Friday, January 30, 2015

Voicemail Challenged

How can I be 56 years old and still be uncomfortable leaving a voicemail on the phones of people or companies I don’t know? My words tumble out awkwardly and hesitant as if I’ve never left a message in my life.  I feel like I end up saying the dumbest things and when I hang up, my face is usually all balled up in a pink-hued cringe. 

I recently left such a voicemail at an inn where I was only trying to make a reservation for the weekend. Just make a call, speak to the nice innkeeper, get a room, hang up.  But the nice innkeeper didn’t answer. He or she was busy. Or off for the day. Or in the bathroom or ordering Spanx on the internet or God knows what else.  All I know is that  no one was there to take my carefully rehearsed call. I knew what to say when they answered. When they didn’t, I was at a loss. Suddenly, I had no personal vocabulary or professional presence. I was a babbling idiot who ended up wishing them well and NOT leaving my phone number so they could get back to me, as was clearly instructed in the message.

Oh, I have to call back again just to leave my number?

When I was growing up, the phone in our house was in the kitchen, like most everyone else’s.  Was it there because it was the woman’s job to answer each ring, like some properly apronned secretary? Was Mom supposed to take messages while scouring the sink or rotating the roast? There may have been an extension in my parents’ room, but I wasn’t allowed on it. On my 16th birthday, the best gift ever was my own phone. Not my own line, like some of my friends, just an extension, but who cared? It was a maroon trimline and I felt like the prom queen.  I didn’t actually have that many people to talk to, but in case A Boy called, I could chatter away all night long in private. But if that Boy called while I was out, I would have never known. (That’s probably when they all called, now that I think about it.)  If no one was home, the phone went unanswered and unheard, like that tree in the forest.  

I don’t recall when telephone answering machines started showing up plugged in next to everyone’s Ma Bell, but I feel like it wasn’t until I was a single parent…and woman… in the early 90s. It was a terrible time to get a telephone answering machine because then exes could leave unpleasant phone messages that make you smash what little glassware you have in your home.  In addition, the home answering machine introduced an entirely new kind of anxiety for the single gal: The Did-He-Call Syndrome, triggered by a small, red, hopefully flashing, light. I hated that damn light. My messages were usually from my mom, my ex or Columbia House music club. (I think I still owe them money…) I always called my mom back, I never called my ex and I continue to this day to ignore Columbia House. This is probably when my Voicemail Anxiety began.

At some point in my personal telephone history, I realized I started to count on people having answering machines so I could leave whatever pertinent information I had to relay and could avoid talking to people. Speaking on the phone has never been a favorite pastime of mine, so being able to leave a message  rather than enter into a long conversation about, well, anything, was preferable to me. I got my first cellphone 15 years ago, the month that I went back to school. I thought it was extravagant, but Angelo thought it was imperative that I have it since I would be driving to Massachusetts up to three times a week for the following two or more years to earn the degree I was after.  I have to admit, it did make me feel both fancy and safe, but I don’t think I made one call on it the whole time because I was worried about the rates.

So, if I am so hip that I acquired each and every new telephone technology practically upon its arrival, why does having to leave a voicemail give me sweaty palms and an empty brain? I suspect it is texting.  When texting, and its ungainly cousin “texted,” became the bleeding edge in communication, I embraced it. Communication without opening my mouth? Brilliant! Writing is what I always wanted to do anyway! I’m in. I can avoid making a phone call by sending a text? Done.  My brain switched over eagerly and immediately, without so much as a CUL8R to the voice-message-composing cells I once may or may not have used to their fullest potential.

So, I know you’re dying of curiosity. Yes, I have a reservation. Yes, I had to call and fumble through another embarrassing explanation of my previous message, but at least they didn’t block my number.


Monday, January 12, 2015

It's my body and I'll cry if I want to...

I can go days without looking in the mirror. And then, something drastic happens to direct attention to your image and terrible things start to happen. You start to notice things. Bad things. This is what happened to me...but first, some background.

Many years ago, I watched Barbara Walters on one of her television show incarnations and she suggested that if women raise their arms above their heads, it lifts the breasts and any other sagging skin in the area so that it doesn’t look so saggy anymore. I wondered how I could walk around with my hands in the air all the time without looking silly. And then, after a time, I forgot about it.

Until the last wedding I attended. (Yes, it’s another daughter’s-wedding/terrible-photos lament) My step-daughter sent me the link to her wedding photos, all 542 of which I could look at online at my convenience. There was plenty of ooohing and ahhing at the really beautiful bride and groom shots, but naturally, within minutes, I had zeroed in on the pictures in which my arms looked like hams hanging in the butcher’s window. In several shots, there we all were, the mothers and aunts of the happy couple on the dance floor thinking we were so hip dancing to funky music when clearly a song came on that required us all to fling our arms into the air with apparent abandon. Repeatedly. There seemed to be more shots of this dance than were really necessary.

These kinds of photos give evidence to many things, most importantly: we don’t really look as cool as we think we do when we dance. The second thing, almost as important: Barbara Walters was wrong. Lifting one’s arms in the air, particularly for the less-toned of us, does only this: the elasticity-less arm skin drapes down the humerus onto the radius and ulna as if it were melting wax. It was both a disturbing and fascinating observation.

Being confronted with the droopy skin on my arms forced me to look in a mirror that reflected more of me than my face.  And now I finally get what Nora Ephron was talking about when she wrote about feeling bad about her neck.  I feel horrible about my neck! When did this happen, this weird shift of fat and skin, this wrinkling, this discoloration? My head looks like one of those children’s books where you can spin the paper wheel and exchange heads, like having a dragon head on an elephant body. (That’s just the first image that came to me.) There seems to be a very clear demarcation between the top of my neck under my chin and the bottom of it near my throat. I am only lacking metal bolts in my neck to complete the loveliness.

Two things surprised me about discovering that my body was starting to look very different than the image I have in my head (which is circa 1986): the first is that it obviously happened without my noticing it at all.  The second thing was how disturbed I was when I did finally notice. It wasn’t a fling-myself-across-the-bed-wracked-with-sobs disturbed, but the specter of mortality did hang over my head for the rest of the day. I was really surprised at how much it bothered me. I’ve always felt that one of my better characteristics (in my opinion...don’t ask anyone else...) is that I have little to no vanity about my looks. (No shock, says everyone, we’ve seen the clothes you choose to wear.) I am vain about a few of my features; my long blond(ish) hair, my blue(ish) eyes and, believe it or not, my feet. Everything else is so difficult to manage and maintain that I have found it easier and more comfortable to just let it do as it pleases. Proper nutrition, exercise and rest, while not optional, are all different for each person and I do the best that I can.  I completed two 5Ks this year, didn’t I?

It’s aging, you know. It happens. People age differently. My husband is the oldest of three brothers and he has a head full of black hair, with only the slightest graying at his sideburns. His middle brother has gone all gray and the youngest has the least amount of hair of all. (Don’t let them fool you; men have just as much trouble with their aging image as many of us women. My husband was complaining to me about the wedding pictures, too, and said he just doesn’t look the same in the pictures as when he looks in the mirror. To test it out, he took a picture of himself while looking in the mirror. It took me about 20 minutes to stop laughing.)

I recently saw a picture of Michelle Pfieffer in a magazine and she looked, in a word, fabulous. She is only a few months younger than I am.  Did I have a few sour grapes to lob at her? Of course I did: She probably has a trainer, a cook, a stylist, a beach house, money to spend on treatments, hair, makeup and lighting.  She probably doesn’t walk around with her arms up in the air, either.  But, you know what? It doesn’t take Hollywood to make a woman my age beautiful. I have friends who look just as stunning as Ms. Pfieffer and without all the trappings. I’m not going to say who, I’ll just let you all believe it’s you...because it could be.