Christmas 2018

I am sitting at my desk with a very large cup of coffee, praying to the little baby Jesus that I don’t spill it on the sweatshirt I’m wearing. I used to wear it for Christmas when I was a teenager, then I gave it to my mother, and when she died I took it back from her closet. The first year I wore it was to a Christmas choir party at my friend Suzanne’s. David, a notorious troublemaker of a tenor, looked at the bells stitched on the front (the graphic is a Christmassy horse) and announced that “everywhere you go, you tinkle when you walk.” So, of course, that’s the first think I think of when I pull it over my head.

The sweatshirt came in handy during the carol singing portion of the evening. As Suzanne played “Jingle Bells” on the piano, I jumped up and down. People howled, as did I. I am nothing short of extraordinary at laughing with and at me.

As I got older, though, I was embarrassed by it, and wouldn’t wear the sweatshirt even when my mom asked me specifically. As I go about my day, I’m thinking that she would have enjoyed me wearing it a lot more when she was alive. In the spirit of gentle chastisement, when your parents ask you to wear something ridiculous, just do it for them. You will be less uncomfortable knowing just how much joy it gives them. I mean, I’m sitting here looking like a third grade teacher who just can’t give up appliqued anything and so far, I’m fine with it.

And another gentle chastisement for parents. If you’re anything like my mom, even though you hate having your picture made (especially in the first few moments of mad dash to the tree with your hair unbrushed), just take the damn picture. I can’t tell you how many precious moments I am missing because of her reticence. Don’t be camera shy with your kids. Those photos will be everything to them when you die. I repeat…. everything.

I have really loved all my Christmas presents, but I am even more excited to learn how my friends and family like theirs.

The funniest thing I got was a Ruth Bader Ginsburg action figure…. and two are tied for the most useful. My weighted blanket is worth its weight in gold, as is a teapot for a single mug with an infuser and lots of looseleaf tea. I have a teapot, but I don’t often drink four mugs in a row. The sizing fits me just right. I also like that the infuser is very deep, so I can make black tea strong enough to put hair on my chest. I like a builder’s brew with a little extra cream, and I use CoffeeMate in my tea because I can make it creamy without bringing down the temperature of the water.

I also got a bag of Starbucks coffee that I’d never tried- Holiday Blend with maple notes… and of course, I opened it after I’d made a fresh pot and kicked myself because I’m a sucker for new food and drinks. I am an advertiser’s dream woman. 99% of the time, if I haven’t seen it before, or it says “new and improved,” I’m buying it. I’m surprised my friends didn’t get soda and cookies under the tree from me.

Not that they would have minded.

Additionally, I talked to my family (both chosen and biological), and actually took a shower today. I prefer most of the time to just fix my hair, because it’s so cold I don’t want to take off my HeatTech extra warm long johns and warm sweaters. They didn’t have “extra warm” last year. These are new and improved. 😛

And, of course, right after I bought them they came out with ultra warm.

But taking a shower and putting my HeatTech back on came secondary to answering a video call from Ryan and his family.

Because I take the damn pictures.

Cheese!

Today was long and fruitful. About 13 years ago, I was so poor I didn’t have two nickels to rub together and didn’t want to ask anyone for help. I thought I had something stuck to my front tooth, and with no money for dentistry, tried to pop it off with a knife. In my infinite wisdom, I realized right after I’d done it that I’d actually knocked off a piece of plaque and most of the enamel. I’ve been walking around with the nerve exposed, worrying hysterically that it was going to fall out, every day since… until now.

My dad looked at my teeth and did some research, finding out that not only had my in-home surgery fucked up that one tooth, taking Lamictal this long was making my whole mouth worse, and it would continue to deteriorate, because I do not have the luxury to stop the medication that keeps me as sane as I can achieve.

He got on the phone and found a dentist that was open today, and she filled all my cavities, closed the open nerve on my front tooth, and rendered me into a puddle as I genuinely smiled for the first time in years without hatred of it. Her work is beautiful, and I feel almost glamorous. I say “almost” because I’m not sure that tomboys ever get all the way there. I suppose I am closer to dapper, what with my nerdy black Ira Glasses and black leather shoes, which I had shined at DCA.

I actually love to shine my own shoes, I was just running short on time. I asked the woman how much it would be, and she didn’t speak any English, so I flipped into Spanish. “Ocho,” she replied. The man in the chair next to me said, “how much did she say it would be?” Out loud, I said, “eight.” My inner monologue said, it’s been a long time since SOMEBODY’s watched Sesame Street. Additionally, this experience was my first in DC as a white person where a Spanish speaker didn’t look at me like I had three heads when they heard Spanish coming out of my mouth. It makes sense. In an airport, lots of people are going to be able to speak lots of languages. When I’ve been in shops that cater to the Hispanic community or, once, talking to a janitor in a mall, the surprise has been almost tangible. I get the feeling that Maryland, DC, and Virginia are more segregated that way. In Texas, it’s so much easier to get by if you at least know a few basics.

I took two years of Spanish in school, but that’s not really where I learned it. When my father was a pastor, there were people in the church who’d been organizing mission trips to Reynosa for years, and I went with them three times… two summers in a row and a winter break in between them. Nothing helped me more than immersion. After that, I began shopping in stores and eating in restaurants in heavily Hispanic neighborhoods, because otherwise, I didn’t have anywhere to practice. Because of these mission trips, I’m one of the few people in my Houston crew that can order at a taqueria without using the number next to the picture. 😛

One of the funniest things that’s happened to me recently regarding speaking Spanish is that I was chatting online in a room that wouldn’t allow special characters….. so I told someone that I’d studied two anuses of Spanish in school and now had 40 anuses…. that’s because in Spanish, you don’t say “I’m 40 years old,” you say, “I have 40 years.” So, for future reference, grammar nazis, ano means “anus.” Año means year. The difference in pronunciation is “ano” and “anyo.” Tengo cuarenta años, pero tengo solamente uno ano…. luckily. No one has ever managed to literally rip me a new one.

Having a family that lives in Texas is a beautiful thing, because even though I don’t live here, I still get opportunities occasionally to flex my Spanish-speaking mind. I actually prefer it to English, it’s just that I’m not fluent in Spanish and have to resort to English. If you are wondering why I’d say something like “I prefer Spanish” as a native English speaker, it’s that it’s so much simpler. All verbs are conjugated the same way, so the conjugation of the verb also contains about whom you are speaking as well, whether it’s yourself or others. Everything is pronounced exactly like it’s spelled- there are no silent letters or any of the other oddities we put up with in a language that comes from everywhere else. For instance, Honore de Balzac said that “60 percent of English is French badly pronounced.” And even though I prefer Spanish, I thank God I was born an English speaker, because I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to figure it out later. I’d stare at a word like “knife” for hours before throwing up my hands and screaming.

It’s a life goal to become fluent in Spanish, because I’ve often thought about retiring with the 17,000 other gringos in Enseñada. But that was before I moved to DC, and haven’t thought about moving anywhere since. As a poli sci major, it means something to me to be in the same city as the original Supreme Court. In terms of the United States, I live where Eddie Izzard would say “the history comes from.” It means something to me to live inside the national news.

I do, however, enjoy Houston in small doses. Being a Texan is, for me, akin to having brown eyes or being gay. It defines part of who I am…. and not quite the same as just being Southern. Texas was once its own country, and we have never forgotten it. For instance, I doubt you ever really have to ask someone if they’re from Texas. It’ll come up in conversation quickly.

This trip, I haven’t done anything uniquely Texan except drink soda from H-E-B. Oh, I take that back. I did remember the Alamo yesterday.

Today, after my hours of dental work were done, I went with my dad, stepmom, and one of their friends to see The Last Jedi. I’m going to have to see it again, because I honestly have no idea how I feel about it. I was high on pain meds and distracted by all the activity around me because we were in one of those theaters that serve food, so there were literally waiters walking in front of me while I was trying to concentrate… and the couple next to me just WOULD NOT SHUT UP. They were just aggressively white, treating the theater like they were in their living room. People like this are the main reason I go to movies when no one else is going to be there and don’t take anyone with me. I like to watch movies in complete silence…. and just like my mother, I will grin and bear it in full theaters right up until I just cannot even, trying in vain to get people to stop talking with an authoritative stare. The reason I try The Look™ first is that sometimes actually saying to people that you wished they’d stop talking is more trouble than it’s worth. They’ll start talking louder just because they know it annoys you, they’ll get confrontational, etc. Very few people, in my experience, are humble about realizing they’ve inconvenienced someone else.

As I get older, I find more and more things that make me feel like I’m turning into my mother, which was mortifying while she was still alive and priceless now.

Speaking of my mother, my father is taking me to meet my sister at the cemetery tomorrow morning, both because I don’t have a rental car and because he’s never seen her grave site. Lindsay wants to decorate Fred (the tree next to her headstone) for Christmas, and then we’re going to go see a movie or something. Death and grief don’t seem so bad in the cemetery, because it really does make me feel closer to my mother to be there, and the place itself is soothing and serene.

Then, at some point, I need to wrap the presents I bought. Because there are so many kids in my family (four of us, all with spouses except me), we do secret Santa. I got Mathew, Lindsay’s husband, and he is hopefully going to flip his shit. I am so excited to give him his gift that it will take every bit of strength I have not to shove it at him as he walks through the door. Giving presents is my favorite thing in the whole world. I love it 20 times more than getting them. I enjoy the hunt, the thing that will make people say, “how did you know?” or “this is totally me.” Though I realize how useful Amazon Wish Lists can be, especially because you might get someone something they already have, I sometimes think it takes away from the moment someone else realizes that you actually do listen to them, know them, etc.

I also really enjoy giving books now, because e-books always arrive on time and you can buy them the day of. Plus, you don’t have to have a physical Kindle. Kindle is also an app for every mobile device.

Sometimes I give people books I haven’t read, but have read the synopsis and think it would be something they would like. Sometimes I give a copy of my favorite book of the moment, just to be able to share it with someone else.

Alternatively, Kindle is the most dangerous of all shopping experiences, because in a lot of cases, a book series starts with a free “dime bag” and when you’re in the moment of “OH MY GOD! WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?!” a pop-up will appear saying that you can buy the next one for $4.99. There are two series I’ve binged that way this year- The Face on the Milk Carton and Fat Vampire. I am sure they won’t be the last in the coming years…. although right now I am really into documentaries and it’s taking away a lot of my time from reading. It goes in cycles. Sometimes I need the TV on for “company” and sometimes I crave complete silence. I just don’t want to watch junk TV. I want to learn something, because I like Knowing Stuff.™

It makes me smile, the kind where my beautiful teeth show.

A38

Though Dana and I are divorced now, there are still hilarious stories that run through my mind all the time when I think of her. Today it was Southwest Airlines.

I am sure that you are all familiar with the Southwest cattle car boarding process. You have to check in 24 hours before your flight time, and the closer you are to that exact period, the closer to the front you are in line. Every. Single. Time. Dana and I flew anywhere, she would sit at the computer with her hand on the mouse watching the seconds tick down…. Travel was literally the only time I ever saw her become a Type A personality. By the time it was ten seconds til, she was practically borderline diarrhea trying to outmaneuver the other 200 or so passengers. She’d hit that button like she was playing Call of Duty….. and God help us if she forgot and we were in the C group. But I think in the entire 7 years and change we lived together, she forgot once. Or maybe I was in charge and I’m ALWAYS Type B, so it could have been ALL. MY. FAULT….. the more likely scenario.

I am laughing so hard that tears are coming to my eyes remembering every time I had to “walk” through an airport with Dana, because it was more like trying to keep up with a hurricane.

I just want to get there early enough to go through security, and outside of that, I don’t care. I don’t care who sits next to me, I don’t care what boarding group I’m in,  I don’t care if I end up in a middle seat, I don’t care how early I get to the gate, because boarding takes forfriggingever anyway……….. Especially after having worked in an airport (I was a prep/line cook in a pub at PDX), my objective is just to be the most laid back, friendly passenger ever.

The story that has stuck with me the most from that time is the woman that missed three flights in a row from being too drunk. Eventually, security came and got her, and probably sent her home. As far as I’m aware, there’s not a drunk tank in that airport, although there is good coffee. In my experience, however, coffee does not make one sober up. Coffee makes one make stupid decisions much faster. It’s very effective.

Dana and I actually both worked in the same pub, because it had two locations in different terminals. I think we worked together once or twice, but mostly it was comparing notes at the end of the day… and a competition on how many famous people we’d met, which Dana always won.

When Grimm was at the height of its popularity, the stars would come through a lot. Silas Weir Mitchell (Monroe) made an appearance in Dana’s terminal, and the conversation ran thusly:

Dana: My wife wanted me to tell you that she punches me every time she sees your car.
Silas: ……………
Silas: OH! BECAUSE IT’S A YELLOW BUG!!!!

Diane and Susan worked with Thomas Lauderdale from Pink Martini for years- Diane because of music, Susan because when Thomas was young, he worked with her at the ACLU. I begged Diane to introduce me, and she didn’t.

One day this guy walks into my pub and tries to buy two San Pellegrinos. I don’t have access to the cash register, so I tell him that the waitstaff will be right with him. While I’m standing there, the conversation runs thusly:

Leslie: Do people ever tell you that you look like Thomas Lauderdale from Pink Martini?
Random Dude: ………………
Leslie: Oh my God. You are Thomas Lauderdale, aren’t you?
Thomas: ::wink:: ::blush::

As he walked away, I realized that duh, of course it was Thomas just because of the way he was dressed, which is completely unique and sassy. I didn’t beat myself up too bad- I’ve felt dumber.

The other story I remember as if it were yesterday was actually a conversation between one of the waitresses and me. I didn’t cry in the moment, but I did in the debriefing. The setup is that in our restaurant, there’s a mother/daughter team who live together, work together, and are seriously glued at the hip….. The conversation runs thusly:

Waitress: So, my mother and I were driving home yesterday and she asked me if I’d heard about some sort of explosion overseas. I don’t remember what country. I looked at her like she had three heads. When did my mother get interested in current events? I asked her about it, and she said, “oh, Leslie listens to NPR in the back all day.”
Leslie: (laughing) It’s true. I do.
Waitress: (tears in her eyes) Leslie, thank you for educating my mother.

I didn’t even know what to say, I was so touched. I was just doing my own thing, being all me, all the time. Most of the time, I worked on weekends, and I preferred Wait, Wait to music while I was slicing five pounds of tomatoes (oh, GOD. The acid burns…..).

One of the other cooks made me laugh when she said, well, it beats the hell out of Tejano. My answer to that was to start singing No Te Vayas….. LOUDLY. Hey, you work in a kitchen long enough, you memorize these things, because just like English megastations, they play the hits 68 times a week. Of course, as a Texan who speaks only passable “Spanglish,” I only know about half of what it’s saying, but I get the gist. The only part I really understand is the refrain.

But no, do not go!
Do not leave me without your love!
I need to feel again
The fire of your passion.

But no, do not go!
Do not be cruel with my heart!
But no, do not go!
Do not leave me a sad goodbye!

I can just picture him running through an airport, trying to keep up with a hurricane.