Wednesday, May 30, 2007

How Could I Leave This Behind

One post and not too many moons ago, I promised an entry about the inexplicable -- and at times disgusting -- behavior of certain women.

I'm not talking about the women who engage in belching contests with men or anything of the sort. And I'm not even here to tell a story, per se. Rather, I'd like to enlist your help in coming up with answers to questions that have been plaguing me since Saturday evening.

Though I hadn't needed to use the nearby "pit" toilet at all by day, as dusk settled in, nature began to call quite clearly. So I asked Washington for directions (he said there were signs) and I made my way to the loo.

[NON SEQUITOR: Times such as this, a certain part of me wishes ill will towards men, for their brazen ability to "go" on a moment's notice -- and not only do they "go," but they do so, rather coldly and matter-of-factly, when their female companions stand nearby in agony. Couldn't you at least share our pain? Is chivalry really so dead?]

But I digress.

I made my way around the bend, paused at a sign indicating "SHOWERS" were to the left, and tried to determine whether or not this was the sign Washington mentioned.

Showers, afterall, are generally near restrooms. Right?


So I turned left, noticed a small building radiating that familiar stench, and saw another sign pointing towards "SHOWERS," indicating they were up ahead beyond this particular structure.

So this is the pit I thought. The pit of despair.

[You Princess Bride fans know what I'm talking about.]

I heard voices coming from inside the shelter marked "women."

I heard one woman yell "Me first!" as I placed my hand on the door.

And my mistake, dear readers, was in the follow through.

I should not. Should not have opened the door.

What I saw was a hefty women, completely naked. She was only inches from the door with her backside to it, legs spread and back hunched (as though touching her toes).

Suffice it to say I was given quite a view of a rather large -- and rather unattractive -- nether region, made to look all the more unflattering by its position.

"I think someone's coming in," I hear another female say.

Almost coinciding with those words, I picked my jaw up from the pestilence-infested ground, turned my heels, and quickly made for the trail back to my campsite.


Later after dinner -- I "held it in" for nearly two more hours -- Washington escorted me to the toilet pit proper, confirming for me that I had indeed gone to the right place (and not some secret campground sex dungeon).

I should add that there were four "pits" inside this structure, all of them offering the privacy of a stall. So anyone doing their "business," ideally, would've been in a stall.

And yet, there was a rather unsettling puddle of water over the floor where the woman had been standing, which caused me to wonder if perhaps she had made the concrete her restroom. Whatever they were doing, I can't for the life of me figure out why it warranted the "Me first!" exclamation.

Washington speculated that perhaps they were searching for ticks.

Your hypotheses are welcome. Though please bear in mind this blog is PG-13.*

*I realize this very post may be breaking the PG-13 rating.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify.

You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to figure out I've been less than content as of late. Since much, though not all, of my frustration centers around city-life (turns out I may be more "rural" than I care to admit), a few weeks ago Washington and I booked a campground miles upon miles away.

The idea being to increase the distance between myself and the traffic jams and apartment woes (no, I haven't finished unpacking yet) that mark my daily existence. Turns out EVERY ONE in the city is in search of "fresh air" over Memorial Day weekend.

So the crowds essentially followed us there.

But that's besides the point. Let's begin at — where else — the beginning.

After Washington picked me up at my place...

We drove a few hours, with he in the driver's seat and me playing navigator (stop laughing — I'm much better at reading a map than I used to be). As we approached the campgrounds, I couldn't help but notice a rather disconcerting "DISCLAIMER" in the reservation printout:

"Sites 66 through 81 are close to the ExpressWay, and so there is a SIGNIFICANT amount of highway noise."

I asked Washington if he'd read that far into the reservation. He said no. I asked if there was any warning about the noise levels before and/or during the actual act of making reservations. He said he couldn't remember.

Suffice it to say I realized early on why he'd chosen our spot. Because, let's be honest, grown men aren't exactly beacons of maturity.

OK, OK. So I chuckled when I saw the campsite. But let's keep that between us.

Fact remains, I sleep better with a little white noise. While "crickets" normally satisfy that category just fine, the highway traffic was constant enough to qualify. Besides, it helped block out the sound of our neighbors, who may have otherwise been quite annoying. Still, I couldn't help but think of my buddy Thoreau, and that train whistle interrupting the tranquil quiet of Walden pond.

We were out of the car no more than 90 seconds when Washington alerted me to the presence of two caterpillars crawling up my pants' leg. I named one 'Rufus' and commented on how prejudiced we females are when it comes to insects. Give them hair and pretty colors, and we'll pluck them from our clothes and place them gently on a twig. But if they're black, brown and/or off-white and have a hard shell (or are covered in slime), and we won't hesitate to end their lives with the swift kick of a boot (though I was kind enough to the two disgusting cicadas I saw).

Turns out Rufus was just one of many "eastern tent" caterpillars out on the prowl. It didn't take long to determine the park was battling an infestation of Alfred Hitchcock-esque proportions.

We spent much of the weekend pulling them off our clothes, the picnic table and — yes — even throwing them out of the car.

Not only is the situation absolute chaos, but it promises to get worse as the woods was replete with still more nests that hadn't yet unhatched.

The "eastern tent" caterpillar is supposedly so-named because of the shape of its nest.

[Though I hypothesized it had more to do with the fact that made a home out of my tent.]

After setting up camp, we headed into a nearby town to see what the area offered. What we saw was, by far, one of the oddest "communities" I've ever stepped foot in.

But more about that later. First off, there was Go Kart racing.

Gasoline for a Trip out of the City: $70
Two tickets for Go Kart Racing: $12
Beating Your Smack-Talking Boyfriend to the Finish*: Priceless

We also visited a well-known "circus town" where Ringling Bros. used to spend its winters. Couldn't help but wonder what sort of freaks would hail from a place like that.**

The next day was off to a lazy start. It was almost 3 p.m. before we made it to a "decent" trail, and by that point we had to choose one that was a mere 4 miles round trip, just to ensure we wouldn't be out past dusk.

The first half was a bit of a bummer: just a path cut through rocks, the width too narrow to pass others. So we were continuously stepping off to the side to allow oncoming traffic (and believe me, there was traffic) to pass.

Along the way, we saw this:

"Pier Pressure"

We stopped to see whether or not this kid jumped, as the water was shallow beneath that ledge — not to mention, rocks were dangerously pointing out from the water. And yet, his friends shouted up from the surface, demonstrating their vast range of synonyms for the word "wimp."

After a couple minutes of hem-hawing — starting, and then stopping — he eventually did a bullet drop straight into the water. We waited to make sure he re-surfaced (i.e. survived) and then continued on.

Though when we turned off the beaten path and made a steady climb 1,100 feet up, we saw turkey vultures circling where he'd been diving. Reason enough to not give into peer pressure, wouldn't you say? Certainly makes you think.

But I'm tired of writing — and you're probably tired of reading — so how about if I just show you a few pictures from the less-trafficked portion of our pseudo-hike:

Note how the background colors change with the symmetry of leaves.

This shows you how high we climbed — not much at all, really. But still enough that my trick knee made all sorts of funny sounds.

We started at the same elevation as the road below, pictured here.

Meanwhile, back at the camp...

Remember how I said the nearby town was a bit eccentric? I took some photos during a "drive-by" the next day.

I have no idea what this contraption is.

This pretty much sums up my last apartment.

We wanted to dine someplace "local," so we tried this cute little Mom & Pop.***

Note the name.

The below motel really should consider coming up with a new new name, or at least a slightly less depressing sign.

"Where you stay when you really have nothing left to lose."

There was even an amusement park themed after Ancient Greece. Must admit to thinking this was actually pretty darn cool.

Cool as it was, the Trojan Horse was a tad-bit foreboding. So we headed out of town, with the intention of taking a slight detour south.

But let us not forget, this was Memorial Day. While we were driving around exploring the countryside, 10 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq.

In Memoriam

That's just disturbing enough, it doesn't seem right to continue on. So let's start a new section.


What happens when you take an eccentric man, given him loads of cash, and instill in him a distaste for Frank Lloyd Wright?

You get one really weird house, built into the rocks in the middle of nowhere. We're talking carousels made of headless mannequins, a room that staircases out over the woods below and then ends in a vanishing point (see the "Infinity Room" below) and entire symphonies of instruments that play on their own.

And by that I mean: cellos, guitars, harps, pianos and tambourines — just to name a few — that serenade you with creepy music without the intervention of a musician's hands.

This is a bit of a misnomer, as the room has a discernible vanishing point.

A view from the "Infinity Room"

"Exit to Nowhere"

I loved the concept of this door, as the blue stained glass reminds you you're actually several feet in the air. It's true there's a fire escape beyond the exit, but that's besides the point.

I found it to be entirely poetic.

So what did I learn this weekend?

•My camera still works from time to time
•I have no idea what "dells" are, but I now know what they aren't (for years, I've belabored under the assumption that they were a series of large hills)
•Caterpillars are just as disgusting as all other bugs
•Women are just as disgusting as, if not more so than, men (details to come in a future post)

And last but not least:

I could have a promising career in NASCAR.

*Washington claims he "let" me win. And whether he "slowed down" or not to make the race more competitive, the fact remains I started three kart-lengths behind him AND passed everyone between us. There were 8 karts racing. Washington was the 2nd to go. I was the 5th. And yet... I finished 1st. So there.

**If you know me, you know that's (sorta) funny.

***Not really.

Friday, May 25, 2007

This Isn't Love, It's an Attrition

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Though Lately I've Felt More Like This

Filter, "Hey Man, Nice Shot"

My Favorite New Song

"Young Folks," Peter, Bjorn & John

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sky Blue Sky (Music Commentary)

"Lyrics come to a melody like dust settles on furniture." ~Jeff Tweedy (paraphrased from a May 2007 interview)

If my fascination for Wilco is at all a secret, it's poorly kept.

And if you, too, are a fan of this Midwestern band, then you know why I'm bringing them up again: their newest album, Sky Blue Sky was released just over a week ago. And while there's no denying this album is their most mellow to date, I think it's a welcome addition to their repertoire.

But I'm a tad uneasy whenever I read (or hear) a review that implies the band has lost its edge, an accusation reviewers love to connect to front man Jeff Tweedy's successful completion of substance abuse rehabilitation (Tweedy has long suffered from debilitating migraines, which resulted in a subsequent addiction to painkillers).

Not only has Tweedy "kicked the habit," but he's also found a routine that allows him to minimize the frequency of said migraines. He's kicked a few other habits as well (e.g. smoking) and isn't ashamed to admit that he's happier and healthier than he's been in years.

The resultant question for many reviewers/interviewers has thus been not so much a question, but an insinuation.

"Now we all know you're healthier than you've been in over a decade, Jeff. Does that help to explain the more subdued tone of this album?"

Let me interrupt here to say that although Sky Blue Sky is a far cry from Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002) — an album I will continue to refer to as one of the most innovative and possibly one of the best produced in an era — it's unfair to expect any band to produce something of that caliber with every release.

Within a couple listens of YHF, in fact, I knew I was listening to something Wilco — or any band, for that matter — would be hard pressed to top. It's melodic and yet utilizes just pure... sound... in many of its tracks. That they were able to do this without the "sound" becoming "noise" was a mystery to me. But it worked, and rather beautifully at that.

The album which followed that masterpiece, A Ghost is Born, was also a treat. But it was no Yankee. There were a couple songs on Ghost that I couldn't get enough of (e.g. "Hummingbird") and others that just sorta blended in with the rest.

It follows that Sky Blue Sky is a little like that for me — though the album as a whole is (yes, music critics, you got something right) generally more mellow than previous Wilco productions.

That is to say, there's less "sound" behind the instrumentation (forgive me, I'm not entirely familiar with industry jargon), something I do kind of miss. But that also means Sky has a certain air (forgive the pun) about it that makes it easier to listen to.

I'm not saying this is "easy listening" — far from it — but rather that Sky is just a tad easier to digest than Wilco fans are accustomed to (and so may be particularly difficult for this same fan base to sink in those proverbial).

What irritates me about the recent deluge of reviews and interviews — to get back to my original point — is the insinuation that Tweedy's recent bout of happiness is complicit in some sort of artistic decay.

Sure, this album is more about finding happiness in the day-to-day and yes, it does have a more "hopeful" quality, as evidenced here by the title track:

Oh, if I didn’t die
I should be satisfied
I survived
That's good enough for now

But I also think it's a little short-sighted to term it an altogether optimistic work. There's a lot on here about being happy with what you have, but this is also spoken in the context of an ongoing battle with loneliness and uncertainty.

Song after song, Tweedy's optimism is pitted up against an intangible frustration with the world.

Why is there no breeze
No currency of leaves
No current through the water wire
No feelings I can see
("You Are My Face")

But what Tweedy seems to determine is a bit akin to Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" (without all of the sexual innuendo). In other words: the world is brutal, and we can't change a thing. And then where Arnold's narrator turns to his female companion and essentially proposes a rendezvous, Tweedy turns to his family (and himself) as a means to secure some degree of happiness.

And I do mean degree. Or why else is the simple satisfaction of being alive simply good enough for now?

But, again, back to point: I'm not so sure the tone of this album -- which isn't quite as simple as reviewers have implied -- is a direct result of Tweedy's recovery. I'm not even so sure it's a direct result of the band's cohesiveness (this album is perhaps Wilco's most collaborative to date).

Rather, I think this album's tone -- like Tweedy's recovery from addiction -- has something to do with the simple passage of time: Tweedy is a married father-of-two. And it sounds like, maybe, he's growing up.

And I don't care what anyone says.

That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Future of Technology

Computers in the year 2004, as imagined by the Rand Corporation back in the day.

[Sadly, this beast is still faster than my current machine...]

Hey, Jude

I'm not Catholic, but Jude has long been my patron saint.

I light his candle in my dining room window some nights to clear the air (Maude can attest to this, having singed her whiskers on the flame). And some months ago I acquired a little coin that bears Jude's silhouette on one side... and a prayer to him on the other.

If you've been reading this blog for any duration of time, then you probably understand my fascination.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What to Expect When You're an Idiot

Me [matter-of-factly, at a very important meeting]: I just wrote on my face.

Everyone Else: [Awkward laughing. Confused stares.]

Haiku/Gesundheit (Volume XLX)

washington's two-hour stint as tom selleck
(or, "my cat speaks for us all")

man shaves his goatee
leaving only a mustache
maude hisses & runs

the idiot speaketh
(or, "what not to say at an important meeting")

a week's worth of work
summarized by yours truly:
i wrote on my face
rethink doublethink

chief among those was
a mighty warrior, armed with
syntax like arrows
you are my napalm pilot

old tongues burn to speak:
if i say i am lost would
you come to find me?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

28 Weeks Later (Movie Review)

I don't like horror flicks.

Never have, probably never will. I do, however, enjoy the occasional psychological thriller. And it was only because I was told 28 Days Later (2002) was not like other horror films that I ever conceded to watch it.

I was pleasantly surprised — well, as "pleasant" as one can be when watching "rage-infected" humans turn to their loved ones with blood-lust in their eyes and a zombie-esque spring in their step.

But the fact remains that the plot was rife with psychological elements that were just subtle enough to not be overdone, and yet, still, just intense enough to give the film meaning that surpassed your typical blood-and-guts slasher.

Add to that director Danny Boyle used hyperediting to pixelate and mute the gore, and the first film in this series was not only approachable for me, but also a rare gem in its genre.

I was not quite as impressed by the 2007 sequel, 28 Weeks Later. That's not to say I didn't find it to be as suspenseful or as psychologically wrenching as the first — I did — but that it picked up a few shortcomings that detracted from the film's overall quality.

A large part of this hinges on the literal change of direction, with Juan Carlos Fresnadillo taking the reins from Boyle (not to mention, neither the writers nor the actors returned from the original).

It was quickly apparent that Fresnadillo had an overt political objective with the film, as the Americans were initially welcomed with open arms upon entering Britain to begin reconstruction (six months after the "rage" virus virtually erased the country's population). But then, what do you know but the Americans completely mismanage the situation, allowing that proverbial "hell" to break loose on the mean streets of London.

I could have allowed for this parallel, had it not been so nauseatingly apparent. And I certainly could've bought the mismanagement aspect, had it not looked like Fresnadillo consulted with Barney Fife to create the lock down facilities in which the healthy British were contained during a security breech.

I mean, I can suspend my disbelief in regards to the "rage" virus and its sundry outbreaks. But I had a hard time believing we'd usher a couple thousand Brits into a room the size of my elementary school gymnasium and not even think to add a few armored guards to the doors (which, as luck would have it, are exceedingly easy to break into).

But that's just one of many devices that served only to further the plot (sure, every movie needs these... but do they have to be so obvious?). I'll limit my discussion of other similar devices to spare those who haven't seen the film except to say: the young girl's character is inconsistent; why wasn't someone guarding the carrier; and why on earth did Robert Carlyle's character have security access to every locked door?

If you think any film will have the occasional tear in its seam, you should know 28 Days Later didn't warrant the same skepticism. Add to that Fresnadillo didn't use hyperediting as actively as did his predecessor — and so drew out some rather horrific scenes in the most graphic possible fashion — and it follows that there were some scenes in 28 Weeks Later that I certainly could've done without.

[Though the boys in the back who were probably underage got a real kick out of it.]

That said, 28 Weeks Later isn't without a similar (albeit diminished) level of emotional suspense that made 28 Days Later so memorable. It even posits its characters in some difficult situations, forcing them to make some split-second decisions that would've made for terrific discussions in my college Ethics class.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Making the World a Bitter Place

Some days are harder than others.

That's anything but a profound statement, I know. I mean, isn't true for all of us? Aren't we all struggling in our own, little ways? Aren't we all surrounded by such an array of negative energy that, some days, it seems nearly impossible to continue on?

This isn't just the move talking. This isn't just the bathroom lock-in or the slow traffic or the middle fingers or the blank, speechless stares by office-workers when I offer a polite "hello!" in the hallway. This isn't even the years of bad luck culminating in a single diatribe.

Rather, it's all of these things. And the dozens of other things that happen that are just too unspeakable to even post on these pages. It's the accumulation of things that seem reasonable enough in small doses, but that slowly choke us over time — that is, the air that scarcely clears before the next sprinkle of foul weather.

And so I say: some days are easier than others. That's not to say things necessarily improve on those days, but that I'm sufficiently distracted to not think about the way I'm treated on the roadways, in the office, at home, etc. Maybe I've had a day or two without incident. Maybe the endorphins are hitting just right at the gym, or I'm out of the city for a weekend.

But whatever it is, those days — those moments of contentment — have been increasingly difficult to come by over the past couple years.

Maybe it's the city. Maybe it's the situation. Or maybe it's just me.

Only time will tell.

I read once that people are wired to exist in communities of no more than 200 people. A friend offered an eloquent reminder me of this in a recent post that really got me thinking not only about city-life, but how our wiring impacts the way we treat others — particularly, those who aren't a part of our troop.

Do you remember the first time you ran into a teacher at a grocery store? The first time you saw them in jeans, or caught them holding hands with their significant other? Do you remember the first time you saw your doctor at the movie theatre, or the first time you realized you weren't a "test tube" baby?

It is difficult, at times, for us to see people outside of the roles we have assigned to them. It is difficult for us, as growing children, to realize that our parents aren't just providers, but that they, too, once upon a time had these living, breathing dreams.

It is exponentially difficult for us to imagine the utility of strangers. Or even more so, it is difficult for us to imagine — or, at least, easier for us to not imagine — them laughing and smiling and crying and starving and breathing and living and dying.

We have enough to worry about, after all. Our bills are due Tuesday, the bread is stale and dammit-didn't-I-clean-the-clogged-pipe-just-last-week?

This changes, of course, when we lump these "strangers" into other communities (i.e. slapping a single face onto hundreds of thousands of people). We'll rally together for causes — for hordes of people suffering from any variety of maladies — but we fail, even still, to genuinely care about the individual.

And by that I mean: we fail, religiously, to treat others with a modicum of respect. We fail to recognize the humanness of those around us: do you ever stop to think, for example, about the woman at the grocery store checkout? Do you ever look up at those skyscrapers as you drive past, and marvel at the thousands of lives — the millions of stories — that are unfolding within those walls?

Do you ever stop to think that the person you tailgate on the highway might be on the way back from the hospital — or on their way to picking up their kid from school — or battling a terrible, life-altering illness and your thoughtlessness is somehow impacting their day (their life) in what only seems to you to be a microscopic way?

You don't know these people. You don't know who they are, or what their situation is.

But you may very well be pushing them over a rather steep ledge.

Or is that not what road rage is about? The thoughtlessness of two strangers who insist that they were wronged by the other.

But in a world where everyone is right, no one is.
We've come to expect this treatment from other people: that's precisely how we justify it when we turn around and do the same unto others — right?

But what of those times when this thoughtlessness infects our very community? Those times when the cold stares and the lack of consideration and the me-first mentalities inhabit our walls like termites thirsty for the soul?

We have nowhere to turn for solace. Living becomes intolerable. So much so, in fact, that some people simply... give up. That's not to necessarily say they make a vertical incision along their wrists, but that — if nothing else — they, too, stop trying.

They become hapless, inconsiderate drones. Just like everyone else.

If Thoreau got one thing right, it's this: The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

I challenge you to people-watch at a mall — or a busy intersection, or a bar — and to not come to that same disheartening conclusion, time and time again.

That's not to say there isn't beauty in life — there is — but that we're too often immune to it.

Or, even worse, we want it strictly for ourselves. Or if we're feeling generous: our community.

So the next time you volunteer, or the next time you drop a one-spot into the fireman's boot (both of which I encourage you to do, by the way), don't think for a second that your good deed for the year is done.

There are thousands of people out there relying on you to make their day a little less miserable. Some of them you know. Some of them you don't.

But a fair number of them, I'd wager, could really benefit from some kindness.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Quiet Among the Cacophony

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Beerfest (Movie Review)

Don't ask me why I watched this, or even how I managed to find the time, when I've scarcely been able to fit "sleep" into my schedule.

Suffice it to say it's not a good movie, but it's better — and certainly more watchable — than Benchwarmers, which I will continue to refer to as the worst comedy thus far this millennium.

Rather, Beerfest (2006) is more watchable by the simple virtue of its ability to laugh at itself. It's meant to be a film enjoyed by college frat boys in the middle of a drinking binge, and I suspect that crowd will enjoy the film just fine.

But unless that's you, I recommend you use your spare time to get back to unpacking.

Don't have anything to unpack?

Then come help me.



Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I Made You a Valentine

Monday, May 07, 2007

The Sound of the Screw
Or, "God Gets a New Pair of Dice"

If you've been reading me for any length of time, you know if there's one thing about my job that really gets to me, it's that no one benefits from what I do: aside from me, that is, and the machine that deposits money into my bank account.

But I digress: suffice it to say this past Thursday, I brought profound joy to someone's life — but not without some cost to me.

I moved last week, as many of you know, and though I expect this new place will be warmer in the winter and less likely to be frequented by police, it won't be without its problems. For example: landlords in this city aren't required to clean in-between tenants, and so few of them do. My new place, then, was fairly grotesque when I moved in, and I knew it was going to take a week or two of long nights after work to really get the place clean.

So this past Thursday, my goal was to essentially power wash the bathroom: clean out the gunk that had settled in-between the tub and the sink (which some genius separated by only 1/4 of an inch); clean out years of filth from the radiator; scrub down the tub with bleach-containing Lysol; etc.

I had just started cleaning when Maude tried to sneak in behind me. I ushered her out by blocking her entrance with my foot, and then promptly shut the door to keep her out for the duration of the cleaning. I opened the window a touch to help keep the chemical-ridden air from becoming too stifling when it occurred to me to try and open the door, "just to make sure I could."

If you know me — and my peculiar brand of luck — you can probably guess what happens next.

That's right.

The door didn't budge.

And no matter how hard I tried — no matter how hard I pulled — nothing happened.

In times such as this, a brief moment of panic is almost always followed by the most MacGuyver of instincts.

I glanced around the room for anything I could use to pry open the door. Here's what I had:
  • Toilet paper dispenser
  • Toilet paper
  • Coil brush (already used to clean out one radiator, and so was covered in grime)
  • Mop bucket with a large, clunky plastic handle
  • Large plastic splashguard stuck to the top of the tub
  • Can of Lysol
  • Bleach water
And that, my friends, was pretty much it.

By the time I'd finished taking inventory, the smell of bleach was already filling the tiny, unventilated room in the most undesirable fashion. Cleaning solvents aren't exactly known for being "health-friendly," and I'd already been battling "cleaning-related" migraines for the past couple of days.

So I turned to the window, opened it as high as it would go, and removed the screen.

I stuck my head out of the window and inspected the terrain beneath me:

The drop was just short enough that I could make it and possibly (but not definitely) survive, but just long enough — and without enough space for me to fall properly, and roll upon landing — that I'd likely shatter both of my legs, and possibly also a vertebrae or two. I could handle the broken legs, but a broken back just wasn't for me.

And there was no way for me to climb down, as there was neither a fire escape, nor enough space between the bricks for me to wedge in my feet and fingers.

It didn't take me long to process this information, though I continued to stare out of the window, imagining my Icarian descent time and time again.

So back inside I went, returning to my inventory. The way I looked at it, I could:
  • Make a rope out of the toilet paper; tie one end to the towel rack, and use the other to repel my way to safety
  • Pull really hard using the doorknob and/or a painted-over robe hook on the door
  • Attempt to unhinge the door, which was thick with layers of paint
  • Pull really, really hard
  • Try to use the disgustingly damp coil brush to pry open the door from all angles
  • Prop one foot up against the wall and pull really hard
  • Strip the splashguard from the tub and see if I could use any part of it to pry open the door
  • Pull really, REALLY hard
  • Unscrew the door knob altogether to try and gain access to the (likely broken) pin, using either my pinkie (if it'd fit) or the coil from the toilet roll dispenser to pull it up
  • Pull really, REALLY REALLY hard
  • Jump
I should add that no one knew where I was, and I didn't expect anyone (i.e. Washington) to even try to get a hold of me until after 9 p.m. (it was 6:30 at the time). And even then, there was no guarantee he'd go crazy with worry if I didn't answer my phone or open the door: I'd been little short of exhausted, and he'd probably just assume I'd shut off the ringers in the quest for sleep.

Or so my brain processed the future, ultimately seeing through to a million different ways of meeting a bitter end and — ultimately — earning a spot among other Darwin Award winners.

I could already see the headlines:

Girl willingly plummets to death after being trapped in bathroom for days

Germophobe suffocates on bleach fumes

Girl knocks self out pulling on bathroom handle; suffocates on bleach fumes

Girl pokes self in eye with coil brush; bleeds to death on bathroom floor

And so on.

But I managed to somehow keep my cool (for the most part), though I will admit to cursing this city — which isn't tenant-friendly in the least — under my breath. I then worked my way down the list of options, attempting time and time again to pull on the door from every possible angle, oftentimes returning to the window to rescue myself from the buildup of bleach fumes emanating from the radiator (but just so you don't think I'm too stupid, I did dump and flush the remainder of the bleach water — too bad for me there was also Lysol settling on some of the walls).

During one of my trips to the window, I was met with the most Tantalan of sites:

A floor below me in the building next door, a woman was sitting at the dinner table with a developmentally delayed girl, perhaps 9 or 10 years old. But given the nature of their situation, I knew full well I should only "reach out" to them as a last resort.

But as I made my way down the list, I was quickly running out of options. At one point I called out to them, but their window was clearly shut and — as it turns out — does a fine job of blocking out sound. And because they were a floor below me, they'd have to crane their neck in the most uncomfortable fashion to even notice the girl in mismatched clothes and dirty latex gloves waving to them from above.

So I returned to my list, trying various options over and over again, oftentimes scanning the otherwise empty room for anything that might save me from my quandary.

It occurred to me, while watching my neighbors below, that I could try throwing something at their window. And after I exhausted the (f)utility of the splash guard, I worked a piece of it loose and chucked it towards them.

But gravity took hold of the plastic about six inches before it ever tapped that metaphysically distant window.

I was crestfallen.

So I did what anyone else would do: I tried pulling on the door really REALLY REALLY hard once more, one foot on the wall, one hand on the doorknob, another hand on the robe hook, and another (slightly less visible) hand making the sign of the cross.

I needn't tell you that I was pulling so hard that when the robe hook broke loose, I was propelled back against the radiator and into the tub with such a loud THUMP! that it was a miracle I was even able to stand up again.

I was scarcely able to gather my thoughts and count my injuries, however, as my collapse had been simultaneously met with a faint "klink!"

It was music to my ears. It was — dare I say — the sound of freedom.

It was the sound of a screw.

With the robe hook in one hand, I searched the tile for the screw with the other. I laid the hook aside — which would've shattered the window — asked my dearest Jude to bless the carpentry device — and chucked it delicately towards the window.

I knew even as I threw it that there was no guarantee the screw would make the journey. No guarantee I wouldn't crack the window. And certainly no guarantee that the woman would turn around to inspect the cause of the sound.

But it did; it didn't; and she did.

The look on her face — the scowl and subsequent furrow of her brow — was priceless.

But, again, she did something most folks wouldn't: she didn't just make eye contact and quickly turn away, pretending she hadn't seen some crazy girl waving frantically to her across the way.

She actually walked outside, bringing her scowl and furrowed brow (both well-deserved) with her.

But my journey to freedom was long from over. After a few minutes of "chit-chat," she ushered over one of my fellow tenants as he took out the garbage around the way, and he informed us that our landlady had left for vacation that very morning.

So there was no one to open the door and let me out.

It was beginning to look like the fire department was going to be my only option, but the space around my window was just tight enough — and nowhere near where a firetruck could pull up to — that I couldn't fathom them getting a ladder there.

They'd have to break through one of my doors.

I asked my neighbor if he had our landlord's daughter's number — she was in charge of maintenance emergencies — but after a few minutes upstairs searching for it, he returned empty-handed (must say, though, he was very kind — and very concerned — through all of this).

About that time another woman emerged from the home, telling me that she had the number I needed. She — as "luck" would have it — used to work with the daughter. She made the phone call that ultimately saved my sanity from what was turning out to be a steady decline.

But as everyone returned to the comfort of their abodes and I remained half out of the window like a lonely Rapunzel after a visit to Supercuts, I saw that little girl next door tilt her neck straight back — her mouth open with effort, and her stick-straight hair falling behind her — in an effort to "see" what the adults were talking about.

She looked at me, the concern on her face fading into a grin as I nodded to her — still wearing those dirty latex gloves — and offered the only thing I could muster at the time: a crooked, half-embarrassed, half-amused smile.

As I waited a good 20 minutes for help to arrive, I paced the two short steps between the tub and my door, inspecting my war wounds:
  • My right palm, quite sore, was already beginning to swell
  • There were painful grooves/scratches up and down my arm (from leaning on the window frame)
  • My back, neck, and arm(s) were all about to let me know just which parts of them, exactly, I'd injured in my fall
  • I was light-headed (remember, the room was full of cleaning products and I hadn't yet had dinner), wheezing with every other breath, and on the verge of another migraine
But you know, from the whole evening the one image I remember most clearly is that girl tilting her head back to get a look at the freak show (that'd be me) next door. And I thought of that again, laughing to myself, as I continued to wait for help to arrive.

So this, I thought, is what it takes for me to put a smile on someone else's face.

It was roughly 9 p.m. by the time my "ordeal" was over. I was tired and angry and sore and yet — still — mostly alive.

So be it.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Pieces of Forever
(Based on a True Story)

A certain cynicism infects some of us at an early age.

Whether it's caused by watching parents argue, seeing grandparents slink away to separate bedrooms, or witnessing even the happiest of couples spiral into the bitterest divorce, ideals of love and romance are reduced to a startling conclusion: love — that is, love equally reciprocated — does not exist over time.

Even science tells us that every seven years we've all but lost the cells we had seven years previous. We're changing, day after day, and unless the person we're with keeps up with us (that is to say: you change in sync), there's a good chance every few years you'll want to trade in the person, in much the same way you desire a new car after outgrowing the previous.

I was seven, maybe eight, when these ideas first occurred to me. A big breath of fresh air walked into my life in my late teens when an 80-something woman at my church found her way back into the arms of her high school sweetheart. And there in front of me in a nearby pew, he'd caress her hands and peck her cheek. He'd hold doors open for her, and she'd smile this wonderfully beautiful smile, her eyes twinkling.

They were proof for me that it is possible, if only for some — never mind that it took decades apart for them to pick up where they'd left off (the golden rule of cynicism dictates that if they'd spent the past 65 years together, there's a chance they'd have despised each other within 10).

But watching them together was nevertheless refreshing, and stood as a reminder that we can find comfort in other people, if only for a little while.

I saw another such couple this past week, dining at a local restaurant. They were in their early-70s but had something in common that my previous Dido & Aeneas did not: not only were they talking and laughing at one another over the table, but they were also wearing wedding rings.

"You're always slouching," she said smiling, tugging on his fingers. "Sit up straight so you don't look like an old man."

She sat up straight, thrusting her shoulders back to demonstrate.

He smiled and complied — if only for a brief second.

"How's this?" he asked, relaxing a bit. He then grabbed her hand, his thumb resting on her wedding ring.

"Perfect," she said. "Just perfect."

Amazing! I thought. I wonder how long they've been married?

Later, after my dinner arrived and was righteously consumed, I caught them again while exiting the restaurant.

"So do you think your wife would be angry if she knew where you'd been?" the woman asked.

"Honey," he said, kissing her cheek, "I bet that miserable hag doesn't even realize I'm gone."

Thursday, May 03, 2007

You're the Best

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Sure, I Have a Cat

But I'm actually a dog person.

Tag! You're It

So for the first time in my blogging career, I've been "tagged" (thank you, Woodrow, for being my first*). To be entirely honest, until now I thought "tagging" was a polite way of saying you'd just been shot by a paintball gun.

And before any of you ask: yes, I should be busy cleaning and unpacking. That's precisely why I didn't delay on this tagging opportunity.

A-Available or Single? Neither.
B-Best Friend: I'm lucky to have a few of these.
C-Cake or Pie: I'm generally not fond of either, though I will occasionally indulge in freshly-baked pie or chocolate cake... though secretly all I really want is the icing [Stop grimacing, it's unattractive.]
D-Drink of Choice: Strawberry lemonade with real strawberries. Or are we talking alcoholic here? In which case I like any sweet, mixed drinks in small quantities.
E-Essential Item(s): A good bike, a backpack stuffed with essentials (including a compass, and a map), and LOTS of water.
F- Favorite Color(s): Burgundy, burnt orange, sky blue
G- Gummi Bears or Worms?: Worms? Or gummy worms? Because a worm without "gummy" is just gross... unless you are a fish.
H- Hometown: Can I just say the eastern half of the Midwest?
I- Indulgence: Silly t-shirts, bags (purses, backpacks, messenger bags, you name it), long naps
J- January or February: February... still enough snow for snowshoeing, but with the imminent promise of spring.
K- Kids: Does an obnoxious little cat count? No kids, though I get a kick out of playing with them.
L- Life is incomplete without: A puzzle is incomplete if any piece is missing. I can't expect anything less from life (though, for the record, I could do without mosquitoes, and I really dig smart comedy).
M- Marriage Date: October 7, 2006 in a private ceremony. Just kidding. Calm down, Mom. Never been married.
N- Number of Siblings: 2
O- Oranges or Apples? I like 'em both. But I REALLY love clementines.
P- Phobias/Fears: I enjoy camping and don't mind getting covered in mud, or making nature my restroom. But throw me into a dirty bathroom at a public place, and I get all sweaty and anxious.
Q- Favorite Quote: The first that comes to mind is Woody Allen: "I don't wish to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality by not dying."
R- Reasons to smile:The smell of burning leaves, road trips through rural America, hiking new terrain, reaching peaks, traveling with friends, spoiling my nephews.
S- Season: Autumn
T- Tag Three: Winter, XOXO and Michele
U- Unknown Fact About Me: I always say I don't watch much television, but I secretly love old reruns (Munsters, Diff'rent Strokes, etc.)
V– Vegetarian or Oppressor of Animals? Neither. I haven't eaten red meat or pork in years. I grew up states away from good seafood (unless you like fried catfish — yuck), so I never got into that. But I need to get my protein from somewhere other than just Boca Burgers, so I occasionally indulge on chicken. More than you ever wanted to know, right?
W- Worst Habit(s): Sure, I'm a jokster. But I can also be quite the loner. A terrible combination which results in some folks thinking I'm off my rocker.
X– X-rays or Ultrasounds? I prefer to stay uninjured. Thanks.
Y- Your Favorite Foods: Good chicken parmesan, butternut squash ravioli with a sweet vinaigrette sauce, anything with blueberries
Z- Zodiac: Pisces

*But not that kind of "first"

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Do you furiously scribble random thoughts onto scraps of paper? Do you often find yourself frustrated by your inability to convey various insights to the world precisely as you see them?

Do you wish you hadn't thrown in the poetic towel after college? Do you find beauty, sadness, humor, chronic bursitis, regret, nimbus clouds and spare change in everything you do?

If so, then Numb Benign is for you!

Almost but Lost

The Worst Part about Moving is the First Night You Spend Alone