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"