Friday, August 29, 2008

a matter of pasta and death

You know that scene in "Wedding Crashers" in which Isla Fisher, the crazy virgin (ha, that's gonna get me some interesting Google search result hits), warns Vince Vaughn "Never leave me... cuz... I'll... find... youuuu" and it's funny (or, rather, would have been funny if it hadn't been in every trailer) because she is saying something outrageous that must be a joke because who would ever stalk someone like that but there's this fearful glint in Vince's eyes because he wonders if there's a chance she might actually mean it?

OK, good.

Now follow me to dinner Thursday night. My family was at a fancy Boston restaurant marked by dim lighting and delicious flaky bread rolls, taking our sweet time with our menus and trying to decide what to order. We were in the midst of our usual hemming and hawing (it's weird how people always ask each other what they're going to order beforehand, right? and then how we always ask the waiter what's good, even if we totally know what we're going to get? we're bad at making decisions, us humans, huh?). Then the waiter came over.

He was a genial fellow, probably in his late-twenties. He went around getting our orders and then arrived at my mother, sitting to my left.

"So which of the pastas is the best?" she asked. He pointed one out as his favorite, which was then vetoed after he explained it was made with "squid ink."

"Oh, OK, that's not your thing?" he said. "Well how about the ravioli then?"

My mom said "sure," laughed for about seven seconds, and then added as she handed him her menu: "It better be good... or I'll kill you."

I looked up from my Blackberry and immediately turned to my mom, as did my other family members. I couldn't see the waiter's face, but my brother later informed me he looked, to put it mildly, "startled."

To his credit, the waiter retorted immediately, "The death threats don't usually come until the entrees," before darting back to the kitchen, an added urgency to his step.

We didn't see him again until he came to get our dessert orders.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

magnifying glasses!

Today was one of those "fun if you make it fun" kind of days. I woke up with a gmail draft of 13 different tasks I wanted to accomplish. It is now 5 p.m. and I've only got three items left. Success! Most of them were errand-y things (buy mirror, join a gym); others were not (watch the latest episode of "Mad Men," respond to starred e-mails).

So how did I make today fun? I recorded (on my Blackberry) all the weird conversations I had.

8:46 a.m., Time Warner cable store

Time Warner Representative (dead ringer for Bailey on "Grey's", except with scarily long fake white fingernails) asks me for my driver's license. I hand it to her.

TWR (looking at the picture on my driver's license): "This doesn't look like you."
Me: "Yeah, people say I look a lot older on my ID."
TWR (squints at ID for a good ten seconds): "It's the shadow on your beard."

10:23 a.m., office inside NYSC gym

Membership Coordinator (wearing an ill-fitting tight pantsuit) is sitting across from me, filling out my paperwork. She coughs and I look up from gazing at the picture of her and her husband (?) on her desk.

MC: "Excuse me, I'm not feeling well. It's this weather... always changing. Sometimes it's hot and then.... sometimes it's just, like, not."
(She giggles. I feel the need to say something, though I'm not sure what to say.)
Me (said as if I think I am telling a really good joke): "Yeah, I never know what to wear when I get up in the morning this time of year. I put on a t-shirt and then I'm like 'Dammit, why didn't I wear a long-sleeved shirt?!'"
MC: "If only we could jump outside for a second each morning to figure out the weather before getting dressed... (hands me document) OK, sign here, please."

3:45 p.m., Staples

Me: "Do you guys sell mirrors here?"
Staples Employee: "Hmmmmm, that's a good one. (pause) No, I don't think so. But we have magnifying glasses! That's the closest thing."

Friday, August 22, 2008


So my brothers and I were driving to the movies today and as we pulled into the theater I noticed this oddness on the placard in the parking lot:

Now I've seen my share of laziness in terms of movie placards ("Tropic" in for "Tropic Thunder" is pretty standard practice.) But "Mamma Pants"?! Seriously?! I made a lame quip to my bros (something along the lines of "Mamma Pants?! Now that would be an interesting movie!") and parked the car in the empty parking lot. (It was 3 o'clock in the afternoon in sunny Cape Cod. The only other people in our theater were a 70-year old monstrosity of a man and a teenage girl sitting by herself.)

Anyway, after stocking up on sodas, we walked toward our movie. This is when I noticed that, strangely, the melding of sunny "Mamma Mia!" and sappy "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" wasn't just advertised on the placard -- it was inside as well.

Now this really befuddled me. I know, I know, in all likelihood the theater alternates between showing the two movies: hence, the odd header above the theater doors. But are we sure? Perhaps the owners of the theater spliced together the two movies into a sort of YouTube-style fan fantasy with the best scenes from both movies? (The strongest numbers from "Mamma Mia!" interspersed with Blake Lively prancing around Grecian landscapes laughing -- it would be like a gay man's dream!)

Or what if it was an entirely new movie altogether?! Possibilities:

1) A heartwarming tale about a seamstress (who in my mind is played by Helen Mirren) who runs an orphanage. She sews pants for all of her little orphan girls as she sings old hymns and tells stories. One day the littlest, cutest orphan cuddles up next to her and christens her with her very own nickname.

2) A screwball comedy about three women in their thirties (Fey/Poehler/Wiig) who all have kids around the same time and who decide to raise their three tykes together. Of course, crazy hijinks follow as the ladies juggle diapers, dates and their careers! (Luke Wilson plays Tina's love interest, the good-hearted chef who lives down the hall.) The titular "pants" refer to the baby food-stained jeans which the women alternate wearing around town as a sign of their Mom Pride.

3) A dark indie thriller starring a doe-eyed brunette (Anne Hathaway) and her dim-witted boyfriend (Ryan Reynolds). They have a small child. Basically, Anne's being chased by this serial killer and she's on the run and out of breath the whole time. In the final scene the killer is in the same room as Anne while the infant is hiding in the closet. But the scene is shot from the closet where the infant can hear Mamma panting the whole time.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

things that happen when you get a blackberry

1) Because you get notified every time you get a new e-mail, the joy of checking your e-mail after being out for a few hours or after a weekend out of town is a thing of the past. When you get onto your laptop, gmail is an afterthought rather than the first stop. This is totally depressing.

2) You respond to e-mails as if you were writing a text message. Whereas in the past you might have written a few paragraphs in response to a long e-mail -- a short summary of what's going on in your life, a few anecdotes and some mandatory questions -- now, you write "hiy thigns r good. will respond larer when have more time."

3) You can no longer use the "Oh, I didn't see your e-mail yet!" excuse.

4) Fun debates over lunch ("What was the name of that Angelina Jolie-Nicolas Cage car movie?!" "I wonder what Melissa Joan Hart is up to nowadays!") get solved in a matter of seconds, saving everyone from eight minutes of bickering and conjecturing among people who have no idea what they're talking about. This is totally awesome.

5) You forget, almost immediately, what it felt like to have a flip phone, back when you couldn't look up how to get to the nearest Burger King from your car and when you couldn't gchat your friends while you sat by the pool. You're not sure if this is a good thing.

Friday, August 15, 2008


There are many popular misconceptions about San Francisco. For one thing, it's not warm. Anticipating a sunny California vacation, I packed a suitcase filled with summer wear. I ended up wearing the one pair of jeans I brought every day. Apparently, the weather (=blustery, in the 60s) is the same all year 'round and it hardly ever rains. I guess it's a good place to live for the kind of people who always order the same drink at Starbucks and who hate surprise parties.

It's also ridiculously foggy in San Francisco. There is fog everywhere all the time. I don't think I had a real conception of the power of fog until my week in SF. I guess it's not really a misconception that San Francisco isn't foggy, but I was just surprised that the whole city appears to be part of a massive dry ice demonstration day and night.

Another misconception is that the Golden Gate Bridge is in the heart of San Francisco. Not so much. It took a tricky combination of buses for us to reach the GGB, which is sort of on the edge of the city. But let me tell you: it was worth it.

I was inexplicably all giddy to walk across the bridge. I had been talking about it for days to the annoyance of my friend Cari, who had no choice but to listen to me constantly babble about the GGB since I was staying with her. When we got off the bus, Cari asked a woman walking in the opposite direction how to get to the start of the bridge. The woman started gesticulating wildly and talking in what seemed to be a foreign language (though I think, technically, she was speaking English). Cari and I just sort of gawked at her as if she were some kind of colorful bird in a zoo as she rambled. Finally, opening her eyes freakishly wide, she closed her speech with one glorious word: "... surreale!" (pronounced "SUR-eee-AHL") She grinned (sort of like a shy kid in section who has just surprised himself by making a really nifty point) and then skipped off.

In fact, as it turns out, our foreign friend knew what she was talking about. Walking across the GGB, which was (of course) draped in a curtain of fog, was sort of like traipsing through a dreamland. The combination of the vibrant burgundy paint (which is reapplied each year) with the drab cars/fog/cold combination was jarring. As we navigated past the tourists, bikers and debris, it often appeared as though we were floating on a suspended mass of land, as the fog completely hid our surroundings. Check out the spires ascending toward the unknown foggy abyss.

But as soon as we stepped off on the other side, after about an hour of walking and about a hundred (quirky/cute/ill-advised) pictures later, we suddenly felt a tad... deflated. After the almost out-of-body experience of journeying across the river on a massive/gorgeous structure, we were decidedly/sadly back in the harsh/grim world. We unsuccessfully searched for food; Cari was so disgusted by the bathroom that she turned around immediately upon entrance; like 30 tourists asked me to take their picture; we tried to hitch a ride back across with a tour bus but balked at the steep fee asked of us.

With no other choice but to make our way back across, we sighed, we smirked, we started walking. But, as though the bridge had some sort of mystical healing properties, as soon as we got back on, our impending return trip seemed much more manageable. The fog was gone. The chilly winds calmed down. I felt a stirring in the back of my head -- kind of analogous to the feeling I had when Kelly Clarkson won "American Idol" -- when I looked up at the now-crystal-clear and simply awe-inspiring spires. This ain't so bad. We reveled underneath the spires, drank in the scenery and sashayed to the end.

That's the thing about the GGB: the high you get from walking on it is so preternaturally high that it makes the rest of normal life -- spent looking for bathrooms, paying bus fares and thinking of places to eat dinner -- seem more inconsequential than the ephemeral fog.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Greetings! I just returned to my new hometown (=NYC) after a wonderful trip to San Francisco (more on that in coming posts). But for now, as with my first post-road trip post, I feel compelled to share an airplane anecdote.

I booked my tickets to San Francisco (I have learned that SF must never be referred to as "San Fran" unless you wish to be subjected to condescending glares and eye rolls from the natives) on Virgin America, an airline I knew nothing about, solely because it was a good $200 cheaper than any other option. Now that I am no longer a Virgin virgin (yuk yuk yuk), I can tell you that this airline is wack.

Waiting for my flight in New York last week, the captain came out and introduced himself to all of us waiting at the gate. I looked around at my fellow travelers -- checking their Blackberries, drinking their Starbucks, all scowls and frowns -- as the jovial captain asked "Does anyone have any questions about the trip we are about to take?" Unsurprisingly, barely anyone waiting for the flight even looked up to acknowledge his presence.

The flight itself was filled with more of the same intrusive friendliness. The captain announced over the loudspeaker that we were free to come to the front of the plane and see the cockpit before take-off (about three kids took him up on his offer); the flight attendants asked unnecessary questions ("Have you ever been to San Francisco before?") in sing-song voices as they poured drinks; pop music blared in the bathrooms. Basically, for antisocial curmudgeons like myself, it was a nightmare in the air.

There was one aspect of flying Virgin, however, that didn't make me squirm. Each passenger is provided with an "entertainment console" installed into the back of the seat in front of them. You can select from over 60 movies (at $7 a piece), TV episodes ("Dexter," "Gossip Girl," "Mad Men"), about 20 live channels and a plethora of radio options. Sure, the headphones didn't really work and the consoles on my flight back inexplicably shut down half-way through the flight, but the idea of having a personal entertainment system is pretty neat.

In addition to the viewing options, I noticed a button on the console for chatting, with the option to enter a "chat room" for passengers on my flight. I tried to envision what kind of conversations might be taking place in the chat room ("Dawn the flight attendant: hot or not?!"; "anyone wanna meet up in the bathroom?? :-)"; "this food sux, huh?"). I had to know.

I spent a good ten minutes trying to come up with my handle (required to enter the chat). All of my ideas either seemed too ordinary ("JDGuy"), too sketchy ("just_observing," "friendlyflyer") or too bizarre ("mybackhurts," "mizunderstood"). Finally I settled on the only screen name that made sense: "dietcoke4lyfe."

I entered my name and waited through the log-in process... only to find that... I was the only member of the chat. This was crushing. I noticed the woman sitting on my left (who spent the whole flight reading Kant, incidentally) peering over at my chat screen and I felt hot around my neck. Panicked, I began to type (see photo below - click on it for a larger version).
She went back to her Kant; I logged out of the chat room. I didn't touch the console again, the embarrassment/confusion of being the solitary chatter uncomfortably raw. So I did the only thing that I could think of: I asked the flight attendant for another Diet Coke.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

the depth and the door

Things are moving along quite swimmingly. Some dude in gym garb asked me how to get to Houston Street at 2 a.m. in the subway station last night and I knew what to tell him (or at least I thought I did); I found a 24-hour market a block away with 20 varieties of hummus; I no longer sweat profusely in the oppressive/dirty NYC heat.... etc.

Living in my first real apartment, though, is taking some getting used to. I solve one problem (buying a bookshelf to put my books on) and it creates ten new ones (now I need to assemble it; now I need to find a place for this huge chair; oh, right, I should buy a mirror, etc.).

But my apartment has its charms/quirks, which makes up for the general stress I feel in its confines during this moving in process. When you open the door to my apartment, immediately to your right is the most awkward space I have ever encountered. (This photograph, top left, does not do it justice.) It is really narrow and really deep, which means that only the most awkward things can fit in it (such as these two bags filled with clothing left by the previous tenant... see what I mean by "only the most awkward things"?). I am curious about the thought process that led the designer or architect or whatever you call that person to create this totally unusable/useless space. Perhaps his aim was to toy with the über-stressed NYC tenant who craves every square inch he can get his hands on. YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO USE THIS SPACE CONSTRUCTIVELY!

Then, right next to the Alienating Depth, is the Unopenable Door. This door doesn't open. My brother tried all of my keys -- door don't budge. We assume there is a circuit breaker or pipes or something else metal behind it, but WHO KNOWS?!?!?!? It could be a portal to the Island on LOST, a storage closet for dead bodies, a tunnel to Brooklyn. I WILL NEVER KNOW. Like the Depth, the Door is there to taunt me, to challenge me, to make sure I never forget that, in this town, no matter how many people I can give directions to or how many cool cafés I find, there are always going to be ten new problems after you've solved one and so many things you just don't know.

Monday, August 4, 2008

training wheels

I eat really fast. It is kind of a source of family pride that we eat as though we have guns to our heads. My dad, to the annoyance of the rest of us, often gives out a "clean plate award" at the end of a meal to the family member who leaves the least amount of food on his or her plate -- a designation that almost always results in screaming or passive-aggressive silence.

Anyway, I was grabbing a quick sandwich (Chicken Pesto, no feta) at Au Bon Pain before hopping on the subway to look for a desk (don't fret -- anecdotes/observations relating to my new apartment forthcoming in future posts!). I was sitting at a small table, zoning out, wondering why there were red peppers on my sandwich as I wolfed it down, when the elderly woman to my right tapped my shoulder, and said, in a hushed tone, "Son, why in such a hurry? You have to get back to work?"

[The woman: neon pink baseball hat, overlapping wrinkles, dark green fanny pack. Her husband, presumably (across the table): white socks up to his knees, large-framed eyeglasses falling off his face, newspaper in his hands.]

"Oh, uh, yeah," I stammered. "I have to get back to work." (This was a lie. It was 1:45 p.m on a Monday. I don't start work for a month.)

(The way my mind works: lying > admitting "Oh, uh, I'm just a really fast eater.")

"Where do you work?" she asked.

"I'm in, uh, training," I lied. "I am in a really laid-back two-week training program right now before I start my job." (I added "really laid-back" because I was wearing clashing casual clothes and felt the need, in this detailed fabrication, to justify my wardrobe.)

"Was this seriously happening?!" I asked myself. Wasn't the whole thing about New York City that people don't talk to each other and mind their own business and knock into each other on the streets with dirty looks as they say with their eyes "Get out of my way, you unimportant toad!"?!?! Somehow, I found myself sitting next to the last two kind-hearted, outgoing, inquisitive people in NYC.

And when I say "inquisitive," I am not giving them enough credit. In the five minutes I spent talking to Fanny Pack and Goggle Face, they asked me about everything, from his inquiring if I thought I would be able to "handle" the "hustle and bustle" of NYC, to her (this is not a joke) asking me, first, how much Yale tuition costs and, then, if I had received any financial aid to help pay for it. For a second (about when she asked me if I got honors in my history major) I wondered if they were some kind of secret government spies commissioned to interrogate me.

At a lull in the Most Unexpected Conversation I Have Ever Had, in the middle of him rambling about how there aren't many good supermarkets around where I live, I collected my trash and stood up.

"Well, uhhhhhh, it was nice to meet you guys," I said. "I should probably get back to training." I gestured to my empty plate.

"Good luck with everything," Fanny Pack cooed. "Get on now, you don't want to be late when you're getting trained for a new job."

I walked back out into the muggy New York air and felt sort of queasy.