The Bus Hustle

The year was 1994. I was in third grade.

I had just started going to a new school. New neighborhood. New life! I had a chance to start over and boy, I was going to seize that chance in my tiny little sticky fists, because GOOD GOD I needed it.

You see, I was never a popular kid. In my previous school, social advancement opportunities were sparse. I was never invited for team sports. Birthday invitations were non-existent. I lived a block away from the school so there wasn’t even the chance of sitting down and making a new friend on the school bus. I was doomed to stagnate. My personal brand of “quirky but a bit of a crybaby” wasn’t a winner.

But all this was going to change.

My new school was further away from home and thus required a school bus ride. 15 minutes. 15 minutes to roll out PHASE ONE: HEARTS AND MINDS.

I tried desperately to make new friends by sitting in any ol’ seat. But I quickly learned that the bus had a specific social dynamic.

The front of the bus: goody-two-shoe types, so eager to arrive at school with their smiling faces and pigtails. This often is where the pretty, popular girls sat, clinging to their seatmate to ensure no new and totally harmless stranger in town could score a seat.

Back of the bus: Generally where the boys sat, all rough and tumble, with their spitting and their yelling of the word “PENIS” loudly because it is not a swear, but generally pretty inappropriate to throw around in public.

This left mid-bus. The misfit and drifter kids sat here. I usually ended up in the emergency exit row, since the driver knew I was too timid to ever mess with the door or any of its latches. Phase one had failed.

My solitude in the exit seat gave me time to reflect and plan PHASE TWO: LEVERAGE AND INCENTIVISE.

What do kids like? Candy. What do I know best? Candy.

In the 90s, fruity, waxy taffy Airheads were where it was at. Caramel Apple Pops probably resulted in a great many dental visits, but we still braved it for the deliciousness of that lollipop. There were tiny juice cartons filled with fruity bubble gum that would lose its flavor in five minutes, but you’d shotgun that whole thing anyway. Warheads were so sour you thought your tongue would never recover. So many wonderful candies, usually available at Albertson’s for about 10 cents.

My plan was simple. I might have been young, but I knew that supply and demand was a capitalism… thing. And while a school bus wasn’t a candy store… it could be.

I went to Albertsons and stocked up on all my 10 cent favorites. I would take advantage of the whole “trapped on a bus” situation and sell my candy for 25 cents. Brilliant. The kids would love me and I’d make a profit. Just brilliant. PHASE TWO was looking great.

That first day I opened up shop I sauntered right to the back of the bus. I knew my demographic. The boys were sure to have cash, as they’d never had a “stupid sack lunch”. And boys loved candy.

“What are you doing back here?”

“I’d like to sell you some candy.”

Eyed with suspicion, the boys looked at my wares before offering up quarters and dollars left and right. PHASE TWO was working! We laughed, I made money! Everything was coming up Lauren! I had a good thing going. The next few days marched on like a montage from a tinier, dorkier version of Wall Street, with all of my cash and prizes going into a coveted Hello Kitty drawstring bag.

Monday, the next week, the tides changed. I boarded the school bus with my candies, ready to make some sales and maybe cement these budding friendships when – shock – I failed to remember the other constant in capitalism: competition.

My brother, specifically.

“Hey man, this is my turf.”

“But we don’t want your candy.”

“What – why?”

“He’s selling it for a dime.”

HURK. Undercut. By my own brother.

And almost as soon as it had begun, PHASE TWO quickly dissolved into PHASE THREE: SADLY EAT CANDY ALONE AT RECESS.

I later asked my brother why he did it. Why sell the candy at cost to run me out of the bus candy business?

His reply? “Just to mess with you. I wanted to stop you.”


Ah. Well. Some men just want to watch the world burn.


To everyone: we’re sorry. Signed, Spokane

For roughly a week now, the country has been able to come together and have a shared moment. This moment wasn’t related to sports or celebrity gossip. This moment wasn’t collective ‘aww’ over the latest cat video. This moment was a group “WTF” over discovering Rachel Dolezal and how far down the rabbit hole her whole deal goes. I’ll spare you the rehash – we all know the basics:


But there’s been another unification; another group who’s been able to join together thanks to Rachel, though our whole… thing… is a bit different.

That group would be “People Embarrassed and Apologetic on Behalf of Spokane, Washington”.

That group would be us. Hiiiii. This is uh. This is awkward.

I should explain. You see, I am from Spokane. As are a lot of my Facebook friends. There’s folks who have left and never looked back but also people who still reside there. Regardless of current affiliation, though, the reaction as I scrolled along my Facebook wall was universally the same. “Ughhhh. Of course. Sorry about this.”

The thing non-Spokanites won’t understand is that this is just business as usual for Spokane. It’s a weird town, plagued by weird things. I used to think it was just me. Maybe I happened to notice every episode of “Cops” and “Judge Judy” that had people from Spokane because I lived there.

But then there were other things and inevitably the punchline in my house would be, “And where did this bizarre thing happen?” The answer was always Spokane.

  • Where did a guy dressed as a StarCraft marine run for city council? Spokane.
  • Where was the guy from who was stabbed after saying, “What are you gunna do, stab me?” Spokane.
  • Where resides the men that have been playing a game of tag for the last 23+ years? Spokane.
  • The location of the tasteful bar that named a drink ‘Date Grape Koolaid’? Spokane!
  • Home to a neighborhood literally overrun with WILD TURKEYS? Spokane.
  • Place where a horse ended up in a swimming pool and the neighbors fought about it? Spokane – AND BONUS THIS WAS ON JUDGE JUDY TOO.

These are just the stories I could find off the top of my head. So when the story of a black lady with really white parents who just changed her race came out of ol’ Spokaloo, I wasn’t really surprised. Spokane is strange.

But why? What happened to Reader’s Digest’s 1997 #8 Best Place to Raise a Family? I don’t know that I can say. The Spokane Valley is geographically predisposed to trap in low quality air because of the fresh air rushing over the valley and science or something… maybe this has had a long term effect on the area? Here’s a scientific graphic I’ve made, based on knowledge I vaguely remember from childhood:


Maybe it’s the proximity to Hanford, the secret cold war nuclear site that has a slight leaking problem and at one point just sort of released toxic radiation in the air. Spokane also has a bit of a radon problem as well.

Whatever the reason, this kind of news just isn’t surprising for Spokane and, well…

Sorry about all that. But hey. At least we gave you Keyboard Cat.


Everyone from Spokane

Rebirth of Mothra.

I spend a lot of time in the car. My to-and-fro activities are sometimes accompanied by music, but more often than not, I’m listening to podcasts. I’ve probably been listening to podcasts almost as long as there have been pods.

One of the podcasts I currently enjoy is Spontaneanation with Paul F. Tompkins. Paul is a notable comedian whom I adore. He does a lot of podcasts but Spontaneanation is his newest one. It’s basically an audio improv show. Things run off the rails pretty quickly. The format of the show starts with a question to a special guest and then a short chat about that question is inspiration for the improv performance that follows. It’s fun! It’s weird.

This week’s question sort of struck me. One of those moments that sucks you back to a certain place and time. “What is the earliest memory you have of doing something cruel?”

I knew immediately of my memory.

When I was four, I didn’t possess a fantastic knowledge of insects. We lived in a house with a small front yard and a large garden that crawled uphill, littered with many flowers and strawberry plants. The flowers attracted lots of bugs – bees, beetles, ladybugs… and then there were moths. I can’t tell you why we had so many moths. But there were oodles.

And they were slow.

I would catch them in my hands. Their wings were white, covered with powder that came loose if you handled them too much. After the powder came off, there would be clear spots on their wings. …This is where my ‘catch and release’ program went awry.

I remember in my young mind noticing that their little green bodies looked a lot like the caterpillars I’d seen in the garden. I remember being upset that on inspection I’d tarnished their wings. So. I uh. I plucked them off, so the moths could begin again as caterpillars.

It didn’t seem cruel at the time! It made total sense to me. The bugs would go back to eating leaves and then they’d grow back new, beautiful wings! And while I no longer damaged their wings myself, I do remember inspecting any moths that would land near me to make sure their wings were in good shape. If not? Welp. I didn’t realize I was hurting them. I didn’t realize the green stuff leaking out of them wasn’t something relating to healing or regeneration.

I’m not sure when it occurred to me I was a mass moth murderer. Some years later, when the memory bubbled up, like it did today. My memories of early childhood aren’t always great, but this one is in vivid technicolor. Their wings, their legs… Like when Dorothy steps out into Oz. To that end, maybe it was vivid for the moths as well. A monster of a tiny pink girl in pigtails… coming for their wings. I bet they’ve named a monster in their mythology after me.

About the time I pretended to be my own Swedish twin.

Today I am visiting a local social media conference. (Hello world!) Since there might be new visitors to the blog, I thought I’d share a good one this week. So here it is: the story of the time I pretended to be my own Swedish twin. This might be painfully awkward to read. You’ve been warned.

This takes place around the fourth grade, which means I was about 8 or so. My brother hung out with the Bergston boys who lived a block away from our house. Their parents were both very fit, very wealthy accountants, if my memory serves me, so they had all the best outdoor toys. Moonshoes. Rollerblades.  A trampoline. Basketball hoop. Everything.

I was a girl, so I was of course NOT ALLOWED. Sometimes I’d go over pretending to need to find my brother… then I’d just hang out for awhile. “Oh? I uh. Mom said to make sure to drink a lot of water. Are… are those moonshoes? Do you use them while on the trampoline so I can jump super high?” My true intentions were always quickly discovered and I was chased off.

One time I came over to the house looking for my brother and he wasn’t there. The usual namecalling and uncomfortableness commenced and I hurried back home. But this time was different. This time I decide to do something truly ridiculous.

I was going to charm them, not as Lauren… but as my Swedish twin.

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to recall the fake name I used, and I keep coming back to Vilka. I’m fairly sure that was it. I would make them laugh as Vilka, they’d see how cool I was, and we’d hang out and I’d be doing flips on that sweet trampoline in no time!

For some reason at this point in my life my mother dressed me in ridiculous sweaters. Usually black, with pictures knitted into them of cats or flowers in red, purple, or white. Why did she do this? To ensure my reputation as a total buzzkill and coolness ruiner? Who knows. I had been wearing a t-shirt, but changed into a sweater to feel more eccentric (as I imagined Swedes to be). I am like a quarter Swedish, but I’ve never met any of those people, so I was pulling the whole charade straight out of my ass. I managed to find a pair of thick framed glasses to complete the illusion, and charged out the door.

I walked up to the Bergstons boys and announced that I was Vilka, Lauren’s swedish twin. I was wondering if they’d seen Lauren around.

The best part might have been the accent I affected. Think of the Swedish Chef if he was from Minnesota and couldn’t stop bouncing up and down.

The boys immediately started poking holes into my story.

“How are you Swedish and her twin? Lauren isn’t Swedish.”

“Uh, I wus sent oooh-ver seas!”

“Why didn’t we hear about you before?”

“I wus a secret!”

“Can Lauren and you show up here at the same time?”

“Uh uh uh uh… if I cun find her!”

The boys told me I was full of crap, but like any true performer I never broke character. I thanked them for their time, cheerful as can be, and bounced down the street, still certain that I had charmed them on some level.

A few minutes later I showed up as Lauren asking if they’d seen Vilka. I was told to shut up and leave. So I did.

Stressfest at Tiffany’s

Illustration by Stephanie Ku

Illustration by Stephanie Ku

This really a story is about my friend Loria. She was a former coworker who was delightfully my opposite. She was tall, classy, charming, calm, and quite sure of herself. I met her in my early 20s… which on it’s face SHOULD explain where I was in my life. I didn’t wear dresses. She was always dressed to the nines. She reminded me of Audrey Hepburn, who is relevant to this story in a couple of different ways. Audrey Hepburn was always my idea of beauty. Simple and approachable, but stunning. Classic.

Loria and I would often chat in the mornings, walking to get a cup of coffee, heading back to sit for a bit in her office. Between work talk I’d tell her stories of my anxiety ridden nerd life, figuring out how to be an adult. She’d tell me about her social adventures, local restaurants she’d been to, wine, and her fiancé and his burgeoning career. We were an odd pair. But we really enjoyed each other’s company and she became an important friend to me in an awkward period in my life.

One day, while discussing work, she mentioned she needed to run by Tiffany’s. In our old office, when senior staff left for greener pastures traditionally their parting gift would be a crystal apple paperweight. She had been tasked with picking one up. Given my impression of Tiffany’s (drawn mostly from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s) I was sort of taken aback at first. A paperweight from TIFFANY’S?! She told me to calm down, it was only $125. I was perplexed… Tiffany’s had insanely expensive things. It was a FANCY PLACE ™. I didn’t think anything from there could cost under a thousands dollars.

“Have you ever even gone there? There’s one in the mall.”
“What? No! Are you kidding? I have no reason to go into that store. I’m like waaaay too poor, too pedestrian. They’d throw me out!”
“Oh come on. You’ve never just LOOKED?”
“I can’t tell you how uncomfortable the very idea of that makes me. I have no business going in there.”

So Loria brought me along with her to pick up the apple. I felt nervous and weird. Here I was, a tiny awkward dork, walking into TIFFANY’S with Loria – an embodiment of elegance who looked like she belonged in there. I looked like I had shown up because I needed to fix their receipt printer.

We walked in and were immediately flanked by a personal shopper. I avoided eye contact and became well acquainted with the texture of their tile floor while Loria explained that we needed to pick up an order. While they were in the back collecting the order, we looked around. She walked over to the displays and I hesitantly followed, using her as a barrier. The cases glowed with beautiful, shiny baubles. Rings, necklaces, glassware… It was all there. I stared. I cooed. Another personal shopper asked if we needed to see anything from the cases. I stammered “uh UH UH no”.

As we drove back to work, apple in tow, reflecting on the experience, Loria said that I really needed to leave behind all these ideas of where I should and shouldn’t go and what I should and shouldn’t do. They don’t know me or what money I did (or didn’t) have. And more importantly – who cares! You’re just looking. I reminded her that I was ruled by anxiety, but it was a valid point and I appreciated the adventure that day.

A year or so later, when Nick and I were married, Loria’s gift was two champagne flutes from Tiffany’s. It was tremendously thoughtful and meaningful and when I opened them I burst into tears. The gift she’d given me was so much more than the champagne flutes.

I reminded Nick about this story when we were at the mall a couple days ago. There we were, in front Tiffany’s, peering inside as the personal shopper near the entrance peered back out as us.

“Should we go in? They have barware.”
“Ehhh, I think I’m okay. What if it turns out the ONLY martini glasses I like are from Tiffany’s? And who knows how much they cost. And we’re not buying anything today anyway.”
“True. We can look online.”

So we looked in the window cases on the outside, much like Audrey Hepburn did… and then we left. But I think had we gone in, it would have been fine. Because really – who cares.

It was like rain on my wedding day.

Five years ago yesterday, Nick and I locked it down. We gathered family and friends and had a big party to celebrate that Nick and I were entering into a legally binding contract.

Here, let Aziz Ansari explain it:

It went like most weddings do. We said our “I do”s. I jumped up and down. One of our witnesses was a blind guy. It rained. I’d rank it in my top ten days ever.

But do you know the story of our engagement?!

I will share. I’ll keep it short. It wasn’t a surprise. Nick will tell you himself he is miserable with surprises, but really it was more about having the discussion of ‘let’s do this’ for all the legal reasons. There was no question about the commitment and our relationship and while everyone kept telling us it would be ~*different after we got married*~ I can attest to the fact that it hasn’t changed at all. Which is fine! Things were great to begin with.

Nick asked my dad for permission because he’s a class act. Not that I’m property and not that he had to have permission. It was a gesture, and my dad, totally tickled, agreed. We’d picked a ring and planned a vacation to San Antonio. I had mentioned to Nick that on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, there was a spot called Marriage Island. It’s formed by a root mass of a tree next to the river and is a popular wedding spot. The early priests would have church there, and couples who wed there would be blessed with good luck. The island is quite small, really, just the plaque stating the aforementioned facts, the tree, and a couple of benches. We knew we wouldn’t get married there, but an engagement seemed just as meaningful. Leading up to the engagement, we spoke in vague terms. “Hey, I packed the suitcase.” “YOU DIDN’T FORGET ANYTHING DID YOU. YOU KNOW. LIKE A THING.” “Nope, I haven’t forgotten anyTHING.”

Look, it still needed to feel surprisey.

That fateful evening, we went to dinner, and wandered down the riverwalk. I’m not sure if Nick remembers this part, but as we got closer and closer to the spot, I couldn’t stop smiling. Grinning like an idiot. Because while yes, we were in a committed relationship and nothing would change… I was only getting proposed to once. And it was RIGHT THEN. Well. Almost then.

We get to Marriage Island and there’s already two people there, on a bench. They’re just talking. We wander around, read the plaque, poke at the tree… But there isn’t too much to do on an island with a footprint slightly larger than a minivan, so Nick walked up to the couple. “Hey, uh, so… that’s my girlfriend. Over there. And I uh. I need to ask her something. So, uh, if you could-” The guy was immediately on board. “Oh. OH. OH YEAH. OKAY MAN. GOT IT. GOOD LUCK.” The girl was just confused and protested to her beau as he dragged her away.

“That was awkward.” “Yeah.” “SO ANYWAY.” Ah Nick, so articulate. So he did the one knee thing. And for all of the build up, I uh. I can’t really remember what he said. I just remember that he said he was happy and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me and asked me to be his wife. And, spoiler alert, I said yes.

There you are. If you’re interested you can read about our special day and see pictures on Offbeat Bride, where our wedding was featured! We were on geek week, since we had Star Wars music and a Lego cake topper and the like. It actually might be in my top five days. Love you, hon.

I was the flower girl in a living room wedding.

Image brought to you by Stephanie Ku

Image brought to you by Stephanie Ku

In honor of the upcoming nuptials of several friends, this Casual Friday’s story is about the time we had a wedding in the living room of my childhood home.

I was probably about twelve when a family friend was getting married. We didn’t have hardly any family friends and I’d never attended a wedding before so this was a Pretty Big Deal(tm). I had a special dress bought for the occasion since I was the flower girl. I had decided that my gift to the happy couple would be troll dolls outfitted with a little tux and wedding dress, presented with a handmade pillow with interlocking rings hot glued on. I was committed to executing my role in the wedding with grace and class, just like every wedding I’d seen on TV or in movies.

The catch was that it was going to be in our formal living room. The bride and groom would take their solemn vows surrounded by their family, friends, our four Pomeranians, two plecostomus fish, and several overgrown house plants. I have no photos from the day, but I’m sure you can imagine its splendor.

The wedding day arrived and we were scrambling to get the house ready when the bride realized she’d neglected to contact a priest. Now, while this is usually a quintessential part of any wedding, this minor detail remained overlooked until just a few hours before the ceremony. Many calls were made to churches around the area. We weren’t religious and neither were they, but the situation was explained to a Christian minister who took pity on them, found his way to our house, and probably performed the strangest wedding of his life.

My attempt to be the ideal flower girl was also mired in awkwardness. I carried the peach colored rose petals in a white wicker basket as the wedding music played on my parent’s stereo. I’d take a step, my hand would throw petals, and I’d step again, all the while trying to march to the slow pace of the music. I’d then try to switch the basket in my hands. Then take another handful of petals with the opposite hand, attempting to evenly distribute them along the path between folding chairs. “Hurry UP.” my mother hissed. The hand switching and throwing became hurried and I’m sure painful to watch. But flower girls in movies switched hands… I thought? The petals had to be just perfect or surely the wedding would be ruined and it would be my fault. The memory is giving me anxious heartburn as I type this.

Soon the wedding was over. Kissing happened and everyone left to go celebrate in the backyard. I cleaned up the petals off our carpet. They weren’t pretty anymore. Just limp, broken, and bruised. No one shows you the aftermath of trampled flower girl petals in movies. I never realized that they could look so ugly. I collected them back in my basket before ripping them to pieces in my hands on our back porch; the smell of dying roses on my fingers, the significance of the moment totally lost on my young self.

Then there was the time I was pulled over on my bicycle.

I’ve decided Fridays are for stories. Here’s this Casual Friday’s story.

Houston was sweltering, sticky, and gross. The air is like if someone tried to smother you in an armpit. Damp. Dank. We hated it but the same fate awaited everyone when we stepped out our front door. I frequently found myself enveloped in the damp dank, not only because I chose to leave the comfort of sweet, sweet air conditioning but because I commuted to work on my bicycle. 40 minutes there, 40 minutes back, along the banks of the bayou that ran by my apartment. Now, don’t be confused. A bayou is just a dressed up term for a drainage ditch. Sure, there’s ducks and fish and all kinds of natural growth to see along the bike path there. But there’s also trash. Shopping carts. Empty beverage containers filled with liquids I would deem to be HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS. But the bayou was my path to and fro.

I was biking home from work one afternoon in this living outdoor gym towel atmosphere when I noticed a police car traveling along next to me. It was odd, as the car seemed to keep pace with me. I’m not fast on my bike by any stretch of the imagination, so the behavior had definitely caught my attention. I was just minutes from home. I tested my theory by deciding to cut through a nearby parking lot to the apartment. Sure enough, as soon as the police car reached a driveway, he pulled in and waved me over with a hand out the window. I’m busted. Who knows for what for, but I’m about to find out.

“Hello. How are you doing today?” Yes, SUCCESS. I am the one to initiate contact. I am playing it cool… But my mind is racing, trying to think of what laws I had broken; what sort of obscure Texan code I’ve violated. Was it “Wearing A Headcovering That Is Not A Cowboy Hat (on a Tuesday)?” Have I accidentally “Impersonated a Historic Figure Without a License”?

The cop says he’s fine and asks where I’m heading off to. I explain that my apartment is close by and “Judge Judy’s on at 4, you know.” He asks if I like to bike and I explain that yes, I do, as the adventure offered by the near by drainage bayou ditch is enjoyable and preferable to risking the streets with Houston drivers. More chit chat and soon he’s explaining to me how he’s able to use the computer inside his car to instant message the other cops around. “You see, it’s like real time. On the screen.” It still hasn’t occurred to me that this cop is hitting on me. Not until he says, “So, Lauren, how can I see you again?”

The unrelenting dryer vent that is Houston does not make for attractive people. ESPECIALLY people who ride bikes. I am shiny and sweaty and red. I am in my biking vest and sunglasses, with my hair thrown back in a ponytail and fingerless biking gloves on. Ew. EW! I cannot fathom why this cop has taken an interest in me. I’m also on year seven or so of my long term relationship with my now husband. I don’t know how hitting on people works! I was just trying to be nice and make my aggressive sweating look natural!

“So, Lauren, how can I see you again?” The question throws me into a fit of stammers and the cop laughs. “You’re married, aren’t you?” OH THANK GOD. AN OUT.

“OH YEAH HA HA MAN I AM SUPER MARRIED OH HA HA SORRY ABOUT THAT.” I said, losing all control of volume in my voice. I have the sense to point to my left hand, where a wedding ring would be if I had one. We weren’t engaged yet, but luckily the glove concealed this. “YUP SORRY. SUUUPER MARRIED.”

The cop shakes his head and says something about how ‘all the good ones are taken’. We laugh and I say, “Well, nice meeting you and, I guess, have a nice life?” because what do you say to the cop ten years your senior who has unsuccessfully tried to ask you out? I rushed home to the comfort of a/c and Judge Judith Sheindlin. She is the only connection I desire to have with the penal system.