Friday, March 27, 2009

On Lookers

I was on the train this morning with a herd of eastern European high school kids on some sort of group trip that necessitated being in this country, being on the subway and being in my way, but also being adolescently excited in that school trip kind of way that is, as yet for me, unparalleled in adulthood. Everyone involved in a school trip (teachers and parents and kids unleashed on a city with an itinerary and pocket cash) knows it’s bullshit and no one’s learning anything—or, at least, anything that will enhance a two-page essay for Global Studies. But the group swindle is a great phenomenon. Everyone plays along just for the sake of breaking the routine. Imagine if you, your boss, the president of your company and all your co-workers just agreed that for the next three days, yep, you all have “food poisoning.” Wink wink.

Anyway, someone asked me recently whether I’ve noticed how freakishly tall the riders of the L train are, and I actually had. L train commuters are Amazons. But I also think the L train is a freakishly beautiful train (for whatever reason that probably has to do with having a high net worth). The F, my old transit stomping grounds, was not a particularly attractive train. It was difficult to even find a train crush. I eventually found a clumsy dork who hummed along to his headphones, but my taste tends to skew nerdy and I’m not sure how many other hearts he would’ve set a-thumping.

The L is a different story. There are fashion people, for sure, who obviously work in their industry as a result of being beautiful, but a shocking proportion of the rest of the train is jaw-droppingly pretty too. My uterus begs me to procreate with half the dudes on every car so I can add their genes to my average pool, like so much Tang into tap water.

So, three of the foreign school trip boys were brave enough to swim away from the school of fish to take advantage of an open bench across the car from me. I would guess they were probably about 16, maybe 17, and all awkwardly tall and hulking. They sat on this scale of Cro-Magnon beauty that ranged from “Pirates of the Caribbean Extra” to “Likely Face of Next Prada Campaign.”

I’m not sure any of them would’ve known which was which. They were all equal parts swagger, which makes me think they were all equal parts uncertainty, which makes me jealous that boys can retain that idea that attractive is something you might yet magically turn out to be for much longer than girls do. Girls figure out whether pretty is in the cards by the time they’re 10; contingency identities, if necessary, are in place by middle school.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Monologues and Asides

My roommate Jes is gone for the week, leaving me alone in my apartment for the first time since I moved in. She’s even taken the dog with her and in his absence I’ve learned that, for weighing a scant eight pounds, he looms large in our household when he’s around. Not that I’ve exactly been alone the whole time. I had a dinner on Monday for a couple of people and a coworker who’s just moved here from abroad. It felt like a very adult thing to do but, despite pageantry involving flowers and side dishes and coats on beds , I think I came off like a kid having a tea party. I still haven’t done the dishes. Point proven.

I’m wondering how the internet knows what my insecurities are. Before I started losing weight, the ads on all of my social networking pages were all “25 AND OVERWEIGHT?” Now that I’m not either of those things, they all say “THIN LIPS ARE JUST PLAIN UGLY.” I’m waiting for the day when the internet can aggregate and psychoanalyze the stupidly large amount of content I’ve written on its back to spit out really targeted and creepy ones, like “YOUR HAIR LOOKS WEIRD FROM THE BACK,” or “EVERYONE KNOWS YOU WORE THOSE PANTS FOUR TIMES THIS WEEK,” or “REALLY, YOU’RE NOT FUNNY. THOSE WERE POLITE CHUCKLES.”

I used a flesh and blood dictionary a few times in the past two days, and now I’m looking up words I don’t even really need to know how to spell just because I like the paper, and sticking my finger in the notches for the alphabet tabs, and, best of all, the tiny illustrations. I forgot about them. Flip to Q and you get an etching of a quail, a quarter horse, quetzal (look it up, in a dictionary) and a quince. Every letter’s platinum card members are rendered in such a way that I want them all tattooed on me somewhere. K: king cobra, kiwi (bird, not fruit), and a diagram of 20 knots. P: prie-dieu, Prince Albert (the coat, not the genital mangling jewelry), proofreader’s marks, protea. But as much as I love the dictionary again, it just makes me miss everything from my grade school library—encyclopedias, particularly, and the card catalog. Anyone else care to get in on my pitch to PBS for America’s Next Top Library Luddite? Or go on a microfiche-centered date?

Last night after watching Lost at Brad’s house (for which I made desserts from fruit found on tropical islands and Brad covered Bud Light cans in Dharma logos) I ran into an acquaintance with several friends who I’d never met. I nearly walked right by them because I had my headphones on, loud, and when I can’t hear anything I also kind of can’t see anything (ditto for the opposite—if I take my glasses off I swear I can’t hear you). When I realized the tinny screams were for me I turned around and acted awkward and put-upon until I figured out I actually knew someone in the bunch. They were very drunk, I suspect, and the ones I didn’t know were weird in a way that would make them a great bar band in the Muppet movie. One of them grabbed my headphones to “totally rock out to what you’re listening to.” Which was a repeat of the mortgage crisis episode of This American Life. It is times like this that highlight how little I’m actually joking about microfiche-centered dates.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Le Freak. C'est Chic.

I guess the thing about the mid-life crisis as a concept is that it presupposes you know how long you’re going to live. Having exactly that style of crisis right here, right now at 26 means that in addition to feeling The Dread every day upon waking up, some part of my brain is assuming I’m only going to last until 52. Which is, you know, extra uplifting to someone who can’t get out of bed without whimpering. I have taken to pleading with my alarm clock like it’s Judge Judy. Every morning it responds about as rigidly. Do not lend money, even to your family, without a contract; I have to get out of bed and go to work: these are incontrovertible judgments.

I think it started with the T.T.F.O. I don’t think this syndrome afflicts just me. Anyone who works in an office, gets in at nine and leaves at five has got to feel a tickle at the base of their neck in the stretch between lunch and release. That’s the three-thirty freak out. You have no choice but to hide in the bathroom and read for a few minutes, or make another pot of coffee against the wishes of your office manager, or stare at your cube wall and kind of pet your own head for a while, or else buy candy and sort it according to color and crush the pieces viciously between your teeth one by one.

The T.T.F.O feels natural. It aligns with when I was dismissed from school for the first 18 years of my life, so when some kind of reptilian brain flight alert sounds around that time it makes sense. But gradually my T.T.F.O. has bled from its usual boundaries and into a 2:30 freak out, and also a 10:30 freak out, and a number of other freak outs that would require entirely new acronyms. Like the A.D.F.O., or the all day freak out. And the E.C.E.M.B.R.—the everything can eat my butt reaction. This is the point at which I’m supposed to buy a Porsche, except I’m not 55, bald, rich, a guy, and unable to sleep with women who are…actually, my age. This is why this is all very uncomfortable.

The two scoops of raisins in the bran flakes of my problem is, I mean, what do you do? You can’t jump out of the job plane and into a recession with a parachute made from a weird diploma and no savings, a smart mouth and a hand tattoo, and very average Excel skills.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What Happens in Vegas

There are approximately two billion places I would pay to visit on this globe, and another bonus billion I’d visit if someone else was footing the bill. Las Vegas makes neither of those lists so, obviously, this is where I was dispatched to a medical conference for three days last week. There were perks, of course. It was warm. It was sunny. I was staying in a hotel and tiny bottles of shampoo make me happier than they probably should. Cable. Chipotle was a reimbursable expense.

But on the other hand: Las Vegas. I did get to drive through the downtown for a few hours and totally succumbed to the appeal of the old casinos and all the lights and the wedding chapels and the kitsch, but the Strip! The Strip. It’s all the antiseptic, plaster, scale-model lowlights of Epcot Center thrown in a blender and frapped with some tequila and a few sequin fanny-packs and a crushing number of mobility scooters and as many state-fair-style comically large drinks in souvenir cups as you can cram in your luggage.

I grew up outside New York City so I don’t know if it’s the same when people visit here for the first time, but I couldn’t get over how Las Vegasy Las Vegas looked. Like, do people walk around Times Square thinking holy crap, look, they really sell hot dogs on the street, and people really walk fast, and there’s really a motherloving rat running around right there on the subway tracks? And everything becomes a musical montage set to “New York, New York” right then and there? Because I stayed at the Flamingo and it was all lit up pink outside, and when I walked through the casino and out onto the Strip at night there were so many women done up with fancy bags and tube dresses and boobs, so many boobs, like at least twice the standard issue apiece, and feather boas and sometimes even leather pants, and leopard print everywhere, and men in suits legitimately playing craps at the Bellagio with a crowd of onlookers, everything was so Vegas I heard Elvis in my head and felt the urge to duck because the next scene was clearly supposed to be fading in from the top of the screen. Total montage.

But at the same time, it was nothing like I expected it to be, because it’s actually the opposite of what everyone expects to be. Particularly the tourists trying to live up to their own expectations. If I heard one ex-frat boy say “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas!” I heard sixty yell the same thing, except nothing scandalous was ever going on. They were mostly referring to drinking a Bud Light on the street (legal and invited) or accepting one of the business cards they give out by the hundreds for hookers (also legal, and you know they’re never going to call). Everyone was going to see Donnie and Marie Osmond. Everyone was full of reasonably-priced prime rib. Minus the boozing, this could be Branson. The collective urge to feel like you’re doing something sinful while doing exactly what’s sanctioned and encouraged was a little…I don’t know, like giving in and talking back to the dummy at a ventriloquist’s show.

I think the thing that really got me about the Las Vegas strip was how nothing is old. Once a hotel hits fifty it’s time to tear it right down and build a model of some world landmark with slot machines in its base. There was construction everywhere you looked. My hotel was one of the oldest still operating and it was only built in 1946. Yeah, this is a city where the Rat Pack hung out, but I grew up taking trips to walk the Freedom Trail in Boston and buying the oldest used books I could find at the library sale, so unless I can stay where they stayed and drink on the same bar stools, it doesn’t matter much to me. It’s kind of a city with no memory.

Although that may be a good thing? Because that means that any business associates dining at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville will probably not recall me dancing like an epileptic Jennifer Beals to the Journey cover band.
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