Sunday, December 21, 2008

Top Three Bad Holiday Fashion Sightings.

Tis the season for gaudy, perplexing, holiday-themed garb.

1. World Gym: Man, in his sixties and skinny, strolling the weights area in clingy red workout pants and a Santa hat.
2. Ferry Building: Man, in his fifties, wears a light brown work shirt adorned by a red, glittery tie, a bit too short and a bit too wide.
3. Tres Agaves: A group of men in their thirties and forties, accompanied by women, parade into the restaurant wearing the worst holiday sweaters you've ever seen. I don't know who dreamed up the theme for this type of gathering (maybe inspired by Bad Sweater Guy?), but my (Santa) hat is off to him or her.

Personal example: When I was in grade school I had a red and green plaid, pleated wool skirt that I saved to wear for the holidays. I LOVED it. If I remember correctly, it also had thin matching suspenders in the same material. I also had a small, knitted wreath pin that I liked to wear. It was green with a little red ribbon affixed to the top.

Have you worn or witnessed any special holiday ensembles?

Music: "Last Christmas"

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Living Out (Too) Loud.

I almost didn't post this because it is embarrassing on multiple levels. But then, embarrassment is the type of occasion for which this blog was created.

Recently, I came home to find a neatly folded piece of paper under my door, with the following written in very straight longhand:

Christina ( & guests)

Your surrounding neighbors are being overwhelmed by loud music from your apartment so asked me to let you know "it's just too loud" for an apartment building.

They figured you're probably not aware so wanted you to know....just lower the volume & enjoy your favorite tunes!



The previous night, I had been listening (modestly, I thought) to music on an iPod dock in my kitchen for about two hours. It was an anomaly: Usually I don't use the dock for that long, but I was cooking a couple of things and was in an especially good mood. To be fair, the playlist did include songs by Usher, Ludacris, Jill Scott and other artists that no one would like hearing involuntarily across a wall. (What would one like, or at least not mind, hearing involuntarily across a wall? After many years of apartment living, I can tell you the answers are traditional jazz and/or piano.)

Let's give credit where it's due: the note above is a masterpiece of shaming. Let's take it one piece at a time:

1. Christina (& guests). Initially, I found this salutation perplexing, as I am alone for the majority of time I spend in my apartment. I wondered why anyone would assume I was having people over just because my music is on. Then I thought more closely about the evening in question and realized how much I talk to myself (or the computer or a movie, etc.). In particular, after completing one of the dishes I was working on, I exclaimed "THIS IS SO GOOD" multiple times upon tasting it. It turns out that *I* am the offending guest in question, and my own occupancy of one is still too high for this apartment.

2. Your surrounding neighbors. Really? My apartment borders on four others: above, below, and on each side. My upstairs neighbor is too noisy to complain about noise. My living-room neighbor is too far from my kitchen to be disturbed by my iPod dock. That leaves my kitchen-wall neighbor and my downstairs neighbor. I am convinced only one of them objected and the manager, either out of solidarity with the one neighbor or simple sadism, decided to wordsmith it into a gang complaint. Either way, the effect is to isolate me as a bad seed among several model citizens. One can imagine Susan fielding multiple calls from a community of people offended by my presence: "Hello? Yes, I’ve heard about 502. She’s a real problem. I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that, sugar, I’ll take care of it right away. Oops, I have another call, can you hold? Thanks. Hello? Hi, John! Yes, I’ve heard. Is it really that bad? Dear me. Of course, honey, I’ll take care of -- Can you excuse me? I have another call…"

3. Overwhelmed. Overwhelmed is a pretty impressive word for music that happens twice a week for an hour at most, if that, and always before 11:00 p.m. In fact, I kind of like the idea of my surrounding neighbors on their knees, gasping for breath and clutching their heads, so overwhelmed are they by the relentless onslaught of my hardcore… R&B music?

4. "It’s Just Too Loud." Accenting the supposed plurality of this complaint, Susan employs the Zagat style for her review of my behavior. "Those who find themselves in the vicinity of Christina's apartment may find that they are 'overwhelmed' by the ambiance, which is 'just too loud' for your average abode. Visitors are encouraged to either 'bring earplugs,' or be forced to enjoy Christina's 'favorite tunes.'"

5. They figured you’re probably not aware. Well no, I was not aware, because not one signal was sent my way. No one banged on the ceiling, or rapped on my door. Now, when I put on my music, I have no idea whether it’s still offensive or not, because I cannot ask the person who has rejected my judgment of reasonable volume. The offended party’s choice of tattling precludes a dialogue.

6. Just lower the volume & enjoy your favorite tunes! The condescension here serves as a shaming coda. "Enjoy your favorite tunes" is like the squarest way possible to describe this pursuit. “Listening to music” is an essential human activity. "Enjoying your favorite tunes" is something you are granted or sold, for example in an airplane seat or on a "my first radio" built for toddlers.

Everyone envisions a moment when they have made it: It's that point where you can relax a little, sit back and survey what you have achieved. For some people, it's owning a vacation home. For others, maybe it's making partner at work. For me, a lifelong urban dweller, it is nothing more than a detached, single-family home where my ears can be free: No one above or below me, no casualties, just relative autonomy in the audio department.

I'm leaving these song links at the end of the posts because they are probably outros more than anything else. Wouldn't it be funny if I got a noise complaint on my own blog? I'm surprised I haven't already: "Golden"

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Escaped Connections.

Several weeks ago, I began reading the missed connections section of Craigslist. The event precipitating this new habit will be related in a future post.

The environment on missed connections is hopeful and often sweet, though a bit more cynical than in the olden days, when seeking one's random lost love meant taking the trouble to dial up a newspaper and place a printed ad.

Are the people who post on missed connections starry-eyed romantics who believe in serendipity and love at first sight? Are they lust-struck people hoping for a hook-up? Are they embittered ex-lovers somehow brought to the point of trading veiled barbs in a public forum? Are they delusional misfits imagining "connections" that never existed? Yes! That's why it's so fun to read.

A typical Craigslist missed connections ad goes something like this:

Mrs Claus at Market & 3rd - m4w - 28 (downtown / civic / van ness)
You were part of Critical Claus? Marvin Gaye was playing as you swaggered over to me. You told me that you knew Santa and he said I had been a "bad boy" I just want you to know that I have actually been pretty good this year and I am expecting a lot for my efforts. For starters, I'd like your name and a coffee date. You are too cute and I was smitten. Drop me an email when Mr. Claus isn't looking.

The more tiresome ones involve people trying to resolve their relationship (and or breakup) issues:

i still think of you - m4w - 21 (USF / panhandle)
sometimes i still think of you and us. i wish it could have been different but its not.

And then, there's Donut World Man.

His first post was notable only because of his stated age:

outside donut world - m4w - 72 (downtown / civic / van ness)
you were standing outside of donut world tonight next to a bicycle. you were a strong, beautiful woman; standing there in the cold nights breeze, my goddess athena. i dont know if you saw me, i had a bandage on my finger, a accident when i was carving some wood. if you did see me, i would love to ride a bicycle fit for two with you.

A bit strange, but harmless enough, right? It wasn't until I went to compile his posts that I realized Donut World Man had been active multiple times per day.

On Dec. 7, the same day as the "outside donut world" post, he published two others (all pasted verbatim):

donut word tonight - m4w - 72 (downtown / civic / van ness)
you had a plaid hat, your dark skin radiated in the fluorescent lights. sadly sitting in the corner alone at donut world tonight, were you waiting for someone? i wished that you were waiting for me, but that would be too good to be true. no one is ever waiting for me, no one ever sits there longing for my arrival. all i want is for someone to be excited when i enter the room. but you werent, you remained in your corner as i got my coffee and chocolate donut and left. i wanted to say something to you. i wish i had.

You were leaving donut world as i was coming in - m4w - 72 (downtown / civic / van ness)
I think your big, beautiful eyes caught a glimpse of me as you were leaving donut world and i was entering. You were a blonde beauty, a little older in age; but there is nothing wrong with that. Every wrinkle on your spectacular face only added to your radiance. It looked like you had a family with you, perhaps your daughters and granddaughters. I saw no man, however; I need a woman like you in my life
I dont have a family I sometimes wish i did have one I gets lonely sometimes with out people around you too talk to
if you want to meet up,

So there it becomes clear that this is a very lonely and pathetic individual.

On Dec. 9, he posts three more ads that betray a bit more desperation:

donut world - m4w - 72 (downtown / civic / van ness)
i went to donut world this morning as always, there were a lot of women there but none of them spoke to me or even acknowledged me. they never do. why? i dont know. i just want to talk to one, i would like some company that is all

i guess she didnt want to talk to me - m4w - 72 (downtown / civic / van ness)
there was a girl who responded to one of my missed connections. she said she took a picture of me at donut world and was going to send it to me so i would know that she wasnt playing a trick on me but she never sent it so i guess she was tricking me. i dont think it was very funny i just wanted someone to talk to but i guess she didnt want to talk to me i dont know why

i saw you - m4w - 72 (downtown / civic / van ness)
i just want to talk all i want is too talk to someone why wont any one talk to me the are deer i scare away the deer there eyes they look with those doe eyes

And now we have reached the point where, if this were a movie, then the music would slow down and change to minor key. Dec. 10:

donut world - m4w - 72 (downtown / civic / van ness)
i am too tired to go donut world today besides i can never find any deer there. they are all gone. if you are the one with the big doe eyes i want to talk to you

alone - m4w - 72 (downtown / civic / van ness)
i just would like someone to talk to

i would like to go deer hunting this winter if anyone would like to join me

Okay? His most recent post is Dec. 14:

donut world tonight - m4w - 72 (downtown / civic / van ness)
you were drinking coffee alone at donut world tonight; i was too, but you didn't seem to notice me. as i was leaving, i gently splashed my coffee on to your lap, and your eyes glistened, like dew in a meadow at dawn. you looked like a deer in the headlights. i'm sorry i startled you.

coffee sometime? we could meet at the same place, same time, and i promise i'll keep mine in the cup.

When viewed separately, each of DWM's posts seem either harmless or crazy or both. But when taken together as a body of work, they seem like the thoughts of an individual who either has been, or will be, or should be, involuntarily confined. The bandage on his finger -- was it really from carving wood, or carving "deer"?

I wonder if I am the only one monitoring this situation.

Has anyone had a missed-connection experience? Please share if you have.

I am going to try something new: Each non-music-related post will have a companion song, for listening while you read or afterward, if you care to. I am going to sort of deejay my blog.

For this post: "The Wilderness"

Friday, December 05, 2008

One-Night Stands.

Do you ever find yourself craving a song in the way that you might crave a snack? You just want to hear a specific song, for no discernible reason. It's a really random one, too. Like, you might have to dig around for it. You play it a few times, maybe for one evening or over a couple of days, and then you move on. You probably come back to it from time to time, if it's meant to be. In some cases, you might feel a little sheepish afterward.

It's nice to be called, aurally abducted, by some rogue song in your brain's massive playlist. Almost like catching up with a friend, or sometimes making a new one. Hey there, how you been? I remember the times we had together. You sound the same as you always have. I forgot that you always did that thing on the chorus. And you know, I never understood you on that one verse, what were you saying, anyway? It's good to hear you again. We shouldn't let so much time go by.

This happens to me almost every day. I would like to start sharing these songs here. Maybe you share some of your own. Maybe you assert your opinion on the song in question. Maybe you have a better name for this feature. For now it will be One-Night Stands.

Today's haunt was "Distractions," by Zero 7.

What initially draws me to this song is the opening ethereal keyboard hook and the vocals of Sia, who always sounds like she is chewing on any given music as it travels through her. She is perfect for this, a very strange, cynical and solitary love song.

How do you make a song sound as if it's taking place at night? How do you make it all sound as if the whole thing is already a memory, even as it dwells in the present and future? How do you make it sound lonely?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

2008's Most Annoying Songs.

Between the car and the office, I listen to a lot of FM radio. I grew up listening to FM radio. It is a staple in my life. There are better options now -- satellite radio, Internet radio, my iPod -- but I (and happily, my coworkers) enjoy a love-hate relationship with corporate radio stations. Being subjected to the same formats and playlists offers an opportunity to learn, through sheer repetition, what one can grow to like (Chris Brown), tolerate with indifference (the same damn Journey song every day on KFOG -- to this day I still don't know what it's called), and hear with nothing but morbid, clinical fascination (Fergie).

So many broadcasted things annoy me on a regular basis (John Mayer's cover of "Free Fallin'" [John, you prick], Rihanna [but her bizarre vibrato always hooks me into even her most grating material), that damned Los Lonely Boys song ["If I told you I loved you, would you walk awaaaaay?" Yes!]), but my tolerance for a lot of it is pretty high. I also like a lot of things that others revile, such as Sean Kingston or the song "Low" by Flo Rida ("Apple bottom JEANS, boots with the FURRR"). I respect that you can't stand T-Pain -- really, I do -- but you'll excuse me while I like the "Bartender."

Still, some performances emerge as being in a class by themselves, rising above the level of merely annoying and becoming actively torturous. These are songs that actually make me feel mad and exasperated. Congratulations, ladies. Like George W. Bush, Paris Hilton and Keanu Reeves, you have gotten way too far on very, very little.

1. "The Way I Am," Ingrid Michaelson*: A Chinook wind could not compete with this song, so hard does it blow. I hate everything about it, from the bongo drums to the twee phrasing. "If you are chilly, here take my sweater/Your head is aching, I'll make it better." Seriously? Did she write this for her son? Nope, no, she talks about buying Rogaine, so we know it's a full-grown adult to whom she's singing. Terrible.
2. "New Soul," Yael Naim: Is banality more acceptable when it comes from someone who is French-Israeli, recites her lyrics as if she can barely speak English, and in fact does not even bother with actual words for her chorus? Apparently so.
3. "So What," Pink: When I first heard this song, I assumed it was by Katy Perry, and that made sense. The fact that Pink is perpetrating it makes me sad. I think we are supposed to be impressed that a girl is singing the lyric "I wanna start a fight." Like Yael Naim, Pink doesn't come up with actual words for her hook. Na na na na na na-na, la la lah la la-laa, whatever. It all makes Hanson's "Mmm Bop" sound like Chaucer.
4. "Bubbly," Colbie Caillat*: The PR storie for Colbie, which is that of an obscure talent unearthed by the denizens of MySpace, would be a lot more palatable if her dad had not been a producer for Fleetwood Mac. The best thing I can say about this song is that the worst part is over earlie: Her falsely earnest plea, "Will you count me in?" helpfully prompts you to change the station before the song gets too far.
5. "I Kissed a Girl," Katy Perry: To be honest, I don't think this song is that bad. The vocals and production are good. It's just that the facile opportunism inherent in the whole thing is tough to take. It assumes that people are suckers for phony sensationalism, and based on the popularity of the song, it assumes correctly. Not to get overly serious, but in the wake of all the Prop 8 nonsense around here, it would be nice if this song and artist were something that actual lesbians could get behind. It doesn't seem like that's the case, though.

* Apparently these songs technically were released in 2007, but well, they still bothered me in 2008.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Scairy Tales.

On my sixth birthday, my grandmother gave me a book of fairy tales. It was very thick -- 832 pages -- and the top of the book's pages were edged in gold, like a proper treasure. In wonderfully neat cursive, she had written my full name in blue marker on the inside of the front hardcover. On the flyleaf, she wrote, "To the sweetest -- smartest -- dearest child I know, with love from Mamaw on her 6th birthday (Christina's birthday -- not mine)"

It might be the best gift I've ever received. Three years later, Mamaw would be excommunicated from our family. That's another post.

When you're a child, the most profound thing that an adult can do for you is to take you seriously. A Reader's Digest Anthology: The World's Best Fairy Tales was more than two inches thick and contained 69 fairy tales. I read each and every one, many of them multiple times. I loved running my fingers along the gilded edge of the book. It was special, and it was mine.

The anthology contains all of the classics -- "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," "Sleeping Beauty," "Hansel and Gretel," -- but some of my favorites are the lesser-known ones. Thanks to Reader's Digest, I was able to enjoy these tales unbowdlerized, in all of their politically incorrect glory. Who better than Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm to reveal to a child the wonders of arranged marriage, kidnapping, theft, despotism, cannibalism and murder?

I would recommend the following fairy tales to those who are not familiar:

"Little Match Girl": I think of this tale nearly every Christmas, and other times of the year too. A little girl freezes to death with a smile on her face, imagining a happier life in the light of the matches she can't sell. She dies, you guys. Because she is poor and no one helps her out. Scarring passage: "But in the cold dawn, in the corner formed by the two houses, sat the little girl with rosy cheeks and smiling lips, dead -- frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. The dawn of the new year rose on the huddled figure of the girl. She was still holding the matches, of which a packet had been burned more than halfway down." Invaluable life lesson: Sometimes, a society can completely fail its children. Also, if you're cold and poor on the streets, you should probably try selling something other than matches.

"The Snow Queen" : This is a freaking masterpiece. A little boy is lured away from his home and his little girlfriend playmate, and she sets off on a journey to find him. Scarring passage: "Little Kay was almost black and blue with cold, but he never felt it, for the Snow Queen had kissed away his feelings and his heart was a lump of ice. He was sitting in the hall, pulling about some sharp, flat pieces of ice and trying to put them together into a pattern. He thought they were beautiful, but that was because of the splinter of glass in his eye. He was able to fit them into a great many shapes, but he really wanted to make them spell the word 'Love.' The Snow Queen had said, 'If you can spell out that word you will be your own master. I shall give you the whole world and a new sled.' But Kay could not do it." Eventually his friend Gerda finds him and the two of them melt the ice shards into the word love and Kay goes free. Invaluable life lesson: True love can bring us back to ourselves when we are lost. Also, never accept a ride on a strange sleigh. Also, boys can be named Kay.

Blue Beard: By far the scariest story in the book, "Blue Beard" is about a woman who discovers that her husband has murdered all of his other wives, and she's next. Disney isn't making this shit into a movie anytime soon. Scarring passage: "She took the little key and opened the door, trembling, but could not at first see anything plainly, because the shutters were closed. After some moments she perceived a bloodstained floor on which lay the bodies of several dead women. These were the wives Blue Beard had married and murdered, one after another. She thought she would die of fear, and the key, which she had pulled out of the lock, fell from her hand." Invaluable life lesson: Don't marry a crazy dude. Also, if someone warns you not to peek in that closet, you'd better check and see what's in that fricking closet.

"The Little Mermaid": Um, first of all, "Ariel" does not get the prince. In the real story, she fails to get him to marry her, and according to the terms of the witch's deal, she becomes foam on the sea. Scarring passage: "Your tail will part in two and shrink to what the people of the earth call 'pretty legs,' but it will hurt as if a sharp sword were cutting through you. Everybody who sees you will say that you are the prettiest human being they have ever seen. You are to keep your gliding motion, no dancer will be able to move as gracefully as you, but at every step it will feel as if you were treading on a sharp-edged knife, so sharp that your feet will seem to be bleeding." Scarring passage II: "Her delicate feet seemed to be cut by sharp knives, but the anguish of her heart was so great that she did not feel the pain. She knew only that this was the last evening she was ever to see the Prince, for whom she had forsaken her people and her home, had given up her beautiful voice to the Sea Witch and had daily suffered untold agony, while he remained unaware of it all." Invaluable life lesson: Men are often unbelievably clueless. Also, metaphorically speaking, losing one's virginity is a bitch. Also, as directly stated in this story, "One must suffer to be beautiful."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sure You Are.

Some job titles are very tricky to claim as one's own.

Let's say you're at a social gathering and someone asks what you do. Unless the person with whom you are talking has actually heard of you, or unless you can cite the title of a project that has earned you rent-worthy income within the last six months, don't bother appropriating one of these titles. You may very well be great in the role, but it won't matter. The person will think you're full of shit. And for all intents and purposes, you will be.

1. Writer
2. Actor
3. Artist
4. Musician
5. Consultant
6. Chef
7. Producer
8. Entrepeneur

Anything I'm missing?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Resident Evil.

Recently I caught a cab from downtown to my apartment building in Hayes Valley. I was in a pretty decent mood: Any day that you can actually hail a cab to your destination within five minutes in San Francisco, as if it were a functioning urban center, is a pretty good day.

We pulled up at my place on Fell Street, a 50-unit building that's nearly a century old, with a heavy iron-gate door and a Spanish-style lobby. As I dug around for the fare, the cabbie muttered, "Ugliest building in San Francisco." I didn't know what else to do but laugh. Gee mister, do you spread that sunshine for all of your fares, or just lucky me?

Yes, my cab driver was a turd, but I'm not exactly going to wave a flag in front of my residence, either. Like most middle-class people who live in urban apartment buildings, my presence here is more by necessity than by choice. My apartment is centrally located, has a nice renovated kitchen, and -- most important -- I can afford the rent. The fact that it has a closet for a bedroom, a constant stream of traffic noise from the street, and the occasional bug -- I tolerate these things, because I have to.

The first apartment I saw on my hunt in July was a garden apartment in Potrero Hill. It was literally someone's basement, but it was above ground and had a gorgeous little yard with views -- and it was cheap. I got there five minutes before the open house started. Withing five minutes of the door opening, there were two applications on the place. That's when I realized you don't screw around with the rental market here. You put on your New Yorker hat and hit the pavement.

My building's manager, S., answered the phone when I responded to the ad for my current place. "Ugh! You're the 80th call I've had in the last hour, since the ad went up," she said, exasperated but friendly. I made an appointment to see the place in two hours.

S. took me up in the old-school elevator, which has an accordion gate and sounds like Frankenstein jolting to life whenever a button is pressed. (Little did I know at the time that the elevator is audible from my apartment every single time it is called.)

After a glance at the apartment, I asked for an application. S. gave me one and informed me that I was the third person to apply. "One thing to know if you are putting in an application," she said, "Is that the owner is obsessed with credit. If you don't have a good credit report, don't bother." I told her her my credit was excellent.

Soon after my credit assurances, her chumminess increased exponentially. "Well, of the two people who are in line before you, one of them makes great money, but he doesn't have any credit rating," she confided. "The other one is Indian, and you know, we don't like that!"

I stared blankly, not sure what I was hearing. She talked through the pause. "You know -- because they outsource all the jobs! That's not good for the economy!" I kept on staring and let her continue on. Her racism was as nonsensical as it was stunning.

At another point she waved at the brand-new hood over the stove in my kitchen. "I wish I had one of these," she said. "The tenants before me were Latinas [sic] and there was grease all over the wall behind the oven!"

She talked blithely throughout my visit, continuing to drop disparaging comments on the previous two applicants. One of them was in the gaming industry in Silicon Valley. "You know, those jobs come and go," she said dismissively.

Later, as she glanced over my application, she caught sight of my surname. "Nunez! Look at you!" she said, simply. Look at you, fooling me with your Caucasian looks and greasy Latina surname!

By the time I left, she was practically promising me the apartment, kissing me on the cheek when we parted, every other word "sugar" or "sweetheart." I don't know why she liked me -- I had a "foreign" name, after all -- but she did, and I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't once do anything to put that in jeopardy. Who was I to question her theories about Indians and Latinas? I needed a place to live.

Ironically, her prejudices may have worked against her in the end. "I want you to have this apartment," she told me, "because we are a family here. We want people who are going to live here, who are here to stay for awhile." I wasn't sure what led her to think I was any less transient than the two dudes who preceded me -- I am willing to bet that they will stay in the area longer than I will. The lease, friends, is month-to-month; and tonight, I made myself a big, stinky curry.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ew and Q.

About a year ago, my employer moved her small business from the attic of her house to an office space in San Francisco's Dogpatch. Working in my boss' attic wasn't as bad as it sounds -- we were a homey little unit -- but by the time we graduated to a real office space, we were excited.

Our new office received more decorating attention than my own home. Paint colors, furniture, beanbags and signage were all given serious scrutiny. The boss, ever trained on the details, even got hand towels monogrammed with our company's acronym for the bathrooms, along with magazine racks. Each of the two bathrooms got a placard denoting men's and women's, even though the placards were immediately ignored.

First, let's talk about the magazine racks. To me, I don't know what marks women's lib more: the fact that we just hired a male assistant for an office of all women for this holiday season, or the fact that we got fricking magazine racks for the bathroom. The only difference between us and a guy office was that the mag rack had issues of People and Gourmet instead of Sports Illustrated. (We do, however, have some issues of Business Week as well.) We all raised our eyebrows about the installation of the mag racks, but I think secretly we all like them.

The hand towels, which are white with stitched initials, are now a year old and nasty. Even when they are freshly laundered, they still appear to be grubby with handmarks. Everyone complains about it, but who among us wants to take on the issue of the office hand-towel? Most normal companies just have paper and are done with it.

Women tend to get fussy about using a men's bathroom when they're in public and the line for the women's is too long. While it's true that men's bathrooms tend to be disgusting, ladies, don't even front. We're the ones who create the foulest bathroom scenes, and you know it. I had a line in here about why, but it grossed out even myself, so I have deleted it.

Our office bathrooms tend to suffer given the fact that we don't have a nightly cleaning service, but little about them has truly skeeved me out -- until today.

I went to dry my hands on the gross towels and encountered a perfect, red lipstick print: Someone had pressed her lips to our hand towels.

I don't even want to press my hands to our hand towels.

That's all I really have to say. Lipstick print. On the hand towels.

In other news, here's this month's reason to be happy. Lindemann, I know you are listening...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Ten True Joys of Girlhood.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Hard Drive.

Twice last week, my e-mail account at work reached its capacity limit and froze, forcing me to go through hundreds of messages, picking what to archive or delete.

At the same time, my phone began bleating, "SIM Card Full!" The unanticipated chore of clearing items from my address book actually turned out to be a mini-catharsis (in the modern age, you can delete not just words, but also people!). But today, while clearing out text messages from said phone to keep it from seizing up again, I thought: Damn, if I have to spend this much time cleaning up all the b.s. I spew into the textosphere, maybe it's time to consider reducing my output?

(Yes, I recognize the paradox in airing this question on my blog.)

My verbal pollution extends beyond the Interwebs. I have a huge box containing every letter ever received, birthday cards, diaries, notebooks with "ideas." I preserve old computers and floppy disks (I just said floppy disks) full of fossilized musings, accessible in theory but extinct in reality. All of this resides at my parents' house, because, you know, I don't like clutter. It's all there, one big life archive that, like so many online .zips, offers more peace of mind than real utility. Random access, memory.

Not long after I moved into my current place, which I furnished with an ivory rug, a cream couch, impossibly white new bedsheets and no paint on the landlord-blanc walls, I read this by Stephen King: "We call it white because we need a word, but its true name is nothing. Black is the absence of light, but white is the absence of memory, the color of can't remember."

What if you could choose not only what to delete from your brain -- or your life -- but also what you could retain? What would you delete, if anything?

I would be glad if I could erase my knowledge of the tune "We Built This City" and restore some random lost childhood memory. I would hit "Del" on everything I've ever watched on Bravo and retrieve the dreams last saved to my unconscious. I would move a few past dating experiences to the recycle bin and then download some classic novels.

I would change the screensaver in my brain from this to this.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Great Expectations.

It's one thing to be young, bright and failing when you're in a big city; it's something else when you're in the suburbs.

Perched behind the window of a coffee shop in Bethesda on a visit awhile back, looking out at an intersection that had remained comfortingly static over the years, I mentally greeted the self who had been in that same seat more than a decade before. I used to sit there writing in my journal and feeling so paralyzed, having not yet acquired a relationship, job or home that felt mine and true. Adding insult to injury, I was feeling that way in Bethesda, where I had grown up, which gave my depression an extra edge of despair and bittersweetness.

My frustrations now muted and my situation improved since then, I feel thankful -- but also a little wistful for the depressed me who used to sit there, plotting and dreaming and lamenting.

I used to be, and still am, attracted to stories about the gifted and tormented: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Salinger's characters. It is horrible to be in your 20s and feel as if it's your moment to make a mark, but you just can't rise to the occasion. You are too immature, too lazy, too scared, too directionless, too mediocre, too perfectionist, too attached to brooding and self-harm. You achingly identify with those tortured souls, the Sylvia Plaths and Robert Lowells, but the difference is that they were executing, while you are merely aspiring. Their suffering is Large, remembered, bold; yours is small, unchronicled, meek.

Now my fresh-and-new years are gone and I have become a reluctant student in the arts of gratitude and realistic expectation. It is now enough to sit in a cafe and simply experience feeling transient and existential. I don't have to make art out of it, or think about making art out of it -- or worse, feel unique about it.

At this point in my life (practicing said gratitude), it feels like a luxury simply to sit alone and brood instead of doing many of the other things responsible adults do, such as raising children or working overtime or having brunch. I often wonder (maybe too much) why alone-time is so important to me, and how to work out the calculus of balancing that need with those of a relationship.

When I lived with someone, I looked forward to being alone so that I could:

- talk to myself
- cook uninterrupted, because I need to concentrate when I'm doing it
- dance around
- sing really loudly
- peep out windows
- inspect things in the mirror
- browse music
- write to myself (i.e., talk to myself more, only silently)
- watch whatever I wanted and pause it as much as I wanted
- [censored]

Everyone needs to exercise his or her right to wander, either at home or at large. I didn't really appreciate that until I was sitting alone at a counter in suburbia, realizing that it doesn't matter where you are, temporally or physically -- it's still necessary to untether yourself and get lost once in awhile. And it's sweeter getting lost when there's no pressure to find anything other than joy in it.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Toughest Job in the World.

Take a look at your significant other, right now. Take a look in your mind's eye, if you have to. No really. Take a good, long look.

And now, say thank you. Say thank you to this person, because no matter what nonsense you have been through, no matter how much of a total goof he/she is, and no matter how much of a total douche you are, this person has agreed to lend your pathetic life some meaning. In the big game, they made you first-pick. You!

You're not sure what you would do without this person to take the edge off your existential dread. Without this person, there is no one to put up with your b.s. This person is your excuse, your structure, your frame of reference, your anchor. They have their own crap to deal with, but they have assented to taking on yours, too. It's a big job.

If only you could escape yourself the way you can escape your mate. It feels really fucking good to get out and be your own person for a night, or a day -- a week, even. I mean Jesus, it's really tiring being around someone who is intimately familiar with all of the ways in which you are kind of a fraud! We all need to escape, at least for a little while, from the person who actually decided to stick around. By definition, that person is sort of your life boss.

Just like we all need jobs to feel like we're not just completely screwing around, we all need a Point Person to keep us from wandering around our own navels all the time, wondering what the hell we're doing. What the hell are you doing? You're answering to your Point Person, that's what. Aren't you kind of glad they hired you?

I guess this is as close as I'll ever get to endorsing monogamy.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Too Close for Discomfort.

The thing is, when you make the choice to start a blog about uncomfortable moments, you are more or less screwed right out of the gate. Right now I only feel free to write about maybe five percent of the ish that's going down in my life right now, for a variety of reasons, such as:

- Privacy: My own.
- Confidentiality: My friends'.
- Respect: For my family.
- Fear: Of getting fired.
- Banality: A hallmark of most things that pass through my brain.
- Sensitivity: Toward others' feelings.
- Speechlessness: .
- Pride: Goddamned, foolish pride.
- Cease and desist request: One, so far.
- Eyes: Yours, which do not like to bleed.*

And so the Moments close in, and there I am, feeling like our heroes in Star Wars during the trash compactor scene.

So for right now, I am just going to make a list of general topics that are relevant to current events, either mine or my friends' or my family's, but that are too problematic to tackle just now:

- Religious differences
- Age-inappropriate relationships
- Communicable diseases
- Financial desperation
- Drinking problems
- Death
- Hair removal
- Depression
- Arrested development in adults over 40
- Penis size
- Lil' Wayne
- Pointless online behavior
- Lost loves

I will leave these alone and instead share a little vignette from my experience as a volunteer "reception manager" at CUESA's Sunday Supper fundraiser last weekend. The title is a glorification of what I really did, which was to fetch things for chefs and sample free food. At one point, I get introduced to another volunteer. We are both wearing nametags that say "Culinary Volunteer" under our names.

Me: So you are another one of the volunteers here?
Him: [nods] What are you doing [for the event]?
Me: Oh, I'm a reception manager. [self-conscious laugh] Just roaming around, making sure everything goes smoothly.
Him: [beat] So you're not actually a culinary volunteer. [He nods toward my nametag.]
Me: [momentarily puzzled] What? Oh. No, I guess not! What are you doing tonight?
Him: I'm plating desserts.
Me: [looking for some sign of irony, and seeing none] Well. I defer to your culinary expertise then.
[More awkward chit-chat about his vastly superior volunteer role, then I make an excuse to not talk to this person anymore]

Let's recap.

Here's what I said: [momentarily puzzled] What? Oh. No, I guess not! What are you doing tonight?

Here's what I should have said: No. I'm not a dick, either! Did they run out of nametags for that one?

Or: Well no, apparently I am assigned to the "conversing with douchebags" station.

I'm not a dick, either. I mean, anybody with me here? I must have repeated that lame comeback to myself at least four times over the rest of the evening. What is the best comeback you never uttered in the moment?

* I know that what follows the colons should not be capitalized or punctuated by periods. I actually struggled with this.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


Consider the supervisor. From the day you enter the workforce, you have a boss of you, unless you end up working for yourself, which is even worse.

Your boss is a personage that looms large in your life, whether you realize it or not. He or she can review your performance, authorize or reject any number of initiatives including vacation, and influence your income. Your boss is the one you worry about when you're rolling into the office at 9:20 instead of 9:00. Your boss is the one you think of when you are e-stalking a romantic interest or old buddy, instead of finishing that project.

Your boss giveth, and your boss taketh away.

Your boss is also pathetic. Your boss is answering to another boss who is much worse. Your boss is dealing with crap that you wouldn't want to deal with, not in a million years. Your boss has made it this far without really knowing what he or she is doing. Your boss has fewer friends in the office than you do. Your boss is a cariacature, sketched out by everyone else.

In my life, I have been fortunate to work for some very good people. Along the timeline of bosses, only two stand out as utter tools:

1. Mo, short for Mohammed: American Cafe, Washington, D.C. Mo was a short restaurant manager, embodying exactly the Napoleon complex and inflated self-importance that you would expect from that description. My most salient memory: I'm standing at a station, ringing in an order, during a busy dinner service. "Don't do that," I hear from behind me. It's Mo, glaring at me. "What?" I say, not sure what I'm doing wrong. "Don't put your hand there," he said, pointing at my left hand, which was resting on the wall as I keyed in the order. "It gets the wall dirty." That was Mo.

2. G.J.: Magnet Interactive, Washington, D.C. This guy was a dick. I'm a little biased, and you will soon see why. G. was Revenge of the Nerds with a cocaine habit. He handed out stimulants to the people he liked, and screwed over everyone else. I fell into the latter camp. I got put on a project, two-thirds of the way through, that he had massively oversold to the client. The project had gone spectacularly wrong on several levels: the graphic designer was diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder, the senior producer quit, the animator was a druggie who tended to disappear at key times, and then there was me, 25 years old and a good little worker, but way too green for the gig. The dimensions of the snow job Greg had achieved with the client were too staggering for me to correct. After the project's conclusion, G. called me into his office and fired me, taking care to invite my coworkers to watch. He told me, among other things, that I "couldn't read people." It was an undeserved public shaming that took me years to get over. Later I was told that when the client heard I was fired, they responded that G. J. should have been the one to go and not me. It was small consolation. But I did emerge smarter and stronger from my encounter with this person.

Others committed milder offenses. One of my uber-bosses at a news organization sat down next to me on her second day at the office and clapped her hand on my shoulder, saying, "Hey girlfriend, what's happening?" I knew immediately to distrust this person. We are in a place of business, you are nearly 20 years older than I am, and you are my new boss, lady. This is not Living Single, and we no longer work in the jounalistic boys' clubs you're used to. Get a grip. She later screwed over one of my female colleagues, letting her die on the advancement vine while blowing smoke to her about women needing to stick together in this business. Hey girlfriend.

Most of my bosses have been good, beleaguered people who did their best with me. One of the early ones was Tim at Byron Preiss Multimedia. Tim, are you out there? At the time, Tim was only about four years older than I was, but he was heading up his own CD-ROM publishing imprint and staff, and he seemed infinitely more mature to me. He looked, and I mean no insult here, like a male Molly Ringwald, with floppy hair and pouty lips and freckles and a slight build. In other words, he looked like the kid he was at 28, but the guy had it together. Even when he was totally stressed, he was still the nicest, most well-meaning guy. It seemed like he was always handling a crisis.

Other bosses -- Nick, Kelly, Refet, Josh, Todd, Joe -- they were just darn nice people who may have driven me crazy at times, but mostly tried to do right by me. If you have at least a couple of bosses in your life who utterly suck, the ones who don't seem to be all the more valuable.

One night I went searching for Tim online so that I could add him to the ridiculous people-quilt of my life that is Facebook. I didn't find him, but I did find this. Jesus. Jesus! One of my former bosses is dead?

Byron was the first Big Cheese I ever worked for. He ran his company out of a loft in New York's "Silicon Alley," and he was the classic intimidating entrepeneur, in my twentysomething eyes: swiftly decisive, possessed of a temper, obviously smart, and a person whose time was in demand. In every interaction that we had, because he was the head of the company, I wanted to impress him, because he managed to be a person you wanted to impress.

Like any authority figure, Byron took his licks among the staff, who usually carped at how demanding he was and how lean his approach was to running the company. But implicitly, we all acknowledged that we were there to please Byron, and as a logical corollary to that, Byron's judgment was to be respected. After all, this was a guy who had turned sci-fi nerdiness into profit! He had a niche and he was ruthless.

Reading about Byron's accident, I could picture him exactly as he was in 1995, leaving his office in his Flatiron district loft, suited and bespectacled. Important. I couldn't believe that he wasn't still out there somewhere, making deals and pissing people off. The fact that he met his maker in tony East Hampton, at least, made sense. Rest in peace, Byron. To all my other former bosses, even the sucky ones: Live long and prosper. I ain't mad atcha.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

My Buddy.

Reflecting on this classic commercial, a few questions come up:

What eventually became of the poor boy surely coerced by a stage parent from hell into delivering this frightening vocal performance?

Was the child actor here thinking, "This is kind of weird"?

How many boys actually asked for this doll?

The answer to this last question is surely "not enough of them," because Hasbro apparently discontinued My Buddy by the time the '90s were up. Today it is a symbol of a (hopefully) bygone period when people optimistically believed that boys could have their boyness socialized out of them.

The argument for encouraging boys to play with dolls rests on the idea that it encourages good parenting skills. But most men who had a decent set of parents seem to figure out the fatherhood thing just fine without a doll being shoved into their arms.

Kids are going to play how they want to play, no matter what is in the toybox. My niece was looking for a purse to carry by the age of two and was assembling her own fashion ensembles by age four, while my non-frou-frou sister looked on in amazement, unsure where her daughter's girliness came from. For my part, I played with Barbies *and* my brother's Star Wars figures. And if a little boy wants a doll, he's going to ask for one or find one, whether it's offered or not.

What's hilarious to me about the My Buddy ads is the way they suggest that we can create a world where a boy wants to play with dolls, but still promotes all the reassuring stereotypes about masculinity. Imagine if Hasbro had chosen to produce a doll for boys that looked like Carson Kressley and came with styleable hair, multiple outfits, and a mod furniture set. Now THAT would have been a step forward.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Uncomfortably Numb.

(I mean really, I can't believe it's taken this long for the headline above to make its appearance on this blog.)

I sat in a dentist's chair recently, there to get a filling replaced. It was a filling I hadn't even realized I had. "You have a filling on your wisdom tooth that's leaking," the dentist said. Filling? Wisdom tooth? Leaking? "I didn't think I had any fillings," I said with a frown.

She gave me a smirk, as if I were telling a lame joke, and handed me a mirror. "See that tooth back there? That's a filling, and it's discolored because things are seeping underneath it. It's not urgent, but you should have it replaced."

I hadn't been playing dumb. I really did not remember getting a filling. Ever. Surely a drill in my mouth and the affixing of a foreign object would ring a bell? Not so much. Anyway, I made the appointment.

Every time I go to a new dentist, which seems to be often, thanks to my ever-changing jobs and address, I miss Dr. Schneider. I have been going to Schneider Family Dentistry in Gaithersburg, MERland since I was five years old. With country music on the loudspeakers and twangs in the accents of the staff, it's the kind of place that makes you remember that Maryland is south of the Mason-Dixon Line -- but in a nice way.

Dr. Bill made going to the dentist seem like no big deal. "Hay Miss ChrisTEENa, how you doin'?" he'd say, swooping into the room and plopping down next to me. "How's your summer goin'?" He always gave my teeth a rave review, too. "Beeyootiful," he'd say, and send me on my way. If I managed to avoid the one hygienist we called The Crusher, it was usually a totally unobjectionable experience.

Now Dr. Bill's son runs the practice. I recently called the office to see if he could work on my teeth the next time I'm in town. Dr. Adam called me back himself. "How's San Francisco?" he said, sounding even twangier than his dad ever did. "You know, I just read my daughter May-belle the Cay-ble Car." It's a simple thing, but it's profoundly comforting: that dentistry knows me, and I know them. It changes without really changing.

Anyway, point being, I've got no problem with dentists and have been fortunate to encounter very good ones. Dr. Terry is no exception, and she plays R&B in her office, so she improves upon Dr. Schneider in at least one way. I didn't have any particular worries heading into my filling replacement.

"You'll feel a pinch," she said as she injected the Novocaine. A penetrating burn bloomed in my mouth as the anaesthetic entered my gums. "It'll be about 10 minutes for that to take effect," she said, and I nodded.

I haven't had Novocaine administered much in my life, and I remember getting a little nauseous when I had it about five years ago. Now, sitting in Dr. Terry's office, my hands began to shake. "Would you like to read a magazine?" the assistant said, and I nodded, taking a People magazine. I tried to concentrate as Elizabeth Edwards' face loomed before me, along with the headline "HER UNTOLD STORY." My heart raced, and the tremors continued. "OK, Christina," I said to myself. "You're OK." My breath was shallow, stomach queasy.

I paged through the magazine, trying to distract myself, but my body was unassuaged. Was I having a panic attack? It sure felt that way, but believe it or not, this stress case doesn't get panic attacks. Still, the feeling of unease was such that I imagined having a heart attack in the chair, winding up in the hospital as my coworkers wondered what was taking me so long at the dentist.

After awhile, I surrendered the magazine and the dentist began her work, humming along to Sade while I lay there feeling like I was living out a scene from Requiem for a Dream. When it was over, I sat there feeling fragile and wanting to cry. "I don't know why, but I feel really shaky from the Novocaine," I said as the dentist put things away.

"Oh, that's because the Novocaine we use has epinephrine in it," she said, as if this were a perfectly unremarkable fact.

Epinephrine? Well, of course, because what you want when you are undergoing treatment in the dentist's chair is a heightened sense of the fight-or-flight response that only adrenaline can deliver. Like, am I the only one who feels like 20/20 should be doing investigative reports about this?

I virtually flipped out on the drive home, feeling like a prizefighter with a fat lip and a hormone imbalance, willing the stuff out of my system and musing about what a bad scene it would have been if I had ever gotten the gumption to do any real drugs in college. This was my brain on Novocaine -- what would it be like if did acid, or mushrooms? For sure I would have been the kid who ran through a window or jumped off a building in the name of some harmless recreational fun.

Has anyone else had this experience with the Dentist's Drug? O friends. I was a long way from Highlights.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Levity Break.

Top Two Rap Album Titles

It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, DMX

Chicken and Beer, Ludacris

What else? What else can compete with this kind of artistry?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Last weekend I volunteered in the kitchen at CUESA's Spring Breakfast, an event supporting the Ferry Plaza farmer's market.

Most of the time, working CUESA's Saturday market events is a pleasant and calm experience. You help procure the ingredients from the farm stands, do any prep necessary, watch the chef's demonstration, hand out free samples of whatever the chef makes, and help clean up.

The Spring Breakfast, on the other hand, is much more of a production: three seatings of paying customers, 350 people in total, large platters of food to be produced. On the buffet line, the customers can get demanding, if not downright odd. "No pancakes," said one elderly woman, waving my spatula away from her plate. "But what's that?" she asked, pointing at something else.

"It's lemon ricotta, to go with the pancakes," I answered.

"Oh, give me some of that. You can put it right on the salad." My co-volunteer winced as I ladled the sweet ricotta onto a salad of bitter greens and bacon, as ordered. Whatever you say, lady.

Even the most well-choreographed culinary event is a chaotic scene requiring a certain type of person: the person who knows how to take charge. I am not that person. I am the one who knows how to take orders. As the Spring Breakfast whirlwind swirled around me, I noticed other workers (to be fair, they turned out to be professionals) taking tasks out from under me, spotting things that needed to be done and doing them before I could get to it. At the end of it all, I felt oddly dejected.

You know that stock scene on TV shows and movies, when something really bad happens, and a witness just stands there in shock? Finally, someone else steps in and yells at the person to call an ambulance, go get help, hide the evidence, etc. The stunned character is always portrayed as a combination of innocent, cowardly and a bit weak upstairs. These scenes prompt viewers to think, "DO something, you simp!" But I empathize.

A few years ago I took a weeklong multimedia seminar at Berkeley, where we were broken into teams to produce a package about a given topic. My group's assignment involved a man who built custom guitars, and the five of us headed out to his home to interview him.

The subject of our story opened the door and welcomed us into his home, which was neat and quiet. He began to show us his creations, and as we set up for recording, someone asked him a question.

The pause before he answered was too long. With his back toward us, the man froze in a standing position and then oozed to the floor, twitching violently.

It was a torturous few seconds before we realized what was happening, then a couple seconds more as we stood processing it, horrified and slackjawed. "He's having a seizure," someone said. Finally -- finally, at least two of us sprang to action. "Call 911!" someone said, and the number was dialed while another person bent down and tried to prevent the man from biting his tongue. I stood there, watching, not sure what to do.

The man's girlfriend, who was there without us knowing it, emerged from another part of the house and ran to the man's side. "I was afraid this would happen!" she cried, and rocked his small and wiry body, which had now settled into quiet tremors. She sat there stroking his head and talking to him, though he was still far away. It soon felt as if we were intruders, wrong in our roles as witnesses and impotent as potential help. Eventually the girlfriend got us to leave, reassuring us that the man would be all right. We were quiet in the car ride back, divided in my mind between those who had reacted quickly and those who hadn't. I felt both kinship and disgust toward those with me in the latter camp.

Most of the crises in my life have been slow-moving behemoths, rather than flashes of consequence. I am practiced at painstaking decisions, torturous contemplation, difficult departures, necessary goodbyes, massive recalculations and new undertakings. Thankfully, most of these crises have been internal, soluble, relatively minor; I had the means to navigate through them.

When it comes to those crises that strike within seconds or minutes, demanding quick and decisive action, God help you -- and me. One late night in New York, I found myself facing a cracked-out mugger in the vestibule of my building. It was almost as if someone else took my place: I ended up laughing at and arguing with a man who was quite seriously trying to rob me. This wasn't bravado -- it was a sheer inability to perceive my life as if it were truly happening to me.

When the mugger left, I dialed 911, shaking and crying. "I don't know if it matters, but I just got mugged," I said. I don't know if it matters. I still think of the operator and how kindly she spoke to me: "Of course it matters," she said. "I'm so sorry that happened to you." The fact that I lost nothing more than $8, my pager and a night of sleep is due to nothing but the grace of some power up there.

In such moments of truth -- the mugging, a road incident, a child's fall -- I have managed to depend on luck and the sharpness of others. Ultimately, one or the other is bound to fail, forcing me to acquire the self-determination that can rescue something so trivial as a breakfast and so valuable as a life.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Personal Etymology.

One day I noticed that one of my coworkers was reacting to a piece of news with a low, drawn-out, "Whuuuut." You know, like shorthand for "What the hell."

"Hey!" I thought. "She picked that up from me." I would have been flattered if the intonation had been mine in the first place, but the fact was that I had already stolen it from my former coworker Bill. Now my coworker from Hawaii was talking like my former coworker from South Carolina. American state fusion!

I am painfully aware that my speech patterns, catchphrases and laughing styles are 95 percent plagiarized from other people. I have stolen one laugh from my sister, another from my friend Haylie. I have a certain way of making pronouncements that comes from Jen, and a way of imitating smug people that comes from Marcel. I say "bummer" now because of Rosie, and have an anticipatory "get excited!" tone directly cadged from Crissy. I was one of those annoying people who picked up the inflection when I went abroad to London (though to my credit, I lost it after awhile, unlike you, Madonna). I mean, is there nothing original about my speech patterns? I wait for the day when someone imitates me -- and it's really me.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Your Inner Life Is Your Best Friend.

That's what M. told me last night. Isn't that true of everyone?

I met a four-and-a-half-year old at Passover seder the other night and we became fast friends, discussing such matters as parrot tattoos and afikomen hiding places.

As she planted herself on my lap, she turned to look at me and cocked her head. "When I saw you, I could tell you were a daughter," she said sagely.

"Really?" I said. "How could you tell?"

"Because you were sitting next to your mother," she answered.

My sister-in-law corrected her. "Actually, that was my mother. Christina's mother isn't here tonight."

A lot of explanation ensued, explanation about in-laws and faraway mothers and grown-up kids. It was too much for the girl, so she changed her assessment.

"Well. I can tell you are a teenager," she said.

"Why, thank you," I said. "Really, I am a teenager on the inside."

"You are older on the outside," she said, nodding definitively. "But on the inside you are a teenager."

"Yes," I agreed.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Beautiful Friendships.

Have you ever fallen for a coworker?

I don't mean "fallen" in the romantic way. I mean it in the way that allows you to discover a real kinship with someone that you never would have sought out, just because you walk into the same office every day. You say your good mornings, you silently tolerate injustices together, you commiserate over shared hurdles, and you accidentally discover someone great. I still think of awesome people that I met at work: Some are now far away or long out of touch, but I remember jokes they made, ways they operated, stories they told.

Have you ever worked someplace where you have no connection to the people around you? You walk in there and it's all polite, but you wouldn't care if you never saw those people again. It's like a never-ending doctor's appointment. That's what makes the jobs with cool people all the more precious.

I met one of my best friends when he joined our "news" organization in New York in 1998. When he started work, he was always extremely nervous about doing something wrong and I thought he was way too concerned about things. He was the Fretful New Guy, and that's all he was to me. Then one day I was talking to no one in particular about a radio station in Washington. "Oh Christina," he said, turning around in his chair. "Do you know D.C. radio?" Thus, a friendship was born.

Other connections have not been so long-lived. I once joined a team of five people that made my job, and my life at the time, bearable because of the amount of fun we had. Every day, we filed into the conference room for our story meeting, and that was probably the best part of my day. But one of us eventually left the company, then another one, and two remaining people paired off and got married. I'm only friends with one of them now, but it was fun while it lasted.

My newest work coterie consists of myself and three other people. We should probably be sick of each other by now from the amount of socializing that we do on top of work, but somehow we aren't.

This quadro-friendship seems all the more sweet because it seems unlikely to last. Three of us are single and the other is married but with no real responsibilities. We are all at various stages of the honeymoon with our employer. At some point, something is bound to bring down our happy dynamic: a new job, a move, a new attachment, a falling-out. Something will happen, and things will not be the same. I guess one benefit of age is that your enjoyment of things as they are is enhanced by the awareness that they will eventually change.

Monday, February 25, 2008

What Was Adulthood? Part Two.

Last Saturday I went skiing for the first time in many years, and the memories came flooding back: the calf pain that surfaces if you allow your socks to bunch even slightly in your ski boots; the feeling of sailing toward the chairlifts at the end of a run; the directives from my instructors at ski school, lessons that I hated with a passion at the time but now must grudgingly admit were worth it; the attempts to skid to a halt and shower snow on whichever family member was waiting for you at the bottom of the hill.

I was prepared for the family vacation memories, but something else came back to me that I did not expect. From the moment we hit the slopes, this commercial began replaying in my head and would not stop:

Adulthood Exhibit C

"That sounds obscene," M. said as I tried to describe the Juicy Fruit jingle and lyrics.

"It's not obscene, it was a commercial," I insisted, as if the two things were mutually exclusive. In my young mind, where this commercial's integrity was forever preserved, advertisers would never allude to anything other than what was being sold. Gum and fun, how much more straightforward could it be?

"Whatever, I think the people at Juicy Fruit knew it was going to sound like a blow job," he said.

For some reason, parent company Wrigley felt it was very important to target skiers of all kinds as potential consumers for Juicy Fruit gum. Personally, I never thought of gum -- especially a brand that loses flavor as quickly as Juicy Fruit -- as a natural accompaniment to skiing, even for someone as gum-addicted as myself. For one thing, it gets stiff in cold weather. Then there's the high risk of swallowing...

Adulthood Exhibit D

I guess, watching these as an adult, it's possible that M. may have had a point. Maybe it's about more than just skiing and fun and the simple pleasures of gum-chewing? I feel so confused and yet, somehow, older.

I've looked at gum from both sides now
From kid to grown-up and still somehow
It's gum's illusions I recall
I really don't know gum, at all.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Wine-Pairing Master Class.

Today I was intrigued to discover in one of my food magazines a service called eWINE match, "Your tool to finding the perfect wine pairing for your meal."

I enjoy fine foods and I enjoy fine beverages, but I am too lazy to pair them properly. It's sort of like my fashion sense: I can buy a good pair of shoes, and I can buy a lovely outfit, but Google has a better chance of putting together a cohesive ensemble than I do.

So I was excited to go to eWINE and have it tell me just what to drink with the cheeses I had bought. First, I typed "ricotta salata," which I was already disrespecting with some hastily cooked tomatoes and crostini.

The results: Greg Norman Sparkling, Meridian Pinot Noir, Matua Valley Paretai Sauvignon Blanc.

Interesting! I would not have guessed that, I thought. Let's kick it up a notch: I went to type in brebiou, a sheep's milk cheese I like... except I typed "brebious" by mistake.

Amazing! Despite my typo, eWINE still came up with a chardonnay, a cabernet sauvignon and a zinfandel. Huh, I thought. I would not have put those together.

I decided to give it a serious challenge. Going back to the search box, I entered a new term: "crap."

A real soldier, eWINE still delivered. Apparently Meridian Central Coast Sauvignon Blanc pairs well with crap, unless you search for "crap" second time, in which case Gabbiano Pinot Grigio would be your top result.

Personally, I have always been stumped in terms of what to pair with Dubble Bubble. How to play off its chalky sweetness? Beringer Founders' Estate Chardonnay, says eWINE.

And what about something more spicy, such as Crest? If you want to brush right, take eWINE's suggestion and rinse with Chateau St Jean Sonoma Chardonnay. Its "floral notes with nuances of pear and honeydew" meld perfectly with this ADA-approved aperitif.

Hallelujah, Internets!

What pairings are you seeking lately?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

What Was Adulthood?

Remember when you looked at adulthood through the lens of childhood?

When I was a kid, I imagined that being an adult meant you got to live like this:

Adulthood Exhibit A

and this:

Adulthood Exhibit B

Essentially, you got to party all the time, drink special drinks that kids are not allowed to have, eat whatever you wanted, have special Adult Conversations and do Mysterious Adult Activities (there has to be something more to that picnic blanket than meets the eye), go to the bank and get wads of cash, wear special sexy outfits without your mom's permission, watch the best movies and say all the Adult Words (meaning the s-word, the b-word, and sundry) without getting punished.

You had a certain understanding of things, and you got to revel in it. That's how I understood adulthood, as a child.

What did you think it meant to be an adult?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Provisional License.

I remember one of the first times I discovered a musical artist without the use of a radio or a television. I was at Union Square Station in Washington, D.C., waiting for a train to New York in the mid-90s. I stood at a listening station at some now-defunct CD store there, and I heard Ben Folds Five for the first time.

The method of discovery was not only a departure for me, but so was the music: I was into Mary J. Blige, Prince and Jodeci, so a white college-rock band was, like, "experimental" for me. Ooh boy was I hip.

These days I use TV shows, blogz, radio and magazines to procure my music interests. Lame as it is to say, I actually work at finding new music, even though (and because) it's more accessible than ever. I wasn't cool when I was 22, and I'm still not cool now, but I want to know what the kids are listening to. I still want to fall in love with songs and musicians, because it's the only way left to really fall in pure, helpless love when you're an adult.

However, I am losing something, and it bothers me. I am losing the experience of living with an album. I am forgetting what it feels like to give an album a provisional license, thinking you kinda like it, and then finding that it has somehow totally taken over your soul (e.g. Who Is Jill Scott?).

This kind of love starts only after you have listened to an entire album, straight through, for about the fifth time. It happens when you get to know the album well enough to know its faults, but to appreciate it anyway. It happens when you know every track, and you have had affairs and conversations and partnerships with each one. It happens when you feel as though you could continue on with that album -- the whole thing, not just a single -- for the rest of your life.

Who does that these days? Certainly not me. I am too busy pulling up MySpace for the newest ear candy. I download a song, fall in love a little bit, and it's over (or I'm frustrated, because there's no label release yet). I'm looking for an album I can really date long-term. Does anyone have suggestions?

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Belated Holiday Post.

This year's Christmas went much like the previous 30-odd years I can remember: a tree with colored lights, topped by an angel made of cardboard and plastic; decorations more sentimental than aesthetically correct; an eyebrow-raising sea of presents emanating from the tree's trunk; an orgy of wrapping paper, bows, toys, ham and my aunts' shrill laughter at the dinner table.

We have some new players -- kids and spouses -- but things in my family remain mostly the same. The unadulterated consumerist approach to the holiday, for us, remains untainted by religion, earnestness or aging. The only spiritual element involves watching A Christmas Story, which we started doing every Christmas Eve, way before TBS started running marathons. In adulthood, I added the tradition of watching It's a Wonderful Life at some point, usually alone and always crying.

We all wake up to stockings filled with magazines and drugstore merch including, thanks to an in-joke with my Dad, Ban Roll-On for me. A horse-trading approach is taken with gift lists; e-mail and Amazon have become indispensable.

Put simply, our Christmas has always been more about the wonder of Santa Claus than of Jesus Christ. Historically, I have not had a problem with this. As kids, we made our lists and left out cookies and sat on laps at the shopping mall and even, for a time, made phone calls to the big man (or, if you prefer, my Dad's office). I always felt fortunate, not only for my family and the gifts, but also for the freedom from religious ritual.

I did not abandon the notion of Santa until I was nine years old. Of course, I knew -- but I didn't want to know. By that age, I had developed enough reasoning power to know that Santa didn't exist, but I did not like the idea of finding out. Finally, I willed myself to ask my mom. She was standing in the bathroom, getting ready to go out. "Mom?" I said, approaching her. "Santa doesn't exist, does he." My mom was applying makeup and looking in the mirror, with me reflected behind her. "Well, the spirit of Santa always exists," she said, or something like that. "What matters is if you believe." I knew enough about my Mom to parse the truth of her diplomatic response. A phase of my life quietly ended there.

This year, I felt like a new unpleasant realization struck, and it happened while I was contemplating the recycling bins sitting out on the driveways of my parents' suburban Washington neighborhood on the day after Christmas. I knew, but I didn't want to know. I knew that the holiday always meant several toys and electronics cut out of their impossibly hermetic plastic casings, untold amounts of paper, not a few batteries, a good amount of cardboard and plenty of media that could have been bought used.

I knew that we were just like millions of Americans on Christmas, using the holiday as a time to express our gratitude via credit card. I knew that it was environmentally and financially excessive -- it was harder still to admit that it was not even particularly satisfying. I don't know if the change was an abrupt one in me, or a slow one in our house, but it felt as if the focus on distributing gifts actually took away from my experience of my family. I would have been happy with half the presents and twice the connection.

I like to think that I still believe in the spirit of Santa, as my Mom encouraged -- but I both want and fear a different incarnation.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Life of the Nightmare.

About once every six months or so, I dream that I have committed a murder. The victim is usually unknown to me, invented and extinguished in my mind. The method and motive vary -- in fact, sometimes there is no discernible motive. Sometimes I have accomplices, sometimes not. No matter the circumstance, two things always occur: one, an incredible paranoia and detailed attempt to cover up the crime and two, the devastating realization that I will have to live with this unspeakable deed for the rest of my life.

Then I wake up, with a new lease on life. I have not killed anyone! I have nothing so horrible on my conscience! Boy, what a great day it's going to be, knowing that I am not a murderer after all!

Other types of dreams are more difficult to recover from. This morning I had a bad fight with M., in my sleep. I woke up and there he was, being as sweet and pleasant as ever, but still I had the feeling that we had to make up. I have had this dream about family members too, feeling inexplicably out of sorts with them because of some stupid dream.

Of course, if I really wanted to delve into my psyche, I'm sure I could uncover in any fight dream a real issue needing attention. But hey, I don't really want to delve into my psyche. I just want to get on with my day and only address the arguments that happen in real life.

As my midday brain catches up to reality, I am unexpectedly grateful for today's hidden blessings: harmony with those around me, a conflict-free morning and a clean record with the police department.