Friday, October 31, 2008

Reserved Parking – Where Is My Space?

I was running into CVS the other day. Like most people, despite the fact that I run regularly and do yoga (the sweaty kind) a couple days a week on top of that, I always try to get the closest possible spot to the door.

For some reason, I am overcome with a colossal lack of energy when it comes to parking lots.

So there I was, elated as I spied a space at the last minute right next to the blue handicap spot. I did a quick look behind me to make sure no one was on my tail as I hit the brakes and whipped into the spot. Then I saw it.

Parking Reserved for Expectant Mothers.

At first I thought it was one of those spaces reserved for the Employee of the Month.

Now maybe I do not get out enough but I’d never seen this before.

I felt sheepish as I backed out and took a spot not 20 feet away. I probably burned more gas than energy moving the car and walking the extra distance.

But it got me thinking:

How expectant does a mother have to be to use the spot? Would anyone know if I was not expectant? (Not that I’d use the spot.) How many other people (clearly a man could not get away with this) take the spot figuring no one will know, or more cynically: Who cares?

I think they should adapt the sign to women in their final months. I mean, even women nine months pregnant seem to get around pretty well. Plenty of expectant moms jog with their baby bump in view. Why can’t they walk the parking lot?

Besides the usual Visitor and Resident parking signs, along with Handicap, I am now seeing signs for Hybrid Vehicles and Priests Only.

I think they should have more categories, clearly as reasonable as those for pregnant moms:

Reserved for the Obese (who wants a heart attack victim in their parking lot)

Reserved for People with Hangovers (that’d get them to your CVS for some Excedrin)

Reserved for People with Bad Hair Days (the quicker to get in and out and have no one see you)

Reserved for Organ Donors (this would help me out)

Reserved for Beautiful People (helps with store image and would be fascinating to see who thinks they are hot)

Reserved for People Who Are Sore (weekend warriors would appreciate this)

Reserved for People Too Lazy To Walk (again, that’s me!)

Reserved for People Who Think they are Important (this could work as a shaming mechanism so could backfire, but would also provide an interesting social experiment)

Reserved for Women Who Insist on Wearing High Heels Even Though They Kill Their Feet (but they look good so help the store image)

Reserved for People Who are Nice (how would anyone know unless the person visibly stiffed the poor Salvation Army collector by the door?)

What do you suggest?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Baby Showers - Thanks but No Thanks: A Satire, Sort Of

Who invented baby showers? Don’t answer. I’m sure it’s the same person who invented bridal showers.

They should be shot.

I never liked going to either.

This is how I see them:

You are forced into a room with a bunch of women, no doubt indoors on what is the most beautiful day of the decade. You dress in “feminine” clothes and act all girly and grownup as you nibble on pastel M&Ms and nuts from tiny cups on a table festooned with silk flowers, balloons or both.

You play silly games. Like a fill-in-the-blank on how well you know the bride- or mother-to-be. Or create a wedding gown out of a roll of toilet paper, then vote on which table did the best job.

It's at this point I usually wonder: “Why don’t they have any alcohol?”

Now do not get me wrong. I love my friends and I’ve been to many showers. I don’t particularly look forward to them but I go to be supportive. I actually have fun sometimes. Mostly, I believe these things, these rituals, you simply must do if you can. If this was my shower, as it once was, I’d certainly want my friends to be there. (Thankfully more and more showers have ditched the goofy games and include couples and drinks. But not often enough.)

I can handle dressing up. I can handle being around all that estrogen. I can handle being in a church rec room on the most-gorgeous-day-of-the-decade (think of the sun damage I’m not getting). I can even smile through the games.

What I wish I could bypass is sitting through what seems like hours of gift opening.

I did this last weekend. And I deserve a medal. I had a migraine, one that barely budged after taking a prescription drug that morning. Nevertheless, I arrived in a pretty blouse at my former work mate’s baby shower a half hour late — which let me off the hook from playing some game, I was told. Darn it.

I adore my friend, who is due in November and looks glorious. I wanted to see her and help her celebrate. But she's more like a sister. We do not socialize regularly so we don't have many friends in common.

“Is Colleen or Julie here?” I asked when I first arrived, hoping to at least sneak in some conversation with other former coworkers.

“They couldn’t make it,” she said. “I don’t think you know anyone.”

“Well, then,” I said cheerfully as I affixed my name tag while wondering what hugely important things Colleen and Julie had to do that they could not make it, “It doesn’t matter where I sit.” I grabbed a chair at a table with four women in the front and introduced myself.

“What is your connection to My Friend?” I asked of two aunts on her husband’s side who had not seen her since her wedding 10 years earlier and had no idea what she even did for a living. I filled them in. To my left was a sister-in-law and her daughter, a cute tween who documented every moment with her digital camera.

After lunch — buffet style with chicken breasts, salad, cooked carrots, rolls and white noodles with marinara sauce plus a delicious sheet cake — the gift table was ready for action.

I should insert here that my first move, a mistake really, turned out fabulously well. I ordered her gift online from her registry — I have no idea what it was — and shipped it directly to her. I later realized that during the gift opening ceremony — where we would look like Stepford wives offering occasional “ohhs” and “ahhhs” as she opened every single gift and pulled out every single item for all of us to see in case we missed it — that there would be nothing from me.

When I emailed her that this occurred to me, mainly thinking of her and the fun she was going to have opening gifts, she offered to bring whatever it was that I got her.

“You certainly don’t have to do it for my sake,” I emphasized. She later realized it would be one more gift to schlep back to their home. So she thanked me for all to hear before the gift opening commenced.

Unfortunately, I was the only one who did this.

The room was packed with maybe 40 or 50 women meaning the gift tables were overflowing with pink boxes and bags. Mercifully my friend’s husband was there to expedite — er, help — with the process.

As my friend opened the gifts, her sister, who was keeping notes on who gave her what, managed a kind of raffle after every third gift, using envelopes we’d pre-addressed for the Thank You notes as the raffle tickets. I see this as evidence that they know we need a little bribery to stick around.

My friend would pull a name and the winner got to choose from various Avon products on a table. I kept spying the goods, certain my name would come up. When I realized I didn’t want anything, I imagined myself magnanimously offering my place to the nice tween at my table and how sweet she’d think I was. Unfortunately, my name never came up.

At first the gift ceremony was pleasant enough but soon I was wondering why they can’t open a few representational gifts and say: “Well, you get the idea. Thanks for coming!”

Soon I was struggling to feign interest after the umpteenth pink “onesie” or whatever they were. Even my friend didn’t always know for sure what each one was.

I kept looking at the time and tried to decide what was an appropriate length for a shower. It started at 1. I’d have liked to have left by 3, even factoring in my lateness.

Just as it seemed it was never going to end, my friend unwrapped the final present at precisely 4 o’clock. “Hang out,” she offered as she thanked everyone and encouraged them to have another piece of cake.

I thought about grabbing a piece to go. Instead, I just grabbed my white paper goody bag of sample-size lotion and a scented candle and went up to take advantage a few quality moments with my friend and her husband. We chatted about the baby room, yoga and her due date.

I was actually one of the last to leave.

As I made my way out, I hugged her and told her she did not have to send me a thank you card. That they are costly (cards, stamps) and use up resources (trees). And, according to the etiquette books — “I’ve looked it up,” I said — if you thank someone in person, you do not need to send a card.

They probably thought I was spoiled sport.

She’s sending a Thank You anyway.

Note to anyone reading this who is planning a baby or bridal shower and was thinking of inviting me: You better invite me because I really do want to be there. Just don't mind if I bring something to read.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Blessed

Some years ago on a trip to New York, I found myself inside the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. I used to live down the street from this massive granite and limestone Gothic structure, supposedly the largest unfinished cathedral in the world. Every day as I left my apartment I’d glance down the block at the imposing arches that loomed over Amsterdam Avenue.

I’d been inside a couple of times, once for a story. But not until a few years ago would I experience something I will always remember when I think of St. John.

It was the first weekend in October. The event, the Blessing of the Animals. Each year at this time the custom plays out at churches around the world in remembrance of St. Francis of Assisi, who had a great love for all creatures. I’ve read that at Franciscan churches, a friar with a brown robe and white cord typically welcomes each animal with a special prayer.

I couldn’t see the actual blessings as I’d joined a group of friends who had some coveted seats inside, toward the back of the cathedral, though it was arguable that standing outside offered the better view.

We sat snugly together for what felt like a typical church service with a few exceptions. All around us were people with their pets.

One couple brought a pair of cats that I spied to my right in the side aisle. There the plump felines sat, each in separate strollers, positioned as cats rarely are, facing forward with their spines curved against the seat back, just like toddlers. They were strapped in and appeared rather content as far as I could tell. We laughed at the silliness.

Then the processional began. First came little creatures. One by one, people dressed in white robes carried some form of life up the aisle to the altar where they were blessed.

A glass tank with an ant farm in it. A fish bowl. A cage with turtles. Frogs. Hamsters. A rabbit. A Macaw on someone’s shoulder. The animals got bigger as the ceremony went along.

Cats, dogs, a goat. Sheep. A donkey. Llamas. A cow. A camel. Many were festooned with floral garlands.

I can never remember: was there a giraffe, a zebra, an elephant, as I like to remember? Did I imagine that? I’m honestly not sure. It was all so magical, like something out of a storybook, watching these innocent creatures so out of their element in this concrete jungle.

Any silliness quickly gave way to a lump in my throat.

I also realized these animals surely didn’t want to be here in this church. But they obediently marched along. I later learned many were from petting farms, not sub-Saharan Africa or South America. Of course not.

That made me a little sad. Maybe even a little tricked feeling. But they were, I hoped, loved and cared for. I hoped this had not become an event to appease and entertain the masses.

I thought this again the next time I went, this time watching from outside. Some native New Yorkers happened by and asked me what was going on. They seemed intrigued before moving on. I was surprised more people weren’t crowding around. Or that more didn’t stay.

I found it hard to leave. I reveled in watching these animals as they came and went, looking dubious as they maneuvered the slippery stone steps that led to the massive wooden Cathedral doors.

I watched as I quietly prayed for them to keep their footing, quietly wanting to help them down, and all the while quietly blessing them on my own.

* * * *

If you have animals, or just love them, this weekend you might offer the traditional blessing yourself.

The Blessing goes something like this:

“Blessed are you, Lord God, maker of all living creatures. You called forth fish in the sea, birds in the air and animals on the land. You inspired St. Francis to call all of them his brothers and sisters. We ask you to bless this pet. By the power of your love, enable it to live according to your plan. May we always praise you for all your beauty in creation. Blessed are you, Lord our God, in all your creatures! Amen.”