Italian in a Small Town

It was 1997, and I had moved back to my hometown after a relationship tanked miserably. My parents very graciously allowed me to move back home, ten years before all the cool kids were doing it. After a few weeks of job hunting and wandering around my boxes and figuring out what to do with my life, I finally resigned myself to being a permanent resident of the town where I graduated from high school.

Yep, I went to get a new drivers license.

The county where my parents live is mostly rural. They reside in the more populated northern side of the county, which bumps up against a large metropolitan county. So I could have gone downtown to get my license, but instead I headed south to the small county courthouse, just for the experience. My parents told me where to find it, and wow. It's a tiny downtown. There's one stoplight in the town square, a few small stores, and the old courthouse. Here's a picture I found online:

I found an empty parking space on the street, right in front of the building. What kind of planet had I landed on? Further evidence of having left actual terra firma for parts unknown: there were only TWO people in line at the License Window. Cue angels singing Hallelujah!

Drivers license, fishing license, boat license, license plate for your boat, your car, your RV, etc. - all of this happens at the same License Window in the courthouse. Ahh, small towns. I immediately vowed I would never go to the downtown DMV again.

I told the woman at the window that I had just moved from Utah, and needed to get a drivers license. Clearly, this woman thought I was coming from another country (she was about half right), and although I didn't know it at the time, one vital word could have saved my morning from heading off the rails, right here ... but I didn't say it. She told me I needed to head over to the "Buchellus Building" to get my license.

"Where?" I asked, not sure I understood her accent.

She pointed to a doorway, which led to a parking lot. "It's across the parkin' lot, the Buchellus Buildin'."

Okay. I had no idea what I needed to do in this other building that couldn't be done at the super-nice, all-inclusive, no-waiting License Window, but I dutifully headed to the parking lot.

While I walked, I tried to figure out who the heck this "Buchellus" might be. Some Italian, I wondered, had settled here, of all places, and got this small town to name a public building after him! Amazing.

Once I made it across the parking lot, though, I started laughing. Over the top of the door, the sign proudly declared: "The Frank 'Butch' Ellis Building."

Inside, I encountered a small group of about six people, seated in chairs lining a hallway. It appeared to be moms with their bored-looking teens. So of course I started to get nervous that I would have to retake the drivers test. (Anyone remember what the fine is for littering on the highway? Yeah, I don't either.) I grabbed a copy of the drivers manual sitting on a table nearby, and took a number. Sitting down, I flipped through the book, awaiting some clerk to tell me it was my turn to fail. I overheard one of the moms say that she was really worried about her daughter's driving test, since that four-way stop intersection nearby was pretty tricky, and she wished they had gone to (even smaller town) instead for their test. That comment made me giggle, picturing my own drivers' test about a dozen years earlier. It was on the wrong side of downtown in the previously mentioned metropolitan area. To compare, a four-way stop in that neighborhood might be the ideal location for a carjacking.

Eventually, one of the clerks came back from administering a driver's test, and he did a double take when he saw me. Apparently that building was for teenagers anxiously awaiting freedom, not adult children returning to the nest because they couldn't make their first post-college relationship work right. I got to skip to the head of the line. Thank god for small favors, because it was at this point I learned I did not have to retake the test. Sweet! Then I learned that since I previously had a license in that state, he sent me back to the courthouse to get my old license number dug up and reinstated. I had just spent all that time waiting for him for nothing. That one vital word I should have told the first clerk? I had just moved BACK from Utah. Tips 'em off that I used to live here, la ti dah, here's your old license. None of the co-mingling with sweaty, nervous teens, none of the worries about re-testing decades after Drivers Ed, none of it. Ah, well.

Back across the parking lot. Back to the short line at the License Window. One photo session and small fee later, back to owning my new/old license. Again.

To sum up: there are no famous Italians in small rural Southern towns. Four-way intersections freak out moms of teenagers, probably because they know their own kids are so bad about taking turns. When you leave your hometown, YOU NEVER REALLY LEAVE YOUR HOMETOWN. Even the DMV is just waiting for you to mess it all up and come crawling back.

And no matter how far into the woods you drive, and no matter how short the line is, it still takes forever to get out of the DMV.


The One Where I Try to Gnaw on Her Cheeks

Alice's first word is "tickle."  

Really.  Yeah, I know.  That's what I said.

The daycare teacher told me about 2 weeks ago that when she tickles Alice, she'll say "tickle tickle tickle" while she does it, and now Alice says that back.  Alice *loves* to say it, even when they put her in the crib for a nap, she'll say it to herself as she's falling asleep.   The only time she won't say it is when I am *trying* to get her to say it in front of other people (sigh).   Anyway, this morning Alice was in her highchair and Helen stood next to her, and Alice reached over with her hand to touch Helen's shoulder and said "tickle tickle tickle." No prompting from me, I hadn't been tickling her - she had finished eating breakfast, and I was taking pictures of her holding her baby doll. Just spontaneously, she reached out to do that to her sister. Cutest. Thing. Ever!  

So I told that story to the daycare teacher this morning, and she said, "Oh, all the nursery parents just love Alice, because when they come in, Alice crawls over to the babies and touches the babies' feet and says, 'tickle tickle tickle.' "

My heart just melted.  I COULD EAT THAT KID UP.


Helen is 4!

Helen turned 4 this month. I am not sure where the time has gone but she is surely the youngest 4-year old I know. On the other hand, I've aged a whole decade. Hmm. Funny how that works.

Helen received many cards and gifts and well wishes from her family and friends.  As her birthday present, I took a day off work and we had a Mommy-Daughter Day. I planned a special agenda with good times for her on the agenda. Helen, meanwhile, got the bright idea to dress up fancy for Mommy-Daughter Day, and she woke up at 4:30, ready to go.  I had to shut it down and send her back to bed.  About 2 hours later, she arrived downstairs in her Tinkerbell costume.

I oohed & aahed over her outfit. Helen then asked me why I wasn't dressed fancy. I looked down at my jeans and Wonder Woman t-shirt and thought, oh heck. Her birthday is once a year. Back into the closet I went, digging out a dress from the dry-cleaner bag that I hadn't worn in ages. Fortunately it zipped. Matching shoes, and we were good to go. We stopped by Brian's work to get pictures made.

Dear Reader, we were the best-dressed girls in Waffle House for breakfast that morning. Fortunately, those waitresses have seen it all, and they don't bat an eye at this kind of outfit. Now, if we'd shown up at 2 a.m., it might have earned a raised eyebrow, but at 9 a.m.? "How do you want your eggs, sweetie?" Nobody even asked about the costume.

One trip to Target later, we were the proud owners of a new booster seat for Helen, plus an impulse purchase of Disney Princess pajamas. Then we headed to the movie theater to see "Up." We had to get the all-important Sprite and popcorn, and of course, the movie was in 3-D so we wore our glasses. Helen was far more interested in the popcorn. I loved the movie.

Mom's Official Movie Review: What a wonderful movie! Perhaps a little scary for younger kids, with big growling dogs in several scenes, but honestly, what a great story for adults. Dear Reader, you should watch it, too. Pixar could use your revenue. I worry about them sometimes.

After that, we went to get mani-pedis at my favorite salon. Speaking of which, I want to publicly apologize to everyone in Li-en Nails for your lack of a relaxing experience on the afternoon of Friday, June 5. I agree, the meltdown over messing up the toe polish was unwarranted. Helen has agreed not to make such a fuss again, either. And you don't have to worry - our next visit together won't be for a few years, or at least until we (read: she) can manage to sit long enough for the nails to dry before heading out the door.


Last month I took the girls to the zoo. It was one of those weekends where Brian went fishing on Saturday, and I was with the girls all day, and on Sunday he made plans to get some work done that would take all day, and I was like HECK NO I'M NOT STAYING IN THIS HOUSE ONE MORE MINUTE, YO. So I packed a couple bags with snacks & lunch and headed off for a very expensive picnic.

Actually, it's not that expensive, especially if you bring your own stuff to eat. You could haul a refrigerator in there, as long as you pay your entrance fee. I know a lot of places don't operate that way, so I was glad for the small reprieve. And this is the first year I've had to pay for Helen, but Alice was still free. So thank goodness for that.

The weather was great, and except for all the walking, the girls did fine. Alice has about 10 minutes of patience with sitting in a stroller or a buggy, and then she gets really tired of me not holding her. Let the screeching begin! The good news is that I can hold her and about 10 minutes later, I can put her back in the stroller. The bad news is that she's 20 pounds right now. So I alternated with pushing her or holding her. Helen tried a few times to get in the stroller when it was empty. I definitely got my workout.

We saw giraffes and elephants and some tigers eating lunch. We saw cougars napping and monkeys screeching. We even saw OH MOMMY THERE'S A PLAYGROUND!!! I WANT TO GO TO THE PLAYGROUND!!! CAN WE GO TO THE PLAYGROUND? PLEEEEEASE?

So yes, we did go to the playground. It started raining, and there's a sheltered area where I parked Alice's stroller and sat with her while Helen ran around and got wet. Dear Reader, that girl would change her entire outfit if she spilled a drop of milk on her shirt, but at the PLAYGROUND, it's RAINING, and she had a ball, not a care in the world.

I had to buy her a $2.50 bottle of Sprite to get her off the playground and back to the animals. We saw the meerkats and the alligators and MOMMY, I WANT TO GO BACK TO THE PLAYGROUND.

After 3 hours of too many animals and not enough playground and a lunch that she tried to feed to the crows, we got in the car to leave. She protested for about 15 seconds and then I heard blessed silence from the backseat. Sneaking a quick look as we pulled out of the parking lot, I found her head slumped to one side and eyelids slammed shut.

Thank you, PLAYGROUND.


First Job

When I was a teenager in the late 1980s, our next-door neighbor started his own business. They had gone exploring in a couple of nearby states to check out the newest trend in retail - really fancy bookstores with comfy chairs and coffee bars and peaceful adult contemporary guitar music. You know - a wonderful hangout where you could read.

Keep in mind, this is the late 1980s. The idea of drinking a cup of coffee AND reading a book IN A BOOKSTORE was like, BOOM - your mind just exploded. What if the customers spill the coffee ON THE BOOK? What if they get crumbs from their bagels ON THE BOOK? What if they READ THE WHOLE BOOK? How would that kind of place ever survive?

Yeah, I mean it. Seriously. it's hard to remember how novel that concept was in the beginning, but today, we all know the book-buying public latched on firmly. Nowadays, it's hard to imagine a bookstore you want to visit without a latte and a place to sit. Add some Manheim Steamroller, and stir. Presto! Suburban bookstore. Or: sprinkle hipster glasses, and toss with a calico cat. Presto! Urban bookstore.

Anyway, this neighbor opened the store with a friend of his in a brand-new shopping center near our neighborhood, and I sort of knew about it because my parents talked about it with our neighbor, and sometimes those talks happened in the driveway where I might be standing around and overhear it. I remember a grand opening, and I found it amazing. They had a couple of permanent employees right off the bat. These were good people who knew books and read books and LOVED books. Then one day, I think it was a few months later, our neighbor approached me about a part-time job doing some computer work in the back room. Turns out they were photocopying all the checks that people wrote (again, this was back before everything was bought on a debit card), and they planned to enter all of the addresses into their customer database. They wanted to create a mailing list for their newsletter, but their staff were generally busy selling stuff and didn't want to enter all that information. Could I help out? 

I'm not sure why they thought of me.  Cheap teenage labor?  Because I was there?  I don't remember asking my parents if I could, I don't remember if my parents talked to me first and then we talked to the neighbors - really, at this point it's all a giant blur of how it happened.  But I do know that I said sure!! and promptly spent Saturdays, and sometimes Sunday afternoons off and on working in the backroom of the newest trend in retail l for the next year and a half. They had a great DOS-based system (remember, 1980s) that catalogued all the books, with search capabilities and easy ordering from the distributors.  It all combined up at the counter with the register sales.  Yep - we used the computer as the register.  You can now applaud wildly at that cutting edge technology.  

My part of the system was pretty easy - I just entered in the addresses & phone numbers into a customer list. They had been saving a big stack of these check copies, and it took me a few months to work through them and get to current dates on checks. I got to where I recognized the repeat customers. 

It was cool to see the store grow to a huge success.  In the beginning, i don't remember being on a specific schedule but I basically worked weekends.  When they got busy, especially around Christmas vacation, they asked me to work the floor. I sold books, I shelved books, I wrapped gifts, I helped people pick out books, and I looked up stuff when people had questions. Eventually they felt like the mailing list was big enough, so I stayed on the floor as needed on the weekends. 

Working in a bookstore was my only retail experience. It felt like a smart place to work, like we had knowledgeable customers who looked at us as experts - not the retail clowns you always found at the mall bookstores. These days I think there are entire websites devoted to the dumb questions that customers will ask the good folks at Barnes & Noble, but back then, it certainly didn't feel like there was a giant conspiracy aimed at ruining our day.  Or else I was too young to notice it yet.  I had good bosses and co-workers, and while it wasn't a traditional office job with staff meetings and cubicles and memos, I definitely enjoyed it.

Oh - except for Manheim Steamroller. Nowadays I get an instant migraine when I hear that music.  Spend 8 hours listening to the same cd of adult contemporary guitar music, and tell me if you still enjoy it.  The owners got to pick the music, and we didn't get much say in that day's pick.  So, my favorite part of the day, musically speaking, was when one of the owners would rush back about an hour before closing time, steam pouring out of his ears, and change the cd to ANYTHING, GOD HELP ME ANYTHING BUT THAT ONE.

What was your first job? We're talking real paychecks here. Teenage babysitting or lawn mowing doesn't count.  Did you like it?