I have two things pulling on me strongly that are diamatrically opposed: I am not impressed by material goods, and I am thoroughly impressed by material goods.
Let me clarify, if I may. If you're wearing a Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon 5002 P watch, for example, I couldn't care less. Wearing such a watch tells me a few things - 1. you are rich - whoopee, good for you; 2 you need everyone to know you are rich; 3. some watch salesman outwitted you into buying said watch, and therefore you are dumb; and 4. one day you will only have one hand, because chances are someone will be going after your 1.5 million dollar timepiece. So, as you can see, this is the part of me that's not impressed by material goods.
On the other hand -- literally!! -- if you are wearing a Waltham Premier U.S. Military WWII Era Wristwatch with its original canvas strap, I will be very, very impressed. I will ooh and ah and covet what you are wearing, though, of course, I would never resort to cutting off your hand. (In spite of my love for the militaristic timepiece, I'm a pacifist.) The beauty of wearing such a watch is that it doesn't tell me anything. What it does do, is make me wonder not only about you but also about the watch. Who are you? Who wore the watch originally? Where did you get it? With such a watch, I literally and figuratively will be wondering what makes you -- and the watch - tick. I love the item not only for its beauty, but for its history, its story.
As as a result, there are few things that bring me greater pleasure than treasure hunting at thrift stores. It actually gives me an adrenaline rush, in the same way I would imagine people get when they do such things as gambling or do exercise that is more strenous than getting out of a chair to get gluten-free snacks from the kitchen. To continue with the gambling analogy -- because continuing with the exercise analogy would be too taxing on my imagination -- for the past year or so, I have been like a gambler pulling the slot machine wheel over and over hoping for the jackpot. Except the jackpot I am hoping for is in the form of midcentury dining room chairs.
I suppose if I really wanted, I could save my money and buy a lovely set for a few thousand (yes, thousand) dollars. But that will never happen. Not only would I be out a few thousand (yes, thousand) dollars, I would be douche-adjacent to the one-handed, Tourbillon-5002-P-watch wearing dude in the above scenario. Besides, even if those few thousand dropped from the sky tomorrow, it would bring me no satisfaction to just buy the chairs. No, instead I want to find the set in a thrift store or at some dead broad's estate sale (RIP lady with good taste) or on the side of the road in some rich neighborhood. I want to feel like I won the chairs.
This will take time. And patience. Until the day it happens, I will make do with our set of CostPlus wood chairs. They're neither midcentury nor modern, but at least they are really, really heavy which gives my arms a wonderful workout every time I get up to get a snack.
Little did my grandparents know as they innocently* tuned into the Miss America contest year after year that they were irreversibly damaging my self-esteem.
It wasn't about my seeing those beautiful women on the screen and getting a false expectation of beauty that messed up my confidence. Uh-uh, that wasn't the problem. For reasons that defy logic, I've always been comfortable with the the fact that I am a thick-calved, squinty-eyed, squat little tomboy. All I have to do is look into a mirror for confirmation that I am a cross between Charley from the classic Willy Wonka movie and the Olympian Mary Lou Retton, minus any of her talent, of course.
Which brings us to the rub: it was the talent portion of the Miss America contest that sent my self-esteem on a downward spiral that continues to this day. As I would sit in front of our 10" TV with my fat legs criss-crossed watching the different women compete, I would panic trying to think what my talent could be. I certainly couldn't belt out a tune like Miss Tennesse. (I was one of only three people in my third-grade class who was asked not to join choir after "singing" the scales.) I couldn't play the flute like Miss New Hampshire. (In my defense, renting me a flute when I'm seven without any instruction is not very helpful. I'm looking at you, dead Grandma and Grandpa!) I couldn't even twirl batons like Miss Arizona (though I did try, almost breaking the aforementioned TV in the process).
Imagine losing hope in yourself before you even graduate from elementary school. The Miss America contest made me realize that I had no talent and having no talent made me realize that I could never, ever be Miss America. (Why I didn't understand that being a squat, squinty-eyed, thick-calved tomboy eliminated my chances from ever even stepping on stage is a whole other story.)
You would think as a mature, middle-aged woman this wouldn't bother me anymore, but it does. It even makes its way into my psyche as a I sleep. Just last night I had a dream that my son was performing on an outside stage and I, as a goof, got behind him and started moving around in what could loosely be called "dancing." When the performance was over, it was announced that for some inexplicable reason I was a runner-up and would be moving on to compete in the dancing and singing portion of the contest. In my dream I instantly got the same panicked feeling I used to get watching Miss America, which didn't abate when I woke up. For many minutes I lied in bed trying to figure out what I songs I could talk-sing like Lou Reed so no one would notice I really can't sing-sing.
As my husband and I went for our morning walk, I shared with him my dream, and my concern that I could never enter the "Mrs. America" contest because I have no talent.
There was a really long moment of silence, before he replied "Well, I guess you're pretty good on the hula hoop."
While this might have discouraged most women, I was thrilled. I have a talent afterall. I can hula hoop. Pretty good. Of course not wanting to leave anything to chance after all these years of waiting, I've decided that when it is my time to finally make it on to stage. I will not only hula hoop, I will also talk-sing about world peace. Move over, baton twirlers, this one's mine.
*Given that I found a bunch of Playboys underneath some strategically-placed Teamster picket signs in the backseat of my grandfather's VW Beetle when I was in kindergarten, it's safe to assume his watching may not have been so innocent afterall.
The last few weeks have been odd.
I developed a tiny black dot inside my left pointer finger. Then, a few days later, I developed a tiny black dot on the inside of my right middle finger. Because these dots appeared about a week after my gel manicure - where my hands baked in UV lights - I was concerned that it could be melanoma.
I took photos of each dot with my iPhone, blew them up, and compared them to photos on the internet (which gave me a new respect for dermatologists). I read studies on the connection between UV lights and skin cancer. I went to skin-cancer message boards and searched "tiny black dot" and scarily the words "stage" this and "stage" that appeared way too often for my comfort level.
I got myself so worked up that I had to take a Xanax to sleep. I had thick dreams and when I awoke a haze of foreboding rested over my head, though I couldn't remember exactly why until I went to brush my teeth and staring me in the face were the two dots.
I made an appointment with my internist. In the 24 hours that I had to wait for my appointment, I resigned myself to the fact that I would just cut off my fingers, if the cancer had not spread.
Inside the exam room, the GP looked at the dot on the inside of my left pointer finger and declared "that's definitely a blood blister." When he looked at the right one, he hesitated - which I'm sorry, no doctor should be allowed to hesitate - and said that he's pretty sure that it, too, was a blood blister.
As the doctor predicted, the dot on my left finger just fell off. The dot - the one that he's pretty sure is a blood blister- is still sitting tight (and, believe me, I've given it a little pick here and there to help nudge it along but to no avail). So this week, I will be off to the dermalogist. Because the remaining dot on my right middle finger looks so much like the dot that just up and disappeared, I'm not sick with worry, just pretty worried.
Cancer sucks. It not only sucks because it kills, it sucks because it's the worst kind of boogie man. It's a boogie man that actually exists. It's the monster under your bed that actually can come out and get you and really, really hurt you or at least kick your ass trying. It's the bump in the night that can turn into a cancerous mass, and it's the dark shadow that can turn into a melanoma. It's a devil that knows no mercy and taunts at every turn.
Well, Cancer, while all my digits are still intact, I'm raising both my middle fingers at you. I'm raising them high - not for me and what is most likely a blood blister - but for the people who've you've hurt and damaged and stolen. I'm raising them at you, because I hate bullies, and you are the worst kind of bully. You attack children, even babies. You cause suffering and fear and inconsolable loss. Cancer, this is for you:
I'm just trying to figure it out, like everyone else.