31
May

Typically I don’t run races. Why pay good money for something I can do for free in my own neighborhood? Yet once I heard about the Soldier Field 10 a few years back, I was hooked. You finish at the fifty-yard line inside the stadium and get to wave at your sweaty, exhausted self on the jumbotron.

Sign me up.

The first year I was too pumped about being on that jumbotron to really think about much else. I wasn’t even that tired upon finishing the race and naturally assumed that the next time would be just as easy. I was wrong. A year later, I was thoroughly bored by mile two and aimlessly staring down Lake Shore Drive. I had a whole lotta road ahead of me and was already beginning to lose my motivation. How would I ever finish this race? That’s when I began to notice all the other thousands of runners pounding the same pavement. Some were young. Some old. Some questionable as to whether they fully understood what they had signed up for. I saw more than a few individuals heaving as if they had never run a mile in their entire lives, let alone ten of them. Were they doing the race merely for that sweet jumbotron fix as I was?

Either way, people watching during the Soldier Field 10 has become my dirty little secret to success. The racers come in all shapes and sizes, but I have definitely noticed a few familiar types. Most annoy me, but then again, most people do no matter if I’m trekking against Lake Michigan or checking out at Target. (I’m talking to you, Ms. “Accidentally” Ram Me In The Backside With Your Shopping Cart.) Below is my unscientific list of the most common runner archetypes:

1. The absent-minded professor. Usually over the age of forty, this runner is totally in his own world. He’s a bit on the slow side, which is fine, until you try to pass him. The instant you attempt to go around him, he moves over to block you. Then you’re forced to awkwardly stop short to avoid tripping up both you and him. This cycle can repeat a number of times before you finally are free of his invisible prison.

2. The cat burglar. This runner is usually a dude, too, but much younger and faster. He’s the guy who is constantly trying to squeeze himself through the spaces between other runners, yet is rarely successful in accomplishing this feat without knocking into one or both of the unsuspecting victims. Moreover, this dude barely utters an apology and just keeps on running to inflict more carnage on those in front of him.

3. The chatty Kathys. As the name implies, these runners are women, and they always come in packs of two. Quite frankly, the chatty Kathys amaze me. I don’t know how they do it. It’s hard enough for me to weakly mouth thank you to anyone who cheers me on during the race, let alone engage in a full-blown conversation while running. Also impressive is that these women typically move at a fairly fast clip.

4. The tease. This runner can be male or female. Regardless of gender, they both display what I consider very bad running manners: they speed up and then slow down without any warning whatsoever… So here’s the deal. I oftentimes use other runners to keep my pace; however, I try to do it discreetly by running in sync behind them. I’ll shadow someone who I think is a good match when all of sudden they slow down two or three clips for no apparent reason. Or maybe I’m not as stealthy as I think, and they’d rather not have my annoying ass following them to the finish line.

5. The odd birds. This is the category in which I lump runners who can’t be explained any other way. Case in point? Tutu lady. I noticed this woman as I was on my way back to the stadium, though I heard her before I actually saw her. To my left I overheard a young man politely comment, “Nice hula,” to another runner. Okay, he’s a dude and didn’t know the difference between a tutu and a hula skirt. Yet instead of graciously accepting his compliment, or gently correcting him on his misused terminology, I listened as someone barked back, “It’s not a hula! It’s a tutu! Because I’m tutu cute!” I immediately had to know who this person was and turned around to find a fifty-something woman in braids and a handmade orange and navy tutu – it’s the Soldier Field 10, after all – huffing and puffing down the path. After that, I couldn’t escape her. Though she didn’t quite look the part of a runner, she definitely could keep her pace with me. She also made it her personal mission to verbally berate anyone who had decided to take a breather and walk. “Come on! Don’t stop now!” she would scream at the bewildered participants. Even I was afraid to slow down for fear that she would publicly chastise me.

The Soldier Field 10 has become a tradition of sorts for me. It marks my official start to the summer. It allows me the opportunity to come home and see family and friends. And it reminds me that running is about more than just winning… It’s about making fun of people.

Free images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

24
May

Graduation time is here. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed students the world over are donning their caps and gowns as they bid farewell to high school and college. It’s also that time of year when noted celebrities give profound commencement speeches about the purpose of life and why you should floss your teeth everyday.

My opinion? Those lovely speeches are wasted on the wrong people.

Once upon a time, I too was a high school senior. In fact, I was the one giving a speech at my graduation, as I was the class salutatorian. Being salutatorian is a dubious honor at best. Does anyone care – or even remember – who placed second in a presidential election? Or more importantly, the Super Bowl? Yet you would think that since I fared well academically I would have been off and running come college, ready to tackle the world with both arms.

Nope.

I floundered during my first few years of school. In fact, I failed college, both academically and pretty much in every other way as well. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing or what I wanted. I only went to my *first* college anyway because my best friend applied there. She decided to do the pre-med sequence, and that sounded pretty good, so I did, too. I figured that becoming a doctor was the natural choice for me. After all, I had won my high school’s science award. However, not only did I perform horribly in every single one of those classes, but also I realized that I wasn’t that upset about it. Yet it was the not being upset that upset me. Even more disturbing was that the courses I enjoyed the most were – horror of horrors – the acting classes I was taking to fulfill my general education requirements. What the hell was happening to me?

I applaud the college freshmen that know exactly what they want out of life and how they’re going to get it. I fell into the latter category, though; I was an eighteen-year-old with a long road ahead of one or two hits and many misses before I realized what my life should be. A total of four schools and two degrees later, I am just finally beginning to somewhat feel that maybe I’m perhaps getting close to possibly figuring out what I might be good at… I think. Moreover, if you had told my eighteen-year-old self that I would one day be a writer living in LA, she probably wouldn’t have believed it. Partly because I never thought a career could be something that didn’t feel like work, and partly because I never thought I would willingly move somewhere with worse traffic than Chicago.

That’s not to say everyone should go about it my own winding way. On the contrary, I took a few licks here and there that I would very much like to forget. Yet those mistakes taught me the most valuable lessons. FYI, never enter into a living arrangement with a friend who is less than 100% financially reliable. If even once you have to convince yourself, “No, really, I’m sure it’ll be fine,” then run – don’t walk – from the leasing office. Now that’s something I wish someone had told me when I graduated high school.

Taking stock of your life at the end of high school or college is like getting a car wash in the middle of a Midwestern winter. It’ll be covered with ice and salt again in fifteen minutes, so what’s the point? Graduates may think they know it all, but the truth of the matter is that it takes a few years – or decades – before the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. And there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, that’s exactly when those eloquent speeches might actually mean something to us.

For all of you who now pull all-nighters because of a colicky baby rather than a chem final… For anyone who prefers to blow off steam with a nice cup of chamomile tea instead of a keg stand… Now’s the time to hit up YouTube. Search “commencement speech.” At the top of the results is Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address. Take a minute (or 15 of them) to watch it.

Done yet? Cool. Pretty much everything he says is awesome, and certainly his words regarding death now hold a greater poignancy because of his passing last October. However, I’m drawn to the part about connecting the dots. As he states, you can’t connect them going forward. Most twenty-two year olds have accumulated zero dots to connect anyway, so they can’t really understand what he means, but hopefully the rest of us do. Looking back on the years since high school and college, can you see the connections? Regardless of any missteps you may have taken along the way, can you see the picture of your life taking shape? It’s like those dotted images in kiddie coloring books. It can be difficult at times to make out what it’s supposed to be, but then all of sudden you see the blooming rose or soaring eagle. If you too can look back at your life and see something beautiful, then congratulations. Better than any 4.0 GPA or graduation honor, that’s something truly worth celebrating.

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

17
May

As mentioned in a previous post, I live across the hall from two rather harmless yet somewhat bothersome twenty-something boys. Rarely do I see them; however, I certainly can hear them. All. The. Time.

Contrary to what you might think, I’m not all too happy about this. Sure, at first it was mildly amusing to listen to their in-depth analysis of the latest Lil Wayne album, or why Scarlett Johansson is hotter than Kate Upton, but the novelty wears off quickly.

However, last week I overheard a rather intense exchange between my neighbors, which I immediately knew I must record for posterity. I have transcribed their conversation so that their pearls of wisdom may be remembered always by future generations. It is this sage advice that I now share with you. To protect the identities of these young men, I will refer to them only as Dum and Dee. Without further adieu…

Dum: “Dude, I don’t know what the f*ck is going on! I can’t figure out this chick!”

Dee: “Whaz up, bro?”

Dum: “It’s this girl. She’s driving me crazy, yo. It’s nuthin’ like how it was with Allison. Dude, that chick was awesome. She paid for everything.”

Dee: “Bro, you call the shots. It doesn’t work when a chick is in control.”

Dum: “Dude, I know! But I don’t know what to do with this f*ckin’ chick. I keep tellin’ her that we’re just gonna do it casual, but she won’t listen to me.”

Dee: “Dude, the man calls the shots. That’s only way it works.”

Dum: “Yeah… I dunno. I kinda like it that she’s being so aggressive, ya know? Think I kinda like her.”

Dee: “Then just do you, bro. Just f*ckin’ do you.”

Dum: “Yeah…”

Dee: “No. Seriously, dude. Listen to me. If you like… I dunno, like, if you f*ckin’ like to go hiking and sh*t, then that’s your thing. So just do your thing.”

Dum: “Right… I dunno. She got me all confused and sh*t.”

Dee: “Bro, I’m tellin’ ya… Chicks can smell out that sh*t from a mile away. If you don’t do you, they will pick up on that sh*t like that!”

(Snaps fingers.)

Dum: “Yeah… Think I should call her?”

Dee: “F*ck, no. Let her call you.”

Dum: “Yeah, you’re right. Thanks, bro.”

Dee: “Dude, I got ya.”

(Indiscernible sound. Possibly a man hug.)

The end.

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

10
May

I have a secret… I’m not a fan of deep dish pizza.

Whew! That felt good to get off my chest. Because I’m from Chicago, most everyone assumes that I must love Chicago-style pizza, which isn’t the case. Sure, I’ve had it dozens of times, but that’s only because I am a fan of eating, and that typically trumps any so-so feelings I may have about what I’m inhaling. Come to think of it, that’s exactly why I’m not a deep dish gal. I become nauseated after just a few slices. That gooey, cheesy goodness is amazing going down… until it settles into my stomach like a pile of bricks. I hate feeling hungry, but being overfull is even worse.

Luckily, this hasn’t been an issue since moving to California. Los Angeles has its own eating culture. I know of just a few decent pizza places around town, all of which serve New York-style slices; however, LA abounds with Mexican and Asian-inspired eateries. And raw restaurants. And In-N-Out. So when you can’t stomach one more sea vegetable salad, just grab a double-double cheeseburger animal style instead.

Yet not too long ago a friend said that she wanted to celebrate her birthday at an “authentic” Chicago-style pizza joint. She had mentioned the restaurant Masa before, and I’ll admit that my curiosity was piqued as to whether it could actually replicate this staple of Chicago cuisine. I may not love deep dish pizza, but that doesn’t stop me from getting super snobby about it. Alas, the pizzeria was on the other side of town. The only time I’m ever that far east is when I get a jury summons and am forced by law to show up; the odds were slim to none that I would ever be motivated enough to drive there and see if it had the goods. However, it’s an unspoken rule that we each get to call the shots when our birthday rolls around, so Chicago-style pizza it would be. I prepared by fasting the day of to ensure that my belly would be grateful to have anything filling it by that evening.

Masa was packed. Though as strange as this may sound, I love crowded restaurants. Maybe it’s because subconsciously I know they must have pretty good food if so many people want it. Or perhaps it’s the positive energy of people relaxing and enjoying themselves with friends and family. Whatever it is, I dig it. Plus, I was there with some of my best friends, so the night was off to a very positive start.

Soon enough our entire party had arrived and were served the restaurant’s complimentary bread. Have I mentioned how much I love complimentary anything? Free bread, free chips and salsa, those little mints at the hostess counter… I am on it like white on rice. And even though I would probably shop there anyway, it doesn’t hurt that Trader Joe’s has at least two free sample tables every time I pick up groceries. So yeah, I was quickly becoming a fan of Masa.

Then came the pizzas.

They were ginormous. They were also vegetarian-friendly, so I had my pick of three steaming monstrosities. I eventually decided on the one with the most veggies. More vegetables equaled less cheese and sauce. Less cheese and sauce equaled better odds of dodging indigestion. Per usual, I inhaled it. Couldn’t help myself. Not sure if the food was actually that good, or I just have major willpower issues, but my first slice was gone in less than two minutes. I knew I should have stopped there, but didn’t. Not wanting my carb-fueled serotonin rush to end, I abandoned all restraint and grabbed a second slice. This time it was a solid block of nothing but cheese, sauce and crust; I finished it quicker than the first. I would have happily indulged in a third slab of that deep dish deliciousness except I noticed that no one else was taking another piece. Though my gluttony instincts are strong, my vanity is stronger. I didn’t want to look like a total pig in front of my friends, so instead I waited until I was home to devour another slice. I was even thisclose to eating a fourth. However, food coma finally set in and I crashed before I was able to scarf it down.

Yet miraculously I woke up feeling absolutely fine. No deep dish hangover for this gal. So maybe that’s the key to eating Chicago-style pizza… Just stuff yourself so full that you pass out. It’s much easier to deal with the repercussions of overeating when you’re unconscious. I wish someone had told me this years ago.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

03
May

I’m a dog person. Always have been. I fell in love with them the moment my family surprised me with a puffball of a Pekingese for my 5th birthday. Leo was the bestest dog ever. We grew up together, though technically, I suppose I did most of the growing. He never weighed more than ten pounds and was barely a foot tall. Plus, most of that height was fur. Yet for a little dog, he had a lot of love, and to this day I can’t think of him without getting a wee bit weepy.

It would be great to have a dog again, but there’s always a good reason – aka excuse – why I can’t. First it was college. Then a cross-country move. Grad school. And now an apartment that doesn’t allow dogs… even though my landlord lets his sister have two annoying yappers that go Cujo on anyone who gets within a twenty foot radius. The only reason why I have yet to “accidentally” step on or kick one of them is because I’m afraid they might “coincidentally” raise the rent on me the following week.

But fo’ reals, I love dogs. That’s why I’m always happy to dog-sit for a friend if I can. Everyone I know has pretty awesome pets, so it doesn’t take much beyond a few slobbery licks and a look from those big puppy dog eyes to break down Auntie Anna. They get a responsible caretaker, and I get snuggle time… sometimes against their will.

Curly Sue* is one of those dogs that makes you involuntarily go “aww…” when you see her. She’s a rescue, so though her breeding is a question mark, most likely it’s Basset Hound mixed with Corgi mixed with adorableness. When I babysat her last weekend, not a walk could be completed without at least one person asking, “What kind of dog is that?” Curly Sue is also a big sniffer of things – trees, flowers, unidentifiable smells emanating from some unknown source toward which she would lead me – so often our walks would last upwards of an hour. This meant that I would many times be stopped long enough to have any and all passersby interrogate me as to her genetic background. Even though she isn’t my dog, I just pretended that she was and happily answered their questions. (Mostly with information that I made up.)

Moreover, Curly Sue is keenly interested in other canines. The moment she spots a dog, she freezes and stares them down for many, many minutes at a time. That’s not to say she isn’t friendly. On the contrary, while other dogs that we encountered would sometimes flip out when they saw her, Curly Sue would quietly assess the situation by sniffing their rears and then be on her way. The problem is when she sees a dog too far away to sniff. If she can’t get up close and personal, she’s not satisfied and will stubbornly stand there until the dog is out of eyesight… and sometimes not even then. Curly Sue also weighs sixty pounds, so once she zeros in on another dog, there’s no moving her until she is good and ready to be moved. No amount of coercion or leash tugging will get that pup to walk unless she agrees.

So naturally Curly Sue and I were in the middle of crossing the street when she spotted another dog two blocks down. Upon spying her fellow canine, Curly Sue simply stopped dead in her tracks and stared ahead. Uh oh. First I tried mild coaxing…

“Come on, sweetie. Let’s go.”

No response. Then gentle urgency. “Curly Sue, honey, we gotta go.”

No response. Then insistence mixed with fear. “Curly Sue, now! We have to go now!”

Realizing that if we didn’t move in the next five seconds we would both be at the mercy of an oncoming Kia, I had no other choice but to drag Curly Sue to the sidewalk. Given that numerous other dog owners were in the vicinity and watching us, I felt like the biggest jerk ever. After years of ridiculing them, I suddenly felt intimately sympathetic to parents whose children have temper tantrums in planes and restaurants.

Curly Sue followed, but she wasn’t happy about it. I barely got her to the curb when she turned around and once again stared at the dog that I could barely see anymore. To help repair my image to the dozen or so strangers that had witnessed me yanking this sweet dog across the street, I began to lavish her with praise and petting to make it obvious that I wasn’t a monster.

A few minutes later, Curly Sue was sufficiently satisfied with her stakeout and ready to move on. We had walked maybe another block when she stopped for a second time. I scanned the area and realized that she now had in her sights a Chihuahua about thirty yards away. I gave her a gentle pull. Nothing.

I think I’m good being just Auntie Anna for a while longer.

* All names have been changed to protect the innocent and furry.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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