Monday, April 30, 2007

This is Something That Happens

Friday, April 27, 2007

Cogito Ergo Sum

It's out of focus, but then again... so am I.

Wish You Were Here

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Synaptic Bridge

Had I stuck to the field vicariously aspired for me by my parents (medicine), there's a good chance I would've become a neurologist.

And here's why:

I'm obsessed with synapses.

Like how quickly they act, sometimes condensing entire trilogies of existence into a second (it is for this reason, too, that I am never wholly able to convey what I think — I can't type, or speak, as quickly as thoughts occur... it's with a nod to futility that I ever write anything).

Take tonight, for example. Walking past a van with its headlights on, with no owner in sight. The distance separated between the two lights eclipsed a decade, maybe two, beginning with a rundown of all the reasons I had for not trying to help (a dozen businesses share the same parking lot, so I couldn't go in and "report" the lights; many cars have alarms; I'd probably be accused of breaking & entering if I even touched the door; some car lights stay on for a few minutes after exiting; etc.) and ending with a memory from my childhood in the rural Midwest.

Or more particularly: of my father reaching into a stranger's van one evening and turning off their lights as a courtesy.

He'd do this often — or, at least, whenever he'd walk past such a vehicle.

"Oh!" he'd say. "They left their lights on."

And without pause he'd head for the driver's side, open the door, turn off the lights, and walk away.

The amazing thing about this — the more that I think about it — isn't just that my father did this, time and time again.

But that the doors were always unlocked.

Things I'll Miss

Listen, I've spent a lot of time the past few months complaining about my current apartment: the visits by police, the shouting neighbors, the meth abuse, the loud music, the frozen pipes and the intolerably chill conditions.

But what I haven't told you is this: when I first found this place almost two years ago, I'd looked at more than a couple dozen units around the city before I saw this one.

As soon as I walked through the front gate, I pretty much made my decision. From the large Spanish courtyard complete with trees, a well-kept garden, sprawling ivy and sundry critters, to the extra "security" of having a gate within a gate... it seemed like a touch of the rural smack-dab in the middle of a busy city.

Add to that the apartment itself was bigger than my previous abode — and also more charming, and cheaper — and it really wasn't much of a question for me.

It was perfect.

Returning "home" yesterday to the chirping birds and the eager squirrels was a bittersweet reminder of the one thing I'll miss.

Two apartments ago, I lived across the street from a large forest preserve (where I'd often go jogging). This "current" place has the aforementioned courtyard which is — quite literally — a breath of fresh air. But my next place is surrounded by brick and mortar on all sides, with only a small yard out back.

It makes me sick to think there are no guarantees that this place will necessarily be any better than the last.

Here's to hoping.

I Took This Photo Then Because I Understood
(And Still Do)

Monday, April 23, 2007

Moving Personified

"My only enemy is time." ~Charlie Chaplin

Between car shopping, preparing for a new season of softball, and all things related to moving (packing, address changing, etc.), I've not had a lot of free time lately. Add to that I'm facing a pretty busy schedule at work, and anything I'd like to blog about has pretty much been reduced to a notation scrawled on scrap paper that I may or may not ever return to again.

I've not exactly been the most attentive reader of late, either. I expect that will all change in two weeks (by which point I hope not only to have moved, but also to have unpacked).

But until then, I thought I'd pull out some old photographs and diatribes that I've never posted on blogger (though if you've known me long enough, you may have seen these before). My goal being to post one or two of these "oldies" every day until I can return for more proper posting.

Hope all is well on your end.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

This is Why I Don't Need Narcotics

Next time you're at a loss for a means to pass the time, go to a gym.

Pile the weight on to a leg extension machine. Do as much as you can... and then a little more.

And then, still sitting (but no longer pulling up on the machine), perform the same motion.

Your legs will be floating.

I promise you.


The worst part about cliches is that they're generally true.

Like when someone says you can't rely on other people for happiness, and you have no choice but to nod your head. Maybe pick up a pen from your desk and twirl it in your fingers (if only for something to do). Maybe bite your lip, or your tongue, till there's nothing left but Lavinia.

Yeah, sure, you think (watching them walk away).

But would it really hurt them to try?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Sony Has Left the Blogging

So my camera is officially kaput. Did I mention that? It hasn't worked at all the last several times I tried.

The realization of which was all the more painful when I spotted a purple, pimped-out hearse — complete with a faux fur steering column — and I was wholly unable to get the thing to function.

And so it's with a heavy heart that I turn to Best Buy... and let the camera shopping begin.

PS - The timing couldn't be better. The only other things I have to buy in the next month include: the first month's rent and security deposit at my new pad (2K); a down payment on a new car (2K); fees for movers (about $500); renewal of my cat's medical plan (don't laugh - $220); and a new computer (about 1K); and yes, a new camera (about $300).

I couldn't be more thrilled.

P.P.S. - The alternative title to this post should've been "a lesson in sarcasm."

P.P.P.S. - The alternative title to the alternative should've been "doesn't this girl ever stop complaining?"

P.P.P.P.S. - This is the last one. I promise.

P.P.P.P.P.S. - I lied.

Monday, April 16, 2007

W.W.B.D. (What Would Bloggers Do)

I had dinner at a quasi fancy-pants restaurant (i.e. fairly expensive but no dress code) Sunday evening, where I was served a pretty scrumptious meal of pesto-filled ravioli.

After I shared a couple pieces with other folks at the table, I ate about half of what remained, thinking I'd save the remaining pieces for lunch Monday. After all, shouldn't a dinner that good — and that expensive — be partitioned out for as many meals as is humanly possible?

It seemed practical enough. So when a member of the wait-staff stopped by and asked to take my plate, my glance immediately turned to the other dish already in his hand:

It was a dirty plate from a nearby table. I assumed, then, that he meant to take my plate without wrapping up the remains.

"Oh," I said, a little surprised. "I'd like to wrap it up if I could."

"I thought so," he said, further extending his hand for my leftovers.

I paused, scanning the dirty dish cradled in his arm and imagining a million different bugs, germs and protozoans crawling the surface. I'd seen him pick it up at the table immediately to my left: so then I looked at the guy at that table.

He seemed healthy enough — or so I thought at first glance. But, gesh, he was wiping his nose an awful lot. And his skin did look rather ashen.

But I had people at my own table to impress, so rather than say "Actually, could you bring the box to me? I can pack it." — which is what I wanted to do — I lifted my plate to his already-extended hand and watched in horror as he placed my beloved ravioli on top, and yet still slightly askance, of the diseased, sickly man's dirty dish.

I tried telling myself I was being irrational. That this procedure wasn't the least bit unsanitary. And as I thought of all these things, images of Howard Hughes (or rather, Leondaro DiCaprio playing Howard Hughes) flashed through my mind, as if to remind me to stay calm, to not let on that I was uneasy. Or, in short, to not look like the paranoid freak I can sometimes be.

So I decided to play it calm, all the while resolving to intentionally leave my daintily-packaged leftovers on the table as we stood to leave. I was nearly out of the door when I hear "Miss!" over my shoulder, and turn around to see the guy running towards me with my microbe-infested pesto.

I smiled politely; thanked him; and then threw the food in the trash first thing when I returned home.

OK. So maybe I'm a germophobe. And, yeah, I can't help but think of my father, and all those times he reminded me of the children starving in Africa whenever I'd refuse to eat food on my plate.

"I'd send it to them if I could," I'd say earnestly, my eyes barely visible over the table-top, pleading to be dismissed.

But I'm not so sure pesto ravioli could last such a long trans-continental journey. And yet: I also couldn't stomach the idea of eating it.

So I threw it away.

Now what, dear bloggers, would you have done?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sand on My Tongue

"These fragments I have shored against my ruins." ~T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

It happened again last night.

No matter how many times I hit "repeat" — no matter how many times I began the same song, over and over — I could scarcely hear a word of it before my mind was a million miles from my feet.

And then, later, lifting, I retired my music to my gym bag and still found myself wandering from machine to machine with my wits everywhere but about me.

I was zoning out on people:

The petite girl with a long ponytail and a body she's worked hard for, flirting with her personal trainer (he was blushing, avoiding eye contact as if to acknowledge the contrast between appropriateness and desire).

The thin man standing guard over a machine as a female friend lifted the bar to her chest, and then up again. He held his hands just inches from it — never touching it, never touching her — but I could tell (in the way that our eyes so often betray us) that he wanted to. That he wanted to rest his arms on her shoulders until she turned to him and smiled.

And so it goes, like Tantalus in his pond.

But there were the Eleanor Rigbys, too. The people who not only work out alone... but also appear quite lonely.

Like the obese man out of breath by his tenth calorie (I see the desperation on his face — feel it — as he turns down the speed and wipes the sweat from his brow). Or the female in her late 30s or early 40s who lifted a braided band over and around her shoulders, carrying more weight than I'd ever dare to attempt.

There was a resigned anger on her face — no, sadness — as she pulled the band, again and again, her baggy shirt and shorts just as telling as her clinched jaw and distant stare.

I imagine circumstances for all of these people. The abusive husbands, the unfaithful spouse. The sneers of co-workers or the children caught in-between.

I wanted to tell these people — all of them — that everything will be all right.

But I know better.

And then there was this girl I caught mid-way to the locker room, staring empty through semi-translucent glass. Long gray sweat pants that are anything but stylish; sweat trapped in a shirt that read, quite simply, "EXIST." Her gaze defeated: searching for everything and finding nothing.

Tell me that's not me. She thinks. Tell me I'm not one of them.

But she knows better.

And so she walks, left and then right. Left and then right. No cause but to return home, shower, and hope that — by the time the opportunity presents itself — she might still retain fragments of a thought. Enough fragments, she hopes — after the traffic lights, after the honked horns, after the cat's meow and the shaved legs and the oatmeal dinner — that there will be enough.

Still enough.

To say.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mah Na Mah Na

*Thanks to BPP for the link

"All persons, living and dead, are purely coincidental." ~Kurt Vonnegut

I can't think of too many people as chronically witty, intelligent and prolific as this man. Of those whose existence temporarily coincided with mine, that is.*

*See, Washington? David Letterman isn't the only good "thing" to come out of Indiana.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Walk in the Woods (Book Review)
Or, "An Open Invitation to Get Lost in the Woods with Me"

By page 15 of Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, I couldn't wait to finish the text, if only so I could rush online, write and post a review, and then demand that someone here join me for a trek along the 2,000+ mile expanse of the Appalachian Trail.

By page 100, I was already plotting out my trip. Thinking of which supplies I'd need to purchase and what — if anything — I already owned. I was ready, honestly, to quit my job and move all of my stuff into storage (I needed to move anyway, right?), if only to sequester five months of time for the sole purpose of walking the trail in its entirety (though, as Bryson notes, you need to start early March to complete the hike before harsh weather intercedes).

But somewhere around the book's midsection, my excitement — which was, by this point, inextricably tied to the author's humorous insights — tapered considerably. I think it was somewhere in the Smoky Mountains that Bryson and his comical hiking comrade, Stephen Katz, were forced, by law, to bunk with strangers in filthy "shelters" along the trail.

And while I'd love to meet new people on such an adventure, when the stars come out, I'd prefer to be alone in my tent. So this was, for me, a considerable turn-off (I'd quote a passage from the book — which I marked with post-its — but the text is now on loan to my father). And it wasn't long after the Smokies that Bryson's hilarious anecdotes met a similar end.

I was still interested in the text, but I was also certainly less into it. And while humor was still present, it was scattered here and there, whereas before it had been omnipresent. I could sense, in a way, that Bryson was much more into planning the hike — that he preferred the idea or even the ideals of the hike more than the hike itself. In short: he lost his mountain man wanderlust about 200 miles in. And it shows.

And this — even though the witticisms did occasionally re-appear — was altogether disheartening. I felt like my excitement was being crushed along with the author's, which is in itself an indication of fine writing. Or else why would I have cared?

That is the beauty of Bryson's style: he's made a much enviable living out of traveling the world and writing humorous narratives to describe his adventures (if any of you know of a publisher willing to pay me to do the same — I'll take it). He even intersperses a bit of knowledge hither and thither: from the history of the Trail on up to its present condition, you could treat A Walk in the Woods not only as an informal travelogue... but also as a travel guide.

Or, to paraphrase the book in 15 words or less: it's funny; it's educational; it's a pleasure to read... but it also loses its fuel.

That being said, I still want to hike the Appalachian Trail: whether I do a significant portion later this summer... or the entire thing (unlikely — I don't have the cash flow) next year.

Anyone with camping, hiking and/or survival experience is welcome to join me.

Speaking of Melodrama

Two or three weeks ago, I was having breakfast at my favorite little all-vegetarian, peace-loving joint when this girl at a nearby table disturbed the establishment's vibe and crushed my mellow when she said — nay, shouted — that she "hated" depressed people and wished "they would just get over it."

She continued:

"I mean, suck it up, be an adult, and stop moping around."

She and her friends continued on the subject matter for a few minutes more. Her boyfriend, and the couple across from them, seemed to be a bit less insensitive (and certainly not as loud) in regards to the subject matter. But however you look at it, she was proof that there are some people out there so chronically privileged — so perfect — that they cannot even fathom anything less.

I felt sorry for this girl, in a way. Her insensitivity and her ignorance will likely come back to haunt her. And how will she handle herself during such a time? Not well, I suspect.

That said, I too am human. And my pity for her and her future predicaments was accompanied by a peculiar distaste.

And so I hope, quite earnestly, that the glare cast in her direction was not entirely in vain.

Monday, April 09, 2007

You Know What's Depressing?

Staring dumbstruck — blood draining from already-clenched knuckles — as a coyote darts in front of your vehicle on a busy city street. And then watching helpless as it continues on at top speed: paws bouncing from cold concrete, neck craning in desperate want of trees.

[And all of this, as though the previous weekend hadn't already been — quite independently — full of desperation.]

Friday, April 06, 2007

Terse Verse

[Walking in the cold with co-workers to a meeting in another building]

Co-Worker: I sure hope they're handing out coffee at this thing.

Me [wearing a wool skirt]: I hope they're handing out pants, 'cause I'm really cold.

Co-Worker: Well I'd give you the pants straight from my legs, but then I'd be cold too.

Me: And also probably fired.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Pimp My Ride

I know this post is long. Ninety-percent of my posts have been a tad verbose as of late. But paying attention to this one could win you a prize!

I need to buy a car.

I know what you're all saying: Hasn't she needed a new car for, like, half a decade now?

This is true. My car was a junker even when it should've been in its prime, and time hasn't been too kind on the ol' street beast. But after pumping loads of money into it year after year, these past few months have been without incident. I mean, it's actually running quite well. Aside from gasoline and oil changes, I've only spent about $400 on it in the past six months.

[Not to mention every time I've attempted to car shop in the past three years, I've been annoyed by how the salesmen — and their managers — have treated me.]

But also within the past six months, my driver's seat was broken (it's now almost fully reclined, so I literally have to hold myself up by gripping on to the steering wheel); the passenger side window hasn't successfully rolled down and back up in over a year; and the A/C hasn't worked in about four years (I've had countless mechanics look at it, all of them repairing everything short of some weird device they'd have to remove my dashboard — very expensive – to get to).

Suffice it to say I was hoping to get something new by late-May, thereby delaying the stress until after the move, but still saving myself from the onslaught of summer heat.

But the good state I live in has other plans.

You see, they require random emission tests (based on what I've seen of their practices in general — not to mention the puff of smoke that trails every public bus — I suspect this is purely for financial and not environmental reasons). You have no idea when they'll call you up for a test, but if you don't do it within a month of receiving the notice, you could lose your license.

I know of some people who've lived in the state for years before they're actually called in for a test. And I only just registered my car here a few months ago.

But when, do you think, they've scheduled my test?

The end of April.

What else am I doing at the end of April?

That's right. I'm moving.

Why not just suck it up, take my car in, and get back to the moving process?

Because I know my car won't pass. The engine light has been on since before I titled my plate here, and I've been told I need a $600 repair. At the time of the quote, it was a repair that I was told wasn't necessary unless I noticed a sizeable dip in my gas mileage (I didn't). I also didn't live in this state at the time, where that repair is required if you fail an emission test.

Now, before you think I'm not eco-friendly, you should know when I was first quoted on the repair, $600 wasn't easy to come by (not that it is now, but I'm certainly a tad more comfortable). Add to that I still get OK gas mileage, I recycle, and I often take my own (canvas) bags to the market... and I like to think I'm still doing more for the environment than does the average commuter.

That being said, I simply don't have the time to car shop right now. It's not possible. I leave work too late in the evenings, and weekends for the rest of the month include Easter, out-of-town visitors, packing and moving.

So I've decided to let you all find the perfect car for me.
I'm serious. Consult this site if you need to, or visit your local automotive dealer.

Here's what I want in my next vehicle:
  • Big enough for road trips, but small enough for city-parking
  • Good gas mileage (I'm thinking hybrid, but I also think the Civic Sedan hybrid and the Toyota Prius both leave a lot to be desired, aesthetically)
  • I'm willing to lease, but only if the lease allows for 15,000 miles per year (versus the standard 12,000)
  • Sunroof
  • Automatic
  • CD player (iPod jack a plus)
  • 2007 model with a handsome warranty
  • Low-interest rate (under 3%)
  • Cars I Like and Can Possibly Afford: Honda Civic Coupe; Honda Fit; VW Golf (I'm open to anything else; this list is just to give you an idea of what I like); VW Rabbit
  • I also like the Cooper Mini, but it may be out of my price range
Anyway. I expect a full report in a week or so. If the information you dig up for me significantly cuts down on the time I spend car shopping, you WILL win a prize. Bonus points will be given to anyone who delivers the vehicle directly to me.

And if you actually buy the car for me, I'll be your best friend forever.*

Thanks! And... have fun with this.

*Stalker ex-boyfriends need not apply

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Stranger in a Strange Land

Baptists aren't much for formalities.

Sure, they have their own idiosyncrasies: the shouting from the pulpit; the waving of hands by inspired parishioners; the gyrations and proclamations of fresh water revivals (one of the most surreal events I've ever observed).

But for most Baptists, communion is nothing more than this weird voodoo ritual you sometimes hear your friends talk about. For the Baptists, there's no wine, no bread, no anything.

You go to church. You listen to a lot of shouting. You sing hymnals. You fear for your soul. You fear for your neighbor's soul. You watch as people accept "Jesus Christ" as their "Lord and Savior."

And then you go home.

I'll never forgot the first time I attended a church that did communion.

I was 10 or so, visiting relatives in another state. The sermon kept going on and on and on. And because there was little-to-no yelling, I was having a hard time paying attention: I was fidgety, and hungry, and welcomed the break when a basket full of crackers was placed on my lap.

I was confused — but hungry, as I said — so I took one.

The look of horror on my mother's face was priceless. I dropped the cracker back into the basket, lowered my head, and passed it along.

I realized then that I didn't quite belong.
Later, in college, I developed a sort of fascination for literature that placed religiosity at its epicenter (whether disparaging or otherwise). Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter typified this for me.

I loved that book in large part because it demystified some aspects of Catholicism. I was at once fascinated and disgusted by what I read, consequently. I found the ceremonies to be poetic and yet... bittersweet. I yearned to experience mass first-hand — if only as an observer. Or as a writer.

But I could never shake my previous experience with communion. I remained terrified of the very rituals that fascinated me.
So imagine, if you will, my response to learning I'd been invited to a Jewish Seder at a complete stranger's house.

I. Was. Horrified.

I mean, I wanted to go. But I also worried it'd be my experience with communion, multiplied by a [insert Yiddish word here that means "a lot"]. After all, at least I'm vaguely aware of the various ceremonies that exist for other brands of Christianity.

But Judaism?

Seemed it was a disaster waiting to happen.

You should know that, upon first hearing of the invitation, my honest-to-God reaction was this:

"Satyr? You mean like the creature in Greek mythology?"

Pretty sad, huh?

I spent some time Tuesday morning reading up on the topic, in hopes of preparing myself for the occasion. I didn't know what to wear. What to bring. Or — most importantly — what to expect.

Trying to edify myself really just made my anxiety worse. Here's what I found out:
  • I was to expect the obligatory drinking of FOUR GLASSES OF WINE (nothing like getting drunk at your boyfriend's bosses home to make a GREAT first impression)
  • Veal and beef brisket are two of the most common dishes. I seldom eat meat and — when I do — I limit myself to white chicken breast.
  • There would be singing in Hebrew
  • And about a million other blessings and rituals that were completely foreign to me
So I spoke to Washington, who said he thought the dinner might be a bit less formal than what we were reading. We also read that when the host says to not bring anything, showing up with food is an absolute no-no (particularly if you're non-Jewish, as the kosher rules are pretty strict during Passover). It said flowers were a nice alternative, and so I set about to find a handsome potted plant to take.

Want to take a guess as to the only decent living botanical thing I could find yesterday afternoon?




Yes. That's right. Easter lilies. I didn't quite have the chutzpah to pull that off, so we went with some cut tulips instead. But when you consider that Passover is about life. That it's about the freeing of the Israelites after their enslavement by the Pharaoh... it didn't seem right to present the hosts with flowers that'd been slashed from their roots.

I took that to be a pretty bad sign.

But I was immediately at ease when we walked in the front door. We weren't the only non-Jewish folks there, and the hosts were extremely inviting. I was beginning to think this was going to an informal Seder after all.

Jump ahead to a few minutes later, when we retired to the dining room.

Not only were there wine goblets at every seat, but there was a large silver tray at one end of the table, upon which there was an egg; some sort of root; parsley; a large wine glass; a bone; and an orange — a setup that was in keeping with what I'd read.

And as if that weren't enough, a copy of the Haggadah was on top of every plate.

I tried to swallow my anxiety as flashbacks from communion flooded my consciousness:

The stares from everyone around me. The sound of my mother hissing "noooo!" under her breath. The way my hands shook as I passed the crackers along to the stranger seated next to me...

Whether or not the hosts picked up on my fear, I don't know. But I will say they did an amazing job explaining everything to us without condescending our ignorance. They were quite gracious, in fact, and their kids (all grown) were so energetic, humorous and talkative, that there was seldom a moment of silence. I was grateful to them for being there.

But that didn't help me feel any less silly when I attempted to find a page in the Haggadah, and it took me a good 30 seconds to realize the numbers were in reverse. I imagined other guests were watching, amused, as I searched frantically for the proper page, all but missing the first blessing.

There were times, too, that we were asked to join in on the songs. Hebrew songs.

So you'd hear 3/4 the table singing for about 80% of the time. And then all of the table would join in for the chorus (this was made possible only because the chorus was the repetition of the word Dayeinu broken down into its various syllables, together meaning: "It would have been enough for us").

In addition to the Haggadah, the family had compiled a packet of supplements over the years. Once I realized we'd all be reading from these materials (in-between passages from the Haggadah — which were always read by the host family) I started to pay extra-special attention to the pronunciation of words.

OK, I thought. When you see that little mark under a letter, that's when you make the "ackh" sound, like you're spitting. Oh! And don't forget, with Biblical names and places, the emphasis is generally on the first syllable.

And so on until it was my turn to read. Thank goodness I didn't foul it up too much.

I was pretty impressed by these supplements. They consisted mostly of speeches from Rabbis as well as essays and poetry written by Holocaust survivors. I was amazed, too, by how so many of the materials mentioned the Palestinians, alluding to their shared strife; recognizing their right to sovereignty; and ending with prayers for peace.

These materials were, for lack of a better word, "touching."

I actually thought things were going surprisingly well until — bet you didn't see this coming — I spilled my grape juice while leaning in for some maror (bitter herb) to add to the matzo (bread) during one of the sacred stages.

For one brief, excruciating moment I got the feeling I'd done something ominous and horrible. In a lapse of paranoia, I was fairly certain everyone at the dinner table scooted two clicks away from me, jaws dropping as if to recognize the presence of evil at their sacred feast.

"Oh, it's OK," said Washington's boss. "What's Seder without spilled wine? Happens all the time."

We all know she was just trying to be nice (which I appreciated), but I also know that wine plays a central role the celebration. Spilling it can't be a good sign. In which case, I'm still trying to determine if there's some folklore out there that interprets spilled wine at Pesah as something horrendous. Because it can't mean anything good.
I should add, too, that all of the noise, fighting, and 3 a.m. visits by our city's finest at my apartment building has pretty much messed up my sleep schedule. So I popped some No Doz an hour or so before Seder in hopes of gaining some energy.

And that it did. But not without the usual, unfortunate side effect.

That is to say, at some point after the second ritual washing of the hands (Urchatz), I scanned ahead (backwards) in the Haggadah in hopes of finding a ritual emptying of the bladder listed on the itinerary.

But no such luck.

When, later, we split up in search of the afikoman (whoever finds it wins a prize!), I thought the best place to look would've been the bathroom.

But, alas, I could find neither the bathroom nor the coveted dessert bread.

And even though I didn't win the top prize or get to use the restroom. And even though I spilled the "wine" and had to snub my nose at the main entree.

This was still, without question, one of the most intriguing, enlightening dinners I've ever experienced.

Everything is Illuminated (Movie Review)

I enjoyed the trailers for this film — which were enchanting and thought-provoking — more so that I did the film itself.

That's not to say Everything is Illuminated (2005) is awful; just that it's fairly predictable, a tad condescending; and the main character, Jonathon Safran Noer (named for the author himself, played by Elijah Wood) wasn't entirely sympathetic.

I mean, he's quirky — which I like — but he's also a man of too-few words and the things he does say are generally irritating.

But first, a bit about the plot: Noer is a "collector" of sentimental objects. Whenever there's an important life event, he grabs a Ziploc baggy from his fanny pack, selects an object from the scene (generally without asking); labels it; and then later pins it to his wall, where there's a fairly sizeable "map" of his life.

This is the part of Noer I liked.

After the passing of his grandfather, Noer (a Jewish American) travels to the Ukraine in search of the woman who mysteriously saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Noer is assisted by the tourism company he'd hired to drive him around: mainly, his translator, Alex, and Alex's grandfather (the driver). Alex is actually the narrator of this story, and his broken English is meant to be funny (it wasn't — if I were from the Ukraine, I'd find it offensive).

This is the part of the story I didn't like. And my dislike for Noer grew every time he failed to make the cognitive leap — which never seemed to be too big a jump — to understand Alex. But he failed, time and time again, and would stare blankly at Alex through his comically over-sized glasses.

And no matter how much the portrayal of Ukrainians may be rooted in truth, it nevertheless struck me as bordering on caricature. By this same design comments made about Jewish people — intended to be funny (which Noer is allowed to do, given his own heritage) — were a little over the top.

So while I don't think you need to be Jewish to enjoy the film, I suspect it helps. Cause for folks like me, it's hard to laugh at something that sets off your P.C. alarms, leaving you more than a little uncomfortable in your seat.

These "problems" aside, there is a genuinely warm, compelling tale at the heart of this story. Now, if only I had been a little more attune to its notion of humor.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Blades of Glory (Movie Review)

This film has received a fair mix of reviews; a small majority favorable, and a large minority quipping that it's "sporadically funny" but otherwise not something to get excited about.

My own impression was somewhere in the middle though — in the interest of full disclosure — I feel compelled to admit that I watched this while in a pretty foul mood.

I had hoped a good comedy might boost my spirits, but it didn't. Not significantly, anyway. Truth is, I had a hard time laughing at things even when I was able to appreciate the humor in them.

And therein lies the rub: I could tell — even as I sat distracted in my seat — that this was more consistently amusing than was Talladega Nights (2006), but still nowhere near as ridiculously funny as Anchorman (2004).

You see, I can recognize a decent comedy (or at least, according to my cinematic taste buds) even when my mood isn't ready for it. I laughed some, and was generally amused. But the disappointment of apartment hunting was fresh in my brain.

[I know, I know... it's very unprofessional to allow one's personal life to interfere with his/her "duty" — but this blog is designed in part to help me remember life events. Rest assured if I were receiving cash money for these reviews, I'd be all business. Which reminds me: I do accept checks, for anyone who's interested...]

However you look at it, this isn't a film for those of you who just don't "get"
Will Ferrell's brand of humor. There are more silly voices, bad hair dos, and — yes, ladies — more of Will showing off his charmingly unique bod.

Ferrell stars as Chazz Michael Michaels, an Olympic skater banned from the sport after he and co-medalist Jimmy MacElroy (played by Jon Heder) broke out into a bloody brawl during the award ceremony.

Michaels is a bad boy trash talker with a little too much testosterone. MacElroy is the slightly effeminate sweetheart whose saccharine demeanor prompts the audience to throw teddy bears onto the ice after each performance.

Suffice it to say their rivalry clearly tips the balance into the realm of absolute contempt. And after they are both forced to retire from the ice, it becomes clear there's only one way for them to return: to enter into a different category, skating together in "pairs."

It probably comes as no surprise, then, that much of this film's humor is, in a way, derived from homophobia. I mean, the filmmakers intend for the audience to find this setup funny precisely because it defies the textbook definition of "pairs" (i.e. heterosexual) skating.

That said, it is funny. Not hilarious, but... funny. I also wasn't sure what to make of Heder's performance. I like him well enough, and I think he did a good job. But I also think this film would've been lost without Ferrell.


Monday, April 02, 2007

"Hello Down There!"

Or so said my neighbor at 3 a.m. this morning as six police officers dragged him down the stairs, restraining him on the floor outside of my door.

They had already cuffed his hands but he was flailing, refusing to walk, and kicking everything that came onto his path.

"Get the feet cuffs" one of the police officers said, while another threatened to use alternative means to get my neighbor down the next flight of stairs.

Meanwhile this man howled from the floor, shouting and screaming and leaving us only with this as he was carried by a dozen hands out of the building:

"Now you can go back to sleep you [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted]!"

Whether or not that was true for the guy that lives across the hall from me (to whom the comment was directed), I don't know.

But there certainly wasn't any more sleep for me.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Disconcerting Strength

Somewhere between the ages of two and three, my mother took me into a boutique for the ritual piercing of my ears. I was quite the tomboy even that early on, but I accepted the occasion as a female rite of passage, and in fact felt privileged to have it occuring so early in my youth.

And I know what you're thinking: how could anyone remember something so trivial when they're so young?

You'd be surprised what I remember from the early days of my girlhood. Though, to be fair, this particular occasion wasn't without "incident." And as we all know, "incidents" have a funny way of forever burning their elements deep into the recesses of our pia mater. And then, too, a funny way of periodically resurfacing... often times recollected by something as vague as a distant -- and yet still familiar -- smell.

What happened at that boutique is neither a terrifying memory nor a fond recollection. But it does help to explain a bit about who I am.

You see, the gun used to insert those studs into virginal ears somehow became lodged in one of my own. I was scarcely aware of this until I noticed the look of panic in my mother's eyes, and noted that -- though the area itself was numb -- I could feel the occasional tug as the lady tried to work it loose.

But when you're young, and you're experiencing something entirely new, you don't know what to expect.

So I sat there calmly at first, only vaguely aware that something might be afoul. I heard whispers of words like "blood" and "stuck" and "this has never happened."

And still I sat there, my little heart starting to race even as I remained calm in my seat.

"I can't believe she isn't crying," the lady said, handing the gun over to one of her co-workers.

"She won't cry," someone else said. "She's tough."

That simple statement was enough to keep me firmly in my seat, refusing to utter so much as a whimper.

That sentiment grew to become the raison d'etre of my youth. I preferred tackle football to touch, and I'd regularly seek out ways to prove my strength. When I was six, I even begged my parents to let me "jog" with my father to my uncles (he lived about two miles away -- I only made it halfway). My cousins and I had made a hobby out of play-fighting, and I generally took on the both of them, standing triumphantly over them and laughing (kindly) as I'd wait for them to catch their breath (both males -- one six months older than I, one six months younger).

Even my friends tended to view me as a body guard of sorts, having seen me wrestle with my brother (seven years my elder). I had a reputation for being "tough" -- for being "strong." For enduring nearly all injuries (I had many) with nary a shout (notwithstanding the incident where I broke my arms).

And during weight training for softball season -- my first official stint lifting weights -- it was generally understood that I'd be lifting more than my friends (though, to be fair, a couple were amazingly strong despite being smaller than me). I actually hated going to weights, though, as I was plagued by the fear that someone may prove to be stronger.
But throughout all of this, even as life otherwise seemed to be crumbling around me, I'd do my darnedest to maintain my deameanor (which always teetered between stoic, studious, and class clown). If things weren't going well, I generally internalized... well... just about everything.

And whereas many kids who "interalize" also generally "act out," I still did well in school, never caused trouble, and never once found myself in an actual fight. Even to this day, I've never hit or kicked anyone out of anger -- though certainly there have been times I've wanted to. I always seemed to work my way out of difficult situations, either using words to maintain the peace... or, again, swallowing whatever it was I felt, allowing it to join a cess pool of other emotions in the pit of my stomach.

That is to say, I belonged to a different sort of ilk. You know... the kids who take everything out on themselves.
For the past three years, I've been lifting weights again, off and on. I was lifting four days a week there for awhile, but then moved away from my gym only to again join one this past September. I've been lifting again, though not as intensely as I had been. I was hoping to work my way back to that, but lacked the energy to shock my muscles into peak condition.

That was, until this past week when I noticed a girl -- easily three dress sizes smaller than me, though with little to no muscle definition -- get onto a machine after I'd used it, and actually ADD weight to the routine.

I was baffled. I mean, I'm not as physically strong as I was two years ago. But I'm still generally lifting more than most of the other girls I see at the gym. So I made a mental note to start being more aggressive with my lifting.

That was Monday. And when I worked my legs again on Thursday, I started sets about 10-15 pounds more than before. But I ended anywhere from 30-60 pounds more than I'd ever done. I was amazed by how little it stressed my muscles. I wasn't even the least bit wobbly by the time it was over, though I'd expected, quite rightly, to be sore the next morning.

I wasn't. Not even a little. All I felt the next day, really, was the disappointment that comes with realizing I'd set limitations for myself that were far less significant than what I was capable of.
I spent this past weekend apartment hunting. By the end of Saturday -- 30 phone calls, 6 stops and 15 apartments later -- I'd determined only that my apartment is a thousand times nicer (aesthetically) than anything I'd seen. I was little short of crestfallen.

The only apartments I saw that even rivaled mine in terms of appearance presented new headaches in exchange for my current ones. One decent apartment was a ground unit -- not exactly the safest place to be in a large city. The other actually required more time and effort to park than does my current abode (which didn't seem possible). The rest were disgusting, for lack of a better word. Trash in the entryways. Decade-old dirt on the walls. Carpeted stairways that appeared to have never been swept. And some of the kitchens consisted of one burner, half-fridges and deplorable cabinetry.

One property owner showed up looking like Wilfred Brimley after a bad trip and weeks without showering. He kept digging his fingers into his ears, and then would inspect his "treasure" as he continued talking. He shouted about how "stupid" the previous tenant was because he didn't close the storm windows in the winter (or so the landlord said right before adding that "this is the coldest apartment in the building" so he "couldn't guarantee it'd be 68 in the winter").

He showed me three apartments, each more awful than the last. This was early enough in the day, though, so I kept hoping things would get better.

But they didn't. Not really.

In fact, as I went from one place to the next, I nearly resigned myself to begging with my current landlord to let me renew my lease after all. I mean, so what if it's cold in the winter, the guy upstairs plays music hideously loud, and the cops are regularly called because of disputes between two other neighbors? So what if those disputes often end up right outside of my front door? And so what if management doesn't tell me before they come in to do "work," and they leave broken glass on the floor and forget to lock the door?At least the place looks nice. At least it's clean. At least it's spacious and affordable.

Because the more I saw Saturday, the less willing I was to trade in my current headaches for the ones that awaited me.

Or to put it in other terms: I've scarcely been able to eat the past 24 hours. My stomach is in knots with the sort of anxiety I was taught -- so early on -- to never express.

Or, in those rare situations, to feel shame if I do.
And I can't say exactly what my future holds, but I do know this: tomorrow after work I'll be back in the gym for one of my longer workouts (stretch, high impact cardio, weights, stretch, light cardio).

You can rest assured I'll be piling on the weights. Adding, never subtracting.

Not at all, that is, until it hurts.