Sunday, November 28, 2010

Birthday Memories

On Facebook, one of my friends said that it was a family tradition to tell the story of your best birthday memory.  I, however, don't really have a best birthday memory of my own:  I mostly remember the bad birthdays, the ones involving sickness.  I also remember the canceled 16th birthday, when my mother was angry with me.  And I remember the funny ones, like when my dad bought me mousetraps.

I think my memory deficit is because, growing up, my birthdays were pretty much always the same -- family, Thanksgiving, gifts.  One year, there was the infamous Bert and Ernie cake.  Sometimes, when my birthday fell on Monday through Wednesday, there were cupcakes or munchkins in school.  And then there were the birthday parties, sometimes jointly with my sister, in places like Roy Rogers and Friendly's.  But I can't really distinguish any of them as the best -- they were all pretty much universally good.  I had a pretty good childhood.

As for adult birthdays, I have a particularly fond memory of my eighteenth birthday.  It was my first Florida State-Florida game.  I had a friend buy me tickets to the Nirvana concert (and a bottle of Jack Daniels to pregame with).  Other friends bought me my first lotto ticket, which won me $6.50.  And then there was the engagement ring, but that's a story for another day.

But ultimately, my favorite birthday memory is not from my birthday -- it's from my mother's birthday.  A few years before she died, I surprised her by showing up in Florida unannounced.  I had spent weeks laying the groundwork -- work was really busy and I'd be seeing her for Thanksgiving anyway --  and then worked out the secret details with my father and my grandparents. Nana and Pop took mom out for lunch and I walked into the restaurant.  I got to the table and my mom saw me and did a double take.  She was so extraordinarily happy.

I'll have that memory forever.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ancient History

I live in a city obsessed with history: Washington, DC is, in many ways, entirely focused on preserving it, interpreting it, making it, and sometimes even rewriting it. It's strange, though: The history we focus on here only goes back, at maximum, 400 years. When I was living in London, I was constantly overwhelmed by just how old everything there was. And that was nothing too -- when I was in Jerusalem, everything was even older. All that history makes me feel somewhat comforted as I'm heading into another birthday.

The years that end in zeroes and fives are the most stressful. And this time, I'm about to be in another age bracket -- the victim of an unwarranted demographic shift. All of a sudden, I am less valuable to advertisers. But I feel so young -- except when I look at the gray hairs, or when I hear my back and my knees crack and creak when I get up in the morning, or when I realize that some of the people I knew in high school now have teenage children. How did this happen? And, more importantly, how did it all pass me by? When did I become middle-aged? It seems like I was just having my mid-twenties crisis, but no, I'm far removed from all that and instead, getting closer to a sports car and an inappropriately young lover. (Does that even apply to women?)

I passed by Ford's Theater today -- the place where President Lincoln was shot. All of a sudden, I was brought back to my eighth grade trip, to standing on that very corner, with a cast on my arm and a pink denim jacket. Who was that thirteen year old girl? Where has she gone? What transformation could possibly have turned her into me? How did I possibly get here?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dara vs. the Library

Growing up, my favorite place on earth was the library. Not just because of story time, but because there were piles and piles of books for me to read. I consumed books like others consumed food, or perhaps even air or water. Without books, I wilted.

In college, I would occasionally hide in the library -- it was a quiet place to read and think and sometimes write. This was before computers ruled the world -- they were just there as aids to help you find things. (And also, it was where the Tallahassee Free-Net computers were located.) By the time I got to law school, I could see the evolution. Books were becoming disfavored; computer research was the way of the future. And the library? I couldn't study there -- there was too much talking and gossiping. I had to go to the med school if I wanted undisturbed peace and quiet.

Nowadays, I spend almost no time in libraries. We have a small library in the office where I do a little bit of research, but almost everything I need is available on my computer. At home, I have a large number of books -- not quite a library, but perhaps the beginnings of one -- and when I want something new, I go to the bookstore or order it to be delivered.

This brings me to the fact that, for school, I have to write a research paper, which, as it turns out, requires research. And so, this morning, I headed out to the library. First of all, I had forgotten that Georgetown plays football, so I was surprised to find that there was a game today. I was even more surprised to see how small their football games are. But I digress: I parked and walked up the hill to the library.

The library is no longer the quiet refuge of my childhood. It is a noisy place. People talk, slam their computers shut, type with purpose. I used a public computer to search the catalog for the books and articles I needed, writing notes by hand in a spiral bound notebook. I was the only one doing such things. I am a dinosaur.

I was there for a while, but then, all of a sudden, a woman with short blond hair, looking to be my age, sat down at the computer next to me. She slammed her stuff around. Her cell phone rang at least three or four times, in a loud techno music ringtone that angered me. She typed like she was trying to kill the keyboard. She read things on the screen out loud. She also had this weird thing where she kept smacking herself in the abdominal region, five or six times in a row, then would stop, and then a minute or so later, would do it again.

I had to get out of that fucking weirdness.

I finished what I was doing as best as I could. I emailed myself the articles I found online, and went all the way downstairs to the area of the library where they keep the books on religion. It was a dark and musty smelling basement with no signs of life. I quickly figured out why: that section is only open during regular business hours on Mondays through Fridays.

And so, defeated, I trudged back upstairs, straight to the help desk, and told them of my dilemma. They looked at my list of books -- five -- and told me that they would try to get me any of them that were not designated as "Library Use Only." It would take a few minutes. I decided to go to the coffee shop to grab a drink. I have never seen anything like it before: a coffee shop, noisily playing indie music, in the middle of a library. I then looked around. There were almost no books. They are archaeological relics, hidden in the cavernous subbasements where no one is allowed to go.

I managed to check out two of the five books, and raced home. I am hoping that I don't have to go back anytime soon.

Friday, November 12, 2010

My mom's Thanksgiving insanity

As I just told my Dad, I'm not heading to Florida for any of the upcoming holidays or his birthday. Then again, it's not like he's even thought about coming to DC for Thanksgiving or my birthday.

Secretly, I kind of like being on my own for the holidays since my mom died. There's no disruption to my life. I can do what I want, with whom I want -- and if that involves sitting in bed eating pie, so be it. I am beholden to no one. Plus, there's no sense of urgently trying -- and horribly failing -- to recreate the family feeling that died along with her.

Even if we tried, it would be impossible to recreate my mother's version of the holidays. She loved any holiday that involved her getting to have her entire family around her. She would get super busy with the planning and the cooking -- and, as a result, was more than occasionally crazy -- but she loved it. All of it. I have video evidence to prove it.

She also got super weird around the holidays. One year, shortly after they moved into the current house, I was visiting over Thanksgiving and wanted to go out for breakfast. She agreed, and said that we might go with some of her new neighbors. I got up that morning, and as is my custom, threw my hair in a ponytail and put on a ratty old t-shirt and jeans combo. She saw me and said, "You're going out LIKE THAT?!?", with an incredulity that belied the fact that she had seen me go out LIKE THAT almost every day of my life that did not involve (1) office work or (2) a formal occasion.

I chalked it up to the fact that she either really wanted to impress these new neighbors or was clearly losing her marbles, and promised her that I would at least brush my teeth before we left. (Basic hygeine FTW!) My dad was laughing in the background. I interpreted that as a sign that either he thought I was funny or that he knew that asking me to dress up for breakfast was as ridiculous as asking him if he wanted to go to the mall.

We got to the restaurant, and the neighbors were there -- with their age-appropriate Jewish-y son, who, "coincidentally" also attended one of my alma maters and lived in the metro-DC area. It was a surprise set-up -- FOR BOTH OF US. And, as luck would have it, we were both hungry, tired, and completely disinterested -- and, as a result, spent the entire breakfast focusing almost exclusively on our eggs and bagels while our parents gossiped about the goings-on at the clubhouse and the homeowners' association.

I miss my mom, even if she was insane.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

My dad vs. the time change

I always think about my dad when it's time to set our clocks forwards or backwards. This is because the man refuses to observe this custom. I don't remember whether it's Daylight Savings Time that he ignores, or whether he ignores the reversion to Standard Time, but either way, he refuses to change his clocks.

I think that he's batshit crazy. Funny, but crazy.

We have the same inevitable conversation every year: I will be in his car and I will look at the clock on the dashboard -- or I'll be in the house and look at the clock in the stove -- and I will note that it is an hour off, and I will offer to fix it. Then he tells me to just leave it alone, and it will be right again when the time changes. And then I tell him that it is annoying and confusing for all of the clocks to be wrong for half of the year. And then he tells me to fuck off and mind my own business.

Here is the funniest part of all: His sister does the same thing. They apparently share this particular insanity.