‘Sup?


My name is Liz. I need direction. I overuse commas. My house is a mess, my hair needs a trim, and I have no marketable skills: It's fun here, you'll see!

Got a question, comment, proposal of marriage? Great! Email me at liz@theproductivecough.com

Show Your Love

April 28th, 2011

An Overdue Retraction

Dear Occidental College Freshman Year Orientation Group,

During that rousing game of “Two Truths And A Lie” our first week of school, I led you all to believe that at some point in my life, I had eaten duck eggs. I don’t remember how much any of you actually cared, but I can tell you I felt impressive when I said it. (Because things you’ve eaten should be the thing you brag about to make friends.) Unfortunately, I now have to issue a retraction for that statement. Before you grab your pitchforks and torches, please allow me to tell you why. It’s a heartbreaking story, and I really think you’ll all be on my side once you hear it, okay?

When I was a kid, my family and I used to spend a lot of time in the desert… Yeah. Let me go ahead an rephrase that, so it doesn’t sound like we all just sat in a yurt and did peyote for several weeks a year.

When I was a kid, my family and I used to take vacations to Palm Springs with my godfather and his son.

Perfect. Onward:

The condo where we used to stay was positioned on a golf course, and we liked to run around on the green and ruin its pristine manicuring. One morning, the Parents woke us all up. “The ducks laid eggs on the green overnight!” We shot out of our beds and ran downstairs. Sure enough, against the palm trees, in the rocks near the water hazard, and all throughout the grass were tons of eggs. Must have been a dozen of them. After we gathered them, the dads cooked them and we all had breakfast. I don’t even like eggs, but these were duck eggs I had found myself and dammit I was going to enjoy them.

What a touching family moment, right? I have always looked back on that day proudly. The idea of finding our own food brought to mind Laura Ingles Wilder, which I found thrilling. Who else could say they experienced that while on vacation? Certainly none of you Orientation Group people. No! Don’t get mad. Tale of woe, remember?

A little while ago, I decided to reminisce aloud. “Hey dad, remember that time Louis and Sam and I found those duck eggs on the golf course in Palm Springs?”

“What?” he said. I told him the whole story in detail, smiling. (Here comes the woe.) He looked at me like I was a moron. “Actually, we…”

“You hid those yourself??” I yelled. He gave me a guilty smile. “They were at least duck eggs though, right?” He furrowed his brow. “DAMMIT, Dad! I told my orientation group at college that I’d eaten duck eggs before!”

Don’t you see? The story I remembered was a lie! I felt cheated, duped. Loved, too, of course (our parents wanted to give us a fun experience). But mostly cheated and duped. How in hell did I not realize what was happening? How could I have gone so long without bringing this up? For god’s sake, there were TWELVE EGGS EXACTLY. One of them probably had a red FDA approval stamp on it.

And what’s more, my “O-Group,” all nine of you, had been victims too. All along you’ve probably thought I was this super cool person who eats the unfertilized embryos of all kinds of birds. I HATE to have to tell you that this is not true. I have only eaten chicken eggs, and I really am not wild about them.

And so,  I must retract the statement I made to you all during O-Week. Two Lies And A Truth, I guess. I hope I have not damaged our relationships too permanently.

Humbly Yours,

Liz

 

March 11th, 2010

Overdue Apologies (Part VIII)

Dear Pinchy and Grabby-

I want to apologize from the bottom of my heart (the very bottom, where all the bacon grease and deep emotion is) for the direction your lives took after we met.

My sophomore roommate, Rita, and I were walking through the Glendale Galleria one afternoon, when we passed a kiosk selling hermit crabs. 15 minutes later, we were driving back to school with two new crustacean pals, instructions, a plastic terrarium, food, a water dish and a half a hollowed out coconut shell with a doorway cut into it which read “COCO HUT.” Everything we needed to keep you fellows alive and happy.

Alive, yes. Happy… I doubt it.

Fast forward several weeks. Midterms, research papers, presentations, parties, weekends away- all of this and more kept Rita and I from really caring for you the way we should have. One morning I came in from having breakfast and Rita was just waking up. “Oh, shit,” she said, looking around. “What?” I asked, alarmed.

“Pinchy and Grabby! I took them out to play with last night and then I fell asleep. Where are they?”

When I have a pang of guilt, the receptors on my tongue that respond to sour tastes start to burn. As Rita and I frantically rifled through our terribly messy room, my sour taste buds felt like they were on fire. The images of hermit crabs crushed between copies of “Reading About Art History” and “Psychological Principals, Third Edition” that flashed through my head were only interrupted by fleeting thoughts of the two of you poor creatures huddled under a desk, doing the arthropod equivalent of weeping.

We found you in a dirty t-shirt that hadn’t made it to the hamper.

Your lives only got worse from there. I was almost never in the room, and Rita was also very busy. After a week of not even THINKING about you, I peered into your terrarium to see this:

Please notice the empty shells. We’d placed them there hoping you’d switch homes once you got larger. It didn’t happen. Probably because you were so under-hydrated your exoskeleton couldn’t even begin to think about molting. I mean LOOK AT YOUR FREAKING WATER DISH. Poor Pinchy, just sitting in there, hoping for rain. And Grabby, you’d obviously retired to the COCO HUT to wait for the sweet release of death.

Oh god, there go my taste buds again.

After school was out for the year, David was kind enough to take you both into his home, where he had a much larger terrarium available. But you just sort of lay there in your new digs and didn’t do much of anything. David was convinced you were depressed. One day, he excitedly told me “Look! I cleaned their house, and gave them new sand and food and fresh water! They’ll be much happier now.”

“They’re arthropods,” I snapped. “They don’t have emotions. They have ganglia.”

David, to this day, teases me about this answer. But the truth is, I needed to be very forceful with that concept (whether or not it’s true) in order to convince myself that the last, very dry year you’d spent in my dorm room hadn’t really been as cruel as I knew it had.

Finally, when the guilt became too much even for David to deal with on a daily basis, I packed you up and donated you to my local nursery school. The idea was that the kids would love you and watch you grow and fight and play and eat and all the other things I never saw you do one time ever.

But, in reality, I’m sure you were picked up, drawn on with a purple magic marker, and then forgotten about.

Pinchy. Grabby. I am so, so sorry. I hope that, wherever you are, you realize that my intentions for you were honestly good.

I just wasn’t ready to be a mother.

December 10th, 2009

Overdue Apologies (Part VII)

Dear Wayne,

I’m sorry I pulled your pants down in front of everyone during that game of tag. It was the desperate action of little girl with an undeveloped sense of sportsmanship.

You probably don’t even remember me. You worked at my old preschool when I was in elementary school, and I would only see you when I went there for after school daycare. I picture you as a much older person, but in reality, you were probably about 20. We all loved you, the cool older guy who would chase us around and organize games of hide-and-seek and freeze tag. So I don’t know why I would ever do something to humiliate you, but it was definitely a decision that I hadn’t given much thought to. Let me explain:

I have never been an athlete. I’m kind of slow, and I don’t have much of a head for strategy. But I also have a little perfectionism streak, and so if I’m not great at something right off the bat, I get mighty frustrated (recall how I dealt with soccer). This particular afternoon, I had been “it” about 89 times in the course of ten minutes.  And it was mostly because of you. You were a tagging machine! And I couldn’t outrun you- you were twice my height, and much more clever. And, because I had a baby brother, I knew that, as the older kid, you were watering down your skills. I couldn’t even out-tag Wayne at half power! I was beyond frustrated. The only thing I could think of to do, besides cry, was to attack you before you could attack me. As you were being swarmed by a pod of screaming children, I made my move. I swooped in from behind, grabbed your belt loops and let my knees go limp.

There I hung from your Wranglers, knees tucked up to my chin, cackling like a psycho at each inch of white underwear I exposed. Once you figured out what was happening (and I must say, it took you a little while), you whirled around, throwing me off, and quickly pulled up your jeans.

I think there was some yelling, and perhaps the suggestion of a time out, but by then my embarrassment and guilt had set in, and I was already on my way to the other side of the yard. Now I was not only a terrible tagger, but I was a “bad kid.” It was not one of my prouder days.

Wayne, I know by now you’re probably a doctor or lawyer or ticket taker at the ArcLight, and you’re not thinking about the time a towheaded youth attached herself to your pants with intent to humiliate. But, in the event it ever does cross your mind, I hope you unclench those fists and accept my most sincere apology. Thank you.

October 15th, 2009

Overdue Apologies (Part VI)

Dear 1995 QuickSilver Soccer Team,

I am sorry for how awful I was- as a player and as a teammate. I think most of you were there by choice, to bond with other girls, to have fun, to win soccer games. I was there mostly because my mom signed me up, but also because my dad signed me up. See, they love me, and in the fall of 1995, they wanted me to have something to do after school that would break me of my awful habit of sitting at the kitchen table doing homework. (I was kind of a bad kid, I guess.)

So Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, my mom would drive me down to the local State Recreation Area for a little forced athleticism. You all were very good players. I was not. I didn’t have the speed to play offense, or the reflexes to play goalie (also, I didn’t want to get hit in the face with a soccer ball). Our coach, Debbie, tried her very best to make me feel like I was a necessary part of the team by giving me the role of “Fullback” which I always thought sounded more like a cut of meat than a defensive position. This meant that I was allowed to stand around while you all did most of the work.

And stand around I did! The afternoon sun was perfect for clasping my hands on top of my head and making shadow “eyeballs.” When you guys came barreling down the field toward me, I’d pretend to be really focused on the game and I’d kind of bounce from one foot to the other, which was my best approximation of what I thought an athlete was supposed to do when faced with the opportunity to defend her goal. I probably kicked the ball once the entire season. And it probably went directly out of bounds.

But my lack of skill and interest isn’t what I want to apologize for. I want to apologize for all of my weird behavior that I’m sure made everyone uncomfortable. Like the day I finished every sentence with “…and tings of dat nature,” in my “Mel Brooks” voice. Or that time during a Saturday round-robin when I actually left the field to “take a nap” on the sidelines- and tried to recruit others to do the same: “We’re losing and we have a WHOLE OTHER GAME AFTER THIS. We need our rest guys, come on!”

And I’m also sorry for the time I came around the corner during a warm-up run with a cigarette hanging out of my mouth. Sally and I found an abandoned pack in the bushes. I picked them up and passed one to her. They weren’t lit of course- that would be disgusting. But I thought it would be fantastic if we had them hanging from our mouths when we came jogging back to our field. It did not get the response I was hoping for, so I held onto mine for most of practice, pausing during pass-and-shoot drills to take long, exaggerated “drags.”

And what did I prove by being an obnoxious weirdo? I guess I thought that if I couldn’t succeed at soccer, at least I could make people laugh. In reality, I only ended up proving that I was an obnoxious weirdo. Plus, Coach Debbie had the last laugh when she awarded me the trophy for “Best Attitude” at our end-of-season pizza party.

So for all of my shenanigans, my lack of team spirit and my complete dismissal of the actual sport, I apologize to all of you girls on the 1995 Quicksilver Soccer Team.

June 3rd, 2009

Overdue Apologies (Part V)

Dear Louis,

On Monday, Paul and I went to Disneyland, and it got me thinking about the time we went for your birthday in December of, I think, 1997. That would have made you 11, which sounds about right.

Mom and Dad were nice enough to let me bring my friend Lauren (recall her from the Halloween Finger Incident of 1998) in addition to the hordes of 10 and 11 year old boys. They were also nice enough to let Lauren and I go off by ourselves for a few hours. “But be back by eight,” Dad instructed us.

But you know how amusement parks are. It smelled like burgers, popcorn and the promise of something deep-fried, there was a dixieland band playing, and as many as 89 little girls dressed liked cinderella, most of them crying. If it wasn’t utter chaos, it was certainly enough mayhem for us to think Dad had said “eight-thirty,” instead. “‘Kay, great, sure!” Lauren and I said, running off in the direction of Splash Mountain. The plan was to ride Splash Mountain as many times as we could before we had to get back.

I think we must have ridden it 10 times. About the seventh time down the giant hill, I started to think maybe we’d better get back by eight just in case. “I can’t remember what he said, but I’m pretty sure it was eight-thirty, right?” I asked Lauren. “I think so.”

So we rode a few more times. When it was 8:35, we started running over to the meeting point in Fantasyland. By this point, I want you to know, I was already feeling guilty. We were five minutes late and you and your friends would be waiting for us. Five minutes of prime ride time for the birthday boy were being wasted. In fact, I was so intent on getting there in a speedy fashion that, as I navigated through the crowd, my swinging hand hit a little kid in the face (not hard) and I just kept on walkin’. (I’m sure I’ll end up writing him or her a letter later, too.)

But when were about 100 feet from the meeting place, I saw my dad looking for us. He didn’t look happy. He’d said eight. To save face in front of family and friends, I defended myself by repeating, “I swear I thought you said eight-thirty,” which was the truth, but not a very strong argument. I thought the guilt of being five minutes late was bad enough. But knowing I’d made you spend 35 minutes of your birthday waiting for me while dad and mom became increasingly more tense about where their teenage daughter could have disappeared to? That guilt was crushing.

I know it may not seem like the worst thing I could do to you, but for some reason, the thought of you sitting on a rock in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, planning with your friends where you want to go to next, if only your stupid sister would hurry up and get back is just so painfully adorable that it makes me sad. I guess it just means I like you. I’m sorry, Lou.

February 10th, 2009

Overdue Apologies (Part IV)


Dear Mr. Undlin,

I am sorry for how much hell I put you through during the 1997/1998 school year. I must have been working through some new Eighth Grade hormones or something because, I remember you being a sweet guy. Yet, somewhere between your enthusiasm for dodge ball and Thursday mile-runs, we got off on the wrong foot.

I’d get to the gym on time, and I’d put my uniform on like everyone else. But as soon as you jogged out with your clipboard and wraparound sunglasses, I turned crappy. I distinctly remember once telling you that I was allergic to the rubber used in basketballs. I stood with my hands on my adolescent hips, looking you right in the eye, waiting for you to respond. (If you guessed there was another reason I didn’t want to play basketball, you are right. During fifth grade, I was on a girl’s basketball team. The only basket I scored the entire season was FOR THE OTHER TEAM. I didn’t need any of that again.)

In case it isn’t evident from my defiant crossing out of the letters E, A, B, T, and H in my name in the photo above, I was kind of a weasel in eighth grade. You were a new teacher, and I could sense your insecurity. I think I really was genuinely interested in whether or not you had a crush on my English teacher, Ms. Geis, but because it made you blush when I brought it up during calisthenics, I did so about six times a week. It makes me cringe to think of it now.

It also makes me cringe to think of all times I tried to get out of running using made-up ailments. The more mild fibs included menstrual cramps that lasted for weeks at a time, migraines, and the foolproof “I don’t want to get into it.” However, when I really wanted to get avoid something, I’d pull out all the stops. I’m sure you remember Lauren Preston and I falling to the ground at your feet during a Thursday run, shaking violently, tongues wagging, eyes rolling back in our heads. “We must be having seizures!” I cried between gurgling sounds. “Running makes them worse!” Our research wasn’t very thorough.

So, Mr Undlin, for these things, and the snotty comments about your basketball shorts, I apologize. I hope you and Ms. Geis are happily married.

October 31st, 2008

Overdue Apologies- Halloween Edition

Dear Louis,

I know I already offered an apology for the whole bath tub water incident. But I feel I owe you another for Halloween of 1998.

You see, my friend Lauren and I were very concerned with getting our costumes ready. I can’t remember what the hell I was going as. But it was of the utmost importance that we discuss it behind closed doors. That day, you were your normal, bouncy, 12-year old self, excited at the prospect of a sackful of candy, and looking forward to donning your latest army-surplus getup. Your pre-sugar madness brought you, uninvited, into my room.

So I yelled at you to leave. This had the opposite effect. It was a classic case of moody teenager versus pre-teen wise-ass. I pushed you out, you stuck your arms and legs in the doorway. I kicked at you, you just laughed. I rolled my eyes at Lauren, pushing the door as hard as I could, as you tried with all your might to push the it back open. I gave one final shove, and you were out.

But something was wrong with what should have been a routine exiling. I was holding the door closed, yet it didn’t want to stay flush with its frame. And then you let out a cry. You were in real pain. I quickly opened the door again, and freed your finger.

As I replay this in my head, I want to run over to you and hug you and say I’m sorry and tell you that when I’m older I will write you $500 checks every month to make up for this. But, I was 14, and a jerk and so as you stood holding your hand and howling in the hallway, I shut the door again and went back to costume planning. My face felt hot from guilt.

Dad came to my door about 20 minutes later. “You broke the tip of his finger. He is in a lot of pain. I had to to give him a shot to numb it, and now his finger’s going to be in a splint while he trick-or-treats.” He didn’t ground me, or yell. I think he knew that just telling me about Louie’s situation calmly would be painful enough. It was.

Lauren and I went down to the end of my driveway and sat by the mailbox. I looked at my feet, and played with a roly-poly bug in the dirt. As it curled and uncurled slowly, I told Lauren that I felt like crap. I probably had a more miserable time than you did that evening, worrying that you weren’t enjoying yourself because of what I had done. But, judging by your confectionery haul, you were able to have a good, long trick-or-treating session with your pals.

Later, when we got home, and you and I dumped all of our candy out onto the floor as was customary, I wanted to make it up to you some how. So, staring at your bandaged finger while you sorted your candy into piles, I’m sure I probably gave you some pretty great candy trades.

February 28th, 2008

Overdue Apologies (Part II)

To my brother Louie:

Please understand: sometimes, when they are five, older siblings just need to experiment with how far they can stretch their power. It does not reflect how much love or respect they may have for their younger siblings. It is purely a matter of wanting to see how their cunning and brute strength compares.

Admittedly, sometimes older siblings are already well aware of how much more powerful they are. Further exercising of said power, especially over a three-year old, is just mean.

I am sure you recall the tale of The Blame And The Bath Water, in which I totally sold you out to mom for having dumped a huge cup of gross, tepid bath water on the already mildew-ridden bathroom floor.

You were just sitting there in the bathtub, finishing up whatever war you’d set up between different factions of Happy Meal toys, and I was standing with my back to the space heater in my towel, shivering. A lot of that evening is a blur of guilt, but I do remember that you looked happy playing in the water, lips blue, curly hair wet and disheveled. So happy, in fact, that I had to ruin it.

“Louie,” I most likely said. “Fill that cup up with water and dump it on the floor.” I was smooth, sly, convincing. You were naive, happy-go-lucky, easily convinced. You trusted me, your older sister, to teach you to do cool stuff and to invite you to partake only in safe activities. After all, I had taught you how to put on killer performances in the living room. I had taught you how to chew wads of Big League Chew so you could look like a manly, nicotine-addicted baseball player with your friends. I had taught you how to expertly skip from couch cushion to couch cushion, avoiding crocodiles, quick sand, lava, and other hazards. So why should you be suspicious of this new activity?

You happily grabbed the cup floating next to you, scooped up some gray water, and brought it to the edge of the tub. “Come on. Do it,” I urged. So you did.

The next thing I did was go to the door and yell, “MOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMM!!!! LOUIE DUMPED WATER ALL OVER THE FLOOR!!!!!!!!!!!”

Mom came running up, and scolded you. I’m sure it wasn’t a severe scolding, but right now I am remembering it as though she screamed at you for hours. I do remember you trying to explain what had happened. “Lizzy said to! Lizzy said to!” but I somehow managed to beat the system and get off totally unscolded, smugly smiling all the while.

So, Louie. I am sorry. For the bathwater incident, and for any other time I manipulated you into doing my bidding. And while I know all those wrestling lessons I gave you on the front lawn can never make up fully for all the times I was crappy to you, I certainly hope they help.

January 13th, 2008

Overdue Apologies (Part I)

This evening’s soundtrack: “Nothing Really Blue” by Penguin Cafe Orchestra

Dear Jesse Ortega,

I apologize for that time I gave you the finger in the second grade.

I don’t know where you are now, or what you’re doing, but I’m sure you will be able to agree that the gesture wasn’t personal. As 8 year olds go, I was generally pretty nice. But, as was the case with all of us, my sense of what to do when confronted with annoyance was underdeveloped. Too young to express dislike with a logical and concise argument, and far too old to simply haul off and slug one another, we were trapped in an experimental phase. The only way we knew how to settle things was by what we learned from the older kids on the playground, or from a few stolen moments watching more “grown up” TV.

So, when your stuff began to migrate over the clearly drawn pencil line that separated our desks, I felt a surge of energy well up inside me and I smiled coldly and gave you the finger, feeling instantly proud of myself. You were speechless. It was a triumphant moment. My next door neighbor, life coach, and older (NINE!), wiser friend, Josh, would have been pleased. His tutelage had paid off– playing Action Movie in his back yard and studying the work of Eddie Murphy when our parents weren’t looking.

You already know that Mr. Clark saw it all and actually dragged me from the classroom as I clung to desks and chairs, like it was the end of some insane courtroom scene, and made me sit outside for five minutes. But what you don’t know is, when I came back, I flipped you off under the desk for probably a full minute, this time out of genuine anger. I hope you can forgive me for that. It wasn’t your fault. And it wasn’t Mr. Clark’s fault either. And Josh was as innocent as I was, really.

I’m blaming Eddie Murphy.