Friday, September 08, 2023

A Very Involved Process

I'm becoming acutely aware of how little time I have left in my current position. 

I'm not referring to my full-time job - that will continue for the foreseeable future. I'm talking about my part-time job - the one where I provide administrative, catering, and emotional support to my kid. I can't even think about it most days, as we have been a lil team of three for more than 18 years and knowing our time with her will be limited in less than a year is a big, fat kick in the gut.

In anticipation of having a lot more time to myself, I've determined I better start filling up my schedule NOW, and have looked into different activities and classes to see what sticks. (Side note: You may recall I was a founding member of the Dilettante Club, so "finding something that sticks" is not really part of my DNA.)

So far, this little venture has gone about as well as anticipated. 

Attempt at Getting involved #1: 

Mr. Brutalism and I went to a recruitment meeting for a local volunteer organization to which we were invited. Deciding this would be a good way to learn more about our community and meet new people, we followed up with the recruitment chair asking if we could join even though we could not make EVERY SINGLE WEEKLY MEETING HELD AT LUNCH TIME DURING THE WORK DAY (capital letters are for purposes of this blog post - I promise we were much more genteel in our correspondence with him). 

Result: No response to our email. (Yes. We were ghosted. For a volunteer position.)

Attempt at Getting Involved #2: 

As a kid, I took fencing lessons through the Virginia Beach Parks and Rec department for a couple of years. I remembered enjoying it and figured I may want to re-visit this as an adult, so I was DELIGHTED to learn that a local fencing academy is only a few miles from my house and has beginning adult classes. I emailed the contact and she replied almost immediately about dates and times that were available for me to try a free introductory class. I was riding in the car when I read this, and started to reply to her email when I realized I'd need to check Google calendar for my availability first, and put my phone down so I could talk to my husband, who was driving.

Result: Apparently, when I put my phone down, I recorded whatever (intellectual, non-ranty or judgemental) conversation Mr. Brutalism and I were having, which went into the body of the email I had opened earlier, and then I somehow SENT THIS TO THE FENCING LADY. I did not realize this until I received a reply from her saying, "Excuse me. What are you talking about?" I still have not read what exactly was included in the talk-to-text because I think it's better for my mental health. I will also not be pursuing fencing until I move to another country. 

Attempt at Getting Involved #3: 

I convinced my friend, Lisa, to take a self-defense class at our local community center and we attended our first session this week. After an initial snafu of the class being scheduled for one room and the instructor being in another, we finally found each other and began the class.

Result: When Lisa asked me what I thought of the class the next day, she said she expected it to be more women-centric, with more practical methods of self-defense, such as screaming "no" and stomping on the attackers' feet. I agreed with her, as it seems like what we were taught had more to do with martial arts and street fighting. I suggested we review the class description from the online catalog and read the following:

Small details that we both seem to have glossed over. But hey - when the next rumble breaks out in Oakton, we'll be ready to go! 

At this point, it may just be easier to adopt a baby,


Thursday, August 03, 2023

Hitting Rock Bottom

Not to brag, but last night I cleaned some display shelves in my kitchen that were so dusty they were almost furry. 

Yes, I've noticed they were dusty but usually in that "I should clean those" way that seems to enter and then promptly exit my brain as I'm making a beeline for the coffee. 

But as with many people who finally have that clarifying moment when it is time to make a change - I did it! I grabbed a kitchen chair, stepped upon it, and got to work scrubbing the shelves and every item on them. 

And that's when it occurred to me that perhaps I was subconsciously avoiding this task because it would require me to assess what I felt was display-worthy in the most public room of our house. Which I now feel compelled to share with you.

Let's begin with the top shelf:

This is reasonable. This was the cake topper from our wedding lo, these many years ago. We were married in an art museum featuring a Dale Chihuly art glass display, so my best childhood friend presented us with these, which were made by a glass artist friend of hers. Promising start. Beautiful, meaningful, cool:

I mean, sure, I'm represented a little more
Venus of Willendorf-y than I'd prefer, but it's art,
so it's an interpretation...right?

Next, this shelf:

This is where the seamless melding of functional kitchen items and personal effects begins: GG Allin and Marky Ramone prayer candles next to salt and pepper shakers, two tiny original art pieces from art-o-mat machines (vintage cigarette vending machines re-purposed to dispense tiny, original works of art), a Troll doll given to me as a birthday gift one year, and two small (serendipitously, Troll-sized) pumpkins. 

Shelf three also has some meaning - this is where the mementos from traveling friends find a home:

Fun! A Turkish tile nestled among a New Orleans voodoo doll, a Russian Matryoshka doll, a wooden Japanese Geisha doll, bottles of sand from Jordan and some East Coast beach, a beaded South African doll, a Celtic spiral from Ireland, Moroccan mini-tagine-pot salt and pepper cellars -- all of which are happily ensconced next to a foam Peep and two original phallic art pieces, courtesy of our teen daughter.

And finally:

Again, some functional kitchen items: cream and sugar set, mortar and pestle (for all the herbs I grind), and my silver baby cup that holds the packets of sweetener Mr. Brutalism uses in his coffee. But what's that? An emergency clown nose! A mini charcuterie board art piece! A resin coaster and initials created by the same phallic-artist teen daughter I mentioned earlier...

Perhaps most interesting of all - the "ghost" candle my daughter and I found while sourcing Peeps diorama elements at the local dollar store. We have no idea if that is supposed to be a tongue, a horn, a cigar, or something else, but we knew we had to have it. And even gifted a second one to a friend. (Yes these were created in bulk. Why I didn't create my own art installation with several hundred of these still eludes me.)

Now I've lost my appetite,

Thursday, July 13, 2023


Scene: Evening walk in the neighborhood with my friend, Lisa

Lisa: (Spotting marsh plants in a lake we walk by): "I love those plants. What are they called? Pussy willows?"

The plant we were trying to identify.

Me: (Matter of factly): "No. Pussy willows are the smaller ones - the little puffs. Those are called cat o' nine tails." 

Pussy Willow.

Lisa: (Assuredly): " o' nine tails are a type of bondage implement, so I doubt that's it." 

[She then suggested we pause to Google the plant and helpfully offered to search "pussy willow" which surprisingly had much tamer search returns than "cat o' nine tails."]

The results showed she was 100% correct due to her vast knowledge of S&M equipment.

Cat o' nine tails. This should bring some new friends
to Brutalism who search that term and determine
a blog named "Brutalism" seems on theme
with their interests...

Anyway, I was close - the marsh plant is a cattail

Best part? I've been referring to them as cat o' nine tails my entire life without ever ONCE questioning why the hell they were called that. And all this time, I've assumed people found me outdoorsy and nature-loving when really they've determined I'm into the kinks and enjoy a good flog.

I apparently suffer from the same disease my mother has, which she refers to as "CE" (meaning "close enough.") Examples of this are when she asked my daughter if she was excited for the "One Way" concert (she was going to see One Direction) and if I had seen that great film by Emerald Fennell called, "She's Got Potential" (Promising Young Woman). I always know exactly what she's talking about, even if she's not technically accurate. 



Tuesday, July 04, 2023

College Tour de force

Team Brutalism spent time in Southern California for spring break in an apparent attempt to set a world record for the greatest number of college tours completed in the shortest amount of time. We successfully toured eight colleges in five days, which left about 47 minutes for freestyle fun. 

Which schools, you ask?  (Assessments of each, in order of visit: best-looking guys, too shiny, just right, too "cohort," too snooty, love it, no way, too Jesus-y.) It's science, people!

While there, I was reminded of my conflicting feelings about the LA area. I would not be so extreme as to say I have a love/hate relationship - I'd say it's primarily love with a soup├žon of head-scratching mild amusement. In the "Oh, LA, don't ever change" category, please enjoy the following:

And as with every trip we ever take, we enjoy exploring and come away with a ton of fun memories. So with that, I offer:

SoCal, the College Tour Trip:

We stayed in a super-cute cottage in Culver City, which was half a mile to Sony Studios, close to downtown, and also close to the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook; and the Ballona Creek bike path which links Culver to Marina Del Rey: 

A little fam bike ride on the Ballona Creek bike path

Another gentleman riding his bike -
to bring his groceries home, via the
bike path. Oh, LA...

Up to the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook
At the top

Our lil neighborhood's proximity to the studio meant we had a Jason Alexander sighting at the adorable and mostly hidden neighborhood deli down the street when I literally ran into him as I was heading outside after purchasing my coffee. I immediately ran up to Canetto who was outside the store and told him he had to go back into the store to confirm it was Costanza, which he happily did as Seinfeld was his favorite show of all time. 

We also had a neighborhood denizen who seemed to be doing some sort of high-energy martial arts whenever we walked through our neighborhood park - he was either aggressively pursuing his sport or high on meth. We'll never know. 

We visited a couple of smaller colleges on the first day of the touring agenda, and after walking about a zillion steps, went to dinner before heading back to our place. I had not eaten that morning and had half a gin & tonic pre-dinner, which was the catalyst for this: 

The near-constant sunshine seems to ensure people are outside enjoying the weather at all times, which is why we came across scenes such as this on every campus:

We had two more tours planned the next day, which put us near Pasadena - where we conveniently had tickets to a recording of "America's Got Talent" at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. Our daughter had never been to a television recording before, so this was very exciting for her. I have never seen the show, but pickins' were slim for the date we were able to do this and we ended up about five rows back from judges Simon Cowell, Howie Mandell, Heidi Klum, and Sofia Vergara. 

My friend, Jimmy, actually found us in the audience when 
the show aired a few weeks ago. I seem to have a seed caught 
in my tooth. Tim is unamused. Avery is enthusiastic. 

After touring schools the following day, we headed to Hermosa Beach in the evening. We walked on the beach and played our favorite game of "Is that a skunk or is it weed?" It can literally be either there, and we are never sure. (Flashback: when we lived in Hermosa in the summer of 2018, I noticed what I thought was a cat in the next-door neighbor's backyard one day. Investigating further because...CAT!, I realized it was actually a skunk! At the beach! Some research showed there is actually a bit of a skunk problem in the South Bay. How? What? Oh, LA...)

The following day, our daughter visited with an old friend in Newport Beach for a couple of hours. After we dropped her off, Canetto and I wandered into a restaurant called Joey. As we walked past the lineup of Bentleys outside with Tim in shorts and me in ripped jeans, I asked the supermodel/hostess if we were dressed appropriately to have lunch there. She said we were "perfect" and offered us a complimentary glass of bubbly while we waited for our table. We then had a great lunch and the best service, ever. Yay, California casual.  

Another evening, we opted for a tour of Sony Pictures Studios, which was a short walk from our rental. Our tour guide for the evening was Keith Coogan - a character actor you will recognize if you have seen "Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead" and "Adventures in Babysitting," He also starred in bunch of national commercials and some other films outside his babysitting oeuvre. Notably, he is the grandson of actor Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester from the Addams Family) for whom the Coogan Law was named, which is pretty cool. (Cool that he got legislation passed to protect others...sad that he had to.)

                      Canetto doing his best Kramer impression on the Seinfeld set at Sony. 

Jeopardy! is! filmed! there!, too!

Our last night in town, we headed to downtown Culver City, which is home to some cool restaurants, the Culver Hotel, and the bougier cousin of Whole Foods, Erewhon Market. While I appreciate Erewhon's eco-conscious packaging and their vast assortment of sea moss juices (gak!), the pricing on most things certainly makes it a "not for my weekly grocery shopping" kinda place. I considered purchasing a reusable Erewhon shopping bag for my friend as a memento from the trip...until I priced them. And while she is definitely worth it, I would not be able to live with myself if I spent $135 on a CANVAS BAG.  

It was also during this excursion that we visited Salt & Straw - where you go for the black olive brittle and goat cheese ice cream, but stay for the spritz of culinary perfume ("flights" of this are available online so you can experience this in the comfort of your own home - likely after a gummy or two). When my daughter asked the lovely person helping us what exactly culinary perfume was, she replied with a straight face, "ice cream does not have an aroma, so this gives it a bit of an aroma and also a little extra flavor." (See "Oh, LA, don't ever change" above.)

And some other pics from the trip:

Venice: where you pay for a $5 million house to overlook algae.
Perhaps this is where Erewhon harvests the sea moss for their juices?

#irony #veniceisgross

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Portmanteau-ing the Line

Our local trivia night awards prizes both to the team that answers the most trivia questions correctly and also to the team with the best team name of the night, as determined by the waitstaff.

Of course, the regulars take full advantage of the quizmaster saying the team names aloud each round and in the past have used team names such as "I wish this microphone was a penis" and other gems to get the quizmaster to laugh. There are often references to current events, many puns, and a lot of lewd humor. It's great. And quite honestly, it feels almost as satisfying to win the team name contest as it does to win trivia. (Not-so-humblebrag-notice: I've been on teams that have done both, so I know this firsthand.)

Last night was the first time I went to trivia with my husband and his friend, Mike. And while our trivia showing was respectable-ish (12th out of 27 teams), we WON best team name with this submission: 

"Team Mansplaining (that explaining)"

There is always someone at trivia who annoys me, too. Which is kind of surprising because I'm very tolerant and patient and rarely get indignant about anything. In the past, it has been drunk people who shout out answers, or someone who insists their answer is correct when it obviously is not, or the quizmaster pronouncing "leeward" as "LOU - erd." (No. Never. Stop It.) 

This week, we were treated to a guy screaming "HEY-OH!" every time he got an answer right when the quizmaster was reviewing the answers. He would occasionally mix in a "NAILED IT!" I wanted to throttle him. 

He looked like a normal person but obviously was not. So, I couldn't help but create a narrative that he was on a first date, and the person who accepted the date ran him through the usual screening questions, and was delighted when he invited them to a trivia night. Because: fun and interactive for a first date!

Then, when the answer reveal began, the date would realize that this dude's most current pop culture reference is from the Tonight Show Ed McMahon era - which ENDED in the early 90s. Something they probably never thought to ask in the pre-date get-to-know-you texts or calls.


Tuesday, June 27, 2023

My Missionary Position

Our daughter has many Mormon friends.

She made one friend this year who is Mormon, and by extension, met and became friends with many more. She goes to Mormon social events, went to the Mormon prom, and is currently on a Mormon camping trip. She comes by this honestly, as part of my youth was characterized by The Mormon Years.

(Disclaimer: I now feel about Mormonism the way I feel about all organized religion.)

And while I did not anticipate this scenario, I will say that her socializing with teenagers who by definition do not drink or do drugs allows me to be slightly less neurotic when she is hanging out with them. (Note: the lack of drinking and drugs does not guarantee the kids are good or safe drivers. One of her Mormon friends managed to get into a car accident on a recent sunny afternoon because he's a dumbass teenage boy and was driving as such. However, he is a sober dumbass teenage boy, so in my mind, it could have been much worse.)

Our daughter attended another camp prior to Mormon camp - one where girls from all over the state convened for a week to learn about the legislative process. When she returned home from the week, she was excitedly telling us all about it and mentioned she met a Mormon there. Curious as to how she identified the girl as Mormon, she said the girl had visited all the floors in the dorm asking if there were other Mormons in attendance.

Of course, when I shared this story with my friend, we came up with an alternate explanation. One where my daughter is able to identify Mormons on sight as she spends so much time with them. Like "gaydar," but with less caffeine. 

As we attempted to determine the correct term for this phenomenon, we came up with "Mordar" but dismissed it right away as sounding too middle earth-y. We remained stumped for a few minutes until she brightly suggested what is obviously the perfect epithet: "Latter-Daydar!" 

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Do You Feel Lucky, Punk? (Spoiler Alert: I DO!)

Eight years ago, I was in severe pain. My joints hurt so badly that sleeping through the night was impossible, and carrying my laptop bag into and opening the heavy doors at my office were so excruciating I was often on the verge of tears. My husband and daughter had to help dress me in the morning, as I was not able to accomplish actions as simple as putting on a bra or brushing my hair. (This was pre-COVID, back when those things were considered fairly important.)

And I have a pretty high tolerance for pain – I lived through 80s fashions and a couple of Seth Rogen movies.

As you may imagine, this was pretty fucking depressing. Adding to it, this all started at the same time I joined a new company and had a very stressful job. In an attempt to help, my husband suggested I start working with a personal trainer, because he knew I needed to prioritize my health and also assumed (correctly) this would help manage the stress and (incorrectly) the pain. And although I found the idea intimidating, he signed me up for some training sessions and I agreed to try it.

Thanks to three amazing trainers with whom I worked, I fell in love with training and weightlifting. They worked around my limitations and made the training sessions fun, so it was the one thing I truly looked forward to three days a week. When you are in that much pain, it is very lonely – there was so much I wasn’t able to do and so many times I stayed home feeling sorry for myself, so this also had the added benefit of getting me out and around other people. (This became a habit: I still weight train 3-4 times a week. I love being strong and there have even been times that thanks to training, I am able to see an ab. One. Singular. And fleetingly.)

In an attempt to rule out possible irritants, I also stopped ingesting anything I thought might be contributing to the joint pain, including gluten, alcohol, tomatoes, other nightshade vegetables, and processed foods. As a result, I was very thin. Also as a result, I had more people compliment me on my appearance than any other time in my life. Forget Ozempic, if you want to look svelte, simply have your body attack itself!

I did not share my condition with many people as I don’t think most people find ailments an interesting topic of conversation, which was confirmed when I confided in two friends who were close to me how much pain I was in and how frustrated I was that nothing was helping me feel better. One of them replied, “Sucks getting old,” and the other countered with how another person she knew had it much worse.

Don’t be either of these people.

It took three years to find a diagnosis for what was causing my pain – and I’ve lost count of how many doctors I visited and how many different medications I tried - none of which were the least bit helpful. Thanks to good medical insurance, persistence, and the help of friends like Meredith, who somehow finagled an impossible-to-get appointment with a top specialist in NYC, I eventually found my way to gastroenterologist, Dr. Scudera, after being misdiagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, getting no pain relief, and seeing alarmingly worse bloodwork results.

Dr. Scudera scheduled a liver biopsy to confirm his suspicion of autoimmune hepatitis. (There are only 100,000-200,000 cases of this a year, which explains why it was so hard to diagnose. Particularly because the symptoms can vary widely from person to person.) This-lifesaving-physician-to-whom-I-will-be-forever-indebted prescribed the correct medication, and I was pain-free in about two days and have remained so ever since. The liver biopsy results from that test in September 2017 were a STAGE 2, GRADE 4, as measured on the Batts-Ludwig scale below:

I’m not sure if I was just so relieved to have a diagnosis that I didn’t focus on this too much at the time, but looking back now, I’m a little terrified by how serious it was. I’m not exaggerating when I say that if this had been left untreated, I absolutely could have gone into liver failure and died.

For the past five years, I have gradually decreased the medication dosage as the bloodwork numbers improved, with the ultimate goal of stopping the medication altogether. To ensure I was ready to discontinue the medication, I needed a follow-up liver biopsy. After correcting an initial snafu of the hospital mistakenly scheduling a LUNG biopsy (and my friend, Kath, sending a package of Sharpies so I could draw arrows all over my body pointing to my liver as an added assist to the medical team) I had the biopsy a couple of weeks ago.

I just got the results, and they are exactly what I and my doctor hoped for – I am 100% in remission with the best possible numbers and can discontinue taking medication. That’s a GRADE 0, STAGE 0 on the Batts-Ludwig scale, baby! You know it’s a good day when your doctor is just as giddy as you are when he shares the news. (This doctor is Dr. Scudera's successor. Dr. Scudera retired a couple of years ago, and his successor is also a great doctor who spends a considerable amount of time talking to me and shares my "let's not take medicine if at all possible" philosophy.) I feel exceptionally lucky to have come across these amazing doctors.  

This could come back – one does not “heal from” autoimmune hepatitis. However, I now know what to look for and will still get bloodwork done regularly so if anything looks concerning, I will go back on medication to mitigate it.

*Not a funny post, but probably the one I've most enjoyed writing! 


Friday, February 17, 2023

Sometimes Work is Fun


Entyrely Confused

A good friend of mine had a very interesting experience while having her car serviced recently.

At the dealership, she saw a desk with a nameplate featuring a name she recognized as that of a woman she was friendly with during high school in Northern Virginia. This name is unusual enough that it caught her attention.

Curious, she inquired of the gentleman assisting her if the woman was in. He replied, “no, she is a representative for a tire company and is onsite only on certain days.” Wanting to confirm whether it was the woman she knew, she asked a few questions about the woman and her family, all of which the man confirmed was accurate. However, he also indicated that it was likely not the same person because the woman is British and speaks with a British accent.

My friend figured this was all too much of a coincidence and did a quick search for her online, where she found a recent photo and showed it to the man who verified that it was, indeed, the same person. The same person who is FROM and GREW UP IN Northern Virginia and is NOT BRITISH nor did she ever speak with a BRITISH ACCENT.

Because my friend and I are both naturally inquisitive types, we had the following questions:

  • Are they sure she is the rep. for a tire company and not a “tyre” company?
  • She works in the same area where she grew up and went to high school – surely this is not the first time a former classmate has come into this dealership. Wouldn’t you think moving to another area to attempt this ruse would be a better idea?
  • And finally – doesn’t it sound tiring to carry on the charade of being something you’re not every single day at work? I mean, I have to pretend I’m competent at my job and it’s exhausting.

Cheerio, Whilst, Bangers and Mash, God Save the Queen,