Monday, June 21, 2010

The Unknown Gift

There are very few things that I am actually scared of. (OK, fine, "of which I am scared.") For most people, this kind of list includes things like being shot or stolen. For me, I have been close to those things and they don't scare me in quite the same way that these do:


The Sound of Balloons Popping

Outer Space


I know you are looking at this list and thinking, "How are clowns possibly scarier than guns?" And if you don't know, I'm not sure I have an acceptable answer for you. But the one thing that everything on this list has in common is the quality of the unknown. Clearly I am freaked out by things with no explanation and no predictors. In case you need this broken down further:

Clowns = Fake happy, which leaves no way to tell how they actually feel or what they will do.

Balloons Popping = No trigger, which leaves no way to prepare. You can stand next to a balloon, act like you love it like a puppy but really be holding a needle to its face the whole time, thereby scaring the bejesus out of me.

Outer Space = Infinite possibilities, which leaves me paralyzed with fear. This is also why I HATE Horton Hears a Who.

Spiders = Ability to drop from the ceiling, which leaves no way to tell where they have gone and leads me to believe they are probably stuck in my hair, biting their way out and I will end up like everyone in Arachnophobia.

Currently I have a GIANT spider living in the side mirror of my car and it might have to stay there forever. Chicago is having an identity crisis and seems to think it needs to rain all the time instead of being summer, which has created a swamp-like atmosphere that my shoes, hair and social life would like to sucker punch. This has also created an abundance of bugs that clearly think they can just set up camp wherever they please. I mean, I know spiders were around before automobiles, but if dinosaurs came back I don't think I would just hang my laundry up outside their caves.

Anyway, every morning I get in my car to go to yoga and halfway there I look to the left and see that there is something too close to the window and then I realize that this is the GIANT spider being creepy in the middle of its GIANT web. This flash causes me to have a mini-heart attack -- the kind where you breathe in so fast that your brain blinks for a full second and when you can see again, your chest hurts up into your neck because your whole body forgot to be alive while your brain shut down.

Sometimes I try to drive fast or swerve a lot in order to shake the spider off of the car. But spiders are sticky and this doesn't seem to work. Since it's been raining, I keep thinking the spider will be washed away or at least be so discouraged at its repeatedly demolished web that it will crawl itself away to die of despair. But this also doesn't seem to work. So instead, I open the door only enough so I can slip out of the car undetected and I keep all body parts above the spider so it can't leap onto me. I shut the door carefully so I don't anger the spider, which would obviously cause it to launch itself in the direction of my hair. And then I promptly forget that it is there, thereby putting this cycle on repeat indefinitely.

My parents have long been baffled by my fear of spiders. When I was little, they refused to kill spiders for me and made me deal with them on my own. They would say, "What's going to happen when you live on your own and you have a spider? We're not going to travel to another city just to kill it for you." This plan failed. Even living by myself for several years, I have managed to find many people who will kill them for me. Otherwise I stare the spiders down or sleep on the couch to avoid them falling on my head. The only way I can kill a spider is if it is on the floor, not moving and I have a large weapon. And also only if I am wearing shoes.

While the element of the unknown is a scary concept for me, it translates well to gifts. Space is scary because of the infinite possibilities of what this means for us as people and the meaning of life. A wrapped present has less infinite possibilities, but these options do not usually make us question our life decisions. Unless someone bought you a clown.

This is why wrapping paper can be a gift in itself. For M's birthday a couple of years ago I forgot to buy wrapping paper. The only option in the back of my closet was a roll of Christmas paper that I found in the apartment when I moved in. So I unrolled it and used the blank side. I was going to decorate it and then got distracted by the internet. Which turned out to be fruitful because I found a website devoted to Chuck Norris jokes. (The ones that say things like "Beneath Chuck Norris' beard there is no chin. Just another fist.") I wrote a bunch of Chuck Norris jokes on the blank side of the wrapping paper in large font. It was M's favorite part of all of the gifts.

Out of the unknown comes an opportunity to be creative. And with wrapping paper, there is no danger of it leaping onto your hair and biting your head.

(And to my credit, Chuck Norris is probably afraid of spiders too. Because you can't roundhouse kick your own head.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Smart Gift

You know the age-old female paradox of Pretty vs. Smart? Like, you can't look like Megan Fox and...well, do anything else, really.

Anyway, I give up. I refuse to play this game of trying to be both. Not that I think I am ugly and stupid. It's just that I'm a little weird. So I don't fit in anywhere. I seem to be living my own personal paradox of Strange vs. Boring.

Outwardly I am really boring. I am not a "talk first" person and I have trouble remembering names and identifying details. I don't have exciting stories to share. My response time is often slow and I stumble over my own jokes.

But all of this is because really I am just trying to approximate normalcy instead of my default "weird" setting. For example:


Person #1: "Hi Kate, nice to meet you."

Me: "Hi."

Me: (Four seconds later) "Nice to meet you too."

Person #1: "What's new?"

Me: "Nothing. Nothing new."

Me: (Four seconds later) "What about you?"

(Painful. I know.)



Person #1: "Hi Kate. Nice to meet you."

Me: "OMG incoming handshake. Concentrate very hard on shaking hands without pinching and while maintaining eye contact. You want to look like you have normal hands. Shit, totally missed their name."

Person #1: "What's new?"

Me: "Am I sweating? I might be sweating and now they think I have weird hands and a sweating problem. What's new? Everything sucks right now, I can't tell them anything recent. And all the stories I have are about getting hit on in the middle of the street. These are not appropriate stories. Why am I so fucking inappropriate? Don't swear. Did I swear out loud? What did I say out loud? Oh, God I didn't say anything. Now I am sweating and mute."

See? I am totally weird. And by hiding it I just seem weird AND boring. A few people have recently called me out on this. But I am unconvinced that not hiding this would make me any better. For instance, last night I unleashed my stream-of-consciousness-inner-self on M during Scattergories and it didn't go so well.

Scattergories, "Things Found on a Map," Letter "H"

Me: "Hydra"

M: "That doesn't count."

Me: "On a map of where to find hydras."

M: "No. That's cheating."

Me: "What do you have?"

M: "Hiroshima."

Me: "That's not a thing, that's a place. So mine should count."

M did not think this was funny. He thought I was trying to cheat. I was however, NOT trying to cheat. I was trying to be funny. Scattergories is my favorite board game for this very reason. Normally you get points in the form of other people laughing for totally bizarre answers. Last night I realized that my definition of "normally" is that I usually play this game with my dad. Who makes things up too.

My dad is very good with words and his favorite board game is Scrabble. The only time I have come close to beating him was during a late-night rematch over Christmas this year. And I still lost. Scrabble is the only game where my dad does not relent on whether his words are made up and he will make you take your complaint to the 97 pound dictionary displayed prominently throughout the game. The current edition of Scrabble at my parents' house was a joint gift from my mom and I to my dad several years ago. It is now a family fixture. (And by that I mean it gets used only when the whole family is home because my mom hates Scrabble and goes through three magazines while waiting for her turns.)

Also my dad just texted me and asked what a hydra is. I'm a genius.

It turns out that Hydra is actually also a city in Algeria AND an island off of Greece, so suck it Scattergories, but that is not why I thought of it. My brain went like this:

"Hmmm, H for Car Parts...Hydraulics. H for Things Found on a you just used that and it doesn't make sense....Hydraul...No!...wait...Hydra? NO...but maybe..."

And then my brain began drawing an intricate old-timey map of oceans with many-headed serpents sticking out in key places. In green.

This is why I stay mute.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Obvious Gift

In case I decide to forget this, please do not let me attend large gatherings without eating for an extended period of time. This might be obvious to most people but clearly I am having trouble with it.

The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup last week (yay) which of course means the city went temporarily insane for a few days (opposite of yay but not nay because that sounds British and/or lame). Despite the fact that a rally in the middle of downtown on a workday that draws upwards of two million people outside in 100 degree heat is the actual definition of hell, I decided to see what it was all about. In retrospect, my rationale that this was "history" and I had to walk through it anyway to get to my volunteer shift was not enough to overcome the massive disaster that is the reality of millions of sweaty people who have been drinking for four days.

I pushed my way as close as I could in the name of research and documentation. I was maybe thirty yards away from what was going on but I was too short to even see the screen that hung high above the players' heads. I could only see the damp shirts around me, a sea of red flags and heads dripping with sweat. There were discarded bottles and lunch bags at my feet and no exit in sight. I was effectively tucked into a pocket of the crowd like someone had dropped me into a fold of a blanket. A really smelly and hot blanket. I hadn't stopped sweating since I woke up that morning to do hot yoga and then a short workout. Also I had eaten four pieces of cheese and a Vitamin Water in the past 20 hours. I panicked.

As the players began talking, I pushed my way out of my sealed pocket of strangers and made my way back to the art museum. After realizing part of the street was blocked, I used this as an excuse to go shopping before my shift started. In case you were wondering, retail therapy keeps panic at bay.

The worst part of this is not that my efforts were in vain. It's that this is not even the first time I have done the exact same thing. Last year I attempted to navigate my way to the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day in Paris while running on two days of coffee and a nectarine. I may have also been wearing the same outfit.

Given the immensely important similarities of these events (I mean starvation and black dresses are definitely too weird to ignore,) here's a rundown of how they stack up against each other as Major Events in a few key areas:

1. Trash - Winner: Hawks

Bastille: I didn't notice much trash while getting myself over to the Eiffel Tower. I think partly because I wasn't looking for a place to throw up in, but also I was distracted by just finding my way around. When I was exploring four days later, however, I took a series of pictures of all the trash and broken barricades that still littered the ground. It was like the city was not prepared for their own national holiday.
Hawks: When I think "ticker tape parade" I think long strips of white paper, like ribbons or paper for adding machines. What I saw along the streets was actually just pieces of newspaper. Like someone had a tantrum with the Tribune. Along with the discarded soda bottles and Hawks flags, the streets looked like the inside of a gerbil cage. That is, until Streets and Sans came through about 30 minutes after the rally. I have never been more impressed with trash removal in my life full of appreciating the art of removing trash.

2. Drunk People - Winner: Bastille

Bastille: I would have thought there would be enough foreigners in Paris to make this an even match, but aside from a few wine drinkers on the lawn of the Champ du Mars and a few rowdy Americans on their way home after the fireworks, this was the most sober festivity I have ever seen.
Hawks: When I saw the occasional stroller, I cringed. Because that baby is probably now drunk by osmosis and sticky with beer.

3. Smells - Winner: Tie

Bastille: French people think we smell like soap and medicine. We are clearly use hand sanitizer like super clean coke-heads. But you know what the reverse is. When I am in Paris, I certainly do not stop using deodorant but I also don't mind a cloud of cigarettes and armpits quite the same way some people do.
Hawks: Even if everyone showered the minute before they walked outside, the weather that day was like was being zippered into a wet balloon next to the sun. The scent of liquored sweat doesn't do anyone any favors.

4. Push-and-shoveness - Winner: Hawks

Bastille: This might be skewed for me because I just wasn't expecting to have to push so much here. I had clearly underestimated how easy it would be to cross open bridges and streets and how hard it would be to cross blocked off streets in plain sight of policemen. Sometimes you have to push your way through even as you are yelled at and sometimes you have to about-face into a crush of hundreds of people because there is no where else to go.
Hawks: Again this might be skewed because I was expecting the worst after Paris. With the exception of trying to climb the stairs onto Upper Wacker without knowing where the line began or ended, the crowd was fairly forgiving. Or I got better at pushing.

5. Escape Route - Winner: Hawks

Bastille: This was absolutely the worst part of Bastille Day for me. Several Metro stations were closed but not even the policemen knew which ones and you couldn't tell until you actually went into them. Some pathways ended in a barricade without any signs or any way to turn around and only a few bridges over the Seine were open to foot traffic. Not one person knew what was going on. It took me two hours to make the 20 minute trip back to my apartment and I left even before the mass of people arrived for the fireworks.
Hawks: Despite the fact that I panicked inside the crowd, people let me out easily and the barricades all faced the same direction. I couldn't cross north on the East side of State St. but I could on the West side. The fences and blockades all came down within an hour of the end of the rally. Also it might be a little easier to figure out where to go when you live there.

The clear overall winner here is the Blackhawks rally. Which might be in direct inverse proportion to how momentous an event it is. I would never take back going to Bastille Day in Paris but I certainly could have lived without going to the rally in Chicago. However, both of these could have been greatly improved had I the foresight to eat food like a normal person.

All of this is to say that sometimes a great gift can be something obvious, like giving a rally-goer a protein bar before she embarks on a stupid mission. When my brother came to house-sit last summer (while I was off starving myself among the throngs) I gave him a pre-loaded card to ride the El and a map of Chicago. Things that maybe seem obvious to those of us who live here, but save visitors a big hassle. I also stocked the kitchen with food, which I totally should have done for myself too. Obviously I am an idiot.