Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Learner's Permit

Jaci turned 15 but for some reason her innate teenage desire to drive had not kicked in to gear*. She preferred to be driven. Driven to school, to cheer practice, to her friends' houses, to the mall, to McDonalds, to the pool down the block. While this might have thrilled a safety-conscious parent worried about the abundance of other 15-year-olds crowding the roads, our mom had had enough. Feeling bored one day and fed up with ferrying her around, Mom seized the opportunity to coerce Jaci into the driver's seat.

Jaci laughed in that "nothing's actually funny; you're just stupid," kind of way. Mom insisted; Jaci panicked. I panicked. I yelled, "I'm not riding in the car with her! She doesn't even have her learner's permit! Mama, she doesn't know her left from her right! We're all going to get arrested!"

"I'd like to see them try." Mom scowled. She hates the Travelers Rest highway patrol and generally feels like they owe her one, due to their bad attitudes whenever they write her a speeding ticket. She said to Jaci, "For heaven's sake, you're 15 YEARS OLD. Get in that car and DRIVE."

I was fit to be tied, but didn't want to miss anything. Also, I knew Jaci would need the wisdom of my experience gently guiding her through this, her first, time behind the wheel. Mom and I started shouting over one another:

MOM: The first thing you do is put the car in gear-
ME: NO. The first thing you do is BUCKLE UP-
MOM: In this car the best thing to do is to PUT IT INTO GEAR FIRST.

Mom sticks to her guns; I will give her that. Jaci looked glassy-eyed and flushed. We crept towards the end of the driveway where she slammed on the brakes.

I said something like "Jesus fucking Christ Almighty she's going to kill us. Mom, do you want us to DIE?!" Mom topped my expletives with such tender words of encouragement as "Get your left foot off the brake! Remember when your father had you drive the lawn mower when you were two? It's just like that!" Mom and I both meant well, but Jaci was flustered from all the yelling. Not to mention she was probably scarred, being a survivor of my own checkered driving history. Haltingly she made it to the stop sign at the end of the road. That's when we noticed droplets on the steering wheel, and on the inside of the windshield. They were projectile tears spurting from Jaci's red face like bullets. Her eyes had swollen shut like they do when she pets Pepper, our rabbit, or Pumpkin, our guinea pig.

Bless her heart.

It took the rest of the drive to TJ Maxx to decompress (Mom was back behind the wheel at this point and Jaci was lying down in the back seat so her wheezing would stop). After we ran in and picked up some bathing suits, a yoga mat, and some flavored olive oil we were all in good spirits and proud of the day's accomplishments. And Jaci went on to pass her driver's test on the first try, a feat neither our mother nor I can boast.

*As always, PUN INTENDED.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Surprise, It's Some Mennonites

Jaci graduated, and I left South Carolina the following morning at 3:00am. By the time I reached northern Pennsylvania I was caffeinated, stir-crazy, and freaking out at the warning signs flashing TRAFFIC AHEAD FOLLOW DETOUR. In a rare moment of direction-following I veered off I-78 and found myself in Grimville, a town unchanged since 1780.

Had I not been so bleary-eyed, such a detour would have been delightful. Lord knows I am a sucker for kitsch. Perhaps I would have stopped to photograph the green fields and red barns and white churches. Instead I tried to maintain the speed I'd been driving on the interstate, but felt compelled to slam on the breaks when I spotted a gaggle of Mennonite* children swarming around the front yard of an old farmhouse. The boys were each dragging pre-industrial farming apparatus and the girls were each dragging a toddler. The latter were swathed in bonnets and long-sleeve, grass-length dresses and aprons. It was 95 degrees outside. I was sweating in my air conditioned car, and I wasn't wearing hardly anything, comparatively speaking.

I drove on, resisting the urge to stop in the cured meats and Amish trinkets shop (an obligatory Foamhenge pilgrimage had put me behind schedule). I did, however, think it would be charming to have my picnic lunch of Cheeze-Its and and pound cake by a lush, winding brook, so I started to pull over when I found one. Only it was surrounded by a barbed wire electric fence. The nearest house was obscured by a yard full of deceased lawn mowers and a giant Don't Tread On Me flag. So were the surrounding houses for the next seven miles.

I was confused, because I associate defensive rural weirdness with the South. Sticking to the interstate on my drives northeast generally means the Dixie Outfitters is the last bastion of bigotry I encounter on the way out. Grimville proves, however, that these staunch us-vs.-them enclaves exist all over the country (roadtrippers of America may be pleased to know). For this and other reasons**, the Midwest scares the living daylights out of me.

I made it back to New York and unloaded the sets of dishes, the masterpiece gourd birdhouse***, and what was left of the pound cake my grandparents had sent up with me. Some manholes had exploded on my street but if toxic gasses wafted in through my open bedroom window they just made me sleep harder. I was glad to get back to the city, but I couldn't stop thinking about Grimville. I wished I had stopped at the cured meats and Amish trinkets shop. The kitchen in my apartment is mostly complete, but I'm still seeking a hand-made butter churn, and I bet those Amish would have had just the thing.

*This is an assumption on my part, based solely on the "YOU WILL MEET GOD -Mennonite Church" sign I'd just passed.

**Tornado Alley, Fargo, Michele Bachmann

***Gramma and Grampa grew a backyard full of gourds, and now they are bonafide gourd birdhouse artisans.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

How To Land That Job and Also Get Everything Else You Want In Life

At 9:00pm on a recent Sunday evening, Anna and I set out to conduct some research on Fort Greene, a prospective new home for us. Never in a million years did I expect this on-site fieldwork to culminate in shagging* with a stranger in a Brooklyn dive bar. But that's what happens when you meet a fellow South Carolinian who happens to love whiskey as much as you do. At any rate, the following Monday morning I woke up with the spins and a 10:00am interview in Manhattan. I thought, Thank God I wore so much makeup last night that there's enough left on my face for today. I rolled into the tutoring company's headquarters reeking of whiskey, sweat, and hairspray, but I was on time.

Sandy the interviewer herded a few highly qualified, sober applicants and me into a conference room where the motion of the office swivel chairs nearly did me in. When asked, I managed to string together some words about the importance of individualized education. I hoped they'd all mistake my pauses and blurred focus for moments of inspiration. I held it together until Sandy handed out a test of high school-level English and math questions. The words and answer bubbles were swimming. My head was swimming. My stomach was swimming. I couldn't discern whether the first problem was a reading comprehension question or a calculation. I excused myself, vomited, returned, and tried to remember what the hell sine and cosine mean.

Sandy emailed me the next morning regarding my "delightful interview," and offered me the job!

Recently when I drove Anna to audition for Pan Desi, an Indian television network, I planned to wait in the lobby reading Bollywood magazines while she completed a screen test. But when we walked in and the intern said, "You're both here to audition?" I said, "Why, yes we are!" Soon enough I was doing a screen test of my own for Pan Desi's sure-fire hit new reality show, Princess Perfect. I was confused, because the CEO described Pan Desi as "the new BBC" and I couldn't see how anything called Princess Perfect could ever be categorized as remotely BBC-like. By the time I left he'd promised to write a role for me on Pan Desi's version of SNL.

Last summer I got a gig teaching a Shakespeare summer camp for which I was perfectly well-suited. I also managed to wrangle a position at the same organization (a science center, mind you) teaching geology! I dubbed the course Rock On! and in my telephone interview, I dredged up all the knowledge I'd gained as an avid childhood rock collector, throwing around terms like "geode," "volcano," and "clay beads." I emphasized the course title (Rock On!) and that all the campers would become Rock Stars by the end of the summer. And you know what? Puns pay off. I got the job. It was in Ashland, OR and my campers had a great time. Especially my little ginger vegan named Ocean.

You must be thinking, Breanna, how come you get all these jobs you're woefully underqualified for? Don't you feel bad for tricking people who think they are hiring someone who is sober, or good at math, or Indian, or a geologist?

Why no, I do not feel bad at all. I land these various and sundry positions based on the combined merits of my persistence and the ease with which bullshit rolls off my tongue. Here's what happened a few summers ago when I decided I should work at Publix for a month:

Steve the general manager interviewed me. He asked why I wanted to work at Publix. I said, "For my twelfth birthday, my mom ordered me a Publix cake decorated like a big old sunflower. She was running late to pick it up because my little sister had a doctor's appointment but Cathy at the bakery stayed open late just to give us the cake and also she gave my sister a cookie which cured her fever and also she gave me one too. And I thought that was just the nicest thing. And from that moment, I knew I could see myself working at Publix."

Did this episode really happen? Maybe, I can't remember. But Steve thought this was the best story ever, and he was clearly in agony because he couldn't hire me only for a month (that's how long I had in SC before I left for school). I did not say, "Oh, I understand. Thank you for your time, Steve. It was a pleasure meeting you." I sat patiently and didn't say anything until he finally handed me the mandatory employee drug test and a green Publix vest. Done and done!

Perhaps you've encountered this expression on a bookmark or magnet or some asinine optimist's Facebook profile: Aim for the moon, because even if you fall, you know you'll land among the stars. Now, this doesn't make any astronomical sense at all. Everyone knows the moon is a zillion times closer to Earth than "the stars," the closest of which is obviously the sun. So the aphorism's backwards. To reflect the actual physical makeup of the universe (assuming the earthliness of the speaker), it should read: Aim for the stars, because even if you fall, you know you'll land on a nice plushy surface made of cheese.

Remember this next time you find yourself in an interview. If you can speak in complete sentences and exhibit a reasonable degree of shamelessness and self-delusion, you stand a pretty good chance of getting the gig. How else do you think I got hired to drive teenagers around in that 15-passenger van that one time?

*It's the state dance of South Carolina, y'all.

Monday, February 28, 2011

A Valentines Sampler

In no particular order (except chronology):

February 14, 1994. In an oatmeal bath, wearing mittens so I couldn't scratch my chicken pox. Crying because my cat, Sweetie, had run away.

February 14, 1996. Making a Valentines piƱata for the class Valentines party!!!!!

February 14, 1998. Disguising my handwriting to pen the note, "Do you like Brea? Please place your response underneath the class dictionary."

February 14, 2001. I don't know, wearing a ton of glitter probably.

February 14, 2005. Sharing a mug of weak tea at Spill The Beans with Emily. Also sharing one set of headphones so we could both listen to Ani DiFranco.

February 14, 2007. Authoring this love note: "Roses are red/ Grass is green/ Be my Valentine/ Or I'll stab you in the spleen."

February 14, 2009. Flowers, Natural History Museum, Yaffa Cafe, a one-act play festival, NJ Transit. This was a good one.

February 14, 2010. Day: curled up watching Dexter, eating chicken wings, missing America. Night: Ryanair flight to Berlin!

February 14, 2011. Three-way date with Anna and her boyfriend, James. Later enjoying the dozen roses and chocolate truffles our moms sent us.

Look forward to these brief but compelling holiday-themed posts in Hungry Lion's future: A Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Sampler, A Groundhog Day Sampler, A Palm Sunday Sampler, and A Guy Fawkes Day Sampler!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Why Is That Child Dressed Like A Turkey

If I said Halloween was my favorite holiday when I was little because I got to dress up as something fantastic, I'd be lying. Halloween was my favorite holiday because my mom took Jaci and me Fall Festival-hopping. We'd start at my elementary school where we'd crawl through the cardboard maze, then stop by Publix for some free cookie-decorating en route to Berea First Baptist church, finishing the night off there with a good old-fashioned candy scramble*. Of course, I did love dressing up. One year I even changed costumes in the car between Fall Festivals. But the opportunity to wear a terrific costume was not reserved solely for Halloween. I learned at an early age that costumes were de rigeur on every holiday, and perfectly appropriate on plain old school days as well.

When I was four, I sat on the living room floor with my mom while we watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and colored a poster board cut in the shape of a giant turkey's feathers. Right before we left to eat lunch at my grandparents' house, she attached the poster board feathers to my back and a red sock to my chin. When we arrived, all I said for the first half hour was "Gobble gobble gobble!" and all my Granny said was, "Why is that child dressed like a turkey?"

For non-celebratory days in kindergarten, I favored two outfits: my cowgirl dress and my Indian dress. My mom made them both and they were basically the same pattern, except one was pleather and had fringe and beads, and the other was "tribal"-print muslin and had fringe and beads. It turns out your friends are more likely to believe you are Pocahontas's great great granddaughter if you dress the part. I was also fond of my gypsy, hula-girl, pioneer-girl, and Tinker Bell outfits (Mom made these, too).

Because I spent my formative fashion years emulating wild game, cultural stereotypes, and Disney princesses, vestiges of my costume craze remained in my wardrobe through adolescence. For most, middle school is a great exercise in blending in with your peers. This laudable pursuit was lost on me, and though I stopped wearing "costumes," I started wearing uber-conspicuous neon tights, cat-eye glasses, animal-print shoes, a pair of skants. In the few hours of high school I wasn't forced to wear "neutral" rehearsal blacks, I sported ill-fitting vintage clothing.

And now, in my august fifth year of college, my turbulent fashion history has left me bereft of any sense of style and a reluctance to wear anything but chunky sweaters. This is a result of several factors: my learning to knit, my living in a stupidly cold climate, and my penchant for layering. Thank God a significant portion of my coursework this year is dedicated to "dressing for the business," or, in my case, "learning how to dress like a competent grown-up who is not a social worker or in her fifties." It's been a challenging learning experience, but as I'm sure you're aware, acting school is all about breaking through personal barriers.

I still like to dress up for holidays, though. This Valentines Day I plan to go as an aorta.

*A candy scramble is when you get all the kids together in the largest Sunday school room and throw handfuls of candy at them.