Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Saga of Integers.

Here's a secret: I do not comprehend numbers.

Whether my absolute idiocy when it comes to all things quantitative is related or proportional to my relationship with words is completely beyond me, but I think a lot about The Phantom Tollbooth, and how I'm no Mathemagician but would happily kiss the ring of King Azaz the Unabridged. I was a D student in Calculus (though to be fair I was being taught by the football coach). I went to a college with no math requirements for a reason, and I still managed to fail the entrance Quantitative Literacy exam. My SAT/ACT/GRE scores are completely lopsided. The challenge in playing Scrabble is not in the words, but in calculating the scores. I break a sweat at the mall when I have to ring up a purchase because it involves computing tax and using a calculator. I can't do simple math without a pen and paper. I have to use the finger trick, where you put down the finger of the number you're multiplying and "read" the answer (aka for 7 x 9, you'd bend your seventh finger, leaving six on the left and three on the right, therefore 7 times 9 is 63), to figure out X x 9.

All in all, Rachel + Math = No Good.

Which makes my obsession with numbers pretty ridiculous.

The numbers that I mean, though, are the real life ones, the practical ones, the ones you can enter into a log and tally up at the end of the day. Today, for instance, I took my trusty two-wheel steed out on a spin, and the ride was great - saw some parts of Wilmington I'd never seen, wasn't hit by any cars, got to pet a dog - but the real reward was when I zoomed back through the neighborhood, dashed upstairs, got on Google and put in our home address alongside a rough estimate of where I'd turned around, and saw the result: 4.6 miles. Round trip, that's 9. 9 miles! Which is 3 more miles than my last bike ride! Which means maybe I can bike 3 additional miles on my next ride, which would put me at roughtly 11 miles, which would get me as far as the Tidal Creek Co-Op, or two downtown loops, or three trips around Greenfield Lake, etc etc etc.

Or, take goodreads for example. Goodreads, for those fortunate uninitiated, is a reading website where you can catalog and review books you've read with a handy method of digital "shelves" - and then you can find friends and compare books and read other reviews, etc. It is a dangerous and tantalizing site, and it has brought out the worst of the Number Monster in me. I'm hell-bent on reaching 100 books, so I've instated a monthly quota of 10 books, and I get mad at myself when it's the first of the month and I've only "accomplished" 8 or 9.

This also happened with, which automatically tracks your iTunes and computes statistics of total artists, total plays per artist, "favorite artists" etc. In 4 years of membership, I've logged 25,000+ tracks. 2,000 of those are exclusively Modest Mouse and The National. I've listened to "Baby We'll Be Fine" by the National 62 times, apparently. The song is 3 minutes 21 seconds long, or 201 seconds. In total, that's 12, 462 seconds of one song, or approximately 207 minutes - 3 and a half hours of one song.

Why do I think this information is vital? What part of my brain loves this stuff, then gets clammy when asked to divide 32 by 8?

And it gets worse. I'm two months away from 23 years old. I'm currently writing in my 24th journal. Only recently did I stop numbering the pages, because I was giving myself these manic quotas of needing to write x number of pages per day, and while I've managed to quit doing that, I have told myself I have to finish this journal by my 23rd birthday - but I want that more so I can have a clean start with #25, considering this journal has a six month lapse of emptiness in it and is therefore the "longest" journal I've ever kept, and the temptation to flip back and read previous pages about the Western road trip or the anxiety of senior year is almost always impossible to resist.

Even more neurotic - during one of our first weeks here, Rob and I drove past a hookah place. "We should go there sometime," he suggested. I shrugged. "Depends on the cost."


"Well, if it's $15, then we'll be there roughly an hour or two, right, and I'd rather buy three packs of cigarettes for the same cost and have those, because that'll last me two weeks."

And while Rob admitted it made sense, it kind of freaked him out that I was thinking like that. But that's the way my brain works when it comes to numbers - like last night, we went out bar-shopping (not hopping, because we don't know what bars are what yet), and we ended up in this insanely noisy basement broadcasting sports full of bitches with tramp stamps and dudes screaming "FUUUUUCK YOU" at the football game on TV, and we both got beers and the tab was 9.00.

Then we went, on a whim, to this Sofa Bar which is exactly what it sounds like - a bar full of sofas on the second floor of this bistro, where the waiters wore long aprons and there was an amazing cocktail list, but the beers, I noticed, were the same price. A Guinness was still 4.50. So I thought, "Oh, well, for the same cost, we could come here, where we can actually hear each other speak." Economically, this bar was a better choice.

This is also why I hesitate to ever go on any kind of official diet, because I know, having tried it before, I become a neurotic mess of calorie counting and nightly weigh-ins and insane ultimatums of "If I eat x and then do x and then x and x, then tomorrow I can x and x and x, but only if x x, etc." So I'm trying to avoid that at all costs while making some kind of effort to get svelter.

Overall, I think there's something a little dangerous, or at least unhealthy, in living by numbers like this - but I think I'm getting better. Statistically, at least - my bank account is growing, my Scrabble score is rising, my bike endurance is increasing, I'm writing more regularly, reading more voraciously---

Okay so I'm hopeless but at least I admit it. Ba-dum-chh?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Saga of the Hometown Rundown.

Two blog posts in as many days? This is madness! Or this is me avoiding everything I ought to be doing.

So I just changed out of the discount stretchy pants I bought during that shameful 3+ hour bonanza at Ross (see also: the previous post) because I had decided, in a strange attempt to act my actual age in a more beneficial way than drinking too much and making poor life choices (which I think it pretty standard for the 22-year-old lot), to try yoga.

Admittedly, I have a fear of yoga on the same level as my fear of poetry, both, coincidentally, products of my friendship with Grace Tiao (who may or may not be reading this? if so, HELLO and if not, SHAME ON YOU - no, I tease). Twice I stayed with Grace while visiting Boston, and once we went to this yoga session that was going on in a creepily dark public use room downstairs in her Harvard dorm. That's what I mainly remember: creepy darkness, and an intense sense of inadequacy, because here were all these lithe Harvard ladies, who are obviously way smarter than me but also apparently much more limber, and I'm breaking a sweat merely standing on one foot, and the zen-ed out yoga instructor eventually gave up on me and my rigor mortis muscles, so I just sat down and waited for the concluding Slumber Death pose, which was basically lying on the floor like a corpse, which I was really, really good at.

But it's always been an inkling at the back of my mind; I should try yoga again. And I finally made up my mind to do it, and I bought the appropriate pants, and I was all ready to get my meditative knee-bending-chi-centering-whatever on because I found a Wilmington yoga place that offered Gentle Beginner's Yoga which was as close as I could come to Fat Inflexible We Promise We Won't Laugh At You Yoga, and I set out, all full of gall and gusto!

Only to not find the place. I did find a different yoga place, but I probably would've wound up in some 150 Degree Room Temperature Stand-on-Your-Head and Chant the Bhagavad-Gita Yoga class instead. And then I would have had to retire the Yoga Pants forever.

The reason I did not find the place, and the reason for this post's title, is Wilmington's absolute lack of streetlamps. So I'm puttering down this insanely busy street, peering through the windshield wipers because it's been hurricane-rainy all day, and cars are whooshing around me and headlights are blinding me and the street is this acid-trip barrage of green lights and red lights and I just thought, "Fuck, I miss Tulsa."

So here, at last, is a Battle Royale between Wilmington and Tulsa. May the best town win.

Streetlamps and Overall Traffic
Wilmington: -1000 points. The drivers here are abominable. I've been honked at, flipped off, and glared at dirtily too many times to count. There is no such thing as a peaceful drive in Wilmington - just today I went on a little cruise, thinking I'd find some hidden gemlike nook, but I couldn't look out the window for fear that I would get t-boned. Not to mention Wilmington's street system was designed by crazy people or small children with crayons, and the roads go every which way, sometimes changing their name in the middle, sometimes just stopping out of nowhere. Meanwhile, Tulsa, which scores approximately one million bajillion points, is mapped out on a grid. It is pretty much impossible to get lost there, and the drivers are courteous, or at least not hellacious demons, which seems to be everyone behind the wheel in Wilmington, judging by their insistence on driving all of 4 inches from your back bumper. Also, streetlamps. Are streetlamps some kind of hurricane liability? Why the hell are there no streetlamps here?

Mexican Food
This one ought to be obvious - Tulsa is simply closer to Mexico. Therefore it has better Mexican food. But Wilmington does have Flaming Amy's, which has a salsa bar crafted by some salsa savant, lending itself to infinite combinations of pineapple jalapeno mixed with tomato chipoltle and how could we forget peach ginger? We can't. Tulsa has to win, if only for Taco Bueno, but it's a close call.

The Ocean
Fine. 20 points to Wilmington.

Well, I hate to break it to both of you, Tulsa and Wilmington, but you both fail pretty miserably. This one goes to Wilmington, though, for Port City Java, the local chain that has this inexplicable mid-90s alt-rock theme going on (can anyone explain that)? I.e. the shirt's say "Joe's Addiction" and you'll more than likely hear a few hits from Jagged Little Pill. But it's still a nice enough place, and within biking distance of my house here. Meanwhile, Tulsa has those overpriced, underfurnished spots usually overrun with high school students - though we did play a handful of vicious Scrabble games at the Coffee Shop on Cherry Street. But when I pay $4.50 for a chai, I want $4.50 of drink, not $1.35 of Chai and $3.15 of some ornamental fern made of foam. That's just bullshit.

Ross Stores
Tulsa has 4. Wilmington has 1. You do the math.

Pickle Selection
Tied. Pretty much the same pickle selection in both.

Used Bookstores
So I went on a quest for Lovecraft the other day, thinking that surely one of Wilmington's three used book stores would have a volume, and I was shit outta luck. There's a bookstore downtown, a little crowded alleyway of a place, that has as much charm as you could possibly pack into 30 x 90 feet, but every time I go in, I walk out empty handed. Or I walk out with a New Yorker anthology of short stories, only to have some cranky old man ring me up and express oh-so-subtly how he thinks the book is falling in to undeserving hands (he was reading the current New Yorker at the time). A colleague here recommended not to go in with anything in mind, but browsing either gives me a slight panic attack (SO MANY BOOKS AND ALL I WANT TO DO IS WRITE ONE) or empties my wallet.

But then, there is the little spot nearer to my house, which is owned by the friendliest folks in all the Eastern Seaboard. I popped my head in one night and asked when they closed - "Ten minutes ago, but come on in." And I did go in, and had a look around, but there was no Lovecraft to be had, or rather, none that I could afford that was not the Library of America edition that would give me Willa Cather Seminar flashbacks.

Meanwhile, Tulsa has Gardner's - an entire warehouse, a massive labyrinth of every genre on the planet plus comics plus movies plus CDs plus a weird corner of decorative state-themed plates, with bad carpeting and haphazard shelves but oh, my God, the books! The millions of books! And they will take your old books! And give you so much in-store credit you will never want for a used book again! And while this also happens at bookstores in Wilmington, there are no damn books that I want to buy! And I am a student of books! All I'm supposed to be doing here in the next 2 and a half years is interact with books!

Plus, Gardner's has a cafe AND a Mexican restaurant in the very same building!

I think we can all agree that the winner here is:


Now there is just enough time to squeeze in a tense game of Scrabble before the new Top Chef. Perfect.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Saga of Anyone Else.

SHAMELESS SHAMELESS SELF-PROMOTION: I got published again, fools! You can read it here:

(It's the one by Rachel. That's me.)

Please excuse the momentary hiatus this blog took in the past weeks; I was preoccupied with other folks, mostly my mother, whose visit to fair Wilmington resulted in around a dozen wacky anecdotes which only proves that yes, my mother is way more awesome or at least insane than yours. Here is a sampler (much like a Whitman's Sampler, and did you know that only until recently did I associate the name Whitman with poetry and not chocolate?):

October 30th, 2009, my mother, Rob and I head downtown to imbibe some mom-bought booze. Reason the First why my mom is the shit - she will happily buy your beers. Reason the Second: she will also let you smoke her cigarettes, though this is somewhat if not totally negated by the fact that she smokes Camel Crushes, not to mention the sorry fact that I, her daughter, got her smoking in the first place, but that's a whole 'nother kettle of beans. Or something.

So we go to our standby, Cape Fear Wine and Beer, which might actually be a punk bar considering they really only play Iron Maiden and nearly every patron has either a mohawk, a leather jacket, gauged ears, and/or tattoos, but it also has a pretty choice selection of libations. We drink, we smoke, Rob accidentally gets some heinous cough-syrup Austrian beer (never trust the Austrians to make good beer), and suddenly I am saddled with Designated Driver, solely because I am the least intoxicated. Mom hands me some dollar dollar bills and sends me on a pizza mission. I return, we enjoy, and then we go home and go to bed.

Or rather, we go home, and then we get stopped by the police, who have set up a checkpoint on a street with no convenient turn-offs, so that I have no choice but to halt, roll my window down, and proceed to make a fool of myself by following the Honesty is the Best Policy, even though everyone knows that rule does not apply when speaking with officers of the law, especially if you are still a little buzzed.

So I tell him the truth. Yes, we have come from downtown. Yes, we were at the bars. Yes, I have had a drink. Yes, I will step out of the car, and yes, you may see my license. No, I have never been breathalyzed before. Yes, I am absolutely terrified right now.

Officer Number One looks at Officer Number Two and then shakes his head. Then I am thinking, oh fuck, how the hell am I supposed to explain this one, who am I supposed to call considering my mother is hammered in the passenger seat oh fuck oh fuck.

"Here's your license, ma'am. You passed."

And then I get back in the car to a very solemn and shocked mother and boyfriend, and we drive home and go to bed.

This anecdote will be known from now on as The Time I Got Breathalyzed With My Mom Who Was Way Drunker Than Me.

There was also The Time My Mother Set the Crisco Can We Had Been Using as a Back Patio Ashtray On Fire, and How She Brought It in The House to Show Me, and How I Screamed "WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING TAKE THAT OUTSIDE JESUS CHRIST." There was also How My Mother Tried to Play the Word 'DRIBBLIT' in Scrabble, and How This Was Merely a Sequel to the Time She Tried to Play 'SQUIDGUT.'

We also went to Bald Head Island which was terrifically scenic despite the gray weather. Basically we spent the whole day zooming around on a golf cart, because here's the thing about Bald Head Island - there are no automobiles! This astounds me even now. I am pretty sure the year-round residents must be part of a cult. I may or may not be writing a story involving a ritzy island cult. You'll just have to wait and see.

I have also decided that my true identity is either that of a 45-year old woman or a 12-year-old boy. Evidence to the first includes the following:

a) My ability to listen to the greatest hits of Fleetwood Mac for seven hours straight when I'm working at the mall and to sing along to You Make Loving Fun every single time

b) The fact that I drive a Toyota

c) How I spent 3+ hours in Ross the other day and bought myself a new scarf and purse and then got a smoothie and felt incredibly content and accomplished

Evidence to the 12-year-old boy theory, however, is equally compelling:

a) I read H.P. Lovecraft for the first time and completely loved it, especially how he puts the most horrifying things in Italics. For example: I was speaking with the dreadful old whiskery man when I suddenly knew he was in fact a ghost alien from another dimension. I love that shit. Fully and totally.

b) I also only want to watch movies set in the future that involve robots. Fortunately I am dating a boy who has an extensive DVD collection of just such movies.

c) I wrote a story where a stripper went bowling and was then eaten by a cannibal. Wait - I mean, she was eaten by a cannibal. I then had it workshopped. Now everyone thinks I'm deranged, and my professor, the visiting writer, promptly told me there was no need for cannibals. And he was right, which was fine by me, because who the hell is going to publish a story where a stripper gets eaten by a cannibal?

Nobody, that's who.

It's 70+ degrees outside and it's November. See what I did there? Lovecraftian, that's what.

Until next time - here's hoping you all are well.