Monday, August 27, 2007

First day back

Today was the first day of my last year of law school. Thank God. Entering the building today, with a laptop in my backpack and a $150 textbook in my hands, I felt a wave of such familiar ... boredom. The change was almost tangible as I left the bright summer morning to walk the same old hallways and stairways, from locker to class to library and back again. The rhythms of law school feel so familiar and so uninteresting right now. The same vaguely familiar people drifting through the building. The same long-winded lectures and long minutes eyeing the clock. The same boring litany of websites I read to entertain myself, the same minutia I use as a distraction. It seems especially painful after a summer of working, when I'm chomping at the bit to do real tasks and look things up and learn things the hard way.

Compared to actual working, and actual adulthood, I appreciate the leisurely pace of law school. But something just feels so uninspired about this round of classes. Maybe it's the fact that this is my fifth time at bat here, I have secure employment lined up and my academic performance seems immovable. Hopefully the rest of my classes will perk me up, once we get past the clutter about grades and exams and attendance policies. Why do all professors beat us over the head with that stuff? We're expected to read hundreds of pages of parched case law and gassy academic treatises each semester, but they don't think we can read a four-page syllabus. Maybe they're right, and then maybe that's the problem. I don't know.

There was one bright spot, though. Especially after trudging through the soupy atmosphere of law school all morning, I was shocked by the little bolt of happiness I felt when I saw a bunch of my old friends gathering for lunch. There was the usual core of my good friends from law school, the ones I've known since my very first day at ol' FU, along with a bunch of others whose company I have come to appreciate. It felt great to reconnect after a long summer. Everyone looked fresh and tanned and more freckled than usual, people had sharp haircuts, and for a good hour we shared the buzz of of melancholic 3L excitement and nostalgia for our summer incomes. It was reassuring to see that I do have friends here, that there are other souls in the boat along with me. A few bright lights along these dusty old hallways.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I love humanity

Hip hop tonight was incredible. There were only about ten of us, so the class was small and cohesive, and we were doing this ridiculous combo that had me working the dance face and strutting like a fool the entire time. The song, "Money in the Bank," by Swizz Beatz, was new to me and awesome. Here is the combo, so you can do it at home:

Dip it, dip it, dip it, dip it, front dip, ahh, turn, shoulder POP! Foot, foot, NO, and back; easy, easy, break it down and up, JUMP! JUMP! JUMP! JUMP!, Out and back, leg and front, pop it like it's hot, go back and turn, shoulder, arm, down and back! Roll it, work, roll it, work, split and down, go BUTT! BUTT! BUTT! BUTT! Split and back, KICK and DOWN, JUMP and step, Money in the bank.

As you can see, it's awesome. (Incidentally, it took me about five minutes to compose the preceding paragraph, because it is both accurate and rhythmic, so appreciate that.) On the way out I had a nice chat with the teacher, Russell, who is very cool and is the Obi Wan to my Luke Skywalker, hip hop-wise (The B.I.G. to my Puffy? No, definitely not).

Afterwards I picked up Richard Ford's "A Multitude of Sins" at the bookstore, and then went to Chipotle. I chatted with a couple of the friendly guys behind the counter, who know me as Veggie Burrito, No Fajitas, and one noticed that I was limping slightly, and I explained how I'm a little beat down because I'm training for the marathon. Moments later, the girl ahead of me in line asked for extra guac for her burrito, but when she heard it was a buck-fifty extra, she declined. I thought to myself, this girl held the door open for you as you came in. Be nice. So I ordered a side of guac for my veggie burrito (it was free for me) and I gave it to the girl. She was very appreciative yet she skedaddled out of there very quickly, despite my efforts to flash the wedding ring and make it clear that I wasn't trying to make a move on her, I was just trying to help her out with her guacamole needs. But as she left, thanking me profusely, she said, "and good luck on the marathon," and I felt fantastic.

So then I meandered home, with a bluebird on my shoulder and a spring in my step.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Summer winding down

These last couple of weeks have been intensely relaxing. We've been doing a lot of focused activity in order to relax and have fun. As in: "Hurry up, we need to leave the beach so we can get back in time for the JT concert!" Or, "wake up, it's 5:30 and we want Shakespeare in the Park tickets!" It's fun, yet at times it seems more stressful than it needs to be.

My parents and grandparents met L and I at the beach for an afternoon last week. This turned out to be a kind of valedictory lap for my grandparents, who wanted to try each and every kind of snack food anyone has ever eaten at any beach. In the course of a few hours, we had seafood, ice cream, crepes, boardwalk fries, and Grotto's Pizza, the only kind of pizza I would take a bullet for. The funniest moment came when my grandma had just purchased her fries and she was struggling to rip some napkins off the big cylindrical roll. You know how some places have those cheap napkins now, the ones that are single-ply and come on a roll and you have to rip them off yourself? As if decent, regular napkins are just too taxing for restaurateurs to deal with? After battling with this thing, my grandma walked along and said to no one in particular, "that toilet paper's hard to get out," and the rest of us just burst out laughing. She just accepted the fact that this place was offering toilet paper as napkins. I think our grandparents deserve better.

The family fun continued when my sister arrived for a few days to enjoy the city and force us to clean our apartment before her arrival. She and I waited seven hours for Shakespeare in the Park tickets, and she impressed me with her ability to sleep like a rock for four of those hours, a beach towel over her head and snoring rhythmically the entire time. It was just like we had never left the beach, except instead of crashing waves I had my sister sounding like a construction site beside me. We had a blast for the rest of the time as well: checking out the view from the Top of the Rock, strolling around the neighborhood, and watching "Superbad," which some might think would be an awkward movie to see with your little sister, but not me.

But now all our visitors have left, and I'm bracing myself for school again. L is going to Armenia tomorrow for a week, which is depressing and means I will revert to bachelor mode, which is a much more primal and less tidy state of existence. Class starts for me next Monday, which means I actually have homework this weekend. Oh, and we'll be repainting the pink room in our place very soon -- either Celery or Blue Mesa or Cobalt or something similarly named. Etruscan Midnight? Plum Fantasia? Time will tell.

Friday, August 17, 2007

OMG its Justin Timberlakee !!!

There are several thousand people in Madison Square Garden tonight, and most of them are named Kory or Krystal or Kourtney. They are young, and they are wearing t-shirts they just bought with Justin Timberlake's image on the fronts. These people have endured a lackluster set by the opening act, Good Charlotte, and now they are watching as concert-goers' text messages flash on the screens onstage:


When Justin Timberlake finally rises onto stage this crowd of young women creates an ungodly sound, the scream of a thousand banshees, like witches' spindly fingers ripping through jagged sheets of metal, a relentless shriek with a million mothers that will not fully die down for at least an hour. You have to get accustomed to this sound, and you have to learn to listen to the music on top of it, like how you have to get accustomed to being one of not many men here. The men you have seen here fall into three categories: (1) attending with their women, reluctantly; (2) attending with their women, happily (you fall into this category); (3) attending with their men, happily. There are so few men here that when Justin does the call and response part in "Senorita," you can actually hear your own voice, alone yet uncowed, doing the male part ("it feels like something's heating up, can I leave with you?"), whereas in the female part ("I don't know but I'm thinking 'bout, really leaving with you") you are confronted with a wall of sound and cries and yelps barreling all around you.

Yet you enjoy this concert. The first thing that makes you turn to your woman and share a smile of happiness is the segue from "Like I Love You" to "My Love," when the choreography is so tight and subtle yet perfectly captures everything about the music. You will share similar moments of amazement and joy during the choreography for "Summer Love," and during Timbaland's guest DJ gig, when he moves seamlessly through recent, random pop hits ("Since You've Been Gone"), to the best songs from your high school years ("Are You That Somebody"), to the best song of the whole summer ("The Way I Are").

Surprisingly, the army of Krystals grows quiet as Justin does some of his older songs, especially a ballad from the "Justified" album that you love. "They never even listened to the whole thing," you cluck to your woman. You have a moment of greater triumph, along with profound disdain for the Krystals, once you see how long it takes them to recognize the songs that are being played. Once you hear a few piano keys, or a guitar lick, or maybe even a backbeat, you know what song he's about to launch into -- yet the Krystals seem to need measure after measure after measure to figure out they're about to hear "Rock Your Body" or "LoveStoned." "They're idiots! They don't even know what they're hearing!" you yell to your woman, confident that the Krystals aren't listening to you, since they just realized "SexyBack" started.

You have a great night, an island of matrimonial masculinity amid this sea of raging young women. The music sounds great, you hear every song you hoped to, and the choreography was truly sick. The staging was creative and ingenious. And the show was being recorded for a broadcast on HBO in a few weeks -- maybe you will see yourself briefly on TV, singing along, dancing as well as you can while standing in place and not jostling elbows with the screaming young women around you. Perhaps you even feel a certain affinity with Justin, or at least a shared love of the same kind of music, and an understanding that you are propelled by the same set of emotions, grooves, and undeniable rhythms. That is what you are singing, standing like an island in the middle of an extremely foreign sea.

"It feels like something's heating up, can I leave with you?"

Saturday, August 11, 2007

One year

A year ago today was the rehearsal dinner. A year ago yesterday was MK-D-Day, the epic bachelor excursion to Charlottesville. And a year ago tomorrow, I got married to L.

I can't believe it's been a whole year since we got married. My grandparents told me that they can remember their wedding like it was yesterday, and maybe I'm starting to understand that -- I feel like I remember that whole series of days (as heady and emotional and unabashedly joyful as they were) as if they just happened. The wedding was the culmination of so many things, but it was obviously just a beginning as well.

In many ways I feel like the exact same person who wriggled into the rental tuxedo and couldn't figure out his cufflinks and then said the vows; the same person who swiftly choked up when he saw his bride at the end of the aisle and then realized that his contact lens had floated away from his left eyeball on a crest of potential tears, so that he couldn't see clearly for about a third of L's trek towards him on her father's arm, so that at the moment he was thinking (1) he was actually missing his bride's walk to the altar and (2) he would have to recalibrate his depth perception in order to successfully kiss her, unless he wanted to go through the ceremony pirate-style with one eye closed. And then, miraculously, as she approached, the contact lens floated perfectly back into place. I remember too how reassured I was when James put his hand on my back as L approached, and how I couldn't help but kiss her when she met me at the altar and then again later on, when we weren't supposed to but when I thought the ceremony was over (and the priest made some joke about it, and I thought, well, maybe you could be more clear with your nonverbal cues, bub).

I still feel like that person. It's as if I haven't read any books, or heard any new music, or met anyone new, or changed one iota since that day -- it still feels so familiar and recent, so much like myself. In the interim I have learned a lot, gone to new places, met some promising new people, and had some exciting changes at school and at work -- but I am still that person.

At this point, with one year in and hopefully many more to go, I am grateful that we did it and thankful that I can return to it in my head and think about what an amazing event it all was. And it's not even over: the wedding was merely the seed for this beautiful, organic marriage of ours.

Our first anniversary: looking back on a day that is my best memory and my present tense.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Going to the eye doctor

I went to the eye doctor yesterday to get new prescriptions for glasses and contacts. I'm always struck by the extremely subjective nature of the eye exam. My doctor today was one of those doctors who is very nice but also only about 45 minutes older than me, which is unnerving. We did the usual thing where you read the letters in varying sizes on the wall, and he's busy flipping lenses in front of you and comparing different kinds, asking, "What's better, this or this? How about this? Can you see this one? How do you feel about that? Really? Tell me more," etc. Shouldn't he know the answer? I go to the doctor to rely on medical expertise I don't have, yet the eye doctor seems to take a much more relaxed, "you're the expert in your own body" approach. The entire diagnosis is based on how you respond to these prompts, so I always end up providing more information than he probably needs: "the first is a little better, but not really...this one is almost a negligible difference, but I feel happier looking through it...can you go back to the first one again...uh, which one do most people think is better?" I don't want to screw it up. (You would think they could standardize this easily enough: make a tiny line of type everyone should be able to read, like maybe the preamble of the Constitution, and give people whatever lenses they need to read it. That might be an improvement over this incredibly subjective, lens-flipping, is-it-cheating-if-I-squint system we operate on now.)

The flip side of the touchy-feely conversation-based diagnosis is the insane technology optometrists use. They have all those giant plastic machines (do they travel through time? Are they robots?) where you put your head in a sling, open your eyes as wide as they can go and stare at the vertical beam of light that is presently dipping into your cornea and scrambling it. They had a new one yesterday, a machine that I was told would send two "puffs of air" into my eye to test for glaucoma or lupus or something. When I felt the first "puff" my head jerked back so fast and so hard that on the return trip it knocked the chin brace out of alignment. That was not a puff, it was a horizontal geiser aimed at my eyeball. I could barely brace myself for the next three "puffs," and was giggling nervously, stupidly, in anticipation. When they finally finished attacking my face with the air machine, I asked the technician if she had tried it. "No," she said breezily. "Some people seem to be bothered by it though."

Anyways, I survived the appointment. I need to not wear contacts as much; I'm getting blood vessels in my eyes because they are under-oxidized. And nobody wants to walk down the street hearing other people's whispers about how the whites of your eyes seem over-vesseled. So I will be getting plenty of use out of the cool, hipster-ish new glasses I'll be getting in the coming weeks: something to look forward to.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

NYC Half Marathon 2007

Today I woke up at five in the morning, after a hearty four and a half hours of sleep, interrupted only when a flowerpot fell from somebody's fire escape and shattered on the sidewalk, causing me to bolt awake and try to figure out where the inevitable intruder was located in my apartment, to run a half marathon. It was dark when the alarm went off, but I shoved my contacts into my eyes, got into the running clothes I had laid out the night before, and stumbled into a cab to head up to the park.

Three and a half hours later, I was on top of the world. It was a glorious morning for running - warm, clear, with an occasional breeze. I finished this thing in 1:44, a couples minutes speedier than last summer. My goal was to run eight-minute miles, and my average mile-time turned out to be 7:56 (last year's was 8:09). I was so, so happy.

The first eight miles or so was in Central Park, and it felt great. As soon as I began running, I realized that I had to pee, but I managed to keep this situation under control and it was fine for the whole race. I walked through every fluid station (about every two miles initially, then once a mile for the final stretch) whether I felt I needed it or not. My body felt great, even the injured left leg that had me limping/strutting unnaturally all week. (I spent the entire workweek denying that I could possibly have pulled a groin muscle.)

Things went slightly downhill for the last five miles. Running down 7th Avenue was exciting, but I was a little tired, and I developed a stitch in my side. My earphones kept bouncing out, too, which was irritating. During the final four miles on the West Side Highway, my muscles grew fatigued and I became increasingly aware of the unforgiving pavement beneath my feet. During the last mile, it was all I could do to not walk for portions of it (I had no energy left over to sprint and finish strong, which had been my goal -- instead I felt like once I crossed the finish line, I would have to head back a quarter mile or so to gather up my intestines). As a matter of fact, my last mile was done in 7:45, totally respectable; the final 0.1 miles, though, took 52 seconds, which would have put me around the nine- or ten-minute mile mark for a 14th mile. I was beat.

But I was also thrilled. I didn't give up, and I didn't walk, and I came out with a time I'm proud of. I was really nervous about this race because of my injury, but I felt great and I'll take a couple days off now. Random thoughts were meandering through my head as I ran today, including: the realization that me writing a blog comes from the same impulse that makes me go to the New Yorker festival and do road race events: the chance to make solitary activities more communal and shared; and the fact that as I run these events year after year, I really struggle with being too competitive with myself, and always feeling the need to beat my previous times. The pressure is unnecessary, and the relief I feel at beating my previous time is not quite as good as genuine pride in the accomplishment. As you can see, the fancy new digital watch I got for training purposes has not helped this situation, since I'm now recording times for just about every aspect of the race.

They say runners feel a sense of euphoria as they run, as all their endorphins swarm inside them and produce that elusive "runner's high." I don't think I've ever felt it, although maybe I experience a low-grade version that has kept me running for a while now. Still, on days like today the feeling of physical exhaustion and exertion, the pride I feel in running 13.1 ridiculous miles, the astonishment that my body is capable of doing such things without total collapse -- there is definitely something euphoric in that.

(Also, as I walked home from the race, I was gripped by the very real fear that I would possibly go to the bathroom in my pants, an affliction known by many a runner, and I was making numerous contingency plans in my brain for what I would do and how I would avoid a citation -- and I'll have you know, with a certain, different sense of pride, and maybe even a little euphoria, that I successfully made it home without incident.)