Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Snapshot Book Review: The Tender Bar

The Tender Bar: A Memoir The Tender Bar: A Memoir by J.R. Moehringer

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
Not a bad memoir; not particularly gripping, but very vivid in its way of person-description-by-storytelling. Probably the least "woe is me, I'm a drunk" and most interesting "look how I became a reporter for Times" book out there. And still, it became rambly. About two-thirds of the way through, I wondered why so many pages remained and what Moehringer could possibly have left to tell me that was so darned important. I hate when the story seems over and the book keeps going. Of course, I claim to hate when the story seems UNfinished and the book ends more, but I suppose that's a much better way to end a book--leave the reader wanting. Always a good sign for the author, anyway.

I could easily see The Tender Bar becoming a cult classic within reading groups, but it didn't blow me away. What can I say--I'm a tough audience. I'd recommend this one more strongly to males, particularly the intellectual types. It's about male-bonding, after all, and I imagine many of them would relate to the issues Moehringer explores.

View all my reviews.

Riding the Bus: Only In New York City

What I love about having the opportunity to take a bus partway to and from work is the ability to look out the window. (That as well as the relative comfort of the seats and silence the of a bus ride, compared to the subway.) I wouldn’t necessarily claim that there are more interesting sights to be seen above ground than below—because for certain you would miss the calf-less man scooting from car to car rattling his tin bucket for change; the traveling Spanish mariachi group who, I discovered by listening to them practice at a stop once, knows exactly three chords which they play continuously in each car until people give them money; excited-looking foreign tourists who can’t stop taking pictures of one another and at seven-thirty in the morning; and the like—but sites above-ground involve setting variety in addition to character variety and are, therefore, simply a nice diversion.

Riding a bus in New York is also a very different experience from riding a bus in other cities. For instance, the sites are not always the same, since because the traffic is so horrendous, the bus takes a slightly different route every day.

I have certainly seen some Only In New York City sites while riding the bus. For instance, one morning, as I was looking out the window, I discovered a trapeze artist practicing inside what appeared to be a netted high ropes course . . . all constructed above a parking garage.

Another Only In New York City site appeared on a more remote street, farther from the city center, where the buildings were spaced farther apart. There, a flat, single-story building was flanked by light brown two-by-fours around the base of its perimeter, and no semblance of decoration could be found anywhere else on the entire building. One would assume the building was vacant, except that over one small, squat front door, a green and pink neon sign declared “Tequila Sunrise.” This could very well have been an outdated advertisement, except right below, hanging from two grayish strings, was a tarp-style poster proclaiming “We’re Open!”

When someone comes and visits me, I want to take them to that bar. I’ll save money from my first paycheck, and we can drink Tequila Sunrises, on me.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Why I’ve become a dedicated Mac user

1. Macs are for neat freaks

And I am nothing if not a neat freak. Since I have moved into my apartment, I have taken out my trash every other day. I have vacuumed my carpet and cleaned the shared bathroom every single weekend. I keep files for nearly everything, and making to do lists is how I occupy my spare time on the subway.

Macs let you keep your screen clutter-free. They put what you don’t need out of they way, but keep what you do need close at hand. Every application is streamlined and clean-looking, with as few extra windows, buttons, and pop-ups as possible.

2. Macs are for control freaks

Which I am, a bit. I like to know where things are at all times. I like to have my things “just so.” I like organization. I like routine. I like continuity.

Macs let you customize until you have things “just so.” You can put icons where you want them, in the size and color that you want them, in the number and variety that you want them. You can make them open in certain ways at certain times. You can give them certain appearances.

3. Macs don’t require downloading new software for every little thing

So you don’t need: virus protection, photo-downloading software for your camera, printer/scanner software, AIM…. And therefore your computer remains less cluttered (for the neat freaks) and you can open documents using the same application every time (for the control freaks). So everyone’s happy.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Snapshot Book Review: Leaving Dirty Jersey

Leaving Dirty Jersey: A Crystal Meth Memoir Leaving Dirty Jersey: A Crystal Meth Memoir by James Salant

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
For me, reading this book was more educational than pleasurable. I wouldn't necessarily call it well-written, as many of the episodes the author recounts seem repetitive, and they don't culminate to any final climax, from what I could tell. The beginning didn't "grab my attention," and I felt that the entire thing left one with little sense of surprise, both during the reading and at the end.

However, I easily recognized the temperament and actions of a good friend of mine in those of the author/narrator, so that alone was enough to force me onward through the novel--eager to know as much as possible about this lifestyle, to understand it and recognize it.

I don't think Salant fully or vividly captured the overwhelming compulsion of addiction, but he laid out the lifestyle and habits of a drug addict very plainly and thoroughly (from what I know and have observed in Real Life).

I would be interested to know what other addicts would have to say about this book.

View all my reviews.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Things I love

My mind is now at least somewhat at ease, and today’s weather is just so perfect that I am inspired to create this list. I am sure I have written one before, but just because the fancy has struck, I am going to make another one.

  • Slightly breezy 65-70 degree weather, in the sunshine.
  • Hot showers.
  • Happy exhaustion at the end of a hard workout.
  • Cooking for other people.
  • Receiving mail.
  • Giving gifts.
  • Kittens.
  • Good books.
  • British accents.
  • Learning about language.
  • The smell of cinnamon.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Snapshot Book Review: True Notebooks

True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall True Notebooks: A Writer's Year at Juvenile Hall by Mark Salzman

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is most definitely one of my new all-time favorites. I have never read a white guy write so honestly about his own awkwardness and fears when confronting kids of not only different races and backgrounds, but life experiences and potentially moral/ethic codes, as well. Of course, what especially appealed to me was the fact that all of this reflection and discovery takes place within the verbal realm. Salzman goes into the juvenile penal system to start a writing class and ends up learning what it means to "jack someone's shit" or to be a "buster." He presents the inmates' writing very straightforwardly and without embellishment: yes, they do write about being baller and tagging shit and throwing up gang signs and women with big titties. But they also write about their mothers, about loneliness, about freedom, and about selfhood in raw, straight-on ways that most Great Writers would never in a million years be able to replicate.

In short, this is a refreshing spin on the memoir genre, as well as a book that has actually made me rethink teaching and nonprofit work. Perhaps I could be happy teaching writing. This book, at least, makes me long for the kind of fulfillment Salzman experiences.

View all my reviews.

A Job Has Arrived

And this--assuming my references check out (which I am confident they will)--will be my new employer:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Snapshot Book Review: The Emperor's Children

The Emperor's Children The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
I got "into" this book about 2/5 of the way through but by the end felt let down. I was anxious to see something happen, to get some sort of fulfillment for all of the complicated, anxiety-ridden relationships that were woven between characters, but the end was a long drawn-out wash in my opinion.

Also, this book did not even bother to capture any sense of NYC, which I find disappointing, since I now know firsthand what great fodder there is to be had.

View all my reviews.

Family Meetings

It’s funny how memories can remain hidden, boxed away in the tiniest nook and crannies of our minds and then, suddenly, jump out shedding dust bunnies and spider webs, to appear exactly like we remembered them. Amazing, really. And they do this at the most random of times.

I was in Singapore—as you must know by now, if you are at all a faithful reader—and on one of many bus rides with Angela. That’s how we got most everywhere, Angela and I: on the bus. In order to own a car in Singapore, you just first purchase a license to own the car, as cars are limited due to the size of the island. Then you may purchase the car, which you may only own for as long as the license permits. In effect, most residents use public transportation, the most convenient of which is buses. (They also have a subway system, but the island is so small, it only has two lines!)

In any case, we were on the bus. Most likely, we were discussing some comparative topic such as our families or our parents or rules we had growing up, but really, we could have been discussing mostly anything; the mind works in mysterious ways. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I remembered Family Meetings.

Family Meetings were scheduled events that my immediate family held on the first Saturday of every month while I was growing up. Gradually, the regularity of these meetings grew to be less and less, but the purpose and format of the meetings remained the same. The four of us—my mother, father, sister, and I—would sit down around our kitchen table. One of us was deemed the Holder of the Gavel and would commence the meeting by striking a red plastic hammer on the table with stern authoritativeness. Then, the Scribe—another family member; initially my mother, whose handwriting was the nicest, until I learned to write well enough and appointed myself in her place—would read through Old Business meeting notes from the last meeting. If there was any outstanding business to be taken care of, that is what we discussed first. If not, standard procedure was to move on to New Business.

New Business rarely varied from month-to-month and was usually most focused upon the negotiation/re-delegation of household chores. In return for a weekly allowance that vaguely corresponded with our age (I believe I received about two dollars by the time I was twelve, whereas my sister at that time—three-and-a-half years my junior—was still receiving a dollar twenty-five), my sister and I shared several daily and weekly household tasks. These included setting and clearing the table, vacuuming the first floor, and collecting the household trash. Because the latter two tasks were weekly and the former were daily, we further split the setting of the table into parts: silverware, plates, napkins, drinks, and condiments. We would split these as well, since each of us considered certain tasks least desirable and would barter to avoid them. Unfortunately, of course, we both considered getting the drinks the very least desirable task. This was because taking drink orders meant hunting down every member of the family, wherever they were in the house, and then knowing what beverages were available (because they would inevitably ask), and then remembering to offer ice or not (because sometimes Dad wanted ice, sometimes he didn’t; Mom almost never did). The other least desirable task was setting out condiments, and this was because no matter how hard you tried, you inevitably forgot something someone wanted and would have to get up in the middle of the meal and get it.

Alternatively, I hated clearing the table, which my sister didn’t seem to mind, so usually if I was willing to take at least one of the Least Desirable Tasks and most of the others, we could strike a bargain. The weekly chores were a bit more difficult to negotiate, as neither of us wanted to use up one extra minute of our weekend dragging the vacuum cleaner up from the basement and winding/unwinding the forever-long cord. Therefore, we alternated: one month I would take out the garbage every week and Amy would vacuum. The next month, Amy would take out the garbage and I would vacuum.

This chore alternation was dutifully recorded in our trusty Family Meeting ledger—a hard black binder filled with sheets of loose leaf paper. Additionally, when the table-setting tasks had been determined, those were also set down in writing.

Aside from chores, we didn’t often have other New Business to discuss, except in the summers. Then, we would usually also determine the specifics of our Yard Sale (who was selling what, when we would gather and price our things, the date/time of the sale, etc.), who was responsible for finding a cat-sitter for Twinkie (my cat and, therefore, almost always my responsibility) when we went on vacation, and any other concerns we, as family members, might want to raise with the rest of the family.

At the end, the Scribe would conclude by recording business left “Open” for the next meeting, if necessary. My mother then usually chose a closing song for us to sing, and the Holder of the Gavel would finally conclude our meeting with an authoritative rapping of the hollow red tool. The gavel and binder would then be stored away on one of our kitchen shelves until next month’s meeting.

Remembering these meetings makes me wonder about my childhood, but moreover, it makes me wonder where my parents came up with the idea. I would almost guarantee that no other family held monthly Family Meetings, and if they did, certainly not to the formal extent that my family did, with rigorous notes and a proper gavel-pounding, no less. Did my mother read this idea in a parenting book somewhere? Or was my father somehow creative enough to teach his children cooperation and corporate structure together by instituting this practice?

And finally, if this benign memory was lost to me for so long, what other childhood memories might I be able to coax out of the catacombs of my brain?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Why I am a Ghetto Girl

I received several responses to my September 5, 2008 posting, particularly concerning my reference to myself as a “ghetto girl.” I don’t think that, at the time of writing that post, I meant the reference in terms of an oft-presumed “she said what?” attitude and outrageous “bling” sense. Rather, I meant to imply that I tend to live in conditions that I know many others would find unacceptable or even preposterous. I consider it creative, practical living, but in a sense, it is very “ghetto.” Below, I will offer some examples.

When I was living in Brighton, there were no hooks anywhere in my room. Moreover, shelving space was tremendously limited. Therefore, in order to keep my hair accessories (i.e. bandanas and hair ties) up and out of the way, I devised some simple, self-made hooks: I taped twisty-ties to the wall.

I did not start ironing my clothing until about 3 months ago, when I began interning for Time Inc. At that time (no pun intended), I used my suitemate’s iron and ironing board and suffered through a good many overly saturated clothes as I tried to get out the wrinkles with the various iron settings. I have since purchased my own iron, and my ironing board now consists of a very sturdy white end table that I originally bought to elevate my dorm-sized refrigerator.

My rescued-from-the-trash black wire shelving unit currently serves not only as a simple shelving unit (for my books, papers, etc.), but also as a desk (for my stationary, stapler/glue/tape/post-its/etc./lamp), bureau (for my face wash/brush/lotion/etc.), and towel rack.

I don’t keep my belongings in drawers anymore, I keep them in Miller Lite and Office Depot Copy Paper boxes.

My Rolodex is a cardboard box with scrap cardboard tab dividers.

If you offered me a diamond bracelet or a hoodie, I would, in all seriousness, most likely take the hoodie. (This is assuming, however, that there is no receipt included with the gift. If there is, I’m taking the bracelet. Then I can return it and buy twenty hoodies!)

What I have done with my days off

Continued to indulge my library addiction: I am now a member of both the Queens and the NY Public library systems. The list of recently completed books has included

  • Alias Grace (good but slowly paced; historical-type fiction in an epistolary and vacillating first-person narrative form) and Oryx and Crake (very good futuristic/dystopia fiction; similar to the idea of what would happen were Brave New World to fall apart and then crash into Lord of the Flies) by Margaret Atwood
  • The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks (terrible, unless you are interested in a dressed-up Harlequin romance novel; Sparks didn’t even bother to research his audience and wrote the sex scene with the woman acting out his own “take me now” fantasies)
  • Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (a fun but substantial pop fiction read; well researched and therefore convincing look at circus drama)
  • Girl Meets God by Laurn Winer (thought-provoking memoir; introspective look at how to reconcile Judaic beliefs and habits with Christian faith)
  • Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides (cross-generational style fiction; tells the stories of family members leading up to the birth of the narrator, a transgender man)
  • A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah (strikingly simple prose; a memoir about a boy-soldier in Sierra Leone)

Tried out the NY bus system. I have a monthly unlimited pass, so I scouted routes between hospitals and libraries one day, when I was doing health insurance research. Personally, I prefer walking if the distance is under 20 blocks. It makes me feel in control of my own transportation and as if I am accomplishing something with my time rather than sitting in pointlessly congested traffic. However, there are advantages, as I took the M60 all the way from Harlem to the LaGuardia airport, and I never could have walked that.

Found grocery stores. When visitors come, I may not know where to take them out to eat, but I will certainly know where to buy anything they might like to cook for dinner!

Played volleyball with a group of Russians. I went to Coney Island last Sunday, for my last “summer hurrah,” and when I first arrived, I saw a group of volleyball players setting up a net. The sports addict in me was ravenous to play, but I felt uncomfortable approaching them, as they were already playing 4-on-4 and I would have made their numbers uneven. I went and sat on the beach for a couple hours, reading and swimming alternately, and when I finally decided to leave, I paused again on my way out. Now there were 3 different nets set up and a variety of people milling about. I stood watching a game for several minutes until one man came up to me and asked, in a very thick accent, me whether I had a team. Laughingly, I replied that I didn’t, and then his partner came up and said, “You do now!” Then I guess he rethought his invitation, because he remembered to ask, “Do you play?” And so I spent the next two hours playing pick-up volleyball games with what turned out to be the Russian volleyball community. I had no idea what they were saying, most of the time, but luckily, if you know how to play a sport, that’s all the language you need.

Bought a basil plant. I really hope I can keep this one alive. I am paranoid already that its leaves are turning white, like the ones on the basil I was plant-sitting for my cousin did, but I’m crossing my fingers, looking up every single piece of advice on herb gardening available, and murmuring encouraging words to it at bedtime!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Dim Sum Instructional Video

You'll need to turn your head on its side to watch this, but in my opinion, it's worth the neck cramp. You can watch me struggle to eat foreign food, and after watching, you'll know how to eat it, too!

Click the picture below to begin instruction. . . .

*NOTE: I'm really sorry, but you have to have a Facebook account to view the video. I couldn't get it to upload through Blogger, although I did try several times. If you don't have an account and still want to see it, either e-mail me or post a response here and I can send you the video directly by e-mail. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Literary Outrage

The offender: BBC World Service Radio Broadcast Article

This article so enrages me that the English major in me is going to come out and write a point-by-point retort.

The Question: should we relax English spelling rules?

The Short Answer: no.


Rather than answering this question myself, I am instead going to disassemble—or, perhaps, axe apart—Professor John Wells’ qualms with and “quick fixes” for the English language. I hope this retort proves convincing enough for those of you reading.

  • Problem with Wells’ suggestion #1: Simply removing the final e wouldn’t help a student determine what the vowel sound is; leaving the e there would just help them determine what the vowel sound isn’t. Take the word route as an example. Is this word pronounced boot-rhymes-with-route? Or is it pronounced out-rhymes-with-route? The final e clearly makes no difference, as neither word is pronounced rot, which would be the short o vowel sound.

    There are simply too many vowel sounds to try and fix pronunciation via spelling or, as in this case, make spelling easier by using pronunciation as a guide. The latter, in fact, could easily become more difficult.

  • Problem with Wells’ suggestion #2: Does he intend that double consonants should only appear after the first short vowel sound in the word? Because in the given examples “rivver” and “moddel,” the second vowel sounds are also short (although not quite the same, if you say the words aloud and really listen to yourself). Therefore, according to this rule, the words should be spelled “rivverr” and “moddell.”

    There are going to be an awful lot of letters trooping across our pages, if this rule is implemented. And again, if you think vowel sounds are restricted to Short and Long and can therefore be sorted out through spelling, see Problem #1 above.

  • Concerning suggestion #3 . . . this one looks okay to me. Maybe a keener mind will find the loophole.
  • Problem with Wells’ suggestion #4: Sure, we can add "Americanizations like thru, and then we can prolly add gonna, too, becuz you know the next generation'll be addin' all sorta IM-speak, lol.
  • Problem with Wells’ suggestion #5: It's most certainly a problem to remove the apostrophe from its, because doing so may not confuse the writer’s meaning, but it will certainly trip up the reader.

    Consider this slightly more dramatic but very real-life example: on her paper, one high school student wrote higen for hygiene and beuty for beauty. Now, in the context of her writing, these words were certainly discernable. However, the amount of time necessary to determine what were, exactly, the words she had written and, thus, what was the overall meaning of her prose was considerable.

    The same dilemma applies to interchanging its and it’s. The reader will figure out whether the "its" is actually a possessive pronoun or a singular noun-and-verb contraction, only the process of making this determination will take considerably longer.

    Of course we all know that the longer it takes a reader to determine anything, the more quickly he/she loses interest and puts down the book/magazine/pamphlet. And then we’ve just defeated our own goal of facilitating language, haven’t we?

  • Problem with Wells’ suggestion #6: See above explanation. Wells has clearly not read enough public urban middle school English papers to be perturbed by the interchanging of their, they’re, and there. Or maybe he considers himself liberal enough to see past these spelling differences. But we’ll see how liberal he feels when he starts running into bored, board, and bord, shood, IDK, OMG, and impressition. (Any guesses, for the last one? It’s a pretty easy one--I got it right away.)

Bottom line: leave English Spelling alone. Or, rather, drill your kids and your neighbors kids, and make them keep reading, since the years of published material aren't likely to suddenly be reprinted because spelling standards have changed. Standard English spelling has done the job thus far, as English is the first language of 375 million people and the second language of another estimated 750 million.* If spelling were that much of an issue, wouldn’t everyone have decided to speak a nice, phonetic language like Spanish—excuse me, Espanol—instead?

*(See if you don’t believe me, as I am ever the academic and feel I should cite my sources.)

Final Note: A point of further interest may be to research how Standard English Spelling has developed to the state in which it is currently taught/used. Questions to consider: has it evolved due to widespread usage by the masses, or have spelling "rules" been implemented by figures of authority and then slowly been passed between generations until old rules are phased out?

I admit, the academic in me may never die.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Why I need a Man

I met this guy on the way to Korea—more specifically, this man. We were sitting down on the Delta airplane, and he came up and asked, if no one sat there, could he please take the aisle seat beside me? His seat was way in the back of the plane, so he had no leg room, and although it would really suck to be stuck between two passengers for the next fourteen-and-a-half hours, if I didn’t mind…. I told him I didn’t mind. I mean, if someone came and claimed that seat, then I’d be stuck between two passengers anyway, so I may as well have someone who seemed pleasant enough sit beside me, as opposed to a complete stranger.

Of course, this guy was a complete stranger, up until the moment he introduced himself. All I knew of him the moment he sat down was that he appeared to be several years older than me (but not in the “like my dad” age range, which admittedly is probably part of the reason I let him sit there so readily) and looked to be from either the South or the West. I made this assumption not just because of his light-colored eyes and buzzed blond hair, but because although he had a tough, stocky build, he seemed to move comfortably within his frame; he moved as though he should be easily able to ride a horse or perform intensive physical labor very gracefully.

As it turned out, no one claimed Seat A, so the man stayed sitting in that seat, and over the next several hours, I learned that he was a ranked military officer and was taking a team of men to some sort of training camp in Korea. I learned most of this by listening to his conversations with the airline stewardess (excuse me, the "flight attendant"), because once she discovered he was in the military, she took a particular interest in attending to him every time the refreshments cart went around. She made quite a nuisance of herself, I thought, asking him all manner of questions about care packages and the like. I myself didn’t feel it was very polite to dwell on his line of work, since he probably wouldn’t be allowed to tell me much about it for one thing, and for another, he is probably bombarded with questions by every person he meets. If I were him, I surely wouldn’t want to be forced through a fourteen-and-a-half hour interrogation about my job. How tedious! And so, since he didn’t bring up my occupation (or lack there of), I didn’t bring up his.

Instead, we spent the majority of the flight passing the time in fun, meaningless ways. He played an online trivia game against other passengers on the TV/computer console embedded in the headrest in front of him, but since I had no interest in that, we worked together on beating the airline’s computerized version of Boggle (called Bookworm or something to that effect) instead. I must say that for a such a self-deprecating “military guy,” he had quite an extensive vocabulary. His were more often the multi-syllable words worth hundreds of points, while mine were the three- or four-letter ones that fulfilled the required three-letter sequences or simply kept us from dying. Then, after we ate our deliciously salty chicken, greasy spinach, mushy noodle concoction for dinner, he asked whether I would like to watch a movie together. We settled on Kung Fu Panda, at which point we plugged in our headphones, synched up our TV screens, and literally watched the movie together. It was lovely! Who would have thought I’d be eating peanuts and watching Kung Fu Panda with a kind, polite, random man on my flight to Korea?

I throw in those adjectives—“kind” and “polite”—because I have found that you can learn a lot about a person by noting the way they treat others. Obviously, they way they treat you is key, and this man was certainly those things toward me: kind, polite, chivalrous, generous, helpful--all of those things. However, I observed that he also treated the flight attendants very kindly, as well. If they were struggling with their carts, he would make an effort to assist them. If they dropped something or were having trouble managing the drinks they were pouring, he would pick up the lost item or hold one of the many containers they were attempting to manage. He also fielded their man questions with what I thought was great patience and class, considering the number of times he must have answered those very same questions from equally motherly-looking ladies (the attendants were probably in their late fifties or early sixties). He clearly had no aesthetic interest in these women, but he still treated them with respect equal to what he gave me, and I found that admirable.

Needless to say, I doubt he would have let them sleep on his shoulder so mindlessly, which is exactly what happened about midway through the flight. I must be a terribly floppy vertical sleeper, because I was dozing off at one point, and next thing I knew, I felt something cushiony sliding under my cheek. Opening my eyes, I realized that my head had slumped so far over into his seat, it was nearly on top of his shoulder. I began to apologize profusely, at which point he plumped the pillow he was arranging on his shoulder and shushed me. “I really don’t mind,” he told me. “It’s the least I can do, with your having let me sit here.” I considered his sincerity, but really, why protest? So I slept, technically, on the pillow—it wasn’t actually his shoulder.

Other little things worth mentioning are that when I slept through one of the snacks, he saved me a pack of cookies (they were Milanos, too!), and that when we arrived at the Korean airport, even after we had said goodbye on the plane, he found me staring futilely at the Departures Board looking for my connecting flight to Singapore, and he stayed with me until I found the proper gate. All of these details are nice, of course, but none of them convey exactly why this interaction convinced me that I need to find myself an Older Man. (Or, at least, someone who conducts himself with the responsibility and maturity of an older man.) I think part of it goes back to the ease with which he conducted himself. For one thing, although I had the vague impression that he may have been at least superficially interested in me, he did not waste his time trying to impress me. He did not put forth all sorts of effort to boast and to tell me things he thought I’d want to hear (which would have been easy, I imagine, his being in the military and all). I am so sick of guys who feel the need to swear and drink or worse—perform feats of academic or athletic prowess—and then tell me all about these accounts in excruciating detail, as if I should care deeply and award them some sort of gold medal make a present of myself. Also, there were also no intrusive poking and prodding questions that I always know are meant to evaluate me as a “candidate of interest.” He just asked me the basic “who are you” questions at the outset of our meeting, and that was that—we learned about each other through the limited interactions available to us on the flight, and that was enough.

More than this, though, this man had a sense of competency about him. I would not trust most—if any—guys my age to do things that I am perfectly capable of doing, much less things I cannot do. However, in this man’s company, I felt that nothing bad could happen to me or, that if something bad did happen, he would either help me to take care of it or perhaps would even fix it for me. He seemed capable of many more things than I am, which is not a feeling I generally have when encountering the opposite sex. I could imagine him repairing household fixtures, resolving computer glitches, and handling administrative dilemmas with simple, straightforward tactics that would accomplish the tasks quickly and easily. Yet, he did not remind me of my father until afterward, when I thought about all of these skills that I imagined him to have and realized that they are all skills that the men of my father's generation allegedly possess.

This, I believe, is what differentiates the term “man” from the term “guy.” My Delta flight partner was a man. I need to find myself one of those. Or perhaps pray that the lads of my generation grow up to become men very very soon.

Friday, September 5, 2008


I feel like I’m living out the life of Goldilocks, trying out all of these beds in all of these new places; the only difference is, each bed is in a new residence. Right now, I’m sleeping on a combination Papa/Mama/Baby Bear bed, as the bed provided to me in my new Queens apartment (and, consequently, the only piece of furniture allotted to me upon my move) is a rock hard, medium-width, and extremely short futon. I suppose I have been spoiled, most recently having slept in a super-plush, king-sized bed at the Hilton Hotel in Madison, WI for my Epic interview. Before that, I had the luxury of sleeping in extra-long dorm beds at both Columbia (very soft) and Rochester (firm but remediable with double mattress pads). Then, of course, before that I had my dear double bed in Pittsburgh (which, I must say, is juuuuuust right). This futon, though, is nearly the equivalent of sleeping on the floor. And if I ever find a man worth having over, he’s going to have to be shorter than me, because I barely fit lengthwise on the bed! (This must be another way of God’s signaling that the time is not right. Thank you Baby Bear.)

To give you a comparative sense of what various abodes have looked like over the past six months or so, here are some shots of the bedrooms in which I have slept.


Don’t mind the goofballs constantly on my bed. One’s a former friend, the other’s my sister. (Hopefully all of you recognize me.) Isn’t my furniture lovely? My parents have such good taste.


I’m including this, even though I lived here over a year ago, just because it was such a unique residence. It definitely qualifies as the smallest room I have ever lived in. But I’m a ghetto girl, so I successfully made it my own, falling-down plaster and all.

This was my senior year dorm room. Again, ignore my silly dad, but if you were to stand where he is sitting and turn around, you would be facing the image of next photograph (with me in it). The storage spaces were built into the walls in that dorm room, which turned out to be quite efficient.
I am also including a shot of my sophomore/junior year dorm room, for comparison. Notice how the furnishings don’t really change over the years…?


This was by far the largest dorm room I have ever had the pleasure of staying in. What's more, it had air-conditioning and a gorgeous city skyline view, right out the window! Unfortunately, I could not ring such praises for the rest of the campus facilities, but at least I had a cool, clean haven for the months of June and July.


My cousin’s apartment was only a temporary residence, but I did stay there for about a week, so I am including a picture. The leveled futon on the right is where I slept, and it was significantly longer than the futon on which I am sleeping now.


And this is my newest bedroom! Again, same basic decorations (yellow bedspread, blue carpet, multicolored lamp), but this time with much more makeshift furniture. The carpet makes the room so much homier than it would be otherwise, really. Without it, the main attraction would be all the cardboard boxes I have stacked on my wire shelving—not so attractive. I do love my windows, though! Next purchases (upon the attainment of monetary substances) will be brighter-colored curtains (because brown is quite honestly the ugliest curtain color I have ever seen) and a basil plant for my windowsill (and for cooking—obviously). I can’t wait!

Grocery Stores

If you don’t have the money to travel the world, you can see, hear, and taste a variety of cultures by simply exploring New York City. The cultural divide between neighborhoods is palpable, not only by the skin tones and hair colors possessed by their inhabitants, not only by the dialects and languages they speak, but even simply by what they sell in their grocery stores.

Take Harlem: Having lived here temporarily for about a week-and-a-half, I have done enough grocery shopping to discover that the foods that they stock in surplus here are, indeed, significantly different from those I would find in a suburban Pittsburgh Giant Eagle or Shop’n Save store. As I perused the condiments aisle in one grocery store for peanut butter, I discovered that Harlem residents must like their food quite spicy—there were not one, not two, but three shelves of every brand of hot sauce imaginable. Likewise, in the canned goods aisle, I discovered several versions of a food I have only ever heard by name: collard greens. (Needless to say, I did not buy a can; the name alone does not sound very appetizing—“greens” is such a general term, as if someone wasn’t able to determine exactly what kind of vegetable this is, and “collard” sounds a little like beginning of the word “cauliflower” combined with the end of “turd.” If I am going to try this new, strange-sounding food, I’d rather be introduced by a native eater. If it’s a real vegetable, it’s probably better fresh, and I would have no idea how to find—much less prepare—it properly.)

Then, there is my new place of residence: Woodside. Having only perused a few stores during my apartment-scouting days, I cannot comment extensively on what food is sold in Woodside. However, I did note a variety of tremendously large bags of rice showcased at the front of several stores, along with an extensive variety of dried beans sold not only at the grocery stores, but at the discount marts, as well. Judging by the appearance of the population, Woodside seems to be a predominantly Indian community, but even if I were to walk around the area blind, the smells alone would tip me off. Harlem smells like cigarette smoke, rotting trash, incense sticks, and grease (think fried chicken). Woodside smells like hot pavement, car exhaust, construction dust, and spice (kebabs, curry, and other roadside vendor Halal cuisine).

My last area of comparison is the Upper West Side. I found grocery shopping quite frustrating during my time at Columbia, but not for cultural reasons. There was no predominant ethnic population that grocery seemed to cater to in the Upper West Side. Instead, the stores catered to a certain socio-economic population: the boutique shoppers. Grocery stores tended to sell fruit by the piece instead of the pound (e.g. 3 oranges for $5), and the produce was buffed to shine before being carefully arranged on display. Beans, if they were to be found, were always canned and Goya-brand—the “designer” brand of canned beans, for all of you non-bean eaters. I, of course, was frustrated by all this shopping glitz and glamour. I don’t need designer beans and sparkling oranges; I need simple, affordable, basic food. For that, it seemed, I needed to peruse other areas of the city and lug my findings all the way back to Columbia. At least, however, my thriftiness served as motivation to explore.

And now that I have explored a little more, I am ecstatic to find that there is an Asian community exactly one subway stop away from my new Queens residence. It’s certainly not Chinatown, and the population still seems to appear mixed, at least from my observations as I strolled down the street. So how do I know it is Asian community? The grocery store! My friend Tao and I ate lunch in the area, and then he took me to a nearby grocery store. The very front of the store was teeming with live and recently-butchered fish as well as fruits that I recognized from my recent trip to Singapore (longan and dragon fruit in particular)! We found soba in the noodles aisle and any number of ten-pound bags of rice in the back of the store. Plus, there was an entire aisle of chili sauce! I am so relieved that when my two bottles from Singapore run out, I will be able to find replacements. However, picking a brand will undoubtedly prove tricky….