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Pickle– WHAT?

21 May
Photo by Joan Azeka on Unsplash

Since moving to Richmond last summer I’ve been excited to get into pickleball. Alan and I were first exposed to it a few years ago when we visited my former boss in Tennessee and she and her husband took us to a court. If you’re not familiar, it’s played on a court that looks a lot like a tennis court but is quite a bit smaller; it uses paddles similar to table tennis but a bit larger/heavier; and the ball is approximately the size of a tennis ball but made out of open plastic like a wiffle ball. Think of it as the Frankenstein of racquet sports.

But here’s the thing: it’s fun, easy, and social, which is why I thought it would be a great way to meet people and stay active. The challenge is that the scoring is complicated and the rules are not at all like tennis, so it’s kind of confusing for a newbie.

All of which is to explain why I was standing on a court with eight strangers in oddly hot (90 degree) temperatures the first week of April. Richmond hasn’t provided the overall cost savings you might think – housing is much less expensive here than DC, but most other things are about the same – but the one place where I’ve found a deal: the Parks & Recreation offerings. I signed up for beginner tennis lessons: $25 – for SIX lessons, which is insane by DC standards; and pickleball lessons – FREE for what was originally supposed to be six hours of instruction but actually ended up being eight! I’m something of a bargain hunter, so don’t be surprised if I join a soccer league or some equally random shit in an attempt to make my tax dollars work for me here.

The best part about pickleball lessons? The instructor, Diana, who told us on the first night that she’s 75 years old. Good thing she disclosed her age, because I would’ve guessed her to be much younger. She’s spry, sassy, and delivers a mean serve. She reminds me of my mom: short white hair and a bit of a tough-love/smart-ass vibe to her coaching that has big “gym teacher energy” to it.

On the first night, she asked each of us to share what previous racquet sport experience we had. Some people had none, others had played tennis or pingpong in years past. I was last to go. “I just started taking tennis lessons two weeks ago,” I shared, thinking this might accidentally brand me as an over-achiever.

“Oh Lord,” she responded. “Good luck.”

As it turns out, while both tennis and pickleball use a ball and racquet/paddle, the strategies are very different, the scoring is very different, and the rules are very different. Among other things, I was cautioned that I’d probably miss the ball a lot because the racquet is much smaller. Good news? Not a problem on that front. Turns out, I’m still pretty coordinated. Bad news? The rules and scoring are as tricky as advertised – at least to a new person who has just learned about deuces and add-in/add-out.

Of course, I claim I’m coordinated and a semi-decent athlete, but it’s now been a month since my lessons ended and I might need to walk that back a bit. I’ve been playing regularly with two women from my class and if nothing else, my ego is certainly getting a workout: the last two times I’ve played, my *70 year old* opponent has absolutely mopped the floor with me.

I actually just signed up for the beginner’s tennis league, not because I’m itching to play more tennis (it’s exhausting!), but mainly so I’ll have a viable excuse in case I continue to get trounced on the pickleball court. As I tell my clients: it’s all about controlling the narrative. I mean, maybe the real miss here is that I haven’t yet found a ping pong class to join.

And with that, let me go consult the Parks & Rec catalog…

In which my house almost became a landmark…

15 Mar
Photo by Deon Black:

Banana hanging out of the fly of a pair of jeans as if it is a penis

One thing that attracted me to Richmond: its arts scene. VCU is just down the street from me and it’s ranked among the top 5 fine arts schools in the United States. One way this spills out into the community is through murals. I’m not sure what the official count is, but the downtown development district alone boasts at least 150.

So imagine my excitement when, after only a few weeks in my house, someone slid an envelope through my mail-slot, asking if I’d have any interest in letting an artist put a mural on the side of my row house. (I’m on the end of the block and have a good-sized two-story brick surface.) The artist organizing this project was actually not looking to do the work himself, but is trying to create something of an exchange program with foreign artists – bringing them here to diversify our arts scene, and in turn creating opportunities for Richmond artists to leave their mark abroad. Cool, right?

I was really impressed by the thought the organizer has given the project. In the initial letter he presented three different options for supporting the project: 1) Offering up your wall as a venue; 2) Offering your wall + $2k to cover the cost of materials and a lift; 3) Sponsoring the artist with $10k so they would be compensated for their efforts. I responded by letting him know that I’d be open to having a mural on the side of my house and I’d be willing to cover costs, but I was not at a full sponsorship level of patronage because I’m, uh, a bit broke after buying a house. He was cool with that and excited that I was up for a mural.

I’m a planner, so I asked, “What’s the process for reviewing/approving the design? Would I get to suggest themes or choose from artists, or how does this work?” He explained that you only get those privileges at the $10k sponsorship level (fair enough – he’s found a meaningful incentive for full sponsorship).

I followed up by asking if I would at least get to see/approve the image before it goes on my house. In my mind, I was imagining someone having free rein and painting an enormous penis on my house, but I didn’t tell him that because I didn’t want to seed any ideas. PERHAPS, he offered. It would depend on the artist. The artist might be someone who is inspired by the act of painting itself and changes designs on the fly, so I couldn’t necessarily count on it.

That prompted me to pause and consider: as a big-time control freak, might it be sort of a bucket-list item to cede control over something this big? To just give someone carte blanche to paint on the side of my house – as long as I generally liked their portfolio? When I shared this with Alan, his answer was immediate. “Absolutely not.” He looked at me like I was crazy. “It’s your HOUSE. You’re not going to let someone just paint whatever they want on your HOUSE. You won’t even let someone other than you caulk your bathtub. Are you serious?”

Fair point. But I was enjoying the idea of being Alison 2.0 who supported the arts and let someone indulge their muse… until the organizer emailed me with good news. “I’ve got an artist coming to town and we think your house would be perfect for him. He’s in NYC now, but will be here within a week. Are you still interested?”

Gulp. I was excited and nervous. Who was the artist? What did he want to paint? Any chance it would be something related to a cause I’m passionate about – like reproductive rights, BLM, the environment, banned books? The organizer wasn’t sure, but he provided me with a link to the artist’s previous work in Europe so I could get a sense of his style and prior projects. I checked him out and was intrigued. His style was interesting. The subject matter didn’t necessarily resonate for me (oversized people doing different things) but it was still cool. There were one or two abstract images that could possibly be interpreted as being a wee bit phallic, however, so I decided that I wouldn’t feel comfortable moving forward without seeing a sketch.

“I mean, it’s not as permanent as a tattoo, but it’s also a lot more expensive than a haircut, so if I don’t like it, I won’t have to live with it forever, but it will be up there long enough that my house could become a landmark known as ‘The Big Dick’ or something,” I explained to a friend.

“You’re being ridiculous,” she laughed.

I waited on pins and needles for a few days, hoping the artist would be able to provide a sketch. Finally, Sunday evening, he came through. I’d like to post a copy of the image, but I don’t want to violate his copyright, so I’ll do my best to describe it:

Imagine a cartoon man with his back to you, arms and legs out as if mid-jumping jack. He is up against what appears to be an open window. His face is turned to the side, mouth open as if – just speculating here – orgasmic. Oh, and he is completely naked, with a small but very obvious penis pointing down between his legs right in the middle of the frame. I mean, there was nothing ABSTRACT about it. The penis even had a SHADOW.

TLDR: It would like two-story naked cartoon man humping my house.

I imagined my neighbors’ reactions as they watched it going up. I haven’t even had a chance to meet all of them yet, and I’m pretty sure this would NOT be a friend-maker. More like a slow-motion smile turning to horror as they realized I’ve conscripted our entire block to a terrible nickname. “What’s next?” I imagined them asking, “Is she going to add a ‘Tiny Dick Alley’ street sign to the side of her carport?”

I forwarded the image to Alan, whose response was, “Seriously? Are they roasting you? This can’t be real, right?” (To his credit, he didn’t use this as an “I told you so moment.”)

I responded to the project coordinator and said, “Thanks, but I’m going to pass. Hope you find a home for this guy in the Fan because I think it would be fun to have a ‘humping man’ somewhere in Richmond.”

To which he corrected me. “He’s not humping. More like skydiving on an empty picture frame.”

TomAto, ToMahto. There would still be a very visible, embarrassingly small cartoon penis on my house. I’m excited to be part of this neighborhood, but I don’t need my house to become an unfortunate landmark.

“Well look on the bright side,” my friend offered, still trying to get me to make a very bad decision, “It would be easy to give people directions to your house – they wouldn’t even need to know your house number!”

City Mouse/Country Mouse

13 Mar

I’ll spare you the details of how we made the decision, but the move to Richmond was something Alan and I landed on together. And in keeping with the deal we brokered 13+ years ago, the vision wasn’t for us to buy a place and live together down here. We had very different ideas of what would make us happy…

For me: a place “in the city” that was walkable/bike-able for my daily errands, where I could leave my car for a weeks at a time without needing it, and where I could get to know my neighbors.

For Alan: a place in the country with enough land to hunt, grow fruit and vegetables, and stick a bee hive. And where his closest neighbors would be far enough away that he could walk around naked if he chose.

And so now we’re here – me in a row house in The Fan and Alan in a TinyHouse™ on some acres about 45 minutes outside the city. We explain it to people by referencing Country Mouse/City Mouse, which is a Disney book from my childhood.

Alan might be rethinking this reference after the last week, when he texted me with some alarm:

“I had a packet of emergency rations in my emergency kit in the truck. Went out there for batteries this afternoon, and something has gnawed it open and eaten about a quarter of the pack. Could I have a f*cking mouse in my truck?”

Reader, the answer – as you likely suspected – was apparently yes, based on the text I received from Alan the next morning:

My response? “Aww. Poor little guy, just wanted some peanut butter…” Which I could say with full sympathy for the mouse because he was NOT EATING MY FOOD AND POOPING IN MY CAR.

It seems Alan was NOT sympathetic to the mouse, because he responded, “…and probably some seat cushion and electrical wiring and a perfectly good pack of survival rations…”

“He was an Adventure Mouse,” I texted. “Chasing the dream of a Ranger.”


The lesson here: It is ok to BE the Country Mouse, but not ok to HAVE a Country Mouse. Which makes me wonder if maybe we need to rename our situation after something that isn’t inspired by rodents?

Just a thought.

PS: I was going to propose Green Acres, but then I watched the show opener and – I did NOT remember the possessive yank and declaration of “my wife” that ripped Eva Gabor out of her happy habitat and into the muck of farm-living. I am glad to be living in the year 2023 and not treated as some man’s chattel in 1965.

BOOM! Nailed it?!

7 Mar

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I moved into my new place in December. I’ve been so focused on getting the inside in order that I’ve straight-up ignored the small backyard, which was a big draw for living in The Fan – the row houses have yards, but they are generally small enough that there’s no lawn to mow – just enough space to work or eat outside on a nice day.

We’ve had an unseasonable streak of warm weather over the last month, which means I’ve been logging a LOT of hours on my front porch swing. I’m loving it, but I’m also worried that my next door neighbors (whose porch is connected to mine) think I’ve deputized myself as part of Neighborhood Watch because they can’t come or go without being seen by me. I sometimes even have a pair of binoculars so I can check out the crows or errant hawk on the street, and I’m sure that’s doing little to dispel any rumors that are forming about me.

All of which is to say: this last week I decided to start getting my back patio in order so I can spend time there (more privately) and give my neighbors some breathing room. First step was to order a dining table and chairs (pictured above, without seat cushions or umbrella). Second step was to install a grill (also pictured above), which Alan graciously gave me as a housewarming gift.

Alan knows me well, so rather than surprise me (always a terrible move for this control freak) we had some discussions about what requirements I’d have for a grill. My list was fairly specific: small so it doesn’t take up a ton of space (I’m never going to be cranking out dozens of burgers for a block party); propane so I can cook on it without a lot of fuss if I ever lose power; and at least one shelf and a warming rack. I would’ve been fine with a NoName grill, but Alan was insistent that it be a Weber. So this last weekend he showed up with a charming two-burner Weber grill – disassembled in a box.

Hold up. I did not realize grills required assembly. “Part of my gift is assembling it for you,” Alan said. (He’s owned grills before, so this was not a surprise to him.)

“Nah,” I told him, “I’ll do that. You know I like building things.” (Which is true – I view Ikea furniture as an adult Lego kit.) Alan knows that arguing with me is generally futile when I’ve made up my mind, so he offered to do it next weekend if I didn’t get around to it – a graceful compromise that allowed me take a stab at it or shelf it for him, depending on how I felt.

When Alan left for his property Sunday morning, the weather was great for an outdoor project, so I decided to tackle the job. I opened the box and started pulling parts and parts and parts out. It felt like a set of infinite Russian nesting dolls, where every time I thought I’d pulled the last possible item out of the box, I’d find that there was a box in a box that contained even more parts.

Once I had everything unpacked and spread out, I realized this was not at all the job I thought I’d signed up for. I had assumed the “assembly” would basically entail building a stand, and then plunking the already put-together grill on top of it. I started to get super concerned when I saw random wires dangling. Oh shit – do I need an electrician?

But then I did what I usually do when facing a new challenge:

  • Estimate what % of the population probably wouldn’t be able to complete it at all: 20%?
  • Come up with a reasonable target completion timeline: 4 hrs?
  • Start the task with a goal of beating both these statistics

Have I mentioned that I’m competitive?

Two hours and 20 minutes later, I dropped my screwdriver with the finality of a cooking show contestant raising their hands to show that they had completed the dish right under the wire. I imagined my competitors, only half-way done. I stepped back and beheld my sweet grill, all shiny and ready to go. It was like my childhood erector set, except instead of a little go-cart that steered itself in endless circles, I was now in possession of of an actual, functional fire-starter.

Well, functional is perhaps over-stating it a bit. The grill LOOKS great, but I haven’t lit it yet. I still need to pick up a tank of propane so I can perform the final test. But I’m not worried. The instructions – all 48 steps – were easy to follow. Pressing the starter button this weekend is just going to be a formality.

Though perhaps in this instance, I’ll hold off on my usual mic-drop declaration for a finished job. No sense tempting fate.

FOOTNOTE: When I shared this triumph via text with my mom, she wrote, “I’m very impressed with your technical abilities. Dad taught you girls well.” And he did! They both did! I am so fortunate to have grown up in a house where gender roles didn’t rule supreme, where my dad always invited us to spend time at his workbench, where my mom would start tasks without needing to solve beyond the next step, and where I was taught that anything could be done with enough patience, research, muscle or ingenuity. Is it any surprise that when a huge box showed up in my kitchen, my first response was to set a timer and get to work?

What to Expect When You’re Expecting… To Get Arrested!

2 Feb

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I don’t know how you honored Martin Luther King Jr’s legacy in January, but I got arrested for civil disobedience on Wednesday while protesting the Senate’s refusal to call witnesses in the Impeachment Trial. Obviously I have a LOT to share on the topic, but since this blog is called pithypants, I’ll start with the lighter stuff first.

So here’s a quick primer on what to expect if you decide to take your outrage to the next level this year…

Lesson 1: If you’ve not yet been arrested (I hadn’t!) I highly recommend coming to DC and letting your first experience unfold with the US Capitol Police. They are professionals. While the experience isn’t exactly pleasant (I mean, it’s uncomfortable having your hands cuffed for hours), I didn’t encounter a single officer who seemed to be on a power trip. They were friendly, civil, and – if I’m being honest – entirely deserving of the salaries we pay them. In fact, when I learned that they probably wouldn’t be able to make change when I paid my fine, I suggested that they take the extra $10 and buy a six pack of beer.

Lesson 2: You shouldn’t offer unsolicited money to the police. Turns out, even if you’re being funny, they will get big eyes and respond seriously, “We can’t take that! We don’t do bribes!” Um… oops? Sorry about that. I wasn’t looking for a second charge!

Lesson 3: When you’re arrested in a “mass arrest,” you will be processed as a group. Which means: you’re only as fast as the slowest member of your group. The larger the group, the longer you’ll be in custody, because everyone has to go through all the steps before they start releasing people.

In a nutshell, the process consists of getting:

  • cuffed
  • patted down
  • having all your personal property (except clothes, ID and cash for the fine) removed and placed in a plastic bag
  • photographed
  • loaded in a paddywagon and transported to a processing area (in our case, a drafty warehouse over near the Navy Yard)
  • searched again (more thoroughly but still with your clothes on, thankfully!);
  • your cuffs moved from behind your back to in front of you
  • read your Miranda Rights
  • to sign your arrest certificate (after they run your ID through their database to check for priors)
  • fingerprinted
  • to pay your fine
  • your stuff back
  • released!

In our case, it took about four hours.

Lesson 4: Consider your clothing carefully if you think there’s a chance you might get arrested. I say this because most of my regrets were around aspects of my clothing. I was grateful to have my big winter coat for the hours that we were sitting in the cold warehouse. I was also glad to have worn a sports bra rather than a regular under-wire bra because it made the bra checks (performed by a female officer) easier. (In case you’re wondering, for a bra check, they ask you to lean forward slightly and they grab and shake the band of your bra so that if you have anything there, it will fall out.) Conversely, I kicked myself for wearing skinny jeans. Had I known my stomach would be exposed, I probably would not have worn something that showcased my tubby muffin top. Next time I might wear a dress. 🙂

Lesson 5: Know what you’ll be charged with. In my case, I learned a new vocabulary word: incommoding. Look it up.

Lesson 6: If there’s a chance you’ll get arrested, be sure to carry cash (to pay your fine) and a valid ID in your pocket. If possible, ditch anything else because it just slows the whole process down (see Lesson 3). In our case, our fines were $50, payable in cash, so for the people who didn’t have cash on them, we pooled our money to cover them.

Lesson 7: When possible, team up with an organized group that knows the ropes. I was fortunate enough to have been with a group that was familiar with the process. They let us know what actions might lead to arrest, made it clear what consequences we might face if we were arrested, and provided forms for us to complete before protesting to secure legal representation in the event that we got arrested.

After I was released from custody, I walked out the back door of the station, completely disoriented and unsure how I’d get home. As I was fishing my phone out of my plastic bag of belongings, I heard a small group of people cheering and chanting, “Thank you, we love you!” from a hotel parking lot across the street. I had not expected a welcome committee, but it was incredibly nice to be met by a lawyer who made a copy of my arrest record, asked how I’d been treated, and verified how many people were still awaiting release, while another person brought me food and asked if I needed to use a bathroom. They planned to stay there until the last person was released so that if anyone hit any hiccups or needed help paying the fine, they would be covered.

Lesson 8: Be sure you have an Uber/Lyft app on your phone so you have an easy way to get home. I was one of the few people from the DC area who got arrested. The others were from Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and even California. Which is to say: I’m probably one of the only people who had a remote sense of where I was in the city. And even so, it was after dark and I didn’t know how close a metro was, so I was grateful to grab an Uber.

Lesson 9: Even if you’re tempted, don’t tell your Uber driver, “I just got out of jail!” unless you want him to go silent, drive quickly, and look at you suspiciously in the rearview mirror. On second thought: definitely tell your driver you were arrested. Way better than making small talk for 20 minutes.

Lesson 10: Listen to the stories of the people who took the leap with you. (Not that it’s difficult – without a phone or any other source of entertainment, all you have to pass the time is each other.) You’ll be inspired by the retired Army Colonel who has been in town from New York protesting every day since January 6; by the soft-spoken college student who came out from Wisconsin because she doesn’t see the point of a college degree if our country continues on the path it’s on; by the young nurse from California who flew in that morning just to protest, knowing she might miss her return flight back because she got arrested; by the Marine running for US Congress, whose uncle was the regional president of the NAACP in Mississippi; or by the man who now wears a body camera to protests after losing multiple teeth in the violence at Charlottesville in 2017. These people made me proud to be an American.

And finally, if you want to see what we did that led to arrest, here’s a link to a pretty thorough video from that day.