Monday, September 28, 2009

"The Sports section for women"

OK, I don't really believe that. (It's a Sex & The City quote.) But the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times is my go-to Sunday night activity. I wait for it all day--I read the A section in the morning, poke through Business and Week in Review in the afternoon, and get ready for bed before I let myself open Sunday Styles. And its trademark is the wedding announcements.

When I first started subscribing to the Sunday Times, for two weeks in a row I recognized people in the wedding section. It got me addicted. I felt like I knew members of society, which, of course, is who traditionally gets their announcement put in the paper. I can't find it now, but a couple of years ago there was a widely-circulated e mail that allowed you to calculate your chances of getting in. Ivy League education: +2. Father a CEO: +3. You get the idea.

My favorite part of the announcements is seeing everyone's job titles, how those titles compare to their parents', and the ages at which they choose to marry. The lawyers who met in law school all settle down at 28, and are usually set to start at a new firm next month. (It's actually incredibly common to see people between jobs, or just about to start a new one. That same Sex & The City episode accused all the women in the pages as listing their occupations beginning with the phrase, "Until last month...," as though they no longer needed to work. Maybe it's a recessionary sign that we don't see that anymore? Or maybe business is the new aristocracy, and the Times chooses to run only the announcements that might result in ad dollars later down the road? Either way, it seems like people take time off for their wedding.) I also really like the May-December relationships, whose announcements almost always conclude with, "The bridegroom's previous marriage ended in divorce." I REALLY love the December-December relationships, which often end with something along the lines of, "The bride is a widow; the bridegroom is twice a widower." Hope springs eternal.

The babyfaced announcements get me, too. I think if you're 26 or under, you're just going to look like a kid on the page. (Note: For one more week, I'm 27. I try to keep that in mind while reading these.) Yesterday's announcements featured a couple, both 26, who met in eighth-grade Spanish class at Fox Lane Middle School in Bedford.

There's also the strange matter of how people whose families are similarly rich (or at least well-known) end up meeting each other and falling in love. On Saturday, the great-great granddaughter of the founder of the Chrysler Corporation married the great-grandson of the former chairman of Standard Oil. What are the chances? It doesn't say here that they met at a debutante ball...and her dad works at a bank and her mom, in real estate. Doesn't seem like they ran into each other at a society party or anything. Do you bond over old money?

And while I think that's weird, the New York Times obviously doesn't think so...nor does most of its readership. I know that, because there have been two new trends of note in Celebrations. The first began, I think, when, in June, the Times chose to profile a couple who had met at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. They'd both messed up their lives pretty badly, but helped each other through drug addiction and got married. (Here's the story.)

Apparently the Times was flooded with letters from people both angry that the paper seemed to be condoning the couple's past behavior, as well as from people who applauded including people who weren't bluebloods in the hallowed pages. Maybe I'm just more alert to it now, but when I see things like yesterday's announcement that included the bride's mother's career as a manicurist in Las Vegas, I think back to that column.

The other trend is doormen. It's hot to marry your doorman. I'm not sure the Times knew this when they wrote, "Few people marry their first crush. Fewer still marry their doorman."

A month later, we have our second woman-marrying-her-doorman story. (In both cases, the women were doing some heavy chasing. Really, read that link. I'd be embarrassed to tell that story to the Times.)

So, democracy or not? Who cares? As long as people get married in Bird-in-Hand, PA, or Croton-on-Hudson, NY, or tell stories about carving a proposal into a pumpkin, or freely admit that it took them a long time to feel attracted to their fiancee, we can't really worry that the Times remains TOO blue-blooded.

Friday, September 25, 2009

PLEASE take it back

You know when you're trying to make a major decision, and you convince yourself that if you make the wrong choice, it's going to mess up the rest of your life?

I mean, that might be true if your decision is to have a baby or something. But pretty much all other things are reversible: cities, jobs, marriages...OH WAIT, BUT NOT THIS:

Monday, September 21, 2009

Stairway to Nowhere

In my gym, there are two things you can count on: A woman doing fancy things on the Stairmaster, and The Rachel Zoe Project on the big screens.

This afternoon, Rachel was on (and I'm not sure how this is--even if I dash home and flick on Bravo, the show's always over. In the gym, it's marathon Rachel) and the empty Stairmaster was flanked by two extremely sweaty Masters, both cheating by riding the stairs all the way to the bottom before grabbing the handlebars and lugging themselves to the top at the last second. There were no fancy Masters in sight.

This might be my opportunity.

I've always been opposed to the Stairmaster, not just because I live in a hilly city and feel like my butt gets enough targeted exercise on my frequent trips to the grocery store, but, frankly, because it's hard as hell and I go to the gym to feel good about myself, not to be exhausted after five minutes. But I just finished a book in which an idiot secondary character is always on a Stairmaster, so it was on my mind, and my realization of the fancy Masters is a new thing, too. If Janice could do it, so could I.

I guess I should explain the fancy Masters, since it had never occurred to me that one could do anything on the machine other than climb. These women--invariably in their early 20s--can walk sideways on the Stairmaster. Sometimes they do squats, or take the stairs two at a time. What's really eye-catching, though, is the arabesque. They're always doing Stairmaster arabesques.


The first step of a Stairmaster is about two feet off the ground, which isn't that big of a deal, except that the machine starts to move as soon as you mount it, so it's two feet you fall down when the stairs slip from under you because you're obviously still more engrossed in untangling your iPod headphones than assuming the solid object you're standing on can't be counted on. I'm not sure anyone saw me do that.

I did a little running start to get on the next time, trotting up to the top step quickly and trying to figure out which buttons I needed to push to get a good pace going before I ended up at the bottom again. The woman next to me started heavily sighing and making a big show of craning her neck around me--my head was blocking The Rachel Zoe Project.

I, of course, was pumped that I'd have the distraction of Rachel and her cronies while wrestling with my most hated machine. But as soon as I looked up at the screen, I stumbled. I should have known. I'm always trying to read the newspaper or the mail while walking up the stairs to my apartment, and always trip by the third landing. There's no way, even at a consistent pace (and I had chosen the "interval" setting), to not fall on this thing. Plus, the stairs are designed for women with maybe a size 5 foot. Mine are almost 9s. The arabesque girls must be en pointe during their workouts.

So I spent ten minutes clutching the railings for dear life as I lugged my way up (allegedly) 52 flights of stairs. That's really the only satisfying number you get out of a Stairmaster. I mean, ten minutes of cardio, while more than the average American gets in a day, is still ten minutes less than what you're supposed to do if you exercise daily (which I don't, unless you count the grocery store hill). The "calories burned" number, which I know is bullshit but still check at the end of my workout, was 145, which is the approximate calorie count of this pile of Mother's chocolate chip cookies I have laying on my stomach while I write. But 52 flights? In ten minutes? I mean, I could maybe be a firefighter with that number.

Except, of course, that when I was done I had to leap off the thing because I really, truly thought I might vomit and didn't see how I could possibly handle the cool-down. (Why do they even program cool-downs into the machinery? Isn't walking to the locker room a cool-down?) I'll give this to the Stairmaster Corporation: For all they don't prepare you to mount the machine, they really have the dismount covered. There are elaborate directions about how to get off the machine posted right where you spend all your time staring intently: right above your feet. I had the whole thing memorized after those ten minutes--including the warning about how the last step disappears two feet above the floor. Good tip.

I was a lot safer retreating to the stretching space, where, in the mirror, I watched a very large woman climb BACKWARDS up the Stairmaster. Never again.

PS Oops. Just ate two more cookies.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Friendly Neighbors

There's only one door through which you can enter our apartment building, and it's next door to Nature's Medicine Shoppe.

Nature's Medicine Shoppe is a curious corner establishment. It's open strange hours, I've seen a total of one (potential) walk-in customer, and it's not like we live on a street with a ton of non-resident foot traffic. In the window, the proprietor has taped up a few signs created in Microsoft Word and printed with what seems to be a dot-matrix printer. My favorite is an advertisement for Gigolo's Delight, a combination of natural male enhancement herbs.

The owner has taken a liking to me.

He introduced himself shortly after we moved in, one day helping me back my car out into busy traffic. His name is Cornell, and his "puppy," a year-old pit bull named Paz (pronounced "Paws," but Cornell was careful to spell her name to me), is his constant companion. Cornell gave me a home-made brochure and told me I should come by the store sometime.

That put me in an awkward position. First of all, I was fairly certain I didn't want to buy anything inside. I'm not really a natural sort of girl. I like my artificial scents and fancy packaging. That's how you know stuff works.

Also, let's be clear: It would take someone pretty naive to not suspect this whole operation is a drug front. I mean, maybe it's not. But...I'm pretty sure it is. And I don't smoke. Or, you know, do anything else. And I kind of thought that, once inside, I'd have to have that discussion with Cornell. And then I'd probably have to buy some seaweed soap or something.

But I pass by Cornell's door at least a few times a day, and he always yells out a hello and tells me I should come in, and I always have an excuse not to. In fact, I usually pick up my pace on the street and hustle inside, like I have somewhere to be. But a few weeks ago, I finally agreed to go inside.

I was, once again, formally introduced to Paz, and taken on a tour of the store. I spent most of my time inside admiring a fountain that Cornell had rescued from the street and rehabilitated. I thought that maybe Cornell was a little bit like my grandpa, who was prone to doing stuff like that. I thought maybe we'd have a nice, neighborly relationship.

His products don't seem to be anything too out of the ordinary, with the possible exception of cannabis-scented incense. Adam and I have talked this over, and have concluded that the only logical use for it is to light up when any authority shows up: "Oh, you must just be smelling my pot-scented air freshener."

Cornell also took my visit as an opportunity to clarify that most of his business is mail-order.

So I left feeling like my commitment to my neighbor had been fulfilled. We had a nice conversation, I knew the age of his dog, and I think I had made it pretty clear that I didn't have any express interest in any of his fertility herbs. Since then, we've had that nice rapport you have when you walk past your neighbors--"Hey! HowareyouyeahI'mgood, good, see you later!"--and don't necessarily need to stop to finish saying everything you need to before you reach your front door or traffic drowns you out.

But then last week I was returning home from a walk when Cornell yelled out, "Hey! Come spend some change in my store!" I thought maybe I had misunderstood him, so I said, "What?" and wandered over.

Cornell takes me by the hand, kisses my cheek and leads me inside the store, Paz bouncing on me the whole way, and says again, "Spend some change!" He put me in the center of the store, facing the only wall display, and pondered in what way I could spend my change. The center section of the wall is filled with medicinal herbs, which he declared I was too young to need. The right-hand side is full of incense, and there's not a single thing about my appearance that would allow anyone to suspect I'd like some incense.

Then again, the left-hand side of the wall is full of something else I wouldn't peg me as wanting, and that's oil.

Cornell got pretty excited as he pondered his oil options for me. He told me to hold out my hand, which I did--with my keys clutched in them. He took the keys from me and poured a quarter-sized amount of oil into my paw. I said, "Now what?"...and as soon as I asked, I realized I had made a huge mistake. I frantically started rubbing my hands together as he cried, "Put it in your hair!" I giggled and put some on my forearm--you know, where I could scrub it off with Liquid Dial later. But he kept kind of chanting, "Hair! Hair!" and finally, despite the fact that I have the kind of hair that tends to look greasy ANYWAY about 12 hours after a wash, I kind of swiped it on a chunk of hair at the very back of my head, as far from my scalp as I could manage.

Then I got the hell out of there, muttering something about how I had to see how it smelled a couple of hours from now, like it was an eau d'toilet we were talking about.

Adam was home when I got there, but I beelined for the bathroom and the chemical-laden, anti-bacterial cleansing agents. I scrubbed and scrubbed, but that smell would not come off me. And, of course, it was in my hair, which was a whole other issue. By the time I dejectedly plopped down onto the couch in a cloud of patchouli and explained what had happened, Adam was practically in hysterics, and pointed out the ONE THING I should have said to Cornell:

"Don't you know I don't have black girl hair?"

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Dream Life

I had drinks with my friend Katie last night. Katie's leaving her job in a month, and is planning on taking some time to just do project work before settling into her next full-time gig. I think Katie works kind of like I do: makes work a part of her identity. I have a tendency to lay awake at night, worrying about work.

We were talking about what it is that I do all day, and how I like working from home and taking in chunks of money wherever I can, and I think I started to gush a little. There are definitely days in which I've watched too much TV and not gone on enough walks, and days when I don't get a lot of work done because it's hard to get into the mindset when you're not in an office, but after almost a YEAR of unsteady employment, I'm having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that I'll be back at a desk, full-time, soon.

(Bank of America has pretty much told me I have to be.)

I'm hoping that when that happens, I don't need to give up the projects I've come to enjoy. There's this sporadically-updated blog, there's my business idea, there's the idea that I can make dinner, there's the knowledge that people can get substantive work done in coffee shops.

My friend Curtis lives his work, and seldom in an office. He has his laptop with him at all times, and when he's on it you never know if he's creating the first non-sucking expense report or if he's reading his never-ending RSS feed. He kind of has the ideal situation: he ENJOYS working in the middle of the night, because work is satisfying to him. His work is also his hobby, and his interest.

I want that.

And then today I read something on Facebook that bothered me, and made me feel, a little bit, like that's out of reach for people like me. You know how today, everyone was posting those two sentences about healthcare? ("No one should die because they cannot afford healthcare; no one should go broke because they get sick.") A good friend of mine--someone who I consider myself to be very much like--changed her status to say that she wasn't sure we should be talking about serious things on Facebook, and that she misses when it was fun.

Fifteen comments ensued, of course, and most of them were a discussion about for what purposes people use Twitter versus Facebook. It was commonly acknowledged that people tweet about things that are serious or related to their job, and use Facebook for casual, funny conversation.

That's an acknowledgment that they're hiding part of who they are.

Maybe I'm just always repressed because I know my bosses and work friends are amongst my Facebook friends, but do they really think that when I leave work, I'm reading nothing but industry reports? And if something about my work is interesting, and I write about that, will my friends not think it's interesting, too?

I'm friends with a lot of ambitious people, and I understand being guarded when it comes to your professional life, but you kill a good work-life balance if you're constantly self-censoring out of fear that someone will think less of you for being multi-dimensional. And, frankly, no one wants to network with a hack.

Yep. My time at home has given me some perspective.