Sunday, July 25, 2010

Chapter 3: The Big Move

I had never moved out of my parent’s house before. All through college, I didn’t want to go anywhere, or even give the dorms a try. If I had lived on my own, I would know to clean. That was about it. Mom cooked all the meals and did all the grocery shopping. Wal-Mart, Albertsons, Costco—I hadn’t paid more than a visit or two to any of them, not even to buy my own Chapstick.

My mom gave me a crash course in cooking before I moved to Las Vegas so I could prepare my favorites: spaghetti and fresh sauce (it would be a sin to be half Italian and not know how to make sauce from scratch), omelets, and romaine salad with lemon pepper and rice vinegar dressing. I learned how to prepare cucumber and tomato salad, Auntie Lena’s famous meat balls, and Mom’s basic cauliflower casserole.

I stood next to her in the kitchen and recorded the step-by-step process on my notepad. Cooking and note taking. I excelled only at the latter.

My cauliflower casserole came out of the oven with a brownish-charcoal layer not specified in Mom’s recipe. Oh, well. I wouldn’t have much time to cook in law school anyway.

I had developed severe food allergies—anaphylaxis—during my sophomore year of high school. The symptoms were hives, plummeting blood pressure which caused skin redness, coupled with a feeling of impending doom and trouble breathing due to swelling of the throat. People could literally suffocate in a matter of minutes unless treated with an emergency auto-injector Epi-pen of Adrenaline and a handy dose of Benadryl. After my allergist tallied my scratch tests, we discovered I had to half the food groups: soy, beans, garlic, any kind of spice imaginable, peanuts, hazelnuts, bell peppers, corn, and much more.

“What’ll I do?” I asked my allergist.

“Eat cabbage,” he said.

How comforting.

The year before I went to law school, I was retested for allergies. The nurse made the same hundred pricks on my back alongside grid-like dots in permanent marker. Once the buzzer rang after thirty minutes, the nurse pressed a cold, plastic ruler against the itchiest patch of skin. My luck had changed.

“Humm,” she said, rotating the ruler to measure from the other side. “You’re allergic to raspberries.”

“Raspberries? I wasn’t allergic to raspberries before. What about soy and all the other foods?”

“The doctor will explain it to you when we’re through,” she said.

“It appears you’re allergic to peanuts, hazelnuts, and raspberries,” my allergist declared, more at the chart than to us, after my mom and I had joined him in an exam room down the hall from the testing area.

“Really?! No anaphylaxis?” I said.

“No anaphylaxis,” he said.

“But look at her back!” Mom said. Her short, brown hair usually formed wispy layers, but now resembled a sparrow’s rumpled feathers as she glared at the doctor. She pushed her glasses to the top of her nose, and pointed at my back. Mom had examined the bumps following the test and found the skin disturbingly red.

“Let me see,” my allergist said, taking another look. “No, it’s normal. See?”

Sure enough, no bumps, just dots from the permanent marker. Mom shifted her weight from one Birkenstock-clad foot to the other. She crossed her arms, forming a kind of warrior stance, albeit in purple fleece.

“You grew out of your allergies,” he told me. “But you’re allergic to the cold.”

“You’re kidding, right? Is that possible?”


“So I guess I shouldn’t go to law school in Boston. I should go to Las Vegas instead.”

“Boston, not so good, Las Vegas…fine,” he said.

Maybe God was telling me I should give Boyd a try. Either that or He was giving me more time to actually learn how to cook.

I was finally moving out and becoming a grownup, working toward a real job that paid real money. No more piano teaching. No more English essays. No more fun.

Dad wanted to buy me a house in Las Vegas, so we spent several months looking for condos in our price range. As generous as Dad’s offer was, I didn’t want to buy a house. I searched for flaws in every place the realtors showed us (ugly bathroom fixtures, too old and in need of remodeling, in a bad neighborhood, or too many stairs). I wanted an exit strategy, just in case law school didn’t work out.

Of course, we didn’t find a house we liked. Instead, we made a sole offer on a condo that had a permanent Sponge-Bob-Square-Pants toilet seat cover, white tile floors, and no carpet. The seller’s offer came back “for sale as is,” a clause we rejected outright. Leaving behind a frustrated duo of realtors, we decided to rent, ultimately going for an Italian-themed luxury apartment with a full-sized washer and dryer, two swimming pools, and a gym. Now all I needed was a roommate to share the rent: $1,075 per month.

During the summer, Bob Minard, the dean of admissions at Boyd, circulated an email survey for people wanting roommates. I advertised for a clean, organized, studious roommate with no cat or plan for getting a cat (I was allergic, and had endured my ex-boyfriend’s three).

A girl from Arizona e-mailed me a few weeks later. Her name was Suzanne, and she didn’t own cats. She said she loved Britney Spears, liked “Grey’s Anatomy” (my favorite TV show), and enjoyed watching a good ol’ episode of “Friends” every now and then. She used full capitalization in all of her emails. She was 23, and half Italian, half German. We both had Italian mothers. My only other alternative was a girl from California who had a typo in her first email and was interested in having two roommates. I could only handle one. Besides, typos meant lack of attention to detail, something which would drive an English major like me insane. I responded to be polite, but when I didn’t hear back from her, Sue became the de facto roommate.

When Sue e-mailed a picture of herself, I had one thought: She looks cooler than I am. She had straight brown hair with blonde highlights, and a symmetrical white face. She stood in the picture, smiling goofily next to her current roommate.

“Oops! Sent the wrong one!” read the e-mail’s body. “Sorry for the penis straws. This was taken right before a bachelorette party!”

And so they were. Plastic, magenta penis straws in a cup of beer. I decided not to disclose this when I showed the picture to my mom.

“She looks nice,” Mom concluded, completely oblivious to the straws.

Via several emails later (sans pictures to censor), Sue and I planned to move to Las Vegas during the last week of July. We wanted to get there at the same time. Sue had surmised that because my dad co-signed our lease agreement and paid the deposit, she would relinquish the master bedroom to me and settle for the smaller room. We didn’t ask her to split the deposit because she had a tight budget, and her parents were not as willing as mine to help with the finances. My 69-year-old structural engineer of a dad had generously volunteered to pay my half of the rent, although I insisted on paying my tuition with loans. I figured the more financial responsibility I took on the more seriously I would consider my law school studies.

I planned “Operation Moving Day” a full month in advance and compiled a list of the items to pack—down to the number of spoons, plates, and bowls. If all else failed, I knew I would have eight dinner plates and six drinking glasses. I even made a list of foods I liked to eat that I wasn’t allergic to previously, so I wouldn’t run out of ideas on what to make for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, just in case I didn’t actually grow out of my allergies.

Sifting through the stuff in my room took longer. I kept every binder full of notes, every college textbook and nearly every assignment since high school. I invested so much energy in those classes; I couldn’t bear getting rid of it all. My mausoleum of study materials stayed behind in my closet. I packed the rest of my belongings into boxes and labeled them.

The week before moving day, Dad got a map from AAA and highlighted the route to Las Vegas. I printed backup Mapquest directions for all of us. My sister, Amy, volunteered to drive the U-haul. We booked a flight to Las Vegas for my mom for the following day because she was prone to heat stroke and didn’t want to drive with us. Everything was ready. Almost. Everything except the movers. Despite my careful planning, the one buff friend who I had asked to help move the heavy items didn’t show up until after we moved everything but a houseplant. By the grace of God, some of our neighbors agreed to help us pack the truck.

We set out the next morning. Amy and Dad in the moving van; me following in my two-door ‘98 Honda Civic. We stopped for breakfast in a casino at the first small town we encountered. My bacon-and-eggs casino breakfast, complete with pancakes, sausage and buttered toast settled unsteadily in my stomach. We had at least a nine hour drive ahead of us.

After a few hours, we decided to switch driving order. I got to lead this time, with Dad in the passenger seat.

“Do I turn here?” I asked, squinting at the freeway entrance sign.

“Yeah,” Dad said. “This road turns into the highway, I think.” It was a narrow, residential looking street. Before long, we passed all of the houses and any signs of civilization. Sagebrush and more sagebrush whizzed by my car window.

Amy followed in the moving van at an unusually slow rate of 40 mph.

“Why’s she going so slow?” I asked Dad.

“I don’t know,” he said.

“Maybe she doesn’t want to break any of the loose items in the back,” I said.

I kept plodding. After about an hour, the landscape started to change. Instead of sagebrush, an unusual knee-height green shrub started to appear alongside the road. Then more green shrubs.

“That’s sure not a Joshua tree,” I kidded.

We were inching toward a magnificent mountain rising mysteriously from a completely flat plain.

This is too beautiful to be Nevada, I thought. Amy drove slower and slower.

At last, we reached the base of the mountain, and the first sign in two hours surfaced. It read: “CA State Route 167.”

California!! I knew shrubs like that didn’t grow in Nevada! Why didn’t I stop? Apparently Amy had seen the original California sign hours ago, and was slowing down in attempt to get us to rethink our route.

Dad had me pull over so he could jog to Amy’s truck, now parked a few feet behind us. She had tried to call my cell, but the road noise completely masked any ring tone. We had detoured two hours out of our way to Mono Lake, a resort town.

While Amy and Dad reconvened over the map to plan a way to get back to Nevada, I sat in my car, smirking sheepishly at myself, thinking only one thing: thank God Mom didn’t come.

Amy pulled a U-turn in the moving truck, and I followed her back in the direction we should have headed.

Mom really wouldn’t like this, I reiterated to myself, feeling like a guilty two-year old who had just knocked over one of her favorite houseplants.

Gotta do something to cheer myself up, I thought. I ditched the good-natured sentimental mush of Nat King Cole playing on my cassette player, for a more big-band Vegas sound: Frank Sinatra. And then I did something I very rarely do. I started singing.

I hate singing. As a music major, I suffered through eight semesters of choir to earn the corresponding ensemble credits to my piano lessons. Dr. Irwin always said pianists were cannon fodder for the choir. I wholeheartedly agreed.

But to keep from descending into self pity due to my lack of orienteering skills, I had to cheer up somehow. My car began to bake under the desert sun, despite its air conditioning. To make matters worse, we had to pass through a depressing burnt forest on the way back to the correct route.

My head started to feel woozy from not sleeping well the night before in anticipation of the day’s trip. I blinked hard and tried to take deep Yoga breaths. Gas was running low. Two hours later, we stopped at a small station outside of a secluded Mexican restaurant, the only populated area in miles. It had a grimy bathroom without toilet paper. I pumped a half a tank of gas into my car and continued.

The next fueling station rested about an hour outside of Las Vegas. Now eleven hours in to what should have been a nine-hour drive, we knew we were on track. The landscape had changed back to blankets of sagebrush.

I pulled into the gas station, got out of the car, slowly circled around to the gas pump, and lifted the nozzle.

It didn’t fit. What? Did the size of my gas thingy change? I pushed again, but nothing. Great. I broke the gas thingy. What’s wrong with me?

“Amy!” I said.

She strolled over nonchalantly, looking not so fatigued from the drive.

“You want diesel?” she asked.

I didn’t understand the question.

“No…” I said, perplexed.

“Then put down the diesel pump,” she said. A guy in a neighboring SUV flashed an amused grin.

I couldn’t help but giggle. Not only had I led us two hours out of our way to Mono Lake, but now I was forgetting how to put gas in my car. Three cheers for the baby of the family.

At last, we arrived at my new apartment. As I stepped out of my air conditioned car into the parking lot, the inferno hit me. The sun had set. At least in Reno it cools down at night. Not in Vegas. I suddenly realized a round bump had surfaced on my upper right arm—the same place I would always develop hives before a big allergic reaction. I had made it through the grimy gas stations and the unintended detour to California, only to find out I was allergic to Las Vegas air. I decided to keep mum as I dodged the quarter-sized cockroach that scurried ahead on the sidewalk, leading me to my new home.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

A Reflection on Stress

My critique group is off for the summer, so now is a perfect time to reflect on some of the chapters I have already posted.

If you are considering applying to law school, you absolutely need an effective way to deal with stress. Some people hang out with friends and laugh all night. Some people play video games. Others go drinking and party all night. That never really worked for me, but in retrospect, if there is anything I have learned from my experiences in law school, it is that stress is an ongoing part of life, and I need a better way of dealing with it.

This morning I read a section of Mike Walden's e-book, "Acne No More" on how to deal with stress to reduce acne. One sentence really resounded with me when I read it: "To find the right balance between working and playing is almost critical to your mental health and overall well-being" (p. 202).

My sister told me the other day that I am no fun, and I don't know how to have fun. Sometimes it feels like that is true, but it really isn't. When I was in law school, I felt guilty for enjoying my down time with my friends. I didn't want to give myself permission to laugh and have fun. The weight of the material we were learning and the stress from the cases we read continually jarred at my inner peace. That is no way to live. My friends were able to joke about what was going on, and even make fun of the stupidity of the actions of the people in the cases we read. It sounds mean, but in a way, it was a healthy way of dealing with the stress of learning about those cases.

I took a walk yesterday in the Villagio, an affluent housing development up the hill from my house. As you make your way through the curves of the road, you almost feel like you are in a wind tunnel, but when you get to the top, there are mosaic-inlayed fountains, Italian-villa inspired gates, and beautiful landscaping. I sat under one of the pergolas and literally just smelled the roses, looked at the clouds, and took time to listen to the wind rustling through the leaves. It was absolutely beautiful, peaceful, and yes--fun. We are very lucky to be in this world God created. Sometimes I lose sight of that while I am working behind closed doors in over air-conditioned buildings and in artificial light.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your Forth of July!