Monday, March 28, 2011

A Victorious Loss

I’ve started playing tennis again.  Like, organized tennis.

After a 3-year hiatus and with so many of my fans begging for my comeback, I have dusted off my racket – nay found and then dusted off my racket and returned to the court. 

Okay, perhaps the only begging was coming from my muscles after the first practice.

At any rate, I am enjoying being on the court again.  It’s the one thing I can truly say, I’ve done my entire life.  It started long before I entered the realm of drama and has endured much longer than any musical instrument I’ve ever attempted to play. 

And as I explained to my muscles last week over a pint of Ben and Jerry’s…its good for me.

This weekend, my sister and I were floating off of our first week victory in our triumphant return.  We were ready to show another set of doubles-players that this court wasn’t big enough for the four of us.  I used my cunning strategy of intimidation by having both rackets in my tennis bag. 

First of all, for those who don’t play tennis, let me explain.  No one needs two rackets.  Only the pros and really competitive men’s tennis, carry two rackets.  It means your good.  It means you hit the ball so hard that you could break something on your racket in any given point and therefore need a backup.  This is not something I have to worry about.  I just carry the 2nd racket because I don’t have any other place to put it.  But I think it’s a rather genius and intimidating strategy. 

As it turned out, not even the two rackets would save this match.

I have to say that one of the most difficult things for me on the tennis court is the side game that is always being played.  It’s a little game I like to call “Post Shot Comments”.  It’s the finale to each point.  The thing you say to the person that made the good shot and/or the person that made the point-losing shot. 

This is way more difficult than a little game of doubles…this deals with human emotion.

Ladies tennis is full of frustrated moms, wives, working women, etc.  They have had about all they can take of their week and the tennis court is ground zero for a frustration outlet.  It can get ugly.  It can get uglier than the black and navy tennis outfit I put together last week. 

For the most part, I’m okay with whatever comment you want to say to me on the court.  I can take the “good try’s” from the Venus and Serena play-a-likes who  should never have stepped foot on line four of a C team (and know it).  I can even handle the “hang in there’s” from my partner when I hit a ball, out.

The only thing I cannot stand to hear on a tennis court is the dreaded non-compliment, “Nice Idea.”

You aim your backhand to hit a winner down the alley of the girl at the net.  It is so wide it lands next to the Gatorade bottle on the bench…one court over.  You cringe.

“Nice idea, Rachel.”  You hear your partner or your opponent or (even worse) your mom from the stands shout as you walk back to position.

Hmm…I would have preferred “Good try”, “Shake it off” or even, “What was THAT?”  Instead, I get, “Nice Idea”.

“Nice Idea” is actually short for, “Yea, I see what you were trying to do there.  It’s a shame that you weren’t able to execute that particular shot.”

This weekend’s match was filled with lots of shots that were “nice ideas”.  These shots were only our shots. Our opponents shots were more of the“That’s how we do it!” kind…all of them.  Followed by fist bumps. 

The scene looked like the following:  Our opponent would slam a perfectly aimed ball in the general vicinity of where we weren’t.  We would trip over our own feet trying to make an attempt at getting the shot that we would ultimately miss.  The opponent would then sling her racket over her shoulder and continue discussing her spring planting ideas.

“I’m thinking about Marigolds for the front yard,” she would casually mention to her partner who was working on finishing her story about her children’s bus driver who just died.  All of this being interrupted, only sometimes, by the tennis match that was being played. 

Meanwhile, we were reevaluating our goals in our pre-point huddles. 

We went from “We are going to kick some butt, girl.  We got this.” 

To, “We’ll get them in the next set. No worries.”

Which led to, “Look, let’s just get some games here.  I don’t want to leave here without any games.”

Which became: “Can we not win any points?  This is ridiculous…did you kick a puppy on the way here?  Let’s just focus on winning one point.”

And finally, “So, who do you think is going to get kicked off Celebrity Apprentice this week?”

After the public smashing that was our tennis match, we walked to the center of the court to shake hands and exchange our well wishes.  Anna and I congratulated our opponents on their victory and skills.  One of the girls shook my hand, shrugged her shoulders and could only manage, “You guys were funny.” 

I take it back, there are two things I can’t stand to hear on the tennis court.

So, I was going to report a second victory for my sister and I on the court this weekend.

I know. I know.

Nice idea, Rachel.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

It All Starts Somewhere...

Not long after our son was born, Andy and I decided to grow up, stop eating Ramen noodles and get insurance policies.  The moment we signed those policies was quite surreal.  I realized as we sat on either side of our financial representative that every episode of Snapped or City Confidential started right there, at the kitchen table, making the public declaration that we were worth more dead than alive…and the other one now had it in writing.

It makes you wonder how well you really know a person.

Andy and I glanced up at each other timidly from time to time as we flipped through the pages and signed our respective forms.  We hadn't been that nervous since our first kiss.  After what I refer to as the most vulnerable moment of our lives, Andy excused himself to go wash and wax my car while I went online to buy that bottle of cologne he'd been asking for.  I was alphabetizing his cd's and scrubbing out his shower when he came back in the house and declared I needed a night off and he was taking me out to dinner.

We had never been nicer to each other.

The first thing required of a life insurance policy, after the dreaded signing o' the form, is an assessment of your health.  The traveling nurse comes to your house to take your vitals, get blood and weigh you with her cheap scale.

This is to assess the amount you should pay per month.  You know, it's the risk assessment.  The more you pay per month...the more likely you will die within the 30 year term of your policy.  Pleasant thought isn't it?

Because Andy and I worked, we had to have our health assessed at separate times. He just happened to be first.  Later that afternoon, I called home from work to see how it went. 

“I don’t feel so good,” he sounded puny over the phone.

“Are you sick?” 

“No, the nurse took all this blood and I’m feeling really lightheaded.  I don’t know if I can even go to work tonight?”

“Where are you?” I asked.

“Lying in bed with my feet up in the air.”

“Good grief, how much blood did she take?” 

Being a woman, blood donor and having had a baby, I had had quite a bit of blood taken many, many times.  After talking to Andy, my mind was imagining the nurse tapping my husband’s arm like a keg and leaving our home with a bucket of his blood.

I told him to take it easy for the rest of the day.

A few days later, the nurse showed up again to conduct her ‘how much should you have to pay for coverage’ tests on me.  Without looking up from her clipboard she asked me how my husband was doing. 

“Oh, He’s fine.”

“Well, he wasn’t fine the other day.  I thought he was going to pass out when I was taking his blood.”

“Well, he rarely goes to the doctor so he’s not used to having vials of blood taken.” I explained. 

She looked up from what she was doing. “I took one vial of blood.”

“One vial?”

“One vial.”

“I see.” 

Do you remember when the doctor says, “one stitch” in the hospital scene of Adventures in Babysitting?  This was that moment. One stitch.  One vial.

After that discovery, she pulled out her scale.  Now, there is a certain method to a woman stepping on a scale.  Can I get an amen?  There are conditions, specific wardrobe choices and the moon must be in the seventh house.  Do NOT throw your $4 Big Lots scale down on my living room floor at 4PM, tell me to step on with my shoes and think THAT is an accurate number.  Is nothing sacred anymore?

I tried to negotiate, but apparently she was not willing to accept the weight on my driver's license listing my high school ten pounds.  

Needless to say, once we got our assessments back.  My premium went up, while my husband’s went down by half.  I was bitter. 

“This is weight discrimination.” I declared over the phone from work to my husband the day I found out. “I just had a baby, don’t I get some kind of special post partum immunity or something?”

He mumbled something about life not working like reality television. 

He never understands. He then made the most common mistake men make while women vent.  He had opinions.  Then he made the 2nd most common mistake.  He shared them with me.

“What you don’t understand, honey…” He began. 

This is dangerous territory he is heading into here.  1.) No woman wants to be told she doesn’t understand.  2.) He is clearly about to insert some thoughts on my vent session about my weight. 

Careful, Andy.  I know how much you're worth.

I’m pretty sure he promised never to discuss my weight when we said our vows.  The only acceptable weight comment is…”It looks like you’ve lost weight.”  That’s it…nothing else.  No deviation.  A man can say, “It looks like you’ve lost weight.”  Then he just needs to shut up.

Yet he continued“…is that you really have to watch what you eat and always make sure you exercise.”

He has never exercised.

“I mean, I must walk several miles at my job each night.  That keeps me in great shape.  Life and getting older…”

Great, now I’m out of shape and getting older.

“…is about really taking care of our bodies and paying close attention to the things we choose to eat.”

Just then, I heard the kitchen timer go off in the background.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Huh?  Oh, my Tombstone is ready. Can we talk later?”

“Sure,” I muttered bitterly.

“Oh, honey?”

"Yes?" I managed.

"Do you think you could pick up some Lays Stacks and box of doughnuts on the way home."

I slammed the phone down on the receiver wondering how much his premium would go up if the insurance company had any inkling about the sudden and dramatic increase in risk to his overall well-being at that very moment.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Are you a Lawyer?

"Are you a lawyer?" The white haired lady in the back guessed.

"No, Tootsie. The category is…something you find in the kitchen."
I was beginning to get a little impatient with this game that I had thought would be fun for the residents to play.  Another woman took a guess.

"Ants?" a slightly older woman with slightly whiter hair chimed in.

"No Miss Clyde…not Ants."  Again…something you find in the kitchen…everyone's kitchen…not just yours.  Miss Clyde sat back in her chair looking more confused then ever.

"I know…I know…," Tootsie was getting into the game now…her hands were shaking in the air to get my attention.

"Yes…Tootsie…you have another guess?"

The delicate, but feisty lady called out, "You're a dog!"

Working with the elderly was going to be harder than I thought.

When I was 26 I took a job at the assisted living community where my grandmother lived.  I thought it was a divine appointment of sorts.   My grandmother had just moved up from Fayetteville and the place she was moving into happened to be hiring.  At this time in my life, I was in the throws of the, now ridiculous sounding, quarter life crisis.  I was a few years out of college, working a job, that in hindsight I should probably still be at, but I was looking for something more.  I was looking for a job with meaning.  I was looking for a greater purpose.  That greater purpose, for the time being, was going to be the elderly. 

I bid my well-paying-for-being-straight-out-of-college, professional, on-a-path-to-something career job and took my big heart and my higher calling over to the assisted living where I would take a big pay cut so that I could fulfill a greater good with people who had absolutely no appreciation of the fact that I was doing them a great service.  

Did I mention that I was a stupid 26 year old? 

One of my jobs at the assisted living was to plan and execute field trips.  This meant that I had to drive the resident bus complete with wheelchair lift.  I have to hand it to my management, they did a great job convincing me that I needed no special training to drive something that could carry 20 plus people, no further lift training other than showing me the up and down buttons, no training in resident transfers (moving a resident from a wheelchair to a seat and back again).  I wasn’t even CPR certified, but that seemed to be no problem to my boss.

Looking back I am amazed that I was trusted to take 15 plus residents on adventures all over the metro Atlanta area. Especially since my first experience driving the van for an Alzheimer’s patient’s Dr. appointment, led me to hit a clearance sign…twice.  It’s kind of a difficult crime to flee from, too.  Any blind, drunk man could have picked out this vehicle with the scraped roof, community’s name on the side in enormous letters and the young female driver having a complete meltdown in the driver’s seat while screaming into a cell phone that this wasn’t part of her job description.  Yet, somehow, Ms. Effie and I evaded capture.

The residents were blissfully ignorant to my lack of experience and gladly hopped on that bus anywhere I went.  I think some of them were secretly ready to die. We took scenic tours all over the area.  I gave my scenic adventure rides names you might find featured in a Globus catalog.  Every Thursday afternoon we would head on the “Magnolia Mile”, “Dogwood Day Ride” or I would take the residents on an “Old Atlanta Adventure” which basically meant, I drove them up and down East Paces Ferry to look at old houses.  They half-listened to this one cassette tape I had of 1940’s music and half listened as I shared all the historical information I could remember.  Of course, what I couldn’t remember, I just made up.  

The first time I had to do a resident transfer was for a woman named Gertie.  Gertie was in her early 80’s.  She sat at Mamo’s table and at the end of every meal would ask where her bill was so she could settle up.  She spent a lot of her time having confusing discussions with an 84-year-old who told everyone that she was 100. Talk about, lying about your age.

Well, Gertie wanted to go on one of our excursions one day.  Up until Gertie, I had merely had the walking residents go on the excursions. The most that was required of me was a hand to help them on and off the rickety bus.  Or sometimes if we were taking a scenic drive, one of the caregivers would assist in getting the residents on the bus.  For whatever reason, on this day, there was no one to help me. 

I was very nervous about this.  I could see the headline, Nursing Home Worker Kills Woman During Improper Resident Transfer, and I didn't like the look of it one bit. 

I carefully rolled Gertie’s wheelchair on the lift, secured her and hit the “up” button and watched it raise her up in to the bus.  I ran inside the bus, unlocked the wheelchair and rolled her in.  Halfway home, I arrogantly thought.  I can do this.

Now came the transfer.  I put her arms around my neck and grabbed her around the waist just like I’d seen the other caregivers do.  It was like anticipating a waxing…JUST DO IT... I kept telling myself.   Inside I was praying that I wouldn’t drop her. 

ON the count of three…one …two…three.  I lifted.  I transferred.  She was in her bus seat.  The whole ordeal had taken four seconds.  I bent over Ms. Gertie looking at her,  stroking her hand and asking if she was okay.  I believe I might have even been crying.

“I’m fine,” she said in her normal, dry tone - as if nothing had just happened.

She was unaware of the Rocky music of success playing in my mind.  

That wasn't so hard. What was I so afraid of.

I turned to walk to the front of the bus.

“Hey, I got a question.”  Ms. Gertie was looking at her feet as she made this statement.
I hurriedly came to her side.  

“What’s that Ms. Gertie?”  I smiled and gave my best flight attendant impersonation as I hovered an inch from her face.  Apparently, I thought the hallmark of a good caregiver was to invade people's personal space.

Ms. Gertie sniffed and looked up at me.  “When were you going to get the rest of my ass in this seat?”

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How the South Does Death

Once upon a time, someone died.  

Not only did that person die, but also they died in the South.  

Across town, nine church ladies are going about their business when one after another, they get the call.  Each one reaches for the phone.

“Dorothy Simpson died”

That is all need be said.  In a matter of moments, these brave little old ladies are filling the aisles of Winn Dixie or Piggly Wiggly or Kroger.  Buggies are being filled with watermelons, corn on the cob, chicken, potatoes, crackers, cheeses, butter and every cream soup known to man.  Their mission is clear.  The evil villain grief can only be fought with one weapon.  It is the job of these nine women to carry out their gluttonous plan.  It is a burden they carry gladly for the deceased.   Their food is bought and they hurry home to begin cooking.

Later that night, one of these women gets a call from another.


“Yes, Elsie.”

A frightening hesitation, before “Myrtle forgot to get the ham.”


Jean puts down the real butter she is creaming into a stick of Crisco and picks up her glass of sweet tea.  She takes a long thoughtful swig of the tea.  She chews on the sugar granules thoughtfully as she comes up with a plan.

“Alright, Elsie.  Jack has to deliver tomatoes to all the people in the church directory tomorrow, but when he gets back, we’ll go first thing and get the ham.  But this means that you have to make the congealed salad because I won’t have time to come back and get mine.”

“Okay, Jean, I can do that.”

“Do you have the gelatin, crushed pineapple, sour cream and cherries?

“I do.”

“Okay, then Elsie, I leave the Jell-O salad in your hands.  I’ll do my best to get the ham on such short notice.”


“Yes, Elsie?”

“If you can’t get a ham, this will be the first visitation in the history of Springhill Baptist to not have one to feed the family.  Dorothy would never forgive us.”

“Yes, Elsie, I realize a lot is riding on this.  I will not fail.  This is for Dorothy.”

My father’s family has been in the state of Georgia since it got its name.  These people practically bleed bacon grease and cornbread.  In addition to the southern code that they lived by, there were a lot of them in the family so I remember attending a good number of funerals growing up. 

I have vivid memories of my grandmother, perched on a stool in more than one deceased family member’s kitchen; quietly judging- I mean overseeing the food deliveries.  One thing about death in the South – you eat well. 

It wasn’t just family deaths that needed coordinating by my grandmother.  It was also friend deaths.  I had the following conversation with my grandmother multiple times.

“You know my friend Mildred”
Shake my head, “no”
“You know, Mildred from my Sunday school class”
Shake my head, “no”.
“You know the gray-headed one.”
Oh, the gray headed one.
“Sure, Mamo.”
“Well, she died, today so we have to get over to the Winn Dixie.”

Lining the buffet table was always an array of chicken casseroles.  Chicken casseroles are a lot like snow flakes…I’ve never seen two exactly the same.  They are generally the same, but every good southern woman has one or two tweaks to make their chicken unique. But no matter what recipe differences there may be, they all show up when someone is "going home".  That is the chicken casserole's finest hour.  That is the job it was meant for. I don’t know how to describe it except to say that, in the South, chicken casserole is the official food of grief. 

The dish is so prevalent in the secret underbelly that is the Southern covered dish code, that it often times shows up at your doorstep prior to you receiving notification of the death…as an omen of sorts. 

You might be just starting your day when you open the front door to find a chicken casserole and a bag of fresh garden tomatoes sitting on your front porch. If you do, you should start making some calls.  

Someone has died.

And when they do, those nine church ladies are ready to spring into action at a moments notice.  After all, blessed are the grieving, for they will receive congealed salad.