Saturday, December 29, 2012

24 New Things




During winter, it is not uncommon for me to slip into periods of hibernation. In this respect, I am not unlike a bear or my spirit animal, the squirrel. The month of December seemed to go by rather quickly and I suspect that it is because I spent exactly half of it sleeping. Multiple alarms rang daily, cats kneaded, and a small globular cactus was slipped under my pillow to no avail. Nothing could rouse me to consciousness.

When I awoke from my Odinsleep, stretching my atrophic limbs, I looked at the clock and was alarmed by how much time I had wasted. The entire month seemed to have gone by without me. There was so much I had planned to do. I started taking Vitamin D supplements, convinced that seasonal depression and a lack of sunlight must be partially to blame. Then I discovered that they contained trans fats and stopped taking the Vitamin D supplements. I began to research Vitamin D phototherapy.

Since I am mostly motivated by some balance of new adventures and creative mischief, I can’t go on equally dividing my time between my job and my pillow. It will not do.


My friend Sara (whose blog you can find here) compiles a list of things she wants to do before her next birthday every year. I've read several other lists on a number of other blogs and I decided to create a list of 24 new things to do before my 24th birthday. I will reproduce it here, for purposes of accountability.

24 New Things

1. Get a driver’s license
2. Compile a collection of short stories
3. Go to a new country
4. Try Ethiopian food
5. Try Sri Lankan food
6. Eat at Dirt Candy
7. Go to a raw food restaurant
8. Drink traditionally prepared matcha tea, with the froth and whatnot
9. Take a belly dancing class
10. Make sushi
11. Get a henna tattoo
12. Go to Philadelphia
13. Spend a day reading children’s books in a bookstore or library
14. Learn to play a song on my children’s accordion
15. Make a carnivorous plant terrarium from a tank
16. Write handwritten letters to people I don’t talk to often
17. Sew a dress
18. Learn to give a proper back massage
19. Read a graphic novel
20. Make lip balm from scratch
21. Watch Pulp Fiction
22. Spend a night in candlelight when the power is on
23. Go to the Museum of Sex (I already have the tickets)
24. Go to a community swap

Friday, December 7, 2012

Story Slam!

Reading in front of people makes me feel like I’m going to asphyxiate. It’s almost as bad as giving improvisational speeches. I hope I never have to be a best man. In spite of all this, I treasure a masochistic enjoyment of reading to crowds of highly critical strangers and all of the minor seizures that come with it. 

Over the weekend I did it for the first time in two years and it was thrilling, much like running away from an explosion in slightly tattered formal wear.


When the literary arts journal Gigantic Sequins advertised a story slam at the Stonewall Inn to benefit the Al Forney Center, I wanted to be part of it. Dave and I went into the city, got some excellent falafel, and joined in on the story slamming festivities.

The storytellers shared novel bits, creative essays, and short stories and I learned about Norwegian food and bikram yoga and New Jersey. In the tradition of American television, there were three judges who critiqued each piece and gave gratuitous fashion advise.

I wish I talked to more people rather than clinging to my table and my Dave – next time, perhaps, I will give myself a quota. (i.e., Today I will talk to five strangers no matter how sweaty it makes my palms.) I did get the chance to speak to Ian and Kimberly Ann from Gigantic Sequins and they were very kind and welcoming even though I was the only person in the room (save Dave) that they didn’t know.

When my turn came up, I read this story that I posted on my blog last year. (Dave, always incredibly supportive, let me read it to him a hundred times on the subway.) The spotlight blinded me from seeing any crowd in front of me at all, which was perhaps why I didn't begin the reading with my customary asthma attack. At the end, I was at the mercy of the three judges.

“I have to admit, I was skeptical when you came onstage. I mean, orange and sea foam? Not many people can pull that one off, and yet here you are, pulling it off – well, not really, but your writing redeems you,” said the judge with the mustache.

After the readings, I was picked to be one of the three finalists by the judges. As a finalist, I received two tickets to the Museum of Sex and an egg shaped sex toy that was very much made for a man. Our fates were left up to the audience, who applauded loudly to choose a finalist. It was a close call, but in the end, I won.

At this point I was too excited to act like a human. I was a blushy mess, unable to accept the prize gracefully. I kept kissing Dave on the cheeks, and when another reader tried to kiss me on the cheek I thought he was trying to whisper something in my ear. Note to everyone: Never try to kiss me on the cheek, there is no telling how I will interpret your body language.

Thus, I left the story slam with Museum of Sex tickets, a men’s sex toy, one hundred dollars, and a whole lot of love for Gigantic Sequins. (This is hardly surprising. A gerbil with an automatic hand gun is featured on the cover of the most recent issue.) I think every once in a while I have to do something that makes me feel uncomfortable.

Check out Ian's pictures from the event here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Probable Causes of a Crooked Spine



I took advantage of a free medical screening through my job and ended up in a crowded waiting room with some very sick people. An elderly woman in the chair next to me was pushing a walker back and forth across the waiting room floor.

“They told me I had to stop eating meat to save my life while I was in the hospital, so I stopped eating meat. Any time they bring me food, I just eat everything but the meat,” she said. “I lost sixty-five pounds.”

The slouching men behind her laughed, swinging their heads back, crippled by the hilarity.

Another woman stepped into the conversation. “Don’t laugh, she was trying to save her life. Meat is bad for you. Pork isn’t so bad, though.”

“I had open heart surgery and they told me if I didn’t stop eating meat, I’d die,” the woman with the walker said. “And if they told me to stop eating something else, I’d do it. I have diabetes. My feet swell up so much sometimes they turn red. And I have asthma. I went to the doctor one day because I couldn’t breathe. He said I have COPD.”

All the men in the waiting room seemed to have gimpy legs and dragging feet. One woman was trying to get an appointment for her baby, but the baby was too young to see a general physician.

After filling out some paperwork, it was my turn to see the doctor, a chiropractor. I have scoliosis, sporatic sciatica. I used to be a gymnast; I thought my spine was made of rubber. I wanted to be a Chinese acrobat but I wasn’t even remotely Asian. I carried a bulging backpack that was a third the weight of my late bloomer body throughout middle school. All the standing at work hurts my shoulders and neck and these seem like probable reasons for a crooked spine. If being healthy were a competition, the baby in the waiting room probably would probably win but in spite of everything I was in an admirable second place.


I told these things to the chiropractor and he wanted to see my back for himself. I stood in socks and a dress in the waiting room, touching my toes and standing at different angles. He showed me a picture of a human spine from the side.

“See this curve below the neck? That’s supposed to be there for shock absorption. You don’t have a curve, your spine is perfectly straight.”

My back, with curves in all the wrong places.

“Could that be causing my neck pain? The lack of shock absorption, right?”

I need to know the cause and effect of things and connect the dots. This often annoys doctors.

“It’s very likely. And your hips are uneven. One is higher than the other.”

“Is this why I have scoliosis? My spine is adapting to fit my hips?”

“It’s very likely. Your spine will always adapt to keep your head upright. In extreme cases, you’ll see some people with “s” shaped curves in their back but their heads will always be upright.”

“Is there anything I can do about this? Yoga makes my back feel great, but I can’t do it very often. My cat claimed my yoga mat as her territory. If I try to do yoga in my apartment, she will actually attack my face.”

The chiropractor laughed. “You should video that, you could win a few thousand dollars on World’s Funniest Home Videos. I’d vote for a video of your cat attacking your face while you do yoga.”

“Then I could put the money towards a larger apartment and put a door in between me and my cat.”

In the lobby, I waited to find out information about my insurance from a pregnant receptionist with a striking baby voice. There was another woman next to me this time, the grandmother of the baby. The others in the waiting room declared her a female Chris Rock, to which she responded that she knew she was funny and she wrote things sometimes.

“I’m ready if I ever get into the White House. I’m sick of looking at the White House. It’s boring. You’ll know if I’m president because I’ll paint the White House green,” she said. “I liked to see the look on Romney’s face when he lost. He didn’t have anything to say, he only had an acceptance speech. He looked like he was crying. Now he has to go explain to his seventeen grandkids that they aren’t going to live in the White House. They be like, “What happened, Grandpa? I thought we was gonna move?”

The receptionist came back with my insurance information.

“Every time she speaks I think, ‘where’s the baby?’” the woman beside me said.

“It’s just her voice.”

“I just keep thinking, maybe that’s not her voice. Maybe it’s the baby inside talking.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Month of Cat




Penny is about a year old, which makes her a young adult. I tell myself that Penny is old enough to make her own terrible life decisions. Before we adopted her, she lived in someone’s garage and birthed a litter of kittens. She looks stout and stunted. I think pregnancy halted her growth, like coffee or arsenic.

Living in a studio apartment is not unlike living in a garage, and therefore Penny has no interest in conquering the great outdoors. Garages and garage-like places are all she knows. I found this out when I chased her around the apartment with Olive’s leash, which she misinterpreted as an attempt to hogtie her. I walked Olive by the pine trees outside of the window so that Penny could watch.

“See, Penny? This is what the leash is for.”

Penny responds with a meow so awkwardly deep and husky that you might suspect that she has been smoking for the past twenty years while working as a waitress in a casino. This is the only sound Penny makes, from the moment she wakes me up at night galumphing back and forth across the headboard to the sound she makes when she plunks into the toilet.

Penny is incurably clumsy. She balances herself over the toilet like the ninja spy that she is not, but someday hopes to be: three paws splayed across the toilet seat, one paw dipping surreptitiously into the sage green basin, lowering her head  towards the prize. She licks her paws with quiet satisfaction before her shaky legs get the best of her. I hear a thump. A trail of paw prints leads away from the toilet to a dryer place. A place with towels.

Penny meows for food she cannot have. She nonchalantly helps herself to multigrain chips and sesame seed bagels and mushroom pizza. She will dip into the garbage looking for a savory morsel. Penny did not grow up with Science Diet Cat food; her palate is not accustomed to giblets. After Penny laps up the gravy, stands over her bowl of giblets scratching the wood floors and meows desperately. I resent this, says the cat. Dave mushes up the seafood giblets with a fork until it becomes a pate. Now that Olive has seen that the giblets can be refused, she has joined the hunger strike in reluctant solidarity. In the end, all the cats will get pizza. All the cats in the world will have their pizza.

Penny is still hungry but leaps onto my lap. She leans against me, sticking her butt in the air for rigorous lower back scratch. Penny falls asleep in my lap at night and I don’t want to move her and wake her up. I wonder if I am her person.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Boston Highlights



When we arrived at the station in Boston, my stomach growled and my head ached from whacking my head on the low overhang above the Megabus seats (something every Megabus passenger experiences at one time or another). Dave was sniffling from allergies and drowsy from napping in awkward positions over the sound of the archetypal crying infant on a bus. Yet in spite of waiting for an hour behind a sign on the sidewalk that read “Bostof,” we arrived at the intended destination.

Our trip was short – if it hadn't been, we would have been stuck in Boston through the duration of the hurricane. I certainly would not have complained.

Our first night, we went looking for some spectacular clam chowder. Quincy Market was all lit up like a Christmas tree. I described it to Dave as an endless food court with better food.


We found a little seafood restaurant called Boston Chowda and Dave ordered a bread bowl full of clam chowder. Dave decided it was the best clam chowder ever. Clam chowder makes me reminisce about a restaurant I used to go to with my Grandpa where bloated exotic fish blow kisses at you from behind an enormous glass tank as you slurp your soup.

A big sopping mess of chowder.
Dave and I resisted a multitude of candy coated brownies under glass cases and continued to the North End, the Italian neighborhood of Boston.


The main street was bustling, crowded with travelers, accordion players, and a clown twisting balloon animals. We were lucky to find a seat in a twenties-style café called Cafe Vittoria. Dave ordered a cappuccino with a frothy chocolate surface and I savored a square of tiramisu. Beyond the vintage signs and curling gold chairs a football game played in the background, confusing the ambience.


On our way back to the hotel that night we stopped to browse costumes and thrift shop clothes at the Garment District. The costumes were almost cleaned out but for a few mascot heads, fairy wings, and top hats. You could still get any size, shape, and color of fishnet tights you can imagine, but otherwise the Halloween hurricane had already come and gone. Savvy ladies dug through racks of vintage prom dresses and 70s skirts to construct Jackie O and Esmeralda costumes. Sequestered in a musty dressing room with a bulging stack of garments, I found the ideal sweater for a Cheshire cat costume. Halloween may have been derailed, but next year I’ll just need a pair of furry ears.

The second day was another food adventure. The Boston Vegetarian Food Festival deserved its own post, you can read about it here.



We walked to Boston Commons and the public garden. As we crossed Boston Commons we passed a man in a Dalmatian costume with three dogs in T-shirts. A one-man-band performed in the public garden, some amalgamation of a guitar, harmonica, drums set, trumpet, and a washboard. Dave fed the ducks in the pond some leftover cracker samples from the vegetarian fest, starting a feeding frenzy. We have more pictures of ducks eating crackers than anything else.



Dave photographed random strangers, perfecting the art of creeping around with a camera.


That night we went to Harvard Square for our next adventure. Our hotel was next to the MIT campus and as we walked around we assumed that every person our age must be someone brilliant studying quantum physics and neuroscience. It was much the same around Harvard, even with everyone dressed up as video game and Adventure Time characters.

We got a latte in the Harvard Coop, which turned out to be a poorly masked Starbucks within a poorly masked Barnes and Noble. In its defense, the coop really did contain real students quietly reading textbooks and looking rather tired.

We found a little shop with an impressive chocolate collection and I stumbled upon something I thought I would only see again in the Czech Republic – Mozart Kugeln. I bought two little pistachio truffles to be enjoyed on the ride home and reveled in Prague nostalgia.


I expected Harvard Square to be filled with shops and restaurants with names that allude to literature and the periodic table. In this I was not disappointed.

Science.
Dave and I had dinner in a bar called Grendel’s Den. Inside, Harvard students in costumes and funny hats drank beer in the reddish glow of the table lamps.


Dave had a steak with a Greek salad, prettily proportioned on the plate. I ordered Peruvian quinoa and got my first taste of chayote squash smothered in warm white cheese - easily my favorite meal in Boston.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Boston Vegetarian Food Festival

Pretty, sugary things from the Vegan Treats Bakery.
I've been wanting to write all week about my trip to Boston (particularly the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival), but I was sidetracked by a certain super-storm. We got very lucky. We only lost electricity and we're just waiting for the power to come back on. I'm writing from Dave's parents' house where I am drinking tea to stave off a nasty cold and nibbling little rectangles of chocolate from the festival.

I first heard about the Boston Vegetarian Food Festival a couple of years ago and our trip to Boston just happened to coincide with the festival. I guess it was meant to be. The festival was held in an athletic center and inside there were rows of tables and a smokey Indian spice aroma. Vendors sold cookbooks, vegetables, vegan pastries, and tee-shirts. We met my friend Liza inside.


At tables cluttered with Beanie Babies, volunteers promoted a vegan lifestyle for the well-being of animals. Sanctuaries that harbor animals rescued from industrial farms looked for sponsors for chickens and cows. And, of course, there were free samples.

I had a plate of kelp coleslaw for lunch.
Fake meat abounded and, although I'm not usually a fan of fake meat, I tried fake sausage and chickpea hamburger. It turns out I'm still not a fan of fake meat, but I could how extensive the science of imitating meat has become when I saw fake scallops.

One of the first tables I stumbled upon was Theo Chocolate - they make my favorite fig, fennel, and almond chocolate that has two squirrels on the label and feels like it was made especially for me.

So much fair trade chocolate.
I sampled some of Theo's newest flavors, like chili and cherry (Dave's personal favorite), vanilla nib, pili pili chili, and sea salt. Proceeds from the chocolate bars support organizations that provide bikes to students in rural Africa and preserve farmland. I bought a couple of bars of my favorite fig, fennel, and almond chocolate and bar of vanilla nib to take home.

A rainbow of new chocolate bars.
We tried various Indian curries and vegetarian restaurant fare. I was curious about the meatless Ethiopian food but as the venue filled up with enthusiastic samplers it became increasingly difficult to access the stands. I was able to maneuver my way to the Coconut Bliss table where tiny sample cups of chocolate coconut milk ice cream were scooped out for the passing horde.


As the crowd grew larger and the heat from the veggie burners sizzling on tiny grills made the gym stuffy and claustrophobic. I found myself in the back corner of the room where some really magical vegan doughnuts and cupcakes were laid out by an open door, letting in a slight breeze.



By the time I reached the other side of the festival, the traffic almost slowed to a stop. I lost Liza and Dave somewhere around the pastries.


The doors of the festival were open to early risers for five dollars an hour before the rest of the public got in for free, and by the time I reached the last row of tables I understood why. I hope that they move the festival into a larger venue as it grows.

Vegetarian food enthusiasts stand shoulder to shoulder.
Just before I made an attempt to escape the crowd, I fell into the path of coconut milk ice cream once more. I got a taste of pumpkin spice ice cream from FoMu, which had a very impressive range of flavors.

I left the festival with a bag of chocolate, little bags of hemp seeds, and sample bags of Pukka tea that I have yet to try. Then Dave and I left to experience other parts of Boston.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Penelope

I wanted a broken cat. A cat with a clubfoot or an eye patch or an oxygen tank, neglected by kitten-hungry shelter-goers for the furry youngsters of YouTube fantasies. And not for entirely selfish reasons: Olive needed a friend. Olive, uncommonly extroverted and perpetually bored, was adjusting rather badly to my full-time work schedule. Her kitten energy was pent up and all of her human playmates were pre-occupied with petty human things. Rolling little feather toys across the kitchen didn't tucker her out the way it used to and no walk on the cat leash was long enough to settle her yearnings. She took her frustration out on exposed hands and ankles.

Dave and I decided the time had come for us to find another cat, but not just any cat. We needed a playful cat that would entertain irritable Olive when we weren't home. A cat that is gentle with humans but catty enough to resist any bullying from our tuxedoed beast. And this cat would also preferable have hemophilia or an eye patch. If I had a beautiful rainbow of foster children, at least one of them would have an eye patch.

We started browsing cats the day I failed my road test. Dave thought that rooms full of cats would cheer me up. We went to Pets Alive in Elmsford, NY that appeared to be in the middle of a land development project. The area around the shelter was a wasteland of bulldozers and mud with the occasional out-of-place jogger with a pit bull.

In the elderly cat room, tubby cats rubbed up against our shins and shed their dead fur on our pants. I knelt down to pet a black cat and he answered with a roundhouse kick to my hand.

“Some people are put off by that,” said the volunteer who was giving us the tour. “But he’s a really sweet cat.”

We explained that Olive plays a bit rough and we needed a cat that could keep up with Olive’s frenetic kitten energy, perhaps a big, burly adult with fists instead of paws. She introduced us to an affectionate ginger with a pot-belly named Cobb. The shelter has a program where you adopt an older cat and the shelter pays the vet bills for the rest of kitty’s life. Some people are put off of elderly cats by the prospect of extra vet visits.

I cleaned my wounds from the ninja cat and we moved on to the littler monsters. Next to the kitten room, construction rattled the walls and all of the youngsters seemed perturbed. An elegant Russian blue frowning in the corner took a swing at my approaching hand. The kittens all buried themselves under the furniture. One man found success in the bustling kitten room, holding up a robust young adult ginger.

“I want to adopt this cat,” he said serenely. “What is his name?”

“Muffin,” the girl said.

“No. His name is Buster now,” the man said, letting the cat scramble away. “Buster. Do you have another cat somewhere in this shelter that is as insouciant and gregarious as Buster?”

After warding off a case of cat scratch fever in the ladies’ room, Dave and I discussed the possibility of adopting Cobb.

“It’s hard for me to have any strong feelings of affection for these cats when they keep ripping my hands open,” I muttered.

It was time to call it a day and get some Band-Aids. I wondered if we would ever bond with another cat the way we bonded with Olive.

One week later we were in the New Rochelle Humane Society where we once walked out with a box full of Olive. In the first room full of cats, I made friends with yet another tubby ginger cat.

“Maybe a tubby ginger cat was just meant to be,” I sighed.

“He only loves you because he wants to go outside. Look, he’s standing at the door.”

Sure enough, the ginger was only using me for my ability to turn a doorknob. He meowed at the door handle and gave me an urgent look of longing. All the other cats in the room were asleep or indifferent. We moved on to the Sunshine room, a room the size of a closet with cat trees extending high above me. An enormous gray cat looked down at us from above. A brown Maine Coon named Buni with long, luxurious fur rubbed against our legs. She was happy to let us pet her for about five seconds before lashing out with extended claws. Buni is the sort of girl who would kiss you on the first date and then smack you across the cheek and cry, “What kind of girl do you think I am?”

The handsome gray cat, Wolfie, turned out to be a gentle giant and Dave lavished him with attention that shy cats at shelters rarely get.

“I would adopt Wolfie if we didn’t already have a cat. And if I never intended to get another cat. Or any other pets for the next twenty years,” I admitted. A shy cat would surely incur Olive’s wrath.

By the food dishes, a black and white tuxedo cat dipped her paws into the water bowl and licked the dew from between her toes. The mark of a wild cat. There was no information about her tacked on the wall, so we asked a volunteer about her. Her name was Dallas and she was found in a garage with a litter of kittens. She was about eleven months old and all of her kittens had already been adopted. We can adopt our own little teen mom, I thought to myself.

When we adopted Olive, we were at the shelter for hours agonizing over the decision, holding various kittens in the isolation room, trying them on. Adopting Dallas was a split second decision. Just a few minutes after leaving the Sunshine room I was holding a cardboard carrying case and Dave was signing documents. It was exhilarating.



We have since renamed our new kitty Penelope. She frequently drinks out of the toilet and has a meow like a creaky closet door. Penny’s tail is crooked like a lightning bolt and I wonder what kind of bar fights she brawled in before she got knocked up.

Olive slowly is getting used to Penny. At first she hissed and sequestered Penny in the bathroom. Just the smell of my Penny-scented hand would send her into a fit. Now Olive is curious. She tries to play with Penny, but Penny doesn’t trust her after that initial territory war. I wonder what kind of solution Jackson Galaxy, Cat Behaviorist would produce from his magic guitar case and the answer is clear: a feather on a stick. Somebody get me a feather on a stick.


Sunday, September 30, 2012

Kryptonite

I was sitting at the front desk at the yoga studio talking to students as they filed out in their stretchy pants. After the rest of the group dissipated, Mrs. K and I remained talking about yoga. Mr. and Mrs. K are regulars and they always come in during my shift. Our conversation soon turned from yoga towards other things and Mrs. K decided to give me a test. I had no idea what she was testing at the time or how we had come to the point that she was behind the desk scribbling on my Post-It notes. I just went along with it.

“I need you to hold your arm out to the side,” said Mrs. K. “Stretch it out as far as you can. There is strength in the stretching.”

I held my right arm straight out to the side and strained my fingers towards the wall. Mrs. K brought her arm down on mine as though to break it.

“See? Right now you’re strong. But there are things we can do that can make you weak. Do you have a pen and paper?”

I gave Mrs. K a pad of Post-It notes and a red Sharpie pen. She scribbled furiously.

“Now, I’ll you now that I’m going to show you something upsetting so you can prepare yourself. Hold your arm out like you did before. Are you ready for this?”

She turned the Post-It note around very seriously.


I laughed. I had braced myself for a Sharpie replica of Guernica or the black spot from The Lottery. Once again her arm came down on mine, but my arm did not budge.

“Wow, you are strong!” cried Mrs. K, knocking twice on my chest with her fist. That face was supposed to upset you, but it didn't! You even laughed!”

“That’s my defense mechanism,” I admitted.

“But there are some other tests that we can try,” she said. “Now, I just want you to know that what I’m about to say to you is all a part of the test…”

Mrs. K turned slightly to the side, looked down, and glared up at me with disgust.

“You know what? You are terrible at this. You mess everything up and you ruin every day for me. You’re the worst person here. That girl you replaced? She was so much better than you, believe me. I'm never coming back here again.”

I maintained a straight face. She looked up again from the floor and asked me to put my arm out again. Once again, my arm did not collapse. She knocked on my chest like she was trying to draw out the little alien that operated my robot body.

“You are rare!” she cried. “You are so strong! Not many people can do what you just did. The sad face, the insults, that would throw most people off! But not you!”

“Thanks,” I said.

“People always tell me that I should do this test in bars. It works on almost everyone, it’s amazing. You can use it for so many things – do you have any candy?”

Since we were in a yoga studio, there wasn't a counter stacked with candy, but we did sell some candied nuts of the sort you find on the streets of New York City.

“I want you to hold this jar of nuts to your chest like this,” she said, putting the jar in my hand and positioning it. “And stick your arm out to the side like you’ve been doing.”

When she tried to push my arm down, it worked this time. I wasn't sure if I was confused or caught off-guard. Perhaps she was using more force this time, but I couldn't tell.

“Do you like candy?” Mrs. K asked very gravely.

“Not so much anymore,” I said. “I really like chocolate, but that’s not the same thing…”

“Mm-hmm,” she said. “Sugar is the only thing that weakens you.”

She knocked on my chest again.

“What does that do?” I finally asked.

“It stimulates the adrenals,” she explained. “But you can do this with all sorts of things – like music. You know how some modern music is like kkkkkkkomx#dtjoeiflpsb!hudhhbzcvqfgrufjzzzz&nodeddd? You can test how it affects you. And then after you just knock a couple of times on your adrenals and it brings you back to balance.”

Her husband came out of the studio with a yoga teacher.

“This girl is so strong!” she called out to him. “Her only weakness is sugar!”

Mr. K joined in on the test, eager to break me.

“Watch me very carefully,” he said.

With a wide grin on his face he stared at me as he marched in place like a robot.

“Now put your arm out to the side, keep it strong,” he said.

My arm did not budge this time.

“Now watch me this time,” he said.

He marched again with the same frightening smile in what seemed to be the same way as before and when he tried to collapse my arm, it gave out. Once again, I’m not sure if he was using more force the second time or if I was distracted, but it worked nonetheless.

“See what happened there?”

“Not really,” I said. “I don’t understand what you were doing differently.”

“You didn't even notice. That’s good! That means your brain is processing what I’m doing before your conscious mind. Watch me again,” he said, beginning to march. “Right arm, left leg. Left arm, right leg. Do you see what I’m doing?”

“Okay,” I said.

“Now watch this: right arm, right leg. Left arm, left leg. Does that make you uncomfortable or confused? Think of how a baby crawls. It’s instinctual. Right arm, left leg. Left arm, right leg. There, I fixed you. These are tricks we use in our acting troupe. If we want to play with our audience, someone might come on stage marching one way, then we might disorient them in the second act by having them march the other way. If you ever feel confused just march in place and it will ground you.”

“And if you’re ever watching a really rowdy group of children, just have them march in place with you,” Mrs. K said. “It calms them down. And if you ever get a really mean customer here, someone really difficult, just imagine a big, radiant sunflower growing on your chest. Then imagine that this difficult person also has a big sunflower, and it might be difficult to see but it will remind you to be empathetic and not to return their nastiness to them. And if you need to recover afterwards, just give yourself a little knock on the chest to stimulate your adrenals and it will bring you back to normal.”

At this point Mr. K was gone and Mrs. K was standing alone in the doorway.

“See you next week,” Mrs. K said. She blew me a kiss on her way out.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Six Flags Great Adventure


Dave and I stood at the foot of Kingda Ka, a steel roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure, not feeling very great or adventurous at all. A car rumbled across the lime green steel track that suddenly bent upwards at a ninety degree angle, pressing thirty fragile human bodies helplessly against the padded seats behind them and redirecting the car onto a one-way path to the stratosphere where it would surely melt in the sun, hopelessly clicking towards doom.

At the peak of the sweaty climb, everyone in the front of the car who was desperately clawing at the foam-covered restraints on their shoulders had several grueling seconds to regret their life choices as the car teetered on the apex, almost coming to a stop. Then the car slid forward, giving into gravity, and rumbled the back seats over the tip and plummeted to the earth below with a tail of fire, spiraling mercilessly. The faces of the passengers rippled as they cut through the air, splitting atoms in a torrent of shrieks.

“Why are we doing this?” Dave and I asked each other. The line of thrillseekers ended near the “One Hour From This Point” sign, but more adrenaline-pumped lunatics with souvenir cups full of Mountain Dew were queuing up by the minute. The line was only going to get longer before we made up our minds.

A group of bald guys roared at each other, “Let’s do this! Let’s do this!”

“I don’t think I can do this,” I said to Dave. “I’ve been out of the game for too long.”

“Did you say ‘out of the game?’”

By which, of course, I meant that I had just moments ago broken a six-year roller coaster fast on a “moderate thrill” wooden coaster and nearly popped a blood vessel in my heart. I’ve never been one for screaming my way down the drops, but instead found myself whimpering like a puppy. I tried to breathe deeply. Are my adrenal glands shriveling at the ripe old age of twenty-two? Has yoga and meditation completely decimated my capacity to appreciate a “moderate thrill?”

I was terrified of roller coasters when I was I was little. I’m still barely tall enough to ride them, which exponentially increases my chances of slipping out on the drop and careening through the roof of a Dippin’ Dots stand. My nine-year-old self had to maintain a reputation for fierceness and a Napoleon complex, but who did I have to impress now? Dave seemed as alarmed by the angles of the first drop as I did.

Dave and I tweaked our itinerary and headed to Superman.  We passed some girls in gray polos with clipboards.
“Have you ever considered a career in modeling?” they asked.

Six Flags modeling recruiters. I imagined my own image in the Six Flags brochure, digging my nails into the foam-covered restraints on the Kingda Ka, my open lips rippling and exposing a chronically wind-burned pair of tonsils.

“No,” I said, walking passing them quickly. “Have a nice day.”

The girls turned and descended, like animals, upon a woman in a burqa rushing by with a baby carriage. “Hello, gorgeous!”

We got on the Superman roller coaster, a high-thrill that we could both agree on. After this magnificent ride, we went to a food court boasting vegetarian options for lunch. I scrutinized the selection of Chinese food. Beside the register there was a cooler of full of sushi and cubes of melon.

“Who would eat sushi from a theme park?” I wondered to myself.

Then I noticed little containers of octopus salad on the bottom shelf and thought, “Who would eat octopus salad from a theme park?” Anyone can survive endure a high-thrill roller coaster, but it takes a true daredevil to ingest Six Flags octopus salad.

We devoted the rest of the afternoon to simpler theme park pleasures. We watched a bearded man on a white pony much too small for his stature ride the carousel alone. He grinned into his smart phone, videoing himself alone on the carousel. About half way through he turned the camera onto us.


Smile.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

You Live With Giants

Today my short story "You Live With Giants" appeared in the Maurice Sendak issue of The Golden Triangle. The whole issue is decked out with wild things, read it all and click the smudgy, hairy giant below to read specifically about giant culture.

Do not glorify the wars of giants; that violence is in the past.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Directed by Michel Gondry



If my life were a movie, two things are for certain: it would be directed by Michel Gondry and star Michael Cera in a cascading blonde wig. It would probably focus on one rather banal day in my life, only in Gondry’s imagining everyone would have giant, inflatable hands. Dave would be played by Seth Rogen and Olive would be a robot. Every moment in my life up until page one of the script would exist solely to provide background for the script, and everything that happened post-page 120 would be unimportant. By the end of the film we would all see truths regarding relationships, art, and dreams.

The first act might begin with my first day of training at the yoga studio. As I travel to the yoga studio, following a crumpled page of directions, everything is just a little disorienting. For the first ten minutes of the film everyone on the bus is speaking to me in Spanish and I could certainly use a glance at the subtitles the audience is reading.

Once I finally find the studio, everything is peaceful. The studio director, played by Sylvie Testud, puts the phone to her chest and points for me to sit in an empty room across from the front desk. I leave my boots at the entrance and sit cross-legged on the floor. The room contains nothing but a room divider, an upright skeleton, and a system of ropes suspended from the wall. My face contorts as I scrutinize the system of ropes but my train of thought is quickly interrupted by a voice.

“Do you mind if I use the room?” a woman in the doorway says. She is very skinny and wears all gray. I nod and gather up my things so I can get out of her way. The woman tangles herself in the ropes and the gears behind her begin to turn. They are powered by some sort of Rube Goldberg machine: a mechanical hand dripping ice cold water from an infant medicine dropper onto the back of a dwarf hamster which runs on its wheel and propels a conveyer belt that rotates the gears of the rope system. It is Sylvie the studio manager’s invention. The ropes contort her body into impossible forms. I assume that she must be a teacher.

“What’s your name?” the woman asks me in a voice almost like a child.

“I’m Brittany,” I say. “What's your name?”

Her body is bent into a perfect triangle with bulging tendons and she looks at me from under her armpit.

“Marie.”

“I was wondering what this machine was for,” I say, taking a closer look.

“Do you want me to show you how to use it?” she asks.

She helps me twist the ropes around my arms and waist and before I know my body is out of my control. The ropes pull me into downward facing dog and I hang from my waist like wet rag, my fingers and toes dangling just above the ground.

“Keep your knees bent,” Marie says. “You aren’t warmed up yet.”

“Brittany, what are you doing? I’m ready for you now,” Sylvie says from the doorway. “And Marie, what are you doing in the teacher’s room?”

I untangle myself and drop to the ground.

Marie wanders into a classroom, where everyone is standing on their heads. When the door shuts, the studio manager turns to me.

“Just so you know, Marie is one of our more… difficult students. I've been putting up with her for a long time, but sometimes she just loses it and I have to ask her to leave. Usually she does this when the temperature isn’t exactly seventy-four degrees.”

Just then, Marie ambles out of the classroom with a pair of black goggles strapped to face. We both give Marie a strange look. The perspective shifts to Marie and we see everything through her infrared goggles. Sylvie and I are outlined in red blurs on a fuzzy, black background. Green digital words and numbers pop up on the margins. Next to Sylvie’s head “98.6 degrees” flashes in red, and next to mine “96.6 degrees” flashes. The words “REPTILE” blinks across the screen. Marie gasps.

We watch her roll her hips and drop into warrior three. She bounces her torso to get a good stretch.

“Things have been better since I started going to that studio in Connecticut,” Marie says. Her torso falls and she hangs in a standing forward bend. “The teachers there are wonderful. I want to take the postures home with me, it’s really special. And of course, now that the season is changing I’ll be coming here more often. It’s just hard for me when the temperature is too hot. Anything over seventy-four degrees.”

She stands up straight. “I’ll see you on Thursday, Sylvie.”

Marie walks out the door, detecting the temperature of the passing vehicles. To her delight, this charming fall day is exactly seventy-four degrees.

I watch training videos on a computer screen. Over a period of a couple of hours my face grows increasingly weary and my eyes begin to lull shut. The first video is a busty woman explaining different brands of yoga gear, the second is about how to clean the rental yoga mats with a squeegee. I yawn. In the next video, an angry man in a bathrobe is nailing a yoga mat to the door of a Catholic church and yelling something about hypocrisy.

“What do you know about enlightenment?” he cries. “What do you know?!”

I stretch my arms out and it doesn’t strike me as unusual that at some point in the transition into the dream sequence I changed into a lizard costume. Now I am a lizard in a cascading blonde wig. I leave the desk and join a yoga class that starts at 12:30. The teacher is playing a popular song by Enya and the lyrics to the song are a string of pasta dishes served at the Olive Garden.



“Brittany, do you have any medical conditions I should know about?” the teacher asks.

“I am a lizard,” I tell her dreamily.

“Do you know what kind of lizard?” she asks.

I roll out my mat. As the class begins, we all come to our hands and knees at the front of our mats, tilt our heads up, bulge our eyeballs towards the ceiling, stretch our tongues to the points of our chins, and let out a growl from the backs of our throats that releases all the awkwardness and embarrassments of the day.  

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Love and Magic

I had heard about a free play in Central Park and my friend L. and I decided to venture into the city for the day to see it. By the time we found the outdoor theater there was no one around. The chatty employees in matching shirts did not notice us staring into their booth, clearing our throats. Waiting. We noticed a sign hanging above us that leveled our lukewarm hopes:

Tonight’s Show SOLD OUT

A man came around to the front of the booth to put up a poster.

“Excuse me,” I said, “But the sold out sign – is that for the play at seven?”

“Oh, yeah, we ran out of tickets hours ago. People start lining up at six in the morning and wait there until two when we begin passing them out. Then it’s crazy for a half hour and it’s all sold out by two-thirty.”
I sighed. It was about three now.

“If you want, though, you can get in line over there and I can just about guarantee that I can get you a seat when the show starts.”

He indicated a line of people on the distant sidewalk, kept far from the ticket booth. Neither of us felt like waiting in line for four hours and enduring the lethargy that was sure to madden our fragile minds, so we declined and moved on. There was an enormous park before us, several hours of daylight, and a half-eaten bag of truffles in L’s bag for us to feed our sugar highs.

I smelled a delicious smell wafting through the air.

“Food,” I said lovingly.

L. and I followed the path and passed the turtle pond and a little league baseball game. We came to a stand and knew immediately the source of the orgasmic odor.

Waffles.

Waffles.

We inched closer to the waffle stand and read the menu carefully. I wanted to know everything.

“What are you girls doing, standing all the way over there?” a black haired fellow with glasses and a white apron said from inside of the stand. He had an accent that sounded Scottish to me, but I rationalized that he must be a waffle expert from Belgium. “Come closer. Come on.”

We took a few little steps towards the stand.

“Where are you girls from?”

“New York,” I answered, gazing down at the varieties of waffles described below his face.

“Brittany, we’re in New York,” L. said. “Saratoga.”

L. and I did not want anyone selling us anything. We quietly discussed waffles. We wondered what dinges were and how to even say it.

“I think it’s pronounced ‘dingus,’” L. whispered.

“That’s what Dave calls people when their being idiots,” I said. “Spekaloos - what is that? Is that a Belgian thing?”

The fellow behind the counter overheard us.

“Do you want to try it?” he said.

I nodded eagerly. He dipped both sides of a plastic knife with a tan, buttery substance, much like a goopy peanut butter. I took it, licked the knife end, and handed L. the handle. It was warm, spicy, and smooth. She tasted the handle end.

 “This tastes so familiar. What is this made of?” I asked.

“Love and magic,” the man behind the stand said. “What do you think it tastes like?”

“Love and magic seems about right, actually,” I said.

“There’s some cinnamon,” said L, thinking aloud.

“It’s gingerbread,” the fellow in the stand said before either of us could produce the answer.

Gingerbread!

“Oh! Gingerbread!” I cried. “That’s exactly what it is!”

That’s what we were smelling before; it wasn’t merely the waffles.

L. and I whispered about the possibility of buying some fragrant waffles. We had already planned to go to Alice’s Tea Cup and fill our happy stomachs with scones and tea after dinner, and with bellies already gushing with truffles, the thought of waffles seemed over the top.

“Should we go then?” I asked her.

“Let’s go.”

“Bye,” I said to the guy at the stand, “Thanks for all the magic!”

He looked sad. We walked away very quickly.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Inevitability of the French Fry



I sat wedged between two Turkish students nibbling cheeseburgers in Woodbury Commons. I was the only person outside of the MacDonald’s restaurant without food, daydreaming about frozen desserts.

Usually I do not get paid to peruse discounted brand name merchandise with international students, but the group leader for the Turkish kids flew back to her sales office in Istanbul and left the group unsupervised for the weekend. One girl, Beren, was older than the other students and took charge of the group. There wasn’t much for me to do but make sure they all got to the outlets and back without breaking their legs.

They had already been to the outlets on the fourth of July and now they were just buying souvenirs from friends. When I ask international students why they wanted to come to New York, the word “shopping” is invariably upon their lips. Clothes, handbags, sunglasses, watches – it’s all cheaper in the US.

With little money and a lot of time, I followed Beren and her young friend, Pinar, through the Gap and Armani Exchange and gave bad fashion advice with the best intentions. I couldn’t remember the last time I went shopping with girls.

“Which of these shirts do you like better?” asked Beren, holding up two white American Eagle shirts with red logos, one of which was slightly faded. Squinting slightly, I pointed to the brighter one. I watched them try on tee-shirts over their tee-shirts.

After, Pinar and I dug through a bin of underwear labeled, “4 for $10.” In spite of my resolve to spend no money, I started picking out pairs of cheap underwear. At least I’m not spending frivolously, I thought. Underwear is a necessity of life.

“Where can I go to a Victoria’s Secret?” Pinar asked, tossing aside a pair of extra-large lace-backed panties.

“Just so you know,” I said, “Victoria’s Secret is still pretty expensive here. You can spend, like, forty dollars on one bra there.”

I lifted my breasts slightly as I said the word bra because I find that communication goes more smoothly when I talk with my hands.

“What was that word you used?” Pinar asked.

“Bra,” I repeated. “Bra. But really, they’re, like, forty dollars.”

My mind simply cannot justify forty dollar undergarments.

“Bra,” said Pinar.

“I want just one to take home,” said Beren. “I will buy.”

Among Turkish ladies, I discovered that “I will buy” can be a complete sentence.

“The Gap tee-shirts are eighty US dollars in Istanbul,” Beren explained, contemplating shelf of twelve dollar tees. “I will buy.”

After many hundreds of US dollars were dropped on watches and shoes and handbags, I followed Beren and Pinar to the food pavilion. The word “pavilion” might indicate an establishment that is just as sophisticated as the designer outlets the pavilion keeps company with. Inside, we found pizza, tacos, and Au Bon Pain. This food court fare did not interest the two girls and they went to MacDonalds. We joined the rest of the group at a table outside of the MacDonald’s joint. The Turkish language reigned supreme and I had no idea what was going on.

“Kdeiomcr erjkwjhod kdjsjoe System of a Down adfadewtn,” one girl said.

Okay, they’re talking about music, I thought to myself.

“Please, Brittany, have a fry,” said Beren, pushing her large box of fries towards me. “Please.”

“No, thanks,” I said.

“You have nothing,” she pouted. “Please. I beg you. It’s potato, Brittany.”

“No, I know what it’s made of. I’m okay. Really.”

“But it’s so much food,” she said.

No matter where you’re from, you must know what you’re getting yourself into when you order a large fry in America. You made your salty, deep-fried bed and you can sleep in it. She dipped a fry into a white sauce and I asked her what it was.

“People here usually dip fries into ketchup,” I said.

“This sauce… this is good. You must try it, Brittany,” Beren said.

I’m usually inhumanly immune to peer-pressure. Some combination of curiosity and a desire to not be offered any more fries compelled me to take the smallest one and dip it into the white sauce. And… disappointment. I tasted ranch dressing and salt.

“Thanks,” I said with lukewarm enthusiasm. I hadn’t eaten a MacDonald’s French fry since I was sixteen. I left the group for a moment to purchase a salad from the Au Bon Pain and rethink my life.

In the car that evening, Dave lectured me on the inevitability of the French fry.

“You thought you could avoid MacDonald’s for the rest of your life? You can’t. I predict that someday, before you die, you will eat another MacDonald’s French fry. Someday you will be traveling and you will be starving and after walking for miles you will come to a MacDonald’s restaurant. You will buy fries because that is the only food for miles around and you will eat those fries whether you like it or not because you need that food to live.”