Friday, January 20, 2012

For the Kids

A couple months ago, I visited my friend Lex's fifth grade writing class, which was really fun. Even more fun was writing a personal narrative to read to them. Their attentive listening and enthusiastic questions and comments made me think that I should maybe share the piece here. It's a true story, recalled to the best of my memory's ability.

The Great Doughnut Caper

I’ve always been kind of fat. It’s just been part of my life since about third grade. And it was a big part of my life. I got teased in school. A neighbor called me “Ali the fat cat.” I hated shopping for clothes because it always ended with me locked in a dressing room with my mom, crying because nothing fit or looked the way it should. I always thought that if I were skinnier that boys would like me- that everyone would like me. But even though I thought being skinny might make people like me better, which I wanted, I still wanted candy and cake and ice cream more.

Anyway, since being fat was a big part of my life, trying to get not-fat had to be a part of it too. When I was in fourth grade I was on a swim team so that I could get exercise all year long. It probably would have worked, too, if I didn’t hide peanut butter cups under my pillow to eat after I went to bed. Or if I didn’t keep M&M’s and Snickers bars stashed in a safe under my bed.

So here I was, a chubby ten-year-old, swimming during the day and stuffing chocolate in my face while the rest of my family slept. Then one day, my mom asked me to get a bag of frozen green beans out of the extra freezer we kept in our garage. While I was hunting for them, I saw it. A box of mini white powdered doughnuts. The jackpot. As soon as I saw them I knew they had to be mine. I grabbed the green beans and shut the door, but in my mind I could see the box of white gold, each little doughnut its own treasure of sweetness. One of them might even have winked at me.

I started planning how to make the doughnuts mine and mine alone. I waited a few days to see if they moved or got taken out of the freezer, but it seemed like everyone had forgotten about them; everyone but me. I decided to do it on a night I had swim practice. I left the gym bag I used to carry all my swimming gear, a towel and goggles and stuff, in the car. I waited until my mom was distracted with making dinner and then told her I’d forgotten my swim bag in the car and had to go get it. I tiptoed out to the garage (even though I’d just told my mom I was going there) and got the bag out of the backseat. Then, quick like a cat, I darted over to the freezer, opened it with one hand while the other grabbed the box and shoved it in my bag, covering it with my damp towel. I gingerly shut the freezer door, zipped up the gym bag and ran all the way up to my room, my heart pounding in my ears. I stuffed the bag into the corner between my bed and the closet and went back downstairs, giddy at the thought of the sugary feast that would be waiting for me when I went to bed that night.

Later, after I’d eaten dinner (and dessert) and gotten ready for bed, I said goodnight to my parents and skipped off to my room. I shared a room with my little sister, Jackie, so I had to wait for her to fall asleep. This usually took a while, since she stayed up late talking to her imaginary friends, Maggie and Elizabeth. Once they had finally figured out all the details of Elizabeth’s upcoming birthday party she drifted off to sleep and I was in the clear.

I slid off my bed onto the floor, pulled out the bag and unzipped it. It never crossed my mind how ironic it was that I was storing secret junk food in the bag used to carry around the stuff to help me exercise. I opened the box and plucked out a doughnut, popping it into my mouth. It was still a little frozen, but that didn’t stop me from eating a few more. Satisfied, I closed the box, zipped it back into the gym bag and climbed into bed, licking powdered sugar from my fingers. The next two nights I was again sitting wedged between my bed and closet, treating myself to a few mini doughnuts while my sister slept. On the third night, though, I almost got caught. There I was, munching away, when my mom opened the door to put some laundry on the dresser. I froze in mid-chew, my hand halfway to my mouth. Luckily, she slipped in and out of the room quickly and didn’t notice that I wasn’t in my bed. I didn’t get caught, but it was too close for comfort. The doughnuts had to go.

The next morning, while I was getting ready for school, I crushed the doughnut box and hid it in my backpack. I left for school and walked long enough that I knew my mom would have gone back inside the house, away from any windows that faced the street. I then doubled back the way I came and ducked into a tiny wooded area in between the two houses across the street from us. I crouched down to the ground, licking my lips and looking around to make sure no one was there to witness my crime. I’m still not sure if, in my mind, the crime was having stolen the doughnuts, or the fact that I was wasting perfectly good ones. I took the box out of my backpack. By now there were only a handful of doughnuts left. I took one last white powdered little circle out of the box and took a bite, savoring the way the sugar melted on my tongue. Then I closed the box and buried it under a pile of leaves. I stood up, put my backpack on my shoulder, took one last look at the doughnut grave and turned and walked away toward school, feeling lighter than I had in days.

Friday, January 13, 2012


I swear I don't have a fascination with the backs of cars. But now that I'm looking out for vanity license plates, I can't help but notice the other pieces of flair people use to express themselves via the rear of their vehicle.

I was behind a Honda CR-V the other day with a bumper sticker that said:

"My Yorkie is smarter than your honor student."

I've never seen one of these before; I've seen the ones talking about how terrific a driver's dogs or "grand-dogs" are; I've noticed the stickers that let you know that a driver's kid beat up the presumed honor student of the person driving behind them. I had never seen one that combined the two, claiming that a dog was smarter than an honor student.

I have to imagine that there is a complimentary sticker out there that reads:

"My honor student has more friends than most Yorkie owners."*

*No offense meant to any Yorkie or other dog owners who may read this.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Shut Up and Drive

Though you wouldn't know it from my blog posts, I've been steadily collecting and receiving pictures of vanity plates from around the tri-state area. I just haven't been getting around to posting them here.

However, I'm wondering if it is really safe for me to continue with the project after capturing the plates I got last week. It's one thing to walk past a funny plate and snap a picture, or to get one while being a passenger in a moving vehicle. It is another thing entirely to try acting as the driver, photographer and art director all at the same time.

Last week, while driving around Sussex County for work, I found myself behind a car with a license plate that read "No Yes." Of course I needed a picture so I got out my phone (while driving), set it to take a picture (while driving), caught up to the car, missed my exit and this is the photo I got:

Yeah, I can't see it either. Not really worth the 15 minute detour it caused.

Then on Friday, I was driving down 287 toward Philly and spotted another license plate that I had to have. Again I took out my phone (while driving), set it to take pictures (while driving), then set it for low light conditions (while driving) and then tried to get in a good position to get the shot. I have to believe the person driving this car figured out that I was after her because she became really hard to catch. It became a high-speed chase, with me weaving in and out of traffic, one hand on the wheel, one hand holding my phone out in front of my like a cop with a radar (thank God there weren't any of those out for real right then). I ended up getting four pictures from four different angles and this was the best one:

Completely blurry. The license plate said "SPCKLES." So not only is it frustrating that I couldn't get a good shot, but that I'll never know what it's supposed to mean. Is it Speckles? South Pickles? A misspelling of Sprinkles or Sparkles? I will never know why the owner of the plate didn't forgo the 'C' or 'K' in favor of a vowel that would have made the meaning clear.

At any rate, I've decided that the poor, blurry photographs I get when taking them myself (while driving) are not worth the danger they pose for me to get them. I will still collect pictures of funny license plates, but when I'm driving, I'm just going to drive (and sing).