Monday, March 31, 2008

Vocal Roulette

Every few years or so I'll get laryngitis and lose my voice. It's SO WEIRD. You don't know for sure if you lost it - or even if it came back - until you try to speak. And then... nothing. Or, worse than nothing, those squeaky scratchy little whinnies that sound like a rusty hamster-wheel and tend to embarrass both speaker and listener.

I don't have full-fledged laryngitis right now, just a cold that has settled in my throat. Every time I cough, my voice changes. Sometimes it's gone completely. Sometimes it's very deep, as if I were a drag queen. Most of the time though it's raspy in that painful, please-don't-make-that-noise sort of way.

The best part about this is that I have a phone interview tomorrow afternoon. Will I have a voice or not? That is the question. Stay tuned for tomorrow's episode...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It Was Never 'Just a Phase'

We all go through phases. This morning, as I splashed to work in the midst of my latest one (more on that later), I began a mental catalogue of some of the phases I’ve been through – some of them were the kinds of phases everyone goes through, but others were… strange. I threw myself into them, strange or not, with passion and commitment. Some of them lasted a long time (still going!) and others were blessedly short. Here are the ones I remembered during the morning commute:

When I was about 5 I went through two phases simultaneously. The first was insisting that I would wear nothing but dresses. I had short hair and an irrational fear that people would think I was a boy (um, SO not boyish, ever) so I only wore dresses. And right around the same time I was flouncing my way through my first school years, I also discovered a catch-phrase that I worked into a surprising number of conversations, given how basically un-applicable it is to most everyday talk: “Who do you think we are? The Norman Luboff Choir?!” And I would make a very melodramatic face of surprised disbelief and shrug. To this day I have only the vaguest notion of who the Normal Luboff Choir is, and NO IDEA why I knew who they were when I was 5.

When I was about 9 I developed an interest in cars. Nothing too mechanical, just an awareness of them I hadn’t had before. Two things really caught my attention. Any time I saw an El Camino I would freak out and announce loudly, “Ew! Gross!” as if I’d stepped in dog poop. It was the late 70s. There were El Caminos EVERYWHERE. The other car-related phase was almost an obsession. I lived in small-town Texas and I REALLY wanted to see a purple car. Keep in mind this was right around 1980 and cars came in one of about 10 colors: white, black, brown, tan, rust (whether intentional or due to natural causes), red, yellow, green, cream, and two-tone. The widely varied palette of car colors we enjoy today just didn’t exist back then and somehow I got the idea that a purple car would be about the coolest thing in the whole wide world. And in Austin one day, while on family vacation, I spotted one and nearly had a conniption fit. Apparently I reacted with such dramatic fervor that my father thought I’d seen an actual miracle or at least Dolly Parton.

Ages 10-12 were simply a welter of phases. I was in love with plaid ruffly button-up shirts that HAD to have a metallic thread running through them. Also, anything to do with Laura Ingalls Wilder was sacrosanct. I boycotted the television show because Pa didn’t have a beard – and I was, after all, devoutly pure in my love for the books. I owned my very own red calico sunbonnet – and I wore it. Indeed I did. I wore my long brown hair in braids just like Laura too. This was the time in my life when I would quote things that Laura said or did in any situation just as if she were one of my school friends. After a while though my passionate love for Laura (while never-ending) yielded primacy to other things I was crazy about: dinosaurs, Greek mythology, Nancy Drew, how good and pure Pam was on Dallas, the origins of people’s names, helping my grandmother cook, dance classes, Flashdance, and going to the rock shop. I loved going to the rock shop. My sister and I would head out there with our grandfather, who had his own life-long ‘phase’ of being interested in geology. It was on Jacksboro Highway, west of Fort Worth, and I can’t remember now if it actually had a giant brown plastic jackalope on the roof, or if it was just near the store with the big jackalope. At any rate, when you saw the jackalope, you were near the rocks. Inside the rock shop there were all kinds of shiny, polished rocks and minerals in all forms. The shop was crammed full of small fascinating things that usually required hours of careful perusing before we’d choose something. Sometimes we’d go back behind the shop to the dusty wooden tables in the yard that were loaded down with big ugly rocks. We’d pick through the rocks looking for geodes we could crack open with our grandfather. He had a collection at his house of beautiful crystal-filled geodes that he had split himself and we were determined to do the same. Of course there were almost never any good-looking geodes on the rock tables. We did find a small one once and when we cracked it open we tried to muster enthusiasm for the dull agate we found inside. Really, we wanted the sparkle.

Oo, sparkles. That’s a phase I’ve never really outgrown.

When I was about 11 or 12 my friend Marny and I spent all our time together. We were best friends at school and in our dance classes. We went through a phase together which drove our mothers crazy. (Mom, if you’re reading this, prepare for an unpleasant reminder of a phase long past.) If we saw something we liked that had definitely earned our stamp of approval, Marny and I would solemnly pronounce it, “Cool.” But not just ‘cool’ the way normal people say it. We added a syllable and drew out the vowels so it sounded more like, “Kew-ehl”. The longer you drew it out, the cooler your estimate of coolness. After this phase wore on for a bit, Mom was vocal in her opinion that saying ‘kew-ehl’ all the time was NOT cool.

In high school I went through a brief phase of religiously reading the debutante pages in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. (I have no idea why really – maybe it was related to my Gone with the Wind phase…? They did wear giant poofy white dresses.) Oh and the curling iron/hot rollers phase. I’m not sure we can call that a phase since it was the 80s and I lived in Texas and it was simply what everyone who was anyone and had any hair did. But I had it all: the curling iron with steam, three curls to the side and one under, the pick for feathering and back-combing, Salon Selectives shampoo and Finesse or Clairol hairspray, the hot rollers so the long heavy hair at the back of my head could ‘have a party’ (I went through a phase of describing curls that way). Gave all that up in college when I became a ‘serious academic’. (I have not yet outgrown the unfortunate tendency to giggle at many things associated with ‘serious academics’ despite being one of those people who loves going back to college every few years.)

Speaking of college, while a freshman I went through a phase of calling anything I disliked (which was apparently almost everything) ‘heinous.’ I used this word so often that my entire family banned it from our collective vocabulary and in fact, even telling you about it now is giving me a bit of a law-breaking thrill. Just the mere mention of it as historical fact is flirting with repercussions for having broken the ban.

My most recent phase is an infatuation with rain boots. I have a new pair of pink and green plaid rubber rain boots, and I have become a connoisseur of cute rain boots on the slick and shiny streets of Boston. I tell you what. Rain boots ROCK. Having an adorable pair of rain boots in my closet has brainwashed me into looking forward to rainy days. I don’t get grumpy at the prospect of damp trouser legs and soggy socks any more. I relish puddles – for the stomping, you know. I don’t know why I didn’t throw myself into this phase sooner. It’s taken me back to that ‘loving to play in the rain’ phase which I thought Boston had soaked right out of me.

What about you? Did you go through a Normal Luboff Choir phase? Maybe dinosaurs? Maybe you too have gorgeous rubber rain boots? C'mon, 'fess up. I want to hear your stories!

Friday, March 14, 2008

How's Your Sniffer?

I have always had a pretty good sense of smell. In fact, my family used to call me 'The Nose' because on one family road trip through West Texas the smell of the oilfields woke me from a sound sleep miles before anyone else in the car could smell them.

It's a gift and a curse.

Having a vivid sense of smell ensures that some memories are stored only in the 'nose' part of the brain - they don't have any other accompanying information, just a recognition of scent. I walked past a bank of blooming wax leaf lagustrum one spring day my first year in Boston and my mind flashed instantly to 'Monarch butterflies' - not because I recognized the plant, but because of the heavy smell. I'm not even sure what exactly to associate the memory of that smell with. Maybe in my very early childhood we had such a shrub in our yard and the butterflies used to flutter near it...? (My mom should be able to clear this up for me.)

But what I want to talk about today is not the memory of a smell, but the memory of a conversation about smells - and its evergreen presence in my life. That's right: smelly talk.

It all started with my friend Miss Amazing.

One of the first things I remember about meeting my friend Miss Amazing was that she was in the center of a group of people discussing the following topic:

“Gorgeous Famous Guys Who Also Look Like They Probably Smell Bad”

And now - probably due in no small part to our grass roots efforts in this arena - this topic is a national news story (follow this link).

Led by Miss Amazing about 5 years ago, consensus ruled that the following guys met the criteria:

Matthew McConaughey

Lenny Kravitz

Colin Farrell

Simon Baker

Russell Crowe

(You will notice our list coincides quite well with the version. Except that Australians are well represented on our list - it seems so obvious.)

As time has passed the list has grown to include:

Josh Holloway

Milo Ventimiglia

Owen Wilson

Woody Harrelson

Wilmer Valderrama

I’m sure you have your own suggestions for the list.

I think the common factors these guys share are as follows:

1) They don’t shave often or well.

2) They usually look sweaty

3) They often leave their shirts behind – which always suggests to me not the freedom to go shirtless but a desire to flee the shirt, flee the smelly shirt.

At any rate, Miss Amazing will probably be thrilled to know she is the friend I think of first when coming across such a news item, and that as a recurring conversational theme in my life and that of other friends too, I always give her credit for being the originator.

No, thank YOU, Miss Amazing!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

For the Glamor-Puss in Your Neighborhood

Pointed out by my friend MKA, THESE are truly astonishing.

Apparently cats who've played with socks to achieve this look have been slumming it all these years.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I Know It's Not Nice to Gloat...

But here's what's left of my neighbors' snowman:

He was a stout short little guy, but solid, and he's been taunting me through the kitchen window for the better part of two weeks now. Our mini warming trend has taken care of him, though, and I can't help feeling happy about it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Spring! (Shhh, Don't Scare It Away)

This morning it was 52° in Boston. That was the STARTING temperature. That’s AMAZING!!! I got ready for work today and left my hat, scarf and gloves at home. I wore a coat but left it unbuttoned. I know it won’t last but I can’t help being completely thrilled that today is not cold. I walked to the T station without once glaring or muttering vindictively at the shrinking piles of snow and ice, happy in the knowledge that by the end of today they’d be all melted away.

Yesterday my sister called and asked in her Deep Dark Concerned voice if we were experiencing rotten weather in Boston. And while I’m usually quick to reply ‘Yes of course’ to such a question, yesterday I was surprised and pleased to be able to say, “Why no. It is, in fact, in the upper 40s today. Not sunny, but not raining either. We’re quite close to balmy, now that you mention it.” And in her Bright and Shocked voice, Kelsey answered, “Seriously?! Because it’s snowing like crazy here and looks like a blizzard!”

Now, I know that it is perverse and ungenerous of me, but I get extremely happy whenever I hear that Texas is having worse weather than Boston. It so rarely happens. And Kelsey is so big-hearted that she calls me – usually on purpose – to tell me when it’s happening. She knows it’s one of my greatest small pleasures.

But yesterday was a bonus. She genuinely thought we were having it bad and had called to commiserate.

I’m happy to say that while it will probably pour down a deluge this afternoon, it will be a WARM deluge, and I won’t mind. It will probably bound back down south like a timid woodland creature by the end of the week, but for now, Spring is in Boston.

Everyone, sigh with contentment.