I am not the Buddha.

This is NOT me.  photo credit: priyaswtc via photopin cc

This is NOT me.
photo credit: priyaswtc via photopin cc

I wasn’t going to post about this. In fact, I was going to try to keep silent on this entire topic. However, something really does need to be said. So here goes.

I’m pregnant. (Yeah, yeah. I know.)

My pregnancy is not the reason I’m angry. The reason I’m angry? My “delicate condition” has provoked an unwelcome response among people I hardly know.

In the past month, since I’ve started showing, I have been poked, prodded, rubbed, inappropriately questioned and, in one case, interrogated in front of a roomful of my students by a co-worker.

I am not a person who invites personal contact. I never have. My personal bubble is large and – I thought – difficult to penetrate. I was lucky to have been born tall and I’ve always been a little aloof, and that was always more than enough to keep unwanted physical contact at bay. I’ve also been able to dance around personal questions I don’t want to answer. I’m good at it, or at least, I was.

But now, it seems that my pregnancy has made me and my body public property. People dart in for a quick bellyrub on the sly, like X-wings attacking the Death Star. It’s like they know I don’t want to be touched, but they can’t help themselves. The excuse I hear most? That touching my belly is “lucky.”

It’s not. I am not the Buddha. (If you can’t tell the difference, I’ll give you some hints: the Buddha is bald, laughing and nonviolent.) Your superstitions are no reason for you to touch me uninvited. You are not ever entitled to touch another person’s body, even if that person is pregnant.

Worse than those who feel like they can touch my abdomen are those who feel like they can now question me about every life choice I’ve ever made. “You don’t smoke, do you?” “You have a pediatrician, right?” “You’re not coming back to work?” “You are coming back to work?” “Is your husband good with X, Y or Z?” “Is he good, period?”

While I don’t mind answering questions when they’re asked by a friend, I do mind when I’m being asked by someone who barely knows me. And I’ve been asked a lot. I don’t even mind answering a few questions or having a conversation about my pregnancy, but some strangers have been downright confrontational with me about what choices I’m making when I’m not in their lines of sight. (I’m tempted to answer that yes, I smoke, drink a six-pack a day, and use recreational drugs in the parking lot at work before driving home without a seatbelt on, but I’m actually a little worried that someone might call social services on me if I gave them that answer.) I’ve tried to defuse these encounters with evasive maneuvers and humor, but my interrogators have been dogged.

And weirdly, most of the people who have been invasive, both physically and verbally, have been male. I didn’t expect that. I figured that women  – who have been through pregnancy and childbirth and might feel they had some right to touch and question – would be the offenders. But they haven’t, by a long shot. It’s been mostly men who question my choices, and men who grab at my belly.

This may be a matter of being blinded by privilege. Are these the same people who feel entitled to touch people of color or question people because of their age? I have no way of knowing, but now I suspect.

The case against “snark.”


You don’t have to hunt it. You just have to kill it. http://www.flickr.com/photos/jim_and_kerry/3066976334/

Time for some tough love, guys. I need to talk to you about that word. The one people have been in love with for a decade. The vaguely British synonym for sarcasm. You know the one: Snark.

Look, I loved it at first too. It’s like a wittier form of sarcasm, yes? At any rate it sounds better than sarcasm, which (perhaps rightly) sounds like a terrible skin condition. Snark sounds like dry humor: quirky, funny enough to make you snort, and yet scathing. If something is snarky, it has a little snap to it; a little bite.

Except, no.

Snark has been bandied about so much that it’s lost that charm, and for me, it no longer means what it meant when I first heard it.

What seemed refreshing about snark in 2003 was its perceived wryness. At the time, society needed a healthy dose of skepticism and  — in hindsight — for me and Americans of certain political leanings, borrowing a word for that from another country was just the thing.

But in the last 10 years, thanks to overuse, snark has dulled. It’s used to mask bitterness (the same fuel  that powers and poisons sarcasm) has become overly caustic at times, and, as a synonym for sarcasm, may entering cliché territory. Like any trendy word, snark  has lost its sparkle. It’s become just another part of our slang, another lazy word.

Don’t believe me? Go look at your social media accounts. A perusal of Twitter will show you people applying snark to everything from bad puns to their own wit. Some go as far as identifying snark as a lifestyle. This, to me, is a sign: It’s time for snark to go.

In 2003, snark seemed to be riding the Harry Potter-inspired wave of Britishisms that infected my geeky little enclave. Snape (when he wasn’t being downright abusive) was snarky. When Doctor Who started up again in 2005 it seems that a whole new batch of Americans became infected with snark. And then along came Sherlock in 2010.

Despite the fact that I can’t remember once seeing or hearing the word snark in any of these books or shows, snark seems to have ridden to the New World aboard these franchises like a plague rides a rat, because all of a sudden everyone in the U.S. seemed to be infected. (Weirdly, I actually haven’t heard my British friends use snark that much, if at all. But maybe that’s because I don’t live in the U.K)

But guess what? Snark is much, much older than Harry Potter, or Doctor Who or the sexy new version of Sherlock Holmes.

It is, however, contemporary with the original Sherlock Holmes, and the original definition fits the original character.

According to Webster, the word snarky first appeared in the UK between 1910 and 1915, and it didn’t mean sarcastic. What it meant was “testy or irritable.” It could also mean “to nag, or find fault with,” which means I just snarked at my poor husband about our grocery list. (Sorry, honey.)

While I don’t know when exactly snark stopped being about nagging and started being a synonym for sarcasm (It’s not listed at all in a 1970s edition of The Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English)  it’s interesting to note that Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark was published in 1876 and possibly helped to bring the term into the language.

Who knows? If snark continues to travel one of its current paths, acting as a mask for discontent, it may end up once again meaning “testy and irritable” in which case, this whole post has been an exercise in snark.

Let’s put it out of its misery before it ends up being an indicator of ours. Let’s resign it once again to the yellowing pages of Webster’s Unabridged Encyclopedic Dictionary, so that our great-grandchildren can find it and repurpose it as we have done.

Sometimes you just have to let something you love go.

Haiku and a bag of Fritos

haiku, fritos, valentines dayLast night, in a fit of oh-no-Valentines-Day-is-coming, I went online to the font of all DIY wisdom, Pinterest, to see if there are any new ideas for Valentines Day floating around the Internet. And you know what? I’ve discovered that the crafts that girls used to make for their boyfriends in high school are alive and well among grown women. I’m talking about personalized scrapbooks, jars of reasons why you love him, handmade photo frames.

Forgive me ladies. I know handmade is better than store-bought, and I know it’s the thought that counts, but I just don’t buy that any man (or any person, really) would want any of those things.

So then I was curious. I went over to Google to see what guys were saying women want for Valentine’s Day. I think the gifts for ladies have been pretty clearly laid out by Hallmark and similar companies, but I was curious to see what the guys said.

On a couple of lists I read? “Amp up your usual hangouts” (this appeared to be code for do nothing differently than you would normally do) and “spend the day in bed.” Fascinating.

I really think the Askmen.com gentlemen and the ladies at Pinterest should be taking each others’ V-day suggestions. There might be fewer lackluster Valentine’s Days in the world.

I gave up and went over to Twitter. Scrolling down my feed, I came across this tweet from musician Amanda Palmer.

Palmer’s tweet gets me right where I live because that sort of unapologetic, idealistic declaration is the sort of thing I feel in my soul. If I were able to reshape the world*, I would leave Valentines Day out, because for me romance doesn’t look like pink and red hearts, because companies are capitalizing on our affections and because there are a lot of people who are already lonely and don’t need Valentine’s Day to make them feel worse.

But here’s the thing – I still celebrate it.

I guess I do it because it’s expected and there is some social pressure, but that’s not the whole reason. On the one hand, I do think it’s an example of capitalism on steroids, as Christmas is. On the other, I think there’s something worthwhile underneath the avalanche of plastic pink hearts and cheap chocolates.

Because I was curious about how other people felt about the holiday, I asked people on my Facebook page how they felt. I got a range of answers – some people love V-day, some people celebrate grudgingly – but mostly I was surprised by how many people’s responses fell into a gray area. Many people celebrate in a small non-commercial way, with a special meal or with parents, children and students. One commenter wrote that’s good to celebrate love with her family. Some people celebrate alone, and cheerfully, with heart-shaped Krispy Kreme donuts. (Jealous!)

A couple of people wrote that celebration is okay, but that cherishing a relationship year-round is more important.
“It’s awfully easy to make the romantic gesture, it’s much harder to maintain a consistent kindness,” commented writer Elizabeth Hilts.

And they are all correct. Maybe that’s why I can’t pull a Palmer and leave the holiday alone for good. Because Valentine’s Day exists, and it’s nice to celebrate love in a small way, even if it’s far more important to celebrate love year-round. I’d love to get some more input on this, if anyone wants to comment below.

Anyhow, unlike Palmer, we are celebrating this year although not in a Pinterest or Askmen.com kind of way. Not that I bought anything with a red or pink heart on it, either. Instead I’m falling back on my tried and true plan for Valentine’s Day, one which has gotten me through many a V-day: a haiku and a bag of Fritos.

It’s much less effort than a scrapbook and he seems to like it. And I’m willing to bet that when I wake up tomorrow, he’ll be there holding out his standard Valentine’s Day offering: breakfast with a side of haiku.

*Actually I think the only people served by this holiday are people who have been dating for less than three months. Because that’s when Valentine’s Day is appropriate, when a person is wracked by endorphins, infatuation and insecurity. If I reshaped the world I would institute mandatory Valentine’s Days for every couple on their three-month anniversary. 

Prometheus brought fire; I give you this.

When exactly did we forget how to argue?

Because we have forgotten. It seems like the goal of most of the arguments I’ve heard or seen lately haven’t had anything to do with hearing multiple sides of an argument, or solving a problem. Instead there’s been a single objective: to shut down the opposition.

I don’t know if this is an outgrowth of the fear, anger, and divisiveness that blossomed in our country after 2001. I don’t know if this is the fault of the Internet, where anonymous comment boxes routinely turn human beings into trolls. But whatever it is, as a culture, we’ve forgotten how to argue. We only know how to invalidate.

And so, because I’m a patriot and a humanitarian, I’m going to solve this problem for everyone right now. And, I’m going to do it with three little words:

Arguing on the internet, trolls

No need to thank me. It’s in the best interest of our civilization that we all put on tee shirts bearing these words whenever we’re feeling argumentative from now on. And, if we’re arguing on the Internet, we should consider using these words in our thumbnail photos as well. If we’re arguing in Congress we should scrawl “You’re Valid Too” on our legal pads and hold them up so that everyone can see then while we’re delivering our remarks — no matter how venomous they are — because if we can’t recognize the validity of other points of view in conversation, we can at the very least do it by the use of a visual aid.

How can You’re Valid Too help? Below are a few examples:

1) Consider the people who say things like “If you’re not a [parent, teacher, veteran, member of ethnic/religious group, etc.] you can’t say anything.”

What is that? Of course people can still give their opinions if they aren’t insiders. Their opinions may not be interesting, useful, insightful or welcome to you, but there’s no call to invalidate such speech before it even happens. My first instinct when someone says something like this is to call her a censoring bully and to walk away, which doesn’t solve anything.

But if someone wearing a “You’re Valid Too” tee shirt delivered this remark, I could look down at her shirt and be reminded that this person may have forgotten momentarily that I’m valid because she is angry or afraid of criticism, and that can remind me, in turn, that this person’s anger and fear is valid, and then maybe I can remember that when I respond. Instead of the knee-jerk response, maybe I can give a rational one.

2.) Consider people who threadjack on the Internet. Consider the following fictional conversation:
Facebooker One: Whew. Bad day at work. Pass the scotch.
Facebooker Two: You think YOU had a bad day? Call me if you want to know what a REAL bad day looks like!

Now, Facebooker Two, there was no need to invalidate Facebooker One’s bad day. Your bad day was valid, too, Okay? And, if Facebooker Two’s profile picture was just the words You’re Valid Too, maybe he will look at that thread, remember his own validity and that of Facebooker One’s, and have the decency to delete his comment or at least ask how Facebooker One’s day actually was before jumping in with the horrors of his own day.

3.) Trolls. You should never engage with a troll (someone who posts hateful or inflammatory comments on the Internet just to get a reaction) on the Internet. You should always ignore them, despite the fact that they tend to hurt feelings, cause incoherent rage and raise blood pressure.

Now, if — by some magical Internet law — trolls all automatically had thumbnail photos bearing the words “You’re Valid Too,” we might be more likely to identify them as the pathetic attention-seekers they are. We might feel pity rather than rage. Pity is much better for your blood pressure.

4.) Some people in Texas, unhappy with the results of the presidential election, want to secede from the union and petition to do so. Some might think that this is the political equivalent of “I’m taking my toys and going home.” That’s a valid interpretation.

But if this petition were sent to the White House on letterhead reading “You’re Valid Too,” maybe the request would be taken more seriously as the recipient considers that the Texans are afraid and upset, but do realize that the rest of the country had a valid election. And maybe if the refusal were sent back on the same letterhead, the petitioning Texans will realize that though their request was rejected, their worries were seen as valid, and maybe they’ll be slightly better disposed toward the current administration. You never know. But this can’t hurt.

You’re welcome, Earth.

Your tee shirts are here and here.

Go forth, and be reasonable.

Taking a shot at relentless optimism.

By Arthur Waley [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

I like positivity as much as the next person, and I try to stay positive on social media, because, well, it’s social media. If you have a Facebook account you’ve seen the virtual train wreck that happens when people go negative: grown-ups posting anonymous, passive aggressive messages as statuses, private grievances aired out before 500 of one’s closest friends, obscenity-laden messages to people you’ve never met who blast loud music or cut you off in traffic.

But you know what’s equally horrifying? The cult of relentless optimism. You know who I’m talking about: the people who profess to never say anything negative, for whom affirmations are a way of life and who repress their negative thoughts until, presumably, they go around grinning grotesquely, like victims of The Joker in the 1989 Batman movie.

Why bash positive thinking? Well, I’ve tried it. I self-helped for years. In that time, I self-affirmed and envisioned and made vision boards and sent good, warm, rose-colored energy out into the universe.  I’ve self-hypnotized. I’ve tried to banish the word “should” from my vocabulary. And, as someone who is despite my best efforts, still on Tony Robbins’ mailing list, I can tell you that not only does relentless positivity not work, it’s also annoying.

Enter a breath of fresh air.

NPR’s All Things Considered ran this interview on Tuesday, making my evening. The gist? Author Oliver Burkeman has written a book that states the opposite of what most self-help books tell us: that relentless optimism actually makes people more miserable.

The book is called The Antidote and the message is refreshing, even if it seems like common sense.

Here’s a quote from Burkeman’s interview with NPR’s  Audie Cornish:

I think that what is counterproductive about all these efforts that involve struggling very, very hard to achieve a specific emotional state is that by doing that, you often achieve the opposite.

I’m someone who is irritable a lot, and I kind of enjoy being irritable. Being ecstatic 24/7 is not my natural state. So I agree that denying ourselves the full range of our emotions by concentrating only on the positive would be like trying to exist by eating only carbohydrates.

You might love carbs, but your body can’t exist without fats or proteins, and still remain healthy. Speaking for myself, I cannot live on happiness alone. I need rage, nerves and a side of the blues to be mentally healthy, and I doubt I’m alone in this.

Check out the NPR link above for more info. Burkeman’s put the crosshairs on both self-help and the cult of optimism, and that, ironically, makes me happy.

Mac and cheese, my old enemy, we meet again.

Photo courtesy of Jspatchwork on Flickr.
Actually, I can’t believe how many pictures there are of mac and cheese on Flickr. People love it so much that they’re taking photos of it. Gross.

I cannot say it loud enough: I hate mac and cheese.

Hate it. Detest it. Loathe it in the way some people shy away from rats or snakes or spiders. I don’t like spiders either but give me a choice between a house spider and a bowl of Kraft and I’ll take the spider every time.

I realize this places me in a very small subset of humanity. Most people not only like mac and cheese, they adore it. That’s weird to me. How can you like ingesting a bowl of slimy, orange-yellow noodles covered in fake-cheese?

As a child, I honestly thought that it was only my brother who loved mac and cheese, because he was my brother and therefore a weirdo. Anyhow, as my  brother, I expected that he’d love all the things I hated, just to be difficult.

But then I went away to college.

Lo and behold, everyone there was stocking up on mac and cheese , eating it on rainy days and singing its damn praises. I’d done a pretty good job of avoiding mac and cheese  up until that point, but it was  everywhere in my dorm. In my room. In the hall garbage can. Dishes caked with the orange residue of mac and cheese clogged the bathroom sinks. Microwaves smelled of it. It was like being in a Kraft horror movie. All of a sudden I realized that my brother was not the weird one. I was the freak show. It became clear that I was The Only Mac & Cheese Hater in The World.

Oh come off it, you might be saying. So you didn’t like a food and a lot of other people like it. Get over yourself.

Am I being a big baby about this one particular food? Oh yes. Completely. I choose to be stoic about other things I don’t like: violence, chicken soup, traffic, fires. But the smell of macaroni and cheese? It makes my gorge rise.

My hatred of mac and cheese was so bad when I was a kid that my mother, an Irish-Italian matriarch of the Clean Your Plate vintage, wouldn’t make me eat it if she was serving it for dinner.

This isn’t to say that the poor woman didn’t try to overcome my mac and cheese aversions. At first she took my dislike as a challenge. She and my dad figured okay, I hated Kraft Mac and Cheese, let’s make this kid some real macaroni and cheese from scratch before she develops a phobia. (If you’ve read this far, you know that approach didn’t work.)

They made scores of recipes. Some had meat in them. Some had vegetables. All of them had cheeses I liked in different dishes. Some were baked. Some not.  I remember thinking that one dish in particular was tolerable, so my mother made it again, but the second time I had a very hard time choking it down.

My father tried to reason with me, based on my love of Italian food. “Ann,” he said, “you like lazy lasagna.* Lazy lasagna has both macaroni and cheese in it.”

I chose not to hear this, but even so, it made me suspicious of any noodle not covered in tomato sauce.

In the end, my parents gave up, and I was allowed not to eat mac and cheese at dinner, which was a great relief.
I guessed that as I grew up  and moved out into the world, I’d meet other mac and cheese haters and we’d form our own little mac and cheese haters’ club, but that was not the case. Because apparently the rest of humanity loves it some Kraft.

By the time I was out of school, I was afraid that I’d be turning down mac and cheese for the rest of my life, trying to suppress the awful faces my inner child wants to make at the site of the dish, when I was served a big piece of luck: when I was 25, I was diagnosed as being intolerant to both gluten and lactose. Hallelujah! I sure missed eating pizza, but it was worth it, because now no one would expect me to eat mac and cheese.

But recently, gluten-free technology caught up with me.

Right now, there are a bunch of mac and cheese restaurants out there. Some entrepreneurial hipsters thought that would be a great recession idea, I guess – comfort food during a time of need. A mac and cheese bar would be like the seventh ring of gastronomical hell to me, but fine, I’m allergic to everything in those places, so no worries.

But no. Because the considerate proprietors of these restaurants have created gluten free menus. And even worse? Kraft has also changed its ways. The awful orange cheese sauce? It’s gluten free. And people are cooking it over brown rice pasta.


In conclusion, I will not come to your birthday party if you have it at one of these restaurants. Please don’t be mad at me; it’s really better if I’m not there. And if you show up at my house with a packet of GF Kraft sauce, I won’t be there. I will be hiding under a rock with a bunch of spiders.

*Lazy lasagna is a casserole made with tomato sauce, a lot of cheeses and ziti. It is nothing like mac and cheese.

Sure looks different in here.

Why yes. Yes it does.

I’m writing this post in the spirit of sites like Facebook and YouTube, which accompany every site change with an idiotic series of messages and pop-up windows: “We’re making some changes ’round here!” or “We’re sure you’ll love our updates!”

I’m not sure you’ll love my updates. I’m not sure I love my updates. I’m updating the site in anticipation of Tuesday’s book launch. I added some necessary book information, and then I added some completely unnecessary stuff, like a store, so that I could show off all the insane crap from this blog that I’ve slapped on tee shirts while insomnia had me in its grip.

I’ve also cleaned up the design, but already the background image is grating on my nerves and I’m self-conscious about the sidebar and I think I screwed up the HTML, so yeah, I’m thinking I’m not done.

What I’m saying is, there might be some glitches and further changes here this weekend. Links might not go anywhere. Photos might not load. The streets may run red with blood.

I figured you’d need to be warned.  You know, ’cause we’re making some changes ’round here.

My name is O’Connell.

The holiday cards are a-rollin’ in, and there is no better reminder of the confusion surrounding my name than the various addressees on the envelopes.

So far, this season, I’ve been Ann O’Connell, Mrs. My-Husband’s-Name, Ann O’Connell-Husband, Mrs. Ann Husband. If our vet sends us a card, I will be Ann O’Connell, but my husband will become Mr. O’Connell, because my relationship with the vet’s office predates my relationship with my husband.

The envelopes at Christmas are a jumble of familiar names sewn together in Frankenstein-esque ways, and makes me think that maybe I should have done a better job of notifying my family and friends about the state of my legal name.

This is how I wrote my full name before I got married: Miss Ann J. O’Connell

This is how I write my full name now: Ms. Ann J. O’Connell

Not a big change, but it’s caused some confusion, not least because at the time of the wedding, I had planned to hyphenate my name, and become Ann O’Connell-Husband. I filled out all the paperwork. I was ready to submit it. Then several things happened.

– The idea of no longer being a full O’Connell bothered me. I got married at 31, so I’d been an O’Connell for a long time.

– I’ve never liked the idea of the changeable female surname. It all seems – like wedding veils and white dresses –  like a throwback to the days when women were property, handed over from a father to a husband for the price of livestock and a hope chest.

– When questioned, my husband told me that he did not care whether I kept my last name or took his own.

– Some of my friends got divorced and a couple of them went through the name dilemma all over again; do they change their names back? Do they keep their married names? What about their kids?

– After witnessing all that, I started really thinking about my name. What name will feel right to me, no matter what happens? Do I want the hassle of being one name at work and another name at home? Is that too much of a Batman/Bruce Wayne dual existence for me? What name do I want on the foot of my hospital bed when I’m 98 and in the rest home?

– After a lot of thought, the name-changing paperwork seemed like too much work for something I didn’t really want, and for something that my husband didn’t care about. I shredded the forms and went on being Ann O’Connell.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not expecting members of the oldest generation in our family to understand why I didn’t take my husband’s name. And it’s easier for members of my husband’s family who don’t know me very well to simply write “Mr. & Mrs. My-Husband’s-Name.” But after a while, it’s come to be grating to see how many people – including the ones who know better – assign my husband’s name to me. I once got a birthday card addressed to Mrs. My-Husband’s-Name from someone. I glanced at it, thought it was was actually addressed to my husband, and gave it to him. He opened it, saw what it was, and handed the card back to me. I had this strange flashback to being a small child, seeing that there was mail for me, but dutifully handing it to an adult first.

Getting cards addressed to Mrs. My-Husband’s-Name is  a little odd to me, because we were married in 2009, and women have been not changing their names for a very long time. Some forward-thinking women in the ’50s and ’60s kept their names. Many feminists in the ’70s kept their names. It’s not new. It’s not even new in my family. One of my aunts who married in the ’80s didn’t change her name and I don’t remember any fallout from that.

But there has been some resistance. I’ve been told that  if we have children, I will probably change my name so that we can all be one united family. It’s also been insinuated that I’ve been disrespectful to my husband because I did not take his name.

I’d like to suggest that neither is true. I don’t think any person should feel as if he or she has to sacrifice his or her name in order to be a member of a cohesive, healthy and loving family. And I am no less of a wife than I would be if I went by Mrs.-My-Husband’s-Name.

And also, this is not to criticize the women who choose to take their husband’s names. Every person has the right to choose the name that seems best for them. For me, the right choice was to keep O’Connell.

Why I’m done doing things conventionally.

This is a story about a couch.

Actually, this is a story about a search for a couch, and what it taught me about doing business the conventional way.

This weekend, my husband and I had to find a replacement for Horace, the couch that currently sits in our living room. Horace, unlike most couches, has a name. He’s been named because although he’s beige, he has acquired a lot of character in 30 years. Too much. So much, in fact, that my brother cannot sit on him without wheezing. Horace, bless his beige, cat-scratched heart, has got to go.

We started looking for a new couch on Friday. We had a small budget set aside for it. Neither one of us is new to furniture shopping. Both of us, when we were living singly, got a lot of stuff from the Goodwill and Salvation Army. I once furnished an entire apartment for $40, thanks to hand-me-downs, Freecycle, Craigslist and tag sales.

I will admit that we did hit some Goodwills and vintage stores, mostly out of habit. But we didn’t want a secondhand item this time. We wanted a nice couch. A new couch. A couch that no butts – canine, feline or human — had previously rested upon. Our very own brand new comfy couch, scotch-guarded, covered in a color that we had selected, and possibly delivered by burly men who would carry it over our threshold. Why? Because we are homeowners, tax-payers and grown-ups, and that’s how grown-ups buy furniture.

We started by going on down to the discount furniture showroom. The couches were in our budget, but the selection was limited and the sofas seemed cheap. Then we went to a furniture store where the furniture didn’t seem cheap. For good reason; it was twice what we could afford. We skedaddled  before anyone could ask if we were being helped. Then we went home and did a quick Google search. As it turned out, a major department store had a furniture section. Who knew? We headed to the mall and quickly found out why we’d never heard of this particular furniture department: it’s a dimly-lit grotto in the back of the store’s basement, behind the section where they’re keeping the Christmas trees for the next month. It’s staffed by a very strange man, who probably doesn’t see other humans very often, and followed us around as if he was planning to feed on our souls. And the furniture is cheap-looking, which probably why the lights are so dim back there. We departed from that cave in a hurry and we didn’t stop, or look back, until we reached the latte shop in the food court. Lastly, we decided to hit our state’s other discount furniture store, which hooray, had sofas in our price range and also seemed to have items that we liked. We decided on a couch almost instantly, but thought we’d wait a few hours, measure our house to see if we could get it through the door, and then call in our order. We were elated. CouchQuest 2011 was over.

When we got home, I looked up the couch and on a whim, decided to look at the customer reviews, because I loved the couch and I wanted to see how many other people loved it too. I wanted to join the cult of love for my new couch. I wanted to hear all about its snuggly pillows on cold winter nights, and about how I could take naps on it on autumn afternoons.

I clicked. The first reviewer described her couch pillows falling apart within the first year. Maybe her couch was a fluke. I clicked again. The second reviewer said that her couch only looked new for the first month. Click. The third reviewer loved his couch so much he gave it five whole stars. But his review sounded exactly like ad copy. “It’s so easy to clean,” he crowed. Really? In the store, we read a bit of fine print about chenille being dry-clean only.  Click. The fourth reviewer was angry. “In six months it looked like I had a 10 year-old couch.” Click. “Mine arrived damaged.”

I yelled down to my husband not to call the store. He didn’t want to hear it. He was in love with the couch too, but after reading two pages of bad reviews, he agreed with me. There was no way we were blowing our couch fund on a lemon. And there was no way we were going to give business to that store. I had checked online review sites for the business itself. I found scathing comments written by the spouses of  employees who were forced to come in during dangerous storms, comments from customers who felt cheated and comments from people who felt all the furniture was cheap. We felt bad that the salesman, who seemed like a nice guy, was not getting a commission from us but we simply could not do it.

We were bummed. My husband, looking downtrodden, made dinner. That was when my rage kicked in. I went into the other room, slammed my butt down on Horace and opened my laptop.

What the hell had I been doing? Why did I feel the need to buy furniture – probably not even made ethically and definitely not made in this country –  from stores that abuse their employees and cheat their customers? Why? Because this is what people do? That is no reason to do anything. That’s how unethical behavior gets to be the norm. I typed in a search on Craigslist. It was Sunday night. All the tag salers were cutting their losses. Someone in our town was getting rid of a 100-year-old velvet couch, for free. It’s in our living room right now. We’re using the couch fund to reupholster it, and we’re hoping to use a small local business for that.

And if the cost of re-upholstery is too high? We’ll do it ourselves. Not because that’s what we’re supposed to do, but because it makes the most sense for us.

This couch may also need a name. She has sufficient character.

The Grocery War

I hate the grocery store.

In our house, Stop & Shop is referred to as The Evil Empire, and couponing is considered a noble form of guerilla warfare which predates the extreme couponing reality TV shows of last year. We’re taking money out of the pockets of the Empire, right under the nose of the yellow-shirted storm troopers who patrol its aisles.

If we manage to use the circular, manufacturers’ coupons and stack those with one of the Evil Empire’s own coupons, it’s a well-planned attack and we’re giddy with our victory. If we do all that while getting the reusable bag discount and obtaining gas points, that is a direct hit on the Death Star and we dance as we wheel the spoils to our car.

We could stop going, I know that, we could choose a new way to get our food, but we use that store for a variety of reasons, so I’ve decided to deal with my hatred and wage my little coupon war. It makes me feel better about all the money we’ve spent there over the past several years. There’s one thing my war doesn’t make me feel better about: Being at the store.

Nothing raises my ire more than being in Stop & Shop, pushing a cart, while people careen up and down aisles without looking where they’re going, children scream, slow-moving old people cause pet aisle traffic jams and three ladies all park their carts right in front of the mayonnaise I want and gossip for half an hour. I get especially murderous in Produce, where the management has, as a cruel joke, put three digital scales out for all the customers to fight over. As if we weren’t already hip-checking one another to get at the produce itself. There’s always some poor ancient husband staking out one of those scales while his wife roves Produce, collecting cabbage and squeezing grapefruits, and the poor guy has to guard the scale from the rest of us until she comes back to weigh it all at once. The whole experience makes my inner monkey screech and bare her fangs, and sometimes I hide in the health food section and gaze upon the gluten-free cookies to calm myself.

To keep my criminal record clean, I’ve decided to find an hour when our grocery store is not crowded, and shop then. It’s been a seven-year mission, and I still haven’t found a good time slot.

Here are my discoveries thus far:

From 9 to noon: parents with small children and over-flowing shopping carts/senior citizens who all know one another and want to catch up.

Noon to 2 p.m.: parents with small children/senior citizens/harried people on lunch break who are hungry and trying to shop for the week in 15 min.

2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.: College kids, just getting off campus for groceries/parents with older children/high schoolers who’ve come in to chat with friends who work at the store.

4:30 to 7 p.m.: People who are getting out of work and have suddenly remembered that they have nothing to eat in their homes. They are hungry, frustrated with traffic and furious if they so much as see a coupon produced by a person ahead of them in the checkout lane.

7 p.m. to late: College kids, in various stages of disrepair.

Back when our store was 24 hours, I used to shop in the middle of the night, but there were a lot of drunks at those hours.

I still haven’t explored before 9 a.m. on weekdays or random times on weekends. I am convinced that someday I will find the sweet spot in the grocery store schedule and will find an hour when it’s just me in the store. It will be a major coup in my campaign against the Evil Empire.