WHEN I WAS STRAIGHT, I didn’t want to get married. Always the hopeless romantic, I chased boys like crazy, daydreamed about finding true love, and watched Sixteen Candles over and over again on VHS until I could recite every line with the cast. But if someone used the word “should” in a sentence, I dug in my heels. The idea of buying into a state-approved, religion-supported institution like marriage sent me running.
Now I want what I can’t have. For fifteen years, my girlfriend and I have danced the Electric Slide at other people’s weddings. (Or more accurately, I danced the Electric Slide and Leah laughed at me.) Each celebration reminds us that we can’t legally have our own wedding in New York State.
“Go to Massachusetts (Vermont, Canada) to get married,” I hear from friends on a regular basis. But I don’t think exercising our civil rights should require a road trip.
It’s like shopping at IKEA. Now that I’m a domesticated creature, I can spend most of a day blissfully perusing the Glimma, Regolit, and Fartyg in this wondrous Scandanavian heaven. However, I have to drive four hours at a minimum before I can exercise my right to hipster shopping. Why can’t I have an IKEA in my town? When will the Senate vote on this gross inequality? We need to organize a rally.
As a kid, when I whined about injustices, my dad always said, “Life’s not fair, Amy.” (Yes, my parents called me ‘Amy.’ Don’t tell anyone.) Like almost everything, Pop is right. Bad things happen to good people. Everybody dies.
But some inequalities can be fixed, and I’m going to keep whining until I get my way. I want the right to charge a big fat wedding to my high interest credit card; to buy a fancy white dress that I wear once and then nostalgically stash in the back of the closet; to dance the Electric Slide, the Macarena, and The Chicken Dance Polka at my own cheeseball wedding; to check the “married” box on state and federal tax forms.
Let’s hope that the New York State Senate votes to approve gay marriage, because I’m ready to celebrate my love. And hopefully they’ll write a “Bring IKEA to Ithaca” clause into the bill, because I’m also ready to shop.
YOU MUST HAVE HEARD BY NOW: this Saturday, May 21, 2011, is Judgment Day. The message is on giant billboards on the highways, colorful posters populate the New York City subway, and NPR aired not one, but two stories about it. Since I’m an atheist, I am not on the short list to ascend to an eternity of happiness. So there’s only one smart thing for me to do:
I’m going to live Twitter the rapture on May 21.
Hopefully the day will be really exciting. I imagine it will be like Twittering the royal wedding, but without the hats. I can’t wait to tweet from the red carpet, “I hear J.C. bought two white gowns, but rumor is he will be wearing the Alexander McQueen.” Bright flashes of lights, natural disasters and vaporized people are all on the roster for Saturday. The poster in the subway read, “Global Earthquake: The Greatest Ever!” This could inspire a curiosity and excitement much like the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus slogan, “The Greatest Show on Earth!” (God must use the same publicist.)
Maybe someone will be thoughtful enough to leave me a Rapture Kit. The commercially available Rapture Kits contain gifts for the people left behind, such as letters about the rapture, videos about the rapture, and links to websites about the rapture. Since it will be too late to join the ranks of the saved, this seems rather cruel. My personalized Rapture Kit would ideally contain Xanax, beer, dark chocolate, sunscreen and Duck Tape. (Believers, I hope you are taking notes.)
Though I won’t miss my annoyingly conservative neighbors who complain when my unmowed lawn sprouts into a sea of hippie dandelions, sometimes it sucks being an atheist. Those who believe that they will be gone on Saturday – poof! – are partying, quitting their jobs, skipping school, and spending every last penny in their savings and retirement accounts. I do things like this all the time, and I’m labeled irresponsible. They do it, and it’s an expression of their devotion to god and their families.
And Sunday mornings? Believers get lasting spiritual fulfillment. But since I have no religious practices, I’m stuck with mimosas and raspberry French toast. Sigh.
I personally don’t know anyone who believes in the rapture. This could be because I live in Ithaca, where the most commonly held belief about life after death is that we are all going to compost into dirt. Organic dirt.
So if organic compost holds a bigger place in your heart than J.C. and you’re still around on Saturday, or if you’re waiting for his arrival and looking for a way to pass the time, follow me on Twitter at @ameliasauter. We can tweet together. But remember, there is no “e” in judgment! Just because the end of the world is coming doesn’t mean you can get all lazy with your spelling.
Because if you do, I will judge you.
I LOVE CHICKEN SOUP, especially made from organic free-range chicken (sans garlic, onions and black pepper since I’m ridiculously allergic to these). If I’m sick, chicken soup makes me feel better, or at least I imagine I feel better. I cannot say the same for the Chicken Soup for the Soul books. Call me a cynic, but they have the opposite effect and actually make me a little nauseous.
The Chicken Soup books are about happy, smiley, sugary things: hope, heart and spirit, with a splash of god and sunshine. I feel the same way about the Chicken Soup books as I do about All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: I am not content with coloring inside the lines, keeping my hands to myself, being polite, and taking naps. Plus, I’m an atheist. You call it divine intervention, I call it luck.
But apparently a lot of people eat this stuff up. Why, I wonder, is there an endless market for these books? I’m guessing that the main audience is the suburban middle-class mom. Which is not me. (Can you see me driving a minivan? If you want to stay on my good side, the correct answer is ‘no.’) Perhaps no one wants to face their demons or acknowledge the dark side for fear of transforming into Lord of the Flies. So people hold tightly to hope and the magical healing power of chicken soup. They share their stories compulsively, as if writing the words will keep their lurking dissatisfactions at bay: A woman discovers she is having twins, a soccer mom takes her son for his driving test, an inner city kid rescues a baby pigeon, an adult recalls their childhood discovery of Gramma’s secret hard candy stash and lives happily ever after, because no one in Chicken Soup books chokes on hard candy, gets cavities, or is allergic to Red Dye #40.
So many people have inspirational stories to tell, that now the Chicken Soup books are published on one topic at a time, such as Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Cat’s Life, not to be confused with Chicken Soup for the Soul: What I Learned From My Cat, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Loving Our Cats, and Chicken Soup for the Soul Celebrates Cats. There is also a Chicken Soup for the American Idol Soul, and I’m not making this up, Chicken Soup for the Soul: NASCAR.
One woman I know got an essay published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms. I found it difficult to congratulate her. I couldn’t decide if my reaction was because I loathe the Chicken Soup books, or because I was jealous, since I can’t imagine that they’d ever choose to publish one of my irreverent essays. Where are the stories about women acting from a place of empowerment and courage? How about Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reality Check? Or Chicken Soup for the Soul: Gay For a Day, Queer for a Year? Chicken Soup for the Soul: Bitches Unite?
My life is not devoid of a-ha moments; mine just may not be appropriate for print, like the one about my mother’s secret candy stash. One afternoon when I was having a weepy-PMS-teenage-girl kind of day, she paused while making dinner and in a gesture of compassion showed me her clandestine hoard of chocolate chips in the cabinet beneath the phone, and we shared a special mother-daughter moment. I’m not talking ‘let’s have a cute nip of chocolate together.’ This was an ‘I’ve had a hard day’ kind of moment. We tilted back our heads and poured the chocolate chips into our mouths.
“Chocolate always helps,” my mother said. Then she added, “They are always here. It’ll be our secret.” We both knew my siblings and my dad didn’t even like chocolate, but I still felt important because I was the only one who knew. After that day, I was allowed to eat as much and whenever I wanted, as long as I replaced an empty bag. A piece of hard candy from Gramma can’t hold a torch to a coming-of-age chocolate binge with your mom.
Here’s my type of inspirational story, the kind that teaches what life is really about, the kind you want to pass on to a young person someday to help them cope with the grievous challenges life brings:
When I was five, I had a yellow bathing suit with a star cutout on my butt. I adored this swimsuit and was proud of the tan star emblazoned on my butt cheek. But when two older neighborhood girls demanded I show them my ass, I sat down on the grass and refused. They picked me up by my ankles and wrists and started swinging me like a hammock. Then they threatened to throw me into the pool when they knew I didn’t know how to swim. I panicked. This was when I turned my head and clamped my teeth onto the arm of one of the girls. She screamed, and they dropped me on the ground. By the time I ran the few hundred yards to my own house, the girl’s mother had already called my mom to complain about her daughter’s bleeding arm. The girls never bothered me again, and I didn’t get into trouble, which left me feeling justified but confused. In Sunday school they told us we should turn the other cheek. I didn’t think they meant my butt cheek. My five-year-old brain grappled to understand that this god stuff could be wrong, but the audacious seed was planted. Hurting someone might, in the right situation, be a good thing.
This philosophy did not go over so well at home with my older sister, so I let go of it as a regular practice. However, in late high school, the wisdom of this day by the pool came back to me. After three years of tolerating daily harassment from the boys on the school bus– they would grab my breasts, rip my schoolbooks, and shove their hands up my plaid uniform skirt – I snapped. First I shot a warning round of gummy bears at one of the boys’ heads, which I thought might deter them. Instead, the boy tackled me and began smashing my head against the bus window. My feisty five-year-old self came alive, and my foot connected with his groin. Hard. Twice. He let go.
I spent the morning crying in the vice principal’s office that day, especially when I found out that everyone on the bus – all of whom went to the boys’ school while I went to the girls’ school – said I asked for it. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings of betrayal. The boy’s principal wanted to know how I was going to be punished. However, the look on my vice principal’s face said everything I needed to know. I had never seen Ms. McCarthy so angry, except the time she caught Samantha Schramm smoking pot in the faculty bathroom. Ms. McCarthy never said the words to me, but her anger at the boys and their principal, and the reflection in her face of how helpless she felt to save me from the abuse, gave me a sense of empowerment that I had not felt so clearly since the day I bit that brat on the arm when I was five.
To my relief, the boys kept their distance from me after that day. If I had known they would leave me alone, I would have kicked one of them in the nuts years earlier.
These are the stories I want to share with other women, with young girls, with suburban minivan jesus-loving moms. Women don’t need to be infused with more messages inspiring them to be nice and to spread joy. Don’t misunderstand me, love and compassion are great. But even the Dalai Lama said, “Forgiveness doesn’t mean forget what happened. … If something is serious and it is necessary to take counter-measures, you have to take counter-measures.” Translation: If Bin Laden hurts you on the school bus, kick him in the nuts.
So go ahead, rescue those baby birds and tell the world all about the double rainbow you saw after the thunderstorm. But as I bask in the hope-filled sunset that ends another glorious day, I want to read your other stories, the ones in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Fight Back, Chicken Soup for the Soul: You’ve Fucked with the Wrong Woman, Chicken Soup for the Soul: Bring it On, and my personal spirit-infused favorite, Chicken Soup for the Soul: I Need A Drink.
OURS IS THE TYPICAL LOVE STORY: girl meets girl, girl tells girl she’s straight, girl falls in love with girl anyway, and they live happily ever after.
Maybe our story isn’t so typical, especially the fact that we’ve been together for fifteen years. Our parents’ age bracket excluded, I can count on one hand the number of couples we know, gay or straight, who’ve been committed longer than us. Lots of people seek our relationship advice. Well, one person did. Once. Sort of. A gal at the bar asked me, “How do you do it?” but later I realized she was referring to my remarkable ability to walk in three-inch heels.
I can’t tell you the secret to the heels, because then I’d have to kill you. But since March is my anniversary with my partner, in celebration I thought I’d share our secrets to a happy and long-lasting relationship.
First and foremost, have a lot of sex. With each other, that is. That’s all I can say about this topic, because my parents read my column. You should have it all the time, in all kinds of creative places. But never at your parents’ house, of course. That would be wrong.
Don’t lie. It should be obvious that lying will only get you in trouble. Except when it saves your butt. For example, when she says, “Does it look like I’ve lost weight?” the correct response is definitely not “No,” because that would be calling her fat. The correct response is also not “Yes,” because then you are saying she was fat before. “I think my cell phone is ringing” is an acceptable lie in this no-win situation. Also, if your girlfriend is plastered up against the wall refusing to come to bed until you find and kill that spider she just saw, it is good to tell her you killed it so you can both get to bed before 7 a.m.
Don’t cheat. This is a smart idea because it also helps you keep the “no lying” rule. Learn from example: Cheating is not the easy way out. Look at what happened to Tiger Woods. You don’t want to lose your endorsements, do you?
Recognize that the thing that drives you crazy about your partner is the exact same reason you fell in love with him/her. If you lose your perspective, you won’t appreciate the irritating behaviors that are part of the original charms that attracted you. He/she is a package deal. Carefree? Also late for everything. Creative? Spontaneously rearranges the cupboards so you can’t find stuff. Passionate? Road rage. Musician? Drunk. Sexy bad boy image? Prison sentence. Sensitive? Gets upset over every little thing. Stable and responsible? Boring.
Hire a plumber. The number of relationships destroyed by stressful attempts at home improvements is growing, thanks to the arrival of big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes. Many projects are doable, and even fun (nothing like a day of painting with the huzwife), but for the average guy/gal, tearing out walls, laying down tiles, and installing windows is ill-advised unless you are eagerly looking forward to divorce. If you are fortunate enough to have a skilled partner like me, then simply leave the house when she starts a project so you don’t freak out when she begins knocking holes in the walls. Come home two days later, and you’ll hopefully be greeted with built-in bookshelves and a dirty martini. But heed my warning: Do not, under any circumstances, undertake a project in your home that involves wrenches, pipes and the potential for leaking. Also blow torches and gas lines.
Don’t write about your partner in your weekly column. This might be a good time to say that any similarities to actual persons, places or events are merely coincidental and the product of a feverish imagination. (Happy Anniversary, Lovey! Here’s to another fifteen + years.)
IN THE FASHION WORLD, I’M ALWAYS OUT OF STEP. I haven’t bought Uggs yet – thank god. I’m still wearing skinny jeans, while everyone else has moved onto boyfriend jeans and Jeggings. My hairstyle is unintentionally vintage, I will forever love ballerina flats, and I haven’t changed my earrings in a decade. You can call me individualistic, or perhaps I’m lazy. When I was younger, my style choices were more deliberate.
At the not-so-wise age of twenty-one, like many other optimistic youths, I wanted to be different in order to express my rejection of the establishment. At the time, my best friend bought me the satirical 1967 picture book, How to be a Non-Conformist, which detailed step-by-step instructions on how to be different, exactly like everyone else was trying to be different. I planned, though, to be differently different: I was going to get my nose pierced.
I fell in love with the glitter of nose jewelry like a magpie drawn to gathering shiny bling for its nest. If I had a nose ring, no one would mistake me for being conservative. I would be sending a message: I am a free thinker. I dare to be different. I don’t vote Republican.
Twenty years ago, almost no one had facial piercings. And by almost no one, I mean that exactly three people in the whole of Ithaca had nose rings: a beautiful, exotic woman named Cat who was passing through for the summer, a college intern at my office, and a long-haired tattooed guy named Rosy who worked at Oasis Bakery. Rosy had pierced both of the women as well as himself. No specialized body piercing parlors existed other than Claire’s Boutique, who only used their piercing guns on earlobes. No one dreamed of puncturing lips or eyebrows yet, let alone the nether regions. Except perhaps Rosy.
I found Rosy lurking behind the counter at Oasis, and I told him of my desire to join the ranks of the rebels. He instructed me to come back the next morning with an earring, specifically, a stud.
I arrived at 7 a.m. the next day, excited and nervous. Rosy was a man of few, if any, words. Muscular and stocky, the bullring between his nostrils added an essence of danger to his already fierce image. He motioned to me, and I followed him wordlessly down into the dimly lit basement of the bakery where he sat me on a stool. That early in the morning, the building was deserted other than us, and silent except for the sound of Rosy passing my stud back and forth on a sharpening stone until the tip was ground into a gleaming point.
Then Rosy pulled a carrot out of his pocket and began to peel and shape it with a knife. I watched, afraid to ask why he was doing this. When the carrot was about the length and width of my pinky, Rosy sat facing me on another stool and pulled me in close to him, pinning me between his knees.
As my body pressed up against Rosy and I felt his breath on my face, I contemplated how I had chosen to follow this man into a soundproof basement in an unoccupied building, this large, muscular man who had a knife and who could easily overpower me with one hand tied behind his back. I told no one I was coming here. And, I had requested that he injure my body for the sake of decoration. This could have been one of the stupidest things I’d ever done.
“Hold still,” he commanded.
He cupped my chin with one hand and firmly jammed the carrot deep into my right nostril. Letting go of my chin, he took the sharpened stud and slowly, excruciatingly, pressed it through my nose and into the carrot. The sound of the stud penetrating my cartilage snapped like a hook piercing the lip of a fish.
I gasped, tears welling and overflowing from my eyes. Rosy leaned back and handed me a tissue. It was over. I was a new woman, with a bright, red nose, watering eyes and a tiny gold gleam where once only skin had been.
I looked at my reflection in every window and mirror I passed that day, so pleased, despite the redness. People stared, unused to the sight of facial jewelry, which both unnerved me and added to my pleasure. I would eventually grow used to the fact that people gawked everywhere I went. Walking down sidewalks, or through the mall, heads would turn. One woman even tripped and fell as she rubber-necked my adornment. Months would pass when I saw no other person with a nose ring. At Indian restaurants, I was an unusual attraction, and the male owners always visited my table to compliment my style while their wives frowned at them from behind the cash registers. Everywhere else, I was a freak, and somehow that was immensely satisfying.
The night after I got my nose pierced, however, the stud fell out while I was sleeping. In the morning, I found it under my pillow. The hole had already begun healing over. I returned to Rosy’s torture chamber for a re-piercing of my already sore nose. This time, he twisted a nose screw into my raw puncture wound. The nose screw was a corkscrew-shaped earring that Rosy himself had fashioned from sterling silver.
For the next two or so years, I wore the silver nose screw. I had no other options; surgical-quality body jewelry simply did not exist yet, and I couldn’t fit an earring back on anything else I put into my tiny nostril. At least once a month, my piercing became infected, and a big whitehead erupted beside the nose screw. Each month, the infection healed, and a little bit more tarnish from the silver crept into the skin around the jewelry, creating a permanent, gray ring-around-the-collar effect.
Despite the discoloration, I refused to remove my beloved nose ring. When body jewelry became available as the piercing bug spread, I drove to New York City and bought a proper ring that prevented future infectious volcanoes, though it couldn’t erase the gray silhouette tattooed on my nose by the tarnish. Ithaca would not see its first body piercing shop for a few more years, and as piercing boutiques opened, millions of other young people’s noses, eyebrows and lips displayed jewelry, each body part shouting, “I am different!” (Nipples and genitals were pierced, too, but their voices were a bit more muffled under all those clothes).
I was disappointed as piercings popped up everywhere. I didn’t feel like a trendsetter; I felt more like my idea had been hijacked. A pierced nose still represented a radical choice, albeit less freakish. More than once, my employers voiced concerns. When I was thirty-four and applying to work in a winery tasting room, the owner told me I would have to remove the nose ring. I told him that he’d have to pay me a hell of lot more than $7 an hour to get me to take that thing out after all I went through to get it pierced fourteen years earlier. He let me keep it in, and I’m still wearing it now.
This is the place where I might be expected say something universal about my experience and the impulsiveness of youth. Something about how trying to be different isn’t so different and might even be kind of stupid. At least I’m supposed to warn you about following a big stranger with a knife into an isolated basement and letting him shove a carrot up your nose. But I have no regrets, other than it caught on as a fashion trend. I’d do it all over again, carrot and all.
I CAN’T READ.
I don’t mean that I’m illiterate. (To be politically correct, I should say alphabet cohesion impaired.) Rather, I’m incapable of picking up a book or a magazine and reading it cover-to-cover. Which is not good, since I’m a writer.
My excuse is that I’m a writer of short things. And short things, I read. Call it a limited attention span, or perhaps it’s a deep-seated fear of commitment. I’m not alone; most people crave immediate gratification and quick results, as evidenced by the popularity of texting, Twitter, and Facebook, IMHO. I get my daily news from Facebook, which is highly informative: road closings, birthdays, who died this week, and the elaborate details of how poor Katie Holmes’ career is being sabotaged by the press.
I haven’t bought a newspaper in years. Why would I? Browsing the Internet brings me this-just-in news eight minutes after the story breaks. I bet I knew the Oscar nominees before you did.
Sometimes I even read emails, if they’re not too wordy. I got a sales email recently that began with, “I apologize for sending such a lengthy email, but I’ve got a great offer for you.” Then she blah-blah-blahed for a full page. By the time I was halfway through it, I needed a snack.
So then I got distracted looking up a recipe for cupcakes on Epicurious.com, which led me, as usual, to the cocktail section, and this is where I clicked on some ad for skin cream. This site made me worry about an unsightly rash I’ve got, so I Googled it, discovering that it is either bedbugs, shingles, skin cancer, or an allergic reaction to Katie Holmes.
By the time I finally returned to that email, the offer was expired by a week.
My mom gave us a subscription to National Geographic for Christmas. Leah reads the articles, but I take after my dad, who tends to treat National Geographic like a picture book. The only thing missing in that publication is comics. Nothing like a good one-liner to leave you feeling complete.
When I do decide to read an actual book, I sneak into the adolescent section of the bookstore with dark glasses and my hat pulled low. If I’m caught by someone I know, I pretend I’m buying books for a fictitious niece. (And they pretend they’re buying books for a fictitious nephew.) I’m talking Twilight and Harry Potter. I’m not proud, but it’s an addiction. I admit that I’m powerless over vampires, werewolves and wizards – and my book choices have become unmanageable. Only a power greater than myself can restore my sanity. Dumbledore?
In an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air (yes, I do listen to the radio), author Gary Shteyngart said, “Everyone’s a writer. Nobody wants to read, but everybody wants to write.”
No, I haven’t read Gary’s latest book (Super Sad True Love Story) since I avoid books written for grownups. (The book trailer on YouTube is captivating, however.) Gary also referenced a literary magazine contest where all the writers’ submissions had to be accompanied by a receipt for a recent book purchase. I’d be too mortified to enter since my latest acquisition was Breaking Dawn, the fourth novel in the Twilight series. This would not be a good way to get taken seriously as a writer, unless the contest theme is adolescent fantasy vampire chick lit.
At least I do try to read, even if it is stuff for kids. Short sentences, no big vocabulary words to look up, and easy-to-follow plots. And most of the time, I can read kid books to the end since there’s plenty of excitement, romance and immediate gratification to keep me hooked until they all live happily ever after.
Take the quiz at the end!
A FEW WEEKS AGO, I read an internet article about a family who most weeks has no trash to put out on the curb. First, I thought they were cheating. Then I felt inspired. Finally, I realized I how much I suck in comparison to them.
I can find some consolation in the fact that the family does, in fact, cheat. When the mom mails Netflix DVDs, she tucks the little plastic strip from the adhesive into the envelope before she seals it. She also appears to have an eco-mental illness, most likely a subcategory of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Her house is almost empty: the woman only owns six pairs of shoes, seven pairs of pants, and two skirts. Something must be wrong with her.
I was inspired to take an inventory of the items in my trash this week. Here’s what I found:
– An economy-sized ibuprofen bottle, which we emptied astonishingly fast. (We’re girls; we consume that stuff like chocolate.)
– Used dental floss.
– Ink related: two pens sans ink, and a Hewlett Packard cartridge wrapper.
– My old travel mug, which my partner Leah found outside under a pile of wood. I have no idea how it got there, but the mug permanently adopted the smell of a decaying forest floor.
– Gross cat stuff, including paper towels from cleaning up daily hairballs and upchucked meals. Anyone who claims they can live without paper towels obviously does not own a 93-year-old cat, and hey, I can take eco-solace in the fact that the cat will not be replaced when she kicks the bucket.
– Dog poop. We tried a container thing with drainage holes that you partially bury in the ground, affectionately known to us as The Compoopster, but it has unfortunately proved ineffective at turning poop into vanishing poop soup.
– Underwear with dead elastic.
– Wire baskets that hold the corks in champagne bottles. Leah likes to make these into cute little chairs, but one only needs so many miniature chairs. And I drink a lot of champagne.
My Personal Trash Analysis showed a disproportionate amount of pet- and hygiene-related items. While being eco-conscious with food purchases is pretty easy if you shop bulk, I can’t put dog poop in my garden compost, and I love Kleenex. And if you think I should use one of those salty crystal rocks under my arms in place of Sure deodorant, then you have never shared a small office with me on a hot summer day.
How about you? Are you eco-inspired? Eco-hypocritical? An eco-cheater?
Time for a quiz! Answer honestly, and find out how you rate at the end:
1. When I empty a tube of toothpaste:
a. I throw it away.
b. I make a piece of artwork, which also includes my used dental floss, and I sell my masterpiece on Etsy.
c. I don’t use toothpaste, I use baking soda.
d. I don’t brush my teeth.
2. I usually conserve water by:
a. drinking only vodka.
b. showering with my girlfriend/boyfriend.
c. turning off the shower while I soap.
d. drinking my own urine.
3. Do you drive a car?
b. No, I ride a horse.
c. Yes, but I buy carbon footprint points to offset my gasoline use.
d. I walked to my parents’ house last June and it only took me three weeks.
4. Do you drink organic alcohol?
a. No, I drink nonorganic alcohol to protest the poor, sober people around the world who don’t have access to quality cocktails.
b. No, I drink PBR and save my money to buy carbon footprints.
d. No, I’m scared of all alcohol. And my mother. And clowns.
5. Do you reuse plastic bags?
a. No. Except maybe for dog poop.
b. Yes, I wash them diligently and bought one of those wooden racks to dry them on.
c. I don’t even know what a plastic bag is. I never use them for anything, ever. Or buy anything that comes in plastic.
d. Never! Germs in all the little corners! I know bacteria are there, threatening me even though I can’t see them.
6. Do you own solar panels?
a. No, but I will when I win the lottery.
b. No, I live in a shack without running water or electricity.
d. No, I’m scared they will let aliens read my thoughts.
7. Do you use paper towels and Kleenex?
a. Yes, I love them both. I won’t ever give them up. Ever. You can’t make me.
b. No, and I don’t use toilet paper either.
d. Do you know how many germs cloth towels and handkerchiefs hold?? Disposable products are safer and much less likely to end in death.
Answer rating scale:
Give yourself one point for every time you answered a, two points for every b, three points for each c, and four points for a d.
0-9 points: Eco-Loser. You aren’t so good at the eco thing. Embrace your failure. Chop down all your trees, join the Republican Party, and/or go into the oil business.
10-17 points: Eco-Creative. You’re trying. You want to be eco-conscious, but it’s so damn inconvenient. You make an occasional effort, but you need to try harder if you want to be able to sleep at night without tossing and turning, worrying about the environment. It’s your fault if the earth dies. All your fault.
18-24 points: Eco-GoodyGoody. Bet you think you’re perfect, don’t you? The rest of us find comfort in the fact that your showers are cold, your breath smells like baking soda and wheat grass, and boogers are permanently stuck to your handmade cloth hankies.
25–28 points: Eco-Wacko. Even if your lifestyle is technically eco-friendly, you are a total weirdo. You are slightly paranoid, you might be a psychologically-limited germaphobe, and you definitely need to brush your teeth.
I AM GOING TO BUY A BOAT, and I expect it will change my life.
I’ve bought other things before that were supposed to change my life. There was the Zen alarm clock; that was almost fifteen years ago. At the time, Leah and I struggled to wake up in the morning. She hated the way traditional alarm clocks yanked you from a peaceful sleep to the sound of an air raid siren, and I hoped waking to the singular chime of a bell would result in enlightened, blissful mornings filled with peace and smiles. Well, I was wrong. At 7am, a sweet, persistent ding from the bedside table becomes as annoying as a repetitive fire truck horn.
Since then, I’ve made other inspiring purchases that had infinite potential to be life-altering: an air purifier, which was supposed to miraculously clear my living space of airborne allergens. A gym membership, which was supposed to make me want to work out. A house, which now eats up my spare time with raking, mowing and shoveling, among other drab tasks. A superior vacuum cleaner, which would turn housework into a joy (not a bad purchase, actually, because Leah loves it). The only investment that in reality did dramatically alter my life was opening a bar, and with the stress that accompanies owning a business, I’m not always convinced that it was for the better.
But still I believe that this time it’s going to be different, that a boat is going to change my life. We have kayaks already, and these were lovely companions when we lived in the river- and pond-filled Berkshires, but every stream in the Finger Lakes ends with a plunge over a steep, rocky waterfall that is at least 60 feet high. Kayaking on Cayuga Lake offers limited scenery, and though I could theoretically swim off of a kayak, I doubt I could successfully climb back in the boat from the water without capsizing or rolling the whole thing. I’d like to get a real boat this year, with a healthy engine, space for a cooler, a fold-up ladder, and just enough room for Leah and I. I imagine hours of floating and swimming in the middle of Cayuga Lake, a welcome escape from the insane, hectic pace of my summer work schedule. The cell phones can stay on the shore: I will disconnect and learn to relax. In those moments, everything will be perfect. And when I tell this to Leah, she laughs so hard she snorts.
Friends with boats warn me, “It’s another thing you will own that will break.” Leah’s father joked, “The best day of your life is the day you buy a boat. The second best day is the day you sell the boat.”
I emailed my own dad for advice on buying a used boat, and received the following warnings over three emails:
-If the price is too good to be true, it probably is.
-A boat or motor listed on Craigslist could be stolen.
-Demand the bills for all of the boat’s service history.
-Copy the seller’s driver’s license.
-Don’t buy it if you can’t put it in the water first. (It’s 19 degrees out as I write this.)
-If the seller balks, ding-ding! Suspicion.
-You should be putting that money into your 401K instead of buying a boat.
This is what dads are for: To remind us to be careful in life, to protect us, to warn us that it’s a wild world, there’s a lot of bad out there and beware. A boat can sink. An engine can die.
So far, I haven’t had any luck finding the life-changing boat. I’ve discovered buying a used boat is like buying a used car: frustrating, annoying and risky. Leah has spent hours on Craigslist, and I’ve made a bajillion phone calls. We’ve traveled half-days in two different directions to look at some boats, but they were fixer-uppers with ready-to-float prices. People will tell you anything to get you to take a boat off of their hands. Some of it is true (the poor kid who needs to sell his boat fast to pay for a DWI lawyer) and some isn’t (the guy who told me a boat didn’t need any work, but the cracked windshield was threatening to cave in, the floor was rotted, the last time it was registered was 1987, and with the holes we saw in the hull, it is obviously going to sink as soon as it meets the water.)
I’m not ready to give up yet, to have my boat lust squelched by fear or slippery Craigslist sales pitches. To get me through these dreary days of winter, I need dreams of warm sunshine on my face and waves lapping against the side of my perfect little boat. I’m going to set the Zen alarm clock to wake me early tomorrow, get my ass to the gym, turn on the air purifier when I get back, and keep making those phone calls.