It’s all settled: I am mad.

Last week I discovered something new.  And as with most of my discoveries, I’m about a decade behind in discovering it.  Yes, my faithfuls, that game you all left behind your junior year of college–the Settlers of Catan —has only recently found it’s way into my home and my psyche.  And I’m not very good at it.  And that makes me mad.

It makes me mad that I’m always just one settlement, one city, one Development Card away from winning.  It makes me even madder when my seven-year old son steals my Longest Road card for the win.  And I rage–oh how I rage–when my smug, victorious husband walks away–yet again–with the triumph that should have been mine.  He’s already stolen my youth and beauty; must he steal my Settlers of Catan victory, too?


You should know that I am not a competitive person by nature.  I’m a blue-personalitied middle child who could stand to be a bit more competitive, as it would drive me to be a more impressive person.  (I’d be smarter, wealthier, and prettier.)  (And I would have married much better.)  (But that’s a whole ‘nother thing.)  However, when I invest two-plus hours in a board game–two hours that would otherwise be spent sewing, canning, or doing genealogy, no doubt–I want to win.  And I want to win bad.  So when I don’t win, which is pretty much always, I just don’t take it very well.  In the interest of full disclosure, let me define what not “taking it very well” means:

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  • I find myself yelling–for real yelling–at my husband while he negotiates a trade with our little boy that could jeopardize my next move.  I accuse said husband of taking advantage of said son’s young age.  He accuses me of using my accusation against him to manipulate my son into rejecting said trade, all to advance my own interest.  My son looks at us both with confusion and contempt.  It isn’t pretty.
  • I find myself irritated with my children as they laugh and chatter with each other while I’m trying to concentrate.  More For Real Yelling.  (Who told them they could have fun?)
  • I find myself begrudgingly congratulating my thirteen-year old daughter for her first-ever win, consoled only by the fact that my smug husband didn’t win yet again.  It actually hurts to choke out the compliment to my normally beloved girl. I mask my frazzled emotions as best I can (read:  I storm into the kitchen and tear into a chocolate-chip cookie with one of my Angry Bites.)  (Have I ever told you about my Angry Bites?)  (That’s a whole ‘nother thing.)

And that’s the mild stuff.  The real sound and fury came a few nights ago when Derrick jilted me out of a mightily deserved win due to an alleged “technical error.”  I felt the “error” (whatev) should have been overlooked, since I was playing for only the second time and my oversight was a common one among new players.  Derrick resolved that should the mistake be excused, my victory would be tainted and thus go unrecognized by him.  The choice was mine:  I could stand my ground and walk away with a win–but no bragging rights–or I could concede his point and continue playing with the possibility of an eventual, “legitimate” win (which my first win was, cheater.)  Either way, my hard-fought, eagerly anticipated victory was spoiled.  And boy was I mad.  

After a lengthy internal debate, I gave up my (legitimate!) win and we continued playing.  Of course Derrick won two turns later and immediately announced, with all the magnanimity of an adult speaking to a child, that he would “split the win” with me.  It would seem that securing his own victory made him very generous.  I responded to this proffered gift by rehearsing his own favorite line back to him:

“I ain’t splittin’ nothin’.”  This is how Derrick responds every time I ask him to split a dessert with me at a restaurant.  (Derrick does not believe in splitting food.)  (Even with his wife.)  (But that’s a whole ‘nother thing.)

He said:  “Come on, Jen.  Don’t be mad.  I’m offering to split it with you.”   Oh be still my heart.  Such a sacrifice.

I said: “No.  Take your win.  I hope you feel good about yourself.”

He said:  “Thank you.  I do.”

I said:  “You can never give an inch, can you? ”

He said:  “We have to play by the rules.  Otherwise winning doesn’t mean anything.”  Oh, so noble. Such a purist.

I said:  “Yeah, but when someone’s still learning a game, we always help explain it the first couple of times.  I just didn’t know I didn’t have any city-blocks left.  You could have let me keep my cards after I realized it.”

He said:  “You should have known.  We talked about it.”

I said:  “No we didn’t.”

He said:  “Yes we did.”

I said:  “No we didn’t.”

He said:  “Yes we did.”

I said:  “I’m going to bed.”

He said:  “It’s early.  Come on, it’s Friday night.  Let’s do something else.”

I said:  “I’m going to bed.”

He said:  “Don’t be mad.  It’s just a game.”

I said:  “I’m going to bed.”

And I marched up the stairs, slamming my slipper-covered feet into the carpet as loudly as I could.  (It wasn’t very loud.)  I shut the bedroom door soundly, as slamming it may have lessened my credibility at this point.  I changed huffily into my Mom Power Suit (snowflake flannel pajamas), washed my face, brushed my teeth, and got into bed.

And I lied in bed for a long, long time, unable to fall asleep.  Because I was mad.

And I heard Derrick get into bed two hours later and I still couldn’t fall asleep.  Because I was mad.

And I heard him snoring softly, no doubt dreaming blissfully about his smarmy win.  And I had to listen to it as I lied next to him, wide awake.  Because I was mad.

And after many hours, my anger gave way to boredom which gave way to fatigue and I finally fell asleep.  And I woke the next morning with just one question on my lips for my husband and children:

“Who wants to play Settlers of Catan with me tonight?”

The kids looked at each other and then back at me with large, silent eyes as my husband walked quietly backward out of the room.  No takers.

That made me mad.



Lonesome Dove

This summer, I read Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty.  I write of it now because finishing that book was such notable achievement for me.  You see, I’ve never in my life read a Western novel, or even watched a Western movie.  This has always been a source of great sorrow to my father, who raised us waxing nostalgic about the golden days of Bonanza and Gunsmoke; he even sang the jingles at the dinner table, so ardent was his devotion.  This was a source of great delight to his children, who took ample pleasure in pointing out to their dad, repeatedly and enthusiastically, that he could/should not sing.  He knew that, but he didn’t care.  He loved his Westerns, and we loved him.  Which is why, after twenty years of fatherly advice, I finally gave in and read Lonesome Dove.  It took me three tries to get past the first one hundred pages–everything was so dusty and brown in them!  (I’m already living in Eastern Washington; like I need more of that.)  I would set the book down, read three or four books from “my genre” (i.e., ethnic women doing ethnic things), then dutifully pick up Lonesome Dove to try, try again.  And though the writing was good, each of my attempts at those first hundred pages had me thinking, again, that Westerns just weren’t My Thing.  But finally, after a passionate plea from my younger sister, who had loved the book and is about as “western” as Lady Gaga, I decided to give it one last chance.  I sat down on my couch, opened the thick and rumpled paperback, and slowly but determinedly rode over that long, dusty hundred-page hill into the epic valley of a Western drama.

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Can you say cowboys?  Old, young, handsome, homely, brave, lazy, heroic cowboys?  I’m in love with one called Augustus McCrae.  Can you say Indians?  (You get to refer to them as Indians in this book; it’s kind of risque.)  Innocent, cruel, scared, and starving indians?  Can you say whores?  Sorry–that’s what they were called,  so that’s what the author calls them.  No political correctness here.  The “whores” were beautiful, repulsive, naive, savvy, good-hearted and murderous.  And each was a victim of her time and place, though she scarcely knew it herself.  The cowboys loved the whores–and by that, I mean the way a boy loves his first girlfriend.  Whore was not a derogatory term; it  simply meant a woman doing what she must.  The men loved these women, but they were also in love with these women.  And the fallout is fascinating.

This book was great, in spite–or because?–of its being a Western.  And it taught me the thing that good reading always teaches us:  whether it’s in the Wild West or Deep South or Middle East or Imperial Russia, the human heart is the human heart, and will ever be.  The human heart is–sadly and blessedly–no respecter of genres.

And so, upon turning the last page of Lonesome Dove and shedding a few tears for–well, I won’t spoil it for you–I came to an obvious but heretofore missed conclusion: books are just like people, and it’s the quality, not category, that counts.  If the writing is good, the story’s worth reading.  And if the person is genuine, they  are worth getting to know.  Looks, age, background, education, wealth, politics?  Those are just genres and, too often, we let them do our thinking for us.

I want to start looking at people the way I should have been looking at books all along:  more at the writing and less at the cover art.  I want to get past the title page and dig a little deeper.  I want to learn more.  Because, as Augustus McCrae so dashingly taught us, if you can just push past those first hundred pages, you may find the story of a lifetime.

Friends don’t tell friends they’re old.

Last week I was in line at the grocery store, minding my biz as I leaned over the conveyor belt to pile a big bag of broccoli atop a big bag of Captain Crunch (aka:  Berry Colossal Crunch–we’re broke, okay?)  So engrossing was this task that I failed to notice the woman standing in line a few feet behind me until she cheerily called out, “So, are you a coach?”  I looked up; was she talking to me?  Never in my life have I been accused of being a coach.  (I kind of liked it.)  I then looked down and remembered that I was still in my sweatpants and tennies, having just finished my morning run.  What I really looked like was a retired P.E. teacher, but the title of “coach” was so much more appealing that I decided this woman was my friend.

“Actually, I’m not a coach, I just finished exercising,” I answered, smiling hard to mask the pain of not being a Real Coach.

“Oh…good for you!  You look very…healthy.”  Did she just say healthy?  Everyone knows that’s code for chubs.  Cows and fat babies are healthy.  But I decided not to dwell.

“Thanks,”  I said, demonstrating my magnanimity.  She held my gaze, smiling expectantly.  Obviously a return compliment was in order, so I ponied up.  “And um, you look very…healthy, too.”

“Really?  You think?”  Her eyes lit up and I could see she wanted more.  Noting her dimply, generous frame in a less-than-generous (tight and tiny) sundress, I felt a bit sheepish; my breezy small talk had evidently borne weight.   She smiled and waited.

“Um, yeah…totally!  You look like…you’ve been outside a lot, enjoying your summer.”  She did have a tan beneath the myriad of tattoos that stretched across her aging shoulders.  Gray frizzy hair framed the wrinkled, make-up less face that now broke into a wide grin.  I liked this woman.  She seemed like the Harley-Davidson grandma that everyone wishes they had.

“Thanks!” she replied, “I’ve playing outside a lot with my grandkids–”

“Oh, you have grandkids?  You look so young.”

My faithfuls, I must pause here and confess that this was a shameful, bald-faced, ninth-commandment breaking lie.  She did not look all that young.  She looked, in fact, like a grandmother–albeit a Harley Davidson one, which is nothing to hang your head about.  Of course nothing is wrong with looking like a grandmother if you are a grandmother, except that no grandmother wants to look like one.  No woman–of any age, era or disposition–wants to be told she looks like a grandmother or  a Weight Watchers counselor, noble and necessary as both positions are.  But ever the people pleaser, the words tumbled from my mouth unfiltered by a fact check.  And now this grandmother’s wrinkled and friendly face was beaming.

“Really, you mean it?  You are my new best friend!” she gushed.  “Thank you!  Okay, okay.  So how old do you think I am?”

Oh no.  She’d popped The Question.

“Um…what?”  I glanced up at the clerk, still waiting on the customer before me.  What was taking her so long?  My New Best Friend grabbed my arm in a friendly, albeit firm, Harley-Davidson like grasp.

“Guess my age, honey.  Go on, guess.  Tell me how old you think I am.”   If her smile was wide before, it was mammoth now.  Mammoth and hopeful.

“You know, that’s okay–I’ve always been terrible at guessing people’s ages.”  This much was true.  If you are my best friend and your child is three or thirteen, I’ll guess nine.  (I’ve done this before and I’ve lost best friends over it.)  My New Best Friend, however, wasn’t backing down.

“Oh, come on…you can do it!  Just give it a guess.  How old do you think I am?”

Trapped between this pleading woman and that snail of a clerk, I soon understood what the situation would require.  See, when a woman–any woman–over the age of eighteen asks you to guess her age, you can only do one of two things:

1)  Refuse.  (I tried.)

2)  Guess how old she really is and shave at least ten years off.  Then assume that you guessed too high the first time and shave another  five to seven years off your second answer.  You cannot be too liberal in your shaving here.  Do not, regardless of pressure or circumstance, attempt to determine her real age.  I don’t care if you’re honest, earnest, a saint, a nun, or a sweatpant-clad mom confronted by a stranger:  YOU MUST LIE.  Always, always, and again always: lie.  And until you’ve come to terms with lying, you must not answer the question.

And thus our conversation concluded:

Her:  “Come on…guess!”

Me:  Smile-squinting hopefully to seem invested in my guess “Oh, I don’t know….late forties maybe?” (This was shameless.) 

Her:  giggle and vigorous head-shake “No!”

Me:  “Okay, um…maybe, fifty?”

Her:  wild laughter “Honey…I am sixty-four years old!”

Me:  fake incredulous stare “You’re kidding!  Sixty-four?  I would have never guessed!”

Her:  Administers friendly, albeit firm, Harley-Davidson-like hug  “You just made my week!”  Rocks back and forth in hug.

Me:  Receives friendly, albeit firm, hug with enormous relief.  (And impact.)  “I’m so glad!”  And I was.  I couldn’t help it.

At this point my groceries were scanned and bagged, so I paid the clerk, waved a quick “bye bye!” and beelined for the door before committing more atrocities.  I pulled out of the parking lot and told myself that despite my blatant dishonesty, no real harm had been done.  She was happy, I was happy, and thanks to my diabolical prowess she was now sixty-three going on forty-nine.  Let her live in the little bubble I’d blown.  It was nice there.

I  told myself many more things on the car ride home that day.  I told myself that when I saw my aunt last year and she said I looked thirty, not thirty-nine, she was telling the truth.  I told myself that when I turned forty this summer and my friends all said “well, you look twenty-five!” they were telling the truth, too.  I told myself that my bleached highlighted hair and ROC night creme certainly made me look a decade younger than other women my age.  (ROC promises to take a ten years off your face, remember?)  Finally, I told myself that I was surely the single living exception to the Lie-To-A-Woman-About-Her-Age formula.  Surely none of my besties are pulling the [(decade-shaving)(-another 5-7 years)] crap on me.

Are you?

No.  You wouldn’t.  You would just let me live in the little bubble I’ve blown, and then you’d tell me that my bubble looked smooth, and firm, and young.

And I’d believe you.  I mean, you’re my friend.  Why would you lie?