Friday, September 20, 2013

Speedos, Scooters, and Swimming at Seven A.M.

There aren't many reasons I'll get up before 6 a.m. on a weekday. With a 30-minute commute, there actually aren't many reasons I'll get up before 7 a.m., either. However, one of the only times I can swim during the week is between 7 and 8 a.m., so--at the expense of my later-day energy levels--I tend to get up before 6 a.m. at least two days a week.

Today was one of those days. After sneaking around the apartment like a bandit--to avoid waking up R___ or the two doves we're bird-sitting (who, I'm pretty sure, were awake and watching me the whole time)--I finally made it out the door in semi-matching work-appropriate attire and with all my essential swimming gear in one bag. Now that the sun rises later in the day, on these pre-6 a.m. days I'm forced to navigate my way down three flights of stairs using my tiny cell phone screen as a flashlight.

Miraculously, amid my rushing and fumbling to get out the door, I remembered to pick up the Netflix envelop, so once I got out onto the street, I headed toward the mailbox. I was just about to slip my envelope into the slot when I saw him. Running toward me was a gigantic, glistening black man wearing nothing more than sneakers, headphones, and . . . a bright orange Speedo.

That was my first bizarre sight of the morning, but it would not be my last. No more than two blocks farther up the street, another man was standing outside a bodega, wearing a Giants jersey. As I came closer, I noticed that he appeared to be talking to someone. There was a women standing in front of him, so at first I thought he was talking to her . . . until she walked away and he was left gesturing at empty air. Maybe he's on his cell phone, I thought . Sure his hands are all over the place, but maybe he's wearing one of those earphone contraptions where you don't need any hands. Alas, as I hurried past him, I detected no cell phone. Instead, his rambling recollections of "beating that n---'s head in" and some woman who "ain't tellin' him nothin'" floated after me down the street.

I made it to the city without further incident. I swam, the sun rose, and I figured my day would now continue fairly normally: I would join the teeming hoards of people in varying degrees of work dress, hurrying to our various destinations with little regard for cars, cyclists, or other pedestrians. However, eventful morning was not quite complete. As I walked up 25th street, on my way back to the PATH train, I was passed by not three, not five, but seven children under the age of four wearing helmets and riding brightly colored scooters down the sidewalk in the opposite direction. Two or three parents trailed slowly behind. Was it Scooter-Your-Child-To-Work Day? Had I missed the ad for the New York City Child Scooter Convention? Or was this just the newest parenting fad, doomed to terrorize pedestrians and drivers everywhere until someone files a lawsuit?

The good news is that I'm getting up at about the same time tomorrow morning (this time to go running). The great news is it's a Saturday. So perhaps I'll have even more exciting sights to report after that!

Friday, September 13, 2013

I Almost Interrupted That Meeting

I was in the kitchen at my office today, boiling some water for tea, when a colleague of mine came in for a glass of water. This man is not someone I see on a regular basis, since he's pretty high in the pecking order. Incidentally, however, we had just attended a meeting together the day before. He kept giving me these odd glances, and since I had nothing better to do other than watch the kettle boil (or, so far, not boil), I smiled congenially and wished him good morning.

"You know, I have to tell you," he began. "In that meeting the other day?"

My heart began to race as I backtracked to every single thing I could have been caught doing during the meeting. I managed to stay fully awake at this one, so he couldn't have caught me sleeping. Could he have seen me doodling instead of taking notes?

"I seriously almost stopped the meeting several times--"

Oh my god! Was I slurping my tea too noisily? Did he notice when I spilled some on my blouse? Maybe it wasn't me; maybe it was someone else. Why was he smiling?

"--to say how great your new haircut looks. Really, it looks fantastic."

I think my heart just about stopped. So I did the only thing I could: I smiled. And blushed a little. And then, finally, said, "Thank you."

Snapshot Book Review: Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things

Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming ThingsNight Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty, and Other Alarming Things by Ashley Cardiff
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I hope that everyone on Goodreads knows that 2 stars means "it was ok," because if I saw a 2-star review on, say, Amazon, I would think that the reviewer didn't like the product. However, this book was literally "ok." But actually, now that I've written that, I'll change my review to 3 stars. Because I really don't think that people read the alt text when making their star rating choices.

As I read the first few chapters--which, really, are essays-- of Night Terrors, I had high expectations for the book. Cardiff's writing style (and choice of topic) reminded me very much of the books I've read by Chelsea Handler: Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea, My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands, etc. I was amused and horrified in due course, just as I expected to be. And throughout the book, it's fun--especially as a New Yorker--to recognize so much of what she writes as being so darned true. For example:

"We were both in New York City in our early twenties, self-obsessed and pursuing stupid dreams without ever really stopping to ask why w needed to be in New York and paying New York rents to do so, but the city has a crafty way of distracting you from ever wondering that because it's too busy throwing insane situations like this exact one in your face."

"I think people who try to punish kids for masturbating are insane, imposing no small amount of guilt on their children unnecessarily and also stupid because trying to keep kids from masturbating is like trying to play Whac-A-Mole with your hands tied behind your back."

"I don't know about you, but I have worked many shitty desk jobs in which I go into the office at nine a.m., rotely answer forty emails of varying inconsequence, plug data into multiple templates no one will ever look at, highlight dubiously relevant information in a one-hundred-and-fifty-page document no one will ever read, chew a bag lunch at my desk in a joyless bovine way, get yelled at for doing my job with suspicious competence and then spend an hour mailing things to people they may never look at."

Those sorts of "aha" moments are the gems of this book. However, Cardiff moves from writing amusing personal stories in the first half of the book to write longer and longer diatribes on various "hot button" social issues (e.g. gay tolerance, abortion, etc.). Here, she veers away from the entertainment factor that is the point of these sorts of books and spends most of her time defending herself on these issues while simultaneously chastising people who don't happen to agree with her point of view.

Nevertheless, I did enjoy at least part of this book, and I think Cardiff and Handler should hook up and work on a joint project of some sort. (And by hook up, I mean that in the least sexual way possible....)

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Break In Routine

When I get home from work, I have a pretty standard routine.

I come in the door, say hi to R___ (who is usually seated in the living room at his computer), toss any mail I have collected onto the end table by the door, go into the bedroom, and throw my keys in their little ceramic bowl. Then I put my backpack down, unload my wallet and book from the front pouch, and put them in their respective places (the wallet goes by my keys and the book goes on a stack near the mail). Next I unload the larger section of my backpack. If I've gone food shopping, I put those items away first, particularly if there is anything that needs to be refrigerated of frozen. If I went swimming, I take my wet suit and towel into the bathroom and hang them up on the middle two wall hooks, between our towels. If I've brought home my dirty running clothes, I dump them from their plastic bag into the hamper by the bedroom door. Finally, I plug in my iPod (if it's lost its charge) in the living room, remove my shoes and put them in the shoe rack on the back of the bedroom door, and--if I'm home for the evening--change into pajamas.

As you may have determined from the specificity of this routine, I am slightly OCD about it. Putting away everything in its rightful place when I get home comforts me, and I hate being interrupted until I have reached the pajama-wearing stage. When R___ and I first started living together, he simply did not understand. I would walk in the door, and he would immediately accost me with hugs and chatter. Under almost any other circumstance, I like hugs and chatter; however, if it impinges on my Arriving Home Routine, I get anxious and frustrated and usually snap at him until he goes away and lets me finish putting things where they belong.

Sometime this past spring--almost three years since we first moved in together--R___ finally figured it out. He started saying "hello" when I walked in the door from his position in the living room, and then not moving from his chair until I was finally clad in T-shirt and boxer shorts. At first I just assumed he was preoccupied when I arrived home, and braced myself the next day for his inevitable interruption. But it never came. Eventually, I relaxed into my routine and began to approach him after I had finished everything I needed to do.

Yesterday, I arrived home and began my routine as usual. R___ and I said hello, I put the mail on its end table, and I tossed my keys into their bowl. Once my wallet and book were in their proper places, I put the half and half I had bought for R___ in the fridge, and the bags of coffee and Oreos onto the designated snack shelf. Then I went into the bathroom to hang up my swimming gear, and finally returned to the bedroom to retrieve the final item, my iPod, from my backpack. As I was straightening up, iPod in hand, I noticed an orange shape in my peripheral vision. Hmmm, I thought. That's odd. I don't remember hanging anything in that spot on the wall. There used to be a calendar there, but I took it down a while ago.... I turned toward the wall, and low and behold, there was an orange Post-It stuck to the surface!

"5 Reasons Why I Love My Swan*," it read.  "#2: She's super inspiring."

Putting down my iPod, I peeled the Post-It off of the wall and took it into the living room. R___ was already turned toward me, suppressing a grin.

"What's this?" I asked. "Where's number one?"

"You'll have to find it. They're not in a particular order; I just put the five reasons at the top so you knew how many to look for."

I glanced around the living room until I saw another orange square stuck to the black television screen.

"Oooh!" I raced over.

"5 Reasons Why I Love My Swan. #4: She's amazingly supportive."

Suffice to say, I spent the next few minutes on one of the most fun, spontaneous scavenger hunts ever. And all before I plugged in my iPod or even took off my shoes. 

Sometimes a break in routine is totally worth it.

*Every couple has weird nicknames for one another. This happens to be mine.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Snapshot Book Review: The Silver Linings Playbook

The Silver Linings PlaybookThe Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am about to say this for what I think is the very first time: I liked the movie better.

Granted, I did see the movie first, but in the past, that hasn't proven to sway my liking one way or the other. I saw the film adaptations of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Girl Interrupted, and The Princess Bride before I read them, and I liked all of those books just fine.

I really did like the movie. I thought Jennifer Lawrence (Tiffany) and Bradley Cooper (Pat) had great chemistry onscreen, Robert De Niro did a great job playing the emotionally absent, and the supporting characters were nuanced enough to avoid falling into stereotypes (the brother, the therapist, the football fans, etc.).

However, the book really let me down. In no particular order, here are my grievances:

--I found the ending to the book to be--literally--incredible because the romance itself, from a reader's standpoint, never blossomed in the first place. We were essentially told that Tiffany was in love with Pat, but Quick never offered any details to persuade me that her love was genuine . . . or that Pat felt anything in return. That he comes to also fall in love with her in the very last scene of the book feels contrived and simply too neat and tidy for what should otherwise have been a relationship fraught with deception and mistrust.

--The relationship between Pat's father, mother, and Pat himself is never really explored. Their issues are laid out there for the reader to see (the emotionally absent, temermental husband doesn't appreciate the soft-hearted caretaking wife, nor is he capable of connecting with his mentally unstable son), but these issues never seem to serve any purpose other than to give us a sense of Pat's home life. The mother stands up to the father at one point, but to what end? Eventually things slide back to the way they were, with little change on the father's part other than that he eats the occasional meal at the table with his family and leaves the sports sections on the stairs for Pat to read (which I guess is supposed to prove he is trying to "meaningfully connect" with his son). The father remains superstitious about the Eagles throughout the novel, and unlike in the movie, it seems that all Eagles fans are equally superstitious in the book. Therefore, what was the point?

--Pat's relationship with his therapist never really comes to any sort of meaningful conclusion, either. In the movie, you can see his progress through his sessions with the Cliff, but in the book, these sessions seem to serve more as interludes to tell us more about Pat than they do as devices to further any character or plot development.

So, in short, this is one of those rare books I'd recommend skipping and watching the movie instead.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Reason to Stay for the Raffle

"Ugh, do we have to?" My sister's hands were on her hips, and she was giving me a look that said Seriously, you are so annoying.

"Come on, why not?" I wiped a few strands of sweaty hair out of my eyes and looked imploringly at my parents. "It's free, and you don't know what they might be giving away."

Both my mom and my dad shrugged and looked at my sister. Rolling her eyes and sighing dramatically, Amy followed me as I led the family toward the bleachers where the raffle and awards ceremony were to be held in about twenty minutes.

Amy and I had just finished running the Gatorade Steelers 5k--a Pittsburgh race, with a surprisingly flat out-and-back course that began outside Heinz Field, followed along the Allegheny River, and then finished back inside the stadium. It was definitely one of the more memorable race finishes: as you burst out of the tunnel and into the stadium, you could almost imagine you were a famous football player, sprinting toward the crowd way up in the stands.

I had told my family that I just wanted to stay for the raffle (which was free to all the race participants), but the truth was that I had a sneaking suspicion that I might have earned an age group prize. Because the course was out-and-back, as I got closer to the turnaround point, I could see the faster runners flying past me the opposite direction. Once I saw the first woman, I started keeping count. It's surprisingly difficult to pay attention and mentally keep a running tally while your legs are burning and your chest feels like it's going to explode, but if my count was anything close to accurate, there were only about 10 women in front of me when I reached the turnaround, and I passed 2 of them on the way to the finish. So assuming all of those women weren't between the ages of 25-29, I figured had a pretty decent chance of coming in at least 3rd in my age group.

The whole raffle/awards ceremony of course started late, as these things tend to do, and it seemed to drag on and on. The raffle winners had to be present to win, so that process took much longer than it probably should have, since so many of the people whose names were drawn had apparently left the premises. (Although one girl, whose name was announced along with her city of residence--Baltimore--was booed so severely that she may have been present but afraid to show her face!) Some of the winners also didn't shout loudly enough to indicate they were present and trying to reach the stage, so that didn't help.

"Don't worry," my mom told me, "if they call your name, there won't be any question where you are in this crowd." Did I mention that my mom used to sing opera?

They're not going to call our names, I could see my sister thinking, even as she remained crouched over her iPod. We're not going to win anything, and we'll have wasted two hours of our time.

The event dragged on, and I could see my sister getting more and more annoyed.

"Maybe we should just leave," I acquiesced. If all this waiting turned out to be for nothing, then not only would my sister be supremely annoyed, but I'd also be disappointed, but too embarrassed to even tell my family why.

"I'm ready when you are," Amy agreed.

Still, I stayed seated. They were finally announcing first, second, and third places for the Age Group divisions, so it wouldn't be too long now. Finally, my age group was called.

"In third place, for the female division ages 25-29...." The announcer said a name and a time, and for the first time during the whole ceremony, Amy looked up from playing Candy Crush.

"Hey, what was your time again?"

The announcer continued. "In second place, with a time of...."

Amy nudged me with her elbow. "Didn't you run faster than that?"

I grinned.

"And in first place with a time of 19:20...."

Man, you should have heard my mom holler.

A note about the official results of this race:
In spite of receiving the first place 25-29 age group trophy--which was quite thrilling, I must admit, and came with Steelers tickets!-- I'm still not positive that I actually won my age group. The first three 25-29 finishers placed first, second, and third overall for all women, so I understand if they were taken out of the running. However, I finished fifth. Therefore, something must have happened with the fourth place finisher . . . or else she's going to be pretty unhappy at having been forgotten. I know I would be if I were her!

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place (F25-29)