Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Shoes and Sleep

MK has come up with all kinds of schemes to insure that we don’t have jet lag on our first day in Rome. Her first scheme involved a slowly rotating clock, a gentle introduction to European time. This was supposed to start two weeks ago, with a bedtime one hour later each night, until she would be going to bed at noon every day and wakening, refreshed at 8:00PM. According to her calculations, this would be analogous to going to bed at 9:00PM in Italy, and awakening at 5:00AM.

When she first proposed this to me, I started laughing. I do this time adjustment thing for a living. Every week, I spend my first night at work wondering why I did this to myself, and then the next day, I collapse into bed, feeling like a piece of summer roadkill in Arkansas. I think I’m a bit of an expert in jet lag, as all night shift workers are. Our first nights at work and our first days off are always painful for us and for our families. Just like these years with W at the helm (“Good job, Brownie”), there is no way to avoid the pain. I’m not sure if MK ever noticed, but I’m a little snappy after only two hours sleep. I’m sure Rome will be just lovely with two exhausted lesbians hitting the Trevi fountain for a little pick me up.

Since MK has to work for a living—during regular business hours—her first plan to adjust her sleeping patterns gradually was abandoned. Thre’s something a little hinky about showing up for work at 9:00PM, even if you are the boss. Her latest scheme involved staying up all night last night, and then there was supposed to be some sort of early to bed plan for tonight, although I was unclear on that.

Personally, I think we should just stay up all night again. But as Doris Day said, “Que Cera, cera.” At this point, I’m just hoping to make it onto some plane with my xanax, valium and ambien ready to go. Like all good night shift workers, I take sleep where I can. Just call me a sleep slut, the Sienna Miller of Snoring.

As for packing, it appears that we are meeting our goal, which has been revised to one large carryon bag per person, one carryon backpack per person and one checked bag that we share. MK has the Rick Steves carryon bag—for MK, it’s All Rick, All The Time—and I have what’s known as the Mother Load Mini. We have space saver bags, which seem to belch air like Jackie Gleason after a plate of cabbage, and both of us managed to pack the aforementioned layers without incident.

Shoes have been quite a challenge for me, though. For those that don’t know, I have an interesting foot. Shaped a bit like a duck’s, it has toes that spread out as wide as the ball of my foot, which is quite wide. MK spends a great deal of time making fun of my toes, which are all one length, furthering the impression that I might be related to Donald and Daisy. Shoes have never been easy, but I thought I was set. For years, I wore Birkenstocks—they are the exact shape of my foot—and sacrificed style for comfort. That is the essence of lesbianism anyway, right? A few years ago, I discovered Keen shoes, which are both attractive and comfortable.

But I needed shoes for this trip that would be suitable for rain, which even the cutest Keens are not. To find such shoes, we braved the mall for a shoe expedition on Sunday. I know that most women would be in seventh heaven at the possibility of hitting a mall during a big sale weekend. For MK and me, though, we thought that perhaps we had entered some circle of hell that Dante failed to mention, the one with the screaming children, the mass of humanity, the inability to find parking, except in the lane in which I was supposedly “driving.” When the clerk bites, when the couples fight, when I’m feeling poor, I simply remember my favorite mall, and then I try to find the door….

Anyway, first stop was The Walking Company. I grabbed four pairs of men’s Merrell’s, hoping to get a pair of walking shoes for under $100 in the right width. I have the misfortune of wearing a women’s size 8 ½, which is a men’s size 6 ½. Actually, only boys have feet that small. But men have feet as wide as mine. The sales clerk grabbed the shoes from my hands and told me, “We don’t carry Merrell’s in women’s sizes.” She put the shoes to the side and assumed a pitying look. I explained my difficulty—I need a shoe that will feet my EE foot in size 8 ½. “I dunno,” she said. “We’re going to Europe,” I pleaded. She said, “I’ll try to find something.”

Back she came with four boxes of shoes—three pairs did not fit at all. I think they were made for women with size 5AA feet, and the clerk brought them to me as some form of private amusement. Nothing like watching the stepsister try to shove her way into the crystal slipper.

The fourth was the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn. It was also the ugliest. Coming from a woman who likes Birkenstocks, that is saying something. In fact, here’s a link to the ugliest shoe on Earth. http://www.finncomfort.com/collections/prod_detail.aspx?style_sku=82015

Check out the price. Yup. $305 for something your crippled grandmother would eschew. The Walking Store was offering them at the bargain price of $285. I told the clerk that I couldn’t see paying $285 for a pair of shoes—politely refraining from saying that I wouldn’t pay $285 for a pair of shoes that I’d be embarrassed to wear in a senior citizen home—and she gathered her four boxes and harrumphed away from my cheap ass.

“Nordstrom’s?” MK asked. Sure. Why not. We were already in screaming toddler hell—why not plunge right into snotty women with too much makeup hell?

Once in the shoe section, I grabbed two pairs of shoes and thrust them at a clerk, telling her my size. A few minutes later, a gentleman with an Italian accent came back with some miniscule elf shoes in his hands. “Yoooou wanted dese?” he asked, thrusting them at me. “Size 8?”

“Size 8 ½,” I said.

“No 8 ½. Dese will fit. You try.”

So I tried. My feet spread themselves out quite nicely in my Cinderella masquerade outfit, with my toes clearly touching the ground on either side of the footbed.

“See? They fit perfectly!” my Italian friend said.

“Uh, my toes are on the ground.”

“That is how the shoe is made.”

“They don’t fit. My feet are too wide for these shoes. “ I bent down to take them off. As I hung over my feet, I asked, “Do you carry men’s sizes that are small enough in length to fit my feet?”

Mr. Italian said, “Excuse me!?”

MK, thinking that he couldn’t hear me, since I was talking to my feet, said, “She wants to know if you have men’s shoes that are small enough in length to fit her feet.”

He backed up, horrified. “I. Don’t. Sell. Men’s. Shoes.”

I looked at him. “You can’t wear men’s shoes!” He narrowed his eyes at me.

“Why not?”

“They won’t fit!”

Never mind that the women’s shoes didn’t fit.

MK asked, all sincerity, “What is your concern? Is there something about men’s shoes that we should know?”

Mr. Italian brought his chin to his neck and his nose flared. “The fit! The fit! The fit!” I thought we might have been on Fantasy Island for a moment.

“What about the fit?”

“Your feet are women’s feet.”

“But my feet LOOK like small men’s feet.”

He surveyed my wide, blunt toes, the squat ball of my foot. “No, they look like women’s feet. They are women’s feet.”

“They’re wide like men’s feet.”

“Your feet are not wide.” He looked again. “No, your feet are not wide.” I have waited almost 50 years to hear anyone say that to me. But somehow, as I was contemplating 15 miles a day in shoes too narrow, the words didn’t sound as good as I had once dreamed they would. It was kind of like being told that I was a skinny little thing after a bout with malaria.

He was clearly disgusted with me, and my unwillingness to subject myself to foot torture. He began to look determined. “I will get you shoes that fit. I will go get them now.” He walked away, muttering. Apparently threatening to purchase men’s shoes is enough to send a Nordstrom women’s shoe clerk into a wide shoe frenzy.

Soon he was back with two pairs of shoes, both of which appeared to be made for pygmies with Lilliputian feet. I squeezed one onto my big toe, wincing, and then handed it back to him. “Won’t fit,” I said.

He did some Italian version of a snort, turning away. If he could have washed his hands in the air, he would have. “Uh, thank you,” I said, and he gestured toward the men’s shoe department, across an aisle. “There is the men’s shoes. That is where you can buy men’s shoes,” he said, walking away.

Well, allrighty then. I am hoping this doesn’t mean that the Italians in Italy will treat me with the same sort of disdain. It is not my fault that my feet look like cement blocks shoved onto the ends of my legs. But I will have you know that the men’s shoe department at Nordstrom supplied me with a nice pair of North Face Sno Cat shoes, waterproof for Venice floods and Roman rains, in size men’s 7EE. $58, out the door. And Richard, the non-Italian salesman in men’s shoes, told me that I wasn’t imagining it—my feet are wide. Told you, Italiano Man.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Packing in Underwear Layers, For The Benefit of The Pope

Eight days till takeoff. I have an intense fear of flying, so the plane crash in Denver a few days ago really cheered me up. No one died, and only severe injuries were reported when the plane skidded off the runway and caught on fire. I don’t mind little blackened bits so much—hell, I’m clumsy enough that letting me near a barbeque usually results in the fresh scent of human flesh burning--- but I am hoping that any plane crash that occurs will have the sense to let me see Europe first. Let me go down in flames after I’ve seen Nero’s home.

For the last three weeks, I’ve moaned about the cold of Italy and Paris—it snowed in Paris last week—and there have been different responses from different people. Most people tell me to dress in layers, as if that was an idea that had never crossed my mind as a viable strategy to fight the cold. Others have told me that silk long johns are a wonderful way to stay toasty. Yup, we know that from going to Paris a few years ago. No one has told me the truth, which is that we’re going to be damn cold sometimes, but it will all be worth it for the chance to glimpse a few thousand representations of that guy with his hands nailed to a cross. As far as I know, though, Jerusalem wasn’t cold at Easter-time, so I’m thinking that Jesus at least felt warm while he was tortured to death.

And he wasn’t on a death plane filled with screaming babies and the invigorating scent of burning upholstery. Not that I have a chip on my shoulder about Jesus and all the religious art we’re about to see. Or should I say a splinter in my eye?

I thought it was especially nice of the Holy See to recently vote in support of the UN Resolution against the imprisonment, torture and execution of gay people, although he said he did it with reluctance. Yeah, only reluctantly oppose the execution of homosexuals, but let’s protect the right of child molesters to live and even hide within your working ranks.

The Vatican's vote for the resolution did make me feel better about patronizing their little fiefdom, though, until I also read that the Pope gave an address yesterday in which he said that saving people from homosexuality was just as important as saving the rainforest. According to Pope Benedict, the human race is about to self-destruct—I suppose from our vast under-population of the planet. My friend Benny—as I like to call him—warned that gender theory blurred the distinction between men and women and could thus lead to the “self-destruction” of the human race. Yeah, I can see that happening any day now. If we stopped procreating right this very minute, we would probably only have 75 billion people too many on this planet in fifty years, instead of 100 billion. Those rascally fags and dykes are trying to sneak human annihilation into the mix by refusing to reproduce, the bastards. Next thing you know, they’ll be going to work on their bikes as an underhanded way of ruining the oil industry.

My other obsession has involved the carry on luggage that MK insists we must pack our entire wardrobe into. When we were in Paris, we stayed in one hotel, and so the idea of two suitcases and two carry on pieces of luggage, while ridiculous, was manageable. This trip, we’ll be hauling ourselves and our clothes/shoes/toiletries/gee gaws to four cities. It’s not unreasonable to expect to be overwhelmed if we are hauling the 50 pound versions of Godzilla everywhere we go.

But. We’re supposed to dress in layers. I’m not sure where those layers are supposed to be packed. I’ve thought of shipping clothes to myself, but we’d still end up having to drag them from Rome to Florence to Venice to Paris. One friend suggested bringing my most ragged, pathetic underwear with me, and then discarding it as I go—thus lightening the load. Because underwear weighs so much. And, frankly, it’s not as if I have an entire drawer filled with silky, special panties. Most of my underwear is ragged and pathetic. That’s what underwear is for.

Oh well. I suppose I could always use it as a hat to keep my head warm.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Written November 26, 2008, posted in December due to technical, intellectual and emotional difficulties

Getting Ready
It’s been a whirlwind, all right, kind of like a shotgun wedding. Except that we’re the ones holding the shotgun and we’re the ones at the altar. I know it’s not polite to complain about having to go to Europe—we could be forced to do far worse things, like listen to Rush Limbaugh or go to Chuck E. Cheese on a Saturday afternoon—but I feel so unprepared and strangely unable to panic. Since I generally only get things accomplished in Panic Mode, this has led to a certain inactivity that I’m sure will culminate in desperation about December 30, the day before we leave.

For instance, we have said that this time we’re only bringing two carry on pieces of luggage. I think we believe that these pieces of luggage are going to be carried on the gossamer wings of singing angels into our home, because at this point we only own one piece of normal carry on luggage and a ratty, small suitcase that could accommodate a pair of jeans and not much more.

The last time we went to Europe, we brought two carry on pieces (I think the ratty one came, but seemed less ratty at the time—perhaps the rats hadn’t claimed their stake quite yet) and two large checked bags. Of course, we were only in one hotel, but indeed, we had to repack those two large bags in the Sacramento airport, because one weighed more than 50 pounds. It was kind of like giving our suitcases a girdle—we had to redistribute the weight a little more evenly.

Our hotel was on a quaint street in Paris, about a block down cobblestones over which only feet were allowed to trod. So the taxi from the airport left us at the corner, and we begged and cajoled those four suitcases down the cobblestones, thinking we would never find the hotel. The wheels bounced and veered every which way, and so did we, in our jet lagged, confused, excited state.

The hotel itself—a charming piece of Parisian life, situated right beside an odiferous cheese cart that greeted one’s arrival and departure with what smelled like the pleasant scent of tar and cow shit gone bad—-had an elevator that Rick Steves referred to as a “Star Trek Elevator” in his guidebook. Actually, it was a Superman elevator—the size of a phone booth. Even without suitcases, one of us had to turn toward the back of the elevator, and the other horizontal, in order for both of us to ride. Four suitcases and two fat American women weren’t going to make it. So we sent one of us to the fourth floor, where our room was located, and the other loaded a suitcase at a time onto the elevator. We don’t want to repeat that mistake: we’re going to four cities this time, not one, and we don’t want to be that couple you read about in the newspaper. MIDDLE AGED AMERICANS DIE FROM HEART ATTACK INDUCED BY VIGOROUS SUITCASE HANDLING.

Of course, our carry on luggage-less state doesn’t compare to the fact that we do not have a single hotel booked yet. We know which hotels we’d like to sleep at; we just can’t seem to find our way to the internet to book them. I am starting to have a vision of the two of us, gay American girls (in more ways than one), dancing around public fountains, surreptitiously taking a dip in the water (as if the water will be running in the icy winter), tra-la-la-ing our way into restrooms to change our clothes, and sleeping on the benches of obscure Italian parks. We’re a little old and we’ll be a little cold for that kind of fun, but at this point, that appears to be our plan.

The night before last, I had the flu, and without going into the specifics, I had a sudden urge to visit our bathroom. As I wandered, surefooted, through our living room, MK looked up from her computer and said, “I’m starting to get nervous about the train.” We’re supposed to take the train from Rome to Florence, and then from Florence to Venice. All of this is, of course, theoretical, as we haven’t booked a thing. When she said that, I nodded, and then rushed on my way to my favorite room of the house, the bathroom. We’ll talk about it later, I thought. We haven’t. I’m now wondering if walking from Rome to Florence to Venice is our plan.

Oh well. Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving and I’ve been sick for two days. I have done nothing to prepare for that either. I’m going to the grocery store today, because I’m sure that it will be quite empty. I can’t imagine a quieter place than Safeway on the day before Thanksgiving. I wonder if advance planning isn’t our long suit.