Thursday, March 26, 2015

We came, we saw, we stapled

I spent the summer after my sophomore year of college in Rome, living with my friend Kassie's family and working at the American Embassy.

(And here I will mention that Kassie was the instigator of Spring Break in Tunisia, a trip for which we were ill equipped and yet convinced Leigh to join.)

My sophomore year of college had been significantly better than my freshman year, which is not to say it was good for me. It was more in the way that I imagine being waterboarded is more fun than being beaten with a lead pipe.

This is not to say that there weren't people that I really liked. But leaving was a relief.

And then I fell in love with Rome. I felt good for the first time in two years. I wanted to stay forever and never, ever go back "home".

But as I was enrolled and had the obligation of a shared apartment lined up for fall semester, I did go home, determined to return to Rome spring semester. My dad said absolutely not. I spoke French and should go to France. Or, since I'd just taken a year of Japanese, perhaps I should go to Japan. I spoke basically no Italian and it made no sense.

I can now admit he had a point. But I wasn't trying to make sense. I was just trying to be happy again.

And we didn't yet know Leigh. We wouldn't meet her for another eight months. But that's getting ahead of the story.

Kassie's dad had gotten us summer jobs at Immigration and Naturalization Services. We put together refugee files.

We were temporary employees with menial tasks, seated together in a large room with about eight Italian woman who were permanent employees.

I didn't speak any Italian in the beginning, and so initially I thought that they were all mad at each other. Later, when I could understand a bit, I realized they were just discussing things like the purchase of new lipstick or what they had done over the weekend.

Kassie and I had grown up in embassies, and we were used to thinking more than was currently required of us, and so we didn't take our jobs of matching pieces of paper and stapling photos and compiling files all that seriously.

Which is not to say we did a bad job. We were both high-quality filers, staplers, and document compilers. It was more that we giggled a lot and didn't behave with appropriate decorum. Eventually it was decided that we were best seated apart.

Anyway, one day Fireman Bob, the man in charge of fire safety for the embassy, came in to inspect our office.

(I'm sure Fireman Bob had a real name. In my recollection he was generally called Fireman Bob, but the truth is, maybe that's just how we referred to him.)

He walked in and said, "Who is in charge here?"

And Kassie stood up and said, "I am! I'm in charge!"

We all looked at her, eyebrows lifted. Except Fireman Bob, who strode towards her to explain his mission.

At which point she had to say, "Ah, I'm just kidding. I'm...really not in charge."

And in the world of random, the following year we were at a stand looking at postcards, and Kassie picked up one of the Spanish steps. There was a single person descending. It was Fireman Bob.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ready, steady, boot!

This may come as some surprise to you, but I rely on my speed a great deal.

This is chiefly because I do not excel at time management. So to be on time, I tend to wind up running at least part of the way to wherever it is I need to go.

And then I arrive all out of breath and sweaty and immediately need to remove a dramatic amount of clothing.

Nick knows. This is how I showed up for our first date. And he says, hand to God, that he looked at me in the Tabard's low light and said to himself, "Someday I'm going to marry that sweaty orange chick."

But I digress.

Basically, when I am walking, I have two speeds: Very fast. And stopped.

And then of course I run when I am late. That varies from a jog to all-out sprint. I have done this in a variety of footwear. It is not necessarily graceful.

I'm not one of these people who sees three seconds to go on the crosswalk and slows down thinking there's not enough time. No. I think, hey, if I run, I'll definitely make it. Obviously, having children has curbed this habit. (Curbed. Ha!)

Even in the boot, I clomp like the wind.

I wheel my son's scooter and helmet to school with me in the afternoon and I see people look at the scooter and then my boot and I want to be all, "This isn't mine. That's not how I got it."

Yah, so, I just saw my podiatrist. I was on time, like on the minute, but if I didn't have a hurty food I'd have been a few minutes early because I'd have run those last few blocks.

But then I suppose if I didn't have a hurty foot I wouldn't have to see him.

He asked how it was all going and I said my boot foot is doing great but my achilles on my other foot is sore. And that I've been worrying that when this foot is done, I'm going to have to just switch the boot to the other one.

And he said, "You take it easy when you're walking, right?"

The younger me would probably have totally lied, but I confessed that I walk really fast. Like, fast enough that people comment on it. Especially with the boot. They're all impressed.

I'm not saying it's Olympic-level boot walking, but I do think you'd agree.

(Also, if you feel like you need more attention, get a boot. In that regard, it's like having a puppy, but not as cute and nobody's trying to pet it.)

He said to slow it down. Take it easy. Smell the roses. Two or three more weeks.

I will try so very hard.

Also! What do you say? "Ready, steady, go!" or "Ready, set, go!"?

Friday, March 20, 2015

The beginning of a chapter. What do you think?

When I asked my mother about the roadside bodies, she got a funny look on her face and said, “You didn’t see them.”

“I did see them.”


“On the way to school. Looking out the bus windows.”

She sighed. “I thought we’d shielded you from them.”

I'd been unsure of this memory, until her confirmation. "So they really were dead?"

She nodded.

“How did they die?”

 “Well, some of them died of starvation. And others from the river flooding.”

We lived in New Delhi when East Pakistan rose up against West Pakistan and fought to gain independence. India, geographically between the two, entered the war in late 1971. For us this mean air raids over Delhi.

In the summer of  1972, we moved to Dhaka (then Dacca), capital of newly independent Bangladesh and site of my roadside bodies. Bangladesh is low, and floods regularly. Two years prior, the devastating Bhola cyclone had flooded the Bay of Bengal, killing half a million people and leaving unimaginable devastation in its wake.

Even without disasters, there were many easy ways to die: starvation, smallpox, cholera, malaria, to name only a few. You could even just get diarrhea from contaminated water and die of dehydration.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On how I came to be sitting right there in your living room

Oh, hey! I was an extra on House of Cards!

(Also, spoiler alert, if you haven't watched season three.)

I told just about everyone, but I didn't blog about it because they were all, DO NOT blog, tweet, Facebook, Tumblr, carrier pigeon, etc. this or we will cut you! Really they just said you'd be banned from working on the show forever and ever.

I mean, you were allowed to mention that you were an extra, which I did. But I wasn't like, hey! Senate confirmation hearing! Claire! UN Ambassador! Book signing! Remy Danton! Unclear what he's up to! Heather Dunbar! Union rally! Running for president!

All of those were true but I didn't say any of them because I am a first-born-rule-follower and also for fear of being cut or banned.

But what I did say was that if even one of my elbows or ears makes it onto the screen, I am telling EVERYONE.

So here I am.

Last summer I saw a casting call for extras for the third season. They wanted DC-looking people.

We had just binge-watched every single episode of House of Cards even though I kept saying I was going to stop because each and every one of the characters was so evil and wretched. But I just couldn't quit them.

So I put on my black suit and headed off to the casting.

I ran into my neighbor Tracy who was all, "Oh, they won't pick you with your awesome asymmetrical hair. You're way too hip and fashionable to look like you're from DC."

I was all, "I am NOT hip or fashionable and I look totally DC!"

Apparently they agreed and I wound up in three scenes.

The first one is Claire's Senate confirmation hearing. My cousin and Nick both found my little blonde head in the audience seated way behind Claire.

I turn out to excel at audience-sitting. Basically, if you need an audience sitter, I'm your gal.

In the breaks it was so hard to pass Robin Wright in the hallway and not say things like, "That Vizzini, he can fuss!" They were dying to fall out of my mouth right after petting her arm and telling her how terrific she is.

I did none of those things. I just walked past the chair where she was going through her lines, and down the hall to the bathroom and pretended like it was all normal to pass a famous actor. Even though I so wanted to bow to the Queen of Slime, the Queen of Filth, the Queen of Putrescence...

The scene above was filmed at Red Emma's, a radical bookstore in Baltimore. The sections are entitled things like "Lesbian Anarchy" and "Organizing Atheists." I'm making these up, as I can't remember actual sections, but they're along those lines and I was thinking that the Underwoods would never set foot somewhere like that.

And in fact, they didn't. But I did get to stand in line for quite a while behind Remy Danton, who is a long tall drink of water.

Two of my friends, interestingly enough named Kristen and Kristin, both told me that they were watching HoC the other night with their respective husbands. Kristen, who I know in person but haven't seen in years, and who didn't know I was an extra, said she saw me and started yelling, "There's Lisa Jordan!!!" Her husband thought she was insane.

Kristin, who is one of my invisible Internet friends, saw it and started yelling, "I know her! That's my friend!"And her husband also questioned her sanity.

So I guess what I'm saying is, if your name is some variation of Kristen and you are watching HoC with your husband and you see me and you think it's cool, maybe don't jump up and down and yell, because he will think you are nuts.

Even if your enthusiasm makes me really happy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The goat birthday and other bedtime tales

The first time India asked for the goat story, I misheard her. I thought she said "boat story," and said I didn't have a boat story.

"The goat story! When you had birthday cake and candles and a purple bathing suit and a goat!"

Naturally, the most important elements of my Goat Birthday.

Which was actually just a plain old birthday until my little Dutch friend Petra brought me a baby goat as a present. 

Nick started this Story In the Dark business, and he is great at spinning yarns, and the kids love it. But he rarely puts them to bed, and so it's kind of a big treat for them. It's not that I don't like telling stories, but some nights I just want to read a couple books and be done.

For a while Jordan was requesting Lego Jordan stories, in which Lego Jordan and Lego India and another friend or two would walk through a door in the back of Jordan's closet, down a long rainbow Lego hallway, and into the kingdom of the Lego Giant. Where they would immediately proceed to eat Lego ice cream, Lego donuts, and Lego pizza.

I will tell you that it gets as tiresome repeating Lego before every word out loud as it does typing or reading it. "So then Jordan..." "No, Mama! Lego Jordan!"


Anyway, this stopped with a change in our bedtime ritual. For a while I'd give them a bath and get them in jammies, and then I'd leave India in her room screaming bloody murder while I told Jordan a story and then kissed him goodnight and then went to put down my rage queen.

Putting her to sleep is a lot more involved and drawn out than with my boy. My son can be hard to get to the jammies point, but once he is calm and listening to a story, he's headed to sleep. You put him in bed and kiss him goodnight and that's it.

India, on the other hand.

So there was this period of time where if you didn't let her scream for a bit before putting her to bed, you'd spend like 54 hours trying to do so. But if I left her to shriek her displeasure for a bit, she'd be ready to settle in.

Now we read books in her room and sometimes she walks into Jordan's room with me, and sometimes she yells in her room, but it is brief.

And then we focus on her.

She needs water. I'm prepared. Here. I'm handing it to you. She needs socks. No, not those socks. She wants to do it. Hmm, which socks should she choose? She finally picks the damn socks. Oh! She forgot Softly Giraffe downstairs!

(I bought a backup giraffe, exactly the same, but she wasn't fooled. For a while backup giraffe was the less preferred giraffe, and it was still a crisis if we couldn't find Softly Giraffe. So we have Softly Giraffe and Spicy Giraffe.)

ANYway, we get all of this bullshit out of the way and then she wants a story in the dark.

Which is how the goat story got back into circulation. Because I am old and I am tired.

Now I regularly tell my children my birthday stories.

There is always cake, and it is purple, because that was my favorite color for years. These things go over well. There is usually swimming, because that is true and also a popular detail. I also have to list the snacks we had at the pool.

If it's India, there is my purple bathing suit, a detail she loves as she has one as well. But I don't mention that it was a velveteen bikini and basically my favorite item of clothing for years, because then India will have to have one and our lives will be tragic if it doesn't happen.

Sometimes there is the goat, and sometimes it is the Wizard of Oz birthday, when my dad got a reel-to-reel movie projector and the movie from the Marines. And then, when the Wicked Witch's green face was large on the screen, BOOM! Thunder and lightening! The power went out, because it was monsoon season. And everyone screamed!

"You were scared, Mama?"

(Hell, yeah!)

"Only a little. Because my mama and daddy ran around and lit candles and then we at MORE CAKE AND LOLLYPOPS by candlelight!"

"Ohhhh!" Nods of approval.

When I say I can't think of a story, sometimes Jordan says, "Well...did you maybe have any other birthdays ever? Like with cake and candles?"

Yeah, yeah, I probably did.