Tuesday, April 29, 2008

WWE are the champions

For reasons I don't want to go into here, there is a lot of World Wrestling Entertainment on in our house. And by "a lot" I mean "every freaking night." And by "every freaking night" I mean "more often than we watch lesbian porn." Which, to be honest, isn't that often. Or ever. But still. Ten minutes of WWE is always a lifetime too much of WWE.

All of which means I am intimately, uncomfortably familiar with every aspect of the WWE experience: The themed costumes. The thundering entrance music. The cartoonish hypermasculinity. The drama-queen histrionics. The preening peacockery. The adult men rolling around together in oversized underpants. The midget in the shiny leprechaun outfit.

I hate to break it to those of you who see the WWE as the final word in red-blooded, woman-lovin' manliness, but that entire last paragraph could easily describe an average night in a gay bar. Or a circuit party. Or a gay cruise. Or my living room on a Tuesday evening. Except for the oversized underpants. In our house, it's low-waisted or the highway. (Sted.)

To its credit, though, WWE offers a slight measure of balance. For every five pompadoured cretins in capri clown pants the WWE puts in its ring, it trots out the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton in all their oily muscled glory. They're like a beefcake sorbet ... a ruggedly handsome intermezzo to cleanse the palate between pompadours.

And following in the spirit of the WWE, I'm trotting out these demigods here to balance out the five cretinous paragraphs in capri clown pants I've made you read so far. Behold:

John Cena

Randy Orton

I'm embarrassed to report that I often put down whatever I'm doing so I can watch these two whenever they're on our TV. But can you blame me? I'm also embarrassed that I can identify them by name. But can you blame me? And I figure if I'm ever going to get the chance to wear large underpants and roll around all sweaty and oily with these guys (and, really, can you blame me?), I'm going to have to come up with my own WWE persona.

As you probably know, the right WWE name is the most important first step. My WWE name reflects the defining components of my unique wrestling personality. It strikes fear and admiration into everyone who hears it yelled into a microphone by a woman wearing plastic heels and a cheap bikini. It says "Jake, you truly are a paragon of masculinity in those high-waisted underpants." Which is why I have chosen the name THE CONJUGATOR. It sounds scary and intimidating but it still shows I'm good with verbs. (If THE CONJUGATOR is already taken, my backup name is THE MODULATOR. Which sounds a little less scary and intimidating, but it shows that I can transpose music up or down a half step as I sight-read it ... a skill that has been proven through the ages to give countless musical prodigies the upper hand in playground scuffles.)

Then there's my entrance music. I know from endless painful nights with the damn WWE blaring throughout our house that all the obvious songs are taken: Orff's O Fortuna, Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, Brooks & Dunn's Boot-Scootin' Boogie. Which leaves me to choose among the lesser-known canon of bad-ass classics. Like the dominant theme of the third movement of Saint-Saëns' Third Symphony. Which—though it was clearly the inspiration for the overture to The Little Mermaid—still has an intimidating quality to it. If you play it really loud.

So if you'll excuse me, I have some music to blare, some muscles to oil and some large underpants to don. (Don Underpants. I wonder if that name's taken.) And John and Randy: You and your large oily underpants have violated the sanctity of my living room way too often. Now you're going to have to deal with ME. (I hope.)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

We're home!

The domestic partner's grandmother's 95th birthday was quite lovely this weekend. There was a private party in a charming little café just outside of Dayton, and friends and family from across the country were there to help celebrate.

And did I mention the food? It was delicious. In fact, it was so delicious that it prompted me to violate almost all the I'm-40-now-so-I-should-develop-responsible-eating-habits eating habits I'd been adhering to for almost two weeks.

And when it came time to bring out her cake, there was a surprise cake right behind it. Her lovely family—who actually scheduled their matriarch's 95th birthday party so it wouldn't conflict with my 40th birthday party the week before even though I've been making googly eyes with their adorable gay grandson for only a year and a half—also bought me a cake and had me share the spotlight for a brief part of the evening. And the cake they bought me was way more delicious than that boiled piece of crap I called a cake at my party. Behold their cake's chocolaty awesomeness:
After we were all packed full of the deliciousness of cake, the grandmother opened her presents. (The domestic partner and I got her DVDs of some old Hollywood musicals. Because that's the kind of stuff we're contractually obligated to give.) Then she started asking people in the room to make little speeches. Which was nice because she was asking the people closest to her who'd known her the longest, and they had some lovely stories about their lives and the role she'd played in them.

Then she started asking a wider circle of people to speak. And they did. And I started getting nervous that she'd work her way down the family org chart and eventually ask me—the big ol' gay and relatively new domestic partner of the big ol' gay grandson—to say something. Which of course she eventually did. I was the last one she asked. I was already feeling very conspicuous having just shared her spotlight at cake time, and now I had to be the closing act to the floor show. But I did have a few warm memories to share and an observation about the love her family clearly has for her. And it all seemed to go over well.

That night, a bunch of us young-uns went to the karaoke bar at our hotel to enjoy the pitchy vocal stylings of ... um ... whoever all those people are who are clearly singing at that bar every night. I am not a fan of karaoke for many reasons: mostly because I firmly believe nobody sounds good on karaoke. Also because on the rare occasions I get up to sing karaoke, I will only perform selections from my personal karaoke repertoire, which is: Elvis Presley's In the Ghetto. (Don't you just love that song? It's absolutely grotesque in its tackiness! But it has a message! So it makes the world a better place! Plus it has backup singers!) But not many karaoke libraries feature my signature song, so there is practically no chance I'll be lending my pitchy vocal stylings to a karaoke bar near you.

And his mama cries ...

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The birthday adventures continue

We are in Dayton for the weekend to celebrate the domestic partner's grandmother's 95th birthday. Which totally trumps the epic accomplishment of my 40th birthday last week, but in the spirit of my boundless magnanimity we are choosing not to dwell on that at the moment. Even though—if I may point this out—I successfully turned 40 just eight days ago with no lost teeth, no embarrassing stains and no pushing. And only three boiled cakes.

But since we're on the topic of MY birthday, let me take a moment to report that the domestic partner got me the Young Frankenstein cast album as part of a suite of lavish birthday gifts. And we listened to it last night on our six-hour road trip. And it's really quite good. Especially Doug Besterman's lush, inventive orchestrations. And Sutton Foster's mad yodeling skilz. And what, really, is life without yodeling ingénues?

But I digress. We are here for the domestic partner's grandmother's birthday. And I must focus. Because there will be a dinner tonight. With cake. If I'm lucky. And yodeling. If I'm luckier.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Adult math

So I sold some decade-old, underperforming mutual funds in February 2006 and rolled what I got out of them into an IRA.

And either I made some grand assumptions about IRA tax exemptions or my investment guy didn’t fully explain the tax ramifications of selling mutual funds (or some combination of the two), but I never declared the income on the sale.

In my defense, I honestly don’t think I received the 1099s on the mutual funds a year later when it was time to do my 2006 taxes. And since I wasn’t expecting them, I certainly didn’t look for them. Besides, some 1099s are buried in other statements and are easy to miss. Pet peeve!

Imagine my surprise, then, when a couple months ago I got a letter from the IRS—right as this year’s tax season was heating up, natch—demanding $4,749 in back taxes, interest and penalties on the undeclared income. ACK! How am I supposed to pay for shoes now? And show tunes? And firearms?

Never one to panic, I assumed the whole thing was a mixup and I did not, in fact, need to write a check to the government for almost five thousand dollars. Kind of like the time 20 years ago when I got a summons to appear in court to explain my delinquency from traffic school because someone with a license plate one digit different from mine had been cited for an improper lane change and the violation had not only been entered in some database with my license plate number BUT! it had also been mistakenly entered three times and apparently three improper lane changes makes you some devil-in-a-domestic-partnership threat to society. Improper lane changes: the gateway drug to puppy-kicking, child-eating and Huckabee-licking.

Whew! Where was I? Oh, yes: Deal or no Deal has to be the stupidest show on television. Almost as stupid as John Hagee’s unhinged rants about Hurricane Katrina being his god’s punishment for gay stuff. His god who, despite his celebrated powers of omnipotence, obviously has terrible aim since the hurricane left the gay neighborhoods of New Orleans high and dry while it destroyed the poor and black neighborhoods. But apparently facts aren’t all that necessary when you’re a goat-blower who blames the gays for things in a frantic effort to distract people from your goat-ball breath.

Dang. Once again I’ve wandered off topic. Blame the gays! Oh, wait: I was in the middle of explaining why I was pretty sure I didn’t owe the IRS five thousand dollars. It was because the IRS waited a whole two years to contact me about it, and I’d kind of forgotten it had even happened.

But a full three or four hours of phone calls and emails and more phone calls later, I had a good 150 pages of information about the original purchases and subsequent sales of the mutual funds in question. Then I dumped it all on the desk of a tax accountant, who pored through everything and worked his cost-basis magic and finally this morning came up for air with two conclusions: 1) the mutual funds were really, really sucking when I finally sold them and 2) based on the actual losses I incurred, I really owe the IRS a mere (by comparison) $1,168 in taxes, interest and penalties. Which, according to my dubious math skills, is 66% less, or roughly one week’s worth of shoes.

So let this be a lesson to you all: shitty mutual funds + poorly explained tax ramifications = scofflaw. Also: IRS math = never in your favor. One more: tax accountant = lucrative gig. Stay in school, kids!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ChicagoRound: Fort Dearborn

In 1803, Thomas Jefferson bought a massive parcel of land from Napoleon Bonaparte that stretched from New Orleans to what is now the northwestern tip of Montana. While the Louisiana Purchase didn’t include the land that is now Chicago, it made the trade routes through the area—specifically the intersection of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan—significantly more important to the expanding United States.

To protect the area, the army built a fort on the south side of the intersection, across from the cabin of Chicago settler Jean Baptiste Pointe DuSable (who was once described to me by a well-meaning Chicago Historical Society docent as “an African-American from Haiti”). The army named its new fortress Fort Dearborn in honor of U.S. Secretary of War Henry Dearborn.

The fort endured as a vital military garrison until August 1812, when it was burned to the ground by the Potawatomi Indians in the aptly named War of 1812.

A second Fort Dearborn was built on the site in 1816. It survived eras of peace and conflict with a number of other tribes until part of it was demolished to make way for a new Chicago River channel in 1832. The rest of the fort was destroyed by a fire in 1857, and the few surviving outbuildings were leveled by the Great Chicago Fire in 1871.

Today, all that’s left of the fort are the outlines of its footprint, marked by plaques embedded in the sidewalk where Wacker Drive meets Michigan Avenue:

Here’s what the site looks like today. I took this picture facing north, where Michigan Avenue starts being called “The Magnificent Mile” (but only in marketing materials—I’ve never heard a real person use that term in general conversation).

Sunday, April 20, 2008

How to turn 40: Step 7

Once upon a time, there were three little boys who eventually moved to Chicago. And they were each assigned to stay young and relatively wrinkle-free. But I took them away from all that and now they work for me. My name is FORTY*.

I have two friends in the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus who are also turning 40* in and around the end of April. And since we have pretty much the same circle of friends, we decided to pool our money and our guest lists and throw a huge threeway party (wait ... that came out wrong). So last night, we packed the cool loft space above Hamburger Mary's in Andersonville with friends and family and liquor and cake. Lots and lots of cake. (I was in charge of the cake.)

*One of us is actually 45, but the backstory was easier to write if I just said we were all 40. NoFo apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.

I was going to wear all black to the party to mourn the passing of my youth, but Richard and Michael convinced me to dress festively with them ... if for no other reason than to match the room:

I ordered three cakes, one for each of us. And Richard thought it would be fun to get 125 candles and put a 1, a 2 and a 5 on the cakes (125 = 40+40+45, for those of you struggling with the math):

As you can see, by the time they were all lit, the candles created quite a blaze. In fact, by the time the third cake was completely lit, the first cake was a pastry inferno:

And yes, that's candle wax you see pooling across the top of the cake. Soon after we took the above picture, the flames got so low that the frosting actually started to boil:

But what's a 125th birthday without boiled cake? Thankfully, our guests found it in their hearts to eat our boiled cake and not make snide comments about how old people can't be trusted with fire. So it was all good.

The party started at 7, and by 11 it was really swinging. Unfortunately, I wasn't. I'd celebrated my actual birthday with my family (including my newly minted domestic partner!) the day before and then spent Saturday morning at my cousin's wedding in the stunning Celtic-meets-Art-Nouveau beauty of Old St. Pat's Church followed by lunch with the kids at Ed Debevic's followed by shoe shopping with my mom and sister (because I was totally running out of shoes) followed by last-minute party preparations followed by the party itself followed by oh hey is it already eleven o'clock?

So home to bed I went, while the guests and the other birthday boys partied on in my absence. But I'd had my cake. And I'd eaten it without burning my tongue. And I was safely on the other side of 40, with two full weekends of celebrations under my belt documented in a seven-part autoblography.

And either I'm old or I'm tired, but I can't think of an interesting way to end this blog post. So I'm afraid you read all this way for nothing. But what do you expect? I'm 40 now. Give an old guy a break. Sheesh!

Friday, April 18, 2008

How to turn 40: Step 6

I've finally reached that magical birthday where I honestly don't need any more stuff. But I do need the fiancé. More than air. And while our country's moral leaders struggle valiantly to convince the world that our love is something to be feared and loathed, I struggle to wonder if those moral leaders will ever know the happiness and stability we share in their own lives. Stupid fuckers.

So I sneaked out of work a little early tonight and met the fiancé at the Cook County Clerk's Office. Once we got the baby's breath arranged in our hair, we began our slow and hopeful march down the escalator to the subterranean Vital Records Division, where we had a brief but meaningful ceremony. We set the mood with the first two choruses of Standing In Line Behind The Couple With The Kid In The Bassinet. Then we had a reading of Please Print Your Names On The Form Exactly As They Appear On Your Driver's Licenses. After the obligatory Double-Checking Of The Driver's Licenses and the traditional Waiting While The Clerk Runs To The Printer, we declared our love symbolically through the charming local custom of Handing The Cashier Thirty Dollars.

And we were officially domestic partnered! Which is the best 40th birthday present I've ever gotten.

The county's standard ceremony package doesn't come with a photography service, so my newly minted domestic partner's brother—who was our witness—took this lovely portrait of us just outside the chapel with my cell phone camera, which I then slightly color-corrected in iPhoto so we'd look extra-tan on our special day:

And then we headed up a few blocks to meet my entire family at the architecturally fabulous Grand Lux Café for a celebratory dinner followed by molten chocolate cakes. Because no domestic partnership or wedding—or 40th birthday, for that matter—is valid without pastries that bleed when you cut them. And instead of a honeymoon-like cab ride back to our condo, we walked six blocks to the el so my niece and nephew could cap off their evening in all the joy and wonder that comes with riding a train.

I may have lost a fiancé today, but I gained a two-disc Sweeney Todd DVD. Oh, and a domestic partner. And as I type this, my domestic partner and his brother and my entire family–everyone I love the most in this world—are safe and cozy and asleep under our roof. And that, my friends, is how you have the Best 40th Birthday Ever.

How to turn 40: Step 5

Wake up.

So it's finally happened. What started 40 years and 12 hours ago as a little trickle of water while my soon-to-be parents were working in the garden has culminated in 17 addresses, three cats, four cars, one college degree, 17 jobs, one broken arm, five mortgages, two televisions, five marathons, two triathlons, 525,600 show tunes, 12 Disney visits, uncountable pairs of shoes, one sister, one brother-in-law, one nephew, one niece, one fiancé ... and now one earthquake.

And the adventures continue to continue ...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Back in the saddle

A week ago I was finally back at work after recuperating from my ER adventure … and working to ensure that I took only dainty little breaths so as not to stretch whatever it was in my ribcage that was sending searing pain across my torso.

This morning I ran four miles.

It was my first outdoor run since the marathon in October. And while it wasn’t the prettiest four-mile run of my life—I had a bloody nose when I got home and my esophagus feels like it’s been scrubbed with a bottle brush—it was relatively easy to do.

I chugged a half gallon of water when I got home and I drank two huge glasses of water in two hours of morning meetings when I got to work. Then I had one of those conference calls where everyone dials in to an 800 number and enters a common code and the system asks you to say your name before it lets you into the call. I was reading up on the strategy brief for the meeting and obviously not paying attention because when the system asked my account person to say his name, I decided to announce to nobody in particular: “I have to pee.”

So my ribcage is back in working order, but my common sense is still up for grabs. But I did, for the record, have a very good pee after the call was over.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jumping on the bandwagon after the parade has already gone by

Everyone else has posted one of these. Now that it's officially yesterday's news, I'm finally getting around to it. Whee!

Four jobs I have had in my life:
Singer/dancer/piano player in an amusement park show
Junk-mail writer

Four movies I would watch over and over:
West Side Story
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Singin' in the Rain
All About Eve

Four places I have lived:
Cedar Rapids, IA
Buffalo, NY
Iowa City, IA
Chicago, IL

Four TV shows I watch:
Family Guy
Modern Marvels
South Park
Law & Order: SVU

Four places I have been:

Four people who email me semi-regularly:

Four of my favorite foods:
Peanut butter & jelly
Chipotle barbacoa burritos
Boeuf au poivre
Salads with bleu cheese and pears

Four places I would rather be right now:
In bed watching Family Guy with the fiancé
At home working on our Two-Bathroomed Barbie Dream Condo
Playing canasta with my family
Dancing in a great big Broadway show

Four things I look forward to:
My 40th birthday
My next marathon
Thong season
Coming home to the fiancé for the rest of my life

Four regrets:
Pursuing a career that was easy instead of a career that was interesting
Tyco stock
Chess King

Monday, April 14, 2008

How to turn 40: Step 4

We are home. We've been up since 2:30 Chicago time so we could be on the first flight out and I could report to work enriched but exhausted at 8:00 this morning. We are very tired. But not too tired to share some more highlights of our fabulous birthday Broadway blowout!

44xX: Get the brioche french toast. Fabulous! Don't get the huevos rancheros. Ranchero-less! Ogle the staff. Ogluous!

August: Osage County: This epic piece of theater takes the Southern Gothic traditions of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and ratchets up its characters' utter collapse to the levels of King Lear ... and then smothers everything in the acrimony of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for good measure. The extended family at its center fails spectacularly, irrevocably and unpredictably over the course of three-plus hours and two intermissions. And I was completely swept up in its collapse Saturday afternoon, alternating between stifled sobs and gasps of laughter for the whole ride. The fiancé has learned that I like to mull over plays, musicals and movies alike, discussing them for days after I see them as I continue to wrap my brain around the playwrights' intentions, the directors' interpretations and my own evolving opinions. But out in the light of day, this play strikes me more and more as a soap opera wrapped in an after-school special dipped in a reality show rolled in an entire season of Dallas. Its characters survive every—and I mean every—Bad Family Tragedy as three generations dance together and apart in an intricate tango of lies, failure and blame. Don't get me wrong; it's epic, moving theater. But it piles on the Trials of Job awfully thick. Then again, it just won the Pulitzer, so what do I know? (Let me point out, though, that I just gave you an overview of the play's general themes without spoiling a single moment of its many surprises. Which makes me a far superior human to the New York Times' Charles Isherwood, who pretty much cataloged every spoiler in his review ... which the theater dumbassedly posted in giant type on its sidewalk displays. DO NOT READ IT if you intend to see the play. Which I whole-heartedly recommend.)

Hell’s Kitchen: Between shows, we met my friend Arno for dinner at a fabulous upscale Mexican restaurant curiously named for the neighborhood it occupies instead of the fabulous food it serves. We all practically licked our plates clean ... and then we stabbed each other with forks so we wouldn't have to share our desserts. EAT HERE. And get the tres leches. And do not, under any circumstances, share it.

Xanadu: What can I say? It's a delightfully campy stage version of a campily terrible movie. It's a festival of gay jokes and Cheyenne Jackson's brutal thighs lovingly wrapped up in a string of disco show tunes. It's inventively choreographed and expertly danced. And I speak with loving admiration and thinly veiled jealousy when I say that the pipes on the singers could put the horns on a garbage barge to shame. I have only two complaints: 1) the show looks kind of shabby, like an off-Broadway show that suddenly made it big and in all the excitement forgot to upgrade its wigs and sets, and 2) the sound mixing is so sloppy and so thoughtless that we couldn't understand a good three-fourths of the spoken dialogue. Which is a shame. At least I think it is a shame; we have very little idea what all we missed because we couldn't understand it.

Great Jones Café: We met Joe and David for a fabulous brunch on Sunday at this out-of-the-way spot in the Bowery. Then we explored the hood for a while, getting great New York history and trivia from both of them. They took pictures to mark our meeting, so I didn't. But they have yet to share the pix, so there's no proof we actually supped together.

Curtains: Dippy, silly fun. A great book punctuated by a mostly great score. Curtains is Kander and Ebb's final musical, which is not the strongest way for them to go out, but I'd still happily see it repeatedly. It stars the adorable David Hyde Pierce (for whom the fiancé and I have both threatened to leave each other) as a detective struggling to solve a string of backstage murders at a mediocre musical called Robbin' Hood. The bad-musical-within-a-musical trope is always a great way to squeeze together a bunch of unrelated music and allow major characters to burst into song with reasonably plausible frequency. We love Debra Monk and Karien Ziemba, and they deliver all the sass and moxie and Broadway diva fabulousness we'd hope from them in this show. Unfortunately, Curtains also co-stars Edward Hibbert, who is as fey and mush-mouthed and startlingly untalented here as he was on Frasier. His enduring career is one of the great mysteries of the theatrical world.

Les Liaisons Dangereuses: I’ve never seen a Broadway preview before. I’d assumed previews are full performances where minor, minor, minor kinks are worked out: refining the nuances of a lighting cue, finding a more suitable prop, tightening the chin strap on a dancer's wig, etc. At $100+ a ticket, I’d never expect a Broadway preview to include actors flubbing their lines … or coming on stage holding scripts that they've poorly hidden in the props they are holding. And yet, right there at dramatic end of Act I, the doddering old Madame de Rosemond marches out and proceeds to read her lines to poor Madame de Tourvel, who is having the breakdown of her fragile emotional life. Appalling lapses in professionalism notwithstanding, the production is quite lovely. It stars Laura Linney, and the fiancé was almost palpably giddy at the prospect of seeing her in it. Unfortunately, her performance is kind of ... wooden. And this comes from two big old homos who want nothing more than to love her in this sumptuously bitchy parlor drama of manners, appearances and cruelty in 1780s Paris.

Celebrity sightings: I’m traditionally not so good at this game, and this trip coughed up names only the most ardent theater fan would know: As we were walking to dinner one night, we’re pretty sure we saw Karen Ziemba heading in to a performance of Curtains. We definitely saw Rondi Reed hugging her castmates goodbye after two back-to-back performances of August: Osage County. And we saw Edward Hibbert (huzzah!) in the lobby of Les Liaisons Dangereuses. So since he wasn’t in the natural habitat of his own show, he’s the only true random celebrity sighting we had. LLD was a rare Sunday evening performance, and we’d hoped to see a lot of Broadway stars from other shows stopping in to see it on their night off, but no such luck. I did see Helen Mirren’s hair at intermission, but it didn't appear to be attached to Helen.

Times Square: It’s just like Disney World on a holiday weekend. Except with more Patti LuPone posters. And it's almost as if the city was just waiting for me to come celebrate my big milestone birthday in its show-tune-scented arms. Because in preparation for our arrival, it slapped this poster on the side of almost every phone booth from Times Square to the Bowery:

Sunday, April 13, 2008

How to turn 40: Step 3

Wake up in a fabulous New York hotel all snuggled up next to your fabulous fiancé and realize that, while the fiancé is still pretty fabulous, the hotel is just nicer than OK. First of all, the pillows on the bed barely qualify as usable. You get a choice between a microwave-sized throw pillow with all the squishiness and comfort you'd find in a blister pack of store-brand lunch meat or an actual pillow that feels like little more than a threadbare pillowcase stuffed with balled-up socks. Then you get in the shower and discover the shower head is one of those water-saving aeration thingies that give you all the water pressure of a mouse sneeze.

On the other hand, you get a lobby dominated by these rather spectacular paintings:

On Day Two of our spectacular Broadway birthday blowout, we brunched at the gay-fabulous 44xX with my high-school friend Chris and his delightful husband Ricky, who, as a gay Asian male of a certain age, is of course taking hip-hop classes at the Broadway Dance Center. After brunch, he took us on a tour of the center, and I've already made plans to bring my tap shoes on our next Broadway blowout trip so I can say I've taken a tap class at a real Broadway studio.

But our day was just starting! Unfortunately our Day Three is just starting too, and I have to get some pants on (yes, I blog in my underwear) so we can meet David and Joe for brunch. And when I get back, I have much more to report about our fabulous Broadway birthday blowout!

Friday, April 11, 2008

How to turn 40: Step 2

Actually, let's go back to Step 1 for a second. Before you do anything, make sure you clarify to anyone who stumbles on your blog that your birthday is a whole week away. MAKE SURE THEY UNDERSTAND YOU ARE STILL 39. FOR A VERY LONG TIME. You're just celebrating a week early in NYC with your fiancé.

That said, it's safe to move on to Step 2, where you get on your plane to find out you've been bumped from the aisle exit row seats you'd booked and relocated to the back corner window seats near the bathroom. Which is a problem because you're more than six feet tall and YOU'RE ALMOST 40 SO YOU HAVE TO PEE MORE OFTEN.

Other than that, make your way to New York City with no issues and get checked into the fabulous Millennium Hotel and head to the Museum of Modern Art for Target Free Friday Night. We got there pretty early, so this the extent of the line we had to stand in:
The line soon quadrupled in length behind us, so we were in a good spot. But once we were in the museum, we resolved to never do a free night at a museum again. Because poor people come on free nights and they just get in your way. Dear poor people who are too cheap to cough up twelve lousy bucks to get into a museum: Get a job, you hippie bums! We're trying to look at art, not the backs of your heads!

The crowds got to us pretty fast, but we did manage to stop and ogle the naked ladies in one of my favorite modern paintings, Picasso's vibrant Les Demoiselles d'Avignon:
(Take note: The only boobs you'll probably ever see on my blog are the kind that only barely look like boobs. So enjoy these while you can.) After we elbowed our way through the crowds and the art, we sat down at a little sculpture garden-facing table in the MoMA cafe and enjoyed a fabulous prix fixe dinner. Then we trotted our gay little selves a few blocks over for the first of our five birthday (NEXT WEEK! NOT THIS WEEK! NOTHING TO SEE HERE, FOLKS!) Broadway shows: Young Frankenstein! Our verdict: It's pretty stupid, but lots of fun. The sets and costumes are spectacular, the jokes are predictable, most of the songs are great, Sutton Foster is grossly underutilized in a dippy role, Megan Mullally is fabulous (though she's still playing Karen Walker, just with better wigs), Andrea Martin and Christopher Fitzgerald should win every award they're eligible for—and be knighted!—as Frau Blucher and Igor, and Roger Bart's understudy looks like he's been playing Frederick Frankenstein all his life. So far, you can call us happy, satisfied theatregoers.

Now I'm off to bed. Because I'm old. BUT NOT 40! YET! And my little fake heart attack still makes me really tired at night. And tomorrow's a big day: brunch with my friend Chris from high school, August: Osage County (a sorbet to cleanse our palates between musicals), dinner with Hugo (who it's safe to say has probably abandoned his blog altogether), Xanadu, post-show drinks with my friend Sonelius, and then who knows where the night will take us. (Probably bed. See the previous sentence about being old and tired.) Night!

How to turn 40: Step 1

The fiancé and I are climbing on a plane in three hours for a big Broadway blowout weekend!

On our docket: MoMA, Curtains, Young Frankenstein, Xanadu, two TBD shows, dinners/brunches/post-show drinks with six different clusters of friends, and some good old-fashioned standing on the sidewalk and gawking up at beautiful buildings.

And nothing can possibly go wrong with our trip; we're flying on an American Airlines MD-80!

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Stupid things I have done

Sunday night, right before I was about to fall asleep for good after an afternoon and evening of fitful napping, I decided it would be an excellent idea to broadcast a text message to ten people about my ER adventures earlier that day. Why? Because my phone will let me broadcast the same text message to ten people at once! And it’s a shame not to use that technology when it’s available to you! Even if the information you have to convey is probably more suited to a medium like email or voicemail that lets you go into important details.

So here’s what I sent in my well-meaning stupor: I had an adventure today. In a nutshell: Massive chest pains. 911. Ambulance. Six hours of ER tests. Diagnosis: Torn rib muscles with lots of pain in my future. Whee.

Unfortunately, the text message had too many characters for some of my friends’ texting plans. So it cut off after “ER.”

Also unfortunately, my phone was running out of juice so I shut it off and went to bed. While ten people I know spent the rest of the evening FREAKING OUT.

When you’re in crushing pain—and even when you’re well out of the crushing-pain woods (which, contrary to legend, is not the hideout for Robin Hood and his merry wives of Windsor or whatever they were called)—you make a point to never stray too far from the little bottle that holds your pain meds.

So, of course, I left my pain meds at home when I went back to work today.

Thankfully, the pain is proving to be pretty manageable without any chemical help. And I have a desk full of Ibuprofen, which I’m sure would do in a pinch. But still. I am clearly not the smartest person you know today.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Ya gotta have heart and music

So I've survived my little faux heart attack, and the pain in my chest has dropped from an 8 (out of 10) on Sunday to a 5 yesterday to a highly manageable 1 this afternoon. And now that I'm a full 12 hours out of my last Vicodin fog, I can more lucidly share some of the details I left out of yesterday's narrative about my 911 adventure.

First of all, I have no idea how I hurt my ribs. I had just danced three shows that opened with a pretty aggressive swing number, but we didn't do any lifts and 99% of our exertion took place from the waist down. I did lift my partner to my shoulder for the final pose, but she (yes, she—the Chicago Gay Men's Chorus doesn't discriminate, and I got to dance with our token straight woman) is a trained dancer with a low bodyweight. And I'd done that same lift hundreds of times with much heavier dance partners over the last two decades, all with no injuries. All I know is I went to bed fine on Saturday and I woke up in excruciating pain on Sunday.

Also, if you're a healthy, physically active 39-year-old with hearty (ahem) relatives, it's surprisingly easy to believe that crushing chest pain and classic heart-attack symptoms really aren't a heart attack. Plus, I'm the type of person who refuses to ask a clerk for help finding something in a store because I hate to be a bother. So I was not about to call 911 without someone actually telling me to do so.

On top of that, I have a not-unrealistic fear of getting a jillion-dollar bill in the mail for an ambulance ride and a hospital visit. So I figured my financial bases would be covered if my insurance company's ask-a-nurse told me to do it.

Of course, Blue Cross doesn't seem to actually want you calling its nurses; the phone number is pretty buried on its site. And this is going to make me sound totally Republican, but I was a little miffed that the nurse who answered was obviously in freaking India. I know: She was going to offer the same service whether she was in Chicago, Paris or David Vitter's diaper. But when you think you may be having a heart attack, placing an international call feels like a bit of a misguided luxury. In any case, she gave me the psychological permission I needed to call 911 and we were all off on our little adventure to the ER.

* * * * *

There's this guy in our building who is the quintessential adult frat boy: untucked shirt, baseball cap, omnipresent beer, laid-back dudeitude ... you know the type. And every time I've talked to him I've left with the feeling that he thinks I'm a total dork. So of course he sauntered by with his dog as I was clutching my chest and beginning to sob on our front stoop Sunday morning. He gave me a perfunctory "How ya doin'?" before he realized what he was in for. Fortunately, the sirens flared up at that moment, and I managed to mutter through my sobs, "I think that's my ambulance." I think that's my ambulance. I mean really. Can you picture anything more pathetic? To his credit, he jumped around and waved his arms so the EMTs could find me, and he waited to make sure everything was under control before he continued on his way to the the doggie park at the end of our block. But I think I've totally killed my last opportunity to be invited to his place for a Super Bowl party.

* * * * *

The EMTs who showed up seemed like they knew what they were doing, though they came straight out of central casting for a Saturday Night Live "Da Bears" skit. But the moment they determined I was not dying of a heart attack, they became awfully flippant about stuff. As they were triaging me in the ambulance, they made fun of the people stuck in the street who couldn't get around us. And when I asked what they thought was wrong with me, they dismissed my chest pain as an anxiety attack ... and the way they said clearly indicated they were describing a housewife-whose-meringue-came-out-droopy kind of anxiety attack. I've had many anxiety attacks—I was diagnosed with a social anxiety disorder five years ago and I've worked pretty hard (and paid a lot of money) to beat it—and I knew this was not an anxiety attack. They explained that they'd found me sobbing on my front stoop, and apparently adult men sobbing = anxiety attack. I tried to explain that I was in crushing pain and I was about to get a visit from My Very First Ambulance and it was totally freaking me out, but they were having none of it. They'd made their diagnosis and apparently that was the end of the discussion. I choose to think the whole conversation was their way of distracting me to calm me down. But still.

For the record, they also said that calling ask-a-nurse is a waste of time because the nurses always tell you to call 911 to cover their own asses. I'm still glad I did, though, because it will give me ammunition if I have trouble with my insurance coverage.

* * * * *

You know how when you're watching Law & Order or ER or whatever the kids are watching these days and they pull someone out of an ambulance and the gurney thing just drops its wheels to the ground and you think wow if you're already in pain it's totally gotta hurt when the gurney wheels fall out from under you and smack the ground? Well you're wrong! I kept waiting for the big smacking feeling as the wheels dropped out from under me when we got to the hospital, and I didn't feel a thing! That wheel-dropping mechanism is a miracle of modern engineering!

* * * * *

I thought it was interesting that while all the EMTs and ER nurses and doctors were checking my vitals and gathering my medical history and asking me if I'm a drug user and learning all they could about me in case I lost the ability to communicate, nobody noticed the ring on my wedding finger and nobody asked me about a wife or a husband or anyone they should contact on my behalf.

Other than that, the ER nurses were fabulous. They were chatty and jokey and very solicitous. One of them carried on an extended joke with me about how she was seeing other patients, though the others meant nothing to her. Another excitedly told me how nice it was to have someone to take care of who wasn't faking a head injury to avoid being arrested. Which tells me a lot about my neighborhood that I probably already knew. My only complaint was with the admissions woman, who first of all was a total mumbler. And then she seemed upset that I didn't know how my insurance worked in an ER setting. Dear admissions woman: You work in an ER every day. The patients you talk to are probably still a little surprised to find themselves in your ER, and they're probably more than a little traumatized when they talk to you. So cut us some slack if we can't recite our deductibles and co-pays for you on the spot. And speak up already!

* * * * *

I've often joked that I need to break a leg so I can get caught up on the stuff on my TiVo and all the books I've bought but never read. I hereby rescind those jokes. Being wounded sucks. Being cooped up while you recuperate from an injury sucks. And though I've cleared a seven-hour backlog of Modern Marvels and Cities of the Underworld off my TiVo in the last 48 hours, I did not have a lot of fun doing it.

* * * * *

I don't understand addiction. People have joked that one little injury can transform upstanding citizens into shady characters who try to sell their grandchildren for a hit of Vicodin. I like to think that's a bunch of hooey, but then if someone as self-righteously arrogant on the subject as Rush Limbaugh can get addicted to the stuff, what's to prevent me from secretly churning out my own grandkids to keep my Vicodin high going? But then I've taken five of the pills over the last 48 hours and all they did was make me fall asleep. I like to be awake. I'm still the kid who pleads to stay up another half hour every night. Unfortunately, I'm also the parent who always gives in. So I see no reason to pop another Vicodin ever again. Besides, they hardly even took the edge off my pain.

* * * * *

I didn't feel well enough to take a shower until late on Monday. Which means since I'd last showered on Saturday afternoon, I had danced two sweaty shows in a very dusty theater, spent six hours in an emergency room, shivered off a sudden sweat under a pile of blankets, and had innumerable naps on our couch and in our bed. All in the same underwear. And yet even the fiancé—who is not obligated to sugar-coat these things—commented how fresh and lovely I smelled as I finally climbed into the shower yesterday. I guess I just have a gift.

* * * * *
I'm going back to work tomorrow. And I can't tell you how excited I am about it. Even though the hallway's still not finished and there's laundry everywhere and the shower needs a good scrubbing. And I probably won't venture back into the gym for at least another week. But I'm not dead. I'm not in unmanageable pain. I'm not addicted to Vicodin. And I can totally say that I've ridden in an ambulance!

Monday, April 07, 2008

What is the good of the strongest heart?

After dancing three shows this weekend, I went to bed Saturday night exhausted. But it was the good kind of exhausted; our show was a smash hit and I was proud of what we'd accomplished. The fiancé was out of town, and Sunday was my first day in months where I could sleep in. And I had big plans for the day after I woke up: Finish painting the hallway, work out, maybe go running if the weather was still awesome ... and when the fiancé got home we'd planned to head to Sidetrack for some show tune therapy with a bunch of friends.


I woke up around 9:00 am Sunday with what I thought was heartburn. But when I climbed out of bed to get a drink of water, I was felled by a searing pain in my chest. An impossible-to-breathe pain that felt as though someone were squeezing my esophagus and my heart with both hands. A pain that radiated up through my left shoulder and the back of my neck with such intensity that it made me gag. A pain that made me think Holy shit. This is what a heart attack feels like.

I like to think I have a pretty high threshold for pain, and I honestly don't see myself as much of an alarmist. So I tried to be calm and rational. I found my insurance company's ask-a-nurse phone number and dialed it with shaking fingers. But when the nurse answered and I discovered the pain made it hard to talk, I lost most of my composure.

Once she heard my symptoms, the nurse told me to call 911 immediately. Which didn't help in the staying-calm department either. I've never called 911 before. And the prospect of calling 911 on my own behalf was rattling. People who call 911 have real emergencies. People who call 911 run up exorbitant emergency room bills. People who call 911 die.

But I called. And through my pain and my increasing panic, I managed to explain what was going on. The operator told me to stay calm and try to head outside to my front stoop to wait for the ambulance if I could. So I climbed into some dirty clothes off the floor and made sure I had my wallet and my keys and my cell phone, and I gingerly worked my way to the stoop in front of our building.

It's frightening how much goes through your head when you're sitting on a concrete step waiting for your own ambulance to arrive: Is this it? Am I going to die without saying goodbye to anyone? At least it's a nice day. Should I call my family in Iowa and leave them thoroughly freaked out and helpless to do anything? Or should I wait until I know something? Or will it be too late by then? Should I leave a goodbye-I-love-you message on the fiancé's voicemail? Could I even get the words out?

Then I heard it. The siren. My siren. You hear sirens all the time in Chicago. And unless you have to pull over to let an emergency vehicle pass you, the majority of them don't even register on your radar. But when you hear a siren and you realize it's coming for you, the reality ... the fear ... the uncertainty ... the gravity all hit you pretty hard. By the time the EMTs came running up to me, I was collapsed on the step, clutching my heart and sobbing. Sob. Ing. If I had died right there, you know damn well I would have gotten a posthumous Academy Award next February.

And I didn't get just an ambulance. I got a fire truck too. And at least five people who interrupted whatever they were doing to race across town and disrupt traffic to come take care of me. Spilling stuff about my life all over the blogosphere notwithstanding, I'm not a big sucker for attention. At least not drama-filled attention. I hate to be fussed over. And I hate feeling like I'm being a burden. So on top of the fear, the panic and the sobbing, I was also thoroughly embarrassed. I think my first words to the EMTs were "I'm sorry."

The first thing they did was put an oxygen mask on me. Then they gave me a baby aspirin. Which in the back of my mind was actually kind of funny; it took five burly guys and two huge emergency vehicles to race across Chicago to deliver me an emergency baby aspirin.

Then they gave me nitroglycerin. And I was back to reality. Nitroglycerin is what they give people who are having serious cardiac emergencies. Nitroglycerin is the first desperate step toward a very uncertain future. Nitroglycerin, in my mind, is a reason to panic.

I'd told them my pain had been about an 8 out of 10 when they arrived, and when they asked me to rate the pain after taking the nitroglycerin, I told them I was maybe a 6 or 7.

And suddenly the emergency was over. Apparently, if I'd been having a legitimate cardiac emergency, the nitroglycerin would have had a profound and immediate effect on the pain. When it didn't, the EMTs downshifted to stroll-in-the-park mode as they casually buckled me into a gurney and loaded me on the ambulance. The emergency was over as far as they were concerned, and from this point on their job was little more than a shuttle service. But the fact that I wasn't having a medical emergency still didn't change the fact of the pain. The crushing, gagging pain that continued to radiate across my chest and my shoulder.

The ambulance ride wasn't all that remarkable. Mostly because of the pain. And because I live three blocks from a hospital. (But they still used the siren. And I could see all the cars who pulled over for me out the back window as we drove past them. Which, all things considered, was kind of cool. In a riddled-with-guilt-because-I-obviously-wasn't-dying kind of way.)

And any doubts I had about not dying were erased when we got to the emergency room; one of the admitting nurses actually finished his sandwich before asking me about my symptoms and my medical history. (In fact, I was asked by four different people between my front stoop and the emergency room if I used recreational drugs. Which I initially found disturbing, but I guess people sick enough to ride in ambulances probably have any number of reasons for being there and the medical staff needs to be able to narrow down the causes.)

Once I was triaged, I was wheeled to one of the trauma rooms, where I was drained of blood, pumped full of oxygen, X-rayed, covered in stickers and hooked up to enough wires to make me a convincing extra on The Sopranos. And then I was left to wait. And wait. And wait. So I did what anyone else in my situation would have done. I took a picture of myself with my camera phone.

And then I saw some familiar faces peering at me from the hallway. The fiancé's cousin happened to be in town this weekend, and he and his girlfriend happened to have stopped by the house right after the ambulance whisked me away. The fiancé's developmentally disabled brother lives with us and he'd witnessed my whole breakdown and dramatic exit that morning, which I know thoroughly freaked him out but I was hardly in a position to comfort him or give him any information about where I was going. Between the three of them, though, they figured out where I might have been taken ... and they showed up within an hour to keep me company. Which was pretty freaking awesome.

We waited for almost six hours while my tests were run through the lab. So to kill time, we took pictures of stuff. Like the blood spots between my legs. I have no idea how they got there—or if they're even mine—but we found dark humor in the theory that I'd perhaps lost a baby:

Here's the finger monitor I had to wear. The cable attached to it wasn't very long, so every time I moved my hand I did something to irritate the machine it was attached to, which gave us an annoying chorus of beeps:

Here are the cables and stickers that covered my chest and even my ankles during my little emergency room adventure:
While all these cables were a conduit to vital information about my body, they were a frustrating impediment to peeing. Have you ever tried to hold back a gown and a wad of cables AND hold down the elastic waistband of your underwear AND aim your buick into a pee cup while your index finger is swathed in bandages with a cord coming out of it? I didn't think so. And I did it all without getting pee anywhere except where it was supposed to go. Which means the judges will have to give me a 10 for execution but maybe only a 6 for style.

Here's the monitor that everything was attached to. Technically, the relative straightness of that bottom line doesn't bode well for my overall health. But I think the damn thing had a short in it, because at any given time, any one of those three squiggles was flatlining on me:

Here's the view from my trauma room. The little sign on the wall says Hallway Bed #1.

And here I am pretending to look dead. Which was funny at the time, but now it's really not. I was cold in the emergency room, so one of the nurses had put that blanket on me. To make room for all the cords, she'd just draped it over one shoulder, which makes me look like some kind of low-rent ambassador or casual Friday cultural attaché, don't you think?

Around 3:30 the doctor came in with his diagnosis. Which was more of a non-diagnosis, actually. He'd "ruled out everything fatal" like a heart attack or a blood clot in my lung. But he still couldn't pinpoint what was causing the pain. His best guess: a torn muscle in my ribcage. Or a microscopic fracture in a rib bone. But he gave me prescriptions for Vicodin and industrial-strength Ibuprofen and sent me on my way with strict instructions not to exert myself. (Dear doctor: I can't even blink my eyes without gasping in pain. It's a safe bet I'm going to avoid anything with even a whiff of exertion.)

I had just shuffled home and lowered myself into my favorite chair when the fiancé burst through the front door, home at last from his long trip and slightly shaken by the text messages and voicemails he'd received once he'd turned his phone back on. And to bring the day's emotional roller coaster full-circle, I sobbed when he scooped me up and held me in his arms.

From the ask-a-nurse call to the nitroglycerin, I'd operated under the assumption that there was a realistic chance I could die. Which had solidified a lot of emotions I was already pretty sure of. Like how important ... how vital ... how completing the fiancé is to me. I waited 38 years to find this man, and I am not about to let something stupid like death take him away from me. Fuck you, death.

And now all that's left is the healing. Which will probably take a long time. But I have a devoted man who picked up my prescriptions for me and got me blankets when I was shivery and made me peanut butter and jelly sandwiches when I got hungry and this morning brought me an ice cream and strawberry and blueberry and cookie sundae for breakfast just because I thought it sounded good. And I have a TiVo cache full of Modern Marvels episodes to keep me company. And, unfortunately, a brain full of Vicodin, which I fear has suppressed my don't-be-long-and-boring filters on this blog post. So I'll stop now and fill you in on the funnier parts of my little medical adventure when I'm a little more clear-headed.

Friday, April 04, 2008

But first, Sir, I think ... a shave

I discovered years ago that 1) I hate shaving my face, 2) when I go three or four days without shaving, fiancés and handsome strangers alike can't stop themselves from reaching out to rub my cheeks and 4) I sometimes have trouble counting.

Being fundamentally lazy, I tend to blow off shaving my face pretty regularly. And when it's cold and itchy and wintery, I blow off my shaving ablutions completely.

But! The chorus show opens tonight, and in an effort to look presentable in front of the paying masses I shaved off my scruff this morning, exposing my tender chin for the first time since probably September. And then I stood in front of the mirror for a while trying to recognize the pasty-faced stranger staring back at me.

And when I got to work, I took a self-portrait with my camera phone. Which is way harder than it sounds, though I feel I achieved a nice compositional balance between me, my dry-erase board and the sagging binder shelf that totally undermines my personal feng shui:

I know: EEK! (And that's even with a layer of self-tanner.)

But you can put down your torches and your "Kill the monster!" signs and your villager mob suspicions; the scruff is coming back the moment the show closes. The world is obviously NOT ready for my rubbery white 40-year-old cheeks. Bonus! I may even try to grow a scruff combover to hide the bags under my eyes.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Purging in the bathroom

Moving in together has lots of benefits: on-demand hugs, built-in dinner dates even on weeknights, someone to hold you too close, a sudden acute awareness of how often you fart (which is perhaps more a self-conscious revelation than a benefit) and a whole new world of bathroom products.

When you first pool your bathroom products, it's kind of exciting. How often in your life does your hair have the opportunity to smell like a different tropical fruit every day for a week? Only when you move in together, that's when.

But the choices can overwhelm you faster than stupid at a Huckabee rally. And all those bottles, tubes and dispensers can take over your bathroom pretty quickly. Especially if you're gay men with a compulsion to moisturize. And despite your most valiant bergamot-scented efforts, you won't deplete your inventory to more manageable levels for at least a year. Emphasis on at least.

Since I'm on the topic … and since it's always fun to sneak through people's medicine cabinets … and since I've already taken and uploaded these pictures … I thought I'd take a moment show you our private world o’ cleanliness. Especially now that we've lived together long enough that we can finally close our cabinet doors.

Here's what I face every morning in my fog of shower steam and impending dementia: a bewildering array of self-tanners, wrinkle preventers, band-aids, bulk quantities of antiperspirant and enough sinus medicine to fire up a profitable meth lab. Plus a his ’n’ his set of barely used Nair for Men, which I don't recommend spreading on your skin unless you're looking to play a Law & Order burn victim. The fiancé doesn't seem to have much trouble with it, though. But then again he's immune to my farts, so how could a rub-on chemical burn slow him down? And stop looking for incriminating prescriptions. They're not there. We're kinda boring on the Rx front. Besides, I hid the RU-486 before I took this picture.

Here's the little window ledge in our shower. It sits in front of the frosted window that I still am not completely convinced is preventing everyone in our courtyard from seeing first-hand just how often I wash my butt. Funny story: After I took this picture, I asked the fiancé how often he uses that oppressively florid Dove body wash that's been sitting there since we moved in a year ago. "What oppressively florid Dove body wash?" he asked me. Which should tell you a lot about the scintillating conversations we have when we're not doing fun things like shampooing our thick, luxurious hair. In any case, neither of us knows where the oppressively floral Dove body wash came from, and we can't think of any visitors in the year we've been in our condo who haven't used the shower in the guest bathroom. It's a mystery! Wrapped in an effluvium of flora! Packaged in a tacky blue container! I hate to waste things—even things I don't particularly like—but we were both tired of the faint smell of funeral home that wafted through our shower every time we moved that bottle to get to the stuff behind it. So let's just say the dumpster behind our building now smells refreshingly of jasmine and bougainvillea.

I hated this cheap little apothecary cabinet from the moment we moved in. Then I realized it was the perfect place to display all the little sample bottles of stuff we've acquired but never used because they were hidden in boxes and bags under our sinks and we kept forgetting we had them. Another plus: When I stocked the cabinet I got to revel in my everything-must-face-forward-and-be-grouped-by-brand OCD so all the visitors to our bathroom could see what shameless brand whores we are (key words: H2O+, Bliss, hotel freebies). And it's actually working ("it" being the part about our bergamot-scented efforts to deplete our inventory from paragraph three, not the dubious efforts to impress imaginary bathroom guests from paragraph seven). We are slowly working our way through all those bottles and tubes and dispensers of goo. And we've never looked younger, felt smoother, and smelled more like salad and rainforests in our lives.