Two days, seven shirts, a pair of corduroys, some khaki shorts, sunglasses and earrings, one hundred thirty dollars and a million calories later, I have returned home. My mom took me to Chicago for an emergency post-slave labor of a summer vacation, just the two of us, troublesome brother and worrywart father left at home to try and make peace without the pillars of sanity holding up their problems. Although there were several phone calls lasting for hours at a time, mom and I did our best to get away from the men in the family and have a good time. It worked pretty well.

I got home from Ann Arbor Tuesday afternoon after surviving the worst drive of my life, experiencing the most horrendously unbelievable gas mileage in my dad’s pimped out limited edition JGC, ranging between 11 and 15 miles per gallon. Granted, I was speeding along at a rate unsuited to American highways, but given the fact that every other oversized SUV was going at least as fast, I was forced by the ego that surfaced within my psyche while behind the wheel of a huge vehicle to keep up with and surpass all fellow speeders on the road. Not to mention the fact that I have one hell of a lead foot to begin with.

However, I was forced to come to a complete halt for forty five minutes going west on Business 23 just barely outside of Ann Arbor, around one o’clock in the afternoon, due to a semi that had managed to flip over in the middle of the road, plow into the guardrail (thank god there was a guardrail in the median through that section) and nearly break through it, spilling the contents of the trailer across all lanes on his way. That was something to see.

Left for Chicago on Wednesday, the drive went amazingly fast as my mom and I had a lot to catch up on. After working second shift for so long, I would be asleep when my parents left for work, gone when they got home, and they would be asleep when I returned for the night. After six weeks of that, I felt like I lived in a house occupied only by Adam (my little brother) and his friends.

We went straight to the Art Institute of Chicago upon arrival in the city. Found parking on Michigan Avenue in a massive underground structure, and a man was nice enough to give us a ride through the never-ending rows of cars in a little golf cart to the right exit. After emerging from the darkness and cramped storage area, we found a Bennigan’s and had some lunch before hitting the museum. Mom had some asiago cheese pasta, I had two grilled chicken breasts with rice and cooked broccoli.

The museum was lovely; I saw many old favorites while exploring exhibits I had never had time to see before. My mom was only interested in the European art, making me suspicious as to her prejudice in certain areas, which has been a recurring theme for as long as I can remember. While my brother is openly racist against blacks and Mexicans, he will only date asian girls lately. My parents are still in a gray area in my mind; I can’t really prove they are racist, but there are so many hints and allusions that I keep wondering.

There was an exhibit that was not cool, eventhough I tried my hardest to find the “art” in it. The title was Nudes by Penn, displaying a few photographs taken by a man named Irving Penn, who had been famous for the pictures he took of beautiful models in the latest fashions of the day, but later decided his calling was to photograph extremely voluptuous women bordering on disgustingly obese wearing nothing but their skin and displaying their folds of fat in the most provocative fashions. These were the women on exhibit, and I did not care much for looking at them. However, there was so much other cool stuff there that I soon forgot the unpleasantness.

Mom and I checked into our hotel after seeing all there was to see at the Art Institute. We were on the ninth floor of the Embassy Suites Hotel on State Street. It was very nice. I immediately unpacked and arranged my belongings in one of the dressers, then had the privilege of listening to my mother have a two hour long conversation with my father concerning – what else – my brother. His probation officer had stopped by shortly after mom and I left, asking for Adam to pee in a cup for a drug test. Adam insisted he couldn’t go to the bathroom. As soon as the P.O. left, Adam took off. My dad found a trail of pills on the stairs going into the basement. Things looked bad. So I dumped out a huge box of Sweet Tarts on the night stand and separated them into rows of colors in the correct order, red to purple, ten to a row, and then ate them slowly, one at a time, until my mom got off the phone. I had eaten all but three rows by the time she hung up. Thirty left out of eleven servings of sixteen pieces each. So I had eaten roughly one hundred forty six Sweet Tarts. I was bored and on a sugar buzz. We went shopping.

We walked down Michigan Avenue and went to the stores that looked interesting. Stopped by Ralph Lauren just to look around, the haughty sales lady annoyed the shit out of me with her bony frame and black suit and pinched mouth and constant stares, so we left. My mom wanted to go to Tiffany’s to look at wedding rings, as my dad promised to buy her a new one after twenty two years of marriage on only a half of a carat diamond. I told her to buy a new car instead. We had to stop by the American Girl store, as I was the most avid collector and fan of this company when I was a little girl. The store didn’t exist when I was young, which makes me feel like I missed out on a lot. I had Samantha, one of the original three dolls when the company was new. I faithfully purchased hundreds of accessories, read all of the books, and took the utmost care of my doll for years without once having access to a store like the one in Chicago (we ordered everything out of a magazine). My friends and I would have birthday parties with out dolls in tow, pretending we lived back in the time periods they represented. The store is absolutely amazing – three floors of outfits, books, doll hair salons, demonstrations, everything to make a little girl’s dream world come true. It was crawling with tiny second graders, screaming excited girls pointing and dragging bemused parents along by the hand to see all the stuff on display. There are now six dolls out instead of three; three strangers in the lineup of old friends. I can’t help but feel hostile.

At Crate and Barrel, I saw the coolest couch on the top floor but could not believe the prices attached to everything. A simple white washed wooden bar stool with chips and scrapes in the color (I think they were supposed to be there) that rocked a little due to uneven legs was priced at $249.99. Whatever.

After a day of walking and shopping, we came away with one pair of brown corduroy pants from Express, size 3/4 long, low waist, flares, $50. On the way back to the hotel, where we planned to dine at the attached Greek restaurant, we passed a place called California Pizza Kitchen where the customers sitting near the windows were eating fabulous looking pizzas with beautiful toppings. We had to go in. Mom insisted that we get a plate of the Singapore shrimp rolls that consisted of shrimp, noodles, broccoli and clear rice paper with ginger dipping sauce. They were the most delicious things in the world. She then ordered a Rosemary Chicken Potato pizza, which reminded me vaguely of burnt marshmallows in a not-unpleasant way, and split pea barley soup. And I had a boring chicken Caesar salad sandwich with a bowl of potato leek soup.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped and looked at the menu for the Rain Forest Café in preparation for tomorrow’s lunch. We hurried on our way and made it back to the room in time to watch American Idol and be shocked as hell when R.J. was voted off the show. That made me extremely angry, as Nikki is a horrible singer and deserved to be sent home weeks ago. Not that R.J. deserved to win anyway, but still.

I studied some Japanese and then watched The Fast and the Furious before finally falling asleep to the sound of my mom’s barely audible snoring.

Woke up at 8, took a shower, went to wait in line for a delicious continental breakfast downstairs in the lobby. I had the cook whip up some Egg Beaters while my mom went for a western omelet with corned beef hash. Picked up a bright red apple, fruit salad, and a chocolate chip bagel too.

We somehow managed to find parking somewhere on Lake Shore amidst the construction, and made it into Shedd Aquarium without waiting in a single line. Fish are cool as long as I do not have to touch or smell them, so I had a good time. There were a million different kinds of Cichlids from all over the world, but my favorite were the different varieties of Tangs, the most colorful and showy of all fish. The Moray Eel was freaky looking with his old-man scrunched face and lidless staring eyes, and there were catfish the size of my overweight American Bulldog, if not bigger. Once again, the children everywhere made things most inconvenient, as I constantly had to be on the lookout for darting short things across my path, oblivious to the people they frightened half to death with their screaming and leaping about begging to be trampled. Some were well behaved, so I can’t complain too much. Kids are kids.

On the way out, we passed a line that stretched through the maze of velvet ropes crowding the entry hall, down the hundred steps under a white canopy, and across the lawn and back around to the parking lot. It was incredible.

Mom and I left Chicago behind and took the skyway to Michigan City and the Lighthouse Place outlet mall. There were so many fabulous stores, we spent four hours going between quite a few of them. I tried my hardest to find something that fit at J. Crew, but alas, everything made my arms look freakishly long due to the sleeves being too short on every shirt I put on. The sweaters were too short, the dresses were too low cut, and the pants ended above my ankles. Sometimes I hate being stuck in this abnormal body. Thank god for their catalog, where things come in size Tall and size Four without having to sacrifice length for narrowness or narrowness for length.

Rue 21, the store where I like everything with few exceptions, had an outlet there. I spent thirty dollars and came away with four shirts and a pair of shorts.

  1. shirt one -- red and white striped, long sleeves, white collar, V-neck with holes along it like a shoe without laces.
  2. shirt 2 -- light pink tank top with white trim and stripes down the sides, athletic style with wide straps.
  3. shirt 3 -- gray short sleeves with five or six tiny metal snaps at the top, just like baby clothes.
  4. shirt 4 -- deep royal purple with brown leather laces across the front, short sleeved.
I tried on a million other things, but unfortunately faced the problem of my overly tall body not fitting into clothes made for average-to-small sized females.

Also bought a pair of purple sunglasses from Fossil and a round picture frame-looking device with metal mesh instead of a picture that holds earrings from Claire’s. I then met my mom at Liz Claiborne, where she spent close to two hundred dollars in less than five minutes. We were then on our way to Subway for lunch, where I had a turkey salad with fat free ranch dressing. Mom had her usual sweet onion chicken teriyaki meal with cheetos and a pepsi. After eating, we wandered through a few more stores. I had to go to Pfaltzgraff in oder to compare this store to the one where I worked for so many years at the Holland outlet mall, and was somewhat pleased to find that my store was better organized and had cooler employees who actually pay attention to customers. We stopped by the Corningware outlet, Pepperidge Farms, DKNY, Old Navy (where I bought three long sleeved shirts, all the same style because they were long enough, black and cream and light pink), Dress Barn, a cool candy store, a shoe store, Crate and Barrel, and that is all I can remember at this time. We were back on the road around ten til seven Michigan time, and I slept the rest of the way home.

I had two bowls of Sweet Puffs when I got home, which is a lot like Smacks for those of you who know your cereal, only it comes in a bag and tastes better. I nearly finished off a bag of Sunchips, the only junk food I eat besides such things as Starburst, Skittles, SweetTarts, chocolate covered raisins and other lower fat foods and candy. I’m not sure why I ate so much. Maybe because I had already eaten so much the past few days that a little more didn’t seem too harmful. All or nothing, baby, that is how I think.

I spent all day Friday cleaning my room and packing up some more stuff for school. Went to bed around four in the morning, cleaned some more today. Went to Grandville with the parents with several goals in mind. Despite my mom’s protest and with my dad’s blessing, I undertook the impossible task of finding a parking spot in the first row on a Saturday afternoon at the most popular mall in west Michigan. And I found one in the first spot closest to the door, thanks to my incredible luck. I bought a green vacuum! The salesman was the coolest guy ever, he demonstrated everything and made obscure jokes that made me laugh and my mom look confused. I have never been vacuum shopping before, but if I had known the process was so enjoyable I might have to go again. Also got a belt and a new copy of the book Shogun. Had to go to the Sunglasses Hut to have them fix my squashed Oakleys, as a friend had sat on them and made them un-wearable. The girl who did the repairs was also really sweet, good service during my shopping experience.

I am still in need of a locking jewelry box so I can bring my valuables to school with me instead of suffering like last year with no accessories due to thieving roommates. Well, I must say thieving roommate, as one was totally honest and would not even take a pencil from my desk without asking, while the other invaded my purse almost daily until I started writing notes and sticking them on each dollar bill saying "Touch this and die' and "I know I have thirty six dollars and fifty two cents in here, take it and I’ll cut off your hands." Hopefully this year will be an easier situation.

Gotta continue packing, leaving at nine o’clock sharp tomorrow morning and I still have a lot to do.