Thursday, July 31, 2008

and... yeah

Tomorrow, I move to New York City. While I suppose this (and the impending start of my "working life") should seem hugely IMPORTANT, right now -- car filled to the brim, headache lingering, stickies covered in checklists -- I basically just feel like I'm about to go on a really long trip somewhere. Maybe it's because I am leaving most of my belongings in my room in Boston... which I'm doing, I guess, because bringing along too many things would leave less room for new things. And I want new things.

You move to a new place and you think everything is going to be different and you're going to have this really awesome fresh start and be a new version of the old you (or whatever phrase people use for that idea). And sometimes that's how it goes. But, in my experience (and let's remember that I live a life weighed down by cynicism), you move to new place and... yeah. You get to a new city, you buy stuff for your apartment, maybe you hang with a new crowd, you learn the quickest way to get to the gym, you figure out where the closest ATM is... and then one day you inadvertently call your new apartment "home" when you're on the phone with your mom, and you feel a self-conscious half-grin coming on, even though your mom is still talking about phone bills. "I'm a new person," you think, almost gleefully. And then you get home and open your door (you're still getting the hang of the lock), and you think about how you're wrong, how you're the same weird, neurotic dude you always were and always will be - you just got a different zip code now. And, as you toss your bag onto your new overpriced quilt, you feel sort of good. Because you're the same. You feel sort of good because you're the same.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

checkout aisle anxiety

There is something about seeing strangers go about their everyday lives that I find fascinating. I guess it's kind of hard to articulate, but I feel a palpable ting of pleasure when I watch a rando dude Facebooking during class, clicking through the tagged pictures of some curly-haired girl, a wistful glint in his eye. There is something about knowing that "when it comes down to it, we are all the same" that is both disquieting and kind of sweet. (I am rolling my eyes at myself re-reading that sentence, but it stays!)

I love listening to groups of friends on the subway laughing at their inside jokes which are basically the same/opposite from the inside jokes my group of friends has. ("Let's hope we don't run into Taylor Michaelson today, huh?") I love craning my neck a bit to see what the girl in front of me in line at Au Bon Pain is listening to her on her iPod Touch. I love watching the dude in front of me at a movie text "Abbie DC" "nuthin' now but maybe later?" and wondering what it means.

Today in the supermarket, I spent some time considering what the person behind me was purchasing as she placed each item on the conveyor belt. As is often the case when I conduct such an inventory, I found myself surprised at how many of her items were things I have never purchased/eaten before and which I didn't realize people actually did purchase/eat. Some obscure brand of cottage cheese. Lots of cinnamon raisin bread. Plums.

For whatever reason, I had a really visceral WTF reaction to Plum Lady behind me. Even though she hadn't said a word and looked like one of those totally pleasant "I walk my dog and listen to NPR and wear frumpy clothes" women, I felt totally defensive in front of her. I LIKE MY FOODS, I wanted to broadcast, looking with a newly uncertain eye at my hummus, Wheat Thins and Diet Coke.

It seems like there can be a penalty for sticking your nose in other people's business too often, a consequence for being a perpetual stalker: every once in a while, it can make you really insecure about your hummus.

Monday, July 28, 2008

oh she's just being miley

About a week ago, I attended Miley Cyrus' "Good Morning America" "concert" (she sang three songs, thus the air quotes around the word 'concert') at 8 a.m. on a Friday morning. (I was with two other people - I am not that sketch).

This is a totally normal thing for a 22-year-old male to do. I blended into the crowd of prepubescent girls wearing spaghetti straps and befuddled parents quite seamlessly. I spent most of my time taking pictures of signs and t-shirts that caught my eye (careful to make sure the parents of these children did not notice the lanky 6'2" man taking close range photographs of their 7-year-olds).

A few minutes after I took this picture, I overheard a mother wearing over-sized sunglasses and ill-fitting capris say to her teenage daughter, "I wonder if her best friend Lesley is here!" (I am not sure what it says about me that I just assume everyone will get that reference.)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

situations that make you squirm (3 of 3)

This one is of a slightly different kind, but it is just as squirm-inducing.

Lately, many conversations I have been a part of have turned to the observation that no one makes phone calls anymore. "So true," everyone sings in agreement after someone makes the point. "Everyone just texts now," Obvious Olivia will comment, as though she has solved a really tough math problem. As straight-forward as it may seem though, it's true - phone calls are going the way of pagers, the typewriter and AOL.

A few days ago, I got a call from a friend. I was on the train, writing a short story on my laptop based on the imagined life I had constructed for the person sitting next to me. I could have easily picked up the phone, but I wasn't feeling in the mood to have a catch-up chit-chat. I pressed "Ignore." A few seconds later, the person called again. (I have never understood this often-used tactic. Why do people expect that if a person doesn't pick up once, he/she will pick up a second later? Imagine if I did pick up the second call - what would I say? "Sorry, I felt guilty for screening your first call as I watched your name flicker on my LCD display. But I'm here, obviously." No.)

By now I was feeling a little hot around the collar. Why had this person called me twice? What if it was something important? Should I suck it up and just give the person a call back?

A minute later, I got a text from the friend. "What is the name of that book you were reading when I saw you in June?" Ack! I felt as though I were under a white hot spotlight! If only I had known she had such a simple question, I would have definitely picked up the first (or second) phone call! But now I was screwed. If I texted a response right away, my screening of her calls would have been depressingly obvious. I would have to wait.

As much as I tried not to think about it, I could feel the unanswered text tapping me through the denin of my jeans. I couldn't focus on my short story. I felt really, really thirsty all of a sudden. Finally, about 12 minutes later, I texted back my response. That was as long as I could wait.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

situations that make you squirm (2 of 3)

As discussed yesterday, interactions with two people whom you know to differing extents tend to be fraught with uncomfortable glances, pregnant pauses and general embarrassment.

Sometimes, one friend -- let's call him Confused Carl -- will find himself somewhere (a movie, a play, a subway) with two people he is good friends with but whom don't know each other very well at all. In these sort of situations, there is always that unspoken understanding that Confused Carl should sit in the middle of his two friends, for fear of the potential awkwardness of the two not-really/sorta friends having to (gasp) sit next to each other. Sometimes, Confused Carl will try to prepare ahead of time, finagling his way in between the two on his way into the theater to make sure he gets the middle seat, keeping everything as it should be. But, regretfully, other times, Confused Carl will obliviously not sit in the middle, in which case everyone will sit down and then mull the misstep, wishing Carl had gotten his act together.

This happened to me this past weekend. I was the Confused Carl; I failed to sit in the middle; and my friend from high school found herself in between my brother and me. I noted my error in my head, sighed, and went to the bathroom. But when I returned, to my shock, they had switched seats (!), leaving me the seat in the middle. I laughed uproariously on the inside at the rectification that had occurred while I was in the bathroom, imagining the (surely bizarre) conversation they must have had while I was absent, which must have been more awkward than the fact I wasn't sitting in the middle in the first place. I took my seat and didn't say a word.

Monday, July 21, 2008

situations that make you squirm (1 of 3)

Greetings are always uncomfortable. There is a thin line between a head nod and a high five, a hand shake or a hug. And it is rarely clear what is appropriate with people whom you have only met a few times. It's awkward enough when it's just you and one other acquaintance ("Am I better off just doing nothing rather than risking the potentially offensive hand shake?" "Have we reached hug status yet?" "Why can't he just make it clear how this greeting should go down?"), but the worst is when you are meeting up with two people -- one of whom you know well, one of whom you know sorta well.

This weekend, two people I hadn't seen in a while entered the room I was in. I gave the first a hearty hug, and then fidgeted before offering my hand to the other, whom I have met a few times (but whom I am not friends with on Facebook). My hand burned with awkwardness as I shook his hand, and I had trouble looking him in the eye.

Monday, July 14, 2008

44 short

Every once in a while, I'll come to you guys with an ad just seems too ridiculous to be real. Well, thanks to a picture message sent last week from trusty Field Agent Lewis from San Francisco, I think we may have a new front-runner in the "too ridiculous to be real" advertisement race (and a competitive race it is!).

This ad is for Miller's new Genuine Draft Light which has (you guessed it) 64 calories in a bottle.
Now there are so many witty taglines one could devise for a beer with only 64 calories. You could go with a March Madness theme. You could go for a more standard "There are 64 reasons why you should be drinking MGD..." angle. You could even go the Beatles route to appeal to the older beer drinker! A quick Wikipedia search opens the floodgates (ugh, that idiom is so awkward) even wider (see?): there are 64 sexual positions in the Kama Sutra! 64 different crayons in the Crayola 64! So many possibilities!

Instead, Miller chose this inane tagline. Uh, actually... not so much, MGD. Last time I checked, I've got 20 fingers and toes. Now I haven't taken math for like five years now, but I'm pretty sure the clause "... if you were a centipede" should be added on to the end of that sentence.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

the way things go

1) When you are Facebooking someone you haven't met before, you will first do a quick skim of the person's profile info, see if you have any mutual friends, then you will click to see more photos. You will always look at photos "Added by Others" before photos added by the person.

2) If you turn on the TV to a trashtastic MTV reality dating show ("Next," "Parental Control," "Exposed," etc.) mid-way through, you will always watch to the show's (stirring) conclusion.

3) When you ask some random dude on the street for directions, and he goes off on a minute-long monologue involving rights and lefts and twists and turns -- leaving you breathless and more confused than you were in the first place -- you will just nod your head as if you are totally following it all (you aren't) and you will thank the person profusely when he is finished. (You will then ask the person with you "Did you follow that?" even though you know she didn't.)

4) When you encounter something that doesn't work (a pen out of ink, a scratched CD, a t-shirt that doesn't fit you anymore), you will just automatically put it back in the drawer/compartment/closet in which you found it instead of throwing it out.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

the fifth (and final) RRTB: things that happen when you spend the majority of your time in a car

1) Instead of their usual role as frustrating places where you don't want to be and at which you have to spend a lot of money, gas stations become pleasant oases (snacks! stretching! fresh air!).

2) You find a power song (in our case, Britney Spears' "Radar") which anchors the trip. This way, no matter what else you are listening to, no matter what pitfalls may have occurred along the way or what personal dramas may be bubbling within the four doors, you have something to keep coming back to, a song which requires you to bob your head and sing along, a song that is guaranteed to lift the spirits of those in the car.

3) You eat/read anything that happens to be in the car, no matter whether or not it meets your standard of "things I would normally eat/read." "Applesauce"? Sure. "This random play that a friend wrote for a class"? Why not?! "Want a light blue tootsie pop"? GIVE IT TO ME!

4) You talk about everything. You rehash everything that happened where you just were, over and over and over again. ("I still can't believe you bought a bagel for that homeless man!") You talk about where you are heading to, over and over and over again. ("I'm so excited for [insert city here]!") And you talk about everything in-between. You talk because that's what people do, and because if you're not talking, you're just sitting in a car driving through anonymous scenery for four hours in silence - and does anyone really want that?

5) At the times you have to leave the car, you feel like an amoeba being let out in a stream to float freely throughout the world. And even though freedom is typically a good thing, you-as-amoeba can't fight the sense that you don't belong in the stream.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

RRTB #4: City Museum

So there's this museum in St. Louis called the City Museum. The name -- which is pretty bland/vague as far as museum names go -- led me to believe this place would be one of those super-boring museums with lots of placards and exhibits and audio tours that people love to gush about but secretly have never been to.

Nope. Couldn't have been more wrong. The City Museum is insane. Its main attraction is a "playground for adults" which is essentially a massive man-made entanglement of chutes, ladders and slides. It is quite difficult to describe the adult playground in words -- check out the above left picture, in which Beth and Amanda are shimmying down a wire tubular thing, for a better sense of the ridiculousness.

The maze was swarming with little tykes (what sane parent would let their 3-year-old waddle up a rickety 15-foot structure I do not know) and legit adults channeling their inner CRAZYKID, but the majority of players were 15-25 year-olds. I, obviously, remained at the bottom level of the structure for the whole time, scared enough just to be standing a few feet above the ground on a unsteady platform. My friend Gary stood beside me, also refraining from the daredevil antics of our female friends: "I have a fear of structures," he explained. Amen to that, brother!

Anyway, the adult playground was not the only attraction at this museum, believe it or not. The City Museum is also home to rando artifacts, such as the "world's largest underwear," pictured below.

Staring at this bizarre artifact, I had so many questions (Is it really underwear if no one can wear it? Why was it hanging next to a pinball machine? WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD SPEND ANY PERIOD OF TIME MAKING THIS?) . . . but there just seemed no point in asking them.

"We are working on making the world's largest pencil," the attendant told me, as we walked into a different room. I nodded my head as if that were the most obvious/noble goal in the world.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

RRTB #3: The St. Louis Arch

The most tourist-y thing we did on the trip was probably our stop at the St. Louis Arch. As you may be able to tell from this picture, the Arch is one intimidating dude. In contrast with the squat St. Louis city buildings and the muddy Mississippi River -- and especially against the ominous gray sky -- the metallic white of the arch seems almost supernatural.

We each paid $10 for a ticket to the top (avoiding the shops filled with every product you could possibly imagine -- hats, mugs, cookies! -- emblazoned with the likeness of the Arch). We moved through a series of crowded waiting rooms, which made me feel like I was about to get on Space Mountain. We listened to crying babies; we chatted with friendly strangers; we complained about the long wait -- this was being a tourist at its best, people!

Finally, the five of us were guided to a small, claustrophobic pod with room for about five seats and nothing else. We sat down and braced ourselves for the rickety ride to the top. And rickety it was! At a few points on the way up, we (and by "we," I mean "me") frantically grabbed on to the hand of the person next to us. About five minutes later, we were at the top and freed from our pod. And... we could see... out of a small sliver of window... amidst the throngs of over 75 fellow tourists... the muddy Mississippi out of one side and the squat St. Louis buildings out of the other?

After getting an elbow to my stomach from a woman wearing a fanny pack and after getting so annoyed about the crowd in front of the prime window real estate that I resorted to manhandling a 7-year-old brat out of the way so I could get a better view, I began to feel a bit nauseous... and looking down didn't help. At about this point, someone announced that it was time to return to the pod. As we shifted about on our way down, five peas in a pod (sorry, I had to), rocking out to the elevator music that was being piped in, my friend exclaimed, "This is the best part."

When we were back outside in the crisp St. Louis air, I took this photo, which I think captures the masculine swagger, the monumental ferocity of the arch. Doing the tourist thing is all well and good but I think the Arch would rather we remembered him the way he looks in this picture.

Friday, July 4, 2008

RRTB #2: Janesville, Wisconsin

On our way from city to city across the northeast and Midwest, we would often break up our long drives by stopping in small towns/cities along the way to walk around, get food, take photos, etc. Most of the larger cities we detoured into seemed devoid of humans; Cleveland at 7 p.m. on a Sunday night was reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic wasteland city. But many of the smaller towns we decided to check out (such as Pocahontas, Illionis - home to the legendary Gretchen Wilson - for example) had a quirky charm to them.

One night we got off the highway at Janesville, Wisconsin, looking for some grub, when we were struck by this sign. This may seem obvious, but when you are in a small car with four bleary-eyed travelers for over five hours, starting to forget that there is a life outside of the confines of the automobile, a good sign can make all the difference.

And this sign (pictured), this sign spoke to us. Rather than hawking their Happy Hour special or tauting their world-class french fries, it seemed this restaurant was a soulful, compassionate sort: a wise owl among the flashier, sleeker birds. "We get you," the sign seemed to say, "Eat here or don't here - it doesn't matter to us. There are more important things in life."

"You know what, everyone is fighting a hard battle," I said to my carmates, as we swerved into the parking lot, "They are so right."

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

RRTB #1: Mall of America

Welcome to the first Retroactive Road Trip Bloggin' (RRTB for short -- rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?) post.

In Minneapolis, we visited the Mall of America, which some of you may know is the world's largest mall. There is a certain embarrassment associated with wanting to go to the Mall of America as a tourist. It's the kind of attraction that no one wants to admit they want to see but that everyone secretly kind of really wants to see.

Saying the Mall of America is gigantic does not do it justice. It is a country. It includes an amusement park (pictured above left), an aquarium, a mini-golf thing, a bizarre land filled with Legos called Lego Land, and hundreds of stores, restaurants and attractions. I counted at least ten different places to get coffee. It is at the same time totally depressing/numbing and inspiring/energizing. For every overweight, tottering woman with a neon fanny pack, juggling three bags and two Starbucks drinks, there is a colorful store that sells every kind of magnet you could possibly imagine.

After about thirty minutes of walking around the mall, we were depleted of all energy... and we had probably only seen a sixth of the mall. On the bottom floor of the mall, Matt found a small parachute which had been dropped from the top floor and he picked it up: a Mall of America Message in a Bottle, if you will. He repaired its broken wings and took the escalators up to the top and dropped it down. Some kid on a bike (this mall is so big, kids bike down its corridors) found it and picked it up as if it were a fascinating insect, before biking off, possibly to continue the sequence of pointless parachute dropping all over again. I found the whole series of events too much to handle.

On the way out, we saw this Pepsi ad which I totally loved.

First of all, I love how it gives food life-like qualities: the things we eat get thirsty just like we do! Also, I feel like this ad sums up the stifling materialism and utter consumption embodied within the World's Largest Mall with some sort of hard-to-define precision; the Mall of America is a country in which humans are equated with FOOD.

back in action

In the words of Ms. Spears, "It's been a while."

I am finally back home after 10 wonderful days on the road -- expect several Road Trip-related posts in the coming week.

Today, though, was all about the traveling: 3-hour drive from Western Kentucky to Memphis, Tennessee; 2-hour flight from Memphis to Charlotte, North Carolina; 2-hour flight from Charlotte to Boston.

Of course, I hit the Annoying Kids on Airplanes Jackpot. As we were landing in Charlotte, the kid behind me (who, despite the fact that he was definitely older than 5, was inexplicably strapped into a car seat contraption) howled "Everyone was Kung Fu Fighting. Everyone was so excited." -- punctuated with dramatic grunts in between the two sentences -- for about ten minutes straight. At one point, he paused (I waited, holding my breath, hoping he had been suffocated by the flight attendant) and asked his mother, "What are the words again?" She cackled with laughter and reminded him of the lyrics; I broke through the "we aren't going to acknowledge each other" wall with the plump woman sitting to my right, exchanging exaggerated rolling eyes.

THEN, on my flight to Boston, this sunburned, overcaffeinated 7 or 8-year old sat next to me with his father. To give you an idea of what we are dealing with, this kid was wearing one of those frat boy Abercrombie shell necklaces and his nasally voice made him sound just like Karen from "Will and Grace." He was upset with the fact that even though his ticket said "19F," his parents were making him sit in the middle seat so that his older brother could sit by the window across the aisle. He repeated the mantra "But my ticket says 19F" over and over and over as his father alternated between ignoring him and muttering "Stop being a baby, Andrew."

At one point, the father stared at him with the faux-wrath of a professional wrestler and said "Next time we book flights we're going to make sure your seat is in a middle seat in the middle of a plane by yourself and we're going to make you sit in it."

"Really?!," Andrew the Terrible asked through his tears. His father didn't respond. Andrew waited about a minute and then asked for his PSP.