Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Parking It

I idle away as many summer afternoons as possible in the park across the street from where I live, basking in the shade and keeping my ears open for the ice cream truck. Since those park benches are too hard on my ass, I (long ago) upgraded to a portable lounging chair.

Everyone who waltzes by wants this chair – bad. But instead of enviously ogling it, they’d be better off strolling into their preferred Rite Aid location and handing over the $10 it takes to secure their own sweet seat (which needn’t be limited to outdoor use).

I went out for a portable lounge a few afternoons ago, setting up my canvas throne on a weedy knoll, underneath a tree. When I reached into one of the chair’s mesh cup holders to take a sip of cold water, I cussed myself out for not having had the foresight to fill another temperature-controlled water bottle with chardonnay. This was chilled-white-wine weather if there ever was any. These thoughts were interrupted by a rustling in the wooded area behind me. A young man wearing an American flag as a strapless dress aimlessly tore through the brush, maniacally splitting the narrow trunks of still-growing trees in half with his bare hands.

In the memoir essay I was reading at the time, Chelsea Handler recounted an unconventional incident at a London restaurant and wondered how she got herself into one bizarre scenario after another. Every now and then I ask myself the same question, even when the out-of-the-ordinary situation is as minor as an extremely unexpected close encounter with a patriotic, cross-dressing tree-mugger. I don’t know how she ends up falling into her shitpits, but I’m now starting to understand the anatomy of how I swan dive into some of mine. I set up the chair in one of the more seemingly private sections of the park, in keeping with my usual strategy of going out of my way to avoid crowds or main drags or formally organized hoopla. And it’s these off-the-well-beaten-path patches that are more likely to breed the silly scenes. The fewer the people, the fewer the inhibitions, the funnier the follies.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Schadenfreuder Central

I’ve seen the word “schadenfreude” in books, magazines, and newspapers since at least junior high (which they’re now calling middle school?). As good of a memory as I’ve always had, whenever I used to look this term up I would soon forget what it meant. It might have been hard to retain because the concept was once so foreign and incomprehensible.

While walking uptown tonight, I suddenly heard the sound of screeching tires, followed by a thud. A car up ahead got mildly rear-ended. (I was mixed up in a similar fender-bender coming out of a parking lot after a Backstreet Boys concert in the spring of 2000. Our biggest concern was how to make all of the open containers disappear before any cops came poking around.)

When I first heard the thud and neared the scene, I dreaded what I was about to see and hoped it was nothing serious. I thought back to how scared and embarrassed I was when I once crashed a car – and this had been in my own driveway, not on a major thoroughfare.

There were 3 people in front of me at the time of tonight’s thud. Two of them jumped off their benches and ran closer to the curb to get a better look; the other one glided out of his parked car while talking into a cell phone – all of their eyes lit up, and their mouths curled into quarter-smiles. They were visibly disappointed when everything ended so quickly and civilly.

The last vehicular accident I walked past, farther downtown, involved a car hitting a biker. I still remember the entertained expression on the face of the man who ran out of a store, pushing through all of the onlookers and cell-phone-camera flashes, yelling: “Damn, this guy just got fucked up!”

“Schadenfreude” can always be found in a dictionary, but it can be hard to find in a traditional thesaurus. How do you sum up an instinct like this in one word?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My Favorite Favor

Toward the end of a wedding reception in North Carolina this past weekend, the shuttle bus going back to the hotel was ready to leave sooner than I was. I madly grabbed everything around my place at the table - purse, phone, program from the ceremony. About 5 minutes after we hit the road, I realized two things: (1) I forgot to pick up one of the attractively-boxed wedding-favor cupcakes; and (2) my cloth dinner-table napkin was still in my hand.

I’m someone who needs alot of napkins. They’re like band-aids or tubes of Neosporin – I can never have enough. This is the most useful wedding favor I’ve landed to date. I just used it as a bib while eating a bowl of noodles and catching up on the semi-tawdry reality TV programming I missed while I was away.

My apartment’s first piece of fine-dining linen has already classed up the crib. During the unpacking process, I folded it up into a plush bed for the assortment of matchbooks I’ve collected from lounges and restaurants over the years. And now it’s spread across my lap to protect my eyes from all the mosquito-bite marks that still dot my bare knees.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Great Outdoors

My arms are still sore from kayaking earlier this week – but not from the paddle-steering. Immediately upon returning to shore, New Hampshire’s most ferocious mosquitoes swarmed out to greet us. We were harmed and unarmed (aside from the paddles) and they’ve transformed my arms, hands, legs, and ankles into ravaged regions. One of them took a bite out of my bosom.

Yesterday morning when I took my friend’s new bike out for a spin around her neighborhood, I half-fell off while trying to negotiate a high-speed turn. My spanking-new black-and-blue mark lies atop a patch of mid-leg bug bites from the previous day’s ambush. It looks like an amateur body-art project.

Last night at the Brandi Carlile/Ray LaMontagne concert on the Boston waterfront, Ray’s set was delayed as all 5,000 of us stood under a tent to wait out a thunder-and-lightning storm. Good thing I was able to dash back from the concession stand with my Heineken before the worst of it hit. When I took my last sip, as some of the rain splashing into the tent landed on my phone while I texted and the sounds of all the shrieking swelled, the skin on my left wrist started to itch again. When I looked down to go in for the scratch, I was transfixed - the bite marks on that hand had all come together to form a rash shaped like the state of New Jersey.