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  • Writer's pictureAmy Kraft

Updated: Feb 1, 2020

This past weekend, I found myself on a 4-day vacation to Disney World with my husband, daughter, sister and family, and mom. I honestly did think it would be an easy trip, relaxing almost. Sure we'd have to elbow our way through crowds of vacationers to wait in queues for an absurdly long time only to sit on a ride that lasted 2 minutes. But we were all going to be together, so who cared. And my older sister, Melissa, whom I trusted implicitly, planned everything out.

The trouble started on the first day as we approached the line for Avatar at Animal Kingdom. My older sister, Melissa, the organizer of the family, looked from her carefully written out to-do list to me.

"The line is too long and this ride is boring anyway," she said. Melissa had spent weeks planning out this trip, organizing fast passes for the entire group, and even packing enough snacks for everyone, bearing in mind any dietary restrictions for group members. But this ride was not in the plan.

"Well it's a ride and the kids want to do something," I said, ignoring her itinerary. I've always been the rule breaker in the family, and the lazy sister. When Melissa and I were younger we worked at Dunkin' Donuts together. The two of us would be alone Saturday afternoons and while she manned the front counter, handling walk-ins and drive-thru customers at breakneck speed, I smoked joints in the back room with my friends. That dynamic hasn't changed much over the years, except I no longer do drugs.

So we got in line for the ride. But then mom decided she had to go to the bathroom, and, without warning, took off on her motorized scooter. (She did that a lot throughout the trip.) As she vanished in the distance, Melissa grumbled about having to get out of the queue. By then there were 20 or so people behind us and she didn't want to have to wait longer.

"Let's just stay and mom will join us if she can," I said. Clearly my marijuana smoking days chilled me out.

Melissa's hands started to shake with agitation. Her plans for the weekend were already falling apart. She turned to the kids, hoping to get them to defect to the non-riders side. "Do you kids really want to go on this ride? It's slow and boring," she said. The kids ignored her. (That's not a knock on Melissa. They pretty much ignore every adult, unless you say something like, 'I have candy for you.')

Melissa then turned her attention back to me, a panicked look on her face. "I can't wait in this line. What's mom going to do when she gets back? She won't be able to get in. Why did she have to go to the bathroom now? I'm just going to wait somewhere." Melissa started to get out of the line.

"Melissa, come on, the kids are fine, and we all get to go on a ride."

"But what's mom going to do?" she said, her voice rising to a fever pitch as if we were soldiers leaving a man behind for dead.

"She's a big girl. She'll manage."

Melissa went silent, defeated, and we all stood in line enjoying our own thoughts or listening to podcasts while the kids played around with the ropes that were strewn about to manage the crowd.

But 10 minutes later, boredom set in. My daughter, Evelyn, started tugging at my sweater asking for ice cream, and Landon and Brooke decided to turn the queue into a Ninja Warrior obstacle course.

"Would you kids get off of that rock? You're going to hurt yourselves," Melissa said.

"Yeah and a trip to the hospital is not on the schedule," I added.

I scrambled to download an app on my phone, hoping that a game of charades would placate the kids. Then, another wave of 'I hate waiting in the line' rose up in Melissa, who at this point developed a plan.

"You know, if you go to guest services and say you have anxiety, they will scan your ride card so that you don't have to wait in lines." My eyebrows raised and Melissa continued. "You don't get a fast pass, but they give you a time to return to the ride so you don't have to wait. And everyone in your group will get the same thing. Would you want to do that?"

I considered the option and how anxious my sister was already making me. But I just didn't feel comfortable asking for that.

Just then mom called to say she was done going to the bathroom and Melissa asked her if she wanted to get a pass to not wait in lines. And of course my mom did. This, I realized, made sense. She would not have to lie about a mental disorder and frankly, we all might've gone mad waiting in line together, especially with my mom, the great talker. I don't know how, but my mom has an uncanny knack for memorizing facts and scenarios in precise detail. And she willingly recites this information without warning or provocation. Mention a date and she can tell you what she and everyone else in the entire universe was doing that day, including what they ate. Ask about a law or historical incident and she can recite an entire book, word-for-word, on the topic. By mid morning we had a head full of facts about the opening of Disney World in Orlando thanks to my mom. Her memory truly is amazing, but can be a bit much if you're waiting in a line that's 3 hours long.

For the time being, our wait continued, as did my sister's exhortations for her kids to stop climbing on anything and everything around us. The charades game I downloaded on my app was full of bugs and barely worked, and Evelyn started removing the grass from the sides of the line and dumping it onto the walkway. I broke down and promised the kids ice cream once we got off the ride if they would just calm down. Then mom called to say she got the pass and we all seemed to relax a bit, including mom, who informed us she was going to take her anti-depressant before meeting us at the entrance to the ride.

Ten minutes later we were all stepping into a plastic log to be taken through the magical world of Avatar. Mom, who joined us at the top, was pissed about an interaction she had with the ticket taker at the bottom of the ride. And Melissa was pissed, because she's Melissa. At the end of the rather serene trip through this fictitious world, mom and Melissa resumed their complaining and the kids started begging me for ice cream. "Ok, ok." I said. "Let's just figure out were we're going first."

Everyone in the group looked to Melissa, our de facto leader, ie the only responsible person in our party, and asked, "Where are we going now?"

Her eye started twitching and she bit her lip as she perused the to-do list and reviewed the Disney app downloaded to her phone. She sighed, realizing that she would be spending the weekend yelling at kids and managing her adult family members to maximize everyone else's enjoyment. "We should head over to our first fast pass," she said. And we all dutifully followed her orders.

The rest of the day was fairly tame, in my oblivious opinion, but by the following morning, Melissa's impatience for the rest of us reached a breaking point. We were supposed to arrive at Magic Kingdom by 10:00am for a fast pass to visit with some Disney princesses. But by 9:30, the kids were still eating breakfast and mom hadn't yet emerged from the shower.

Suddenly Melissa announced to the group that she was leaving us, and raced out of the hotel room, the door slamming behind her.

I tried to catch up to ask her which ride we should meet at first, and then rallied the troops to get in the cars. Later, I told Sebastien that we should get Melissa a gift for organizing the whole trip for us. "Maybe a ticket to Disney World," I said.

Sebastien looked at me blankly. "That would be a cruel joke."

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  • Writer's pictureAmy Kraft

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

I survived my youth in tank tops during the hot Florida summer months and a “winter coat” during the two months when temperatures dipped below 60—“bitter cold,” my grandma would say, wincing. But when I moved to a colder climate, I needed to learn of the beauty of the sweater.

My first foray into sweater wearing was, ironically enough, in Lubbock, Texas, a hub of economic, educational, and health-care activity at the southern tip of the high plains. I was there for an environmental journalism conference and had prepared for the trip by packing my usual outfits for a few days in Florida: short sleeve shirts and capris or light slacks. My outfits sufficed for the duration of the trip trip until I was at the airport awaiting my flight home. The airport was freezing! I don’t know why warmer climates need to over-compensate for the heat outside by making it excruciatingly cold inside. This is not an opinion, but a fact. Growing up, my mom shuffled me and my siblings off to school in shorts and short sleeve shirts, backpacks, lunchboxes, and parkas blazoned with our favorite Disney characters because it was so freaking cold in the classrooms. It was moronic and I’m sure a major contributor to climate change. (And I didn’t come back from that trip to Texas with just this one story idea on climate change.)

So I’m sitting in a hard plastic chair in the airport in Lubbock, Texas, flopping around like a fish on a boardwalk in an attempt to stay warm, when finally I break down and buy a sweater. The color was a light blue/gray and matched my eyes. The sweater said, simply, Lubbock, Texas. There might have been a tree or rock next to the name of the town to showcase all that the quiet hamlet had to offer, but I wasn’t really paying attention. Driven by insane cold, I paid the ridiculously high airport price and slipped the sweater over my head. I boarded my flight and thought that would be the end of it. But it was not.

When I returned to New York, I found myself reaching for the sweater more and more and wondering why I had waited so long to embrace the trend. By nature I’m a contrarian so avoided the sweater, popularized by Mark Zuckerburg, at all costs. But after getting my baby blue, I couldn’t resist its comfy allure. Unfortunately for me though, others couldn’t resist talking to me about the sweater.

“You from Texas,” people would shout to me on the streets of New York. These questions mostly came from homeless people in line at a soup kitchen at a church down the street from my apartment. Sometimes co-workers or other strangers would ask me that question, too. And I always responded in the same way: ”No, it’s just a sweater.” To which I would get a slightly offended reaction.

But why would anyone find it so hard to grasp this concept? Surely they’d seen the racks of sweaters available for sale to anyone with enough money at airports, attractions, and universities.

Finally I’d had it with the assumption that I was from Texas and decided I needed a new look. So during a visit home to Florida, I picked up a NASA sweater in the Orlando Airport. Once home in New York, cocooned in my dark blue zip-up sweater, I was sure I had nothing to worry about. And then one day, several weeks after my purchase, a deliveryman on the street questioned whether I worked for NASA.

“No, it’s just a sweater,” I said.

Taking my daughter to the pediatrician, as I walked into the office, a woman, standing 40 feet away from me with her own toddler in tow, sneered at me. “You work for NASA?” She spoke to me as if I was a dog who just peed in her favorite slippers. I didn’t know if I should apologize for somehow offending her or respond to her question. I said, simply, “No, it’s just a sweater,” and continued pushing my daughter’s stroller to her appointment.

I didn’t know what was going on or why people were so obsessed with my sweaters, but this had to end.

Thus began the search, far and wide, for a neutral sweater, or one that I could wear with pride and hopefully not get badgered by strangers when I wore it.

Eventually I settled on a blue sweater (aside from red it’s a really good color on me) with the word KALE written across it in the same lettering as the ivy league university, YALE.

This sweater, I realized worked in two ways: First, it conveyed that I had a sense of humor, and secondly, it gave people who only quickly glanced at my outfit the false impression that I was a higher achiever than I actually am, since, apparently, if your shirt advertises it, it must mean you work there, live there, or went to school there. Not necessarily a bad thing when making a first impression, I realized.

I’ve had the sweater now for a few years and it has served me well. I get a lot of chuckles from passersby on the street, and it’s a good conversation starter. Plus people do sometimes mistakenly think I studied at Yale, which is just as good as spending all that money and actually putting in the work to get a diploma at the school.

One morning I was having breakfast with a couple of friends, high earners and high achievers, and the topic of sweaters came up. I decided to share my own sweater saga while we waited for our coffee and pancakes. When I brought up my KALE sweater, John remarked that when he first saw me wearing it he thought I went to YALE.

I eschewed my common refrain and smiled and said, “thank you.”

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  • Amy Kraft

Updated: Jan 31, 2020

“You’re the next David Sedaris and you don’t even know it,” my friend Elizabeth said to me over dinner one night while I bemoaned the lack of creativity at my job. This friend had also encouraged me years ago to start my blog, Jaded Bride, and now she was saying I should blog again. It was a nice idea. As an editor at a health publication, I spend my days improving other people’s writing and rarely do much writing myself.

“You know I stalked David Sedaris once,” I said, piquing her interest. As her eyebrows raised, though, I realized that stalking wasn’t perhaps the right word. “Well, borderline, I guess. I did show up at his apartment in Paris one time.” OK, maybe that is stalking. But I had only the best intentions--that’s probably a line right out of the stalker’s handbook.

While studying abroad in Montpellier, France, in the early 2000s, I took a weekend trip to Paris with my friend Rae. There were only two things on my itinerary for this visit: kiss a French guy and meet my favorite author, David Sedaris. The first one was scarily easy to accomplish so we spent our last day in the city tackling the other goal. I had known that David lived in the city because he responded to my letter one time and the mailing address listed on the envelope was in Paris. I’m not sure why he wrote his mailing address on the envelope. Habit, I guess, or maybe he didn’t think a fan would ever actually show up at his house. Surprise!

"Naked," "Barrel Fever," and "Me Talk Pretty One Day," all had a great impact on me. Not only were they hilarious, but after reading them in high school, I decided that I wanted to become a writer, too. My rationale was a bit naïve. As a teen, I ranked off the charts on the lazy spectrum and I mistakenly believed that writing books was easy.

“You can write about nothing and get books published,” I boasted to my dad while applying to expensive private liberal arts colleges around the country. Those schools were my only shot at getting an education because they didn’t require that I take the SATs, a standardized test that I bombed after staying up for two days straight on speed to study for the exam. Would not recommend that study method.

I started writing in earnest in high school, regaling my English class with humor essays about the time my dad and sister were hypnotised at a comedy club, and not knowing their relationship, the hypnotist played some games with them that were uncomfortably close to being X rated, or about a humorous account of my wisdom teeth growing in that I titled, "Painful Wisdom."

I graduated from high school a semester early, and instead of spending that time to get ahead in college, I filled my days with drugs and alcohol. My nights, too, come to think of it. When I decided to get clean a couple months prior to entering college in Chicago (at a school not far from David Sedaris’ alma mater), the itch to write was still with me. But I was full of self-doubt, and frankly shell-shocked from the severity of my drug and alcohol problem. So shortly after getting my laptop out of the pawnshop I decided to write David Sedaris a letter. I don’t remember the letter in its entirety, but the gist of it was, plainly, how do you become a writer?

A month later I received a response in the mail, postmarked from Paris, France. I don’t remember that letter in its entirety, but the gist of it was, plainly, practice writing.

It was not what I was hoping for. I expected that upon reading my letter David Sedaris would realize my innate writing abilities and give me a VIP pass to stardom. Up to that point in my life I had been mediocre at most things and believed there was a secret code to being number one that I just needed to learn to crack. Who you know helps, but true skill usually comes from practice.

David Sedaris’ letter stuck with me throughout college, where I continued to hone my craft. And when I had the opportunity to visit him in person, I jumped on it.

So after finishing our 4th cafe creme of the day in a Paris cafe, Rae and I walked up to a large medieval looking doorway on a tiny street with apartments stacked upon apartments to meet David Sedaris. Envelope in hand, I looked at Rae and then the door. There were a series of buzzers going down a metal panel on the side of the door frame, but none marked David Sedaris.

“What do we do now?” Rae said.

“Ring all the buzzers, I guess,” I said, and started pushing buttons. Eventually, someone responded and I froze. In that moment I wished I had gone to more of my French classes instead of sitting in my room chain smoking and reading books.

Rae jumped into action: "Nous cherchons David Sedaris. Est-ce qu’il habite ici?"

Seconds later, we heard a loud click, granting us entrance into the building. I pushed on the heavy door. A white staircase wound up the hallway with doors off to the side. Even though I was a smoker at the time, I muscled through the chest pain to climb the stairs.

As we continued our ascent, a door opened. My heart started beating even faster than it already was and I was glad that my friend Rae spoke better French than me in case we needed an ambulance.

A tall man with dirty blonde hair and glasses stepped out of an apartment. It was David Sedaris’ neighbor. We explained to the man that we were looking for David Sedaris and he pointed out David’s door. Rae and I turned to the door and knocked hopefully, but there was no answer.

The neighbor supposed he was out of town and we chatted for a few more minutes before beginning our trek back down.

The rest of the afternoon, Rae and I wondered what an encounter with David Sedaris would have looked like.

“I just assumed that we would become best friends,” I said, honestly. “And we’d go to concerts together and maybe read one another’s work.” I smiled at Rae whose look seemed to say, you’ve thought way too hard about this. I shrugged. “Or I suppose I could tell him that I liked his work,” I said, realizing that the chances of David and I becoming fast friends was highly unlikely.

But then what is the point of interacting with celebrities? Why are we normal folk so obsessed with seeing them, touching them? They’re just humans who’ve managed to become a lot more popular than us and have accumulated considerable wealth. They live and breathe the same air and have to endure the DMV and TSA like the rest of us--is that right? Because if they have found a way out of dealing with the DMV and TSA, I want into the club.

When I lived in New York City, celebrities were unavoidable so I settled on treating them like any other stranger. I brushed off Jon Stewart when I saw him in Tribeca the morning of my wedding. Rolled my eyes at Katie Holmes when she and her daughter were ogling my kid on a sidewalk on the Upper West Side. But that level of indifference irked me. I knew who they were and trying to deny it only made me look like an asshole.

As I began my career as a journalist, I was tasked with interviewing a number of celebrities, and settled on being polite and to the point, without gushing.

At the American Heart Association’s fashion show in New York City last year, for example, I met a swarm of beautiful and famous women as they were ushered onto the red carpet before the show. While most news outlets were concerned with what each of the catwalkers was wearing, I bombarded the celebrities with questions about heart health. Most of the women were confused, which was my fault because I neglected to mention that I worked for a health publication.

I kept my cool until Susan Lucci came walking by. The "All My Children" matriarch had recently had a health scare and seemed relieved to talk to me about such a personal cause. I had watched her show with my grandparents when I was little, but never turned into a mega fan like my mom or my two sisters. They went so far as to record the show every day and watch it in the evenings, then rewinding the VHS tapes to record the show the following day

Knowing what great fans they all were of Susan, I wanted to rub it in, so I asked the queen of daytime TV for a selfie.

Moments after my cameraperson snapped the image, something came over me. I turned to Susan Lucci and said “my grandparents and my mom are such fans of your show.” She smiled politely and I continued on, blurting out, “my grandma recently passed away and she loved your show so much. She loved you so much.” Tears began flowing down my cheeks and this poor woman didn’t know what she got herself into talking to me. She gracefully wrapped her arms around me and I reciprocated, careful not to mess up her air balloon of a dress. And through tears, I repeated, “thank you, thank you so much. You meant so much to her.”

And that’s when I realized the allure of celebrities. They’re there to entertain, to help us forget about the long lines at the DMV and the fact that we are all going to die someday. It is a gift to be able to hold someone’s attention and arouse emotions that we otherwise might not know how to express.

I still don’t know what I’d say to David Sedaris if I ever met him. Maybe I should just say, thank you.

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