Bad to the bone

I am a lousy driver.

The State of Illinois would disagree, oddly enough, seeing as how they’ve just awarded me “Safe Driver” status and the ability to renew my license over the internet. And I’d even be pleased at the prospect – the DMV is darker and more vile than a truck stop restroom – if I didn’t suspect the alternate meaning of “safe driver” is “chickshit lameass.”

It annoys me to no end to be lumped so neatly in the stereotype “bad female driver” – but there never was a stereotype so neatly correct. Far as I can tell, there are two categories of female driver, and both are equally awful: the overly cautious, white knuckle variety like myself and the oblivious, bitch-on-the-road type would who sooner plow her SUV over the grassy knoll dividing a highway than admit she can’t text, apply lipstick and change CDs simultaneously while driving – and then get angry at you for swerving to miss her vehicle.

Not that I’m much better: I’m the kind of driver who will travel 15 miles out of my way just to avoid making a left turn at a busy intersection without an arrow. I may also be inclined to spend 20 minutes on the tollway driving under the speed limit behind a truck spewing the foulest combination of raw sewage and turkey feathers before I’ll work up the nerve to pass them.

I blame my parents, really. Both were useless when it came to teaching me how to drive. My mother is a white knuckle driver herself and spent most of her time in the car with me clutching the arm rest and shrieking than offering better driving suggestions. Her inclination was to leave the instruction up to my father and high school, and suffice it to say, neither proved effective.

My father – once a race car driver of the drag strip variety – would on the surface seem a good choice, but his method of instruction was to first attempt to teach me how a car works. My eyes glazed over as he linked his fingers together in explanation of gears shifting; as a 16 year old, all I wanted was put the top down on the Wrangler and cruise to the movies with my friends. That fantasy ended real quick when I backed the Jeep into a ditch at the end of our street. Guess I should have paid more attention to that whole “gear” lesson.

I was ultimately turned over to private driving instruction when I managed to fail the on-the-road portion of driver’s ed in school. I spent four weeks of summer vacation being picked up in one of those “student driver” cars and reminded to check my blind spot and mirrors only to fail my first two attempts at getting my full license.

Anyone who has had the misfortune of being a passenger in my car is likely having an epiphany right about now; puzzle pieces rarely fit so well together. But all my panicky movements and mistrust of other drivers now is nothing compared to the full-on meltdown I had while in the car with my state-appointed driver’s examination officer that second time around.

He was every bit the state employee: he wore an ink-stained shirt, exhaled cigarette smoke and beef jerky, and carried the weight of self importance and broken dreams. He knew it was my second attempt at getting a license, and it was his duty, he informed me, to point out that I only had three chances to pass before I’d be sent back to retake a year of driver’s ed.

I knew this of course; the vision of starting my junior year and being forced to take driver’s ed with the sophomore class had haunted me all summer long. The terror of such indignity welled inside my brain as I followed State Employee’s directions out of the DMV and into traffic.

Did I know, he asked, that it was his personal opinion that 16 year-olds were far too young to be issued a license? And did I also know that in addition to the rules of the road, it was his personal opinion every driver should memorize their local street grid?

I didn’t know that, but thanks for wiping out every shred of confidence I might have had, jackass.

State Employee then told me to turn west on Highland. A simple request, except that I thought I was already driving on Highland, and wouldn’t have been able to tell him which way west was if the Wicked Witch of the West appeared and lit me a blazing trail.

“Um, where is Highland?” I tentatively asked.

“How do you not know where Highland is?” he bellowed. “It’s the next major intersection past this light! I swear, you kids think you know everything, but when faced with simple tasks, you prove time and time again you don’t know ANYTHING.”

I figured it would be a bad time to tell him that I also didn’t know what direction west was.

Traffic was fairly heavy that afternoon; the DMV was located in a business district where the speed limit was 45 MPH, but the average was 55. Cars were whizzing past me like meteors, and I realized I had less than half a mile to make a decision. The hamster wheel in my brain started spinning overtime as I desperately tried to reason what direction I was currently going.

We had just passed the local mausoleum, and I seemed to recall hearing that the movie theatre was south of there. Because I thought the theatre was just up ahead, it seemed logical to deduce that I was driving south, and would therefore need to turn left on Highland. Of course, I also once baffled my grade school math teacher by deducing that because there are sixty minutes in one hour, there must be sixty pennies in one dollar.

Wrong on both accounts, it turned out.

The three-lane roadway buzzed with traffic as I turned on my blinker. I checked my mirror, checked my blind spot, and cautiously started to move into the left lane when State Employee slapped his hand on the dashboard and roared, “What are you doing! You’re supposed to go west. West, you fool! Go west!”

I was so startled by his anger that I just immediately swerved back into the middle lane, and then into the right turn lane without so much as a thought to the other cars on the road.

Papers flew into the air as State Employee screeched something about watching where I was going. I felt the car bounce over the curb and only caught partial exclamations from around me:

“Get off the road you fucking idiot!”

“God damn teenage driver!”

“What’s wrong with you?!?!”

“Fluffy? Oh my god, Fluffy! Are you okay???”

I managed to right the car without causing any real damage, though as far as State Employee was concerned, I’d just singlehandedly justified every conviction he had about banning all teenagers from the road.

And who knows, maybe he was right, but it didn’t stop me from bawling wildly and begging him to give me another chance.

“If I had my way, you’d NEVER get a license!” he screamed as we pulled back into the DMV lot.

My father was waiting for me there, fingers crossed and looking hopefully at State Employee for good news that never came. Instead, State Employee burst from the car in a huff and sprinted toward his office, yelling over his shoulder about how I nearly killed him and that I was the worst driver he’d ever encountered.

The reality of the situation crushed me, and I threw the car keys to the pavement in frustration. My poor father, who was still attempting to figure out what had caused a state employee to threaten us with legal action, did his best to console me.

“Don’t worry – that guy is a jerk. You’ll get your license. I promise you’ll get your license.”

And ultimately I did, even without the horror of retaking driver’s ed, but the entire experience sits with me to this day.

My guy, I know, would just as soon take a bus than get into a car with me. He’s already been privy to my nearly taking down an ATM one night when I couldn’t manage to talk and take out money at the same time. This is why I would also make a rotten drummer.

Still, in my nearly 20 years of driving, I’ve only received one ticket, and that, according to the State, makes me a safe driver.

I’d better renew my license online quick before they wise up.

mirth

Burning down the house

“It’s the sadism that makes it funny.”

I had to laugh when I heard Anthony Bourdain say that. He’s one of the few “foodies” that I can stomach, so to speak, and it’s really more for his attitude than anything else. Rakish, smart, and always real, Bourdain manages to bring a challenging wit to culinary adventure without losing any sense of wonder or appreciation.

He’s about as close to a hero in my world as anyone will ever get, and he fits right in alongside my other sources of inspiration. Bourdain, Bukowski, Sedaris… a curious lot to be sure; one that I appreciate most for their strength of words.

Bukowski did have something of an advantage by being a bit of a drunk, of course. And now being dead and all, he really doesn’t have to stand behind his words when a well intentioned family member says something like, “I enjoyed your book, but really didn’t need to know about your masturbation habits.”

That comment is still jabbed somewhere in between my nerves and albeit small sense of propriety, and I suddenly question just how brilliant an idea it was to publish my book. I’ve already blacked out half the pages in the copy my dad bought, and my mother on request read her copy without her glasses. I don’t know if that made the content any more worse or better – she’s had that involuntary shudder since I was 16.

Every author cracks wise about the fear that no one will buy their book, or that no one will turn up at their signings. But my fear is: what if they do?

My book sales are rising, which means people are actually reading what I wrote. Certain chapters darken my excitement at the prospect and I wonder just how much ‘splaining I’m going to have to do when the inevitable questions and assumptions crop up.

I certainly can’t black out select passages for the world at large, and in the end I really don’t want to anyway. Part of the fun in being an author is sharing stories that make people react. And let’s face it, the harshest reactions are usually from people who relate all-too-well. And for all my words and adventures, I’m not that much different than anyone else. I just talk about it.

Case in point: I set fire to my kitchen last night. It wasn’t intentional by any means, which I feel the need to point out only because I suspect some may feel I have a penchant for destructive behavior.

And I admit, this isn’t my first kitchen fire. I tend to not count the other one though, seeing as how it was a result of my accidentally sliding a Rachel Ray cookbook into the flames of a gas burner. The book was a gift, one that left me more than a little annoyed, and as I watched the flames lick at the smug bitch’s face, I couldn’t help but think, “You’re not quacking ‘Yum-o’ now, are you?”

It’s no secret that I thoroughly hate Rachel Ray, and that stems partly from the fact that I likely have more technical culinary training than she does. Of course, my training is in pastry, which may explain why I miscalculated the ratio of breading, meat, heat and oil in the dish I attempted to make last night.

Why is it that fires always seem to crop up when you’re not looking? I turned my back on my pot for one minute to deal with the pasta, and the next thing I know there’s a billow of smoke, a whoosh, and I’m scrambling around like I Love Lucy.

I knew enough to not dump a kettle of water over my pot, but that was about as far as my brain went before breaking out in a deranged rendition of the “Stop, Drop and Roll” fire safety song I learned when I was a Brownie.

That’s probably not what they intended back in fist grade when they taught us that song; then again, they probably didn’t figure any of us would grow up to be so distracted by a pot of boiling water that they start a grease fire one burner over.

In the end my instincts kicked in and I managed to slam the lid on the pot before my kitchen turned into a towering inferno. And on the upside, my prized Le Creuset braiser survived without so much as a scorch. My ego, not so much.

It didn’t help that my guy came home from band rehearsal to a bowl of buttered noodles and a vague, charred sort of smell to the house. As far as I’m concerned, if he didn’t see it, it didn’t happen… but I’m guessing my explanation of fighting off alien invaders and using the pork tenderloin to deflect their laser beams didn’t carry much validity.

Sigh. My respect goes out to Bourdain, but it’s not entirely the sadism that makes something funny. It’s the stupidity behind it. And if that’s the case, I’m guessing I’ve got a best seller on my hands.

There’s always more…

Hey all –

Just updated www.morningneurosis.com! Head over the the News section to check out my interview with Lauren Milligan of Live the Dream radio, and be sure to check the Tour page to view a video of my reading at the Barnes & Noble kickoff signing and see the extended photo gallery of the event.

Next stop on the book tour is Read Between the Lynes in Woodstock, IL for a Local Author Day on November 21, from 1-3 p.m. Hope to see you there!

Barnes & Noble signing a SUCCESS!

The first stop on the Morning Neurosis book tour was a success! In fact, it was the most successful book signing Barnes & Noble Schaumburg has ever held!

Thanks so much to everyone who joined us that night! I’m overwhelmed by all the support and encouragement.

A new blog is in the works. Until then, here are a few pics from the signing and after party. And be sure to check www.morningneurosis.com for tour news and dates!

Click on thumbnail for larger image.

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Have a magical day

“I’M the author! You can lick the plate.”

This probably wasn’t the nicest exclamation I could make in Disney World, but the complimentary chocolate celebration cake a thoughtful waiter brought when he heard I’d just published my first book was simply too good to not fight for.

My guy understood, I think. He’d already witnessed me nearly trample several small children to get prime seating on the Monorail, swear unabashedly while panicking in line for the Rock N Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and boo the George W. Bush animatronic robot at the Hall of Presidents. Suffice it to say, our trip to Disney World was full of magical moments. Here’s just a few of my favorites (click on thumbnail for larger image):

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Our hotel, Disney’s Grand Floridian – a sprawling manor with Victorian details, chocolates on the pillows, towel animals, and the best mai tais on the planet.

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Proof.

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The view from our balcony.

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Sharing an outstanding dinner with my guy at Citricos.

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Making new friends at Epcot.

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From our food & wine tasting at Morocco – we learned the taste benefits of the Left Bank, and introduced the world to Kitty and Hugh.

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At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, my guy is an idol.

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Drinks at the Polynesian Resort. Aside from a morning cup of tea, I don’t think I drank anything that wasn’t laced with alcohol the entire trip.

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Moments before being captured and held hostage by the Norway ride at Epcot.

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We had the magical fortune of having dinner at the right place at the right time: Iron Chef Cat Cora happened to be visiting her restaurant on the Boardwalk and stopped by to talk. My guy was able to capture one of my rare moments of complete geek out.

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A stunning picture taken during Illuminations.

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The latest attraction at Disney’s Pleasure Island – there’s never been a better view of WDW. After beating my fear of roller coasters, this was the next step. My guy’s arm may never be the same.

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Halloween at the Magic Kingdom – made even more “scary” when we were trapped in the Haunted Mansion when the ride broke down.

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Of course, the best part of the trip was just being with my guy… who even let me finish all the cake.

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See ya real soon, Disney!

Wave your hands in the air

Just a quick note all …

We’re working closely with Barnes & Noble to make the book tour kick off at their flagship store in Schaumburg a huge rock n’ roll event! I’ll have details soon about how you can get your very on ALL ACCESS backstage pass to this can’t miss event. We are going to ROCK this place!

    Until then, save the date!

Friday, November 6, 2009
6:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Schaumburg
Woodfield Plaza Shopping Plaza
590 East Golf Road

Morning Neurosis on sale now!

Book tour kick-off!

Surreal as it may still be, I’ve officially got a book tour!

 

First stop: Barnes & Noble in Schaumburg, Illinois.
Friday, November 6
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Woodfield Plaza Shopping Center
590 East Golf Road
Schaumburg, IL 60173

 

So, I’ll be speaking, reading excepts from the book, and signing purchased copies. And not on the street corner, but in the store. Go figure. I’m excited beyond belief, and hope y’all will join me for the first of many stops on my rock n’ roll book tour.

Essayist, author, podcaster, and general misanthrope. Official blog of lightly fictionalized musings and general word vomit. Visit www.juliettemiranda.com for additional info.