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Archive for the ‘Faux Pas’ Category

Do you remember, way back in May, when I vowed to change my car’s air filter?  Probably not. It may seem like an odd promise to make to oneself. But I grow weary of having to depend on others for things. (Funny that this is a completely mercurial feeling. I have no issue with having people come mow my lawn and clean my gutters.)

Anyway. My promise. My dad told me I needed a new air filter; fine, I needed a new one. And I was going to change that air filter all by myself, because I am A Capable Woman who can choose to do a menial automotive repair anytime she likes.

The first hitch took place online, in my search for the air filter. My father had directed me to one specific filter, available on Amazon, but instead of buying it without asking questions, I clicked on some sort of link that said “is this the right air filter for your car?” or maybe I read a review of the filter excoriating the product based on the reviewer’s failure to determine whether it was the correct filter for his/her car.  However I got there, it seemed like the filter my father had recommended was not, in fact, appropriate for my car.

But then I couldn’t find the right one. I found something that SEEMED right. But my dad (the person with Actual Car Knowledge) was skeptical. And my car manual was NO HELP AT ALL. The only thing it had to offer was a single rather poorly-rendered drawing of the air filter with no specs or anything.

I was stumped.

My dad suggested that I go to my local auto parts store and ask someone there; they’d have some sort of computer database to consult. Which was a good suggestion. But I, Serious Introvert, would have preferred ordering my air filter online without ever having to interact with another human.

So I did nothing.

Time passed.

A couple of weeks ago, Carla and I went to buy new tires for my car. The tread was worn down to nearly nothing and it was time for new tires, and my local Tire Place had a good deal running. So we set out for an Exciting Excursion together and sat in the Tire Place waiting room while the tires were installed.

The Tire Guys – the two gentlemen working the front desk – were very, very nice. They seemed delighted by Carla, who is, objectively, delightful. They told us, proudly, that their waiting area had a large selection of toys and books. (I was glad I’d thought to bring my own books and a matching game for Carla AND my Lysol wipes because the entire waiting area, including the books and toys, was FILTHY. You have never seen a dirtier waiting area in all your life.) (They had a tiny coffee table in the center of the room, probably two feet by three feet, if that, and it took scrubbing roughly with FOUR antibacterial wipes to get it to a level of cleanliness that I was okay with.) They kept coming into the waiting area and offering us juice and water and coffee (the latter not directed to Carla), and one of them whisper-asked me if he could give Carla a yo-yo, and they just in general thought she was the bees knees.

When I was checking out, a process that seemed like Tire Guy had sent my credit card via courier turtle to the home office, I noticed that one of the services offered by the establishment was “change air filter.” So I asked if he could look up what kind of air filter my particular car required.

He looked at me curiously and said that no, he couldn’t. But there was an auto parts store right next door and they would be able to do it for me.

“We offer an air filter change service,” he noted. And I nodded.

“You’re just trying to save money?” he asked, implying that I should have just had them take care of it.

I could have said that I really wanted to do it myself. That I wanted the satisfaction of doing something on my own, of proving to myself that I could do it. But I didn’t know him, and he didn’t really care, and Carla was running back and forth across the showroom (is that what you call it, when what’s being “shown” is stacks of various brands of tires?) and flinging herself – with no regard for bodily safety – against one of two armchairs on the far side of the room, much to the consternation of the only other customer, who was sitting in the other armchair, so I simply nodded.

“Sometimes the auto parts guys will just put it in for you,” he mentioned in an offhand way, returning to whatever turtle coaxing he had to do to get my credit card processed.

I nodded politely. The checkout process dragged on interminably. I encouraged Carla to find an alternate way to amuse herself. She busied herself by climbing onto a very high stool and coloring in the book I’d brought her in the most precarious way possible.

Finally I signed my bill, collected my child, and left. We admired the new tires on my car, and then hoofed it over to the auto parts store which was, indeed, right next door. There, I purchased an air filter. We headed back to our car. Very easy.

As I buckled Carla into her car seat, the Tire Guy strode toward us.

“Did they have what you needed?” he asked. I nodded and smiled and thanked him for directing me to the auto parts store.

“We can put that in for you,” he said.

“Oh, that’s so nice of you!” I said, “but that’s not necessary!”

He ignored me and walked around the to the front door of my car, which he opened. He reached inside and pulled the lever to unlatch my hood. He opened the hood, looked inside at my engine, and then closed it without latching it. Then he grabbed my new air filter off of the passenger seat and opened the box, carrying it with him as he walked back toward the tire center.

“Pull it up here,” he called, pointing me toward the garage.

I laughed uncomfortably. But at this point, he had the air filter and… he was being kind, I thought. What was I supposed to do? Demand he hand it back to me?

I got in the car and drove into the garage. Carla caught on to my discomfort and asked what was happening, what were we doing? I told her that the man was being very nice and had offered to change our air filter to help us out. The Tire Guy handed our air filter over to a younger man – a boy, really; he couldn’t have been more than twelve, although I am probably wrong – and went over to a desk on the side of the garage.

I unhooked Carla from her carseat and held her up as we watched the young man change the air filter. (Which is, in my car at least, the EASIEST THING I HAVE EVER SEEN. He literally unscrewed three or four screws, lifted off the filter cover, lifted out the old air filter, dropped the new filter in, replaced the cover, replaced the screws. I definitely could have done it myself.) Then I tipped the boy $5 and we were on our way.

The whole thing left me feeling so conflicted.

On the one hand, what an act of kindness! Generosity in action! Great customer service! What a thoughtful thing for the Tire Guy to do. It saved me time, it saved me money (probably; he asked what I paid for the air filter and shrugged and said he would have charged me $6 more to do the whole thing, so I came out $1 ahead). Maybe it was an act designed to give me warm fuzzy feelings about that tire center, and make it my tire center for life. Or maybe it wasn’t about me, at all, but about the Tire Guy: maybe I reminded him of his wife or sister or daughter or niece and he treated me with the same kindness he’d want for her; maybe he remembered what life was like with an active child Carla’s age and decided to spare me the time and exasperation of trying to make an automotive repair with her in tow; maybe he likes to do random acts of kindness; who knows?!

But I also felt… deflated, I guess, about not getting to do the thing I wanted to do myself. And anxious, because I was unsure how to assert myself in that situation. (Why did I get so flustered? I should have donned one of those breezy confident smiles of the kind that are so easy to imagine and so difficult to execute and said in a breezy confident voice, “Oh no thanks! I’ve got it under control!” Or “I’ll take care of it – thanks!” Or “no need! I’ve got it!”) And frustrated with myself, for not being able to assert myself and for feeling more concerned about a stranger’s feelings than my own. And worried about what that meant for what I was modeling for Carla. I also had an overall feeling of ickiness, that I wasn’t sure how to attribute. Was it a result of the combination of deflation, anxiety, and frustration? Or the nagging feeling that I’d just been “rescued” when… I was not in need of being rescued? (I mean, if my husband had been there instead of me… he almost certainly would have purchased the air filter and been on his way, right?)

Most of all, I felt confused about what impression the whole experience would leave on Carla. I don’t want her to feel like she has to depend on other people. But of course I want her to feel like she can. I want her to feel warmly about society, and community, and to grow up wanting to help others and to not be afraid to ask for help if she needs it.

And do I want to begrudge the tire center man his small act of generosity? Certainly not. Do I want other women, who might feel wholly, unadulteratedly grateful and relieved about this unexpected gift from the automotive gods, to feel guilty or ashamed for accepting this kind of help? HELL TO THE NO.

But I am also weary of this kind of thing – kind hearted, well-intentioned or not – that gradually chips away at a woman’s sense of capability, of strength, of self-worth. The automatic assumption that I would need or want help. I don’t want Carla to feel like she can pull a damsel in distress act anytime she feels like it and A Man will swoop in and save her. Moreso, I don’t want her to feel like that’s what she SHOULD do. That she shouldn’t try things, because men can do it better/more easily. (Is it different, that I let my father tell me when to get new tires and when to change my air filter? I hope it is. I hope that is the non-action of a lazy child rather than the helpless spinning of a delicate girl.)

Ugh. I don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill. Am I doing that? Maybe that’s what I’m doing.

Would I feel the same sort of conflicted confusion if the whole situation were the same, but the Tire Guy had been a Tire Woman?

And I don’t want to see misogyny where there is (probably) only kindness. I mean, if the Tire Guy had been my dad, well, he might have done the same thing. (Or not. My dad at least would have walked me through how to do it myself, for next time. Possibly he would have even made me do it, while he stood there and offered instructions. I like to think he would have done the same for a stranger, too.) I don’t want to be so hyper-aware of potential discrimination that I find it in places where it isn’t. I don’t want to project bias onto situations where it isn’t.

But I can’t help feeling unsettled about the whole experience, including — maybe especially — my reaction.

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Is it weird that I envy other shoppers’ relationships with the cashiers at my grocery store? It’s probably a little weird, right? Sometimes I am waiting there with my items on the belt as the person ahead of me pays for her groceries, and I catch little clips of her conversation with the cashier… and some people seem to know so! much! about each other! Like they’re old friends, talking about their aging mothers or their new babies or a college-age child coming home for the weekend.

How does a person get to be that familiar with a person she sees for five minutes once a week? (Or more. My in laws are in town and that plus Extra Birthday Baking I’ve been doing for Carla means that I’ve been to the grocery store A Lot lately.) There are members of the grocery store staff that I recognize – like Dan the fish guy, who gave Carla about 50 samples of fish one Saturday before very kindly telling her that this was the last one, okay?, because he needs to save some for other people (I should have stopped her after sample 1, but it was a food that she liked that didn’t come in a package and end in ­–able, so I kept my mouth shut). Or the super nice lady behind the prepared foods counter, with whom I once in a fit of bravery exchanged names, but whose name I then promptly forgot and have never remembered because she doesn’t wear a name tag and obviously I am not brave enough to ask her again. Or the cashier who is really terrific at fitting every single thing into the exact number of bags I have no matter how much junk I’ve loaded into my cart. Or the guys who load my bags into my car, and who are always super nice to Carla (seriously, they have been so kind to her I have sent positive comments to the store manager). But I barely know their names, let alone any details of their personal lives.

(My grocery store is pretty great. I have only ever had three negative experiences with the staff there. One is with a different, non-Dan fish guy who has NO IDEA how to butcher a fish properly and leaves scales all over the fish he cuts for me. Yuck. And ALSO, probably because he is not a good fish butcher, he made a snide comment about how lucky I was that he was removing the skin from my salmon because most stores charge for that. No one had ever once told me that wasn’t a thing a could ask for at the fish counter! And yes, I DO appreciate that they do it, and do it for free! Blah! Thanks for making me feel guilty about something I have asked for literally hundreds of times!!! This is the most privileged paragraph in history! My Coping Mechanism has been to refuse to buy fish when he is on duty. The other was with a cashier who kept insisting that I could – and should – get Carla a free cookie one afternoon because Carla was crying. Crying because she was not allowed to have the free cookie, the eating of which had been contingent on her good behavior during the shopping trip. “Awww! She wants a cookie!” * heaving sobs * “I know she does, but we’re not getting a cookie today.”  * pitiful sniffles * “You can get one right over there!” * wailing *  “Yes, I know, but we’re not getting a cookie today.” * enormous tears * “But they’re free!” “She can’t have a cookie.” * louder wailing *)

Whatever. Maybe more in-depth relationships with my local grocery store staff will come, after I’ve been shopping there for a few decades. Or maybe my relationship level is perfect as is. I don’t know – it can go too far the other way, I suppose.  There’s a checker at my Target who is WAY too overfriendly. She could be the inspiration for that old Kristen Wiig Target Lady sketch on SNL. She’s always commenting on my purchases and asking me where I got them and what I’m going to do with them. And while I am not averse to the occasional curious question or comment – I mean, if you just bought the exact brand of nail polish I am buying, I would love to hear how it looks out of the bottle – this particular checker comments on Every. Single. Item. The last time I saw her, we had a long conversation about couscous and what to serve it with and she also praised my choice of wrapping paper and then asked me if I like the eye drops I was getting. It’s very tedious and I don’t think the people in line behind me appreciate it too much.

Worse than the running commentary is that she makes these vague upsetting references to her life that I don’t know what to do with. Like she’ll say, “How are you today?” and I’ll say, “Fine! How are you?” And she’ll say, “Well, as good as can be expected, I guess.” And then at the end of our transaction, I’ll say, “Have a great day!” and she’ll respond despondently, “I doubt that I will, but thanks anyway.” And she’s been even more gloomy than that, with broad sweeping comments about how life certainly isn’t fair for everyone is it. And I just don’t have any idea how to respond! Am I supposed to ask, while the line grows behind me, while Carla gets more and more antsy, what’s going on with her? Part of me wants to take her out for coffee and let her vent for an hour. And the other part of me wants to say, “We are not close enough for you to say things like that to me!”  My strategy so far has been to listen to whatever she is saying and nod empathetically and then say, “See you next time!” as I leave. On a human level, I want to be kind to her and help her in any way I can. But on a reality level, I don’t have the bandwidth to be a stranger’s support system. (Are there any little, low-bandwidth kindnesses I can extend to her… without being condescending or overly familiar?)

This whole long build up is all to say that I already have anxiety surrounding my interactions with the staff at my grocery store.

So the other day, I put the divider on the conveyor belt to separate my groceries from the person before me. The cashier was still scanning the items for the person ahead of me. But she smiled at me and said, “Hello!” And I smiled and said hello back. A minute or so later, as I was finishing unloading my cart, she handed the prior shopper her receipt and looked at me and said again, “Hello! How are you? Where’s the little one today?” in this super cheerful way. Everyone at the grocery store loves Carla. And so I smiled at her and said, “I’m good! Carla’s at camp today. How are you?” And reached into my cart for the last bag and in doing so saw the person behind me to whom the cashier was actually speaking.

Then of course I had to endure the shame and humiliation of THAT as she rang up my entire cart of groceries and asked me again — me, this time — how I was, and instead of responding — AGAIN — to her pity question, I kind of shrugged and smiled and said NOTHING.

And then I burst into flames.

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Yesterday we had a Parent Appreciation Luncheon at Carla’s school and I am still reeling from the experience.  Reeling may not be the right word. Perhaps “steeped in self pity” is more accurate, I’m not sure, I am destined to fail at all things including appropriate word choice.

At the top of the luncheon, all the kids in the entire grade got up and did a little song and dance routine. It was very cute. And then they got to usher us to our seats in the cafeteria and then we all ate lunch(eon) together. There was a lot of down time at the beginning while the teachers corralled all the kiddos and got them pointed in the right direction. Which meant that there was plenty of time for me to be SUPER socially awkward and inept and anxious about it.

Let’s just get one frustrating thing out of the way right up front, which is that my husband wasn’t able to make it to the luncheon. And yes, he’s on call, and yes, I’m sure there were single parents in the mix, and even in the case of two-parent households, I’m sure that other parents weren’t able to make it, and/or they have been at their jobs longer than my husband has been at his and feel more comfortable taking off in the middle of the day and/or have spouses who were more persistent about reminding them to find some way to take the time off, but it SEEMED like every child there had two parents except Carla, including two other physicians, which at baseline made me a) feel guilty and b) feel lonely. If my husband had been there, I could have at least talked exclusively to him, instead of sitting there mentally rending my garments as I tried desperately to gather the courage to go talk to someone.

While we were waiting for the kids to set up, I saw another mom that I have been friendly with in the past. If I’m being honest, I wish she were my best friend: she’s so lovely and put together and smart and friendly and kind. She started talking to me, which was nice. But then one of her friends came up to us, and the two of them started talking, and I started to panic. Was I supposed to join in the conversation, about things they have in common and about which I know nothing? Was I supposed to excuse myself and go… stand in a corner? I ended up doing neither, and just stood there silently with what I hoped was a calm, friendly, I’m-a-good-listener smile plastered on my face and nodded along with them. They were nice about it, making eye contact with me occasionally as though I were part of the conversation. It’s not like I was entirely mute; I tried to make interested-sounding noises even though I was much too panicked to focus on what they were saying. And then another friend of theirs came up and joined in and I just kept standing there, my anxiety flinging itself against the inside of my brain like a fish trying to escape its tank, and I tried to ask questions where I could – but they were obviously “I am making conversation” questions and not “I’m part of the conversation” questions, you know? – and tried to laugh and continue to make “I’m totally taking part in this discussion” noises. And the cafeteria was super hot and I started sweating and I became uncomfortably aware of the inside of my mouth and how my breath could not be great even though I definitely brushed and flossed before I came. And I didn’t know the other moms at all, or who their kids were, and – as is always the case anyway – I couldn’t figure out the rhythm of the conversation well enough to interject with a new subject or a related anecdote or a pertinent question. Not that I could properly follow along with the conversation anyway; as I mentioned before, I was too focused on all the THINGS going on in my head to focus on what they were saying.

Finally, a teacher called us to attention and we got to watch the kids’ little performance, which was a nice break. The ladies I’d been “talking with” drifted off to find their spouses and I stood by myself, clutching my sweater (why had I brought a sweater when clearly I’d entered one of the flaming hottest circles of hell???) and my purse and my desire to leave immediately and/or melt into the floor.

And then it was “luncheon” time, and once again I had to navigate the extreme horror of talking to a parent I don’t know that well. This time, across the table. Unfortunately, this parent was either as shy/uncomfortable as I am, or she had already written me off as no use to her. So my lame attempts at conversation were met with single word answers and apparent disinterest. You’d think this would be a good thing! Lets me off the hook, right? But instead, I kept trying to make lame small talk because I wanted her to like me. Obviously she wasn’t talking to me because she’d written me off as Not Worthy of Her Time, right? Okay, okay, so possibly she was having her own inner freak out about having to talk to me and fending off similar worries. Either way, I don’t hold it against her.

Fortunately, Carla was with me at this point, so I could direct most of my attention to her. But as we lunched, I was very aware of all the other parents in the room, laughing and chatting and having a great time. I mean, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only person in the room who doesn’t like groups/crowds/forcible mingling. But it never FEELS like there are others. Instead, it feels like everyone else finds social interaction super easy, and, not only that, but fun, which I find incomprehensible. I long for “easy.” Fun is a pipe dream.

Finally, when I was able to escape, I ran into a couple of familiar couples on the way down the hall. They are all super nice and friendly, but they were in couples, and seemed to be talking to each other, and plus one of the women was the woman whose friend-group I’d horned in on earlier and she was almost certainly done with conversational babysitting, so I tried to smile and make nice friendly noises, but then I motored on past to leave the school and get in my car and go far far away. And as I was doing that, I was mentally chiding myself for avoiding them instead of trying to interact with them. You can’t make friends with people if you dart past them every time you see them! Friendships are not built on awkward smiles and waves and “have a great day”s tossed over your shoulder! (Why not, though?)

And I DO wish I were friends with more of the parents at Carla’s school. So many of them seem great! But the way you get to know people is by talking to them during these school events, and I get so flustered and self-conscious that I just can’t do it. It’s moderately okay one on one, but when there are two or more people, I stop being able to think. I have no idea how to join the flow of conversation. I have no idea what to say. I often walk past little clusters of moms in the hallway after drop off and wonder what in the hell are they talking about?!?! I have no clue, absolutely none.

And then I go home and feel horrible, as I did yesterday. And the bad feelings remain. I feel lonely and isolated, which are terrible feelings to begin with. But then I also feel culpable, because it’s my own fault I don’t have friends. It can’t be THAT hard! Other people do it all the time! There must be something wrong with me that I am always and forever on the outside.

Hence the pity party.

We have a big Parent Breakfast coming up, as part of the kids’ transition into kindergarten. (KINDERGARTEN. Let’s reserve that panic attack for another post.) So I anticipate more of the same sweaty awkwardness and wallflowering and self-loathing to follow in a few short days! Yay!

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This week a nice gentleman from our security service come out to test the security system and replace all the batteries in the window and door sensors. As happens Every Single Time someone comes to my house to provide some sort of service, I spent the entire time he was here in a restless panic of What Is the Right Way to Deal with This?

It begins with the Time Window. I spend the hours before the Time Window fretting about the state of my house, like the air conditioning repairperson is going to care whether there are breakfast dishes in the sink or the cable person will give a second thought to the unwashed laundry on the floor of the closet. (It’s there because SORTING.)

Then, as the Time Window nears, I begin stressing about what I should be doing. I shouldn’t make anything to eat, lest the service person arrive as soon as I have food in my mouth. I shouldn’t start a project, lest I get interrupted. I shouldn’t make a phone call. I shouldn’t work out or take a shower. So I end up kind of pacing around my house, catching up on small housework or straightening things that will neither impress nor dismay the service person. I always have the TV on, to provide background noise.

Once the person arrives, I fret about what to DO while s/he is in my house. Do I follow her around, ostensibly to answer questions? Do I guide her to the appropriate area of the house and then… leave her alone?

If I go the following-around route, do I ask questions to appear as though I care and/or will remember anything about the reason the furnace is making a weird noise?  Do I make inane small talk about the weather or the basketball finals or how it’s summer already and doesn’t time go by so quickly? Do I lurk in the background, trying to assume a helpful air? Do I find something to occupy me near wherever she needs to be?

If I go the leaving-alone route, what do I DO? I have to be available, and I have to be interruptible. Do I pretend to watch TV, while really sitting on the edge of the couch, ready to leap up and address any questions or issues? Do I continue to find small items of housework to tackle, if I even have any left after my pre-appointment fussing?

What level of hospitality is required/expected/necessary/nice? For movers, I have offered water; for the people who recently removed a bunch of junk, I offered soda (which they left behind, presumably because it was diet soda). We have a lot of beer; should I offer beer?

When is a tip required/expected/necessary/nice? I mean, I know a tip is NEVER “required,” but… I think it’s more of a given in some situations than in others. Like, with movers. I automatically build in “get cash for a tip” to my moving preparations. But with the person who replaces your faucet? The person who delivers your mattress? The person who inspects your gutters? The person who sprays for silverfish?

The tipping thing gives me GREAT anxiety. Partly because (except in the instance of movers) I only ever THINK about the tip right before the service person is expected to arrive, so I never have cash on hand (or if I do, it is like, a $50 bill that seems a bit much or a single $1 which seems very stingy). Partly because I just don’t know when a tip would be appreciated-but-not-expected or whether the service person starts bad mouthing my lack of generosity the instant he leaves. Okay, that is uncharitable. It would be worse if the service person left, tipless, and began to worry about whether the lack of tip meant she hadn’t provided great service. UGH.

And yet, one time we had two faucets installed and I planned ahead and tried to tip the very nice, very efficient man who installed the faucets, and he rejected the tip, in a semi-repulsed way that almost seemed like I’d perpetrated a Major Faux Pas or maybe offered him a fistful of dog poo instead of a $10.

And THEN, if you decide a tip is a good idea, HOW MUCH DO YOU TIP? A percentage of the service? A flat $5 per person? Does it depend on the type of service rendered? And, if so, what is the scale?

SO MUCH ANXIETY.

I would appreciate a Handbook that clearly lays out guidelines for all of the above and more.  Once I heard that if the service person is the owner of the company, you don’t tip. But if the service person is an employee, you DO tip. Or maybe the guideline was that if the service person is a contractor, you DO tip, and if an employee, you DON’T. ARRRRGH.

All I know is that Any and Every Time we need some sort of service that requires a person to come to our home, I spend the entire day fretting and fussing and worrying that I am doing the wrong thing. And when the person is in my house, I wander around – following her sometimes, other times leaving her to her work in peace – alternately wondering whether this is the day when I am murdered by a psychopath and agonizing about the tip and using phrases like “everything looking ship-shape?” and “oh goodness, that’s a stumper” and making inane statements about the weather and offering too much information about myself just to fill the air.

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The Popcorn Incident

Oh Internet. As much as I love embarrassing myself for your entertainment, I didn’t really want to share this one. (Although YES, I acknowledge that it could have been MUCH worse and I’m glad it WASN’T.) But, despite writing hundreds of words on about seven alternative posts, it seems that THIS is the one that wants to be written.

I trust that you will read with the proper amount of sympathy and then excuse yourself to the restroom to laugh discreetly under cover of the sound of a running sink. And that you will share similar tales of humiliation in the comments. Or at least do that thing where you pretend it happens to everyone! All the time!

Because I have given up sweets, I have been craving carbs like whoa. Crackers. Bread. Pasta. Popcorn. Just pile it all up onto a plate and send it my way please.

(Good thing the sweets restriction is not for weight loss purposes!)

Saturday night, my husband is at the hospital overnight. As is my custom when he’s overnight, I cannot bear the thought of sleeping alone in our bed. So I stay up very very late watching a marathon of The Big Bang Theory.

At around 12:17, I decide I want popcorn.

Our pantry contains two types of popcorn:

Option 1: A 100-calorie pack of Pop Secret.

Option 2: A whole box of normal size packages of fake-butter-flavored Boy Scout popcorn.

I choose Option 1, read the instructions, and throw the bag in the microwave. Three minutes seems like a long time for such a small amount of popcorn, but hey – that’s what the instructions said. It’s not like I need to leave it in that long. A veteran popcorn maker, I know that you pay more attention to the pops than to the time remaining. And when the pops start spacing themselves two to three seconds apart, you remove the popcorn and start stuffing your face.

I peek into the microwave at some point and notice steam coming from the bag.

That’s odd, I think to myself. I didn’t realize popcorn steams like that.

A few seconds later, I peek again. The steam is thicker and more… insidious than normal steam. And it is pouring from the bag with great vigor. So I open the microwave and a big plume of burnt popcorn races for the ceiling.

I throw open the window.

That’s when the siren pierces the midnight calm with its furious wail.

Because, as is my custom, I’d turned on our burglar alarm as soon as my husband left. And opening any windows or doors triggers the alarm.

Fanning at the smoke with a dish towel, I run over to the alarm keypad and punch in our code. Then I fly back to shoo the smoke out the window into the icy January morning.

The security company is supposed to call us when the alarm goes off. When I don’t get a call right away, I realize they must have called my husband. Who will probably freak out. So I send him a text letting him know it was a mistake, nothing is wrong, I haven’t been murdered.

Then the phone rings. It’s the security company dispatcher. I babble at her, still shaky from the popcorn fire and the ear-splitting burglar alarm, telling her it was a mistake and I am so sorry and blah blah blah.

When she finally gets a word in edgewise, she asks me for my security code and then tells me that since I haven’t reset the alarm, she has called the cops.

O. M. G.

I don’t know how to reset the alarm! I tell her. I plugged in my code!

Plug it in again.

I do. Nothing.

Well, she says, trying for patient but succeeding at exasperated, you try it again and I’ll let the cops know it was a false alarm.

I get off the phone with her. I stab in the code a couple more times.

That’s when my husband calls.

Um, he says, I got a call from our security company that the alarm went off and they had to send the cops to our house. Are you okay?

He is very calm, Internet. Much more calm than I am, and I know I’m okay.

At top speed, I tell him what’s happened. He remains very calm, unconcerned, no trace of even mild bemusement or irritation, and then reminds me – kindly, mind you – that he has actual dying patients to tend to.

I am afraid the cops are going to show up. And I’m fresh out of the shower (don’t you shower at midnight on a Saturday?) wearing nothing but a white sleeping tank top and pajama pants. My house is fogged in with a thick layer of popcorn smoke.

I hightail it upstairs to grab a sweat shirt.

I’m halfway to the second floor when the phone rings. I race back into the kitchen, where, of course, I’ve left my phone.

It’s the security company again. I still haven’t managed to reset the alarm. We determine that the woman on the line could be dealing with ACTUAL emergencies, rather than helping me figure out how to reset the thing. We determine the reason it won’t reset is because I haven’t closed the kitchen window. I slam the window shut, rekey my passcode into the alarm panel, and dash back out of the kitchen.

As I’m skidding down the hallway, I see police lights striping my neighborhood with red and blue.

I am sure all my neighbors are rushing to their windows, ready to watch as the cop leaves his car and marches up my front steps. Perhaps his gun will be drawn. Perhaps his partner will go around the side of the house to scope out the situation from the side window. I imagine having to answer the door, baring my tank-top and still-wet hair to the biting January night as the entire neighborhood watches. Just another wife-beater-wearing weirdo for the next episode of COPS. (At least it’s a CLEAN tank top.)

Is she a meth cooker? A prostitute? A murderer? my neighbors will wonder. They’ll whisper about me at Super Bowl parties and barbecues. The rumors will get wilder and more outrageous, until I’m a sex-crazed asylum escapee who’s chopped 10 consecutive husbands into little bits and now makes popcorn-scented bombs in her basement. Their kids will peer in our windows and run away shrieking – half-terrified, half-delighted – every time I leave my house to empty the trash. The wives will stand across the street in clumps of three or five, speculating about my stringy hair and questionable fashion sense and how to run me out of town. The husbands will grouse about my effect on property values.

In the few seconds I pause to decide whether to open the door or sprint upstairs for the sweatshirt, the police car extinguishes its lights, pulls into my driveway, backs out, and speeds off down the street.

 

At least I know it only takes about 10 minutes for the police to respond to an emergency at my house.

 

I know you are dying to learn how the night ended. I stayed up until 3:00 watching The Big Bang Theory reruns. And, of course, I made another bag of popcorn. Successfully, this time.

(This is where you tell me about an equally mortifying thing that happened to you.)

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Hey there Internet.

Seems like you maybe were a bit… erm… grossed out by my admission the other day.

You know. The one where I said RANCID BUTTER had been reclining behind my toaster oven for at least a week.

Listen, I get it. It was a poor choice of words. I know the word “rancid” is kind of barf-inducing. But let me tell you… Rancid butter doesn’t even have an aroma. And rest assured there were no bugs involved. Nor was there any mold or discoloration of any kind.

And that brings me to a question…

Isn’t butter that’s been sitting outside of a fridge always rancid?

I mean, as long as it’s been sitting outside of the fridge for a few days?

That was my impression, although ADMITTEDLY I might be mistaken, considering I couldn’t find anything to that effect on the Internets.

Although ADMITTEDLY I didn’t search for very long. Turns out I have limited patience for looking up facts about butter and its spoiling point.

My belief in the Rancidity of Non-Refrigerated Butter is rooted in a comment made by the bespectacled Christopher Kimball on either Cook’s Country or America’s Test Kitchen. (Which our DVR records every week, by the way. If you aren’t watching these shows, you are missing out on much deliciousness and mildly lame cookery-related banter!) If Christopher Kimball says something about food, I believe him. He could tell me that eggs are alien tracking devices and sugar is unicorn skin and I would be like, “Yes, I agree.” And if he told me that porpoise blubber was better than olive oil for sautéing mushrooms, I would immediately seek out my closest local porpoise blubber purveyor. (HUMANE porpoise blubber purveyor, people. I am not into senselessly hurting beautiful marine animals.)

Although… hmmm… Now that I think about it, maybe my belief in the Rancidity of Non-Refrigerated Butter comes from my mother-in-law, who refrigerates her butter with great vigor.  And is, I’m pretty sure, quite creeped out by the fact that my husband and I leave our butter out on the counter forever and ever amen. Or at least until all the butter is gone. (Note: It doesn’t last all that long around here. Because I like me some butter. Also, the other day I made macarons with butter cream and chocolate ganache filling [more on that to come if anyone cares] and I kept effing things up so I used LITERALLY a pound and a half of butter. I am not someone who uses the word “literally” liberally. So yeah.)

Okay, so I’m not 100% sure where my belief in the Rancidity of Non-Refrigerated Butter comes from. I could have dreamt it for all I remember.

But it matters not, for I have always been a butter-leaver-outer. I have little patience for cold slabs of butter that refuse to spread on toast or English muffins.

Rancid or not, that’s the way I like my butter. And I’m not dead yet.

P.S. Since I KNOW that my mother-in-law gets the heebie jeebies from the unrefrigerated butter, I make sure to serve her fresh, cold butter when she comes to visit. Just in case you were worried about her. I CARE, Internet.

 

P.P.S. Doubtless, some readers are feeling a little surprised that I would be so. very. picky. about so. many. things. and yet be perfectly fine with the Rancid Butter. To you I say, I am COMPLICATED. And also, I never pretended not to have Serious Double Standards That Make Little Sense to Anyone Not Inhabiting My Strange and Messed Up Brain Space.

 

P.P.P.S. I’m not the only one who does this, right? Not “has weird and cracked out double standards” – but “leaves the butter out on the counter.” I mean, that’s the sole reason butter dishes EXIST, right?

 

P.P.P.P.S. I am not really sure why I’m writing this post as though it’s a letter. I realize that, in reality, it’s just ME writing to MYSELF on the Internet. If someone chooses, out of the goodness of her heart, to RESPOND to my rantings, well then that only makes me LESS crazy, not NOT-crazy.

 

P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P.P. Oh screw it.

I am suddenly realizing that MAYBE you were grossed out not by the Rancid Butter Factor, but by the fact that I didn’t clean behind my toaster oven in so long that there was BUTTER back there. UNNOTICED.

Well. I don’t really have a defense for that. BUT I actually DO clean behind the toaster oven more often than never. Otherwise I wouldn’t have FOUND the butter in the first place.

Other places I clean more often than never:

–          The DVDs on our TV stand

–          The wine glasses hanging upside-down in our wine “bar”

–          The little-used electric piano

–          The faucets

–          The floor under  the couches, dining table, and coffee table

–          The door handles

–          The wall adjacent to the stove

–          The inside of the freezer

–          The bathroom scale

Places I am (newly) afraid to clean:

–          The guest bathroom bathtub, which has become The Place Where Spiders Go to Die (I’m afraid to look behind the shower curtain. Mainly because the last time I looked behind it [usually, I check behind there periodically to make sure no murderers are waiting there to pounce on me] [I wish I were joking] there were two crispy spider corpses in the bathtub. At least, I assume they were crispy. The thing is, I can’t remember if I actually DISPOSED OF the spider corpses or if I just tried to nudge my husband into doing it for me by leaving the shower curtain open… And if I did the latter, which is more likely, I don’t know if he actually took the bait or just closed the shower curtain without even noticing the arachnid corpses. [Or if he DID spot them but decided to overlook them. Like I did.] So now I am afraid to open the shower curtain lest I come face-to-face with MORE spider corpses… Or, worse, LIVE spiders. I  mean, the dead ones have to come from SOMEWHERE, right? The thought of a Spider Death Trap in my guest bathroom gives me some serious willies. I never thought that “bathtub spider death trap” would trump “murderers,” but so be it.)

Well. That took an unexpected turn.

Anyway. Butter. Turns out to be a more convoluted subject than meets the eye.

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Oh Internet, you totally called it.

In case you are not fully caught up on the ridiculous minutiae of my life, our butter dish disappeared a few weeks ago. Cue the weeping.

Anyway, my husband and I finally caved this weekend and bought a replacement. We got it for $4.95 at Crate & Barrel.

According to several genius commenters, this was going to guarantee that my butter dish would magically appear.

And oh did it ever! On Monday, as I was cleaning the kitchen in preparation for my book club dinner.

It was behind the toaster oven. There was butter in it. Key word: WAS. It had since oozed out onto the wall, the counter, and the cords of both the toaster oven and the Keurig machine. Ever watched Ghostbusters 2: The Pink Ooze That Ate New York? Picture the butter version of that supernatural goo that took over the Statue of Liberty. That’s what the area behind my toaster looked like. (No Sigourney Weaver sightings though.)

I was *thisclose* to taking a photo of the whole mess. But then I figured I’d rather not give my (very clean) mother a heart attack.

Internet, how often do you clean behind your toaster oven?

If I might, I’d like to offer a little suggestion: Do it more than never.

Otherwise, your perfectly serviceable butter dish might languish forever amid a puddle of rancid butter, a scattering of crumbs, and a single generic-brand ibuprofen.

P.S. I did keep the Crate & Barrel receipt and, in fact, never managed to even take the new butter dish out of the bag. So I can still return it. PHEW.

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