Monday, August 6, 2012

Gretzky’s Flirtinis

Vanessa and I had tickets to see Avenue Q on Broadway in a couple hours and had time to kill at our hotel bar in Times Square before heading out into the freak March blizzard.

Our hotel was directly upstairs from a McDonald’s that happened to be the site of a Winter Olympics promotion that day, but we were unaware anything out of the ordinary was happening below us.

We were just starting in on our first Flirtinis when two gentlemen sat down next to us. The one closest to us was already hammered. His mate on the other side was much taller and exuded confidence and charisma that was palpable even when looking at him with a mere sideways glance.

He was wearing a huge flashy ring that matched his flashy unusually white teeth. It didn’t take me long to figure out who he was.

Vanessa leaned toward me and asked with clenched teeth, “Is that Wayne Gretzky?”
“Yep,” I said casually.

We played it cool for a few minutes, while inside I was screaming, “OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD!” I’m a lifelong Kings’ fan, and this was like the jackpot of celebrity sightings (more interesting than seeing David Duchovny at Gobo and Ethan Hawke getting on the subway, both during that same week). 

Soon Wayne’s buddy reached over to shake hands with Vanessa; this prompted Wayne to shake my hand and say, “Hi, I’m Wayne.”

The Pepper Shuffle

In June 1995, we rescued Vanessa from Small Town America and brought her back to Southern California. Her family had moved a few years earlier.

The morning Operation Liberation began, our buddy Slim picked me up in his new silver F150 truck. It notably lacked A/C and power windows, and did not have much room—just a bench seat that held three, if the middle person didn’t mind the stick shift jamming into her leg.

We planned to drive through the desert heat of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, and Utah, for a total of four days there and back with no air conditioning. Only young people do that kind of stupid shit.

But, we were excited to have our trio complete again after three years of separation. Vanessa was elated to see us. Venturing out for an evening of dancing and cocktails when you haven’t seen your friends in a long time can be a recipe for disaster when you’re young, and the night we got into town was no exception. We said goodbye to her folks and her fourteen-year-old brother early and headed to Peppers, the local dance club.

It was classic rock Thursday night and a local guy was teaching the Pepper Shuffle to cowboys. The real name of this tubby, balding man was irrelevant because he looked exactly like Newman from Seinfeld. And he was dancing. With a headset. Like Britney Spears. High-larious.

The ladies on the wood floor had feathered eighties hair; the men wore ten-gallon hats and leather boots, and here we were, out-of-place So. Cal. kids following Newman’s steps with all the gusto of a Broadway act on opening night.

“One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. Riiigghht. Lefffttt. Bump to the corner! Bump to the back!” we yelled along with Newman on his microphone.

Vanessa and I shook our booties, clapped our hands, and generally embarrassed our male companion completely. The waitress brought him free cokes and kept saying, “I’m so sorry” every time she walked by.

After about four or five whiskey sours, Vanessa decided it was a swell idea to start drinking martinis. Conversely, my internal drinking alarm went off. I stopped while my friend forged ahead, unfazed by our requests to “slow down.” She was impervious to alcohol because she was 21, damn it!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Gas Station Weed

One sunny Saturday in 2004, my then boyfriend and I pulled into a Chevron in Mission Viejo. When he was pumping gas, I looked to my left and noticed a sizeable bag of weed on the ground in the middle of the crowded station. People milled around it obliviously. My boyfriend noticed it at the same time I did, and walked toward the gallon Ziploc slowly with a perplexed look, like the leafy contents were going to blow up in his face.

“Is that what I think it is?” I yell-whispered from the truck. He glared at me, as if to tell me to shut the hell up and stop drawing attention to us.

He stood over the bag trying to decide what to do. He picked it up carefully and held it in the palm of his hand for me to see, with scrunched eyebrows and an open mouth.

What a bizarre place to find drugs! I swear I could smell it from fifteen feet away. Who the hell dumped a bag of marijuana this big in the middle of the gas station? I thought.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Night I ‘Played’ Professional Hockey

In terms of embarrassing moments, this one is up there with tripping up the stairs onto my face in high school and crying in front of a college writing class, but it’s funnier because hundreds of mean kids are involved. Oh wait, no, that just makes it worse. Darn.

It was 1995, back when the Ducks were still “Mighty”, the Honda Center was still the Pond, and the hockey rink itself was covered in a haze of pixie dust, courtesy of Disney ownership.

I was at the venue to see a Bullfrogs’ roller hockey game. (Does anyone even play roller hockey anymore?) I was with three other people, who all have puck-handling and ice skating experience. Me? I haven’t even walked on ice. I’m an armchair hockey fan. (Go Kings!)

We were in the nosebleed seats, and the stadium was filled to about 3/4 its capacity, mostly with 10-year-old boys and their fathers. When we got to our seats, my cousin asked me the question that would define the rest of the evening: “Do you want to switch seats with me, so you can sit next to Amy?”

I should have said, “No, I’m good.” Come to think of it, many questionable incidents in my life would have been prevented if I would have just uttered those three words. Instead I said, “Sure.” The kiss of death.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Health Insurance and My Self-Employed Parents

When my parents moved to the beach in 1969, they could not have foreseen the issues they’d face with health insurance in 2012. This month they shelled out $3,120 for their quarterly bill (that has an $8,000 deductible and covers almost nothing). It reminds me how broken our system still is. This was the first July 4th I actually thought, “What exactly are we celebrating?”

My parents come from hardworking fathers who ran small businesses. (The American Dream, right?) My maternal grandfather ran a janitorial service. When he died in 2005 in a nursing home in Anaheim, he did not own a house or have money to leave to my mother. My paternal grandfather ran a service station after serving in the Navy in WWII. When the property was sold on which his gas station resided, he worked as a mechanic nearby, and labored well into his 70s. He and my grandmother bought their house when my father was in middle school for less than my current Honda, and they both still live there. At 88 and 86, they now live on a meager income from Social Security and a minimum IRA payment, and can’t afford to renovate their 19th century home that is in dire need.

My father graduated from CSULB the day I was born. He then started his career as an architectural illustrator and fine art painter. In times when the housing market is booming, my dad works every day, including weekends. He is excellent at what he does, and has had some of his architecture clients for more than 30 years.

My mom, also college educated, became a court reporter, but after tendinitis kept her from doing her job, she changed careers and now has a professional photography business and provides household tech support.

They became self-employed to be home while my sister and I grew up, which I have always appreciated. In addition, they have had time to exercise, make nutritious meals, and read the daily newspaper.