Monday, February 24, 2014

Time for Another English Breakfast?

I’ve only ever stayed in one bed-and-breakfast, and hadn’t known (going into it) breakfast would be served at a communal table. I thought a door in my room that I unlocked and forced open was for a closet, but it turned out to be the door to someone else’s room. It was like crashing in the upstairs spare bedroom of your aunt’s house in the woods (with scents of sausage and baked goods seeping into every crevice of the premises), except I wasn’t at my aunt’s house, I was in the crowded home of a complete stranger, fantasizing about the Holiday Inn.

I sometimes believe in second chances, thus haven’t written bed-and-breakfasts off for good. A friend of an acquaintance runs one called Two Rose Cottages, about an hour away from London. Everything I hear and read about it sounds (as many English people would say) “splendid,” and I would love to spend a night there the next time I’m in the area.

When I was 19, I studied abroad in England, had a blast, and haven’t been back since. I was there very briefly and had such a magical time, so long ago, it all seems like a dream (a friend who I went with remembers it in a similarly happy haze) until I look through dusty old photo albums and see page upon page of proof that it really happened. It wouldn’t be hard to get myself back there this year. I considered going last year, and maybe a couple of years before that, always voting against it in the end.

I used to know someone who adored her undergraduate university to the point where she chose not to stay for grad school because she figured her life as a grad student would be heavier, and didn’t want to create any non-idyllic associations with that school. The more I’ve thought about it (the tweets I get from this English bed-and-breakfast have triggered the thinking), I suppose I understand what she means.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mirage, Mirage, On the Wall

Ten minutes into a little antiquing trip upstate this weekend, I was ready to break for lunch. BORING. I would rather fly down a toboggan run without a toboggan - but still plan to become a booming antiques merchant myself before hitting 50. The easiest dough I’ll ever pull in.

One item I might eventually put up for sale is an oil painting I found 11 blocks away from me and carted home 2 weeks ago. As soon as it came into my line of vision, I realized it was made for the wall above my kitchen table.

After the hanging, I learned that you’re not supposed to place oil paintings in kitchens or bathrooms because of the smoke and steam – and that I should move it. But I had reservations about transferring a portrait of wine bottles to the available space above my bed, so I let it hang tight.

While re-admiring the painting the other morning, I noticed the damage – a splotch (after 2 weeks in a ventilated area which isn’t that close to the stove) on one bottle’s label. 

If you tweak your perspective, the splotch actually looks like a red-wine-spill stain the painter deliberately integrated into the scene, with the moral of the mark being that the more red wine bottles you line up, the greater the odds of things getting messy. When I surveyed the entire painting yet again, it seemed like 2 additional, lighter-color splotches were in the process of forming elsewhere.

Now, I’ve zoomed in on a photo of the painting I texted to someone immediately after hanging it – and see that all the splotches have been there all along. I inspected the canvas before buying and after hanging, reveling in how pristine it appeared. And it never was. A phenomenon I’ve experienced many times before, with people, experiences, relationships, etc.   

Monday, February 10, 2014

Licorice-Free, Minus the Brief Relapses, For Years

In the hours leading up to the last snowstorm, someone ended an email to me with hopes that I was cozily hunkered down with Twizzlers and wine. I had 95% forgotten that my past includes a Twizzlers habit, and a heaping handful of the shiny red strands would have paired so nicely with the cabernet I sipped at the time. Another thoughtful person brought me a small pack of them a week later and, as divine as they were, this craving has concluded until further notice.

I’ve been described as someone who doesn’t have an addictive personality, even though, like plenty of under-experienced others, I once used the term “addicted” very loosely, prattling on about my “addiction” to caffeine, to sushi, to 2 boiled eggs every morning, to a few more things that needn’t get mentioned online. Much like “hatred,” “addiction” is a strong, overused word choice. Bona fide addiction is scary and a real bitch to reverse. By now, I often know it when I see it, and the sense of helplessness that comes with seeing it makes me envy the people who could be described as terrifically oblivious.

Until a few years ago, I still labeled myself (I’m less without it, it’s the MVP of my day) a coffee addict. But yesterday was the second time I’ve had coffee in about a month, and I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything. This isn’t the first intermission I’ve taken from coffee, and when I do chug it I rarely have more than 2 cups a day. I’ve gone weeks without eggs. I’ve gone months without booze. I probably quit artificially-sweetened soft drinks when I kicked the Twizzlers. Many of us aren’t nearly as dependent on what we’ve tricked ourselves into thinking we’re at the mercy of. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Sort of Convos I’ll Continue to Have in Bakeries

It’s college admissions season, all over again. For years, I have interviewed local high school seniors who apply to my alma mater, and tell the admissions officers what I think of them.

I recently clicked open a PowerPoint presentation, put together for the latest interviewing cycle, which provided a battery of guidelines the interviewers are supposed to follow. (Are supposed to have been following? Are supposed to follow, moving forward? ) Several startled me.

Contact the student by phone or email, but try calling the student first. No thanks. I email first, and only use the phone if the kid hasn’t written back after about 4 days. Email is the most efficient way to nail down a date and the details. Back when I did always dial, we played too much phone tag. The sole advantage involved with calling came when the family’s landline was the only number I had, the kid’s parent picked up, and I got to overhear the background commotion.

“Hello, is Alexis there?”

“Just a minute. Lexi – phone!”

[Super-long pause.]


[Lexi enters the room, bad attitude in tow, and loudly whispers with her mom.]

Jesus, Lexi, what takes you so long? Hurry up. Get the phone.”

“Who is it? Stop yelling at me. Leave me alone.”

“How should I know? And no one’s yelling. She sounds your age but like she’s someone important – she asked for Alexis."

Remind the students to give your contact information to their parents, so the parents will know who their child is meeting. What am I, a family-dynamics facilitator? Without having ever really thought about it, I guess I’ve assumed these kids tell their parents they’re heading out for a college interview in the backroom of a bakery, and that they’ll have their phones on them. If they don’t have this kind of relationship with their parents, it ain’t a bit of my business. 

Don’t meet in your home or the student’s home. No problem there, that’s the last thing I want. But when I was the high-schooler getting interviewed, my interviewer had me come to his apartment. My dad drove me there and waited in the car the whole time, directly below the apartment’s main window, in case the interviewer turned out to be a sexual predator. The interviewer was wonderful and so was his girlfriend (who brought me either a snack or a can of Diet Coke). I occasionally wonder how and where they are today.

If you meet in an eatery, tell the students you are not allowed to buy anything for them. If they want food or a beverage, they must buy it themselves. Now we’ve reached the prohibition I have the biggest problem with. I would go to jail before following a rule like this. A busy, nervous 17-year-old has just hauled her ass (to my preferred location) all the way down from the Bronx, dealing with weekend subway service, and I can’t treat her to a cup of cocoa? I’m her elder. In the social culture I come from, the elders pay the youngers’ way in venues like bakeries, especially if it’s a one-time deal. Thing is, many of the kids I get won’t even splurge for the cocoa. They’ll stick with a little container of juice they won’t touch during the interview itself.

Don’t spend a lot of time reminiscing about your own college experience. Uh-oh.

Don’t take notes during the interview. This interview should be relaxed, and students might feel pressured if you’re writing while they’re speaking. Take notes after the interview, and be specific so you can provide detailed info in your evaluation. I can’t promise great specifics if I’m barred from taking notes while the action’s still happening. My kids actually seem less nervous when I’m note-taking, or pretending to be, than when I’m not, particularly while they’re in the early stages of formulating thoughtful responses. Afterwards, more than a couple have said it’s the coolest college interview they’ve had because it was so chill, that it felt like a conversation with a friend. That’s how I want to live in their memories.