Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Keep a hot dog warm for me, won't you?

 I just grabbed an In Style magazine off the library rack and then promptly assuaged my disgust at myself by also taking a National Geographic. On the one hand, both will allow me to peruse pretty things and on the other hand, both will also make me feel utterly insignificant; Nat Geo in a "the universe is so big and I am so small kind of way" and In Style in a "everything is wrong with your body, face, skin, abs, clothes" sort of way. Next time I'm going to get a Spiderman comic.

Anyway, I'm back home after a long weekend in Chicago. "A long weekend in Chicago" will be the title of my as yet to be written short story collection detailing the myriad things that make me blissfully happy. Also included in that entirely fabricated collection:  cat bellies, olives, baby thighs and fancy/fizzy cocktails (I'm easy to please).

But ah, Chicago. What is it about that city? I feel a little guilty loving it there so much, what with my fealty having been pledged to NYC a long, long time ago but that's just silly really. I fantasize often about picking up and moving there and then I remember this quote from Gary Cole: "I miss everything about Chicago, except January and February." I have yet to convince myself whether or not I'd survive the winters there. Still, after spending an hour on a May evening that felt like August, adrift among all the people basking in the very early and unexpected summer heat with Buckingham Fountain and that glamorous, endless skyline in my purview, so much seems possible. Then again, I could chalk it up to a vacation high and how dreary the everyday seems when you come home.

Lauren was my companion for this trip and it was wonderful getting to spend some time talking and laughing and just sharing the trip with her and her seemingly endless supply of optimism and good feelings. We did quite a bit so let me recap in my favorite, practically shaped format: the round black bullet.

  • On the flight in, we realized that every single person on board had to get up and use the bathroom. This was interesting for us, seeing as we were seated in the third to last row and had to taxi on the runway for about 30 minutes. I often consider that immediately after being told that one is stuck in a finite space for any length of time, one's bladder instantly becomes full, based only on the knowledge that there is no where to go. I came to formulate that hypothesis in a very controlled scientific environment. Look it up.
  • Upon arriving at the hotel (and being checked in by a front desk staff of four teenagers), we sat and chatted for about 2 hours, plenty of time to catch up and develop a raging desire for pizza. Having both been to Chicago before, we didn't need to do anything or see anything on a schedule. One of my favorite parts about traveling is the linger and wander and submitting to aimless distraction. How better to really feel like you've visited somewhere? Reminder note: I need to take more trips that allow this. And side note: the hotel, while comfortable and centrally located, was a bit odd. To wit: the room faced a brick wall yet still had a faint light that came through brick wall? The lobby was on the second floor and not at the entrance of the hotel. Also, there was a small band-aid on the skirt of one of the beds and one morning the housekeeping staff made one bed, but not the other. Strange room.
  • That first night, the following was consumed/took place: deep dish pizza, a quick cocktail in an old man bar that was nonetheless filled with the most random sampling of people. That quick cocktail was followed by a dirty martini in the hotel's "bar" and that "bar" was a front room of a deli and was lit as such. It was like drinking in a diner; I expected to find old couples ordering the lobster. It was a Thursday night and we got there just as a party of about six women in work clothes, who had clearly been stretching happy hour to new lengths, were wrapping up. Considering both Lauren and I lived that entire scene, what was it, like six years ago on an almost weekly basis (we called it "Men in Suits" Thursdays) we were amused. And, for a diner, they made a decent dirty martini. It was a relatively early night considering I'd been up since 5am New York time. I slept the sleep of the dead that evening and woke up only at daylight with the fleeting panic of "where the fuck am i??" that I am wont to take with me to strange rooms.
  • I kept thinking, throughout the weekend that we were getting "late starts" but in actuality we were getting reasonable starts. I can't help that my grim life forces me to get up at 4:30 every morning to prolong the grim feeling of my mortality all day long. I digress. We decided to take a hop on/hop off bus tour which for me is one of the best ways to see a city, in particular when you are feeling aimless. It was hot, but not uncomfortably so. I had taken this very same tour before but with a less charming tour guide. This time it was a woman named Rosie who was a bit heavy on the "women love designer shopping and men love to buy it for them" front. Seriously, every other statement from her was about shopping and how men needed to buy things for ladies. She was cute what with her old-timey delusions. I also remember her pointing out the statue of Ceres that sits atop the Chicago Board of Trade building. This statue has no face because apparently the designers thought no one would see her anyway. This made me sad, but only because I'm a strange person.
She can't see you.

  • Since we were free to hop on and off like little rabbits, the Gold Coast neighborhood seemed as good as any to eat a hot dog and stroll around to see what was what. I'm normally a pescetarian but took one look at this and knew I had to put it inside my body:  
I digested the guilt away.
  •  After that, here's what ended up being what was what (what?): we stopped in a swanky place for one fancy cocktail which turned into full on day drinking which then turned into evening drinking. Wobbling, we emerged from our day drinking hovel in search of a place for dinner. On the way, Lauren asked a random stranger if he had any recommendations and lo and behold, he was an out of towner too. Very randomly and quite nicely, he decided to join us on our quest for food and ended up spending dinner and drinks in our company. Chicago! Bringing random friends together! We ended up at this wonderful Italian restaurant which was recommended to us by a group of about six cops. I mention this only because when we spotted them, they were all seated against a wall on lawn chairs. It looked like a coffee break but who am I to say? They all had thick Midwestern accents and really discerning palettes apparently, since the place they recommended was so fantastic. They also overlooked how drunk Lauren and I were, which was very nice of them.
  • At the end of our lovely meal, Lauren told the waitress it was our new friend's birthday and we got some free lemon cookies. Delicious? Maybe. Hilarious? Definitely. After dinner we walked across the street to continue the long day's long streak of drinking across that long city. Our new friend taught us several magic tricks that I'm trying out the next time I go out drinking which, based on the raging hangover I labored through the next day, will not be for a very, very long time. 
  • The next day we actually did get quite a late start and did the smartest thing I've ever done (twice) which was go on a boat while massively hungover. Yeah we chose to tour Lake Michigan on a tall ship on a pretty windy day with fake pirates giving us lectures. In order to get to the ship we had to run through Navy Pier which, and I'm just going to go ahead and say this, is a complete shit show. Too many sweaty tourists in too compact a boardwalk. I had visions of South Street Seaport and the Las Vegas strip. Again, I chalk this up to being hungover but...did not enjoy. I did enjoy the ice cream we ate and the "DJ" that was playing and rocking out quite hardcore to Whitney Houston in the middle of the pier. When I felt myself wobbling again, we decided to go back to the hotel and rest up to prepare ourselves for a fancy dinner.
  • We spent about two hours researching and  picking a place and ended up in the Wicker Park neighborhood, which neither of us had visited before. The restaurant was French, and they made me a sidecar so already, a place after my own cold heart! I had a leek salad and a comforting pot of seafood bouillabaisse and Lauren ate some onion soup and tried rabbit. Wicker Park is very, very hip. It reminded me of Brooklyn but probably less pretentious and less expensive. (See? I'm so unfaithful to NYC sometimes.)
  • Our last full day promised to be 97 degrees and humid so we did the sane thing and went to the Art Institute of Chicago which is one of the greatest museums I've ever visited. There is a Lichtenstein exhibit on at the moment which is pretty fantastic and beautifully arranged. We saw a fashion in art exhibit which left me intrigued and Lauren deeply disturbed. I got to see five Klee paintings and the same statue of Shiva about four times as we navigated our way through the day. I got the chance to stare at some Jackson Pollock which I've been wanting to do for a few weeks now. The room of miniatures is a place that I know, if I ever did live in Chicago, I'd spend a lot of time in. We had a sub par snack in the museum's cafe to avoid going outdoors and while we were doing that, we observed a small, red headed child staring at his sister while eating a chocolate chip cookie and this child may or may not have been possessed by Satan. Still, after spending the whole day there, I don't think I've seen the entire museum. Oh well, guess I'll have to go back!
  • After the museum we braved the heat and Lauren did some cartwheels in the shadow of Millennium Park and we made our way to a lovely Mexican dinner and a margaritas. We rode that odd but very convenient Loop train and after dinner we walked to Buckingham fountain where I experienced all the possibility mentioned a million paragraphs ago. It was the perfect image to take back home with me.
    So that's it. Four days, condensed though it might not seem like it. Chicago, I love you, madly. I'll be back. Keep a hot dog warm for me, won't you?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Busy nothings

 To quote Mansfield Park: "Life seems but a quick succession of busy nothings." That's pretty much the long and the short of it. I've been pretty complacent about it all only because I have the promise of a very eventful summer stretched out ahead of me, beginning with a little trip to Chicago on Thursday. I'm ecstatic since Chicago feels like a second home to me. That is actually ironic since I'm always a damn tourist there. It doesn't feel ironic though in reality, since I'm usually only ever wholly comfortable when I'm uprooted. Familiarity begets restlessness which begets unhappiness which begets regret. My psyche is like a book of the Old Testament. 

Over the past week I've been a bit down about my work situations. Not that there is anything terribly wrong (comparatively speaking) with each workplace, only that I work too much and I spend my free time worrying about all of things that have to get done because soon I'll have to be at work again. I suppose this is adulthood but  my particular situation has revealed itself to be a fully formed Hobson's Choice. And so I ended last week taking a minor step that could be my way out. I don't want to say too much about it but I mention it because I want to remember that afternoon that I saw a light at the end of the tunnel, however distant and faint. I want to come back here when this present becomes a past and think about feeling just like a raccoon after finding a shiny nickel in the garbage. Lest you think I'm melodramatic, I should mention that I just had to walk away from the computer to laugh out loud. At least I make myself laugh!

I'll blog a bit from Chicago, at least I plan on it. I suspect the sheer joy of not spending 13 hours in one windowless room after another will prompt me to see things differently (that, and the rose colored lenses of the land of speakeasies and cocktails) and that I'll have something to impart that won't make me cringe when I read it back six months from now. That would be a first.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Why did the serial killer cross the road?

I don't know why it should, but it tickles me to see people buying random things at the supermarket. I am one of those people usually and this morning I had to buy some lemonade for a staff party and I realized that I needed mouthwash. The man in front of me was buying a case of Bud (at 8am on a Monday) and some Ajax powder (for the a.m. beer pukes?) and the woman behind me was buying a chocolate cake and package of hot dogs. I think the type of people who grocery shop at 8am on a Monday morning (me) have random tastes.

Also on my way to work this morning, and every morning actually, I pass by this tire place. About a year ago, I had to buy a tire from them in an emergency and while I waited, the mechanic working on it was talking to me and I got a very distinct serial killer vibe from him. He is about 7 feet tall with dirty, greasy hair. If his eye color were a paint hue, it would be accurately named "Sociopathic Blue" and his conversation consisted of him misusing and mispronouncing words including, but not limited to: "suppositated", "UNTerling" and "i'm going to chop you up and leave you in the woods." I may have made one of those up. Anyway, this morning he was standing in the middle of a narrow two way street, precisely on the yellow lines waving his left hand for everyone to stop so he could cross. In his right hand, he was carrying two garbage bags which could only have been filled with body parts. I mean, that is the only explanation I can think of in any rational way. So this morning consisted of weirdos at the supermarket and a serial killer crossing the street.

I did quite a bit this weekend, starting on Thursday so here are the highlights in a format that I wish had existed for the common student when I was in 8th grade and handed in my typewriter typed report about Andrew Lloyd Webber all slanty and discombobulated: bullet points. (Btw, I got about four points taken for not having any margins on that paper and the sentences being, you know, physically slanted.)

  • This American Life broadcast a live show version of their regular radio broadcast throughout a bunch of movie theaters on Thursday. Kismet decided to follow me: I was off from work, had no obligations and was made aware that it was playing at my local movie theater. In case I had any doubts about dear Kismet, I picked up my ticket I turned around and saw a friend and coworker in line who was also attending the same movie. Instant company! Shouldn't all company be instant? The show was incredible. David Rakoff danced with a paralyzed arm and he brought me to tears. David Sedaris came out in clown makeup and related a story about waiting for coffee behind two very annoying people which hit close to home. Tig Notaro dueted with Taylor Dane. You just don't see these things every day.
  •  Vivan Maier stumbled into my life, or vice versa, thanks to the show. I read her work was displayed here in NY back in January and was young and inexperienced back then; I just didn't know. Chagrin, commence. I visit her once a day now.
  • On Friday, I found myself unbelievably at Webster Hall, that bastion of my late adolescence and a place I once boycotted for not letting me in the night after my high school prom, an event I did not attend. (I had tickets to see Nine Inch Nails and THAT was going to be my prom but it turns out you had to be 18 to get in there in 1994 and this remains true to this day. So I never got to spend the evening with Trent Reznor and whole room full of angsty, ripped fishnetted goths. I believe that night what we did instead was stroll through Washingston Square Park to buy drugs and two of our group took them on the train home. I was not one of those two.) Massive digression. I was there with my concert buddy/sister to see M. Ward. Needless to say, I got in this time since I don't look a day over 40. The concert was amazing and he played everything I wanted to hear and despite it not being in my favorite venue, the sound was kind of exceptional. During the encore, Conor Oberst appeared, long haired and tortured and tapping right into that emo part of my brain. Coincidentally and perhaps bringing us full circle, that part of my brain is still fishnetted.
  • In keeping with the tradition of every single concert I've ever attended in a general admission/standing room only location the tallest man in the room makes a beeline to me or one of my companions, thus making this the view, every single time (and keep in mind the predominant theme of concerts in NYC seems to be "Do Not Move. If you move, it will destroy your beardy, indie boy facade.":

5/11/12, Webster Hall, Photo by LME

  • I felt like rearranging my life on Saturday morning, been feeling kind of a wreck what with my life feeling like it is going nowhere. Unable to rearrange my entire life on a Saturday morning, I spent all day rearranging my closet. Not life changing, but doable in a day. An entire day, apparently. On my way out to the dumpster, I saw two ducks napping in the parking lot of my apartment complex. It was a sign. The sign read, come outside for a bit. Let your brain take a nap. On days when I'm not dragged by rusted iron chains and beaten into submission in order to be there, I enjoy going to the library. Being a library patron is better than being a librarian in the way that watching your favorite film as the director intended it without further explanation is better than six hours of commentary. What a pleasant place the library can be. I was researching Alzheimer's disease so when depression started to cloud my eyes a bit I walked over to the local coffee house and drank a green chai iced tea that I'm still thinking about today. I also went to a local DVD store called Mother's Movies where I finally bought the Three Colors trilogy and ordered a copy of Beginners. I love that I live near a store inside of which it is possible to discuss Kieslowski and the merits of buying a four movie box set, a box set I'm still thinking about today.
  • I got a visit from my brother and sister at night, in town again for Mother's Day. I played them the two chords I learned on the ukulele and we watched the Mighty Boosh. It is impossible for me to type and then reread those two sentences without smiling.
  • Mother's Day consisted of many things. Fortunately, most of them were love or flavored with love. I could say so many things about my mother but specifically to chronicle this particular mother's day I'll just say: 4 mimosas. Oh and that I love that woman.
  • John Irving reading from his new novel In One Person at the 92nd St. Y in Manhattan rounded out the weekend. No one will ever accuse Mr. Irving of being a dynamo public speaker but that is okay since he spends the majority of his time blowing my fucking mind with his writing. Sadly he wasn't signing books last night (and I had brought along my weathered and mysteriously stained copy of "A Widow for One Year" which I have always envisioned him inscribing it with a personal invitation to play squash with him.) but I'm comforted that he will be at ALA this year and I may meet him yet. I'm in the middle of "In One Person" and I'm riveted. 
  • On the way back into Queens, I was once again facing death inside a cab. Since I look everywhere but straight ahead inside a NYC taxi, I kept envisioning a brick wall dead ahead of every movement forward. Nancy pointed out how the 7 train sounds just like a roller coaster and I think we were all collectively disturbed by this notion. I picked up my car and drove back to this neverending island. I only consider it neverending because it never, ever ends, almost exactly like this blog post.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The two eggs to end all other eggs.

I'm high on the rush of being super productive today, my one day off. It must be the lack of drinking but instead of lolling about on my couch, I actually got a lot accomplished and it is only 3pm. It is probably a supremely stupid idea but I'm enjoying a cup of coffee at 3pm. They do it in the movies all the time. People have coffee after a long, late dinner. Why can't I just enjoy a late afternoon cup of coffee without visions of sleeplessness dancing through my head?

Last night Dana invited me to an animal shelter fund raiser in Port Jefferson. This was a fundraiser, with a twist. The twist was a room full of psychics, tarot card readers, pet communicators, Reiki, something called angel cards and maybe a palm reader? I don't remember exactly. I'll say right off the bat that the only thing I truly think is effective out of any of those is Reiki because I know a few people who have benefited from those treatments and I am a believer in alternative medicines; I love me some accupuncture and massage therapy. I enjoy having my tarot cards read because, like astrology, it is a fun thing to think about. I do not, however, like when self appointed psychics try to be counselors or psychologists, which is what most of them tend to do. Tell me to change the oil in my car before you tell me I have daddy issues, thanks. I have many friends and family member who believe in communicating with the afterlife, or the ability to read one's destiny in the stars. I am never derisive of people who believe in these kinds of things because whatever gets you through the night is alright, right? And really, choosing to do or not do something based on a tarot card reading is no more arbitrary than the eenie meenie miney mo with which we all basically live our lives.

I have only paid for these types of occult services exactly three times, including last night, though in reality I should not include last night since all $25 of my dollars went to benefit Save-A-Pet. The first time was at the tail end of my college years. There was always a sign out in front of this small building in town so a few friends of mine were going in and I tagged along. I don't remember much of what the woman said to me but I do remember she told me that in my past life I was George Sand. Having just seen the film "Impromptu", I was amused. Naturally I immediately "did the math", by which I mean I asked a math-smart friend of mine and realized that should past lives actually be a thing that happens, chances are more likely that in my past life I was a poor, Chinese peasant, as would be the case for nearly every human alive today. Everyone wants to think they were Cleopatra. Or George Sand. Personally, I get the sense I was Zelda Fitzgerald, but I digress.

The second time I visited a psychic was many years later with a friend of mine who was very much into tarot cards, and witchy things and who had heard about this Dominican man who set up shop on the west side of midtown Manhattan. We went in together and I don't remember how much he charged us but I remember he was sat in a room inside a very shady, unmarked building with about seven hundred million candles, dressed in colorful robes, looking like he just stepped out of the film "The Serpent and the Rainbow".

He's screaming because he can't remember if he's Bill Pullman or Bill Paxton either.

Anyway, I was really freaked out by this man because I imagined him reaching over and removing both mine and my friend's heart with his bare hands (what? Don't act like you have never imagined someone doing this to you.) He asked me to write my name on a piece of paper and then put that paper into a bowl of water that had a floating candle in it. Then he sprayed some sort of aerosol thing all over the candles and recited some incantation; it was all very Voodoo-ish, another thing that freaks me out likely because I was born and bred in Louisiana, where everything is witchy. I don't know if he was doing Voodoo but there were no dead and bloody chickens with broken necks, which is what I associate with Voodoo. Anyway, again, I don't remember much about what he said except that he told me that I would always be unlucky in love. Then he told my friend that she should apply to a job at Starbucks. I don't remember how or why that even came up but he handed her a business card for Starbucks, which at the time was just starting to take over the world. That exchange made me less inclined to believe him. But look at it this way, if I hadn't gone with my friend that day, I would not have been able to relate this story to you. Win/win.

Which brings us to last night. Basically you had a choice of which person you wanted to talk to and for your $25 donation to the shelter you could talk to them for 15 minutes. Both Dana and I chose the tarot card reader, mostly because neither of us really knew what any of the other stuff was. I knew I should have picked Reiki but like I said, I also enjoy tarot card readings. I imagine that a lot of money was raised for the shelter because the room was packed and all the appointments were getting booked. The tarot card reader was running about 30 minutes behind schedule and I was starving and had strong desires to just leave and go eat something, the money went to charity and I didn't care that much. But we stuck it out and from the moment I sat down, I realized that this woman had no clue what she was talking about or doing. Shewas also very red faced and seemed somewhat flustered. She opened with "You are in a relationship." And she followed that with "Your parents are still married." And followed THAT with the astute observation that "You suffer from mild depression." Zero for three. I was giving her no encouragement whatsoever and sat with a blank expression and she took that as an opportunity for me to pick the cards again for a different result. Tarot readings are apparently the slot machines of the occult, if one set of cards is totally off, just pick more until you get three cherries! The second set of cards revealed to her that I am religious (nope), that I am going to move within the year (unlikely) and that I "like" someone. Dana got her reading after me and after discussing our results, we realized that she told us almost identical things about our pasts except where she talked about my father, she talked about Dana's ex. Essentially she was full of it and by "it" I don't mean psychic power or even intuition.

When we left I was just about ready to eat my hand so we went in search of food. On the way I ran into my aunt and uncle who frequent the same watering hole every Friday night. I think maybe I caught a case of the Psychics because I had a "feeling" I'd run into them, in the same general area where they can be found every single Friday night. Uncanny! We ended up going to said watering hole for dinner which was basically a huge mistake. I'm on a very limited diet and I also don't eat meat so I ordered fish and it turns out that the bar/restaurant serves the most godawful disgusting crap and calls it "fish". Readers, I am very, very rarely unable to eat something I order, even if it is mediocre. I hate waste. But what they served me defies explanation. It made me feel like vomiting and, despite the fact that I was starving, I couldn't bring myself to eat it and I sent it back and ordered a salad. Dana's meal was called a chicken ceasars salad but was really half a head of iceberg lettuce (where's the romaine, people??) and cut up pieces of a novelty rubber chicken.

I'm delicious.
But she was a champ and ate it. Thankfully the restaurant was apologetic and didn't charge me for the salad. Since I was still starving when we left, Dana graciously gave me the last two hard boiled eggs in her house. Maybe it was the hunger but I swear if Faberge eggs had a taste and were edible, they would have tasted like those two eggs, the two eggs to end all other eggs.

On my way home, I was stopped at a red light and I noticed the car in front of me kept inching backwards. At first I thought he was driving a manual transmission since those cars tend to inch back slightly before going forward but as he kept going backwards without going forwards I got the sense that he was going to hit my car. And again I have to wonder if I have the "psychics" now because he did hit my car. Well, he tapped it. And then the light turned green and he sped off into the horizon, to find other things to back into, inches at a time. I didn't really care about it since there was basically no harm done. And as I drove the rest of the way home I kept thinking about the red faced and exasperated tarot card reader and how I should have taken her business card with me so I could email her and offer some unsolicited advice. I think an effective way to be a psychic or to pretend to be a psychic is to speak in metaphors that sound meaningful but could be applied to anything and anyone. For example, instead of "you suffer from mild depression" I would have said something like "You are stopped at a red light and the car in front of you keeps inching backwards ever so slowly. And you expect him to go forward but instead, he hits you in the front. You know impact is imminent and you know that, despite your protestations with your car horn, he's headed right for you." See? Isn't that much better and more mysterious than telling someone who they are and what they should do?

Then again, I would have even been happy with "Don't order the fish."