Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween on the Eastern Seaboard, 2012

Monday morning, I felt like pancakes. As I whipped up the batter, I felt something warm and smelled something funny. It’s that damn hurricane, I thought, turning around to look out the window. It’s coming for me already and it’s not even supposed to hit till primetime. When I turned back and saw the smoke billowing above and beyond the bowl, the truth didn’t set me free – it hurt my hand. I was holding a Category 3 electric mixer.

That hurricane, the real one, later did a number on the lower end of Manhattan. I live on the upper end.
When the storm picked up speed, with the sounds of sirens in the distance, my lights kept flickering but they never went out. I was positive the wind gusts and heavy objects slamming against my rental-property windows would break them. Today, those windows seem stronger than they’d been the day before the surge. 
I know how it feels to struggle through acute hardship while you’re surrounded by people whose lives haven’t been upended by the misfortune that’s struck you. It’s a strange feeling to be surrounded by others’ acute hardship when you’re one of the people who’s been spared.

I’m not viewing photos and videos of a disaster zone in a land far, far away. My downtown (neighborhoods I’ve grown to love) has been drowned and darkened, while I’ve been staycationing uptown, baking loaves of banana bread and booking holiday-travel flights.

I didn’t live in NYC on 9/11. Although these are obviously two profoundly different types of tragedies, I now have a slightly better understanding of the emotional toll that first one took on the locals and the energy that ensued. If anyone most engagingly represents this strain of energy, it’s the trick-or-treaters – the ones dressed as heroines, the ones dressed as villains - I ran into outside tonight. The exuberance of their masses is as critical as it is contagious.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Runner’s Block: New Hope for a Cure?

Unless it’s heavily raining, heavily humid, or I’ve heavily overslept, I walk to work. It’s the most relaxing hour of my atypical weekday.

Ninety percent of the joy-walk takes me through the western half of Central Park, past swarms of high-intensity cardio buffs training for road races or optimal health. Some walk at a maniacal pace, some jog, some sprint; with others, only they know what they’re up to.

I was once a legitimate runner. Running had been a hobby with healing powers. I still hope to run a half-marathon before I die: you read it here first. (Or a third of a marathon.)

I suppose that means I should start moving faster sometime soon.

First, I must physically and psychologically ready myself for the easing-back-into-it process. I’m presently in pre-training mode, which primarily consists of: drinking cold water; loading up on carbs; upping my daily caffeine intake to lock in that extra edge; window-shopping for new running shoes and sports bras that are as pink as possible; and supportively smiling at the high-intensity cardio buffs in the park.

Regularly coming within torch-passing distance of these park-based athletes is doing something to me. The constant close-range sight of them is more stimulating than the caffeine.

I’m particularly affected by the second-shift runners. That used to be my fly time, when I ran like I owned the park.

Every time I pass a beaming young woman flying up a hill along the 6-mile loop at 7 or 8 p.m., I’m brought back to the giddiness that came with flying up that same hill in the cold early evening air, after the sun went down and the moon lit up, and it was just open road without the swarms.

Now I call upon that lit-up moon as my witness - my second shift shall rise again.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Massaging Out the Kinks of a Calling

“I don’t want to be doing this. I really wish my parents encouraged me to do something different, something more interesting,” she (an intellectually and professionally under-fulfilled yuppie) said, her voice trembling with indignation.

“Like what?” I asked, knowing exactly where this was going. I’m familiar with the song. The line-by-line lyrics change with each soloist, but the tune stays the same.

“I don’t know. Like massage therapy, for example.”

She, who’s so not masseuse material, pulled that one straight out of nowhere – that’s why I belly-laughed. I’d have an easier time with the visual if her handshake were firmer.

(I’ve also met and know a fair amount about her doting parents, who paid her way through school.)

It’s one thing to be an able-bodied, well-educated adult who hasn’t figured out your calling. It’s another to expect your parents to have figured it out for you.

Most involved parents do what they can to cultivate the interests and talents of their still-in-the-nest kids. But it’s not the parents’ job to pinpoint and stage-manage something as deeply personal as another human being’s passion. If a kid has been raised with enough self-awareness, confidence, and competence to hear and answer the calling whenever it comes, the fulfillment will follow.

The coolest intellectually and professionally fulfilled adults I’ve known fall into two categories: (1) they’re doing something their involved parent(s) originally tried steering them away from; or (2) they never had an involved parent and don’t allow that background to get in the way of their foreground.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

I’ve Been Writing on the Railroad

Years ago, my H.R. manager and I rode a nearly empty express train from New York to D.C. We laughed and storytold until the 3-piece suit across the aisle called us out, on his way out. “You ladies are very rude, this is the Quiet Car,” he scolded, with his most convincing headmaster pose and tone (plus the outfit), before slipping through a door that led to a platform in Philadelphia. It was the first time I’d been awakened to the possibility of permitting passengers to sit, surrounded by silence. No small talk, no big talk, no listening to music from the earbuds of others.  

“Hey buddy, I’m on the other side of the world right now. Nice foliage.”
That was one of the first outdoor-voice declarations coming from the seat behind me in an Amtrak car a few days ago. I don’t board Amtrak often and usually end up having to run for whatever window seat I can get, wherever it is.  
“I asked him to stay somewhat sober today and he said he would. But I know he’ll be a wreck when he picks me up from the train station.”
He spent hours calling everyone he knew, some of them more than once.
“I’m going to Syria next week to take care of some bad guys. Semper Fi.”
It was at this point, the Semper Fi, that I set down my book, pulled out a notepad, and started taking dictation. He’d already covered machine-gun manufacturing, kiboshes, and horse farms. Shame on me if I missed another word.
 “I can’t get ESPN, can’t get the scores of my games, don’t know if Buffalo’s doing anything. I’m just lost, and I’m not used to being lost on a Sunday.”
We need more Quiet Cars - on the rails, off the rails. Unexpressed thoughts are becoming an endangered species.  
I took a break in the café car. As I stepped closer to the counter, I recognized the cashier from my last Amtrak café car, 3 months earlier. I stayed quiet, no small talk, no big talk – a remembrance of café cars past would unnerve him. I placed my order.
“That’s what you got the last time you rode this train,” he said without a smile.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What’s Most Fitting

After several years of outgrowing nearly everything that hangs in my main closet, the lion’s share of my current wardrobe is now outgrowing me. I’ve gone from wasting precious time wading through the forest of natural and synthetic fibers asking, “Are these pants too tight to wear to work?” to wondering, “Are these jeans too baggy to wear to the Ding Dong Lounge?” It’s a problem I’ve waited for since early 2009. 

I can finally fit back into my best business suit, which isn’t actually mine. It won’t ever feel like mine. The charitable but oppressively high-strung maid of honor in a wedding I once bridesmaided my way through loaned it to me while I was in the thick of interviewing for mid-level day jobs and in dire need of a form-fitting power suit - powerful enough to help take the hiring committees’ minds off of the capricious tenor of my résumé. The maid of honor lived up the avenue from me and owned more chic suits than anyone I knew. We wore the same size and the whole thing had been one of her overzealous ideas. When we last ran into each other, I reminded her that I still have what’s hers. She said to consider it a gift to me from her. Will do. For some reason, I was invited to her own wedding a year after the wedding we served in; for some reason, I went . . . to the wedding, the bridal shower, the engagement party - let’s just say, in the gift-giving department, we’re even. 

There are a number of people from my past who still have things that belong to me. It’d be nice to get them back (the belongings, not the people), but I don’t have the inclination to initiate a conversation with them (the people, not the belongings), much less a custody battle. Even the outspoken types can turn into non-confrontational types when it comes to matters that don’t seem to matter much once all or nothing is said and done.