Wednesday, June 27, 2007

cranky mcbitchface goes jogging

As predicted... awkward email in my inbox this morning from the latest Disappearing Act. Man, do I know how to pick 'em and call 'em.

I hope you'll forgive my bad mood. It's 8:45 am as I type this and I've already been awake for three hours. "Why?" you ask, because you are a smart person and are very confused by the World Champion of Sleeping In, Hater of All Things Early, voluntarily waking up at such an ungodly hour.

Because I was running. At 6 am, I was running to beat the heat. This is the second day in a row I've done my early morning runs and I've not yet trained myself to go to bed corresponding early. So right now I'm operating on my second day of five hours' sleep. You'll forgive me if I'm Cranky McBitchface today.

You see, a while ago I got a bunch of pictures back from the first round of summer parties and weddings, and also recently spent a Sunday tubing on the Potomac with some of the most beautiful, skinny and brilliant people in Washington. Ergo, I am not feeling so great about my looks these days. I can't do much about my propensity for Paris Hilton wonk-eye in photos, but the extra layer of winter padding around my thighs? My Buddha belly, which is moving from kind of endearing to kind of "not making me able to wear my favorite jeans?" Yup, I can do something about that.

I let my gym membership lapse because I hate waiting for the treadmill with 18 year olds in full makeup and booty shorts and since then my workout routine has actually improved. In normal weather I run once or twice a week in the evenings, lift weights and do crunches while watching bad TV and, most importantly, don industrial strength Spanxx. However, the arrival of summer in the fetid swamp that is our nation's capital makes the first and the last of these things extremely difficult. I don't do well in heat. I mean, I really don't do well in heat. I break out in hives if I'm in the sun for more than an hour, my face gets bright red and stays that way long after I've moved indoors, and I glow in a most un-ladylike manner.

So I've started taking hip hop dance classes, which have helped my endurance a lot and are a lot more fun of a workout than jogging down 16th Street (sadly, they haven't helped my moves. Despite my teacher's best efforts, I remain a very, very Caucasian dancer). At ten bucks a lesson and all in the evenings, though, I need to find something else, and that something else has become early morning running.

This morning as I gasped uphill past Meridian Hill Park, an unpleasant thought entered my head. "You'd probably have to run less," something whispered "if you gave up your morning cake donut with your coffee. That thing has 12 grams of fat in it."

Of course, I chuckled to myself and picked up the pace. No way that is going to happen any time soon. After all, Cranky McBitchface needs her carbs.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

everything's bigger in texas (except my vacation plans)

Interweb people, I need your help. I will be in Austin for (yet another) wedding this weekend and am looking for some fun things to do in my too-short time there. Austinist has been a big help, but you lovely people are so very smart and well-traveled I'm sure you have your own suggestions. I'll have about four hours to myself on Friday afternoon and will then be with my dad and his brother from through the Saturday evening wedding until our respective flights home Sunday afternoon. Specifically, I'm looking for recommendations for:

- Barbecue

- Live music, preferably some really excellent country and honky-tonk stuff. My family takes bluegrass very seriously, if that helps you at all. I already checked Stubbs' website and sadly no one is playing while we're in town.

- Unusual museums. I enjoy a good traditional museum as much as the next gal, but am still regretting that while in Wichita last weekend we chose the art museum instead of the Hopalong Cassidy Museum.

- Any farmers markets, shopping districts, excellent antique marts

- A place to buy cowboy boots

Please, please leave any suggestions and recommendation in the comments section!

Monday, June 25, 2007

sometimes a girl just needs one

I usually don't write about guys and dating in this space. This is for a variety of reasons:

1. There's not a lot to write about. I live in DC, am tall and won't date bisexual men, conservative Republicans or guys who cite The Da Vinci Code as their favorite book. This dramatically limits my options.

2. When there is something to write about, I prefer to keep it to myself for a while. That way, if we wind up actually dating, I won't be forced into a conversation that begins "Hey, I write about my feelings on the Internet. Oh, and I published stories about you there, too."

3. I repeat the exact same pattern over and over and over.

Let's explore # 3, shall we?

In the last year, I've repeated the same relationship three times. The guy is always older than me, of the indie rock persuasion, in a sell-out job he hates and is a little bad at life but not so much so that it's a major red flag (31 and sleeps on a futon, 35 and still goes home to do laundry). We date for a couple of weeks, agree we both hate Dane Cook and are rapidly losing affection for Zach Braff, introduce one another to our favorite movies and songs, hook up a few times... and he completely disappears.

THEN, within two months of the last encounter, he reappears full of dramatic apologies and self-hating prose, completely disproportional to the amount of time we've been dating. These emails, phone calls, text messages and online friendship network requests have all contained at least two of the following phrases:

- "I can't believe how I blew it with you."
- "You are the coolest girl I've met in a long time."
- "I'm dating someone else now so I'm not doing this just to get in your pants."
- "The way I treated you is my biggest regret."
- "Please forgive me. I hope we can still be friends."
- "Are we still going to that concert?"
- "Can I come over?"

My response to all of this has of course been to completely ignore it. Because when you blow me off, especially after we've slept together, you don't get the reward of my friendship or even me acknowledging your continued existence. Internally, I've been terribly jolly whenever I get one of these crawling-back contacts. It may not be as great as actually continuing a relationship, but knowing that you're still thinking about me long after I've stopped thinking about you... not gonna lie, kind of validating.

However, when the latest Disappearing Act resurfaced at 2:30 last Saturday morning, it stopped being validating and started being a little fucking annoying. This was partly because I was in Wichita, sharing a hotel room with my entire family, and one does not generally enjoy receiving drunk dials when one's father is in the room . But mostly, it was annoying because I knew exactly what was going to transpire the second I saw his name on my caller ID. He would chicken out and not leave a voicemail. Then he would call back later, sober, to try to explain why he called before. I would not answer this call either and he would leave a stammering voicemail full of apologies for both bootycalling me and for dropping out of contact last month. And sure enough, this is exactly what happened. If tradition continues, I fully expect an awkward follow-up email within a week.

This is not a pattern I'm particularly enjoying, and yet, given the less-appealing options of celibacy or dating college-age Republican Hill interns, it's what I have going for me at the moment. There have been other options in the last few months, perfectly nice guys with whom I share little chemistry and banter, guys who are very good about keeping in contact, but I'm a spark junkie. That such sparkage seems to be irrevocably linked with guys who can't handle it and run away is frustrating, but I'd much rather be single than desperately trying to cultivate attraction when none is manifesting naturally.

And, on a somewhat related yet semi-random note, there is no horror quite like the horror of talking with a nice guy at a wedding, doing shots and comparing favorite bands and asking him how he knows the bride and groom and realizing that this guy hitting on you, doing the elbow-stroking thing to move in a little closer, IS A COUSIN. Way to make drunken apology texting from DC man-boys seem terribly appealing.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

the very anti-climactic story of how i almost threw down in a kennedy center bathroom

Cracking up over something, the details of which I now cannot recall and were probably terribly silly, Lisa and I took our places in the ever-growing wait for the Kennedy Center's garage-level restroom. As I leaned against the wall, exhausted from the crowds of reggae fans dancing above our heads and the stifling humidity pressing down on all of us, I accidentally nudged the arm of the woman standing next to me with my huge black Kenneth Cole tote. If you've ever spent time with me, chances are good you've met this bag. I bump into a lot of things with it, because I am klutzy and it is massive.

"Excuse (hic!) me!" I snorted, trying to apologize to the stranger around an unfortunately-timed burst of hiccups brought on by laughter and the Sam Adams Summer Ale I'd consumed a half-hour earlier. Still giggling, I started to rummage through my bag looking for my lip gloss when:

"I think someone has had a few too many drinks, because someone keeps invading my personal space!"

It took me a moment to realize she was talking about me. Hands still buried in my tote I looked up to see the woman I'd bumped into starting to gesture wildly from on high, as if conducting an invisible symphony of Woe. Looking past Lisa and me to the row of women snaking through the open Ladies Room door and into the hallway, she was clearly performing for an audience.

"This," she exclaimed as she wildly gesticulated, drawing a three-by-three foot box in the air around her person , "is my personal space. It is my zone. No one should enter it unless I specifically invite them too. Especially not drunk white girls. But what can you do when a drunk girl decides to get all up in your space?" She gestured to the bathroom ceiling with the kind of shrug that is both impassioned and downtrodden, the kind often made by Jewish mother types in Woody Allen movies. It was a gesture that seemed to say "no one will ever know how much I suffer, but this action might convey a smidgen of what I endure."

The other women in line were by this point staring at the walls or floor to avoid making eye contact with Personal Space, and both Lisa's and my mouths were hanging wide open as we looked at one another in total confusion. "Is she really talking about you IN FRONT OF YOU?" Lisa's eyes seemed to be asking.

"I don't know!" my eyes silently exclaimed in response. "Did that bitch really just call me a drunk? Why is she all rowdy about her space? What is she trying to accomplish with this? Are we going to rumble in a Kennedy Center bathroom?" It was a surreal moment, and felt like the first time I smoked out of an apple bong and spent the evening touching my friend Jason's nose and asking him "Are we really here? Is this really happening???"

As Personal Space continued her speech, the line continued to awkwardly shuffle towards the stalls. She finally concluded her speech with a dramatic flourish as the door to the handicapped stall opened, pausing for a moment before she swept into the toilet as if expecting the other women in line to break out in applause, or a perhaps a chorus of "Oh Happy Day!" With no adulation forthcoming she swept into the stall, bumping my own arm with her hemp duffle bag.

Lisa and I stood there for a moment, utterly unsure if what we thought had just happened had actually just happened. A woman came out of another stall and I entered it, shaking my head at the absurdity of the last few moments when Lisa called out behind me:

"EJ, honey, did I step on your foot? I'm sooooooo sorry!"

Without even thinking, I threw open the stall door and in my best Exorcist voice growled:


I went about my business to the sounds of fifteen women hooting with laughter.

Personal Space was bent over at the sink washing her hands when I exited the stall, the other women in line still chuckling. She glowered at me as I washed my own hands, then continued to glower as we both walked over to the paper towel dispenser at the same time. We stood in front of it together, frozen for a moment in time; self-righteous lecturer and smartass, tipsy taunter locked in a battle of wills for the right to dry our hands. I blinked first, but only so I could goad her further by dripping with sarcasm and calling her old:

"After you. MA'AM.

And that is the very anti-climactic story of how I almost threw down in a Kennedy Center bathroom.

Monday, June 18, 2007

the four beer blues

Sitting in the basement of an old haunt, I felt the familiar tug of the Four Beer Blues.

You know what I'm talking about. That sudden sweep of melancholy that hits out of nowhere after a few drinks, not exactly sobering you up but definitely pulling you down. Everyone's symptoms are slightly different, but we all are stricken from time to time. Me, I stare off into space thinking about things that have no business being thought about at a bar (do I need to buy more paper towels, what am I going to do with my life when I finish school, would it be rude or kind if I let the unfortunate girl by the bar know that I can see both her ass crack and the hem of her granny panties, etc.), prompting friends to occasionally poke me and ask "EJ? You still there?" Things move a little more slowly during the Blues, and it seems to take an inordinately long time for me to smile and nod and answer "Of course!!" just a little too brightly.

Though the Four Beer Blues can mercilessly strike unsuspecting revelers, there are often warning signs. Someone selects "High and Dry," or anything by Death Cab for Cutie on the jukebox. I find rallying for Friday nights a challenge, and the Blues are far more likely to hit at the end of a long day. The forced sobriety of a cab ride in the middle of the evening dramatically increases the likelihood of an attack, as does the sudden, unexpected appearance of an ex or an old mistake.

You can try to fight away the Four Beer Blues, to order a round of shots for your group, change the music, flirt with someone new. Sometimes it works, but only if all the elements align to distract from what triggered the Blues in the first place. More often than not, there's no going back and the evening is best ended quietly and quickly, before someone picks a fight or worse, orders and consumes an entire pizza at 4 AM. Surrender to the Four Beer Blues and no one gets hurt.

In the cab home from my latest bout with the Blues, I pondered the trigger for that night's attack. "Friendship evolution," one might call it. The natural selection process in full effect, weeding out the weaker connections that are not easily sustained to make room for new growth, new people, new possibilities. Not that they're gone forever, because you still love the old friends and have fantastic memories of time spent with them, but the paradigm has tangibly shifted. Room has been made for the new at the expense of the old.

I used to worry that instead of natural selection, I was just getting lazy and careless. That I was taking old friends for granted and sloughing them off when I got restless. But it's not that at all, something made transparently clear the next night when I spent time with much older friends, people I've known for years but hadn't seen for weeks, and didn't miss a beat with them. When you meet as many people as I do and approach life with the attitude that a stranger is a friend until they prove otherwise, you accumulate a lot of potential connections. Some will take, some will wither and die on the vine, some will seem to be going along strongly and then abruptly vanish for seemingly no reason. People will surprise you in ways good and bad, and people will live up to and down to your expectations.

I used to feel guilty about falling out of touch with people, like I'd done something negligent by not making one person or group my top priority. This has become really difficult over the last couple of years because I've found myself becoming a member of several distinct groups of friends, some overlapping one another and some completely distinct. They're all friendly people, and I wouldn't hang out with them if they weren't hilarious and kind and welcoming, but they are each very much their own clique and no matter how much I love the time I spend with them, balancing these various groups is getting exhausting. I've been out almost every night I've been in DC since school ended in May, and can't tell you how many times I've heard the phrase "EJ! I haven't seen you in forever!" since then.

Hurtling towards home and bed in the cab, I thought about the people I'd just left and how little I'd seen them lately, feeling a little guilty and a little angry at the chilly reception that had been waiting for me and the empty air left hanging after the initial squeals and hugs.

And for the first time in a long time, I kicked the Four Beer Blues with one very simple conclusion: "It is not my sole responsibility to maintain a relationship."

Friday, June 15, 2007

i get by with a little help from my friends

I was in the kitchen cooking spicy asparagus stir fry and salmon with wasabi pea crust when I heard Kristi howling with laughter from my couch. When I poked my head out the cutout window I saw that she was flipping through my saved programs on the DVR.

"Em," she asked me "exactly how many episodes of The Wonder Years do you have here?"

Even though she is a dear friend and I know she would not judge me, I just couldn't admit out loud that before I went to Ohio last weekend I deleted at least seven more episodes to make room for the Tony Awards. Because to vocalize it, to allow the words to exit my mouth and hang in the air and become part of the fabric of the universe, would inexorably establish that I am one Talbots pantsuit away from turning into my mother.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

alert: right coast snobbery factor high

After spending the weekend with extended family in southwest Ohio, I think I understand why there are so many meth labs in the Midwest.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

what the career day speaker saw

My friend B teaches at a DCPS middle school, one of the really rough ones that is more likely to be in the news for stabbings than for high test scores. To keep the kids busy at the end of the school year, she's been planning all sorts of special events for the kids who are still showing up, once of which was Career Day today. Since I work at a college, I was invited to talk about what it is like to GO to a college. B figured, quite rightly, that her class would be much more interested in what dorm life and step teams are like than the intricacies of Stafford Loans or what it means to be ABD.

These kids were great. Yes, she'd pulled the especially high-achieving students for this session, but they asked fantastic questions and were incredibly enthusiastic. They kept me there for two hours and I easily could have stayed longer, but there was an attorney waiting in the hallway to talk to them after me, and I felt a tad rude having him cool his heels while we talked about NCAA basketball.

To begin the session I'd stolen some tricks from my mother, who also works in higher ed. "How many of you know someone who has taken out a loan to buy something big?" I asked them as everyone scooted their desks into a circle. One girl shouted "a car!" Another said "a house." "Okay," I replied. "So you know that a lot of people borrow money when they want to buy something expensive. But what you may not know is the second you drive that car off the lot, it starts losing value. And the longer you use it, the less and less it is worth."

They started to look a little sober at this thought, and so I switched gears to rev them back up. "Who here thinks a million dollars is a lot of money?" I asked the kids. Everyone's hands shot up in the air, B's and mine included. "I agree," I said. "A million dollars is a LOT of money. And a study recently came out saying that over a lifetime, people who graduate from college will make an average of a MILLION dollars more than people who stop after high school."

Their eyes started to glaze over as they thought about what a big number "a million" was. "Now, think back to that car or that house that you borrowed money to get. You just as easily can borrow money to go to school. But the difference is, instead of getting less valuable, your purchase-- your education-- gets MORE valuable as time goes on. And no one can take it away from you. Your car can get stolen or maybe you can't keep your house, but you will always, always have your education. And the older you get, the more money you will make from it. That's why you can't afford NOT to go to college."

Then the boy sitting across the circle started shouting around a mouthful of Pringles, "But if I want to be an engineer, I'll make even more money than that!"

"Excuse me, sir," I said "I cannot understand you when you talk with your mouth full." (Oh LORD, what a grown-up thing to say)

The rest of the kids laughed at him as he frantically tried to swallow before someone else could start talking over him. "I mean," he exclaimed, Pringle-free, "I'd make more than a million dollars."

"Over a lifetime, yes, I'm sure you would. I'm sure that as an engineer, you'd make more money than me."

"Hells yeah I would!" he grinned, and even though I didn't want to endorse twelve-year olds swearing in the classroom, he was so impish I couldn't help but grin as well. He started paging through the course catalog I'd brought as two girls passed around my old student ID card and another boy hollered "So teachers at college don't care if you don't do your homework because then they don't have to work as hard, right?!"

I've done a lot of college recruiting before, and some with underserved populations, but this was an entirely new perspective. B warned me that some of them had siblings or parents who went to college but the majority of them had, at most, only seen college on TV. Some other questions they asked me:

What is a major?

Does the teacher smack you if you fall asleep in class?

Do you have a movie theater on campus?

Do your dorm refrigerators come with food already in them?

Why should I go to college if I know I want to be a basketball player?

How do you say "cheese" in Italian?

Can you share books with other people? Cuz books are expensive.

How much does college cost? Like a thousand dollars?

How do you play water polo?

After I answered a ton more questions (and we discussed how to write a thesis using the example "Egyptians, not aliens, build the pyramids"), one very shy girl sitting next to me in our desk circle asked me what I wanted to do with my college degree. I told her that she'd asked a very good question, because I still didn't know-- but that because I went to college I was now prepared to do a lot of different things. To teach, to write, to problem-solve, to ask hard questions and try to find answers to them. That because I graduated from college I had all sorts of options ahead of me, and that I had such a good time there I decided to stay working at a college and keep going to school. She smiled in a way that made me think that answer might have sparked something in her.

I have no idea what will happen to any of those kids, if any of them will think about what I said or flip through the glossy brochures I handed out and daydream about a life in the other Washington. I'm not naive enough to think I changed anyone's life, but I hope that maybe someone heard me when I said it wouldn't be enough to go for the easy way, and that they should challenge themselves beyond what people expected and asked of them. That they would meet a lot of people who would say that they were smart and that that was good enough, and that they shouldn't stop at "good enough."

Maybe some of it did get through. At the end of the session I asked them "and what are the three subjects you should take as much as possible in high school?" and they shouted in muddled chorus "math, science and foreign language!" Do DCPS high schools even offer foreign languages? I have no idea.

But for the brief time I spent with them, I was utterly charmed and optimistic. These kids are fantastic. I hope they get the chances they deserve to show off what they're made of, because it's good stuff.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

i will stop making fun of other peoples' life choices when it stops being funny

"This girl I know and her fiance aren't moving in together until after the wedding."

"As in, they're keeping separate apartments until the wedding night? Because then the Baby Jesus won't know they have the sex?"

"Yup. And they even live in the same neighborhood."

"That's ridiculous. People still do this? I mean, tradition is nice and all, but why not just dig a big hole and throw dollars down it?"

"Well, she's a second-year associate and he's a lawyer, too. They can afford it."

"But what a silly thing to spend extra money on. If I had that salary and wanted to waste it on something useless I'd get something really impractical and have it encrusted with diamonds."

"Like a diamond-encrusted PONY."

"A diamond-encrusted pony with ROCKETS."

"Yes! Diamond rocket ponies are a waste of money I can get behind."

Saturday, June 02, 2007

how to annoy me

Tell me that you "go to law school in Connecticut," and then casually name-drop "New Haven" a few minutes later. Wow, you're SO MODEST. CAN WE HAVE SEX NOW?