With Deep Regret, I Must Give This Seller a Three Star Rating

Here's a little story I wrote that's more fictionalized than fiction.

With Deep Regret, I Must Give This Seller a Three Star Rating

Yesterday I received a panicky email asking me to go fish a pair of books out of my storage facility and ship them off to a stranger because this seller had successfully sold them on Amazon. My storage locker is small and well organized so this only rose to the level of a minor pain in the ass. Also, as this seller would quickly remind me, I chose to live in Oregon, so I can’t complain that I had to do this in the pouring rain. The fact that the post office closes at 10:30am on Saturdays is hardly the seller’s fault, so the delay in shipping is not the seller’s responsibility and should not reflect poorly on her.

But it’s the principle of the thing: This seller loaded up her car and brought these items all the way across the country from Cleveland, Ohio to my small town in Oregon and delivered them to me. I was not asked to hold these things for her while she travels overseas for a few years. These items were gifts for me to keep into perpetuity. So, when this seller asked me to ship these items to a stranger, it was not only another job to add to my to-do list; this seller was asking me to ship off my own goddamned books!

Of course I will send the books. Partly this is because, as a great lover of the service Amazon provides, I wouldn’t want this stranger to be disappointed by his/her purchasing experience at Amazon.com. Partly it is because I have an unhealthy desire to be helpful and store up my resentment for late-night whining sessions on Facebook. But mostly it’s because the seller in question is my mother. She not only brought the books to me as part of a load of goods she schlepped all the way across the country, but she carried me for nine months, gave birth to me (through what I’m told was quite a difficult labor), and then loved and cared for me for my entire life. Consequently, I cannot give her less than a three star rating, even if she is selling items which are now technically my belongings.

A warning to buyers, though: My rating may decrease to a two star if she continues to sell my shit. I am most concerned that she’ll try to post a mail-order bride for sale. That would be my wife you’d be buying on Amazon, and I’d be very upset to see her go. Plus, the shipping costs would be ridiculous and I’m not convinced my mother would pay me back for those. In that case, I’d be forced to post a one star rating. Just a shot across the bow, Mom!

From OWP: "The Gift"

As a part of our classes for the Oregon Writing Project, we model lessons for one another which we can perform in our own classes for our students during the year. Today (yesterday, technically), one of our excellent lessons, by Teri Daniels, focused on writing memoirs. This piece really surprised me. Teri had us write a list of some formative events during our lives, and thanks to her instruction I avoided some that seemed more important, but were cliches or lacked surprise or conflict. I'm glad she guided me to this one. I had no idea it would have any emotional resonance for me at all, but when I shared it I found I was almost crying in front of these people I've known for four days.

This is dedicated to my mom, as it was written on her birthday.

The Gift

Home movies make legends of seemingly innocuous events. Seeing myself on tape warps the memory, so that I remember myself from the outside as much as from the inside. On the screen, the restaurant’s dark lighting makes my skin look even more pale. I’m opening my birthday gifts, so my head is turned down, my dark hair obscuring my face. I pull the items out of the box one by one. My mother, who is behind the camera, is so excited she can barely contain herself. I part the tissue paper and pull out the first item, a travel journal.

“Okay?” I say.

Then I pull out a small, round piece of fabric. I unfold it. It’s black, circular, and about as big as my hand. It’s slightly domed. Since I’m not a practicing Jew, it takes me a second to recognize a Yarmulke. I still don’t get it.

“Keep going,” Mom says. “There’s something else.”

I pull out a small, thin, blue book. I still don’t get it. I open it and see my own picture. Now the camera is watching me look into a book at myself.

Then I put it all together. On the camera, my head pops up. My mom nearly screams. My dad’s laugh starts out low, then gets higher as he shifts from his joy at the gift to amusement at my response.

Only, this part I can remember without the camera. The shock of the moment, of realizing I’ll be going with my dad on the tour he’s leading to Israel and Greece, fires up a highway in my 33-year-old brain that was paved so deeply in that eleven-year-old’s that it has weathered all the traffic in between.

“I get to go?” I look at Dad. Then Mom. Only she’s holding the camera, so on the screen I’m looking right out and all my wonder is visible, even in the dim light.

“You’re going with me,” Dad says.

I have no idea the trip will change my life, will alter the way I see the world, the way I associate previously compartmentalized pieces of information. Jerusalem will do that; link family and ancestors, war and faith, God and dusty stones, history and emotion. But I haven’t been there yet. I’m eleven, and I just know I’m special. I’m lucky. I’m going.

Mom the Early Adopter

I just posted a comment on the first post of my mother's blog. She's blogging as a marketing tool for her new business (she's a life coach). If you're interested, you can find the blog here.

My mom is something of an early adopter. We had a personal computer, complete with a black and orange monitor and that paper with the edges that had to be neatly trimmed off, before most folks in our income bracket. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on it. I'm pretty sure my dad typed his on his type writer.

I'm not sure which of us discovered email first. I know I'm more addicted to it (I check it hourly, and worry about it during camping trips). Mom had a cell phone first. I resisted, based on the idea that I would be giving up my freedom and privacy. Now I can't remember how I lived before my phone. My wife and I call each other from opposite sides of a Target in order to meet up.

I do know Mom beat me to Facebook. I resisted that one, too, on the grounds that it would be as lame as MySpace. I beat Mom there, but that's nothing to brag about. It's like saying "I discovered that farts smell bad before you did. So there."

I certainly wasn't on the cutting edge of blogging, and I still enter into it fully cognizant of the narcissism inherent in the medium. But that's where I think Mom has me beat once again: I blog for no justifiable reason. Mom blogs for her work. Point for her.

I have beaten Mom to Twitter, which has all the drawbacks of blogging and only one discernible benefit. It's an education in brevity. And, speaking as a teacher, I can say for certain that an education does not necessarily lead to an educated student. But I've put that too succinctly to make my point. Let me drone on about that for a bit... Oh, nevermind.

My latest salvo in the early-adopter war with Mom is my itouch. This is, frankly, the coolest thing I own. I love it, and it's a portal to another medium I've discovered: the podcast. My mom has an itouch, but, for the first time, approaches the technology like your grandma did the VCR. She claims it's too complex, that she can't keep it charged, that she can;t figure out how to adjust the setting so that it will update the podcasts she might be interested in.

I am going to enjoy this slight edge for as long as I can, because I expect that she'll soon realize that she can not only market her business with a blog, but also with a podcast, at which point she'll be creating with a purpose while I dink around pointlessly.

Thank you for reading this post which argues against its own existence. Again, here's my mom's.

Writing My Way Through a Short Summer

So I recently returned from a trip to London, Paris, and Madrid. I took a group of forty high school students, parents, and fellow teachers. Great fun was had by all, and much exhaustion was produced. If you'd like to read about the trip, I blogged the whole thing here at:

Central High Europe Trip

Now, after some days of decompressing, I am finally getting started with a real summer break. My plan was to put in flooring, dry-wall, and a drop ceiling in an unfinished room in our new house, but according to the guy at H&R Block it takes two to three months to get the eight grand stimulus-for-buying-a-new-house-money from the gov'ment. Without that job, I thought I'd work on school stuff, paint myself a copy of Picasso's Don Quixote for my classroom, maybe paint the walls in the living room (if Paige and I can agree on colors), and generally sit on my butt until early August, when we head out to Cincinnati to see my family. It's my mom's sixtieth birthday (man, that sounds weird. Mom can't be sixty!) and she wants to go to Dollywood. As much as I'm looking forward to the time with the family, those of you who know me can probably imagine just how well I'll fit in at the Country and Western version of Disneyland. Imagine a half-naked, foam-cheese-hat-wearing, body-paint-covered Green Bay Packers fan screaming his head off at Wimbledon, or a golf tournament at Pebble Beach, or a televised chess match. That will be me. I haven't worn an earring in five years, but I'm thinking of finding my old skull and crossbones earring and putting it back in just to heighten the effect.

Anyway, that leaves a month in the middle for my summer. So I started the painting of Don Quixote, then realized that, as much as I love the painting and the story, I really should read the book. So I started it (spoiler: it's really good) and I got an idea for another novel. Now, I know I haven't finished the trilogy (quadrilogy?) I'm two books deep in right now, but since no one is nibbling at those, and this will probably be more marketable (what the hell do I know about marketability?) I've started writing this new one, and I'm going to see how much I can crank out over the next month. It's fun because I'm writing in the voice of a woman looking back on her high school years and a) I'm not a woman, and b) she's funny, so it's really challenging to get her voice just right. I considered teasing out the first few chapters here, but I know I'll want to do lots of editing before I take that leap, and, at the very least, I should let Paige read it before I completely humiliate myself. Still, I think the project has promise. Wish me luck!

Does one wish writer's luck? Actors are encouraged to break their legs (it's a dangerous profession). Should you wish me carpal tunnel syndrome?