24
Jan

Dude, really, stop.

 

A few weeks ago I discussed my disdain for being approached by strangers. I forgot to mention that I don’t like talking to anyone else either. Specifically, I hate cashier conversations.

Now before you label me a snob, allow me to impress you with my employment past. I have been once, twice, thrice, quice – that’s my word for four times – a cashier gal. Actually… five times if you count my one-day stint working at a deli. Once I realized how motherf*cking hard it is to work in food service, though, I threw in my hairnet and called it a day. But aside from my short-lived career making cappuccinos and paninis, I have spent many an hour behind the cash register. And I’m not just talking cutesy boutiques where you get one customer every two hours. (Though I have had that job.) I’ve put in time at Target and Bed Bath & Beyond, y’all. I know the deal.

And here it is… They say that multitasking gets twice as much done in the same amount of time. I also say that multitasking gets twice as much done – as long as you don’t mind it getting done half as well as if you just focused on one thing at a time. Which is my point.

Whenever a cashier strikes up a conversation with me, he double swipes at least one thing I’m buying. Without fail. As a matter of fact, it’s even happened to me twice in the same week. So this isn’t a superiority complex thing. This is a cold hard cash thing.

The first time was at Target. Of course. I’m there all the time, but I made the grave mistake of wearing a provocative shirt. Nothing sexy, mind you. On the contrary, I had on a huge, very un-sexy T-shirt that happened to have my alma mater’s name emblazoned across it. Without so much as saying, “hello,” my cashier instead blurted out, “I used to live in Chicago.” Great.

Some people may call me cheap. I prefer thrifty. While looking up alternatives for the word thrifty, I found parsimonious. I like that one, too. Anyway. My thrifty ways likely come from my Dutch blood, but I’m cool with it. Yes, I add up every item as I put it into my cart. I also watch the price display like a hawk when I check out. But because I can’t multitask, if the cashier starts talking to me, there’s no way I can keep track of the register’s beeps. And neither can he.

The cashier then tells me that he loved Chicago but left because “the winters are so cold.” Yeah, I’ve never heard that before. Finally, we wrap up our convo, and I walk away, intensely scanning the receipt for mistakes. And there it was… a double charge for exactly 97 cents.

I know what you’re thinking and I don’t care. That’s 97 cents that I could use for ChapStick.  So you bet I went over to customer service and made them refund it to my credit card. Ain’t no shame in my game.

The next afternoon, I was at the grocery store. Why I didn’t just use the self-checkout, I’ll never understand, but I was immediately punished for my laziness once the cashier started ringing me up. For one, the dude had to pause every three items to cover his mouth and cough. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, he was also having a conversation with the next cashier over about the best home remedies for a cold. Apparently the other guy is a big believer in wonton soup. So not only is my cashier hacking all over the groceries I will soon be eating, but also he’s not paying any attention to ringing me up. In fact, I saw the double charge as it happened, but he was so engrossed in his conversation that I couldn’t get his attention to stop him.

With lips pursed, both from annoyance at my bad luck and fear of catching his germs, I swiped my card and waited for my receipt. Once in hand, my eyes immediately found the double charge – it’s like my superpower – and I pointed it out to the cashier.

He was totally nice about it, but because he was also so totally out of it, he proceeded to refund me for three boxes of cereal instead of one. Dammit. Now what? Though I’d love to have that extra $5.36 in my pocket – not to mention, I felt like the grocery store did owe me for my future cold expenses – I knew it would be wrong. So I informed the cashier of his second charge error. I truly hope I was his last customer of the day because it took about three tries before he understood what I was saying.

No wonder why Amazon is worth 90 billion dollars.

Image courtesy of farconville / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

17
Jan

I get that the world might be ending, but can't you just do a topcoat?

You don’t know what you got until it’s gone. And people are weird. I was reminded of both facts last weekend when I went for my regular sojourn south of the border – the Los Angeles County border, that is.

Before I became a resident of Los Angeles, I called Orange County my home during grad school. And though it’s been a few years since I’ve lived behind the Orange Curtain, it still feels oddly familiar every time I have to hit the brakes when the 22 East meets the 5 South. Seriously, how is that interchange busy at 8am on a Saturday? Which is exactly what I was forced to do while driving to see my longtime hair stylist, Miguel.

You see, every couple of months, I drive approximately 40 miles (80 if you count roundtrip) to get my hair done by the same guy I’ve been going to since I moved to California. Some might call this behavior extreme – and by some I mean men – but the ladies can back me up on this one. It’s worth every penny of that gas money.

But it’s not just the hair. I multitask my appointments and also treat myself to a pedicure each time I go to the salon. Debbie (not her real name) and I also share a long history. And it’s not just about how great she is at making my toes look all pretty. We have a relationship, people. We talk about stuff. I tell her about work, she tells me about work. I tell her about my family, she tells me about her family. Hell, I’ve even seen pictures of them, and I love it. This is why I keep coming to this nondescript strip mall shop.

To make the most of my O.C. Saturdays, I always book the first appointment of the day, and without fail, Miguel and Debbie are waiting with open arms each time I walk through the door. However, I happened to get there a little early this past Saturday and was mildly surprised that Debbie wasn’t already there. Miguel met me at the door and said he would call her to let her know I had arrived. Cool. I had to pick out my nail polish anyway.

After deliberating way too long on a shade, I finally sat down and began that magazine flipping thing you do when you’re not really paying any attention because you’re suddenly beginning to feel like something is wrong. Miguel approached me again to say that his call went directly to Debbie’s voicemail.

“Oh, okay. Does she live far away?”

“No, just a block from here.”

“Oh, great! She’ll probably be here any minute.”

That’s when Miguel awkwardly informed me that she might not be coming at all. Ever. Debbie had quit two days earlier without any notice.

I was incredulous. How was that possible? I had just talked to her a few weeks ago! And why didn’t she call me? That’s what friends would do, right? I was upset, but more than upset, I was confused.

“How could she quit? Is she okay?”

Miguel’s response didn’t exactly confirm a positive answer… Debbie quit because she thought the end of the world was coming.

Although 12.21.12 has come and gone, and the earth has not been consumed in a ginormous fireball, Debbie has some lingering suspicions that Armageddon has been rescheduled for a future date. Maybe she’s right, but is that reason enough to bail on my pedicure? I had no words to respond. I could tell that Miguel felt weird by association, and who could blame him? I’d feel uncomfortable, too, if forced to relay the message that someone I know had gone nuts.

Still, I didn’t quite understand why the end of the world would prompt someone to just throw in the towel on life, so I pressed for details. Miguel didn’t have much to tell me, other than Debbie had been spending every morning at church. I felt like I was part of some weird Dateline special.

I decided to call her myself, but as Miguel had encountered, my call went straight to voicemail. What kind of a message do you leave after learning something like that? I know I sounded just as bewildered as I felt, but managed to string together a few words to wish her well. “Okay, bye…” Forever. Click.

Five days later and counting, Debbie still hasn’t called me back. And I still don’t know what to make of last weekend’s events.

And I still need a pedicure.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

30
Sep

I guess I have one of those faces.

On a regular basis, I’m asked, “You know who you look like?” to which I instinctively cringe. To be fair, sometimes their answer is not completely mortifying. Other times… oy. I have to put on a brave face and hide the tears. You think I look like who?! Inevitably, I realize that in their own mind, they think they’re giving me a compliment, which is why I feign gratitude. The only thing more awkward than getting told that you look like a fugly celebrity is letting the compliment giver know you think said celebrity is fugly. Even more troubling is when in the back of your head, a teeny tiny part of you can understand why they think you look like that celebrity. It’s not a very good feeling.

Other times, I’m simply baffled by my alleged celebrity doppelganger. It’s not about them being ugly or pretty; I just don’t understand how anyone in the world could think that I look like them. Imagine if you will telling Seth Meyers that he looks like Alexander Skarsgard. Personally, I think they’re both adorable, but never would I ever confuse one for the other. So there’s that.

I get the “you know who you look like” question so often that I’m beginning to wonder what the deal is. Do I seriously have that generic of a face? How can I look like Drew Barrymore, Alyson Hannigan, Allison Janney, Michelle Monaghan, Laura Prepon, Emma Stone and Kate Middleton all at the same time? I feel like I’m one of those freaks from a Conan O’Brien “If They Mated” skit. Or the compliment giver needs to take a second look at me, because while I have a healthy sense of self-esteem, not for a second do I think I look like the would-be Queen of England.

Sure, every once in a blue moon I too meet someone who makes me think, “Holy cow! They totally look like ______!” However, rarely do I vocalize my opinion. Why? Because I realize that everyone’s sense of physical beauty is different. While I happen to think that Jessica Chastain is gorgeous, perhaps someone else does not. Honestly, though, stopping myself from telling someone that they look like a certain celebrity is not my problem. I have an entirely different conundrum.

For the life of me, I cannot remember faces.

It’s horrible. Just as I have felt awkward and offended by being told that I look like so-and-so, I have definitely made others feel weird and annoyed because I flat-out didn’t remember them. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve said to someone, “So nice to meet you!” to which they replied, “Yeah, we’ve met before.”

Most of the time the people on the receiving end of my inadvertent slight are extremely gracious. Except for this one time… I was at a party with a bunch of old college friends. All of a sudden, someone tapped on my shoulder. I turned around to find a random dude with his arms wide open. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen you!”

Uh oh.

I had no clue who he was. Of course, I couldn’t admit to that, so I just went with the moment and accepted his bear hug. All the while, though, my mind was scrambling to place this guy. Through the power of deduction, I reasoned that he must be a former schoolmate. After all, I was surrounded by a dozen other college peeps. Yet I couldn’t keep quiet. I couldn’t just smile and pretend like everything was cool. I had to say something… “Yeah, right? I haven’t seen you in forever! What class was it that we had together?”

His face immediately fell. The girl with whom I had been chatting – a bona fide college friend – quietly uttered, “Anna, Matt didn’t go to school with us.” That’s when I tried in vain to dig myself out of the embarrassment pit.

“Oh! I didn’t recognize you with the facial hair!”

He wasn’t buying it, and to make matters worse, he informed me that he was taking my chair because I didn’t remember him. We then proceeded to avoid eye contact for the rest of the evening.

So yeah… People don’t like being forgotten. Or in my case, people don’t like being told that they look like someone else. Don’t get me wrong. Some of the people to whom I’ve been compared are lovely women. More than anything, I think my inordinate sensitivity to such compliments stems from a rather unfortunate childhood incident that has scarred me for life. That’s how most of our eccentricities begin, right? Long story short, my mom chopped my beautiful, long flowing locks just days before I was to begin kindergarten. Even then, I was keenly aware of how a bad haircut can pretty much ruin your life. Anyway, one day my dad came to pick me up after school. As we were saying goodbye to my teacher and walking toward the car, she called out after us. “Anna, you look just like your dad!” I immediately burst into tears.

So now you understand.

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

05
Jul

Remember when Evites were all the rage? No longer were you forced to send out boring mass emails to your friends each time your birthday rolled around, or worse yet, mail out actual invitations. Instead, you would spend a good hour searching all the design templates to find just the perfect one, and then spend many more hours tracking – aka stalking – everyone you invited. I shamefully recall on more than one occasion checking my Evite status every hour on the hour, waiting to see who had RSVPed, or more importantly, who had looked at my Evite but refused to reply. It drove me crazy.

Now we have Facebook invites. Lots of them. On average I get invited to about a half-dozen birthday parties, show openings, or other social engagements per week, yet don’t doubt that I’m on the low end of the Facebook invite spectrum. However, sometimes I’m puzzled by these requests; on occasion I’m invited to stuff that’s not even in my time zone. Perhaps New York. Maybe Chicago. Wherever. I also get event suggestions where apparently Facebook is encouraging me to crash parties to which I’m not even invited.

Before Facebook, I was pretty conscientious about RSVPing. Considering the time and energy that I knew most people had put into their invitations, I figured that I could at least give them a heads up if I was showing. Though now that we have this Facebook madness, I’m beginning to slack a bit. I suspect that most people are inviting me not because my presence would add a certain je ne sais quoi to the party, but rather because I happen to be one of their seven hundred best Facebook friends. Sure, I have my friend-friends for whom I don’t even have to think twice before RSVPing, but sometimes – er, most of the time – I get an event notification and think, “Why was I invited to this?” Considering that it takes no more than a click of the mouse to add me to their list, I’m pretty sure that most people look at my name and think, “Eh… Okay, why not?” In fact, I wonder if they would know if I showed, as I’ve received more than a few random Facebook invites. You know, the ones from the folks that you met at your cousin’s boyfriend’s sister’s birthday party two years ago. I’m not a gambling gal, but I’d bet good money that they wouldn’t be able to pick out my face from a lineup.

Yet I typically give some kind of response, even if it’s a lame “maybe.” Maybe can come in handy, like if you legitimately think you might be working late the night of their birthday party or overtime the same weekend that their play opens. It’s great if you like the wait and see game where you check the invite page every few days to monitor who else RSVPed before deciding if you want to go. And sometimes maybe is awesome because you’re just not sure and would rather wing it the day of.

Such was the case regarding a certain invite I received not too long ago. It was for the birthday party of a dude that I had met a few years back at a mutual friend’s shindig. Since then, I’ve seen him a total of once more at a party last year. Can’t say that this fellow and I had any soul-searching conversations during either occasion, but of course we somehow ended up being Facebook friends. Considering that neither of us has ever bothered to say hi since connecting online, I’ll admit that I was a tad surprised to get his invitation. Yet once I saw that more than a hundred folks were on his invitee list, it made a lot more sense. He doesn’t like to discriminate. That’s cool. I immediately hit the “maybe” button and continued on my merry way. Odds were slim that I would go, but hey, never say never.

I promptly forgot about the party. The celebrated day of his birth came and went… and then I got an email from him. Not a Facebook message, but an authentic email, meaning that he had taken the trouble to locate my address. Given that he had never, ever sent me personalized correspondence before, I again was shocked to see his name in my inbox.

It was a guilt email.

He informed me that I was “missed” at the party. Also, he had worked really hard to put it together. Moreover, I lost out on all the fun stuff that had happened at the party. Lastly, he hoped I was well.

Was this for real? I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Hadn’t I replied with a maybe? I never said that I was definitely attending, but from the way he felt about my absence, you would have thought that I had personally offered to bake his birthday cake and then bailed on the party. A part of me was horrified. Did I deserve this scolding? Was I a huge jerk for not coming to a birthday party that I had never promised to attend in the first place?

But a bigger part of me was pissed. What the hell? Who reprimands someone for not coming to a party? Considering that this guy had never once asked me to grab a coffee, or messaged me to see how I was doing, or even commented on one of my silly blog posts, he definitely had strong feelings about me not being there for him. I guess my friendship meant to him than I had realized, which is too bad…

I defriended him. Also, I am now wide open the weekend of June 22, 2013 if anyone wants to hang.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

21
Jun

I love where I live. Frat boy neighbors aside, I’m pretty content.

In the five or so years at my apartment, I’ve come to an understanding of sorts with my landlord. Super nice guy, just a little too much at times. Back in the day, it wasn’t unusual to get a knock on my door at 11pm with him smiling on the other side of the screen, a bowl of some vegetarian concoction steaming in his hands. Though I desperately wanted to appreciate this thoughtful gesture, it weirded me out. He did this a half-dozen or so times. Finally, I refused his culinary advances on account that I was tired of secretly taking his untouched meals to work where I would promptly throw them away. I was way too paranoid to put them in my own garbage; after all, he puts out the trash containers every week. Also, while I wasn’t so paranoid as to think that he was putting something sketchy in my meals, I just couldn’t bring myself to eat something that was given to me unsolicited. That’s reasonable, right?

After two or three years of having my very own meal delivery service, he finally got the hint. Since then his attempts to feed me have been limited to platters of Trader Joe’s baklava on the major Orthodox holidays. Given that I love me some baklava – and that each platter comes sealed shut in a handy dandy plastic wrapper – I don’t mind this token of generosity. For my part, I make sure to put a smiley face on each check he gets every month.

To be clear, my landlord is not an icky creep. He just doesn’t understand the whole personal space thing. Since he owns the property in which I live, I get it. From his point of view, he’s not intruding because my apartment belongs to him. Plus, I’m a little weird myself. Perhaps more than most, I love my space and alone time. Don’t call me… I’ll call you.

Because my landlord lives on the premises, we have the occasional run-in. It’s usually when I’m removing my delicates from the washer and he scares the bejeezus out of me by walking past the laundry room and saying hi. As a matter of fact, this happened just the other day. Each time he surprises me, he then feels the need to apologize profusely for it. Yet during our most recent interlude, I realized something: my landlord was clearly wearing pants about ten sizes too big for him. That’s when it dawned on me that he must have dropped a good hundred pounds over the last several months. How I did not notice this before, I don’t know. I can be oblivious at times. However, not oblivious was that he was now drowning in his oversized clothing. I had to ask…

“Did you lose weight?”

Always tricky to broach the topic of weight, but more often than not it’s due to hypersensitive women who think you’re paying them a passive-aggressive compliment when you thought it was a nice-nice compliment. Regardless, I instantly regretted that I had said anything at all. It felt utterly and completely weird the moment the words left my mouth. Asking about one’s weight is a fairly personal matter, and I absolutely had no interest in getting personal with my landlord. But it was too late. You can’t unring a bell.

He was more than willing to tell me about why he lost the weight (his doctor wanted $3000 to put him on a diet, but he said no way), what he now eats (only steamed vegetables and broiled fish), how he’s been exercising (walking but wants to start running), and that he knows he’s wearing ridiculously big pants (but doesn’t want to throw them away). While I was truly happy for him, I was also dying to get out of there. Whenever someone talks about losing weight, you’re pretty much obligated to say, “You look great!” Otherwise, you’re a jackass. It’s like asking, “How are you?” when you greet someone. Odds are you have no real interest in knowing how they’re doing, but it’s something you say. The person to whom you’re speaking usually understands this rule of etiquette – unless they don’t. There’s nothing worse than asking someone how they’re doing and having to suffer through an honest answer.

Anyway.

I have no problem telling my girlfriends that they look hot. On occasion I’ll even make a point of complimenting a male friend’s attire or haircut. However, telling my landlord that he looked good felt all kinds of wrong. But what was I to do? You have to say it, right? Plus, he was obviously so proud of himself.

So as I have done many times with him, I embraced the awkwardness and sputtered, “You look g-awesome.” At the final second, I figured “awesome” was a decidedly less sexualizing term than good or great. Still, I could feel my face burning with embarrassment. I then booked it outta there without looking back.

I also forgot my bras in the washer.

Awesome.

07
Jun

I get distracted very easily. If I’m in a public setting like an airport or restaurant, forget it. I have no chance of carrying on a conversation without ignoring my friend at least once to stare at and judge somebody. Perhaps it’s the PDA couple that finds nothing wrong with a little over-the-clothing action while waiting to board our plane. Or it might be the grandpa who refuses to cover his mouth while hacking up a lung and then hands back his contaminated menu that will be touched by twenty-five more people before the day is up.

I have solid reasons for judging others.

Trying to work in a public place is even worse. Everything annoys me. I’m sitting under a draft. My chair is squeaky. The ice in my chai is melting too quickly. Not to mention that everyone is talking way too loudly. I mean, really, why should I leave the comfort of my home and pajamas to sit in a crowded café and be forced to listen to whatever CD they’re trying to hawk? That said, sometimes you need a change of pace. Or you need to get out of the house because your bed is looking awfully cozy for a nap right about now…

I heard them before I saw them: four young women who weren’t chatting together so much as yelling over each other, and of course they decided to sit at the table directly next to me. Normally, this would have been my cue to either move or leave, but something stopped me. I think it might have been the one friend telling another, “Why don’t you drag your chair a little more loudly, okay?” Dang, what a b*tch.

I was intrigued.

One of the girls didn’t even wait to sit down before she launched into a longwinded story about some guy who never called her back and should she call him but what if he blows her off again and she doesn’t want to look like an idiot but she really likes him and thought they maybe had something… To which the bossy friend replied, “Can you please keep it down? You’re being so dramatic.” Hmm, I liked this girl.

That’s when another went off on some rant about how expensive her classes were, which completely shocked me because I had assumed these chicks were still in high school. Not only did they look young, but they acted like it as well. My jaw dropped even lower when one of them mentioned applying to medical school. Then she began to loudly discuss how she couldn’t afford her $17,000 per semester tuition because her parents had just filed for bankruptcy. Why exactly had her parents gone broke? Because her bipolar mother had been handling their financial records and screwed up a few tax returns, so now the IRS was coming after them. Wow.

First of all, who are these people that feel the need to publicly share their extremely personal problems? This chick was talking so loudly that I guarantee the barista on the other side of the café could hear her over the cappuccino maker. I blame reality TV. If the Kardashian sisters can give each other anal waxings on national television, then no wonder this girl thought that airing her dirty laundry was no big deal. Secondly, that sucks. I can’t imagine having to contend with those problems while trying to go to school. Apparently the other girls couldn’t imagine it either because instead of consoling their friend over her mentally imbalanced mother or legal entanglements with the government, they called her out as a liar. “That’s so not true! You are not paying seventeen grand a semester!” Broke girl then went on the defensive, insisting that she absolutely was shelling out that much money for school. Two of the friends vehemently shook their heads no. The third offered up this sage advice: “If you’re paying $17,000 per semester, then you are stupid. Either you don’t know what you’re talking about, or the school is scamming you. None of us are paying that much.” The two who had been shaking their heads immediately nodded them in agreement. Then came an awkward pause in the conversation. It was the first time their table had been quiet in an hour.

Eventually their chat shifted to the usual topics: boys and clothes. In both cases each of the girls took turns berating the others about their bad taste in men, fashion or both. Though pretending to be hard at work, I was secretly glued to every single thing they said. It was like watching a National Geographic special about rival lion tribes or something equally violent only way better. Finally, bossy girl ordered her friends to finish their drinks because she had to get back to studying. Quickly slurping down the remainder of their Frappuccinos, the other three got up and proceeded to shove their chairs back into place. Gathering their belongings and heading toward the door, I strained to hear any final bits of conversation.

“Do you have to be so freakin’ loud with that stupid chair?”

I knew I wouldn’t be left disappointed.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

26
Apr

Sometimes I wonder if I would rather be old. Granted, my nephew might say that I already am old, but I mean old, old. Like eligible for the Denny’s senior citizen discount old. Or in other words, like my parents old.

During the past few years, while my generation has been battling a weak job market, increasing living costs and an overwhelming atmosphere of gloom and doom in our society, my parents have been battling over whether they should watch Moonstruck or Gone with the Wind for the fortieth time. Or go to the library to pick up some new books. Or maybe just take a nap. Then they’ll treat themselves to dinner at Red Lobster before calling it a night at nine o’clock. Sure, they walk a little slower and get winded a little faster than they did thirty years ago, but overall I’d say that my parents have it pretty good right now. I, on the other hand, have another forty to fifty years ahead of me before I can take advantage of Medicare and the IHOP special. Yet curious to see what might be in store for me come 2062, I decided to do a little investigative work.

Upon arriving at the retirement center, I had no idea what to expect. Would I have to shout all day long? Would I be forced to listen to the same stories over and over again? Would I get pudding? (I assume all senior citizens eat pudding. Easy on the gums.) Instead, I was warmly welcomed by the administrative staff and quickly ushered into the recreational area. Several other volunteers had already arrived and were waiting for the activities to begin. That’s when a dozen or so residents began to slowly walk or roll themselves in and took their seats at the huge wooden table occupying the middle of the room. The coordinator then welcomed everyone, guest and resident alike, and asked that we each say a little something about ourselves. Nice, right? Not to mention, each time someone finished speaking, they received a warm round of applause from the residents. I was immediately charmed by the sweetness of this group.

However, a perceptible shift in the residents’ demeanor was felt the moment the coordinator revealed the bingo cards from his bag. These kind folks who a moment ago were smiling and chatting together had now gone silent and stone-faced as they focused on readying themselves for the competition. Half of them eagerly waved over the coordinator in order to get first dibs on the “lucky” cards while the other half dove their liver-spotted hands into nearby buckets of chips (aka bottle caps) and grabbed as many as their arthritic fingers could hold. Fascinated, I watched as the residents meticulously prepared their stations for battle.

Considering that I was certainly loud enough for the job, I offered to call out the numbers. However, I had only announced the second selection when I was told in no uncertain terms to pick up the pace. Apparently the elderly are not interested in dilly-dallying. Making matters worse was that I kept calling out number after number and yet no one was hitting bingo. I could sense the tension in the room mounting. In particular, the woman sitting closest to my left – the very same one who initially told me that I was going too slow – would let out an exasperated sigh each time I called out a number that wasn’t on her card. I was beginning to get a little nervous. Was I doing something wrong? Was it possible to screw up this game? Then much to my relief, I finally heard a rather defiant “bingo!” called out by a lady at the far end of the table. Before we were even able to confirm her numbers, she then instructed one of the volunteers to bring over the bag of swag. Aha! That’s why this game was such a big deal. These peeps wanted their prizes. While the rest of the group impatiently waited for the winner to make her selection – she finally decided upon a lovely picture frame – I was told that we would be shaking things up a bit.

“What does that mean?”

“We’re going to play birthday cake.”

Was that like patty cake? I didn’t understand. However, the coordinator told me that I didn’t have to change anything I was doing, so I just went with it. Though as the game progressed, I noticed that one of the residents hadn’t covered a number already called out. Upon gently alerting her to her oversight, she briskly replied that it didn’t matter because that number wasn’t part of the birthday cake formation. Oh… okay. I decided that it might be better if I just stuck to calling out the numbers.

A game later, I began to relax a bit. I even cracked a few jokes to my audience, and though no one laughed, I think it was more a matter of their deteriorating hearing rather than me not being funny. Either way, I was liking this whole bingo thing they had going on. I could get used to this. Plus, they had some really sweet swag. I wouldn’t mind a rhinestone-encrusted letter opener or another journal to add to my ever-growing collection.

Just as I was imagining what life could be like when I’m old and gray, the coordinator unceremoniously booted me from my announcer duties. He claimed that I was “great, really great,” but I wasn’t buying it. If I was so great, then why were they giving my gig to an awkward sixteen-year-old who lacked any kind of stage presence whatsoever? I suspected that the residents might have had something to do with this decision. Fine. Whatever. At least I can still chew my food with my original teeth… and I don’t wear adult diapers. Who’s the winner now?

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

19
Apr

Much like any other major city, Los Angeles is full of interesting people. And when I say interesting, I mean weird.

You get used to it. In fact, while in college I became rather accustomed to the oftentimes unusual activities of my urban mates. When you’re hustling five city blocks to get to your next class in two minutes – and it’s twenty degrees outside – you just don’t have the time to be shocked by the gentleman locked in a heated debate with a nearby tree. When you pass him every day for weeks at a time, you actually begin to find comfort in his peculiar presence. It feels more “weird” when he’s not fighting with the maple at 8th and Wabash.

Yet since moving to LA, I’ve realized that my bizarre behavior threshold has taken a significant dive. I blame this on the driving culture of the city. You don’t interact as frequently with the unique souls that inhabit SoCal because you don’t have to walk past them or sit next to them. You have the protective barrier of your car to shield you from the eccentric code of conduct of those around you. When I was a frequent CTA passenger a few years back, I wouldn’t have thought twice of grabbing the empty seat next to the lovely lady who was deep in animated conversation with herself. Now on the rare occasion of having to walk somewhere – usually it’s to and from the parking garage at Trader Joe’s – I suspiciously keep my eyes on the random dude chatting away with no one in particular and give him a wide berth… until I realize he’s talking on his Bluetooth.

Anyway. I noticed him immediately from the comfort of my Mazda3. I had just pulled up to a light and saw him attempt to cross the street from my left. I watched as he carefully took note of his walk signal, ventured off the curb and proceeded to move forward. That could have easily been the end of my story, except that rather than continuing to the next block, he instead halted and put up his hand to stop the minivan waiting to turn onto my street. Though the vehicle was a good fifteen feet away from this fellow, and furthermore had not so much as moved an inch, he nevertheless felt threatened by this soccer mom and her Dodge Grand Caravan. He stood there for a good ten seconds – ten seconds that could have been used to actually cross the street – but he was determined to make clear his pedestrian right of way. I observed him with mild amusement and then looked over to see how the driver was responding to her newfound foe. As I suspected, she was completely bewildered. I’m guessing she didn’t often cross paths with individuals such as this chap at her yoga class.

And just like that, he decided to start walking again. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of assuming that my sunglasses had rendered me incognito. Noticing me noticing him, he then stopped in front of my car and started waving at me. Fantastic. Now what? On the one hand, I felt like a jerk to not wave back. That’s just rude, right? On the other hand, if I did wave, what else might he do? So I took the middle road and gave him a lame half-wave that resembled more an uncontrollable body tick. However, that satisfied him enough to keep moving to the other side of the street.

I then decided that my next course of action would be to stare straight ahead and just wait for the freaking light to change, but of course I couldn’t help myself. I had to look over to see what he was doing next, and because he had never taken his eyes off me, he considered this all the encouragement he needed to start waving once more.

Seriously? Okay, fine. Broken down by his somewhat admirable persistence, I finally gave him a proper wave back, which caused him to break out into a huge smile. Which made me smile. Which made him wave all the more zealously. Which made me laugh. Which made him take a step forward toward my car. Which totally freaked me out.

Thankfully, the light finally changed, and off I sped like Amanda Bynes trying to avoid a second DUI. Checking my rearview mirror, I watched as he continued to wave to every other automobile passing him by. So, wait… Our little exchange was just one of many for him? I felt oddly disappointed by this revelation. Maybe I’m the weird one.

Image: sheelamohan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

29
Mar

You drive down a residential street. You turn a corner. You see a garbage truck blocking your way. Nooo! Why me?? It’s so unfair! While not quite as bad as your DVR breaking down or missing out on free birthday cake at work, it’s a rather annoying first world problem.

I hate trying to squeeze past those ginormous things; however, this might have more to do with my lack of spatial awareness than hating on those very nice guys – have you ever seen a garbage woman? me, neither – that weekly pick up after my wasteful self. I bang at least one elbow or knee or toe a day while trying to get from point A to point B in my apartment, and I still can’t figure out how to navigate streets without clear lines painted on them. In fact, I kind of freak out when someone else is closing in on me at a whopping fifteen miles per hour. How is this going to work? Are you going to pull to the side? Should I? I don’t know what to do. The worst was the first week that I drove my new car; I had no idea where it ended and the rest of the world began. Thus I was forced to park blocks away from home on completely deserted streets minus any other vehicles because I was temporarily parallel-parking impaired and couldn’t maneuver my new ride into even the biggest of open spots. Hence, my anxiety when confronted with garbage trucks. I don’t even fight it; thirty seconds and a quick U-turn later, I’m outta there.

So the other day, I decided to take advantage of the pleasant weather (and the realization that I was out of coffee) to walk to the nearby Starbucks for a little caffeine pick-me-up. A block later, I caught sight of that familiar monstrous shape and heard the screeching sound of compacting metal. Passing the truck, I was shocked to see a very perturbed woman – she even had the whole hands on hips thing going on – standing in the middle of the street about thirty feet away. “Look, there’s space over here! Why can’t you move so I can get through?” Seriously? Was this chick for real?

This woman had actually exited her still running car in order to berate the fellas who were quietly and efficiently taking away our human filth. I looked to the garbage men who appeared to be ignoring her unsolicited advice. Seemed like this wasn’t the first time they’d encountered such ridiculous entitlement. I then turned back to the woman who again shouted, “Can you please move over? I need to get through.” It was all very Falling Down. I also noticed that two more cars were now blocked behind her shiny black Mercedes as she continued to complain.

Okay, I get it. Like I said, it’s a wee bit bothersome when a garbage truck obstructs the way to whatever very important place this woman was obviously going. But to get out of one’s car and admonish these men for doing their job? That’s straight up whack. Not only was this chick causing more of a backup than the garbage truck, but also who exactly did she think she was? Unless this woman was running late to perform a heart transplant or feed the poor, I’m thinkin’ that whatever she needed to do was far less important than what they were doing. Rather, she was probably on her way to some very nice shop on Rodeo Drive, and though I concede that she would be contributing to our local economy, I would forego her dollars for a trash free neighborhood any day. And might I add, these men are doing something that very few of us find appealing. Maybe I’m in the minority here, but whisking away others’ waste never made my list of future dreams when I was a kid. So the next time you see a garbage man, give him a hug.

Eventually my caffeine addiction called and I went on my way, craning my neck to see how this would all play out. While Whack Job held her ground and continued to stare down the garbage men, one of whom I swear cracked a smile, I then noticed a guy in the car behind her exiting his own vehicle… “Ma’am, could you please move your car?”

Karma is sweet.

Image: farconville / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

22
Mar

Some childhood memories stick for obvious reasons. Birthdays, holidays, graduations… Those special moments immediately get filed away into one’s consciousness. But then you have those random recollections that don’t fit any clear-cut category of meaningfulness. Like the time I accidentally referred to my friend’s baby sister as “it” instead of “her” and was given an impromptu grammar lesson by their eavesdropping mother. Or when I was “treated” to shopping spree by another friend’s mom, but was later interrogated as to whether or not my father would reimburse her for my new outfit. That was weird. Then there’s the time my sixth grade class was introduced to Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” I remember this for two distinct reasons: one, because my teacher seemed to become increasingly distraught as the song retold the tragic events of November 10, 1975, and two, because of the silence that took hold of my classmates as we too were drawn into this tale of thirty sailors succumbing to Lake Superior.

I would venture that anyone who grew up within a fifty-mile radius of the Great Lakes knows the story of the Edmund Fitzgerald. If you live within a fifty-mile radius of Chicago, then you might also know the story of the Eastland. This ship never even made it to the lake. It overturned while still docked in the Chicago River and took with it more than eight hundred lives.

The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. The sinking of the Eastland. The sinking of the Lusitania. Oh, and that Titanic boat. There’s a trend here. Now I’m sure that as a whole ships are extremely safe vessels on which to travel, but every single thing I know about them conclusively proves that they can’t be trusted. Should you argue that those incidents happened long before you or I were born, I have two words for you – Costa Concordia. Boom. Two months ago. Then her sister ship lost power in the pirate-infested waters of the Indian Ocean a month later. Boom x2.

However, I wasn’t actually aware of this (warranted) ship animosity until I was on one. Though I’ve been on many a speedboat throughout my life, I have never taken a cruise. Never met a captain. Never boarded anything resembling a luxury liner. Until last weekend.

Though an official resident of southern California for the last several years, I am shamefully lazy when it comes to exploring all the awesome things this area has to offer. The Queen Mary is one of those things. Permanently docked in Long Beach, I have gazed numerous times upon this ship turned hotel and event venue but have never experienced her grandeur myself. Now I would partake in her splendor on St. Patrick’s Day as hundreds of fellow passengers would partake in pints of green beer. A mass of drunken people on a huge boat with minimal supervision? Sounded like a swell time.

Though as we were dropped off in front of the ship, I immediately felt queasy. Strange… I never once suffered seasickness while on vessels a fraction the size of this behemoth. Technically, it wasn’t even moving. Technically, I wasn’t even on it yet. That’s when “My Heart Will Go On” began playing in my head.

Freakin’ James Cameron.

If I had any chance of shaking my shipism, Cameron ruined it with his monster-piece. Sure, I was a schmuck like everyone else when it first bowed in theatres and wept like a baby as Rose promised a frozen solid Jack that she would never let go… and then let him go to the depths of the icy ocean. But then I wiped my eyes, blew my nose and was done with it. Never saw the film again, and I don’t need to. Apparently along with every awkward parental encounter of my youth I have committed this movie to memory as I kept replaying it while trying to enjoy my St. Patrick’s Day onboard the Queen Mary. When we listened to the band playing Irish jigs, I imagined Jack and Rose gettin’ down with the blue-collar folks in Titanic’s basement. When we ventured into the captain’s quarters, I imagined the look on Edward Smith’s face as he realized that the ship was going down. Even when we were just moseying around the different levels, going up and down the interior staircase, I imagined the goofy look on Jack’s face when he met Rose for their first-class dinner.

So went the evening until we finally exited the Queen Mary safe, sound and relatively dry. (It just happened to be one of the ten days of the year that it rains in SoCal.) I suppose in comparison to how Titanic ended, we made out pretty okay. Maybe ships aren’t so bad after all as long as you never leave the shore.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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