Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Basic Training, Here I Come — Although My Stay Promises To Be Brief (and Memorable)

I was once a semi-serious distance runner. Nothing at the marathon level, but I could (and regularly did) comfortably run about 8 miles at a time. I used to look forward to it beforehand and feel incomparably empowered during and immediately afterwards. There was one year in my past when the running was all I really had going for me.

Then it rained on one of the days I was planning to hit the trail, so I didn’t go. The next week, I was too tired. The next week, I had people in town and I convinced myself (beyond a seemingly reasonable doubt) that I couldn’t be an absentee hostess - so the running shoes stayed in the closet. The next week I got my period. The next week I had a headache.

After about 2 years of these brilliant excuses, I’ve recently pulled the running shoes out from the back of the closet and back onto my feet. I’m not in the same kind of shape I once was, so my old ways and means have been taken down a few notches. But, once a week, I’ve been purposefully running 3 miles around the track in my neighborhood park.

The other day I was back in business, cruising along. When I was on my 8th or 9th lap, I heard some yelling interspersed with loud singing (a halfway decent rendition of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got to Do with It?”) coming from across the way. The source of the commotion was a down-and-out-looking woman, stumbling across the field that was in the middle of the track. We fist-bumped each other when I ran by her for the first time. “You go, girl,” she said with a solemn conviction.

Every time I approached her side of the track, she leapt up from her bench and enthusiastically clapped, while shouting out a stream of encouraging comments. The second time I passed her station, it got better: “Great job. You could have been in the Marines, like I was.” I started laughing. “No, I’m serious,” she fervently maintained.

This Marines thing pleased me. I don’t know if she could have said anything more flattering than that. Not that I have any interest in enlisting – my attitude and I wouldn’t last an hour in the military. And at the end of that hour, it would be a dishonorable discharge for the books. But there I was, privately feeling like a loser because all I can handle anymore is 3 miles on a flat, boring track instead of the 6-mile, hilly, and challenging path around Central Park that I used to dominate – and I’ve got the best sidelines fan on the planet insisting that I’m all warrior, nothing but. Flo Jo never had it so good.

“That’s a lot of laps,” she kept saying, with a genuinely amazed expression on her face. “Really, it’s been a lot. I’ve been watching you.” Was she kidding? From where had she been watching, and for how long? She only formally entered this section of the park not even 5 minutes earlier, when I had already been running for about 20 minutes.

In spite of the beautiful compliments, I nearly sprinted the final few laps, just so I could finish my 3 miles and get the hell away from her and whatever she might have been capable of doing as soon as possible. Although she repeatedly told me that she “had [my] back,” I wasn’t going to count on it. For all I knew, she was suddenly going to whip out a paring knife and show me the really dark side of Marines hazing culture – the kind of stuff that the Defense Department and even the alternative media are blissfully ignorant of. She was also toting around a kickball – an object I hadn’t seen up close since my miserable 8th grade gym class. At one point, she implied that the two of us should strike up a game.


At first I was thoroughly annoyed with her, then a little scared, and then more than a little appreciative. She was clearly unbalanced and probably laced up on some seriously illicit shit. But so are a lot of people who loiter on public benches in this town. And she chose to yell out words of kindness and support instead of the vitriol or lewdness that many others in her straits have been known to spew. She made me feel as though I was accomplishing something. Which I was. I’ve been away from running for more than 2 years, and getting back into this high-intensity routine is a struggle that’s not nearly as easy as getting back onto a bike.

“Happy Palm Sunday and Happy Easter. God bless you and your family,” she said the last time I passed her. I absolutely hate when complete strangers automatically assume that I’m a practicing Christian or any kind of a God-fearer. But, after our time together, I didn’t mind it so much coming from her - this one-woman cheering section no longer felt like just any stranger. I also thought it was very nice of her to include my non-present family in the benediction.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dull Moments Don't Live Here

At 10:30 yesterday morning, I was sitting in my office throwing back multiple handfuls of Sour Patch Kids as I went through my e-mails. A co-worker knocked on my door and brought in/introduced me to a new staff member. I didn’t say much, what with my near-overflowing mouthful of delicious gummy, tangy candy. I enthusiastically nodded, cornily smiled, and radiated nothing but positivity until they finally left. I then went back to vigorously polishing off my stash. Moments later, right before going out to get coffee, I quickly checked my reflection in the hand-held mirror I keep in my desk drawer to make sure my mouth wasn’t covered with sugar granules. My mouth certainly was covered with the granules. But as I wiped them away, I noticed that something else wasn’t right. I was wearing two different earrings – one was a huge pearl and the other was a tiny silver stud. For two full hours, I had been walking around Upper- and Midtown-Manhattan looking like a joker. Is it time to stop getting ready for work (and doing pretty much everything else) in the dark?

The earrings came off and I went down the street to get coffee. Not even ten minutes after returning, I went to the bathroom and glanced at the full-length mirror on my way out. My cardigan was completely misbuttoned. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an article of clothing misbuttoned like this. And then I looked further up, only to take in how I had broken out into hives on the entire left side of my exposed chest area. I went back to my desk to call someone to talk some trash about all of this. But then came the realization that I had left my cell phone at home – and I no longer know anyone’s number without it.

As organized and capable and responsible as I am, I have a long history with these kinds of silly, rapid-succession-occurring snafus. This kind of stuff actually used to faze me/really stress me out. Everyone else around me always seemed to be blissfully able to get through their days without the constant barrage of annoying bloopers. As recently as a few years ago, a morning like this would have bothered, saddened, or even angered me. Now instead of tearing up, I’m cracking up, genuinely regaled by this shit. This is who I am, this is what I do – and I’m owning it. It’s free, easily-come-by entertainment, and I do believe I’ll step right up and take it. I mean, I don’t know if I would have had anything else to smile and chuckle about before noon yesterday. Dammit, I’m a character. What’s next? How come the clown schools haven’t been knocking on my door? Do they offer financial aid?

Placing it all in proper perspective, mismatched earrings, wardrobe malfunctions, and inexplicable hives are the least of my hardships – seriously, they are. I realized long ago that I’m not someone who was meant to have anything close to a boring life. There are a lot of people who do seem generally destined for and wedded to their simple, humdrum, daily lives. I’m not even a peripheral member of that crowd – and, when I take the time to stop and think about it, I’m not so sure I really want to be.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Kiss Me Once, Don't Kiss Me Twice

In the past month or so, I’ve been greeted by a few too many double-cheek kissers. I have a lot of pet peeves and double-cheek kissing probably falls within my top 50. It’s even worse than being winked at – at least the winking is perpetrated from a respectable distance.

After all these years, I never see the double-cheek kiss coming. I always end up prematurely pulling away, and then the unnecessary awkwardness of that greeting ends up putting a pall over the rest of the session.

Another one of my chief pet peeves is having to deal with posers – people who go out of their way pretending to be something they’re not, all for image and effect. Pseudo sucks. None of my recent overzealous kiss dealers are French or from French-speaking countries, nor have they ever spent more than a combined total of a few weeks on the continent of Europe. They’re not from any other country at all. They’re Americans, as are their parents and spouses. So where is this coming from, and why? If they’ve got to pose as some kind of sophisticates, why can’t they just do so with their close friends, or relatives, or household pets, or bathroom mirrors? I’ve always been a mere acquaintance to these people, and their unwarranted puckering up doesn’t make me want to take the relationship to the next level. In the words of one of my generation’s greatest poets (Eminem): “That type of shit’ll make me not want us to meet each other.” If you want to impress me with how refined and debonair you are, you’re better off presenting me with a really top-shelf bottle of wine or an oversized basket of cinnamon-infused gourmet baked goods.

If you’re that ravingly excited to see me (and most people really shouldn’t be), please just choose a cheek, any cheek. I’ll promise to meet you halfway.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I'm a Reusable Bag Hag!

I was in D.C. last week, and one afternoon I found myself in a Bed, Bath, and Beyond buying a teapot. My total bill was five-cents higher than it was supposed to be because I didn’t bring my own bag that was big enough for my pot.

As of this past January, D.C. retailers charge customers an extra five-cents for a plastic carry-away bag. I don’t know if this tax was motivated by purely environmental concerns or by the recession, and I really don’t care. Whatever the cause was, I applaud the effect that it’s gradually going to spur. There’s too much plastic and paper out there, coupled with too many people who take this world and their place in it for granted. Plastic bags have all kinds of purposes – lining trash cans, picking up your dog’s shit, etc., etc. They’re totally not ready to be phased out. But there are a lot of small ways to minimize the number of these bags that are mass-produced, distributed, and then thrown away. There are too many people who will consistently go into Rite Aid for gum and a bar of soap, and walk out swinging their plastic handles with impunity. It’s not hard to happen upon a reusable canvas bag (or to get more productive use out of the plastic or paper bags that you’ve already collected). I own about 10 canvas bags, and I only paid for one of them. Chain grocery stores (at least in NYC) now offer their own eco-friendly totes for about a dollar each. And these little numbers can easily last a lifetime.

I know that D.C.’s not the only city that’s thought to do something this progressive. But these local efforts are moving too slowly and isolatedly, and we’re on the clock. It’s time for Obama and his people to take things up a notch and federalize this principle – via an executive order, so the congressional Republicans and sell-out Democrats don’t hold this up and ruin everything. There’s now finally so much official talk about how to save the planet and stave off extinction - and here’s just one simple measure. A damnload of people in this country are likely to go apeshit at the idea of a nationalized bag tax (even if it’s just five-cents). Who cares? Let them carry on – it might make a few more people think and argue about something a little deeper than Perez Hilton or Twilight for at least a few minutes of at least one day. An alternative is to pull a Whole Foods and give customers a small discount if they bring in their own bag. But a discount doesn’t go far enough. It’s a straight-up penalty that’s more likely to change behavior and make people more conscious about their own carbon footprints.

I want to have a daughter one day and I’ve started to think about her often. I want her to have the same freedom and space to counter and conquer that I’ve had. I want her to have kids of her own if she so chooses, and then so on. At the rate things are going, there’s not much of a prayer of them getting a fair chance. I’ve got to do my part to protect my progeny. Especially when it’s costing me hardly anything.