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Feminist on a Road Trip


Every time we passed a sign for Des Moines I said it over and over in my head so many times that it started to sound like “Desdemona.” This pleased me.  Thinking about a Shakespearian heroine proved I was smart. A goddman woman of letters.

I suspected that at some point I would write about this word-morphing and “forget” to mention that I had to Google Desdemona to confirm that she was, indeed, Othello’s wife. I wasn’t 100% sure.  When I Googled her, I was disappointed to read that she was not black, as I had remembered her. She was described by Wikipedia as a “Venetian beauty.” Her husband, the Moor, was believed to be black.

These are the thoughts of a well-read person, Google or no, I thought.

We drove past Iowa City.  I waved to Jane Smiley and whatever remains of Ann Patchett’s essence after her graduate school stint at the famed writing program.

Look at me! I’m an enthusiastic celebrant of all things literary! Supporter of women in the arts!

Once Des Moines was in the rear view mirror, I succumbed to uncharitable thoughts about the Iowa State Fair goers who feasted on hunks of livestock impaled on sticks. I myself ate corn kernels with a fork and a roasted turkey wrap on a gluten-free tortilla, ThankYouVeryMuch.  Like a total asshole– I mean, who eats like that at a state fair?  When Jeff asked the pimple-faced vendor for the gluten-free turkey wrap, she stared blankly.  “Do we serve that?” she asked her shift supervisor.  We pointed to the menu; they both looked surprised.

On the final long stretch of the road trip, I fell in love with a book of essays. The pieces were well-written, darkly humorous, and made me feel smart for enjoying them. No beach reads for this woman of the world traveling through exotic Nebraska while a grating narration of Ramona and Beezus filled the mini-van.

By the time I was half way done with the book, I had a definite picture of the author in my head. She’d mentioned that she was blonde three times, so I started there. My imagination gave her blonde-but-stringy hair, an ample bosom, and a no-make-up earthiness that I assumed from her hobbies: antiquing and summering in Maine. I also assumed she was older than me by at least a generation.

Basically, I made her a funky, lovably eccentric Kathy Bates with longer, more Nordic hair.

Jeff exited near Altoona. “Can you drive?” His eye lids sagged; he’d be asleep before I merged back onto the highway. As he put the car in park, I Googled the author of the essays.

Big mistake.

She was most certainly not Kathy fucking Bates. She was Gwyneth Paltrow, but—worse—she was way less vanilla. Her face was more angular; her glasses had that “I live in Manhattan” cool that felt (and was) thousands of miles away. She looked younger than me.  Oh great– she was also a professor at a fancy New York college. She definitely knows all about Desdemona; I doubt this author ever vacationed at the Iowa State Fair.

I hated her. I hated the essays. I hated myself for enjoying them. Why couldn’t she at least be portly? Or old? Or mean? Or not funny? I was so totally jealous of her that it consumed me for miles, across the borders of the flattest states, isolated and hostile to me now, though before the Googling, I thought they were majestic and soul-stirring.

I seethed across Iowa. I seethed into Illinois. I stared at the horizon and begged myself to be, not undone by her beauty, talent, wit, and success, but inspired! vivified! energized!  I prayed for the ability to stuff the image of the real author back through the wireless airwaves so I could have my original back.

Back home, I forced myself to finish the book.  It’s not her fault she’s beautiful and friends with David Eggers.  It’s certainly not her fault my heart is shriveled by jealousy and impotent rage.

It was a really good book.


Why Not Google Your Husband’s Ex-Girlfriend? (Here’s Why)

Someday someone’s going to finally get around to asking me if I ever checked out the LinkedIn profile of my husband’s ex-girlfriend. But, I can’t wait to be asked, so let’s pretend you just inquired.

But before we get to the LinkedIn portion of this post, let’s talk about Whole Foods. Because one of Jeff’s other former flames is a super famous baker whose healthy and delicious products are sold in gigantic displays all over the bakery section of Whole Foods. Lucky for me her product has her picture on it, so it’s like she’s staring at me while I take those extra samples of the macaroons and pretend to give them to my kids. Every time we pass that section, I remind Jeff that he totally traded up: Sure, she has that medical degree that she used to create nutritious (and outrageously expensive) brownie bites, but I know how to eat them while watching Gray’s Anatomy. Natch.

Hey, Jeff, that’s called a ‘jackpot’!

Then, last night was apparently “Google Your Husband’s Ex” night at my house. He was sitting right there, so he knew what I was up to. He even gave me the correct spelling of her surname. “Giddy” and “drunk with a Puckish sense of mischief” perfectly describe my mood.  I pressed “search” with visions of seeing her face (yes, I hoped there’d be a picture of her and her multiple chins).

Her LinkedIN profile showed up first.

“Look at me, all clickity-click-click-click!”

Her resume loaded up first, and the smile faded from my face. Fancy prep school, followed by fancy-but-socially-conscious-college (Ivy, of course– dagger to my second-tier heart), followed by uber-impressive joint graduate degree program that she uses to serve the public good.

Ok. Fine. So what? Jeff dated someone who can slaughter a standardized test and likes public service. Maybe she had a Studs Terkel fetish. Nothing to get upset about.

All this time, I am waiting for the picture to load. It took about 7 minutes, which was plenty of time for me to see her connections (lots of White House regulars and people I have heard on public radio) and visualize all the classic texts she’s read that I am only aware of because of a passing joke on The Gilmore Girls.

Readers, you understand, right? I wanted that picture to load, and I wanted it to load fast. I’m not saying I went on a full-out misogynist binge, but if she happened to have a hairy chin or a snaggle-tooth or two . . . Well, could you blame me for my petty fantasies?

Do I have to tell you how radiant this woman looked in her picture? Could she at least have sported some fine fuzz above her top lip for this inevitable occasion– when her ex-boyfriend’s under-medicated wife came across her picture?

Not only was she bright-eyed and very attractive, but also? Blessed with perfect hair. NOte: Neither of Jeff’s ex’s have heeded the siren call of full-forehead bangs, so at least I have that going for me. (Query: Do graduates of Ivy League schools just intuitively know to say NO to bangs?)

There’s a moral here somewhere. Maybe it’s “don’t Google your husband’s ex-girlfriends if they are super successful, skinny and got a blow-out before their LinkedIN picture.” Maybe it’s “don’t marry someone who dated Ivy League go-getters if you’re insecure about your English degree from your giant state school that specialized in agronomy (study of soil management and crop rotation).”  Maybe it’s “go to bed before 10:30 PM.”  Maybe it’s “get a life.”

All I know is that tomorrow there’s going to be a shortage of brownie bites at the Whole Foods near me, because I’m going buy them up and eat them in bed next to Jeff and remind him of all the ways he’s so damn lucky he ended up with me.  (Then I will brush all the crumbs to his side of the bed and fall into a snore-y sleep while drooling on my Target lingerie– because that’s how I define success.)

The Homosexual Union Conversation Went So Much Better Than The Dead Dog One

Remember when I bragged about my parenting skills last week?

Oh, Internet, look at me! My kid is so saturated in tolerance and love that she cares more about squirrels than my explanation of why Gus has two mommies.

Well, I can’t win them all.  Our friend Gus, of the two-mommy fame, is someone we visited last Labor Day weekend.  Much about Gus and his family impressed my children, including his vast array of Sesame Street toys, his indoor trampoline, and his two large dogs.  The dogs scared the piss out of my children, who had yet to acquire a love and appreciation of our canine friends.  Over Labor Day, the kids slowly came to tolerate the presence of big furry animals lurking around them at the dinner table.

Turns out, however, that the current dog count at Gus’ house is now one, because one of them passed away recently.  And, I’ve got a little math wizard on my hands who has figured out that one is less than two and she wants to know what’s up.

So, Sadie wants to know where Gus’ other dog went.  Oh, how I love a curious mind. Except I wasn’t prepared for the circle of life talk.  I hemmed and hawed and eventually punted, saying, “Why don’t you ask Gus’ mommy (either one, just stop asking your mommy)?”  (If in doubt, punt to someone else who can parent your child.)  While I was stalling (“Sadie! Look at that squirrel! Hey, is that Cookie Monster standing in front of that Seventh Day Adventist Church!”), Jeff Googled “how to tell your young child about death– the pet edition,” but Google failed us by only offering links to Black Friday deals on crematoria for pets.  Thanks, Mark Zuckerberg, or whoever runs Google. Jeff Bezos? No? Well, who the fuck ever.

But, Sadie wasn’t up for delayed gratification.  She wanted to know where the damn dog went. Poor Jeff who isn’t quite the skilled liar that I am tried to give an honest answer, when he told Sadie that the dog “got really tired, and when things get really tired they have to go away.”  He gets a high score on the honesty factor, but he gets very low points because he scared Sadie witless, because now she thinks that if she gets too tired, she will “have to go away too.”

I actually  have no idea what she thinks happened to Gus’ other dog, but it’s safe to say that we inadvertently stumbled on a great way to get her to nap or go to bed early.  “Sadie…do you know what will happen if you get too tired?”

It’s cruel and it’s wrong, but if it works you will be so jealous.