Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Cowabungas

When I was about twelve, an amazing thing happened. I went from being the tall, boring, shy girl in my sixth-grade class to being the tall, boring, shy girl in my sixth-grade class with boobs. Two little mounds of flesh, no bigger than two ping-pong balls suddenly made all the difference in the world. Boys wanted to hang out with me, girls wanted to be me. And I hated it. At night before bed, when every other 12-year-old girl was praying for the breast-god to bestow such blessings on her, I was praying for mine to shrink. I slept on my stomach every night in hopes they’d get squashed and crawl back into the place from whence they had come.

But they stayed. They got in the way. They jiggled when I ran in PE. They made my shirts fit strangely. It seemed the more I tried to will them away, the bigger they got.

During the summer before seventh grade, I went to sleep-away camp for the first time. This meant my ample bosom was to be on display beneath my blue one-piece bathing suit every day at the lake. For the first few days I managed not to think about them. I splashed around playing Marco-Polo as happily as any of my flat-chested girlfriends. But one night after campfire, evil Katie Swanson told me that she had overheard the boys’ cabin discussing all the girls’ breasts. They were rating them on a scale of non-existent to medium to large. Hesitantly, I asked Katie what mine had been rated, though I didn’t really want to know the answer.

Smothering a giggle, she told me: “Cowabungas.” She started to laugh out loud. “Andy said yours were ‘Cowabungas.’”

Cowabungas? That’s not a rating! That’s not even a word. I only had B-cups at the time (not that I owned any actual bras). But apparently to a 13-year-old, a B-cup merits a “Cowabunga.” I was so embarrassed, I feigned a cold for the rest of the trip to stay out of a bathing suit.

The day before I started Jr. High, Mom marched me into JC Penny and made me buy a bra. I had been avoiding it up till then, despite the discomfort. I thought purchasing a bra would be admitting defeat. If I bought the invaders an outfit, it would be implying that I was okay with them being there and welcoming them to stay a while: “This should keep you cozy, make yourselves at home.”

“I don’t care if goes against your values, Audrey.” Mom was not supportive. “You need to start wearing a bra to school; you look like a hooker.”

I tried to pull the whole sixties/ bra-burning/ women’s lib thing on her. We ended up with two underwire Maidenforms and a cotton sports bra.

Last year’s ping-pong balls were already the size of tennis balls, which seemed to be morphing to baseballs. They just kept getting bigger. I was concerned that soon Michael Jordan would be able to dribble them down the court.

“It’s amazing,” My sister teased. “If you look really close, I think you can actually see them grow.”

My sister didn’t even get her period until she was practically graduating from college. It wasn’t fair. Why did I end up with this burden? No one in the family was large-breasted so it wasn’t genetic. I was just a freak of nature.

By the time I started high school, I had purposely developed an extreme slouch. I walked with my shoulders pushed forward and my chest sucked in an attempt to make my breasts stand out a little less. People tended to pay less attention to my breasts and more attention to my constantly worsening posture.

My C’s became D’s. My D’s doubled. My parents made me see a chiropractor about my hunchback.

But somewhere in high school, my attitude changed. I don’t know when exactly this mental shift occurred. Perhaps it was freshman year when Mark Chadwick and I made out behind the dumpster and he stuck his hand up my shirt. Or maybe it was sophomore year when I got my first serious boyfriend and he bought me endless gifts of lacey merchandise from Victoria’s Secret.

Whatever it was, my brain finally caught up with my body. I suddenly realized that there are a lot of things in this world that are hard to come by. There are challenges to be faced and goals to be obtained, and I had a free ticket. Two of them, actually.

This new way of life went into practice on my 17th birthday. My friends and I had driven into the city to check out San Francisco’s prime 18-and-over club. It was a dingy, sleazy place full of sailors and dirty old men. We were determined to get in.

The Bouncer at the door was not responsive to our pleas. “Girls, I can’t let you in. We don’t accept school ID’s. You’re age isn’t even on here.”
“But we drove all the way from Berkeley to get here.”
“Sorry, nothing I can do.”
“Please let us in, we’ll do anything”
“Nope, it’s not gonna happen. You’re not eighteen. It’s an 18-and-over club.”

And then something clicked. A light went off in my head. Or should I say, in my bra…
“What if I show you my boobs?”

Five minutes later we were shaking our booties on the dance floor, hitting on sailors and having the time of our lives.

From that night on, my life was different.

I don’t know what it is about men and breasts. I’ve never understood it and I maybe never will. But I know that I have them, and they want to see them. And thus, what used to be an annoying and cumbersome part of my body has now become a commodity. A means to an end. Currency.

At the bars:
“Can I get two rum and cokes for the price of one?”
“What? Of course not!”
(Pull the low neckline down a little, expose some cleavage, maybe a nipple or two…)
“Did you want limes with those drinks?”

At the hotel in Vegas:
“I’m sorry ma’am, you can’t get into this pool without a wrist band.”
“How about now?” (Simple untying of a bikini string)
“Will you and your friends be needing towels?”

Sometimes I may take it a little too far.
“That’s going to be $4.65.”
“How about now?”
“Lady, just pay for your cheeseburger and leave the restaurant.”

“Are there still no seats available on standby for the 8 o’clock flight?”
“Ma’am, please put your shirt back on and step away from the gate!”

I sometimes still get annoyed with the unwanted attention that is paid to my breasts. The stares I when I go for a quick jog around my neighborhood bug me. The leering old man in line behind me at the post office gives me the creeps. And once more, I will wish that I had nice, perky B’s. The kind of breasts you can wear a halter top with. The little nips that look cute with no bra and a spaghetti-strapped tank.

But then I think of all the things I have accomplished with this pair, and I display them proudly. I hold my shoulders back and stick out my chest. Back straight, chin up, twins at attention. And when sleazy men in cars shout out the window, or guys who think they’re flirting, or even my friends who are just curious ask: “Hey are those D’s or Double-D’s?”

I just smile and say, “They’re Cowabungas.”

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ground Control to Major Chord

The black and white photograph of my grandfather still sits on the mantel of the big house on Bay View Place. His eyes are looking down, focused on his art, his source of joy and pride and his livelihood: his violin. The long bow hovers in the air above the bridge. His elbow is crooked and ready. Even just looking at the photograph, the viewer anticipates the pure sound of that first note, soon to be released from the strings.

Grandpa learned to play violin as a boy in Vienna. At nineteen he was touring the world with his string quartet. He could play every Bartok and Schoenberg work by heart. By the time I was born, Grandpa was the first violinist in the San Francisco symphony. My father and Grandpa’s other children followed in his footsteps, learning piano or a stringed instrument from the time they could talk.

As the first grandchild in my family, my grandmother had similar aspirations for me. I can still remember the feel of my first violin in my arms. I rested my four-year-old dimpled chin on the cold black chinrest, felt the smooth wood press into my shoulder, and I hated it. My bow screeched painfully over the strings and made me wince. It was an inhuman screech. An unnatural noise that caused listeners physical and emotional pain, like the sound of a tape player eating your favorite mix tape. I looked at my parents with tears in my eyes while the dog hid under the couch.

They convinced Grandma to cancel the lessons after only one month. Due not only to my complaints, but because my parents couldn’t stand the noise of me practicing. Plus, the dog was making a permanent home beneath the living room furniture. Grandma wasn’t happy about the decision to let me quit, but quickly perked up when the family decided to move Aunt Helen’s old upright piano into our living room. Grandma paid for a tuner to fix it up and mom agreed to pay for weekly lessons.

Even with the masking tape on the keys denoting which note they represented, I couldn’t remember which one to play. While I excelled at math and was reading books at least two levels above my grade, I just couldn’t learn to read music.

“It’s easy,” my teacher’s eyes would smile through her thin glasses with unending patience, “Just remember ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine’ for the spaces between the lines – E, G, B, D, F.”

The next time I was trying to play ‘Go Tell Aunt Rhoda’ my brain would conjure up “Every good boy does… well?” Where’s the W key???

She finally lost her patience.

Next I tried Cello. I was eleven by then, too old to be a child prodigy. But Grandma didn’t care. She’d drive me to the lessons, help me lug the giant instrument up the two flights of stairs to my teacher’s apartment and then sit patiently and knit while I mutilated Mozart. I stuck with it for over a year until grandma, with some convincing from my exasperated teacher, decided that I just wasn’t meant to play the cello.

I had complained about the size of the cello, so my parents decided to try something smaller. They called a friend of the family who taught flute. I liked the feel of the smooth keys under my fingers. I like to caress the contours and admire the sheen of the silver in the light. I liked everything about the flute, except playing it. After three lessons, the excitement of the shininess wore off and I was bored. The recorder was no more successful. Nor the harmonica. Nor the tambourine.

By high school, our basement looked like the orchestra pit of the San Francisco symphony when the musicians were on a break. I decided to focus on the only instrument that didn’t require my parents to waste yet another couple hundred bucks at the Berkeley music store: my voice.

To the joy of my parents and grandparents, I joined the school choir. Though the true reason behind my sudden interest in singing was the same as every other freshman at Berkeley High – the annual Choral Competition in Reno every spring. It was rumored that students had no restriction during this weekend away. Older students I knew had drank their first shots, smoked their first bowls and given their first handjobs in the Biggest Little City during previous years’ competitions. Probably in that order.

Unaware of the impending taking of shots, smoking of weed and handing of jobs, my parents happily attended the choir’s winter concert where I attempted to belt out Christmas and Hanukkah spirituals in perfect harmony. I’ll admit it, I wasn’t the world’s greatest singer, but I stayed in the choir until spring, eagerly awaiting the Reno escapades. The weekend turned out to be the Biggest Little Disappointment. I wasn’t cool enough to get invited to the drinking, pot-smoking, handjob parties and instead spent the evenings trying to win stuffed animals at the basketball toss in Circus Circus with my other unpopular girlfriends. Finally the pimply-faced 17-year-old behind the counter felt sorry for us and gave us a giant stuffed Homer Simpson. Not nearly as exciting as a shot of tequila, but we were pleased.

With the choir behind me, I decided to focus on dance. Again, it wasn’t so much because I enjoyed the expression of movement, but more because it meant I got to prance around on stage in a leotard in front of every cute boy in school. My parents came to see all my performances. I can only imagine how surprised they were by the suggestive crawling on stage, the sexy body rolls and the thrusting that made up most of the choreography. All the girls at Berkeley High joined Dance Production for the same boy-related reasons.

While I could thrust and crawl with the rest of them, I had never been formally trained in anything but tap and quickly fell behind the ballerinas and jazz experts in our class. While my classmates sent their dance tapes into the performing arts programs at colleges around the country, I instead decided to pursue writing. A skill that required no musical or rhythmic talent whatsoever.

But even by the time I left for college, I hadn’t completely given up on my musical pursuit. I brought my mom’s old guitar with me on my drive down to UCLA. I had been playing around with it at home over the summer, making up songs for my younger siblings, which entailed learning a few basics out of a book – songs that only required one chord change – and then changing the words for Katie and Tyler. “Katie the magic dragon lived by the sea. And frolicked in the Tyler mist in a land called Audreeeeeeey!” They were young enough at that point to not notice or care that the lyrics made no sense.

In college I started writing songs. Downplaying the fact that I only knew three chords by concocting what I thought to be deep, insightful lyrics. I composed slow love ballads for the cute boys that came into the coffeeshop where I worked:

“Deep brown eyes and hair made of silk.
He bought a cappuccino with nonfat milk.
I gazed into his eyes and they stared back at mine.
I handed him his drink and whispered ‘$2.99.’”

Sitting around playing guitar was popular in the college dorms, but I’d feel inadequate when the self-taught rockers on my floor would bust out favorites by Nirvana and Pearl Jam that they knew by heart. My renditions of Puff the Magic Dragon somehow didn’t measure up. The college boys were less impressed than my siblings when I would include their names in the songs, “Jeremy the magic Dragon lived by the Brad…” I didn’t get laid a lot in college.

Shortly after graduating, I met my boyfriend, Robert. He was a drummer and was happy to encourage my waning musical interest. For my 23rd birthday, he bought me my very first guitar. It was, and still is, one of my most prized possessions: the Big Baby Taylor. Taylor Guitar brand developed the Baby line for kids. And the Big Baby was the perfect size for me. I named it after my boyfriend. Though Robert and I have long since broken up, I still have Big Baby Bobert sitting on a stand in the corner of my Brooklyn apartment.

Having my own sleek and sexy guitar, instead of my mom’s behemoth leftover from the 60’s, I was newly inspired to learn. I started paying for my own lessons and learned my first rock song by heart: ‘Ground Control to Major Tom.’ It wasn’t easy, but I practiced and practiced until I could play that piece almost as well as David Bowie himself. Robert got sick of it very quickly.

“Can’t they teach you anything a little more upbeat?” He’d ask after listening to me drone on about the unfortunate astronaut for an hour every night.

“Commencing count down engines on…” I had to focus hard on the shift from the open G to the barred F minor.

Robert moaned.

“Ground control to Major Robert?” I sung hopefully.

I was driving to Robert’s apartment on a day in early October when I heard the ad on my favorite radio show. Kevin and Bean, the best morning DJs in LA were having a Halloween song contest. Contestants had to write and record an original song and send the CD into the station. Winners would be announced at the end of the month. This was my big chance, I started writing the lyrics that day. I decided to write about the Halloween I most enjoyed: the giant block party in West Hollywood. Like San Francisco’s Castro and New York’s West Village, LA’s gayest neighborhood put on a party to remember every year.

There will be no haunted house, no scary clouds or lighting
But that fat man in the G-string there is equally as frightening
I'll see no jack-o-lanterns, no witches to fear.
But those looking for a trick or treat can surely find both here.
If you’re dressed as Dracula, there’ll be no blood to suck
But if you wanna suck on something else, you just might be in luck.
When the clocks turn back and the wind blows cold, the weather’s autumny
It’s time once again to celebrate and rejoice in sodomy.

For three weeks, I worked on the song every day. Robert, who owned recording equipment for his band, and helped me lay down each track – one for guitar, one for the drum machine, my friend Shawn followed along on bass and I looped my voice over itself to give it some depth. I thought this would be my big musical break. I mean, I rhymed autumny and sodomy – who’s ever done that before? Grandma would be so proud.

I didn’t win. I was crushed. I ceased playing Ground Control for Major Tom for at least two weeks. Eventually, I got over it and was back to instructing Robert to take his protein pills and put his helmet on, but it just wasn’t the same.

It’s now six years later, and I’m still working on my limited guitar skills. I took a music theory class. I’m taking guitar lessons. But as of yet, it seems that the music genes skipped a generation. However, I’ve been working a new skill: rap.

Rap is all about clever lyrics. It requires no reading of music, no playing of notes or chords. Just some beats, some rhymes and some attitude. I got all of those. It might not be the sort of art that my grandparents appreciate. My songs don’t quite compare with the Mozart and Beethoven that Grandpa grew up with. Grandma may not have had this in mind when she started taking me to lessons as a child. But I think I’ve finally found my true calling.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Very Berkeley Family

The last month’s issue of Parenting Magazine had an article comparing the most popular names of 1900, 1950, and 2000. As an unmarried, childless woman in my 20’s, Parenting is not a publication I’m usually seen reading, especially last month’s issue (if I’m going to read about trends in Parenting, they may as well be current) but it was in the seat next to me on the train, and I had forgotten to bring a book that morning. I was amazed that the Kevins, Jasons and Jennifers of my graduating class were Berthas, Harolds and Mildreds in the class of 1901, and are now Mackenzies, Jacksons and Skylers. Names have shockingly different trends, apparently, like clothing, though I have doubts that Euphemia will ever make as brave a return as the miniskirt has in recent months. “Wow, I love those cute bell-bottoms. Where’d you get them, Mabel?”

There are some name trends that were meant to remain in the past. Take, for example, my mom’s eighty-year-old sister, Aunt Gay. When little Gay was born in 1930, my mom’s parents were probably thrilled to christen her with joy and happiness. I don’t know if a baby gay born in 2004 would be as joyful and happy about her name, though my Aunt Gay never seemed particularly scarred by it. It brought hours of entertainment to me and my little sister as children. Not only the fact that Mom had a sister named Gay, but also that my dad’s sister was a lesbian, making us the only two children in America with an Aunt Gay and a gay aunt. In a city like Berkeley where one must strive to be different, we felt this provided us ample material. We also liked to fantasize about combining the two aunts so that we ended up with gay Gay. We would imitate this imaginary merged aunt introducing herself at parties, “Hi, I’m Gay. I’m gay.” And then, after explosive giggles, “I’m gay Gay.”

Growing up in my North Berkeley neighborhood, having a lesbian aunt was nothing special. My parents’ friends were practically all “alternative.” I sometimes felt left out as the only one of my friends who was not the product of a same-sex couple. I felt I’d been cheated with only one mom and one dad. My parents made up for it by getting divorced and remarried. So I ended up with two moms and two dads. In your face, daughter-of-lesbian friends!

Even as children, my sister and I knew where babies came from, and that two women alone did not a baby make. “Sperm donor” was a common phrase among my pals. Some kids knew who theirs was and some didn’t. My mom’s best friend and her girlfriend had two daughters with whom my sister and I grew up closely. They enjoyed playing the same games we did, they had the same sense of humor and the same facial features. I guess it shouldn’t have come as a big shock when we found out that the girls were our paternal half-sisters. Or, as I like to fondly refer to them, “sperm sisters.”

Dad was a busy man in the late 70’s/early 80’s, aside from fathering me and my sister the “old-fashioned way,” he donated sperm for my mom’s best friend and her partner, producing the two previously mentioned sperm sisters, and still had sperm left over to give to his sister’s girlfriend.

The story of my cousin’s conception is a family favorite. I first heard it under the Christmas tree one Christmas eve. It has since been retold at Passover Seders, Labor Day Barbecues and every other family event. Other families talk about sports or politics, we talk about artificial insemination, which I personally find much more interesting. I was about eight when my aunt and her partner first started talking babies. My parents had just gotten divorced, but were still on good terms. My mom loves nothing more than bringing babies into this world (she was a midwife for many years) so when she first heard of this parenting plot, she was more than happy to help out.

The story goes that one March afternoon, during ovulation, my aunts hopped in the car and drove over to our house, where mom and dad were upstairs… producing sperm. (I’m not going into more detail there). My sister and I were at a friend’s house (thank God). Once the baby seed had been caught in a receptacle of some sort, a condom perhaps? A plastic bag? Tupperware? My mom rushed out the front door carrying the sperm. (This is the part of the story that always cracked me up as a kid) in order to keep it warm, Mom held the sperm under her armpit. UNDER HER ARMPIT. Picture my mother running across the front lawn in a bathrobe with sperm in her armpit. No wonder the neighbors still give my family funny looks.

The armpit sperm was passed through the window of the car, engine already running, and my aunts sped off to the hospital to have a doctor insert the sperm with whatever method was popular at the time, turkey baster perhaps? Nine months later, my cousin arrived - healthy and happy, with her mother’s eyes and her other mother’s smile. A perfect blend of her two mom’s genes, thanks to my dad.

My cousin still turns a little red at the telling of her story. I don’t think she appreciates the armpit part. But what she realizes, the older she gets, is that she is one of the most wanted children in the world. It’s a family joke that she was “a mistake.” Three years after she was born, my aunts gave birth to another baby. This one was a boy, clearly not a product of my dad’s sperm, as Dad only makes girls, or so it would seem by his five out of five record. I guess by 1990, my dad’s baby-harvesting days were over. My aunts were left to their own devices and located another attractive, intelligent Jewish man. His name was Richard, but he went by “Dick.” The humor of “Dick, the sperm donor” not lost on anyone, even my 90-year-old grandma.

My youngest cousin is now 17 and still spends time with Dick and his girlfriend. They come over for Thanksgiving dinner at my aunts’ house. Every year, we all sit at the table that my cousins set. Dick and his girlfriend bring the mashed potatoes. My dad and my step-mom bring the salad. My mom, my step-dad and their two new kids bring drinks. My sperm-sisters and their moms bring stuffing. My sister and I bring the gravy and Grandma bakes a cake. As the food is passed noisily back and forth, wine poured, and turkey carved, I sit at the table, looking around at the sea of faces, with all kinds of funny names and stories, and I’m thankful for what a unique, loving family I have.

As Mom finishes her last bite of turkey she asks, “So Audrey, do you want to hear the story of your cousin's conception?”

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Bad iWeek

"Must Restore Settings," my iPod Nano read when I plugged it in to my iBook.

"But I bought you like three months ago," I told it. "You can't be broken already."

"Not broken. Just corrupted," the cute young man at the Apple Genius Bar told me the following evening.

Apple Genius Bar. It was an appropriate name for the repair section of the Apple Store. On stools to either side of me, computer-illiterate patrons sat like I did, elbows on the bar, eagerly drinking up the knowledge that the Apple Geniuses dispensed.

"All you need to do is click 'restore' in your iTunes." the Cute Apple Genuis explained.

"Yes, I know," I said, deflated. "But I'll lose all my music."

"Not if you have it in your iTunes." Cute Apple Genuis said cheerfully.

"Look," I leaned forward over the bar. "I'm sure you are aware of the fact that no one has all their own music in their iPod. I stole music from all of my friends' computers. Some of these friends live across the country or in another country entirely. Jolanka lives in Paris. How do you suggest I regain the four Belle and Sebastian albums I got from her? Huh? How do I do that??" I was beginning to panic. I loved those Belle and Sebastian songs.

I had been sitting in the Apple Store for twenty minutes waiting for my name to be called. Luckily I'd brought the new Augusten Burroughs book and some Fig Newtons, so I had been perfectly content to sit on the soft leather bench and wait. I observed the hipsters browsing the latest iPods and MacBooks downstairs. I was in no position to judge – I too was under the spell of the sleek white design, the user-friendly interface, the all-too-cool TV advertisements. I was an Apple Geek like the rest of them, constantly checking the website to see what magical product Steve Jobs would grace the world with next.

The store itself was designed with the Apple consumer in mind. Bright, modern, spacious… no crowded shelves or piled merchandise. Just simple white tables featuring the select line of products waiting to be played with. It was Apple Geek heaven.

"Is that a good book?" Cute Young Genius looked at the Burroughs hard back in my hand.

"Yes, it's fabulous. I recommend it. So about my iPod…"

"Well, we don't have any software to pull music off your iPod here..." He drew out the word 'here' so it rolled slowly over his teeth and sat expectantly between us.

"Uh huh..?"

"And we certainly don't condone the use of any of the software that's available online. That can be found on Google. And usually downloaded for a free trial," he winked.

"Gotcha," this little genius was growing on me by the minute.

"So I should read that book, huh?"

"Yeah, it's really good," I picked up my Nano. "Thanks for your help."

"Good luck," he called after me as I walked back through the store.

It took me another half hour to get out of the store, stopping to lustfully gaze at every MacBook and MacBook Pro I passed.

Once home, I researched every iPod copy software I could find and downloaded a couple free trials. They worked! I was able to pull all music off of my iPod and saved it on my external hard drive.

That night, my laptop decided to run just a little bit slower.

I turned it off and then turned it on again. It ran even slower.

Gradually, over the next few days, it started running slower and slower. Until it wasn't actually running at all. It was just spinning and making weird noises. Picture a remote control car that's running out of batteries, now picture that it's being run over by a tractor. That's what the laptop sounded like.

My iPod and iBook. Dead in the same week. I was iRate.

Except that this meant another trip to the Genius Bar, which was quickly becoming my favorite bar in Manhattan. Yes, I enjoyed the Bowery Ballroom and the Mercury Lounge, but they couldn't compare with the cheery customer service and cute boys at the Genius Bar.

But first I brought my sick laptop to the free clinic, the IT guys at work. I had never walked into the IT room before. It was a den of flashing lights, intricate machinery and large disturbing anime posters on the wall. Three techie guys sat chuckling over some skateboard video on Youtube.

"Hey guys, my laptop broke. Would you mind taking a look at it?" I interrupted their nerding out with my unexpected feminine presence.

They looked up guiltily from their blatant non-work-related activity, "Yeah, sure, leave it here and we'll check it out."

Well that was easy, I thought as I walked away. I thought they'd put up a protest or demand some cash or something. I got back to my desk just as the phone was ringing. It was the IT department.

"This isn't a work-issued computer."

Damn, I knew it couldn't be that easy.

"No, it's not. It's my own personal laptop. But would you mind looking at it anyway?" I pleaded. "I don't know what's wrong with it. I just need a quick diagnosis.”

They paused on the other line.

“Did you notice that I am pretty?" I threw out there.

"Okay, fine," they were easily convinced. "We'll look at it. Stop by in another hour."

"Thank you, thank you!" I hung up the phone. Even if I had to give a hand job or two, it was worth a fixed computer.

An hour later, I strutted into the IT room. The techie guys meant well, but they weren't much help. "It's broken." They told me.

"Yes, I know it's broken. What's wrong with it?" No hand jobs for you.

"Uh, not sure. Hard drive maybe? We can't fix it." They shrugged.

Maybe this was a sign that it was time for a new laptop. After all, I’d owned the iBook for over two years. And so many more new and exciting machines had been issued since then. But new computers were expensive. If there was only someway I could use this old laptop to get money for a new one… I couldn’t really sell it, since it was broken. I’d gone through that debacle trying to sell my 1991 Honda Civic on Craigslist, ending up with a couple hundred bucks for scrap metal. I racked my brain for ideas. There was that renters' insurance for which I had been paying a monthly premium for months. And it did cover theft. What if my laptop was to be mysteriously stolen…

I started leaving it on the table in caf├ęs while I went to the bathroom.

I carried it in plain sight on my walks home from the subway at night.

I “accidentally” left it out on the stoop overnight.

Sadly, nothing worked. One week later, I still had a broken iBook in my possession. Damn honest folks of New York.

It’s hard not having a personal computer. I felt disconnected from the rest of the world. My fingers were itching to type. I was getting the detox shakes.

It was time to go back to the Genius Bar. This time I brought a cheeseburger and some fries to snack on while I waited. I'm not sure what it was about eating at the Apple Store, something about ingesting grease at such a clean, streamlined environment was strangely satisfying.

This time I got a lady Genius. I was happy to see that women worked behind the Genius Bar as well and I told her as much.

"Well, someone's gotta keep the boys in line," she winked.

Was everyone in the Apple store this charming? I wondered. Could I move here?

"It's definitely your hard drive," She told me after taking apart my laptop and putting it back together at the speed of light. She was brilliant. And cute too.

She was my iDol.

"We can fix it here for $300," she explained. "Or you can take it to Tekserve, they're usually cheaper and they can install a bigger hard drive."

I left the Apple Store with a smile on my face. Never have I been happier to hear that I needed to spend $250. The Geniuses are just so honest. And smart. And smiley. Plus, my cheeseburger was excellent.

I arrived at work the next day and told them I'd be gone for an hour in the afternoon for a doctor's appointment. My computer was very ill.

Tekserve was nice. But not as nice as the Genius Bar. Still, unlike the IT guys at work, unlike the Genius Bar, they actually fixed my computer. Fast and cheap.

I had my iBook and my iPod back. I could finally relax. How funny that two years ago, I didn’t have either of these toys and I was perfectly content.

I call that iRony.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Designer Audrey

My parents proudly passed on to me everything that they could. My dad’s genes for mathematical aptitude. My mom’s love of books. Their values, their morals, their beliefs. But one thing neither was able to pass on to any of their children was a sense of fashion. My parents will both happily admit that they wouldn’t recognize a Versace bag if they tripped over it on the sidewalk. In fact, I doubt they’ve ever heard the word Versace.

My brother, Tyler, is the only one in the family that doesn’t purchase his clothes from Old Navy, Good Will or the hippies on Telegraph Ave. Even if there were no other signs that he was adopted, his recent request for a $300 designer sweatshirt gives away his different genetic make up instantly.

Like my mother, I’ve always been perfectly happy to shop at discount stores. If a shirt is more than $30. I don’t need it. Pants? I’ll go up to $50. This has suited me fine my whole life. It’s not because I don’t have the money or that I’m cheap, I just have a perceived value of the items I buy. True, I’ll balk at spending $5 on a box of cereal. But for a fun night out with friends – a good dinner followed by drinks and dancing – I’d happily drop upwards of $100. And I’d have just as much fun dancing in a $25 skirt from H&M as I would in a $350 one from Dolce and Gabbana. Probably more fun, because I wouldn’t be worried about spilling on myself.

However, I am now a professional in New York City, the fashion capital of the country. Once in a while at the office, I’ll look around at the girls in their trendy dresses, purchased with care from designer boutiques in SoHo. Then I’ll look down at my generic v-neck tee-shirt and Pumas and I’ll feel a little bit sloppy.

My girl friends, East Coast and West Coast alike, have been on a mission for the last couple years: get Audrey to buy designer jeans. I’m the only girl in my social circle that doesn’t own any. And, slowly, over time, they’d managed to instill a tiny sense that every girl needs at least one pair. This is not something that was sinking in easily. A warm jacket? Sure. A reliable bike or a quality defrizzing hair product? These are what every girl needs. $200 jeans? Not at the top of my list. But, I was getting worn down from all sides. What can I say? I’m a sucker for peer pressure.

It finally happened last Saturday in Brooklyn Heights with my friend, Julie. And it started with a pair of boots. Julie talked me out of the $49.99 pleather FMBs that I had picked out.

“Those looks cheap,” she said, placing them back on the shelf. “I will not allow you to wear fuck-me-boots to work everyday.”

“But think about how much more often I’d get laid.” I stroked the pleather lovingly.

“Here,” she handed me another pair. “These are stylish, classic, sexy.”

“And $175.”

“Marked down from $350,” she pointed out. “Come on, you’ll wear these every day. It’s definitely worth it.”

I thought back to the last pair of black boots that I’d purchased. I’d bought them in late 2003, more than three years ago, and I had, in fact, worn those boots almost every day, lovingly wearing the heels down to a nub. Two repairs later, they were finally done. That’s what had landed me in this shoe store in Brooklyn Heights that afternoon. Julie and I had just finished our African Dance class and the two of us were doing some weekend shopping, still clad in our sweaty gym clothes.

“Fine, I’ll try them.”

I reluctantly pulled on $175 worth of knee-high black leather boots below my sweatpants. After three laps around the shoe store, some lunges and a brief tap dance, I was convinced. They were comfortable, classy and not made of pleather.

I left the store, exhilarated with my purchase. I was still reeling with the feeling of handing the saleswoman $180 in cash. That’s nine twenty-dollar bills. For shoes!

Julie decided to keep this rare roll going. “Let’s stop in this shop across the street for a sec. I want to try on some jeans.”

“Okay, but I’m just going to sit on the bench inside and wait.”

Which is what I did, for about fifteen minutes while Julie pulled various pairs of expensive blue jeans over her legs. She decided on a pair that I was admittedly impressed by. They did fit her really well. As the salesgirls circled around Julie, I stood up and began to peruse the shelves of designer denim. Seven. True Religion. Joe’s. Yes, I’d heard these brands in songs on the radio. I had never viewed them up close and in person. I studied the stitching to see what all the hype was about.

“Can I help you?” the salesgirl looked past my ragged gym clothes and viewed the potential sale inside.

“No, thanks. I’m just looking.”

“Your friend’s going to be awhile. Sure you don’t want to just try on a pair, or two, or three? Can’t hurt.”

Damn, she was good. “Okay, I’ll try some. What would you recommend?” I lifted my shirt a bit to show her my midsection, currently relaxing in my loose-fitting workout pants.

“Let’s see… what jeans fit you best usually? G-Star? Page?”

“Uh, Gap?”

Julie and the salesgirl exchanged knowing looks across the store.

Yes, it’s true, there was a real live designer virgin in her store, just waiting to be plucked from my world of $50 jeans and molded into a stylish fashionista.

“Here, these are my favorites; we just got them in yesterday. These look like they would fit you too. And these.” She filled my arms with dark blue denim, worth its weight in gold, and directed me towards the fitting rooms.

I reluctantly pulled off my sweats and tried on the first pair. They were tight. I had to hold my breath to zip up the fly. I took them off. The second pair was similar.

“Remember, they’re supposed to fit tightly,” Julie yelled through the fitting room curtain.

“Am I supposed to be able to bend at the waist while wearing the jeans?” I yelled back, struggling for air.

“Well...yeah,” she conceded.

I took off the second pair and let out a deep breath as my stomach returned to its regular, convex shape.

I tried on the third pair. To my shock and slight dismay, they fit perfectly. They were tight, but comfortable.

I came out of the fitting room and modeled them for my accumulating audience: Julie and two salesgirls. I was met with cheers of approval.

“You look great.” “Those fit perfectly.” “Look how good your butt looks.”

I looked dubiously at the bottom of the jeans dragging on the floor.

“We can hem them in the store,” the salesgirl preempted my argument. I examined myself in the mirror. My sneakers were not doing the pants justice.

“Let’s try those on with heels,” the salesgirl almost squealed with glee as she hurried over to the shoe shelf. This woman loved her job.

She returned with a pair of 6-inch stiletto heels with gold buckles. I eyed the shoes I would never even consider wearing, especially not with blue jeans. But she disregarded my wary look and slipped the horrors over my sweaty gym socks.

“There,” she stood up proudly. “Now walk around.”

Asking me to walk around in 6-inch stilettos and tight jeans is like putting tap shoes and a girdle on a horse and telling it to gallop. I awkwardly maneuvered through the store, teetering on the heels as I sucked in my stomach.

“Audrey would never wear those shoes, why don’t we try the jeans with something else.” Julie came to my rescue seconds before I toppled over a rack of cashmere sweaters.

“I know: my new boots!” What a brilliant idea I had just come up with. That’s what I would most likely be wearing the pants with anyway.

Julie and the shopgirls watched as I opened up the shoebox containing my latest purchase and removed the balled up paper and foam from inside the boots. I slipped them on under my jeans and pulled up the long zippers.

“There,” I stood up and admired myself in the mirror. “This is what I’ll be wearing to work everyday from now on.”

“Yes, that looks terrific.” “Those jeans are perfect with those boots.” “Walk around and let us see.”

I did my best runway walk around the shop – shoulders back, arms relaxed, leading with my hips, just like I’d seen on Project Runway.

“You’re buying those,” Julie instructed.

I looked at my reflection in the mirror. I liked what I saw. So what’s another $170 dollars? “Okay,” I said. “I’ll do it.”

I waited for applause from the salesgirls. I waited for cheers from the other store patrons. But everyone continued to shop quietly. The salesgirls looked pleased, but not as ecstatic as I thought they’d be. It was almost as if women purchased designer jeans every single day. Which, I supposed, they did. Women spent $170 on jeans every single day! This realization hit me with horror.

But I had little time to think about it. It was time to decide on a hemming length.

I had a salesgirl kneeling by each leg sticking pins into my jeans at various lengths. “I like my pants to break a bit higher than Cindy, because then you can also wear them with flats.” “I’d say go long, you can always make them shorter – can’t make them longer.”

I looked helplessly at Julie.

“I think that length is perfect, let’s pay and go.”

I was released back into the fitting room. I took off my new boots and put on my sneakers. I removed the jeans, now full of pins, and put on my comfy sweats. I felt like myself again.

After handing over what felt like my life savings and leaving the store, I hugged Julie goodbye and thanked her for all her help. I crossed the street to unlock my bike as Julie began to call our friend Stephanie in San Francisco to tell her the exciting news, Mission Get Audrey To Buy Designer Jeans: Completed!

It wasn’t easy riding my bike through Brooklyn while carrying a large bag of knee-high boots. I guess that most women don’t ride their bike to go shopping for designer clothes. But eventually, I was able to balance the bag from my right handlebar and still have room to pull the hand brake. The winter sun felt good through my sweatshirt, the breeze whistled through the hair under my helmet and I felt alive. I decided to forgo my house and ride to Prospect Park.

As I maneuvered my bag-bearing handlebars through the wide blocks of Park Slope, I contemplated the day’s activities. I couldn’t believe I had just dropped $350 on two items of clothing. But I knew that people, even people with less money than me, did that everyday. I felt an odd mixture of disgust and pride. I had succumbed to the pressure of our consumer society, and it felt really good.

The park was packed with people on this rare summery day in the middle of January. Kids rolled around in the grass, women rollerbladed, couples jogged past and a painter stood with an easel recording the scene. I slowed to admire the painting and was escaping into the image when a cyclist behind me shouted: “Your tires need air. They’re screaming for it.”

I looked down. He was right.

“Thanks,” I called out as I pulled over to the side of the bike path and took the pump off my bike. For some reason, I’m terrible at pumping air into my tires (yet another skill I did not receive from my parents). Soon my hands and clothes were covered in grease and my tires had less air in them than when I started.

Maybe it was time for a break. I looked around and noticed a cute guy sitting on a bench near by. A note to cute guys: When a single girl sits down near you on a park bench, it’s never a random occurrence. Her location is carefully calculated – far enough away to look caught up in her own thoughts, but close enough that if you happened to start a conversation, she wouldn’t have to strain to hear.

I sat down on the bench next to Cute Guy’s bench, took off my bike helmet and pulled my journal out of my bag. Before I could even begin to write about my new boots and jeans, he took the bait.

“Excuse me, do you know what time it is?”

Ha, oldest line in the book.

“Yeah, it’s ten after four.”

“Thanks.”

Pause. Pause.

“So what time do you think the sun will set?” Now I took the bait.

“Oh probably in an hour or so.”

“It’s so warm out, it feels like summer. It seems like we have another three hours.”

“I know,” he agreed. “I woke up this morning with the sun streaming through my window and I thought, didn’t we already do this a few months ago?”

“Totally,” I laughed and held out my hand. “I’m Audrey.”

“John.”

We ended up talking until the sun set, which was, in fact, only 45 minutes after we’d introduced ourselves. I walked him to the subway and then gave him my phone number before hopping on my bike and pedaling home in the waning light.

I had forgotten all about my designer jeans and my new boots until I picked them up to carry home. And I began to wonder… what drives people to wear expensive clothes?

To exude confidence? I had just picked up a guy while wearing sweaty gym clothes and a bike helmet.

To look good? A guy had just asked me for my number and I had streaks of bike grease across my forehead.

To feel rich? I zoomed through the tree-lined streets of Brooklyn, admiring the jagged silhouettes of the naked winter branches against the multicolored, dusk sky, and I felt richer than anyone in the world.

I wondered if I could still return the clothes.

This story might be more meaningful if it ended with me pedaling back to Brooklyn Heights and handing the expensive items back to the shopkeepers. “I don’t need your over-priced goods,” I would proclaim. “I’m just as good in my sweats and sneakers as any other New Yorker in her black Prada dress and 6-inch stilettos.”

But that’s not what happened.

I got back to my house and I locked up my bike. I carried the bag with my new boots upstairs and I emptied the contents on to my bed.

I examined my new purchase. I caressed the soft leather and fingered the fancy stitching. I gazed at them with a private admiration, like a young mother watching her new baby sleep.

They were beautiful. They were mine. And I’m going to look so damn good wearing them with my new designer jeans as I stroll into the office on Monday morning.