Monday, January 31, 2011

LOFT LIFE: Memories, like the corners of my mind

My husband and I are soon going to start taking ballroom dancing lessons. We’ve talked about doing this for years, but the opportunity didn’t plunk itself right in our faces, so we didn’t search it out. That’s code for: I do the planning and if I don’t schedule it, it’s not likely to happen, unless it’s a motorcycle race or something related.
When we first moved into our loft apartment, we took a walk around the area and noticed an Arthur Miller studio on the way. That reminded us of our long-intended goal, but the place was vacant and so still it was a no go. Whew.
So when our pastor announced that in our church we have a certified ballroom dancing instructor, and he would begin instructing interested couples in February--somewhere around Valentine’s Day, my heart beat a little faster. Not from excitement. From terror!
It seems for most couples, it is the husband who resists ballroom dancing instruction. For us, I am the one who secretly hopes it will never happen. My husband has always wanted to do this. 
Dancing for me has always turned out traumatic. First of all, I am dyslexic. That means that left and right are a big problem. It is truly amazing I don’t run into walls more than I actually do. I put the car in reverse when I mean forward, because the gear thingy is forward on the floor panel. Oh, I don’t do it every time. Just when I am stressed, or tired, or confused. In other words, often. I shudder to think how many times I almost went forward in a parking lot when I meant to back up, or the other way around.
Couple that with my eye problems (I could barely see anything until I was 14), and a complete lack of hand-eye coordination, it is truly a marvel that I have escaped major injury over the course of my life--so far. “Don’t push it,” a little voice seems to whisper.
I am trying to psyche myself up for this. I have about two weeks. It isn’t like this is going to be at an anonymous site where I don’t have to see the people again after I make a complete...well, fool isn’t really the word I want here. It escapes me, as I wish the lessons would.
My memories of dancing are certainly in the corners of my mind, but they are hardly misty or watercolored. They are cobwebbed and scary.
I remember my sisters giggling when I practiced dancing for school dances. Their deriding was almost unbearable. I knew I was awkward. I knew I looked clumsy. And, the thought of stepping on some guy’s feet was terrifying. But, I somehow got through it until in seventh grade my “best” friend announced to me that she couldn’t be best friends with me anymore, because I was too tall to dance with. The shock of that still hasn’t completely worn off.
It may be difficult for you coordinated people to grasp the level of horror this brings to me. It is cold sweat, panic-attack fear. No kidding.
I tried some dancing in clubs with my husband when we were dating. This was not a rewarding experience. I told him we both looked dorky and maybe we could find some other avenue of expression. That didn’t seem to dissuade him. He seemed impervious to the insult. Whereas I feel a level of fear so deeply rooted that now, when the actual commitment to this nears, I find myself running a self-improvement monologue through my brain to gear up. I mean, how bad could it be? How long could the humiliation of it last? Hours? Weeks? How many people will be looking at us anyway?
But, this is church. The center of my life. Where all my good friends are. People I will see every week. It could be bad, very bad.
OK, what are my options? I could get sick. No. I hate being sick. I could refuse. No. That would make me look bad too. I could move. Obviously not a real option.  I could hold my breath until I turn blue and faint. That actually sounds like a plan. At least I might get some pity instead of the laughing.
I could practice at home. Hmm. Wasn’t that the beginning of the source of this humiliation? One of my friends told me she was really looking forward to the class to have a lot of fun. Fun! You know all those songs about live, love, dance or something like that? Well dancing doesn’t belong in that list for me. 
I think I will just have to take the plunge and put to the test this unconditional love these church people talk about. I may have to just allow myself to look silly, be laughed at, and laugh along with them. After all, it’s just a dance lesson. Get a grip. And, I don’t mean a white knuckled one on the side rails. Self, it’s time to conquer this fear. I doubt I will get to it being fun. We all have limitations. No one is asking me to sign up for Dancing with the Stars. It’s just a lesson. 
I know this is a step in the right direction for not living my whole life terrified of dancing.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

LOFT LIFE: Missing the bus

Let’s start right out saying I realize my frustrations are not life threatening, not terminal in any sense, and, in the light of truly tragic situations, rather minor. Still, frustration is frustration.
I remember my friend Sister Rosalia telling me that even when you miss a bus, in some sense, you do go through the stages of loss and grieving. That stopped me short. Really! She said every loss does take its toll on us.
Thus, in my ever positive imaginations, I assumed that when AT&T told me my problem was solved, I believed them. When they told me I would no longer have to make the half hour phone call, which always begins somewhere in Southeast Asia, and, miraculously ends up in good old Connecticut, I have such a good feeling--until I receive the following month’s bill for our DSL wireless service.
We contracted at a promo rate, and my first month’s call cleared up part of the problem, that the company still bills me the full rate, and then it should get adjusted--without me calling. After she explained to me that they “made up” an account number that “looks like” a CT phone number, so that they could sell me wireless DSL service with no home phone, I better understood which of the several number series to give them on my monthly complaint-problem-solving calls. 
This nice woman, let’s call her Betsy, assured me all was corrected, and it would not happen again, and on the following month, I would see the discount prominently displayed on my bill. (Are they kidding? Does AT&T really not know how to sell a product like DSL wireless without connecting it to another product?) But it was now solved.
Right? Of course not. The next month it was still the full amount--no discount. there. So I called again. This half hour tete-e-tete resolved another problem, which was that my Southeast Asia call was totally unnecessary, being the general customer service number, not the DSL-only service. Whew. That should save at least 15 minutes a month, I thought, trying to stay positive. But, this very nice woman, let’s call her Mary, assured me it was really fixed now, and I would never have to call again.
UH-HUH. Right. Wrong. My third call, which unfortunately still began in Southeast Asia, because I forgot which of the several customer service numbers on my bill was the DSL number (far be it from me to ask for labels on something so trivial as a half hour--per month--of MY time).
So 16 minutes later, I was happily connected with Leslie, another lovely CT customer service rep, who gave me more nuggets of wisdom on the venerable AT&T system: My CT phone-account number is not visible to our friends in Southeast Asia, nor are the account notes being made monthly after my calls. But she could see them. So not only did she easily follow and understand my dilemma, she “fixed” the billing code to reflect the promo code, rather than the regular billing amount. Amazing. Was this not obvious to the first two people? Anyway, my SKYPE disconnected me from Leslie, right as she informed me that all was well. So even though I didn’t actually get to the part where she would assure me that I would never have to make this call again, I imagine all is still well. She said it was fixed. And, we all know, it is. I have confidence in Leslie. She is smart, has a sense of humor, and assured me she really didn’t understand why it wasn’t corrected from the beginning, but was now. It’s OK--at least until February. 
My frustration and loss is once again comforted. No, I didn’t miss a bus. And, truthfully, I have wasted more than an hour and a half playing Bejeweled, and such. I guess speaking with AT&T personnel isn’t any worse way to spend my time than video games. 
But, this loss is about losing confidence in the system, yearning for the days when customer service actually meant something. 
It's a loss to feel we are becoming just a number. It's a loss to realize we will never return to that feeling that we matter to these huge corporations. It really is loss, even if no one has died.

Friday, January 14, 2011

LOFT LIFE: Waxing nostalgic

I miss Philadelphia. I used to call it Philly until I heard someone on Internet radio announce that people from Philadelphia don’t call it Philly. Hmm. Well I, did. Far be it from me, me who lived there from six years old till about thirty, to stray from the crowd. I also used to say S.L.O., for San Luis Obispo, which is now referred to as SLO, apparently because the college kids say it that way. It’s a trend that the under 30 crowd is now defining things, and we over 30s seem reluctant to challenge that. Maybe we fear earlier retirement, “rest homes,” and such. 
But, I digress.
I miss, so I listen to Philadelphia stations on the Internet just to reconnect. Hearing Dom Giordano mention hometown names, and frankly, just hearing the accent, brings a smile.
People from Philadelphia have a lot of things to connect on: Philly (hey, there it is) steaks, Lebanon bologna, shoo-fly pie--well those last two are really a bit of a stretch if you’re talking the City of Philadelphia, which none of us from the suburban areas ever are--scrapple (which I hate, but is still a memory), hoagies, and Tastykakes. Tastykakes, as we speak are endangered--financial woes so bad, and Tandy cakes, butterscotch krimpets and the like are so loved, that Philly talk show hosts have challenged listeners to buy up the yummy treats, deliver them to the station so they can be sent to the troops. I mean the governor wants to lend $1M to prolong the life of the Tasty Baking Company. There’s a call to action Facebook page...well, you get it. Philly Phans are stockpiling the little cakes, militant about this like all their favorite foods and the companies who produce them. Philadelphians connect on a level unlike many other places. 
I applied for a job in California in the ‘80s and I know I was hired because the manager was from Philly and we bonded immediately on that basis. I bought my Jaguar on EBay from a Massachusetts resident from Philadelphia, who upon hearing of our common ground was determined I should own his beloved racing green sedan. We still see him, and he runs out to greet me just to tell me another incident he has experienced in New England that “would never happen in Philadelphia.” Like the other day, someone on public transportation didn't offer a seat to an older lady. I had to chuckle. No amount of logic that maybe it’s just the new generation could convince him. "Philadelphians just wouldn’t do that," he insisted.
Prolly most of us Americans like connecting with people from our hometowns after we move away. But I have lived in a lot of towns, and none so far has shown me this kind of  strong family-like common bond.
It’s one of those cities that creates a small town atmosphere in a big city, which garners loyalty formed in small  groups, a device most organizations know produces strong bonds.
So even being away from Philly for the past few decades, and even though it is not the city of my birth, and though I only lived there for less than a quarter of my life--and counting, I love the place, miss it, and find it curious that the mere sound of a fellow Philadelphian pronouncing words like probably as prolly, and granted as granite, still makes me wax nostalgic for the City of Brotherly Love.