novel. While I would love to say that I’m okay with toiling away in obscurity, the truth is that people reading and enjoying your writing is a very big part of why people write. I will keep trying. And even if my novel is published when I’m 49 1/2, I will continue chanting to myself, “Fifty is the new 40.”

3. Visit San Francisco and California wine country. I haven’t done a lot of traveling, and I would like to do more. Tahiti and Thailand and various spots in Indonesia and Australia top my wish list, but I thought I’d be realistic. My kids will (sob!) be heading off to college within the next ten years, so jetting off to Madagascar might have to be on hold for a little while longer (the Before-60 To Do List??).

4. Stay healthy. The old saying about how your health is the most important thing used to confuse me as a child. Health? It was so taken-for-granted that I thought only old people had to worry about it.

Like after you got old (35, maybe 40), things like cancer or multiple sclerosis could sneak up on you and kill you in a second. Then you were gone, and it didn’t matter anyway. No biggie. Maturity and growing wise are double-edged swords: now I know how quickly you can go from the picture of health to fighting for your life. For years.

I am now officially one of those old people who talks about treasuring your health. Let me bore you for a while.

5. Help my children love themselves and eventually make meaningful contributions to society. All of you parents out there who are working hard to do the right thing for your children: kudos. We all have different ideas about what the right things are, but if your children know they are loved and supported, they get to start out their adult lives at a distinct advantage.

I know, because I felt like I got a jump-start on most of my peers. My parents (gasp!) sacrificed to make sure I started my adult life happily and healthily.

And now, if I had to write a letter to my 20-year-old self, here’s what I’ve learned in the past 20 years:

Dear 20-Year-Old Anne,

You’re a good kid. Not perfect, mind you, but pretty darn good.

I know you don’t have any big image in your mind of life at age 40. That’s okay. But someday you will think about the choices you made and question them. Here are some things I’ve learned to try to save you some time in the intervening years.

1. Get rid of the jealousy. Other people have talents and great gifts. You have them, too. Stop looking over your shoulder and comparing yours to theirs. You’re just fine as you are.

2. Wear sunscreen on your eyelids. Seriously. You haven’t heard about this phenomenon yet, but your eyelids will one day have a disconcerting way of sitting on top of your lower lids. I know. It’s not cool. Wear sunglasses and protect yourself. Contrary to what you may think now, you will not be a multi-millionaire who can pay to correct this horrible misfortune. You will have to live with them as they are.

3. There aren’t any Major Life Points for achieving the perfect life before you’re 30. We all know you’re goal-oriented. And this will cause you no end of angst. Not everyone (including your future husband) is on the same ambitious timetable. Maybe you could sit back and have a few more pieces of Cracklin’ Oat Bran. It all works out just fine in the end.

4. You will meet someone who doesn’t think marriage and kids are akin to death. You will also, later on, keep having friends and family members tell you that he looks just like David Beckham, which frankly, gets a little old. I know: You haven’t heard of David Beckham yet. Trust me; it’s worth waiting a few years to find out. Yum.

5. Start writing the Great American Novel now. You have some kind of romantic notion that you are very busy at age 20. I am here to tell you that you are the least busy you will ever be again. The hours are stretching out before you like a 5-year-old’s wait for next Christmas on December 26. You may not have a whole heck of a lot to write about, but you could start practicing.

You know that time that you think you’ll have after the future babies are born, when you’re “hanging out” at home, not doing anything? Maybe I should let you in on a little secret: you will be so sleep-deprived that you forget your sister’s phone number. Yes, the same sister you call every day. You will also have, not quiet, well-mannered babies that exist only in the imagination, but babies who talk to you every second of the day. If you think you will get tons of writing done while you’re a stay-at-home mom, rethink that plan.

6. Give other people the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it’s becoming a parent or being a stay-at-home parent, or getting older. But you will mellow in these 20 years. When someone cuts you off in traffic, you start thinking back to that really terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day you had that time when you couldn’t see out the windshield because you were crying so hard.

When the men who happily held the door open for you when you were pregnant but dropped the door on you when you had a 2-year-old in tow and a huge double stroller with a starving newborn inside, you were able to take the high road and feel bad for that man who couldn’t stay home with his little ones.

And when the store clerk is rude, you are able to feel pity for her. She might be going through a divorce or wrestling with chronic pain.

Someday in the future when you are in pain or manage to offend someone else, you can only hope that the other person has learned the same lesson.

7. The best news of all: you get to be 40. Not everyone does. So when someone laughs at your middle-agedness or the dressing room guy at the Banana Republic Outlet Store looks down his nose at you as if you are too old to wear such fun, youthful clothes, give him the full eye-twinkle look. Be proud. You made it!

Working in Car Loans: The New Black

O, Stop Sign, I wish you luck.

Miles run today: 0

Words written in my novel so far: 34,955

Stop signs hit down the road: 2

I know you’ve all been sitting on the edge of your computer chairs waiting to hear about our crazy stop sign. It was hit the first day it was installed… in the center of the street. The second day, a new stop sign appeared, looking not much different than the first. No lie… within hours, it was twisted and mangled… but still standing (a slight improvement?). Stay tuned for the next installment of The Stop Sign Turns.

And now… more riveting stories from my early work days.

I’m telling you, people, working in the retail car loans division at a bank is sexy. Scintillating. I mean… wow.

The summer after my first year in college, my dad and I carpooled into the Big, Bad World of Downtown for my riveting job in the retail loans department.

By that, I mean that I sat in the front seat of the car like a blob and tried not to enjoy “All Things Considered” and what might have been going on in Bosnia Herzegovina. It was all very confusing at such an early hour of the morning.

I was exciting company for my dad.

We parked in a nondescript lot that kept our car safe for that summer. (Later on, it was the same lot where Dad walked out and… voila! No more car. But that’s a story for another day.)

The retail loans division consisted of three corridors of cubicles and a mostly female cast who used dark humor to get past the fact that the DMV never answered the phone. Like, for hours.

I was assigned a woman who had the cutest tinkle of a laugh and managed to make filing car loans and sitting on hold seem fun. Well, manageable.

The retail loans interns consisted of me, Eric, and this other guy whose name escapes me. We’ll call him Ron.

All naive college students, Eric, Ron and I were Master Filers and Getters of Anything That Needed to Be Gotten. We hovered around peoples’ file cabinets and invaded their space.

Ron was a nerdy fellow who wore bowties and had a penchant for country music. He did responsible things like packing his lunch to save money and sitting in the windowless break/file room to eat said lunch.

Eric was a tall, blond, gorgeous guy. God made him well and took care with the details. His hair glinted in the sunshine and curled up at the ears when it started to grow out.

Eric came from Old Money. He wore it with a Gatsby-era nonchalance, like if he dipped his sleeve in ketchup, there were one hundred more where that custom button-down came from. His voice had a lazy quality about it, as if he didn’t have the energy to enunciate. Somehow, it worked.

I learned a lesson from Eric that summer: a boy could be divine to look at, but I felt absolutely no sexual chemistry when I was with him. It was a weird and dispiriting lesson, and one from which I have never totally recovered.

He had a girlfriend named something predictably preppy like Pinky or Mary Kate, and she most likely wore argyle in the winter, linen in the summer.

The best part of the day for Eric and me was LUNCH.

We got to leave the building, most days, and walk over to meet my friend who was working at another bank for the summer.

I’m sure we ate at other places, but KFC was the one I remember. It had a TV, and it was always playing the same soap opera, something like, “As the World Turns.”

The first time we ate there, my friend and I realized that Eric was an enigma: he loved “As the World Turns.”

“That Crystal… she is always scheming,” he would say, shaking his head.

Eric became like a pet: we would bring him to KFC to hear what he might say about the ever-shifting world of soap operas. Sometimes, when he wasn’t there, we kind of missed him.

When it was pouring rain or I had run out of money, the days felt endless. One day, on a long haul between lunch and quitting time, I found the carbon copy for my high school crush’s Jeep. I held in it my hands and read all of the numbers, the details, the riveting history laid bare for me. And then I put it in the file. That was the most exciting thing that ever happened. Really.

My retail loans mentor would dial the DMV and sit back in her chair. She would call to the woman at the next desk, “How’s it going over there?”

And the woman would say, “Who’s that on the phone?” As if they all weren’t waiting for the same lines to open up.

“It’s my layaway,” my mentor would laugh. All married and trapped in loveless jobs, they invented torrid affairs on the other end of the line.

“Is he meeting you tonight?” another one would yell.

“It’s gonna be good, honey,” my mentor would say, rocking back and forth in her desk chair.

I never did find out if any of their layaways were for real, but I ended up rooting for them. Just once, I wanted my mentor to end up with a bouquet of roses on her desk from an admirer.

It was a summer of pantyhose and high heels and filing and cubicles.

I went back to school that fall and deleted “Business Major” from my plans.