2.27.2004

First Bikeride of the Year

I hopped on my happy yellow bike to zip in to work today. The air outside was a mere 30 degrees, but the sun was shining strong, and I'd already decided not to buy a bus pass for March, so I had to get used to the cold wind again. Before leaving, I was careful to check the batteries in my lights, put air in my tires, find my ear-warmers, strap on my reflective leg band, and don my warmest gloves. Then I headed out onto the road. Halfway there, I zipped past a cement truck fairly closely. From somewhere in the dark recesses of my brain came the thought: "Thank god I'm wearing my helmet!"

But then I touched my head and found only hair. Hair and ear-warmers. Not one of my high points.

Happily, that did not set the tone for the rest of the day. I have finally sent in a deposit for our caterer (yay!) and the application for a One Day Marriage Designation for Lizzie, who is to marry us. I accomplished goals today and even submitted writing to a real publication. It's already feeling like a good weekend!

Provided, of course, that I survive my risker-than-usual ride home.

2.24.2004

Hitched

Today's Salon carries an article by a woman who wed her partner of 25 years in San Francisco over Valentine's Day weekend. She explains how it felt to stand all night in a cold rain next to the woman with whom she raised children and paid mortgages for 25 years. She describes the support of hundreds of volunteers, families with children who brought the people in line coffee, doughnuts, biscotti, and the joyous shouts of bystanders. I read that weekend that people spread rose petals across the steps of City Hall. Those immense outpourings of support were the first signs in a long time that marriage still really means something beautiful and passionate to this culture. It's such an honor to get married in a year like this.

It is an amazing thing to have happen in our lifetime----and I am so proud that Boston will be next!

2.23.2004

Wondering What It Feels Like to Actually Hit the Big Time, Part MMMMDCCCLXXV*

So, I'm on Page 30 of the new Utne Reader (March/April 2004 issue). It's great, but also anticlimatic. On one hand, they mention my now-dead newsletter, which is nice. And there I am, my face in a national magazine. On the other hand, though it definitely makes me laugh, I feel vaguely unexcited.
*credits on the title go to the roman numeral converter. The web is so great.
Things that come back, or, Signs I've worked in Harvard Square too long

I used to pass the time at the Kennedy School, sitting at my desk, chin in hand, gazing out the window across from my desk (which was in a hallway). This was five years ago. I was a glorified secretary, and that's a good position to be in if you want to learn. I wanted to learn, but I also wanted to daydream. My window overlooked a park, and I would cross the hall, lean on the windowsill and watch the people in the park. Sometimes they ate lunch. Sometimes they lay with their head in someone's lap. Sometimes they played football. Sometimes they kissed on the bench, under the low trees. The smell of the dark red carpet and a thin blond wood around the window framed those outside.

The only familiar player in the green theater was a tall, broad-shouldered woman. Her hair was cut short, and she wore a long, dark trenchcoat. She was distinctive because she was so masculine, and so in love with her beautiful black labrador, and because she was there at eleven o'clock every morning. She spent a good hour of every day throwing sticks for him in the park, and I watched her care for the dog with great love and attention. I'm not sure I'd ever seen a happier dog. In the cold Boston winter, when all the lovers were gone from the benches and the park was free of young men playing football, she was there in the falling snow, always alone with her dog, throwing sticks as far as she could. She was in her late 50s, and she looked strong and tall and happy. I wondered why she didn't need a job, or if she had one and just worked odd hours. Maybe she was a writer, like I wanted to be. She seemed so satisfied, throwing that stick for her joyous dog, who leaped high into air even as his beautiful black hair grew more and more gray.

I left the Kennedy School three years later. By then, a lot had happened. I'd been promoted from secretary, gone through graduate school, obtained a Master's and high-paying job, met the man I would marry. But today, out in the sun, avoiding my latest Harvard Square desk job, I saw her. She was walking up the sidewalk, right on time between eleven and twelve, heading up to the Kennedy School park. But she couldn't go very fast; at the end of her bright blue leash was a little black lab puppy who was taking his wobbly time. He looked up at me, and she exuded joy as I approached. "This is Danny!" she said. I knelt down. Danny was so little. I ran my hand across his soft black head and he nuzzled my knees. He was only eleven weeks old, she told me. I wanted to tell her that I knew how lucky he was, but there was no way to do it and not be creepy.

There's a whole Harvard Square team, a set of people who have worked at the same Starbucks for the last five years and gone through pregnancies and graduations and promotions. And there are those who man the counter at Peet's Coffee. I notice the new girlfriend, the new piercing. And there are those who ask for change on the corner. There's the woman who has used the same line for five years: "Spare a dollar for a family of seven?" she rasps through her respirator. I saw her in C'est Bon the other day, handing her spare change cup to the cashier for a lottery ticket. He shook his head, but he gave it to her, pouring the change into his hand.

She scratched her ticket, but didn't win. We're all just biding our time here in Harvard Square, glad for small victories.




Could trump Friendster

Ready for a new online community? Sure you are! Come join me on Orkut.

2.20.2004

Free at last!

You know when you're supposed to like something, but it just isn't that enjoyable? We're unsubscribing to Harper's, and I'm getting a weird amount of pleasure out of it. If you aren't familiar with the rag, it's a well-written high-brow cultural magazine with flashy literary tidbits, some art, some stats on American culture and a few political articles. But in the last 14 months or so, Harper's has become annoyingly preachy, always ranting about Iraq and Bush. Look, I rant about Iraq and Bush on a daily basis. But while I try to deliver new angles on the topic of power (or find people who are forgiving enough to let me repeat myself), the articles became frustratingly repetitive and very authoritative. It's a haughty magazine. Sometimes you find a self-satisfied publication and you can enjoy it, but over a couple of years, smugness only equals annoying. Especially when it's delivering information we already know, or confirming what we'd already guessed.

Of course, with that said, I should say that I am strongly considering subscribing to the New Yorker. Now that's a magazine!

2.19.2004

Every Smile You Fake, Every Claim You Stake

Avocadola's watchful websurfing eye could not have come at a more opportune time for me. He posted a BBC test to discern between real and fake smiles. I got 14 out of 20, which is actually better than I expected. All six of my mistakes were men, unnervingly. My confidence in being able to judge people has been badly undermined, primarily because the three people who I see most often (outside of my home) have recently acted in ways I would have never predicted. I have definitely missed entire sets of cues that I wish I'd seen. The "we're lying to you" cues are the ones I most regret missing, just above the "we're having an affair" cues.

I think it's possible that I pay too much attention to what people say, and not enough to body language, actions, etc. In any case, it makes me feel incredibly naive. This workplace, in particular, has been a weird education: so far, there is only one person about whom my perspective has remained steady. On everyone else, I've done a 180 degree turn. It's like working in a funhouse and never being able to tell what's a mirror and what's a doorway. So when does the fun end?

2.17.2004

Found Art & Glowing Fish

Things I will do this spring: more walking on railroad tracks.

There are some tracks in Weston, and I've seen where they lead. It's a dusty ramshackle of a train shed, an old half-station under fallen leaves where people heading into Boston used to wait for the sound of the engine before picking up their bags and money. Then there are the tracks not far from my house, crossing east-west and covered in trash.

Things I found on my way home today, Vol. I:

[see picture]
[see picture]

I've been making new recipes these last few weeks, and the other night I made a butternut squash casserole topped with walnuts and brown sugar, accompanied by Sylvia's smoked black-eyed peas and zucchini slices broiled with garlic and rosemary. Last night it was polenta topped with tomato sauce, mushrooms with black pepper, and steamed orange peppers. Tonight I am considering making pancakes with caramelized bananas, braised spinach with walnuts and lemon, and fakin' bacon. I like a little sweetness in my dinner.

(No, I don't do all the cooking in my household. But the deal is, one of us is working on a PhD, and one of us is basically bored at work and unsure of what she wants to do with her life. Lots of free time. So, for the next three-four months, fewer dinner demands get handed to the PhD candidate. It's temporary, and I'm positive of that because, well, I simply could never sustain cooking more than 50% of the time; I just couldn't stand it.)

I've decided not to put money on the Oscars. It's just too easy a sure thing, and the odds are absurdly low. The New York Times has already called it.

In yesterday's entry, somebonnie addresses the issue of the genetically modified fish currently living in my kitchen. I agree with her. It's weird. If you live with a scientist, you soon learn that "everything" is genetically modified. This doesn't mean that you want your fish to glow under a blacklight, or that you think any living being deserves to live as a party trick. But, it does mean that after months of flat-out resistance, you give in a little to the old "everything is GM" argument. It's a little different, but even my tortoiseshell cat was bred for cuteness and temperment. Most importantly, I prefer to learn how I feel about a GM pet now, like this, than later on, when it's a mammal I'll hold and fall in love with and so on. Note several things: 1. They are not allowed to be bred, as far as I am concerned. 2. I feel mostly like I expected I would: faintly interested in the making of scientific history, primarily concerned with the well-being of the animals. 3. 99% of the time, these fish are lovingly cared for by my fiance and blend right in with all the other fish in our two tanks. 1% of the time, he turns on a blacklight and they glow. I feel oddly neutral when this happens. I never rush to the tank to see them glow, and never turn it on myself. I don't despise it; my feelings are more along the lines of endorsing scientific education and about this being one of those compromises relationship experts are always hyping. But I probably won't be particularly willing to experience this again, because there is, indeed, a definite twinge of uncertainty with the tricked-out zebras. It's like eating a cow: I think people forget what it really is.



2.13.2004

The Powers of Pet Psychic

So, my cat and I are watching Pet Psychic this morning, and a brown pony who has been acting depressed and having trouble eating gets "interviewed" by the psychic. The psychic reports that the pony is sad because her baby was taken away and sold before he had a chance to wean, and she feels like she failed him. The Pet Psychic tells her that it will never happen again, and that her baby is fine. As it turns out, he's living a happy life with a family in Texas. For the first time in ten months, the pony's muscles relax completely. She even closes her eyes. And then she eats a whole bucket of grain for the first time since the baby was taken away. So, I cried. The pony, the baby, the bucket of grain; it's a sad story. Still, it's possible that I take Pet Psychic too seriously.

It's not just the emotional reaction, but I also get hypersensitive to my cat, Hazel. I am probably a bit too attentive to her whims as it is--she's been accused of being needy and spoiled a few times, and I admit I had a hand in how she's turned out. But, I swear, if YOU looked into her big, dark eyes, you'd want to take care of her, too. And she has a lot of strong feelings. When I started imagining Hazel yapping away to the Pet Psychic, I immediately cleaned her litterbox and made sure her room was clean. I even brushed her coat.

Still, there's no pleasing a smart indoor cat. I'm sure the Pet Psychic would get an earful.

2.10.2004

The Affair cont.

In the end, the advice-column stuff about affairs is true. People start looking better, acting happier, and generally behaving differently. It's almost surprising that anyone can ever hide an affair. It's also hard to believe how consistent the cliches are. Plotting the breakups, sneaking off for hours, the coaxing the other person away from their partner. Then again, and here is where I am thinking guiltily of gushing about weddings, maybe living a cliche isn't the worst thing that can happen.

What I'm learning now is this: I am very bad at guessing whether or not people are attracted to each other. Terrible, even. I think it's the result of growing up with lots of male friends; you learn to overlook what doesn't make perfect platonic sense.

2.09.2004

In the Kitchen

My new escapist past time is baking. This is convenient, since it's winter, and I'm getting married. Actually, I don't know how much getting married really has to do with mastering the art of proofing yeast, but perhaps it has something. I feel like I'm acting out an ancient tradition, perhaps for the first time. Mostly, it's just satisfying to create a loaf or two of bread. Even when I'm not writing, not finding a new job, and continually having to adjust and readjust the elements of my life that are already in place, I can at least bake. And having a brilliant red Kitchen Aid helps.

However, there are hard lessons to be learned. Do not try to work with yeast while spaced out. It doesn't work. You must be alert. Also, never add jalapenos to beer & cheese bread. I'm tempted to say never make beer & cheese bread at all, especially for the Sherman Cafe, Karyn, in case you're reading---but then maybe someone, somewhere, made it well, or will someday. I myself had to throw out an entire half loaf just this morning.

I wanted to make a successful quick bread after work today, so I made two loaves of zucchini bread from a recipe I grabbed off the wall at Wilson Farms (an upscale farmstand/greenhouse on 225, for those of you familiar with Lexington, MA). 1 and 2/3 cups of sugar---well, you can't go wrong there, I thought, as I sifted the cinnamon and nutmeg with the flour. It turned out pretty good. I'm not sure what the zucchini adds to it, though. I mean, you can barely taste it, what with all the sugar and oil and walnuts and whatnot. I felt liberated from the yeast, sure, but then again it's nice to knead something. And I like being liberated from baking soda, too. I haven't tried challah yet, and I really want to. All I need is about twelve uninterrupted hours. And that'll happen soon. I'm sure.

There, isn't this a much happier entry? No one is having any affairs (see previous entry) and all is well and safe and happy. I even have a frisky kitten jumping on and off my chair. Good times.

2.07.2004

Monogamy

I'm in the unusual position of being present for the beginning of an affair between two people I see very often. They are in five- and six-year relationships; one is living with his partner and the other is married, respectively. Both are in their mid-twenties. Preparing for a wedding while watching a marriage unravel is a powerfully strange experience. On one hand, both relationships were dead in the water when things started heating up; we all knew it. As Blue says, if a marriage was a mistake to begin with, there's no need to support it. And making a mistake is OK, and fixing it is OK. But some part of me, possibly a part of me that completely exasperates others, is not sure that an affair is OK. And, there's a voice in my head that chirps relentlessly what I've learned in my 27 years: marriage is hard, commitments should be honored, when you find someone you can trust, trust them, and be trustworthy, etc. Then again, they're only human, they want to be happy, they are my friends, and I can override that little chirping voice, I think. I can drown it out with, "They are my friends! I want them to be happy!"

But what I've learned most is how powerful it can be to be wanted, especially after feeling unwanted, or unappreciated, for many years. And how powerful it must be to feel so desirable that someone would break her marriage vows just to be with you. And, what an amazing new card to play within a relationship. After being so utterly powerless and ignored by the person you married, you finally have all the power: "Hey, someone wants me! What are you going to do about it?" It forces the hand.

I have a friend who has a deal with her husband: if either of them is making a move toward having an affair, they tell their partner. That way, the partner has options. She can woo him back, she can leave, she can have an affair of her own. But she doesn't have to wait to be told when it's already begun, when her options are much narrower. Blue and I discussed this. He began to imagine hypotheticals. "What if someone is flirting with me but I feel it's totally harmless?" he asked. "Then I'd want to know, because maybe it's not harmless." "Really?" he said. "Even if it was a co-worker, or something, and knowing would bother you, but nothing would ever come of it because I'm completely committed to you?" I think that's where I just sighed. This is a lot more complicated than it seemed at first. We discussed it much more, with the difficulty being that we couldn't really foresee a time when our bond would be so weak that someone else could threaten it, which means that we can't really address that situation. And so far, neither of us has had any kind of flirtation or temptation outside of the relationship, but we expect that might happen someday. And maybe it will be harmless, and maybe it won't. We don't really know. In the end, we figured, we tell if we have an honest crush on anyone else, and we're pursuing them at all. And, we decided not to worry too much about it, since so far it has not been a problem.

Years ago, one of my friends and I used to sit around in bars, drinking whiskey and talking about monogamy. He was against it, I was for it. We both had our points. Five years later, he gets nervous when asking me about my wedding; I can't tell if avoiding women who want monogamy is working for him, or not. But we don't talk about it anymore. And a dear relative of mine calls me with a problem: he cheated on his girlfriend when she wasn't his girlfriend, but now she's his girlfriend again. It wasn't really cheating, so does he really have to tell her? Be honest, I tell him. You don't have to bring it up, but never, ever lie about it.

The worst part about the affair is the fact that this is the beginning of something larger. Not really with my own partner, but with my friends. In our late twenties, we're watching people beginning to get engaged and married, and pledge their lives to another person. As we age, we'll watch some of them divorce, and some of my friends may cheat on their partners. And in a way my vantage point is a great gift: my marriage vows will be that much more honest and meaningful for having encountered a situation that lays out plainly what marriage can be, and what it can't.

Being in your twenties, for me, has meant wanting permanence, feeling ready to be more grounded. When I found a good thing, I kept it. The same woman has been cutting my hair for 5 years. My best friends have been my best friends since I met them, with no wavering or uncertainty on my part. I love my dentist, I loved my gym. I like the richness of having people that really know you. I lived with my roommate for 6 years before I lived with my fiance, and I hope I live with him for 60 years. But there are sacrifices that no one should have to make in the name of permanence.

It's a matter of knowing what to expect out of the next decade, and probably the best thing to expect is that some things will change, and some will not. Sometimes I ask too much of people. I don't want to ask too much.


2.03.2004

We are the champions

"Go back to New York!" screams my friend Erik. I peer over someone's shoulder. Across the street and behind the police barricades is a young man wearing a backwards Yankees hat. "What does he have, a death wish?" someone nearby asks. "Yankees suck!" a lady yells at him. In vain, of course, since she can barely be heard over the testorone-laden yells of the packs of young men running around with blue paint on their faces. It's a parade for the returning Superbowl champions, but it feels more like a riot. Then again, I've never been to a football parade. "Ah, I think I see them coming around the corner," says an older man behind me. "The parade doesn't even start for another forty-five minutes," someone else tells him.

The news cameras near us pan across our section. We all scream and jump up and down. We do that about eleven more times, and then, collectively, we're sick of it. "I won't play your game anymore," says a scruffy-haired teenager to the pack of cameras. He and his girlfriend look dimly into the lights. The camera pans away, back to the newscaster in pleather pants and hairspray. "Is that snow or confetti?" I ask no one in particular. A little boy who should be in school looks up at me. "Confetti," he says, earnestly. "Oh good!" I respond. I smile. He gazes at me faintly, narrowing his eyes. I look away.
One guy hoists a boombox in a duffel bag onto his shoulder. Everyone within 10 yards begins to sing along to the muffled strains of Queen, one of the gayest bands on the planet.

"Buddy you're a boy make a big noise
Playin' in the street gonna be a big man some day
You got mud on yo' face
You big disgrace
Kickin' your can all over the place
Singin'
We will we will rock you
We will we will rock you!"

The large Italian man behind me says to his little girl, "Those helicopters over Copley mean the boys'll be coming around the bend soon. Give 'em fifteen minutes." We strain our necks. I jump up and down to warm up my toes and increase my vantage point, but all I see are miles of people, about ten deep, lining the main city street. Old Boston churches rise around us, and office buildings with computer printouts taped to the window reading CONGRATS PATS and GO PATRIOTS. At the top of Suffolk Law School people free confetti, and blocks away we watch it flutter through the air toward us. "Shredded text documents!" exclaims one young man. A young girl tries to catch some. When she opens her hands, the confetti is gone. She looks down at her feet, but there's nothing but shoes.

Across the street, teenagers are making out on the steps of the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul. A couple of young punks in a stately dorm up the block unfurl YANKEES SUCK banners from the tenth floor of a nearby building. The crowd starts chanting obediently. "Yankees suck! Yankees suck!" I was in Chicago when the Bulls won their fifth championship and I remember the sound of helicopters and open gunfire, but no chants about the Cubs. Oh well. One of the kids drops his banner. "Awwwww," says the crowd collectively.

About a half hour before the parade is scheduled to begin, a small platoon of Minutemen tromp down the parade route, carrying muskets and waving the Colonial flag. "Yay America!" I yell.
A small section of crowd is now crooning at the top of their lungs:
"We are the champions
We are the champions
Noooo time for looooosers
'Cause weeee are the chaaaampions!"

After two hours, an SUV filled with cheerleaders drives by. They are waving silver pompons. The crowd screams. Then come the amphibious tour boats renown in Boston, filled with New England's most eligible bachelors. Tom Brady is definitely a hottie. "I can see the trophy," says the guy behind me. The crowd starts screaming, "MVP! MVP!" Brady waves the trophy at us. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience," says Erik. "Well, or twice in three years. Potentially three times in four years." Several young girls nearby give me a tortured look. I shrug apologetically. "I'm a married woman," says a female voice behind me. "But even I like the looks of that Tom Brady." We wave at him, all of us. He waves at the cameras across the street.

Ten Ducks in all pass us slowly, filled with football players doing everything from waving one single index finger and offering a weak smile to guys in big leather coats whipping the crowd into a frenzy. Cops wander around looking friendly and encouraging the crowd to cheer. I've never seen cops like this, but then again most of my crowd activities take place at protests, where cops look like they are praying that you're scared.

Four and a half minutes later, the whole entourage is gone, and people are screaming up ahead. Ticker tape covers the ground, and the last silver pompon is barely noticeable through the sea of heads. The mob slowly descends underground.

2.02.2004

The Bet

I have no real interest in competitive sports, especially football. But, when one of my friends revealed himself to be an aspiring professional gambler, I got in on the action, hoping it would make me a.) richer, and b.) interested in the Superbowl. I was pretty sure the Pats would win; the only question was, by how much? MOV stands for Margin of Victory. In the end, I went with 5 MOV's. If they won by 1, I'd get $33 for every dollar I put down. If they won by 3 points, I'd get $8.8 per dollar, 4 points = $29, 6 points was $26 per dollar, and if they won by 10 points, I'd get $19.

I went in with a friend, and risked $25. I got my $25 back, and I even made $19. Not bad for a night spent taking baths and watching Notting Hill. That's right; not even the possibility of winning $140, my maximum possible take for the evening, could make the Superbowl interesting. Not even when yells and screams of victory emanated from the apartments around me.

But I'm thinking about placing that $19 on the Oscars. Got any tips?