Saturday, June 22, 2013

An unusual location

I have discovered that my iPod (that's right. Pod. Not phone. Not pad. You know about me and the dearth of "devices") no longer will allow me to get online. It offers me wireless accounts, it shows me bars, but it will not actually connect to anything. So much for that brilliant travel plan. Now I have to just swipe my friends' computers when I want to see if anyone is felling any important feelings on Facebook in my virtual absence.

Just now as I was logging in, Blogger presented me with a security screen that said, "It looks like you're logging in from an unusual location." I can't lie to you, Blogger. I am in Amherst, MA which is not unusual if, for instance, you are my friend who lives here and whose computer I have commandeered, but if you are me, it is unusual. Amherst is green and leafy and full of tidy, pleasing white houses with porches. It's hot, but not unbearably so. It is, as anticipated, summer. I find this very exciting, despite the numerous (and possibly extra poisonous?) mosquito bites. Last night the grownups drank gin and played Taboo (which is what I would do every night if I could). My friend tried to persuade us that "throw in the boot" is a British expression meaning "to die." It isn't. She was tired. So don't try to make yourself fit in in some pub by saying things like, "I want to spend everything I've got before I throw in the boot. After all, you can't take it with you." They'll probably say "Throw what in the boot?" And then you'll have this baffling exchange about the various meanings of "boot." It's better not to even go down that road.

Later today, we are going to Lake Wyola. Cara, who is seven, was incredulous that I have never been there. She seems to regard it as something of a personal failing that an adult who has the free will to go wherever I want whenever I want has not had the simple common sense to go there repeatedly. "You've never been to Lake Wyola? But it's the best place in the world!" So, in short, I'm going to the best place in the world this afternoon. I'm sorry not to be able to take you along. If it makes you feel any better, Ben, who is nine, thinks coming to Western Mass for one's vacation shows a remarkable lack of imagination if not, indeed, intelligence.

Before I came here (by train, ostensibly, but also by bus, due to some track work outside of Springfield. For your future reference, trains are more comfortable than buses.) I was in NY for one night. I flew into Newark and then waited for a shuttle bus into Manhattan. A shuttle bus that later proved to be run by a team of mostly mute, very rude people one of whom--hilariously, in my opinion--later solicited tips by muttering "tip, tip, tip" not quite under his breath. Here's a tip: don't be a total asshole and then expect me to hand you supplementary cash.

While waiting for the bus, I was approached by a tall, startlingly handsome (oh, the cheekbones!) young Asian man who wanted to verify that it was a bus into the city. His English was shaky. Since the bus personnel was clearly not going to be of any use, I adopted him. We sat next to each other on the bus and he informed me that he had never been out of China before, but, after one night in the city, he would be in Sarasota Springs for four months working with other international students.

We got off the bus at Port Authority and I planned to just hop in a taxi and head uptown, but then I looked around. There was, um, a lot going on. If I had just arrived from China, had never traveled in my life, had been on a plane for twelve hours, and then in customs in New Jersey for three, I would not want to be abandoned with a large suitcase in Times Square. After a couple of false starts, we made it down into the subway and I managed to sort out our Metrocards and we both succeeded in getting our suitcases through the turnstyle, which felt like something of a triumph. We rewarded each other for each accomplishment with radiant smiles.

I saw him to the top of the stairs at the downtown A, C, E, reviewed his itinerary with him once more, and shook his hand. He took mine in both of his and shook it warmly, while thanking me very much. I told him to have a great time and made my way to the 1. He stood at the top of the stairs and waved very solemnly for a long while as I walked away. It was a little bit heartbreaking, but I am confident he is now safely in Sarasota Springs with a bunch of new friends. After four months, I'm sure his English will be able to vanquish any number of non-communicative bus drivers.

I did eventually make it to W 86th and later, as though to reward me for my good Samaritanism, my cousin and I had milkshakes.

The end.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Vacation Eve

The first question is why does it take me so long to pack when I've just got one small suitcase? I have no idea. Presumably it is a mystery held alongside why it takes me so long to clean a rather modest one-bedroom apartment. Nevertheless, I think I've got everything in order at last. In the morning, I will arise at an hour I usually prefer to leave to its own devices and trundle off to the airport wishing I were less spindly and/or not afflicted with an escalator phobia. There is always more suitcase hoisting than I wish there were.

But then I'll arrive! In summer!

A colleague and I were talking today about how difficult it is to pack in San Francisco and simultaneously suspend your disbelief sufficiently to fully commit to the notion of heat. She confessed that it is impossible for her to pack to go anywhere without at least one wool sweater. I've got two in my bag."In the evening, the fog will roll in" becomes a state of mind. On Saturday I went with some friends to see Raiders of the Lost Arc in Dolores Park. Everyone takes a picnic and when it gets dark, they show the movie. I believe this is a common summertime activity all over the country if not, indeed, the world. The problem is that here it is freezing. The fog blows into Dolores Park with a vengeance of an evening. As all the revelers got off the bus, we could easily have been mistaken for Arctic explorers. In fact, the only time all year that I routinely wear my down jacket is for summer movies in Dolores Park. My colleague puzzled over why San Franciscans are doggedly determined to have these traditional outdoor summer events and I don't really know. We just don't want to be left out.

I am quite delighted to be included in a real way, though. In a leave-your-down-jacket-at-home kind of way. In a don't-forget-your-bathing-suit kind of way. Indeed, I am promised Pimm's cup and swimming in a lake. Also, I'll bet there will be significantly less pot smoke. Just in general. The hallmarks of the San Francisco outdoor gathering: you're freezing and you're either smoking pot yourself or getting a contact high because you are the only one who isn't. As we walked out of the park after approximately three and a half hours of freezing and inhaling, we passed through yet another pungent cloud, at which point my friend said, "Do you think there's any pot left to smoke in the world?"

This is entirely unrelated, but on my mind. A friend of mine called me from Paris today to tell me that he is moving to Brazil. He also told me the history of the potato in Ireland for some reason. That was novel. My French isn't what it once was, so it is with some relief that I tell you the word "famine" is essentially the same in both languages. If you don't know the word for famine, the whole Irish potato story loses a lot of its punch. The Brazil relocation is not unexpected; he has been splitting his time between the two places for years with the intention of moving permanently. I was still strangely blindsided by the news. I used to have a lot of friends in Paris, but he was the last of them--and the only vrai parisien, born and raised. For me the two of them, the city and the man, are inextricably linked and matter to me equally. Quite selfishly, I hate to think of him not being there. I'm not sure there's enough sunscreen in the world to get me to Brazil, but we'll see. Tu me manqueras, mon beau.

Bon. That's enough of that.

If I don't go to bed, I'm likely to miss my plane altogether and that won't do at all. Happy summer to you. Here's hoping yours doesn't require mittens.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Title Schmitle

Hi. I'm still here. Sorry about that. Sometimes when I am Participating, I fail on the Chronicling. But right now I will chronicle up a storm in the hopes that it will tide you over since I am hitting the trail on Wednesday morning and, as you know, I've not got much in the way of wireless devices.

Last week, I saw three plays, which is a lot, even for me. The reading of Hapgood they did at ACT was delightful; and had a joke about a lemon I enjoyed. The next day I went to Berkeley Rep to see Dear Elizabeth, a play comprised entirely from letters between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, two poets I knew nothing about, which is unsurprising as I know nearly nothing about any poets (sorry, poets). It broke my heart. The actor playing Robert Lowell strikingly reminded me of an erstwhile friend of mine, so I took the whole play rather personally and felt a sense of loss that I cannot be certain is entirely contained in the script. Also, the water seemed extraneous. (Just because you can have water cascade over the stage doesn't mean you need do it constantly.) However, those things notwithstanding, it might break your heart too. Or perhaps it will attune you to those you love. Just after the play, when we were shuffling our tear-streaked selves out into the aisle, I heard this exchange from the white-haired couple (subscribers for over twenty years I heard them mention earlier) in the row behind mine.
She: Finishes her yawn with a little sing-song tone.
He: I love your voice. [Pause.] Maybe it's a sentimental thing to say, but I do love your voice.
She: I'm glad you do.

Lovely, no?

On Friday, I saw This is How it Goes at the Aurora. It made me uncomfortable. In a good way. I mean, not like I thought "wow! this is a great way to feel uncomfortable!" More like, "Damn. This is a pretty ballsy play. Did he just say the N word again? Yikes." Also, I have a crush on Gabe Marin. There. My secret's out. If you're reading this, Gabe Marin [sadly, you're not], I'll buy you a drink some Monday night. We've met. It won't be weird. Unless you're married, in which case, you're right, it will be weird.

On Thursday I drank a curious assortment of booze with my lovely friend Liz who (bad news) lives in Canada these days, but (good news) came to visit. We went to Novela which has only been open for about a week meaning that I am officially very cutting edge (let the record show). However, since I had only seen pictures of it online, empty and shown to attractive advantage, I had made up a whole story about how it would be that proved totally false. (Hey! Raise your hand if you just noticed an uncanny similarity to online dating.) They have this whole literary theme and I was imagining smallish and conversation-amenable, but it is largish, packed with post-work drinkers, and loud. Oh, so very loud. Why all the bass, Novela? You promised me books. Still, it's pretty.

They serve a variety of punches and, ideal for people like me who are indecisive, have them available by the flight of three. That is how I came to have rum and gin and cognac all in one sitting. Later, apparently feeling that we should drink more things, we ended up in Harry Denton's Starlight Room on the top floor of the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. I had never been up there, but that Liz, she gets around. Here is what it's like: a stranger's wedding with an impressive view and a no-host bar with expensive drinks. Curious. But if you want to do some awkward wedding-style dancing with a bunch of people of radically different ages, none of whom live here, the Starlight Room is the place for you. I think you should go with Liz because she can lip sync to a surprising number of hip-hop songs, and that will be fun for you, but, as I've mentioned, she (tragically) lives in Canada, so it might be hard to align your schedules.

Saturday featured a return to cold, damp fields, but there simply isn't time to tell you about that now. You can wait breathlessly for tomorrow. I don't mean that literally, of course. If you hold your breath until tomorrow, you won't make it to tomorrow and then we both lose.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

You looking at me?

I heard on the radio this morning a story about a man who stole a phone from a woman at gunpoint and was later arrested when police used the phone's GPS tracking to locate him. Later, he appealed his conviction claiming that the use of the GPS infringed on his right to privacy. Are you filled with rage right now? Because I am filled with rage right now.

The good news: the court responded with the legal version of "you have got to be kidding me" and his conviction was upheld.

The bad news is that, first of all, there is a man who steals things from people while threatening to shoot them. (In fact, there are a lot of them. I would prefer there were none.) What's more, he thinks everyone should pretty much mind their own beeswax because stealing is kind of private.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cold, damp fields

I am home in my jammies (well, if you want hard-edged journalistic realism, I don't actually have jammies, but I am wearing assorted knitwear in which I slept and in which I would not leave the house unless there were some kind of emergency. In fact, now that I think about it, I didn't even wear sweatpants when I went to the emergency room at 4:30 in the morning back in October. There are Standards around here. A slightly hilarious assertion in that my desk is nearly entirely obscured by piles of detritus and, just a couple feet to my left, there is an armchair draped with several articles of clothing and a queen-sized duvet). Right. What was I saying? I'm at home. I'm not wearing real clothes. I have a headache and a thing that wants to be a sore throat that I am trying to beat back into submission with the dreaded pomegranate tea I drank by the gallon six months ago and wished never to see again.


I was so close to avoiding the last spate of high school viruses, but then there was this past weekend: A Festival of Fields. I think it pushed me one step closer to the viral chasm.

Field # 1: Graduation
I am in charge of graduation at the school where I work and I have been for years and years. Yet, even now, it fills me with anxiety. (On Friday before I left work, the strawberries had yet to be delivered. That night, I had a dream that I was teaching playwriting in someone's house and the phone rang and rang. When I finally answered it, it was a colleague who said, "I'm at the farmer's market. Should I just buy strawberries?" I opened my eyes. It was 4am. That kind of anxiety.) It seems to be part of a deeply cherished tradition that this event be held outdoors, despite the fact that when events are outdoors, you have no control over them. When I am in charge of events, I enjoy having control over them. You see the conflict. I would be so thrilled to hold this event in a place that already has seats and tables and parking. Such places do exist, I'm told, they are called "theatres." However, this is never to be.

This year, there was much talk of a heat wave. We have had extraordinarily hot graduations in the past and it's not pretty. People get all Lord of the Flies about it and come steal whole bottles of water for themselves that are meant to serve four; grandparents huddle under the food-prep tent; everyone gets dangerous sunburns. I was certain we would be facing a no-shade graduation and duly slathered myself with sunscreen, put on gauzy clothing, and put my parasol in the car. I put my apartment in Heat Wave Mode, opening the windows, but closing all the blinds, even those that are left open year round, modesty be damned. I have learned from experience that coming home hot and exhausted from cake-wrangling, walking into a stifling apartment is simply insulting. I left my neighborhood in bright sunshine, but when I arrived on site at 8am, the whole area was shrouded in fog. And so it remained for the subsequent six hours. If anything, it got colder as the day wore on. As did I, in my melange of inadequate fabrics.

A variety of other things went wrong, but I will spare you. The important things went well: the volunteers were aces; the flowers were pretty; the speeches were touching; and 90 students graduated from high school. As I was doing my last walk-through the field with a trash bag, I came across one of my newly-graduated playwrights whom I'd yet to congratulate. I gave her a hug and she said, "You're so cool." I wasn't feeling too cool at that particular moment, nor did I know she thought I was cool to begin with. It just about knocked me over. That, in a nutshell, is why I still work there.

I got home, took a shower, put on many woolen things, and drank a pot of tea while under a blanket, listening to the wind howl in the chimney. Heat wave! [Reportedly, it was 98 degrees in Marin.]

Field # 2: The Dipsea
Graduation always falls on the same weekend as the Dipsea, which wouldn't be such a big deal--after all, I don't run the Dipsea--but I am the sort who gets up at 10am on weekends, so two 6:45am's in a row makes me grouchy. Still, I got up at the appointed hour and was on the road to Stinson Beach by 7:15. I thought I had learned a valuable lesson and brought fog-sufficient clothing. I was unprepared for the level of dampness. It was the type of morning that the Golden Gate Bridge was invisible from a distance, and driving across it is a strange act of faith, since the only part you can see is that five feet ahead of your car. I had the windshield wipers on the whole way to the beach. And then I stood in a damp field for six hours. Call it a hobby.

What? Oh. Right. There was also a race. It went fine. My father maintained his time from the year before and finished in the top 100 as had been his goal. Also, 1,499 other less important people ran it.

Field # 3: High School Reunion
I left the Dipsea during the end of the awards ceremony where the people who are not my father were getting trophies so that I could be slightly ahead of the traffic on my way back over the mountain. I was certain that the fog would have long since burned off in Mill Valley and my last event of the day would be, if not hot, at least dry. Ha. Welcome to summer, suckers.

I stood there in the freezing wind under a couple of trees in Boyle Park with a gaggle attractive, cold adults whom I'd known as attractive, cold teenagers a great many years ago. Well, we weren't cold all the time, but there is a lot of fog in Mill Valley, so neither did we spend high school fending off heat exhaustion. Of course, I was cold nearly all the time because being cold nearly all the time is my superpower. That and crying. Look, no one is saying these are good or useful superpowers; I'm just letting you know that they're the ones I got. My mother fears I do not assert myself, so I assume during the doling out of powers I was saying, "Oh no, you go ahead." to everyone until there were just a couple left. Anyway, it was nice to see those grown-up kids, particularly the day after a high school graduation. I like them; they're still funny. As an added bonus, there were a lot of hugs, which are good when you're cold. Also, just good. I learned that I can still make my best friend laugh during serious moments. I haven't really kept in practice, so it's good to know it's a skill I can still draw on when the need arises. I was also invited to a BBQ in Brooklyn. Really, from a personal standpoint, quite a successful event. Nevertheless, I could only manage to stand in that field for about three hours before thawing was required.

When I got home, I fell asleep on the sofa at about 8:30 and slept for approximately 11 hours. I would have thought that 11 hours of blanket-wrapped slumber would have been sufficient to undo any ill effects of fifteen rather emotional hours in damp fields, but the headache says otherwise. More revolting tea is in order, I fear. And a nap.

Friday, June 07, 2013

School's out!

It is the last day of high school (again.) I never imagined I would see so many last days of high school, but here I am.

Last day of school.
Graduation tomorrow.
Then, on Sunday, a high school reunion because there was a time I did actually attend high school as a student myself.

I assume this is why I have an aggressive pimple on the end of my nose. My body probably thought we were having a whimsical adolescent-themed weekend and wanted to get into the spirit of the thing.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

All choked up

Today, a very small group of us gathered to present a gift to our afternoon crossing guard who is retiring. He is a very kind man, but because his English is very limited my conversations with him have likewise been limited to hello, goodbye, thank you, and comments on the weather. In China, I am told, he was an engineer.

As six of us stood around a table, smiling enthusiastically, gesturing at his present (which, naturally, I wrapped), he smiled back and said "thank you." Then he held up the "wait just a minute" finger, as he reached into his inside pocket. He pulled out a small, slightly crumpled piece of paper from which he read, with difficulty, a speech he had written, perhaps with the help of his wife. He said that his work had been a pleasure. That it was unforgettable. That the time he'd spent at the school had been during an important part of his life.

We clapped. By some miracle, I didn't cry. He smiled broadly and shook some hands, but indicated his watch and moved toward the door. He couldn't be loitering around; it was time to pick up his stop sign and head out to the crosswalk.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Good news / bad news

I did forget to go to the school circus today, which disappoints me for obvious reasons. However, this morning, my urologist admired my necklace and laughed at my jokes, so I consider it pretty much a wash. He is a very nice man, my urologist. Plus, remember that pee story I never told you? Of course you don't. It's hard to keep track of stories that people are too lazy to actually recount. Sorry about that. I may yet tell you that story, since it's so entertaining. For now, let's just say that there was peeing and subsequent analysis and my numbers are (ready?) excellent. Excellent. Suck it, would-be kidney stones of the future.

While sitting in the exam room waiting for the doctor, I was reading my library book (and feeling quite pleased with myself for having remembered to bring it). It happens to be Drinking with Men, a title that has evoked comment at not one but two doctor's appointments this week.

"What are you reading?" he asks, entering the exam room. "Drinking with Men. A thing I feel I should be doing a great deal more of." Cue: general mirth. We discuss the test results; restraint vis à vis drinking black tea is (disappointingly) counseled. In summation, he says, "So keep drinking water, eating a low-salt diet, and drinking with men and you should be all set." I defy you to tell me a time your doctor told you you may not drink tea, but are free to frequent bars like a floozy. I plan to take him up on it. Conversely, my gynecologist did not give me the green light on drinking with men, but neither did she expressly forbid it. It is worth noting that the urologist has a significantly more robust sense of humor than the gynecologist. I don't know whether there are subsequently any conclusions to be drawn about their areas of medical expertise. I expect not. After all, two people is an awfully small sample size for even the most casual research project.

Later, I called ACT to tell them that I was going to let my subscription lapse because I just can't get excited about more than two of next season's seven plays. I am truly very sorry to let my beloved seats go after at least a decade of subscribing (that's at least 70 plays, not counting the many I saw before I was a subscriber, including A Christmas Carol when I was a little girl), but I don't have enough money to pay for plays I don't want to see.

Now then. When I share this news with subscription services, do I expect them to beg with me to stay? Do I insist that they keen and rend their garments? Of course not. But I did expect him to say, "Oh, you're such a long-time subscriber. We're sorry to see you go." Maybe that was an unreasonable expectation. I don't think so, particularly since my relationship with that theatre is probably considerably longer than his, but maybe. I definitely didn't expect him to sound, from the moment he answered the phone, as though I was greatly inconveniencing him by calling at all. I didn't expect him to be brusque and dismissive and exasperated. I hung up not just annoyed, but offended and actually kind of hurt. I ended up calling some poor woman in the Marketing/PR department to hear my grievance during which conversation I began sniveling. In short, a mean subscription man made me cry. Good lord. It's a wonder I make it though the day. I am ridiculous. However, the marketing lady was very sympathetic and said all the right things and I felt better. Humiliated by my own crybaby ways, of course, but better on the whole. Thanks, marketing lady! As for seats N 113-114, we've had a good run. I'll miss you guys.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Wrapping it up

On my way home, I was writing this in my head and I thought I'd say: it's not just that I can't drum up the necessary oomph to write, I can't even muster the determination to have my increasingly reptilian nails seen to by trained professionals. And while I can't qualify pedicures as relaxing, neither can I claim that they require a great deal of exertion on my part.

Then guess what? I narrated myself right to the nail salon. But not before I returned a book to the library. I am a DYNAMO.

As a special reward, the scary pain-inducing lady wasn't even there and now, thanks to the reasonably gentle lady, I write to you with unshameful toenails.

We are drawing another school year to a close, which is pleasant in a way, but also carries with it the stomach-knotting anxiety that is graduation. They are predicting a heat wave for Saturday, which, experience suggests, means that everyone's grandmas will be clamoring for shade under the food-prep canopy and rogue agents will steal whole bottles of water that were meant to serve at least four. It isn't pretty. Please cross your fingers that it turns out to be a pleasant 75 degrees with a light breeze and that people do not feel compelled to linger too long over their cake because, frankly, while we are proud of the Class of 2013, much as we have been proud of every class before them, we, the humble staff, are quite tired and would like to go home.

Aside from a cavalcade of events, the end of the year is punctuated by gift-giving. We are a generous institution. Many, actually most, of these gifts I select myself, which I don't mind. In fact, it is quite a lot of fun to buy presents for people with A) someone else's money, but B) no risk of incarceration. I am also the in-house gift-wrapper, which is as close as I get to crafting. Though I can't sew and tentative forays into paper flower construction and furniture painting have yielded, at best, modest results, I really enjoy wrapping presents. In fact, this is not the time to be humble: I'm good. I look forward to it as a respite from the springtime graduation anxiety, but this year was a veritable onslaught of occasion. This spring, I wrapped 26 presents.
Basically, I am Santa Claus now. Or an elf. No. Santa sounds better.
I will be putting that on my resume.