Archive for June, 2011

About as ghetto as it gets

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

I like to save a buck.

Great Wall Chinatown NYC

Outside the 'bus terminal': taken about the time I started to realize what I'd gotten myself into.

This is a nice way of saying that – about certain things – I am as cheap as they come. Over the years I have evolved my own personal sense of where it is okay to scrimp and where it is very, very stupid.

Okay:

  • Travel
  • Hotel stays of two days or less
  • Fast food (meaning: it’s all crap, so just order from the Dollar Menu)
  • Nail polish
  • Tank tops

 

Very, very stupid

  • Haircuts
  • Eyeglasses
  • Electronics
  • Dental work
  • Toilet paper

 

Great Wall Chinatown to York bus

The Great Wall bus is unmarked, of course, but you can probably smell it coming.

Thus, it goes without saying, I’m willing to endure a red eye or a long connection or even an airline I slightly hate (Southwest, anyone?) if it means I’ll save a hundred dollars or more. The way I rationalize it, the haircut is on my head every day for months¸ it better not look like a monkey did it. The flight or other travel inconvenience is just a few hours out of my life: I’ll suck it up.

Mostly I stand by this theory and will assert its wisdom.

Mostly.

Except for now.

<<< To explain, this post was written in large part on the Great Wall bus: super-ghetto, semi-direct transportation from Chinatown in New York City to York, PA (the nearest stop to my father’s home). I think I anticipated that it would compare with the unpleasant but otherwise unremarkable Megabus or GoBus. I was wrong. >>>

I chose Great Wall over my other lame bargain options because it was $25 (a $12.00 savings!!!), but what I didn’t realize was that I would be the only round eye on board. I also didn’t realize they would be airing loud Chinese movies overhead (no headphones required or, unfortunately, enforced) or that the whole place would smell like kim chee.

 

Custard Apple

The Cherimoya or Custard Apple, native to the Andean-highland valleys of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. I had some in Hawaii once. It was nice.

On the upside, my role as token white person has garnered me a seat to myself: the only empty chair on the whole bus, as near as I can tell.

I don’t know why, but the circumstances surprised me. For starters, I grew up in South-central Pennsylvania, and I honestly didn’t realize there were so many Chinese people there. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I just mean to say that I might have guessed the entire town of York, PA had about 60 Chinese people, not that there were that many bussing in nightly. Good news, however, for those seeking Hami melon, cherimoyas, and bok choy: each person seemed to be toting six to eight bags’ worth apiece. (Thus, I imagine, the smell.)

Similarly, I didn’t realize transportation was so segregated. The rest of my maneuvers during my east coast jaunt has been facilitated by the spotty outfit known as Megabus: sometimes awful, sometimes perfectly great. Megabus sports a lively mix of white, black, Asian, Middle Eastern, and possibly non-human customers. There are accents aplenty and every hairdo from dread locks to skinhead. The bus driver will tear you a new one if your music is audible via your headphones, and they don’t cotton to loud cell phone conversations, either.

Chinese melon

There seemed to be several of these on board.

On Great Wall, anything goes. The driver started laughing when I got on, and couldn’t control his giggling when he came back to check all of our tickets. I had bought mine online – the only person to do so, of course – and their method of issuing me a paper ‘ticket’ was to take a photocopy of my driver’s license and have me sign it.

“A special memento to remember me by,” I told him, handing him the paper. “An autographed picture of me.”

“Special picture!” he agreed, nodding enthusiastically and giggling like a twelve year old girl. I’m not sure if he was laughing with me or laughing at me, but I suspect the latter.

Or maybe he just sensed that I had a full bladder and was pre-predicting my internal horror at the bathroom situation. Let’s pause and talk about that for a moment, shall we?

 

Great Wall bus plays Chinese movies

From my seat, en route to York.

1. You have to pee, so you make your way to the back of a wobbling vehicle rapidly changing lanes at 80 mph.

2. As you approach the bathroom door, you note that opening it involves sticking your hand into a splinter-ridden hole seemingly carved by a beaver.

3. Normal efforts are woefully insufficient: getting into this bathroom will require yanking, pulling, and tugging with every muscle fiber in your body.

4. Bus toilets – much like train and boat toilets – are neither fancy nor spacious. However, most of them at least catch the waste in receptacle. From the light shining up from below, you’re pretty sure that when nature calls on a Great Wall bus, there may be splash back…from the street.

5. There is no toilet paper, but shouldn’t you have presumed as much?

6. You didn’t really expect a door you opened by sticking your hand into a hole to have a lock on it, did you????

6. Apologies to those on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If you foolishly drank a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shortly before boarding the bus, you may or may not have showered the windshields of several dozen cars with pee. It’s not your fault, really, but it’s still a little more third world than how you typically (like to think you) roll.

 

Dr. Bombay

Apropos of nothing, my friend's cat, Dr. Bombay, sitting at the kitchen table.

I’m not sure I’ll be rushing to avail myself of a second Great Wall journey, but there is one thing I like about my new Chinese travel companions, and that is – by comparison – I am Pamela Anderson. While in the area (the bus picks you up just off of Canal Street, because that’s the kind of classy I’m all about), I decided to get an I heart NY tank top. Tee shirts are plentiful, but tanks are strangely hard to come by. I finally found one in the back of a creepy little shop, and the female store owner was tailing me like a five-foot tall Hispanic man in Washington D.C.

“This!” she announced shrilly. “This tank top. This fit you.”

“But it’s extra large,” I responded. I wear a medium or maybe a small in ‘ladies’-sized brands. Extra large is, well, extra large.

“No. This fit you. Boobs too big.”

“What?”

“Boobs too big,” she repeated, pointing at my acceptable but hardly DD chest. “This fit you, Big Boobs.”

And with salesmanship like that, how could I resist? So sure, the bus may stink like rotting garbage and my ears may be ringing from the sound of young Chinese women shrieking grievously on the super loud TV above my head, but my boobs are (comparatively) huge, my bladder is empty, and I have a seat to myself. What more could a lone white lady on a cheap ass Chinatown bus want?

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You know you want it

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Apologies: the WAiW birthday party lasted several days and was rather out of control, and then there was the concussion and relatively brief hospital stay. Obviously, the coma rendered me unable to fulfill my duties and keep you posted. Rest assured, I’ve regained consciousness and partial use of my hands and am back on the job.

zombies!

Maybe 2012 isn't about the Mayans at all: maybe it's about a zombie uprising based in D.C.?

Meanwhile, mark my words: if there’s ever going to be a zombie uprising, it’s going to get started in Washington D.C. I can’t quite put my finger on it (tainted water? Freaky gamma rays? Inbreeding?) but there’s something wrong with the men there. I don’t know what it is, exactly. I can only define the symptoms:

  • Outrageous, out of control catcalling impulses
  • Hype- intimidating behavior aimed at unassuming (and, unfortunately, unarmed) women
  • Outbursts of racism and homophobia
  • Repeated bellowing of semi-meaningless come-ons like “Bad ass sandals!” (although they are pretty bad ass)

All in all, the net effect is that DC freaks me out. It does. My oldest and dearest friend lives there, and I visit her every year or two. I’ve never been a big fan of the place, but I always managed to find the humor in it all: how often does a homeless black midget hit on you, calling “You know you want it! Thankfully, never.  Well, except that one time in D.C. (And, in case by some amazing happenstance of destiny and chance he is reading this: no. I really do not want it.)

So anyway, this last trip was particularly harrowing. Me and my friend were walking home on a Friday night. We had already endured three of the four above symptoms, and I, for one, had had enough. Having lived there for twelve years, you can imagine she’s had enough – and then some.

Skull with hat

One of the images you get when you Google "short Mexican." I rather like it....

So we were headed up 16th toward her place when a five foot tall man (the disorder may also be stunting their growth?) of likely Hispanic – possibly Mexican, but more likely El Salvadorian – origin comes up on us fast. He doesn’t say anything, but gets decidedly into what is commonly known as ‘personal space’.  We took turns whipping around and looking at him with a mix of alarm and ferocity. In response, he would run behind the other one.

After a few minutes of this (and a heated, but hushed discussion between us during which we agreed we could probably kill him with our bare hands and her house keys if it absolutely came down to it), she whips around and bellows “ARE YOU FOLLOWING US!?” In response, he quickly sat on the stoop along the sidewalk and made loud kissing noises for about thirty seconds. Then, and perhaps not surprisingly, he continued his hot pursuit.

Now one thing I love about my friend is her dogged rage at sexual harassment. I have honestly never known a person to get so righteously furious so fast, and yet somehow keep it PG. Basically, imagine someone chewing out a dog for humping their leg, and you’re pretty much exactly in the sweet spot of her diatribes.

Case in point, this cat and mouse/ angry woman and kissy face weirdo thing went on for several more minutes. As we started up the walk to her place, she turned to face our pursuer a final time. Shaking a finger at him, her parting warning to him were more or less what you would expect one to say to a wayward mongrel.

“No!”

“Go home!”

“ Leave!”

“I said NO!!!”

“Get out of here! Go! Shoo!”

Whether or not he got the message or not is unknown as we ran inside and bolted the door, and I’ve been too afraid to check the “Missed Connections” section of the local paper. As another friend suggested, there may very well be an ad in there for “Five foot nothing seeks five foot eight. You told me to go home, and I know that means you want it…”

 

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To this day I swear it was nice

Monday, June 6th, 2011

Let’s see how this all shakes out.

At the moment, my brain is in the grips of a non-linear yet somehow-hopefully-all-ultimately-pulled-together free association involving the following topics:

  • suicide
  • the blog’s three-year anniversary (today)
  • past lives
  • eggplant parmagiana (probable dinner)
  • climbing over the ‘no roof access’ sign to sunbathe on the roof (current location)
  • Vic Chestnutt
  • art
  • the meaning of life

 

Buckle up, darlings. Here we go:

Happy Birthday, WAiW:  I started you three years ago today on the most absurd of premises. You’re old enough now. It’s time we talk about the story of your conception…unless I’ve already told you. In that case, fake interest and nod occasionally: your mama hates it when people don’t listen. So anyway, I was in a hotel room in Salt Lake City, Utah, deeply disaffected but unsure how to address it. CNN was playing in the background, and a story came on about the lady who writes dooce.com – which was apparently a ‘blog,’ whatever that was – and how she got a book deal and I thought: I’ll start a blog – whatever that is – and the world will beat a path to my door! It’s that easy!

 

And whether or not you believe it, WAiW,  in a way, that’s actually happened (albeit without the cash prizes or dream vacation homes, but there’s more to life than luxury, right? All you need is love…) You see, in three years, all sorts of amazing people have somehow followed the breadcrumb trail to our little outpost and reached out and/or stuck around to read what I have to say month after month; year after year; randomly and occasionally and with long pauses. I don’t know how or why, but they have. That’s simply amazing if you really think about it. In fact, that alone has served to buoy me through hard times and dashed hopes and continued occasionally seemingly-pointless efforts. Though the mountains divide, and the oceans are wide; it’s a small world after all.

And still, time marches on and sometimes not much happens. For those counting, I have written four books and published exactly none of them. I used to be kind of embarrassed by that, but I’ve decided to wear it as a badge of honor. It’s not that I’m not a good writer, I just haven’t had my serendipity moment yet. Right? RIGHT???? Yes, of course, right. And thus, with each effort I have gotten a little better and  a little smarter and more imaginative and inventive and patient. Each book has honed my ability to create a world and tell a story and take an imaginary individual through a major experience. It’s goddamned alchemy, I tell you, and one of these days my efforts will pay off: I truly believe that. Perhaps it’s self-delusion, but I just can’t shake the feeling that it’s worth my time and energy. If I stopped and focused on the lack of financial compensation, I honestly think I would be missing the point.

And yet, what a hard road the creative one is in this day and age. “Why do you think they call them ‘starving artists?’” my mother once asked me. “Everyone wants to meet the artist who actually makes it big.” She’s right. At the same time, I can’t shake the feeling that somehow we’ve gotten it all backwards: as though money is the only reason for anything. Oh, for the days when ‘storyteller’ was a valuable profession… It’s like everything has gone off-kilter – the emperor has no clothes – and everyone feels it, but no one can quite remember what the right path looks like anymore. This lostness permeates everyone, and eats some of us alive.

 

I’m truly shocked and deeply saddened by the pervasive depression I encounter in this world. Maybe it was always this way – maybe the human experience is so trying and alienating that there have never been ‘good times’ but it still seems as though the bad times are endless and exponential. As I’ve already shared, I am of the relatively fortunate. I am a doer and a go-getter. I am a woman of action; irreparably stuck with a deep and ubiquitous conviction that I possess a little bit magic. I can make things happen, and once the stars align and I get the potion just so, I will prove my mettle.

 

Maybe it’s because of that internal buoyancy that I find myself extra-pained and empathetic for those plagued by doubt and fear and stuckness. I’ve been stuck from time to time over the years, but happily (and I would say in no small part thanks to hypnotherapy), I’ve cast that off. I could write three books  a year easily, and will definitely do another one before 2011 is out. At the same time, I see the desperation in those who long to create, but through personality or circumstance just can’t seem to pull it off. To hear the call, but be unable to answer it is a terrible fate. “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” ~Thoreau

 

And then there are those that do sing, but still succumb to the beast of despair. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the musician Vic Chestnutt, but I happened to be watching an old YouTube performance he did about six months before he took his own life. Winter 2009: it was a hard time in my life. I was facing the imminent loss of someone I dearly loved, and somehow hearing that he was now gone too truly saddened me, as though another friend had left the fight.

 

I hadn’t thought of him much since, yet I’ve always been moved by this song whenever my iPod decides to play it. I love how you think he’s talking about a childhood sweetheart for the first minute and the raw despair he manages to channel through such simple lyrics, and this solo performance takes my breath away. I’m not sure exactly how this relates – maybe something about the value of art or how creating doesn’t have to just be pretty or happy to be important, or how unrestrained pain is sometimes the most powerful and beautiful emotion there is, or how we have to try to hold each other up when we have the strength and they don’t, or maybe I just feel like sharing it. In any case, the performance astonishes while tearing my heart out, and I wanted you to see it too.

 

 

Make no mistake, I am grateful I don’t live my life in this space (Vic had a terrible struggle with chronic depression), but some part of me envies his ability to convey such agony so sweetly. As I endeavor on the next three years of blogs and novels and life in general, I will strive to carry a little Vic Chestnutt, and a little of the friend I lost that same winter, and also a small piece of the man I once loved who also took his own life almost a decade ago. Their stories are as invalauble as any of ours, and their pain a testimony to life itself. Perhaps shared suffering told in soft voice to an attentive ear might make the long walk a little bit easier.

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This and that

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

It’s June?
Get out of here.
Surely this is some trick of the cosmos.

The cosmos

Don't worry. It's just the cosmos playing tricks on you again.

How can I be as old as I am and yet there are days that seem like they will never end? How is it there are nights when I literally lay in bed counting backwards from 100 over and over again and watching the time click by at an excruciatingly slow pace…and yet somehow it’s all hyper-speeded up at the same time? Einstein was right: the separation between past, present, and future is only an illusion, although a convincing one. The heart of the theory of relativity is that everything depends on your point of view – if you’re traveling at close to the speed of light then time moves differently for you than for the slowpokes back on earth. I guess I’ve found some way to vacillate between light speed and earth sloth without even realizing it.

And it’s moments like this why I wonder why I fail to harness even the most infinitesimal element of these astounding circumstances in my favor. Why can’t I turn things back just a few hours and buy a winning lotto ticket or prevent myself from slipping and whacking my head so hard on Sunday night or even just blow people’s minds with my ability to predict what idiocy will occur next in the world (like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump hanging out together: god help us all)?

Sheepdog

This is the dog my dog wants to kill. Well, not THIS dog, but a dog that looks like it.

Why can’t we speed up the lame stuff and slow down the good stuff and why does my dog hate the neighbor’s sheepdog so incredibly much? (Sidebar: he really does, and it’s totally freaking me out. I’ve never seen anything like it. He gets down low like a panther and then goes positively nuts once he’s within ten or fifteen feet of the thing. And I do not know why, but the owners never seem to recognize him [even though I'd know them anywhere: my shame is infinite] or realize that Dozer really IS trying to kill their dog, so they always approach closer and closer with puzzled looks on their faces and make things even more desperate. Why do they not note the fact that I am fighting to hold him back with every fiber of my being and literally sometimes I think the leash could snap and that would be that: Old English Sheepdog tartar. Cesar Milan, are you out there? What the hell do I do about this?)

It’s also at moments when I ponder things like this that I honestly wish I was smarter. I would love to possess the kind of mind that could theorize about this stuff and then take it to a level no one has ever considered before. Sadly, things being what they are, I’m lucky if I can read the theories of those kinds of people and keep up with them.

On the other hand, if ignorance is bliss, maybe I’m better off being a person of average intelligence and limited common sense and should try not to lament the many talents – blues singing, web design, gymnastics, ballet dancing, ninja skills, and even being able to roll my tongue – that were not bestowed on me and carry on doing the best I can in an ever-shifting landscape of fast-moving/slow-moving time. Moreover, it’s not like I really have any choice in the matter, so best to just make lemonade and all that.

In other news, I’ve been dedicating copious amounts of energy to getting some other websites up and running. This is probably the last thing I need – more blogs to insufficiently update and more business ideas that may or may not make an iota of sense to anyone but me – but whatever. I do what I do, and a big part of what I do is remain ceaselessly optimistic.

optimismIt might be kind of an interesting social experiment: put me in environments that slowly go bad or turn suddenly and excruciatingly against me and watch me rationalize, self-encourage, try to fix impossible circumstances, and always, ceaselessly remind myself of the promise of a better tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather be this way than the alternative, it’s just that sometimes – particularly when questioned as to whether or not I actually believe my own hype (I do) – I must pause to question where the hopefulness comes from.

Have you ever read the book LEARNED OPTIMISM? It’s a book by Martin Seligman, and even though I haven’t read it in ages, I recall the experiment that led him to developing his theory: when he was a young psychology student, he was involved in an experiment studying the relationship between fear and learning. They were using dogs (cruel, I agree, but it was the 60′s and there probably wasn’t PETA yet), and along the way they accidentally discovered a phenomenon they named learned helplessness. Basically, something went wrong with the device they were using, and the dogs were supposed to be rewarded (with the cessation of pain) for performing a certain behavior. Instead, no matter what they did, the dogs were harmed.

What happened next challenged a number of long-held theories and ultimately led to the book. Some of the same dogs were used in a different experiment. The box was now non-faulty, but they found that certain dogs – despite being shocked – just laid there. They didn’t even try to stop the pain. This is learned helplessness. You probably know these people: “Nothing ever works out, so I’m just not ever going to try again.”

On the other hand, while still using the faulty boxes, there were some dogs who never gave up. Even though there was no relief in sight from the shocks, these dogs kept trying. They – like myself – are the born optimists. We just can’t stop believing, maybe because Bob Marley promised us,  that every little thing is gonna be all right.

weird cakes

Who gets a cake made that says "Learned Helplessness"? Weirdness.

As part of the book, there’s a test to see where you fall. Obviously I am off the charts in positivity. Seligman thinks optimism can be learned, essentially by reigning in and negating all your own negative self-talk; replacing it with good stuff. I will say that’s kind of how it is in my own head: other’s people’s “it will never work out for you” speeches go in my head, and I immediately start destructing and blocking out their words like so much ghost-eating in a PacMan game. I have no idea why I just got on this tandem, but I’ve taken the time to type it, so I suppose I’ll let it lie.

In final other news, it’s almost the three-year anniversary of the blog which means I need to starting thinking about some more fodder. I’ll make a real effort to be more communicative and share the boring nuances of how very little is going on with me. It’s sunny today: I’m wracking my brains as to where I might go and sit in the grass and not be harassed by the millions of homeless who love to talk to me. “Hey, sister…” it always starts, and I have to say I’m less sympathetic than I used to be. Maybe it’s the daily stories of how you have money, you just can’t get your banker to wire it to you, told by men stinking of urine and malt liquor.

Moneyville

Probably about as reliable as ends of rainbows.

Truly, I kind of wish I could do something for all these people: send them home or get them a good meal or buy them a Coke or whatever, but I do not have the means myself, and I think most of the time they’re just looking for cash to buy drugs or booze, and certainly aiding and abetting that isn’t doing anyone any favors. Thus, I listen and I try to be compassionate, but inside I’m also a little pissed off.

Real interaction from yesterday.

“Sister, how is it you are just as beautiful as your dog?”

“Well, thank you. They say people start to look like their dogs…”

“Sister, I need some money.”

“Don’t we all.”

“No, I got robbed. I need a ticket out of here.”

“I see.”

“Sister, do you go to church?”

“No.”

****long silence***

“Me neither.”

<<<puzzled look on my face>>>

“But God says everything you give you’ll get back threefold. So if you give me $100, etc. etc. etc.”

Anyway, enough about that. Better just go out and face the music and listen to the complex and incomprehensible stories of how the toothless dude is actually a millionaire, it’s just really hard to get your diamonds and rubies out of your Swiss Bank safety deposit box when your one-way bus ticket landed you in Seattle and the guy you left in charge of your oil refinery in Texas just won’t pick up the phone.

 

Plugging myself, albeit in a very subtle way.

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