Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Waiting Room

Sunday, my mom and I went to the hospital waiting room on the maternity ward. My brother and sister-in-law were having their first baby. They went to the hospital in the middle of the night.

Now, at 9:30 a.m., my mom and I walked through the lobby.

In the waiting room, we met my sister-in-law's family. If you are ever at the hospital and would like to say hello, our family is the one having a party. For extended stays, we usually roll out a buffet. Nothing extravagant. Some deli sandwiches. Potato salad. Baked beans. Coors light. That kind of thing.

But this was a short visit, so we sat and talked, about our own childbirths, for one thing.

Three things stick out in my mind about having babies. One: Justin kept leaving my bedside to get a sandwich. It was like sandwich, sandwich, sandwich. All about the sandwiches. In hindsight, it was probably just one sandwich per childbirth. But because I was in the throes of labor, the contractions multiplied my perceptions by 50,000--like a prism of pain. Secondly, everyone in the hospital has a cart the size of a caboose and they wheel it in your room in the middle of the night and bump it against everything in sight. Clang, clang, clang goes the trolley! And thirdly, that little baby is so darn cute that those annoyances seem pretty silly.

Occasionally, we walked back to the labor room to check on the parents-to-be, Josh and Sarah. Josh pointed to where the lights would descend from the ceiling for the birth. He said that, for dramatic affect, the doctor would also descend from the ceiling on a stage a la Jesus Christ Superstar.

"Sarah is so strong and beautiful," my mom said, once we got back to the waiting room. "And Josh is a basketcase."

When my family talks about each other, the following phrases come up: basketcase, nerves are shot, etc.

Nervousness runs in the family.

My grandmother Mume used to walk around her kitchen, saying "who, who, who," as she fixed dinner. Her doctor told her this would settle her nerves. My brothers and I used to imitate this relaxation technique, and I'm sure one day our grandkids will make fun of us for doing the same thing.

But nervousness is also a trait of new fathers.

My Papa was so worried when my Nana gave birth to Aunt Kathy that he was hospitalized for nervous exhaustion. Nana and the baby had to visit him in the hospital.

Josh and Sarah's friends arrived.

My mom pointed out a photo hanging in the waiting room of an elderly couple posing in a park with a little girl (probably their grandchild).

"That's nice," my mom said. "It shows you can have a child any age. Even in your seventies."

There was also an airbrushed photo of a barechested father holding his baby and one of a pregnant lady in a sexy negligee vamping for the camera. It was like the island of misfit pictures.

A newspaper was spread out on the tables and chairs. Sarah's sister read Sarah's horoscope, which said, "Today, let the wild child inside you out."

Of course that cracked us up.

At this point, Josh and Sarah were delivering the baby. That's the odd part about waiting rooms. The family is talking and laughing, or crying and praying, rallying around the person. But just when you want to help them the most, you can't help them at all. It's them versus nature.

With the baby coming any minute, we placed bets on his weight and whether he would be a boy or girl and what his name would be. (As you can see, most people thought they'd have a boy.)

My friend says waiting to find out whether your baby is a boy or girl is the last good surprise you will have in your life. As a kid, life is full of surprises: Who will be your homeroom teacher? What will Santa bring you? How many coins will the tooth fairy bring? But once you're an adult, it's more like: Surprise! You need triple bypass surgery.

We in the waiting room were excited to find out. I've never been in a waiting room for a baby before.

My mom said, "What about when J.J. was born? We were all in the waiting room then."

But I reminded her that I was elsewhere. Having the baby, you know.

I don't remember what we were talking about, but all the sudden, everyone said, "Josh is coming! Josh is coming."

And with a broad smile, he paused a minute...and said, "It's a girl!"

Everyone was crying and laughing. He said her name was Francesca and she and Sarah were doing great.

Soon, we went in the room to hold the baby (after determining who won the pool. Also, baby needed to take her Apgar test, which she aced.) It's hard to describe a baby's personality. When you hold her, you just feel it.

It was amazing how calm Francesca was considering what she'd been through that day. Going from the womb to the world is the equivalent of changing planets. It has to be the biggest surprise of your life.

You'd think the baby would be pacing her kitchen saying, "Who, who, who," but, no, she took it in stride.

On the way home, my mom said, "Isn't it amazing a little baby can bring so many people together to wait for her?"

Surprise. Nervousness. Laughter. Tears. Memories. Predictions. The baby inspires all these things in us. Even while we're still waiting.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

All Is Not Lost

Writers always give this advice: Read, read, read.

Well, I like reading the backs of books better than the books themselves. "Wow," I often say. "That plot sounds intriguing. But I think I've read enough."

You see, it takes me three months to read a book--even when I read a little bit every night. I'm a slow reader.

And I'm impatient because it's taking me a year to write a book. Oprah Aha! moment: maybe there's a correlation.

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to write some summaries of my own about a series running on PBS this month: Jane Austen movies. This is my NFL playoffs. Not the Superbowl, mind you. That would be the Anne of Green Gables miniseries. The World Series happens anytime a musical airs on T.V. The NBA playoffs are, well, I think we've already established that I'm a complete dork.

So last week, Persuasion aired. This isn't my favorite Jane Austin book; personally, I think Emma was her best. But for raw emotion and romantic tension, Persuasion is number one. It reads like a first novel, even though it was published a year after her death. The movie, only one and a half hours, doesn't lose much of the drama.

Justin would have loved it. Unfortunately, he got called away for an emergency pool game.

Persuasion tells the story of Anne Elliot, who made a terrible mistake at age 19. Now she's in her late 20s.

Ms. Elliot, her father Sir Walter and her sister are being evicted from their mansion because a. They are going broke. and b. Anne's dad and sister are pompous, vain dumbasses and refuse to cut back on lavish spending.

Now that the house is vacant, a member of the British Navy and his wife are moving in. This sends Anne reeling. You see, the wife's brother is Frederick Wentworth: the terrible mistake.

He and Anne loved each other. But he was going into the Navy and was middle-class (not upperclass like Anne's family.) So her father and godmother convinced her that it was a bad match. Anne listened to them. She has never forgiven herself. Now, he might be visiting her house!

Alas, Anne is moving to Bath with her family. Or is she? As it turns out, her other sister, a whiny hypochondriac, needs Anne to take care of her (and her children, and anyone else who gets in the way of a good time.)

This pain-in-the-ass sister is married to a man who wanted to marry Anne, but Anne refused because she was in love with Frederick Wentworth.

Well, Captain Wentworth--who looks like a young, hot Captain Kangaroo--is indeed visiting his sister. Soon, he and Anne run into each other. And he is pissed! You see, the one thing he cannot abide is a woman who is easily persuaded. Also: Anne broke his heart.

In addition to being handsome, Wentworth is rich now, so he's a favorite among the young ladies of the town, especially two of Anne's giggly friends.

The captain is quite flirty, for an Englishman. And one of the giggly girls and her family get the impression that he is going to propose soon.

Meanwhile, Anne is beckoned to Bath, where her cousin begins to court her. (Remember, in those days, cousins got hitched all the time.) Well, just looking at this guy, you can tell he has bad breath. Anne, of course, doesn't like him. But what can she do? Her family all but forces her to see him.

Anne gets a letter from her brother-in-law saying that her giggly friend will soon be married. All is lost. She weeps.

This is Jane Austin's greatest gift: You know her stories will end happily. That's how romances work. But in the middle of her stories, you don't know.

I find myself yelling at the T.V. like it is a football game: "Come on, Anne! Get a backbone! And pull your head out of your ass or nobody's ever going to marry you!"

It's not very nice. But I really like Anne and I want her to get the guy--and the backbone.

There's been a lot of talk lately about why Jane Austen's stories have become so popular lately. I think it's because so many romantic comedies right now feature a smart, funny guy and a girl who is pretty and nice.

But in Austen's stories, it's the guy who is handsome and nice, and the heroine gets all the good lines. A lot of times, she's not even that cute. But she's always likeable--and definitely not because she's perfect.

As it turns out, all is not lost. A different guy with lambchops proposes to Anne's giggly friend. Wentworth finally comes to Bath to find out if Anne is hot for her cousin or not. Misunderstanding ensues. All is lost again.

Then a letter comes: swallowing his pride, Wentworth proposes to Anne again. Suddenly, Anne leaves her house against her family's will. She searches for the captain in the rainy streets of Bath. She finds him and says yes. And they all live happily ever after.

More happily that Anne ever knows, for tonight is game two of the Jane Austen playoffs: Northanger Abbey. In 20 minutes and counting.

I'll try not to bore you with another summary--mine are way too long.

But I haven't had much to write about lately. My kids have been uncharacteristically calm and collected. I mean, J.J. is up to his old tricks. But I think I've complained about him enough. He's two. It's not like he can write a rebuttal.

Johnny got a good report card. His teacher said he had integrity. I stopped reading after that. She had me at "integrity." Even if he got an S- (which I think is a D in today's grade lingo) in everything else, it would be a dream report card. But I feel bad because I've been feeding him smartass lines to say when this one kid won't let him play penguins with the other boys. I feel like I'm corrupting him.

I guess Richie's doing okay in school because his teacher didn't ask for a conference. He's been coming home saying he was involved in food fights and kung fu battles and what not, but I'm pretty sure he's lying.

So all is well. But I'm sure that if I'm patient with the children, they'll come around and give me something to write about. All is not lost.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Numbers Do Lie

A lady called us last night and asked us to stop telemarketing her, or she'd report us to the Attorney General. Justin politely explained that he didn't know what she was talking about. We're not telemarketers. And that was fine.

But then her husband woke us up at 10:30 p.m., cussing at Justin. When Justin assured the man that we did not call them, the man said, "Well, I don't know what your wife is into..."

"My wife is asleep!" Justin said.

I don't really get this guy's remark. What kind of telemarketing is he talking about?

No matter what Justin said, these people would not believe us. The guy kept saying, "Caller I.D. does not lie."

Well, when we called our cable company, we found out it does lie. Telemarketers sometimes use people's residential phone numbers as their caller I.D., so that their targets pick up the phone. Also, if an out-of-town caller has your number, but a different area code, and a person hits *69 or whatever, it can revert to the local number.

But, these possibilities did not occur to our new phone friends. Because given the choice between trusting a new invention and trusting a fellow human being, guess what people do?

This is why the computers will one day overtake us, a la The Terminator. In a few decades, caller I.D. will be running for president as the one candidate who does not lie. Or something.

The funny thing is, these people had our same prefix; we're probably neighbors. In fact, it's possible we've called them about something, but don't remember. Today, we blocked their number, so I hope I never have to call them about a block party, or anything. More like a block-your-number party.

Yes, numbers lie. Like the time a different guy kept texting Justin, threatening to kick his ass over a mutual lady friend. Finally, Justin called him and told him he had the wrong number.

Now, I don't go around saying I'm going to beat people up. But if I did, I'd probably double-check their contact information. At least that guy believed Justin.

I think the moral of the story is: Be polite to your fellow living, breathing creatures. It's a reminder I need, too.

A different stranger gave my cell phone number to a loan collector, and now they call me a thousand times a day. I can get pretty snippy.

In fact one girl trying to collect said, "You don't have to be mean about it. I said I was sorry."

I thought she was a little hypersensitive to be in the collection business, but now I'm changing my tune. I'm going to be polite, as a rule. I'm even going to give people the benefit of the doubt occassionally. Because computers do make mistakes. After all, they're only human.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Same Story, Told a Million Times in a Million Different Ways

I'm taking another writing class--this time on plotting a story, and I thought I'd share something with you:

Did you know that almost all Hollywood movies follow this plot:

1. Opportunity knocks. (Lead character answers.)
2. But quickly, there's a change of plans. (Progress is made anyway.)
3. The lead character does something--such as crosses a bridge and then burns it--that means there is no going back. (The character, obviously, goes forward, with added complications and higher stakes.)
4. A setback occurs. (The character fights this and everything else to reach the...)
5. Climax,
6. Which is resolved, hopefully happily.

Try your favorite movie and see if it fits. If it doesn't, try your second favorite movie and so on until you can honestly say, "Eureka! My (third, fourth, 17th) favorite movie does follow that pattern."

Let's take the movie "Little Miss Sunshine."

1. Young Olive gets invited to participate in a pageant. (The whole family, who is not a very sunny group, go along.)
2. The grandpa dies en route. (The family takes him out of the hospital and continues their journey.)
3. Running late, the father jumps curbs, etc. to get his daughter there on time. (She goes to get ready.)
4. As soon as they get to the pageant, the family realizes that Olive is out of her element. (They let her participate anyway.)
5. This leads to Olive's hilariously inappropriate routine, which her late grandfather choreographed.
6. The police let them go home as long as they promise never to participate in another beauty pageant in the state of California, which they happily agree to because everyone has learned that even though life is a beauty pageant, you do not have to be a contestant.

I also learned that there are basically two stories told over and over: 1. A person goes on a journey and 2. A stranger comes to town. And that in fact they are the same story told from different points of view.

I just thought I'd share that with you because it always helps, me at least, to look at life as a story--or a series of stories, actually. If you're in a really mucky, confusing, sad or scary part--you're somewhere in the middle of your story. If, on the other hand, everything is coming together--not as planned (never as planned)--but happily anyway, then you are at the end. Don't worry, the next story is forthcoming.

Remember: the only difference between a comedy and a tragedy is where you place two little words: The end. Also, comedies are funny and tragedies feature main characters with serious psychiatric problems. But also where you put "the end."