Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve.

How are you doing this holiday season?

I wasn't supposed to be alone tonight. Also, my sister wasn't supposed to be recovering from an emergency appendectomy that, it turns out, she may not have needed. Amazon wasn't supposed to forget to send my nephew's gift and give me a refund instead of Club Penguin for Nintendo. And my car wasn't supposed to be trapped a week past the big blizzard of '09, thanks to D.C.'s aversion to plowing side streets.

But when you are wrapping presents in your warm apartment with Christmas music playing and colored lights and plenty of food and water, and those presents are for family that you're going to see tomorrow (if you can get a ride), you start to realize you're a dick for moping around.

And how was your decade? If you're like most other people, according to the media, the millennium's opening salvo pretty much sucked for you. It's true that as a country, we took a beating in the 2000s. Accordingly, most of us did individually too. Is there anyone who had an awesome decade in the 2000s? Not even Tiger Woods can say so now.

Personally, a lot of bad shit went down for me this past decade. But isn't every decade like that? Does any one person have an "up" decade? I now think of the '80s that way, but I was in junior high and high school in the '80s, so it's a good bet that at this point I'm deluded. Maybe from the haze of the 2020s I'll think of the 2000s as pretty fricking super.

A lot of good stuff happened this decade too. For me, I left New York when it was my time to leave. I learned to cook, sort of. I met people too awesome to even imagine: my sister's children, for example. I texted. I had a life-changing night here.

I'm sure there's some other good stuff, I just can't think of it right now.

Some other thoughts this evening:

Cougar Town is OK, but not great.

Carol Burnett recorded a Christmas song. Who knew?

Church St. in Dupont Circle is next to a church. Duh.

The church bells at the church next to Church St. might actually make you a believer if you listen to them while you watch families leave services with glow sticks on Christmas Eve.

A Christmas Story is still perfect. It was perfect when my family decided to make a tradition of watching it on VHS on Christmas Eves in the '80s, and it's perfect now that TBS runs marathons and it's no longer our little secret.

I just broke my front tooth. Just now. On toffee. It's a crown. It's the second time I've broken a front-tooth crown in the last two months. I first broke my front teeth when I fell down in an icy parking lot in December seven years ago. Ever since then I've had porcelain front teeth, and I've had dreams where my teeth fall out or break. This is the decade of those dreams coming true.

Here's to no broken teeth in the 2010s. Here's to your holiday and your 2010s.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Actual Headlines From My Apartment Building's Newsletter, July/Aug 2009.

Happy Birthday, America!

Build Your Body Knowledge: Lymph Nodes

Zero-Dollar Vacations ("Take one day or a whole week to do absolutely nothing. Put on your favorite music and close your eyes. Don't clean, pay bills, go shopping, wash laundry or cook gourmet meals. Just truly relax." Presumably the authors would prefer that you take this vacation from paying bills in the first three weeks of the month, when rent is not due.)

Change Is Good -- and Healthy (Except, perhaps, when it comes to residences?)

Reduce Your Debt by Dining In

Fitness Tip: Skip the Cart (Golf cart, that is. My guess is this tip might be useful for 0-1 percent of this landlord's populace. The last time I saw a cart of any kind was at the P St. Whole Foods. It's true, however, that I did get a workout from skipping that cart and carrying my items in a handbasket.)

Parking Violators, Beware!

Up, Up and Away ("What would become the world's largest manufacturer or commercial aircraft got its start July 15, 1916 by William E. Boeing in Seattle.")

Oldies but Goodies (list of celebrity birthdays)

Know Your Lingo ("Jibba \jib-buh\ adj. Awesome, sweet or excellent." Interestingly, this definition is not one of the two meanings listed on Urban Dictionary.)

Geography 101: Mauritius

Monthly Celebrations (National Hot Dog Month, etc.)

Word Search

Sadly, this is the one and only newsletter I have received since moving into the building in June. The appearance of the newsletter itself was as random as its contents.

Music: "A Day in the Life"

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One Night Stand: "Duffle Bag Boy"

The first time I heard this song was on a Chris Rock concert video. The next time was on a Katt Williams video. So those two comedians had already drilled it into my head and my iPod already by the time it served as exposition in The Carter.

The documentary about Lil' Wayne uses the song to punctuate his substance abuse, flashing its opening callout about "weed n' syrup 'till I die" over footage of him. Perhaps this and similar moments are what prompted Lil' Wayne's decision to legally oppose theatrical release for the movie, even though he initially collaborated with the filmmakers.

I suppose it's too late to get Lil' Wayne to correct the spelling of duffel bag in the song's title. Anyway, I'm sure the residents of the Belgian town for which the bag is apparently named are used to the alternate spelling by now. It's just something that bugs me a little. But hey, now I know we got the duffel bag from Belgium.

I haven't been able to get the song out of my head since watching The Carter the other night. I am sad that Lil' Wayne is going to prison and inseminating women left and right, thus risking his career and finances. To me, this and other performances, along with his ambition to release a rock-rap album, make him someone that the rap game needs right now. And yes, I am a white nerd who has no business typing the phrase "rap game." But you know what I'm saying.

Music: "Duffle Bag Boy"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

In Treatment.

I can't seem to interest anyone I know in this show, even though it's brilliant. When I bring it up, the responses range from some variation on "Sounds boring" to "I don't want to watch a show about people blathering about their problems." This latter response always confuses me, because aren't most non-comedic TV shows about other people's problems?

I haven't watched season 2 of In Treatment yet. Part of me is afraid it won't be as good as season 1. So I am re-watching season 1 first.

While watching a scene where one of the characters has a breakthrough, I asked myself whether therapy had ever really helped me. Did I ever have that fabled breakthrough, in the handful of times I sought counseling? Do those kind of moments really happen?

In Treatment doesn't glorify therapy or therapists, and that's one of the reasons I like it. It shows that therapists are as screwed up as the rest of us (which we already knew) and how thankless and treacherous their job can be (which maybe we didn't). But it also shows some pretty smart head-shrinking.

I thought about the professionals I'd seen and whether any of them really changed my life. On the "no" side, I've never left therapy because I felt like I'd worked through the problem I came there for. Usually, I left because I wasn't getting what I needed, or because life circumstances forced me to. On the "yes" side, certain comments made by these therapists have stayed with me over several years. The following are not direct quotes, but are the gist of what was said as far as I remember.

The comment: I'm not sure about this, but I think on some level, your parents don't want you to succeed. If you asked them, I'm sure they would swear up and down that of course they want you to succeed, and they would be telling the truth. But I think they don't want to lose you.
My reaction: This was shocking and offensive to me at first. I was 23 at the time and considering a move to New York, which got an unenthusiastic response at home. I remember the therapist being very tentative about sharing his theory -- he said that the idea was just occurring to him, and he didn't sound certain. This may have been a tactic, but I remember being enthralled. It made me feel like this wise person and I were figuring something out together, and it made me listen closely. Still, it was a very troubling assertion. My parents had been nothing but supportive my whole life! How could he say that? But it was a simple overstatement of a layered truth. Of course my parents wanted me to succeed. But when "success" might entail departure from the DMV... eehhhh.
Did it help? Yes. It made me realize I need to be more responsible for my own decisions and that even though my parents love me a lot, they aren't always going to know what's best for me. This sounds obvious now, but at that age it was a bitter pill to swallow.

The comment: Do you realize that when you [behave in a certain way], you are actually causing [your boyfriend] tremendous pain?
My reaction: At first, my reaction was no. I didn't think I had much of an impact on this person in general, so it seemed like the therapist was just being dramatic. On second thought, maybe my actions were causing real emotional pain. Maybe he was truly hurt after all -- but too bad. I was angry with him about some stuff, and what I felt was more important.
Did it help? Not until later. I finally realized that if you are pulling a bunch of b.s. and the other person is getting upset with you, the answer isn't to justify and/or repeat your b.s. The answer is to ask yourself why you feel the need to pull the b.s. (and deep down, we always know when we're pulling b.s.) instead of a) working out your beef with your loved one or b) cutting bait because you're in a situation that isn't working.

The comment: Can you imagine that a long-term monogamous relationship would actually deepen and get more interesting over time, as opposed to being "boring"?
My reaction: No.
Did it help? Yes and no. I have reason to understand the truth of this idea now, and I think back to that comment often, but no one can make you feel that way if you aren't in the right place with the right person.

The comment: I recommend that you read a book called The Good Marriage.
The reaction: I got the book.
Did it help? Yes. Unlike most marriage books, which focus on fixing what's wrong, this book surveys people who are happy in their marriages and classifies the unions according to four types: traditional, romantic, companionate, and rescue. It didn't give me answers for my situation, because no book can do that, but it gave me some context and perspective.

The comment: For engaged people, I usually recommend therapy, because if they are having issues with getting married those issues need to be explored. But if you're already married... I recommend the antidepressants.
The reaction: Shock, plus a desire to laugh and cry at the same time. I am not making this up, a therapist actually said that to me. She was the same one who recommended the book and said some other insightful things mixed in with dubious things, so the fact that she was batshit and a shill for pharmaceutical companies did not become undeniable until our third session, when she uttered this statement.
Did it help? It helped me avoid wasting my time further with her, yes.

The comment: What does your dad do?
My reaction: Huh?
Did it help? No. I was in college and came in to the student health service as a senior extremely Freaked Out About Life. I felt that my situation was dire, and yet every comment I made was met with an inventory-style question. I would say, for example, "I'm afraid I might be in a depression. I'm really worried about what I'm going to do when I graduate," and the counselor would go, "Mm hm, and are your parents still married?" It is the single weirdest and worst counseling experience I've ever had, and that's even counting the batshit therapist who wanted me to take drugs because I was married.

Has therapy ever helped you (or let you down)?

Music: "The Operation"

Monday, November 16, 2009

I Swear, It's for a Friend.

So, I'm at work printing out a travel reservation for this week. I walk over to the printer and my reservation didn't make it, but I see that I have another print job -- sitting alone on the counter next to the printer -- that someone set aside for me.

All of our print jobs come out with cover sheets featuring our name in big type. But the one I found this morning wasn't my travel confirmation. It was this article, which I linked to for work purposes on Friday and apparently printed out by mistake.

The headline type on the printout was big and bold, right there with my username. So that now it appears to my coworkers I needed to print out this article specially for closer reading. Ugh.

Music: "Fitter Happier"

Monday, November 09, 2009

No Thanks.

I was enjoying a nice, quiet evening checking out Diary of a Mad Black Woman on BET when this nonsense came upon my screen.

Let me just start by saying that I hate "real women" advertising. If I wanted to look like a "real woman," I wouldn't be interested in your product. I know it's not politically correct to say, but I prefer fashion models (or at least I do when they are allowed to still look human).

I also think an attempt by a company (you too, Dove) to sell products to women by using regular-looking people, pretending to buck the beauty myth while putting jarring, publicity-generating pictures of half-naked plus-size women everywhere including bus stops, is just as (if not more) full of crap as an attempt to sell using a fantasy.

I don't want to be "friends" with my commercial. When the lady on the screen talks about her "girls being happy," I don't nod knowingly and smile. I wince and wonder why she has to be so goofy. Please don't talk to me about your big boobs and how men can't take their eyes off them and stuff. It is not going to make me want to buy the bra you have on. It is going to make me want to change the channel in embarrassment.

Girlfriend... OK?

Music: "Video"

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Lessons I Can't Seem to Learn.

People can act one way to your face and another behind your back.

Your body knows better than your mind does.

It's never worth clicking on pictures of Lady Gaga.

You will never be glad you stayed up watching Intervention instead of going to bed.

Tortilla chips. God help me. Tortilla chips.

Your job does not define your self-worth.

Magazines are less fulfilling than books.

If the meat seems undercooked, it probably is.

Anyone care to add?

Music: "Learning to Fly"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Weirdest Halloween Ever.

How do you feel about Halloween?

More than any other "holiday" (and I put the word in quotation marks because unless I get the day off work, it isn't a true holiday anymore, unlike when I was a kid and "holiday" could be defined as any day with special decorations and candy), Halloween transforms into something else altogether when you're an adult.

When you're a kid, even if you hate scary stuff, you're going to get on board with the whole shebang because sweets are involved. By the time I was a teenager, when I could procure candy on my own and shaving cream fights had furnished all the diversion they possibly could in my life, I was pretty well over it.

As an adult woman, you go one of three ways with Halloween: a) nerdy group costumes with your s.o. and/or children, channeling your theater-tech days; b) Weird "I get to look slutty tonight" outfits and c) complete apathy. I would totally be in the B camp if it weren't for my aversion to cold, aversion to crowds and attraction to complete laziness. So that leaves me in camp C.

Best associations with Halloween:

- Being a bag of jellybeans, circa third grade. My mom pinned balloons to me and put a big plastic dry-cleaning bag over them. It was genius. If you've never walked around with a bunch of balloons pinned to your person, I recommend it. This year it's timely because of the Heenes. Go for it.

- Being Pippi Longstocking my senior year of college. I was over Halloween at that point but somehow got it together to do this. It was great because it was so simple: all you need is braids wrapped around wire and striped leggings. The braids made it. You can't imagine the number of times I got the drunk, good-vibey exclamation, "PIPPI!" that night.

- Candy corn. BRACH'S ONLY, bitches. I can tell by looking when candy corn isn't Brach's because it's too wide and has weird ridges in it and it tastes like shit. Sure, you might say that all candy corn tastes like shit, but that's because you haven't appreciated -- or refuse to appreciate -- the honey-smooth divinity of Brach's. If you know what I'm singing about up here come on raise your hand.

- Mrs. May's house. I was lucky enough to grow up in a solid neighborhood with lots of good houses for trick-or-treating -- except for Mrs. May's house. Mrs. May was a grouchy widow who was always ordering us off her property. On Halloween her house was always dark and no one would ever answer the door and it looked haunted. Every block needs a house like that (just one) on Halloween.

Worst associations with Halloween:

- The movie Halloween. I remember seeing this on VHS while over at my friend Julie's in maybe fifth grade. At first, the idea that we were getting to see an R-rated movie with nudity was super enticing. But I think I knew I was out of my league within the first minutes of the film. The theme playing over the opening credits was bad enough, but what I remember most was being disturbed even by the mean kids smashing a big pumpkin on the ground (around 6:30 in the link above) -- forget about the topless women being knifed. After my mom found out that I had been allowed to see this movie and The Groove Tube, I wasn't allowed to go to Julie's anymore.

- Being Charlie Chaplin circa 8th grade. Epitome of awkward. It's already kind of weird that I had a thing for Charlie Chaplin (I mean in the '80s really any dude with eyeliner was fair game) and then that I tried to carry that over into drag is just even more weird.

- Three Musketeers. Most expendable booty of the lot. Fuck nougat.

- Being out at night on Halloween as an adult.

Last year at Halloween, I agreed to go to a work-related event. At the time, I was working for a cooking-party company and we were actively seeking both venues and clients. One of the venues we work with was having an open house.

Pathetic admission: If I'd still been married at the time, it's likely I would have skipped this event. But I was newly single, with one low income, and what else did I have to do but try to goose my event sales by attending this function? So I went to the open house, which was at a small professional kitchen in Pacifica, CA.

Now, Pedro Point Creative is the nicest kitchen you could ask for if you're planning a small dinner or cooking class. It's a gorgeous little space and I recommend it to anyone on the peninsula.

That said, the event ended up being basically a neighborhood party. I felt a bit out of place walking along uneven road behind the windy cliffs in my heels trying to find the kitchen, at one point passing a yard filled with a junk (the old man there had no idea what I was talking about when I asked him where Pedro Point Creative was) and then later stopping to ask for directions at a recreational hall filled with teens who were at some sort of dance or party. It was the most random street ever. Finally I found it, a modest but attractive house nestled in between other modest houses of varying attractiveness.

Most of the people who showed up brought their kids and were obviously from the houses nearby. No one was really interested in booking a cooking party. The neighborhood was a quietly dramatic group of houses perched on cliffs next to the Pacific Ocean, but it wasn't a particularly affluent crowd. It was the kind of area where sweeping sea vistas, junkyards and tiny homes all came together.

Pacifica is small, odd, very windy and starkly beautiful. It's also the last place you're going to land a big event client on Halloween night. I kind of knew this going in, but again, what else did I have to do but go and see what a professional kitchen on the lower level of a house on a residential street in Pacifica was like?

I drove home along Highway 1 in the rain and felt more alone than I ever had on Halloween, even more than the ones spent alone in my apartment in New York. It seemed as though everyone I met that night was wearing a costume that would never fit me. I was about as likely to become a princess or Spider-Man as I was the chef behind the stove making hors d'oeuvres, or an outdoorsy mom leading her kids and dog through a remote seaside street from house to house, or a hippie artist/photographer/stylist.

Not sure what I'll do for Halloween this year, but I'm going to try to avoid anything that involves work, Pacifica or Charlie Chaplin.

Music: "Shockadelica"

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Points of Contention: Big Questions.

Sometimes the topics of debate that take place during my work day blow my mind. Here are some examples, just from today. *

Is the word "panties" objectionable?

Do people care about Amber Rose?

Are most people aware that their gas contains ethanol?

If it's a cardigan with a hood, can you call it a "hoodie"?

Do people remember that Ben Affleck played Jack Ryan?

Who is more interesting from The Real World: Jacinda or Ruthie?

Is Paranormal Activity really that scary?

Is it that much of a concern if there's a Purell shortage?

* My opinions, consecutively: sort of, no, who knows, not really, no, Ruthie, who knows, no

Music: What's the Use?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Random Pics.

First of all, if you still even look at this URL, thank you. I apologize for not delivering much lately. That's a whole separate UncMo.

A side benefit of needing to have bloodwork done at the Quest Diagnostics lab on Connecticut Avenue in Washington is that you will leave feeling better about your life than you did when you walked in, especially after being exposed to the staff there. You may not be thrilled to watch multiple vials fill up with your own blood, but your phlebotomist is even less thrilled. I can't remember the last time I saw people looking so miserable in their jobs. Maybe it's just too many babies and specimens being loaded onto their counters.

A few years ago, I visited a friend and his wife, who is a plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills. While we were sitting at the dinner table, the surgeon looked at me and at her husband. "You both have placid face," she said. Placid face? My friend's wife pointed to her forehead, where she had a crease in the center, which drove her crazy. "Your foreheads are perfectly smooth," she said wistfully. "Placid face."

It's true that my forehead has always been a great, vast expanse of smoothness, which frankly never in my life occurred to me as an asset until then. After that, whenever I had a moment of grieving over my fivehead, I would console myself with the idea that someone out there actually thought there was something enviable about it.

Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of an Amtrak train window and realized that that vestige of comfort is gone. I have a big stress-induced pock mark on the side of my forehead. Aging is a sneaky motherfucker.

I found this attempt at distraction in my new lady-doctor's office pretty amusing at first. Did these people really think that something looking like the worst travel agency poster ever, taped up on tile ceiling over flourescent lighting, was going to enhance my experience in the stirrups?

I reconsidered my stance while I was involuntarily learning the meaning of the term vasovagal reaction during a biopsy (I'm OK) and becoming suddenly intensely invested in the idea of being on a seashore. I focused on that poster like there was no tomorrow as my insides were being scraped out. Thanks guys!

I could not stop staring at this man's hair while at the DMV trying to get Maryland license plates for my car (an astonishingly difficult feat, as it turned out). In the back (the party), his hair undulated in soft, impeccable waves. In the front (business), it was very spiky and filled with product. This picture really doesn't do justice to the textures involved. He also sat in his DMV seat with complete discipline, seemingly out of respect for his hair and/or for those who would admire it. I think the DMV should have been paying him to sit there, just to remind all of us hopeless souls waiting endlessly that true greatness is possible.

Music: "Private Eyes"

Sunday, September 27, 2009


I happened on an awesome bookstore this weekend in New York and ended up buying this book.

I went from hating Curious Lists to loving it in about two minutes. The book is basically a bunch of list titles followed by dotted lines so that you can fill them out.

My first reaction: "What? You have to complete them yourself? This is stupid. 'Ukelele Songs Appropriate for a Funeral?' How self-consciously McSweeneysesque* and hipsterish. I hate 'assisted creativity.' I hate the suggestion that it would be useful for me to spend my time ruminating on some other person's theme with the fake objective of enhancing my own creativity."

But then a couple of the illustrations made me laugh. And then a couple of the lists gave me ideas for my own writing. And then some of the list headers, which were entirely nonsensical relating to the lists themselves but still pleasing to contemplate (Lists for Vacations, Lists for Rainy Days, Lists for Lunchtime), made happy to think about. I thought about the fact that I do like to make lists. I liked that this book inspired me to think about lists again as a flight of fancy or a pleasurable catalogue (Nick Hornby) rather than something self-conscious and overly cute (not linking out here), even as it offered topics that were both.

I wanted to be above this book, in a way, but the fact is a) I'm easily impressed and b) I'm kind of old and not that creative anymore. Instead of coming up with this book, I'm buying it.

And filling it out on the train back from NYC.

Qualities of an Undesirable Train Companion

A fondness for farting
Deli meats, internal or external
Blaring ring tones
A tendency to speak loudly and often
More than two legs
Respiratory issues
Inability to detect boundaries of personal space
Anyone in a diaper

Additions welcome.

* I totally submitted lists to McSweeneys and I think even had one or two published and so this is just me being a jerk.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

People I Am Not.

All I can ever be to you
Is the darkness that we knew
And this regret I got accustomed to
-- Amy Winehouse

I was at the gym today, feeling pretty low about my day and myself, when this song came on. It hit me: Hey, now there's a person who knows feeling crummy. At least I'm not Amy Winehouse.

I started to feel better already, moseying to the steam room and contemplating all the ways I am not like Amy Winehouse, at least on the surface. "This works!" I thought to myself. "Who else am I glad not to be? Mark Sanford. Yes! I may be feeling a bit disheartened at work today, or pretty far down on the real estate totem pole for someone my age, or a bit socially adrift right now, but I am not Mark Sanford, and that's a reason to walk around feeling grateful."

I made a little mental list of people I'm glad I'm not. Maybe you have your own list. Feel free to share it here.

Amy Winehouse

Gov. Mark Sanford

This person

Courtney Love

Rick Pitino

The great thing about being human is that no matter how badly you've screwed up, chances are there's someone out there who has screwed up even worse than you have. If you're Courtney Love, it's arguable that you might console yourself by thinking about Amy Winehouse. Rick Pitino might think of Steve McNair. George W. Bush might think of Hitler. We've all messed up pretty seriously at one time or another.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


How much professional disdain can you accommodate before it overflows and poisons the personal, and vice versa?

How hard do you try to comprehend a person's motives before you simply write off the individual as a bunghole, even though surely s/he has loved ones who could ably rebut this conclusion, excuse my pun, and might even say that you are the one who is the bunghole? Is it healthier to try to understand/forgive, or to decide that bh is bh and take a persona non grata stance?

Once someone has crossed the line in terms of your own acceptable rules of conduct, how do you deal with that person going forward?

These questions have always been difficult for me, and they have run particularly deep over the last few weeks.

Once, many years ago, I made an edit to a column because it was slanderous. The columnist, with whom I'd been very friendly up until then, screamed at me over the phone after finding out. I stood my ground. The columnist went to my boss. My boss backed me up. More screaming. I've never been talked to like that before by a colleague, and haven't since. It shook me, and shook my estimation of that person.

After a couple of days, all was forgotten -- on the columnist's end. But for me, that relationship was effectively over, and I avoided all but the necessary interactions.

Before the tirade, the columnist had offered to help me get connections outside my company and had already helped me secure one job interview. It would have behooved me to let bygones be bygones and continue to use this person for contacts, but I couldn't ask for any more help from someone who, I felt, had betrayed me.

Similarly, it took me several years to get over a relative's behavior toward my father in the wake of his mother's death and disagreements over her estate. I had to see this relative at holidays, and it took some energy to actively avoid her, to signal that she had done wrong, and that I had not forgotten it.

You see, I've been a grudge-holder for a good part of my life. The grudge is a symbol of principle, of justice, of righteousness, of self-preservation: One so concretely circumscribed by her sense of right and wrong is stronger, less permeable. Debilitating struggles with sympathy or grey areas are averted. Interlopers are swiftly judged and excommunicated.

My brother, unlike me, greeted the offending relative as he always would have. He had no chill in his voice. As far as he was concerned, the shadow was between her and my father. He could never understand why he should get worked up about something that had nothing to do with him. I used to judge this, too. Where was his sense of loyalty? Where was his sense of outrage?

But my father, too, forgave her over time, and I was left with my own righteousness on behalf of no one, slowly sapping my energy during family gatherings even though the original point had been lost. Eventually I had to just forgive and resume normal relations. I did not forget. But the contrast with my brother made me wonder: When is a grudge worth nothing more than the pain it inflicts on its owner?

I'll never be able to adopt my brother's easy approach to things, but I've come to a place of forgiving faster and forgetting sometimes. I come to it only as a white-flag surrender, not as an act of strength. I can no longer grant grudges to everyone. I simply don't have the emotional capital. Only the real bastards can earn it. The rest can languish in the emotional dustbin.

Music: "Running"


Music: "Float On"

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Points of Contention: Copy Challenge.

Dispute 1

The Usage: The use of "troop" as a singular to describe a soldier.
The Correction: An editor let me know that he changed my headline because I referred to a single soldier as a troop. I was confused: Hadn't I seen this all over the place? I searched around. Well.... sort of. CNN, for example, had a headline that referred to "50 troops wounded." So wouldn't that mean troop is being applied to soldiers as individuals, and therefore is interchangeable with "soldier"? I appealed to a former boss of mine whose opinion I trusted (subject line: Help me Obi Wan).
The verdict: He replied, "Troops is a plural term, never singular. The derivation is from World War I (or earlier) and Troupers, which became Troopers, with the plural shortened to troops. But we don’t use Trooper as a singular anymore. Soldier is always better (unless it’s a Marine, which gets capitalized)." I was wrong.

Dispute No. 2
The Usage: Geico, in reference to the insurance company.
The Correction: "Isn't GEICO all caps?" I said during a review. "I don't think so," the writer said. "I think it is," I said. "I can check, but I'm pretty sure it isn't," she said.
The verdict: GEICO technically stands for the Government Employees Insurance Company. It's an acronym and the company uses all caps for it all over their Web site. I was right. (Pretty small victory compared to the gaffe above.)

Also, Uncomfortable Moments is 4 years old this weekend. It's hard to believe that the first post went up that recently. It feels like longer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Everlasting Cringe.

This Uncomfortable Moment began at 1:48 p.m. EST today. I have uncontrollably relived it in the hours since, and will continue to do so. I submit it here for a) your enjoyment and b) my expiation.

On my team at work, a lot of links to stories get sent around as pitches for things we might want to feature. Today someone sent around a link to a story about a company that offers "birthday boot camps" for kids.

The article featured a picture of a little girl straining to do a push-up in the sun. It also mentioned sweating and jumping jacks. For a birthday party.

I don't usually chime in on stories, but this one amused me and I decided to send around my snarky take on it. We have about 16 people on the team in total, and being relatively new, I haven't really gotten to chat with anyone or joke around very much. I miss having that and was in a good mood, so I replied to all:

"As a kid, would you be psyched to be invited to this party? To me it sounds about as fun as an All-Vegetable Theme Party or a Litter Clean-Up Bash."

I was pretty pleased with myself. Pathetic as it may be, I have secured most of my friendships (and possibly most of my employment) in life by making people laugh. Particularly in a work setting, I can be withdrawn and awkward. Amusing people is a wildly effective way to compensate for this. I discovered that in elementary school, when a little thing like creating an ironic, Barbie-like mermaid character named Sandy Seaweed deflected attention from the fact that I liked to wear plaid skirts with tights when other kids were into Gloria Vanderbilt and Polo.

Two minutes after that e-mail, my world came crashing down.

Coworker reply: not that you had any way of knowing this but the woman in the piece is [sender's name redacted]'s wife, hahaha

It seems that most people on the e-mail knew this fact, except for me, which led to awkward silence all around. Offices present a unique opportunity for discomfort, with everyone in cubes communicating online. Never has so much been said while remaining unspoken. When something disrupts the fabric of the atmosphere, you can sense it: people type at a different rate, there's more giggling, the air is tenser.

I sat there red-faced and nauseous and alone, having caused one of these electrical storms with my unintentionally blatant and rude diss of a coworker's family business. Thus commenced my Hugh Grant apology tour. I wrote to the offended party directly, and then I wrote to everyone, and then I flagellated myself in an in-person meeting.

I mean honestly, what do I know? Now that I think about it, my brother got push-up handles for Christmas and my sister's kids were thrilled to drop and give him 20. Maybe kids across the country are clamoring for a Biggest Loser experience. What do I know?

Watch how people react if and when you ever make a faux pas as dumb as mine. Two people were brave enough to (gently) let me know that I had been a jackass. Two others were kind enough to let me know they sympathized. Otherwise, I was on my own.

When it comes to this particular disaster, I've done everything I can. I'm pretty sure at least one coworker now thoroughly disdains me because of this. Some insults you can't joke your way out of.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Vanity Plates.

Every morning I drive to a corporate campus in Virginia and am struck by how many vanity license plates I see in the parking garage on my walk into the office. Is it Virginia, or my company?

It takes a certain amount of wherewithal to get a vanity plate. I don't know about you, but every time I'm at the DMV, I'm just trying to get shit done. I haven't thought about what my license plate is going to look like. Then I see these plates and I'm like damnit, why don't I have a vanity plate? To me, they fall into the same category as tattoos: I'm a bit skeptical, but secretly, I wish I could be that oriented toward defining myself, that creative and self-aggrandizing with my time. Whoops, okay, I have a personal blog. I am that oriented toward defining myself, that creative and self-aggrandizing with my time.

Here are some plates that have struck me lately:

OMG WTF: Best license plate of all time.
21 FRVR: Someone stole my plate, except it would be 14 FRVR
GUI GRL: Work nerd
FX GUY: Work nerd
4 OBS: I see this car every damn day and it haunts me. There is also a sticker on the car with four stick figures, so I assume it refers to the family. But what is OBS? Are they all gynecologists??

What would your vanity plate read?

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


"The way you get to know yourself is by the expressions on other people's faces, because that's the only thing that you can see, unless you carry a mirror about. But if you keep saying 'I' and they're saying 'I,' you don't get much out of it. They're not really into you, or we, or they; they're into I. That makes conversation slow."

- Gil Scott-Heron

I can hardly bear to look at the group when I speak every morning at work. It's a meeting involving anywhere from 15-20 people, and we all talk about the stories we want to feature. When my turn to talk comes, looking around only exacerbates the shaking in my voice, the redness in my face and the awkward transitions. Some days are worse than others. No days are easy.

There are reasons that I can sing in front of a group of people at a karaoke bar with alacrity, or sell an events company over the phone to a complete stranger, or talk quite forcefully and colorfully in other circumstances (work and personal), yet cannot do so in this particular meeting with this particular group. I leave those aside for now.

The main issue is that sometimes, time slows down, every word echoes, my perspective shifts outside my head, and self-consciousness nearly overwhelms me. It makes me think of a friend who struggled with a serious stutter for most of his life. He learned tricks for hiding the stutter, which made him able to tell when other people were hiding one too.

"If somebody had a stutter, even if they sound totally normal, I could tell," he said.

"Really?" I said, a little skeptical.

"Absolutely," he replied.

Then one day I was sitting in a meeting with someone my team had met with a few times. I'd heard him speak before and never noticed anything. But this particular day, as he was talking, I realized it: He was a stutterer! From that moment, I couldn't process anything he was actually saying. Only the sheer accomplishment of his perfectly easygoing speech -- the way his pauses and breaths flowed over the stutter -- stood out. I was transfixed, and hoped he couldn't tell how closely I was watching him.

So this is probably the genesis of my anxiety: I know what I pick up on when other people are talking, so I shudder to think what others notice when I am forced to subject myself to scrutiny. If I allow myself to break the frame, even for a second, and think of what is actually happening in that moment -- that people are evaluating me, however mildly, and that their faces mask thoughts no one could know -- a small breakdown begins and I may as well have a stutter (not that there's anything wrong with that; I find some stutters quite appealing) for the amount of strife that results.

"That happens to me all the time," said another person on the topic. This person speaks a ton in public, is extremely self-assured, and is the last person you would ever think turns red-faced in a meeting for no good reason. The "all the time" part of his admission was probably added for my benefit. Still, it was soothing to hear. Meetings just lend themselves to UncMos for all of us.

Gil Scott-Heron is all too correct in his comment above. This is why so many people prefer e-mail these days.

Music: Piano Concerto No. 3

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Points of Contention: Michael Jackson

Here at UncMo, we like to come up with new blogovations as much as we like to come up with thought-provoking, well-written posts, which is why this is only the second new recurring feature we've introduced in nearly four years, unless you count referring to oneself in the first-person plural.

Recently I was joking with someone that he should start a blog dedicated to his disagreements with another blogger. He was really going at it with this woman in the comments of her blog and feeling a little self-conscious about it. I suggested that instead of feeling bad about it, he should elevate it to the level of a whole new blog that would have a name alluding to how wrong she is.

Normally this type of idea would get left in the realm of the theoretical -- just an amusing notion. Most productive people would consider it a waste of time to publicly catalog one's petty disagreements. Not me! To me, this says, "I think we've got something here."

Therefore, here in "Points of Contention" I will chronicle various debates or disagreements as they come up.

Chances are you've had occasion to discuss Michael Jackson recently, in greater depth than you ever previously thought you would. If you didn't know before, you probably know now what camp you fall in regarding MJ: the "he was a child-molester" camp or the "he was crazy but innocent" camp.

The two best expressions of these differing viewpoints that I've seen are as follows:

"I don't give a fuck how good you can sing and dance. I got babies, you nasty motherfucker... Some of y'all lookin' at me like 'I can't believe you sayin' that. It's a setup.' Fuck a setup. Don't nobody say the same shit about you for 20 goddamn years, what the fuck is you talking about? If a motherfucker call you a crackhead for 20 years, bitch, you are smoking crack." -- Katt Williams

"I had started my investigation convinced that Jackson was guilty. By the end, I no longer believed that. I could not find a single shred of evidence suggesting that Jackson had molested a child. But I found significant evidence demonstrating that most, if not all, of his accusers lacked credibility and were motivated primarily by money." -- Ian Halperin

And there you have it: the MJ debate in a nutshell, excuse the pun.

Call me a sucker, but I am firmly in Ian Halperin's camp. He elaborates, "Jackson also deserved much of the blame, of course. Continuing to share a bed with children even after the suspicions surfaced bordered on criminal stupidity."

I believe that Jackson felt he was robbed of his childhood and tried to recapture it in his notorious sleepovers. I believe he was either conflicted about his sexuality, gay, or both. I do not believe he was a pedophile.

This is a bad position to be in around people who do believe the allegations. As far as they are concerned, Jackson was a nasty, sick person -- and who are you if you're defending such a person? I've gotten enough looks and dubious silences from others to wonder why I even bother making the argument. After all, I'm not a huge MJ fan. I like his music as much as anybody, but I never cared about him that much musically. As a person, I thought he seemed lost and crazy and sad and horrifically physically distorted. And I have to admit, Williams' riff gave me pause. Why defend him?

I don't have a particular need to be right in this case. I'm just saying what I really believe is true. In this case, since none of us were there, that's all we can do: speculate.

Please feel free to weigh in on this argument or share other debates you've been having lately.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


These ads have kind of worked on me lately. Well, I guess technically they haven't worked, because I haven't consumed any of these items. But I made a note of them for possible future consumption rather than ignoring the ad like I usually do.

1. McCafé. This campaign is everywhere -- TV, Internet banners, and print -- and it's making me strongly consider walking in to a MAC-Donald's and ordering a McCafé mocha. I don't know whether it's the boldly incongruous accent over the 'e,' the sassy cursive font, the relentless use of whipped cream in their promotions, or that I just want an excuse to walk into a McDonald's. Hell, I don't even entertain the notion of whipped cream on my beverages, as a rule. These ads are so skillfully rendered that they make me want the whipped cream, maybe more than the actual beverage.

2. Double Twist mascara. Two mascara wands -- one red and one black -- swirl together like a DNA molecule, suggesting that my eyelash genes may actually change if I use this product. Jessica Alba's lashes miraculously swell and elongate after she looks to the camera asking if another take is needed. It's just like what happens when I am on the set in front of my cameraman, by which I mean in my bathroom in front of my nicked rental-apartment mirror.

3. Nationwide. You know what, Jackie Walker, it's true. I do think that you insurance companies just take my money and then, when I have an accident, there's a problem. You say you have an accident-forgiveness policy? Thanks, Jackie. I do believe you are on my side.

4. Miami Social. I don't know what this is. I think it's on Bravo. But I saw an ad for it on the TV and any show named Miami Social sounds great to me.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Daily Feedback.

Every day when I open my work e-mail, there awaits a message entitled "Daily Feedback." The contents are pretty grim.

To be fair, the anger raging inside the Daily Feedback comes from a very small percentage of our customers, and much of it is not directed at my team. Still, it is a torrent of abuse that is disheartening to wade through. I have certainly felt this way about a company before and it makes me sad to think of people who have been moved to write us because they have THAT much hatred for what we do.

Here's a selective sampling from the best worst of the Daily Feedback.

what in the hell have you people done now?

you are getting worse every day

I think [you] are a terrible company.

Why is fabric so important to you?

Your service sucks more than ever

No matter what anyone else says you suck!

You have made things way more complicated than they need to be.

Turn your DOOM game off, put down your joysticks and get a clue.

Can't you people find normal things to print?

YOU PEOPLE ARE PATHETIC !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


This is awful

On the upside, we did get this positive feedback recently:


Saturday, June 06, 2009


My latest line of work is centered on trafficking in headlines. It is my job to be obsessed with them: to seek out the best ones, to write even better ones, to edit those written by others on my team, to track which ones get responses.

In school, putting a title on a paper was often the last, and most painful, task on any assignment for me. If I could have turned in title-free papers all day long, I would have been a very happy student. At my previous job, most radio reporters would turn in a script or text for the Web sans headline. More often they preferred, just as I would have in school, to hand over the text and let someone else figure out what to put at the top.

When asked in a job interview what I did in my other job, I used the word "copywriting." My interviewer shook his head. "Never say that," he said.

"What?" I said.

"Copywriting. It sounds like you're in advertising, not journalism."

"Well, we're advertising the news," I said, and gave a little half-smile. He was not amused. (Inexplicably, I got the job anyway.)

It's true, though. That's what a headline does: It advertises your story. A good headline will answer for the reader, in about 10 words or less, two questions: What is this story about, and why should I read it? Achieving that feat is harder than it might seem, which may be why headline-writing is an underappreciated and underdeveloped skill.

All headlines at my company are consumed online, and so the highest compliment that can be paid for one is the word "clicky." I never heard it before arriving at this job, but now I hear it every day: "That headline is clicky," or "I think it's clickier if you say..." or "That is NOT going to click."

Lately I've noticed some headlines that are not clicky, to me. Instead of making me want to click to find out more, they make me desire to know less about the topic at hand. What is the opposite of clicky? They are scrolly. They make me want to scroll away to other (presumably clickier) stories.

Lights, camera ... Poland
Johnny Depp Opens Up About Private Bahamian Getaway
The Coleman/Franken Show Drags On
Dave Matthews Band: Weighing Public Problems and Personal Pleasures
The Poop On Finding Penguins: Follow The Guano
Sleestak Became NBA Star

Of course, one person's scrolly may be another person's clicky. You may be excited to hear Depp "open up" about the understandably private topic of his Bahamian vacation spot. You may want to know about Dave Matthews' public problems or about a show that's dragging on. You may find the word "Poland" in the headline above to be a much better payoff than, say, "action" or "candy."

Which media outlet do you think has the best headlines?

(Headline credits, in order: CNN, Huffington Post, CBS News, New York Times, NPR, Yahoo)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

They Report, I Decide.

Tidbits from my ongoing conversation with the media:

How Are You Coping With the Recession?
Mostly the fetal position and denial, alternately.

What Does Your Credit-Card Company Know About You?
Let me guess: too much? What do they know about you? Let me know. You're a newspaper and I'm an English major with no graduate degree. We both need the credit, man.

Do Men Need Testosterone Supplements?
Only the wimpy ones. I kid. I kid!

Repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell?
Sounds good to me.

Does Jon Have a Date-Other-People Contract?
I don't know, does he? If so, I'll bet a lot of people will want his lawyer's number.

What Do Astronauts Do on Their Day Off?
Not sure, but I'd say they've earned a drink and a good wanking as much as the rest of us, if not more.

Why Are Doctors Such Luddites?
Everyone carries laptops around my doc's office. Where have you been seeking medical care, Ye Olde Hospytal?

Scenes, Sounds, Sonnets: The Next 400 Years?

Is Obama the 'Boss'?
Technically yes -- oh, I see you put that in quotation marks. Yeah, I can understand how you would confuse him with Springsteen, but no.

Are Spiritual Encounters All In Your Head?
Most things are.

Why Is Michael Phelps Tinkering With Success?
Because he's hungover?

(Headline credits, in order: New York Times, New York Times, MSNBC, CNN, ABC News, ABC News, CBS News, NPR, New York Times, NPR, Slate)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

One Night Stands: "Left Side Drive"

I always liked the actress Samantha Morton, not only for her performances in Jesus' Son and Sweet and Lowdown but also for introducing me to Boards of Canada via this interview.

It's not surprising that an actor would go for this band. It's music that could pop up in a lounge, but is much more cinematic than most other things in that genre tend to be. The first track I downloaded was "Dayvan Cowboy," a five-minute scene of lonesomeness and crashing cymbals that blows in and then blows out more quickly than you'd like it to, especially if you're listening to it while walking or driving in a particular mood.

Lately I've been absorbed in the clanging slog of "Left Side Drive," which feels like a good accompaniment to enduring something trying, and to coming out the other side.

If anybody else knows about BoC and has tracks to recommend, I'd love to hear.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Trolls (Or People Who Are Just Angry).

Recently, on this blog and on another blog I like, some derisive and unpleasant comments have popped up.

I don't frequent a lot of discussion boards or blogs, and so am a latecomer to the term troll.

Troll is a seductive word to throw around, because it automatically nullifies the speaker. There are contradictory viewpoints, and there are trolls; the former is to be considered, the latter to be dismissed. (In this case, I would say the shoe fits, but trolls don't typically wear shoes.)

When someone (anonymously no less) mocks, criticizes, or makes a personal attack on something I've written, here or elsewhere, my first reaction is shock and indignation. How could they? I am accustomed to friendly banter, at best, and silence or non-sequiturs (Pete) at worst on this blog and on Verbungle.

"You often seem surprised that there is a reaction [to your blog], or a negative reaction, and seem to really resent that such a thing at all could exist," the point was made to me by someone who knows quite a bit about reacting negatively to me.

It's a worthy point. If I'm going to put my petty, bourgeois, angsty thoughts out there for anyone to read, why shouldn't I expect (if not welcome) the consequences, whether good or bad? Why make something public, and then be surprised -- happily or unhappily -- when something unpredictable happens?

I'll admit I was sort of stunned when it turned out that not everyone considered my thoughts on men and singles events to be entertaining and actually cried foul. It did make me think twice about blanketing generalizations across a demographic, which is something that frankly, I can't promise I won't do again, because well, I still think it was kind of funny. But it opened up a discussion, which was one of the things I hope to but often fail to do on this blog.

If you take the time to post a thought -- a real thought, as opposed to blind slander or angry mockery -- to this blog, I owe you a debt. If, on the other hand, a you want to spew anger, I can only turn to resignation or pity, because you are never going to get the kind of return on your energy that you need.

Music: "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm"

Friday, April 10, 2009

Sunny and Rainbow.

It's spring, which means it's time to post my favorite springtime photo ever, taken several years ago in New York.
Be sure also to check out the close-up of these defeated Easter treats. It looks like they, too, suffer from allergies. Original posting here.

Music: "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Feel-Good Friday Film.

Came in on Synecdoche, New York as it was in progress. It's exemplary as a cinematic, two-hour uncomfortable moment. In the same evening, I received this e-mail. Please enjoy these uplifting passages from Charlie Kaufman's script, as you head into the weekend.

"Most of your time is spent being dead or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain, wasting years, for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right. And it never comes or it seems to but doesn't really. And so you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope for something good to come along."

"I've watched you forever, Caden, but you've never really looked at anyone other than yourself. So watch me. Watch my heart break. Watch me jump. Watch me learn that after death there's nothing. There's no more watching. There's no more following. No love. Say goodbye to Hazel for me. And say it to yourself, too. None of us has much time."

"What was once before you -- an exciting, mysterious future -- is now behind you. Lived; understood; disappointing. You realize you are not special. You have struggled into existence, and are now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone's experience. Every single one. The specifics hardly matter."

"I will be dying and so will you, and so will everyone here. That's what I want to explore. We're all hurtling towards death, yet here we are for the moment, alive. Each of us knowing we're going to die, each of us secretly believing we won't."

Music: "Little Person"

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

One Night Stands: 'Gotta Stay High'

Unless you are among the modest number of people who purchased and really listened to the album Maybe You've Been Brainwashed Too in 1998, then you probably only know one song by New Radicals, and that's the single "You Get What You Give," which, in itself, is not a huge incentive to hear more.

Frontman Gregg Alexander has many talents, but naming a band is not one of them. Despite the exquisitely poor name of New Radicals, which sounds like it was named by a corporation, their one album is one of my favorites and for some reason "Gotta Stay High" has been in my head for the last three days (no, I don't do drugs).

Aside from being the lead singer, Alexander wrote and produced all of the tracks on MYBBT, then virtually disappeared. One of my favorite band tidbits is that the lineup features Danielle Brisebois of All in the Family. It's Brisebois who says, "Make my nipples hard, let's go" on my favorite track, "Mother We Just Can't Get Enough," though unfortunately it is cut out of most versions on YouTube. Check out Brisebois' bio: She has been sampled by Jay-Z and has written hits for Natasha Bedingfield. Way to skirt the child-star curse, Danielle!

It is sad to me that Alexander isn't very visible anymore. I really liked his style, both vocally and musically. In places on MYBBT, he channels Mick Jagger.

I was wondering what it is about this album that makes it, to me, a better pop experience than most. It must be the fact that it's Alexander's project (as opposed to a team of producers'). His energy in it is palpable. It's kind of earnest, in a very non-radical way.

Music: "Gotta Stay High"

P.S. Apologies for the thoroughly uninspired and unclever nature of this post. I forgot how working full-time can really take it out of you.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sunshine on a Cloudy Day.

It's not perfect. It's a little chaotic sometimes, a little warped. There are fights, carping, yelling, bitching. There is dysfunction, past and present. There is unnecessary showboating. Injuries, both external and internal, do occur.

Still: I'm really f-ing glad to be back home.

Some things are missing here: a quorum of available friends, a cadre of specific friends I already dearly miss, decent produce, a good karaoke place, and for now, living quarters I can call my own.

Some things are also gloriously present: persons whom I love desperately; a return to my previous job (at least temporarily), where I have friends and colleagues I respect; WHUR; frosting; the promise of cherry blossoms; the feeling of home.

My friend's son, who is 5 years old, made the cookie at left for me. I was asked whether I would like the cookie "burnt, or unburnt." I chose "unburnt" and here is the lovely result. In case you cannot distinguish, the cookie is meant to be shaped like a doughnut, but with a smiley face attached to it.

A doughnut with a smiley face: It takes certain 5-year-olds to express certain emotions in exactly the right way.

Friday, March 20, 2009

An Interesting Post.

Lately I've been looking at The New Yorker's offerings online. The New Yorker is the only substantive thing I read lately, unless I get adventurous and pick up a book. Otherwise it's a steady media diet of Entertainment Weekly (which, don't get me wrong, I adore), food magazines and e-mail.

The New Yorker site features a surprising number of blogs, one of them titled Interesting Times. The description is: "Semi-regular thoughts on foreign affairs, politics, and books, from George Packer."

Seriously? This struck me as possibly the worst blog title ever. Why not something more evocative, such as Wow, What a World or Here's What I'm Thinking or What's the Deal with That? I mean, who would title their blog with just a garden-variety adjective followed by a temporal noun? Oops...

Some time ago, I encountered the observation (don't remember where) that when a person responds, "That's interesting" to someone when he or she is talking, that is a blaring sign that the listener is really fucking bored. In this context, "stultifying" may be substituted for "interesting," and Packer's blog may as well be titled Whatever, I Just Don't Care. (However, it's worth noting that when faced with a list of blogs with which I'm completely unfamiliar, one of the few I clicked was Interesting Times. Now what does that say about me?)

Ever since I heard that comment, if someone says "that's interesting" when I am talking, my first instinct is to apologize, to pack up my conversary and hit the road. My banter has been labeled "interesting," the conversational equivalent of being voted off the island. What could be more damning?

However. In my case, when I am listening and I say something is interesting, about 50 percent of the time, I actually mean it -- it's just that I simply have nothing else to say. So, if someone is telling me about, say, the intricacies of a boxing match while I am watching it, I may actually find that interesting, but am unable to offer more than my approval for hearing about it, and maybe another question. I'm not going to be able to say something like, "Yeah, I remember when I was in the ring, that was totally true," or, "Exactly. Remember that classic match in 1994?"

Often, when I find myself using the word "interesting," it's not because the other person is boring. It's because I am boring and have nothing else to say. This sometimes makes me think about trying synonyms, as if using a different word would make me sound any less like a) I am insulting you or b) I have a tea bag for a brain. What if I broke out fascinating, absorbing, intriguing, or some other word? I'd sound more like Barbara Walters, for one thing, but would it break me out of the ennui of "interesting"?

How often do you use the word, and what would happen if you tried to stop using it for one week? Now wouldn't that be... enthralling?

Music: "Another Day"

Thursday, March 05, 2009

One Night Stands: "Waltz"

Thank you to Kristie and Jackson for introducing me to, another venue through which I can attempt to impose my musical tastes on other people. So far, I have a grand total of one follower. Bless you, 2Serenity! If anyone else happens to be using and wants to join the crowd, my handle is UncMo.

If you like piano-heavy music, and I think you know I do, then by all means take a moment to contemplate Ikuko Harada. Unfortunately, it is very hard to actually listen to Ikuko Harada, because her music doesn't seem to ever be released in the States (and she is not on

Radio host Chris Douridas chose the Japanese singer-songwriter's Piano in a 2005 NPR roundup of most overlooked CDs, but somehow failed to mention that it was only available as a ridiculously priced import, and therefore quite overlookable. Music from Harada's band, Clammbon, also remains unreleased in the United States, judging by a search on Amazon.

I managed to get a digital copy of Piano and have gone back to it regularly over the last three years. "Waltz" is the only lyricless song on the album -- the other songs feature Harada as a vocalist, singing in Japanese -- and it is one of the most beautiful, happy-sad songs I have ever heard. Everything on Piano sounds very casual, but in a way that feels more serendipitous than sloppy. I love the whole thing. I also love the way Harada sings wordlessly over the music in "Waltz," and how playful, meditative and rhythmic the music is.

I will try to post direct links to this and other songs by Ikuko when I get past a technical glitch on my other site. In the meantime, here's the imeem link.

Music: "Waltz"

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I Got Nothin'.

The apartment I am leaving isn't much, but it does occasionally let you in on some secrets through the windows. If you wake up early enough, and look out the window enough at the relentlessly changing sky, you can catch glimpses of wonder such as that poorly captured here.

Does anyone look at sunshine streaming through clouds in this way and not think of God? This morning, it looked like mercy. I felt mercy for the fact that I was a near shut-in last week, paralyzed and overwhelmed with the sadness behind me and the transition in front of me. I felt mercy for being awake way too early, and way too far afield from the person I want to be. I felt mercy for being unemployed and yet not being the yoga-practicing, book-reading, gourmet cook I imagined I would be in this block of free time. I felt mercy for being silent and boring. I felt mercy for never giving my friends as much as they give me. I felt mercy for being alive.

And then it was gone.

Music: "Power Fantastic"

Monday, February 23, 2009

Patrol Pledge.

Not long ago, I made a reference to the "patrol pledge" among friends and got blank stares. "Weren't any of you guys safety patrols in school?" I said.

"No. What's a safety patrol?"

The more I tried to explain, the dorkier it sounded: Well, in grade school you could apply to be a patrol and if you got it, you wore an orange belt with a badge on it and would get off the school bus and wave kids across the street when they were boarding and exiting.

It was a desirable position. Really!

I mean, not just anyone could be a safety patrol. You had to have good grades and a flawless obedience record.

Okay, it was dorky.

But still, I was psyched to be a patrol in (I think) fifth grade. First, there was the belt, which to me connoted leadership and also was an additional accessory that needed to be cared for and folded properly. Second, you got to sit at the front of the bus at all times, which I liked to do because the view from the big front window was much better than from the sides, and also I liked Mrs. Kidd, the bus driver. Finally, it felt pretty official to be helping kids cross the street and, most importantly, reciting the Patrol Pledge:

I promise to do my best to:
·report for duty on time
·perform my duties faithfully
·strive to prevent accidents
·always set a good example
·obey my teachers and officers of the patrol
·report dangerous practices of students and
·strive to earn the respect of fellow students.

Between this and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, I was doing a lot of pledging on a regular basis in grade school. And you know what? I like the Patrol Pledge. I still think it's a good idea to report for duty on time, perform my duties faithfully, strive to prevent accidents, always set a good example and strive to earn the respect of my fellow humans. Not sure about obeying the authorities or snitching on dangerous behavior, but I'm sure in some cases that makes sense too.

Any fellow patrol alumni out there? Anyone?

Music: "Goody Two Shoes"

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Pass It On.

I put this page up approximately 10 years ago.

First of all, is anybody out there still weirded out when they can say things such as "I've known so-and-so for 20 years," or "Yeah, that was 10 years ago?" I mean, I feel like I was born 10 years ago. And then, the World Wide Web came along a few years after that. No?

Anyhow, Haruki Murakami is like this awesome vacation spot you found that eventually got overrun by tourists just like you. His novels and short stories are bizarre affairs marked by disappearing women, pensive men, impeccable clothing, jazz and whiskey. He has also written nonfiction, about the sarin gas attacks in Tokyo and about running. He is an author the way Christopher Walken is an actor: He inhabits different roles, but is always resolutely himself.

I was really getting into Murakami when I typed up his short story and put it on that page, which has languished on my other site, which additionally has languished on the vast Internets, in the decade since. But what's nice about the Web is that people can find just about anything. And everyone once in awhile, one of them will write to me. Here is the most recent note:

I am just writing to let you know that your painstaking transcription of Haruki Murakami was not in vain. I just read the story and it reminded me of stories my dad used to tell me. I started scanning the book to send it to him in email, but my scanner is very slow. So I decided to take a look around the internet to see if I could save some time. Anyway, I googled "The Second Bakery Attack" and your transcription came up. Thanks for doing that.

It's nice because most of the time, I am never the person who put up that thing you were looking for. That song, that movie clip, that image from the '80s, that commercial... I greedily consume it all and link to it all and rarely contribute. I leave it to the saints of YouTube and imeem. But in this one instance, I am helping out people who want to know and/or share what this author is about. Also, I am committing copyright infringement. But I hope the spirit of the former helps mitigate the latter.

Anyway, I recommend "The Second Bakery Attack" and anything else by Murakami. If you like what's on that page, get the collection from whence it came, The Elephant Vanishes.

Music: "Star Crossed Lovers"

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One-Night Stands: 'Sparring Partner'

Have you ever noticed how a visual can affect the way you process a song? Do you have songs that you like because you first heard them within the context of a music video, movie or TV show?

Do you ever wonder whether you would have liked the song if the imagery or scene hadn't led you into it? I mean really, think about "Take On Me" by A-ha and tell me you would still remember it today if it didn't have that video attached to it.

"Sparring Partner" serves as the backdrop for this scene in the disturbing French movie 5x2, which tells the story of a couple's breakdown in reverse order, starting with the divorce and ending with their first meeting. As you can tell from the scene, it is very, very French. There is a lot of smoking and people never being incredulous or shocked, even when a bunch of fucked-up shit happens.

This song, particularly within the context of the scene, is hypnotic and could not be a better choice. The singer, Paolo Conte, sounds like his vocal cords were dredged in gravel, whiskey, tobacco and severe disappointment for several years. The piano and the guitar snake around each other beautifully in the beginning. You know, like sparring partners.

I listened to it compulsively after watching the movie and still come back to it every once in awhile. To me, it captures what is seductive and also elusive about love. Then again, I am utterly clueless regarding the meaning of the Italian lyrics, which involve a monkey, memory, a secret, a smile, an elephant and some other words that came up on Babelfish.

It appears that the title of the song, however, has no convenient Italian translation. Conte finds the phrase "sparring partner" so necessary that he turns to English within the song. I almost prefer that the lyrics remain unknown to me. That said, if anyone out there knows Italian and cares to translate, that would be welcome.

Music: "Sparring Partner"

UPDATE: Thank you to commenters for the insights! Lyrics translated below, as listed in Phil Powrie's "The Haptic Moment: Sparring with Paolo Conte in Ozon's 5x2." First of all, I can't believe someone wrote a whole paper on this song as featured in the movie. My hat is off to Phil Powrie. Second of all, I just learned a tubular new word, one that dovetails nicely with the previous post: haptic. Finally, "Sparring Partner" may not be about the seductiveness and elusiveness of love, but rather about the seductiveness and elusiveness of lyrics translated from Italian.

A macaque without history,
She says about him,
As he lacks memory
At the bottom of his dark gloves
But his gaze is a veranda
Give it time and you will see him,
Entering the jungle
No, don't ever meet him

Did you look inside the game
Is this all? -- well, you know
I'm an old sparring partner
And I never saw
A calm more tiger-like
More secret than this,
Take the first bus, go,
Everything else is already poetry

He might be more than 40,
And that applause
Is due to him for love,
No, don't ever meet him
He was there in his smile
Looking at the trams go by
Old elephant track
Spread over the tarmac

Monday, February 09, 2009

Things That Should Not Happen in the Workplace.

In general, I am anti-touching when it comes to the office. No matter how friendly I have become with my boss, I still think that hugging him or her, even in a final goodbye, is a little weird. I realize this is extreme. There's nothing wrong with hugging someone goodbye. It's just that I would prefer that the universes of work and touching intersect as little as possible.

Someone recently told me that one of his coworkers tried to give him a pound before a meeting, one that he reluctantly returned, only because he wasn't sure what else to do.

First of all, I think it's hilarious when guys try to interact in a specifically guy way in an office setting. It drives me nuts when I see guys drop "man," "bud" or "bro" to each other at work, while refraining from using such expressions around women. So, for example, "Hey, Christina, when do you think that project will be finished? OK, thanks!" becomes, "Hey, man. How's it going? Cool, cool. When you do you think you'll have that project? Alright, thanks, dude."

Why do guys do this? After all, women don't walk around going, "Hey sistah, how's that report coming along?" or "Could you forward me that e-mail? Thanks, girlfriend." Maybe we should start!

Here is a list of things that I would prefer not to see in a work context:

- High-fives

- Fist-bumps

- Winking

- Patting someone on the head

- Hip-bumps

- Bumps of any kind

- Exceeding the capacity of any given seating, i.e. sharing a chair in a meeting

- Resting any part of your body on my chair as you are talking to me

- Coming any closer than eight inches away while leaning over me to look at something on my screen

That's all I can think of right now. Anything else?

Music: "I Have the Touch"

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Now Departing.

On March 12, 2006, I moved into San Francisco. On March 14, 2009, I will move out. I thought I may have been buying, but it turns out I was only renting, and now my lease on the city is up. Three years and three residences. One large failure and many small triumphs.

The decision to move here happened quickly and because of one person. Opting to leave behind a job, apartment, family, social life, and city that you love within weeks of an ex calling you up one day is crazy, isn't it? Yes, it's crazy -- but if it works out, you're also romantic and brave. If it doesn't work out, what else are you besides crazy?

People who take a harsher, more absolute view of life would say I screwed up. It was a mistake, pure and simple, and now I'm reaping the consequences -- maybe I'm not even reaping enough consequences. It was a very damaging, wasteful move for which I should be apologetic and regretful. Sometimes, I am the person holding this point of view.

Most of the time, though, I do not see it this way, for the simple fact that I cannot imagine my life without the people in it now -- people I met in San Francisco. I cannot imagine never having worked for a small cooking party company with purple and green walls and pop music in the background. I could not, at the time, imagine losing the person who brought me here. I guess it's a character flaw. Like George Bush, I prefer to put a positive spin on ruinous situations of my own making.

After I became single again, the question became not whether to move back East, but when. Many people asked me whether I wouldn't just stay in San Francisco. It has so much to recommend it, and I had built my own life here. Why leave?

My family lives in the D.C. area. It's true that I miss them and do not like spending money and vacation time on going back and forth to see them. But if I didn't have them there, would I still want to move back? Does it matter?

What connects you to a place?

Family is a big part of it, but it's also a "connection to the geography," as my friend Jackson put it. I know someone who grew up in Napa and says that the brown, dry hills of the Bay Area make him feel like he's home. To me, the trees and the air of the East Coast make me feel like I'm home.

I appreciate the rolling fog of San Francisco, the amazing, ever-changing light, the fact that skiing and wine country are both easily accessible, the produce so good you feel as if you never really tasted anything before, and the way the ocean seems massive and imposing on the beaches and cliffs here, as if it might swallow you. I appreciate all of that, but from a distance, as a visitor.

I am at home in trees with deciduous leaves, the hickory smell of fall, wide avenues and low buildings, Great Falls, snow in winter, seeing your breath in the air, cherry blossoms in spring, hay fever, heat waves, rooftop bars in Adams Morgan, sky-cracking thunderstorms, WHUR and the Quiet Storm, the residential streets of Northwest with quaint single-family homes built before the McMansion era, the Potomac River and the C&O canal, Georgetown, and beaches that are less impressive, but hot and familiar.

My social life and job prospects are likely to suffer a downgrade in quality, at least initially, in this transition. Every place, just like every relationship, involves making compromises and determining what you're willing to give up.

I tell people I'm going to come back and visit San Francisco regularly. I actually mean it, too.

Music: I'm trying to post YouTube links where possible because I know imeem forces a registration popup. If anyone knows of other good ways to link to songs, please share. Also please share your song selections in the theme of being home, or anything else you feel like airing, so long as it is not a proselytizing treatise.

"Going Home" (Rolling Stones)

"Coming Home" (SWV)

"Solsbury Hill" (Peter Gabriel)

"Home" (Zero 7)

"Hometown Glory" (Adele)

"Coming Home" (Cinderella)