Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Hypothetical Gift

I am in a terrible mood today. For no apparent reason other than yesterday was kind of a pointlessly frustrating day and that I had bad dreams last night where all of my friends hated me and right now the music at Starbucks is much more conducive to group suicide than to writing funny things on the Internet. (Can you write on the Internet? Or is this like skywriting?) Seriously, Cannonball? This music makes me want to stab things.

For a full two years after I stopped teaching I had horrible nightmares and would wake up screaming in the middle of the night. This was wildly disastrous to my daily life for obvious reasons. A friend of mine gave me a sample of her prescription sleeping pills (I know, terribly illegal -- it's a good thing I do not actually like medicine or this would be a story of rehab.) to help me make it through the night. She had been a teacher in a similar situation to me (read: multiple police reports) and had similar sleeping difficulties post-classroom. So I tried them. Well, really I broke one of the pills with the handle of a knife and took the smallest piece. I'm not sure I really thought this through beforehand, or if I just hoped it would work like a "sweet dreams pill" instead of a "knock you out cold pill." It did not. So I was essentially stuck in a nightmare for longer than I normally was and woke up fully un-rested like I normally did.

The nightmares have subsided for the most part, although I continue to have much stranger dreams than anyone I know. I think this must just be the downside of an overactive imagination. Anyway, last night did not consist of nightmares per se - it was more just a fairly miserable situation to live in for a few hours. Imagine a night-world where everyone pretends not to know you and runs away when you talk to them. This will leave you feeling annoyed in the morning. I am now craving something happy the way that some people crave potato chips or jelly beans. (I say these because I am neither of those people. I crave chocolate and steak.)

Having terrible dreams always makes me wonder if I just answered badly to one of those Book of Questions scenarios. (Would you rather have a mediocre life and wonderful dreams, or have a great life but terrible nightmares? I take it back! I want the mediocre life!) But I don't take it back. In fact, I don't take it at all. I refuse to answer that question because I wouldn't rather either of those situations. I am impossible to play the Hypothetical Game with. I choose non-existent answers or analyze the scenario out of plausibility. For example, my mom's favorite question to ask (of anyone really, but she seems to ask it most of my brother and I) is what is your fantasy car? To which I generally respond:

"Well, how old am I? Where am I living? Do I have kids? I mean, right now, my own car is totally perfect. I couldn't afford anything better, plus I park on the street. Even if I could afford it, it would get ruined and I don't need anything fancy."

M gets similarly frustrated with me when we have Hypothetical Conversations. His favorite example is "Theo Epstein walks into a bar..." This went as follows:

M: "So say you and I are sitting at a bar and Theo Epstein [totally adorable GM of the Red Sox] walks in and starts hitting on you. What would you do?"

Me: "Why would he be walking into a bar here in Chicago?"

M: "I don't know, maybe he's recruiting or something. Whatever, just what would you do?"

Me: "I think he's married anyway, so this would be really inappropriate."

M: "OK, fine, say he's not married."

Me: "Well, did you just make him divorced or are we pretending he never was married?"

I don't remember why this even came up or what the point was, but clearly I am a weird combination of imaginative and strictly literal. Also, notice that nowhere in this hypothetical scenario do I find it weird that THEO EPSTEIN is hitting on me. That I can apparently accept with ease.

Since I have so much trouble with these questions, I typically do not buy things for other people like games called What If..., or The Book of Questions or anything that requires people to imagine two unpleasant situations and decide which one is better. (My new favorite blog describes this better than I can here.) I think this is like playing the Why Are You Hitting Yourself Game. (Also one of M's favorites.) I DON'T WANT TO BE HITTING MYSELF. (Although this one is really funny if you are not the one being smacked in the face repeatedly.)

This is not to say that I don't buy gifts that are hypothetically useful. Recently, I found something at Wal-Mart and had to buy it for my brother, under the guise of Valentine's Day. But it is only hypothetically awesome.

My brother does not cook. His entire repertoire consists of grilled cheese, pseudo-Egg-McMuffins and Easy Mac. Otherwise he will wait for you to make something or he will eat a protein shake and cheese and crackers. (In full disclosure, I wasn't much of a cook until recently. I could do it, but until a year or two ago, I mostly lived on frozen peas and Odwalla bars.) This Christmas, when we were both home at our parents' house, we had a twenty minute deliberation over the ease of making a grilled cheese over an Egg McMuffin to determine which one he would have for lunch.

So when M and I went to Wal-Mart for a griddle (because as part of a much longer story, M does not have a working stove or a very powerful microwave,) I saw the best gadget ever. An "Egg Muffin Maker." (They can't say "Mc" because of the fast-food reference. But I can, apparently.) A round plastic container that opens from the top, the Maker holds a raw egg that you microwave, take out, place the bottom of an English muffin back inside the Maker, the newly cooked egg, slice of cheese, top of muffin and then re-microwave until cheese is melted. Genius. And $1.50.

Obviously I had to buy it for my brother so he could make one of his three gourmet items even easier. Clearly this would decisively end the grilled cheese vs. Egg McMuffin debate. However, this gift is only hypothetically awesome because I don't know if G has access to either microwaves OR eggs. I know that he could go to the store and buy the ingredients, and probably use a microwave somewhere in his building. But I could have also just made using this gadget HARDER than buying a pre-made McDonald's version. This is the danger of the Hypothetical Gift. You have to suspend reality for a minute and get to the heart of your intention. My intention was that this was A.) Hilarious as a concept and B.) Indicative of G's cooking. It is truly the thought that counts with the Hypothetical Gift. 

Now excuse me, I must get ready for my hypothetical date with Theo Epstein.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Crazy Gift

Maybe I shouldn't be excited about this, but two people hit on me on my way into the gym today. Now, before I get too far ahead of myself, let me clarify a couple of things:

1.) Person number one was a homeless man inexplicably carrying a rake.

2.) Person number two was a stoner driving a cloud of pot smoke disguised as a car.

So I definitely shouldn't be excited about this. BUT, you should also know that I looked EXACTLY the same as I always do on my 3.3 mile walk (yes, I just used to figure that out which is totally not the point of their site) to the gym, specifically, wearing my blood-stained Uggs, workout pants and my oversized ski jacket. (That I apparently bought thinking that when I moved to Chicago at 22, I would continue to grow outwards AND upwards, and that appropriately earned me the nickname "Old Man Winter.") I did, however, change two things:

1.) I brushed my hair.

2.) I wore my sunglasses.

Now, given the positive events post-sunglasses at AE on Saturday, I am clearly attributing my increased hotness to the sunglasses over the improved hygiene. I think they are magic glasses. I am tempted to wear them indoors or at night as well, à la Jack Nicholson, or various Rush and Division douchebags, but I think this might cause people to confuse their magic powers with a mental illness (like narcissism, which this blog is not helping) and treat me kindly for the wrong reasons. 

This isn't the first time I have been tempted to do something that ends up making me look nuts. 

M was in Arizona this weekend, and brought me back a fantastic present. A candle that makes green shamrocks on the outside glow. I am really excited about this and plan to try it out while watching the women's free skate portion of the Olympics tonight. Super nerd, I know. But the real crazy is WHY M knew I would love this present. I look for four-leaf clovers constantly. It's a little obsessive and a lot childish. I have also found over a hundred four-leaf clovers, so I feel validated in this search. When I was little, I would tape the found clovers on the inside covers of a book series called Value Tales. And then I would write something like:

"Found at Bryan Park on 10/13/88! Saw it in the grass without even looking!!!!!!!!!"

I really loved finding clovers. And exclamation points, apparently. Why I felt the need to document these inside books instead of something more collection-worthy, like between panes of glass, I have no idea. I must have seen some kind of permanence in books. Even in books geared only to seven-year-olds. 

Anyway, M supports my mild clover craziness and when we are walking and I stop and look at the ground, he knows that I have spotted a clump of shamrocks to comb through. Last summer, we were at the lake with M's parents, and sitting in the grass lazily chatting. While everyone else was talking, I became distracted by hundreds of clovers carpeting the earth and started picking out four-leafed gems. I had already found two by the time I noticed M's dad staring at me. I don't think my explanation assuaged anything, and he now obviously thinks his son is dating a girl who also wears a hat of tin foil while blowing spit bubbles off her tongue and petting her own shoe. 

To M's credit, at this point, he began searching too. For which I should have been grateful for but with which instead became instantly competitive and kept searching until I had more four-leaf clovers than him. I am not the best advocate for my own sanity. 

But, gifts that celebrate a little bit of crazy can be a good thing. Like the candle. Or like tiaras to wear on a birthday. Or like giving one of those found clovers away to someone else. I have done this a few times, mostly to wish someone good luck or as a congratulations gift. I will tape the clover to a blank card or leave it pressed inside a frame to preserve it. Sometimes I will write something underneath it:

"Found in Lincoln Park on 7/21/09!!! Good luck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

(Just kidding.)

For M's birthday this year, I used one of the four-leaf clovers I found at the lake to make a card, wishing him a year filled with luck. The kind of luck I had, not his kind of less-clovers-than-me luck. I am insufferable. I am going to go put my sunglasses on and walk home in the dark. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Reduction of Hate Gift

There are only three people in the world that I have ever fully hated. And every single one of them is for good reasons. Like they were mean to me. Or they pulled an earring straight out of my friend's ear. Or they are stupid beyond reasonably stupid standards.

Anyway, I ran into one of those three people at Target and I acted like a complete and utter ass-clown and maybe now I can only hate two people.

Hated person number three (HPN3, for the purposes of the rest of this post) falls into the "stupider than dirt" category of people-I-hate. I hate ignorance in general, but specifically hate the source when it interferes with my daily life and gets turned back around on me. For instance, I worked downtown for the central offices of the Chicago Public Schools for a year, (which is laden with examples of idiocy) and to get to my cubicle on the second floor, I had two options - elevator or inconveniently-located-behind-the-security-belt stairs. I took the stairs. And was stopped by the security guard. Every morning. Clearly I am not memorable or I pose a high level of threat that cannot be demonstrated in the elevator. Whatever. This I can chalk up to total dedication to the job of maintaining security, even if it is just stupid and tempts me into taking an elevator up one floor. (Which is not only a waste of electricity, but also I hate elevators. They freak me out like the idea of doing heroin freaks me out.)

Anyway, HPN3 was also fired from the bar, which makes hating her even worse because now I fall into the same category as her. Except she was fired for being exceptionally stupid, and I was fired for no apparent reason. Which makes me feel stupid. So now I am paranoid that we are the same. HPN3 was maybe the worst server ever in the history of bars. I won't go into details because the details of her fuck-ups are not important - it's the totality of her incompetence that matters. So suffice it to say that she sucked at life in a way that made you question how she even made it into work. Amelia Bedelia would have made more tips.

It was no secret that I did not care for HPN3, mostly because I have a terrible habit of eye-rolling. But also because I do not believe in fake-nice. I think it's mean to be nice to someone's face and then talk about them as soon as they walk away. It's lying. I much prefer to just avoid them entirely. Which is what I did with HPN3 and which is what got me into a long conversation with the manager over not "being nice." Technically, though, I just "wasn't being mean." Plus if you want a commune-hippie-love atmosphere where everyone gets along, DON'T HIRE MORONS. Eventually management began to see the validity of my argument and fired HPN3. I haven't seen her in two years.

Until I went to Target. (Why, Target? Why must you betray me so?) Between the kitchen aisles and the furniture, I spotted her. Well, not so much spotted as heard her familiar cackle crashing down the tiled floor. I ducked in between aisles and immediately became engrossed in the plates. If there is anything at Target I don't need, it's plates. I mean, this couldn't have happened amongst the shoes? Really, Target? But apparently HPN3 really needed plates herself, because she and her friend stopped at the end of the aisle for a good seven minutes. My thought process was as follows:

"I could duck around the back of the aisle...but she's on the end. I'll just turn the other way and now I am looking at this bowl. I wonder if this bowl is microwave safe. What is the difference between microwave safe and dishwasher safe? Which one is stronger if, say, they both were run over by a car? And is she still there? Seriously, it's a plate. Pick one and move on. If I were registering for a wedding, I would pick none of these plates. Would I even need plates? Maybe I could replace plates with something more urgently needed, like spoons. Can you even register for spoons by themselves? I mean, people register for board games. I could register for new books! Oh, thank God, she's gone." 

At no point in my tangent-riddled thoughts did I think of just saying hi and moving on like a normal person. And since I totally, obliviously engrossed myself in thinking about wedding registries, I'm sure she probably saw me. Talking to myself and staring at plates. Like I said, ass-clown. And with this ridiculousness that is me-in-public, the hate has become greatly reduced.

I wish I had a gift that relates more to giving someone I formerly hated a nice, un-mocking present. But as demonstrated above, I do not think in straight lines like this. Instead, the Reduction of Hate Gift includes a gift for my best friend K - something she used to loathe but has now embraced. Running. I can sympathize because running and I used to not be friends either. (Much the same way Target and I began a falling-out over the plates.) Running is a weird brand of being in that it takes a lot of mildly awful experiences to actually be friends. If running were a person, it would be the guy in the romantic comedy that you HATE and keep bumping into at parties and roll your eyes about because he is SO obnoxious. And just like in the romantic comedy, there is no explanation for why this changes, other than you stop feeling nauseous halfway through and you can't stay away.

Running is that guy.

So K started running recently, and she is just about at the run-in-where-the-girl-sees-the-guy-and-he-smiles-at-her-and-she-stops-mid-eye-roll part. She's getting used to it but doesn't LOVE it yet. As part of her Christmas present this year, I found a set of red laces - fun, beautiful red laces that double as a donation to help AIDS relief efforts in Africa. (See how we think alike without planning it?) It's my contribution to her reduction of hate in running.

As for me and Target, that guy made it up to me by offering me the Muppets Take Manhattan DVD for $4.75.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Normal Gift

I did a bad thing yesterday. OK, technically I did a bad thing Saturday. This weekend I slipped and accidentally went jeans shopping. Normally this is an event reserved for extremely skinny-feeling days or when I have something coming up. Like a paycheck. I did, however, receive a gift card to American Eagle for participating in many time-wasting online market research surveys. (To which questions I am not altogether honest. Particularly about how many things I own or have insured. If I "own a laptop" but "do not have it insured" and also enter my zip code, are you going to come steal it from me??)

Anyway, I set out yesterday on a trek to AE with my gift card to look for two things, only one of which would likely be covered by the free $25:

1. A pair of sunglasses. (Because it is snowy and bright here in Chicago and because I typically throw my sunglasses in the bottom of an overlarge hobo pack and crush them within a season. This season I forgot which of the many homeless-man-bags I threw them in until they were covered in gum and lotion.)

2. A super-adorable and flattering shirt to wear out to a bar. Or dinner. Or anywhere other than my couch.

I found a decent pair of sunglasses that do not eat my entire face (or otherwise make me look like I have a tiny head) within 4.7 seconds and with $10 to spare. Naturally I had to use up the full value of the gift card and while picking out some shirts to try on, I realized that I was wearing jeans that do not make their way out to dinners or bars EVER because they are four inches too long, have holes and may land me on What Not to Wear. I needed some model jeans to show me the full potential of the new shirts. And at this point I face-planted off the shopping wagon - something I have been dutifully riding for a full six months. I greedily grabbed up pairs and pairs of jeans and sale tops and did two full turns through the store to check for shelves I missed the first time through.

Arriving in the dressing room with a full wardrobe, I realized the errors of my ways in this process. Error number one was wearing giant giraffe socks over a pair of tie-dyed leg warmers under my jeans. This made trying on skinny jeans nearly impossible. Error number two was wearing a non-bra, or a uni-boob-enabling device. This made me look like I had stepped out of pioneer days and had made a conscious decision to retain my matronly figure, shelf-chest included. Error number three was clearly coming into a clothing store thinking that it would sell clothes made for humans instead of paper dolls.

As someone incapable of sewing, I expect that when I buy a shirt, it will be sewn into shirt-shape. I can cut holes in my pillowcase just fine on my own. I need you to make me look like I am not wearing a pillowcase. I was so confused about the recent trends I even called the dressing-room assistant over to help me.

Me: (Pulling at pillowcase-shirt that extends far beyond waist.) "Is it supposed to look like this?"

Evil Attendant 1: "Yes. It's the Bohemian Look. If you can imagine it, think of it paired with khaki shorts, sort of billowy."

Me: "Oh, ok." (Looking at self in mirror to avoid eye-contact so as not to let on that I have NO IDEA what she is talking about. Also cannot fathom when I would wear khaki shorts. Am I going to summer camp this year?)

Evil Attendant 1: "You could even go up a size."

Up a size? Are you kidding me? The actual shirt I am trying on could swaddle four watermelons with room to spare. Am I supposed to look like I am wearing clothes formerly worn by a large man, save for the fact that it has been bejeweled? While I am pondering whether or not to take her up on this offer, two things happen. One, I try on a pair of jeans in my numeric size that refuse to come up over my hips. Two, while I pull at the belt loops, I hear a woman two doors down ask for a pair of jeans in size double zero, extra long.

So now I am sweating in my leg warmers under the shriveled pants and bed-sheet-inspired top and feeling like a big fat loser. So I did what any normal person would do. I put on the sunglasses. I tried on the rest of the clothes in a brown haze and posed in that Victoria's Secret/impossible-to-do-in-real-life-without-falling way. I gave myself a pep talk via the sunglasses - namely that without stilts implanted in my legs, my bone structure does not allow for me to be a size double zero, extra long. Plus I don't actually want to have the silhouette of  a rubber band. Revived, I tried on the remaining pants. And called the dressing room assistant over again.

Me: "Are these supposed to look like this?" (Standing in a cropped jeans and shirt combo that makes me look like a starving farm boy after a growth spurt.)

I expected her to say, "Yes, but you could go up a size." But instead, 

Evil Attendant 2: "Yes. The jeans are supposed to be loose, but fitted in the waist." 

Hearing effectively that I should NOT be able to pull the waist away far enough to shove a cat in there, I asked for a size smaller. Needless to say, I totally bought those smaller jeans. And the sunglasses. 

The point is that sometimes you just need something that makes you feel normal. Or closer to the idea you have of yourself. (And more attractive than a daily dose of ratty jeans and leg warmers would allow.) Last year, as part of the terrible year my parents have had, my family had some major financial setbacks. By "setbacks," I mean "devastating fiscal earthquakes." They have had to do without a lot and disposable income is obsolete. I know we all think we have it bad, and even though I had to borrow money for groceries after being fired, (yes, it's true, thank you M for buying me food!) even I can now enjoy a dinner out every now and then. At least until the government stops paying me or M breaks up with me for being a freeloading sack of shit. Anyway, my parents' situation was closer to my initial grocery loans than my recent jeans-shopping-free-fall. 

When I was little, my family was in a similar situation. This is how I learned A.) to manage my finances and B.) specific tricks of surviving broke-dom. Like buying cheap liquid hand soap and stretching it to last twice as long by mixing it with water. When I moved into my current apartment, my parents bought me a couple of fancy hand soap pumps that they love. When I went home to visit a few months later, I saw cheapo hand soap in their bathroom. Granted, I'm not sure you can do much better than Black Raspberry anything, let alone Softsoap, but you could tell it wasn't their first choice. It was a symptom of the setbacks -- a constant reminder of how they had been effectively squeezed out of having what they deserved. It wasn't their normal. 

For Christmas last year, since I had three jobs at the time (and since I spend my extra money on sunglasses and gifts, which might explain why I had to mortgage my food,) I bought my parents a couple of their favorite hand soaps. I also got them a gift certificate to their favorite restaurant in town and included a separate envelope with a cash tip. (I'm sure this is common practice to most people, but I learned this from my friend KZ. When we bought a massage gift certificate for one of our other friends, she suggested sending along the cash tip as well. This way your gift sidesteps that whole awkward recipient question of whether or not they just got screwed into spending their own money. Brilliant, KZ.) Anyway, my parents saved this gift certificate and used it to go out to dinner for their anniversary. 

Dinner out is a luxury item in much the same way that designer hand soap is. And if you are in a position to enjoy either or both without thought, then you should consider yourself lucky. But everyone should be able to enjoy both, even with a little thought. Everyone deserves their first choice scents and an evening off. Just like I totally deserve those jeans. For the record though, last night I wore the same shirt I have worn every weekend for the past six months. And I just washed my hands with the lovely combo of Dial and water. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Superhero Gift

Sometimes after yoga on Saturday mornings I watch cartoons. Mostly this is because I don't have cable and cartoons are the ONLY things on the basic channels you can get with a free cable box and rabbit ears on Saturday mornings. Unless you count Cindy Crawford's AMAZING skin care secret, but that is not as much fun to watch while eating. (And doing sudoku. I tend to multi-task at mealtimes.) Anyway, having sampled several different cartoon series, I think that the quality of cartoons has gone downhill in the years since I was an avid watcher. Not that the Smurfs were best example, but here are some of the shows I've come across recently:

1. A show about pieces of sushi with superpowers and their side-kick, Wasabi.

2. A show about girls and THEIR OWN HORSES. The main girl is White, with blonde hair and blue eyes, of course.

3. A show about animals from various continents and biomes getting themselves into easily fixable scenarios. Example: a hippo, a duck, a mouse, an elephant, a pelican and a bunny all get stuck in a pond (I know, it sounds like a bad joke) and have to figure out how to get out. First of all, how are the duck and the hippo even stuck? They LIVE IN THE WATER.

4. Several remakes of old shows, like Spiderman, but this time he's in high school. Lame.

I know that some of these elements have always appeared in children's shows, and are designed for kids to use their cognitive skills to figure out solutions before the plot does. I get that. But the difference between the dumbest-animals-ever-who-coexist-in-the-wrong-climate and something like Sesame Street is that these animals have NO sense of humor. It was like watching Samuel Beckett throw his characters into a pond. You could argue that My Little Pony was about horses as well, but they also had flying horses and no blatant race issues, so I hold firm on that point as well. And superhero sushi? Really? How does a flying piece of eel get anyone fired up? I'm sure people felt the same about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but at least turtles are real things that move. Sushi, in case you weren't sure, is supposed to be dead. Because you EAT it.

Anyway, the real kicker for me was when I saw Power Rangers on TV this morning. Like, the actual show from 1995, not like an updated version. The only difference is that they added 1960s-Batman-style action words and superlatives during some sequences, like CRASH, or WOW! Keep in mind that this is a show that was essentially stolen from Asia and not changed at all then either. So at least they're consistent. When they brought it to America, they looked at the evil characters and tried to make English sentences to match the mouth movements and then created a plot-line based on those nonsense phrases. Watch the show - this is totally what they did. Clearly they tried to keep costs down, and if they can now recycle the same shows without actually paying to change them, then all the better for them. But it's weird to see it on TV now. In today's show, Billy was wearing what can only be described as a capri janitor's uniform. In the culture of Saturday morning cartoons, where the goal is really for kids to come away from the screen asking to buy things, I'm not sure if Power Rangers can repeat their original success. Unless short-alls really do make a comeback. (In which case, Megasaurus it up!)

I wasn't even all that young when Power Rangers enjoyed their heyday. But my brother was, and he was a superfan. I mean, he watched the shows in full Ranger regalia, helmet and all. Holding his Red Power Ranger action figure and activating the power belt during appropriate fight sequences. He would also perform fight sequences, or at least his closest approximation. (This included lots of kicks and spinning, but mostly included him puffing his cheeks and whooshing his breath through clenched teeth. I think this was supposed to be either a ninja technique or the sound of fast-moving limbs.)

This is the same kid who made up new lyrics to Disney's The Lion King. G's version is as follows:

"The LI-on King.
The LI-on King.

I can't even read the words Lion King without singing this song now.

I mention all of this to give you a sense of how into cartoons my brother was. We both have a slight over-active imagination, as mentioned before, and there are pictures of each of us, eight years apart, dressed up in weird gear for dinner. Me in red swimming goggles, him in a Batman mask and cape. The cape was actually a Christmas present for G one year from "Santa." My mom designed and sewed it herself out of black and blue flannel. My brother wore it EVERY DAY until it permanently smelled like applesauce and sweat.

My brother and I would watch Batman: The Animated Series every day after school. I was slightly too old to fall in the target audience, but Batman is my favorite superhero, and this series was the first to really do him justice. You can disagree, but to me, Batman is way better than Superman or Spiderman because he's human, without mutant improvements, and driven to effect change because he was thrown a tragic curveball. He made himself into a badass.

So G in his cape and I in my self-conscious, pre-teen way would watch this show and dream of being badasses. I don't think it's any surprise that now we both like working out so much. So for Christmas last year, in my brother's stocking, I got him two things:

1. A jump rope to train with.

2. A DVD of The Dark Knight.

We have seen both of Christopher Nolan's new Batman re-imaginings together and love them in the way that we used to love the animated series. I know that DVDs aren't super creative gifts, but in this case, all the imagination exists in the movie itself. They did all the work, and we are just appreciative. The jump rope is how to shape yourself into a badass. Plus, G is studying to be an actor, and every actor needs a collection of roles for motivation. I think he has created a better fight sequence because of it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Recycled Gift

About three weeks ago I had a major meltdown that included me throwing an Ugg across the room and lots of pouting. This meltdown was for two reasons:

1. Obvious lack of control over employment.

2. Obvious blame of this lack of control on my Uggs.

Obviously. I love my Uggs. They may be the best thing to ever happen to short people with jeans that are too long and drag in the snow. Circa three years ago, I used to sport pants with salt sunsets that would spread from the hems to the backs of my knees. Not anymore! Plus they are warm and cushy and when I sit at Starbucks typing, I am way less freezing. I also enjoy leg warmers, and Uggs are like leg warmer shoes. The problem with my Uggs is really a problem with me, and that I try to shove too much jean material in them instead of fully succumbing to the leggings trend. (A problem I blame on being too short for my jeans AND somehow having mutantly large calves disguised as normal calves.)

Anyway, pushing boot-cut jeans inside boots results in a bunching around the ankle that rubs uncomfortably. This is what I was obviously trying to explain three weeks ago.

Me: "UGH!!! I CAN'T GET IT!"

M: "What is going on over there?"

Me: "I can't get my stupid jeans under my feet."

M: "Your jeans are not supposed to go under your feet."

Me: "I KNOW. I'm trying to get them under so I can step on them inside my boot and they won't BUNCH UP! UGHHHHH!!!" (throwing Ugg)

There may have been more throwing and more Ughs (pun intended, thank you very much,) but M was completely ignoring me at this point.

This demonstration may seem like an overreaction to a stupid problem and just a delayed response to being unfairly fired. Which it was. UNTIL TODAY. When, on my four mile walk home, I felt that familiar rub at the back of my ankle. Reflecting upon the events of three weeks ago, I decided to suck it up and just keep walking. (In all honesty, what else was I going to do? It is one thing to throw a tantrum in front of your boyfriend. It is another to throw an Ugg into traffic.)

So I walked. And after a while my ankle felt fine. I got home, put my bag down, turned on the TV, checked my phone (because I can't hear it while I am walking) and then pulled off my boots. To find my ankles covered in blood. COVERED. As in, I had to WASH MY FEET TO FIND THE WOUND so I could apply bandages. I now have a dark stain on the outside of my left Ugg to prove the validity of my childish tantrum. So there, meltdown.

However, I am also scared that this is karmic retribution for my MOON BOOT rant yesterday. (FYI, the all-caps is not just because this should be read in a loud voice, but also because the actual brand is all-capped. Feel free to read it in a yelling voice though.) So, I'm sorry MOON BOOTS and MOON BOOT owner. You are less ridiculous because your footwear is large enough to account for even bell-bottomed jeans without injury.

I would like some more karmic gold stars to sway things back in my direction and avoid more blood, so bear with me as I talk about reincarnation on Ash Wednesday...irreverent? (I am raising my hand again and pointing to myself.) Anyway, if you can overlook the fact that the first time I saw It's A Wonderful Life, I shouted that they had stolen my idea that we all become stars after we die, I have always been partial to the idea of reincarnation. I like that what we do in this life informs the challenges we take on in the next, and that we are working towards perfect, but are never quite there. I like that elements from one life may be repeated or recycled in the next and we wouldn't even know.

For Father's Day a couple of years ago, I recycled some junk and made a reincarnated wind chime. Both of my parents are partial to wind chimes. If you are friends with my parents and you move into a new house or a new city, my parents will most likely give you a wind chime as a housewarming present. As mentioned previously, my dad is both an artist and a carpenter. He routinely gives new life to old elements. On several visits to Chicago, my dad wanted to visit a certain store near my apartment. This store did not even have a storefront. Or windows. It looked like a forgotten factory for things-no-one-wants-to-buy. On one visit we finally went in, and inside it looked like a warehouse for things-no-one-wants-to-buy. Like old nails, wood with holes in it, pieces of glass. My dad was in heaven.

A couple of months after this visit, I went back to the Forgotten Factory and bought a few old keys (the kind that might unlock the Secret Garden, not the kind that might unlock your neighbor's apartment) and a round piece of beveled wood. I drilled a few holes in the wood and painted it various colors in an abstract sort of design that I wasn't particularly happy with, so I painted the underside in happier yellow colors in a Pollock-esque abstract. I strung the keys on thread at varying heights through the holes and made sure they made noise when a wind came through. Or a fan. Or my breath at birthday-candle-wish speed.

The wind chime now hangs in my dad's home office. It is a musical reincarnation of several lives at once. The keys from cabinets or treasure chests or garden gates make notes beneath the wood from a banister or a table or a door frame. The Forgotten Factory closed a few months after my visit. It is now an Anthropologie. And every time I sift through their door knobs and hooks, I wonder if any of them came from that warehouse of things no one wanted.

So, karma, I believe in you. And so do my ankles.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Ridiculous Gift

Apparently Buzz Lightyear works out at my gym. How else would you explain these sitting next to the coats? Seriously, I'm sorry, but who wears ridiculously giant snow shoes with MOON BOOT written in equally giant letters and then skins a poor defenseless Muppet to trick out the top? WHO??? (In case my carefully researched Internet picture does not do them justice, they are just massively huge shoes. I almost pulled them out just to take a picture of them next to my legs. They come up over my knees.)

I also seriously considered awkwardly staking out the coat rack area until the owner showed up just to see who this deranged fashion victim was, but I thought better of it. What would I do when he/she showed up?

"Aha! You are wearing crazy shoes," I could yell. With which they could then kick me a full 89 feet.

The thing that really gets me about these ridiculous boots, which I understand have been around since 1971 and should have gone out of style when consumers stopped doing acid, is that they retail for around $135. Here are the things I could do with $135:

1. Pay my electric bill.
2. Pay my cell phone bill AND my gas bill.
3. Buy at least seven gifts for assorted friends and family.
4. Buy half of a plane ticket to see my brother.
5. Buy two pairs of NORMAL boots.

Even if I weren't underemployed I wouldn't pay $135 to look like a goon. I can do that all by myself. I do not need the help of neon green fur to make me look unqualified for anything other than jumping. Not that I haven't spent money on needless things in better times. Here are the top five ridiculous purchases I have made in the past few years:

1. A piece of green fabric from American Apparel that promised to be versatile-y shaped and twisted into strapless shirts, beach-ready skirts and wraps. I have not been able to do anything with it other than use it as a belt. All other combinations slide and unravel and generally expose more of me than necessary.

2. A pair of purple Steve Madden peep-toe heels with a jeweled accent that are a full size and a half too small, but that I bought because they were on sale for $30 and I could get them on my feet. I have worn them exactly 1.25 times. (I may have hurled them across the room after the second attempt.)

3. A bottle of rose-scented lotion, which smelled perfectly fine in the store, but which makes me smell like a musty weed.

4. A bright blue wallet, which fell apart exactly 10 days after purchase. It also did not accommodate regular money, requiring me to fold my dollars just at the ends to make them fit, like it was made for die-hard Monopoly players.

5. A pair of fire-engine red linen dress pants. Don't even ask. I have no idea.

Even still, these five purchases add up to about $100, which is STILL LESS THAN THE MOON BOOTS.

Anyway, in addition to decking myself out in tasteless gear, I'm sure I have given many ridiculous gifts, too. (I just remembered the gold hair-mascara I gave to a friend in high school. *cringe.*) But sometimes, ridiculosity is exactly the perfect gift.

A couple of years ago, my very best friend K went through the very worst-kind-of-break-up. The kind where you have to stop wearing a very sparkly type of ring. (It is important to note that K is absolutely the sweetest person ever and the worst thing I have ever heard her say about anyone is that they are mean. Everything about this situation was unfair and horribly, terrifyingly mean. And yet, she retained every ounce of her own personality. Teaching made me impatient and bitter, and this ordeal made K braver and better.) As her several months of awfulness were transitioning into the first few months of recovery, she giggled that the worst part of all of it was that she had to stop wearing that sparkly jewelry.

So for Christmas, I got her a ridiculous assortment of sparkly rings to "replace" it. At the paper store down the street from me, they have a beautiful array of what you might call "costume jewelry." Or what I might call "awesome." I picked out a few that I though K might like and told her to dress up her ring finger as much as she wanted. At least now she could match it to her outfit.

It is ridiculous to assume that anyone would confuse awesome costume jewelry with crazy-expensive diamonds, but they are not for other people. It is those awesome pieces that represent liberation and happiness in a time of ridiculous confusion. So sometimes an over-the-top look is perfectly in style and not ridiculous at all. And sometimes it makes you look like a cartoon astronaut. Ridiculousness is a fine line not to be walked in MOON BOOTS.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Valentine's Gift

At this moment, I am sitting at Caribou instead of Starbucks, which may have been a bad choice. I am in the only seat open on a Sunday, which means I am by the door, and staring directly at the lazy-susan of merchandise and am now coveting the offered items. Badly. But when you pay your electric bill late so that you can buy stamps for bills that are EVEN LATER, you probably are not in the market for a reusable coffee clutch. Even if it is 30 percent off AND made out of sweater.

Generally I prefer Starbucks to Caribou, which is a fairly politically unpopular thing to do. BUT, I like Starbucks for two reasons. One, my best friend K gave me a (RED) gift card for Christmas, which means a portion of every purchase goes to help people living with HIV in Africa. And if I am going to keep spending money on coffee, I would prefer to do it this way. (If I were a celebrity and got to align myself with one charitable cause, it would be the prevention of and research for HIV/AIDS. Just so you know.) Anyway, reason two for my pick of Sbucks over the 'Bou is that a ridiculous number of weird things have happened to me at Caribou and I now associate going there with oddities. A sample of these weird things include:

1. A homeless woman sitting next to me and incessantly adjusting her socks while drinking upwards of 10 cups of half and half from the containers set out on the counter. She smells like pee and insanity.

2. The regular from the bar (who is somehow always both at the bar AND at Caribou, which leads me to wonder if he is a wizard. Or a figment of my imagination) slightly recognizing me (even though I have been fired and have therefore not been at the bar for two months) and then spending two hours doing the half-squint, awkward glance. He is also creepy. One time after a sever poll we decided he either has 38 cats or is a serial killer.

3. A guy yelling at me for not returning his calls after being tricked into giving him my real phone number. (Instead of asking for my number, he insisted that I just "call him real quick" so he would have my number automatically. This is after he chased me down the street yelling "Jennifer," so that I would turn around and tell him that wasn't my name. Note to self: "Oh, I'm sorry, what is your name?" should be followed by "F**k Off.")

4. A different guy ruining the ending of the book The Watchmen because I wouldn't talk to him.

**SPOILER ALERT** (Also this spoiler happens in ALL CAPS, so really be careful. See how much nicer I am to you even though you might not return my affections?)

Ladies, if you want to be hit on, read a graphic novel in public. Seriously, it is like wearing a suit of BBQ ribs or swaddling yourself in Sports Center. This was NOT my intention, however when I bought The Watchmen. You can make fun of me as much as you want, but I like comic books, think about training to be Batgirl when I work out and hope that superheroes are a breed that just hasn't happened yet but will in my lifetime. Like the invention of the hovercraft. Anyway, my yearning to read this book started with The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, which is a truly lovely book. And in it, the main character quotes The Watchmen all the time. THEN, The Watchmen movie came out, and the pressure was on to know enough about the book to be disappointed by the movie.

So I read it. And it is great. But it is difficult to read it when you are constantly being interrupted by boys asking you WHY you are reading it. On the train, at the gym, walking down the street...seriously, ladies, it is bright yellow, they can't miss it. At Caribou, the following happened:

Guy: "You're reading The Watchmen?"

Me: "Yes." (smiling)

Guy: "Wow, what do you think of it?"

Me: "I really like it. It's interesting that it was published so long ago but it's still relevant. The Nixon thing kind of threw me at first, but I get it. It's cool. I want to see the movie, so I want to read this first." (smiling still)

Guy: "Yeah, I really enjoyed it."

Long pause. I go back to reading. Guy is annoyed with me. He is making huffing sounds and staring at me. I am not smiling anymore.

Guy: "Well, at the end a giant squid comes and kills everyone."

Me: "Hahaha! OK."

This was so ridiculous that I thought he was giving one last-ditch effort to make conversation. Until I finished the book and A GIANT SQUID KILLED EVERYONE. Are you serious? Who tells a stranger the ending of a book they are clearly engrossed in? That is just mean.

If you are confused here, let me explain that the movie producers had this same reaction to the book and changed the ending. Thereby alienating die-hard Watchmen-ites and making this the first time since Forrest Gump that I have liked a movie better than its book predecessor. I also really liked the movie because, as I embarrassingly stated aloud mid-viewing, "It's like the characters have come to life." To which M replied that this is a lot easier when the book is made of pictures. Treated.


ANYWAY, the point is that if you like someone and want them to continue talking to you, maybe you should try keeping your damn mouth shut. Or at least letting things be a surprise. I mention this because I am about to be a walking spoiler and am betting against this tenet for a good reason. Let me explain.

I do not have internet at my mouse-infested crap apartment, but I do have a laptop. M does not have a laptop, but does have internet. So he doesn't read this blog AS I am posting it. If I can play keep away with my computer until after Valentine's Gift Exchange 2010, I will win my own bet against myself-as-spoiler. See? (You can't see this, but I may have just patted myself on the back. Or picked my nose. You'll never know.)

As mentioned in a previous post, M and I aren't big on Giving-Gifts-Because-We-Have-To Day, however, we do end up celebrating because if you can get over the whole evil Hallmark thing, Valentine's Day (I am really tempted to call it VD, but I won't because it's gross) simply reminds us of making cute cards and hoping someone will have a crush on us. It reminds me of stickers and wearing pink and red sweaters and crafting a makeshift mailbox in third grade and having a class party with candy. As a kid, I always got a flower from my dad and some candy. One time my mom sewed me a red velvet cover for my violin. (I played violin for a short three years until I realized it would take a helluva lot of work to progress past Hot Cross Buns.) Valentine's Day never included big presents. I think the only piece of jewelry I ever got for Valentine's was a porcelain heart shaped ring with a painted pink rose on it. (Which I still have and which now fits only my pinky finger and makes me look like the mobster of love.)

Anyway, we all know that Valentine's post-sixth grade turns into a who got the most roses competition. We had singing telegrams in middle and high school, and while a wildly embarrassing idea for anyone involved, they still somehow inspired jealousy and despair when you did not receive one. (You can't see me but I am raising my hand right now and pointing to myself.) College, especially in the Greek system, follows the same ideas and then you realize you have spent six grades loving a candy-filled holiday that you then spent the following TEN YEARS hating. When I started teaching, I started liking Valentine's again a little bit because I had 28 students who for one day told me sweet things like, "You is the second-bestest teachers I ever had" while giving me candy and hitting each other 70 percent less often than usual. This was a great day to be celebrated indeed.

By the time I met M, I had this complicated relationship with St. Valentine. About which M has been spectacularly understanding. He knows that I do not want to make a big deal out of it, but that I like to make Valentine cards and I like decorating. And sweet things. And this morning, he brought me beautiful ROSES! It was way better than the sad little things other people got in high school. For him, this year I got him three little things...

1. For your EYES = A DVD of The Hangover, which we have watched a zillion times and has yet to get old. I bought this mostly because I meant to buy it at Christmas and ran out of money.

2. For your TRIS = A Live Strong bracelet, which is for him to wear during his two planned triathlons this year. I won't go into details about what this means to us, but suffice it to say that there has been cancer, there has been this awful year, and there has been good news. Go 2010!

3. For your BI(cuspid)S = Maple Oatmeal muffins, which I made in the applesauce-trumps-butter way and decorated with bright red lip candies. (Thanks Mom!)

With the exception of the DVD, I spent of total of $1, and even made a card with 3D red hearts. And that's really what Valentine's is all about -- making things that show you care because society has told us to given us a day to do nothing but sweet things and wear colors that do not match. (You can't see me right now but I am wearing pink polka-dot rain boots and a red dress. OK fine, no dress. A grey hoodie sweatshirt. Happy?) Not getting mad at someone because they do not return your affections (and then spoiling the end of a great book,) but sending out love and hoping your crush sends you a singing telegram. Or something less embarrassing.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Sing Your Face Gift

Last night, M took me to the opera as a quasi-Valentine's present. I say "quasi" because it was February 10. And a Wednesday. And we didn't do a whole date-night sort of dinner and drinks and assorted going-outness with it. But it was romantic and fancy and wonderful AND my first time at the opera. When I was little, my mom used to listen to operas in the kitchen on Sunday morning NPR programs. Which, accompanied with doing Saturday housecleaning to musical theater records, comprised my musical childhood weekends. We would sing and clean and sing and cook and somewhere along the line I got the idea that I would be a singer.

I'm not sure I ever really gave this up in my head even after giving up in real life. Not so much giving up as "getting distracted by jobs that pay me money." Anyway, because I am a tiny bit idealistic about my potential for greatness, otherwise called having an active imagination, going to the theater or the opera is less about wishing I had the talent of the performers and more about wishing I were actually living the lives of the characters. This is why I do not like shows like "The Office," because there is no one in that show that I would like to be. I like to watch things that inspire me to pretend to live in that world for however long that world exists.

So for my operatic first time, M took me to see The Elixir of Love, where two men are fighting for the attentions of a pretty girl in the countryside of Italy. Bingo! It even has a happy ending. (The regular kind. Don't be gross.) The set was gorgeous, the costumes were divine and the singers were awesome. They sang their faces.

You read that right. My brother assures me this is a phrase. They did not sing their faces off, as I want to call it. As a musical theater major, my brother should know, but I am inclined more to make fun of him for it than to adopt it. Yet, here I am using it. Because it is hilarious and way more apt than anything I can come up with; options that include "sing your throat hoarse," or "sing your phlegm up," or "sing like your ass is on fire."

Sing your face is way better. And post-opera I have been singing my face all day. Only I can't remember any of the words. So really I have been babbling my face. Or warbling. Or generally appearing as a crazy person.

Anyway, all of the singing and a little of the crazy reminded me of musical presents. (And now I am picturing a gift box swaying and dancing to the sound of its own song, much like the singing bush in The Three Amigos...what kind of jobs do they hire you for when you have these particular imaginative talents?) When I was about eight years old, one of my parents' best friends turned 30. As a really funny and mean gift, my parents decided to send them a package of things helpful for turning old. (Keep in mind that my parents were a few years older than this dear friend AND that now turning 30 sounds totally normal. As in next year, I will turn 30.)

This gift contained a very useful package of Depends. And some reading glasses. I believe there was also denture paste, prunes and aspirin. Rounding out the assortment of stuff-old-people-like was a an audio tape we all collaborated to make. My mom and dad did most of the work, but I helped narrate this musical welcome into old age. I vaguely remember a story line about what happens when you turn 30, with my parents playing the parts of people you encounter as an ancient thirty-something. What I do remember is singing various songs, most notably Happy Birthday.

We may not have been opera singers, or even Italian peasants pining over love. But we sure sang our faces.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Furry Gift

I didn't want to admit this before Cookie Swap 2009, but now that it was a success, I can tell you.

*Deep breath.*

I have a mouse. Well, had. Or have half of a mouse. OK, really I am not sure what I have now, but I do know that I HAD a full-on mouse for several months and it has thoroughly freaked me out. The first time I saw Chester was about a year ago. M and I were watching TV and I saw something dive from the top of the stove INTO THE BURNER and under the stovetop. I jumped. Like, literally, from a sitting position on the couch, my body tensed and levitated for an entire three seconds. M didn't see it, and we were watching something scary, like Lost, (which no one other than me thinks is scary but I couldn't even get through the first two episodes,) so neither of us was convinced that I had seen anything. A half hour later, we both saw something fast and grey dart across the kitchen floor. I left all the lights on and picked up all my clothes off the floor and slept with them on the bed.

There were a couple more episodes like this before my super finally came out to check my apartment. Which consisted solely of laying glue traps behind appliances and other places where they could immediately collect dust and become ineffective. This did not assuage my fear of fast-running vermin. I began to picture a mouse limping around my apartment with a glue trap attached to one foot like a snowshoe. So I tried to channel my inner Disney princess. I have wanted to be Cinderella since I was five years old much like other people have wanted to be teachers or veterinarians. Unfortunately for me, I had a full set of nice parents who only made me do the dishes. But I did sing Cinderella's entire repertoire while washing them, which is sort of the same. Anyway, C'ella had loads of mice friends and she even made them clothes, so I figured if Gus and friends were cute and nice for her, surely I could enjoy Chester's company. At least until he outfitted himself a glue-shoe.

But Chester was very much unlike Gus. He didn't sit and sing songs while sewing dresses, which would have been extremely helpful for me. Instead he would RUN across my floors, inciting noises from me that only dogs and aliens could hear. I think more than anything it is the frightening speed that unsettles me. You can't be my friend if you can't stay still long enough for me to dress you in a matching hat and shirt combo. (Apparently.) Chester also had this annoying habit of sticking his little head out from under the closet door and looking for me before running. I found that if I slapped the couch, he would duck back into the closet, so one day I kept this game up until I found some three ring binders and shoved them up against the closet door, trapping him inside. Then I called my super and said the following:

Me: "Ihaveamousecanyoucomegetit???"

Super: "Yes, where is it?"

Me: "Ihaveittrappedinsidetheclosetand...EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE...HE JUST STARTED SQUEAKING!"

Chester had become frantic and had begun scratching at the door and squeaking to get out. So the super came and made a fortress of glue traps in front of the door in case Chester made a run for it, while he proceeded to take every piece of junk I store in the closet out to find him. Once found, the super made a glue-trap sandwich of Chester and the last glimpse I saw was Chester's leg twitching against the sticky chemicals coming at him from all sides. Gross.

The super left some more glue traps and I thought that was it. Until I began hearing noises in the walls in a few months ago. Scampering noises accompanied by the sound of drywall flaking off in between the joists. Super gross. And not surprisingly, Chester II began the same head-poking routine shortly thereafter. Besides the speed, I am additionally freaked by the thought that a Chester will run his germy body across my foot, or hide himself in one of my shoes and I will put it on to find a warm, squirmy body. And Chester II was a little braver than the original Chester because he would run from one closet to the other while I was standing up, not just when I was on the couch. So after he ran into the linen closet one day, I repeated my binder trap, (I could make a really lame "trapper keeper" joke here, but I will refrain,) and called the super. Who decided not to answer. I figured my trap would keep, (I told you that joke would be lame, leave me alone,) and left the barricade and stayed at M's. It took three days for my super to answer his phone, which I am chalking up to the idea that if I could hear multiple Chesters in the walls, everyone else was probably calling him too. He said there was a hole in the apartment to the outside and came through with caulk and more glue traps. I was now not convinced this was going to work, but had been fired and did not have any other resources. No state-of-the-art mice killers for me, then.

About a week before Cookie Swap 2009, I woke up to a insistent squeaking. Like the pipes were begging for a release. It was coming from under the stove. Where a glue trap had been freshly laid. I couldn't look. I let the sticky assassin do its work and I left for the day. I came home that night to a quiet apartment and decided I couldn't just let the mouse rot under my stove or else the cookies would end up tasting like poisoned fur. So I peeked under the stove...and all that remained was what looked like scraps of paper. Chester had somehow escaped by CHEWING THROUGH THE GLUE TRAP.

But I haven't seen or heard any mice since, so this is what I imagined happened:

Chester, with one front paw stuck, frantic and out of options, begins to scrape at the glue trap, sticking his other front paw to the trap. So he chews through part of the glue trap until he feels woozy, prompting him to stop chewing and get back home. He starts jumping, the front glue-paws taking a leap and the back paws catching up, occasionally sliding forward due to the smooth side of the trap. He makes it back to his home, where he manages to warn his family, before dramatically passing out and dying from glue poisoning in front of a crowd of mice. The mice are so scared, they make Chester's body a shrine to the dangers of apartment 2B. They post drawings of the crime scene and maps of how to avoid my apartment.

I am hoping that mice have a long enough memory and high quality artistic abilities so that this scenario could have in fact happened, but I am not entirely convinced. Like I said, I may have half of a mouse hiding somewhere in my apartment. Or at least half of a glue trap. So incredibly gross.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is not to scare any of my friends away from my place, or my cookies, but because I feel the need to confess my un-Disney-like mice experiences. I am much better with stuffed animals than I am with birds and mice and forest creatures. It is because of my fondness for stuffed animals as a child that I thought I could channel Cinderella at some point in my life, but I guess mice are about as cute as housework for me. Stuffed animals, however, have figured prominently in many birthday gifts for and from me for many years. (I do NOT have an abundance of creepy stuffed animals on my bed currently, however. I have a couple with my shelf of children's books and the rest are packed away. I am not actually five.)

My mom went back to school for her masters a several years ago. She graduated four years ago this May, finishing on time. This is remarkable because she commuted an hour each way to class on top of her full-time job. When she began her coursework, I got her a stuffed moose to keep her company on her drive. This may seem like an odd choice, and it is. But here's the backstory:

My family thinks the word "moose" is funny. I don't know why. Maybe because it rhymes with lots of stuff. Maybe because one time my dad coined the phrase "moose doots" to describe things that look like poop. Such as chocolate chips or raisins or anything small and dark that is left on a plate or a counter and which combined with my dad pointing and saying, "Hey look, Moose Doots," makes you lose your appetite. This is a running joke in our family. So, my idea for my mom was to get her something to accompany her on her way to class to make her ride more fun or safe or comforting. I was thinking of an angel. But then I found a small stuffed moose. So I named it "Doots the Commuter Moose" and presented it as her Back to School gift.

Doots is still in my mom's car. She references it frequently and even reminded me of it when I started this blog. He helped her through two years of driving hundreds of miles. He was quiet and always smiled and if I could sew, I could have dressed him up like Gus. If only Chester could take a page from Doots' book, I would be up one and a half mice.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Logical Gift

This is what I think I heard:

"For Christmas I got him a coffee mug and a picture of the two of us."

The girl next to me on the stationary bike at the gym is literally slumping to the side in the reclined seat. Her eyes are so red I am not sure if she is secretly a bunny and her hair is some kind of unfortunate bet against the powers of peroxide. And her words are slurring so badly that when her trainer asked her what she gave her boyfriend for Christmas, this is what I actually heard:


Regardless of whether or not you should work out while still drunk, as a personal trainer, I feel a certain responsibility to NOT train self-impaired clients. By which I mean in meeting a client like Train Wreck here, I would have said something along the lines of:

"Go home."

Instead, Train Wreck had the following conversation with her trainer:

Trainer: "Did you take any drugs last night?"

TW: "No."

Trainer: "OK. You should be fine today then."

I have definitely come to the gym not feeling well. I have done extensive workouts on very little sleep. I have even gone running on New Year's Day. But I just cannot wrap my head around the benefits of working out drunk-to-the-point-where-the-general-public-isn't-sure-whether-or-not-you-are-also-high-on-serious-drugs. Is the logic at that point that you should do something healthy for your body to counteract your previous activities? Is the trainer's logic that she doesn't want to lose a valuable client? I am stumped. But also trying my hardest not to turn and stare at TW.

Because drunk people can be highly amusing. And generally they can't tell if you are staring at them because they are staring at things like the lamp. One time at the bar, I had my hair in a ponytail (OK this is a lie. EVERY DAY I have my hair in a ponytail.) and I was walking in front of a drunk man who was about a foot taller than me. My hair was apparently swishing hypnotically or doing its best imitation of a bell or it said something sassy to him because he pulled it. He yanked on my ponytail and my head jerked back and my tray of beers tottered and I stopped still. I turned around and gave him my best "I'm sorry, I'm not 8 years old so I seem to be confused by your actions" face. But he was staring up at the chandelier while he walked on toward the door, totally pretending he, a grown man, hadn't just PULLED MY HAIR.

It is impossible to make sense of drunk people under the social constructs of sober people. Just like it is impossible to make sense of mean people under the social constructs of nice people. But I seem to keep trying. And while I was trying to make sense of TW and her strange dedication to working out, I was also trying very hard to figure out her actual words. Like I said, what I THOUGHT I heard had something to do with a coffee mug and framed pictures, but with the abundance of Fs and Ss and throaty noises, she could have as easily said something highly inappropriate.

The sense that we make of drunk people and mean people has more to do with who we are and what we are already thinking about than it does with their actual intentions. And with TW, I was thinking about one of the Christmas presents I got for M this year. In addition to the wine rack commissioned from my dad, I found a picture frame with a corkboard attached for M's office. I had the very special occasion to visit M's office a few months ago. And by "special," I mean, I begged him to take me to see it and he finally relented. He has a for-real office - not a cubicle, not a chair he stakes out at Starbucks, not a locker at the gym - a four walls and a door office. And on those four walls, here is what you can see:

A diploma

Another diploma

A freebie calendar from some business that features pastel drawings of uninteresting flora and fauna

Lucky for me, M said when he moved into this office, "I really need some color on the walls. It's very white in there." Which to me sounded like, "BLANK CANVAS." So I decided to find something that would help get paper off of his desk, add some color and remind him of nice things while he has to do un-nice work. I drew a coffee mug in black ink on white paper. I drew the Chicago skyline on the coffee mug and I drew steam lines. I don't know why it seemed important to signify that the 2-D coffee was HOT, but it was. Get over it. I found some red stationery paper and used it as a mount. I bought overlarge pushpins in red and black, to complement the mount and the black cork. I signed it, wrapped it all up, set it next to the GINORMO wine rack box.

To make this gift actually a really great gift, I am going to have to drive M to work one day with it. Otherwise it will never actually make it onto the wall. But what made it great on its own merit was that M began to delineate the steps it would take to get it up on the wall, which means he was thinking about how it would look. If you don't know him, you might not understand the link here, but M is the most practical person I have ever met. And if he starts thinking about how much he likes something, he will take that thing from where it is sitting all the way to where it will end up in the basement of a house he will live in for 47 years and on which he will pay X amount of assessments. But all in his head. Even if he loves something, he won't physically move it unless prompted by outside forces. I have made sense of this. Because he is not drunk.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Thank You Gift

There is something highly unsettling about developing economic survival strategies. I've always been quite adept at budgeting and saving and generally doing a lot with a little. I seem to choose careers based on how little they will pay me. But now, as I have had a consistent $24 in my bank account for a couple of months, I have started doing things like paying the minimum on my credit cards, deciding which bills can be paid late without penalty and weighing the cost of a late fee against the cost of an overdraft charge. What is frustrating in this is twofold. For one, I have been working since I was 14 and have always been able to provide for myself without a problem. For two, I have now become a suspicious person. I pay late. I have overdraft charges. I pay the allowable minimum. These are not fiscally responsible attributes. They are not responsible attributes in general. They are suspect.

As is asking for samples of my favorite perfume from several different stores in order to eschew buying my expensive bottled scent. Or using Borders as a public library. Or squinting at strangers like I am preparing for a knife fight because I haven't had an eye exam in four years and my prescription is doing nothing.

And living in this smog of suspicion, I have also started doing things like hiding the face of my government-issued debit card from public view. It is the easily recognizable Scarlet U for unemployment. Part of my embarrassment is that I do not want to have been branded a part of this club. But the other part is that I don't want people thinking I am going on a spending spree with government money. (That said, I do have a fantasy about winning the lottery, and I think it would be really funny if I bought the ticket with my government-issued money. But I don't think the government would find this as amusing as I do.) I really do not spend much money on anything. I don't smoke. I don't drink much or often. I don't even eat junk food, and my Starbucks allotment also pays for internet service. I do, however, buy gifts. And while I do need and WANT lots of things, I can't justify a new pair of workout pants as much as I can a well-timed thank you gift. Even if my workout pants have holes thinly bound with safety pins.

Anyway, recently, a colleague of mine did something really nice and wrote a recommendation letter for me. And I needed to thank her. For most recommenders, I find gift cards to somewhere they like to go, or is near to their office or offers products they enjoy, etc. Generally this is because gift cards are easy to send in the mail. But K lives in Chicago, so I could play around a little more with my gratitude. And K happens to be very creative as well. She sews, which is something I do not understand at all. (Not that she can do it, but HOW to do it at all. I took Home Ec for six weeks in 8th grade and sewed a very lumpy cow that had horns, but somehow no ears. I also took Spanish for six weeks that year and all I remember is "vamos a la playa." Which, seeing as I lived in a landlocked state at the time means that six weeks is not enough time to retain quality information.) K also happens to be obsessed with buttons. She even made a necklace with buttons instead of beads and it is awesome. I also like buttons but can't do much with them. I have always wanted to sew a bunch of buttons on throw pillows and put them on the couch. So I have a little box that holds every button I've ever collected. Mostly the extra buttons from sweaters and jackets that I never use. Or buttons that have fallen off and become lost causes due to my sewing handicap. (Hence the safety pins on my workout clothes.)

For a Thank You Gift for K, I figured I would use some of these buttons that were starting to lift the lid of their box and spill out, begging for a needle and thread or a second coming as jewelry. I thought I might use them to fill the bottom of a clear vase or as some kind of display. I decided Crate and Barrel would be the best destination for this idea. I love Crate and Barrel. Partly this is because we did not have C+B in my hometown. It was big news when we got the Gap. And not surprising when the Gap left a few years later. The idea of C+B was the same to me as Saks, Tiffany's and FAO Schwartz: it was fancy and out of reach. So when I moved to Chicago and actually WENT to a C+B, I was elated to find I could actually BUY things there. I bought myself a set of stemless champagne flutes that I used as wine glasses there to celebrate this fact. (I bought them there, I didn't use them there. I wasn't suspect then.)

In all reality, C+B is extremely affordable for certain things. Like glassware, kitchen gadgets and napkins. Or candle holders. At C+B I found the Trix candle holder for K. In the display, the store had arranged orange pebbles in the bottom of the glass, at which point I thought, "Buttons!" So I put a tealight in the candle part, and filled the bottom with assorted buttons. The great thing about this gift is that K actually wanted a new candle for her house, and I didn't even know. The other great thing about this gift for me is that I spent $5. And I may have used my government-issued debit card to do it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Chicago Gift

I have begun to resemble Little Critter. You know, the mishap-prone furry character from the Mercer Mayer books? The one with the straggly straight hair and the purple eyelids and the permanent look of confusion? That’s me. And this is because I have begun to walk everywhere.

When working at a bar, there is this added benefit of being able to move around more than the average person. I wore a pedometer during a few shifts while I was in my “pedometer phase,” (which ended only when I entered my “I lose everything phase,”) and it seems that I averaged three miles per shift. Which is not bad.

If left to my own devices, meaning if I had loads of time and money, I would probably not drive anywhere. I have been to France three times, twice by myself. (Taking these two trips makes me feel like I have lots of time and money because really, who gets to take long trips with no agenda? Apparently, people who put it on their credit card do.) I have consistently spent this time abroad wandering around, getting lost on purpose for ten miles a day. I am slightly nervous about taking a trip abroad with M, in fact, as I tend to walk all day long and forget to do things like eat.  Anyway, upon returning to the States (which is something I only ever call this country when referring to travel abroad,) I usually spend a few weeks trying to recapture this sense of leisurely adventure and walk everywhere and drink coffee without sweetener and people-watch. Which quickly wears off because for some reason, back in Chicago, this is not fun. Maybe because there are no hills, or because I sometimes use coffee as a snack between jobs, or because people here think you are creepy if you watch them…I don’t know, but I haven’t been able to make these habits stick. But then I got fired.

So forget the coffee and the people, I now have less money for gasoline and lots more time for things like wandering around. While this is motivated by a desire to bring Paris to Chicago, it is also to make up for those missing nine miles per week. (An average of three miles per shift, three shifts a week in case you didn't catch the math.) I don’t just like to move around on vacation, I love to move around in general, as evidenced by my inability to take on desk jobs in offices. I like that feeling of having used up all the energy I have in a way that makes the act of sitting become a treat. I do, however also like to write, and so after a couple of months of non-bar work and sitting in front of a computer in a way that makes sitting become a chore, my body revolted and told me to get moving. This may have also been spurred on in part by the fact that M and I saw Avatar this weekend and I am now overly concerned about ruining the planet. (If you haven’t seen it, it’s EXACTLY like Fern Gully, but with more creative science and less sing-along songs. And by "less," I mean none. Boo, Avatar. Boo.)

Anyway, I unfortunately began walking everywhere in earnest in one of the coldest weeks in January. In Chicago. So while it doesn’t totally matter to anyone else that I look professional or pretty or put-together in any way while I am making my way to the gym, it does kind of matter to me. Because walking in the kind of wind and cold that makes you feel like you are made out of mesh and that you want to wear a full-on face sock also makes me resemble Little Critter. Or a homeless person.

It was en route to the gym yesterday that I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a building. My thoroughly static-ized hair was sticking out at impossible angles from my knit hat, the dark circles under my eyes embellished by my wind-chapped cheeks. My lips cracked and dry, I seemed to have crawled out of a ditch wearing an over-large ski jacket and a bewildered-to-desperate expression. The fact that I looked awful was one thing. The fact that this will be my default state until May is quite another. And this "another" thing is  becoming annoying. I am at a high level of frustration with Chicago right now, from the woman who punched the hood of my car in December with her fist as she crossed the street, (yes I honked my horn at her, but she was also crossing the road in the middle of traffic with no crosswalk in sight in a dark jacket at night,) to the less than awesome public transportation that is getting slower and more unreliable every day. So I am trying to remember all of the things that I love about Chicago in order to elbow my way through the winter. Here are some of them in no particular order, other than the fact that they are numbered:

1.   The view from the Brown line as it goes over the river.
2.   The Art Institute
3.   How excited everyone gets about warm weather.
4.   How excited everyone gets about St. Patrick’s Day, even if this involves massive amounts of drunk morons.
5.   17.3 billion amazing restaurants. (I did not research this number. It is fake.)
6.   The skyline.

There are more, but most of them involve the skyline in some way, as in “the holiday lights downtown.” As more of a native Chicagoan than I, M loves the skyline even more. I am convinced there is some kind of ratio to accompany my theory of residency to skyline love, but that would take more math than I am willing to give to this idea. Anyway, I like to find things to foster this love of Chicago skyscrapers as gifts for M. For his birthday a couple of years ago, I found a poster at a small boutique that featured a Chicago skyline constructed out of words from magazines. It is not as ransom-note-y as it sounds – the words are very small and they each describe something in the city. Words like “Wrigley,” or “Kimball” or “Hyde Park.” These words, and their varying colors, make a rainbow-flavored version of the Chicago skyline.

I met M in Chicago, so this gift was a little more than “here’s a picture of this place we both live in and love.” There are words in there that mean something directly to us, as “us” and not as “me” or “him.” I know this gift was a big hit because M began to pick out those words immediately. He has yet to actually hang it up, but to his credit, I have yet to hang up most of the artwork that belongs in my bedroom of 1.75 years. When we do get it on a wall though, it will help me feel more like a Chicagoan and less like a Critter.