If I Had A Garden…

… these are the plants and flowers that would be in it.

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These are a mere sampling of the beauty I saw on my trip through Ireland and Great Britain. The plaque is from St. Paul’s Cathedral, which like the Phoenix it bears, reminds us to rise above all things. This would be in my garden, too (granted they would let me have it).

What places inspire your garden?

The English Teacher Gets New Glasses

The bearer of bad news came in the form of a teenage girl wearing a stained baggy hoodie, track pants, and socks with slide-on sandals.  I greeted her as she walked into class, and she paused as she noticed my glasses that I wore in lieu of my contacts.

“Whoa, I didn’t know you wore glasses, Ms. L!” She clucked her tongue and shook her head, “Man, those frames are DAY-ted.  You should get yourself chic new frames.  Be modern.”

I tried my best to not let my sarcasm come through as I thanked her for her completely unsolicited advice first thing in the morning.  The day of knowing that I wore frumpy, old-fashioned frames that the Tyrannosaurus Rex wore before he met his end loomed ahead.  “Could I make it through a day without seeing?” I wondered.  Everyone’s looks would improve.  If I could teach without my hearing aid, I could teach without my glasses…   The very same glasses I use to read my students’ lips.  Damn it.

My husband will tell you that I tend to hold onto things for a bit way too long.  In 2009 I finally replaced my sunglasses that I purchased in 1995 after someone asked, “Who do you think you are? John Lennon?”.  My search for a new pair was long and hard (I know Michael Scott, “that’s what she said”), and no sunglass display was left unturned.  It wasn’t until I made a “what-the-hell-why-not?” trip into a Honolulu Sunglass Hut that I found my new pair.  Yes, I plan to get another 11 years out of them.  In the meantime, I still wear the red sweatshirt I stole from Steve gave to me when we first started dating (also last century).  The collar and cuffs are beyond frayed and there are big, gaping holes along the seams, but it’s still the first one I go to.

Today was my annual eye exam, and I knew it was time to retire my old, not-quite silver, wire frames.  This pair was my second set of the same frames; the first set broke, and my ophthalmologist found the very last of pair available in the country to replace them.  These are special glasses.  I packed them into their case and took them with me.

Arriving early to my appointment, I used the extra time to survey the wall of bright, shiny, and “modern” frames.  Fred, the man in charge of the glasses, greeted me.  He looked dapper in his neatly pressed striped button down with his sleeves rolled up, his long silver hair pulled back into a pony-tail, and his frameless, sparkling spectacles perched casually on his nose.

“Can I help you find a certain pair?” he asked.

Overwhelmed and not quite sure what I was looking for, I responded, “No, I’m just trying to find a pair that won’t make me look completely like an English teacher.”

He raised an eyebrow, “Why not?  The kinky look is in right now.”

My reflection caught my attention in the mirror and shot me a look that said, “Oh God, he did not just say that.”  We appraised each other’s looks: wash-n-go hair that said “go” more than wash, minimal make-up, brown sunglasses, a shapeless brown polo atop a shapeless brown skirt,  chewed fingernails, farmer-tanned legs in need of shaving, brown flip-flops on feet with unpainted toes, and one inner ankle that sported a freshly opened blister.  This added up to kinky, how?  Not to mention the fact that I now work in a kinky profession?  It’s sentence diagramming, not diaphragming.

Wait… do I need kinky glasses if I teach Like Water For Chocolate?  Gertrudis does mount that horse and the soldier riding it.  Othello?  “An old-black ram is tupping your white ewe”?  “Making the beast with two backs”?  Breathing deeply and channeling Regency England, Mr. Darcy, and Elizabeth Bennet (never mind Lydia and Wickham’s illicit elopement or the fact that Jane and Bingley go off alone into the bushes– who’s tupping who?), I reminded myself that I am not Tina Fey sexy-cool and finally chose a small brown, tortoise-shell frame.  They would match anything and last me a decade.

I put them on and showed Fred.  He appraised them shrugging his shoulders, “Eh.”

Eh?  Now I really didn’t care what Fred said.

“Let me see if I can adjust those,” and he took the frames, returning quite a few minutes later smelling of orange chicken.  I put them on again, and they did fit much better.  Fred and I entered a conversation about people who have more than one pair of sunglasses; one woman I know has a pair to match every outfit.

“Some women have priorities,” replied Fred, “For some women it’s sunglasses, others it’s shoes, and some collect purses.”  Hm.  No, no, and no.  Was Fred insinuating that I lack priorities?  Did he think I needed to unleash my inner-Carrie Bradshaw?  And I had to wonder, when it comes to shopping for glasses that really define us, how do we really see ourselves?

Fred painted a clear picture of what he saw.  “These frames don’t really stand out. They just blend in.”

I leaned over the table that separated us and stage-whispered, “Sometimes I must travel incognito.”

“I-Spy, huh?” he chuckled as he wrote up my order.

Yes, oh yes, Fred.  I spy a blog entry, and I will unleash my inner-Carrie Bradshaw– the one that writes.

The Hulk Gets A Haircut

Communication skills come in handy. Especially at the doctor’s office, the tattoo parlor, and the hairstylist’s. The hair salon I go to is great: it’s affordable, five minutes from my house, and I always get the haircut I want. It’s run by a trio of Vietnamese women, but nothing gets lost in translation– we all understand the importance of a good hairstyle. But every now and then something gets lost in assumptions.

Recently they’ve added a couple of guys to their staff. The last time I was there, Steve, the hair-cut wonder god, spent over an hour shaping, layering, trimming my hair. Not only did he give me a great cut that framed my face and gave me confidence, he gave me the best gift ever: a true wash-n-go style. I haven’t used a blow-dryer in months. And he only charged me $15.00.

Noticing that I could put my hair in a tiny ponytail, I figured it was time go back. This time Steve wasn’t there, but Kevin was. Kevin, I discovered, also responded to Nervous Nelly. Nervous Nelly made me nervous, too, as he grinned widely at me and tried to stuff my purse into a too-small bin. “No, it’s not going to fit,” I said. He nodded as he tried to jam it in. After a few more shoves, he gave up. “It won’t fit,” he resigned. I nodded. This didn’t bode well.

After patting me up into the chair and draping the cover over my shoulders, we discussed my hair. From my view point I thought things were pretty clear: I wanted the same style I had with the same layers but one inch shorter all the way around. He nodded, “I got it. I got it.” Then he proceeded to graze the scissors at the ends of my hair, creating a fine mist of hair dust. “Is this what you want?” he inquired. I repeated my request, this time adding that I had an A-line cut, just in case he hadn’t noticed. He frowned. “No, no. You want one inch off and an A-line? Can’t be done.”

I took a couple of deep breaths and told myself to stay calm: he had the scissors, I didn’t. The next couple of minutes were spent with me explaining to him what an A-line cut is and how it was possible to have one and still cut off one inch. “No, no, no,” he kept replying. My Bruce Banner cool was swiftly leaving me and I could feel myself beginning to Hulk out. “Be nice. Be nice. Be nice,” I repeated to myself, “Don’t be mean.” But my skin glowed green as I called over another stylist to intervene.

He immediately began telling her what I wanted and none of it made sense. Muscles ripping through my shirt, I snapped, “Let me tell her. It’s my hair!”. I told her what I wanted, and she got it. She explained it to him and he stared at both of us like we were nuts. Then she walked away leaving me to suffer alone.

Again he began his tepid attempts. More hair dust. I radiated green and fought the urge to leap out of my seat, smash him against the wall and demand, “What don’t you get about ONE INCH!” He must have felt the impending danger of bodily harm and asked me, “Are you okay?”. I reminded him about the one inch. He paused and pulled out a comb. Placing his thumb on a tine that was about one inch from the top, he asked, “That much?”. Yes that much. Yes, please. Yes.

Finally big clumps of hair fell to the ground. It looked like I might get a Beatles bowl-cut. “Now how do you want it in the back?” I began, “What I want is–” He cut me off, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. I got it.” The seams burst from my clothes,”No, how about I just tell you anyway.” A few minutes later he asked what I wanted done with my bangs, but right as I responded, he turned on hair dryer. In the background Whitney Houston echoed my feelings as she wailed, “I have nothing, nothing, NO-thinggggg…..”

Slowly, tediously, my hair began to take shape. Pausing throughout, he pulled out his comb, placed his thumbnail on the tines and consulted me about length. He began to transform from a little kid cutting a Barbie doll’s hair to someone who might actually know what he was doing. I shrank back to my normal size and took on a flesh-colored hue. Another stylist walked by and nodded in approval. Kevin continued to work, muttering, “I want to get this right.” As he finished up, the lady next to me smiled and admired the cut.

When he was done, he held up the mirror so I could see the back. He did a good job. He smiled and nodded, “Yes, yes. I see what you want now. I’m sorry for the miscommunication. I didn’t know much you wanted cut off.” Even though I was thrilled with my cut, splotches of green broke out on my arms.

As we went to the payment counter, Elvis Costello belted out, “What’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?” Kevin rang me up, “We have raised our prices to $18.00, but I didn’t do much with your bangs, so it’ll be $15.00.”

While the gals there and I could talk about hair and what we want from it, Kevin communicates with the comb. If I ever get him as a stylist again, I will get the comb and tell him how many tines I want cut off, rather than inches.

Why Learn When There’s Prom?

This is not me.

Today in the library I fought the urge to smack one of my  boys upside the head.  Repeatedly.  What was his crime?  Criticizing me in front of the class?  Nope. Asking a question I already answered multiple times before?  Nope.  He said, “I don’t know why my girlfriend’s complaining about finding a dress for prom.  Just pick out a dress and buy it!  What’s the big deal?”

As I restrained my arm, the girls nearby gasped and exclaimed, “You don’t know how it is!”  He continued to brush it off until I sided with the girls.  I never went to prom, but I do know the horrors of shopping for a dress (it ranks right up there with swimsuit shopping).  Since I am a female teacher, and therefore not as silly as teenage girls, I had his full attention; he waited for me to explain why we couldn’t “just buy a dress”.  I stopped as I realized that I have my reasons why, but did I really want to share them with him?

Did I really want to divulge the information that many dresses are sculpted for women who have boobs, and that I often compete with my walls for flatness?  What would I use all of that extra space for?  My coin purse?  Kleenex?  Socks in case my feet get cold?  Did I really want to tell him that dresses are very tall and I am very short?  That the straps are long and the top will hang down below what it’s supposed to cover?  That dresses look better with cleavage?  That a padded bra is ridiculous?  (I can just imagine people coming up to me, “Man, those really are not yours!  Are you planning on using those as pillows if you want to take a nap?”) That junior’s dresses are too young for my *ahem* mature age?  That most of them are strapless, and I had nothing to hold it up?  That I shop in the petites department and all of those dresses are staid and conservative?  That after trying on a multitude of dresses to take on a trip to Hawaii, I ended up buying a smock at Old Navy?  In my most authoritative tone, I said, “Trust me on this.  Don’t take dresses lightly.  Get back to work.”  He shrugged as I moved on.

Corsages: All the rage.

I moved on to another couple “researching” on the computer.  They were supposed to research an event that happened between 1750 and 1850; apparently corsages were big back then.  “Um, this isn’t the research I want you to do.”  They nodded their heads, and the boy said, “She wants me to get her a corsage, but she wants to make me a boutonniere.”  Huh.  I looked around to see another one of my students passing out coupons for $30.00 off tuxedos.  I heard a girl chiding her classmate who wasn’t going to go to prom, “But you HAVE to go!  It’s a big deal!” I intervened to state that I never went; the chider retorted, “Don’t you regret it?!”  “Nope.  Get back to work.”

Prom is 25 days away.  I wondered how many of them will have broken up by then; I wondered if the research paper and Pride and Prejudice could compete (I know the answer to that one, you don’t have to tell me).  I didn’t care about it in high school, and I don’t care about it now.  I never went, yet somehow I managed to survive, go to college, land a career, and –gasp– get married. But I don’t know how I’m going to survive teaching before prom.

The Blush Is Mightier Than The Sword

I armed myself, I cemented my resolve, I shored up my willpower.  I internalized my mantra and made it my own: I will only purchase my Benefit face powder, I will buy it and leave, I will not be forced on to the white leather stool, I will not look at extra products with cute names and equally cute boxes, I will leave with the same face I arrived with.  I had a game plan and I was Going. To. Win.

I marched up to the pink and black Benefit counter with its army of blushes, bronzers, concealers, mattifiers, puff-reducers, light-deflectors, line-erasers all designed to give one a healthy, dewy glow.  The products aimed to distract me from my mission; I recognized Ooh La Lift as a decoy.  I saw the booby-trap of Stay, Don’t Stray.  I averted the moves of Bad Gal and the equally dangerous Coralista.  I zeroed my sight on my target Hello, Flawless! I was primed for attack.  I’d take no prisoners. I’d…

“Hi!  What can I get for you today?”  I tore my eyes away from the products to meet their leader.  I studied her skin with its shield of foundation and powder, her eyes wielded multiple colors, her lids carefully delineated, her lashes thick with mascara, her blush camouflaged into her cheeks, her  lipstick  as orderly as a bed made in the barracks.  Here was woman who knew her products and knew how to use them.

I smiled smugly, “I’m here to purchase Hello, Flawless.”  I reached for my credit card.  I would be gone in five minutes.

“I LOVE Hello, Flawless!  Now, what shade are you?  Are you Honey, Petal, or Champagne?”

Crummy-buttons!  I failed in my reconnaissance work!  I thought they had two colors: Light and Dark.  On the counter You Rebel winked at me as if to say, “No, sweetie.  That’s me. I’m available in Lite and Dark.”

I coolly admitted that I didn’t know, but if I could look at the shades I could determine which one I needed.  She pounced with her counter-attack: “No, no, no.  In order for us to determine the right shade for you, we’re going to have to do some application.”  She patted a white stool.  “Now why don’t you have a seat while I go get the shades.  I bet you’re a Petal.”  With lightening quickness she returned.  As she guided me to the stool, I reestablished my position, “I only want the powder.”  She paused, looking at my face, “You’ll want to do something about the redness in your skin.”  Ouch! I wasn’t prepared for that blast.  “I recommend using a product with a yellow base.  Have your ever tried Pore-fessional?”  She grabbed a cool moist towelette that I’m sure was meant to be the balm for my redness and bruised ego, but I knew it was my white flag of surrender, the symbol of my defeat. She proceeded to clean off all of the Benefit products I applied that morning.

She had her battalion of moisturizing toners, That Gal, Pore-fessional, You Rebel and Hello, Flawless! at  attention as she began to squirt out products onto the back of her hand and mix them with a beauty brush.  “Do you use a beauty brush when you apply make-up at home?” she interrogated.  “No,” I responded sullenly.  “Well, we’re not finger painting or sponge painting your face on.  You need to paint it on with a brush.”  She continued to grill me:

“Do you use an exfoliator?”

“Yes.”

“How often?”

“Every morning.”

“OH NO, No, no, no, no,” she chided, “Do not use it everyday.  This is probably causing your issues with your skin, plus you’ll dry it out.  No, only use it maybe twice a week.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“You’ve got great brows.  Have you ever had them done?”

“No.”

“Ever thought about having them done?

“No.”

“Would you like to have them done?  I can do them for you today.”

“No.”

I smiled at her.  She silently finished painting the canvas of my face and dusted it with the face powder.  She handed me the pink princess mirror so I could admire her work.  My reflection, a double-agent, revealed minimal fine lines, pores that had gone into hiding, and no red complexion, but before I could say anything, she cheered, “See, you are a Petal!”.

She looked at my face, studying her handiwork, “You know, you have great skin.”

I nodded in agreement, “It must be the exfoliation.”

I left the Benefit counter with my Hello, Flawless! in “Never Settle Petal”.  And a tube of Pore-fessional.  And That Gal.  I left behind some of my self-respect and a lot of my money.  Ms. Benefit may have won this battle, but I would yet win the war.