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The Season of Giving

candles

They say this time of year is the “Season of Giving.” I’m not sure who “they” are…perhaps wise old sages? Or retailers? Being mandated to give something to everyone you know, based on their order of importance in your life, and on a specific date is pressure enough. But add to that the knowledge you are also simultaneously competing against the rest of the world for the limited supply of desirable gift items available! This is enough to produce feelings of hysteria, grief and guilt in anyone. Pass the egg nog, please.

Please be advised that our gift choices must live up to the strict expectations of others, or….or ELSE! Keep the receipt and hope for the best as that wrapping paper is torn open. Was that a smile, or a smug smirk? If the recipient’s eye is welling up with a tear, just hope it’s a good one.

Starting in November, we ask kids and adults alike to make a list of what gifts they’d like. I feel strange buying my brother-in-law that I never see a shirt and tie set, size 17. This is more personal information about him then I’ve known in the previous eight years of being related to him through marriage. But, it’s on his list…so it’s now my mission. Dare I ask my cousin what size slippers she needs? Do I estimate a size? Gasp! What if I overestimate her foot as a size twelve? The icy stares and silent treatment would last until the spring thaw, I’m sure. What if I underestimate the size and a return is in order? Then I’ll need to include a gift receipt. Hassles. Grief. This “Season of Giving” is giving me an ulcer. How about the “Season of Giving” gives me a drink?

So the real question is why are we trying to buy the people in our lives happiness? Do they look miserable? Maybe we are conditioned to feel an empty void this time of year that only a Jean Nate bath set can fill. Thank you, Madison Avenue. But seriously, can purchased happiness last longer than it takes to open the present itself? Probably not. Unless it was a sack of gold coins. REAL gold.

So here is a crazy, brandy-soaked fruitcake of an idea…why not give of ourselves instead? We routinely undervalue our abilities to make a direct impact on the lives of those around us. Can our love and encouragement really compete with a new pair of Isotoner gloves? How about giving some compassion, sympathy, encouragement or support and see for yourself. These are gifts I’d be happy to get any day of the year. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t willing to let go of these higher level gifts. Perhaps we don’t value what they could mean to others. Or, maybe it’s just easier to buy a blender and be done with it.

I’ll tell you now that whenever anyone asks me what I “want” for Christmas my mind just goes blank. My mom always wants to buy me jewelry. That is not what I want. I tell her that, and she gets upset that she needs to have a “wrapped present to hand me.” I then start to think that giving presents is more for the giver than recipient. My relatives always want to know sizes. I feel pressure to tell them I need something stupid just so I can be left alone. “A travel mug!” I’ll blurt out and then retreat back into myself. Back into where I think of things I’d like that I’d never ask for, because I’d never get them. These are gifts of emotion and spirit. No slippers, travel mug or gift certificate could take their place.

Here’s a story. When I lived in New York City, I volunteered at a soup kitchen one Thanksgiving morning. It was really on a whim. Actually, I just wanted to feel like I could make a difference in the lives of others in a city of such great anonymity.

When I first showed up at the soup kitchen I had no idea of what to expect. I really thought I’d see crazy people, wild and scary. I knew that people who lived on the streets of New York would have to be tough to survive out there. I stood behind a table and poured coffee into small white Styrofoam cups and started handing them out to people as they passed through in line. As I handed out my Styrofoam coffee cups, one after another, I noticed something I didn’t expect. A connection between what I was giving and what someone else needed. Every single person smiled and said “Thank you” to me. That part seems trivial, but I realized I had something within me that I could share and was valued by others. Being helpful and caring were things I could give that others truly needed.

I never had such a meaningful experience of helping other people before. By the time I left there I felt like I could move mountains. That Thanksgiving I was given a gift by the many homeless people I met that day. Giving what I could on a human level to help those in need was an incredible and powerful feeling. It’s something I hope everyone can experience sometime in their lives. Value your worth. And again I say, value what you have to give of yourself to others.

Absence Makes the Heart Go Wander

I feel so bad that I haven’t been posting here on my blog lately. I’d been doing so well with my strict schedule of a new post every three to four days.  I miss everyone here as well, so I thought I’d drop you a post to let you know I’m still alive.

I’ve been so busy with life, work, kids, two blogs, the election, wondering about life and death, doubting that it is possible to ever find true love, rediscovering old friendships, feeling pains of doubt, paranoia, insecurity, fear, seeking solace in going shopping, seeking solace in going to the eye doctor, blah, blah, blah. As you can see, I’ve been busy. With life. I know that none of this is relevant to any of you, but the more excuses I list the better I feel about not having written an official post here in such a long time.

Today I finally got tough with me, and told myself that I have to write something here tonight! It has been a week since my last post, and as with many things in life….you can become out of habit with things. Even things you love. Life is work, and so is this blog. But nothing in life comes easy, I guess.

Now I’m sure I sound like I’ve been dipping into the chardonnay….but I assure you I haven’t. I’m just in the midst of my usual midlife crisis-mode. With a touch of sadness. And a whisper of exhaustion…actually a great big loud yell of exhaustion.

In summary, it’s been a long day, and this post is making even me depressed! I’ll have a better post soon, if I can fit it in after the eye doctors and before I take my mom out on errands. But whenever it happens, it will DEFINITELY be before the chardonnay. Or not.

Hey Kids! There’s a New Blog in Town!

Well, in my spare minute a day I started a new blog. I think you can never have too many irons in the fire, right? Anyway, it’s just a silly look at the many books out there that never quite made it to “Great American Novel” status. It just went up today, and if anyone is bored…please stop by and check it out! I plan to update it very often. Hope you like it!!

The Opposite of Bestseller

http://theoppositeofbestseller.wordpress.com/

And….the survey says?

I have been writing, now, for many years. Every time I start writing something new I always think “This is it! This is the writing piece that I will finish. It will define me as a writer and set me on my path to publication and personal fulfilment.” And then none of that ever happens. Repeat to fade.  I then force myself to see the bright side to the madness with each project stall, “Ahh, well. Another scrap in the heap. At least computer files don’t pile up all over the floor”.  No, they just get lost and deleted with the next worm invasion. It makes me sad to think how many of my blurbs and brain farts  the world will never know.

Writing is just about impossible without feedback. I am so fortunate that I have such an amazing audience here on my blog. I am so appreciative for every comment I receive from you all.  Since I never have feedback on my writing outside of my blog, “Fortyteen Candles,”  it has been a real challenge for me to move forward to work on bigger projects. In case you do not already know, I live in a cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere. On the bright side, where I live puts me in a great position  to find answers to such questions as:

  • What kind of liquid fertilizer works best on corn?
  • Is that alfalfa?
  • What’s that smell?
  • When are you going to Walmart?

Back to me and my problems. Just kidding – they are now everybody’s problems! Anyway, I’ve been all over the writing map in my life…poetry, screenplays, sonnets, short stories, essays, letters to the editor, chapters, greeting cards, whole books, a million outlines, and a billion scraps of paper containing earth-shattering topics and story plots that never amounted to much. Enough, I say. Enough. I am officially, today, here, right now, stopping the insanity. I’m getting it together in a good way for a change. Furthermore, I like to believe that someday the world will thank me. Ok, a bit too much. Seriously though, I have decided to take the opportunity of asking all of you for your opinions on my writing so far. If you like my blog and enjoy what I write then I’d like to get your insights as to what you think would be a good path for me to take my writing on next.

At this time, I turn to you dear readers to help me out with a survey. I am asking you all for your valuable feedback. Just let me know what types of stories I write that you find the most interesting, entertaining or meaningful? I would be so appreciative to have  your thoughts on my writing so far. I’m hopeful I can take this information and commit to my next writing project….which I already have two really great ideas about. Sigh. I thank you sincerely, truly and in advance. Thanks.

Now, without further adu….here is the official Fortyteen Candles Writing Survey 2012. Oh, and you can pick more than one answer if you like.

Music Television Saved My Life!

It was when I was in seventh grade that I first heard about a miraculous invention called “cable television.” In those early days everyone just watched television for free. We caught it right out of the air with an antenna that was attached to our television. It was like a magic that I didn’t understand, but accepted as part of normal, everyday life. The television we had in my house was tiny by today’s standards. Smaller, even, than my current computer monitor. We had a 13-inch black and white television that you actually had to put your hands on to change the channel or volume. Oh, it’s true! You had to stand on your feet and walk over to it. But this was not likely to happen, however. Since there were only a few TV channels in existence, you pretty much knew you weren’t missing anything on the other four stations. Evening television viewing consisted of watching channel seven for an hour and a half and then going to bed.

Now, back to seventh grade. I just started junior high school and was feeling all mixed up about my emotions. Wearing an alligator sweater and Jordache jeans with a Lady Diana haircut and a hair comb in my back pocket put a lot of stress on my psyche. It was not normal or natural for me to do any of these things. I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be, so I just did what the other kids in my home room were doing. It wasn’t in any way enjoyable for me to comb my hair and feather it every five minutes, but I did what I had to do to get by. Thankfully, I never went so far as to use a curling iron and hair spray on my hair to maintain its feathered and curled look. That was for the seriously troubled youth:

One day, my best friend told me about something called “cable television.” I thought it must be something from Europe, because it sounded as foreign to me as the metric system. She went on to talk about a show called “Fraggle Rock.” I was immediately incensed, because this was obviously a knock off of my  beloved “The Muppet Show.” I would not tolerate cheap imitations, and remained unconvinced that cable television was in any way going to change my life. However, one day I went over to her house and her television was on. Like a drug dealer trying to hook me on crack, she immediately put a channel on called MTV* (*Music Television, as it was known at the time), so I could get a feeling for this “cable television” that she constantly raved about.  There before me, I saw a band called “The Police” singing a song called “Roxanne.” I stood there mesmerized and wondered what else was out there in the world that I didn’t know anything about.

After seeing that one video, my whole perspective about my place in the world changed. I realized people in other countries were singing songs in musical styles that I knew nothing about. I started focusing more  of my attention on listening to music than I did on fashion, or what the other kids in my home room were doing, wearing or combing. In a way, cable television did change my world. I started identifying more with the culture of music than the dull regular people I knew in my everyday life. I sought out others who were also “into” the music scene and my fashion followed suit. No more Jordache jeans, alligator sweaters, Lady Diana hairstyles or hair combing for me forever. Well, I do still try to at least comb my hair as needed on a fairly regular schedule.

From that point on I became interested in bands such as Blondie, Madness and the B52’s. I became sort of crazed to see these bands singing their songs in videos. I craved that feeling of visual  music. And seeing the musicians in action. They looked a lot cooler and more interesting than the kids in my home room, that’s for sure. I started spending more and more time at my friend’s television. I was hooked. When I couldn’t be there, at her MTV, I was at the record store in the poster section. Or flipping through racks of record albums. Realizing each band had videos was almost too exciting to think about.

In all this new music video frenzy, we still didn’t have cable television at my house. I accepted it as part of life. On a good night, if the wind was right, and there was enough foil on the antenna, and it was after 11 p.m., and it was a Friday, I could pull in a station that broadcasted a show called “Friday Night Videos.” That was seriously like a drug to me. Especially when they had good bands on. But at the time I wasn’t picky. Any music video would do.

Sadly, the MTV of today is completely unrecognizable. No more is it a gateway to the music of the world. Shows like “120 Minutes,” hosted by Matt Pinfield, which introduced me to some phenomenal bands, are a thing of the past. I guess advancing your world-view and with art and intelligence is something from another era. Now on MTV you’ll see “Jersey Shore” marathons, and teenagers becoming celebrities for having babies at sixteen. Ever since the first “The Real World” in the early nineties MTV has gone from cultural icon to an absolute sell-out to commercialism. The “M” in today’s MTV can only stand for “mind numbing.” They play anything but music. I think for a while there they even had an MTV 2, which is where you could find music videos if that was your thing. I don’t even know if that is still in existence anymore. Maybe they’ve moved the videos off to an MTV 3 by now.

In closing to my tirade, here is one of the great videos of the early era of Music Television. It is by a band called M singing the classic tune “Pop Muzik.”  The lyrics make no sense, but the originality and excitement is invigorating in this day of dull, talentless, copycat music stars:

The Enforcer, or I Can’t Believe it’s Come to This, or I’m Mad as Hell

Children amaze me. They are known as the world’s pickiest eaters. Yet, if there was sugar involved that they could potentially obtain, they could gnaw through a cardboard box in about 28.2 seconds.

My kids are no exception to this rule. They ate very well as babies. It brought tears to my eyes when they finished their tiny baby food jars of spinach, green beans, and squash. Things that even made me queasy to think about. They ate them up and wanted more. I really thought I was the luckiest parent in the world. I couldn’t wait to brag about their healthy food choices at family gatherings and play dates galore. Not that they really had a choice back then, but they didn’t exactly refuse it either.

When their little teeth started showing up, so did their change in attitude. No longer did they want the delicious dark green vegetable-like pudding I’d been serving them without complaint all the while before. I upgraded them to toddler style vegetables. “Cool,” I thought. “This is what all the hip kids at the sandbox are eating. Don’t you want to be like them? It even has wagon wheel pasta!” My kids were unimpressed. One bite and both of them spit it out. I knew it was going to be a long, bumpy road to the teenage years. And one with limited vegetable intake.

Being ultra open-minded and forgiving about differences in palates, I tried many different ways to serve vegetables: squashed, boiled, minced, raw, cooked, strained, frozen, fresh. Time and time again, the responses were the same: “Yuck,” “boo,” no,” “stinky poo poo,” “barf,” “no no,” “blech,” “ick!”

It made me cry inside when my sister would casually mention how her young daughters loved salad. “SALAD?!?I would scream in my head, in a therapeutic and cleansing way. “SALAD?!?” I would scream as I punched a pillow in my sleep. “Salad,” I would sigh as I stirred my coffee, watching my kids staring at their plates full of food. “Salad.” I would say, defeated, as I watched commercials on TV about kids loving to eat their vegetables. “Must be that they’re girls,” I would cheer myself up with. My boys don’t like vegetables. Must be a gender issue.

Now let me get something straight. It’s not like my kids won’t eat any vegetables. They only eat certain vegetables. I will list the vegetables my kids will eat, as follows:

1. Candy Corn

2. Jelly Beans

Sigh. My recent approach to vegetable intake on the junior level is that I will prepare vegetables to make myself feel better. I serve them on the side of their entrees, more of a colorful garnish rather than an expected nutritional component of their daily vitamin and mineral allowance. For that we supplement with good old fashioned Flintstones vitamins. Occasionally, one of my kids might eat a kernel of corn. Likely, because it was stuck onto something else they were actually trying to ingest. Still, it makes my heart go pitter pat. I beam as I calculate the vitamins they just enhanced their diet with. I block out all realizations it’s more likely just sugar. I rationalize that even if it’s fiber, it is still a healthy thing to eat.

This morning I had a new attitude. As my youngest son sat staring at his delicious plate of hard boiled egg and yummy toast, I realized I’d had enough. I strongly encouraged him to eat his healthy breakfast, but all he would do was have a few bites of toast…..the part of the toast that didn’t include the crust that is. It then dawned on me that this was a kid who could tear through Jolly Ranchers, Laffy Taffy and probably chew a door off our kitchen cupboards if he knew there were marshmallows hiding within. Something in me generated a frustration like TV news anchorman Howard Beale when he goes off the deep end in the famous movie “Network” and says, “I’m a human being, god damn it! My life has value! And I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

So I did something that surprised even me. I had a secret weapon I’d been drinking for years. Something that could be used in the war against picky eaters. I sat down a large bottle of V8 Juice next to my son’s plate. I told him, calmly, that if he didn’t eat his egg and toast he was going to have to drink a glass of vegetable juice to make sure he was getting a healthy breakfast. My son thought I was kidding at first. But I sat down next to him, and the bottle, and stared at him until he ate his food. I was amazed at how quickly this simple trick worked. Within minutes he’d eaten half his breakfast.

For the first time ever I can now see how vegetables will improve my kid’s nutrition – not by my children actually eating them, but by my threatening that my kids will have to eat them! I hated the fact that I had to make vegetables the bad guy, but you can’t argue with success. And who knows? Maybe someday my kids will actually want to eat vegetables. But until then, at least I can truthfully say vegetables are an important part of my children’s nutrition. And, yes, now I can finally boast at family functions and play dates galore that my children are always eager to eat a healthy breakfast.

Is it Too Late or is it Right on Time?

Too late. It’s too late, actually. That’s  how I feel more and more every day. Too late for what? Too late for chasing dreams? Too late for taking chances? I don’t know, maybe too late for everything.

But that kind of thinking has been with me my whole life. It must have started when I was due to be born in October, then showed up late in early November. The die had been cast. Even when I was a kid I remember thinking I was too old to start ice skating lessons in fourth grade, because all the kids in the Olympics started when they were two. I remember at nineteen years of age talking myself out of modeling school because all the decent models had been in the field since they were fourteen. I finished my first college degree late, at the age of twenty-three, because of being sidetracked by irresponsibility. I got married late at the age of thirty. Then I returned to school for my next degree even later, at the age of thirty-one and considered myself the old lady of the nursing school class. Even though I wasn’t. I just felt that way.

The song “Undun” by the Guess Who was ahead of its time. Actually it was right on time for me, as it was from the year of my birth….1969. Because it is “my song” as I’ll call it, I cling to each lyric as if it speaks to me personally. A prophecy. Is it too late for me? Will this endless lateness eventually make me “come undun?” Even though this spelling for the word “undone” is incorrect, I’ll forgive them because she must also have been too late to worry about grammar. Plus, I’m sure they were hippies.

If you live your whole life feeling like you’ve already missed the boat, what’s the point in ever hoping to get anywhere? That is the million dollar question I’ve asked myself more and more often lately. Especially when it is coming up time for my next birthday. I wonder, what have I done this past year? What did I end up missing out on because I was too late? What can I do this year while I still have time to do it?

This year I’m going to start seeing the glass as half full. Instead of thinking about all the things I’m too late for, I’m going to make myself focus on what I’m RIGHT ON TIME for. So, at my tender age of fortyteen…what am I right on time for? I’m right on time for a slower metabolism, I’m right on time for a midlife crisis, I’m right on time to worry about my retirement, I’m right on time to be the mother of pre-teen boys (and the whole can of worms that comes  along with that), I’m right on time to be part of the sandwich generation and by then I’ll be right on time for another midlife crisis (why stop at one? I’m not a quitter).

So, I can see there is so much left in life that I am at the perfect age to enjoy. I’ll never miss out again on the surprises of life, thinking every opportunity is in my past. “I’m right on time” is what I’ll say as a I pay each bill, as I plan for my future, as I face another car repair or broken furnace. I’m right on time for the minute I’m in. Best of all, I think I’m right on time for a nap.

A Museing

I’ve recently been sidetracked by many things going on in my life. Actually, maybe my life went exactly where it was supposed to but I wasn’t expecting it? Regardless, the purpose of my blog has sort of blurred from a cry for help to suburbia, to a cry for help in suburbia. Lately I’ve wondered how..how I can get things together again to keep this blog where it needs to be? Where is my muse?  I realized today all I needed to do was look out my front window.

I was sitting on my couch this morning, tackling my mountain of bills, when I heard the most horrible rumbling outside my front window. I looked outside to see what in God’s green earth was going on at an hour where the sun was barely awake yet. There was my neighbor, doing something that has been quietly irking me for the past few months.

On our street, like most places where people throw out garbage, every house has one huge garbage can called a “tote.”  These cans are so big you could easily squash down six big bags of garbage and have plenty of room for a crate of rotten onions and two bike tires (Note: we also recycle here). Each house puts their can out in front of their house early in the morning on garbage day, or late the night before, along with items for recycling, and anything else they want to get rid of labeled with a “free” sign. This is a good way to find ugly sofa art, racks  that are missing crucial bolts and odd toilet parts.

Anyway, my next door neighbors are new to the area – here less than a year. I like to think of them as the “newlyweds” in the grizzled marriage of suburban life. Perhaps they aren’t used to the idea of following societal norms, but for some reason they don’t put their extra-large tote in front of their house. Instead they park it at the end of the strip of property on my side of his driveway. Seems petty, sure. But it is very irritating. This is a problem because our front yard is so tiny that whenever you look out in a front facing window on garbage day all you can see is his extra-large green tote in front of our house. Perhaps I’ve gotten a little territorial, but what the heck? Maybe we should move our can down to the last square inch of our yard next to that strip? It just seems awkward and out-of-place. I feel crowded and suffocated by the mysterious rubbish within. Is it too hideous for him to have in front of his house? Is he embarrassed that he’s overfilled his can….again? Maybe I need to send him a note to address the issue. Or take it up with the Homeowners Association. It’s the little things like that make the subdivision walls close in even more.

There! I did it. And, I’m feeling better. Complaining like this about my street somehow seems to put a smile back on my heart! Wait….I feel more complaints surfacing. The flood gates are opening. But, they’ll have to wait for next time. For now I have to keep a watchful eye on any infringing totes from cul-de-sac greenhorns. Fortunately this is easily done at any time….either by daylight sun, or night time glow from the Walmart parking lot behind our house.

“On the New York Times Bestseller List!, I Want to Be _________”

Sitting here gazing out from my vantage point on the cul-de-sac in the middle of nowhere, I find it hard to believe I once had a literary agent. In fact, I once had a few literary agents wanting me to sign with them. Crazy? Yes. But it’s proof that persistence pays off.

At the time I was working as a grunt in the publishing industry. It’s amazing the inspiration you find living on barely enough money to pay your rent AND buy spaghetti noodles for dinner. Plus, typing out the payment requests for authors and illustrators every day reminded me that other people were, every minute of every day, fulfilling their dreams of becoming published.

Somehow, I was inspired by my living situation at the time and became 100% committed to writing a humorous book about my experiences in New York. I worked on that manuscript day and night, which is easy to do when you have no kids, and can’t afford a social life beyond the obligatory pint of beer after work. My manuscript came together quickly because I wrote it with passion. Things are easy to do when you enjoy them. One day it was finally finished. I then dutifully studied how to write the perfect pitch letter, and found suitable agents to query. Suddenly, agents wanted to read my manuscript. I couldn’t believe my luck when one day I received two letters from agents wanting to represent my work! Here, I, low man on the publishing assistant totem pole, was now having to decide between two literary agents.

One agent had his own literary agency, and the other agent was really an agent’s assistant at an international entertainment agency. I went with the agent who owned his own agency, and in good faith signed on. Unfortunately, the plans he had for my book coincidentally “inspired” the publication he showed my idea to. Two months later my book idea was a featured story on their magazine cover. I learned the hard way about copyrighting – and how you can’t copyright “inspiration.” Sigh. Life goes on. I was never able to reach my agent by phone again, but a few weeks after the magazine with my story idea came out he left me a scratchy and vague voice mail saying he was in Los Angeles. Whatever that was supposed to mean.

Fast forward to recent times. My fears of making more mistakes with my writing and the publishing industry – and knowing my belief in the good of people doesn’t always work well in the business world – stayed with me for years. I had writer’s constipation. I had many ideas, and started many books, but then with no end in sight I would let them fizzle out. All because of a fear that I’d make another naive mistake and get taken advantage of. Then along came Joyce Carol Oates.

My writing career was revived earlier this year, thanks to some words of wisdom from Joyce Carol Oates. I don’t remember the specific words, because I read them on a blog and didn’t memorize them. But her words stayed with me and haunted me and sank into my brain until I was convinced she was right. This was my green light to go forward with writing again.  She said something along the lines that if she had to give advice to new writers she would tell them to start with blogging. It is a way to find your audience, to fine tune your writing and get quick feedback on your work. So, I started this blog. And she was right. She was RIGHT. SHE WAS RIGHT!

In all my life’s ups and downs I have been so inspired by the bloggers here on WordPress. There is endless creativity out there, and an audience for everyone’s voice. I usually never know what to write about, but somehow the words show up. They always say to “Write what you know!” But that is hard to narrow down, and really not helpful. The freedom to write here on my blog without judgement, expectation or limits is what helps me color outside the lines.

I often get confused on what “humor” writing really is. Why are there two categories of humor that agents represent: Humor: Non-Fiction and Humor: Fiction? What is the difference? If I write about my experiences but embellish, or change the names to protect the innocent is it now fiction? These are the little details that lead to procrastination and a cobwebbed keyboard. I was so frustrated by this question that one time I asked a literary agent in an online discussion forum what the difference between these two categories was. I received a snarky and condescending answer in return. And I still didn’t know the difference between the two. Sigh, again.

I’ve recently been hit with a lightning bolt of an idea. One of those “Of course!” moments of what would be a fun and interesting writing project to take on. And taking a chance on writing is always a good gamble….it’s free! Which is good in this economy. Starting today I’ve created an outline of something that perhaps I might finish. And send off to some agents. And hopefully get published. And if I’m published, I damn well better get on the New York Time’s Bestseller List. No pressure, if you know what I mean.

Self-Checkout Lanes = Twenty Minutes of Your Life Back

Why do so many people hate the self-checkout lanes at Walmart? I’m just asking, here. I’m one of those people, too.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wearily pushed my overloaded shopping cart up to the front of the store, being completely exhausted to the core and willing to make a deal with the devil if I could just be teleported twenty minutes into the future where I was sitting on my couch with a cup of coffee and all this shopping drudgery was well behind me. But that is just a daydream. Instead, I stand in a position in front of all the cash registers where I have the perfect vantage point to assess several things: Which lines are too crowded? Which people have too many items in their carts? Which cashiers look like trainees? Which cashiers are on their cell phones? Which cashiers are about to go to lunch? Which cashiers don’t give a damn?

At this point I notice that every self-checkout lane is empty. Crickets are heard instead of squeaking conveyor belts. The aisles leading up to them are gleaming. Makes me wonder why. I am suspicious that the rest of the customers know something I don’t. Occasionally you might see an employee zip through with a candy bar. They are in and out in a flash. Makes me wonder if they’ve really paid for their items. How could it only take a few seconds to do a transaction at Walmart? I chalk it up to tomfoolery and shenanigans, and think no more of it.

My next step on my check out journey is to narrow down my lane options to the top three that are most likely to process my order quickly: The disgruntled cashier with two customers with overloaded carts? The cashier on the cellphone with one customer but her boyfriend is hanging around talking with her? The cashier who is a trainee that keeps trying to scan a pack of gum? I need a few minutes to assess the progress of each lane. I gaze again over at the self-checkout lanes. In and out a person went with a club pack of bacon and a club pack of Twinkies. Ahhh…the breakfast of champions. He must be single. Still, again, in and out like a flash. How can that be? Maybe he left the Twinkies and bacon there for re-shops and cancelled his order. Nope. Looks like he has a bag with him.

After noticing the lines I’m assessing aren’t moving, I feel like I’m in a public service announcement for the dangers of wasting your life waiting in line. No lanes are moving and I’m trying to find my quickest escape route before I die. The panic and pressure I was feeling to get the hell out of Walmart before I ended up crying in a fetal position next to my cart and screaming for St. Jude to take me to the angels was too much to bear.

Without thinking, I abruptly sent my cart and me on a one way trip to the self-checkout lanes. The other shoppers gazed at me as if I had gone mad. I heard them whisper and buzz “She’s lost it. Those scanners are the devil’s work!” Well that also could have been my internal critic or my rumbling stomach. A bacon and Twinkie sandwich sure sounded good right about now.

The self-checkout lane is sterile and cold. The computer monitor stares at me, unblinking. I unload my cart and carefully hit the “start” button.  “Please scan first item!” I’m told by a cheerful invisible voice. I scan the item. “Please put item in the bagging area!” The cheerful but authoritative voice tells me. I put my item in the bag and jerk my hands away, afraid to touch anything I shouldn’t. “Please scan next item!” The chipper but bossy voice tells me. “Please put item in the bagging area!” I try to put the item in the bag, but it won’t fit completely. Again, I’m scolded “Please put item in the bagging area!” I jostle the item angrily until it sits in the bag. “Please scan next item!” I’m told before I can figure out what to do with the two full bags. Can I take them off the bagging area? Will I get in trouble? The cheerfully nagging voice never yelled at me about what to do in this situation.

“Please scan next item!” The computer was getting impatient. I didn’t know what punishment for non-compliance was within its arsenal of touch screen buttons, and I didn’t want to find out. I just grabbed anything I could and hurriedly found the UPC code to scan to keep the voice quiet. I crammed it into the bag before the voice could belittle me about my bagging prowess. “Please…” the voice started, but I scanned my next item before it could finish its monotone sentence. “Please…” “Please…” it kept repeating before I put the items in the bagging area. No computer was going to tell me what to do. These commands were all what I was going to do anyway. I’m getting credit for the thought.

Finally my order was through. I had to pay. I felt weird feeding my money into the machine. How easily could it suck my money in and say I never put in any? I felt completely helpless until it credited my money on the screen. Finally it spit out my change. I looked out and saw the people in the other lanes still hadn’t moved. How easily I could have still been standing at my vantage point assessing the situation, instead of taking a chance to get ahead. I could have been there twenty minutes or more at the mercy of indifferent cashiers and shoppers who wouldn’t let someone with one item ahead of their shopping cart full of miscellaneous items. I felt empowered as I put my money in my wallet. It was good to try new things! It was…”Please remove your bags!” What? “Please remove your bags!” I was still being yelled at. Even while I was soaking in my glory and empowerment I was still at the mercy of the monotone voice. “Please…” I took them off before that sentence could reach its predictably annoying end.

With bags finally in cart, I left the store minutes later. The other people waiting in line could easily be there at least twenty minutes more or longer. I really savored the idea that I had gained twenty minutes of my life that belong to me – not Walmart, not the lines, not to disgruntled cashiers and selfish shoppers.  I kind of pitied the people still waiting, even though it was their decision to wait there in the shadow of an obviously quicker way to pay. I’m convinced that perhaps my new enlightenment must have been the work of St. Jude.

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