And Then I Fell Out the Window

Life, examined and punted around

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The Diner Where It’s Always 1959

This morning at the bakery my coworker informed me that her neighbor has a TARDIS in their backyard. It took me about ten minutes to stop hyperventilating. My logical self knows that there is not an actual 900-year-old madman Timelord with a blue box that picks up plucky young women, but as a 23-year-old with ambitions and travel lust who also happens to be stuck in some dead-end jobs, I can’t help but feel like a viable companion candidate. I know it’s not possible, but there’s still that tiny part of me that still looks in the postbox (or fireplace or between window panes) for my Hogwarts admissions letter or that magical doorway in an abandoned garden. In reality I know that the “TARDIS” in the neighbor’s yard is probably a clever shed paying homage to their favorite sci-fi show, but that didn’t stop me from hyperventilating for a few minutes.


Back to mixing cookies, back to reality. Today was a heavy dose of reality: an eight-hour shift a the bakery and a six-hour shift at the gas station. Nothing brings you back to reality like selling cigarettes, lotto tickets, and 30-packs of Busch Light. Except when a bearded man in biker gloves and those pinstriped conductor overalls came in and was writing a check. It started out so normal. He took his sweet time writing the check as I idly folded old receipts into paper cranes, an old habit. 

“Let’s see…today’s still the 29th?” “Yep, that’s still happening.” “And it’s still 2013?” “Yep. Unless we entered some kinda time rift,” I joked, but he looked up at me in shock.

“You know about those?!”


“That was what my research was on!! Time rifts and dimensional vortexes. There are eight spots they’ve discovered where there are dimensional vortexes. Used to be they’d pick people off the streets and send them through, but now they only send government people through.” 

He is in earnest. He is dead serious. He goes on to talk about how time travel is real, how people have been time traveling since the 1930s. “Who knows what the government is doing? Changing the past…changing the future…but really, the past and the future are the same thing.”

I can only say, “Huh.” Until I decided to just roll with it, that is.

Maybe it was a bit unfair of me to say, “Yeah, it’s crazy. There’s this diner in Kingsley where it’s always 1959. No matter when you step in, it’s just 1959.”

“1959? Really?” The man looks fascinated. “What town’s this in? Man, I would go back there and live in 1959. Back in 1959 I was about 8 or 9…those were good times.”

Then he started talking about Roswell. “I want to get into Area 51…make some connections and get in to see the vortex they’ve got there. Man, if I could travel in time I’d go back to Roswell and watch the crash, see what actually happened. There were three aliens on that craft, and two of them died, but one survived, did you know that?”

“I didn’t,” I said honestly.

“I don’t know if they knew what species it was.”

“Well, it’s alien. How could they know?”

“Oh, they’ve identified…what is it? 17 or 18 different species of aliens now? 17 or 18 that we know of.”

I’d never met someone so into the UFO and time travel mindset before. It seemed silly to me before, and it still does…but listening to this old guy talk about wanting to escape back to the past, wanting to see something extraordinary….maybe we weren’t so different. 

Hell, maybe there really is a diner where it’s always 1959. It’d probably be in Iowa if it existed at all.


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What’s (With) the Buzz?

I don’t think it’s the norm for Cost Cutters to hear from a female with shoulder-length hair, “I want you to shave all of this off.” The hairdresser looked at me and raised her eyebrows. “All of it? Really?” “Really.” “Okay, are you sure?”

No, I’m thinking. What if this is a terrible horrible idea? What if I have a fat neck and a weird skull dent and I look like an ugly man with boobs? 

I sat in the chair, she got the cape on, and then helped another customer. I stared in the mirror, nerves setting in. It wasn’t like this was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I’d been musing back and forth about shaving my head since this summer. But now that I was in the chair, was I really going to do this? It grows back, sure, but what if the growing back was terrible and awkward? “I’m actually really nervous now,” I said when she came back. 

I’m nervous!” she said. “My hands are shaking!” 

The hairdresser and the man in the chair next to me are looking over in interest. She starts buzzing and I grin and bite my lip. Hair starts falling. 

It was weird watching it go, but I’ve never loved my hair to death. It’s always been thin, but in the fall I got so stressed with student teaching and life-after-canoe-guiding that it started thinning even more. It’s a dull color in the winter, looking limp when it’s down and skinny when it’s up. And, I realized, once it was gone, that I felt a million times happier without it. 

I was grinning ear to ear when she was done. I almost teared up with how gorgeous and, surprisingly, feminine I felt. More gorgeous than I ever had. It was like I’d had the past years of awkward growing up buzzed off. I got out of the chair and stepped over strands of thin hair that felt like every single time I’d hidden myself or tried to be something that I’m not. I felt genuine and beautiful and right, finally.

That seems really ridiculous to suggest that one stupid haircut gave me a whole personal revelation, but it’s true. I drove home with the car windows down, the wind ruffling through my 1/4″ hair. It’s funny. Whenever I would tell someone, “I want to shave my head,” most of them would say, “Ooooh, please don’t.” Which I interpreted to mean that I didn’t have the face for it. Yeah, I don’t have the swanlike neck or willowy features of Natalie Portman. Maybe it was a bad idea. So this comment always gave me pause and I’d end up getting a wild and crazy trim instead. Maybe throw in some layers if I was feeling rebellious.

The other response was, “If you do, people will think you’re a cancer patient.” I feel like the opposite of a cancer patient right now. I feel strong and more alive than I have in forever. And gorgeous. My hair was the sickly-looking thing. Not my face. 

The people who said, “DO IT” were, consistently, women who had shaved their heads before. They get it, I think. They could relate to the feeling of lightness when it was gone, of purity. A fresh start. A simple aesthetic. All things that I needed and craved, and I didn’t realize how much so until I finally got it and I felt elated. 

The point is, I hope this becomes more than just a haircut. I want this to be a fresh start for everything else, not just my scalp. And I can feel how cliched this all sounds. Whatever. I fucking love my skull right now.

….Also, my parents haven’t seen it yet. This’ll be fun.

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Holy Elvis, That’s a Pelvis!

            I mentioned earlier that one of my three odd-jobs is being an SP (standardized patient). I’d expected it to be an interesting little side operation, which it is. I never expected it to lead to me standing in a room with four male medical students, one of which was pushing two shaking fingers into a beaming woman’s vagina as a brisk old lady told him what to do.

            Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the strange world of the female program at a medical school. I’d heard about it from Lena, the woman who runs the whole SP operation.

            “If you like being an SP and you want to get more involved, they’re always hiring for the female program, which is a whole separate thing. It takes a…certain kind of person to do it, but the pay is excellent.”

            The certain kind of person that Lena meant included Pi (Pai? Pye? Pie?), an olive-skinned young woman with curly hair and an easy, crooked-toothed smile, who was there when I arrived to observe a female program session to see what it was like.

            Pi showed me around the cluster of rooms where just hours before I’d been psychoanalyzed and pretending to have life-ruining seizures (I swear, I’ll write a blog about being an SP soon, because it’s a blog of its own). I hadn’t, however, been to one of the small rooms where an eerie rubber pink torso sat on the exam table, sliced off just above the bellybutton, the two short stumps of the thighs spread to reveal a rubbery slit where students could practice inserting their scapula or fingers in the correct way.

            A bowl full of scapulas, metal beaky things that have caused discomfort and awkwardness for women worldwide, sat next to three flattened, rubbery models of breasts. Pi demonstrated how to hold and use a scapula, and how to insert. “You have to push down hard, about 30 lbs of pressure.”

            “Umm, ow?”

            “Oh, no, it doesn’t hurt, but you need that pressure to get below the cervix. The worst is when students don’t get it low enough right away, so you have to let them try again…and again…” She beamed at me and laughed. Everything seemed to be a secret cosmic joke for her.

            This lighthearted attitude spread over to Janet, the aforementioned brisk old lady, one of the main instructors and organizers. She came in, greeted me, then ushered Pi and I into the examination room. “When we did this last week, we got to laughing a lot. We had a lot of laughing and it was really fun. That’s sort of what we aim for. We still want to be informative, of course, and professional, but also…not like a professor.” Suddenly she’s peeling off her swater. “Sorry, I’m not a very modest person,” she said, baring her breasts. Definitely not like a professor. Pi just grins at me and looks away. “But then the next class was so grim! It seemed to stretch on forever.” Janet pulled on a bra then put her sweater back on. “How far into your cycle are you, Pi?”


            The groups in these sessions are never larger than four students. I supposed that when I pictured Ob/Gyn students I pictured a majority of females, but instead four athletic, tall white males came in and settled in front of the DVD player.

            “You’ll need to either tuck in your ties or take them off for the examination portion,” Janet said, then played a 15-minute video featuring her and an acting doctor going through an examination. The close-ups of vaginal examinations made me think back to puberty classes in elementary school, although none of those videos were quite so candid.

            After the video, the doctors-to-be practiced holding the scapula, then moved into the examination room to watch Janet demonstrate an exam on Pi, who grinned the whole time, baring her vagina to four pairs of men’s eyes. It might seem nerve-wracking, putting your body on display and letting people touch it as well, but as someone who took a life drawing class, I understand the medical students’ perspective. There’s nothing pervy going on here. If they wanted to see something sexual, there are millions of hours and pictures of things far more erotic than seeing a woman get a flashlight shined on her cervix through a metal thing shaped like a duck’s bill. The medical students just want to make sure they get things right. It was the same way in art class. You didn’t sit there with your charcoal thinking, “Hot damn! A naked man!” Instead, the instructor was telling you that you had two minutes to gesture draw the figure before he changed poses and you were too busy thinking, “Is this proportion right? Shoot, I didn’t draw the load-bearing leg first. How am I going to add tone? Does this even look like a person?”

            Then again, I haven’t modeled for a pelvic exam demonstration yet. I’m sure I’ll be nervous when I do it for the first time. Especially when everyone in the room takes turns sitting on a stool and peering through the scapula like a telescope to look through the tunnel to my cervix.

            Once Janet was finished with her demonstration, she broke away so that each of the medical students could practice the exam. The first volunteer’s hands were shaking as he did the breast exam and I could see him growing more frustrated as Janet or Pi corrected him.

            “Remember, we want to minimize touch. Ask her to move the gown instead of moving it herself.”

            “I’m going to feel under your arm here—“ “Examine. Remember, neutral language.” “Examine,” he’d correct, sighing.

            Once he got to the pelvic exam, his hands were shaking even worse. It was strange and oddly funny to see this tall, wide-shouldered man with the neck of a football player and an arrogant personality to get shaky and fumble over his words and procedures as Pi grinned down at him and offered advice. Poor guy. Vaginas are complicated things. I would much rather be the one spreading my legs for a doctor than to be the one staring into the abyss and trying to figure out where the hell everything was and if it was functioning properly. No wonder my gay friends are afraid of them. 

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Convenience Store Dialect

Do you ever feel your dialect start to kinda mosey one way or the other, depending on the situation? Jeez, see, I’m doing it already. “Kinda mosey”–straight up rural Iowa. 

About a month or so ago, I started working at a gas station part time to supplement my bakery job and my standardized patient job (more on that job in another post, because it is a fascinating job and there are entire blogs dedicated to being an SP that are well worth a read). It’s a little gas station on the edge of town, around a cluster of blue-collar business, across the highway from Menard’s and close to some farms and the road to smaller nearby towns. As a result, we get a lot of regulars in who like to stay and chitchat. They know the cashiers’ names or some have house accounts at the store. You also get the travelers: truckers, families, couples, business trip folks. Most of the customers, though, are from pretty rural or working class backgrounds. As I started falling into the groove of selling them beer and lotto tickets and cigarettes (I’m still learning what color the different brand of “lights” are since they can no longer write “light” on the packaging), I noticed that my voice started slipping more and more into the Midwestern twang. My g’s started slipping off the ends of my words, I catch myself saying “It works pretty good”, making my inner bespectacled English teacher cringe, and my inner flannel-wearing small town gal stretch out comfortably. 


I don’t know if my voice is a natural parrot, but I tend to subconsciously sponge up whatever dialect is being tossed around the most. When I went to school farther north, my voice acquired that slight Minnesotan stretch, the Norwegian “oooahs” and “yas”, so much so that when I visited my brother in Oregon he said, “You sound like a Minnesotan. It’s freaking me out!”


At any rate, I’ve done a pretty decent job of assimilating into the gas station culture. I banter with the customers and wanted to share some of the more entertaining characters and moments.

About every day my favorite customer comes in. I don’t know his name, so in my head I call him the Grumbly Cowboy Guy. Ol’ Grumbles has a studded cowboy hat, a jean jacket, and palms dark brown with dirt. He comes in and starts muttering things, a long narrative in a voice so gravelly that it seems like a joke or a cartoon character. Yesterday he was talking about everything from gardening to pizza. “Grumblemumble went to the pizza parlor and got a Canadian bacon pizza with sardines, I don’t know if you like fuggin sardines, but I love ’em, and they put some fucking pineapple on it. Grumblemumble fuggin tomatoes you can take ’em, I hate ’em, fucking Wal-Mart parking lot, fuggin old tires to grow potatoes. Oh, and a box a’ them USA Golds, will ya, darlin’?” I turn around to get the cigarettes and try not to crack up. 


This weekend an aging lady came in and immediately asked me, “Do you have kids?”


“Don’t. Don’t do it!”

A few minutes later her surly teenage son came in and ignored her as he resolutely looked at the pop bottles in the cooler, and again I had to keep myself from laughing.


On one of my days during training, my coworker Leslie was helping me out, then she frowned out the window at something poking its nose out of a horse trailer. “Hold on… is that a camel??” It was. We both stared in shock and started laughing. You don’t see that every day.


Then there’s my coworkers. Oddly enough, it’s all women who work at this gas station, and usually there’s only one person working at a time. 

The first woman I met was Polly. I got to work on my first day and found her, middle aged, dyed hair, skinny, leaning against the side of the building and smoking. She greeted me, then put out her half-smoked cigarette against the brick wall and then showed me inside. “You’re working with Leslie, huh?” Then she gave me one of these knowing looks that says, “You don’t know what you’re in for.” 

“What is it?” I asked.

“Oh, nothing!” she said breezily. “I’m not saying anything. You can judge for yourself.”

I nod and shrug.

“The thing is,” Polly continues. “She’s so scatterbrained sometimes…I like her a lot, I really do, but….well, you’ll see.”

Once Polly took off, I met Leslie, a long-haired woman who was, surprisingly, passionate about organic and healthy foods. Odd for someone who works at a convenience store. “You met Polly?” I affirmed that I did. “I like Polly a lot, I really do, but she gets so nervous sometimes. She got into a bad car accident a while back and I think it  did some damage–she gets such bad anxiety now.”

There’s a few other ladies as well, some in their 50s, one is 16, and then there’s Grandma. Not my grandma, but everyone’s Grandma. She’s in her eighties and makes most of the homemade food in the store. Her potato salad is the shit, and I told her so, though maybe not with those exact words. “How does your mom make it? Does she make it with big chunks of potato?” 

“Yeah, she cuts them up into cubes.”

“See, I don’t like that, where you bite in and get a big bite of potatoes with no dressing. So here’s what you do. Take your mom’s recipe or whatever you like, but then you shred the potato up. Cook it and then rub it lightly over the grater. That’s what you gotta do. You gotta shred it.”


Sometimes I sit in the gas station and think about what a loser I am; 23 with a teaching degree that I refuse to use…working late on a Friday or Saturday night instead of “partying” like I’m “supposed” to do. I hate that phrase, “supposed to.” Because sometimes, something truly weird will happen at the gas station and I’ll realize, this is where the stories are.