Monday, December 27, 2010

How Was Your Holiday?

How was your holiday? And by holiday, I mean Christmas? I don't know about you, but I'm always a little startled these days when someone who doesn't know me at all wishes me a merry Christmas, or asks how my Christmas was. But at the same time, I kind of like it, because it seems so, well, rebellious. We all know that we are meant to say HOLIDAY as a way of avoiding insensitivity toward other faiths, which is fine, except that now I exclusively say holiday just as a reflex, which is kind of too bad.

Anyway, my Christmas was quite nice. Really no "buts" here. Last year, there were some "buts." My Christmas was nice, but my front tooth had broken, and it broke some more during Christmas dinner, so I had to get up in the middle of the meal and get some Super Glue to put it back on, in addition to which my sister was recovering from surgery and my boyfriend had been sick and had to get out to the suburbs in the snow in a ZipCar.

No such buts here. Everyone was healthy, present and accounted for. I felt very lucky for that.

There were a couple of moments, of course. Not buts. Maybe alsos.

My aunt defied the Thanksgiving pact stating that none of us would bring gifts for extended family this year. She brought gifts for everyone -- everyone except my boyfriend. My uncle saw his wife deliver my gift to me and said to her (as if the bf and I were not within earshot), "Did you get gifts for..." and yanked his head unsubtly toward my bf and my brother's girlfriend. My aunt looked flummoxed for a moment, then recovered with a cleverly worded reply. "Yes, I got gifts for all the kids!" she answered him triumphantly. There was no gift for my bf -- but then, he's not one of "the kids."

My gift was a lidded tea mug that looked ceramic, but claimed to have Thermos-like properties that kept the inner contents hot while keeping the outside cool to the touch. "I got it for you because I know how much you love to drink tea," my aunt enthused as though we'd talked about my beverage preferences at length, when in fact she has no way of knowing whether I drink tea. I mean sure, yes, I do drink tea. But how odd that she gave me this gift based on a pretense that could be entirely false, for all she knew! And we had agreed no gifts...

My dad had gotten my mom a set of wireless speakers to put around the house, because he'd noticed that she listens to music when he's not around. "I noticed that you always listen to music when I play golf," he said by way of explanation as she opened it.

"What? When you play golf? I don't listen to music when you play golf," she said in the unnecessarily offended way that only people who have been married 40-plus years can use with each other -- in the way that suggests there are years, RIVERS really, of transgressions buried here in this seemingly innocuous exchange that you as a bystander know nothing about.

"Yes you do, when I come back from golf, you're always playing music on your computer," my dad persisted. She finally got what he was saying, sort of.

"He was being thoughtful, mom," I said later.

"I just didn't understand what he meant! I thought he was saying that I play music when we go out golfing together, and I never do that!" she said. To be fair, my mom is a little too accustomed to my dad being -- well, not thoughtful.

When a gift-giver is truly thoughtful -- in other words, actually thinking about what you might want, instead of just giving a token prize, or worse, giving what s/he really wants -- it's a wonderful thing. But sometimes the gift-giver is thoughtful toward a version of you that does not exist; or existed 10 years ago but no longer does; or exists now, but has not been properly verified. And so we can't see the thoughtfulness, because we're staring at the petrified trees of old resentments and habits.

The tea mug, by the way, gets unmanageably hot within about a minute of being filled with boiling water, just like a regular mug would, except that this mug doesn't have a handle (because, you know, it has double insulation), which renders it nearly useless.

Still, my aunt had been so psyched about giving it to me. And it really was very thoughtful. So I will probably keep trying to use it, depending on how many burns my hands can withstand.

My dad is in charge of the stockings at Christmas. This year he included the customary Ban roll-on at the bottom of my stocking, which is an inexplicable family in-joke (and not related to anything regarding my personal hygiene), even though I now have more Ban than I'll ever be able to use. He also got me a copy of Rolling Stone, which I haven't read in about 10 years, but subscribed to from my teens through my 20s.

In previous years, he has given me investing magazines, even though I'd taken a 10-year hiatus from stocks and I never read investing magazines. He was remembering that time in the '90s when I was excited about stocks.

But what I love about these magazines is that (and this is going to sound pathetic, but I try always to remain true to the spirit of this blog) they tell me I am seen. I am seen in a kind of blurry, Coke-bottle way, but when it comes to my dad, I'll take it. Besides, I liked catching up with Rolling Stone. It was kind of like visiting an old friend who got too annoying to hang out with, but had some redeeming qualities you'd forgotten.

Basically, that's all anybody wants from a gift: The sense that the giver sees you.

Did your holiday come with any buts or alsos?

Friday, December 10, 2010

HuffPo and the Spectrum of American Life.

Not sure why it took so long for a news site to cobble together a divorce section, but editors at The Huffington Post have finally done so, and my hat is off to them.

The only thing that enthralls people more than a good love story is a good love implosion, which is why it makes perfect sense that, according to Ariana Huffington, many of the divorce section's readers are actually married.

So while most of the left column of HuffPo Divorce contains practical headlines designed to serve divorced readers ("Is Your Ex-Husband Your BFF?", "Lawyers Love to Hear You Talk"), the center column is dedicated mostly to stoking the schadenfreude associated with watching others' marriages dissolve (Eva, Reese, Courteney) and to studies that might give one the false but satisfying sense that being armed with more statistics can help in avoiding the same fate. (In case you were intrigued by that arresting "DON'T Marry Your Soul Mate" headline in the image above, I'll give you the short version: Don't marry your soul mate -- unless you are rich.)

But the best part about the debut of the divorce section is that it adds another facet to the picture of American life that emerges when you scan only the section touts on the HuffPo front page:


I think if you put the word LESS in front of the topics with asterisks, you'd have it about right.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

False Start.

Awhile back, I announced that I was starting a blog about D.C. life called States and Circles.

I wanted to write about things that I was wondering about, and for which I rarely get good answers: Where's the best place here to get a massage? Is there a pool nearby I can use? Who has the best bubble tea in Dupont Circle? How, for the love of God, can I escape the cupcake craze? (You know -- all the important stuff in life.)

I still want to write about those things, but now acknowledge that I'm never going to do it enough to warrant a separate URL. I started States and Circles while a) embroiled in one job b) looking for another job and c) thinking that I might want to be a local-coverage professional.

Now I am very happy to leave local coverage to the people who are actually good at it and start work that involves something else entirely. I am retiring the States and Circles blog and moving everything right here to UncMo under the tag "d.c. life," accessible at right.

To the .001 percent of you who care, I thank you for your patience and support.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Reformed Underachiever.

The tag attached to the over-the-knee socks I bought yesterday reads:

"Conveying a sophisticated sense of personal style, Passione is elegant, worldly and yet refreshingly relaxed. As at home with blue jeans and tennis shoes, as a black dress and pumps, Passione begs you to leave behind the 'I can't' mind set of the past, to live like never before. Open your heart to a love affair of possibility revealed in the romantic Italian inspired designs that are uniquely Passione."

I know now that you're seeing this knitted wonder, you're saying to yourself, Yes -- I want to date it.

Or perhaps you are saying to yourself that it's time to abandon proper usage of commas and hyphens, to go ahead and make mindset two words -- just like that! Because all of a sudden, you're feeling as though you can live as never before, except for that brief period in the 1980s.

To you, this item indeed evokes a love affair of possibility -- possibility that you can recapture your youth by donning the same type of footwear you would have worn in fifth grade; perhaps even the possibility (dare I utter it?) that we may have been right about leg warmers.

You find yourself opening your heart to the idea of paying $22 for socks, because they are called legwear, and because you have had such a hard time finding anything else remotely wearable in Bloomingdale's today. You're ready to put all those unromantic and emotionally stifling socks behind you. Who knows: Maybe you will even wear them with pumps. You might do anything now!

Well. That's what happened to me, anyway.

How I Feel at Most Museums.

From the guest book at the American Art Museum in D.C. My other favorite is just above it: "Post-apocalyptic, yet accessible for children."

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Slice of Life.

The flat-screen TV on the wall at Washington Radiology Associates is playing, of all things, back-to-back episodes of The Cosby Show. This, to me, is an unexpected and inspired programming decision on the part of WRA: Who, after all, could object to The Cosby Show? Everybody likes The Cosby Show, or they did, until the kids weren't cute anymore and the show got a little too smug for its own good.

In the episode playing, Sondra is informing her parents that she is abandoning her plans to go to law school so that she and her Ewok-like husband, Elvin, can start a business together. They move into a crummy flat and invite the very displeased Cliff and Clair over for dinner. This episode just happens to contain one of my favorite exchanges from the show. At one point during the visit, the front door slams and two frames fall off the wall. Cliff looks at the frames. "These are your degrees from Princeton," he says, looking at them in a detached way. "Yes," Elvin says. "They fell down," Cliff says. "Yes," Elvin says. "Rather symbolic, don't you think?" Cliff says, perfectly deadpan.

Up front at the desk, they are scanning films from my "baseline" mammogram a few years ago. When I was told recently to get my first "regular" mammogram, I realized I had absolutely no recollection of my baseline: what it was like, when exactly it was, where it was done, or where the records were. I had to call around and finally located them in San Francisco. The provider mailed me the films so they could be compared with my mammogram today. I never opened the films. I just handed them over to the receptionist.

The credits roll on the Sondra episode with that boppy, Bobby McFerrin version of the theme song, which I find myself remembering down to every last "doo." I can't focus on my magazine: The Cosby Show is too great a force. The older woman next to me has been chuckling aloud. It's sweet.

The next episode features the bizarre symphonic dance opening of season 5 and starts with Theo's departure for college. My name is called just as Cliff begins searching Theo's jacket for the check that Theo was supposed to have mailed to secure a dorm room. I look back distractedly toward that scene as I walk up to the assistant, as if I don't know exactly what will happen.

In the back, there are a bunch of curtained changing bays and a row of women sitting in gowns along the opposite wall, most of them seemingly older than I. It strikes me as a lot of women, though it's just five or six.

In the changing room, a fact sheet on mammography screenings notes that it is unclear why a medical panel recently recommended screenings every two years instead of annually, despite a study showing that this change would result in a 19 percent reduction of benefits for women. In pen, someone had drawn a line from this passage to the margin and written, "To save $."

I come out of the changing bay and nearly flash the row of everyone waiting, my gown already coming untied. No one notices. "All this, just because we have boobs," I think. I start thinking of insane or absurd things I could do to break the silence while we're all waiting: maybe suggest we start a wave? Flash everyone on purpose? It's so quiet that I don't even mind one woman talking on her cell phone, even though there's a sign prohibiting cell phone use.

In the mammogram room, an older lady asks me to take off my gown and hands me a protective apron to wear around my waist. She waits in front of me and I feel shy all of a sudden, fumbling for the ties on my gown, which is now stubbornly shut. "What is my problem," I think. "My pair is probably about the 500th this lady has seen all day." I drop the gown and she gets to work.

As you know if you have had a mammogram, the screening involves mashing the breast between two plates and taking an X-ray of it. By "mashing," I mean to say "manipulating this body part into a shape that hardly could be thought possible or desirable." By the time the radiologist jams what little I have in there, my boob looks like a pressed orchid petal -- or like a lab specimen, which it suddenly is.

This press n' snap occurs six times: three angles for each side. Slices. Hold still. Hold your breath. OK, relax. It hurts. It is awkward. And then it is over.

"Your doctor will get a report next week, and let you know if anything else is needed," the radiologist says. "They are still digitizing your baseline films, so you can wait for those and get them back, if you like."

I go back outside and sit down, forgetting to position myself in front of The Cosby Show, and then not caring when I realize I can't see it, because I need to stare at nothing for a minute.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, when she was 49. In general, I consider myself a pretty good daughter, but whenever I look back on this period, I feel ashamed of myself for how little attention I gave her. The shame increases, rather than lessens, as the years go by.

Her relatively modest treatment, and stellar recovery, had made it astonishingly easy to pretend nothing was wrong. She had a lumpectomy, from which she quickly recovered, and radiation treatments that she received on breaks at the hospital where she works. Her hair did not fall out. She looked the same. She complained very little, asked for very little. She had a scar, of course, but I couldn't see that.

I asked her how she was doing. I offered to do whatever I could. I told her I loved her, as I always did. There was nothing beyond that to do, it seemed, and I liked to think about it all as little as possible.

What there was to do, in retrospect, was to listen -- really listen -- to what she was going through. To ask how she was doing more. To ask how she was doing for longer. I failed in that. She would try to tell me sometimes, and I would listen, but not really encourage more or ask questions. I was too busy avoiding the terror associated with her being ill, and holding on to the idea that, because she was okay, nothing had changed.

The waiting room is crowded with women. I fight back the urge to cry -- kindergarten tears, as if I'd been pushed down on the playground. "What is your problem?" I ask myself again, and shut the tears out. "Nothing has happened to you. You are fine."

But why had it been so uncomfortable this time? Surely I went through the exact same thing for my baseline screening. Maybe it was easier to tolerate when I had the luxury of knowing I could forget about it for a few years. Now it was impossible to avoid the vise of regular mammograms; the vise of even the barest recognition of what my mom had been through, and what she continues to go through in the effort to watch for and ward off the cancer's return; the vise of a sisterhood I don't want.

Once outside with my films shoved in my purse, I well up again, and again scold myself. I have no business crying. There are people back in that room who either do or will have much more to worry about than I have at this moment, and this moment is all I have. My times to worry will come, but not today.

Today, the only things it makes sense to focus on are the cold, clear air, the fact that I'm okay (I think), the fact that my mom is okay, the blissful state of being between jobs, melted gruyere and caramelized onions on toast, Christmas lights and that weird Cosby intro. What were they thinking, anyway?

Music: "Don't Look Back"

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Underused Interjections and Adjectives.

At one of my previous workplaces, I used to sit at a station with three other people. We all sat with our monitors facing one center, so we could see and hear each other at all times. This was both maddening and endearing. You get to know a person's mannerisms very well when you're exposed to them day in and day out.

My coworkers could all be boiled down to one favorite utterance, so that if you were to do a DJ mix of the most frequent sounds heard at our work area, it would go like this:

M: "Jesus." [in a rushed, irritated whisper]
B: "Awwwwwww sheeit." [in a deep, Southern drawl]
T: "Unbelievable." [in a clipped, angry Midwestern voice]
Me: [silent, disdainful stare] ?

Here are some words and phrases I'd like to see thrown around more often:


Radical (as in, "awesome")

Good grief


Word (as in, "that's true")


I am dependent on:



Any others? What is your favorite utterance? Or your least favorite?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sixth-Grade Notes With My Barely Literate Friend.

I'm doing more transcribing these days than actual writing, thanks to my ongoing efforts to whittle down the trove of papers sitting at my parents' house, to which I have confined my hoarding habits.

I saved birthday cards, doodles, passed notes, Santa lists and anything else that was ever was written down in the history of my life, apparently. The following is an exchange I had with my friend Stefanie. I know that it is from sixth grade because that's the year that my coterie of friends all decided to shorten our names to make them cooler (so I became Chrissie and Stefanie became Stephie), and also because that was the year I renovated my handwriting to look more edgy (check out those super-stylin' 'a's and 'g's).
Dear Chrissie,
What did you put for number 6?
Love Stephie
PS. Write back!
PSS My address is the one next to you!

You blundering idiot! It is plainly B.
P.S. No!
P.S.S. What the !?*"" are you talking about?

Dear Christina Bruce Nuenez,
I'm very sorry you got so hiped up about everything. I was saying I'm sitting right near you.
Love always
PS. Don't write back.

You still can't spell my last name after 3 years? for your practice, it's N-U-N-E-Z. The word is hyped.

Dear Chrissssiiee (ronda)
I acept you apalogie.
Love always
Stephhiie (wonda)

What apology? And what is the word after chrisssieee?

Dear Chrissie
The apology you gave me. The word after chrissie is Ronda you bluntering idiot
Love always
PS. Don't write back

You're such an idiot! You still can't spell blundering and Rhonda. Also, do really think I'm not going to write back?

Dear Christina Bruce NUNEZ (Rhonda)
You shouldn't have written back because I told you not too. You BLUNDERING IDIOT.
Love always
Stephie (Wonda)

What am I, your slave? For today's homework, you will write W-A-N-D-A, and T-O.

If you wish to be my slave I have no objection at all
Is that good teacher?
Love always

I give up! I can't get you to spel anething riht! W-R-I-T-E

PS. You better practice those spelling words!
PSS. Don't write back pleaese!

Look who's talking! Besides, I did that on purpose -- P-L-E-A-S-E
I guess this is what passed for fun in sixth grade. I can't imagine getting this hopped up (sorry, hyped) these days without caffeine and/or alcohol (Four Loko?).

Many things were arbited via note-passing in school, when you think about it. In elementary school, that was pretty much exclusively the way anyone ever asked anyone out, (or "to go," in grade-school parlance). My friends and I came up with whole stories, riffs and characters that became recurring themes. Entire fights played out during class, on paper.

Some of these notes seem very emotional and urgent. From my friend Jill in junior high:
Chris -
I really am WORRIED about Beth. Now Terri doesn't want to go and either does Roy. What now? I wish Beth + Andy would come but she won't now that Roy said something you know her. I'm REALLY scared. She's depressed. She needs a shrink. No kidding. It would help her so much. We're talking Mass depression. She should just come w/ us. We'd have a terrific time. Usually, people can open up to me. Hell, in Elem. school my nick-name was psychiatrist. She just won't talk to me. OR anyone. SHRINK! HELP! W/B/S
I have absolutely zero recollection of what this was regarding. W/B/S meant Write Back Soon. Remember?

Jill and I began writing our notes on Kleenex, making mini-newspapers and calling them the Posh Puff Express. I saved some of these, too. Sample entry, again from Jill:
Quick Flash Report:
Mrs. [teacher's name redacted] is very queer. Discovery made in room 228 at approx. 1:47 p.m. Now -- back to the P.P. paper.
You get the idea. Real wiseacres. We were very amusing, witty and important, as all teenagers are.

Here's some drama from me:
I'm writing this to tell you my side of the story. I resent the fact that you thought everything Beth said was for me. I do not need Beth to speak for me and I told her so. I really liked you when I first met you and I thought we were friends. Obviously you are the kind of person who has just one main friend.
It goes on. Again, no recollection what this was all about. I guess I never had the guts to deliver that note or I wouldn't still be holding on to it.

But as I said, all of this was very important. Much more important than, you know, learning anything in school.

Our poor, poor teachers.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Could I Have Been Serious?

I recently found what must be the most low self-esteem letter to Santa ever written. I can't be sure of the date on this, but I must have been around 8 or 9 years old. The unbelievable fact that I was still entertaining the concept of Santa at this age is recounted (and yet not adequately explained) here.
Dear Santa,

Again this year I think I have failed to behave. I am very enthusiastic about Christmas. It was really very nice of you to give me presents last year. I don't think I deserved them. In case you have any second thoughts on my behavior, here's a list. Love Always, Christina Nunez

Here's what I would like for Christmas:

Star Wars action figures: Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, R2D2, Darth Vader.
Barbie Dream House
Furniture to Dream House
Smaller Homes and Gardens
New play make-up
A portable TV

Good luck on your job!
Merry Christmas!

This is either completely pathetic, or a stroke of manipulative genius.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Happy National Unfriend Day.

Spell check says I have a misspelling in my headline here. That's because unfriend is more recent and bizarre as an English word than we think.

Can it really be so new? Doesn't it seem like it's been around forever? Doesn't it seem as if you've had extraneous friends -- lingering at the fringes of your subconscious, cluttering your chi, and generally weighing you down -- for ages now?

All those ex-coworkers, friends of friends, extended relatives and high-school vestiges relentlessly pummel you with their thoughts and developments, daring you to unfriend, and now Jimmy Kimmel is offering you the perfect excuse to cut them loose.

We didn't adequately consider the question of who is worthy of 'friend'ship, so now we're in the position of considering the resulting question: Who deserves to be unfriended? You probably already know.

These are the people you friended on a "what the hey" kind of day. You were feeling fine about it, and now you see their status updates and wonder what possessed you to accept that request. These are the people that you truly, madly, deeply do not care about. The people you forgot you friended -- or even knew.

I think it's ok to have some baseball-card friends. These are the friends to whom you have virtually no other connection other than Facebook and your shared past. But you really love that these people existed in your life, and you want to keep them in your collection. They get to stay.

Anyone who ever screwed you over in real life has to go. Anyone who actively annoys you with his or her status updates has to go. Anyone who never does anything on Facebook at all (except for my dad) has to go.

Maybe you are unfriending me right now.

Will you celebrate NUD?

Monday, November 08, 2010

One Night Stand: 'Burning Down the House'

Six Feet Under on DVD tonight tipped me to the fact that Bonnie Raitt covered "Burning Down the House."

Now, I love Bonnie Raitt. And the choice of this cover, which is a "Something to Talk About" sort of deal imposed on a multigenerational party scene, makes sense. But it only served to remind me that you do not fuck with the original.

I was not really into New Wave or whatever you would have called this in the '80s.

It was 1983, I was fully into Prince. But you could not deny the awesome weirdness of this song. My parents, who were in their 30s at the time and were still the barometer of cool to me, grooved to this. We may not have identified with it directly, but we knew that it was cool.

The thumping drums on the long outro are a tip-off. It's your sign that the '80s are leaving without you.

Music: "Burning Down the House"

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Pen Pal.

At age 13, I went on a cruise with my family to Bermuda and met another girl on the cruise. We hung out for one completely unremarkable day. But after that, we wrote each other letters for more than two years.

Not so long ago, I'd tried to look up my old pen pal, to see what she was up to. I could never find any results for her name, which seemed odd. Had she disappeared? I remembered that she'd always moved around a lot. Was she OK?

Then I found the letters and noticed her last name -- I'd been two letters off in my memory of it. So there she was on Facebook! A junior high school teacher in Florida, the last place she'd moved in our letters. She looked great. "Wow! Of course I remember!" she responded when I wrote her. "I can't imagine, though, what our letters were about...I have no idea where mine are."

Exactly. What were are letters about? They sat bundled up on my coffee table, mostly hers, but a couple of mine that I'd either copied out or never sent. I held off rereading them for a little while. Maybe they contained great forgotten undercurrents of emotion, our miniature dramas, our deepest sentiments and fears.

Or ... maybe they were boring.

I finally read them all. They were boring. Most of the time.

We talked about our grades in school, when we had written each other last, what music and movies we liked (Prince for me, Bryan Adams for her), what boys we liked. Pretty standard stuff.

L. and I didn't have a particularly special bond, and our meeting was even briefer than I'd thought. As I remembered it, we were friends for the whole weeklong cruise, though I couldn't conjure up a single aspect of our time together. As it turns out, we only met on the last day: "Today we just hung around on the ship," I wrote in my diary. "I met a girl named L. We hung around together."

Still, this completely lackluster encounter happened to occur between two girls who had a vested interest in writing letters. So we wrote, sometimes every month, sometimes every three, from that June in 1984 through the end of 1986. We wrote with seemingly no purpose beyond keeping up the correspondence, as banal as it was.

But in 1986, L.'s letters became interesting by leaps and bounds over the previous years. Early that year, she wrote:
Well yes, I have a Florida Love -- his name is Mike he is a junior, we go to the same school and he drives a Camaro -- what more can a girl ask for --

A guy with his own car? The only guy with his own car that I knew at the time was my dad.

L. always had a new guy, or five, in her letters. A few months later, she wrote:
How is your love life? Mine sucks. I've been used so much this year. I'm in love, I just wish he liked me, his name is Eric [last name redacted], he is the perfect guy. Blonde hair, blue eyes, good height, great body, sweet, everything. I mean, he is really fine. Except he hurt my feelings, the jerk used me. Well I didn't mind.
How was my love life? Imaginary. Confined to the realm of Prince songs, movies and boys in school that I thought were cute but never did anything with or even talked to, really. This passage from me pretty much sums it up:
My next door neighbor (in ninth grade) had over a friend named Sam. He seemed really nice at first, but then I found out that he thinks I'm a chill just because I didn't do anything with him when I first met him. Isn't that lowly?
To be fair, I think this letter was written in 1985, when I was younger. But my 1986 was pretty much the same.

Meanwhile, L. was really ramping things up during her 1986 summer, which was spent in Santa Cruz, Calif.:
This has been an interesting week. My sister and I have had nothing better to do all week so we have been going to the boardwalk. The first night I went, I met the best people. This one guy Kym [Kyron?], who is just a friend, then Jeff, he is 22 and won't leave me alone, and last my favorite Charles! He was sooo cute. He is 18, nice, has a great job, but there is one problem he has been thrown in jail! I was so upset when I got the news. Then there is Don. I don't think you remember, but I talked about him last year. Well he is visiting my next door neighbor again. I am so in love with him, but he just doesn't see the picture. It makes me sick. I mean I really drool over him. He is so stupid. When I was over there tonight, we asked him what he wanted to do. He said he had to take a shower, so of course I said, Good, I'll take one with you! He said sure, but he was only joking, I wasn't, but like I said he is stupid. I am so in love with him! Enough about Don, I shouldn't be thinking about him.

Guess what!?! I have a blind date on Monday! I can't wait! It's going to be so cool. One of my older friends set it up. Except, I cheated. I found a picture of him! He is pretty cute. I hope it's fun.
18-year-olds, jail, blind dates -- this was all stuff that happened in movies, as far as I was concerned. I mean, we were still in ninth grade. At the same time, I knew I was behind when it came to boys, even by pedestrian standards.

Another one from me:
I haven't had a boyfriend in so long it's really sad but then if you take a look at the guys in our school that's pretty sad too.
It's hard to tell what I meant by "in so long," because I had never actually had a boyfriend, unless you counted the boy that I "went steady" with in sixth grade (a relationship that consisted of several passed notes, one slow dance and a lovely keychain he made me), which I probably was.

But I love that two girls with pretty much zero in common except for one day on a cruise ship managed to keep up a conversation for as long as we did. Toward the end of our correspondence, L. wrote: "You know -- this is really incredible -- that we are still writing each other, that's pretty good! It's been a few years now." I agree, L.

Music: "Hey Mickey"

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Emotional Rescue.

grumpy adj \ˈgrəm-pē\
: moodily cross : surly

I know someone who admits he is a grumpy person. However, he is quick to point out that he's not an angry person. "Angry and grumpy are different," he maintains. I think this is true. An angry person will let life eat away at him from the inside, will let the anger permeate his entire being. Anger is a river, ebbing and flowing but ever-present.

Grumps, on the other hand, simply don't like the way things are going right now. They don't approve of that stupid shirt, your annoying way of up-speaking, your lackluster service, your loud celebration or your obtrusive position in the subway car. They are going to let themselves get good and bothered about it, and they are going to make their feelings known. But grumpiness is a storm cloud, one that forms when a highly developed notion of what should be meets a highly developed awareness of what is, and then passes on.

The same qualities that contribute to this person's grumpiness also make him good at telling people (including me) to hold tight, stay the course, look at the big picture, not get worked up over silly stuff, and, as he calls it, CTFO (chill the fuck out). In general, the grump is an expert at forbearing, being sensible, and appreciating the things in life that do not suck, because those things are so very rare.

"Poor you, you have to calm people down a lot," I say one day. "It's like the emotional equivalent of rock-paper-scissors. Grumpy trumps jumpy." Hm, yes. I am onto something.

I, for instance, am jumpy (more precisely, neurotic). But I also find that people confide in me a lot, maybe because they know that no matter what they're freaking out about, I have probably already freaked out about that same thing and can offer some insights (or at least empathy).

And maybe you are that sensitive one, that one who errs a bit to the side of being open, aiming to please too much. We'll call you chatty. Chatty neutralizes grumpy, which becomes either placated or simply stunned and confused when faced with a wall of input.

So there you have it: grumpy (rock) trumps jumpy (scissors) trumps chatty (paper). What other flaws of ours can be turned into secret, singular weapons?

P.S. I am also grumpy and overly eager to please, so I guess I always trump myself.

Music: "Doncha Bother Me"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kicking the Chicken.

The evening lines at the P Street Whole Foods never stop, even when it's 9 or 9:30 p.m. Despite the recent installation of a long row of compact express registers, the store is unable to keep up with the hordes of yuppies, bougies and everyone else (ouppies? older uncompromising professionals?) who have no place else to go for their organic produce, coco water and gourmet prepared food.

It's fine. After people come to grips with the fact that the line starts at the back of the store (a realization usually punctuated with a "Wow"), they fall in and get on their phones, or stare off into grocery space.

The line moves fast enough to prevent any complaints. Everyone looks tired from the day. It's 9 p.m. on a weeknight. Trying to get dinner and get home.

On one such night, a thirtysomething dude, face and eyes red with drink, got into line behind me with his boyfriend. They talked about how long the line was. The boyfriend went off to get something. Then drinky asked me a favor. "Excuse me, would you mind taking my basket? I just need to get some potatoes." I looked down at his basket, which was piled high with at least two huge roasted chickens and sundry items.

Here are my guidelines for acceptable grocery line favors: You hold only the place in line, not actual items; you hold the place in line for no more than a minute and a half; you hold it for a single shopper, not pairs or groups; and the wayward shopper must ask for your permission and thank you afterward.

"That looks pretty heavy," I said. I had my own heavy basket to carry.

"Really?" he said in a pleading tone. "You can't hold my place? All you have to do is kick my basket. Just kick it, and when I get back I'll go back behind you in line."

This was pretty brilliant. He successfully guilted me into moving his heavy, chickeny basket the entire length of the store while he spent about 5 minutes getting other things. A guy behind me said, "You really got the short end of the stick on this one!"

I pursed my lips. "Well, what else can you say," I answered, slightly embarrassed because I obviously hadn't wanted to help, but got suckered in anyway, and this guy had witnessed my fail.

Well, what else you can say is, no. But I didn't want to be bitchy -- or rather, I wanted to keep my bitchiness largely on the inside. As I kicked the chicken, which was so heavy that it required two kicks for each step ahead (one for each side of the basket), I thought about what else I could have said.

"I'd love to, but I have a leg injury that prevents me from nudging large quantities of poultry."

"I'm sorry, because I can tell that you need a designated driver, but I'm already maneuvering this basket right here."

"Que? Lo siento, pero no hablo ingles."

"I would prefer not to." (that's from The Power of a Positive No)

The guy finally got back, thanked me curtly (perhaps because I hadn't shown enough enthusiasm for my task), and took his place in line, conferring with his still-absent BF by cell phone on his location within the store. They had managed to do half of their shopping while I held their spot, and their chicken, in line.

I went to my zen place while the pair talked about trying to restrict their eating and spending habits, and about having just spent $162 at the bar.

Well, they got their speedy chicken and I got a blog post out of it. But still I wonder, what was the best way to turn this request down?

Music: "Can I Kick It"

Monday, October 18, 2010


I know what you're thinking.

Whoa, Christina, how did you manage to back your car into that mailbox? I mean, weren't you looking behind you when you backed up?

But I managed to pull this one off without even being in the car.

Top that, UncMo readers and drivers of the world!

There was an ever-so-slight creaking sound when I got out of the car after parking it on my parents' short, steep driveway on a recent weekend. I'd shut the door. I stared at the car. The car stared back at me. I'd set the emergency brake, right? Yes. What are you looking at? the car said. I'm fine.

A few minutes later, my mom opened the garage door as we were preparing to leave. I was chattering away, until I saw her jaw drop and followed her line of sight outside.

"What's going on there?" she said. Awareness slowly dawned. "Is that your CAR?"

"That's my car!!!" I confirmed.

It had decided to roll on down the driveway, across the street, and right into the neighbor's mailbox. I can write jovially about this now because nothing more serious than that happened. When I consider the possibilities, I shudder and thank God.

I HAD set the emergency brake, right? Yes, there it was in the upright position. But apparently if you don't really yank that thing up and put the car in gear (it was in neutral, but I swear I'd parked it that way before, and this car was in the hills of San Francisco for two years with zero incidents), my Miata will wander where it pleases.

I always joke that my ever-loving and patient mom would back me up if I committed murder. "Well honey, don't beat up on yourself," she'd say. "You've been so stressed lately and with your allergies, you've had a lot to deal with! Stabbing that person was a totally understandable reaction."

True to form, she sprang into action and righted the mailbox before I had a chance to collect myself. "Your emergency brake was on! I can't believe that! How did this happen?" she marvelled, snapping pictures to document that I had done no wrong.

With the mailbox back in place, albeit with a bit of damage to the surrounding grass, it was hard to tell anything had happened -- to the mailbox. My car, on the other hand, had a pretty good scrape running the width of the bumper.

Through all this, the neighbor had not materialized. With dread, I knocked on the door. No answer. There was nothing to do but leave a contrite note in the righted-but-listing mailbox.

The neighbor was spectacularly understanding and kind, which was all the remarkable for the fact that this was not the first time her home had been assaulted. Apparently someone else had managed to plow a car through her garage door a few years ago, so this looked like small potatoes to her. Was I okay, she wanted to know? Was my car okay?

"Don't worry about the mailbox," she said. "We'll replace it whenever we decide to replace it."

I breathed another thanks to the higher powers and later drove home in my mischievous little car, which hummed along as if nothing had happened.

P.S. I have since received pointers on curbing my wheels. I am well aware of how to curb my wheels, thanks to my time in San Francisco. This strategy works when you are next to a curb, as opposed to on a driveway. But thanks for the thoughts.

Music: "Motorcrash"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Do I Even Know Myself?

When I'm in New York, I like to stop by Le Pain Quotidien and get their parfait of fruit, yogurt and granola for breakfast. Making myself ill on a fruit parfait is sort of a New York tradition for me, like strolling in Central Park or buying dusty things at establishments that put the "front" in storefront.

Le Pain Quotidien's parfait is either $5.71 or nearly $8.00. The cashier decides for you. The likelihood that it will be $8.00 increases when they have run out of pre-made ones and need to order from the kitchen. It's been explained to me that there are two sizes, but I'm never able to verify a difference between the two.

If I still lived in New York, I would be very aggressive about making sure I get the right size and price. Now that I'm a visitor, my attitude is, what the hell, I'm in New York, and it's a given that I'm going to hemorrhage money. Why not make it $9.00?

Last week the counter staff was so busy getting every other person's order wrong that they forgot to pick up my parfait (did you know that's French for perfect?) from the kitchen. I politely asked after my order and it was apologetically brought to the front. This I liked: The cashier asked if I would like a free pastry for my trouble.

It was an unexpected gesture, because I was not mad about the delay. I was in Le Pain Quotidien and had been conditioned to fully expect the delay.

Yes, I said, I would love a free pastry. We were too far from the pastry area for me to peruse the options. "How about a pumpkin muffin?" she said.

"Ehhhmmm... I'm not really a muffin person." I felt kind of douchey saying this, because she was offering me something free that I hadn't expected, but I may as well be honest, right? Historically, I have not found muffins to be remotely compelling. You might as well give me a free rock.

"How about a chocolate croissant?" I didn't really want that either, but even I know when to move on, so I took it. It was pretty unremarkable, and I threw half of it away, but it was free, and so that made it pretty enjoyable.

Well here's the kicker: Ever since that day last week, I've wanted a damn muffin. Not a pumpkin one, to be sure, but some kind of muffin experience. It's just sort of lingering there in the back of my mind. Like, perhaps I've been unfair to the muffin. Maybe it deserves another shot, you know?

I'll probably get one tomorrow. But it will be at the work cafeteria, not some bougie place, and I will be paying for it. It's likely to be unsatisfying. But there's nothing to be done about that. The muffin is now my destiny.

Music: "Constant Craving"

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Three Books That Are Simultaneously Sexy and Depressing.

1. A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter. A Yale dropout has a a love affair with a French girl, played out in French towns you've never heard of and imagined by a somewhat strange and definitely dirty narrator. The occasionally excessive prose is balanced by devastatingly real moments, sure dialogue and a saturating atmosphere. Sample passage: "There are terrible moments in which one sees love with cold eyes. Her face is a shopgirl's, Dean can see it plainly, pretty but cheap. He is overwhelmed with impatience. He wants only to be gone from here."

2. Damage, Josephine Hart. The book is the basis for the awesomely melodramatic movie starring Jeremy Irons and Juliette Binoche. A man has an affair with his son's fiancee, with a spectacularly tragic outcome. Sample passage: "Guilt, guilt, its pious expression alone is in fact today's greatest absolution. Just say the guilt prayer, 'I feel guilty,' and hey presto, that's the punishment. So punished, and therefore cleansed, one can continue with the crime."

3. Ada or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, Vladimir Nabokov. You know Lolita is sexy in a very wrong way, but it's nothing compared to this incestuous epic. I don't have this tome with me, so I'll rely on this page for a sample passage: "What (Ada asks) are eyes anyway? Two holes in the mask of life. What (she asks) would they mean to a creature from another corpuscle or milk bubble whose organ of sight was (say) an internal parasite resembling the written word ‘deified’? What, indeed, would a pair of beautiful (human, lemurian, owlish) eyes mean to anybody if found lying on the seat of a taxi?"

What else?

Monday, October 11, 2010

A Lift.

Every once in awhile, a cabbie will shock me by actually getting out of the car immediately at the outset and ferrying my bag to the trunk, instead of a) popping the trunk so that I can hoist in my own luggage, but only after being asked a minimum of two times to open said trunk or b) watching me struggle to lug my bag into the backseat because it has taken too long for him to figure out that he's supposed to pop the trunk, even though we are at a train station.

Sadly, it's so rare for a cabbie to do anything serviceable (in D.C. and N.Y.C., at least) that even the most minimal of gestures seems like first-class service. Wow, you conferred with me on our route AND your cab does not smell like a dead person? You, sir, deserve a 30% tip today!

Today's cabbie stowed my bag promptly and had a largely odor-free cab, so I submitted to the blaring Arab talk radio quite happily, and tried not to get too bothered by the fact that the cabbie's ID was nowhere to be seen (I always assumed the ID is mandatory, though it is not on the NYC cab passengers' bill of rights, which I am just seeing for the first time and finding hilarious).

He muttered something about traffic. I told him I'd been informed that many Jets fans were in the area.

"So thees means a lot of drunken eediots?" he said. Ha, yes, I suppose so, I answered. So there was a game tonight? I figured so, but I don't watch football. Is it a finals game, I was asked? I repeated that I'm not a football fan, that I had been advised about the situation by someone else.

"Is strange thing about being human, that people get so excited about something that has no importance for their lives," the cabbie said. I nodded in agreement, because I have never gotten particularly involved in a sports game, and so I could share his lack of connection to all those people in Jets jerseys, if not his antipathy.

He talked about how people become blind to the things that need attention in their lives and how they become attached to a -- what was the phrase? A crowd... a crowd mentality. Yes.

"It's like with celebrities, people following celebrities ... Why do you want to die for somebody who is not interested in knowing who you are?" This hit slightly more close to home for me. I have taken a not-insignificant interest in celebrities, as a rule. And, viewed from the cabbie's seat, this seems quite pathetic. Since when did Prince or Angelina or George or Jude ever take an interest in what's going on with ME?

"It's a distraction," I say, stating the obvious from the backseat. "It's a distraction from people's problems." The cabbie understands, but doesn't necessarily approve. I momentarily reflect on all the things I'm probably not reflecting on because of my silly preoccupation which such things as the end of Ben Harper and Laura Dern's marriage, or what the hell happened to Josh Hartnett.

I almost wanted to scurry away in frivolous American shame by the end of the cab ride. But the cabbie wasn't trying to be adversarial. He was commiserating with a non-sports fan. Surely I, like him, was focused on What's Important. But I'm not, really.

He pulled into a bank of curb space near Madison Square Garden. "I'll let you off here, but it's no standing. How can we let off our passengers if they won't let us stop?" He smiled and shrugged as he put my bag down. I thanked him and wondered what it would be like to be so relentlessly sensible all the time.

Music: "Pop Life"

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

No B.S.

"When I wrote Kitchen Confidential my business model was, 'I Don’t Give a Shit,' and I'm trying very hard to keep that as my operating business model. I never, ever think, what will they like, what do they expect, what should I do next. The business model is to not be full of shit. That's about as much as I can hope for from myself, and to write something that’s entertaining to me and presumably to others like me -- that is, other cooks." -- Anthony Bourdain

How many people want to live this way, but do not? How many people can only afford to say they live this way after they've made it, but not when they're actually at a low point, an underdog, struggling to make it -- or just simply struggling not to disappear?

How many people have ever gotten so far by being frank as Anthony Bourdain has?

Some rare souls appear on the 2010 MacArthur "Genius" Grant recipient page. The videos are worth watching, if you're looking for life inspiration. Conversely, they're freaking depressing -- I have no hope, for example, of being this accomplished or looking this amazing at age 48 (an act of genius in and of itself). But I can choose to be heartened by these no-bullshit people who are being honored, in many cases, beautifully late in life.

Music: "Are You Experienced"

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

He Said, She Said.

I can't walk into a copy shop without thinking about this classic sketch from the Chappelle Show. Not fair, perhaps, but copy shops are like the DMV, the post office, economy flights and HMOs: You go in braced for the absolute worst.

It was very quiet at the FedEx Print & Ship tonight -- like the calm before a storm. One placid-looking guy was waiting behind a confused old lady at the register. All of us waited patiently while the lady talked her issues out with the cashier. No worries! Our short line advanced, and then... something happened.

I don't have any experience with retail registers, so I don't have much insight here, but it seems that the cashier rung placid guy's purchase on his coworker's number after she had already closed her register. A lot of discussion ensued. "Wait. How did it end up on my register? You entered the wrong number," said the coworker. Cashier guy seemed very confused and kept asking how to void the transaction.

There would be no voiding.

"Just give him his change. My register will be short, and yours will have a surplus. You'll have to ask Julia what to do." Cashier man did not like this answer. He immediately raised his eyebrows in a look that said "Oh no you didn't just refer me to JULIA" and gave a small, persecuted sigh.

"I don't know how this all becomes MY fault, Juan! You're the one who made a mistake," the woman said. It was escalating to open conflict, a state that always makes me retreat, despite the many years I lived in New York City. I immediately occupied myself with my phone while Placid Guy continued to wait impeccably for his change.

"Do you want to talk outside?" Juan asked his coworker in a conversational tone. "No I don't want to talk outside," she said. "This is ridiculous."

It was quiet again as Juan managed to deliver Placid Guy's change. My turn. "Hello, may I help you?" Juan said, as if nothing at all had happened. Oh but something had happened. I warily stated my business.

While Juan attended to my request, his coworker (let's just call her Juanita) was mouthing words to herself with a neutral expression on her face. I saw "not my fault" pass through her lips. At first, it was hard to tell who had the upper hand in this fight. Juan was bespectacled and obviously had a better sense of how to behave in front of customers; Juanita was on the defensive and attitudinal, but seemed more knowledgable.

Juan, meanwhile, screwed up my request, and then got slightly defensive about it. That was the last piece of evidence needed for this Judge Judy: The court finds Juan guilty of screwing up Juanita's register, and of being an ineffectual d.b. about it.

I guess my relationship with open conflict is love-hate, because now I was waiting and hoping for the brewing dispute to erupt in my presence. And it did.

"I'm not signing anything! YOU'RE the one who made the mistake." Now really free to let loose, Juanita was going OFF. Juan's murmured, calm replies only brought more heated denials from his adversary. "No. No. Juan. No. I DID close my register. I DID close my register." Juan, in turn, was getting quietly sassier. "Next time, you need to make sure you fully close your drawer when you end your shift."

I had to hand it to Juanita, even though she was being totally unprofessional. Juan's doltish obstinacy would have had me in tears by now, but she was unbowed. Meanwhile, this dispute wasn't worth more than $5, if I remember Placid Guy's purchase correctly.

"No, YOU'RE unacceptable," she was saying, as I left unnoticed. Another poor sap stood bewildered at the register, not knowing what he'd walked into.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Failed Candidacy.

Here's a draft of my speech from my run for treasurer in elementary school. I did not win. Pretty clear signs here that I was no Obama.

Hello. As you know, I am Christina Nunez and running for treasurer. Though I have had no previous experience in this job, I think I could do it, because I am an honest, good student who can take the responsibility of handling money. I am scarcely late or absent, and, if absent, I am responsible enough to make sure I have a replacement. So, when you mark your ballot, remember Christina Nunez for treasurer.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Windows on the World.

Normally Saturday mornings are reserved for catching up with magazines and my couch, so it's not as if I would have turned on the TV anyway, but I really wasn't going to turn it on this weekend.

Still, Sept. 11 found me. I picked up my New Yorker and there was the profile of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, conveying all his vainglorious, devastating awfulness. Outside, there was the blue, newly cool sky, almost (but not quite) as clear as it was on the day that acrid, dark smoke blew across it in such a way that I could never look at a vivid September day the same way again (is it possible to gain a sense memory of a very particular set of weather conditions?). There was my mom noting what I know but never manage to fully absorb: that Sept. 11 was always a marked day for her, because it is her beloved, departed father's birthday. And there was a matchbox I found while rummaging through stuff at my parents'.

The first time I went to New York, at age 13, was a surprise. We had gone on a cruise for a family vacation, and my dad notified us that we were staying an extra day in the city where we'd docked. For us Potomac kids, it was EXCITING. We ate dinner at Maxwell's Plum (I saved the psychedelic balloon that was tied to the back of my chair) and watched the rollerskaters and break-dancers in Central Park. That's about all I remember from the visit, and it was enough: I definitely wanted to live in New York City when I grew up.

For my 16th birthday, my parents generously offered to take me on a short trip somewhere. I chose, of course, New York. We stayed in a tiny, stuffy room, but I didn't care, because the room was at the Plaza. We rode in a hansom cab, visited Trump Tower and Tiffany (it was the '80s, OK?), had dinner at Tavern on the Green, saw a revival of 42nd Street on Broadway, and had drinks (non-alc for me, natch) at Windows on the World at the World Trade Center.

It was the best 16th birthday I could ask for. I saved the matchbox from Windows on the World, where it sat in a tin for years and didn't resurface until I happened to pull out a box of stuff yesterday.

In a different box, I found a journal from second grade, stapled together with a construction-paper cover. The third entry, on that paper with alternating dotted lines used to teach handwriting, was carefully lettered:

Monday, Sept. 11 1978
Today we
switched for
reading and math.
Some of us go
to Mrs.

In future entries, I'd noted the first day of fall, Yom Kippur, Friday the 13th, Election Day, Mickey Mouse's 50th birthday, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas. Made me wonder what schoolchildren today will write in their journals about Sept. 11.

Monday, September 06, 2010

J. Choclatier.

I've been pretty sour about the whole cupcake trend in D.C., because a) I'm inclined to disdain anything that's been relentlessly hyped and b) I honestly just don't really care that much about cupcakes.

But everywhere you go, and everywhere you click, it's cupcakes. Cupcake sales! Cupcake signs! Cupcake stories! Cupcake tweets! Cupcake shops! Hello Cupcake! Red Velvet Cupcake! And the mother of them all, Georgetown Cupcake!

The owners of Georgetown Cupcake have achieved something far more genius than any feat of baking: They have managed to get TLC to make a show about their shop. In the olden days, bakeries hoping to ignite a frenzy of publicity would strive for a mention on, say, Sex and the City. But now that absolutely every service industry can qualify as entertainment, making cupcakes now merits a whole show unto itself.

My annoyance at the cupcake trend is admittedly irrational. Had I ever even tried one of the famous cupcakes? No. Had I watched the show? No. And don't I love sweets? Yes. It seemed only fair to at least try the darn things, if only to cement my surly viewpoint on it all. So we set off for a walk from my Dupont Circle apartment, through the holiday weekend throngs in Georgetown, and up to the door of 3301 M St. to taste the hype firsthand. And we encountered this.

The line stretched up the block. We peered inside. Was it really cupcakes they were serving? Could it be crack, or $100 bills, instead? No, it looked like cupcakes. A woman sat dazed in front of the shop. She affirmed that she had made it through the line and procured her treat. Was it worth it? "It was OK, but nothing ... that ... great," she shrugged. Of course not. How could any cupcake be worth that long, sweaty line?

We turned away and crossed M St. I wasn't exactly crestfallen, having been partly afraid that I would try a cupcake and actually like one, thereby becoming just another who had succumbed. As we turned the corner, a chalkboard sign caught my eye, and I stopped. "Can we walk down here?" I requested. We made our way down a seemingly empty section of 33rd St., across from the crowds at Georgetown Cupcake.

I'm not necessarily a big gourmet chocolate person, either. A Heath bar or a Rolo will do me just fine, thank you very much. Yes, dark chocolate is very healthy. Flavonoids, percentage dark cacao... What were you saying, again?

But J. Chocolatier drew me in. Here's how:

1. Put up a sign right across from an overcrowded Georgetown Cupcake.
2. Write "fleur de sel and caramel" somewhere on the sign
3. Make the shop a little haven of delights

A little note in the window promised that this was a happy place. And so it was, but more in a luxe, museum-of-chocolate way than in an aggressively cheery, Willy Wonka way. Behind the counter, a modest selection of confections and baked goods waited under small domes at varying heights, little spaceships of pleasure hovering so close, yet so far behind all that glass.

The price of admission to these spaceships is not insignificant: Truffles are $2 each. But they deliver you the journey promised. As I mentioned, it was the mention of fleur-del-sel-spiked caramel -- not chocolate -- that brought me here. And the fleur del sel chocolates (center, below) were the perfect mixture of smooth chocolate, sweet caramel and crunchy salt.

A green tea variety (far left, above) was nice too, but without seeing the name and the matcha dusted on top, I'm not sure I would have known which flavor it was supposed to be. But one last selection made a serendipitous stop all the more so: one sign called out a basil flavor (far right, above), made with herbs from the chocolate maker's garden. Basil, you say? Come on now.

But yes. The sweet, bright basil creme leapt onto my tongue from its silky chocolate exterior. It was probably the most original and tasty chocolate I've ever had. Maybe that's because it challenged my expectations and then exceeded them, much like J. Chocolatier itself did with that sign across from the madness.

So much better than a cupcake.


J. Chocolatier
1039 33 St. NW (off M St.)
Truffles $2 each

Photography by sirmichael

Saturday, September 04, 2010

UncMo Hall of Fame: Jan Brewer.

I usually confine posts to my own uncomfortable moments, but this one from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is so transcendent that it has become the first inductee into my just-founded UncMo Hall of Fame.

As a Democrat, I should be happy to see a Republican eat it this badly on camera, but the moment is so painful to watch that I feel sorry for her. I couldn't even watch it again for the sake of writing this post.

I hesitate to bring up the big A, but that did come to mind. Whether it was a function of something neurological or simply a spectacularly bad slip-up, it's a moment that we call can look at on our worst days and say, "Hey, at least my mind didn't go completely, irrevocably blank for several seconds on camera during a key debate in my political career."

Sunday, August 29, 2010


The Whole Foods on P Street has a nice little outdoor cafe area, where you can take your very valuable healthy salad and sit for a spell. It was sunny today and a bit warm, but the tables were in shade and almost full with people relaxing and eating.

The vibe was pierced by a voice near the store's exit. "EXCUSE ME! EXCUSE ME!" A woman was calling after someone leaving the store at the same time as she, but I couldn't make out what came after that and no one really responded to her, so I turned back to my kale salad and magazine.

The woman continued to talk, lower now. I glanced back at her. She had a neat blond bob and looked to be in her 30s. She was dressed in a white tank top and black pants. I figured she was a high-strung yuppie who had a run-in with a rude person. I figured she was now relating this to a friend on her cell phone. Except I couldn't see a cell phone. Intent on not staring and also enjoying my meal, I turned away.

But it was so hard not to look. She wasn't talking on a cell phone. She was talking to herself. Then she burst out again.

"Excuse me! Excuse me!" She mentioned something about trash and seemed very upset by something that had happened. People just stared at her. She continued to stand by the exit, talking, and she was getting harder to ignore.

A woman who was studying at the table 2 o'clock from me mouthed, "She's crazy" with an amused look on her face to the woman sitting at my 9 o'clock. "I know," the 9 o'clock whispered, as the newly identified crazy woman continued to mutter to the left of us all.

She brought her cardboard carton of salad to a table at 10 o'clock. Some snippets I managed to make out:

"Someone in my life is disturbing me and I don't know who it is"

"Get your crotch out of my face"

"I don't mind being laughed at"

It was relatively quiet for a bit, but now there was no concentrating on my magazine. There was a tension in the air attached to the fact that there was a "crazy" person in our midst.

The anticipated outburst came after a couple of minutes, and it was directed at a man and woman standing about 10 feet away, just talking. "Excuse me. Excuse me! May I eat without you engaging in sexual activity in front of my face?" The couple gave no sign that they heard her, but she continued on about how she was being thwarted in her attempt to eat lunch because of people having sex in her face, even though there was nothing so much as PDA in her vicinity.

The situation had gone from being confusing to amusing to downright disturbing. In a city, you're bound to run into a certain amount of "crazy." It's par for the course, but it usually comes from expected sources: people who look like they are homeless, drug addicts, alcoholics, old or some combination of the above. This source was relatively young, decently dressed, very sober and so crisp in her insanity. It was voiced in such a plaintive, articulate, righteous, prissy tone that it was hard to discount right off the bat.

"Excuse me! Excuse me!" Her attention was now directed at a young man standing with a woman, at least 25 feet away. "Could you please stop pointing your erection at me? I'm trying to eat. You're really sick, you should see a psychologist. I'm trying to eat and I don't need to see your erection." The man just stared at her, half-smiling in disbelief. What was her disorder? Schizophrenia? How did she manage to make it day-to-day -- to earn enough to get her lunch at Whole Foods and buy decent clothes? How does someone not get destroyed by such an illness? Had she been abused, was that the reason for the fixation on sexuality? What meds was she supposed to be on? Wasn't there anyone looking after her?

I was torn between being so disturbed that I had to leave and being so enthralled that I had to stay. But before I could decide, she was gone in a flash, surprisingly quietly, off to reveal her torment to another segment of the city.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Country Song Titles for the Modern Age.

You Just Unlocked the Badge for My Heart

There's No App for Fightin'

My Inbox Is a Ghost Town (Since You Left)

Text Me When You're Sober

Go Check In (With Someone Who Gives a Damn)

Tears on My Profile

Lord, I Was Born to Google

Your Tweetin' Heart

Service Outage Blues

Facebook Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us

Can't Help It (If I'm Still on MySpace)

Any other ideas?

Music: "High-Tech Redneck"

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Massage: Body Co.

It's very easy to miss Body Co., which is marked only by an unimpressive sandwich-board sign outside an equally unimpressive office-building door on Connecticut Avenue, just south of Dupont Circle. I walked right by it -- and I had an appointment there.

I'd discovered Body Co. on Yelp while looking for discount massages. I'm very snobby about my massage environments, and I feel that bodywork is most satisfying when it is 90 minutes long.

This unfortunate, because I am not rich. I very much enjoy places such as bluemercury ($145 for a 90-minute massage), Elizabeth Arden Red Door ($170 for a mere 80 minutes in Chevy Chase), and Bliss ($210 for 105 minutes at the W Hotel location downtown) -- but that's only when I decide to be greedy and ask for a birthday or Christmas gift certificate to one of these places. Otherwise, they're out of reach for me.

Body Co., on the other hand, had a $95 special offer for first-timers on its Yelp page -- check this page before you book, because they usually have some good deals on there.

I was nervous about booking a massage at an unknown place, sight unseen, and was not reassured by the run-down office building location. But! Once you get inside, Body Co. is nice and neat. It has a basic waiting room with leather chairs and a water cooler. The rooms themselves are clean, well ventilated, dimly lit, and quiet except for the cheesy, pan-flute-type music I've come to expect and tolerate from most massage places. (I'd rather hear that than awkward silence or sounds from outside the room, which I've experienced even at high-end places.)

My therapist, Cynthia, was attentive and great. She took in that I just wanted a basic Swedish massage for relaxation, nothing fancy, and delivered with divine strokes.

I was sold on Body Co. and decided to take advantage of their package of six 90-minute massages for $572 (not including tip), or $95.30 per massage. That, my friends, is a bargain.


My subsequent experiences at Body Co. were problematic, to say the least. Cynthia (O, Cynthia, why?) disappeared from their roster, so I spun the roulette wheel of therapists and tried again. Anxious to book a massage one evening, I departed from my norm of picking a female therapist and went with Julio. No complaints here -- he's very professional, knows what he's doing, and delivered a nice Swedish massage. Still... I wasn't quite sold and wanted to see what else Body Co. had to offer. That's when things started to go awry.

I picked a female therapist who ... wait for it ... asked me in the middle of a very lame session, "Would you like me to massage your breasts?"

Now. I suppose this may have been a legitimate request and that there are people who are into this, but I've never had it asked of me before and never want to have it asked of me again. I was so distracted by the question -- Was this weird, or am I just prudish? Is it possible there are people who would take her up on this? Did this poor girl work in a different, er, type of massage parlor before this? -- that I couldn't relax for the rest of the massage.

As it turned out, I didn't have much time to recover. The therapist finished up and encouraged me to hang out on the table for awhile, which I thought was odd because it seemed like the time wasn't up. Sure enough, she'd shortchanged me by at least 20 minutes. I was already back in my clothes before she had come back to the room saying she'd made a mistake, and did I want the rest of my massage? I said no and proceeded to the front desk. The woman there was apologetic and said she'd only charge me for one hour. I left stressed.

Amazingly, it happened again -- not the inappropriate offer, but the shortchanging. The therapist left 15 minutes early, again encouraging me to stay and relax on the table, which made me think she was trying to dupe me. Again the desk staff apologized and only charged me the partial amount. Both times, the staff claimed that there was something wrong with the clock in the room. There was nothing wrong with the clock in the room. I told the manager that she had a staff issue she needed resolve, and she thanked me for the feedback.

I've been back twice since then, and only because I had the package to exhaust. Both massages have been good -- not great, but no big complaints. My boyfriend joined at one point and had a great deep-tissue massage.

So, the bottom line with Body Co. is that it offers tremendous value if (big if) you can find a therapist who's right for you.

Where do you go for affordable massage in D.C.?

Body Co.
1337 Connecticut Ave. NW, lower level
Massages from $45 for 30 mins.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Caught Between the Moon and New York City.

What I like about New York -- at least, today -- is that you can have the most discouraging day, full of letdowns and fatigue, noise, crowds, frustrations; and have it all turn around in the course of an afternoon. You lose a subway token, arrive late to a job interview, stammer your way through it, get lost (for a second time) on the subway, can't find an affordable sofa, and arrive back at the apartment to learn that your other job interview had been canceled once again.

You regroup, and re-emerge. In the 13-block walk to World of Ice Cream (yes, that's the name), you pass the usual parade of companions and characters: dogs walking their owners, toddlers walking their parents, schoolchildren roaming in packs, random snippets of their conversation echoing in your path. You hadn't ever noticed Steve's Antiques, tucked in the basement of a brownstone, so you wander in. It's hard to be down when chatty Steve has you discussing the merits of globes and being glad there's no war in Haiti today (despite that fact that you had guiltily ignored the whole conflict -- too self-absorbed).

Then later you look out the window from 13N because a gray light coming out of the dark attracts you, and you see a white full moon smack in the center of the sky over the building across the street. The moon is marvelous, but doesn't provide the same comfort as seeing people move through the yellow windows in front of you, caught between the moon and the street and acting as though neither existed.

-- Sept. 19, 1994

Music: "Arthur's Theme"

Monday, August 16, 2010

Free Fall.

"I'm sorry, but I still say they never would have dared to do this directly after Sept. 11."

I usually get ignored when I make this comment during the opening credits of Mad Men, probably because the observation is a plain one. Still, I don't watch Mad Men regularly enough to get over how offensive and impossible this sequence would have been after the unimaginable events of 2001. And when I type in "mad men+9/11" in Google, I don't get the reaction I expect.

I know that I am very late to this, since Mad Men is in season 4 at this point, but surely I'm not the only one who's had this reaction. What awesome coverage of this topic did I miss? I was living in San Francisco the year this show debuted and obsessed with non-media stuff at the time.

I am strongly in favor of not censoring themes because they bring up disturbing memories. I do not think that certain scenes should be off-limits because of Sept. 11. At the same time, when I see a show made for pure entertainment using such boldly evocative imagery, I feel somewhat betrayed.

Saturday, August 07, 2010


I have never smoked. Not once. Not a cigarette, not a joint, not a hookah.

Unless you count Victory and Round Up cigarettes. I've had a few packs of those.

The FDA is apparently banning candy cigarettes, which is an entirely sensible decision. Children should not be offered My First Tobacco products, priming them to take up the habit for real later. Can you imagine if it were possible to buy chocolate joints, or some kind of kiddie "brew" that came in a beer can but was really Kool-Aid or something? Of course we would quash such a product right away. But candy cigarettes -- chocolate, bubble gum, straight sugar -- have been around for years.

I should be happy about this ban, but I'm not. I'm really bummed. I'd be in favor of banning, say, Big League Chew. (I'm guessing it must be included in the ban?) Even as a kid I thought the idea of taking a big wad of something between your fingers to chew on was somehow indelicate and unappealing, whether it was tobacco or bubble gum. But candy cigarettes?

I went to Dylan's Candy Bar in NYC, hopeful that the ban was not yet in effect. And, happily, I found a whole display of kiddie cigarettes. I bought two packs of bubble gum and one candy. Bubble gum is the best, because it has that white preservative powder on it, so when you blow through the wrapper, the powder comes out in a cloud and it looks like you're actually smoking.

Okay. I know that it's offensive and children shouldn't get these. When I think of my nephews and niece getting hold of them, I shudder. Still, I grew up with them and never ever smoked. Can that count at all in defense of this very wrong product that I still do not want to go away? No?

Thursday, August 05, 2010


So, a former colleague of mine at NPR (among others) has been tweeting about Antoine Dodson for a couple of days. And now NPR has a story that sums up the whole thing pretty well.

I initially thought my friend's tweets were just about a silly rap song, because she kept talking about it getting stuck in her head. So I ignored it, because I get enough silly rap songs in my head and I thought the video she tweeted was just too bad, even for my low standards.

Little did I know that it was not a rap video but a parody of an outcry from the brother of a woman who was the victim of an attempted rape.

There are so many things going on here that I literally don't know how to react. Watching the news story that originated this meme, my thoughts were roughly:

- wow, that's horrible what happened to that woman

- how great that she fought back and that the guy did not get what he wanted

- how great that her brother intervened

- wow that is quite a response from her brother

- ha, I like his chutzpah

- ha, wow, more of his reaction -- again, like the moxie, but it's kind of excessive within the framework of the news story

And then I watched the auto-tune parody. Thoughts were (as they were originally):

- This is unwatchable

- Now that I know the context, it's weird to make this into a joke

And then I went to Antoine's blog:

- OMG, all his fans in the "fan outing" are white. Like, all but one. This is really weird and uncomfortable.

- He sure could get a lot of white-lady action if he wanted some.

- Whoops, I see from this thank-you video message where he's styling hair that he probably doesn't want any lady action.

I think it's great that this guy who's a minor hero is getting a bunch of love and seems very happy about it. And even though I know the reporter's argument that it would be wrong to "censor" Antoine is self-serving, I also agree, to an extent. He was understandably angry, and in everything he said, he was RIGHT (except maybe the part about husbands being in danger too).

But then again, the reporter had to have known what she was doing when she edited THAT much footage of him into her news segment. And the way it's being parodied and embraced by people who (I'm assuming) do not live in those projects is both bizarre and sickening.

Dodson is now apparently negotiating a ringtone. If that gets his family some much-needed money, who am I to say anything? But at the same time, if the majority of people downloading said ringtone are doing so because they think it's funny, how is that empowering for anyone? It's an attempted rape. Can we please not turn this into a joke? In any way?

Many of the commenters on Antoine's blog seem to express genuine concern for his sister and his family. But just as many just wish him a reality show. "Get ya money homie!! Capitalize off this s**t! Get you a reality show!!" wrote one. "Post more videos……post them on youtube. Get you and your family some money!!! All these other stupid folks have reality shows and make money off silly stuff. GET YOURS!!!!" wrote another.

I have to believe that things wouldn't have gone this far if the rapist had gotten away with the crime. Otherwise we're in more trouble as a society than you think.

Music: "Bed Intruder Song"