Category Archives: Memoir

The Truth About Identity Theft: A Cautionary Tale

If I had been paying attention, I would have seen that Universe was making plans to kick my ass.

After three years of being too sick to travel, I was excited to go somewhere new and connect with other creative souls.

I’d imagined sitting poolside in the hot sun. I’d planned it for months.

images-1Instead, I arrived in a monsoon.

The airport was shut down due to flooding, and somehow, one of my bags was misplaced. Losing ones belongings is stressful enough, but I was attending Art Unraveled, an art conference, and the missing bag held all of my specialized supplies: my paint and brushes, the papers, beads and baubles that I’d been collecting for months.

The airline representative with whom I spoke smiled broadly and assured me that they have an amazing track record when it comes to recovering lost bags. “We’ll call you the moment we locate your suitcase,” he promised.

Once at the hotel, I went to the bar to eat a light, late supper. Exhausted, but craving company, I wanted someone to listen to my tale of woe and tell me that everything was going to work out. That night, one other woman sat at the bar. Beverly wanted to know all my details: what was my name, where I’d come from, and how long I’d be in Arizona. She asked if I was attending Art Unraveled, and which classes I’d signed up for. She finished one pear martini and ordered another. I thought Beverly was funny, and I appreciated how she helped me forget my lost bag.

Setting my cell phone on top of the bar, just off to my right, I’d only taken one or two bites of my salad when Beverly, gesturing broadly, knocked over her drink with her elbow, submerging my phone. Surveying the damage, I burst into tears.

“I want to check on you tomorrow,” Beverly said, touching my hand. “What room are you in?”

I gave her my room number and excused myself for the night.

Once in my room, I realized my phone was worse off than I expected, and there was little left to do except brush my teeth and go to sleep. The phone would have to wait.

Just after 5 AM, I awoke to the sound of an unfamiliar phone ringing. It was the hotel landline, its red light flashing furiously. A man on the other side of the line identified himself as the hotel night manager. “I’m sorry to call so early in the morning, but there seems to be a problem.”

He told me my credit card had been rejected and that it was hotel policy that every guest had to have a valid card on file. When I asked if I could come down in a few hours to handle things in person, he was polite but firm. “I’d prefer to handle things now,” he said.

Over the next few minutes, I sleepily proceeded to give all my most private information to the kind night manager who kept apologizing for the trouble. In addition to supplying my name, address and phone number, I offered my email address, my credit card number, the 3-digit code off the back, my birthday, and my mother’s maiden name.

And then I rattled off my social security number.

In its entirety.

All the digits.

“I think I have everything I need, “ he said, thanking me for my patience.

The next day, after a full day of workshops in day-old clothes, I finally made my way to my cell phone provider. My new phone beeped and buzzed indicating missed email messages, phone calls, and texts.

Right away, I saw that my credit card company had communicated with me via voicemail as well as email.

Something to the effect that my account may have been compromised.

Still, I’d received notifications like that before, and they’d always turned out to be nothing.

So I went out to dinner with an old friend from high school and on my way back, I stopped at the front desk to confirm that my credit card was now working.“You know, because I received that early morning wake up call,” I laughed.

The clerk at the desk tilted her head. “We would never call a patron in the middle of the night,” she said. “Ever.”

The little hairs on the back of my neck stood up.

The very first call I made from my new cell phone went to the fraud department at my credit card company. From there, I learned that numerous charges had been made to my account: $950 to 1-800-FLOWERS, alone.

My credit card was canceled. I was instructed to call the police, to call the Federal Trade Commission, to notify Social Security, every one of my financial institutions, as well as the consumer credit card bureau. I put an extended freeze on inquiries into my credit, and I doubled up the security on my most vulnerable accounts.

The police officer who took my report told me that it was likely the nice woman at the bar was involved in what turned out to be an elaborate vishing scheme.

“You established yourself as an easy mark by giving out a lot of personal information,” the officer said. “I’m guessing you won’t do that again.”

(Thanks for the shame, Officer Lutz.)

Over the last week, I’ve spent dozens of hours on the phone, trying to figure out how long it may take to recover from this breach in security. The unpleasant reality is that it will likely take years, and I will probably always need the services of Lifelock, as my information is already floating around out there.

I’m sharing my humiliation in hopes that I can prevent someone else from falling prey to a scheme like I did.

I’m guessing most of you have heard this before, but it bears repeating.

Outside of your employer, never, under any circumstances, give anyone your full social security number.

Not your spouse.

Not your doctor.

They don’t need it.

It’s yours.

You get one, and it’s a huge hassle to try to rebuild after it has been compromised.

Additionally, don’t share personal information with people you don’t know.

I tend to operate under the assumption that there are more honest people in the world than dishonest ones. While in Arizona, I learned that con artists walk amongst us, that there are people who get a thrill out of hurting other people, just because they can. I learned that people lie, cheat, and manipulate to get what they want. And I learned that I made myself vulnerable to this type of attack because I have been protected and cared for most of my adult life.

I left Phoenix in a dust storm. The airport was shut down as a cloud of brown rolled over us, the air smelling of sulphur and dirt.

And yet.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that during my darkest hours, wonderful people showed up for me: strangers offering food and clothes and kindness; an art teacher who allowed me to use all of her materials; an old friend who brought me money and clothes and flowers; another friend who offered hugs and emotional support; my parents, offering their love over the phone.

I’m focusing on this last part of the story because the gratitude piece is crucial.

I could focus on being victimized, but I’m choosing to focus on the other stuff.

The good stuff.

The wonderful people I met, the old connections that were restored.

Because that has truly been the story of my life. No matter how lost and alone we might feel that we are, we are never truly alone.

And by the way, the Art Unraveled conference was amazing.

If you can believe it, I plan to attend again next year.

I’ll just stay in a different hotel.

Probably.

Ever had your identity compromised? What was your takeaway from the experience?

tweet me @rasjacobson

 

 

 

 

 

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Oy Vey! The Matzah Balls!

Looks good, right?

Looks good, right?

A few years ago, I did a crap load of cooking. I was preparing for Passover, so I was doing what Jewish mothers do — cooking up a storm. I was Martha Stewart and Rachael Ray and Betty-freaking-Crocker — except the Jewish version.

So picture frizzier hair and a bigger nose.

That year, I made 3 times as many matzah balls as I usually would, to make sure that my family would have enough to eat for the entire week. It took hours, but no big whoop, right? These are the things we do for love.

After the brisket went in and the noodle kugel was finished, I realized I didn’t have enough room in my freezer. So, I asked my kind neighbor if I could use a little space in the freezer that she keeps in her garage. She said of course.

Passover comes and so do all the guests. I’m serving the soup, and I’m like where are all my matzah balls? I look in the freezer, in the refrigerator, in the garage. It’s cold enough. I’m thinking, maybe I stashed them in the trunk of my car. Sometimes I stick things there. I look everywhere. I only have 18 matzah balls. The thing is this: that year? We have 24 people at the house. Picturing, standing in the kitchen, confused and cutting matzah balls in half.

I believe it is written in the Torah.

Thou shalt not run out of matzah balls.

But I did.

I apologized to our guests.

Time went by.

Spring came and went.

Months after the holiday ended, I was sitting on my driveway in the sun when my neighbor asked if I would like to have my matzah balls.

“Because isn’t Passover coming up?” she asked.

You guys, I didn’t even remember giving them to her.

Suddenly I was like: Should I be worried? Should I call the doctor? Do I need to check about early dementia? Seriously, how did those balls get over there? Did they roll across the street on their own?

I followed my friend into her warm garage. She opened her freezer and next to the ICEEs, there was my long-lost Tupperware container filled with frozen balls. All 9 bazillion of them.

I obsessed about forgetting those matzah balls.

And then I got sick. For 15 months, I couldn’t cook or clean or even leave my house.

I couldn’t even think about making matzah balls.

It’s been a few years since I hosted a Passover meal.

At 32 months off Klonopin, I’m doing really well. I’m grateful to be alive, grateful to feel Spring in the air, hopeful that one day I will feel even better. I know all of this is part of G-d’s plan.

And this year, I plan to enjoy someone else’s balls.

#IYKWIM.

tweet me @rasjacobson

Moving Beyond Where I’m From

The place I grew up. My parents still live there.

i’m from a little gray ranch hidden behind overgrown bushes on a steep hill.

i’m from beneath the willow tree and a field-stone wall, peopled by imaginary friends.

i’m from high expectations. from complex equations left unfinished on the backs of paper restaurant menus; from pink plastic flowers; a bedroom with curtains that matched the wallpaper and the bedspread.

i’m from praise whispered in one ear and criticism hissed in the other. from “stand up straight” and “every penny counts” and “be a big girl.”

i’m from confuzzled truths and secrets and lies.

i’m from strong Judaism watered down. from Torah and tallit and kippot, lox and bagels, noodle kugel and matzah ball soup. from a broken Borscht Belt, stories of what once was, memories of a dark pew in a fire-bombed synagogue.

i’m from want. from a hot-headed Polish Papa who once threw his plate on the apartment floor. from his ketchup and eggs, like bloody clumps soaking into the carpet. and my Nan who silently cleaned up his mess.

(don’t tell me this isn’t true. i was there.)

i’m from a fractured family of brothers who tried to make a business work. from Muriel who nurtured her garden but didn’t do as well with her children. from Ruby who spent too many hours at the store and on the golf course, and smoked too many cigars.

i’m from cracked paint and faded couches; the girl hiding under a blanket in a drafty room.

i’m from a crooked house on a steep hill that rarely houses guests. from parents who were present but also not. from powerful magic love that made me feel invisible.

for too long a sense of obligation tethered me to all that grey.

i am done trying to please them.

time to take care of me.

Where are you from? Throw me one line.

• • •

This meme was very hot a while back, but I was not confident about sharing such a personal piece. Since then, I feel less afraid.

Thanks to Jenny Hansen for encouraging me to move beyond the first sentences and to Sharla Lovelace for inspiring Jenny. If you go to HERE, you will see this exercise is based on a poem by George Ella Lyon called “Where I’m From,” and if you’d like to try it yourself, the original link is there.

Warts and Unwelcome Surprises

My feet, without warts these days.

My feet, without warts these days.

I was certain I’d contracted the stupid wart during my time spent barefoot on the slippery deck of the middle school swimming pool, where we girls were required, by law, to take ten days of instructional swim.

After weeks of applying Compound W with no visible improvement, I pulled off my sock and showed the offending bump to my father and, a few days later, I found myself sitting in his car. As he drove down the Boulevard, he warned me that the doctor was probably going to have to burn it off. He told me it might hurt.

But I wasn’t worried.

I was tough.

I’d had a mouthful of silver fillings put in without Novacaine.

Besides, that wart was gross.

I wanted it off.

Dr. Stone’s office was dark and cluttered with odd pieces of furniture, weird lamps and gadgets. An olive green corduroy jacket drooped from a hook on the back of his door. After inspecting my foot for less than .3 seconds, the doctor walked across the room to retrieve a silver thermos from a cooler. Uncapping the top, white swirls of smoke escaped as he took an extra long Q-Tip swab and stirred it around in whatever magic solution was in there.

I didn’t flinch as the liquid nitrogen sizzled against the offending wart.

When he was finished, the doctor explained what was going to happen and what I needed to do.

I hardly heard him.

But then my father piped in. “While we’re here, doctor…” he started. “She’s got something in her left ear…”

What is it? I wondered. Is it a tumor? Why hasn’t my father mentioned it?

Dr. Stone flipped on his headlamp and leaned in to get a good look, his face too close to mine. His chair creaked.

“Ooooh!” The doctor pushed back in his rolling chair. “She’s got a big ole blackhead in there.” I swear the man giggled as he jumped up to get his instruments.

I was horrified. The wart was bad enough. I didn’t want another ailment. “Dad!” I whispered, covering my ear with one hand. “How long has it been there?”

“I don’t know.” My father shrugged. “A while.”

The doctor returned with an instrument of torture, which he used to scoop out whatever was inside my ear. This second procedure took forever. Every once in a while, the doctor made happy noises.

I sometimes think back to that day in the dermatologist’s office.

Back then, I thought the worst thing that could happen to a person was getting a wart. Or a blackhead in her ear.

Now I know better.

tweet me @rasjacobson

Cracking Writer’s Block with EMDR

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Thanks to Val Erde for letting me use this image. Click HERE if you’d like to use her images, too!

As a child, I was supposed to keep my room neat. My bed needed to be made the moment I awoke each morning; hospital corners were not optional. My clothes were to be folded and put away while they were still warm. Fortunately for me, I excelled at neat.

Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 2.16.10 AMI remember watching the 1976 Summer Olympics with my father. Sitting next to him on the couch, I wore a yellow leotard. He pointed to Nadia Comenici as she waved to the crowd after earning her first perfect 10.0 on the uneven bars.

“You see!” my father said. “Being perfect is possible.”

In my house, failing was not an option. No one told me it was okay to mess up. No one ever said people learn by failing, by falling, and getting up again, that it takes a different kind of strength to persevere despite sucking.

I learned that sucking brought misery. When I sucked at trigonometry, it meant I had to complete endless math problems written on the back of placemats at restaurants until the meal arrived. Feeling my father’s frustration comingled with his disappointment, by the time our food came, I often felt like vomiting.

“It’s not that hard,” my father would say.

But it was that hard, and I didn’t get it. And I hated feeling dumb.

I learned if I sucked at something, I needed to avoid that thing at all costs.

So I stuck to my strengths and only tried the things at which I could excel.

You want someone to sing or memorize lines? Awesome. Need a crafty-critter? No problemo. I can make pinch pots and macramé, turn beads and fishing lures into jewelry. Watch me sketch and draw and paint fearlessly in watercolors and acrylics and oils. Need a dancer?Check out my smooth moves. Seriously, I can hustle and shimmy and shake my groove thing. I can twirl and do pirouettes. I can do back-flips off the diving board and handsprings on the lawn.

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There were 3 of these! Three!

In 2nd grade, Mrs. Church told I could write. She loved a story I’d written about a red-breasted robin, and she made me to read it to the “big kids,” in a different wing of the school. Later, Mrs. Oliver told me a poem I’d written moved her. It moved her. In middle school, Mr. Baron drew three big stars in my notebook next to the words “squishy red beanbag chair on the lime carpet.” Three stars.

I dreamed of being a writer.

In college, I received attention and praise, earned awards and validation from my professors.

I felt like a magician, able to amaze people with my words.

In December 2012, I found a writing partner. We worked together for six months, sending each other pages of our fiction manuscripts to read. We provided feedback for each other. I poured myself into her project, believing that – eventually, she would give mine the same kind of love.

Last May, I took a hiatus to prepare for my son’s bar mitzvah. My writing partner knew this when we started working together. I reassured her I would be back in the saddle after the festivities ended.

“I’ll be here, pardner,” she promised.

She promised.

When I called to let her know I was ready to start collaborating again, I caught the hesitation in her voice.

“I had so much momentum, I couldn’t stop! You know how that is, right?” she said. And then she told me she’d found a new person to work with.

My legs shook when I hung up the phone.

Besides feeling abandoned and betrayed, I felt like her actions said something bigger about my abilities as a writer.

The cosmos provided me with the words. I read between the lines.

My writing must have really sucked.

Because if it didn’t suck, she wouldn’t have been able to stop working with me. She wouldn’t have been able to put down my manuscript.

To make matters worse, my computer crashed shortly after my former partner dumped me.

I didn’t have anything backed-up, and I lost everything: twenty years of teaching curriculum, twenty years of photographs, decades of poetry and short stories.

A non-fiction manuscript. And a fiction manuscript.

Gone.

For most of my life, people have made me believe I could do magical things with words. But this past year, I’ve felt like someone took my black hat and my cape and my wand. Like someone stole my white rabbit.

Suddenly, what had always come naturally for me has became dreadfully difficult.

Recently I wrote about how I’ve been paralyzed with trying to be perfect with my writing. How some days, I worked 4 or 5 hours on a piece, writing 5,000 – 7,000 words.

And then I deleted everything.

Because every word sucked.

That’s how I ended up doing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) with Vickijo Campanaro.

I’m not going to try to explain the theory behind this kind of therapy. Let’s just say EMDR is often used with individuals who have suffered major traumas, sexual or physical assault, combat experiences, accidents, the sudden death of a loved one: any kind of post-traumatic stress, really. But EMDR therapy has also been used to help athletes, performers and executives to achieve a state of “peak performance.”

If facilitated properly, EMDR helps people replace negative or stressful thoughts with positive ones.

Or something like that.

During my first session, VJ took a detailed history where we focused on what I perceived to be the major traumatic events in my life. I thought about the things I’ve been through in my 45 years on this planet and realized I had a lot from which to choose. She demonstrated a breathing exercise, which was familiar to me from my experience with yoga.

Then she had me hold these little buzzing paddles, which felt like cell phones set to vibrate.

Apparently, some therapists have clients track flashing lights but, over the course of her career, VJ said she’d found pairing the gentle, rhythmic buzzing from the paddles with conversation just as effective.

On my third session, Vickijo instructed me to put the buzzing paddles under my thighs, and she asked me to tell her about what I perceived to be my strengths as a writer.

I couldn’t think of one.

Not. One.

Unfazed, VJ asked me to close my eyes and describe a writer I admire. I thought about one particular blogger. “She can write about anything. She has amazing range: sometimes she’s funny; other times, she’s serious. She uses fresh images. She knows how to tell a story so it is unique and yet universally true. She responds to everyone. She’s generous, and her audience loves her.”

“You can open your eyes,” VJ said, so I did. “Do you think you possess any of the same qualities as this writer?”

I wasn’t sure.

Earlier in the session, I had talked about how much I sucked.

VJ asked me to think of an affirming sentence to replace my negative thoughts.

It was hard.

The voices were loud in my head.

“Let’s start with: ‘I suck,’” Vickijo suggested. “Can you turn that on its head?”

I closed my eyes and feeling the slow, rhythmic vibration of the paddles under my thighs, I saw myself sitting at a table, eating words. I literally ate the word ‘apricot’: chewed on it and swallowed, while my hand moved, scribbling letters inside a black and white composition notebook. I saw all the words I’d ever written in my life penned on a cozy fleece blanket and draped over my shoulders. I read the words I’d written on the lined paper.

“I’m a writer,” I said.

Except when I said it, there were eleventy-seven question marks at the end of the sentence.

“You’re a writer,” VJ said it as a statement. “And what does that mean?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “For me, writing is like eating or pooping. I can’t not do it. Whether or not I ever publish a book, I’m always going to write. It’s what I do.”

Vickijo laughed. “And that’s because?”

“I’m a writer.”

When I said it the second time, I believed it a little bit more. Weird, right? I have a hard time explaining how or why it’s working, but it is. EMDR combined with 5 minutes of daily meditation has been doing wonders for me.

And my writing.

For CREDIT click HERE. It was VERY hard to determine the origin of this image, but i have done my very best.

I’m feeling less compelled to be perfect.

In fact, perfect hasn’t even been on my radar.

I know it sounds whack-a-doodle, but the science supports this stuff. It’s incredible to me to think we have the ability to reprogram the way our brains have been hardwired to think. If you have suffered a trauma — or any kind of anxiety — EMDR can really help.

A few months ago, I would have felt like a bad person because my bed isn’t made, I’ve got a sink filled with dishes, and very little food in the refrigerator.

But today? I’m soooo not.

Progress.

•••

Here’s a video I found on YouTube that does a good job explaining EMDR, if you are interested.

Have you ever heard of EMDR? If you’ve tried it, did it work for you? What do you think about the idea of reprogramming your brain to think happier thoughts?

tweet me @rasjacobson

Check out my friend, author Kasey Mathews’ post on her experience with EMDR. We’ve known each other for decades, she guest posted on my blog HERE, and can you believe we’re both having positive experiences with EMDR?

Overnight Camp: A Kiss and Tell Account

paradise

Summer camp was the best gift my parents ever gave me. At overnight camp, everyone shared clothes, shaving cream, stationery, and secrets. There were no locks: only doors that creaked and banged to announce comings and goings. On Friday nights, I sat at a fire-circle facing the quiet lake, chanting prayers and singing songs in Hebrew: songs, which, until then, had felt strange and foreign to me.

At camp, everything made sense, and when I linked arms with my friends, I felt a peaceful connection to nature as if G-d had fashioned a golden cord that started from the sun, zig-zagged over to the stars, dropped down to earth, and connected every one and every thing. All at once, I wanted to stay there forever.

In 1979, I was 11-years-old. Our camp director invited a bunk of boys and girls to his cabin for a “special” evening program. It was dark outside and the yellow glow from a single bug light cast strange shadows over everyone’s faces. I remember sitting outside his cabin, the one with the peeling paint, feeling excited. Expectant.

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Click photo to see other work by Sonia Poli

When the director emerged, he carried an empty wine bottle tucked under his arm. He explained the rules of a game called Spin-the-Bottle. Before that night, outside of relatives, I’d never kissed a boy my own age before.

After what seemed like hours, the bottle pointed at me. Shimmying to the center of the grassy circle on my knees, I leaned in toward my partner and when our lips met, I gave his bottom lip a little tug with my teeth. He pulled away from me, looking terrified.

“What happened?” somebody asked.

“She bit me!” The leery recipient of my wonky kiss moved back to his place in the circle where he checked to see if I’d drawn blood.

Later, when we girls laid in the darkness atop skinny mattresses, we dished about the game, rehashing who had smelled nice and who had the worst breath and who we wouldn’t mind kissing again. If we had to.

Don’t get me wrong.

It wasn’t appropriate.

But it was fun.

Looking back at the summers of my youth with an adult sensibility, I see how the tail end of the 70’s “free-love” ideology contributed to a climate and culture that became unsafe for campers and staff and, in some ways, that carefree mentality precipitated the desire, perhaps even the need, for the tedious forms we parents have to complete today.

But for a little while, it worked.

Once upon a time, overnight camp was a place where it was okay to be a wee bit naughty.

No one cared if we scribbled our names on cabin walls.

Or if we snuck into canteen to eat a few extra candy bars.

If we showered during a thunderstorm.

Or if we practiced kissing.

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Mmmm.

I suppose I’ll always feel nostalgic about the summers of my youth. For a few weeks, we got lost in a kind of magic.

Nature provided the perfect backdrop: the lake sparkled in the sun; blackberries hung from bushes heavy and ripe, waiting to be picked and shared; leafy trees rustled in the darkness as we hurried down dusty roads toward something that felt close to love.

Without television, email or Internet, we really were cut off from the outside world. Together, we pretended time was standing still even though we knew it was racing forward. Is it any wonder we fell into each other with our mouths wide open, without asking questions?

What do you remember about summer camp? And if you didn’t go, do you wish you did?

tweet me @rasjacobson

{NOTE: Sunday, my son left for 7 weeks at overnight camp. He’d better not do any of the things I did. Also, I’m joining the peeps at Yeah Write. Such a great community. Come check us out.}

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I Remember Prom

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That’s my niece up there. Could she be any more gorgeous?
Oh, and her boyfriend looks fab in his tux, too.

My niece went to Senior Prom with her boyfriend a few weeks ago.

As I stood nearby, snapping photos, I was transported back in time.

To the mid-1980s. To my own school formals.

TB and me. Junior Prom, 1984.

I went to junior prom with TB, a boy I  spent most of middle school trying to get to fall in love with notice me. Lord knows, we spent many afternoons in detention together as a result of misbehaving in French class. Before he moved to Philadelphia, I realized we were always going to be “just friends,” which was good enough for me. I sort of figured I’d never see him again, but he magically materialized to take me to prom.

First, let’s just establish TB looked awesome in his tux.

Done.

Okay, now let’s talk about my dress. Featured in Seventeen Magazine, my dress was a gauzy, white Gunne Sax for Jessica McClintock that covered me from chin to ankle; it had three layers of crinoline and 10,000 buttons up the back. I was hermetically sealed inside my dress. All I knew was that I felt like Madonna in that dress. Seriously, from the neck down, I looked like Madonna.

Shut up, I did.

Sadly, we must address things from the neck up. A few months prior, I’d butchered my long mane and had not yet figured out quite what to do with what was, tragically, a long brush-cut. Or a lady-mullet. In an effort to try to make people not notice my heinous hair, I stuck an over-sized silver safety-pin through the extra hole in my left ear lobe. Because I was that cool.

JMo and me. Senior Ball, 1985.

For senior ball, I was slightly better prepared. First, let us establish that JMo looked awesome in his tux.

Done.

Now, about my dress.  As it turned out, my poofy dress from the year before was really uncomfortable. The crinkly crinolines had filled the entire backseat; it had been hard to walk, and did I mention that I was decidedly not hot?

Senior year, I decided to tone down my attire and wear a simple yellow dress. Alas, there was no teenaged version of “Say Yes To The Dress” because somehow I ended up looking like I had been dipped first in a vat of French’s mustard and then into a second vat of Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Seriously, I had no business wearing pastel yellow. I know you can’t tell from the pictures, but I looked jaundiced. Luckily, most people were blinded by my like totally radical Sun-In highlights and my tan, both of which I had been cultivating after school for weeks while  ignoring my upcoming Trigonometry final.

I didn’t do a lot of primping for either prom.

I mean, I showered.

I was clean.

I bought a dress and put it on.

(So there was a little extra room up top. What’s your point?)

All I’m saying is thank goodness there was no Twitter back in the 1980s, because I would have been all over that and it would have worked me into a frenzy! No, I was blissfully oblivious, so I didn’t stress out about prom in advance at all.

Time spent preparing my hair for junior prom: zero minutes.

For senior ball, I actually had hair, so I did use a little mousse which, thankfully, had been invented earlier that year.

Truthfully, I do remember a wee bit of mental anguish at both dances. Even though I wasn’t dating either guy, I still wanted the romance of the evening. I still wanted my dates to ask me to slow dance.

I mean I was scared, but I still wanted to be asked.

Ask me. No don’t ask me.

Please ask me. Wait, I don’t know what I’m doing.

At senior ball, I sang along with the lead singer as he belted out a new Foreigner tune: “I wanna know what love is. I want you to show me.”

Because, really, I had no idea.

But I so wanted to know.

I imagine some things will never change about formal dances: the grown up feeling of getting dressed up and “going out on the town” without one’s parents; the freaky-deaky feeling a girl gets in her stomach as she sees her prom date pull into the driveway; those awkward posed moments where parents hover, taking zillions of photographs from every possible angle; the worry that a zit could erupt at any moment.

Even though the dresses are better, I still think of prom as an awkward place, a threshold between adolescence and adulthood where no one really knows what to do.

So people just hold onto each other and spin in circles for a little while.

And so we did.

And it was good.

Right up until I learned I failed the Trig final.

What did you wear to prom? Did you think you were hot? Were you? Really?

tweet me @rasjacobson

My Mother Was Hot Stuff

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My mom & I circa 1970.

My mom was hot stuff when I was little.

She was pretty and had straight teeth.

She wore pink hoop earrings and wore floppy hats.

She did cartwheels with the girls who lived in the white house across the street.

My mother is in nearly all of my earliest childhood memories. She encouraged me to paint, explore calligraphy, and use pipe cleaners to make frogs and ladybugs. She loved when I sang and danced and rode horses and did backflips off the diving board. 

When I was sick, my mother brought the black-and-white television into my bedroom along with a little bell, which she told me to ring if I needed anything. On those miserable days, I watched My Three Sons and The Don Ho Show until my mother emerged with green medicine and Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup served on a swirly green and blue plastic tray.

One day, I didn’t want to be my mother’s twin anymore.

Pink and yellow were not my colors.

I remember shouting and slamming doors: the tears.

I saw my mother throw her hands up, exhausted, not knowing what else to do.

I felt powerful then. Driving her to pain and chaos was fun.

Now that I have a teenager in the house, I want to tell my mother, I’m sorry. Because I see how precious it is, that time when our children are young. And what a gift it is, to let a mother hold on to the little things for another day, another year.

Because it hurts when our children reject our cuddles.

Because it was cruel to play with her heart.

Even when I didn’t give her any credit, my mother has remained steadfast, guiding me with an invisible hand.

She still is.

I suspect she always will be.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

Hey mom, you have two good hands. And from the looks of this photo, you knew how to style your own hair. Do you think you could have done something with mine? Seriously. Also, if you still have that hat, can I have borrow it? xoxoRASJ

Tell me something you remember about your mother.

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I Have One Lilly Pulitzer Dress

“Being happy never goes out of style.” ~Lilly Pulitzer

 When I was in middle school, the pretty girls took off their Fair Isle sweaters in May. They sloughed their turtlenecks with the little whales on them and switched up the covers on their Bermudas bags. Spring meant sunshine and tulips and daffodils and lovely lightweight dresses.

One day, I dared to ask a pretty girl where she found her colorful sleeveless shift.

“It’s not from here,” she said, crossing her arms in front of her very flat chest.

“But where did you get it?”

This particular pretty girl – let’s call her Courtney — flipped her hair and caught it in one hand, a move I could never master.

“It wouldn’t work on you,” she said. “It’s a Lilly.”

Cover of The Official Preppy Handbook

Cover of The Official Preppy Handbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That night, I consulted my Official Preppy Handbook. It showed a photograph of a similar looking dress to the one Courtney had worn in school that day. The handbook stated that Lilly Pulitzer clothing was a “must-have” item for all “preppy” women.

In middle school, I didn’t care that my mother made kick-ass matzah balls.

I just wanted to be a prep.

Looking at myself in the mirror, I thought about Courtney’s words. A little Jewish girl with a big nose, I’d never look good in a casual shift dress. I’d never rock pale pink lip-gloss. At summer camp, when I got off the sailboat, my hair was a frizzy triangular mess. I’d never look like I’d spent the day relaxing on the yacht. Who did I think I was?

About five years ago, I was in Florida shopping with my friend, Jan, when we passed a Lilly Pultizer Shop. I’d never seen one before. We don’t have Lilly Shops in Western, New York. Why would we? We wear sleeping bag coats for most of the year.

Anyway, Jan encouraged me to go in. She may have physically pulled me through the door.

I didn’t think I had any business being there.

But I sifted through the yummy racks filled with whimsical fabrics.

How can you not love orange elephants?

How can you not love orange elephants?

I heard Courtney’s voice in my head.

What was I doing? I was still that Jewish girl. And now I had boobies. Big ones. How was I ever going to fit into anything Lilly? It was ridiculous.

Jan handed me a pile of dresses and commanded I try them on.

And there was this one.

When I came out of the dressing room, the Lilly ladies made a fuss.

{But, you know, they work on commission; they’re paid to smile and coo.}

Still.

I looked at myself in the mirror, and I liked the way I looked.

I’m no socialite.

And I’m decidedly unpreppy.

But I bought it.

Because screw you, Courtney.

It works on me.

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Lily Pulitzer passed away last month, on April 7, 2013 at the age of 81. I am confident her legacy of brightly colored fabrics featuring flamingos & seals & peacocks & turtles & elephants & hippoptamuses & flowers & flowers & flowers will live on forever. A believer in the power of whimsy, I like to think we would have been friends.

• • •

May 14th marks the beginning of my 4th year in the blogosphere. Come back next week because I’m giving away a Lilly Pulitzer handbag, baby!

In the meantime, tell me about something you never thought you could wear/do/be, but you did it anyway!

tweet me @rasjacobson

When Vacation Lowlights Become Highlights

florida

The other night, I asked my son to tell me his favorite memory from our recent vacation in The Happy House. It was a good one. We swam in the pool and the ocean. We visited with neighbors and spent a day at Magic Kingdom. We planted palm trees and went bike riding. We even had a dinner party where guests came over to watch Syracuse University get crushed by the Wolverines in The Final Four.

“Sitting in my rocking chair and eating pie,” my son said.

Seriously. That was the highlight?

But then I remembered.

When my brother and I were young, we went on a family vacation to Florida with our parents. For weeks, they told us we were going to have the best vacation – ever.

After a long flight and what felt like an even longer drive, we made it to our hotel It was nighttime, and we were all exhausted, so my father left us in the car and went to check in at the front desk. After a while, he returned with a map, a compass, a walkie-talkie and a survival guide.

Not really, but it would have been nice if he’d had that stuff.

Because we walked in circles forever, trying to find The Nepa Hut.

Apparently, the clerk had given my father explicit instructions. We were supposed to walk down a path to where the crushed shells ended, take a left, then a right, being careful not to fall off the pier into the ocean. Eventually, we’d see a gecko sitting on a rock. Or something. I don’t really know.

What the guy at the front desk should have given us was a flashlight.

It was so freaking dark, we couldn’t find our damn room.

Dragging our bags behind us, we wandered back to the lighted lobby where my father confessed we were lost.

My mother must have caused a fuss because we ended up with a guide.

Once in the room, we started to unpack. Someone went to the bathroom.

I heard the flush.

And then I heard my father. “Oh no! he begged. “Omigosh! No!”

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Click for photo credit

You guessed it. The crapper was overflowing. Water poured over the lip of the toilet, spilling onto the floor until the tiles were soaked.

Though my mother threw towels onto the tile floor, the icky water would not stop, and the carpet outside the bathroom door was soon drenched.

While my father dialed housekeeping, my mother chastised him for using too much toilet paper.

My brother and I couldn’t stop laughing. The poopie geyser in the bathroom? That was the best.

He and I danced around the ever-widening wet-spot as our father warned us to keep away from the bathroom door.

It’s one of my favorite vacation memories.

Memories are weird. If I think about it, I suppose it isn’t so much that I love the fact that our toilet overflowed. It’s more that my parents had set this expectation that our vacation was going to be totally awesome, and even when things didn’t go to plan, we found a way to make the most of it. I love the memory of all of us being together, flailing around, figuring things out, being perfectly imperfect with each other.

I suppose if my son forever remembers kicking back in a rocking chair eating a slice of raspberry pie, well, as the kids say, that’s the shit.

What is one of your weird vacation memories? What about memories involving toilets?

tweet me @rasjacobson

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