Wednesday, June 29, 2005

How to succeed in business...

Today I reached a new plateau of professionalism. Last night I made arrangements with my friend James to meet him for lunch today, and we decided, in a slight stretch of the traditional norms of the workplace, to meet at the Chipotle located eighty blocks south of my office. No problem; we have done this before and it's fine. The worst part is dealing with all of the midtown professional drones in their pastel ties and sweater sets. But today, an hour before we were supposed to meet at 34th street, I had an epiphany. I called James, and there was no time for pleasantries.

"I have an idea that is so crazy, your brain is going to dissolve," I said. "What is located next door to Chipotle on 34th street?"
"The movie theater," he replied. I knew he would know.
"And what movie opens up today in wide release?"
"War of the Worlds."
"Yes. And that's all I'm going to say," I said. I was anxious to get off the phone, afraid to get my hopes up, afraid this impossible dream might somehow come true. "Two words for you: 1:15 and 1:45. But that's all I'm saying."

Well, today, Wednesday, at 1:10 pm, you would have found me in a darkened movie theater waiting for the movie to start (we enjoyed a string of previews all having to do, oddly enough, with island mishaps. Moral of the story: don't go anyplace new). It was an extremely odd assortment of people sharing in our midday moviegoing experience, a typical Manhattan cross-section. Old people, teens, ratty people, smartly dressed people who seemed like heads of households. "What's with these people?" I thought contemptuously. "Don't you have jobs? Shouldn't you be working?" Perhaps they were illiterate. I don't know.

I was back at my desk by 4 pm. No harm, no foul. The movie was great, and a major component of my enjoyment came from the illicit pleasure of playing hooky. It didn't feel like I was skipping my job; it felt like I was skipping algebra class. I had even tried to make a hall pass before I left - I wrote a note of explanation to my boss and left it on her chair (she happened to be out of the office, too). I showed the note to a colleague. "Why are you even writing this? What do you want me to do, initial it? Just go. Have fun."

So I did. I shed the usual business-casual shackles and submerged myself in the idyll of a summer afternoon, like back in the days when the only elements of happiness were a driver's license and a warm day and the confidence and bluster to walk away from whatever you let confine you.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Summer solstice

I've been gone for a week, to San Francisco and its environs. L and I went to visit some friends out there and we had a great time in the city, Napa, Yosemite. The big thing, though, is that while we were there we got engaged - I asked her to marry me and she said yes, so now that's where we stand: affianced and loving it.

Even writing the words down is odd - the formality of the language of engagements and proposals and marriages. This whole process has made me feel very old and very young all at once: old enough to envisage my life, in all of its turns and twists until my death, in the company of another, old enough to consider joint checking accounts and naming children and caring for in-laws; and young enough to dive into this venture with optimism and maybe some naivete about what a life-long partnership entails, young enough to be brave enough to even try. But now that it's done I am much happier with the word 'fiancee' than I was with 'girlfriend,' and the prospect of living my life with this woman makes me joyful on a profound level. Before we used to talk about marriage and weddings in a painfully abstract and distanced way: "when I become engaged to someone," "when I have taken a bride," "when I have the occasion to plan a wedding." The relief - the relief! the gratitude! - to talk about our wedding, our life, our children. They will be good-looking, smart, dark-haired. Perhaps even athletic.

I bought the ring a couple weeks ago, through an amusingly blog-worthy process that I couldn't even discuss back then. Since I bought the ring I've been playing with it and admiring it almost nightly - infusing it with love and my touch, listening to the most romantic music I have (Jill Scott, Coldplay, Ginuwine, Stevie W) and blessing the ring with it. I knew the day I would propose on this trip - Tuesday, June 21, the summer solstice, when we were going to do a 17-mile hike up Half-Dome in Yosemite.

The night before we were staying at the Little Valley Inn, in Mariposa, 40 miles beyond Yosemite. We meant to go to bed early in order to wake up at 4:30 and drive into the park. I couldn't sleep, though, tense with anticipation, not even doubting my plans but enduring a rush of butterflies all the same. I couldn't stray too far from the bathroom, either. I lulled myself to sleep thinking about my friends and family, imagining telling them and enjoying their reactions. On the hike I wasn't sure when I would ask the question, but about a quarter of the way in we found ourselves eating breakfast on some shady rocks atop the breathtaking Nevada Falls. There were few people around, mostly a very aggressive breed of fat and short-tailed squirrel, as well as a smattering or curious blue birds who were not shy about mugging for some spare trail mix.

Asking the question reminded me of improv, and of how it felt to decide to kiss a girl in high school. Once the course of action was set, there was no turning back, only commitment. As we got up to leave I said, hold on, and pivoted onto one knee as L stood before. There were about eight points that I wanted to cover as I spoke, points dealing with: our love, our potential family, what she means to me, the hike as metaphor, etc. I remembered maybe three of them. She was shaking and turning a little bit red, so I held her steady as I talked. I was very aware of the situation and felt surprisingly detached. Finally, with lots of hems and haws, I finished my opening statement and asked the questions. She said yes and I showed her the ring and slid it on her finger, and she loved it. We got up and the squirrels scattered. Someone took our picture and then we kept moving up the mountain - there was a long ways to go yet.

A long ways to go but we were floating. Before I left for the trip I felt like Moses leaving to climb the mountain to receive the ten commandments. I was aware of the trip as an important hinge in my life - I was on a pilgrimage where things would change in a profound way. Now I have returned, yoked to this woman for the rest of time, and it brings me nothing but joy and love and gratitude. I am a changed man now, and I think for the better.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Keep this on the hush

I saw "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" the other day. Way better than I expected! Brangelina, looking good. Angie with her Fembot team of she-assassins. The sexual tension was so thick it was dribbling off the edge of the screen . . . Who goes to see the Metropolitan Opera give a free performance of 'Samson et Delila' in Central Park and then leave 45 minutes in because of the bizarre mid-June cold snap? The same people who spill hummus and lamb all over my New York Times beach towel . . . meaning us!

Newsflash! . . . I'm reading Ha Jin's novel "War Trash" and I really like it! But I bent the cover in my bag and I tried to blame L for it. Not appropriate . . . We're going to California on Saturday for a week, to San Francisco and Yosemite National Park. Hiking, reading, driving in a rental car, west coast city life. This country of ours is huge . . . And finally: a friend of a friend was reading this blog, and thought I was a chick. And just when I was feeling confident about my gendered identity . . .

This style is tiresome. But I wanted to at least put something out there. More later.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Circus leaving town

Today Michael Jackson was acquitted of the ten counts against him. I tried not to pay attention to the trial, but the prurient details sometimes proved irrestistible: the sad porn collection of a middle-aged man, the secret jukebox passageways, the licking of boys' heads (!). All those bizarre Europeans camping out the courthouse for months at a time, with their weird fashions and curiously juvenile posters. What is going on here? And why couldn't the posters have been better? It's not like they have much else to do, besides weep a lot.

In eighth grade I wrote an English paper about Michael Jackson's arrested development, his efforts to recover a childhood from within his gilded cage. When I was very young I used to go crazy when my parents played "Beat It" - I developed a foot-stomping, furiously aerobic dance dubbed the Boothead Shuffle by parents and relatives, a state of mind into which I would plummet whenever I heard those first guitar licks. I did this on birthdays, anniversaries, family reunions, and at least one occasion in which a video camera was present.

All this to say that my relationship with Michael Jackson is long and multifaceted. Today I can't even listen to him on my iPod. I see how the prosecution couldn't prove anything beyond that pesky reasonable doubt, I see how the accuser turned out to be a total wackjob with the reliability of a narcoleptic doing air traffic control, but something is not right. He should have been found guilty of something. If not a crime, then at least squandering a life of wealth and influence.

Honestly, he should have died tragically in a plane crash in the late 80s. Or even, say, 1993 - I'd give him "Dangerous" just for the joys of "Remember the Time." But think how he would be remembered if he left this earth before all of this came out. In some ways it may have been better - and that is a sad and deflating idea to consider.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Life is but a dream

Yesterday L and I went rowing in the boats in Central Park. This has been a goal of mine for three years now. Running through the park, or meandering, I would always see cheerful couples or bustling young families or lone former crew people paddling along the lake, under the bridges, near the guitar player, by Bethesda fountain. When L arrived, I told her, "I will row you in a boat. Let me row you in a boat."

Sitting in the boats is a somewhat grimy experience. Your ass ends up a little damp - lake water? Sweat? Residual moistness? The oars squeak horribly and you sit facing the rear of the boat to propel yourself forward, gazing into the face of your companion as you try not to get mad by her seemingly-constant litany of course corrections. You can push the oars forward, leading with the rear of the boat, and it feels kind of like a chest press. You can spin yourself around with the oars or just float aimlessly and enjoy a view of nearly uninterrupted greenness, the grass, trees, shrubbery, doubly seen through a lens of water. Towers and apartments rising from behind like an old species of tree.

It felt good to row her in a boat in Central Park. We will do it again, I am sure.

All that, and the new Coldplay CD is spectacular.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Freon dreams/Perils of athleticism

Last night I bought an air conditioner, after two nights of stifling heat and one rejected invitation for L to stay over. I found a decent air conditioner for about ninety bucks at Le Home Depot, and I decided to catch a cab home. A cabbie stopped, but he called out the window to find out where I was going before he would pull over. What the hell? My New York Survival Aggression reared its ugly head as I snarled, "Tenth and Sixth. You taking it, or what?" I was surprised at myself, but I blame the effects of the heat. Putting the damned thing in place was an ordeal, requiring me to shove the fridge and oven away from the wall, where I discovered a warren of power strips and extension cords. I simplified things somewhat, but now I have a fridge, oven, and AC all connected to one power strip leading back to the outlet. I am a little concerned by this, but I figure I'll only use two at a time and I'll be all right. Several times I almost dropped the air conditioner into the bottomless shaft of my building. And my lingering question is: Will the pigeon shit that is quickly accumulating on my AC somehow makes it way into the environment of my apartment? And would that have any detrimental effects on me? I googled this, but couldn't really find anything.

Anyways, the week has been good. Stifling days make for pleasant evenings. The reading on Monday went very well - a smaller crowd, but everybody was into it. A few people came out to see me, and I was grateful for that. I ended up reading last, and I did this piece on Little League and playing softball with my friend's Olympic coworkers. I had pecked it out over the weekend for the "Sports Night" theme, and I tried to write it in the vein of one of the New Yorker's "Personal Histories," which I love. I wasn't sure how it would go over, but it got a really good response and I felt great about everything in the world.

However, last night I confronted a problem that has been creeping up on me like - well, like a mold on your feet. ATHLETE'S FOOT. I went on, a site I will not even link to due to the miserable compulsion I feel to go there and identify new ailments from which I suffer, and I learned all about this condition and why I'm such a bad person for getting it in the first place. After two weeks of ointments I should be all cleaned up. In the meantime, I'm deciding if burning all my footwear, rugs and bedding is enough, or if I need to immolate myself alongside them. Today, the first full day of treatment, my feet feel like they are on the rotisserie, because I am thinking of them a lot. And the empathy and support I would expect from friends and family is nowhere to be found, instead I suffer the usual derision and indignities. Well, good for me for at least getting "Athlete's Foot" - maybe someday I could get "Jock Itch," too. Or maybe even "Stud Burn," except that's just plain ol' herpes. No thanks, WebMD.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

A fistful of Pez

On Saturday night I find myself standing with Ashesh by the bar of the Sapphire Lounge. Fantastic music - R & B, reggaeton - was pumping over the system, but we had no women to lure onto the dance floor. There were a couple of bachelorette parties going on, as evinced by the preponderance of white girls of a certain age, and an excess of woo-ing, which you can usually escape at Sapphire (as well as girls dancing with their arms over their heads).

Ashesh and I were talking and suddenly two girls were standing before us. They were looking at us expectantly and I felt a moment of pride. The tall blonde who looked like the muscles in her face weren't entirely under her control was covering Ashesh, and I had the slightly mousier brunette (maybe she would be smart-cute in the light?). Well, well, I thought. But of course. And how are you ladies tonight? They were both emissaries of the bachelorette parties, and they were both wearing candy necklaces. "Bite off a candy . . . a dollar?" was all I could hear over the music. We sort of dumbly agreed and I soon found myself gingerly trying to bite off a single candy from the strand, while fastidiously avoiding touching the girl's skin and trying not to snap the twine. She didn't smell particularly good. I finally succeeded and was unclear about what kind of transaction was taking place until Ashesh took out his wallet and gave his girl a dollar. I did the same and they wandered away. "That was weird," I said. "That was not worth a dollar." "I got her hair stuck in my teeth," Ashesh said.

As the night continued more and more girls came up asking us for a dollar to bite a piece of candy from their necklaces. What was this money for? And wasn't a dollar kind of steep for such a wretched prize? The girls were sadder and sadder as the night progressed. The more prudish ones wouldn't wear the necklace, so one came up with the whole thing wadded into a damp napkin. One twirled it around her finger, and another dropped hers onto the floor and then picked it up and offered it to us: "Do you want a piece of candy for a dollar sorry it fell on the floor?" They completely divorced the "sexy" aspect of the process, and thus bled it dry of the last shred of appeal. Would I pay a dollar to take a Pez from somebody's sweaty fist? No, madam, I would not.

These were not sexy girls but they were trying to be. Near the end of the night the eventual bride came up and asked if we would sit down and hold her drink between our legs. It was the saddest thing in the world. We both said no, of course, but then we soon saw her consuming her drink from between the legs of a random seated guy, a veritable piece de resistance for the evening. Woo!

Friday, June 03, 2005

The main event

The Church Basement Reading Series continues this Monday night! And I'm in it. The theme is "Sports Night," so it will be a night of both hilarity and pathos.

Micky's Blue Room
Avenue C between 10th and 11th Streets

Monday, 6 June 2005
8 pm

See you there!

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Call me out my name

Yesterday I walked out into the main area of my workplace and mentioned that a new show was going to be on TV that night, a show that I was mildly interested in watching and that would provide some structure for my night. The show was on Bravo, and it was called “Sportskids Moms and Dads.” (In hindsight, I see how pathetic this sounds, and why it was never a fruitful topic of conversation.) One of my coworkers, a woman I consider a friend, said:

“You’re such a TV whore!”

I retreated into my office thoroughly chastened as everyone else laughed ruefully. As I returned I could hear someone mutter, “Dang, that was harsh.” My face turned all kinds of red, and I was surprised at the wave of humiliation and shame that coursed through my body. TV’s not the only thing I do, you know. I read books, magazines, newspapers. I exercise. I can talk about music and film. I’ve done improv, I write some. I’m going to school soon. Yet beyond all of that, I think this woman hit a deeper truth, one I find myself afraid to confront.

But what’s wrong with watching some TV as long as you’re well-rounded? I feel the same ambivalence and guilt about watching television as I think I would if I, say, chewed tobacco regularly. And the damnedest part is that I did watch the show, and it wasn’t even that good.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

My big fat greek trip to Italy

Well, I’m back from ten days in Southern Italy. With my family. On a bus.

Sicily was beautiful: clear waters, rocky mountains, stunning hillsides. The food and wine were great, the people were goodlooking and friendly. It was a strange trip, though, because it’s so different from the ways I’m used to traveling. Here we were with 30 other Americans on a big loping Star Bus, which was pretty comfortable, but which pretty much served as a holding pen on wheels. We all woke up together and ate together in restaurants and hotel dining rooms. They would drive us from one tourist trap to another. “See the centuries-old mosaics and the Greek temple ruins!” They’d tell us. Or: “Now we’ll drive to the mountaintop to snap photos of the beach!” And then we’d get there, and there would be twelve buses in place already, with a bunch of fat Americans mooning around and asking for mayonnaise. At that point, while my mom went to the restroom for a period up to 40 minutes long, we would lose our own tour group and become stuck behind three others. I don’t believe in stereotypes, but I can say that Japanese tourists are assholes.

We woke up very early and went to bed very early, we walked slow, we took our time. I felt frustrated at every turn, like the kid in “The Incredibles,” but a lot more sullen. At different points I got frustrated with everyone in my family and everyone in our tour group. “Why can’t you even try to speak Italian!” “Why do you shuffle so slowly! Does that cane even do anything?” “Why are you so diabetic all the time!”, etc. This was not a healthy attitude, and so I don’t think I managed to really relax on the trip. It was a very task-oriented vacation, which has its own set of peculiar charms, but it was a rough way to live for ten days. I mean, we woke up at six every day – we didn’t even get a weekend. It was worse than working.

Here are some of the positive things about it: quality time with my family, great reading, beautiful country, hiking up Mt. Etna (my second volcano this year!), the Isle of Capri (birthplace of Capri Sun beverages, I like to believe), walking down the streets of Pompeii, I communicated with the Italians pretty darn well (another European even thought I was a clerk in store, which was mind-boggling), and I got some good sun. And now it’s good to be back.