Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Knife Skills

"I'm too depressed to take the blue line," I said, and then realized I'd made a joke. M was looking up my bus route on the CTA bus tracker, a fantastic invention of the modern age that allows you to see how long you'll be waiting out in the cold, or rain, or beating hot sun before the next city bus gets to your stop. My bus, the #82 Kimball-Homan, has only recently been added to the CTA's tracking roster, it being a lesser bus with none of the caché of the #147 Outer Drive Express, the élan of the #151 Sheridan, or the gravitas of the #80X Irving Park Express. This morning there were no #82 buses according to bus tracker, and I didn't know if that meant there was something wrong with the bus, or something wrong with bus tracker. I asked M to look up the #80 bus instead; there were several on their way arriving in 7, 9, 11, and 14 minutes.

I got word yesterday morning that the organization I work for is going to have layoffs in two weeks, and it's all I've been thinking about since. Last night after work I met my friend and hairdresser Mark; we'd signed up for a knife skills class at a neighborhood cooking school, maybe not the best thing to do right after receiving bad news, but I'd already paid for it. I don't know whether my job will get cut, but I've done my calculations, and am mentally preparing myself for it. I've already planned out what I'll do over the next three months should I lose my job: every morning I'll go to the Irving Park Y to train for the mini triathlon with MamaVee, then I'll write for a couple hours and regale my readers with tales from the unemployment lines, and then, like a good wife, I'll fix dinner. In between I can sell things on eBay, and hang out with my unemployed friends - one thing is for certain, I'll be in good company. And if you're going to be laid off in Chicago, it might as well be during the summer; we wait for it all year and it disappears in the blink of an eye.

I was tired and distracted during the knife skills class, but I did my best to maintain interest. Our instructor was a solid man named Paul who wore a double breasted white chef's jacket with brass buttons that emphasized the V shape of his torso, black pants, black Dansko clogs, and a short black cap over his equally short hair that reminded me of the religious beanies worn by subjects in Dutch Masters paintings. Although Paul was clearly very skilled with blades, he lacked the enthusiasm that I needed to pull me out of my funk, and I found myself focusing on every turn of phrase that could be construed as a sexual innuendo, like:

"Pull your onions out";
"The boning knife is very firm"; and
"A good knife is made from a single piece of metal, this is called 'full tang'".

Every time he made one of these comments I turned slightly to my left, hoping to engage Mark in a Beavis and Butthead moment of "huh-huh, he said bone," but Mark was entirely too focused to play this game with me. Distracted as I was, I learned the difference between a chef's knife, a boning knife, a filleting knife, a serrated knife, and a tomato knife; I learned that boning knives are safer than electric knives, and do a better job to boot. Electric knives, I learned, are composed of two serrated blades that move simultaneously and shred meat to bits, leaving you with a sad heap of meat threads on your plate; a boning knife is designed specifically for separating the meat from the bone, and leaves you with perfect slices of turkey, or whatever it is you're trying to cut.

In two and a half hours I diced an onion, sliced a celery stick, cubed a potato, cut a bell pepper, chopped a carrot, minced a jalapeño, chopped some parsley, and dissected two zucchinis. I learned to block my vegetables - a process that leaves you with perfectly uniform pieces, and left the classroom with two quart-sized Ziploc bags full of chopped vegetables (Mark didn't want to keep his, and my unemployment survival instinct has already kicked in.)

M picked me up from the Kimball brown line stop; it was late, and I'd called him from the Western stop to ask if he could meet me with the car so I wouldn't have to walk home in the rain, as satisfyingly dramatic as it might have been to burst through the front door at a quarter to ten on a cold and rainy Monday night, two bags of decimated vegetable matter in my hands, and announce that there was a one in six chance that I was going to lose my job.

All day at work I'd considered the bright side - with more time on my hands I'd get in shape, get some writing done, start volunteering again at the Old Town School of Folk Music and the Alliance Française, where I used to volunteer but haven't in a long time because I've been busy with work. I'd cook up a storm with my newly acquired knife skills, and become deeply tanned from working the vegetable gardens that my upstairs neighbors plant every year.

I just hope the organization I work for has the same skill with a boning knife that Chef Paul does; that they'll know exactly where to cut, and use the right tool to get the job done efficiently, without shredding us all to pieces.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lane Bryant

Last November I bought the best bras of my life. I was a late bloomer; I didn't get my first bra until the eighth grade, unless you count the training bra that my busty friend Tracy McTeague gave me long after she'd outgrown it. I tried it on once, and then crumpled it into a ball and hid it in the back of my closet. My older sister and her friend Nell discovered it while cleaning one day months later, long after I'd forgotten about it.

"Whose is this?" Nell asked, holding the item up to her bosom, where it looked like two squares of bath tissue.

"I don't know, J's?" my sister said. I sat perfectly still on my B. Kliban bed sheets; hoping that if I remained motionless neither of them would see me. Nell caught my eye and then looked away quickly, a moment later my sister did the same. I pretended that nothing had happened, and none of us ever spoke of the incident again.

It took a long time for me to come to terms with my late harvest melons, my body image having been permanently set at nine years old, when I barely cleared four feet and weighed in at sixty pounds. My friend Annie had a Growing Up Ginger doll, rotating her arm forward caused her to grow boobs and get slightly taller, and the process reversed when you rotated her arm back. Some of the girls at school seemed to develop just that quickly, but Annie and I retained our childhood figures longer than most. Once I started developing in earnest, it seemed I might never stop. I was never professionally fitted, and for years stuffed myself into bras that were too small. Sometimes I'm still genuinely surprised at how busty I look in photographs. I've spent a lifetime trying on cheap bras in poorly lit dressing rooms, so when M mentioned that his high school friend Sue was now a professional bra fitter and Essential Bodywear representative, we got in touch. After several failed attempts at scheduling a time that worked for both of us, she offered to do a fitting at my workplace.

"As long as you don't mind doing a fitting in an office," I said. I work in a small office with about a dozen people, mostly women. It's pretty easy to tell when we have visitors, and at the time I sat at the front desk, so I couldn't hide Sue's presence very easily. I sent an email to my female coworkers asking if they might be interested in a bra fitting, and the response was overwhelming. By the time Sue got there, eight of my coworkers had signed up, and Sue spent four and a half hours in a sequestered office strewn with bras, panties, shape wear and festive decorations. We consulted her services in small groups so as not to attract too much attention, and from my desk in the reception area I could hear the sound of raucous laughter every time the door opened. Things got especially loud with the trying on of bras; there was much shuffling through corridors with concealed undergarments, opening and closing of doors, and coos of amazement as women emerged in new garments and new silhouettes. Sue the Bra Lady arrived at the office at noon with a trunk full of gear, and spent half the day with us. The women who purchased her wares all look much shapelier as a result, and unless any of them happen to read this post, the men in the office are none the wiser. It remains my single proudest moment at that office.

As fabulous as my new bras are, and they are fabulous, they have limitations as far as transportation is concerned. Sue explicitly warned against folding them in half, but it's hard to fit them into bike panniers, and packing them in suitcases is like playing 3-D Tetris. I really love them, but decided it was best if I had a couple second rate backups I could keep at work for days that I bike in, that don't require such special care.

And so, on a recent lunch break, I walked into my local Lane Bryant store in search of a bra that was good enough. I was greeted by an unabashedly large and friendly associate named Natasha, who measured me and brought me a few samples. Hoisted above shelves of underwear were white plaster midsections that started just above the knee, ended above the navel, and were dressed in sensible underpants. Along the length of an entire wall were half a dozen headless, armless torsos with one shoulder tilted up as if reaching for something, dressed in bras. They were considerably curvy and commanded presence. They evoked self-confidence, and had bellies, which I'd never seen on a mannequin. I found a bra that suited my needs, and Natasha went to the stock room to look for it in the colors I wanted. I waited in the lingerie section, lost in a cavern of boobs and asses. The mannequins in underpants were set with one hip jutting out, striking a pose that said "here I am world; take it all in, because I'm delicious." It took a while for Natasha to come back, and while I waited a male security guard walked through the aisle I stood in. I pretended to look at bras, and then became embarrassed by the thought that he might be trying to guess my size. I circled the entire lingerie section three times before Natasha came back.

Bras in hand, I approached the cashier. They were already on sale, buy one get one half off, and the bespectacled cashier asked me if I'd like to apply for a Lane Bryant credit card today and save an extra fifteen percent.

"No thanks, I'll just use a debit cared," I said. But I was the only customer in line, and the cashier was in no hurry. Store credit cards are such an easy way to get suckered in, but I was eventually won over, if only so I wouldn't hurt the cashier's feelings. She became visibly more relaxed once I caved in to her sales pitch, and introduced herself as Geri.

"It's nice to meet you Geri," I said. Geri went on to tell me how much she loved Lane Bryant bras, and then gave me a brief history of her health complications. I looked over the paperwork that came with my purchase; I was now the proud owner of a one thousand dollar line of credit at Lane Bryant. Who knows, maybe with this card in my wallet I'll carry some of the attitude of those fabulous mannequins.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Omigod Omigod Omigod!

In the land before time when dinosaurs roamed the earth, there was no Internet (much less blogs), and if you had plans to meet a friend out somewhere and they didn't show up right away you just had to stay put and see if maybe they were running late because the only cell phones at the time weighed sixteen pounds and cost eight million dollars, I had the good fortune to meet a young man named Matt Armendariz. He was an early supporter of my writing, and I'll never forget it. I wrote a column at the time for an ephemeral Chicago publication called Babble; each copy was painstakingly hand printed on parchment, and it was free. One day the editor of Babble received a letter from this young man and a group of his friends who had banded together to form a fan club around my column. The return address was right across the street from the apartment I was living in at the time, and I wrote back immediately. It took a while for the letter to reach them though, because besides the fact that everything was delivered by Pony Express in those days, their real names weren't on the letter, just the fan club name and the street address, and they lived in a gigantic high-rise building on Sheridan Road. When we finally met, I knew that Matt and his friends were no ordinary neighbors, and our friendship grew like bamboo in a hothouse. We were young back then, all of us moving from city to city with reckless abandon, and facebook hadn't been invented yet so eventually we lost touch. Fast forward through the stone, bronze, and iron ages, and we found each other again on the Internet; first through MySpace, and now facebook. We're now living in Los Angeles and Chicago respectively, and as soon as I started this blog, he once again became a booster. So much of a booster that he reprinted one of my posts on his fantastic blog, Mattbites . I just won't sleep well tonight if I don't give a shout-out to Mr. Matthew Armendariz, thanks Matt!!!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Triathlon, Part II

Yesterday I decided it was time to hit the pool, but not before sustaining a minor injury at home while cleaning the kitchen. For months now I’ve been meaning to go through the cabinets and sort everything into piles: one for the trash, one for recycling, one for the Salvation Army, and one to keep; then put everything back in a way that makes sense. I've never gotten around to it, because it seems too huge of a project and I get overwhelmed. I started with the microwave nook. We have a miniature purple microwave that only has one setting, and it lives in a cabinet under the kitchen counter. Crammed above it on a wobbly shelf that’s missing two pegs is my mother’s dark orange cast iron Le Creuset stock pot from her first wedding in 1964, and resting on top of that is an inverted tray. I pulled the tray, sending the cast iron cookware on a short trip to the floor, connecting with my shins on the way down. I actually cried, I felt like such a baby but no one but the cats were around to witness it so I indulged. The stock pot had a scratch in the orange enamel that ran from top to bottom, and I had the beginnings of at least three bruises.

I spent the next six hours taking things out of cabinets, filling up bags of recycling and taking them into the alley, dusting, vacuuming, and putting things back. Intermittently I checked the Irving Park YMCA pool schedule. Along with the schedule was a page listing pool protocol, and information on pool closures:

The pool will be closed for the following reasons:
Vomit/Bodily Fluids/Feces
Missing Swimmer
The pool with NOT be closed for the following reasons:
Severe tornado watch/warning or weather alert

I was amused and horrified, and chuckled at the misspelled “Lightening”. I couldn't imagine how a swimmer would go missing in such a small pool, or how a fire could break out, and decided right then and there that if I ever saw vomit, bodily fluids or feces I would withdraw my name from the triathlon, or just skip that part of the race.

By early evening I was tired from housework, and my shins were angry from their run in with the stock pot, but I couldn’t possibly let another day pass without swimming. This is sure to be the hardest part of the race for me; while I have the stamina for it I’ve never been technically proficient at swimming. I took lessons when I was about six or seven, and was afraid of putting my face in the water. At summer camp I never moved beyond Advanced Beginners, and though I've participated in a few distance swims, I always bring up the rear.

I piled everything I needed into two pannier bags and set out into the cold rain on my bike. At the front desk of the Y I bought a swim cap and a Master lock from the same woman who'd taken my registration a few weeks ago, and as soon as I reached the women's locker room I had to go back upstairs and ask her for the pass code to get in. I almost forgot it again on the short journey back down, and had to try it twice before I got it right. I’d reversed the numbers in my head, something I do frequently with phone numbers and addresses. At least twice in the last month I’ve gotten lost looking for addresses that I’ve written down incorrectly. I’ve never been tested for dyslexia, but if there’s a dyslexia specific to numbers I’m sure I have it.

I chose a locker and set my things down, and realized I’d have to remember the combination on the Master lock. Great. I left the sticker with the combination on the back in case I forgot it between now and when I came back for my things, which proved to be a useful strategy.

I suited up and went into the humid shower room where a woman with a tattoo on her shoulder was rinsing off, then opened the heavy door to the pool.

It was even more beautiful than I remembered it. Besides the words “deep” and “shallow” spelled out in tiny blue tile, there were intricate designs along the walls, and numbers indicating how many feet deep the pool was in any given spot.

Along the shallow end of the pool was a banner reading:

Irving Park YMCA Iguanas
2006 Champions
Boys division, age 8 and under

The banner was flanked by two shelves covered in trophies. Along the length of the pool were two large boards spelling out the pool rules, the first one covering rules A through G, the second H through P.

There were four lanes, and five people in the pool. I took the far left lane, next to a dark haired man in goggles, his eyeglasses folded neatly at the edge of the pool. I wore my glasses into the pool like a ninety year old man. My father once lost a pair of glasses this way while swimming in the ocean, and I lost a coveted pair of vintage sunglasses by diving into a lake with them on my face, but I figured someone would come to my aid if my glasses slipped off at the Y. I swam the length of the pool and saw a sign off the deep end that read: “44 laps to a mile”. I swam a few more lengths before realizing that I didn’t know if a lap meant the length of the pool going one way, or both. I asked the distracted lifeguard, a serious woman in her early twenties who clutched a clipboard to her chest. To my dismay, a lap was both ways.

“A mile is 88 times back and forth” she said, and dribbled a red rubber ball onto the damp floor from her perch.

I’d lost track of how many lengths I’d swum, so I made up a number – 8, and decided I would try to swim a quarter mile, or 22 lengths. By the time I was done I could hear the pulse of my own blood in my ears and was breathing hard. I was so tired once I got home that I weaved up the back stairs, and almost dropped the bike a couple times. This morning I registered for the "Adult Intermediate" swim class to get some help with my form. I wanted to sign up for "Adult Stroke Clinic," but it had been canceled due to lack of interest. It's just as well I guess, it's a terrible name for a class.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Things I learned watching part 2 of Buck Rogers, "Planet of the Slave Girls"

1. In the future, Jack Palance is an evil dictator named Kaleel.

2. Jack Palance's birth name was Volodymir Ivanovich Palahniuk (oh wait, I learned that on IMDB)

3. It's possible to combine the personalities of C3PO and R2D2 into one robot.

4. In the future, all outfits will be sexy.

5. Women weigh no more than medium sized watermelons, and can easily be hoisted to safety using a length of rope.

6. It's a trap (oh wait, that was Star Wars, it's a trick).

7. In the 25th century, O.J. Simpson's name will continue to be invoked as a cultural reference.

8. In the 25th century, people will still use the "thumbs up" signal when things have gone well.

9. Slingshot technology is timeless.

10. Even robots have to wear helmets sometimes.

11. All evil space headquarters contain at least one room full of molten, boiling lava.

12. There are no children in space, and no old people, except for Jack Palance.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Triathlon, Part I

This morning I woke from a dream that I was swimming in salt water. It reminded me of last summer on Cape Cod with Muggy and MamaVee, when, having not swum in an ocean in almost twenty years, I tasted my lips and exclaimed: "It's salty!" Muggy and MamaVee both laughed. Once out of the water I still felt the pull of the waves undulating over me, rocking my insides back and forth.

A couple months ago while instant message chatting with MamaVee, she mentioned that she was looking for a training partner for a mini triathlon this summer on the Cape.

"Wouldn't you need someone local to train with you?" I asked.

"As long as I know you'll be there on race day, that's all the motivation I need," she responded. I changed the subject for a while, but MamaVee was persistent.

"I'll ask again," she typed, "do you want to do the mini-triathlon with me?"

I asked about dates: July 19th; I asked how "mini" we were talking: 9 miles on a bike, 3 miles running, 1/3 of a mile swimming; before our conversation was over I said I'd consider it.

I bike to work about three seasons a year, so biking nine miles doesn't intimidate me - I cover eight miles each way when I commute. Running... well, I was a distance runner in high school, and although it's been twenty years I think I can work my way up to it. Swimming would be the most challenging for me, especially in open water... open, salty water.

I looked online at the results from 2008; the fastest entrant was 43 year old George Bent, who completed the race in 45 minutes, 59 seconds; the slowest was 23 year old Akayleia Frehner, who finished in 2 hours, 2 minutes, 47 seconds. 598 people between the ages of 13 and 75 had completed the race, 7 people started but did not finish. The youngest entrant was 13 year old Alison Horst, who finished in 1 hour, 19 minutes, 11 seconds; the oldest was 75 year old Lucy Duffy, who came in just ten minutes later. Give the woman her props.

I mulled it over. I've been biking to work for about a year and a half, minus winter, which accounts for quite a lot here in Chicago. I started in September 2007 in response to my unacceptably long commute time - 1 hour 15 minutes to travel 8 miles on public transportation. It's not always that bad, but you never know until you're actually on the bus or train, and then you're stuck. On good days it only takes 45 minutes, which is how long it takes me on a bike. I biked from September through late November, and once winter hit I stopped until the following April. I thought that with more experience under my belt I'd make it further into winter the following year, but as anyone will tell you, last winter was bad. Really bad. Record breaking temperatures bad. I've biked to work once since December, and I've lost all my hard earned muscle tone.

I decided that I was in, I'd do the triathlon with MamaVee. I did some searching online for a swim class, and discovered that the Y on Irving Park has a pool, and only costs $45 a month for a membership. I signed up and went to a complimentary "commit to be fit" consultation, which I thought was going to be a rudimentary check of my vital signs; height, weight, body fat percentage - but it was much more involved. I spent an hour and a half with a fit young staffer named René who asked me to fill out some paperwork stating my goals, took me on a tour of the facilities, and showed me how to safely use the weights. Halfway through my consultation we walked past a disheveled man seated at the photo ID area at the front desk, missing three front teeth, and smiling like it was Christmas. In that moment I knew that this was the gym for me; with an SRO attached to the gym, and residents clambering downstairs at all hours checking their mailboxes and enjoying complimentary coffee in Styrofoam cups, there's no chance that any overzealous fitness enthusiasts will harsh on my Y loving buzz.

Then René led me downstairs and showed me a room I couldn't have imagined in my wildest dreams. Back in the late 60's the Chicago Bears used this Y to work out, and as an homage to this glorious era in its history it now houses a room known as "The Bears Den", where upsettingly fit older men surrounded by posters of Oscar de la Hoya and framed, signed photos of 60's era Bears players lift free weights and punch heavy bags. A man who resembled a photo I'd seen recently in a Sky Mall catalog was lifting free weights rapidly, breathing in every time his arms lowered, and out when he lifted them up. His head was bald with a thin white fringe of hair, his neck ropey and muscular, and he sounded like he was practicing Lamaze breathing. Overhead, a sound system piped in Billy Idol's "White Wedding."

Next René showed me the pool, and if the old toothless man and Jack Lalanne's doppelganger hadn't already sold me, the pool stole my heart in an instant. The entire room was covered in small blue and white tiles, the words "deep" and "shallow" were spelled out in tile in the pool, and I felt certain that at any moment I would see a group of ninety year old Russian men arriving for their daily exercise.

Finally René showed me the weight machines. I hadn't used a weight machine in at least seven years, and when René asked "how does the weight feel", I kept saying "It feels good." The next day I was so sore I couldn't even bend over enough to tie my shoes, and had trouble getting in and out of the car. The soreness did nothing to dampen my sense of accomplishment, so when I saw my friend Kelly, a repeat marathon runner, I told her all about my new favorite gym. "No matter how out of shape I might be," I told her, "at least I have all my teeth." Then I told M's colleague Eric, who said a friend of his had gotten staph infection from working out there.

I haven't been back since, but I had an unexpected day off today, and was feeling vigorous. Whenever I have a day off, I imagine all the amazing things I can do with it. Years ago at the lefty, Quaker summer camp that I went to, one of our counselors was a former Amish man named Gunther who had subversively taken photos of a barn raising and showed them to us one night in a slide show presentation. After showing several images of straw hatted men hammering two by fours and raising beams, he said, in his adorable German accent: "dis vas befoe breakfast," and after showing us several more said "dis vas befoe lunch." I often hold myself to this unrealistic measurement when thinking of my daily accomplishments. It was 8am when I woke; I collected dirty dishes, put them in the dishwasher, added detergent and set it to run. This was before breakfast. Then I started cooking sausage bought from the Green City Market and eggs - over well for M, over easy for me, while listening to Flight of the Conchords, singing along and laughing as if it were the first time I'd ever heard it. This was before lunch. At 11:30 I got on my bike and headed for the Y.

I found a through street that allowed me to avoid the underpass of the Kennedy Expressway, parked the bike, and walked in. I went to the ladies room, where a faucet was running on its own. I picked a stall, pulled down my pants, and sat on a surprisingly warm toilet seat. I told myself it was from the radiator heat, not it's previous occupant, and finished my business. Then I washed my hands and managed to get the water to slow to a trickle - it wouldn't turn all the way off. Then I pondered what to do with my time here. Not wanting a repeat of last time, I decided to pick just one thing. I'd follow René's advice on how to build up to running 3 miles: walk for half an hour on a treadmill, alternating between 4 miles and 6 miles an hour in five minute increments. I went to the cardio room and started walking on a treadmill, and in a few minutes was running and sweating. For fun, I placed my hands on the pulse check bars in front of me, which prompted the message "checking your pulse while running is not recommended" to flash on the screen. According to the chart on the right side of the machine, my pulse was dangerously high for my age, but I persevered. I ran until I turned bright pink, until the aging man on my left slowed his own pace and watched me, possibly for signs of distress. After half an hour I'd run/walked 2.16 miles, and burned just over 200 calories.

I have to admit, it felt good.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Happy Christian Passover

There are a number of words that don’t translate literally from French to English. The word for seventy, for instance, translates as sixty ten, eighty translates as four twenties, and ninety translates as four twenties and ten. It seems like a small concession to make in order to maintain the poetry of the language, until you have to discuss an event that occurred between the years of 1969 and 2000. I’ve never gotten a good answer as to why the numbers for seventy through ninety-nine simply don't exist in French.

“It’s just like that,” my instructors will say, or “it’s leftover from Latin.”

Leave it to Wikipedia to give me a more satisfying answer. According to this entry, the French counting system is partially vigesimal, meaning it is based on counting in twenties. This habit was officially sanctioned after the French Revolution to unify different counting systems across the country. At the time there were a number of different languages spoken in France, including Breton, which was highly influenced by Celtic – a language with a counting system similar to the archaic English use of score, as in fourscore and seven to mean 87, or threescore and ten to mean 70.

Oh sure, there are words that make more sense in French; for instance the letter W is called double V instead of the English double U, but what about the use of green lemon as the word for lime, and more importantly - why is the French word for Passover “Jewish Easter”?

Apparently the same is true in many languages, and a cursory Google search reveals that the Hebrew word for Passover is pesach; when this word was adopted into Greek it remained unchanged, as well as in languages like Italian, Dutch and French. Once Christianity began to spread, there were seemingly no efforts made to distinguish Passover from Easter linguistically.

I’m no scholar on the subject, but it seems to me that if tonight marks the first night of Jewish Easter, then on Sunday there will be marked increases in church attendance as legions of believers observe Christian Passover.

So... Happy Jewish Easter to some of you, Happy Christian Passover to others, and to all of you I wish a very Happy Day-After-Easter-Half-Price-Candy-Shopping. I’ll be in the bargain aisle at Walgreen’s if you're looking for me.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bad ice cream names

Double Dysentery Chip
Malted Mold
Chewy Chocolate 'n Chicken Bits
Cat Leavings 'n Cream
Cherry Hernandez
Triple Scab Crunch
Rocky Choad
Banana Sludge Swirl

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bad Apple

Waxy, not the kind that's obvious, but the kind you find out after you've already taken a bite, and remains on your tongue, unyielding. A roundness that gives way to unexpected mealiness under your teeth. You spit it out, then throw it in the garbage where it makes a satisfying thud as it hits the bottom. It still had a sticker on it when you took a bite, what made you think it would be different from any of a thousand tasteless red apples you've subjected yourself to over the course of a lifetime? Who thinks of these things? Why hasn't there been a Great Red Apple Uprising? There are many delicious apples out there, and none of them come from Jewel. You knew this but somehow the hum of the fluorescent lighting, the mist of the automatic spray machines, and the piped in recording of "singin' in the rain" suckered you in, once again.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

How I spent thirty nine dollars and fifteen cents today.

"I'm going to Cermak to get ingredients for The Recipe", I said.
"The Recipe?" my husband asked, voice rising, "I've been waiting for The Recipe for weeks!"

Sometimes when I'm at Cermak Produce, a local grocery store that caters to the Central and South American populations in our neighborhood, I'll see an ingredient that piques my interest and buy it, thinking I'll find a way to incorporate it into a meal somehow. Recently I picked up a can of hominy that had a drawing of a dark-haired woman in a Mexican hat, smiling and looking sideways at something out of frame that only she could see. "Adelita Pozole Blanco", the label read, and I was sold. I'd recently been fed hominy by friends who knew what it was and how to cook with it, so I felt confident. I went onto epicurious.com and typed in "hominy", and scrolled past all the difficult looking recipes until I found one called Southwestern Black Bean And Hominy Salad. It looked simple enough so I printed it, and left it on the desk by the computer for three weeks. I put The Recipe in my purse, and left the house.

The first order of things was Walgreen's, where I had an overdue prescription to pick up. M wanted ice cream, "real ice cream", as he put it, not the off-brand stuff I'd brought home from Cermak last week. He'd wanted chocolate ice cream and the only brand Cermak carries is called Joe & Ross, which is made in Cicero, and tastes slightly of paper pulp. When you scrape away a layer, the ice cream underneath is a lighter color than on top, and I'm not sure what this means. Our Walgreen's carries Ben & Jerry's, so I picked up a pint of Chubby Hubby for M, and a pint of Häagen-Dazs coffee ice cream for me.

Next I stopped by the photo supplies and frames aisle, where a middle-aged man clapped his hands and pulsed back and forth in time with the overhead music, an easy listening version of an early Ohio Players song. I wanted a cheap frame for a napkin that had been decorated with rude drawings a few summers ago when Holly and Jeremy came over for dinner. On it were depicted the full range of outline drawings that might be found in the spiral-bound notebook of a seventh grade boy: a W, depicting someone's rear end, expelling flatus represented by four straight lines leading to a small cloud; two concave lines representing a woman's torso, with one breast that looked like an eyeball, and the other obscured by a Kermit the frog-like hand; the profile of a goateed man with an X for an eye, drinking from a beer bong that was held magically in the air by no one, a bottle with an X on the label pouring liquid into the top of the funnel; and finally, not one but two depictions of hands flashing the symbol for "the shocker", one clad in a leather spiked bracelet, the other with curved lines around the thumb and pinkie, indicating movement. The napkin had decorated our refrigerator for some time, and then in preparation for a visit from M's parents had been moved into a kitchen drawer. Holly and Jeremy are getting married this summer, and we've been accumulating gifts appropriate for the occasion. I found an 8" x 10" frame for $4.49, and placed the two pints of ice cream on top of it like a tray.

I made my way to the pharmacy, where I gave my name to the the mild mannered, balding pharmacist.

"Chubby Hubby," he said looking at my groceries, and then chuckled.
"Yeah, ha ha," I said.
"Is that your favorite flavor?"
"Uh, no, funnily enough it's my husband's favorite," I said. He scanned my prescription across the electronic eye of the register, then the two pints of ice cream, and the picture frame; my total was $17.08.

Next stop was Cermak. I walked through Walgreen's sliding doors and headed south, passing a darkened storefront with bags of grain in the window. "The Oriental Store" was printed on its green awning, and taped to the inside of the window were three pieces of paper that read:


At Cermak I got the remaining ingredients for The Recipe: an avocado, cilantro, yellow peppers, a jalapeño pepper, and a tub of green salsa marked with a bright orange sticker reading: "Hot", to distinguish it from its neighbor, guacamole, similarly labeled: "Mild." In addition, I picked up a bunch of bananas, and a mango with a sticker that read "Estrellita", simply because I thought it was a cute name. M and I took a Spanish class about a year ago, and I'm still in the phase of learning the language where the sounds of certain words delight me. When Cermak first opened, a cashier gave me my total in Spanish, and I was thrilled.

"She spoke Spanish to me!" I said to M, "do I look Hispanic today?"
"Well," he said, surveying me up and down, "you don't look un-Hispanic."

I brought my items to a checkout lane, and waited my turn. Above the belt were impulse items, and I was distracted by a chocolate bar named "Kranky" that had a picture of a happy K with a smiling face on it. The woman in front of me was buying Mexican hot dogs in shrink-wrapped packaging that read "Fud". Finally it was my turn, and my items totaled $12.07.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Julius Meinl

Living on the first floor of a one hundred year old house, it never gets as warm indoors as it is outside. This is a blessing when it’s ninety degrees and humid, but sometimes on a lazy Saturday morning in April when I just can’t find a reason to get out of bed, by the time I finally stick my head out a window I realize I've missed out on a gorgeous morning. Today was one of those days (meaning forty nine degrees and sunny), so I put some air in my tires and went on an errand.

I biked to the Chopping Block in Lincoln Square and registered for a knife skills class I’ve been meaning to sign up for. My friend and hairdresser Mark had already signed up, and over my last haircut we’d discussed it. I’ve always wanted to take their knife skills class; I can cut my way around a kitchen, but not with anything resembling skill, and more than once my fingernails have saved me from certain disaster.

I’m alternately captivated and disgusted by the Chopping Block, with their neat displays of expensive cookware and spotless demonstration kitchen. I can’t decide if I’m intimidated by it, annoyed by its upscale air and high prices, or just jealous that my kitchen doesn’t look like theirs. A class was in progress when I walked in, and a panel of students sat in rapt attention, following the instructions of a confident woman in a tall chef’s hat. I didn’t have the nerve to sign up for a class by myself, but with Mark already registered, I was in. If nothing else, it will be a tale of excitement and danger to regale people with.

It was crowded inside the small store. I was dressed in sweatpants covered in cat hair, a matching cat hair sweatshirt, and a dirty red bandanna on my head with the image of Teddy Roosevelt’s face on the border, the better to cover the shame of helmet head. I stood in line at the checkout counter, and was seemingly ignored by the cashier. I had nothing in my hands, and it may have appeared as though I was simply loitering, or had no place better to go given my appearance. A girl with a name tag that identified her as Margaret finally made her way behind the register and asked if I needed anything. She wore a gray cap that reached halfway down her ears and was flat on top. It was kind of a cross between an Amish bonnet and a chef’s hat, and it left an inch or so of her amber colored hair hanging below her ears. She wore a miniature Eiffel tower pendant around her neck, and suddenly I wished I’d made more of an effort to look presentable, or that I had at least taken a shower before leaving the house.

After registering for the class I got back on the bike to look for a friendly coffee shop. I went to a writer’s retreat last weekend, and one of the pieces of advice I took note of was to find a coffee shop with a relaxed atmosphere where I can sit writing at a table for a while undisturbed. Staying at home is full of pitfalls and distractions, like the internet, and going to the same place to write will help establish a routine.

Café Selmarie was packed, as was the Daily Grind. I headed south to Montrose and looked in at Julius Meinl. To my surprise, there were free tables. I walked in and was greeted by a hostess, and was seated immediately. I have fond memories of Julius Meinl, it’s where T and I sat basking in the afterglow of November 4th, sipping tea and discussing What This Meant for America. Despite a framed, business card sized sign on the table reading: “as a courtesy to customers waiting to be seated during high volume weekends, we ask that you please limit your reading, studying, and computer activities. Thank you, your consideration is greatly appreciated”, there seemed to be plenty of space. Perhaps I had found my writing spot. I ordered a cappuccino and a butter croissant, and wrote until my hand cramped up.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Barb, in under three hundred words.

“These are so good; we used to drink these in rehab.” Barb threw this kind of information into our conversations with the same casual air she used when telling me there were leftover pastries in the breakroom. I don’t know if it was meant to shock me, or if it was the only way she could share those parts of her life. Sometimes it felt aggressive, a way to up the ante. I read "Bastard out of Carolina", and when I told her it was about a girl who’d been raped by the age of eleven, she barked “who hasn’t?”, took a drag off her cigarette, and cocked her head to one side before exhaling. I was never sure what subjects were safe to talk about and what was off limits, she was blind in one eye and I made the mistake of asking her which one it was. “I need to go to Costco to get a six pound bag of gummy bears,” was her answer. Costco was the Holy Grail to Barb. She came home with cases of off-brand soda, reams of cheap paper, and bundles of packing tape that ended up in boxes themselves and moved three times before she finally donated them to the Salvation Army. When the nearest Costco was replaced with a Jewel, she refused to call it by its new name. She once walked through its automatic sliding doors, stood on the rubber mat in the entryway, and yelled “Costcoooooooooooo” at the top of her lungs.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Things that can be seen from the window of the LIRR from Ronkonkoma to Flatbush

Central Island Juice


Start A New Career With Gloria Francis Beauty School

God’s Way Auto Repairs


Sleepy’s, The Mattress Professionals

a Polly-O Mozzarella truck

Victor Koening’s Restaurant


Samuel Underberg Grocers

99¢ Dreams

East New York


Nostrand Avenue

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Remember the time I biked all the way to the Green City Market and bought a half gallon of milk and a quart of yogurt from Blue Marble Dairy, who sell their goods in glass bottles, then biked all the way home again, the bottles sweating in the bag, me sweating on the bike?

Remember the time I sat on one of those fabric covered blue line seats, and halfway to work realized that there was something in the fabric that was making its way into my pants? I couldn't decide if it was gross enough to buy new ones, so I wore them all day.

Remember the time I wore knee socks to a writer's retreat because I thought I would be cold?

Remember the time I got hooked on Six Feet Under, and could watch an entire disc worth of episodes in one sitting?

Remember the time I was visiting New York, and was in a store with Sara, and when the saleswoman asked if I needed anything I went into an uncontrollable coughing fit and she had to go get me some water, and then I left without buying anything?

Remember the time that stupid Michael Jackson song kept getting stuck in my head?

Remember the time I still had it in my head the next time I tried to write something?

Remember the time Michael Jackson was still cute, and I had a copy of the Thriller LP, and when you opened it up there was a picture of him in a white suit, reclining in soft focus with two tiger cubs?

Remember the time I showed up an hour early because I hadn't set my clock back an hour?

Remember the time I was pick pocketed in the train station right after landing in Paris, and I had my friend's money in my wallet as well as my own?

Remember the time I couldn't stop scanning the streets, looking for the person who might try to rob me next?

Remember the time I ate six oranges in one sitting?

Remember the time Amanda bit into a green bean and found half a worm in it?

Remember the time I bought a yogurt at the 7-11 next to my office, and when I got back upstairs realized that the seal had been broken but ate it anyway?

Remember the time I ate fried grasshoppers because that's what all the boys were doing, and I decided that they tasted just like chicken?