Wednesday, February 24, 2010

All Is Vanity

Today I saw perhaps the most intriguing license plate yet.  It read as follows:  OUT NOW.  I was immediately struck by the possibilities for interpretation on this one, so here are six hidden messages I think might be lurking beneath those six letters.

The person driving . . .

1.  Really wants us to bring the troops home.
2.  Is no longer in the closet.
3.  Was recently released from prison.
4.  Is no longer popular.
5.  Would like to announce that they're not cooped up with the kids.
6.  Wants to car-jack you.

Any other suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Just Say Neigh

I was just reading through an old journal, and I came across an entry that simply listed a headline I'd seen that day on Yahoo News.  It may only have appeared briefly, but I was lucky enough to catch it:

"Girl Kicked By Horse in Stable Condition"

Thank you, lazy editors of the world.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Swifter, Higher, More Nerve-Wracking

So I'm pretty sure I should never be allowed to watch the Olympics.

I don't mean that I should only be granted access to the highlights to prevent me from wasting entire days and nights watching the full coverage (which I do). I mean there should be a media blackout every two years, and only in my apartment. You may be thinking, "Why would Courtney need a Costas-free zone?  She's not athletic in the least!" Well, here it is: When it comes to the Olympics, I just get too invested.

It's those damn inspirational featurettes on all the athletes that does me in. Really, in the end, I'd rather not know what hardship or disease or injury or tragedy that ski jumper overcame to get to this point ... this twenty seconds that cost him the last twenty years of his life ... this split second that will define his entire career. It's too much pressure, for him and for me. But now I'm in it with him. Curse you, NBC!  You made me care.

Figure skating and gymnastics are almost unbearable for me, although of course I watch them, sometimes through my fingers. It's just too much heartbreak, people. Too much drama. Last night I heard myself say on more than one occasion, "I think I'm gonna throw up." This is a phrase that should never be associated with something as innocuous as a triple salchow.

These are the two things that come out of my mouth most often while watching Olympic coverage (other than outrageous bursts of profanity; much like when I play video games, I simply cannot be held responsible for my language during sporting events):

1.  "GO-GO-GO-GO-GO!"  I shout this without even knowing it, at an insane volume, and it apparently applies to all situations in all sports.
2.  "Oh, look how happy they are!" Invariably I find myself weeping along with the competitors and their families, even if I'd previously been rooting against them.

And I do root against them, because for some reason, I'm all about that effing medal count. I'm not proud of it, and I'm not typically uber-nationalistic, but I watch that tally like a hawk ... or an eagle, as the case may be.

I don't know where this competitive streak comes from, because I don't rabidly follow sports on a regular basis (with the exception of World Cup Soccer, but that's only every four years, so some spectacular enthusiasm is practically mandated). I loves me some Roger Federer, and I'm a fair-weather Twins fan, but you won't find me painted up in the stands somewhere, waving a flag like a crazy person.

Here's the thing about me, though. Maybe it's because I'm a bit ambivalent, but I can really get invested in any sport. Even if I have no idea what's going on, I just have to pick a side and go with it. When I was in Ireland, I was enthralled with cricket. In Japan, I was glued to those sumo tournaments. I can even sit with my dad and watch NASCAR for an afternoon. So maybe my mania is purely situational.

I'll end with Exhibit A for why my Olympic viewing privileges should be revoked, and I hate to admit it, but this is true. In 2004, I was watching the Athens games, and the US men's relay swimming team was battling Australia for the gold. (This was the precursor to the Phelps fever that hit Beijing in 2008, during which my friends and I cheered so loudly that we blatantly woke up a baby.)

I'm standing in my living room, crouched slightly, very intent on the action unfolding on the TV, and suddenly the US wins, and I, in some random burst of childlike joy, decide that an appropriate spontaneous celebration would be to yelp and leap into the air. With my fists stretched straight up in victory. Which, combined with my freakishly long monkey arms and my jump, made me roughly 8' 3".  I had 8' ceilings. Covered in popcorn finish.

Here's what happened: I managed not only to take a chunk out of the ceiling, but also to take most of the skin off all my knuckles. So as Michael Phelps was climbing out of the pool, I was standing amid a shower of bloody plaster. But you know what? I was still happy.

Plus, in the days that followed, when people asked me what the hell happened to my hands, I could shrug and say matter-of-factly, "Bar room brawl." And that, my friends, was as good as gold.

Monday, February 15, 2010

eM hsaW

I saw a car the other day with a fresh coating of snow on its back window (not a shocker in MN). What was interesting is that someone had taken time out of their day to carefully scrawl "Fuck Dave" in the pristine white powder. 

This wasn't a hasty scribble.  It was printed in all caps, thoughtful and neat and deliberate.

I was immediately intrigued by this for several reasons. First, who's Dave?  Is he the driver of the car?  If so, the epithet must be quite personal. Whoever wrote it has to either know which car Dave drives (a disgruntled neighbor or coworker perhaps) or, in an even better scenario, ride in that car with him often enough to think he's an asshole (a carpool buddy, perhaps a girlfriend).

Then again, the message wasn't "Fuck you, Dave," so maybe that car is just an unwitting bearer of a larger message, much as a graffitied bus bench can be.  *See my posting from September 2, 2008, titled "Dylan, What Did You Do?"

Next question: How long do you think Dave drove around that day before noticing that he was viewing all the vehicles behind him through a smear on his good name? If the message's author had really been thinking, and if the sentiment was indeed personal, it should have been written backward, so that it was clearly readable in the rear view. It's not like the rest of us wouldn't have figured it out. Plus, it really would have packed a wallop as soon as Dave threw that car in reverse.

My point is this: If you're going to use nature as a dry erase board of profanity, make it count. Be inventive. Have a sense of humor, like the person who wrote "SLUR" on the back of a bus seat. 

I'll give this particulr vandal props, though. Because we use snow for many things ... we make angels with it, we build men out of it, but I've never before seen the F-bomb rendered so perfectly in it.

Friday, February 12, 2010

When Too Much Information Happens to Good People

Today's word: overshare. We all know what this means -- someone tells us more than we ever wanted to know, and it's usually embarrassing for both us and them. Typically during an overshare, though you may be uncomfortable, you should probably keep nodding and smiling to avoid being impolite. But this requires ignoring the voice in your head that is just screaming, screaming, screaming, "Please, God, make it stop!"

I had the distinct displeasure of working with an oversharer when I lived in Japan. One of my fellow teachers, who was about my age (early 20s at the time) used to give me detailed updates about her "lady days." I don't know why.  I never asked or ventured to discuss my own. Maybe she was showing off her English skills.  Maybe she thought it would bring us closer. Maybe she'd been watching too much Sex and the City and assumed that's how all liberated American women talked to each other. 

Whatever her reasons, she decided early on that we would be gyno-buddies, and I never figured out how to dissuade her. And I couldn't really afford to offend her and lose someone who could converse in my language, even if those exchanges invariably included more information than I wanted about her womanly cycles.

But an overshare doesn't have to be verbal. Sometimes it's just visual. There are few things more entertaining or uncomfortable than people who read self-help books in public. A lady on my bus the other morning was earnestly devouring something like "When Things Fall Apart," and I simultaneously wanted to look hurriedly away and hug her. Because isn't reading that stuff openly just a big cry for help? Isn't it putting all your secret insecurities on display?

I guess what worries me is the regular riders on my route. There are several people I see every day (and have seen every day for the past three years) whose names I don't know. I might have an idea where they work and can guess at where they live judging by their stop, but otherwise, if I'm going to refer to them, I have to make something up. Usually my names are attached to something they always wear, or some celebrity they resemble, or a defining characteristic. Here are a few of my favorites:

Blue Hat Guy (self-explanatory), Land's End Guy (because he looks like a silver fox catalog model), Drunk Girl (not because she actually is drunk, but because that's how she sounds), Bad Mom (because she's consistently mean to her kids), Ewan McGregor (again, self-explanatory), Mini McDreamy (because he looks like Patrick Dempsey but about 3/4 his size).

So, if I'm in the habit of boiling people down to highly superficial caricatures, I can only imagine that others do this to me. Perhaps Yellow Coat Girl, or Sleepy McSleeperton. If I'm sitting there reading "I'm Okay, You're Okay," how long will it be before I'm Crazy Chick or Desperate Housewife or Fragile McGee?

Incidentally, here's a great game to play on the bus when you're bored.  It's called "If I Had To." Here's how it works. You wait until the bus is packed, and then you make note of all the men on board, and you decide who you would sleep with if you had to. If the person you picked exits, you have to have a backup. (Of course, you can never tell him he's your second choice, but a girl's gotta be prepared). Let me tell you, the pickins are slim some days. Land's End Guy starts to look pretty good after Mini McDreamy pulls that stop cord.

In any case, the visual overshare was painfully obvious to me last week, when I happened to look forward and there, over the shoulder of the girl in front of me, was an open spiral notebook with what appeared to be a heartfelt but anguished letter. To whom? I have no idea. Why you would write something like that on public transportation, I don't know either. But my eyes traveled over the phrase, "I don't claim to be a saint or even a good person. I don't feel like I've ever belonged anywhere or with anyone . . ."

Normally I'm not above surreptitious sneak-reading, but that little snippet was just too personal to invade. The devil on my shoulder whispered, "Go ahead, this is going to be juicy!" but the angel on my other shoulder stole his pitchfork and stabbed me in the neck with it till I turned my head in the opposite direction. Which is what effective angels need to do, sometimes, in the interest of avoiding the overshare.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Today's Lesson: Hot Things are Dangerous

I'm telling the following story for only one purpose:  I'd like you to conjure this image whenever you're feeling a little down or uncoordinated, because I guarantee you'll feel better about yourself afterward.

So tonight I got home from work and decided to make supper.  Something easy, something that I could split up into individual portions and take to work for the rest of the week.  I settled on goulash and spaghetti, both lovely midwestern dishes whose recipes start (as every good dinner should) with 1 lb. of hamburger.

I was cooking away quite successfully, using three of four burners.  I'm not bragging.  On the back burner I had my goulash noodles, hamburger, onions, and tomato soup simmering, and on the front I had my spaghetti sauce warming up.  I reached over the sauce to add some cheese to the goulash, and right as my arm passed over the front pot, the molten blob of Prego inside decided to bubble up and explode.

Now, I'm not sure what went through my mind in that split second when the sauce hit my skin, but I think I may have assumed I'd been rudely assaulted in some fashion, or perhaps that an invisible cowboy ninja had stabbed me with a tiny branding iron.  The point is this -- whatever fired between my synapses, it directed my body to spasm violently backward, my outstretched and sizzling arm jerking up, hand contracting.

It's important to note that in that hand was an open bag of shredded cheese.

What resulted was a veritable downpour of monterey jack.  No, more like a snowstorm.  Except instead of the 10" currently falling outside, this one was in my kitchen, and there was no way my landlord was going to come shovel it for me.

After the explosion, I pulled myself together enough to realize what had happened, turned down the burner, and stuck my arm under the faucet.  When I looked up to find a wall covered in sauce and a floor covered in cheese, I wished as I have never wished before that, like an updated Nixon, I secretly videotaped my apartment, so that I could review the previous two minutes in slow motion. Oh, Rose Mary Woods, what treasures slipped through your fingers back in the day?

We'll never know.  All I know is that I now have a dime-sized burn glowing on my wrist, courtesy of nobody but me.  And Prego.  And that invisible cowboy ninja.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

And Now, For My Next Trick, I'll Need a Volunteer

On Friday morning, my bus stopped at a railroad crossing.  The gate was down, the lights were flashing, this is not anything new.  What was new was this:  there was no train.  No train in sight, no heavily-graffitied cars rolling past at a snail's pace, not even a rumbling in the distance.

So there we were.  Waiting.  The bus driver radioed in about our predicament, and we continued to wait, watching a line of cars and trucks steadily grow across the tracks.  

"I'm sorry, but we have to wait here until this gate is fixed."  The driver was a small woman with a badass streak.  Two days before, a woman running late had risked being hit by a car to cross the street and then darted in front of the bus in an attempt to catch it.  By way of an admonishment (or punishment) the driver had simply glared through the side door and driven off without her.  Definitely no-nonsense.

I was happy for the explanation, however.  I'm always grateful to drivers who dare to actually use those speakers to give the passengers reasons for delays and alternate routes.  Two weeks ago I was asleep on the way home and didn't see that a traffic accident up ahead was causing us to re-route and backtrack. Consequently, I woke up in a panic, looking out at an industrial parking lot and assuming I'd taken the 5:15 to Murderville by mistake.

Another five minutes went by. Still no train. I don't think I can fully convey how long ten minutes is when you're sitting stationary on a bus that should already have picked up 20 more people and be on its way into downtown.  Well, it's not an hour stuck on an icy on-ramp to I-94, but that's another story for another time.

Let me just say that the waiting was not a problem for me personally.  If my iPod is fully charged, I have no problem sitting and staring out a window, lost in my thoughts. During the next couple songs, the cars that had been queued up across from us and behind us began to realize that they, too, could be here all day if they didn't take matters into their own hands, and began snaking around the gates.

Suddenly the bus driver stood up.  "I can't cross these tracks, or I might lose my job."

In my head I thought, "OK, but which one of us is going to say anything?  We just want to get to work.  I promise, if I'm grilled down at the Metro Transit station, I'll deny everything.  Even if they good-cop/bad-cop me, I won't squeal!"

She continued, "I need someone to spot me so I can back up."

Immediately, this man and woman, who at first appeared to be a couple but later turned out didn't even know each other, stood up and volunteered.  They then exchanged a few quick confirmations with the driver of appropriate hand signals, as if they were amateur traffic cops secretly waiting for their big chance or Eagle scouts looking for the perfect opportunity to earn their transit badges, before barreling off the bus into the street.

Now, I'm not an expert on this kind of thing, but doesn't it seem that sending two passengers out into the middle of mid-morning traffic, on a narrow road coated with ice and snow, to guide the bus two blocks in reverse and through a stoplight (so we could turn and take a route that circumvented the malfunctioning gate) is slightly more dangerous to their safety than rolling forward 30 feet across the tracks when clearly there is no imminent danger?  Again, not an expert ... I'm just saying.

Logic aside, we managed to make the turn amid comparatively few angry horn blasts, and the man and woman hopped back on board, none the worse for wear.  I shouted "Nice job!"  I couldn't help myself. The driver promised them free ride tickets.  I actually thought applause might have been in order. 

But then again, I think applause is always in order when you've witnessed something a bit out of the ordinary Or put your life at risk so that strangers can punch in on time and have yet another interesting story to tell over lunch.  And in a blog.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Never Judge a Monk by its Cover

So the other morning I was staring half-awake out of my bus window, and up ahead I saw a small car plastered with bumper stickers. Normally I'm fascinated by this phenomenon, which seems especially prevalent here in the Twin Cities, of using your vehicle to loudly proclaim your feelings about various topics (or, at least, as loudly as an 8x3" sheet of vinyl will allow) to the person waiting impatiently for you to make that left-hand turn.

I'm a bit torn between bumper stickers and vanity plates as hilarious social media. On one hand, the stickers are often clever. But on the other hand, vanity plates only allow you six or seven characters to be equally as clever. Plus there's the challenge of trying to figure them out. I keep a running list of my favorites off to the right.

But we were talking about bumper stickers. What I love are the messages, because they are rarely ambiguous or middle-of-the-road. You never see "Peace: Sometimes It's Nice" or "Part-Time NRA." And, in the case of what I call a bulletin-board bumper, there's usually a theme. You can typically infer a lot of things about someone from their vehicular menagerie of well-worn sentiments.

I enjoy few things more than people who are willing to deface their car in the interest of provocation. My favorite sticker to date read "God was my co-pilot, but we crashed in the mountains and I ate him." Believer or not, you have to appreciate the person who thought, "Yes. When people gaze upon me in traffic, this is the sentence I'd like them to take away from that experience."

I often wonder whether there are people out there who are driving around in used cars with bumper stickers that scream things they don't personally believe. Maybe they were too lazy to remove them, maybe they wouldn't come off, but for whatever reason, they just don't apply. Do they get horn blasts or middle fingers they don't deserve?

When I was about nine, my family went to Florida to visit some friends. It happened to be Halloween, and my sister and I were invited to a party, along with these friends' kids. I didn't have a costume, so I borrowed a mask from their son, who was about my age. I didn't realize two things: 1) He'd worn this mask before, and 2) Evidently he was not well-liked. 

So I got to this party and was immediately set upon by three or four older boys, who mistakenly thought I was him. I remember thinking, "What the hell did I ever do to you a-holes?" Well, that, and "Holy crap, I'm never gonna see Disneyworld!"

The point is this: Maybe we shouldn't assume that what's on the outside accurately reflects what (or who) is on the inside. Let me take you back to the small car outside my bus window the other morning. All the bumper stickers read "Free Tibet," and I was immediately and irrationally annoyed by this, since it seems a trendy thing to advocate. (I'm all for freeing Tibet, I just don't think you should cover your car with the slogan unless you're intimately acquainted with the situation and genuinely dedicated to the cause.)  

Which, in this case, the passengers were. As the bus pulled up alongside, I looked down into the car. Chock full of monks. Touché, monks. Touché.