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Spur of the Moment

The Tampon Safari

Ana sprinted around the five-bedroom brownstone she and her friends rented, racing up and down the stairs, darting into the kitchen just long enough to chug down a cup of coffee like a beer at a frat party, then scurrying into the living room to grab her shoes and linen jacket. She looked like a time-elapsed video, the kind people use to show a flower blooming or a baby chick being born, except a video of Ana wouldn’t need to be sped up. She rushed through life in a blur of activity, making her quite the anomaly among her friends. She’d been living with them since college, but neither Jason’s and Scott’s attitudes, which could best be described as serene, nor Marin’s and Ramiro’s attitudes, which went beyond calm to just shy of coma, had rubbed off on her. And certainly Ana’s go-go-go sense of urgency had in no way influenced her friends.

She jumped along the wood-floored living room on her left leg, pogo-stick like, trying to slip on her shoe, clutching her other shoe and jacket in her other hand. She only got four hops before her stockinged foot slipped under her and she collapsed to the floor in a flailing heap of limbs like a bug splattered against a windshield. She promptly sprung up and continued getting ready for work.

When she finally got her shoes and jacket on, she grabbed her purse and hurried to the street where her car was parked. She wanted to get to work early so she could leave early to get to the theater well before the show started. Tonight the event planner from Qwest, the largest employer in Denver, was coming to see the performance. If she and her fellow improv actors—her four roommates and a woman named Chelsey—could dazzle him, he might hire them to perform at company parties and retreats. If they could get enough corporate gigs, they could eventually quit their soul-sucking day jobs, and Ana would never have to deal with her boss, The Big Weasel, again.

As soon as she got to the office, she went to the bathroom to void the two cups of coffee she’d had that morning. This was when she learned that her period had started two days earlier than usual. Ana always kept an emergency supply of tampons on hand, except after tearing through her purse, she discovered that there were no tampons to be found. Shit. Marin. Marin was always doing stuff like this, stealing sanitary products from Ana’s purse so that Ana found herself at the office, early in the morning before any of her premenopausal co-workers were in, bleeding profusely with nothing to staunch the flow.

Ana exited the bathroom stall and looked at the tampon machine on the wall. She put her 25 cents in the machine and turned the handle. Nothing happened. Great. Great. Super. It was out of tampons. Lovely.

Ana returned to her cube, turned on her computer, and considered her dilemma.

Surely a female co-worker would get to work soon, right? Ana decided to take a little stroll around the office until she found a woman who was packing.

She walked down the hall past the kitchen, past Ryan Brenehy’s desk. Ana occasionally thought about hooking up with Ryan. She thought he might be interested in her, if his drunken happy-hour flirtations meant anything. And he was cute and funny and all that, he just wasn’t Jason.

She’d been in love with Jason since she met him in her first week of her first year of college six years ago, and she suspected that ever getting over him was probably hopeless. Sure, she’d dated other guys since she met him, but she’d never gotten serious about anyone. Most of her dates were disappointing. Like biting into a cookie expecting to find a chocolate chip, only to find a raisin. No other guy came close to Jason in intelligence, humor, or kindness. And, okay, it must be said, stunning good looks. Jason had the most astonishingly beautiful pale green-blue eyes that looked magically delicious against his olive skin.

It was because of Jason that Ana had become an improv comedian and completely changed her plans for her future. She’d never wanted to be a performer (she’d had fantasies, sure, of becoming a bad-ass musician or a famous comedian or a breathtaking actress, she’d just never actually wanted to get on a stage, in front of actual people). But when she saw him putting up signs in the dorms, advertising for actors to audition for the college improv comedy group the Iron Pyrits (the logo was of a winking, humorous-looking pirate, but the name was a play on pyrites, as in iron pyrites, as in fool’s gold), she decided to go to the audition, just for the chance to see him again. She had no expectations of making the troupe. She’d always been able to make her friends laugh, but that was it, just her close friends, the people she felt comfortable with. She’d never considered for a second getting in front of a room full of strangers and trying to make them laugh, let alone trying to be funny with no script to work from, no net to catch her if she failed.

Her audition was far from flawless, but the members of the team—Jason, who was a sophomore at the time, Ramiro, who was a junior, and Scott, also a junior, liked what they saw and asked her if she wanted to join them. She was so stunned, she didn’t know what to say, so she said yes.

That same day, they asked another freshman, Marin Kennesaw, to join the team.

Ana had liked Marin right away. Marin was the kind of woman it was impossible not to like. She was very beautiful—tall, thin, with brown eyes and blond hair—but she was so funny that you didn’t think of her as some unattainable beauty, but as your buddy, your pal. Marin had a way of making everyone around her feel comfortable. While she had a secretly acerbic side to her personality, ready to make scorching commentary on humanity’s eternal predilection for stupidity and/or unfortunate fashion choices, Marin saved that side of herself for her friends. To outsiders, she always said the right thing. She had a gift for making even the dullest person feel like the life of the party.

The Iron Pyrits practiced three days a week, and the more Ana had gotten to know Jason, the more she was convinced he was the most amazing guy she’d ever met. He was one of those rare people who didn’t just complain about the world, he actually did something about it. He recycled and went to protest rallies and volunteered his time speaking to fraternities and other groups on campus about domestic violence and rape. He sent what money he could spare to various charities. He always brought his own bags to the grocery store and wouldn’t use a paper plate or plastic fork for any reason. Ana occasionally got into kicks about being a good citizen, but inevitably she soon grew weary and lazy. Her good intentions were like the first guy she’d slept with: Brief and highly forgettable.

After a few weeks of rehearsing together, they’d gone out for drinks after practice, and that’s when Jason told Ana that he was head over heels for Marin, and did she think he had a chance?

"She’s the most amazing woman I’ve ever met," he said.

"Yeah, she is," Ana said, feeling like a tire that had run over a nail–totally deflated.

Ana had tried to get over her crush on Jason, but she and Marin had moved in with Ramiro, Scott, and Jason at the beginning of their sophomore year when the guys’ other two roommates had gotten jobs in other cities and moved out. How was she supposed to get over Jason when she saw him every day? When she saw how kind and funny and considerate and wonderful he was all the time?

After Scott and Ramiro graduated, they landed jobs at Spur of the Moment Improv Theater in downtown Denver. A year and a half later, two positions on the troupe opened up, and Jason auditioned and got one of them. Several months later, two more positions opened up. At the time, it had been an all-male troupe, but Ana and Marin took care of that, winning both spots. A year after that, when one of the veteran performers left, Chelsey McGuiness auditioned, got the job, and became best friends with the rest of them in a matter of hours.

Though Ana had spent the last six years pining for a man who loved someone else, she’d never regretted going to that audition. She’d become addicted to making people laugh. She loved pretending to be different characters. She loved being creative and thinking on her feet. She never felt as free as she did when she was on stage. Now, instead of wanting a simple life with a husband and a nine-to-five job, she wanted to be rich and famous and win Academy Awards and see her face on the cover of magazines with headlines proclaiming, "Ana Jade Jacobs: The woman who transformed comedy." Or "Beauty, Brains, Talent—Ana Jade Jacobs has it all." What she did not want was to be marketing software or working for The Big Weasel.

The office where Ana worked comprised both the eleventh and twelfth floors of the building, but she couldn’t find a single woman under the age of fifty on either floor. This was what she got for getting to work early. Screwed.

She took the escalator to the public women’s washroom on the first floor. When she went to the tampon machine, she realized she was out of change.

"Bloody hell." Literally.

She needed to do something to tide her over, so she took three paper towels and folded them into her underwear. The scratchy, bulky paper towels made her waddle. She told herself suffering was good experience for an artist. It would bring her closer to her cave-dwelling foresisters who used twigs and straw to confine their monthly flow. But after walking just a few steps from the bathroom to the elevator, Ana realized that the cheap, abrasive paper towels were like sandpaper. If she didn’t get a tampon soon, her clitoris would be sanded right off.

Ana waddled along, Buddha-bellied with bloat. She’d put on eight pounds in the past few months, and it was all the fault of hanging out after the shows and drinking too many beers. She always said she would have just one, but as the hour became two and then three, how could she seriously nurse a single beer for all that time? Once she’d tried drinking citron vodka straight instead of beer, but that was the night she’d gotten so drunk so fast she’d accidentally made out with Scott for three hours in the coat room.

The problem was that her two best friends, Chelsey and Marin, were skinny little waifs, and Ana felt Amazonian by comparison. But if she didn’t lose at least a few pounds, she was going to have to admit defeat and buy bigger clothes. The prospect was too depressing. Who wanted to spend money on fat clothes? Right now, she could fit into only half of her clothes, and even those pinched her waist and left her struggling to breathe.

Clothes were made for skinny girls like Chelsey and Marin. It took a miracle for Ana to find clothes that fit her, her ample bust and the muscular thighs she’d developed as a competitive gymnast as a kid. She’d quit gymnastics when she got to high school and become a cheerleader, though her years of cheering were not something she talked about with the general public. Her close friends knew about her sordid, pom pom-ridden past, but as most of the people she hung out with these days had an artistic bent and tended to frown on things like school spirit, she did her best not to bring the subject up outside her immediate buddies at Spur of the Moment.

When she got off the elevator on the twelfth floor, she saw Paula Moore. Ana couldn’t stand Paula. Paula had also graduated with a degree in marketing, but she hadn’t moved her way up from assistant yet, while Ana was already a manager. Paula had made a bitchy comment over happy-hour drinks one time in which she basically said that the only reason Ana had worked her way up the corporate ladder so fast was because of her friendship with Scott, who was a graphic designer at the company and had helped Ana land an interview there when she’d graduated two years after he did. Ana wasn’t always sure she was grateful to him for this, although it was her fault that she had earned her degree in marketing, thinking it was a sensible way to make a living until she and her comedian buddies starred in their own TV show or toured the country for obscene amounts of money. The problem with having a fallback job was that sometimes, you actually have to fall back on it.

Despite hating her job, Ana always worked hard and had been rewarded for it, something the vacuous Paula held against her. Ana always said that you could tell who your friends were not just by whether they were there for you when your life was crumbling down, but whether they could genuinely be happy for you when you succeeded. As much as Ana disliked Paula, she was a twenty-four-year-old female and likely to be carrying, so Ana waddled over to her.

"Do you have a stick up your ass?" Paula asked.

"An entire tree. Could I please borrow a tampon, a pad, anything?"

"I keep two tampons in cases of emergency. If I give one to you, I’ll only have one left."

"I’ll buy an entire box and pay you back three fold over my break. Today. A few short hours from now."

Paula scowled at Ana like a schoolteacher looking at a student who hadn’t prepared for the test and didn’t have anyone to blame but herself. But at last, grudgingly, Paula handed over the tampon.

Ana toddled as fast as she could down the long hallway to the bathroom.

For about four seconds after inserting the tampon, Ana felt relief. Then she felt a familiar rumbling in her bowels.

"Oh shit." Which, of course, was the problem.

Or maybe not such a problem after all. She could take a dump without the precious tampon shooting out of her body like a bullet from an AK-47, right? She hadn’t done Kegel exercises for all these years for nothing, had she?

So she tried to void her bowels while keeping the tampon in place. And she failed.

She slumped down on the toilet seat, her pants around her ankles, and declared, with deeply felt emotion, "I hate my life."

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