Thursday, April 30, 2009

Warm Fuzzies #8: Perfect Pie

I know I have written about this before, but if there is one skill I would like to perfect (after writing, of course), it is cooking. There is something about giving people instant gratification—and receiving instant feedback for that gratification—that is intoxicating and intensely rewarding. Writing is entertainment of the mind; it nourishes the imagination. Food is entertainment of the body; it nourishes the tastebuds.

I recently undertook the task of baking a strawberry pie. Although I already had a pre-made pie crust, everything else was from scratch, and while I have never baked a strawberry pie before—only cherry—I was pretty dissatisfied with everything I found on the internet. Therefore, this pie was the result of a conglomeration of recipes and imaginative substitutions. After all the mixing and matching, here is what resulted:

Now, I take pride in baked goods that look beautiful, but obviously the taste is the most important thing (although sometimes it is hard to convince myself of this, particularly when a cake collapses or cookies ooze into paper-thin pancakes on the baking sheet). Therefore, the true test of this pie's merit would occur when I took it to work. And here's where the warm, fuzzy part comes in. The reactions were so positive, they gave me a golden glow feeling all day long.

In no particular order:

  • Wow! It’s reallllly good!
  • I second that!
  • Thanks for the pie! I’m trying not to eat it all before the run, but I had a few small bites and it’s hard to resist devouring the rest.
  • I finally know how the detective in Twin Peaks felt….
  • Your pie was great, the fruit was firm and not mushy and I loved the crust and crumblies.
  • Count me in anytime. Do you make other pies?
  • I am so not kidding when i say that was the best tasting piece of pie I have ever had.

    And finally, my favorite:

  • If i wasn't already married, I would propose based on the contents of that pie....
So now all I have to do is trek out to the Upper East side, pie-in-hand, and start taking that direct stomach-to-heart route with a few attractive stock brokers…. Or maybe I should stick with doctors in this economy. Or lawyers. I’ll try blueberry pie next.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: A Million Little PIeces

A Million Little Pieces A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

My review

rating: 3 of 5 stars
As a work of fiction, I can see why a publisher wouldn't take it--as it was written. But if the publishing industry still bothered to put effort into fixing up books, I think this could easily have been marketed as a modern-day One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Then, the fact that it was even partially autobiographical would have been intriguing--and thus exploitable. It's sad that this man was so desperate to sell his book that he was willing to lie, but honestly, I would have signed this book light years before I would have signed The Da Vinci Code.

Anyone interested in parsing fact from fiction, take a look at this article.

View all my reviews.

Snapshot Book Review: Tales of the Unexpected

Tales Of The Unexpected Tales Of The Unexpected by Roald Dahl

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
The problem with this book is that all of the endings were expected! This would be a great book to use as a model for lessons in irony with a creative writing class, because that is the purpose of every story--to provide an ironic ending to an otherwise relatively mundane story. I like irony as much as anyone else, but none of the endings were surprising. It's hard to stay engaged in a suspenseful short story when you can predict the ending from page two. Luckily, I like to see execution, so I did read the book as a sort of self-exercise.

I'd recommend this book to creative writing teachers, but not too many other people. The verbiage is lovely--I'd use the words "quaint" or "old-fashioned" to describe the style. It makes me think of those work by Beatrix Potter mixed with Hemingway. The irony is well executed, but other than thinking, "wow, that was well set up!" I did not have much of a reaction to the stories.

View all my reviews.

Fearless by Necessity

I’ve suddenly realized that in order to accomplish all that I’ve accomplished in the past year, I’ve had no time for fear. When I first moved to NYC, some of my friends told me, “I think that’s really amazing,” but looking back, I realize now that what they really meant was, “I think that’s really brave.” Not to sound conceited, but it takes a lot of guts to move to NYC alone. I didn’t think this at the time, because I assumed it was what I was supposed to do. If you don’t go to grad school, isn’t that what you should be doing: finding a job and moving to the appropriate city to work that job? Following this route didn’t seem particularly special or courageous to me until I got here and began to realize how many people receive outside support in order to live in this city. What surprised me most was the number of people who still live with their parents. Practically speaking, staying at home is a smart move. NYC is an expensive place to live, and what better roommates to have than ones who will feed you and pay your rent? Nevertheless, it made me reconsider my own sudden leap from living under my parents’ roof to living in an entirely new city—and one of the most expensive cities in the United States, at that—on my own dollar.

So perhaps moving here—and particularly moving here unemployed, on the faith that I’d be able to find myself a job after signing a year-long lease—was brave. Or maybe it was stupid and risky, but it worked out, so now I can call it brave. The next concern is living “on my own.” I am, a single, young, white female living in NYC. If I want to go out at night, how do I get around? I walk; I take the subway; I ride the bus. Who waits up to make sure I get to and from my destination? No one but me.

This realization also did not occur to me until one night, when I left from a get-together at a friend’s apartment on the Upper West side at about 2 a.m. Between the E train running local and the 7 not running at all, I got home at about 3:15 a.m. At 3:30, my phone rang. It was M___, who had left at the same time, making sure I had gotten home safely. My first reaction was, Of course; why wouldn’t I have? Right after that was when I realized that this is actually a normal, considerate thing to do: checking up on a girl who heads home (home being Queens, which is not exactly the Upper East Side) at 2a.m. by herself. This was not something I had considered before, because thinking of potential “dangers” of travelling alone on public transportation late at night would hamper my lifestyle. It would limit what I allow myself to do or, at the very least, drain my bank account very quickly (because cabs are expensive, never mind cabs to Queens!).

These first two instances are situational in the “fear domain,” but there is a second realm that I have somehow managed to bypass (at least until I look back upon each individual circumstance), which I will label the “Oh dear, I might get hurt” realm. Case in point: if someone had told me at this time last year that I’d not only be using a bicycle as a means of practical transportation, but that I’d voluntarily ride on the streets of NYC, with cars and trucks and all manner of big scary vehicles, I’d have suggested to him or her that they lay off the brown liquor for a while. I’ve never felt too stable on a bicycle, even though I’ve “known how” since I was eight. Most likely this is because I never practiced, seeing as I couldn’t walk five feet from my house without encountering a mountain-sized hill. (My community was called Forest Hills. The school district was called Woodland Hills. My family attended a nearby church in a community called—irony of ironies—Churchill. The pattern was not accidental.) Hills were simply more easily walked up than biked up, so I always left the impeding apparatus at home.

Here in substantially flatter NYC, however, when my entire means of transportation is dependent on others (subway conductors, bus drivers, pedestrian and vehicular traffic in general), a bicycle is quite practical. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, my options for getting to the grocery store are to wait in a smelly underground subway station for the R train to arrive and then sit in gloom for another ten minutes, or else I can strap on my backpack, clip on my helmet, and make the two-mile trip on bicycle. (Hint as to my decision: I signed my lease in part because of the amount of sunlight I’d receive from having three windows in my room. Subway stations depress me.)

Yes, this is two miles split between pedestrian-infested sidewalks and vehicle-crowded roadways. Yes, every time I nearly crash into a dog (and its owner) on the sidewalk or a truck blows past me and honks its horn, I experience a slight shudder of panic. However, the whole “gee, this could really injure me” concept did not arise in my mind until very recently. This past weekend, when I was riding my bicycle from Woodside to the Union Square Green Market there, I had made it across the Queensborough Bridge and was maybe twenty-five blocks from my destination in Manhattan when it happened: I fell off my bike. Stupidly, I tried to ride up over a curb “sideways” rather than head-on, and down went the bike, with me attached. There I was, five miles from home, skinned and bleeding and still sans-vegetables. I had no choice but to get back on my bike and carry on to the market (although I could have gone home, but what would have been the point in that? I was nearly there!). Yet, as I received more and more strange looks from the people I passed (“What happened to that girl’s leg?”), I realized that I had actually been very lucky. I could have been riding in the street, hit a pothole wrong, and gone down right in front of an impatient taxi. I could have been careening downhill and flown over my handlebars face first. As it was, I just had a bruised knee and some other superficial scrapes, all of which were bleeding more than their fair share. The potential for bodily harm, however, finally registered. I could die doing this, or alt least break an appendage. Still, I biked home.

My final my final anecdote also concerns transportation, only this time I was inside one of those vehicles that could turn a bicyclist into pigeon food. First off, consider the fact that I moved to NYC in part because I wanted to live somewhere that I could rely on public transportation. I have no desire to own a car and all the stresses that come with it (I’ll have enough stress as it is). So since I’ve moved here last June, the only times I have driven a car have been the occasions in which I have gone back to Pittsburgh. I have never driven in this city. Never being limited to, however, the 23 years and four months leading up to this past weekend.

One of the annoying things about relying on public transportation is that you are relegated to its timetables. If your particular metro line is under construction, you’re out of luck. If a train breaks down, you have no choice but to wait for the repair to finish, because you are literally trapped underground. And if you need to get home anytime around midnight, be sure to take a book, because you will be waiting a long time for your train (although at least the system doesn’t close, like in most other cities). Consequently, this past weekend, when I had to get back to Woodside from Jersey City, my options were considerably limited. I could wait half an hour for the PATH train and then another half hour at the World Trade Center for the E train and pray not to fall asleep on either of these rides for fear of missing my stop. Or I could drive back.

No, a fairy godmother did not arrive and perform a reverse Cinderella (Bippity boppity boo! This pumpkin has now become a Volkswagon Jetta!). Rather, D___ offered me his car to drive home. “It’s easy,” he insisted, “and you’ll be home in twenty minutes. Otherwise it’s going to take you, like, two hours.” The next thing I knew we had looked up directions, had determined how I would find the Holland Tunnel, and away I drove.

I’m a very good driver. I’ve never been in an accident (knock on wood), I am not reckless, and I can even drive a standard transmission. D__’s car was a Jeep with automatic transmission, so technically speaking it was a cinch to drive. Fear didn’t set in at all until I realized what I was doing. Wow, it’s 11:30p.m. And I haven’t driven in four months. Is this really like riding a bicycle? You learn to ride a bike when you’re eight. You don’t learn do drive until you’re twice that old. They say things stick better when you’re young…. And Jesus, I’m driving in New York City. I’ve never driven here in my life. I don’t know where these roads go. I’m navigating off of a piece of paper I can barely read and road signs with cryptic labels like “Queens-Brooklyn Expressway.” Queens and Brooklyn are not in the same place. If I end up in Brooklyn, I’ll have to find myself a pair of ruby slippers, because I’ll never get home! Plus, as if these factors weren’t enough, I was being entrusted with someone else’s car. Truly, fear for my own life was secondary. If I so much as scratched the bumper on this Jeep, I would never be able to face D___ again. Talk about pressure.

The bottom line is, I did it. I did all of these things. Fear or no fear (or risk, or stupidity….), I made it through every experience, and I continue to live more freely and spontaneously than I ever have in my life. I am on my own. I am on the go. I go where I want, when I want. If no person is going to tell me otherwise, I am certainly not letting fear step in and start dictating.

On that note, anyone want to try skydiving?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pre-Marathon Run

Today's proposed route is a mere 12 miles long. Crazy to think I'll be running more than double that in one week's time!

Alternatively, I might try this instead. We'll see how I feel once I'm across the Queensborough bridge. New routes are always hard to follow!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Missed Connection

For those not in-the-know (mom, dad, other non-craigslist users), "Missed Connections" are one category of classified ads that Craigslist offers. The purpose of this category is that if you meet someone but for whatever reason don't "officially" meet them (i.e. don't exchange numbers or even names), this is a last-ditch effort to try and make that connection. You post some kind of "Hey, I liked meeting/talking to/looking at you" message and hope that they will, for whatever reason, be inclined to look through craigslist ads, recognize this message meant exclusively for them, and respond.

Needless to say, I found one that, although I am pretty certain was not meant for me, sounds so circumstantially appropriate (with references to the sort of conversation we would have had and everything!) that I'm simply forced to share it here:

allison tuesday 10pm - m4w (grand st. LES)

it was nice talking to you allison. fyi i didnt pick up any girls at the bar; i dont usually hit on girls at the bar, much less the street. but there was something about you i was drawn to. we should grab a bite to eat next time you're around visiting your friend. nothing wrong with being friends, right?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A little obsessed

So yes, maybe I like this show a little too much. Yes, it is fashioned out of a predictable formula. Yes, the characters are relatively stock. And yes, I am in love with the (okay R___ go ahead and laugh) "old" main character. But you have to admit--a lot of what he says is incredibly brilliant, and I respect brilliant writing. Quotes to prove my point:

  • "...the life itself: Sex."
  • "...there's no I in 'team'. There is a me, though, if you jumble it up."
  • "What usually happens when you poke something with a stick? It pokes back."
  • "Your theory is: I cared, therefore I let her keep her socks on? If that's what love is, I don't want anything to do with it."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cat Talk

Terribly excited doesn’t begin to describe how I felt about the prospect of cat-sitting. Ever since we had to put my cat to sleep three years ago, I’ve missed having a cat to love and coddle and care for. Therefore, this temporary companionship seemed ideal! A few days of animalistic company in a grand and fabulous apartment all to myself—it sounded almost like a vacation.

Unfortunately, as with most experiences I allow myself to eagerly anticipate, this one has not turned out to be nearly as ideal as I had hoped. On one hand the apartment is more than I could ever ask for. I am trying to soak up the amount of space I am living in right now and memorize it in the pores of my body, because the freedom and relaxation I feel in it is exponentially greater than what I feel when I will return “home” to my own tiny shared living space. Everything matches, everything is comfortable and clean--it is simply a beautiful place to live.

The pets, however, are another story. The outdoor cat, Buddy, seems to have all but vanished since the day his owner, D___, left for New Orleans. The only evidence of his phantom presence is his empty food bowl, which I fill each morning.

The other cat, Dixie, doesn’t just ignore or avoid me, as some antisocial cats would; she actively hates me. Truly, I have never been hissed or growled at as much as I have by this cat. I don’t know if I have done something specific to offend her or if she merely misses D___ and I am the only one around upon whom she can vent her frustration, but I imagine that if cats could talk, this is what Dixie would say:

Who’s this b*tch, thinks she can just waltz in here and invade my space? That’s D__’s couch there, you hussy! Get off that! Oh my god, do not get in his bed! Oh no she didn’t! Well ain’t nobody makin’ me sleep with that. I’ll just stay right here and check that she don’t wreck nothin’ else. She already jacked up our kitchen. How can’t she be knowin’ where anything go? How long do it take to find a lid cabinet?

I soooo wish she would’ve fallen off the counter tryin’ to put that double-boiler back up on the high shelf. I woulda been rollin’. Of course, then nobody woulda been ‘round to serve me my food next morning. But I know D__ woulda got his a** back here. I don’t understand why he left her here, anyways. She smells weird. Plus, she’s so freakin’ rude. She act like I’m tryin’ have a conversation with her—ha! D__’s way more fun; he does meowing and everythin’. It’s a hoot. She’s so d*mn serious all the time. Talk to them humans like that, b*tch. I ain’t havin’ it. Just gimme some treats, and none’a them purple bag ones, neither.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Butterfly Effect

Sometimes, just the act of stopping and considering all of the decisions that had to be made and all of the events that had to happen to bring you to a particular moment in life is will take your breath away. This happened to me recently as I spent the day hanging out with my friend D___, for whom I was about to spend three days cat-sitting.

When I first met D___, I automatically presumed he was in his early thirties. I am notoriously bad at age-guessing, but I suppose everyone makes guesstimates in order to place people in relation to themselves. From what I knew of D___'s activities (surfing, playing in a band, cooking, writing food reviews), his recent history (one marriage, recently divorced, no children), and his appearance, early thirties seemed like an accurate guess. He seemed too fun and active to be “old,” but he had too much Life Experience to still be in his twenties. Therefore, early thirties seemed like a good compromise.

This assumption, of course, led me to one of my quintessential open-mouth, insert-foot occasions upon which I commented that something-or-other doesn’t happen until you’re “old.” D___ asked me what qualified as “old,” and I said, “Oh, not until you’re, like, 40.” He looked at me very seriously and said, “Allison, I’m 37.” Whoops.

Needless to say, I only give this age anecdote as background information to what I am about to describe as a Wonderful Day spent hanging out with him. Along the lines of my recent Benjamin Button post, I have no problem whatsoever hanging out with “older” people; in fact I quite prefer it. I rarely seem to notice the age difference (except when someone starts a story with, “Back in 1994, when I was in college…” at which point a quick mental calculation makes me shudder slightly), and when I do notice, it doesn’t usually bother me unless others are making a big deal out of it. I have traditionally gotten along with the “more mature” crowd because I like to do things that are “older”: talk, eat, travel, play cards, take walks. Hence, my Wonderful Day yesterday.

It started out with my waking up sufficiently early to go running to, around, and back from Central Park. After that, I took a shower, packed my belongings for the next three days of cat-sitting, and worked on “spring cleaning” my room a bit until D___ called to let me know what the day’s plans were. From there, I trekked down to Jersey City, where I met D___ (and his cats). I dropped off my things, and after giving me a quick tour of his apartment and an overview of the “cat procedures”, D___ took me on a mini Jersey City tour. We walked down to the Hudson River, passing little shops, restaurants, and bars, most of which D___ reviewed in intimate I-have-eaten-there-a-million-times-and-know-the-chef terms. *Most notable were the Taqueria (“Those tacos are like crack around here!”) and the local Halal grocery mart (“I think I butchered a lamb there at 4 a.m. the other night…. No more brown liquor for me.”). As we walked along the water’s edge, I received a mini-education of Jersey City’s historic past (there were some battles from some battles—hence the statues—and there are some beams leftover from the World Trade Center memorializing that historic centerpiece on the NYC skyline). We meandered our way up to a little park that jutted out into the Hudson where a group of friendly hipster/punk/suburbanites (there really is no other way to classify it them) were playing volleyball. D___ knew one of the players and wanted to talk to him, so we sat on a bench and chatted while we waited for a pause in the game.

“They’re good, right?” he asked me. I paused before responding.

“Let me give you a quick-fire way to know if you’re watching ‘good’ volleyball players or not. Look at how they serve. If they’re all serving underhanded, they’re not serious.”

As we talked, the conversation inevitably turned toward food. Our original plan had been to go out for Sushi for dinner (“Jersey City has the best sushi you’ll ever eat!”), but as we chatted, we kept talking about fish, and this made D___ nostalgic for the beach. His parents had a beach house there, and he adored this one particular restaurant where one of his childhood friends was the chef and made exquisite seafood dishes.

“Do you want to go?” he asked me suddenly. I looked at my watch. It was three o’clock.


“There are these tuna nachos,” he described, his eyes glassy, “and this lump crab dish…. My mouth is watering right now!”

And that was that: off we went, on an hour-and-a-half music-filled drive to the Jersey shore.

Upon arrival, we said hello to his parents at the beach house and then walked up to see the beach. We walked right up to the sand and took off our shoes. I glanced at our pale, wrinkly feet as we rolled up our pants; they looked so weak and vulnerable, veins visible through the thin skin, soles poked on the underside by the smallest pebbles. “Winter feet,” D___ groaned, and although I kept silent, a voice inside of me groaned with him. Everything around us shouted “Summer!” but this was a stark reminder of the life I now lead: a corporate life, an indoor life, a life that does not include sitting by a pool every day, reading a novel, making small talk with old ladies and their grandchildren, and slathering on sunscreen to keep suntan from turning to sunburn.

We made our way down to the water, where the waves looked low but fierce. The water was so cold that when I stepped in, after two small waves washed over my feet, they went numb. I stepped back and stood by D___, who was staring out over the water, and--as cliche as it sounds--I began to think about everything that had brought me to this moment.

Obviously I know the facts of my life, so the most amazing part of this mental cascade was not the review of what I already know and have mentally digested, but of what I have recently learned: that is, the facts of D__’s life. D__ studied music. He was in a band—a band so successful that its album was nearly signed by a major record label. Their potential producer wanted them to meet Matchbox 20’s designers. When the deal fell through, Sheryl Crowe asked to buy one of their songs. That’s how successful this band was. In the end, though, they weren’t signed, the record wasn’t produced, and D__ and his band didn’t go on to become the next Fountains of Wayne.

Who would have thought that, after nearly becoming a rock star, this man would take a job as an editor at Wiley, must less in the same department as me? The bass guitar and JavaScript don’t have much in common (as far as I am aware), and yet one of these somehow led to the other. Without failure of the first, the second would never have occurred, and I never would have met D___.

This moment was created by more than just an unlikely intersection of professions, however. Here I was, standing side-by-side in the sand with a man who is currently going through a very sad divorce. However, without this divorce, this very moment in my life would not exist. When D___ left for New Orleans, his wife would say home and take care of his cats, in which case there would be no reason to ask me to do it and, therefore, to spend the preceding day hanging out and making this spontaneous trip to the beach. . . .

I remember how irritated I used to feel when one of my friends would insist, “Everything happens for a reason.” Everything does not happen for a reason, I would think. Life is random and chaotic. I’ve never believed that God is micromanaging every detail of my life, because not only does that undermine the idea of free choice (thank you Protestant upbringing), but I simply cannot imagine that a divine Creator would find it necessary to oversee what brand of toothpaste I buy. However, I am realizing that maybe what my friend meant was, “Everything has an effect.” Every decision, every action, every lack-of-action—all these things add up to form every moment of our lives.

I stood there on that beach with wet grains of sand between my toes, looking out at the churning water, and I realized that I was grateful: grateful that everything had turned out as it had to bring me to that moment. It didn’t make any of the heartache I have suffered less painful, and it didn’t suddenly justify any of the things that have seemed unreasonable or inexplicable in my life, but I was happy to be there, in that moment, feeling the sand beneath my feet and the air against my face and standing beside this kind, newly found friend of mine.

If I can treat even half of the moments in my life like this, I believe I will be well on my way to true happiness.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

16 Mile Run

Training--it works!

16 miles today, in 2 hours, 5 minutes. That puts me at an approximately 8-minute-per-mile pace. The first time I ran 16 miles (February 8th), I finished in 2 hours, 20 minutes. The second time--it was 16.25 miles, but still--I ran it in 2 hours, 11 minutes. I'm now at my fastest 16 mile pace to date!

Two weeks and counting until the marathon. I am getting excited!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Three Signs of the Benjamin Button Mentality

I had been looking forward to the event all day. Get-togethers with my volleyball friends were always the highlights of my weekend, when they occurred, and this was the exactly the way I most preferred to spend the time: when we all gathered at L__y’s apartment and hung out, rather than getting all gussied up and spending money to go out and drink overpriced alcohol in too-loud bars. (Sign #1 of my 50-year-old psyche.) However, when I walked through her apartment door, my heart sank. I was immediately transported back in time to my dreariest college days, during which my roommates would all huddle around the television and play exactly what L__y, L__a, and D___ had also set up in this NYC living room: Rock Band.

Now, 23 is not too old to enjoy playing video games. Heck, 35 is considered an acceptable age by most guys, and even perhaps some girls. Yet even back when I was 18, I never understood the appeal of pushing buttons on a plastic toy guitar in synchrony with badly synthesized rock songs. Why not just use that time and effort to learn how to play the real guitar? Maybe my mentality is a by-product of my mother refusing to buy me a video game system back when I was ten and thought playing Super Mario on my friends’ older brothers’ Nintendo 64 was the best way to spend an afternoon. She told me I’d grow addicted (the same argument she had given me as to why I wasn’t allowed to watch TV whenever I wanted), and that it would rot my brain, and that I could be doing more productive things with my time. Six years later, I started to agree with her (although in the interim, I suffered terribly). Still, I don’t understand why people would want to spend multiple hours every day honing a skill that cannot possibly be of any use to them. And it’s a toy guitar! A tacky piece of plastic!

In any event, luckily for me, L__y and I had a standing date to play Boggle, so she got out the game and set it up. Since only two people can play Rock Band at a time—another reason I think video games are so irritating; it’s not even fun to watch while you are waiting your turn!—L__y’s sister joined us, along with my friend R___, who was visiting from Boston for the weekend. As we all hunkered down to play, it occurred to me, Wow—this is definitely my idea of a fun night. I’d play Boggle over Beirut any time, and playing a game at someone’s dining room table is infinitely more interesting to me than going to a random bar/club and trying to make small talk all night. Yet, isn’t that what I, as a 23-year-old female residing in NYC, am supposed to want to do? Or at the very least, I should want to play the cool new-age video game instead of the old-lady board game. What era do I come from? This was clearly Sign #2 that my internal age far exceeds my external.

Sign #3 came during the more age-appropriate game “Boxers or Briefs” which, for anyone familiar with the games “Loaded Questions” or “Apples to Apples,” involves a similar answer-questions-about-your friends premise. Basically the game is played by rolling a cube that decides the type of statement to be finished. The statement options include I have/I don’t/I want/I am, etc. Then, everyone except the roller looks at his/her hand of 7 cards and finds the statement on those cards that matches. (Thus, he/she should have 7 “I don’t” statements to choose from, if the roller rolled “I don’t.”) Then, each person picks the one “I don’t” statement that he/she thinks applies best to the roller and hands it over to them. The roller finally reads all of the cards and chooses the truest statement and the funniest statement.

Now, ordinarily this game is good for a lot of laughs. People make merciless fun of one another, giving each other cards claiming that their friends want to dress up in pink panties, or are Fruit Loops, or like to suck on toes. However, as we played, I gradually discovered a pattern. With most people, at least half the cards given to them would be intended for laughs (and the “funniest statement” bid, of course). Alternatively, when I rolled, every single one of my cards was serious. “I am proficient,” my cards will say. “I am an athlete.” “I am a loyal friend.” Did everyone think I had no sense of humor? But then I received the card, “Likes to dress little monkeys up in doll outfits.” I wrinkled my forehead, and in that moment, I realized I was supposed to have laughed. So this was why everyone had given me their serious cards: I was playing it like a real game. I was playing it like my mother would—giving people the cards I really thought best described them or their sense of humor. I was putting thought into my evaluations. Yep, that was Sign #3. I am definitely Benjamin Button, but inside-out: a 23-year-old body with a middle-aged mind.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun

Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of A Black Buddhist Nun Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of A Black Buddhist Nun by Faith Adiele

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was a very thoughtful, introspective book. It was certainly not trying to impress its readers, and therefore did read more like Faith’s journals than “Faith trying to write a book about her Buddhist nun experience.” I like the frankness of the prose and the way the thoughts seem to flow. When she’s repetitive, it’s not because the writing is bad and she forgot to edit something out; it’s because her thought process in that wat was very cyclic; it returned to topics and hovered around them until it could resolve or abandon them.

What I did not care for as much were the actual from-the-journal notes that lined the margins of the book. These seemed like a book unto themselves and I could not decide when, as I read the actual text on the page, I was supposed to read these bits of text. They flowed in their own logical way, telling their own independent, yet related story, and it was very distracting to try to keep both stories in mind at the same time while jumping back and forth between the two texts. I tend to keep strictly to reading one novel at a time for a reason, and to read two novels literally simultaneously is exhausting, never mind confusing.

Nevertheless, this is the first book that actually makes me want to pack up my belongings, ship off to another country, and try something that, as a premise, totally terrifies me. Faith makes it sound like a challenge worth pursuing. Her book was beautiful, and if I ever spend a significant amount of time in Pittsburgh again, I intend to attempt meeting her. She teaches at the University of Pittsburgh

View all my reviews.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The "New York"

This past weekend, a friend (R___) from Boston came to visit me here in NYC. After arriving an hour late (due to our notorious traffic), he commented upon his surprise at the bus’s having passed cabs on the way into the city. “That would never happen in Boston,” he declared and then proceeded to describe a popular taxi-driving maneuver he and his roommates had dubbed “The Boston”. “The Boston” is performed by pulling one’s vehicle out in front of a pedestrian and then laying on the horn so that everyone within a two-hundred-foot radius knows that the pedestrian is at fault for nearly having been killed, not the reckless driver.

After I assured him we have our fair share of NYC drivers who practice “The Boston,” R___ and I swapped “one time, this driver almost ran me over” stories and then headed out to the most dangerous of all pedestrian-ridden, vehicle-congested locations in America—Times Square—to see if we couldn’t add to our arsenal of near-death experiences stories. We were not to be disappointed.

This weekend, downtown seemed considerably more congested than usual. Not that I would know, since I avoid that tourist-infested area of Manhattan at all costs except, of course, I have a tourist staying with me. However, I overheard more than one NYC-resident-sounding passerby say, “WTF is this? People think it’s New Year’s or something?” I guess Easter is close enough. Or maybe there was a extra-big sale on corny T-shirts. Tourists seem to like those.

Anyway, it was extremely crowded, so R___ and I were stuck in masses of people at almost every intersection, jostling for a place near the curb in order to make it across the street once the traffic light turned red again. A few particularly courageous pedestrians would dart across between cars while the light was still green, but the rest of us held back, figuring that if we didn’t give the cars their right-of-way, they probably wouldn’t give us ours.

At one intersection, a black sedan was being held up by traffic in front of it (it had a green light but still couldn’t go anywhere), and an impatient taxi started pulling up to its left. Just as the taxi nosed its yellow front around the sedan’s rear bumper, a college-age guy stepped out onto the street, clearly intending to cross behind the sedan. Instead of stopping, the taxi sped up to get by this guy before he could actually cross. Unfortunately, it was stopped at the crosswalk, where other pedestrians were darting across in front of the trapped sedan. Irate at having been cut off, the guy stepped up and banged on the back window of the taxi.

As we all stood by, the taxi pulled up a few more inches, and the driver door opened. A thin Indian man swung halfway out of the taxi and started shouting. “F*ck you! Left f*cking turn lane, motherf*cker!” He looked about to leap the rest of the way out of the car, but the swung back in, closed the door, and drove off. I wanted to burst out laughing.

“That,” I said, turning to R___, “is what we call the ‘New York.’”

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Warm Fuzzies # 7: Classifieds

There really are nothing like best friends and sisters to renew one’s sense of self-confidence when a girl’s feeling blue. For whatever reason, last night was one of those no-one-will-ever-love-me nights. I more-or-less spent it holed up in my room, alternately reading a book, eating Hershey kisses, and checking Gchat for loneliness-combating “company.” Luckily for me, my dearest Pittsburgh friend Emily was online. She asked how my day was, and rather than depress her with my mood (which I instead briefly summarized as “weird”), I told her about a phone call I had received at work from one of my father’s friends:

ME: she asked me how I was. she wanted to know how I liked my job and then she wanted to know if I was dating anyone

and THEN she asked what I was waiting for


did you tell her an intelligent, athletic, articulate, outgoing bookworm/musician who loves to cook with lots of vegetables to come sweep you off your feet?

oh and i forgot to mention that he has to love to hug

ME: hahaha

I told her that I was working on it.

and that I had to go back to work

EMILY: hehe tell you're doing your job of looking pretty and being an independent sassy girl who knows what she's passionate about and its all up to him now

ME: ok I'll do that. and try to live up to it....

EMILY: don't worry, you already have

Can you see why I love this girl?

Meanwhile, I was exchanging emails with my sister, who is wrapped up in finals. I was actually trying to offer her support, seeing as she is certainly stressed out with all of her studying and paper-writing at this time of the semester. However, for whatever reason (probably my no-one-loves-me mood), I added a long p.s. on one of my emails, saying something to the effect of, “It’s no wonder the guys I have semi-crushes have no reciprocal interest in me; I’m just a silly 23 year old girl pining in vain. How pathetic.”

My sister’s response was nothing short of a well-written classified advertisement (mixed with a little violent sisterly affection, of course):

STOP PUTTING YOURSELF DOWN! if you keep doing this I may be forced to come up to NYC and hit you on the head a few times! You are not just a silly little 23-year-old and you know it! stop it! you're a beautiful and intelligent and athletic working woman and don't you forget it! Nothing pathetic about it.

Sisters. What would we do without them?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Bottle of Wine

The request wasn’t a particularly difficult one: Buy 8 bottles of red wine and one bottle of champagne, to be given as gifts. Keep the cost within reason. A pretty straightforward directive. However, to an alcohol-illiterate non-drinker like me, my boss may as well have asked me to fly to Greece and pick out some good books.

Except for the fact that its label is usually written in English, I don’t know cooking wine from Pinot Noir, never mind the difference between a bottle of “1982 Ponzi Oregon Pinot Noir Drouhin Serene Argyle” and a bottle of “2006 Loring Pinot Noir Santa Rita Hills.” If you ask me if it’s red or white, I figure I have a 50/50 shot (unless I can see the bottle, in which case my guess is usually more accurate). All those bottles, all those years, all those locations and foreign titles…. Needless to say, I felt a bit daunted by this seemingly simple task.

Nevertheless, I accepted the challenge. I figured people who work in these alcohol establishments should know what’s good, so I would merely ask them. The next challenge came in getting so many bottles purchased so quickly and transported to the venue where they wouled be distributed. (My team at work was having a party, and the wine was to be awarded as gifts to various hard-working editors on the team.) My initial assumption was that I would just go in person to the local liquor store, but my boss suggested that I call, instead (it was raining outside) and that perhaps they would deliver the wine for us. This seemed logical, so I called. The nearby store referred me to their other, more distant branch, which then told me that they would email me the order form, which I could fax back to them. And yes, it could be delivered today.

I waited for the promised email for two hours, trying to simultaneously attend a meeting and draft a bibliometrics report for a journal at the same time. When the form finally arrived, I took one look at it and blanched. Apart from all of the lines for billing information, the only other item on the form was a blank white box labeled “Order.” I scrolled through the pdf again, closed and reopened the file, and finally concluded that no, there was not a wine list include; I was expected to know exactly what I wanted.

After trying in vain to search the internet for what I needed, I called back and tried to explain my situation again to the wine store employee who answered the phone. “Just fill out what you need and we’ll do the rest,” he told me. “I’ll fax it back to you with some suggestions.” Personally, this seemed like way too much faxing back and forth to me, but I did as instructed and then waited for a reply. It was 12 p.m. when I sent the fax. We needed the alcohol delivered by 4 p.m.

At 1:15 p.m. I still had not received any reply, so I called again. “You didn’t fill out any of the credit card information,” the guy told me with obvious irritation. Of course I didn’t, I thought, there’s no order on there yet! I’m not handing over my boss’s credit card so you can ring up whatever you feel like charging her! “We need the numbers and stuff, to process everything,” he told me. “And this Nine Lounge,” he added as an afterthought once I confirmed that I’d fax the completed credit card information to him, “it’s not a bar, right? It doesn’t serve alcohol. Because we can’t deliver there if it does. That’s illegal.”

This was the point at which I threw up my hands, donned my raincoat, and trekked out to the store as I had originally planned, hours ago. Inside, I told the worker what I needed and how much money I was willing to spend. He gave me a few choices, I blindly guessed at the one that looked the “nicest” (and wouldn’t break my budget), and clomped the four long blocks back to my office in the rain, the ten bottles of wine in one big, ostentatious purple box. (The tenth bottle was a kosher wine I needed to take to a Sedar on Thursday. We were getting a 10% discount for buying so many bottles, so I figured I should take advantage of this! Don’t worry—I reimbursed my boss for the expense charged to her AmEx.)

At the end of the day, when it was time to go to the party, my boss came back to her office to collect her things, saw the box of wine, and quite sincerely said, “What am I supposed to do with this?!” In short order, she, two other colleagues, and I “smuggled” the wine into the venue in various coat pockets and discreet bags. I couldn’t breathe a sigh of relief yet, though, because we still had to present the wine to everyone. What if someone didn’t like my selection? (A very likely possibility, considering I didn’t know a whit about what I had chosen.) What if I had gotten the wrong number of bottles?

Before my boss started her presentation of thanking everyone, she asked me to help her pass out the wine (one bottle at a time). Therefore, I stood a bit behind her and to the side, passing her the bottles as she finished each of her speeches about individual editors and the work they had done for our website. Finally, there was one bottle of wine and the champagne for the website developer remaining. She asked me how many were left, and when I told her “one plus the champagne,” she said, “Oh, that’s mine,” and proceeded to present the web developer with his champagne. Then she went and got the last bottle herself, which I presumed she intended to open for everyone to try (because there were some editors there who did not receive wine), and how I was horribly nervous, because this would be the test of whether I had chosen good wine or not. Suddenly, though, she announced that she had one last presentation. That’s right. One more person to present with wine, who had put in an unbelievable amount of work and without whom this project never would have been possible….

I must say that I was so shocked when she handed me that bottle of wine, I must have turned twelve different shades of red. And I’m not really the blushing type, typically. Thank goodness I had chosen a dark venue for the party—good planning on my part! I was so surprised and flattered, I didn’t even know how to react. I haven’t even been with the company six months, and my boss, this important person has shown me such a kind, considerate, public display of appreciation. I was truly touched.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Blogging About Texting

Technically I’m “texting” right now, aren’t I? Because essentially the term “texting” means “sending a bit of text from one person to another.” By that definition, we’ve been “texting” since we developed the telegraph and the postal system.

However, the word “texting” has only existed since the age of cell phones—more specifically, cell phones that transmit and receive visual, rather than auditory, messages. (Remember those old clunky pieces of plastic with chop-stick-thick antennas? Hold up your Blackberry and imagine trying to text on one of those old devices.) This probably runs hand-in-hand with the fact that the trend in communicating by texting—rather than, say, letter-writing (heaven forbid), emailing or even calling—has spiked within the last few years. When I graduated from high school, everyone was still excited by IM-ing. Little did they realize how limiting that form of communication was. (It chained you to your computer!) When cell phones came along, the floodgates opened. The freedom almost was almost too much to believe. You could contact anyone. Anytime. Anywhere. (Unless, of course, they did something ridiculous like turn their phone off or go somewhere without service. But there’s just no helping some fools.)

Needless to say, I did not join the ranks of cell phone-carrying devotees until approximately one year ago. That means that people could not contact me anytime, anywhere. Admittedly, this was probably a bit of a deterrent to my social life in college, but seeing as I did not seem to have much in common with most of the people there anyway, I doubt a cell phone would have made much difference. (Instead, I used all that money I saved on monthly phone bills to study abroad and travel to cool places like London and Amsterdam and Barcelona!)

At the end of my senior year, however, when I finally determined that I would be moving to NYC to begin the next “phase” of my life, I decided that it was time to take the plunge. Forty dollars-a-month or not, cell phones had undeniably become the number one form of communication between members of my generation, and if I wanted to create any sort of lasting social ties in my new place of residence, I needed to make it easy for people to contact me. What’s more, this would be my first residence that did not come pre-equipped with a landline. Formerly, everywhere I had lived—at both my home and my college dormitories—had already had a telephone installed. From my perspective, it seemed silly to have two phones. If someone wanted to reach me, they could leave a message. Besides, if I wasn’t there, I was probably too busy to talk to them anyway! (I detested when people answered their phones in the middle of a meal or chattered mindlessly while wandering through a shopping mall. One task at a time, folks!) This time, however, there was no pre-arranged phone line awaiting me. Therefore, I figured, I might as well buy a cell phone.

Thus, last May, I purchased a two-year, 450 minute-per-month plan with Verizon. With the exception of one stressful month during which I was alone, unemployed, uninsured, and desperately worrying that I had made the wrong decision in plopping myself down in this city and expecting to “make it work,” I have never exceeded my “talk time” allowance; most months I am lucky if I use even half of the allotted minutes. Therefore it seems impractical, never mind unnecessary, to have texting as to supplement my plan. Why should I waste an additional $5 (+ taxes!) per month on yet another form of intrusive communication when I can’t even use up all of the service for which I am already paying?

Unfortunately—as before—most of my peers do not agree with this reasoning. They refuse to simply be pleased that I have finally acquired a cell phone; they must immediately berate me for my lack of texting capabilities. “How do you survive?” they want to know—the same thing they wanted to know before I bought a cell phone. “It’s just five dollars a month.” This is a lie, though, because the true cost would be ten dollars, assuming I don’t want to be counting people’s texts to make sure they don’t push me over your “text limit” for the month, since “everyone” has unlimited texting (because “everyone” is on a family plan). Paying $120+ per year to type more than I already do simply seems unappealing. I’d rather use that money to buy a one-way plane ticket!

Yes, sometimes there are instances when I want to relay information but don’t really want to have an entire conversation with someone. And yes, my lack of texting availability probably prevents me from receiving some spontaneous, thoughtful messages and invitations from various people who only operate “on the fly.” But the payoff is that my life is less chaotic. I’m not always waiting for a reply from someone I have just texted (which is exactly what happens on IM—I want an instant reply! Now! If they’re sitting at their computer, like me, why don’t they just write back?). In the same vein, not having texting prevents me from being forced to give an instantaneous reply to every message—or any more instantaneous than cell phone calling etiquette allows. I don’t treat my phone like an extra appendage, and so I don’t expect others to, either. (Admittedly, this can lead to some major frustration and disappointment, when I am stuck in the company of someone who spends more time staring at and talking on their cell phone than interacting with me).

Perhaps all this hemming and hawing makes me into an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy. Perhaps I’m one of those girls who will grow up into an anti-technology old crone who is always reminding everyone, “Back in my day….” However, the most likely scenario involves me caving in to peer pressure and add texting to my plan. The problem is, by the time I get around to doing that, some technology will come along that lets us all read each other’s minds, or some such thing, and then what am I going to do? (Expense aside, I draw the line at revealing my plans for world domination to the likes of the Burger King cashier.) I suppose I’ll stick with my pre-cell phone mantra for now: “I’m not morally opposed to texting. If you want to pay for it, I’d be happy to get it!”

Friday, April 3, 2009

Snapshot Book Review: The Conqueror

The Conqueror The Conqueror by Jan Kjærstad

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
Admittedly, it has been a significant amount of time since I have read a “serious” novel: a novel that takes me more than a week to read; a novel I would consider structurally and thematically challenging (but worth the challenge!); and a novel that has been translated from Swedish, at that.

I think I would deem this book “good” in the thought-provoking, challenging, academic sense whether or not it was translated from another language. The structure is unique—a narrator telling a story being narrated by another storyteller. It creates an interesting “voice” paradox, because the overarching voice was always that of the primary narrator, but in the majority of the chapters that told of the life of Jonas Wergeland, the voice had to “coat” and mimic a second narrator’s voice—that of the character recounting the story to the writer. So the chain was thus: the mysterious woman told the story to the professor, who retold it for the readers of the book he was writing, which happens to be the same book the real-world readers are reading, which is consequently written by the real author (Jan Kjaerstad) and “retold” (i.e. translated) by the translator Barbara Haveland. Complicated, no? And yet tremendously fascinating!

Not only was the narrative structure of the novel complexly layered, but the plot of the novel was also arranged in an intricate pattern. The ending was apparent from the beginning—Jonas had killed his wife Margaret, and a professor (the narrator) had been commissioned to tell the tale—but what remained unapparent as the tale of his life unraveled was why it was being told as a mock-defense by a mysterious woman. “Is it possible to change a life by recounting it?” asks the first line of the last fifteen or so chapters. That seems to be the mission of the whole novel—to change the reader’s perspective on Jonas Wergeland’s life, creating one impression and then altering it slightly with a single anecdote about another seemingly unrelated but somehow pivotal event that occurred to Jonas as he matured from a young boy into a middle-aged man.

One of Kjaerstad’s major strengths—or a strength of this particular novel, at the very least—is his ability to find meaning and importance in the smallest, almost mundane details and events. Kjaerstad transforms a simple hockey puck, a silver broach, and a pearl into poignant thematic symbols that recur throughout the novel and have meaning not only to the reader, but to Jonas himself. Another noteworthy skill is Kjaerstad’s ability to make Jonas internalize his actions and observations in ways that take on both immediate and long-range meaning so that they apply both to the scene at hand as well as the overarching structure of the novel. Near-car-crashes, snake sightings, sexual intercourse—all of these affect the immediate story being told within the chapter as well as the overarching tale being constructed by the novel.

These features are all proof of an extraordinary novel. However, The Conqueror would be nowhere nearly as elegant and refined a novel without its exquisite language, and whether this is due to Kjaerstad's original word choice or Haveland’s interpretation, the result is a beautifully crafted, complex novel that is bound to make a lasting impression.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Strangers on the Bus

The ride was going so well, until he mentioned dumpster diving.

As a rule, I typically avoid talking to people on buses. Short-distance riders, long-distance riders—they (or do I mean we?) are a relatively creepy lot, and I figure I am better off keeping to myself rather than engaging in a potentially awkward conversation with a fur-coat-clad woman carrying three trash bags or a 6’4” black man whose earphones—which are not even in his ears but, rather, dangle limply around his neck—are playing rap music so loud, it’s audible at the front of the bus.

That I keep my distance assumes, of course, that these individuals do not try to strike up a conversation with me. I am not one to be rude, after all; I don’t like to snub people. Therefore, if someone initiates conversation, I will respond. This does not mean I will attempt to further the conversation, but there is no reason to ignore a perfect stranger just because they are collectively a member of bus-riding weirdos. After all, I take the bus. (It fits my budget!)

So because my general rule is to avoid talking to strangers on the bus, I was slightly comforted when, after making a joking comment about the driver’s announcement that our bus would be “running express” and “would only stop for ‘number two,’” the passanger in the seat next to me commented that he had never spoken to a fellow bus seatmate of his own volition before. A kindred spirit, I thought, as he recounted his last bus ride stuck beside a fifty-year-old woman who held him in captive interrogation for the entire five hours. We’ll get along.

And we did. I found out that he went to school in Connecticut—he was in his final semester studying Psychology, although he had tried out English and History before finally settling on Psych. He asked me what I had done while staying in DC and told me all about the various museums he had visited and music performances he had seen. It seemed like a pleasant enough conversation, and I was enjoying it in a detached sort of way (although I did kind of want to finish the novel I had in my bag, since I was in the last few chapters, with only twenty pages to go). However, I figured I had a full five hours to read my last twenty pages. One hour of chatting would simply help to pass the time.

My first clue that something was a bit “off” occurred when Chris (that was his name) asked me what I had done in DC for the second time. When he asked, I assumed he meant to imply the word “else”: “What else have you done during your stay in DC?” However, when I started to quickly rehash what I had already told him, merely for context, he leapt at the information like it was a new avenue of conversation. “Oh the Eastern Market!” he exclaimed. “I love that place! I bought a pound of coffee there.” When I had told him about going to the market earlier, we had had a discussion about how both of us had gone to see the Crepe Man, and he had wanted to know if I had bought anything interesting. He hadn’t mentioned buying coffee, but I suddenly feared that if I mentioned crepes, he would start telling me, “Oh! I had one of those! I love that guy!”

His next slightly odd comment was $25 for a show was “five times too expensive for his budget.” We were talking about things to do in NYC, and he was expounding on the “culture available” and “for so cheap.” “I guess there’s stuff up at my school,” he said, “but it’s always to expensive. Tickets are, like, $25. Five times over my budget limit, that’s for sure.” Okay, I thought, so maybe he’s just a poor college student. Maybe I used to think that $25 was a lot for entertainment back when I was in college, too. I don’t remember. It would probably depend what show.

After showing me a pamphlet from an avant-garde art museum he had visited, which featured disturbing, somewhat creepy art by Louis Bourgeois, he asked if I had ever heard of some sort of soup-kitchen-type organization called “Meals not Bums.” (Or something like that. I’m pretty sure the name used alliteration, but I cannot remember what he called it.) I hadn’t, which surprised him. “They must have a group in Queens,” he kept saying. Apparently this group takes excess food from restaurants and stores and redistributes it to “whoever wants it.” Unsurprisingly, this demographic usually consists of homeless people.

“But you can’t use stuff from places like Panera,” I pointed out. “They’re too worried about getting sued.”

“No no,” he assured me, “we just get our stuff from mom-and-pop places. Buffets, stuff like that.” He paused. “But I’ve definitely taken sandwiches out of the Starbucks dumpster. That stuff is good.”

Now I began to look longingly at the book in my lap. Who the heck was I sitting next to? Why do I innately want to believe people are normal and kind? Of course, he did volunteer for this organization, so he probably was at least kind….

“Life just sucks,” he told me a little while later, after he had elaborated upon his plan to marry the girl he had just visited in DC. They had broken up two years earlier, this girl was about to join the Peace Corps in Africa, and they intended to marry each other in 2012 if neither found another suitable partner. “I can’t get married before I’m 24,” was his reasoning. However, following the “life just sucks” comment, he asked, “Have you ever been arrested?”

I told him no.

“Me neither,” he said. “But I watched my friend get arrested. It sucked.” When I didn’t respond, he continued, “It was so stupid. He was just at this Wal-Mart and tried to return a garden hose off the shelf. A f***ing garden hose! It was, like, twelve dollars.” Chris shakes his head. “So stupid.”

“Why did he try to return a garden hose?” I was a little confused.

Chris looked at me like I was a moron. “Because it was on the receipt.”

“But if he got the hose off the shelf, where’d he get the receipt?”

“He found it on the floor.” Chris suddenly leaned back with a smile of pride. “We made good money this one time; we returned this flower pot. Forty-five dollars! It was so sweet.”

We? This guy not only ate out of dumpsters, he scrounged shopping lots for discarded receipts and stole merchandise! I clutched my bag more tightly between my legs.

“That’s really wrong,” I told him. He shrugged, and I suddenly had a flashback to my favorite movie as a little kid: the cartoon version of Robin Hood, with the fox that plays Robin Hood and bear that plays Little John. Was this nothing more than a small-scale modern-day version of that story? Rob from the rich (corporations), give to the poor (college students)…. But of course, this guy isn’t giving away anything. And he’s really just stealing from everybody. After all, who manufactured that garden hose and threw that clay flower pot? Probably some underpaid child laborer in Taiwan. And now here’s this oh-so-cool hippie-esque college guy thinking he’s entitled to a free ride in life while the rest of America loses their jobs….

I feigned being asleep for the rest of the bus ride. (With my bag clamped between my legs.) So much for finishing my book, but some sacrifices just have to be made for a little peace of mind. Maybe this will teach me not to talk to strangers on the bus.