How Walmart caused a mental breakdown (and other annoyances)

I have made it a rule in my life to never visit Walmart before 1 a.m. or after 5 a.m. Why? Customers. Between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., there are none. Or at least, very few. No 8-year-olds running into the pant racks and hiding from their parents, getting that ever-present “sticky kids hand goo” on everything. No teenagers yelling at each other from across the store at a decibel reserved for air craft carriers. No babies crying bloody murder because they can sense the evil that is Walmart and want nothing more than to leave. It’s glorious.

And the cashiers are better, too. During the day, you get the younger workers, the chatty ones who want to know what the weather’s like outside or if you’re looking forward to your weekend. The cashiers who work the wee hours of the morning are like hardened criminals doing time. They give you a quick nod or hello, scan your stuff lightening fast and get you on your way back to the party or Taco Bell or home. They’re badass, and I love them.

But recently, I’ve taken a 9-5 job. It’s turned my entire life upside down, and I’ve had to readjust my priorities and break a few rules. Sleep has always come first for me, and now that I have to be up early, a 3 a.m. Walmart trip in the middle of the week is no longer possible. So a few days ago, I broke my rule. I ventured into a Walmart, boyfriend in tow, at about 7 p.m.

After making our way through the maze of people and overturned clearance items, we played the game of “which line will take the least amount of time?” Do we want to go with the line with fewest people? The line with fewest items on the belt? The line with the fastest cashier? (Fun fact: the game has no winners. Everyone loses.) We made a decision, accepted our fate and waited. After 45 minutes spent watching one woman in front of us pull out dozens of faded coupons for every item in front of her, and another break the register by simply paying with cash (which the register hadn’t processed since 1998 and couldn’t handle) right as we finished unloading our cart (forcing us to move all our crap to another register), the last thing I needed was commentary on my purchases from the cashier. But that’s exactly what I got.

“I bet you have kids!” the young lady squeaked through a smile after scanning my two bottles of Suave Kids 3-in-1.

“Nope, no kids.” I said. “It’s just really cheap, smells good and makes my hair really soft.”

“Oh!” She turned away, unaware of what she’d just done, and went back to scanning my sensitive teeth toothpaste, cran-grape juice and Jell-O pudding snacks. And while I gave no outward indication of any change whatsoever, inside my head, things were a bit different than they were five minutes ago.

Before, I had just been annoyed. Now, I was annoyed and sad.

Nope, no kids, I thought. Thirty-two years old and still “single” on every legal document there is. Still no mini-me to teach about the world and feed and clothe and emotionally scar. People my age are on their second and third kids. All I’ve got are a few fat animals and a hermit crab. 

Before, I had been thinking about extreme-coupon lady and broken registers. Now, I was thinking about high-risk pregnancies, how many eggs I had left and the break-neck speed of time. I was forced into a mental breakdown in front of the candy bars and ChapStick.

Look, I know the cashier was just trying to be friendly. Hell, people probably like that inane register chit-chat. But my advice to cashiers: stick to safe topics, like the weather or weekend plans. You could be launching a mid-life crisis if you aren’t careful.

Jane Protip – Beer Belly Bitching

To the three-top of guys behind me at Café Brazil who have been arguing about what one guy ordered for more than 30 minutes – no one cares about how people should expand their tastes beyond fake cheeses, or that what someone orders is their personal choice, or how that sarcastic comment was totally taken out of context and “how could you not know that, you’ve known me for years!” You sound like high school teenagers, shocked at how what’s-her-face could even think about doing some heinous bullshit that matters none in the scope of things (except to you, because you can’t see outside your little “me me me” bubble). How did this argument even start? Who are you people? Why are you ruining my dinner? Everyone hates you.

Jane Protip – Is it 1995?

To the 40-year-old lady sitting next to me at the DMV, with multiple toe rings, a studded and bedazzled belt and enough perfume to knock out a cheetah – stop. Your “short and dark in the back, long and blonde in the front” hair is enough. Everyone hates you.

Wake Up Call

It was a few weeks ago, some time in the early afternoon on a weekday. That time when working people are just getting back from their lunch hours, full of Chipotle burritos and 5-hour Energies, looking forward to another four or five hours of staring at a screen and wondering when it all went wrong. I was just waking up.

I had recently graduated with my master’s degree, and my previous job, being a student position, had ended. Overnight, I went from being a full-time student and working 40 hours a week to all-night Coach marathons on Netflix and naps at 11 p.m. Things were looking up.

I shuffled into the living room, iPhone in hand, eyes half open and my hair sticking up like Woody Woodpecker. Nan was sitting on the couch, working on some Good Will Hunting-level decoding problem in one of those giant Variety Puzzles activity books only the very young or the very old buy. In a few days, I was due to make a trip to my dad’s near Kansas City for a concert, and as soon as I sat down, she asked me what route I was planning to take.

“Whatever the phone tells me to do,” I said automatically. Having no sense of direction, all I knew was I needed to head north. Siri would take care of the rest. I pressed the home button on my phone, swiped to the right and started the daily, hour-long journey through Facebook notifications, texts and emails that greeted me each time I woke up.

The red bubble on my text message icon glared at me – 3. I tapped the app open, tapped open the unread conversation at the top and tapped into another dimension. My vision tunneled in on the screen in front of me. Everything around the phone went blurry, and I could barely make out Nan asking me if I was taking I-35 all the way to Missouri.

“Hey baby girl.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I did.”

Even though I didn’t need to, I looked at the sender’s info. His name bore into my brain, my eyes wide with disbelief. My ex-boyfriend had texted me. I could picture him sending the messages that morning from his iPad, the one his parents got him last Christmas.

“So do you take 35 the whole way, or do you get off before Missouri?” Nan asked again.

“Huh? I don’t know. I don’t think I take 35. I take some back roads,” I said, hoping to convey my disinterest in anything other than the total mind bender on my phone.

What was I supposed to do? Respond? I knew I couldn’t not respond. I was too curious.

“Is this who I think it is?” 

“Do you go through Wichita?” Nan again. Why in the hell did she pick today to channel Magellan?

“Jesus, Nan, I don’t know. I don’t care right now, ok?” I didn’t want to tell her what was going on, but I couldn’t keep talking about goddamn driving directions while my entire life was falling apart. Priorities.

Ding!

I looked down at my iPhone. My hands were sweaty and leaving visible prints on the screen.

“Probably.”

Now what?

“Well, if you didn’t wanna talk, why didn’t you just say so?” Nan asked. I fumbled with the  phone and typed out the only thing I could think of.

 “I’m not sure what to say…”

“Hello?!” Nan pressed.

“Look, my freaking ex is texting me ok? You’re over there talking about driving routes and shit, and I’m over here dying!”

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

About ten months had passed since I’d heard from him. What did he want now?

We texted each other on and off that day, me asking what he wanted while he not-so-sneakily avoided the question. He wasn’t working the job he left Texas for anymore. He was getting an HVAC certificate, working part-time as a janitor and growing out all the hair on his body. Things didn’t sound good. We agreed to talk on the phone the next day. I had no idea what to expect. Memories were flooding back, feelings of contentment and coupledom. It had taken me a long time to move forward and be able to talk about our relationship without getting emotional. And now he had to message me?

The next night, I sat in bed, phone in hand, waiting. The phone rang, the theme song from How I Met Your Mother filled the air, cutting through the tension. One ring. Two. Three.

“Hello?”

And then his voice was filling my ear. We’d decided to just chat, see what was up. I promised not to corner him. (Apparently, I’m like Kyra Sedgwick on The Closer. At least, I assume so. Is anyone watching that show?)

Just as I’d expected, his voice brought back a ton of memories, but not the ones I was prepared for. I listened as he butchered my last name in an attempt to be funny, as he sang unintelligible songs in my ear, as he burped and smacked while he ate on the phone. I thought about all the things I’d reminded myself of after the break up — all the annoying, unfunny, uncouth things about him that eased the pain back then. And here they all were, blasting out of my phone and into that part of my brain that collects the sounds of the neighbors’ dogs barking at 7 a.m., visuals of kids running through fancy restaurants and the feeling of standing behind a slow walker on the sidewalk. Was he always this annoying? Yep, he was. Except I was too “in love” to realize it. I knew he could bug me back then, but it’s amazing what some sweet words and good sex will mask.

After talking about what we were doing in life, how our families were and anything else you might talk about with a cousin you haven’t seen in five years, we hung up. I’ll admit, I was confused. Was I just not used to him anymore? Was there still something there to be saved? I gave Nan an update, scrolled through reddit for a while and went to sleep.

I woke up the next morning, determined to get to the bottom line. I texted him.

“So what did you think about our conversation last night?”

A few minutes later, he responded.

“It was nice.” 

He thought it was nice. Meanwhile, I couldn’t quite bring myself to feel the same way. The entire time on the phone I’d been either bored or annoyed. I guess having stomach gas projected into my ear through a tiny phone speaker had something to do with it. I asked him what the point of contacting me was. He said he wanted to see if there was anything still there, any chance at reconnecting. I asked if there was. He said no. And I felt…relief. Sure I felt a little slighted (who doesn’t want to be the object of someone’s affection?), but more than anything, I was happy that he’d taken care of the dirty work. I didn’t have to over-analyze anything anymore. I didn’t have to spend days coming to the same conclusion I did in that moment — I was finally free to move on not because our relationship didn’t work out but because I was happy I wasn’t with him anymore. I wasn’t dreading finding someone else, I was excited about it.

As politely as I could, I told him he was a nice guy, to take care and to move on. I already had.

Ps. I still have no idea how I get to my dad’s house. Siri is my master, and her wish is my command.

Jane Protip – Rank Rhythm

Hey, smelly hipster guy walking through the GAB snapping your fingers to the obnoxiously loud music coming out of your obnoxiously large headphones (Are you mixing a freaking album? No? Then get over yourself.) — the last thing people need on the Friday of finals week is a stinky goddamn metronome wondering the halls, reminding them of the precious few seconds they have left to study for their next agonizing torture test of “Can I remember five months worth of useless crap for the next two hours without succumbing to alcoholism or a cutting problem?” Go home and rhythmically apply some damn deodorant. Everyone hates you.

Jane Protip – Duck Child

Hey, lady whose kid is freaking quaking like a duck at a decibel reserved for ambulance sirens — you are in a restaurant full of paying diners. Do your damn job and make that kid zip it. Everyone hates you.

My first real break up…at 30.

I have been dating for over 15 years now. That’s more than half my life. More than half my life spent worrying about how I look in my underwear, how many chins I have when I laugh, or if my fall-themed lipstick is too “Rachel from Friends circa 1995.” (It isn’t, by the way. I look faaabulous.)

But if I’m being honest, I don’t know if I can really count anything before college. I was just a kid. Counting those boyfriends is akin to guys measuring their junk starting at the spleen. So let’s say, I’ve been dating for about 12 years. And during those 12 years, I’ve had my share of boyfriends. Most of those relationships lasted about three months, but some made it to about the eight-month mark. Some of them were with friends, some with guys I met on a dating site. Some were quite good, some downright awful. But they all had one thing in common–an expiration date. No matter what I repeated in my head to convince myself that “Current Guy” was the one for me, there was always a nagging voice in the back of my head, whispering, “Jane. Jane, get real. This isn’t going to last. You know it. I know it. Your waitress at Denny’s probably knows it. What’s wrong with you? Why do you keep postponing the inevitable break up?” That voice was pretty long winded. But she was right.

I spent 12 years dating guys that were either great on paper or that I was naturally attracted to. If he fell short in either category, that was when the saleswoman in me came out. Oh, there’s no spark? Well, that can grow! You have so much in common! Or: So what that he barely talks and never laughs at your jokes? He’s so hot! It’s no wonder those relationships fizzled out. I thought, for 12 years, that I would never find love.

And then, at the young and nubile age of 30 (shut up), I met someone. Our relationship started in the most romantic of settings–a dark and dingy bar in downtown Dallas, where we were both three sheets to the wind. We’d met through taking an improv comedy class, not from some online recommendation. We made sense on paper. And we made sense in the bedroom. And for the first time, that little voice was silent. Not a peep.

The first month and a half was a whirlwind. I was 30 years old, in the prime of my life, and falling in love. Oh, and it was winter. The holidays are scientifically proven to be the BEST time of the year to fall in love. There is quantitative data on this somewhere, I’m sure.

And then he got a job offer. In Oklahoma. Three hours away. But it was a real job, in the field he studied in college, and he had to take it. We were determined to make it. We would show them! (“We” being me, and “them” being the married, procreating people on my Facebook newsfeed.)

And then, as quickly as it crescendoed, it all came crashing down. I can’t really say what happened, but I suspect that at some point after moving, he pulled away. Shut down. And sensing it, I did, too. So when I visited him in Oklahoma last weekend, only three weeks after his move, there was nothing left. Going through the motions was awkward and dishonest. I knew it was over the minute I stepped out of my car to greet him that frigid Friday night in the country. Within 24 hours, I was on my way back to Texas.

Now, I would like nothing more than to say I looked like a young Demi Moore in Ghost, delicately crying with star-shaped eyelashes in the moonlight, as I drove back home. But the truth is, I looked more like a swollen-faced Tobey Maguire, with fat, man-like tears hitting my oversized sweatshirt, snot streaming from my nose and pieces of tissue stuck to my face. It was not pretty.

I got home close to midnight and spent the next 36 hours in my room, save for trips to Black-eyed Pea and Denny’s for meatloaf and hashbrowns. And mashed potatoes. And french toast. And chicken strips. I was in mourning, okay?

But eventually, I had to drag myself out of bed, wash my hair, put on makeup. Eat something grown in the ground and not in a lab. Re-enter the world. And instead of finding the world a cold and miserable place like my depressing drive home from Oklahoma, I realized that there was a modicum of hope inside me.

Nan was the only person I dared talk to during my 36-hour hibernation, and after listening to me bawling on the phone for over an hour (which I’m sure sounded like a drunk person, whose first language wasn’t English, screaming into the phone), she told me something that was like a small speck of glitter on a dirty club floor. On my breakthrough of having loved, she said, “At least you know it’s possible. You didn’t think it was possible before.” It’s true; I didn’t. But now I know that I’m capable–of loving someone completely, of not picking them apart every second of every day, of just being happy to be with them.

I’d say that for a lesson that great, 12 years isn’t that long to wait.

My body just punked itself.

Last night, I was jolted awake from a nerve-racking dream of my boyfriend (yes, I have one of those…more on that later) screaming bloody murder over and over, only for the screaming to continue in its evil counted rhythm. I held my breath to get a better listen, and the screaming stopped. Hm. I let out an apprehensive stream of air through my nose, and there it was. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my nose was the one screaming. My nostril had just punked my brain. Traitor Body, you are NOT humorous. Stop that shit right now.

The Day I Almost Lost My Nipples (or: I Know Why the Caged Nipple Cries)

Sometimes, I’m really amazed at my genius. Sometimes, I have to stand back in wonder at the things I come up with. And then sometimes, I look back on my choices and can only mutter a disillusioned What the hell… before rolling my eyes and fixing them on the front page of reddit for a few hours.

The day I almost lost my nipples started out normally enough, but the disaster in store for me had been kicked off days before. Let me explain…

First and foremost, a secret. Well, a secret of which most people who know me in real life are privy. I do not wear bras. Ever. I gave them up about two years ago. Having given them a real chance to prove themselves (about 16 years), they always ended up in the “Things I wish were never invented and that make me resent my life” category. So one day, I had finally had enough. And off they came for good. Now, I feel like I must say something here. I’m not braless in a 50-year-old, stare-inducing way. It’s not even noticeable that my boobs are uncaged. Most of the time.

See, because of my braless, free-boob state of being, I have encountered a new problem. Nipplage. Any sheer blouse or thin shirt will do the trick. My nipples will become a public thermometer for the entire world to see, and it can be rather embarrassing.

So I turned to the little stick-on nipple covers that department stores sell. And they worked beautifully. They were a breeze to use and completely comfortable. That is, until I took them off. And that’s when my sensitive, angel-soft skin reared its ugly head and broke out in an itchy rash that lasted for a week. Have you ever had the incessant need to scratch your boobs in public? If you haven’t, let me tell you — it freaking sucks. My nips stayed covered in Benadryl and Cortaid for days, creating a sticky, gooey mess and not much relief.

It was the adhesive. It had to be. So now what? And then it occurred to me — the medical aisle! If I found something in the medical aisle, perhaps the adhesive would be gentler. Safer. More accommodating of someone with the skin of a fetus. The choice was pretty obvious, too. Dot Bandaids.

Dot Bandaids have always made me sad. Dot Bandaids are like cranberry dish of the Bandaid Christmas dinner. They’re a staple, so you have to have ’em, but nobody really wants ’em. They sit there in the mixed box of Bandaid sizes and watch as every other Bandaid imaginable is chosen over them (even the super giant Bandaids for serious wounds that should probably send you to the ER, but screw it, that costs too much).

So I felt rather commendable when I came up with a job just for Dot Bandaids. Dot Bandaids, I thought, you shall serve a purpose higher than box-filler! So that night, I went to Walmart and bought an entire box of Dot Bandaids. Not a mix. All Dots.

The next morning, I got ready for work as usual. Shower, hair, a little makeup. But this time, when it came time to choose an outfit, I threw caution to the wind and picked out a thin, cotton shirt. I had backup this time. I peeled the backing off my two little Dots and centered them on my boobs. Press and stick on the left. Press and stick on the right. Done. On the shirt went and, lo and behold, no nipplage!

At work that day, I whispered my clever solution to my co-worker Amber. I had regaled her of my nipple issues before (and she’d probably caught me scratching my boobs during the week after the nipple covers). I was proud that I’d found a solution.

“I hope they don’t do something weird,” she said. “Like melt into your nipples or something.”

“Ha!” I laughed her off. “I seriously doubt a medical-grade Bandaid would do that.”

Things were fine most of the day, but by evening, my poor boobs had started to itch. Badly. By the time I got to my evening class, they were driving me nuts. When my professor turned on a documentary, I seized the opportunity the dark classroom afforded me. I reached up into my shirt to pull off the Dots. But they were stuck. The damn Dots were stuck. I finally wedged a fingernail between the sticky plastic circles and my baby-soft areolas and pulled. Ahh. Relief.

I walked through my front door about two hours later and, like always, went straight into the bathroom for a shower. I took off my glasses and peeled off my shirt, and that’s when I saw them. My nipples. My poor, sad nipples. I put my glasses back on to make sure my eyesight wasn’t making it seem worse than it was. But no, it was that bad. The left one had two blood-crusted cuts in it and looked like it could be a Dexter victim. The right one was worse. It had bloody cuts, too. But in addition, it sported a half-inch blister, making it look like a Freddy Krueger double.

I couldn’t believe it. Those damn Dot Bandaids, who I’d given a chance that others hadn’t, had actually melted into my freaking nipples. How does that even chemically happen? Why is there not a warning on the box?

Suffice it to say, the next week was spent with Neosporin-laden nips and cotton undershirts worn under everything. I have still yet to find a solution to my nipplage.

Oh, and if anyone needs an almost-full box of Dot Bandaids, lemme know.

Jane Protip – SCREAMING MAKES ME IMPORTANT!

Dear high school kids having a debate tournament in the GAB,

Screaming your points doesn’t make them right. You’re in a classroom that’s smaller than my first apartment, which was the barely big enough for my full-sized bed, TV and ego. Everyone can hear you. And I mean EVERYONE. And everyone hates you.