Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Saga of Fahrenheit.

Actually, this title was supposed to be "The Saga of Temperatures," but then I typed Fahrenheit and had a Deutschpiphany which Wikipedia then soullessly debunked. This is a key reason I take arbitrary offense to the idea of personal computers in the form of cellular phones - 24/7 access to the internet somehow saps the wonderment out of epiphanies such as the one I just had about the word "Fahrenheit" which breaks down into "Fahren" which means to go and "heit" which is one of those handy suffixes that just means "-ness" and here I am, at the mall, realizing Fahrenheit is actually "goingness" and I was blissfully diving through the implications of "goingness" when I Wikipedia'd it and found out it was named after some lousy German guy with a kooky last name.


But that serves me right for all the jokes I ever made about places being named after John _____. Like Wilmington, which was obviously founded by John Wilmington in 1877, when he crossed the ocean on a fleet of mermicorns (which are unicorns crossed with mermaids yes Meredyth if you are reading this I am still drawing those sad limbless amalgamations in the margins of my notebooks), that promptly went extinct once he disembarked at a seaside bodega selling gnarly boards and overpriced ice cream over at Wrightsville Beach. John Wilmington was smitten immediately by the pristine meteorological chaos of the place, which is why he gave it his name.

Fact: None of the above is true. Also fact: Some kindly North Carolina family is right this moment flipping through the Thomas Kinkade catalogue. Also also fact: I am a terrible employee. Also (cubed) fact: I don't really give a hoot.

Technically it's autumn, but today, as I drove the arduous mile-and-a-half to my place of work, here at the mall (did I mention I work in the mall), the temperature on Shoji's dashboard read 79. Does Central New York ever reach 79? No. Does this affect why I love it here so much? Absolutely.

I woke up with a mission: to ride my bike. I've veritably skyrocketed up the ranks of bike-riding prowess until I can now - wait for it - ride a whole hour without perishing. This is huge! Soon, maybe, I will actually be at a level of efficiency where I can go real human places on my bike, instead of winding around the neighborhood making all the traffic angry and basically behaving like I am an eight-year-old who just got her training wheels off. So I woke up, and it was a lovely day out, all blue skies and mild temperatures, and I calculate - if I drink this coffee within the next hour, I should have ample time to commandeer the neighborhood, make it home, change into my faux-gallery-owner clothes, and be at the soulsucking mall right on time.

Unless it starts dumping rain. Which it did. Which made me go: "NOOOOOOOOOOOO." A noise not dissimilar to what I do every time we find a brave cockroach, who, my mother insists, is the "outdoor kind" so he's probably just adventurous but I still kill them with vigor and relish. My mother, incidentally, was once described by my friend Ariel as thus: "She's a very sweet lady, but 'with it' are not words that come to mind when thinking of her." My mother will also be here on Wednesday. Expect eye-rolling disbelief to follow.

So Rob, from the other room, declares, "It's supposed to clear up!" Which is truth, not just optimism, and this is one of the reasons I realize my aversion to personal computers in the form of cellular phones is so arbitrary - he was reporting, live, from the satellite view of his handy-dandy Weather application, or "app" as all the hip kids are saying these days.

And lo and behold, it sure did, and I raced out of there and spent a glorious sixty minutes barreling over speed humps and running into curbs and flying down sudden unexpected hills and have I mentioned I am in love with that bike? I am. And vicariously the fellow who gave it to me who is (as we speak!) preparing a dinner that he will deliver and devour with me here at the mall. Did I mention I work in a mall?

Yes, this post is only about the weather. But the weather here is alternatingly stupendous - today, getting rained on, then getting dried off, then rained on and dried off again in the course of one bike ride - or sluggish, as when it just rains and rains and rains. But I will take rain, thank you. After all that snow, rain is magical.

Also, Rob and I have had burritos at Flaming Amy's twice in three days. I am not ashamed, for two little words:

Salsa. Bar.

Here are three more:

Peach. Ginger. Salsa.

And one last one, just to drive the point home:


This could be a goddamn haiku!

Stay tuned, friends and frenemies, for the following: my mother's visit, why visiting writers are kind of always awful and how I will someday eat that statement alongside my hefty slice of humble pie, why there is a God, the meaning of life, etc, etc. Promises.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Saga of Employment.

I am at my job right this second. I am also typing this right this second. Do a little deducing, and you should be able to see the point I'm going to make anyway.

Three big things happened when I came home from NYC: my third class started, I got a bike, and my job began. This has created an actual need of a planner to schedule the following: when I need to go to class, when I need to go to work, and when I can go bike riding, rain permitting. A brief note about my bike and bike-riding skillz - I essentially have none. I think it's been ten or maybe twelve years since I actually rode a bike with any regularity. There were the Gilded Bicycles of old AlHam, but they were always either in a creek, outside the VT, brakeless, or almost always too tall for me to ride. Rob, watching me almost topple to the ground every time I tried to mount this new bike, admitted he'd never really realized what an awful thing being short is. I think I said something like, "You're telling me, bub" and proceeded to fall over on my bike.

Regardless of my sad lack of height, this bike is the most amazing wonderful magical bike in the world. Essentially, it's a child's bike, but grown-up size, because it has fat white-wall tires and tramp-stamp decals and it's bright blue and doesn't have any gears at all. It brakes by back-pedaling, which is good for me, as I never really got the hang of hand-brakes.

The bad news is, one spin around the neighborhood and my knees feel crumbly, there's a bad taste in my throat, and I look a little like I've been stewing in a sauna for an hour. I blame the humidity, mainly, but I also blame my utter inactivity of the past, well, forever. But I still love that bike, and it's leaning against our living room wall right now, and it kind of makes it hard to concentrate on whatever movie we're watching because I keep thinking "GODDAMN THAT IS ONE SNAZZY BIKE AND IT'S MINE." Unless we are watching The Fall, which is one of my top five favorite movies of all time.

So there is the bike. There is also the job.

Somehow, with 72 hours, both Rob and I managed to find not only employment, but the most absurd kinds of employment possible - Rob is now working for a medical research group that needs him to call German people, in Germany, and ask them, in German, when they want to go on this free trip they've signed up for, so they can take this new medicine that is meant to prevent traveler's diarrhea.

Yes. Rob will be speaking in German about poop. All. Day. Long.

Meanwhile, I'm here, at the - gasp! - mall, where I tried to work once upon a time and where I actually do work, if you can call it working. No, I work, but I work on my work. That's because there is practically no work at work. By which I mean, if you're going to buy art at the mall, you're the type of person who buys art at a mall, and I can't help you in any sense. So I try to be friendly and say hello to everyone who wanders in, but most of the time they can't see me because I'm hiding behind the counter, and they just get confused at this disembodied, somewhat insistent, a little bit crazed-sounding "How you folks doing?!"

The art, though, is something to behold. Right now, I'm in view of four Thomas Kinkades in gaudy, gilded frames, some giant angular photo of a man playing a piano, two separate depictions of herons, a Van Gogh reproduction, a lifelike portrait of a wolf, James Dean's headshot, that famous poker dogs picture, and half a dozen high-res photos of UNC basketball games. Those puppies, by the way, sell like hot cakes.

Likewise, within the store's stacks and stacks of canvases, there are also the following:

A romanticized, detailed portrait of several bunnies
A lot of Jesuses of various ethnicities
Around 800,000 vaguely Italian landscapes
A portrait of a reclining Tyra Banks

My proudest moment by far was when someone came in and bought "Blowing the Wad," being a framed print of an oversized 100 dollar bill, with a hole burning through it, and two flaming dice passing over Ben Franklin's charred face. I can only imagine where it hangs now.

But a job's a job's a job and I'm pretty glad to be in one where I can get my schoolwork done and also eat bad Chinese food as much as I want, which is much more than I would like to admit. The cushiness of it all is karmic, I believe, retribution for all those years at the Writing Center and the hundreds of awful conferences - for having an on-campus job that was actually a job, not just sitting in the Emerson Gallery. Now I get to sit in the Emerson Gallery. Except everything's for sale. And I guess I ought to be selling it, but like I said - if you're gonna buy art in a mall, you're gonna buy art in a mall. And I'm gonna judge you. But not really, because if it were up to me, I'd plaster my walls with a mural depicting me, Orson Welles, and Penny all riding on a tandem bicycle, or maybe in a hot air balloon, eating ice cream and having the happiest time of our lives.

You think I tease. You keep thinking that.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Saga of Country Mouse.

Why is it called the big apple? Because it's full of worms.

So here's how it happened: rather than return to my fair alma mater, up in the boonies of central New York, and finally confront not that I've left there but that I'm never coming back, I went a few hours easterly and spent my Alumni Weekend having an alternate, more intimate reunion in a much larger, much more populous place. And if any of you class of >09 are reading this, I'm sorry I didn't see you, but I had to do what I had to do.

Had I had a car, the choice would've been easy, because all I wanted to do with my fall break was drive around the hills and look at the farms and foliage and go eat Minar and stand in Lake Oneida again, but I was doomed to be a pedestrian, so I landed in Newark, bought a MetroCard, couched myself at some friends' place in Brooklyn, and it was just like Sheep in the Big City...Comes Alive!!!

And maybe there is too much city in New York City, or maybe I am too much of a sheep, but that place and I mix about as well as mud and bread - which is odd to me, considering I spent four glad months in Vienna, but those were months with many train rides into the hills, and many walks through the Wienerwald, and pretty much daily siestas in parks. So it isn't just urban-ness I don't like - it's there, and maybe it's not just there, but Williamsburg, where hipsters are as ever-present as roaches, and I mean real, utterly absurd hipsters wearing grandma windbreakers or glasses the size of windowpanes or shaved initials in a girl's hair.
So I learned what I already knew, which was a theme of the whole episode: you can have New York. I don't really want it. Give me Seattle, give me San Francisco, give me D.C. or Chicago, but you can keep the Big Apple, blasphemous though that may seem. I will only make myself a permanent resident there if I have a trillion dollars, which seems to be about the amount you need to live a pretty normal life.

And naysayers, say what ye will about the South, but you gotta admit, the price is pretty nice. Plus we have an ocean. Did I mention the ocean? It is free to look at the ocean. It is also free to get in the ocean. And I love getting in things. Especially when it's free.

But what did you do in New York? What were the highlights? The lowlights? The midlights? Are we talking about hair or illumination?

The good things were these: I went out to Long Island for a night to stay with Winston and his band of a band, Ball of Flame Shoot Fire, who are incidentally very great and you should listen to them and buy their albums on iTunes, and it was a really nice reprieve from the chatter and roar of walking around Manhattan - I've never been so grateful to see green things, or be in a house with a yard and a driveway and a creepily pink basement. Also, they make me laugh, which is a skill, considering I have the sense of humor of about a three-year-old. Which none of them seem to mind. And we ate food and watched TV and sat around their back deck and tried to pet the stray cat that had wandered up - these being three of my favorite activities (eating, TV-watching, and stray-cat-befriending).

I also went out with my friend Katie, of the Western Road Trip fame, for a night of pierogies and lattes and IPAs, which was equally great. It was pretty refreshing to hear an opinion of post-AlHam life that wasn't at all related to ironic theme parties or over-involvement in campus organizations - for instance, did you know majoring in Creative Writing leads to not only none, but negative job opportunities? And how, at my school, no one told me that? Or that, you know, things cost money? And you will have to make your way regardless? We also discussed the following: dogs, haircuts, and blues dancing, which is apparently just dirty dancing to very sad music, which sounds right up my alley. Went to a snazzy Village banjo bar afterwards, where there were young dudes playing old-timey jazz that put me in mind of silent movies, and couples were swing dancing, and the bartender gave me a dirty look but I didn't care.

I also took a free boat ride around the Statue of Liberty. I always love being on a boat. Especially for free.

And here's the transition: My first few days, it was weirdly enjoyable to be acknowledged as a lady on the street, which is a weird and stilted way to say that some guy in Times Square who was asking for donations looked and me and said, "How 'bout you, beautiful? Can you spare some change for the homeless?" And I didn't have a cent on me, as usual, but I did smile, and apologize with a shrug, and went into the giant Toys-R-Us to look at the ferris wheel inside the store (I would've ridden it, but it was not free). Because he called me beautiful, which he probably didn't mean, but it was still nice to hear. Or a guy in a Starbucks saw my hokey Lonely Planet guide and asked where I was visiting from - perfectly harmless, probably just friendly, but look, it's nice to get flirted with. Or so I thought.

Cut to Saturday night. Here is what I consumed: dinner. (1) cherry 4-Loko. (1) Beam Cream, being Jim Beam mixed with cream soda. (1) Surfers on Acid shot, which I can't remember the ingredients of, but it certainly tasted better than my (at least 4) shots of Evan Williams. Plus around (5) beers. Then (1) communal Joose. Followed by (1) more beer, at least. You do the tallying.

Needless to say, you put all that shit in you, you start feeling pretty good. And not happy good. More like, "Oh we're at a bar in Williamsburg I should probably dance with this man" good. Who were these men? How was I dancing? I don't know. It was humiliating, and things only got worse.

The friends I was visiting were all very tall, as they have always been, so they take longer steps, so I tend to lag behind, so by the time I got to the door of the next bar, which seemed an insurmountable pilgrimage from the last one, especially when you keep stumbling into buildings, my friends were already well inside, toasting, cheersing, making equally ridiculous fools of themselves as I did. Here's another fact: it's very hard to use your hands when you're that drunk. So when the bouncer saw me battling the slits of my wallet to liberate my North Carolina driver's license as though it was a Rubik's Cube, he told me I couldn't come in. I said I just wanted to see my friends, I didn't want anymore to drink. He said he was sorry. So I hailed a cab, and somehow remembered the cross-streets of my friends' apartment, and rode through Brooklyn, embarrassed, but really too disoriented to think anything, except for when we stopped, and I tried to swipe my bank card because I didn't lose anything but all my cash and a good amount of my pride, but it was just as hard as getting my ID out, so the cab driver had to get in the back and do it for me, which I guess made him think it was okay to ask for a kiss, and tell me I was so beautiful, and I was so pale, just one kiss.

And I said no and got the hell out and walked away and called Rob and cried and cried and cried. It was 3:30 a.m.

My friends were fairly appalled when I told them what happened the next morning, but I just woke up grateful that I still had everything, that I'd made it home, and that something worse hadn't happened.

The funny part is, this mirrors entirely my 21st birthday in Berlin, when my friends and I went on a pub crawl and I ended up sick in a toilet stall, abandoned again. That time, someone had to put me into a cab for me, but when I got back, I was ecstatic - that was awesome holy shit what the fuck best birthday ever. There was nothing sexual at all about that night, and though it was terrifying at the time, it's pretty funny to talk about now. That night in Brooklyn had nothing funny at all about it.

Except for this: I spent the rest of my time there singing "One night in Brooklyn!" to myself, to the tune of "One Night in Bangkok." Which you can enjoy here. (It takes about a minute and a half to get going, so be patient.)

And there were other small good things - the Guggenheim (how much fun would it be to rollerblade through there?!) and the little kids interpreting the Kandinsky exhibit with crayons on the floor, the quiet, shady walk I took through brownstone Brooklyn en route to Nick's play, spending way too much money at Strand, lunch in the Hearst building where I saw Nina Garcia from Project Runway (we made magical eye contact), and I swear I saw Martin Short on the street. My friends were all welcoming, and for the most part, we had a pretty grand time.

But mainly I was ready to go when it came time to - so much so that I did the only selfish thing I'd done all week and bumped my flight to an earlier one rather than sit, stewing, in Newark.

And seeing Rob again was absolutely tremendous, and I was very nearly on the point of crying because I was so happy, and seeing our street again, our neighborhood - I had this sudden possession and love of everything.

My trip to New York was a forest fire, as Rob put it. Meant to obliterate everything and make it all new again - charred, but sprouting.

And as if it wasn't enough to come home to the fellow I'm in love with and sleep in our big comfy bed and read all my mail, Rob flips on the living room light and there is a bike. With a bow on it. For me. What kind of boyfriend buys his gal a bike?! Mine, apparently. And it was amazing, and I've been riding around the neighborhood every day since, and it makes me so unspeakably happy even though my knees feel like hell afterwards.

Whew. There's that, ladies and babies. I'm real glad to be here, alive and well and believe or not, absolutely content.