Saturday, March 29, 2008

Men about town

True, we may be old and married and sporadically boring, but we're not dead yet! Last night, in honor of their impending marriages, Ashesh, John, and I set out for a night on the town.

I knew I looked excellent: I was wearing this cool new blazer I got recently, and my shirt had a nice crisp collar just waiting to be popped. Ashesh and John were dressed to kill, as usual; we were like a gang of multicultural yuppies on the prowl. We started out at Miyagi, this sushi place on 13th street; then we made our way to Otheroom, a nice little bar on Perry, which happened to be full of exotic beers and unfortunately homely women; then we went to APT, which was the big hotspot in the meatpacking district about five years ago, which means it's now just ripe for our attendance; then we had some burgers at Five Guys, where the cashier told me I had nice teeth and gave John his drink for free; then we met up with the ladies (who were no shrinking violets themselves, having drunk their way through several night spots and even fallen on the floor of a lesbian bar) at Wogie's for a final, completely unnecessary beer; then we went home and hit the sack at 3:30.

It was good to feel young and rich and carefree, although we sort of aren't any of those things. There was an amusing sense of panic as we worried about getting into bars, since we were three dudes wandering the village on a Friday night with no ladies among us. It was fun to act the part of three single guys setting their sights on the nightlife ("D-bags on the town," perhaps) before retreating to the familiar spots and the women we love. A very good night.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Choose your own adventure

Well, we bought the guidebook, so it looks like it's settled. The other day I went to an information session on the bar exam and exactly how unpleasant the preparation process would be. They told us we could have some semblance of a life in May and June, but that once July hit we would be studying as much as possible. They told us we would be driven by nothing less than the fear of God. They said we need to be selfish and take care of ourselves. They said if we were in a bad relationship, just break up now, rather than then. It's that serious.

Yet they also said that after the exam ends, we should go on the best vacation of our entire lives. Thinking about the multi-week trip we will be taking in August (we're taking three to four weeks here, really), L and I have been bouncing around a few ideas: a road trip through Latin America, hiking Kilimanjaro. Asia has always been in the back of our minds, but I was deterred by the fear of running into law school classmates on the beaches of Phuket or something (Does Phuket have beaches? Time will tell). At some point, though, I told L that southeast Asia was the most exotic place I could imagine: a completely new culture, beautiful beaches, mountains, non-western religious sites and architecture, food I am not entirely comfortable with. Bodies of water I've never seen or touched. L's excitement for an Asia trip sealed the deal.

Where do you take what might be the best vacation of your entire life? In the most exotic place you can imagine. I can't wait.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Sweet sweet Virginia

Yesterday I got back from a really pleasant weekend home. The temperature seemed to be a good fifteen degrees warmer the whole time. I ate like a starving person the entire weekend. On Friday night my parents and I were enjoying one of my favorite meals (pecan-crusted trout) at Artie's. My mom asked me about something, so I launched into an extremely detailed and interesting explanation of, say, the bar exam, and then my mom interrupted me to say: "You have little ears! Aren't his ears small," she said, turning to my dad. I think this kind of weird attention to bodily detail is the kind of thing you only get with parental love. And you know what, I appreciated it.

On Saturday L and I met her new first cousin, once removed: the consonantly named Lacy Day, daughter of Kristin and Ryan. Lacy was a delight, and is quickly moving from the Yoda stage of infancy (where babies are three parts adorable and one part raisin) to the stage of cherubic cuteness. The fact that the three of them are moving to San Francisco is sort of depressing, since they are the kind we need on the East Coast and especially at in-law gatherings (Ryan being one of the few to fully comprehend the joy and wonder of entering the Lacy clan mid-stream).

That night we went out with Trish and Matt to a wine bar in Clarendon, where we ogled the cheap prices of everything and basked in the presence of other Virginians. There is just something about how people dress and act and carry themselves -- it's different from New York, and it feels completely familiar and reassuring. For the girls, it's a certain way of wearing the hair, and maybe some make-up combination, I don't know, but I call it "Virginia-cute," and it was good to see again.

Sunday we ate like pigs at a trough at an extremely classy brunch place. After we dropped off L to return to the city I went to join the Easter festivities at Kateri's, and later on we drove to one of the few Noodles outposts open on Easter night, just so I could get one last fix -- that's how good my parents were to me.

It was a lovely spring weekend. I was happy to be home and spend some time with my parents. Callie, the older dog, is getting extremely old, but she is still as regal and proud as ever. The other funny moment with my mom occurred as we were driving around and L mentioned seeing those "1/20/09" bumper stickers people have to celebrate the end of the Bush administration. My mom is a die-hard W. fan, but she was initially unclear on the stickers, so when L mentioned them my mom started pumping her fist in the air joyfully and crowing, "Go! Goooo!" We explained that the stickers are for people happy he'll be leaving office. My mom didn't miss a beat: "Oh," she said, with her fist still raised. "Bad! Baaad!"

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"How you gonna fix it, fix it, fix it?"

MTV has worked its magic on me yet again. This song, "Damaged," is by Danity Kane, one of Diddy's groups on "Making the Band." After watching the show on Monday I downloaded this track on Tuesday morning, and right now I can't get enough of it. It's the kind of song that I repeat as soon as it ends, stabbing the back button on my ipod to not waste a precious second.

Why is my appetite for this song momentarily insatiable? Let's break it down. The first thing that got me was the electronic stutter in the verses. Then the background vocals are harmonious yet dissonant, driving you to unexpected places. Yet with all the sophistication of the arrangement and the future-is-now production, the call and response of the chorus (repeating "Damaged" a million times) reminds you that this is nothing more or less than classic girl-group pop. Then, moving into the last minute of the song, the beat drops back, adding perhaps a note of poignancy (maybe I'm reaching here), along with Diddy's sort of philosophical, sort of unnecessary mutterings. I love it. The last segment really reminds me of "Last Night," Diddy's smash last year with Keysha Cole, and I like to sing the chorus of that song over the last thirty seconds of "Damaged" -- believe me, it can work.

Visually, of course, what more could you want? They look extremely good. I love the fact that they go from metallic pink sex goddesses in their funky spaceship, dancing up a storm and arching their backs in their pods, to pretending to be the staff of an operating room. Way to keep it literal! And plausible! Although I think some of the dancing is not as sharp as it could be, there are some transcendent moments, especially from my girl Dawn (the black girl with the long hair). And I like how the girl singing the second verse sings out of the side of her mouth. Work with that.

Also: the woman's voice at the end of the video says "Stereotypes" because that's the genius who produced this song, and the note at the end of the video reads "Tired of the damage - DK." And really, who isn't? What a great song.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Above and beyond

From today's New York Times:
Mr. Bush singled out Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. for praise... "I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for working over the weekend," Mr. Bush said.

Dental damn 2

The shitstorm continues! I had an appointment today to see a dentist at 1:00. I arrived at the offices, way up in Washington Heights, at 12:50. I waited patiently until 1:30 -- half an hour after my appointment -- as the entire population of the waiting area changed as everyone went to go see their doctor. I watched numerous people look at my file and then put it back down and walk away. I got back in line to ask if or when I would be seeing someone. The receptionist was sympathetic and thanked me for coming up. She paged a doctor. Fifteen minutes later a cute little student dentist walked over to me. "Are you Michael?" Yes. "I'm not your dentist," she chirped. "But I have your dentist on the phone." She handed me her cell phone; the dentist was very apologetic and said there had been a scheduling error, and he hadn't known he had a patient. He asked if we could reschedule. I asked if I could just see someone who was there, but that was obviously impossible. So now I'm going back there, to that bureaucratic shithole, that dental sweatshop on 168th Street, on Thursday at 3 pm.

When I left I was so angry and frustrated I could barely talk. What a waste of my time. How can they run a medical center that way? Do they have any respect for their patients?

Fuming, I went down to Columbia to pick up a coursepack for one of L's grad school classes. I had to go to the same copy center, Village Copier, on Broadway and 112th, that we used to frequent when I worked at Columbia. To my surprise, the guy at the counter recognized me from those years and we chatted a bit. He handed me the coursepack, and as I pulled out my wallet, he said, "Don't worry about it." I tried to pay, but he insisted. It was very nice of him, and it turned my mood around. It all balances out, I guess.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dental damn

This story is sad, frustrating, and gross. Obviously, then, it involves dentistry, my own hypochondria, and health insurance.

Thursday night after a great evening at the gym I was eating a burrito, and had food stuck in my teeth. Ever the gentleman, I ultimately was poking around there with my finger, and found a bump on my gums, near the back, below that ridge where the teeth seem to rest. When I came home I had L look at it and she said, "why don't you go to the dentist tomorrow." What she should have said was, "Oh, everyone has those bumps! They're good luck!" In any event, the night was shot -- I was stressed and trying to not freak out.

I turned to my trusty friend the internet and was horrified by the dental nightmares I was reading about: pus-filled lumps...too painful to close the jaws...broken teeth falling out...Awful stuff. One of my common dreams is having my teeth fall out, tinkling down into my lap like little crystals; my teeth are a locus of my stress. And of course out of procrastination I haven't seen the dentist in a couple years. But finally, my trip through the Internet Dental Hall of Nightmares led me to something that seemed accurate: something called a Tori (really?), a bump on your gum that doesn't hurt and seems to be like a bone protrusion or something. This was kind of reassuring, but not really. It's like growing a knuckle in your mouth.

The next day I got up early to head to 168th Street, to take advantage of the dental insurance I had on L's Columbia student plan. She had armed me with a barrage of phrases ("optional student plan," "Columbia basic") that would help me navigate the system. I spent over an hour in the hospital, repeating these words like a moron, so someone would believe I had insurance and help me figure out what to do. I went to several offices on several floors, trying to register and/or get a card and/or a file number and/or an appointment, at times returning to the same irritated person after calling L for moral support, when she would tell me new words and phrases to say, like an incantation or a prayer.

Ultimately then, in complete disregard of the hundreds of dollars in insurance we paid months ago, I ended up at the clinic for self-paid people -- people who no insurance -- and paid $85 so that someone would see me. That someone, of course, turned out to be the third-year dental students who run the clinic. That means they were people my age, people who are too young to have expertise and are clearly my peers. With all the young docs and x-ray technicians I dealt with, our conversations consisted of bitching about grad school exams and reminiscing about the mid-90s.

Anyways, the guy I saw told me that: (a) my blood pressure was a little high that day (which was bullshit because I was freaking out and stressed from spending over an hour tying to prove that I had dental insurance); (b) the bump was probably indeed a Tori, and it's not oral cancer, because oral cancer grows on soft flesh and besides, my glands were all fine; (c) but he also passingly mentioned bone cancer, which made me pee my pants a little bit; (d) I didn't need a biopsy because it's fine; (e) I have excellent oral hygiene (hell yes); (f) I have a very bright future, which was sort of touching.

I went through x-rays, and got a referral to a dentist, so now I'm going in on Tuesday for a cleaning and general check-up. I am learning to live with my new lil' Tori, and am looking forward to getting a second opinion on it, just in case. Even though the doctor and all my internet research indicate that everything is fine, it will be nice to show it to someone who is both a full-blown dentist and older than me.

But here's the kicker to the story: What the hell is wrong with our health care system? I am someone with a lot of cultural capital as well as an advanced degree, I can read and speak English fluently, yet I couldn't navigate the insurance requirements of Columbia and ended up paying entirely out of pocket. I defer a lot of medical and insurance decisions to L, since she bogglingly decided to work in the health field professionally, but the four hours -- four hours -- I spent yesterday trying to grapple with this stuff was incredibly frustrating. When I go back on Tuesday I will be armed with every document and insurance card I can get my hands on.

I was discombobulated all day afterwards. I self-medicated with soda and an Italian BMT from Subway. The dental clinic was grim and cramped, the guy in the chair next to me was begging to have two teeth pulled because they hurt so bad, the young interns were constantly being admonished by the attending for missing steps of their protocols, and it seemed that many of the patients couldn't understand English well enough to comprehend what these hotshot twenty-something dentists were telling them.

No wonder people don't go to the doctor's. The doctor who told me all those helpful things about high blood pressure, bone cancer, and my glaringly bright future also complimented me on being vigilant about my oral health, since I came in immediately after discovering something strange. But that kind of vigilance is easy to drop in light of the gauntlet that separates you, the patient, from actually seeing a doctor, in a room, where the doctor can check you out and tell you what's happening and send you on your merry way. Who wants to head in to see the doctor when you have to first make your way through an army of insurance company hand-wringers, hospital bureaucrats, inept administrators, and well-meaning but not fully formed med students? I mean, is there a mid-wife or a witch doctor I could see? Or a gypsy or something? Come on. Who has the luxury to spend half a day in a hospital complex?

Thanks for reading all this way, if you made it through.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New kicks

BAM! These are my new sneaks. I got them over the weekend, and let me tell you, they are cool. I've been searching for some decent sneakers for a very long time, and made a lot of mistakes on my journey: the Pumas that were so tight on my feet they felt like ballet shoes, or some kind of foot-condom, and those unfortunate red shoes that became known as "the ruby slippers." In desperation I was relying on old running shoes, which developed a gaping hole in the side that made my socks get wet and dirty. Something had to be done.

But now! Check me out. These shoes make me feel nimble, quick, agile. True, I'm not a soccer guy, but I am a cool person. And these shoes make me feel great as I strut down the street, bobbing and weaving past everybody else, and they are certainly rocking the dance hour. So when you see me out on the town, check out my shoes. That's what I'll be doing.

Monday, March 10, 2008

End of the week

This weekend my brother-in-law Henry came into town. We had a very good time, despite being homebound for most of Saturday due to torrential rainfall. Other people might have been discouraged by the prospect of sitting in a small apartment, staring at each other as the rain pours and as we wait for our damp jeans to dry on top of the radiator, but not us!

On Friday Henry and I went to Chipotle for a late lunch. Massive lines of people waiting for their burritos. We went to the one on Varick, which is like a ghost town when I go at night for dinner; the lunchtimes hordes were kind of shocking. Later, like any two normal dudes, we went up to McNulty's on Christopher Street to buy some tea. That night we went to John's Pizza for dinner, where we had a great time until Henry felt something brush against his foot and it turned out to be a mouse. We were standing up, preparing to exit the place after our meal, and there was the lumpy brown mouse sitting perfectly still. Was it dead? Was it cowering? L was uncharacteristically shocked by the grossness and wasn't moving. I tried to steer her to the side, and then a restaurant guy swooped in and covered the mouse with his foot, and I thought OH SHIT DO NOT CRUSH THE MOUSE, so at that point I darted away to the side to miss the carnage, nimbly dodging tables until I met up with L and Henry at the front of the restaurant. Delicious pizza, though. Four stars, all the way.

Saturday we woke up to the driving rain. It was coming down in sheets, pounding the pavement and turning the air white. No one was outside. We spent a lot of time reading, doing homework, trying to find something new on the internet, staring at each other blankly. During a lull in the storm in the afternoon we ventured to Five Guys for some burgers and complimentary peanuts (I always eat too many peanuts, end up feeling sick later on) and went up to Three Lives to check out the new books. Five Guys, Three Lives. Hmm. As the rain picked up again we headed home.

Around six o'clock it seemed to let up once more, so I decided to go for a run by the river. (During those horrible witching hours of 5-7 pm, for some reason, I get so antsy and just can't be cooped up in the apartment -- I have to get out). As I ran along the river the clouds were billowing up into the sky, creating a broad gray band dividing the lapping water below and the surprisingly clear night sky above. Quite pretty. Two thirds of the way through it started raining again, cold flecks hitting the t-shirt on my back. A few minutes later the hard rain had returned, soaking through my clothes into my skin. I could feel the soppy weight of my pants against my calves as I ran. I sprinted for the last couple miles, whooping with cold as I tried to get home as quickly as possible. When I finally made it I was drenched and shivering, stripping in the kitchen and heading directly to the shower. Another great run!

That night we headed up to Rickshaw for dinner, after the rain finally abated around 8:30. Went to the Strand, and I got Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." Excellent short stories, very spare and sharp and whittled down. I can definitely see the line connecting him to Richard Ford, one of my favorites. Henry met up with some friends so L and I watched a surprisingly good SNL with Ashesh and Mona.

Today I got up and spent a couple hours at the gym. As we left my teacher told me that I was getting stronger, since I was making it through the full set of push-ups. Humiliating compliment to receive. I immediately tried explaining how we don't do push-ups until near the end, when we've done a lot of upper body work already, how we do them extremely slow, how I'm focusing on form, etc. After Chipotle, where I was stuck in line behind some clueless Europeans who were mystified by the idea of selecting from a menu of salsas, I met everybody to head up to Union Square for various shopping and browsing adventures. We also ate lunch at the saddest Subway ever, which we should have recognized immediately based on the sign in the window advertising "FRE COFEE." Ultimately we made it home exhausted and Henry headed for the bus.

Despite the weather, it was an excellent weekend. I was glad Henry made it up, and he was a really good sport about our limited range of activities (hampered by the rain and our own weird proclivities -- three bookstores in two days? Really?). He is one of those people who I just wish would live up here, nearby. That list is distressingly long.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Democratic party

I had a weird week last week: I totally swayed over to the Hillary side of things. The SNL/Tina Fey endorsement was a factor. L convinced me that her health care plan is better (Hillary's, not L's) (although I'm sure L's would be spectacular) and pointed out some of the insidious ways that sexism and misogyny have permeated coverage of her campaign. L has done this, I might add, with the righteous fury that only third-wave feminism can bestow.

Hillary seemed to be extremely tough, and her plans had a little more meat on the bone than Obama's, and she was just so darn competent. Obama seemed to be getting a little cocky, a little too reliant on these evanescent ideals and aspirations.

Then Hillary won Ohio and Texas, guaranteeing that this process will continue. That's when I immediately snapped back to the Obama side. It's time to pull the plug.

I read about her victory speech, when she said something like (and I'm quoting loosely here): "If you've ever been knocked down and gotten back up, if you have ever taken a hit and stayed in the ring, if you've ever gotten punched in the kidneys, if you had scoliosis as a kid and you still can't brings your hands together above your head, if you never went to the prom, THEN THIS ONE'S FOR YOU!" It was a brilliant line. But when I actually heard her deliver it on tv, it was horrible. Her flat midwestern vowels stomped the life and rhythm out of the phrasing, she stepped on her own words and awkwardly bumped into her applause. That seemed to sum it all up: looks good on paper, but for me it's just not clicking.

Hillary is tenacious. She is hurling everything she can at her opponent and the electorate to see what sticks. She is Hillary the Fighter, Hillary the Misty-Eyed Dreamer, Hillary that Cynical Realist Who Eats Hope for Breakfast, or Hillary the Pant-suited Ballbuster. But I'm looking at the clock and wondering: why is Hillary still trying to figure out an effective narrative against Obama? How does she actually expect to win, without subverting the will of the people? And why can't Obama just win this thing? Can he focus less on these tiny shitkicker states and start pulling in the big ones? What's the holdup?

McCain is a decent guy, and I will be all right if he wins the presidency. But as things stand now, Obama offers a starker contrast and a more compelling alternative than Hillary. I would still love to see a joint ticket. I just hope that the main players consider the good of the country and the good of the party, in addition to their own ambitions and agendas. Either one will be fine by me, but looking forward, I still think Obama has the better shot.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Winter of our discontent

Today, for the first time in many, many days, it's not disgusting outside. It's in the mid-50s, and the sun is shining. Winter, which began about eight or nine months ago, has taken a momentary pause to remind us that it doesn't always have to be cold, dreary, and gross. When I stepped outside today I was immediately blinded by the sun, squinting and pathetically shielding my face with my arm, like a vampire with a Jansport backpack. As I got used to this so-called "sun-light," and as my pale, nearly translucent body absorbed the Vitamin D it has desperately craved, I found the sensation to be a pleasant one. Gradually I lowered my arm, my pupils dilated appropriately, and I was a happy camper. Now I'm sitting here at school clad in a Polo, with my fleece and my long underwear safe and unnecessary back at home.

This is a huge change from the weekend: on Saturday afternoon I was walking around and found that even though it was chilly outside, in the sunshine it was warm. As I returned home from the Strand I knew I should go for a run while it was still relatively pleasant. So I pulled on a long-sleeve t-shirt and some shorts and headed outside around three o'clock. But as soon as I stepped outside, it was evident that something had changed: the sky had darkened, and there was a thick, low bank of clouds covering the city like steel wool. Undaunted, I started jogging towards the piers. The wind was buffeting me through the side streets and a wet fleck hit me square in the eye -- it was snow. Soon I could see it flurrying all around me, the snowflakes flying crazily through the air as the cold wind bounced around the buildings and streets.

I couldn't turn around because I had only gone about 200 feet. What was I going to do, come home and just change back into my clothes? So, in the inexplicable midday darkness of this hellish, completely unromantic urban winter, I was jogging along Hudson River Park, through the snow, in my shorts. You are an idiot, I thought. Thankfully I saw a few other guys in shorts who were running too, with their legs looking red and chapped. No one looked that happy, yet I felt we all shared a mutual sense of sheepishness, of miscalculation. Not a great run by any means.

But today, unlike Saturday, there is no snow, and no darkness. Today you could actually believe that winter might someday end.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Birthday karaoke

Caveat: I am drunk right now. With that in mind, here we go.

Tonight we went to a karaoke place in Koreatown to belatedly celebrate my 28th birthday, which is really the cusp of solid adulthood -- no more pretense of young adulthood or quarterlife crises, now -- you are a grown-ass man, basically. Here are the great things:

1. It was an awesome time. Truly epic. There was a bat-phone in the room, where you picked it up and placed a drink order, and lo and behold, several minutes later the drinks appeared in your room. Miraculous.

2. Songs that were sung: many, many. "More than words," "I need you tonight," "Drop it like it's hot," "Not ready to make nice," "Before he cheats," "Tonight I wanna cry," "Ice box," "The way I are," "Shawty is a 10," "Stronger," "Good life," "Flashing lights," 'Sexyback," "Welcome to the jungle," "Oops I did it again," "Because of you," "I want it that way," "Inside out," "Can't get enough of your love babe," "Deja vu," "Separate worlds," "Faith," "Umbrella," and many more.

3. John and Anna and Ashesh were on fire the entire night. We were singing, we were dividing up the parts, we were doing rounds, we were doing falsetto, we were ordering drinks, we were passing the mic and sounding great.

4. L was at her bold and unabashed best: belting out the country hits, being the Beyonce to my Jay-Z, being social and wonderful and reminding me why she is the best.

5. I did pretty good too, getting my rap on, singing out "Shawty is a 10," working the tambourine, and letting my sensitive side show with "When can I see you again," which earned me a "You were actually pretty good" from one of the people there who can really sing.

6. I felt a huge swell of happiness, perhaps facilitated by alcohol, having such a fun time with my friends -- rocking out to the music, laughing, making up stupid ad-libs and jokes to cover for the lyrics we didn't know and the songs we misjudged -- there's nothing like picking a song thinking it will be a hit and then realizing nobody knows it but you. That's when you press 'SKIP' on the huge remote control and keep pressing forward.

Ok, and here are the shitty things, and let's keep it real:

1. [Redacted, now that it's the next day and I'm mostly sober. No need to find things to complain about! Buck up! Be happy and thankful, not least of all for the fact that you're not as hung over as you could have been, and probably deserve to be]

All that plus a tambourine. It was a very good night. A very good night.