A Dramatic Retelling of a Bad Traveling Experience

It’s not like I’ve never traveled by myself before. The first time I flew solo was September of my senior year of high school, when I met my father in Providence, Rhode Island, to take a gander at Brown University. I felt remarkably adult, even with an air time of just 45 minutes and knowing that my daddy would be waiting for me with his rental car at baggage claim. Later that year, I went to Portland, Oregon, to visit Lindsay Baltus, which was the first time I’d ever seen the West Coast. I never thought twice about flying alone after that.

On Thursday, I was all set to go to Chicago, Illinois, for work. I was pumped but anxious. Anxious like first-day-of-school anxious. What if my project failed? What if no one wanted their photo taken at Comic Con (yeah, right) What if all my social media efforts and all this money returned zero new Facebook “likes” and then I got fired?

I schlepped Zack’s NikonD60 and my co-worker, Keith’s shitty tripod and fifteen hundred TicketLeap stickers to Philadelphia International Airport by way of Septa. I boarded the plane and plopped down into 16B.

We were on the tarmac for two and a half hours, due to the sky being congested. The pilot was talking about air traffic controllers, and that started to make me a bit nervous (Zack and I finished season two of Breaking Bad last week). My phone battery had exhausted itself before we even took off and I was getting hungry. When we did finally leave, so much time had gone by that I should have already been in Chicago and having a beer with my co-workers. The airline attendants started passing out tiny tea biscuits to ease the pain.

An hour into our two-hour flight, the pilot came onto the loudspeaker with another announcement. We were trying to avoid bad weather, and the new route that he had planned for us would take another two and a half hours before we landed in Chicago. I was in the middle of heading to the bathroom when he said this, and I stopped dead in my tracks. “Did he just say what I think he said?” I asked the people around me.  Heads lifted from a sea of iPads. Yes, he did.

I went to the bathroom and felt so claustrophobic that my heartbeat felt like it was trying to crawl up my throat. I exited and started pacing around the back of the plane. Then I started crying. Not, like, sobbing or anything, but my voice started cracking and tears were pooling underneath my eyes. I looked at myself in the reflection of a stainless steel food cart. I was wearing sandals, a cotton shirt with poufy sleeves, and a pair of Juicy terrycloth sweatpants. I looked like I was in 11th grade.

A group of unrelated dads approached me. Three or four men with well-worn wedding bands, men old enough to be but younger than my own my father, started asking me a bunch of questions.  “Do you need help?’ “Are you okay?” “Do you travel often?”

“This is,” crack, “my first business trip.”

“Don’t worry,” they all said. “This is what it’s like to do business travel. Things like this happen all the time.”

An airline attendant with bad hair but a warm smile came into the cabin. “I was told there was a girl back here having a panic attack. Can I get you anything?”

“Do you have an Ativan?” I asked with a straight face.

“No, but I can get you some water.” She shooed away the group of dads. “You call can’t congregate back here.”

I drank a cup of water and took a few deep breaths with my head against the wall. She started telling me about her fear of elevators, how she can live on a plane for twelve hours a day, but she won’t get into an elevator alone. “I understand how you’re feeling,” she told me.

A nice girl who was waiting for the bathroom suggested I drink some wine and go to sleep. This sounded like a good idea. I meekly asked the airline attendant if I could have a mini bottle of the Cabernet, and told her I was in 16B so she could collect my money. She waved it off. Thanks for that, USAir.

I clutched the Cab with both hands and returned to my seat, which was sandwiched between an Indian man whose breath smelled like a septic tank and a 15-year-old Spanish exchange student named Julio, whom I told I would help navigate to the shuttle bus area once we arrived in Chicago. At this point, it had been almost six hours since my last meal and I drank the wine faster than you can say “alkie.” My muscles relaxed instantly. I closed my eyes and the next thing I knew, the pilot was talking about a “short cut.” We would be landing sooner than expected.

He made a joke when we touched ground. “Welcome to, uh,  I have no idea where we are!” Everyone clapped and laughed. “No, welcome to Charlotte. I mean, Chicago.” Fewer laughs. He wasn’t joking then.

Julio followed me off the plane.  I was walking very quickly. I followed signs to baggage claim and public transport, rolling suitcase behind me. I asked Julio if he had called his host family to let them know that he had finally arrived. He didn’t have their phone number.

“I’m sorry,” I said, “This is far as I can take you.” I waved and gave him a thumbs up. “Good luck!”

I hope he made it okay.

Cry When You Get Older

My grandma never comes to Pennsylvania. Last August was the first time in six years since she’s left her Florida condo for the likes of the northeast, and when she came up she stayed for a couple weeks. She was in Devon for my littlest brother’s graduation party, saw the family, met Zack. I didn’t think she’d be back for awhile, but my uncle is having surgery and she wanted to be there for him. She wanted to take care of him like another mother would, even when her son is sixty years old.

I was really excited to see her. I talk to my grandma on the phone every week or every other week, usually when I’m walking somewhere. Gotta walk 15 blocks? Time to call Leone. She’s always there, she always makes me laugh, she always wants to know what I’m wearing, who I’m seeing, and how much wine I’m going to drink. We like to gossip about celebrities and family members.

My office is really close to Suburban Station, which makes getting to suburbia a breeze. I took the 5:05 Express to Bryn Mawr with about a million other main line commuters and sat down with a book. I’m rereading “Local Girls,” by Alice Hoffman, which was one of my favorite Young Adult novels when I was of age. I plucked it off my bookshelf in Devon last time I was at home, along with “Chasing Redbird,” by Sharon Creech. When we approached Wayne, I took out my toiletry bag and started applying makeup, because I wasn’t wearing any. Eight hours at the office with wet hair, no makeup, a striped jersey dress and stinky cotton sandals. Professional? Eh.

I took out my blush and mascara, then hesitated. Uncapped the eyeliner and eyebrow pencil, because why not? Every time I see my grandma she tells me how I would benefit from eyebrow pencil. A few months ago I finally took her advice, bought the damn thing and you know what? My face looks way more complete. Grandma knows best. At least, mine does.

When I take the train to Devon from work I feel so grown up. I walk up Station Avenue, cross the five-way intersection, wave to the neighbors. I open the side door of my parents’ house, and my mother greets me from the kitchen, always. My grandma was in the living room and said slyly, “who’s that?” as I walked through the doorway, and immediately complimented me on my eyebrows, figure and face. She didn’t like my dark nailpolish, though. Five minutes and five hugs later, she gave me a beautiful gold ring she purchased in Florence in the 1970s. It is so very chic.

My brothers, parents, grandmother and Zack started sipping on wine, nibbling on a sharp cheese from Wellfleet, Massachusetts, when I brought up Le Grand Continental, which I started rehearsing for at the beginning of July and will continue until the performance weekend, which is the same weekend I turn twenty-five. Two hundred Philadelphians of all ages will perform a thirty minute performance piece in front of the Art Museum steps. My grandma laughed at the idea of me in a “dance recital.”

“Oh that’s right,” my mom said. “I think Justin has something that weekend, too.”

In case you didn’t know, my 19-year-old brother Justin plays guitar for a band called McLovins. They tour nearly every weekend in New England. They play festivals, concerts, and they are recording at the ESPN studios this week for the second time as Sportsnation’s house band.

“What, no,” I started in. “You have to come see me. You can’t miss this. You see Justin do everything.”

“We’ll see, I’m sure it will all work out.”

“But you drive everywhere for him! You watch him play all the tiiiiiime! Moooom!”

Zack kicked my foot under the table. “What?” I snapped.

“You’re whining.”

“I can talk to my mother, she’s my mother.”

But I was whining. And even though I knew it didn’t sound good, or professional, or adult-like, I didn’t care. I’ve been working hard, trying to memorize a half hours worth of choreography. I’m doing my part within the community! I’ve been putting four hours a week into this thing! And fuck, it’s going to be my birthday!

I asked Zack to accompany me to the garden to pick some rosemary for the dipping oil we were going to eat with dinner. “I turn into a child when I’m home, you realize that, right?”

I didn’t go up to my room at all. Most times, when I’m home for an afternoon or just for dinner, I don’t. I get lost in it. I open all the notebooks, the drawers, the closets. I read passed notes and finger through jewelry and shuffle papers. My room overwhelms me. So I avoid it.

I was planning to spend the night in Devon after Zack went back to Philadelphia, but the thought of not sleeping in my “own” bed at my parents’ (currently occupied by my grandma) was making me anxious. Like, how weird that for half a dozen years growing up I would never sleep anywhere but home, and now I’d rather be in my “own” bed, in Queen Village, with Zack. As I dumped a quick load of laundry into the dryer, I apologized to my mom for whining, or being rude, or as I often do, “jump down throats.”I felt bad. I always say the wrong things, say too much, get emotionally involved too easily- even after just one glass of zinfandel. She said not to worry, and that she wouldn’t miss my performance for anything. I made sure I’d see my grandma again sometime before she left to go back to the sunshine state and got into the passenger seat of Zack’s car.

After the doors were locked and teeth were brushed, Zack said out of nowhere, “You’re a good daughter.”

“Why?”

“You love your mother and grandmother so much. You treat your mom like she treats her mom. With care and love.”

Pack Rats

I used to save everything. I think that’s why I love boxes so much. Everywhere I go, I seem to fall in love with another decorative tin, another brass or wood box. It’s a habit that takes up a lot of space.

I was given a “treasure chest” as a young child that still sits underneath my bed. It’s pretty big– maybe two feet wide and a foot and a half high. That’s where all my class pictures are, diaries I started and left incomplete, felt flags signed by all my camp friends at ESF, pieces of a Princess Jasmine Halloween costume that I put in there because I associated the tiara with a kindergarten friend who died when we were five. Drawings from an imaginary world, marble notebooks filled with stories. Over time, the treasure chest lost some of its innocence. I hid bottles of liquor there in high school, and buried deep are print-outs of high-lighted medical journals from a time when I thought a close friend had an eating disorder.

The two little boys I nanny for have similar boxes under their beds. Instead of a flowery treasure chest, complete with locks, they have plastic bins, like the kind you’d keep under your dorm room bed for extra socks or notebook paper. In these boxes they keep their “Precious Things,” which I learned about when I was asked to go through their closets and pick through the clothes that were too small for them. “A” is 8, “M” is 5. If you follow me on Twitter you’ve probably read my #nannydiaries hashtag and gotten to hear some of their quips and phrases. These boys are wildly intelligent. “M” is especially emotionally mature, often asking me questions about life, death, and relationships. He asks about Zack a lot.

Anyway, as we sorted through their closets they insisted on keeping some of their favorite t-shirts and putting them in Precious Things even though they had grown out of them. This I understood. My closet in Devon, Pennsylvania is home to my Bat Mitzvah dress, my prom dress(es), my favorite pink cotton dress from when I was four with the hearts on it (my yia-yia lovingly sewed a layer of lace onto when it got too short), my favorite zip-up hoodie from high school, and strangely, a few of my zade’s suits which are stored there for reasons I do not know.

However, this morning, as I was scraping dried up bright blue toothpaste from the boys’ bathroom sink, I took a look at the two large plastic cups on either side of the faucet. Toothbrushes, at least a dozen of them, each encrusted with fluoride, sat awkwardly in each cup. Collections, the boys had insisted when I first started sitting for them. No. These were bacteria breeding grounds, and it was grossing me out. I started channeling my neat freak Aunt Tammy and summoned “A” and “M” into the bathroom with me.

“These,” I said slowly, “have got to go. Pick the one that looks the cleanest and we have to throw the rest away.”

“A” looked at me fearfully. “NO!” he cried, tears immediately sparking from his blue eyes. “No! You can’t.”

“Why?”

“Because I love them. You can’t take them away.”

I had each boy bring their handfuls of toothbrushes to the kitchen. I boiled water, poured it into a measuring cup, and swirled each toothbrush until all the dried paste and spit and mold had dissolved and fallen to the bottom.

“Look,” I said, holding the glass up to the light. “That’s bacteria. That’s yucky. These toothbrushes will make you sick if you keep using them. You have to throw some away.”

“A” started crying again.

“A, M, you understand what I’m saying, right?” “M” nodded. “Pick one to use, throw your least favorites away, and the rest we will put with your Precious Things.”

“A” lifted his head. “Okay.”

This attachment to, of all things, toothbrushes.

“Do you not want to throw them away because they remind you of being little?” I asked.

“A”  nodded.

I understood this, too. I once cried into Sara’s shoulder in the bathroom at a sixth grade YMCA Carriage House dance because the DJ was playing Savage Garden and “Truly Madly Deeply” reminded me of the fourth grade and “being young.” I shit you not.

And with that, one by one, after inspecting the characters on each colorful handle- Spiderman, Batman, Cars, Yo Gabba Gabba (these were deemed “too babyish” and discarded)- we disinfected and bagged the most Precious, to be kept under their respective twin beds.

I went through a phase in middle school where I kept every note my mother left taped for me on the side door because I was scared she was going to die and I wanted to have everything that she had written or touched or thought. This included post-its that said things like “pls empty d/w” and “went to yoga, be back at 4” and “love you, have fun at kelly’s” scrawled inside giant heart. I still have these, amongst many other notes and letters, pictures and invitations, in boxes, under the bed.

“M” asked me about dying today. “Can you die if you’re a letter or a number?” His face looked puzzled. “What about metal or glass? What about food? Food dies, because we eat it, right?”

I explained to him that only the animals that breathe and the plants that grow can live or die.

I wonder, if years from now, the boys will look through each of their Precious Things and remember why they believed them to be so precious.

Working On It

I like to make resolutions for the new year, though I never took them all that seriously, because I never thought I had that many changes to make. Be nicer to my brothers, more considerate to my parents, get straight A’s, go to the gym four times a week, lose ten pounds. These are run-of-the-mill resolutions that I have made and broken year after year. I’m trying to make changes to my life in 2011. Big time changes.

The new year is coming at an appropriate time for me because I’ve been pretty miserable for the past two months, and for no real reason other than I haven’t had a job, and have done nothing during all of my days except convince myself that I am a good for nothing state school grad with a generic major. What I did these past two months, I’m really not sure. A lot of resenting and wallowing and taking things and people for granted. A busy day for Allison Berger would mean going to the gym, making hummus, and trying on (but not purchasing) clothes  at Anthropologie. Just two months of unemployment sent me halfway into a quarter-life crisis.

But enough about the past, let’s talk about the future! 2011 is looking bright. I’ve got a brand spankin’ new job as the Marketing Assistant at the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and a short but powerful list of shit I want to work on for myself.

First, I am going to be less judgemental. I’m really bad about this, and always have been. It’s the “looks” I throw too casually in all directions that hurt people. Caroline Post called it the “Allison Eye Flare” back in high school, Eric Jaffe made note of it senior year of college, and even Zack wonders sometimes- “What is that face?” My body language is too obvious. JUST BECAUSE PEOPLE MAKE DIFFERENT LIFE CHOICES THAN I HAVE DOESN’T MEAN THEY’RE BAD CHOICES OR BAD PEOPLE.

Second, I am going to have a more positive attitude about where my life is headed, my relationships, my writing, and opportunities for the future. I am twenty-three years old and I can make things happen for myself. I was recently on the phone with my grandma, who told me that I sounded “down” and unlike myself. I told her what was up (I do nothing all day, I’m tired of waiting like a puppy dog for Zack to come home from work, I’m running out of money) and she sounded shocked. “If you don’t keep your chin up,” she said, “you are not the granddaughter that I thought you were.” I’m young, I’m in love, I live in a beautiful neighborhood in a fabulous city, I have friends, I have skills, I have a family who cares. I gotta stop complaining. The world is my fucking oyster.

Third, I am going to stop saying things out loud when I drink too much, because I’m tired of feeling anxious the next day for fear I said something too forward or offensive or spilled someone’s secrets. This is a serious concern about something that is absolutely preventable. I’m also going to stop drinking too much. I started on this one about two months ago- when I stopped receiving a paycheck. Going out is expensive, man.

Finally, I want to go to the gym four times a week, and lose ten pounds.

Not everything can change.

I’m Not Crazy

Waiting to hear back from a company about the status of your job interview is kind of like waiting to hear back from the guy you hooked up with two weeks ago after too many Mad Mex margs. You really liked him and you thought he liked you. He was cute and he had all the qualities that you look for in a job. I mean, guy. You hit it off- there was chemistry, a connection. It wasn’t just physical; you swear there was something more. You leave his apartment feeling satisfied and you smirk to yourself, You are awesome.

Days pass. You text and you call. There is a voicemail or two, a wavering “Hey, what are you up to tonight? Haven’t heard from you in awhile.” Suddenly you are Facebook stalking someone you have only met once, trying to figure out what’s going on in his head via status updates.  It’s been two weeks and he hasn’t called you back. You’re drunk on your porch with your friends and you are shaking your head. “I swear, I’m not crazy. I’m not crazy! I just need to know why! WHY!” But you are. You are a little bit crazy (shout out to Dyanna Betts).

So why won’t this company return my phone calls or emails? I made eye contact and connected. I spoke confidently about my internships and my activities at school. They loved that all my experience has been in music and the arts. They thought it was cool I studied in Amsterdam. I wore a cute outfit. The owner of the company even told me I was pretty.

There’s nothing I hate more than when people don’t return my phone calls. It’s that nagging feeling in the back of my head that makes me want to keep calling. The crazy person in me wants to show up at their door (shout out to Lynsey Smith). Like I said, I just want to know why they didn’t hire me.

In the stalkerish vein of this post, I leave you with this song.

Checking In

Yesterday I called the police when I got home from Kroger. Hyde Park and Crocker isn’t exactly the nicest corner on the block. I have been warned not to walk alone after dark- though the crime here most likely will not affect me, I should try to avoid transgendered prostitutes and homeless drug dealers when I can. At night, Zack and I can hear the foot traffic between “South Beach” and “The Ripcord” (the dance club and the leather bar, respectively) every Thursday through Sunday from our bedroom.

If you know me at all you know that I consider myself to be a pretty anxious, overly-worrisome person. I went through a phase a few summers ago after that horrible family-hostage-arson-murder that happened in Connecticut. Every time I heard a rustle or a creak or a door open after midnight I would freak the fuck out. And that was in Devon, Pennsylvania. Now I live in a major city on a drug-hustling corner and the anxiety is rough. The fact that Zack keeps a knife between the mattress and the box spring doesn’t help, surprisingly. We keep the a/c on pretty high (thank god for white noise) but Zack swears he’s heard “hey man, I’m just trying to get my dick wet!” more than once.

So anyway- there is always a strange character or two loitering on the corner. Yesterday I was on my bike (a beautiful Peugeot cruiser we craigslisted from Katy, a suburb) with a giant bag of groceries when I was approaching the corner and heard “Heyy, would you look at dat? Look at you. Look at dat! Mmhmm…” I did not make eye contact. You might think this would be no big deal- and it wouldn’t be in somewhere like Manhattan, where you are surrounded by hundreds of people at every given moment and you probably have some kind of security system hooked up in your apartment building. But it was just me, my bike, the groceries, and the dude. I rode past him, rode past my house. “Wait, girl. Wait! Come back!” I circled the block in the opposite direction and worried that the milk would spoil if I had to bike around too long. The last thing I would want is for the guy to see me walk into my house, or worse walk up to me as I was trying to get my giant cruiser into the front door.

I hid behind the Ripcord til the guy went away. Inside, I got a giant glass of water and texted Zack. “I just got called at for the first time. I thought this was a gay neighborhood? Can you come home now?” He replied, “Are you okay? You know, you can call for police about something like that.”

So I called the police. They came by and called me and asked me to come out of the house. The nice policeman told me he had found the tall, black, blue t-shirted man with stubble that I had described. Would I care to identify him?

And after all of that, I said no. After reflecting on the situation, and standing outside in broad daylight next to the police car, it seemed kind of silly.

“I’m sorry, it’s just, I got freaked out.” I told him meekly. “I just moved here.”

“Do you know what kind of neighborhood this is?”

“Yes…”

“Just be careful. If you want, keep something in your purse.”

“Mace?” I thought to myself.

“A knife,” he said.

Oy.

In other news, I’m trying really hard to make friends. Giada, Rachael, Ina and Sunny of the Food Network aren’t really cutting it, though during these days of unemployment they really inspire me to make delicious meals for dinner. That’s what friends are supposed to do though, right? Inspire, encourage, motivate? Even the Neelys are there for me (though they cook too many pork dishes for my liking.)

I try to talk to girls that look nice everywhere I go. The coffee shop (it ain’t no Webster’s), yoga class, the grocery store. How do I get people to want to be my friend without seeming creepy and weird? Help me.