Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Because it sure is surreal sometimes

Monday, March 23, 2009

Where Have All the Name Brands Gone?

I’m writing this with a heavy heart and an even heavier cart: that is, a cart laden with jumbo-saving sized packages whose providence isn’t Italy, France or even Mexico. My grocery cart, ever since I left teaching and its monthly salary, such as it was, no longer contains items that have crossed any borders save for the ones between some factory town in Scranton, Ohio and my little hamlet in the foothills of Northern California. I’m saving money, to be sure, but my palate is paying the price.

It warms my heart to know that a lovely little factory in a quaint, smog-choked town somewhere in the middle of the United States is the place my canned tuna calls home. Gone are the days of the tender fish packed in olive oil and imported from Genoa, or Sicily. Now, my cupboards overfloweth with items from places not even remotely Mediterranean. Western Family Spaghetti Sauce has replaced Pietro’s Marinara. I don’t even like spaghetti. The very least these mass-producing food manufacturers can do is a little research. If they did, they’d find out that a sauce isn’t defined by what it tops; it’s defined by what’s in it. That’s why the Italians call it marinara – because if you would like to, you can put the meatless sauce on fettuccini, eggplant, polenta or any number of other things beside boring old spaghetti.

Speaking of pasta, too bad the only brand I can afford now doesn’t even offer anything as exotic as angel hair. I bought Billy Bob’s Noodles the last time I went shopping. Why would a company call their pasta product Billy Bob’s when it would have been just as easy to pick Salvatore or Luigi? Can’t they at least humor me?

Now when I shop, I do it with a calculator in my hand instead of an iced mocha. Not only that, but the once entertaining business of reading labels to make sure that the oil in my salad dressing is virginal has been replaced by the punishing practice of comparing costs per ounce of various brands. How the mighty have fallen. Now, I buy three pounds of ham at Costco and slip half-pound portions into plastic fold-over baggies which are stored in the freezer until needed. I can no longer afford the nifty little re-usable plastic tubs that I used to buy. Sniff, sniff.

What’s worse, I’m becoming my mother: I buy things like that giant, dreaded green canister of parmesan cheese (or so they say it is) that I’ve long criticized her for doing. Don’t for a second think I splurge on Kraft. Nope, it’s Select Brand Parmesano, with the fake fancy ending thrown in, as if it has any more connection to Italy or its culture than my neighbor’s German Shepherd who dumps on my lawn every morning.

I must admit that my new adventures in grocery shopping are adding some spice to my life. Granted, it’s Steve-O’s Chile Seasoning and not Miguel’s Mole, but you can’t have everything. In fact, I’ve got a mantra that I repeat to and from the store, one that motivates me to keep my chin up and my eyes on the prize (lower grocery bill): “I’m working from home, I’m working from home, I’m working from home…”

Has anyone seen my funnybone?

By Lisa Lucke

Lately, I’ve felt lost. I’ve felt…separated from something important. Recently, I put my finger on it, and came up with what it is I need to locate: my sense of humor. More specifically, I need to find my sense of humor at critical times of the day when it seems so very far away from me.

There are times when I really could use a good laugh, like around seven-thirty in the morning, as my eleven-year old son gets into the shower when he should be getting into the car. Now, this doesn’t mean I want one of my eight-year old daughters to walk up to me and say, “Knock-knock!” like they’re so famous for. It means that I simply wish I could embrace my son’s eleven-year-oldness with a smile and perhaps, just maybe, a brief roll of the eyes and a funny-sounding cussword, like “fiddlesticks,” instead of a silent “Mother F!” and a not-so-silent foot stomp that sends my other three children scurrying for cover like infantrymen into a foxhole.

Why can’t I just roll with the punches? Why can’t I be more like Carol Brady and throw my perfectly coiffed head back and laugh it off?

Sometimes, the need for a sense of humor strikes in the middle of the night – when I least expect it. Surprisingly, it isn’t any easier to come up with a lighthearted perspective at two a.m. when the family beagle is howling in two part harmony with the sound of daughter number three puking. I try so hard at those times to conjure up the spirit of Erma Bombeck, or even Marge Simpson, women who showed the world how to navigate the streets of domestic Crazytown with their eyes closed and wearing a grin from ear to ear. As my husband breaks for daughter’s room, I sprint down the stairs to rescue the dog, where he’d been trapped in the eleven year-old’s room – since eight. I was too late. Thank goodness the dear boy didn’t have his sleep interrupted – by the noise or the odor.

About that time I realize that pubs all over town are announcing “last call” which means that technically, it’s an acceptable time to relax and have a cocktail. I pour one. Sure enough, I’m just beginning to feel funny, when it all comes crashing down around me.

“Watcha doin’?” My husband asks as he pads down the stairs, and sees me sitting on the couch, in the dark.

“Just hanging out, enjoying a Scotch.”

Silence. The worry lines on his forehead deepen into Everest-like crevasses.

“Honey,” he says gently, carefully sitting down next to me.

“Yes,” I respond cautiously.


The Language Barrier

By Lisa Lucke

It’s been said that as young boys begin the gradual process of becoming young men, magical things happen: they take on more responsibilities, they look out for their younger siblings without being told to, and their brains go on an extended vacation, only to return just in time to take the SAT their senior year.

At some point during the last six months, when my son turned eleven, the transformation began. He and I have been living on different language planets.In the past, we’d barely have to speak at all to understand each other; our ability to simply look into each other eyes was all we needed to communicate. I remember those days fondly, when I’d glance at him, smile, take a sniff and then change his diaper. He’d smile back. We’d Eskimo kiss. Now, I smile, but not because I’ve met his needs; I smile because if I didn’t, I’d be sobbing.

Even when I’m really concentrating, I just can’t seem to put the dots together anymore. Now, when I can’t figure out what he wants, or what he’s trying to tell me, I take that giant leap of faith and do what my mother always did: I say, “No.” I figure that whatever it is he’s asking for that I can’t wrap my college-educated, teaching-credentialed brain around, I can remedy with a simple, negative response.

It happened to us just the other day at the grocery store, while I was trying to push the right buttons before the debit card machine beeped at me again, while the lady in line behind me stared me down. At that particular moment, my son walked up and said something about soda and his allowance. I replied, “No” without even looking up.


I said nothing, and continued concentrating on the buttons.

“Mom. Mom. MOM!” he sputtered in rapid succession. “Can I have this?”

(Another pet peeve of mine: using pronouns when a common noun will do nicely. Couldn’t he see that my head was buried in buttons…how should I know what “this” is?) What happened next can only be described as bizarre.

“Jay, what is 'THIS'?” I spit out, without taking my eye off the buttons.

"How should I know!" my son replied hotly. "Mom, what are you talking about?!!"

I ignored what may as well have been Swahili, and pushed away from the check stand with my fully loaded cart. My dumbfounded son, expecting me to answer his original question, whatever the hell that was, just stood there. Everyone was staring: the checker, the people in line, well, everyone except the bagger, of course. He’s 16, and he’s a he. He knew exactly what my son was talking about the whole time. I could see it on his pimply little face. He thought I was a moron.

I’ll go out on limb here and suggest that it’s a gender thing. I have three daughters and while we don’t always like what we’re hearing from one another, make no mistake about it – we do understand what the other is saying. In fact, one of my daughters, at the tender age of 8, has already mastered a foreign language: beagle. That’s right – she can communicate with our family mutt as evidenced recently when she informed me that our cocker/beagle mix was requesting ribs for his birthday dinner. “Hmm,” I answered. “Ribs are your favorite food. What an interesting coincidence.” My husband and I just looked at each other, and about this time, my son entered the room. Just because I thought it was safe to do so, I asked him what he wanted for dinner, and his reply included the following words, not necessarily in this order: doorbell, toothbrush, cycling.

The burning question is, why is it that my daughter can speak Beagle, but I can’t even speak 11-year old American Boy? On a good day, my son and I have only two or three head-exploding conversations that usually end with one of us begging the other for mercy. Mostly, the beggar is me. “Please, can we start this conversation over? I promise to try harder,” is my normal plea. He gets frustrated, sometimes stomps his feet, and occasionally, his eyes well up. That only happens when the thing we’re discussing is school. It’s virtually impossible for us to discuss why a certain paper didn’t get turned in on time without some form of water escaping from some orifice: for me, it’s steam out of the ears, and for my son it’s tears out of his face, and it usually goes like this:

“Mom, I had to go to study hall again today.”

“What happened? Didn’t you finish everything last night? What did you forget?" (My first mistake is always the same: asking him more than one question at a time. It never goes well.)

“Nothing MOM! I DID; he didn’t put it on the BOARD!”

“Put what on the board? Didn’t you put your name on it?”


“The paper you didn’t turn in.”

“NO MOM! What paper?!! The DUE DATE MOM!!”

“You missed the due date?”

“NOOOO! He said it OUT LOUD and Joey had my HAT!”

“What does Joey have to do with this? Did you or did you not have everything done last night when I asked you specifically 'Do you have everything done?'”


“You’re right. I don’t get it because I’m an idiot.”

This is where the tears start flowing because my son feels bad for my confusion. He doesn’t like it when I put myself down. He actually believes that I think I’m the problem. Little does he know that it makes me feel better to stop the bleeding by blaming myself so that I can go on with my life like most moms I know and just pencil in an extra therapy appointment for the following week.

“Can we please start over?” I say meekly. “I promise to really concentrate this time.”