16 November, 2010

My friend, Babor

Living in this communication-saturated world, unsolicited commercial email (UCE or "spam") is pretty much inevitable. It no longer shocks me when I receive emails from one "Kesha Willow" advertising the sale of "Incredib1e penislong pill" or emails from a person who is named "me" with the subject line "mr. emflynn, get super prices." Why would I address myself with a formal title in my own email, and an incorrect one at that? That's just ridiculous, Mr. Spammer.

The majority of this spam is simple, penis-enhancing messages or codeine offers (discounted at 99 percent!) that don't humanize the sender in any way. I can deal with these types of emails. (And by me, I mean google's spam folder, which neatly disposes of nearly all of the spam within 30 days. Simple, efficient, hands-off. Spam me all day long, spammers! I gots my google team on it.)

But then my facebook messages were infiltrated, and it touched me in a way I didn't fully anticipate.

It was October 2nd, 2010. A Saturday. I received a private message from one "Babor" with the simple subject line, "business letter from Babor, Retired principal officer, Grameen Bank." Here is what Babor told me.

"To: Emily

From: Md. Babor Ali
Managing Director
RASHEEQ FASHION
House-177, Road-10, Block-F,
Bashundhara Residential Area,
Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Email: baborali@gmail.com,
Phone: 01190298727

Dear Emily,

How are you? This is Md. Babor Ali I was your coordinator during your internship at Grameen Bank, in Bangladesh. I got retirement on August, 08, 2010. I start garments business. I am exporting garments from Bangladesh to USA, Europe, Canada, Australia and Africa. As you were my intern please help me to find a buyer from your country or you could start business. It’s a profitable business.
I am providing my business profile bellow.
Profile of our Organization

RASHEEQ FASHION
House-177, Road-10, Block-F,
Bashundhara Residential Area,
Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Email: baborali@gmail.com,
Phone: 01190298727"

"Wow," I thought to myself. "That is a lot of contact information. Seems legit..." I mulled it over for a second. Then I called my sister.

"Did I ever have an internship at Grameen Bank?"
"What? What are you talking about?"
"Oh, nothing. Just curious... have you ever heard me mention the name Babor Ali?"

The fact that this guy had actually found me on facebook is impressive enough. All those privacy settings I set up long ago have to mean something, right? (...right?) Maybe I should be one of the first investors in his budding garments business. Whenever you are on the cusp of the opportunity of a lifetime and yet, at the end of the day, ultimately decide against it, there is always that nagging question: what if? What... if?

What if I invested some of my non-existent money in an out-of-the-blue solicitation from an internship that I never held in a country I've never been to by a man I've never heard of? What if I legitimately became his intern, and helped him build a, as he put it, "business profile," a profile that has more substance than just the name of his "business" with its address? This could be the opportunity of a lifetime. All thanks to Babor!

But, as it usually goes with all things on facebook, I got distracted. I spent an embarrassing amount of time sifting through other people's facebook photos. Sometime later, I signed off. I went about my life.

Because the power of the facebook is stronger than us mere mortals can resist, later that night I signed back on. I checked out the "top news" section that always brims with the daily inanities from friends and acquaintances both close and... not so close. While scoping about, I noticed something. It was a message, a new message for me! What could it possibly say?

"Emily this is Md. Babor Ali. I was doing my job at the Nobel winner organization Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. On August 08, 2010 I got retirement and start garments business. Here in Bangladesh people are poor. For that a lot of man power is cheap here. People established garments factory and sending their product to USA, Europe, Canada, Australia and Africa.
After getting retirement I started this business here and collecting product from factory and sending to those countries. Above mentioned organization I established and doing well. Now I need your help. I have a lot of interns of the globe, they could start importing garment product that produced by the hand touch of the poor people. So now my new initiative is also with the poor people.
Objectives:
• To eradicate poverty,
• To create employment opportunity.
• To meet the appropriate expectations of clients.
• To add substantial contribution into the national exchequer.

Product:
• Knit Fabric: Single Jersey, Heavy Jersey, Pique, Lacoste, Interlock, Eight lock design, Rib, Pleated design, Rib, French terry, Fleece, Collar and cuff of Cotton, Viscose, Modal, Cotton viscose, Viloft, Polyester, Cotton Polyester, CVC, Synthetic, fiber & micro fiber, x-static, and also made of polyamide, tactel, Coolmax, Suplex etc. by making order to renewable garments factory.
• Garments: T-shirt, Polo shirts, Sweat-shirt, Golf-shirt, Tank tops, Kids wear, Jogging suits, Runners pant, Skirolly, Functional wear, Fashion dress, Under garments, Sports wear etc. by making order to renewable garments factory.
• Garments: long sleeves, shorts sleeves, Denim long pants, Kargo short pant for mens, ladies, boys, girls, kids by making order to renewable garments factory.

I am looking forward to hearing from you soon.
Thank you once again.
Best Regards,

Babor."

How, in the name of all that is good and holy, could I attempt to deny Md. Babor Ali my assistance with his new initiative, "the poor people?" Only a truly selfish person would deny importing such "garment product" made by the "hand touch of the poor people" to the United States. Isn't that what our grand country is based upon? But yet, if his cause was so right, why did it all suddenly feel so wrong?

This new email brought forth too many questions. What was a "national exchequer?" Why would he assume that I would know what a "Viloft" or a"Skirolly" was? Why did he spell the word cargo with a "k?"

The more I read, the more I started to notice other things. Why didn't his verb tenses match throughout the sentence? Why didn't he mention my alleged internship at the Grameen Bank anymore?

"Babooooor!" I shouted, shaking my fist at the heavens above. "Why must you do these things to me!?" 

I did not respond to his request. And ever since, my facebook messages have been eerily absent of one Md. Babor Ali from Grameen Bank. Did I mean nothing to him? Did he take me for a fool? Since it's notoriously difficult to get any direct answers from Facebook, I may never be able to answer these questions for myself. I suppose I could try to contact him directly. I mean, I do have all his contact information. I'm just not sure I am ready to trust again...

So if you're interested in investing in a "profitable garments business," let me know. I know a guy.

14 November, 2010

The Jaded Writer

Though I haven't been doing a lot of actual writing lately, I've been thinking a lot about writing, and that has to count for something. As a soccer coach once informed me, the mental game is 90 percent of the whole thing. So, by the standard of sports clichés, I'm practically all the way there. The tangible evidence of this writing habit of mine comes in the form of one half-written coming-of-age novel, one fleshed out sketch of a dystopian end-of-the-world type novel, and one nearly complete but as-of-yet unedited satirical memoir. There are also the thousands of scraps of paper that are currently falling out from my desk drawers into my lap. They contain scribbled turns of phrases in blue and black (and sometimes pink!) ink that I wrote on bits of newspaper and backs of programs as a reminder of some intriguing story idea or polysyllabic word that I thought sounded fancy. With all this inspiration literally spilling out around me, what more could a fledgling writer possibly need in order to produce that dream of the next great American novel?

The answer, my friends, is whiskey. As a housewarming gift, my friend Tyler bought a bottle of Johhnie Walker Red. Being more of a connoisseur of the Trader Joe's 2010 Charles Shaw variety, I recognized that I may not encounter such a thing anytime again in my near future. So, upon receiving the gift, I promptly hid it from the other house guests in a tall, out-of-reach cupboard behind a container of glow sticks and some unused plastic plates. While I may not have earned the "shares well with others" sticker that day, I had big plans for that Johnnie Red, things far grander than simply being used as shots before the customary Saturday night excursion to the local chinese food restaurant slash top-40 dance club.

For the record, I neither condone nor condemn drinking. Alcohol, when used responsibly, can be a fun, recreational, and (let me emphasize) social undertaking, especially when it comes in the form of five colorful straws inside a dragon-painted scorpion bowl at the aforementioned "restaurant." But with this bottle of Mr. Walker, I wanted it to be different. More meaningful. Less Bieber lyrics, more Brontë prose. Like many other great writers before me, I decided that whiskey was going to help get me there.

In college, my friend Lori convinced me that whiskey and water was the drink of choice of college students, hardened alcoholics, and fledgling writers alike.

"The water hydrates you, and you still get drunk," she told me. Her logic was sound. My hangover-free Sunday mornings were pleasant. Everyone won.

Then there's Faulkner, who was quoted as saying, "the tools I need for my work are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey." What kind of young writer goes against nobel-prize winning American novel-writing William Faulkner? I may be young, but I'm not stupid. 

But, you might ask yourself, aren't you just romanticizing hard alcohol because you are a 23-year old with too many hopes and dreams and not enough real world practicality to know that you shouldn't be drinking alcohol by yourself on some random Tuesday night? To which I would reply: absolutely. Sure, whiskey is not always unicorns and rainbows, but everyone deludes themselves in some form or other. It's like when teenage girls layer on dark eyeliner to make themselves feel like they look older, or when one of my ex-boyfriends used to put on dress shirts when he had to write a final paper. Everyone subscribes to different ways of thinking that help them to transform who they are into who they want to be. For me, a glass of whiskey conjures up the vision of hunkering down over a pad of paper on a snowy wintery night, a drink on the table in front of me, a fireplace at my back, and the entire night free to pretend to be a hardened, wizened, jaded writer exploring the world through words and letting my inner muse wander where she may. Being presented with a bottle of whiskey moved these visions from the back of my mind to my kitchen table.

So thank you, Tyler, for enabling and abetting my writing habit through whiskey. One day, you just may have a book dedication aimed at you in the form of cryptic inside jokes. I'll just have to drink more whiskey to become clever enough to think of something first. And before that, actually finish a novel. But first things first.

09 November, 2010

Everyone's an (Anonymous) Critic

Yesterday will forever go down in history as the day that this blog received its first negative anonymous comment. Oh sure, you might say, I've been fortunate to fly relatively under the radar and to have all of my fantastically hilarious anecdotes and genuine insights be hidden from popular society on some obscure pun-inspired blog nestled deep inside the google blogosphere. It might even be considered surprisingly lucky, astonishing really, if one were to compare the comments that have appeared on this very blog against a standard Youtube-style comment riddled with amusing mis-spellings and racist undertunes. The fact that I have written for this blog (relatively) regularly for over a year and have survived with only a 151:1 nice-to-mean comment ratio is nothing to shake a stick at. In a way, anonymous comments legitimize this blog. Someone, somewhere, cares enough to post! And it's not my mom! (Sorry, mom. I love your comments.)

The original post, a tongue-in-cheek analysis of the lyrics to Taylor Swift's "Love Story," was intended to be funny (or at least mildly amusing). Even if (especially if?) the comment was anonymous, that first internet betrayal still stings. As Sheryl Crow so wisely croons, "the first cut is the deepest."

However, holding myself to be the type of person that strives for justice above all else, I thought to myself, "Hey, Em. Let's get a little crazy up in here. What if this anonymous commentator was right. Why don't I step back and re-assess my role in the inundated drivel that is the world wide web? What would be the harm in fact-checking my lyrics analysis with a specific Act and Scene from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet that was provided by the anonymous commenter, an Act and Scene which might reveal my wrongful interpretation of Taylor Swift's pop-country classic?"

And so, dear reader, I did just that. Thanks to the marvel of the modern age, SparkNotes can give all the literary answers that a girl with a blog could ever possibly need (or want). Now, instead of drawing upon my less-than-kodak memory from when I read that most notable of Shakespeare's plays way back in junior high, all can be explained to me in clear, concise, bullet-point form. Thanks, Sparknotes!

Before we get to the comment, let us first review that original offending post that triggered an anonymous single-entity backlash. In the analysis, the only resources used were the lyrics to the aforementioned pop song, "Love Story." At more than one point in my analysis, I implied that Taylor Swift's literary allusions were perhaps ever the slightest bit off the mark from the literary references' more commonly understood meaning. To save you, fellow reader, the time, here were my main points. (I am copying what I said in the original blog post, because a) I had it right the first time and b) I am lazy.)

Taylor Swift lyrics, Love Story:

And I said, "Romeo, take me somewhere we can be alone./ I'll be waiting, all that's left to do is run.
You be the prince, and I'll be the princess,/ It's a love story, baby, just say, 'yes'."

The commentary that was originally posted alongside the lyrics:


"If you follow Shakespeare's logic, unrealistic expectations will only end in double suicide. Take heed, young Taylor. Also important, princes and princesses are an entirely different metaphor from Romeo and Juliet. Most princes and princesses had arranged marriages that were intended to unite kingdoms and promote royal agendas. Yes, now there's a love story to base your life around."

Taylor Swift lyrics, Love Story:

'Cause you were Romeo, I was a scarlet letter,
And my daddy said, "Stay away from Juliet."/ But you were everything to me,
Begging you, "Please don't go". 

The commentary that appeared alongside the lyrics:

"I may not have been the happiest with the Romeo and Juliet metaphor, but those emotions feel like puppy love compared to how I feel about the Scarlett Letter reference. Starcrossed lovers- fine. Ok. You're a teenage girl. But has the girl, or any person in her family or friend circle, even her staff for that matter, ever read the Scarlett Letter?

Let's review: the
Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Protagonist Hester Prynne committed adultery and then carried the resulting child while being marred by an outcast reputation and trying to repent for her sins. Hawthorne sure enjoyed himself a good love story.

It's not just the fact that the whole Scarlett Letter thing was just a completely ill-used metaphor, it is the idea that it written explicitly to be an interchangeable allusion with the Romeo and Juliet and prince/princesses lyrics. My IQ, it rolls along the floor, slowly, away from me.
"

Now, for your viewing pleasure, here is the anonymous comment in full.

"You are entirely wrong romeo and juliet would have had arranged marriages hence paris and capulets Act 3 Scene 5 outrage of Juliet not following this. shut up"

Let us, as scholars, attempt to dissect it. For the sake of argument, let's assume that the words "not following this" was intended to be a separate statement from the "arranged marriages" critique. Here, I am forced to dock one point from Anonymous Commenter (AC) for their complete disregard of conventional sentence structure and possessive forms. (Even if they did use the word "hence.") However, I cannot deny AC's point that Romeo and Juliet, though not princes and princesses as the Swift song hints, would have had arranged marriages. So one point awarded back to them. If you're following, AC has a total sum of love. (Deliberate double entendre tennis/"Love Story" pun. Carry on.)

Let us go to the action of Act 3 Scene 5 that AC references as the crux of both their argument and my wrongful interpretation. Here's 11 pages of Shakespeare condense into one riveting paragraph:

Romeo and Juliet wake up the day they got secretly married and after Romeo kills Juliet's cousin, Tybalt (even though she didn't know that. Marriage dealbreaker.) Juliet wants Romeo to stay. Then Romeo wants to stay, but Juliet wants him to go. Romeo leaves so the Capulets won't kill him. Juliet is sad. Juliet's mom comes in and breaks the news that her dad arranged a marriage between Juliet and Paris later that day. Juliet says no, they fight, and Juliet weeps a lot. The Nurse tells Juliet that Paris is better than Romeo. Juliet gets mad. She tells the Nurse that she's going to Friar Lawrence's to repent for her sins, but as we later find out (SPOILER ALERT) Juliet actually goes there to commit suicide because she thinks her life with Romeo is over. End scene.

Hm.

While I do agree that Juliet's dad asked her to stay away from Juliet, as Taylor Swift did sweetly sing about, I still fail to see the deeper connection to Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter. Forbidden love, perhaps? Still, the details of both relationships seems like apples and oranges to me. And how does it fit into the the prince and princesses allusion? The fact remains that just because they sound relatively romantic when you sing about them and your target audience doesn't really know what they mean, it doesn't mean the lyrics actually make sense. So if an anonymous commenter on some unknown blog argues that a certain lyrical analysis doesn't make sense, but offers an argument that in itself does not make sense, does that mean I win?

Of course it does! It's my blog. I hope we all learned something today, kids. I know I sure did.
And that lesson is that SparkNotes has amazing "study break articles" like PDA: When Is It Ok? and The Secret Crush Test. Screw Shakespeare and Swift, I'll be here for hours.

18 October, 2010

Stop, Look, Wave

Spotted: on a lonely pedestrian walkway, somewhere in a sleepy cattle-town of New England. A pedestrian crosswalk that states, "STOP LOOK WAVE."

This is a new development. I lived in this town for four years and yet, in all that time, one (eins, uno, one) person got hit by a car. The car at fault was, it should be noted, traveling at less than 10 miles per hour. The man that was hit was only slightly bumped, a little rattled, and mostly embarrassed. In the scope of vehicular accidents, this one may not have even registered. And yet, here we are given irrefutable proof that there was a committee who decided to assuage their deep concern for pedestrian safety in that one main street two-thousand person town through explicit written directions about how to cross a street. STOP LOOK WAVE.

I would like to point out, for the record, that if one were to follow these directions of "Stop Look Wave" exactly, then they would be putting themselves in a situation that has them staring directly at the ground and not, you know, oncoming traffic. Some people can't walk and chew gum, what if you can't walk and read words at the same time? Then what? This would be especially difficult to do if you're not expecting words to be there on the ground to read in the first place. And what if you're a slow reader? There you are, walking across a nice, bright, well-lit, seemingly safe pedestrian walkway when, hark! What are these strange new symbols affixed on the ground? Why I bet someone wants me to read them... BAM. Log-loader truck.

I would also like to point out, for the record, that these instructions don't actually tell a pedestrian what to do after one has properly stopped, looked, and waved. Now what? Clearly, if I've taken the time to read the words, I am simply trying to obey the letter of the law. If some city councilman is going to go as far as to tell me how to properly cross the street through explicit written directions, at least take the time to make them a complete set of directions. How long has mankind been crossing the street as a pedestrian? Since the invention of the automobile? Since the dawn of time? (Woolly mammoth crossings. Real threat.) I hate to be one advocating survival of the fittest here, but if at this point in the history of humanity you can't safely cross a street without something hitting you, then maybe you just shouldn't be passing on your genes. You know? It's not like there are directions dictating what to do about revolving doors, and people seem to manage those just fine on their own. Well, almost.

06 October, 2010

Guest Appearances by: the President & the Bieber

Some things in life you only really think over as you are idly drifting off to sleep one random Tuesday evening. They may be light daydreams or beautiful visions, ones that may never come to pass but, with enough hope and prayer, you feel that one day, maybe, in some distant universe, they just might.

Justin Bieber has never been in any such moments for me. Yet now, as I welcome him as the newest addition to my household, a feeling that is nothing short of glee comes over me when I pass him in my house. He's usually in the dining room or the kitchen and he hasn't seemed to move on his own accord yet, as cardboard cutouts tend to do. But sometimes we give him a little help around the house and place him in the upstairs bathroom, or the walk-in closet, or even Ryan's bedroom. The Biebs has proven to be entirely too effective at freaking out at at least one (if not both) of my housemates.

"Bieber in my bathroom! Bieber in my bathroom!" Ryan screamed last night when she went to brush her teeth and found Bieber instead. Justin didn't flinch, but I guess it is because he is so used to being near screaming and crying girls.

It's one thing to wake up in the middle of the night and see the unexpected silhouette of a person standing there motionless, but it's another thing entirely to flip on the lightswitch and be met with the uncomfortably sultry eyes of one underage Canadian pop sensation. It feels more than a little wrong. (But, in the words of Ryan, also a little right?) Recently, all the roommates (myself included) decided that the sight of one of the cutouts in someone's bathroom or closet late at night or first thing in the morning was probably not a great idea in terms of avoiding attacks. Even if the cutout's hair is perfectly coiffed.

The Biebs' recent Cambridge adoption gives some much needed company to our previously singular dining room loiterer: President Barack Obama.  For now, the Prez. and the Biebz spend working nights together staring off at walls across from each other. (On the weekends, we pimp them out for photo ops.)

To make things more festive, we've given the Biebs some mardis gras beads. (Did he take his top off in New Orleans? Would he? We may never know). We left Pres. Obama without any accoutrements. We might be young, but we're not disrespectful.

Even without the pranks, simply having the cutouts around is enjoyable.

"Morning, Biebs." I say to him as I grope my way around the kitchen for coffee. As he has yet to respond, I'm just going to assume that he's not a morning person. (Yet.)

"He's too tall!" Denise told me tonight as she stood on tiptoes trying to kiss the President. See? Super enjoyable.

But having them around has also raised a few questions. Does President Obama actually wear glasses? Is Justin Bieber's head really 60 percent larger than the president's? What are we going to do with the cutouts after the novelty wears off? ...Will the novelty ever wear off? Am I actually in bed with Justin Bieber? To all of the above, a hearty yes. (Except for the novelty question.)

22 September, 2010

Once Upon a Time I Had a Blog

Once upon a time, there was a girl. After college, this girl found herself "funemployed," which is really just an optimistic way of looking at life without a salary. With too many aspirations in her heart and not enough change in her pocket, she did what she thought to be logical next step: she moved to the the nearest metropolitan area. And then that was where she got stuck. "What now?" she asked herself as she poured over the Globe's scanty helpwanted page. "What now?"

Then she fretted. She fretted about not having enough money, about not pursuing a fulfilling career. She griped over not having enough free time, but mysteriously she did not know what she did the other hours of the day. Not a small amount of times was spent fretting over not having enough space on her DVR, though initially she had her doubts whether she actually needed it. She didn't, but she was now so heavily ensconced with the tv shows that she fervently watched during her funemployment period that she could never give it up now. She started a blog. She wrote often about the riveting minutiae of her everyday existence. And sometimes about macaroni.

Then, a year later, she found herself employed. She had a job that she looked forward to waking up in the morning for, she had career prospects that she could really get behind. She found herself surrounded by colleagues who shared not only similar hopes and dreams but pandora stations. Along with this introduction to a more "corporate" world came regular hours of operation and semi-regular paychecks, ones that that credited her not with "experience" or "character building opportunities" but good ol' legal American tender. She was content, more than she had been back in the dark ages with no job prospects and a lot of recorded television. And it was good.

But, she recognized, it was also bad. She could no longer watch hours of youtube a day; she no held the (self-proclaimed) title of being the "most culturally tuned in" among her peers. There were Tosh.0 references that she did not understand. She no longer had a shocking amount of free time with which to write down her super important thoughts regularly, as her adoring 13 fans have most definitely noticed and probably fretted over. (For that, she is truly sorry.)

But that girl, that idealistic empowered young girl, she made a promise to herself one fateful Wednesday night. She would still blog- oh yes: she would blog. She would blog the blog out of blogger, she told herself. But this girl was concerned- would the everyday minutiae of a more excel-spreadsheet driven world be less exciting to read than the world of the unpaid-intern-living-on-a-nickel-and-a-prayer? She did not know. But she would try- by god, she would try.

So let me tell you a little bit about me over the past few weeks. I journeyed by Uhaul van away from that big metropolitan city to a little village across a river. In this village, coffee shops abound and bike racks clutter store fronts. Bicycling is so common here that on the first day that my roommates and I moved in my landlord handed us a pamphlet on proper bicycling etiquette. The pamphlet was 8 pages long. And after playing the not-super-fun game of "dodge the biker" day after day, I am pretty confident that I am the only person in Cambridge to read up on proper bicycling procedure. (But am confused why they still have the pamphlet.) In my new home, there is a significant community focus here on "supporting local businesses" and buying from "eco-friendly stores," you know, the kind that purchase foods from pesticide-free local farms and sell vegan footwear. As a vegetarian, I am decently ok with these places of business. But even for me, I think it's pretty crunchy.

Speaking of crunchy, I work at a sustainability firm. Fun fact! In the course of one day, I get to say the word "sustainability" in all its various forms ("sustainable initiatives," "environmental efforts," "green [insert noun here]...") approximately a quintillion times. There aren't that many ways to say it. Trust me- I've tried. It's my job.

Because of working, I firmly suspect that I have started to develop carpal tunnel in my right pointer finger. I blame this weird and singular ailment on the poorly taught typing lessons that my (very public) middle school forced every student to take. I passed the typing class with flying colors, though I left the class being able to type with all of the fingers of my left hand but only the pointer finger on my right hand. (Yet, in spite of this handicap, I can still hit 84 words per minute on Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. What now, Mavis.)

I now live in a real neighborhood with neighbors who not only know my name but stop and say hello. It's a change from the no-named floor-waxers in apartment 7 last year. I can look out my window and be met with not another brick building as before but the trees and the yard that belong to the French family next door. Their three little French children play outside in the street and shout cute little things at me that I don't understand. My only french phrases besides "hello" are "Je suis un ananas" ("I am a pineapple") and "Donne-moi tout vous croissants," ("Give me your croissants.") The first was taught to me by my (usually) trustworthy older sister, and the second was learned on the fly when traveling abroad and trying to obtain breakfast. (Emily Flynn: working to promote the negative international stereotype of Americans, one mangled croissant-demand at a time.) 

On my new morning commute, I have to walk through the Harvard campus. This commute is one of my favorite parts of the day because the people-watching options are endless: the frazzled freshman, clutching campus maps and asking strangers like me where specific lecture halls are; bikers dodging innocent pedestrians with their eco-friendly tote bags; stately-looking professors gliding across the yard in flowing skirts and tweed jackets. (You think I am kidding- I've seen three tweed jackets. Clearly not an unfounded stereotype there, Harvard.)

So while I don't get to play with jellyfish or octopi as often as I did once before, I hope that you will stay on with me on this wild journey through young adulthood. Because, for lack of a better reason, my mom still thinks that I am funny, and therefore you should too. And besides, I'll even tell you the story about how I had a near brush with death with a four-and-a-half foot long barracuda last week in the Gulf. But that's for another time.

19 August, 2010

The Night I Tried to Save a Mouse

This is the story of a baby mouse. A baby mouse, silver-furred and maybe three inches in length, went off in the search of food one day. He crawled underneath an old stove in an old apartment building in an old neighborhood of Boston. He inched forward, whiskers brushing bread crumbs and stray macaroni noodles that shared the space underneath the stove, and then he got stuck. Stuck on a strategically placed sticky pad. This sticky pad was installed against the tenant's will after a recent cockroach threat befell the building. But this baby mouse was not a cockroach, and as he tried to escape, he got more and more stuck. He squeaked his little squeak aloud for nobody. This baby mouse, too small to see how he fit into the bigger picture, couldn't contemplate his existence or wonder where he went wrong. Also, he was too far away to eat the fallen macaroni noodles. So, he continued to squeak his tiny baby mouse squeak. That is how I found him when I got home from work.

There are many aspects that I love about my new job: the people, the actual work itself, the fact that my commute has been cut in half. It's great. But perhaps the most novel and satisfying aspect is the flexibility to get home by dinnertime, a new tradition. Hours of free time now exist in the evenings, stretching before me every time I cross the threshold of my apartment after work. I could go to the gym! Or hang out with friends! Or spend hours getting caught up on television! I could even (gasp) go to bed early. (Which I almost never do! But I could!) All of which excites me. 9-5 never felt so good.

So today, when I got home, I did my ritual. I flipped open my computer to send some emails. I put on some music intending to de-stress (today's choice being sultry blues a lá Keb Mo'). I went on facebook, and then rummaged around the kitchen for a snack.

And then I heard a squeak.

More than just a squeak, it was a outright cry. It would start and stop, depending on my movements. I thought it was me. But then the squeaks would start again. I stopped. The squeaks stopped.

"Please don't be in the ritz crackers. I really wanted hummus with those." I muttered to the mice at large in my kitchen.

I swooped into action. I pulled on rain boots, rubber that is impenetrable to mice and other small critters. I grabbed a sizeable knife. I worked my way around my kitchen, opening cabinet doors slowly and holding my breath. The mice weren't in the ritz; I breathed a sigh of relief. I waited out the squeaks, using a type of eco-location not unlike that of a dolphin, to try to find the crying mouse. I finally found him: stuck and lying on one side, freaking out underneath my stove. I called my mom.

"Flush it down the toilet."
"MOM! I can't just flush it down the toilet." I exclaimed, shocked. "It's alive!" I was looking down at the baby mouse; it seemed so helpless, so stuck.
"Fine then. Put it in a garbage bag and leave it outside."
"And let it suffocate? It is a baby. Don't you understand?!"

She didn't. I was torn: I couldn't bring myself to kill the mouse, that much I knew for certain. So I took the baby mouse, sticky pad and all, to the street outside of my apartment. I sat down and placed the mouse gingerly on the ground. And then I attempted to extract it from what I can only assume was an industrial-strength sticky pad. I cursed exterminators everywhere. I looked up at the skies and cried, "Why?" I tried to offer the mouse words of encouragement.

"You have so much to live for!" The mouse stopped squirming, perhaps internalizing my words, and squeaked. It twitched its whiskers agonizingly. "Please stop making that sound, it is breaking my heart!" I said as I attempted to unstick its tail first.

There were other people on the street, too, on their way home from work or taking an evening stroll. A few stopped to talk to me.

One lady scrunched up her nose. "Oh my god, is that a... is that a mouse?!"
 "Uh, yeah." I told her as I worked.
"Why would you bring that out here?!"
"As opposed to... inside?"
She walked away, shaking her head.
"I'm saving a life here, what are you doing with your life today, lady?" I responded, mostly to the ants.

I gave a frustrating grunt to no one in particular, trying to ease a plastic knife soft side up gently underneath one of the mouse's hind legs. As Horton the Elephant taught us in Dr. Seuss's seminal, "Horton Hears a Who," "a person's a person, no matter how small." I didn't care that other people thought I was weird; I felt I was right. Personal conviction is all I've got going for me, lately.

Enter stage left my roommate's boyfriend, Eric. Eric was stopping by to pick up things for my roommate, as she was currently on vacation. At this point, my path and the roommate's would not cross for another 11 days due to a wacky series of overlapping vacations and weddings. Eric borrowed my keys to go upstairs and get more tools to help with the baby mouse extraction. He came back down with a paper towel, a cup of water, and a fork from a silverware collection that was given to my parents when they were first married. I thanked him for the fork, deciding that maybe using a nice fork to try to remove the mouse was not inappropriate, but actually karmically right. Nice things for all beings, no matter how small.

Eric stuck around for another ten minutes, offering encouragement in the form of calling me a crazy hippie and telling me that this was one of the craziest things he'd seen in a while.

"Then you need to get out more." I told him. He stayed a bit longer, but left to head back home, wishing me luck with the "mouse problem." Minutes passed.

And then I looked up. I didn't have my cell phone. I didn't have my wallet on me, nor my ID. Or my keys. What I did have was a baby mouse stuck to a sticky pad on the sidewalk outside of my apartment. And flip flops.

I sprinted to the subway faster than I ever thought was possible in flip flops. Looking back on the scene, I envision something like the ending of "The Graduate,": Dustin Hoffman pounding on the windows to get the attention of the girl he loves at her wedding. "Elaine!" he screams, pounding on the windows. "Elaaaaine!"

I was shouting: "ERRIIIC!" A man, who I can only assume is also named Eric, turned around. "Sorry, not you!" I screamed at him, scanning the tops of heads for a tall guy in a blue button down. Nothing. Eric was gone. And with him, my keys.

That walk home was the longest walk home of my life this far. I entered into a brief spiral of despair. I walked up my street to my mouse, still very much stuck. 'Please don't die on me', I willed it. 'Please don't; then all really is lost.'

I sat outside my apartment. Water started to drip down on me from three flights above, potted plants fresh from a recent watering. I don't move, and resign myself to wait for the next person to walk by to ask for help. A woman strolls past angrily on her cell phone, but I decide to try my luck anyway. "Excuse me!" I say to her, explaining my situation in one breath. She wishes me luck without stopping. I glare at her back. I entered into another brief spiral of despair. To pass the time.  No one walks by.

Twenty minutes later a man comes outside to smoke a cigarette. I appraise him from a distance: he seems decent enough. I approach him slowly, hands open in the universal symbol of "I'm a hapless female, please help me!" I learn his name is Matt. Matt listens understandingly, and then runs inside to grab his phone. He offers me a cigarette while I wait. And while this is a family blog, I have to tell you- I truly contemplated beginning smoking right then and there. If anytime is a good time to start smoking, it might have been then. And there. But ultimately I decide against it, because karma is already apparently against me. I don't need to give it definite reasons to keep me on its bad side.

Using my new friend Matt's phone, I call the first four people who came to mind that might have my roommate's number, cursing myself for not having committed her number to memory after years of friendship. Not one person picks up. "Some friends I have!" I attempt a laugh and walk away, thanking him.

But Matt tells me that he feels bad for leaving me without a solution, and offers to be with me to ring all the buzzers on my apartment. So we do. No one answers. "Some neighbors I have!" I only have one joke, and no plans to get out of my situation become apparent. I take a moment to have an abbreviated talk with God.

"So... this seems unfair. I tried to save one of your beloved creatures. And this is how you repay me? Creating a series of unfortunate events to lock me out of my apartment? I'll keep that in mind for the future."

Matt offers to stick with me until someone walks by again. I promise to bake him cookies, many many delicious cookies. Serendipitously, not long after a neighbor comes home. With his help, I call our landlord and arrange for him to come let me into my apartment as soon as he can, in "probably an hour and a half." I thank him profusely. I quietly feel guilty for cursing his name aloud more than once over the past year. I do not tell him about the mouse situation. 

I thank all my new friends, reassuring them that I will be just fine. I want them to leave so that I can continue setting free the baby mouse, which neither of them has noticed yet. It is probably for the best. Ten minutes later the mouse was free, and I still had an hour and twenty minutes to kill. No computer, no cell phone, no iPod. Just me. It felt more than a little unnatural.  And kind of liberating.

I sat on my stoop. It was a nice night, if one were not sitting underneath dripping plants. Having nothing better to do, I watched people pass by. I wondered if the girl in the polka-dotted dress knew how nervous she looked walking down the street. I wondered why she might be that nervous. Maybe she got locked out of her apartment, too. I wondered why the big man with the surly demeanor was carrying a feminine-looking purse. Perhaps it's his wife's? Maybe he's just really that comfortable with himself. Now that I'm done with removing a baby mouse from a sticky pad, few people glance my way. A biker happens to look in my direction and then almost gets sideswiped by a car. At this point I've given up on stoop-sitting, having decided that since my karma is apparently already rough, I should probably move on before I take out a biker or kill someone. I walked to the local library; it was closed. I walked around my neighborhood. I was bored. The Starbucks at the corner of my street was still beautifully open and mostly empty, so I headed there.

Trying to avoid the appearance of loitering, I asked the guy behind the counter if it would be alright for me to hang around for the next hour or so. "I got locked out of my apartment." I repeated, for what feels like the hundredth time. I apologized for not being able to buy anything. He tells me it's no problem, make myself comfortable.

I sat down at a table and the minutes proceeded to inch along. I literally twiddled my thumbs, just to see what it feels like. Does anyone actually twiddle their thumbs when they have nothing better to do?  I did.  It didn't seem to make the time pass by quicker.

"Here." The man behind the counter appeared behind me, handing me a New York Times. "How about a coffee on the house? Sounds like you had a rough day."

Because Joshua from Starbucks was kind enough to make me a cafe au lait, I tell him about the baby mouse. I'm not sure this was equal compensation, but he laughs all the same. He said he would have done the same thing. For having been so lost in the world not an hour ago, I found myself sitting in a coffee shop, making a new friend, reading the newspaper, and sipping at a coffee while soft jazz played in the background. "Ok," I admitted to myself. "So this night was not all terrible."

All at once, my landlord arrives, Eric arrives again with my keys, and I am back reunited with my cellphone in my now mouse-free apartment. And, with the exception of my mother's wedding fork, everyone and everything ended up free, safe, and happy. And well-caffeinated. All is well that ends well.

09 August, 2010

Demands From A Tiny B.B. King

Some days, it's the little things in life that lift your spirit. Like when you reach into your fridge and discover that the frosting you bought for that birthday party back in November has not yet begun to exceed its expiration date, and, by god, it is delicious! Or like the moment when you learn that for every human being in the world there is approximately one chicken. (Tip of the hat to snapple facts for that one.) Or when you are called a princess by your nephews simply because you are wearing a dress and happened to remember to shower that day. Little kids are so easy to please, and they understand this concept of appreciating the little things of life fully. Two of the main little kids in my life these days are my nephews, Quinn and Cole. They are 4 and 2, respectively, and I find them hilarious.

When I first moved to Boston, I had just moved out of the unnatural realm of college. The majority of the people I had interacted with were eerily all my age, and many of them liked to go streaking. But in the real world there are all sorts of people old, young, and somewhere in between, who wander the streets and maybe are waiting for you to interact with them. And streaking is highly frowned upon. So the addition of Quinn and Cole to my life was a welcome change. When I go over to their house I am subjected to their interesting perspectives on life, their constant stream of conversation that yields some fabulous quotes, and maybe the occasional bubble liquid in the eye mishap, which is a small price to pay for such amusement.

Because they are not my children, I thoroughly enjoy how blunt and unintentionally insulting little kids can be. "I like your moustache, mom!" "Auntie Rachel has a penis!" "Your legs are sharp, Auntie Emma." Not exactly statements that one wants voiced in polite company, even if the one voicing them has yet to pass a roller coaster height restriction. But personally, I love when Quinn and Cole say stuff like this. It is not only endlessly amusing, they also come up with some brilliant insults that I can store away for future altercations. Next Tuesday when the rude lady on the subway platform yells "Out of my way!" I can just be like "Yeah, well, I like your moustache!" Burn. Thanks for that one, Quinn and Cole.

For some reason, it is not all that offensive when little kids say such things. They really do just want to compliment you on your moustache, whether you actually have one or pray at night that hair never grows above your upper lip. But there they are, little kids with their high pitched little voices looking up at you, their eyes shining with curiosity and trust and earnestness, and suddenly it's no longer offensive. It's delightful. I guess Bill Cosby was right, kids really do just say the darndest things.

Cole and Quinn have a breathtaking exposure to contemporary adult rock throughout the decades. This is due in large part to their Aunt Keely's tendency to create mix c.d.'s for any and every occasion. (Birthdays! Valentine's Day! Summer! Anniversaries! Break-ups? Tuesday!) Cole and Quinn have been subjected to all the greats, from the Beatles to Boys II Men. A long-standing favorite for them is the legendary blues guitarist, B.B. King.

The younger nephew, Cole, is an avid role-player. For Cole, every day presents a new opportunity to play a different character. Some days he feels a little like Roley, the green steamroller from Bob the Builder. Others days he leans towards Thomas from Thomas the Train, or a train conductor named Conductor Dave, or even (a few times) a man named Sean, a friendly neighborhood bug exterminator. 

A little while back Quinn, Cole, and I were playing outside. Cole was whacking a stick into a bush. Then he stopped and held up his hands to me.

"B.B. King wants some milk, please."

I was a bit taken aback. As of one second prior Cole had reprimanded me for not calling him Bob. But there he was: tiny, endearing, and obviously more than a little thirsty. So off I went into the house to pour his royal bluesy-ness a full sippy-cup of milk.

When I came back outside I was ready to play along. "Here you go, B.B. One milk on the house, just the way you like it." And I reached out to hand him his cup.

But Cole didn't grab for it. He didn't even look up at me. Instead, he said aloud, "Hold on. B.B. King has a phone call." And then he proceeded to reach into his pocket to pick up a phone. An invisible phone. Cole held up the "phone" to his ear, and stood there, face set with intense concentration. He made me wait two minutes until he was done before he looked over to thank me. And then he grabbed the sippy cup, picked up his stick, and started to whack the bush again.

Yes, it may have hurt my pride just the slightest bit. But who was I to deny Cole his right to creative role play and a taste or two of milk? In the larger scheme of things, it is totally hilarious when my nephews say and do these things to other people, so I can learn to stomach these jabs when they happen to my ego. And frankly, if I could choose who I had to be insulted by, I'd much rather it be from a mini-sized B.B. King demanding some milk. It's way cuter.

31 July, 2010

A Ghost In Boston

Specters, spirits, ghosts. Things that go bump in the night. Regardless of what you call them, and whether you believe in them or not, something hit me in the face in the middle of the night last Tuesday. My money is on ghosts.

Let me go back. I grew up having a serious curiosity with "the other side." When my parents thought that I was old enough, they allowed me to watch the old Nickelodeon series, "Are You Afraid of the Dark." Mistake #1. My parents would also buy me books about kids that solved old mysteries and interacted with historical ghosts from civil war-like time periods. Mistake #2. After I turned thirteen, my parents more or less let me control what I watched, read, and was entertained by. So, because I was fascinated by the idea of ghosts, I sought books about them. The more I read, the more scared I became. The more scared I became, the more I felt I had to read more of them in order to confront my fear of ghosts and move on into the brave world of adults. Mistake #3. There have been few peaceful nights since.

After all of this learning about the undead, for my own credit I'd like to state that it's not that I'm scared of ghosts, really. I just have an incredible aversion to getting maimed by things that I cannot see. Which, really, is not such a unfounded fear to have. And though I like being entertained by them in television shows, books, and movies, I'm still not entirely sold on the idea of whether or not they actually exist. However, I would never voice these thoughts aloud, especially not late at night when it is dark and I'm alone. There is always the fear that nearby spirits could hear me say these things, become angered, and kill me. It could happen.

To be honest, they wouldn't even have to be that proactive about killing me; I'm pretty sure my fight-or-flight instinct is misfiring somewhere. My bodily reaction to extreme fear is not the adrenaline-inducing sprints or punches of species survival, but total body freezing, not unlike that of a fainting goat. Not exactly a life-saving skill. There is very little chance that my genes would have been passed down to future generations if I were to, say, have been born in the middle of the Amazon in the 1600s. Red-bellied piranha swims past me? I'll save it the trouble- instant heart attack. Anaconda in my bed? No need to squeeze me, I'm long gone. A sheet floating by me, however cliché, would more than do the trick. So I like to hedge my bets and avoid any and all discussion of dead things after sun down. Just to be on the safe side.

When I was twelve, my parents abandoned my beloved childhood home for a bigger one across town. I'm sure there were very good reasons why we moved there. It was a fine house; it had a pool and a large backyard, and even access to a pond that harbored enough mosquito eggs to ensure that the rest of my summers I would be covered head-to-toe in attractive bites. As though middle school wasn't hard enough. Thanks, parents. Unbeknownst to my parents, our new house also included the addition of invisible things that made rocking chairs move in the middle of still nights and gave a seriously eerie sense that you were being watched. In other words, a ghost.

Depending on who you ask, there are a few front-runners for the title of first ghost in my house. There was Colonel Eaton, the man who used to own the estate that my house sits on. While my house was located in the cattle-pasture area of his estate, he could have felt a unique affinity for the barnyard and decided to haunt there after he passed. This is all just educated guessing on my part, but it seems probable. Then there is my grandmother, who came from the Old Country and was just stubborn enough to avoid passing on into "the light" and instead chose to forever sit in her favorite perch, a rocking chair by the fireplace. Lastly there was Moody Brown's wife, the woman who died in the house before we moved in. A big part of me wants it to be the wife, because "Ol' Moody Brown's wife" is quite possibly the best name for a ghost I could ever have imagined. 

With four daughters, my house had seen many a gentleman suitor on its grounds. Many boyfriends have been relegated to sleeping on downstairs couches at night if they were to stay over. A few of these boyfriends have had not so normal nights. My boyfriend, Dan, lives in New York. Whenever he comes to visit he claims a space on the living room couch. He swears that during one of these nights the rocking chair next to the couch started to move on its own accord. The rocking was slow, steady, and continuous, leaving very little evidence that it could have been made by a rogue wind. The rocking chair was my grandmother's favorite, so this would seem to solidify her as the pre-eminent ghost of the house. Personally, I never want to get close enough to find out.

Sometimes, when I'm home and it gets late, I latch onto nearby family members. I'm not too proud to admit that this is a desperate attempt to avoid being alone with who or whatever else could be out there. In nearly every horror movie known to man, if you're in a scary situation and you get split off from the group, you die. If you're a female, you get chased, and then you die. If you decide to be brave and fight back, you die. So while I may have terrible fight-or-flight instincts, I will never be the one who says, "Hey, what was that scary noise? I'm going to go check it out all by myself!" and so, I have at least a solid chance at survival. What am I supposed to do, go upstairs alone and be forced to expose my back for an attack from behind? Simple math suggests that stairs + ghosts = instant death.

My twin, a night-owl and fellow late-night person in her own right, is usually my latch-ee. Sometimes I do feel a bit bad for her since we are the same age and I should at least pretend to be brave. But on certain nights after dark I regress back into a 12-year old girl. But in my opinion, feeling regret and still remaining alive is preferable to death by invisible ghost. Rachel and I will inevitably be watching television, and then she will move to get up from the couch.

Me: "Hey, where ya going?"
Rachel: "...The bathroom."
Me: "Cool. Can I come?"
Rachel: "No."
Me: "Well, how about you just leave the door open like a foot or two and we can talk."
Rachel: "What? Why?"
Me: "No reason. I just love you. Please do it."
Rachel (already down the hall): "You're weird."

At which point I grab the nearest blanket to give my body some semblance sense of protection. Everyone knows that ghosts can't penetrate the sacred fortress of a quilt.

Me (whispering): "I can't believe you left me here alone to die."

It might be easier if I did die, or at least get knocked unconscious for a little while. The fear itself is somehow worse than actually meeting with a ghost and getting it over with. I think, if I were to meet one, I'd just be like, "Oh. That's it? Ok, whatever." But it's the fear of the unknown that is intensely horrifying. So I count the seconds 'til she returns, turning the volume of Tosh.O up higher and higher to scare away any menacing spirits that (god-willing) can't stand to be around loud noises or internet memes.

Rachel returns. "Em. We're in our living room."
Me: "You mean Moody Brown's old bedroom where he died."
Rachel: "Stop watching tv."

And then I force her into having a sleepover.

Which brings me back to today. My apartment building is located in a historic Boston neighborhood which was settled nearly four-hundred years ago. Whether or not it is related to the ancient settling of my 'hood, my apartment, most likely, is haunted. Not even haunted, really, just a presence. A presence that is mostly focused around my bedroom.

At night the pipes rhythmically click click until I courageously decide to overcome my fear and inspect it. But then the clicks stop. So I get back into bed again. And the clicking starts anew. It's like invisible chinese water torture, but less insanity-inducing. (At least, so far.) One night, out of severe frustration, I exclaimed aloud, "C'mon ghosts. Clicking? That's the best you can do?" But then my door opened by itself, a poster fell off my wall, and my light burnt out. Two seconds later I was in my living room, after scrambling out of the room like the Road Runner and apologizing into the air profusely. Even if they don't exist, having a ghost mad at me is not high on my list of priorities this year.

That was the last time I tried to talk to them. Now I've resigned myself to the fact that there may be a ghost in my room, but I like to think of it more as a cohabitation with a roommate that I don't particularly like. If I leave them alone, they leave me alone, and everything is cool. The clicking I can deal with, as long as they leave my lights on.  I just wish they'd kick a little in for rent. Because if I have to share my space, I should at least be able to enjoy some financial perks, too.

28 July, 2010

Pittsfield Loves A Parade

The 4th of July is no small celebration in my hometown. The fireworks are legally (and not so legally) set off around the city starting from the 1st of July and lasting to at least the 6th. Patriotic anthems spill out of amazingly be-flagged homes and American flag tee shirts, on sale from the local Old Navy, are proudly donned by the masses. The proverbial icing on the flag cake of the 4th of July holiday is my hometown parade.

This year saw the 185th celebration of the Pittsfield Parade. The city honored this tradition by putting on nearly two complete hours of back-to-back sparkly dance troupes, peppy cheerleaders and brass bands, beaming local politicians, the obligatory Shriners with their comically tiny cars, and the red, white, and blue-shirted gaggles of senior citizens who sing oldies 'neath a waving flag. Most interestingly, the parade was held on Monday, July 5th. Apparently this observance day was a state-wide phenomenon. (Because Massachusetts loves itself a three-day weekend, especially one in the name of freedom.)

To give you a frame of reference for how long this has been going on since Pittsfield began the grand ol' parade tradition, the United States of America had just elected its sixth president, John Quincy Adams. In that same year, Walter Hunt had patented the safety pin, and the Erie Canal, that connects the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, was opened. But we were having a parade. We might just love America a little more than you do. I mean, did you get the 5th of July off? Probably not.

Pittsfield's peak in the highly competitive field of parade-dom occurred in 2004, when live parade footage was linked directly into nearly a million homes in eleven different states across America. Even parts of Montana and Texas received the satellite feed. (I'm sure at least one person out there tuned in. Maybe two.) Since that golden year, Berkshire-ites (and the select few Montanans and Texans) have seen a scaled-down parade. But even in 2010, with the mercury eking up past the 90s and humidity hanging heavy in the air, thousands flocked to the main streets of Pittsfield to observe our illustrious parade. Myself included.

My twin, who has borne witness to and been involved in more than her fair share of parades, sadly found herself in Amish County during this greatest of all American days. With naught but a horse and buggy and the giant SuperWalmart to entertain her, in addition to the mental anguish that comes with not having a Pittsfield parade satellite feed, I (along with my boyfriend) took it upon ourselves to document snapshots of what I like to think of as the Best that Berkshire County has to offer. These are not things that will be covered in your glossy travel guide.

Dan and I thought of this journey as small-town America parade-side bingo. And this is what we saw. (But first, this is us: two stalwart young heroes who enjoy themselves a good ol' fashioned parade and the occasional American flag tee shirt.)

 Here's a sample of what would win our bingo game.



Costumed Pre-Parade 5K Race Runners
The parade always starts off with a 5k race. I used to run it annually with my brother-in-law, before I came to the realization that, on the one hand, I could wake up at 6am and run a race in 90-degree heat, or on the other, I could sleep in and celebrate our nation's birthday in my own quietly unconscious way. I think our forefathers would understand.

Even though I didn't run it, the race was still the best way to open up the parade, mostly for the many characters that enjoy running through downtown in the blazing mid-summer heat. Like these runners pictured here who bravely put on baseball caps over their skintight green and yellow jumpsuits. Hey, I'm no running coach, but that has to impact your oxygen intake. There is also the man who runs as Santa Claus every year in full velvet Santa regalia. This year he had the innovative addition of two young-ish runners that wore antler headbands. While refraining from a pedophile joke here, I do hope there was some compensation for them. Lastly, my favorite of these characters is the old man who runs every single year  v e r y  v  e r y   s   l    o   w  l     y.  He is easily pushing 85. We can all only hope to be that active in our 80s. 

Uncle Sam Sightings

A parade just isn't a parade without a showing by Uncle Sam, who, for 198 years old, looks remarkably spritely. (Fun fact: my dad has those very same pajama bottoms. We force him to wear them at Christmastime. While we're still working on him to grow an Uncle Sam beard, I'm holding out for the blazer and the neckerchief. Baby steps.)










Uncle Sam's Chorus

While already hilarious, it would be so much better if they, too, were dressed as Uncle Sam. Or at least wore the patriotic neckerchief.










Historical Child Re-Enacters

Every year without fail, there is a legion of children soldiers. What is it about costumed kids en masse that is so terrifying? Is that just me?








Bored Teens!

The creme de la creme of any parade experience for me is seeing the teens that participate in them. Observing bored teens in an this environment is endlessly fascinating, because watching someone try to look so cool while being flanked by a band of geriatrics belting out the classics from the back of a wagon and Bowey the Clown playing with his hand puppet is an epic undertaking. As a former teen myself, I was not immune to the very real goal of trying to look as bored and aloof as possible, regardless of what you are doing. Even if you're holding a banner in a parade. (Especially if you're holding a banner in a parade.) Most wonderful of all, these two incredibly bored teens are holding the banner for my alma matter, Taconic. Amazing memories of previous parades and recitals flood back in, especially involving those events that I didn't really want to be involved in. ("I just want everyone to know that I am far too cool for this chorale concert.")


Mildly Disturbing Clowns

I wasn't kidding about Bowey the Clown and his hand puppet.






 
Amazing Mottos

First, let's be clear about my public school education: I loved it. That being said, the Pittsfield Public School system has to have one of the most uninspiring mottos in the history of public school systems. The motto reads "Small enough to care about kids, but large enough to be comprehensive." Really, Pittsfield public schools? That's the best you could do? Seriously?




Inaccurate Depictions of the 60's & 70's

Because this is what love children actually did, rode around in their technicolor vans with highlighter-colored tie-dye tee shirts. Somehow that's not the image I took home from Berkeley in the '60s.





Things I've Wanted Since I Was Old Enough to Want Things

This I am adding because I have always wanted the blue dolphin balloon from the parade street vendor. My parents deemed it (and all like balloon/parade-type things) too expensive, and I have never fully justified spending seven dollars on something that in all likelihood will float away. But still, how can you really justify the desires of one's own heart?











Like this. Some little kid's heart just broke into a thousand tiny pieces.








Seeing Parade People Out of Parade Formation

I assume this rogue tuba-player was part of the parade initially, but seeing him all dressed up and lost without his band-mates was both tragic, and kind of inspiring. You go, glen co-co.












Hilarious Costumes

This section of the parade is put on by the local hospital. For all of those that didn't comprehend what this man is dressed as, let me save you the minutes of confusion I suffered through.

He is dressed as a cancer polyp. A walking cancer polyp being wrangled by a gleeful nurse in purple. It is unspeakably awesome. It takes a lot of guts to dress up as a polyp and parade around downtown, and for that, Berkshire Medical Center, I applaud you and your out-of-the-box thinking. Brava. 



Hilarious Costumes Pt. 2

As I didn't catch the sign for this woman, I'm not sure who she is or why we should applaud her. But by god, did I love her and her panache.







Bonus Sighting: Usage of Unnecessary Quotation Marks

We "are" the people. Because we aren't really the people, you see. Think that one over.






Free to Be You & Me

It just isn't the 4th of July until you have at least one sighting of a random man without a shirt on. There was an excellent opportunity to take a picture of three bored teens walking around the parade without shirts on, but I was too slow on the draw. It will forever haunt me as the one that got away. (But there's always next year.)

Oh, the fourth of July and all your goodness. God bless this great little nation of ours, and hometown parades everywhere.

25 July, 2010

A Noodle That Knows You Love It

Chicago has the Bean. Cincinnati had Touchdown Jesus. Long Beach, Washington has giant frying pans. And now, on a smaller scale, Boston has the noodle.

More specifically, Faneuil Hall has a noodle. The noodle is a fiberglass structure that is large, bright yellow, and more than a little random. To place such a giant statue of a noodle in a public place is a puzzling act by itself, but in conjunction with the aggressive statement of "you know you love it" painted on one side, the whole thing is jarring if you haven't had your morning coffee yet (as I discovered last week when walking to work). But if you're going to have a noodle, why not have one that assertively states that you already love it? Confidence is attractive, even with elbow macaroni. But I was more than a little baffled about Quincy Market's most recent installation.

The noodle sits on a large white platform not fifteen feet from the three-story Abercrombie & Fitch. This probably was an intentional choice, as the pounding base from Abercrombie's über-hip tunes and the noxious cologne smells wafting over the square mix together to make one feel more than a little disoriented. Which, when you're standing in front of a giant noodle, is probably the right effect. Aside from the words "you know you love it," the noodle lacks any discernible branding and, at least the first time I walked by it, anyone besides other curious tourists to answer my questions. But later on that same day, I had the opportunity to walk by again. This time, there was a man standing conspicuously close to the noodle, holding a clipboard in his hand and wearing a tee-shirt that said 'you know you love it.' I was fairly confident that this man was either a) a promoter associated with the installation of the noodle, or b) just a really big noodle fan. Either way, I was going to get my answers.

And I had so many questions for him. Who put up this noodle? Are you giving out free noodles? Is this modern art? How do you know I love it? This is how the conversation went.

Me: Hi there. I see that you're wearing a 'you know you love it' tee shirt. Do you work with the noodle?
Noodle Man: Yes, I do.
Me: Great. Why is it here?
Noodle Man: It's a promotion by Kraft.
Me: So why doesn't it say Kraft on the noodle? Why does it say "you know you love it? I mean, I do- I just want to know why.
Noodle Man: That's the Kraft motto. You can log onto facebook and be entered in a chance to win a lifetime supply of Kraft mac and cheese.
Me: Who decides how much Kraft a person can eat in a lifetime? Does a lifetime supply mean noodles once a week, or every day, or every meal?
Noodle Man: I don't know.
Me: Can I have a 'you know you love it' tee shirt?
Noodle Man: No.
Me: Please? I love the blue box.
Noodle Man: No.

So there you have it. Sadly, the people at Kraft placed a sign that states "no climbing, sitting, or sliding down the noodle," but they do let you take your picture with it. These kinds of publicity events make me realize that I would be perfect in the world of marketing. Someone in an important meeting at the Kraft international headquarters somewhere legitimately pitched the idea to both build a giant noodle statue and then install it in downtown Boston for all the commuters and visitors to be confused by and later google on their smartphones. And other people thought this was a great idea! I could totally be that person. Why stop with noodles? Giant food statues everywhere! Cheese-steaks in Philly, crabs in Baltimore, giant lobsters along the Maine coast; the possibilities are literally endless. But with my statues I'd let people crawl on them. Because seriously, if you're going to randomly put a giant food object in the middle of someone's path to work, at the very least let them climb on it. Why would you just want a picture of a noodle? I want a picture of myself sliding down a giant noodle; that's truly facebook worthy.

14 July, 2010

Look, ma! I'm accomplished!

It's been a year since I left that safe little haven called college and lately I've been feeling reflective. What do I have to show for it?

Well for one, I have a brand new Aquarium-sanctioned fleece with the Aquarium logo officially emblazoned on the left breast pocket for all the world to see. Over the course of the past ten months I have elbowed and pushed more than one fellow intern out of the intern applicant pool and into the literal penguin pool to become the Aquarium's: July Intern of the Month. Success. My dad thought that there should be a monetary reward attached and asked if there was a salary that came with the distinction. Why does there need to be a salary, Dad? I don't need a salary. I got a jacket. Jackets are cool! Parents just don't understand sometimes.

My previous boss put me up for the award, highlighting my "energy," my "eye for the finer details" (ah yes, that's me), and the fact that I left a few cds behind in the lab that inadvertently created what he calls the "theme music for the Wet Lab work day." (Can't go wrong with Kings of Leon and Lady Gaga, friends. You just can't. Now a literal scientific fact.) My favorite part of his write-up was when he talked about my ability to keep up with him during my previous internship as well as the "monumental task of taking directions" from my current boss. Because it's not a real accomplishment unless you can cut someone else down first.

I am determined to wear this fleece until it becomes physically unhealthy for me to do so, it being humid and the middle of summer. However, I have the mental fortitude of the last airbender and an unusually low body temperature, so I will be wearing it for at least the next few days.** And I will signing autographs as the special "Intern of the Month" until the end of July. When I will be forced to take off the fleece by my mother.

Then there's my modeling career. Oh, you didn't know I was a model? Before today, neither did I. I suppose that I should say that I am the "face of a marketing campaign" for that is more accurately what it is, and sounds so much more sophisticated. I would know, for I am a model.

 I discovered this poster advertising my study "abroad" program this afternoon while walking down the hall to my desk at the Aquarium. (Here, "abroad" is used in quotation marks because during my "study abroad semester," when most of my friends traveled to such exotic locales as Fiji, Amsterdam, and Ecuador, I chose... Connecticut. It was a maritime study program, or as they spelled it, programme. And it was awesome! But, sadly, not so abroad.)

For the record, I am the person on the left and not the lion on the right. (It's an honest mistake.) And yes, I am wielding tongs holding a piece of metal that is on fire. The programme was exxxtreme. The picture was taken during my brief but brilliant stint as a blacksmith during my study-away time. While I was not what one might call "a natural," points in my favor are that I didn't seriously injure anyone and I gave out some pretty damn fine bottle openers as Christmas presents that year. (And you are welcome, Kate & Tom.) This marks the second advertising campaign that I have been involved in with nary a retroactive kickback nor a free tee shirt thrown my way. Though I guess one time I did get mixed nuts and non-alcoholic beer. So I can't say I didn't get anything.

In important news (news that is contingent upon whether the dark spirits of unemployment rain down their black curses upon my uncertain future) I have a new job. Really, a new job. No, seriously. I'm not going to jinx it by putting its name up here to be search-able on the giant forum that is the world wide web, but I've been told I start Monday. As in, this Monday. Allegedly. About 90% of me expects them to call at any moment between then and now.

"Hello?"
"Hello? Is this Emily?"
"Yes, this is she."
"Oh!" (Hearty laughter) "We were just kidding about that whole job thing last week. Whew, we really had you going, didn't we? Well, it was great to meet you. And best of luck on your job search!" Click.

But apparently, allegedly, incredibly, happily, I start next week. And then they're going to start paying me! Which is the part that I am the most excited about. I have a brand new space to visit every morning, Monday through Friday, and that thrills me to no end. There are new friends to make and things to do like "fighting the good fights" and hanging around the coffee machine griping about "the economy" and "politicans." I cannot wait. Notably, the office is so eco-friendly it doesn't believe in air conditioning. (It's like they read my blog posts!)

I'm sure there's other stuff in my life that I should mention, too. I danced at a few bars, cooked some new recipes, drank a lot of wine, hiked once, and took a nap or two. I also may have killed Lazarus-the-Jesus-plant for the very last time. (I said I was sorry.) But my friend Sarah sent me a new plant in the mail who I have lovingly christened Jesus 2. Perhaps naming it Jesus 2 is a bad legacy to bestow upon another plant ("He died six times? Six? But... how?" Answer: 'cause he's the Jesus Plant.) and yeah, it perhaps is the slightest bit sacrilegious. So I welcome any name contributions you can send my way. If it will make you more inclined to vote, I can make it a contest. I can't exactly give you a jacket, but how about I mention you on the blog? That's pretty cool. And you obviously get the satisfaction of helping a friend and of a job well done. So get on it, friend.


** Hip and timely airbender line credit goes to REF. Because she is always both hip and timely.

08 July, 2010

Hot Child, Summer in the City

It's hot. It's hot hot, the kind of heat that doesn't cool off at night and causes you to lay awake and contemplate the deeper mysteries of life. Will I be successful? Is there a God? Why didn't I buy a bigger fan? It's the kind of heat that makes anyone standing within three feet of you be viewed as seriously encroaching upon your personal space, and the kind of heat that my mom complains about if she were to catch you wearing anything more than a tee shirt in this kind of weather.

"What is that? Why are you wearing that?
"This hoodie? It was a little chilly inside, Mom..."
"I don't care! Take it off, I'm hot!"

The ability to generate my own body heat is not something my mother passed down to me.

For nearly ten months of the year New England is not what one would consider to be a tropical climate. We have long expanses of winter, a few weeks of a chilly and muddy spring, some stretches of short but brilliant real summer, and then we dive into a too-quick fall and another long expanse of winter. Winter feels like it lasts thirty months, and it gets longer every year. And while there are different changes sometimes, that's more or less how it is. At least as far as I remember it.

New England's inhabitants, like me, have been raised since birth to be prepared for drastic swings in temperature. People used to joke, "Don't like the weather? Stick around for another five minutes!" because people like to repeat weather anecdotes as though they are fresh and funny. They usually aren't, but the weather does have a tendency to shift pretty quickly. My professor Glenn once said, "If you're cold, you're stupid" in terms of being prepared for the weather. While I'm not sure that Glenn grew up around these parts, he sure is a quick student to the weather of the Northeast coastline.

Two weeks back I was contentedly wearing my skinny jeans and sneakers with socks, perhaps even a light jacket at night if I was feeling a little chilly and trying to coordinate an outfit. (By this I mean trying to not wear a tee-shirt to a bar. Again.) That outfit is but a distant memory after these last few nights where the thermometer barely docked below 80, with the mercury soaring up to 95 during the day. It's hot hot.

I'm sure others might disapprove, but because I am fully prepared to death-grip New England's  fleetingly few beautiful weeks of summer, I gaily and with song welcome these days of 90-degree weather. After six months of hard winter, we've earned it, people. We have earned it.

Both metaphorically and literally, I embrace the warm weather. Because my arms are forced into the confines of long sleeve shirts and because our society strongly enforces me to wear pants for too many months of the year, when warm weather finally hits I spurn the idea of carrying warmer clothes with me, just in case. And why should I? All year long I've been longing for this kind of warmth harder than azaleas on the tundra, so why would I want to separate myself from the elements? I love the elements! They are awesome. I love the sun! It is bright and beautiful. I love the humidity! It makes my hair curly and allows me to sleep without a blanket at night. (Which I would do if I didn't have a quiet but real fear of vampires). But things I don't love (besides vampires)? Air conditioning.

Air conditioning is stupid. There, I said it. Yes, air conditioning can be useful and relieving and I'm sure it helps to save lives somewhere in the world. I get it. But while I am, admittedly, very stubborn, I thoroughly dislike the unnatural feeling of being inside an air conditioned office building and shivering while a heat wave rages on outside. When I need to wear pants and a cardigan inside a building lest I become hypothermic, and then have to leave aforementioned office building after a socially acceptable time to deal with the 90-degree heat radiating up from the sidewalk underneath me, a little part of me dies inside. Dies. Being cold during a heat wave just seems so fundamentally wrong, and more than a little cruel. This is Massachusetts: I'm cold ten months of the year. Don't take away my two months of glory.

Therefore, I have undertaken my own personal stand against air conditioning. It being the middle of July, I refuse to carry a sweater with me in anticipation of the inevitable Arctic breezes from the temperature-moderated buildings of the seemingly sweltering office workers of Boston who crank their all-too-effective air conditioning units. Even the commuter rail isn't safe from over-eager air conditioners that, with great intentions I'm sure, try to keep their passengers nice and cool by lowering the thermostat to mid-March temperatures. No really, no thank you. If I'm on a train and shivering in shorts and a shirt, and then can look out the window and see a man in shorts and no shirt who is visibly sweating, I am not going to make your day pleasant, monsieur train conductor. Even if you have a cool hat and let me ride for free. (Just kidding, Conductor Seth who probably doesn't read this blog. But if you do, I think you are incredibly nice and thank you for all those free rides! Now please turn down your air conditioning.)

It should be every person's right to decide how hot or cold they want to be. I will dress appropriately for the weather; I can trust others to do the same. And while in Texas there may be a definitive need for air conditioning, this here is the Northeast: don't thrust your air conditioning edicts on me. After 23 winters, all I want is some good alone time with that familiar stranger, the sun. 

Aside from the cardigan hassles, you may ask yourself what effect these heat waves have on my day-to-day life. (And I shall tell you.) This recent temperature spike has had unanticipated detrimental effects on my apartment decorations. As I am only a full year out of college and I haven't learned better/ can't afford better, many (...all) of my photos and frames are hung on the walls with sticky tack. My sticky tack color of choice is blue. Sticky tack helps me to hang my collection of postcards that have been sent to me throughout the years, my crazy photos from wild nights in college (...Sawyer Library), the Twilight New Moon poster behind my closet door (because I am secretly a pre-teen) and my Red Sox banner (because I am trying to blend in with my fellow homies. Let's go, Big Daddy! ...Big Papi? Whatever.) Sticky tack is rather awesome, because even though it's not actually all that sticky (misnomer!) it has an amazing capacity to temporarily suspend seemingly too heavy objects, like the thick cardboard-like Jason Mraz poster on the wall above my bed. This poster-hanging tack worked for about 10 months, which is a pretty decent track record. But even sticky tack has its failings.

Now, I love Jason Mraz with all that I love. Because of these strong feelings over the years, one or two fantasies may have crept into my late-night dreams. For example, there's this one that involves Jason Mraz falling into my bed. It was a great dream. But this fantasy was less cool when a) Jason was a 2-D poster and b) it didn't even happen to me, but to my boyfriend. It was one of the hottest nights to hit Boston so far, and even the fans circulating air around the room felt oppressive. Allegedly, the sticky factor that is oh-so-crucial to its name was compromised in the heat, causing the tack to degrade and the poster attached to the tack to fall directly on top of my boyfriend's face. No one was more surprised than Dan, let me tell you. While I did feel a little sorry, inside I was just the smallest bit jealous. Because even in paper form, it's still Jason Mraz. And that's enviable.

So now, with Jason tucked safely underneath the bed until the heat wave passes and the sticky tack can restored to its previous tacky-ness, and the sheet tucked securely over my body (lest I leave my neck exposed for vampires), I can't even sleep because it's so hot. Irony. But there is something rather soothing about the whir of air conditioning units buzzing in the night air outside of my window. If I close my eyes hard enough I can almost imagine that the noise is really just the crash of a wave hitting the shore line. A constant, metallic-sounding wave. Or it's a swarm of bees, which is slightly more disconcerting but still an interesting thought-experiment to undertake. Living downtown and listening as everyone cranks up their air conditioning units is at least an amusing way to pass the time until I can fall asleep. Yes, maybe I'm a little jealous that my neighbors are cool enough to actually sleep in this weather, but that doesn't mean I'm going to bring a cardigan with me on the commuter rail tomorrow. I've got my pride.