The Szechuan and the Ecstasy

“Hey, I think you’re eating my food.””Huh? No, this is Szechuan.””You sure?””Screw it. Let’s just share both of them.”

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how it began. We tried ordering from a new place, only to be completely confounded as to whose food was whose once the food arrived. I ordered fried tofu with vegetables, and Chris ordered tofu Szechuan style. The two items that were delvered were fried tofu with celery and carrots, and non-fried tofu with peas and peppers. But which was which?

Step One: Google It.

Inconclusive. The only thing the internet could agree on was that Szechuan is spicy. As for which vegetables should or shouldn’t accompany the tofu, who knew? American Chinese food itself is an invention of time and regional tastes. Hell, fortune cookies are actually Japanese. (Enterprising Chinese restaurants took over the idea of the cookie during WWII when Japanese people were rounded up and put into camps. Lemons into lemonade, y’all.)

Step Two: Call the restaurant.

By the time Google had settled nothing, the trash talk had already begun and it had already been decided that the loser of what was now a bet would pay for the next order of Chinese food and owe the winner a 10-minute massage (8 minutes normal, 2 minutes “fun places”). This was serious.

“The tofu in your Szechuan…is that fried? I see…” (Chris is smiling at me with what I call his “shit starting” face as he interrogates the lady whose job is to take orders and think that we are insane.)

“And does that come with carrots and celery? Ah, ok, thank you.”

He is grinning at me as though I have lost the bet, but he has forgotten what happened an hour ago: namely that it took 10 minutes to place the order because the woman on the phone couldn’t understand him. The “z as in zebra” part of his address had to be repeated 3 times.

“Dude, she’s going to say yes to whatever you ask her as long as she thinks it’ll result in an order! You were totally leading the witness! The only conclusive solution is to table the issue until we order food from there again.”

We are both hard-headed people who like Chinese food. We ordered from the same place 3 days later. I order something with shrimp so as to avoid dual-tofu dish confusion.

The scene:

“Thus Spake Zarathustra” has been brought up on Spotify. As the epic tympani plays, BOM-BOM-BOM-BOM, the lids are removed. Slowly, dramatically, Chris’s arms are raised overhead in a pose of victory as a dish of fried tofu, carrots and celery mocks me deliciously from its position on the coffee table. I fall to the floor in slow motion, dramatically placing the back of my hand to my forehead in a pose of ultimate failure.

“Nooooooo!!!!” I wail from my position on the floor.”Yesssss! Szechuaaaaan!!!” Chris says, still walking around the living room like a victorious Rocky Balboa.

BOM-BOM-BOM-BOM.

The Motivation to Puree

I spent New Years 2013 on Jen’s couch, drinking wine with her and her husband. As midnight came and went, it slipped our minds to change the channel and watch the ball drop in New York because we were too busy watching World’s Dumbest Boozers. This seems fitting, given how I spent 2012: doing everything and then peeking out my head long enough to realize that the whole thing flew right by me. Where did it go?

I spent 2012 trying to find a rhythm after having a few years that seemed like a little too much chaos for me. Crappy job! New job! Poor! Not poor! New cat! Elderly cat! Life changes! Dudes! 2012 was the year when everything finally calmed down: I turned my schedule into a well-oiled machine, got a little more comfortable in my job (I don’t think anyone is ever completely comfortable in SharePoint), and attempted to narrow down the spread-too-thin social calendar. So I sit at the beginning of 2013, feeling like all the chaos has been smoothed out to the usual low ripple of non-predictability that is par for the course in life. That’s all well and good, but you know how human nature is: the second things calm down, we immediately start getting bored and asking what’s next. So…what’s next?

I have no idea. I feel like I’m standing in front of a big flow chart, a huge set of if/else statements, waiting for one thing to be decided so that another one can, and so on. It’s not that I’m taking a passive role in my own life; it’s that I’m taking the time to figure out what the right decision is.

I believe I would very much like to get a master’s degree in psychology, most likely cognitive psychology or cognitive neuroscience. It feels insane and flaky to even type it out loud, but there it is, gnawing on the back of my mind. The second I scold myself with “you PICKED a career, can’t you just stick with it?” the idea pops right back up again. There’s all this curiosity in me, so the idea of having time to research a bunch of things sounds pretty nice. A life in development gives one a chance to say “let’s see if we can pull this off,” and that’s fun too, but the idea of thinking of questions and looking for answers sounds awesome. I like my current career just fine, but there are days when I don’t know if I can do it for 30 more years. When I ask myself “what’s next?” my brain doesn’t get all excited about getting super awesome at SQL Server. My brain goes “yes, we can do that and make a bunch of money…but what was the thing about the brains?”

That’s the pie in the sky idea, though. Here in reality, I am a single lady with a mortgage and an elderly, expensive cat. I just got done being poor and I’m currently kind of enjoying the idea of being able to afford luxury items like a couch. At first glance, there’s no way I could just peace out on my entire life to go wank around in a lab somewhere, effectively taking my entire life, putting it in a blender and hitting the “puree” button. Besides, it’s not like I hate my life. I’m just not motivated enough to puree. Then again, maybe “puree” isn’t the only answer. Maybe I could combine the development and the psychology? The collision of cognition and programming gave us the field of artificial intelligence; maybe the real answer is finding a way to combine life experiences to make something new and far more interesting that some simple, boolean, “give up your old life for a new one.”

To seriously entertain this idea, I’d have to be willing to move, be poor again, and accept that I would be completely screwing myself in my current career. You can’t just go off and not think about web development for 3 years and expect to ever come back. In 3 years, everything changes and you have to be there to keep up. Web development is like a treadmill where the slow, old or unmotivated just go flying off the machine, only to be heard from again when they appear on Tosh.0.

Just typing this still feels like a naive and slightly insane thing to do. Majoring in anything that would ever involve the term “neuroscience” is a thing that other people do. Super crazy-smart people who don’t already owe Sallie Mae 30 grand. I’m a smart girl with good hustle, but saying “yes, I’m going to go into neuroscience” is a bit much.

Which, as a godsmack, is a small part of why I want to do it. If there’s no risk of big-time failure, you’re not growing enough.

For right now, this is just a hobby that will be put in the “would like to do one day” pile, right next to “go to England” or “eat real bananas foster.” But one day it might get pulled out of the pile and, when it does, I’ll have a few years of reading behind me. Til then, I’m the girl on the treadmill reading the book about conscious decision making.

The irony is delicious.

Bob Vila Can’t Help You Now

From the previous posts over the last week, you can all tell that I’m pretty much a super fan when it comes to exfoliation. In my thirties, I’ve been afforded the luxury of being able to go a bit easier with it, but in my late twenties, I was still burning through Buf-Pufs like they were going out of style. I was using moisturizer with Alpha Hydroxy Acid in it to try and get even more skin to slough off.

Back then, slow-paced Sundays would be about calling a “spa day.” I would do my nails, put on a clay mask, an exfoliation mask and spend the day basically attempting to pickle myself in the name of not really having anything better to do. Also, in those days, I was keeping a palm sander in my bathroom, as I’d discovered that a nice 120 grit was not a bad idea on heel and toe callouses.

Eventually, two and two got put together.

I stood in the shower, gleefully exfoliating my face with a piece of sandpaper. It felt so tingly! So clean! It was DELICIOUS, I tell you. I could fairly feel my skin being all aglow and free of dead skin cells. I was all proud of myself for my cost-saving and delightfully out-of-the-box thinking. Screw expensive Buf-Pufs! I’ll get my cleansing pads at HOME DEPOT.

When I got out of the shower, my face felt a little hot, so I put on some moisturizer to try to calm it down. Just one problem. I had recently switched from Oil of Olay to a moisturizer with ACID in it.

I think, for a solid minute, all I could see was plaid.

There was just this all-consuming burning, burning that should be written in ALL CAPS. Burning that sent me running into the bathroom to see whether everything was really OK or whether my face was melting off like cheese on a pizza that aims to take a couple layers off the roof of your mouth.

“OK, remain calm. Just get this stuff of your face. Just rinse it off in the shower.”

AHHHH! Hot water!!! More burning!!!
Cold water!! Cold water!!!

I went to bed that night with my face slathered with the Neosporin that also numbs pain. Lying there on my back with my face throbbing, waiting for a couple of Nytol to kick in so I could sleep, I thought “perhaps this was not the best idea.”

When I got up to go to work the next day, I looked like I had spent a day in the sun without sunblock, and felt like it too. This at least gave me a decent and plausible lie for when people asked what had happened. I got too much sun. Yep, that’s the ticket. Too much sun. I certainly did not attack my face with hardware. No, sir.

The burning slowly subsided into my face being like a hard, itchy mask. Despite liberal applications of aloe vera gel, my face peeled off in thick pieces, revealing fragile pink skin that peeked out at me from the crusty, brown, dead skin above. When my entire face had finally peeled down to new, tender growth, it was as smooth as a baby’s butt.

I never sandpapered my face again.

“Chink, Chink, Scrape.”

When I was 20 years old, I shared an apartment with a former Christian recording artist. I would light candles, burn incense, paint things badly and go to goth night. Sometimes, when I went to goth night, dudes hit on me. This story is about the second guy who did.

We make plans to meet up on a weekend afternoon to hang out at my apartment. The plan is to have no plan and just see what happens. This is MY plan at least. HIS plan involves a 90-minute tape of music he’d written.

“Music”
he’d
“written.”

This is the late nineties, when every guy with questionable hair and an eyeliner pencil wanted, with all of his little black heart, to be the next Trent Reznor. This guy is no exception: as we listen to his experimental noise music, he describes all of the various instruments he’d used. Rusty pipe. Rusty pipe #2. Random piece of metal.”Chink, chink, scrape.” “Chink, chink, scrape.” “Chink, chink, scrape…”

I have a cousin who majored in rusty pipe at Julliard.

“Chink, chink, scrape.” “Chink, chink, scrape.” “Chink, chink, scrape…”

I keep waiting for the end of a song, the cue for him to decide that he’s given me a representative sample and for us to move on with the day. After 30 minutes, I’m trying to be subtle about checking to see how much tape is left before the end of side one. “DO NOT let him play side two,” I tell myself, “I don’t care what happens. You will not let him play side two. Fake a heart attack. Fake a seizure. Just don’t let him play side two.”

Side one comes to an end and, instead of flipping the tape, I say something about how that was interesting and hand the tape back to him. I whip out a tape of my own, one of me playing a song I’d written on a piano. A song with a melody and chords and instruments that don’t come from a dumpster behind Krispy Kreme. Roughly 30 seconds into the 3 minute song, he takes my tape from the stereo and says something about how “that’s fine, if THAT’s what you’re into.”

It becomes clear to me what we’re going to be doing today. We’re going to be playing a rousing game of “don’t kill this guy with your bare hands.”

We turn on the tv and start watching some movie or other, and he starts kissing me. It’s that kind of kissing that comes out of nowhere and isn’t part of the moment at hand. Kissing that makes you feel like THIS was the whole point of his visit. As though he had “kiss girl” on a to-do list and he’s just running through it with German efficiency.

1. Play shitty music
2. Dismiss girl as Tori Amos clone
3. Kiss girl
4. Touch girl’s breast…..

I stop him and say something about how I think this is happening at an odd moment. He says that I should just go with it.

Readers, forgive me. I was young, and I’d heard much tell of just making out with people because it was fun, even if you didn’t particularly know or care about them. It seemed like a rather popular thing to do. I figured I’d try it.

But I am bored. He is kissing me with all the horny fervor of a manchild of his early twenties, and I am bored and wondering why we can’t just watch the movie. In later days, I would forgive myself the guilt I felt about having one undeserving guy on the short list of guys who had seen my breasts by repeating a quote from Oprah: “when you knew better, you did better.”

“Wait, stop.”
“What?” he answers, standing up from the bed.

There’s a long pause. I’m not entirely sure what to say, and I’m trying not to just blurt out something like, “this isn’t fun and it feels whorey.” My actual response, as it turns out, isn’t much better.

I stand up on the bed to be eye-level with him, and with all the jaded street smarts of Shirley Temple riding a unicorn, I ask…

“So…are you trying to be my man or what?”
“Huh? I’m just…having a good time.”
“I don’t like having a good time!”

I am saying this to him with arms crossed and brow furrowed, like an angry Puritan school teacher. At 20, I had not yet wrapped my head around the idea that sometimes people have sex with people they don’t know very well.I had been busy studying, playing a piano and hanging out with dudes who were far more interested in progressive rock than sex. I always ended up being one of the guys, drinking coffee and discussing Queensryche. Now here was THIS guy, treating me like guys in their twenties treat girls who are not one of the guys, and I have no idea what to do with him.

He’s not quite sure what to do with himself, for that matter. 30 seconds ago, he was eye to eye with my boob, and now this? I can see his brain trying to process this, this goth chick who asked him to her place to actually JUST watch a movie. I hear the gears turning…

“Chink, chink, scrape.” “Chink, chink, scrape.” “Chink, chink, scrape.”

When the scraping subsides, his decision is that I have officially become more trouble than I’m worth. He is out the door within 10 minutes.

I make sure he remembers to take his tape.

Herding Cats

For weeks, Amanda had seen that large, gray cat hanging out near her house. Gray cats are exceedingly good at hiding, but this one slowly got brave enough to come up and watch Amanda garden. One of them would be picking big rocks out of a potato bed, and the other one would be looking on with an aloof curiosity. In time, Amanda would refer to the cat as Ghostie, and Ghostie would have Amanda all figured out. 

 
This is why Ghostie would decide to have her kittens in the crawlspace of Amanda’s house. “We all know how this is going to go down, but I’m going to put up a good fight just so nothing looks suspicious.” Cat pride is strong.
 
When I arrived at Amanda’s house around 6:00, there were four kittens in the crawlspace, one angry mama cat in the cinder block-sized opening, two kittens snuggled up in the shade of a large bush and two humans crouching close by, wielding a laundry basket. The idea is that we have to get all of the kittens into the shed without causing mama cat to desert them. We have to do this before the sun goes down. Also, it’s going to rain soon. No pressure.
 
Snagging the two kittens cuddled in the bush is easy because three of their four total eyes are glued shut with eye goo. They are nabbed and their eyes are wiped clean with a warm wash cloth before they are put in the laundry basket to get back the important business of not particularly caring. 
 
“So, what’s the plan?”
“Use the two kittens to lure mama cat and hope that the other four kittens follow her out.”
“Kittens as bait. Got it.”
 
One more kitten gets curious and leaves the crawlspace enough for Amanda to snag it. The score is tied. Humans:3. Mama cat:3. 
 
Amanda starts to play with the foot of one of the kittens, in hopes of making it meow enough to lure out Ghostie. It works a little, but the tiny black cat is still pretty heavily invested in the business of not particularly caring. What to do?
 
“MEW! MEW!”
 
Amanda’s husband, Travis, has pulled up a video on YouTube. The little white cat on his iPhone screen makes a decent stand-in for the little black cat in the laundry basket. Ghostie shows interest and disappears back into the crawl space several times before venturing out. Kitten #4 follows and is snagged. Amanda crouches next to the crawl space while the two remaining kittens taunt her from just beyond her reach. Ghostie creeps up into the bushes to voice her displeasure with the entire situation. 
 
I pause to wonder if using the term “Mexican standoff” is racist, because I feel like I may need it here. I decide that it is and resolve to not use it. Oops.
 
Through the magic of YouTube, iPhone and hiding, the last two kittens are lured out and put, with a bit of fight, into a second laundry basket. Ghostie watches from the front lawn as we slowly carry the laundry baskets toward the shed. Slowly. So she will follow us. Slowly. So very, very slo-
 
RAIN.
RAIN WITH HAIL. 
 
Amanda and Travis take the kittens to the shed and I, improperly clad in Converse that do not at all enjoy the rain, go to watch the rest of the story from the dry side of the bathroom window. 
 
Travis and Amanda walk around in the rain, searching for Ghostie, who is nowhere to be found. Without her, Travis and Amanda are looking at bottle feeding six kittens every three hours or so. This may explain why they walk around the yard YouTubing and iPhoning their butts off until the rain subsides and Amanda comes in to get food and water to leave in the shed. 
 
Amanda takes the food outside and Travis and I wait for her return. 
 
“You know, I bottle fed kittens once,” he says.
“Oh?”
“Never again, man.”
 
We step out onto the back porch and look across the yard to see Ghostie standing in the shed doorway. The door is swung open and Amanda is inside, holding kittens out toward Ghostie while other kittens climb out of the laundry basket to greet their mom. She is literally herding cats. Frankly, we’re not sure what to do. Do we try to help and risk scaring Ghostie away or just stay put?
 
“How’s Amanda going to get out if she can get mama cat to go in there?”
“Uh…I don’t know. Carefully?”
“We should just run up and shut the door. She’s collateral damage, man.”
“Well, the shed has a window. She could climb out.”
 
We pause, and I look at him with a look that says, “bro, it’s time to trap your wife in the shed.”
 
He starts edging toward the shed and I follow. I run up and bolt the shed door. 
 
All cats and kittens are safe, two humans are soaked, and one of those humans is helping the other climb out a window. Pretty much everybody involved needs a glass of wine.
 
The kittens agree to settle for mama cat’s milk. 

Everyday is Halloween (unless you buy pants at Sears)

Working on the 10th floor means a couple of things. First, it means I have to watch my back when getting off the elevator in the morning since it’s dreadfully easy to step out on the wrong floor. Working on the 10th floor also means waiting for the elevator each afternoon when it’s time to leave. 

 
Today is Friday, casual Friday, and I’m standing at the elevator bank in a t-shirt, black skirt, high-top black Converse and knee socks. Knee socks that are gray and emblazoned with purple and orange argyle and bats. Bats with fangs. 
 
The man standing next to me is eying me top to bottom, looking down his nose in that way that old ladies sometimes do at Kroger. He is looking at me as though he’s sure I’m up to no good, I’m not really authorized to be in this building and I’m probably high.
 
“You’re a little late for Halloween.”
 
If I had been on my toes, I’d have pointed out how it’s not Halloween but it IS Friday the 13th, so my socks are technically still apropos. I was not on my toes. I generally not on my toes when people fill me with a cocktail of hate and embarrassment.
 
Fantasy response: “I’m sorry, I don’t take fashion advice from people wearing pleated pants.”
 
Actual response: “But they’re whimsical, no?”
 
What I’m feeling is silly. Working in the MIS department, it’s easy to forget what goes on outside. That people wear suits and have serious, adult meetings about serious, adult things like “accounts” and “clients.” We live in a bubble where everybody pretty much gets along. We don’t have office politics. Or maybe we do and I don’t notice because I have headphones on and I don’t have a beef with anybody. All I know is that this guy I don’t know is making me feel wrong and stupid in a place where I spend almost a third of my life, and that I kind of want to tell him to quit harshing my buzz. It’s casual Friday. Get off me.
 
I don’t tell him off, of course. Never tell anyone off unless you know who they are and whether they can fire you. I just get in the elevator and play with my phone, ears feeling sort of red and burny. It’s like being in high school, only you can’t put anyone up against a wall and yell at them.
 
I later told this story to a table of coworkers.
 
“Who was it?”
“I don’t know. People in pleated pants all look the same to me.”
“You should report him to HR for creating a hostile work environment. Seriously, who DOES that?”
 
Their reaction was one of offense, like how DARE that guy offer unsolicited fashion advice. Like what business is it of his? Like “please tell us his name, so we can make fun of him AND his Sears pants.”
 
And this is why I have no office drama with people in my own department. 
 
I still have no idea who the guy in the pleated pants was. He is a faceless mass of Random White Guy In Pleated Khaki Pants. Perhaps I’d remember him better if he’d worn something interesting. 
 
You know, like some argyle socks with bats.
Bats with fangs.

A Tale of Two Kitties

I am not one of those people who take in animals willy-nilly. For me, pet adoption is a huge decision, taken deeply seriously, but also made largely on gut feeling. It’s basically like marrying someone you’ve only known for an hour, with no information beyond “does well with cats” and “likes to snuggle.” (Incidentally, those are things I look for in both cats and men.)

But is the new cat going to get along with Puss? Will there be some kind of bizarre urine war? Am I really ready to double the litter box, double the hair, double the food and vet bills? (Double the snuggles! Double the play time! Double the purring!) What if the new cat ends up having some super-expensive chronic health problem? What if the new cat just doesn’t take to me? What if…

Oh, stop.

The bottom line is that Herr Puss had been showing me that he was lonely as hell now that I don’t work from home anymore. I’m gone for 12-16 hours of every day, and I feel guilty about it, but not guilty enough to resign myself to quitting everything I do so I can be home with my cat. I try to stay around the house on the weekends, but still. Puss seemed miserable, like he was looking at me saying, “you were ALWAYS here. How come you don’t want to be with me anymore?” I looked in those big blue eyes and saw a feeling that once built a 100-acre farm in mine. Maybe I was projecting, but maybe he really was feeling cast aside.

“What if I get you a buddy? Would that help? Then all 3 of us could pile in bed at night, like the grandparents in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Wouldn’t that be lovely? You can be Grandpa Joe!”

He’s a 12 year old perpetual only child with a ton of personality, a loud voice and sharp claws. I kind of wished I could give him a vote before I opened myself up to having everything in my house peed on in protest. Alas, all I could do is try to find another cat that won’t challenge Herr Puss’s “authoritah.”

As it turns out, Herr Puss apparently DID want a playmate. I introduced his brother, Sterling, with very little drama. There was nary a hiss, in fact. On day 3, I gave them free access to each other and, by day 7, Puss was actually giving Sterling a moment’s peace. He was so excited to have someone else around that he seriously wouldn’t leave Sterling alone. Sterling’s reaction to this was basically “WTF? I’m going to go hide behind the couch.”

So, here we are mid-way through week 2 and everybody seems to be getting along famously, with the one bone of contention being who gets to nestle in my left arm while I watch TV (Puss has put his paw down on this and has won consistently). Sterling is eating everything on Earth and badgering me for head scratching and a bite of whatever I’m eating. Puss seems monumentally better-adjusted, and I am no longer being greeted at night with the signature (and really pitiful) Siamese wail. It’s still early, but I’m willing to chalk this one up as a good life choice. The kitties are happy and mama has stopped feeling guilty all the time. Now, if I could just keep Sterling from eating me out of house and home…

Stella

It’s a Saturday night. I’m standing in a gay bar wearing tight bondage pants, red lipstick and a thin film of sweat. It is 80s night and I’ve just gotten done dancing to “Rock Me Amadeus” with some gay dude who tried to get me to kiss him. I look around the room and feel like me again.

It’s an odd, happy thing to feel after 6 or 8 months of feeling decidedly unlike myself. I had been feeling all gray and sad, sandwiched between a deeply abusive work life and a relationship that was making me spend my whole life feeling like the walking wounded. I went through life zombie-like, feeling like everything I did was something I was doing for someone who wouldn’t care or appreciate me or my efforts. Like everybody was telling me, “you should feel lucky to be here,” when I felt miserable to be everywhere.

If I’d had time to do something of my own, I’d have just thought “oh, everything I like is stupid,” consumed some wine and fallen asleep. I got into an endless death loop of jigsaw puzzles. It was like a default setting. Toward the end of the relationship, I would just sit and do puzzles and cry. For hours. The only thing that gave me any real pleasure was helping my friends do stuff: move, paint rooms, etc. because it made me feel like I was good for something. The thing about that kind of slow roasted sadness is that you don’t see it for so long. Until multiple friends ask you what you have done with their Amy and when you’re planning on returning her.

Eventually, I dug out of that hole. I got a new job working for people who appreciate me and have told me repeatedly that I’m doing a good job. I’m not a person who needs a lot of praise, but I am a person who (for better or worse) defines a big part of herself by her work. It is nice to feel valued. It is nice to work for someone who is not insane. I don’t have to fill out detailed time sheets or answer 100 crazy emails or get yelled at because I didn’t answer my phone at 10 pm.

While cleaning some pictures off my phone, I had occasion to go through my Flickr photo stream. There were all these pictures taken while biding time. Sitting around his living room, walking around some store, sitting around his living room some more. Then, as I went back further, there was my life before him: DJing at one of Abbey’s goth nights, going to parties, Dragon*Con, Jen’s wedding. All of that is mostly my fault. It was a life scheduled around HIS life, because he refused to schedule with me. I shouldn’t have even let it start happening, much less allow it to continue for so long. My life slowly just became some stupid, pointless accessory to his because I let it happen.

The feeling of being all gray and old creeps in so slowly that you don’t even notice until, one day, you look at your life and realize that you’re miserable. That you haven’t felt like you in a long time because part of what makes you who you are is going out dancing, making art pieces that might or might not work out, playing music, weiring odd outfits and being a weirdo. And what have you been doing? Sitting on someone’s couch watching tv. Being too afraid of failure that you never even try anything new. When dancing, you have to commit to the move, even if it turns out imperfectly. Do it all the way and stop second guessing yourself and secretly thinking that everything you do is lame. Get out there and find your groove. (Also, stop hanging out with people who make you feel like everything you do is lame.)

The groove is hard to find because it’s all over the place. I hate monotony and would rather do something new that might kind of end up sucking than just do the same thing all the time. I like going new places, eating weird things, and doing stuff that might end awkwardly. This gets me into trouble sometimes, but it usually works out pretty well. My first circuit blast class was super awkward; I couldn’t even remember how to jump rope. Two months later, I can get through class pretty easily, though my rope jumping is still more “3rd grade double hop” than “Rocky Balboa.” Hopefully, the future experiments in furniture refinishing, bread making and pyrography turn out as well, if I ever get time for them. Stupid school and life goals are taking up too much of my life.

Then again, the groove is easy to find because all you have to do is whatever you feel like doing at the moment. Failing that, just go do something new. There’s a solid 50% chance that you’ll end up having a good time. If nothing else, whatever you do could be horrible enough to get blog material out of it. There’s a part of me that is always screaming, “let’s go have adventures!” even when day to day life and finances require that “adventures” be a new restaurant, hanging out with someone new or going to a party where you’ll only know 1 person. When you have school and work, Adventure becomes Adventure Lite, but it’s still better than just sitting there.

So, the template is this: work when you have to and spend the rest of your life doing stuff that makes you happy. Or pissy. Or whatever. Just feel some way about something. Go do something worth writing about.

Of Children, Piercings and Bluebirds

Somewhere in Nashville today, an eight year old girl might be piercing her own ear cartilage with a safety pin without her parents’ permission. She is doing so because of me.

The locker rooms at the Y are separated by gender, but they are also separated by age. Anyone under the age of 13 is supposed to be using the Family Locker Room. I had always assumed that this was so little kids weren’t running around annoying the single adults, but maybe it’s also to keep kids out of an area where said adults might be walking around naked. Mainly, this rule translates to one thing: the adult locker room is a strange world of forbidden fascination. I imagine this is why 3 little girls, all clad in blue karate gis, were running around me as I gathered up my bag, boots and cloak after an hour on the elliptical machine. Then they weren’t running. They were just standing there, staring at me. The brave one spoke up.

“You have TWO earrings in your ear,” marveled the freckled, curly-haired 8ish year old.

“Oh no,” I answered, pulling back my hair, “there are SIX.”

Awed gasps all around. In adult land, I’m the most white bread goth chick alive. To these kids, I was Fakir Musafar.

I am interrogated until these girls know exactly how long cartilage takes to heal, how to pierce an ear, how much it will hurt and to “not walk around with a safety pin in your ear because it’s not very classy.”

“When did you get your first one?”

“When I was four. The second one, I did a long time ago, when I was sixteen.”

“How old are you now?”

“Thirty-four.”

(This time, the awed gasps translate to “holy crap, that’s older than MOM, and she’s OLD.”)

“Wow…that WAS a long time ago. What about that? Did that hurt?” She motions toward my tattoo, a black bow just above my wrist.

“Yes, especially on the tender meat on the inside, but it only took an hour and a half.”

“Did it hurt a lot?”

“Have you ever been stung by a bee? It’s like that, but it takes so long that you just get used to it after a while. Then you go home and take a nap.”

“I could never have a bow on me. That’s going to be there until YOU DIE.”

“I wondered that, but after a week, I couldn’t imagine my arm without it.”

“You can get it removed with surgery.”

(She also asked if my earring holes would hear all the way. This little girl remaking me in the image of Martha Stewart with a tone of “it’s not too late for you.”)

“But I don’t want to have it removed. I want more of them. I want to do my whole arm, but I keep having to spend money on other things, things around the house.”

“What color is your house?”

“Gray, but next summer it’s going to change to light green.”

They pause. I could fairly see the gears turning in the brave one’s mind.

Tick…

tock…

tick…

“Amy?”

She has read my name from the ID tag on my gym bag and said my name with a certain brand of solid, deadpan, “let’s get serious” tone. I’m startled, momentarily thinking that this little girl has, in fact, been hired by my mother to remake me in the image of Martha Stewart.

“Are you married?”

“No.”

“Engaged??”

“No.”

“Do you have a boyfriend???”

Her tone gets more and more strained with each question, as though she’s begging me to throw her a bone. To make the world make sense. To explain how someone can be OLDER THAN MOM and still be single.

“We just broke up, actually.”

“How long were you together?”

“Almost a year.”

Again, her world is making no sense. A year is FOREVER.

“It’s fine, really. Sometimes people just can’t get things to work and you have to realize that maybe you should just be friends instead.”

This is me, putting on my happy, independent face. I’m single! I have freedom! Wheeeeeee! Everything will be wonderful and everybody will be friends and bluebirds will my onto my finger if I put my hand out the window in the morning. I most certainly was not drunk for two weeks, I didn’t do jigsaw puzzles and cry and I certainly haven’t been freebasing sappy Gavin DeGraw songs. No, sir. Everybody’s wonderful and there are frickin bluebirds and–

“But do you have a boyfriend NOW?”

(God, are we still on this? Look, I told you, HAPPY INDEPENDENT FACE.)

“No. It’s a little too soon. I’m just having fun doing my thing and hanging out with friends.” (Also, bluebirds!)

Her face is calling bullshit on me. I am being CALLED BULLSHIT ON by an 8 year old in a karate outfit. This, readers, is why I have a hard time taking myself seriously. I’m standing there, trying to explain the complexities of relationships and moving on to someone who (statistically) does not yet fully grasp abstract nouns. Also, I am sweaty and would like a shower.

I excuse myself and leave the three confused girls standing there in the locker room. I’m still not sure who the Y is trying to protect with that “adults only” locker room rule.

In the Land of Happy, Skinny People

I suspect that people who work in service industries are taught to fill awkward silences with questions. If the guy at the bank’s computer takes too long, he starts asking how my Thanksgiving was, knowing that if I had a good one, I’m more than happy to tell him about it. If I had a bad one, I’ll abide the laws of common courtesy and just say “oh, I got to just relax at home!” (This means “I ate Funyuns in my underwear and drank a 40 because I have no family” or something. Whether or not that sounds like an awesome time is a matter of personal opinion.)

I was more than happy to tell the guy at the bank about how well my mom’s stuffing went over. We all miss grandma, but (all due respect) alzheimer’s will seriously screw up your cooking skills. I also abided the rules of courtesy and left out the part about how I came home, drank a 40 and cried out a recent breakup. These things happen.

I ran into “when in doubt, ask questions” while signing up at the local YMCA.

“So, what do you do?”
(Web design, moving into development.)

“Oh, so you type fast?”
(Yes, but mainly cause I typed a lot of letters in high school and play the piano.)

“Piano? Do you also sing?”
(Not in public.)

With that, I paid my money and had done something I’d wanted to do for a long time but had never had time or money. I joined the local Y. So, how’s it going?

The Y is the land of happy, skinny people. All of the women are toned, all of the guys are good-looking, and everybody’s rosy-cheeked and nice. I suspect that the Y is a lot like Sweden. I would feel terribly awkward and out of place, except that all of the employees are super nice and the other patrons seem to be too involved in whatever they’re doing to notice what I giant n00b I am.

You’d think by now that I would know that the locker room is pretty much ALWAYS right next to the pool. You’d think the Y would give new people some kind of tour or a map. You’d be wrong on all counts. However, once I just ASKED somebody to point me toward the locker room, I found the one at the Margaret Maddox Y (Inglewood) to be pretty nice. The one downtown is, hands down, the nicest locker room I have ever seen in my limited experience of locker rooms. In square footage, it might be bigger than my house, and the shower steam is kept separate, avoiding having the whole room turn into a nasty sauna.

Learn from my mistakes: if you just START USING the machine, whether it be elliptical, bike, or whatever, the thing will turn on and instruct you. Please do not ask me how I learned this. Please also do not tell any tv producers that they should follow me around with a tv camera for a show called “Adventures of Smart Girls with No Common Sense.”

If the class says “Advanced Step Aerobics,” this is not a descriptor of how much cardio will be done. This is a descriptor of how familiar you will need to be with WHAT THE HELL has happened to step aerobics since I took it in college. Those women were doing a full-out improv dance routine, apparently based solely on whatever the instructor was yelling. It was like really fast square dancing. I was positioned behind two leggy amazons from Planet Pilates who would literally do ballet jumps while the rest of us were marching in place. This leaves me with the following conclusion:

Assuming I did not unknowingly drop acid before class, I should hit a beginner class until I know what the hell “bus stop,” “rhumba left,” and “revolving door” are.

I also went to a sculpting class and learned that I am a total wuss. Judging from the feel of my arms 6 hours after class, I may not be able to move my arms tomorrow. Just FYI in case you need any air traffic control or baseball umpiring.

All in all, it’s been a really good experience so far. After a month of not being able to work out because of school and work, it feels really good and productive to be back at it, and to be doing something more interesting than walking the same 6 mile neighborhood loop that I always walk. Granted, this means I will no longer get cat calls from the NADC dorms, but you know: everything’s a trade off.