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Good job Jimbo Gallagher! You correctly explained the title of the previous blog post.

Last week, I posed this question on Facebook and Twitter: Is it a compliment or an insult when someone says you have “pageant hair”?

The responses varied from “Who cares, I like your hair,” to something along the lines of “Um, 1986 called and it wants its hairstyle back.”

The surprising amount of conversation invoked by my question caused me to ponder my hairstyle, as if there aren’t more important things I could be doing with my time. For those of you who don’t know what is meant by “pageant hair,” it’s the big, meticulously-styled bouffant that takes time and a variety of tools to create. If you really wanted to do it right, you could go the distance to “helmet hair,” which is the look one gets after applying layers of Aqua Net hairspray so your hairstyle can be preserved for posterity, like a butterfly in a glass paperweight. I am sure I don’t have helmet hair…at least, not anymore. Don’t blame me, blame 1986! By the way, it works best if you let the Aqua Net dry between applications.

Fine. I insist on poufing my hair, but I really don’t have any choice. I don’t have the kind of effortless mane that some bitches – I mean, friends of mine – have. I am referring to the type of hair that can be washed and air-dried, so its proud possessor can simply shower and waltz out the door looking great. If I wash my hair and then do nothing to it – no blow-drying, no teasing, no curling, nothing – within twenty minutes I look like a drowned rat. I have the type of hair that needs round brushes, hot rollers, and various other instruments of torture to prevent it from sitting flat on my head. That is in large part the reason I toil, blow-drying my hair upside down even when it’s 80 degrees outside and doing so makes me a sweaty mess.

But the fact that my hair doesn’t air-dry well is not the entire story. In fact, it’s not even the main reason why I want my hair to be big. Much like my reason for wearing black clothes (not because I am cool or fashionable, but because I tend to spill food on myself frequently), my reason for having big hair might surprise you. It is the same reason I don’t wear ponytails, the reason I leave my hair long and loose and full.

My head is too small for my body.

There. I said it. My head is too small for my body.  And the only way to deal with it is to make my hair bigger and hope that its sheer volume will make me look in proportion overall.

Right now you are thinking one of two things: either “This woman is completely vain and neurotic,” or, “Don’t be silly, honey, your head is the perfect size” (Thanks Mom!). Either way, my response is the same:  I have third-party verification that, yes, my head is oddly small for my body. This confirmation came in the form of Thomas, a hair stylist at the Macy’s Salon in Menlo Park Mall in New Jersey, with whom I had the following conversation in 1998:

Thomas:  So, how do you like to wear your hair? (AUTHOR’S NOTE FOR THE MEN: This is a routine opening question whenever you go to see a new stylist.)

Me:  Well, I usually blow it out and put Velcro rollers in to make it fuller.

Thomas:  Really? But right now the straight and sleek look is so IN. And your hair texture is perfect for that.

Me:  Ummm….I don’t really like to wear it too flat. I like it on the bigger side.

Thomas:  But maybe we should try it…

Me:  No! My head is too small for that.

Thomas (incredulous):  What?! What does that mean?

Me:  Look at my head in relation to my body. It’s too small.

At this point, Thomas actually stops what he is doing, which was touching and fluffing my hair. He stares at me intently with one hand on his chin and one folded across his chest. To his credit, he makes the effort of surveying my head from a couple of different angles by circling me as I sit in his chair. After two or three minutes of this, he announces his findings.

Thomas:  OK, I see what’s going on here. From here to here (he points from my right ear across my face to my left ear) your head and face are actually somewhat narrow. But, from here to here (he points from the tip of my forehead to the back of my crown) your head is actually quite long.

There is a pause in the conversation while I process his remarks.

Me:   So…I think what you are telling me is that I look like the creature from the movie Alien?

Thomas:  Is that the one with Sigourney Weaver? I love her!

So there it is. My head is too small relative to my body. At least, it is when you look at me from the front.

There is one other possible response you could have to my issue with my small head. I am sure that at least one of you is thinking, “Well, maybe it isn’t that your head is too small. Maybe it’s that your body is too big. Maybe if you worked out a little more, or went on a diet, or did something to make your body smaller, everything would balance out.”

You know what I say to that? Suck it. If making my hair bigger means I get to eat ice cream or cheese fries when I feel like it, then give me some hot rollers and Aqua Net and call me Peg Bundy.

Bragging rights go to the first person who guesses the relevance of this entry’s title. This contest is brought to you by Mike Ingrassia.

Oh Writing, I miss you so…it really stinks to have a day job.

Anyway, this doesn’t actually count as writing; I just wanted (needed?) to relay an observation. There is writing on the way though (she says, as if you have all been patiently waiting by your PC).

A while back I explained that there were some similarities between my son and my dog. It’s possible that by sharing such a recognition I seem like a bad mother, but nonetheless I need to add two more things to the list. I have no doubt that Max will bring these up to his therapist twenty five years from now.

Just like our dog, Max is obsessed with squirrels. When our dog sees a squirrel, she slowly and quietly slinks up to it to get close enough to pounce. When Max sees a squirrel, he bends forward slightly – to get on its level, I assume – and tip toes quietly up to it. Their techniques are similar enough that it makes me feel like I should have Max on a leash. I am hopeful that he is mostly interested to pet the squirrel instead of thrasing it about in his jaws, which is more or less what our dog has in mind.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Mom, I know what you are thinking. You can rest assured that I don’t let Max get close enough to any squirrels to get bitten and have to get six long needles poked into his stomach, like Grandma told me they do when you might have contracted rabies.]

The other possibly more disturbing comparison becomes apparent whenever I am eating. About a month ago, my son became very interested in my food. Even after I have attempted to fill the bottomless pit that is his stomach…even after he has given me the “enough” sign by waving his hands in the air…even after he has turned his attention to his toys or Sesame Street…the moment I try to eat something, anything, Max comes charging at me with his mouth wide open. I am not kidding. The second I try to feed myself, Max flies across the room with his mouth agape as an indication that I should drop some of my food into it. I don’t think I need to say more about how that reminds me of our dog.

And just to drive the point home, I took the liberty of snapping a couple of photos:

Phase I, The Approach…


Phase II, The Begging…

I think our dog actually gets points for being a bit more subtle.

I have been on a bit of a documentary-watching kick lately. I guess it must just be my remarkable thirst for knowledge. Anyway, recently I watched an amazing documentary series called Miracle Planet. The first episode in the series is all about how, early in the Solar System’s history, meteorites and other stuff (technical term) that were floating around would hit the Earth. I guess for a while after the formation of our little spot in the universe things were pretty messy. Trust me when I tell you that you should be really grateful that we weren’t around back then, because here is what scientists think happened:

A gigantic meteor crashed into the Earth. The radiation from the explosion on impact turned Earth into a fireball and vaporized all of the water on the planet (no shit). The Earth’s surface burned for a while, but gravity kept all of the water in the atmosphere instead of allowing it to float off into space. Although now I am wondering if some of it didn’t escape and boogie on over to Mars, but that is my own theory and – for those of you who don’t know me personally – I have a lot of theories that aren’t substantiated by science which I cling to nonetheless. So there, that’s where the water on Mars came from. Tell your friends.

But I digress. The Earth burned for a while, then after about 1000 years, the planet cooled and the atmosphere released its water and it rained for 100 years and refilled the oceans (again, no shit). So this has caused scientists to question if life could have survived such an environment.

Up until now I was on board. I was totally engrossed in this story of “Earth, the Early Years.” Here’s where the rant starts.

A bunch of scientists are working to figure out how life could have survived Fireball Earth. The theory is that some of the life that was on Earth must have survived or else where would we have come from? Life must have started when the planet formed, right? I find it a bit amusing how hung up everyone gets on the idea that life could just appear at some point, because that might imply there is a God and that would just blow everyone’s minds.  

But the efforts to prove there is no God wasn’t the part that annoyed me.

So the researchers determined that while the surface of the Earth was burning like the fiery pits of hell, and the core of the Earth was all hot and liquidy because it is the fiery pits of hell, there was this space in the middle where it was friggin’ hot but not so hot that nothing could live. Something could live. The theory is that some single-celled organisms that thrive in hot environments were able to sneak down below the surface and wait out the fire; let’s call them Hot Amoebas. And we descended from them.

First of all, there is no way I descended from any life form that likes to live at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. I start sweating at 50 degrees, so I question the theory on those grounds alone. But more importantly – who gives a crap?! I’m all for scientific research and understanding life and all of that other learning stuff, but I am still not clear about how we benefit from figuring out that those Hot Amoebas are our great-great-great (add a million greats) grandmas. How about a little faith people? At some point, life started. There. Don’t know where, don’t know how. But what do you say that we forget – just for a little while – about pinpointing the moment life started so we can focus our resources and energy on cleaning up the shit-storm we have on our hands right now?! How about we divert the funding for that Hot Amoeba research into something important, like building a gigantic underground city so the next time a meteor turns the Earth into a fireball we can make sure that all of the rich and famous people will survive while the rest of us spontaneously combust?

But the money spent on useless research wasn’t the part that annoyed me.

The Hot Ameoba research is led by this South African scientist. She decides that the best way to access this middle ground between too hot and just sort of hot is through the diamond mines. Off they go, as the narrator comments on the methane gas that leaks into the shafts of the mines, adding that it is really unsafe to be there and it is amazing the research team is even willing to go on such a dangerous quest. He doesn’t say shit about the ten or so manual laborers they pass on the way, who are down there working every day just so all of us can have the bling we need to make our friends and neighbors jealous.  

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: It pained me to use the term “bling” but there was no way around it in this case. I needed to show my sarcasm more clearly and I am praying you picked up on it and don’t think I actually use the term “bling” in conversation. I promise you I don’t, in large part because I know that every time some suburban mom or dad says “bling”, there is a teenager in urban America laughing his ASS off. And rest assured, he is laughing at them, not with them.)

But the fact that people risk their lives for our jewelry wasn’t the part that annoyed me.

It’s really hot in those diamond mines. The temperature goes up 20 degrees or something every half mile down into the Earth. I sort of made that up from memory, but it’s directionally correct. Suffice it to say that it gets hotter as you go deeper. But Hot Amoebas don’t care. They love the heat. Bring it! The research team is combing the mining shafts for life forms, and suddenly, there it is! Slime on the rock wall! Green and red and white slime! There is life in the mining shafts!  That is, there is life in addition to the workers who go down there every day to work in appalling conditions so we can all wear diamond watches that make us feel more important than our friends.

Anyway…life! How exciting! Turns out, the sludge is actually a type of bacterium. And these bacteria can live in hot environments! And studying these subterranean bacteria will help us prove that life survived Fireball Earth! Hooray! Let’s BRING THE UNDERWORLD BACTERIA TO THE SURFACE AND STUDY THEM…

This is where I lost my mind. Does anyone else have a problem with this?! Just because you have a PhD and a bunch of published articles that less that1% of the world can understand does not mean you have common sense. LEAVE THE BACTERIA WHERE YOU FOUND THEM! All I could think about is how, 20 years from now, when half the planet has perished with Hot Amoeba Bacterial Infection, we’re all going to be like “Gee, maybe we should have left well enough alone.” It’s called the Law of Unintended Consequences. In all of the excitement to get some kind of Nobel Prize, even smart scientist-types can forget to consider the impact of a decision plus the impact of the impact plus the impact of that impact, and so on. So human nature dictates that a well-meaning person might not think twice about bringing KILLER BACTERIA to the surface of the Earth, where some hungover lab tech can accidentally knock over a test-tube of it so then it can eat us all, and nothing would be able to destroy it because it is super-strong because it survived a FIREBALL, for Christ’s sake! Speaking of him, I am sure Jesus would be like “The answers to the mysteries of life are within you. PUT THE BACTERIA DOWN!”

In fairness to the researchers, I am not sure what happened next because a short while later I fell asleep. Did I mention that I watch documentaries because the soothing narration is perfect for inducing naps? And, I have that thirst for knowledge I mentioned earlier. Anyway, I think the stress of knowing that our days are numbered – because there is no way that washing your hands with hot water and soap kills underworld bacteria – made me so emotionally drained, I actually passed out. Yeah, that was it.

Before my son was born, my husband and I became very interested in the idea of teaching him sign language. Proponents of sign language insist it’s necessary for minimizing a child’s frustration, since a person’s will develops before the ability to speak. But since motor skills develop early, a child can use sign language to ask for what he or she needs. As far as I am concerned, sign language is necessary for minimizing frustration for the parents, because when I am up at 3am listening to Max screaming his head off like I am torturing him or something, I just want him to tell me what in the hell he needs so I can just give it to him and go back to bed.

I never promised anyone a rose garden.

When Max was as young as two months old, I started introducing signs. One sign, actually, which was the sign for “milk.” While I nursed him I would make the sign, hoping that in the near future I would live in a utopia where Max would simply let me know when he was hungry because – no matter how many women told me I should be able to determine what he needed just by the sound of his cry – all of his cries sounded precisely the same to me.

(AUTHOR’S NOTE: You can see the sign for “milk” here if you are interested, but basically it entails making a fist and then opening and closing it like you are milking a cow. Right. That makes me feel so good about myself. I could expand on this but it really would have to be its own post.)

I was pretty consistent about making the “milk” sign to Max every time he nursed so he could associate the sign and the activity. That is, I was consistent until Max was about four months old. What changed, you ask? The answer is very straightforward: I went back to work. And from that point on, trying to follow through on all of my commitments to Max and to my clients became an exercise in bending the space-time continuum. When I was nursing Max I considered it a win if I only focused on him, instead of writing business emails in my head.

(ANOTHER AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is where my husband hangs his head Charlie Brown-style and lets out a sigh, because at this point his needs were a distant third. Sorry, Baby!)

Needless to say, once I started work again I rarely remembered to make the “milk” sign. So imagine my surprise when, just a couple of weeks before his first birthday, Max crawls up to me and opens and closes his fist like he’s milking a cow. With an expectant and slightly frantic look in his eye, he clearly told me that he just realized he was pretty damn hungry. I thought to myself:

What an amazing thing the human brain is! How incredible that, even though I haven’t made this sign to Max in about seven or eight months, he still learned it! He is like a little sponge! I can’t believe he is so smart! Well, he’s at least as smart as Koko the gorilla. Although in fairness, Koko knows over 1000 signs, so I guess Max isn’t quite as smart as Koko yet, but he’s showing great potential! It’s amazing to me that he can actually replicate something he last saw when he was only four months …..

And then it hit me. In that moment, I understood how completely screwed I was. Because at the exact same time that I was making the “milk” sign to Max, I was sleep deprived and cursing up a storm. My typical level of swearing once caused a man who worked for me to request that I scale it back a notch, because it made him uncomfortable to work for a truck driver in a skirt suit. Yes, sad but unfortunately very true. To make matters worse, my sleep-deprived cursing was more severe and a bit more colorful. So when Max clearly raised his fist in a triumphant gesture for sustenance, I realized that it was only a matter of time before he walked up to me and casually said, “Mom, do you know where I put my goddamn Elmo?! I swear I would lose my fuckin’ head if it weren’t attached to my goddamn body!!”

Again, I never promised anyone a rose garden.

Max found Elmo...it's all good now.

I can’t believe that I forgot this significant oh-crap-I-am-older-than-I-think-I-am moment when I wrote my previous post, Old:

This morning when I was tweezing my eyebrows I found white hairs mixed in with the dark brown. Not gray hairs…WHITE. Not one or two hairs…FOUR. And this is not the first time…it’s been happening for a couple of years. OK, five years.

Incidentally, this was not the original reason I started – but has become the primary reason that I continue – to get Brazilian bikini waxes.

Sorry, Dad. I should have warned you to stop reading a couple of sentences ago.

A disturbing thing happened to me this past weekend.

My parents and I were watching college football. We were having a blast watching Navy outplay Notre Dame. There was shouting and taunting and pizza. It was a great day.

At least, it was a great day until I tried to read something to my dad during a commercial. As I held the paper up, I said to him, “I guess I should go to the eye doctor. Lately, when I try to read my eyes jiggle.”

“Jiggle?” he asked with a smirk. “What does that mean?”

“You know, they go like this.” I held my finger up and waved it back and forth, which is the universal sign for eye-jiggling.

He instructed me to remove my eyeglasses and try again. I did so and the jiggling stopped. “Well,” he said, “you need progressive lenses.”

“What?”

“You know, they have different prescriptions depending on the distance.”

“BIFOCALS?!” I shrieked.

Ugh. I am 40 and a half (as of October 24, and yes, I still track my half-birthdays). Why is it so hard for me to believe that I am that old? All of the signs are there: over 50% of my hair is gray (although I’ll never let you see it), I get tired at 8:00pm, and if I sit on the floor for more than a couple of minutes it takes me twice as long to get up. Even so, I am completely surprised when I am faced with hard evidence that I am, in fact, middle-aged.

I always joke with people that the key to staying young is to act really immature, and I stand by that. In fact, a couple of seconds ago, while I was writing the last paragraph, my husband interrupted me to ask what we should do with the gigantic turnip that was sitting in our fridge going bad. I said, “Oh, I don’t know…maybe we should….stick it up your butt?” then went back to writing. (See Mom, you aren’t the only one who is subjected to my immaturity.) I believe that to think young is to be young, and I extend the idea to acting like a seventh grader so I can feel really, really young. I am totally fine with that.

But even if I feel young in my head, every once in a while something happens to snap me back to reality. Below are a few examples. I know that a bulleted list is a sign of lazy writing, but in this case it’s a sign of me trying to hurry and finish this before the baby wakes up. Here are some of the incidents that have made me feel old, in chronological order:

  • The first time I noticed that a weatherman was probably younger than I was, I was dismayed. These are authority figures! They use science to guess what the weather will be in two days! That was the first time I remember feeling old and it was a weird, sad moment.
  • When I was teaching seventh grade, I once heard myself say, “Trust me, someday you will thank me for making you do (such and such)” I don’t remember what important task I was making the student do, but do I remember that I sounded like a caricature of an adult. I might as well have been going “Waa waa. Waa waa, waa.” like the teacher in the Peanuts cartoons.
  • Then there was the time I first noticed how much younger the players in college sports were. I mean, I was out of college already so of course they were younger, but I guess I never thought about it. Then one day I saw a quarterback being interviewed after a game and I was like…Whoa. He’s a baby.
  • Then there was the time I made a comment like, “I swear, kids these days tailgate so much!” The woman I was referring to was on her way to work during rush hour, so she was definitely older than the college quarterback. It was getting worse…
  • Then there was the time that the kid (again with the kid!) working the register at a convenience store said “Have a nice day. Ma’am.” I froze. Excuse me?!  Fortunately, I resisted the urge to bite his head off. Instead, I just said, “Oh, calling me ‘Ma’am’ makes me feel old.” He smiled and said “Sorry, Miss.” But while his mouth said ‘Miss’ the rest of his face said “Oh, you are sooo pathetic.”
  • Then there was the time I was dating a younger guy and found out that he had never seen Caddyshack. I wasn’t even sure he knew what I was talking about until I explained that it was movie. Yikes. That relationship ended a few weeks later, when I realized he was born the same year that the movie came out.
  • When my future sister-in-law started dating her fiancé, she mentioned where he grew up and I realized he went to my high school, Shore Regional. I was so excited, and the next time I saw him I was like, “Do you know the so-and-so family?” After a couple of seconds of that I asked, “Wait, what year did you graduate?” only to find out that it was TWELVE years after I did! My husband is five years younger than I am, and his sister is two years younger than he is, and her fiancé is five years younger than she is. That makes twelve. Needless to say, when we all socialize together I have a lot of similar conversations with their friends. I suppose that’s what I get for robbing the cradle.
  • I became pregnant with my first child at 39. During the first doctor’s visit, I had a quick conversation with the office manager about insurance: what would be covered, what wouldn’t. She said, “Well, due to your advanced maternal age, we will probably have to give you more tests.” I gave her the stare down – I couldn’t help it, I was really hormonal – and said, “Advanced maternal age is just a euphemism for old.” She looked startled, and I didn’t even feel bad. Did I mention that I was hormonal?
  • A few months later, I was sitting on the beach with my younger brother, who made some crack about me being old. I shot back, “It’s not like I‘m 40 or something!” Then I paused and remembered that I was 39 and was like, Oh…scratch that.

There’s more, but those are the highlights – or the lowlights, depending on your perspective. People often tell me I look young for my age which is feeling less and less like a compliment. I used to always say that I looked young because I had no kids to stress me out and age me, but that’s all changed. Nothing makes someone hit the wall like having an infant at age 40. I am pretty sure I have aged at least five years in the last ten months.

Whatever. You can’t fool Mother Nature and you can’t stop Father Time. But I still make a big deal about my birthdays and I am still honest about my age. And, I only have nine and a half years before I qualify for AARP insurance – so I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.

My mother has been visiting once per week to “help” me in my efforts to juggle my business with my new role as a mother. My sarcasm is due to the fact that she and I both know these visits are actually about being able to spend time with my son, Max – not about making my life easier.  The truth of the matter is that my perpetual to-do list is always at least 20% longer after one of my mother’s visits. So if she assists me in knocking two things off my list but adds five onto it, is that helping?

There are a lot of ways in which my mom actually does make my life easier: she brings new clothes for Max to replace those he outgrew, she cleans the dirty dishes piled in the sink, and she attends to Max so I can work. In return for her kindness, I am subjected to an endless list of recommendations, suggestions, and improvements that should be made, all of which can be supported by articles she clipped from Good Housekeeping magazine or the Star-Ledger. Some of these contributions are useful and some are, in fact, critical. The issue is the magnitude; there is only so much a person can digest in terms of things he or she “should” be doing at a given moment.

If I get frustrated with my mother, then I feel guilty and unappreciative because I know she means well and she cares.  On the other hand, sometimes she crosses the line into the territory of being controlling. Over the last nine months, she and I have discussed – okay, argued about – how to balance her need to tell me all of these things with my need to be left alone. I’m happy to report that we finally seem to have a process, a coping mechanism if you will, that seems to work.

Every time my mother gives me a suggestion or direction that I don’t have the energy or desire to deal with, I simply restate it with the words “…your face.” For example, when she grabs me between client meetings to tell me that I should clean the baseboard heaters, my response is “Maybe you should clean your face.” Or when she asks me if we have debt, I simply ask “I don’t know, does your face have debt?” Depending on how stressed or irritated I am at the moment when my mother gives me the unsolicited advice, I might choose to replace the word “face” with the word “butt,” as in “Maybe you should clean your butt” or “Does your butt have debt?”

It’s completely immature, but it makes me snicker (yes, I laugh at my own jokes) and it confuses her long enough for me to escape back into my office. I am not sure how many more times I’ll be able to get away with this approach for deflecting my mom’s endless suggestions, but I will definitely milk it for all it’s worth.

The following is an actual conversation I had with my husband when I was eight months pregnant:

ME:   I want to go to the city on Friday to visit the energy healer, but I’m nervous. (Author’s Note: File “I want to…visit the energy healer” under things I never thought I would hear myself say.)

MATT:   Why would you be nervous?

ME:   Because. What if someone sees me and realizes how pregnant I am? Then they might kidnap and kill me and cut the baby out and sell him on the black market.

MATT:   (Pause.) What? Why would you think that would happen?

ME:   That sort of thing happens all the time. It’s not uncommon. I heard it happening recently in the news!

Matt’s incredulous, wide-eyed stare indicates that he is weighing the pros and cons of making his next statement….

MATT:   Ummm…Baby? I believe that was actually a Law and Order episode.

I was speechless for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that I had been completely serious in my concern that someone might steal my baby. I was also stunned when it hit me that I had been watching so much TV that the lines between reality and my fantasy-TV-world had become so blurred. I was impressed at how brave Matt had been to break the news to me, because it was entirely possible that in my anger at myself for being such a big loser, I might have shot the messenger.

Reality-check in Aisle 5, please.

In fairness, Law and Order episodes are “ripped from the headlines.” If I was honest with myself, though, the true cause of any confusion was the fact that I had been watching about four hours of Law and Order a day for the previous month. I blame TNT for allowing this to happen – damn them and their beautiful syndication!

Yes, I know there is research that television is bad for you: it’s linked to obesity, depression, homicide, suicide, acne and excessive spending.  So I made some of that up. Nonetheless, most people agree that doing things is much preferable to watching imaginary people do things. But when I am stressed and tired and life is getting me down nothing makes me feel better than snuggling up to my flat-screen high-definition television and some wonderfully cheesy Lifetime movie.

Am I the only one who gets so invested in the television I watch that I sometimes start to think about these people as real? What is it about watching a series regularly that makes you feel as if you know the characters personally? Cheers and Seinfeld, two comedy classics, were hilarious partly because the characters were so well-developed that you could actually predict how they might act or what they might say in a certain situation. This familiarity created anticipation that heightened the comedy, and it also made the characters become friends-in-your-head.

Then there is the consideration that these characters come into your home. They visit you weekly or nightly or even four hours a night like my friends Briscoe and Curtis. They can be in your life for years, especially if you’re willing to mindlessly sit through reruns. In fact, some of my TV friendships have lasted longer than my friendships with real people. As life gets busier, it’s just easier to stay in touch with the friends you can record on your DVR.

Five years ago, when I was going through a divorce and I was feeling very low, I had no energy to do anything other than go to work and pretend that everything was fine. By the time I got home I was completed drained; as a result my evening ritual consisted of sitting on the couch eating Mexican food and watching reruns of the Gilmore Girls. If you need to escape a sad reality, why wouldn’t you go to a place filled with eccentric characters who say witty things while hanging out in a diner? Why wouldn’t you want to visit with people to whom bad things don’t happen, where the worst thing that ever happens is that the main character gets into a fender bender with the car her boyfriend gave her? I can think of worse places to visit than Stars Hollow, and my spending time in that imaginary town went on for months.

So it should come as no surprise that, as I was walking through town with a friend last Friday, I had another mix-up. I started to wave at someone before quickly retracting my hand.

“Do you know her?” my friend asked.

“I thought I did, but it was someone else,” I replied. I had thought it was Lane Kim…one of my friends from the Gilmore Girls.

How pathetic.

My posts of late have been somewhat reflective and introspective, so you may be expecting this post to be about the signs the universe is sending me to direct me to my purpose…blah blah blah. No, I wanted to write about plain ordinary signs – the boards with words and pictures that tell you where to go – or not.

I stick up for New Jersey all of the time. Armpit of the United States? How dare you! Have you been to Baltimore? Or Central Florida? That place may not have state income tax, but it also has no soul. New Jersey is a cool place. We let people across the country think bad things about New Jersey. We invite visitors to come to New Jersey and be greeted by the industrial sludge surrounding Newark Airport. We do this because New Jersey is already too damned crowded –we don’t need people up and moving here from out of state and making it worse. In actuality, New Jersey is a great place to live: we have beautiful beaches, amazing state parks where you can hike in seclusion for hours, local farms with fresh-picked produce, and all of this only a short distance from the best city in the world (I am referring to New York City, not Philly, lest there be any confusion). So what if virtually every municipal government in our state is corrupt? That just adds to the local flavor. There are a lot of things to love about New Jersey (pork roll, the Giants, Bruce) and the majority of people I know who grew up here want to stay.

So as a big fan of New Jersey, I feel that I have a right to point this out: What in the hell is up with the signage in this state?! If you don’t know where you are going, then you are shit out of luck because there are no signs that will help you. Most road signs in New Jersey are too small, too sparse, unclear (such as an arrow that points to the wrong place), or just plain confusing. 

For example, last week I had a business meeting in West Orange on Prospect Ave, just off Route 280. As I was leaving the meeting and heading south on Prospect, I was trying to remember if the entrance for 280 East was on the left or the right. Unlike some states, there is no standard for the location of highway entrances – sometimes they are on the left and sometimes they are on the right. I will give the benefit of the doubt and assume that a lot of the on-ramps were built after the houses and businesses, thus leading to a certain degree of randomness. Nonetheless, if there is no consistency to how the entrances to highways are designed, at least we should make sure they are clearly marked, right? Wrong. This is how it went:

About 200 feet before the highway, there was a small sign (about the size of a stop sign) for 280 East with an arrow pointing up to indicate that the highway was straight ahead. There was no indication as to whether the entrance for 280 East would be on the right or the left. This is problematic because Prospect has two lanes going each way and everyone in this area drives at least 50 miles per hour on these types of roads, so there isn’t a lot of time to change lanes once you realize you are in the wrong one for the highway entrance. Perhaps a bit of suspense and excitement is a good thing. The photo below from Google Maps shows the sign for Route 280 with a Garden State Parkway sign directly below it. It is a bit hard to see in the sun (a lot like when you are driving at certain times of the day), but it is directly to the right of the car. Please note how small the sign is, keeping in mind that this is a pretty major highway.

Signage 1 

Now, the entrance for 280 East ended up being on the left, which fortunately I remembered from when I lived in the area. Directly above the left entrance was a large sign indicating that 280 East was “this way”  as you can see in the photo below. That would typically be a good thing, even though it would still require a quick lane-change if you were on the right. However, the other day when I was on that road the entire sign for 280 East was covered by tree branches. Sigh.

 Signage 2

Overgrown foliage covering signs on or to major highways is not an isolated incident – I see it all of the time. Who is in charge here? How can no one notice that a sign is completely covered by trees?! How could someone notice and not feel compelled to trim them back?! I have seen signs completely covered by trees and tall grasses on highways like Route 287 where the average speed is 80 miles per hour in the right lane. The message: If you want to drive on our highways, you better already know where you need to go, dammit. It’s every man, woman and child for themselves.

Then there are the Garden State Parkway signs. The Parkway is pretty much the major thoroughfare for intra-state travel. Yet, on several occasions I have been in a New Jersey town that I know is near a Parkway entrance, like Springfield, but I can’t find the Parkway because the signs point you in the direction but never actually lead you there. You see a small Parkway sign on the side of the road that points to the right. You make the next available right even though there isn’t another sign confirming that this is the right turn that the other sign referred to. Then you drive for two miles without seeing another sign. Are you supposed to take it on faith as you tour some suburb in Northern New Jersey that if you continue going in the approximate direction suggested by the last Parkway sign you will eventually hit the highway? From my experience, a safer bet to play the 22 to 1 long-shot at Monmouth Park Racetrack.

This all became obvious to me for the first time a few years ago following a move out of state. Being new to Texas, I depended on the clear and prominent signs on the roads to find my way around. Upon my move back to New Jersey, the lack of signage became very apparent. No wonder people hate New Jersey: not only are the signs useless, but when out-of-state drivers slow down to try to figure out where they’re going, the typical New Jersey driver reacts by riding their tail and flashing the high-beams. Welcome to the Garden State.

On second thought, maybe the poor signage isn’t due to a lack of attention to detail or someone dropping the ball. Maybe it’s a conspiracy to prevent more people from moving to our already-crowded state. It’s just a thought. No matter how hard I try, I can’t stop defending New Jersey.

About Me

The purpose of this blog is purely self-expression - being creative for the sake of being creative. It has evolved into a collection of non-fiction essays.

All of the anecdotes and incidents you read in this blog are completely true and not exaggerated, no matter how sad, pathetic or unbelievable they may seem.

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