Monday, May 28, 2007

On shampoo

Today I realized that I finally finished up the bottles of shampoo and conditioner that I purchased in Hawaii lo those many months ago. Back in late December, as the honeymoon began so promisingly, we bought standard-sized bottles of Suave shampoo and conditioner, and we carried them around with us from Oahu to Hawaii to Oahu again, and then back to New York. They were exotic; they were Hawaiian; they were souvenirs. And now, five months later, I finally finished them (L having her own well-established haircare regime which sadly does not involve Suave products, but somehow involves 14 other bottles in our shower).

Call me crazy, but I feel that five months is a really long time to nurse the same bottle of shampoo. Of course, maybe I'm doing some showering at the gym that would otherwise occur at home, but this is unlikely, since I shower at the gym at nine o'clock at night. Since my hair has been fairly short, maybe I'm applying smaller dollops than usual. But if this is actually the case, then over the course of my lifetime I've only used about 65 bottles of shampoo. As a pampered American who has been on this planet for 27 years, obviously I feel a bit shortchanged by my consumption here. Have I been underwashing? Is 65 bottles even a whole crate or pallet or shipment of shampoo? What the hell?

This is what I think about in the shower every day, mindful of the exotic curves of the Hawaii Suave bottles, and the remnants of the price stickers on the plastic. Years ago I heard that it takes six weeks for all of your skins cells to flake off and be replaced, to leave you with a completely new outer layer, so I would always think that for six weeks after I returned from anyplace, I still wore some of the same skin that had been far away and experienced different breezes or water or sand or light. I guess I can add the five-month shampoo yardstick as another measurement of time and distance. It will be mildly sad to toss out those two bottles -- not many of my toiletries are native Hawaiian.

Monday, May 21, 2007

State update: Montana

"Big Sky Country" is such a simple phrase that it can be hard to grasp the grand, literal truth of the statement. As soon as you arrive in Montana you are confronted with the vast dome of sky above you, clear, uninterrupted, blurry on the edges with rolling hills or snowy peaks or the lurching tips of pine trees. There are no tall buidings here; there are none of the smudgy east coast afternoons to which you are accustomed.

We spent most of our time in Missoula, a college town with a modest downtown area and the rebellious streak that comes from a constantly moving student population. The Clark Fork river meanders through town; once we took a break from a bike ride to watch a beaver work on his dam and meander through the snowmelt river. Cycling is the preferred mode of transportation here; we would ride our bikes along the dirt path alongside the river, park our bikes next to the college bookstore or the brewery or the pizza place, and eventually coast back home. Once we hit the paved streets of the neighborhood we would ride bikes with the freedom of kids on a summer evening, loping along in wide turns punctuated by the occasional sprinted race. Missoula was an oasis, an extremely peaceable valley.

In Glacier National Park we ogled at the remarkably clear reflections of the mountains in McDonald Lake. Since we arrived before the beginning of the season, the park was ours: empty roads, quiet trails. The mountains seemed almost protective of their tranquil lakes, each one ice-cold and fed by countless tributaries tumbling down the slopes. We could follow the progression of each waterfall with our eyes, watching the streams gain power as pale mountain goats hobbled along the rocky cliffs above.

On our last day in Glacier we went on a ten-mile hike, aiming to get up to a glacier. We didn't make it, though; we passed the snow line, and were tromping along the banks in shorts and t-shirts and sneakers, but the sun had already peaked and we had a long way to go. We made it back to McDonald with wet feet and sunburnt faces, with a distinct sense of satisfaction and acute exhaustion. On the drive back to Missoula we honored our accomplishments with sandwiches and tall glasses of Pepsi, and another feast awaited us in town.

Montana was a dream, an alternative to the life we've chosen in New York. The whole trip was such a ridiculously clear Country Mouse/City Mouse comparison; we replaced our city walks and media consumption and cosmopolitan poses with early evenings and bike rides and an utter lack of awareness of the world beyond the mountain range on any side of us. It was a great sojourn, but I was happy to come home. One more photo: the latest in my genre of awesome, one-handed self-portraiture.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Charlottesville is my home planet

I had a startling realization today, as L and I made a mad dash to Charlottesville and back for a baptism and lunch at Take It Away: my home planet is this town. I look at myself, and I look at everyone else around here, and I realize that they are me.

The proof came when L and I got dressed to head down for the baptism, a pleasant, classy affair with some easygoing parents and their occasionally cranky baby. I was rocking a bright polo and some cargo shorts, and L was wearing a really pretty sun dress. She was like the hottest chick at the Kentucky Derby. Anyways, when we made it into town and went in to get our sandwiches, we looked around and quickly noticed that everyone looked exactly like us. All of the young men wore their polo shirts (what a spectrum of pastel bright colors, my own cerulean shirt effortlessly joining the parade!) untucked over khaki shorts or pants, ratty old flip flops beating the brick sidewalk; all of the women and coeds wore pretty sundresses or skirts with the same flips as L. Everyone was more tan than us, but their hair was the same length and color as ours. All of us were scrubbed, earnest, open-faced, and well-dressed, carrying ourselves with a certain confidence and easy happiness that comes from an elite education and a distinct familiarity with affluence. What a day to be young and alive! Khakis for everyone!

I have to admit, it felt good in a way. These were the good, decent, Polo-wearing white folk of Charlottesville! We saw nary a poor person. Nary a person of color. It was nothing like New York, nothing like real life. But to some degree it explained a lot about me and how I present myself and how I think things should be, for whatever that's worth.

Charlottesville is my home planet; Charlottesville is my Krypton. But New York is my home. A marriage between those two worlds may be impossible, but it's nice to visit your past in order to better appreciate your present. It will be good to return home in a little while.

Tomorrow we're flying out to Montana. More to come in a week.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Look the part

Today L and I went on a shopping extravaganza to buy me work clothes for my new job, which starts in a couple weeks. We walked into Macy's this morning armed with nothing more than a set of extremely specific guidelines to help define "business casual," as well as moxie in abundance, and we left the store two hours later carrying two bags apiece and beaming with a glow of triumph. Here is what I purchased, starting at the top and working down:

3 dress shirts, two white and one blue (and slim fit, no less) (hubba hubba) (thanks James)

4 extremely cool neckties, none of them paisley and none of them from the Donald J. Trump collection

4 pairs of premium Dockers (khaki, olive, navy, black), all with a special sheen of quality

12 new pairs of socks, with extra-stay protection, to make sure they cling to my calves in a most flattering way

2 pairs of shoes, kind of dressy, kind of orthopedic, in black and brown.

This amount of clothes, which could dress an entire Somalian village for a summer internship at a law firm, cost me about $575. But I saved a total of about $197 on all of my purchases, thanks to the one-day sale we unknowingly stumbled into.

All in all, this was an extremely successful shopping adventure, and even L was impressed with our efficiency. Special thanks to Ashesh for his sartorial guidance, since no one rocks the young professional look quite like he does. Sweater vests for everyone!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sweet surrender

So, I guess this is summer. Exams are over, feet are bare, shorts are worn on the street. It was such a relief yesterday to take my last exam and walk away from school, knowing I don't have to go back there for several months. Here's the final wrap-up:

Professional Responsibility: Harder than I thought it would be. Am I an unethical person, after all? The essay turned weirdly personal: "Well, if I was in that situation I guess I would just follow my heart, you know? Like Jiminy Cricket? Always let your conscience by your guide, unless prohibited by statute?"

Income Tax: An utter fiasco. Apparently some people were in tears as they left the exam; at least I kept it all in. I guessed on the multiple choice section. On the essay I tried to spit out whatever statements of fact I could cobble together, hoping something would be mildly relevant. Discouraging.

Entertainment Law: I actually felt all right during this one, although I basically finished the three-hour exam in an hour and a half. Everyone was clattering on the keyboards furiously as I squirmed in my seat and tried to wring some additional knowledge from my brain. I made myself sit for an additional hour, occasionally tinkering with a sentence or adding another clause here or there, but I knew I was finished. Moseyed to the bathroom, came back. Anything else to say? No? Ok, I guess we're done then.

And that's how the semester ended - prematurely. I went to the bookstore and got $40 back for two textbooks that cost about $100 apiece, then I used my hard-won earnings to buy a school t-shirt (my first one ever -- the school's weird purple-burgundy color, with "Fordham Law" in white -- I guess I'm ready to publicly acknowledge my attendance, now that I'm 2/3 finished) and lunch. I now have a few days of relaxation before a quick trip to Charlottesville, then Montana, then back here again for work, my first regular income source since 2005.

So this is summer. What a relief! I'm glad the school year is over. By the time I have to go back I'll be ready to return for another round, but for now I surrender myself to some days of indolence. "The life I Ieft behind me is a cold room."

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Uncharitable thoughts

I think I have been stressed out lately, more agitated than I realized. My Barcelona eye twitch is still flaring, and I am quite aggravated over this round of final exams. I stumbled through one yesterday and have the most wretched exam ever tomorrow (Federal Income Tax) and I just want to wash my hands of the whole thing. I was looking forward to going to the gym tonight, but it was the kind of night where I just felt generally cranky throughout, and allowed myself to wallow in uncharitable thoughts about everything.

It started at home, when I went to try on a new shirt I got from my last race, a shirt that's good-looking and made of a special sweat-wicking material (not one of these tissue-paper-thin cotton shirts that dissolves after six washes and lets everyone check out your torso once you sweat through the fine layer of fabric). Since I realized a couple years ago that most men's large sizes are made for chunky people rather than tall people, I've been going medium. So I pull this shirt on, and it's incredibly tight in the upper chest area and arms, but then the neckhole is gaping wide, exposing my collar bones. L laughed at me and said "you look like a hot gay guy." I tried to see this as a compliment. Strike one.

Progress to the gym. In hip hop, this new, muscle-bound-to-a-silly-degree guy comes in and sets up shop in the front row [gritting teeth] and proceeds to verbally process the entire class: "One TWO three-and-four FIVE SIX seven-and-EIGHT! Ba ba BA BA BA ba BA BA ba bum bum!" He's grunting and doing all of this loudly, not like the occasional "uh" or "ooh" that I might expel under my breath. He's also meandering his way into the center of the room, into my zone. Please shut up. EMNY! I wondered if he was mildly retarded; I wanted to say something but didn't want to provoke an episode of roid rage. Strike two.

[It goes without saying, of course, that the standard bunch of arrhythmic morons are crowding me in class too: the little guy I call the Ninja, who is hyperkinetc and jumps all around but doesn't really get the smooth vibe of the music; the girl with about half the skill she thinks she has, despite her cool baggy pants; etc. I may not get all the moves precisely, and I may be like Old Man Suburbia in that room, and there may be occasions like this where I'm copping some serious attitude, but at least I feel the groove and don't move my body like it's marching band tryouts. Yet I know I'm being a jerk right now.]

I make my way through another nintey minutes of exercise and head on over to the burrito place to regain some calories and negate my previous activity. At the soda fountain, I was waiting to get my drink as three of the back-kitchen cooks filled their cups. Now tell me, is it wrong that when I saw these young men, identically-dressed, all pretty short, all hard-working immigrants who make an honest living and deserve all the protections and benefits our society can offer, is it wrong that I immediately thought of them as Oompa Loompas?

Strike three. I need to finish up exams and get the hell out of Dodge. I'm a nicer person than this.