Sunday, October 31, 2010

I Live Around the Corner from a Bike Shop

Through a very attenuated grapevine, I heard that someone from my past recently took a solo cross-country bike trip. She averaged about 100 miles a day and kept a blog about the experience. A few nights ago, I read most of her travelogue until the wee hours of the morning, thoroughly enthralled.

I would never stay up past bedtime just to read through the “Older Posts” section of my blog. Here I am, often taking weekly shots at people I barely know, while this fearless adventurer is describing what it’s like to pedal across 4 time zones with not much more than a cell phone and a debit card.

She shacked up with any friends or relatives who lived in towns along her route, and otherwise bunked at a new motel every night. She stayed in close touch with her parents (who are huge right-wingers – I can’t believe they supported something this cool) who helped her book the motels along the way and advised her of which roads to take or avoid.

Since I usually encourage any form of unconventional risk-taking, I spent about 24 hours thinking that maybe this was something I, too, should do before I get too old or tied down. First, I would have to buy a souped-up bicycle and a helmet. Then I would have to soup myself up, to get used to riding a bike for more than a few miles at a stretch. And then there would be the tragedy of having to go on leave from my job for at least a month.

But once I finally caught up on sleep, I remembered the last time I tried using my two legs to cross state lines by myself. When I tried walking from Northern Vermont to the Canadian border (in flip-flops), following what I thought was a clearly-marked trail map, I ended up on the front lawn of a house in a suburban residential neighborhood, much like the one I grew up in.

The blog postings about my own coast-to-coast bike romp would be heartbreaking. They would be all about losing my phone somewhere in Montana or getting dysfunctionally dehydrated on a dirt road in Durango, Colorado. I would have my first asthma attack in years and/or be bitten by a snake. All of the stories I’d get out of the experience would be at my extreme emotional and financial expense, and this is not a cause worth sacrificing myself for.

I dare not cycle cross-country – or cross-town – without a crisis-management-certified chaperone in close tow.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Congratulations-ish

This past week, I learned (via e-mail) that I’ve been awarded an Honorable Mention in a humor writing competition – and it was for the April 12, 2010 blog posting about my super, entitled Pandemics, Pigs, and Peasants. Although I was sent a “free, easy-to use publicity kit” that will allow me to “announce [my] achievement to [my] favorite news and entertainment media,” I didn’t win any money, and it looks like there were at least 22 people ahead of me – so I’ve essentially come in 23rd place. I just finished reading several of the higher-ranked essays, all of which I found about as humorous as how it felt to 3rd-degree burn my foot last year. And the judges thought every single one of those people was funnier than me.

For all I know, some kind of honorary acknowledgment label was bestowed upon every entrant. It’s probably just like the horseback riding camp I went to as a teenager where, at the end of the two weeks, each camper was presented with an (unlaminated) certificate that had a different arbitrary superlative scribbled onto it in barely-legible cursive handwriting – “Best Curry-Comb Groomer,” “Quickest Dismounter,” “Least Likely to Get Thrown.” My best friend walked away with the “Best Bather” award.

Nevertheless, an honorable mention is a welcome change of pace from all of the dishonorable ones I’ve managed to rack up over the course of my checkered past. You don’t hear enough about honor these days.

Most importantly, this online humor website has now (for a limited time only) published something of mine - to the left of a blue, “Honorable Mention” cyber-ribbon - so I can add this clip to my published writing portfolio (I think). Most creative writers spend years pulling 3-sentence rejection letters out of the mailbox, so I’ll take all the congratulations and atta-girls I can get – even the bullshit ones. Bullshit and I are old, dear friends who will grow old together.

I would like to honorably mention that I won’t let this tribute go to waste. This Awards Committee has created a monster - I’m taking my new publicity kit and running with it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who Needs a JPEG?

I just had to send someone an electronic picture of me that will be used on a promotional flyer. I wasn’t able to deliver as quickly as most people might have been, as I still don’t own a digital camera and have never used the picture-taking feature on my (non-BlackBerry) cell phone. All of the digital photos I have are ones that people have e-mailed me from past get-togethers, and I had to go through a staggering number of them to find a few mugs that weren’t too silly or scandalous.

Believe it or not, after all of this, I’m now even less inclined to join the tech-savvy masses anytime soon. What do I want a digital camera for when nearly everyone I know has one? I don’t have kids or pets of my own to feverishly document. These e-albums from the parties, weddings, dinners, and reunions of yore are all I need, and I’m assuming there’ll be more to come. I had forgotten how many treasurable memories are in these e-mail–folder archives. I even found a candid shot of me from someone’s engagement party years ago that looks like it could come close to passing for a headshot. Since I was also thinner back then, this is one of the jpegs I’m now going to be peddling out for whoever wants a piece. As far as I’m concerned, it’s good enough for a future book jacket (or a memorial service program).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Qué?

On my last day of vacation, the day before yesterday, I sat on a ledge overlooking San Juan, Puerto Rico’s Condado Beach, with the intent of deepening my tan before heading to the airport. The sun didn’t come out that morning, but an overzealous tourist did. She slowly walked down the makeshift boardwalk toward me, having to use both of her hands to carry a paparazzi-style camera. I tried ignoring her, but she would have none of it. After snapping some photos of waves lapping against a bed of rocks, she sidled up to me and asked if I was meditating. In addition to that outrageous camera (and leading off with a question like that), she had a thick Southern accent and was dolled up in cabana wear. I knew I was stuck with a real talker.

After telling me all about the flight she had just taken from Charlotte (by way of Miami), she revealed that she was looking for fun things to do in the San Juan area. She asked if I lived there and could give her some recommendations.

I had been getting this all week, from all fronts. I’ve always been mistaken for Hispanic, but never to this extent. Everyone thought I was a native Puerto Rican or at least a native of some other, nearby Spanish-speaking island, including the joker who made himself comfortable at my sidewalk-café table one afternoon. Once I finally convinced him that I really don’t speak Spanish and am not one of his neighbors, he reluctantly switched to all broken English. At first, I thought he was offering to buy me a beer. But, instead, he was explaining why he thought I should buy him a beer.

Day after day, night after night, the tourists asked me for detailed walking directions and bus-route information. The locals thought I was one of theirs, and many of them cornered me to complain about the tourists, and to air other grievances that I couldn't decode. I’ve never wished I knew Spanish more in my life – I could tell by some of these people’s confessional tones, facial expressions, and emotionally-rendered gesticulations that they were giving me the down-low about something juicy, or at least hilarious, and I would have loved nothing more than to have actively taken part in the snarky griping.

In total, I know about 11 words of Spanish, almost all of which I learned from Maria and Luis on Sesame Street. All 11 of them came in handy on the streets of San Juan, and it became thrilling to utter them. I’ve been back in New York for about 48 hours, but not in spirit. At Starbucks this morning, I said gracias to the cashier who handed me my change. She loved it. Minutes later, I buenos dias’ed someone who smiled at me on the street. And she buenos dias’ed me right back. Why shouldn’t she have? It’s a beautiful language – so much better than English. I look forward to touching down in the Dominican Republic, and eventually Cuba (without having to go through a “3rd country”), in the near future, so now’s the time to start expanding my repertoire. At the very least, I need to be able to tell a few off-color jokes in Spanish by the time I pack for Santo Domingo.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

So Much Talking, So Little Walking

Yesterday morning I participated in a Health & Peace Walk in and around one of my neighborhood parks. October 2nd is Gandhi’s (and my brother’s) birthday, as well as the International Day of Non-Violence. I had a night of what was sure to be heavy eating and drinking ahead of me, thus it was in my best interests to get as much exercise as I could beforehand.

The event (tardily) kicked off with speeches from random local leaders of color. The formal, “non-competitive” walk itself couldn’t have been more than a mile, and it was excruciatingly slow-paced. I suppose it was physically healthier than sleeping in until noon or sprawling out on my couch drinking coffee and Googling people all morning, but this wasn’t my idea of exercise. I was at the head of the pack, desperately wanting to surge past the small cluster of people in front of me - but they were the crusade’s organizers and at least one foreign dignitary. I knew not to get mixed up with the politics of overtaking them.

At the end of the stroll, we all reconvened to sit in the middle of the park for a hella-nightmarish meditation session, led by a representative from the Art of Living Foundation. It went on forever, and if it hadn’t been Gandhi’s birthday, I might have snuck away and walked (this time, blissfully briskly) back home while everyone’s eyes were closed.

While my own eyes were closed, I kept hearing footsteps crunching around me on the weedy, ill-landscaped grass. I couldn’t tell if this was just an officious apprentice of our maharishi or someone trying to steal my wallet. When I opened one eye, I spied two men skulking around with professional video cameras (the same videographers who fiendishly documented the "walk" earlier in the day).

“As you breathe deeply, be mindful of your surroundings,” the Art of Living lady slowly murmured into her microphone. “Put your hands on your lap and be aware of your left arm, and your right arm, and listen to all the sounds and noises you hear.” At the time, the near-distant sounds and noises ranged from: “You son of a bitch, I said gimmee my money!” and “My nigga, don’t play me like that!” to horns honking and tires screeching. I didn’t want to be mindful of my surroundings, I wanted to find a way to successfully block them out. This drill was only reminding me where I was.

“Peacefulness is contagious,” we were later spiritually advised. “People are more likely to find themselves at peace when they’re in the presence of other peaceful people.” True that.

Peace or no peace, I like a good cardiovascular work-out. If I ever organize a group walk, it’s going to be a competitive one. It will start right on time, the complimentary Gatorade will not be lukewarm, and (most importantly) the locomotion will not be televised.