Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On Not Having Any New Year's Eve Plans for the First Time, Like, Ever


Last night, I couldn't sleep because I was so upset about not being able to find plans for New Year's Eve. I worked myself into a full-scale panic about it, like it was the worst thing in the world.

It's not, of course, but somehow, right then, it felt like it. I LOVE New Year's Eve, & I've always to come up with fun plans for it - sequins, champagne, dancing, laughter. This year, I bought a pretty new gold-&-black skirt & brainstormed ideas for plans with friends, but I couldn't get any of it to pan out. And the idea of ringing in a new year in my pajamas, 30 & alone & living in my mom's house, was just about the most depressing thing I could imagine.

Eventually, I fell asleep around 3am (thanks, Ativan), & when I woke up this morning, I was surprised to find that I felt much more zen about the whole thing.

Maybe I don't have to always be doing something, surrounding myself with other people to fend off my deep-seated Fear Of Missing Out. Maybe I don't need sequins & champagne & dancing on December 31st anymore - or maybe I do, but it would probably not be the end of the world to take a one-year hiatus just to take it easy. Maybe, for once, it wouldn't kill me to ring in New Year's Eve with Ryan Seacrest & a spiked hot chocolate & a pair of sweatpants.

It's been a long year. A hard year. A busy year. An indecisive year. A go, go, go year. It's been a long December, & there's reason to believe maybe this year will be (please, universe, please) a little bit more settled than the last. Might as well start now.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Great Holiday Card Mess of 2014: It's the Thought that Counts


I've always taken great joy in writing out holiday cards to, like, everyone I know. I make a list, I check it twice, I divide it up by who celebrates which holiday, & then I select pretty, denominationally appropriate boxes of cards, usually from Target. I commit two or three days to banging out the project, writing, sealing, & stamping for hours until all my cards are neatly stacked in piles next to me, ready to be sent to their respective recipients.

This year, though, I dropped the ball. I had good intentions, & I started out started strong, organizing my address book using Postable. I chose three kinds of cards - a Christmas card, a generic holiday card, a Hanukkah card - & I made separate lists of who should receive each of them.

But I didn't dedicate any block of time to getting the cards finished. I wrote a few in early December, sending about a third of them out with plenty of time to spare. And then, on December 22nd, right down to the wire, I finished another third. In some of my messages, I admitted that I knew the cards wouldn't arrive until after the holidays. Haha, oops, silly me! I got them out late, but I still got most of them out. Not all of them, but a lot of them. (My apologies to the 20 or so people who I just didn't get to. It wasn't personal or alphabetical; I just didn't make it through the list.)

I thought I'd done an OK job, but then a few things happened:
  • I realized that I'd addressed my friend Akirah's card to her & her husband with her maiden name, which she no longer uses. I sent her an embarrassed & apologetic Facebook message, to which she kindly responded, "It's the thought that counts!"
  • On Friday, I got a text from my friend Sammi that just said "So..." with a photo of the Christmas card I'd sent to her & her boyfriend. Though the envelope was addressed to them, the card inside was written out to... Akirah & her husband. Apparently, when I'd re-addressed Akirah's envelope using her married name (which I don't remember doing), I mixed up the two cards, putting them in the wrong envelopes & sending my friends mail meant for one another. Each friend was kind enough to photograph the sentiments I'd scrawled inside the cards they'd received so I could text them to their intended recipients. It's the thought that counts?
  • I figured that was the end of my card mix-ups, but today I got a text from my friend Rence: "I've never been so lucky to receive two Christmas cards from someone!" Indeed, I had sent him two separate but nearly identical cards - one in the first round & one in the second, apparently. He then added, "You were consistent in your thoughts," sending a photo of the cards' insides, where I'd written nearly the exact same messages. It's the thought that counts.
So I guess I, uh, didn't do quite as good a job at my holidays cards as I thought I did. This year's debacle is in keeping with how I've been feeling lately: like a mess. It's been a long December, y'all...

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

New Hobby: Being a Crotchety Grammarian on the Internet


I did something totally obnoxious this week. I am under no illusions that this wasn't an obnoxious thing to do, but I felt compelled to move forward with it anyway: I called a Dunkin Donuts - on the telephone - to tell them that they'd misspelled a word on the electronic sign outside their store. It read, "CROISSANT DONUT IS HERE! GET YOURS BEFORE THERE GONE."

Nooope.

I prefaced my call with a disclaimer - "I know this is a super-weird reason to call you..." - & then laughed nervously as I relayed my message. Luckily, the guy on the other end laughed, too, & thanked me profusely. "How embarrassing," he told me, "We'll change it today. Seriously, thank you."

This is within the spectrum of things I do these days, apparently. (P.S., thanks for that turn of phrase, Lena Dunham.)

In the last month, I've tweeted corporate misspellings to not one, not two, but three companies. While I never call out individuals on such errors (unless they're really hysterical, like runaway autocorrects), but I tend to think brands have a responsibility to do/be/look more professional than individuals. And as someone who helps manage a brand, I know I appreciate it when someone lets me know where I've made a mistake (even if I also want to crawl in a hole about it).

The new hobby of mine started -where else? - with Starbucks, who I hoped might give me a free drink as a thank-you for my eagle eye. No dice; I guess public humiliation is not the best way to endear myself to my favorite coffee shop. Still, they corrected their typo the next day:



My streak continued with this TV show that I'd never before seen but still felt compelled to correct. I know Ohio's got some strangely named towns (Wapakoneta, anyone? Tuscarawas?), but if you're a TV segment reporting on Ohio towns, please get your ish together. (They did not respond to me.)



And then I found this tricky little typo hidden on a nicely designed yogurt lid. To this company's credit, they did respond to thank me for letting them know, though I assume it takes awhile to correct a mistake like this.


And then I called Dunkin Donuts, because apparently I'm a militant, fighting the war against corporate typos every day of my life.

Now accepting freelance copy-writing opportunities & prestigious full-time copy-editing job offers... or your company can just make a very public mistake & I can very publicly call you out on it. Ball's in your court, corporate America.*


*This sentence makes me sound like a total jerk, & I am seriously just kidding about it. I just really like spelling, OK?!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Shit Happens. Literally.

I'm not the kind of person who discusses or blogs about bodily functions, so bear with me. This is actually a story about my new car, I promise.

Look, I'm terrified of driving. As much as I hated relying on full buses & delayed Metro trains to take me where I needed to go, one of the best things about living in a city was not driving. I'm not very good at it, & I am very, very anxious about it (you're shocked, I know).

But you can't live in the suburbs of Ohio without a car. You just can't. For four weeks, I've lived like a 15-year-old, relying on my mother to drop me off everywhere & coordinating our schedules so I could borrow her car for a taste of independence every now & then. Cars are expensive, & car-shopping is terrifying, & I am not a fan of driving, but the suburbs don't care about any of that. I had to get a car, & soon.

After a frantic Facebook post about my plans to shop for a car on my own, my uncle offered to accompany me. He did all kinds of research, found a few cars he liked for me, & we went out for a few test drives on Monday night. I found a blue 2011 Mazda 6 I liked (zoom, zoom), & we made plans to go back & seal the deal on Thursday. I was excited to be able to get places without my mother's assistance, but I wasn't necessarily excited about having a car - mostly because I was (am) still terrified of everything that accompanies the having of a car.

I talked to my therapist about some of my nervousness surrounding the whole process - getting a loan, signing my life away, making huge payments every month, &, especially, trying my damndest not to die in a fiery car accident (which is my biggest fear). Last night, when the car was finally in my possession, I told her that I was afraid to drive it because it seemed likely that I would mess it up somehow - that I would quickly destroy this pretty, shiny, new thing that I just spent a startling amount of my money to obtain.

She told me a story of her own Mazda, purchased brand new a few years ago, which she immediately drove to a relative's house for a visit. When she came outside a few hours later, she discovered that someone had backed into her brand new car while it was parked in the street. It wasn't totaled, but she did need to get a new bumper - less than 24 hours after getting the car. The moral of the story, of course, is that shit happens, & that you can't always control it, no matter how hard you try. And that cars are just material things -  expensive material things, but material things nonetheless.

I was trying to remind myself of her guidance as I sat in my new car today, trying to psych myself up to drive it. I couldn't get it to warm up, couldn't figure out how to defrost my back window, etc. etc. etc. As I flipped through the user's manual, I remembered something I'd left inside, & I got out of the car to run back into the house. That's when I saw it.

Shit. Everywhere. Literal shit.

Turns out, I stepped in a pile snow-covered dog doo in our driveway, likely deposited by my neighbor's tiny canines. And it was everywhere. All over the ground, all over my favorite black boots - and all over my pretty new car. Just... a big pile of shit, smeared into the driver's-side floormat the way an infant uses fingerpaints.

I called my mom. I sobbed. I got some carpet cleaner, & I scrubbed. I looked into the cost of having a singular floormat professionally cleaned. And then I sucked it up, wiped away my runny mascara, cleaned off my shoe... & laughed. Because what else can you do? At least I didn't have to replace my bumper.

Shit happens, man. Sometimes I feel like it happens to me a lot more than it does to the general populace, but it sure does give me a lot of stories to tell. I mean, of course I covered my new car in dog crap within 12 hours of purchasing it. Of course I did.

So much for that new car smell.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Four Things I Don't Like About Starbucks in Ohio (a.k.a. The Whiniest Nothing-Post)

You've probably already figured this out, but, uh, I spend a lot of time in Starbucks.

Like, a lot of time.

Because I work from home - & because working from actual home is sometimes more conducive to cabin fever than it is to productivity - I often choose to work from Starbucks. Yes, it would be nice of me to choose someplace independent & locally owned, but I really like Starbucks. I like that the soy lattes taste exactly the same no matter where I go. I like that when I buy a dozen of them, I get the next one free. I like that Starbucks feels cozy, & that no matter what city I'm in, they mostly feel the same.

Except when they don't.

Disclaimer: I am very well aware that this post is complainy & first-world-problemy, & that none of the things I'm about to rant about are serious or important or even really worth saying. But sometimes it just feels good to get it all out, you know? And so, without further adieu, a laundry list of reasons I'm in a fight with Ohio Starbucks.
  1. They're far, far away: It's painful not to be within walking distance of a Starbucks. Even in New Jersey, I lived walkably close to my beloved grande soy lattes. Here in suburban Ohio, Mondays are a whole lot harsher without the comfort of caffeine. The closest Starbucks is a two-mile walk, which isn't too bad but also isn't quite feasible for a weekday walk in the 'burbs, especially when it's 15 degrees outside. (This isn't Starbucks's fault, obviously. This is just the suburbs' fault.)
  1. They make me hangry: In other cities, I'd become accustomed to eating lunch at Starbucks, staying for a few hours with a latte & then buying one of their protein boxes (crackers, cheese, almonds, dried cranberries, & apples) later in the day. The first time I went to "my" Ohio Starbucks, with an empty stomach & a full day ahead of me, I realized they only offer boxed, microwaved pastries - not even a damn tray of bananas! When I asked why, the manager told me that Akron isn't a big enough market to warrant real food. Now, if I want lunch, I have to pack it myself, sneak it in from the Panera across the street, or make do with a slightly wilted croissant.
  1. Ughhhh, the bathrooms: In D.C., a 2006 regulation designed to prevent discrimination against transgender people prohibited single-occupancy public restrooms from being labeled as gender specific - which is also pretty convenient at bars, coffee shops, & other places where the line for the women's restroom is always longer than the men's. Here in Ohio, which is notably less progressive than our nation's capital, Starbucks' single-occupany bathrooms are gendered. At least once a day I find myself waiting for the women's restroom despite the fact that the men's is empty & that there are only, like, four people in the whole damn place. Whyyyy?
  1. They're frickin' freezing: Most suburban Ohio Starbucks stores have drive-thru windows, which is great when you're on the go. I have no complaints about that... except when I'm not on the go. When you're camped out inside a Starbucks & it's below freezing outside, that constant open-&-close of the drive-thru window makes the entire place freezing. In fact, one of the stores near me is so frequently freezing that I've decided I can't sit inside anymore - at least until spring.
Ahhh, it feels better just to get these complaints out of my head & onto my computer screen.

I am a loyal member of the cult of Starbucks, & that's probably not going to change anytime soon, at least not as long as I work from home. But mannnn, Ohio, why you gotta make it all so annoying?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kaleidoscope of Loud Heartbeats Under Coats


I am sitting on a bench at a bus stop just off of Dupont Circle, the one in front of my favorite bookstore, & it's begun to rain a little bit. It's not enough to send me running for cover, but it's enough to make me hope the bus arrives quickly, especially in this cold. In front of me, a sedan with its windows down rolls to a stop at a red light; inside it, two burly men with Boston-sounding accents are waiting to drive north on Connecticut Avenue. "Look at all these poor fuckers waiting on the bus," the passenger cackles, & they both have a nasty laugh at our expense.

I want to tell them that their window is down & that their car's metal skeleton is not a barrier to sound. I want to tell them that given the choice between waiting on a mostly-reliable city bus & driving in the District, I'd choose the former every time. And I want to tell them that we are not "poor fuckers," just plain old people, like him, who are trying to get home at the end of a long work day, & that he is not better than we are because he has access to a private vehicle.

The bus arrives a few minutes later & we board slowly, shuffling on & swiping our Metro cards to the loud buzz of approval that says we've paid what we owe for the privilege of a ride home in the rain. The bus isn't as full as I'd expect it to be in inclement weather at rush hour, & I find a seat quickly, one of the sideways spots meant for elderly folks & people with disabilities. I'll get up if someone needs my seat, but for now, there are plenty available, & I'm not passing up an opportunity to rest.

I put my phone down & watch the people around me instead. 

The clean-cut twentysomething hipster across from me is on his laptop - a full laptop, not a phone or a tablet, balanced upon his lap on the goddamn city bus. In an argyle sweater & green Vans, he looks better suited to start-up culture in San Francisco or Austin than to D.C., too quirky for this place but with the same sort of work ethic.

The young woman next to him is playing the Kim Kardashian on her phone; I can see it reflected in the bus window behind her. She's wearing the same winter coat as me, but we look like low-budget versions of one of those "Who Wore It Better?" features in celebrity fashion magazines. I can't tell which of us wears it better, but I make a mental note of her patterned tights & shiny Oxfords. I like your style, girl with the matching jacket.

I turn my attention to a tired-looking middle-aged man with long, thick locs spilling out from under a pilled Redskins hat, standing even though there are seats still available. He's wearing a Safeway apron, & I wonder if he's just getting off of work or just heading to it. I hope he's on his way home, because he looks like he deserves a nap, but he's still smiling in the direction of every single person who shuffles past him to exit through the bus's back doors.

There's a guy next to him in the thick Patagonia jacket & L.L. Bean hiking pack who looks far too outdoorsy for D.C. What's in there, man, a campfire stove & an ax? I can't conceive of any city situation in which his get-up is needed, but I have fun trying. Maybe he's from Portland, & he just misses home. Maybe this is just his style. Maybe he's a tourist, & he's carrying all of his travel gear in there because he doesn't want to leave it to be stolen at his hostel. I find myself impressed by his grasp on public transportation in a foreign city.

Sitting next to him is an older woman who looks like she'd be better suited to the Middle Ages. She's wearing a brooch, the old-fashioned kind, pinned to the lapel of a woolen plaid blazer. It's an airplane or a hummingbird, maybe, something silver with wings. Her hair is pulled into a severe bun & over it, she's wearing headphones, the kind we all wore before earbuds in the advent of the Discman. The result is a look that is somehow both contradictory to her image & perfectly in line with it.

A petite blonde girl is wearing a Newsies cap over her pixie-cut blonde hair, a bouquet of flowers in hand, & I wonder who they're for. Is she headed to dinner at someone's house, & they're a hostess gift? Did she get into a fight with her girlfriend & pick these up on the way home to make amends? Maybe they're for herself, just meant to brighten her studio apartment on a cold, rainy weekend.

As I continue to take in the people around me, these characters in my city story, I press play on my iTunes & the synthesized starting notes of Taylor Swift's "Welcome to New York" pipes through my headphones & into my brain. The song is meant for someone else's city, but I can tune that out, modify it for my own. It works here, too, this song about a city full of people trying to become the best version of themselves, living small lives but dreaming big dreams.

I love the way that cities brings you together with strangers, allows you these moments of closeness, of intimacy, with people you don't know & will never see again. A city full of real-life Sims, people with their own lives & details & goals & fears & everything, moving along in tandem, crossing paths for a minute & making an impact whether you realize it in the moment or not. We are never alone here, even when we feel most like we are, & it is that feeling - of being just one tiny moving part in a much larger whole - that helped me gain the perspective to feel just slightly less overwhelmed by the maddening magnitude of my own sadness.

Everybody here was someone else before, Taylor Swift sings into my ear, & it's true of me, too. This has always been my number-one city, from the time I set foot here in June of 2006. I knew I would come back, knew I would make it my own, knew that this would be the place that changed my life for the better.  I remember who I was then, when this place first took me in: broken but reassembling the pieces, desperate to shed an image & a mental state that I was ready to move beyond. This is where I became myself, & later, when I started to slip, it's where I found myself again. And I know now that even when I find a new one - like I've done before, like I'll do again - this will be the city that made me. This place changed me - once, twice, forever.

I'm ready to leave now, & I don't think I'll be coming back this time, but just like before, I will carry a piece of this city with me, quiet & tucked away, a perpetual reminder of just another one of the many ways that I became who I am.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch Except When You Live at Your Mom's House and/or in the Midwest


I saw a psychic of questionable legitimacy* in the fall of 2013, right before I moved back to Washington, D.C. from New Jersey. She told me a lot of things that turned out not to be true, but at the time, life in chaos, it was a conversation I found comforting. The one thing she said that I found particularly reassuring was that when it came to finances, I wasn't going to struggle as much as I feared I would. At the time, my then-boyfriend's military career had been paying for my life, & I had become fairly irresponsible with money. I was looking at a serious standard-of-living downgrade when I moved to the city & started paying $1430 a month to rent a singular room, & I was terrified I was going to end up destitute.

D.C. is expensive, to be sure, & the cost of living is one of the reasons I left after only a year - but I think calling myself "destitute" would be a biiiit of a stretch. For that, I am relieved.

Still, something I've noticed right off the bar about being on the East Coast versus being in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, is that when it comes to Midwestern living, my sense of expensiveness is severely skewed. To some extent, I already knew this. During past trips home, I was absolutely giddy to rediscover that I could get pleasantly tipsy on a mere $3. But as I readjust to real life here, I find myself constantly surprised by the cost of things - or the lack thereof, really.
  • I'm in a Facebook group for residents of my hometown, the absurdity of which I've written about in the past. Recently, a woman posted to the group saying that she was hoping to rent a three-bedroom house in town for no more than $650 a month. I had to re-hinge my jaw to my face after it slid to the floor in amazement. In D.C., you can't pay rent on a goddamn cardboard box for that price.
  • In that same group, a number of people have complained about the cost of hamburgers at BurgerFi, a new fast-casual burger joint that opened in town last weekend. Their customizable, grass-fed burgers are approximately $6. Every time I read one of these complaints, I want to type-scream, "Don't like it? Go to McDonald's, man, & let the rest of us have some nice things that aren't even that nice!"
  • My best friend & her husband were in town over Thanksgiving, & we met up at my favorite hometown restaurant. I ordered a size of mozzarella sticks & a cup of soup, like I have every time I've gone there since age 15, & then I ordered two cups of soup to go. My whole bill - for three meals - was $14, which is just a few bucks more than what I paid for lunch on a near-daily basis in Dupont Circle.
  • A new movie theater opened in town on Friday, & today I looked into a midday showing of Mockingjay. When I exclaimed to my mother, "A matinee is $6.75!" she responded, "That's crazy! That used to be the cost of a night-time movie!" Turns out, she felt $6.75 was expensive... whereas I felt it was basically free.
  • My mom was really, really excited the other day about gas being $2.54. In fairness, I have literally no idea how much gas normally costs because I haven't had a car in a year (& even when I had one, I rarely drove). Is $2.54 cheap? I think so? Cool? (I'm scared of the cost of having a car, which is a fear I need to face real soon.)
I am relearning what counts as expensive here - though to some extent, I hope I don't lose my sense of East Coast pricing, either, because I don't want to be one of those people who travels back to The Big City & gasps, "My God! I don't know how anyone manages to live here!"

Anyway, I'm saving money here, & it feels pretty good. A nice thing about living with my mom is sometimes she sometimes makes me food, which means I don't spend all of my hard-earned money on meals out. (Note: I still cannot cook & do not really try. When left to my own devices, I usually eat almonds, Craisins, & large chunks of Brie. Together. Like salad or trail mix.) This morning when I woke up, she had a plate warming on the stove for me: blueberry sausage with a sweet potato & apple hash, topped with real maple syrup. Remind me never to complain about living with her ever. (Hi, Mom.)

Moral of the story: Ohio is, like, free. I'm having a hard time readjusting to a lot of things here, but the cost of living is not one of them.



*REDUNDANT, I KNOW.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

We Always Could Count on Futures

I knew it was coming, but when it hit me today, it hit harder than I'd expected, still felt too crazy to be true: Today, Dave would've turned 30.

That means that 10 years ago today was the day that the love of my teenage life began to feel overwhelmed - by the idea of being in his twenties, of entering adulthood, of whatever came next. Of not being successful enough. Of not moving quickly enough. Of not being clear enough on what he wanted. Of life, literally. On this day 10 years ago, he turned 20 & then, somewhere in the two months & eight days that followed, he decided he would go no further. I know this because the letter he left behind named his 20th birthday as a turning point.

A decade ago today.

When someone you love hangs himself from the rafters in his garage on a cold February afternoon, his neck later covered by a high collar to shield funeral-goers from the unspeakable bruising that belied his final decision, well, it can be difficult to remember anything but the way he died. I have spent nearly 10 years now trying to become someone other than the crazy girl whose ex-boyfriend committed suicide, someone other than the crazy girl who lives with the nagging fear she might've had a hand in driving him to it. Some days, even now, I'm angry at him for it - for the way he screwed me up, for the way he left me here to deal with the absence of us for a fucking eternity. Some days, it's hard to remember who he was before he became the ghost of all our mistakes & mental illnesses past.

But I still remember.

I remember that I fell in love with him in Señora Olivera's Spanish class, starting the day he wore an "EMO IS AWESOME" shirt before anyone, least of all me, knew what emo was. I remember that we first talked during a fire drill & that our friends helped us nervously exchange numbers. I remember that the first night we spoke by phone, I sat in my mother's dark, dank basement for hours, for once not giving a damn about all the spiders that surely lived down there.

I remember that he insisted on calling me Kate even though everyone else called me Katy back then, because he said he'd always imagined it would be the name of his one great love. I remember that our first date was to the Oktoberfest downtown, winter hats pulled low over our ears as we sipped apple cider that steamed into the cold autumn air. I remember that our first kiss happened in the parking lot of a local park called the Gorge - in his junky teal car, set to Dave Matthews Band, like every good first kiss from the early aughts did.

I remember that he saved me from a lifetime of Dave Matthews Band & Matchbox Twenty & Counting Crows by introducing me to good music, which was the real love of his life. I remember that the day he gave me Jimmy Eat World's "Bleed American" CD, he hid it in his glove compartment & affixed to it a Post-It that read, "J.E.W. for my favorite Jew." I remember that one Valentine's Day, he rewrote Jonah Matranga's "A-L-L-Y-S-O-N" for me, even though K-A-T-E isn't quite enough syllables for its beat.

I remember that he did spot-on, hilarious, kind-of-mean impressions of people he didn't like, that he said one of my male friends resembled a baby hippopotamus & that I still think of it when I look at him now. I remember that his wardrobe consisted primarily of thrifted T-shirts that he thought were quirky & ironic, that he wore Chucks before anyone else we knew. I remember that I used to run my fingers over the smooth, silver hoop in his cartilage to straighten it out & as an excuse to touch him.

I remember that I once made a spaghetti dinner for him, the first time I'd ever cooked, & that I did a terrible job of it but that he thought it was romantic anyway. I remember that he took me to his senior homecoming even though I was a freshman in college, the first school & last school dance he ever attended. I remember the Fourth of July we spent kissing on a grassy hill under fireworks, laughing with embarrassment when an elderly couple passed us & commented on our characteristically teenage displays of affection.

I remember that he hated pizza & ate chicken fingers almost exclusively. I remember that my driving made him sick & that he put his seat down every time I was behind the wheel lest he throw up in my front seat. I remember that he had a terrible singing voice but that I could never bring myself to tell him because he wrote such beautiful music & loved it so damn much.

I remember the scavenger hunt he sent me on when I turned 18, the one that ended with a guitar lesson in the park. I remember that one Christmas, he bought me a Frank Sinatra CD & an American Eagle belt I'd wanted for months but couldn't afford. I remember the paper hearts he lined on the carpet of his home, winding a path from the front door to his bedroom, each of them bearing a handwritten note about why he loved me.

I remember that sometimes I would open my eyes as we kissed just to sneak a look at the face of the prettiest boy I had ever known, much less been so close to. I remember how hurt he was that I wasn't ready to take it further, but that he still respected the boundaries I set. I remember that he lit a room full of candles just so we could lie next to another on the futon in his attic, covered by the fleece galaxy-print blanket I made for him one Christmas.

I remember that he bought me a star for my birthday, a real star somewhere up in the night sky with my name officially attached to it. I remember the night that we drove out to the fairgrounds with his brother to watch a meteor shower from the hood of his car in pitch-black darkness. I remember that when he turned 18, I accompanied him & his best friend as they got matching tattoos, the same red star I'd later have inked upon my own skin in his memory.

I remember that we dreamed of living in New York City, him a teacher & me a journalist, renting a studio apartment on some busy street where the sounds of traffic lulled us to sleep. I remember the question he asked one April that haunts me even now - "What are you passionate about?" - that I couldn't answer then & maybe still can't today. I remember vaguely that the last conversation we had was via IM, disagreeing about the merits of the new Brandtson & Jimmy Eat World albums.

I remember other things, too, of course. I remember the arguments & the anger & the guilt & the grief. I remember all the ways we ended, & how they tore us apart every time. But I choose not to think about those things anymore, not now & maybe not ever again. Instead, I choose to remember who he was before all that happened, who he was when he was my first love & my first real experience with another human being's emotions & existence. He was the first person I was ever bound to, & now it seems I am bound to him in perpetuity, whether I like it or not.

I wonder if he would like me now, if I would like him now. I wonder if we would even know one another anymore, were he still alive. I wonder what he would be like, what kind of job he would hold, what kind of friends he would have. But I suppose it doesn't matter, does it? Somewhere, in another story, maybe, but not in this one.  

This is our story. I know that he changed me, both in life & in death. I know that I am better, stronger, alive because of him. He once wrote, "Regret, you'll find, at best is a waste of your time" - & I know that, despite all the pain, I regret nothing.

Happy birthday, my Dave. I promise that as long as I live, so will you.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

In Which I Short-Circuit & Basically Stop Functioning

T minus four days until my big move back to Ohio, & I'm... not quite ready. My mental to-do list is about a mile long, but I am too disorganized to get it on paper, or even into my phone, so it's just floating around in my brain. I have to sell my couch & throw away my rickety bookshelf & take some things to Goodwill & put a stop on my Comcast service... it's all bumping around in my skull, & I'm just hoping I don't miss something major.

I'm historically terrible at dealing with moving-related anxiety, despite the fact that this will be my thirteenth (!) move in a decade. On that front, this time around is no different, although there's some small comfort in moving back to my mom's house because I don't have to deal with apartment arrangements on the other end. Actually, that's a large comfort. But it's still not stemming the standard panic.

The way I deal with this sort of stress is basically just to shut down. I haven't been engaging on social media. I removed Facebook & my work email from my phone. When the workday ends, I don't multi-task like usual; instead of writing or working while I catch up on Hulu, I just... zone out. I go catatonic in front of the TV, like a very comfortable zombie or maybe just a child of the early '90s, drooling & mindlessly stuffing my gullet full of Annie's Cheddar Bunnies while wearing my oldest, rattiest pair of sweatpants. It's a lovely, professional, & flattering image, I know.

I'm just trying to be good to myself, & sometimes that means powering my brain down with a fist (& mouth) full of organic, cheese-flavored snacks.

And I nap. I take longer showers. I drink larger lattes. I listen to a lot of Taylor Swift. I take Xanax sometimes, or I turn on my favorite meditation app. I spent an embarrassing amount of money on a 124-oz. candle that smells like something unidentifiably comforting from my childhood, & any time I'm home, it's burning. I bought a coloring book & a box of 64 crayons for those times when I feel compelled to keep busy while I watch TV but just can't bring myself to use any brain power. (It's a Lalaloopsy coloring book, by the way, which is just about the creepiest thing imaginable.)

In general, I'm just trying not to overexert myself to add additional stress to my move-induced stress. When I've settled in Ohio, I'll even out, I'm sure, become my usual multi-tasking, firing-on-all-cylinders self again. But... not yet. Just not yet. Right now, I'm just trying to maintain my sanity, & that seems to mean powering down all non-essential functions.

Treat yo'self, as they say. Or just do whatever it takes to try to keep yourself from losing your damn marbles.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Vamos United: The Day I Maybe Became a Soccer Fan


I recall my childhood experience with soccer as follows: When I was in elementary school - maybe 6 or 7 years old? - I was the only girl on my soccer team, perhaps because my father was, for some inexplicable reason, the coach. I wasn't very enthusiastic, & I definitely wasn't very good, & above all else, I was an easily embarrassed, shy kid. One day, after I scored a goal for the opposing team, I quit playing soccer - & my dad continued to coach the team without me.

For most of my life, that was as far as my relationship with the sport of soccer extended.

Until last weekend.

My friend Arielle, it turns out, loves soccer, & on Halloween, as we dined at a fancy restaurant while wearing fleece animal onesies (man, I should've blogged about that), she asked if I'd be interested in joining her at D.C. United's playoff game on Saturday. I wasn't particularly interested, honestly, because I don't know or care about soccer - but I like Arielle & I like adventures, so why not? I said yes.

On Saturday afternoon, she outfitted me in a D.C. United beanie & long-sleeved shirt so I would fit in, & we headed off to RFK Stadium, which looks like it should be the site of a scene from the Walking Dead. Seriously, the place looks apocalyptically abandoned, but for the fact that, come soccer time, it fills with screaming, chanting, stomping, drum-beating, flag-waving, beer-throwing fans. It was chaos in the best way.

We stopped by the tailgate party, a parking lot filled with a sea of black & red, where Arielle introduced me to fellow fans. Afraid of being seen as a poser, I was initially embarrassed when she announced that it was my first game, but everyone was warm & welcoming. "We have two rules," one guy told me. "The first is to have as much fun as possible. The second is that if we win, you've got to come back." Where other sports fans disdain fair-weather fans, soccer embraces them - they just want fans, period, & I was happy to try to become one.

The rest of the tailgating scene can best be described as a makeshift Midwestern state fair, but in much colder weather & with far fewer mullets. Though we arrived an hour & a half before the game started, the kegs had already run dry, & I have a feeling it wasn't for lack of initial volume. Food trucks served ravenous drunk fans willing to brave long lines (although we, sober & impatient of the cold, weren't among them). In a nearby tent, an MLS sponsor out very creatively emblazoned "THIS IS SOCCER" scarves to chilly fans looking for extra swag (& precisely because we were sober & impatient of the cold, this time we were among them). On our way into the stadium, we scored more swag - another scarf, this one in D.C United colors, & inflatable "bam bam sticks" that made loud, hollow noises when beaten together so we could cause maximum noise.

Soccer is a notoriously low-scoring game, but it sort of doesn't matter because it's still fascinating to watch the players try to score. Football is a lot of stop-&-go brute force, & baseball is a lot of standing around, & basketball is a lot of tall guys lumbering back & forth on squeaky floors, but soccer feels like... more, somehow. Soccer is skill & grace & athleticism & talent. Soccer is art. I was surprisingly rapt, paying very close attention as I tried to follow along, & impressed the whole time.

D.C. United did score twice, which was not enough for them to win the game despite the fact that the other team only scored once, because apparently playoff soccer has some ridiculously weighted scoring rules. BUT. When they did score? The whole stadium erupted into cheers & song & such enthusiastic stomping that the cement stadium floors quaked beneath us. Showers of beer soaked the crowd, & plums of smoke snaked into the air as smokebombs went off throughout the cheering sections. Man, I've never seen anything like it.

I thought I'd be bored out of my skull, but I found myself riveted. I found myself praying for overtime. And when it was over, I found myself kind of wanting to be a soccer fan, the kind with team allegiances & tailgating plans of my own.

So will I ever make it to another pro soccer game? Hey, maybe not. But then again, Ohio has a team of its own, & I'm thisclose to convincing Arielle to come visit me the next time the Columbus Crew plays D.C. United. The only question is, which team's colors will I wear? I guess I've got some time to decide.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

You Can Always Go Home Again: My LeBron Moment


On my last day of classes at Kent State University in August of 2007, I sat in a corner of the Daily Kent Stater's newsroom, looking out the wall of full-length glass windows to the grassy hill outside. It was a sunny day, Ohio-perfect, & I was fully conscious of the fact that this was my last time to enjoy this part of my life. This was it, & I wanted to enjoy it as much as I could.

On the phone with my mom, sitting on my knees on a spinning chair as I watched students pass by outside, I told her: "I'm going to D.C. for a year, & then I'm going to come back to Ohio." I'd committed to a 12-month job in D.C., but I imagined grand plans for a life in Cleveland when it came to an end.

As much as I meant it at the time, that's not exaaaactly how it all ended up. At the end of that first year in D.C., I was offered a more permanent job - so I stayed, happily, & it was a fantastic three years of growth & friendship & learning to love myself. Eventually, I hit a bit of a rough patch (read: I quit my job & couldn't afford to stay), so I did move back to Ohio, but just for a brief four months. At the time, I was dating someone wonderful who just so happened to live in New Hampshire, mandated by the U.S. Coast Guard, so I found a job there & moved in with him. Then we moved again, also mandated by the Coast Guard, & then, when we eventually broke up, I moved back to D.C. because it seemed like the best place for me to be if I was going to be by myself again. Needless to say, I never really made it back to Ohio.

"You've moved a lot," people often tell me, out of sheer insistence upon stating the obvious. Yeah, guys, I know. I know.

I've moved a lot, & it hasn't always been easy or wonderful & it certainly wasn't part of my plan, but I don't regret my life or my choices or my locations. Still, I've always said I'd move back to Ohio "when the time is right." I've always known I'd go back eventually because I've always wanted to go back eventually. I returned to D.C. last November because I had an inexplicable sense that it was the place I needed to be at that time. From the outset, though, I knew this would a time-limited return to the District. I just hadn't decided exactly how limited that amount of time would be.

I still hadn't decided, right up until last month.

Last month, I spent two weeks visiting friends & family in Ohio, mentally planning my eventual return & what a life in Cleveland might look like for some future version of me. And then one weekday afternoon, as I was driving back to my mom's house after an afternoon at my favorite coffee shop in Kent, it dawned on me, one of those lightbulb-above-my-head kind of moments: "I could move back to Northeast Ohio right now, if I wanted to."

And as it turns out, I wanted to. I want to.

In a decree of fate, I returned to D.C. later that week to find that my rent will go up by $100 at the end of November, when my lease expires. Sure, I could stay here on a month-to-month basis, paying that higher rent & not saving a damn thing, but... why? Why bother? It's expensive here, so expensive that I can't afford to do most of the things that would allow me to enjoy my life here the way that life here ought to be enjoyed. And while I love my friends & my office & my life in D.C., the simple counter-argument against living here is just that Ohio beckons. Because Ohio has always beckoned.

So on November 21st, I'm going home.

The details don't matter; trust that I'll share them with you eventually. For now, all that matters is that this feels right. For the first time since I moved to D.C. in 2007, I'm moving because I want to, not because I feel like I have to. I'm not unemployed or bound to the military or in the middle of a breakup. I just want to be someplace else - so I'm going there.

An unexpectedly wise man from Akron once said, "In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have." And like LeBron, "I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

If You Can't Say Something Nice, Don't Say Anything on Facebook

A couple weeks ago, I joined a Facebook group for people from my hometown. Members use the space to post old photos, share memories of people/places/events past, & link to obituaries of well-known folks from the community. Mostly, though, the group serves as a virtual bulletin board where current residents can ask questions - everything from, "Where's the best place to buy new tires?" to "Why is there so much traffic on ____ Street right now?"

Another trend in this group is people posting photos of creepy-crawlies they find in/on/around their homes with captions like, "What kind of spider is this?" which means all these spider photos show up in my newsfeed & basically ruin my life. Example:



You're welcome for the light blur. Because I care about you.

But anyway.

Predictably, a lot of bitching also happens within this group. Like... a lot of bitching. There's a lot of bitching generally, but there's also a lot of bitching at one another, & things tend to escalate quickly.
Sometimes I turn on the notifications just so I can go back & scroll through the comments when I don't have anything better to do. (I mean, I always have something better to do, but that doesn't mean I'm actually doing it.)

Yesterday, for example, someone posted to the group asking where she should take her cat to be declawed. Her usual vet quoted her $150, she said, & she didn't think it ought to cost that much. When other group members asked that she reconsider her plans to declaw (given the Humane Society's analogy that it's akin to cutting off a person's fingers at the knuckles), a full-on comment war erupted. Just an hour after the original post, it boasted 146 comments & growing (including a few from people who pointed out that the original poster has twice mentioned her cat's destruction of her $300 curtains, but somehow thinks $150 is too much to pay for a surgical procedure on an actual living thing? Priorities.)

I really wanted to comment on the declawing debacle. I wanted to be all holier-than-thou & comment something like, "Perhaps the 'judgment' you're hearing is just from folks who aren't down with the idea of butchering our beloved family pets? How dare we, I know." Because I am not at all sassy or indignant.

But I didn't.

I've commented a few times on past posts, sharing suggestions for my favorite eye doctor or the local gym where I worked in college (because I'm nothing if not brand-loyal & also very opinionated). For the most part, though, aside from the occasional recommendation, I keep quiet for two reasons:
  1. My mother's job makes her what you might call a community figure in our small town. We have an uncommon, identifiable last name that easily links me to her, & she has more than once pointed out that my occasional loud-mouthiness, though always well-intentioned, has the potential to be pretty annoying for her,

    and also,
  2. Facebook's stupid algorithms seem to alert all of my hometown friends every time I comment in this group, which is terribly embarrassing. If I was humiliated the time it broadcasted my comment about where/how to exchange foreign currency, I'm definitely going to want to crawl under a rock when it shares news of my, uh, slightly snarkier comments.
I love my mom, & it's important to me, of course, that I not accidentally tarnish her reputation in any way. But (sorry, Mom) the second reason is equally compelling, because there's nothing more mortifying than Facebook's algorithms. While I'm not actually embarrassed of the words I think to post, I'm more embarrassed by the concept of being a person who posts in a community Facebook group. Actually, I'm embarrassed by the concept of being a person who blogs about posting in a community Facebook group, too, but a girl can't be too proud, yanno?

And so I stayed quiet yesterday, even when the conversation took a turn for the amusing & Laura, the original poster, started lashing out at any commenter who noted the inhumanity of declawing. Finally, this happened:


At that point, all I wanted to comment was "HAHAHAHAHAHAHA" because the whole thing had really jumped the shark. But I think the guy who posted this photo really summed it up best:


So carry on, Facebook. Imma be over here, watching from the sidelines & playing a comment reel in my mind.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Eatin' Good: My Culinary Obsessions Past & Present


My friend Jonah once referred to his younger brother as an "enthusiast," someone who gets briefly but intensely obsessed with something - a particular person or article of clothing or TV show or cuisine. I identified immediately with the label & have since co-opted it for myself.

I can mainline a Netflix show with the best of 'em, but most often, I find my enthusiast tendencies directed toward food. I'll go all-in on some dish for days, weeks, even months, with no concept of "too much of a good thing." I'll order the same thing every day until I finally tire of it, & then I'll move on to the next one.

Past targets of my enthusiasm have included:
  • Chicken kaprow: I didn't like Thai food until I moved to D.C., but once I discovered it, there was no turning back. My first year here, I lived across from Paragon Thai, which quickly became my go-to restaurant for take-out (&, when I was really sick or lazy, delivery). I'd order by phone as I left work, & by the time I got off the Metro, my food was ready. Once, the woman who answered the phone gushed, "Ah, the girl in the red coat!" referring to my notably bright winter jacket, & I was so embarrassed that I didn't go back for six months, thus ending this particular obsession.
  • Fancy grilled cheese: I can't cook. I try, sometimes, but for the most part? Nottt a chef. I can, however, "make stuff," like my so-called big-kid grilled cheese. I blogged about it in 2010: "It's muenster, goat cheese, baby spinach, crumbled walnuts, & a smear of fig jam on ciabatta & pressed in my George Foreman, panini-style...I AM A CULINARY GENIUS WITH THE PALETTE OF A SOPHISTICATED 10-YEAR-OLD." This fell off my radar when I felt (I can't believe it myself) all cheesed out.
  • Wontons with spicy peanut butter sauce: When my then-boyfriend deployed & left me alone with the cat, Pink Bamboo Hot Pot Cafe became my best friend. To hit the delivery minimum, I'd order two orders of wontons - one for dinner & one for lunch the next day. When the delivery guy dropped off my food, I'd try to act like there was someone else in the apartment... just so I didn't seem like the girl ordering 12 wontons for herself. But again, when the restaurant's hostess started to recognize my voice & remember my order, I called the whole thing off - but I'd kill for those wontons right about now.

And now? Now I'm obsessed all over again. A few weeks ago, I tried Pho 14's bún bò nướng for the first time, & now I can't stop ordering it. If you've never tried this dish, let me paint a picture for you: thin-cut, juicy, tough-but-tender slices of beef served over a bed of light, thin vermicelli noodles, fresh cucumbers & scallions, shredded carrots, crispy shallots, crushed peanuts, & a liiiittle bit of lettuce, topped with sweet fish sauce.

Oh! If my verbal picture-painting didn't work, I can show you an actual picture:


Maybe, if you're a white-bread kid from the Applebee's-lovin' suburbs like me, it sounds sort of gross. I know that 10 years ago, I wouldn't have come near it. But today? Today I'm obsessed. Today I'm an enthusiast of the highest order. Today I ordered Pho 14's bún bò nướng for the third time in less than a week, & I have no plans to stop any time soon.

Clearly, I've got it bad. But... it's probably better than an obsession with grilled cheese, right?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When Imitation is the Shadiest Form of Flattery


I finally let my old blog domain name lapse in August, & yesterday I discovered that someone else has purchased it. I knew that was likely to happen, but you know what's worse? The fact that the new owner's name is ALSO Kate B., & she's set up a site redirect to try to make it look like I've moved to a new blog - hers! 

Her welcome message on the site now reads,
"Hey everyone, it’s KatieB and I’m here to deliver some exciting news. I’ve been secretly working on a new site for the past few months now and am just about ready to share it with the world. I’ll be redirecting this site to my new one, so this is just a courtesy message to let ya know. Looking forward to seeing you on the other side!”
It then provides a link to her (my?) new blog (which I refuse to provide a link to on principle).  This, of course, makes it sound like she's ME, former KateB-who-blogged-at-that-domain, & that I'm moving to a new blog. As far as I can tell, she's intentionally trying to mislead my old readers to get them to follow me (her!) to a new site, capitalizing on my high traffic all those seven years that I was SuburbanSweetheart.com.

To be clear, I don't really care what she does with the domain, but I'm creeped out by the intentional misdirect to snag anyone who might think I moved my whole site to hers. Luckily, anyone who's ever known me can probably guess that I didn't start a new blog on running & Paleo diets. BUT STILL.

All I really want is for Imposter KateB to change her offending wording so that it doesn't sound like she's trying to pretend she's been at that domain the whole time or that her new blog is mine. I left a few comments on her blogs to that effect, but given the general shadiness of the whole thing - & the fact that this was almost certainly an intentional ploy to increase her traffic - I'm trying not to get my hopes too high about the likelihood of her compliance.

In the meantime, I'll just be sitting around fuming... & learning my goddamn lesson about being too cheap/lazy to pay the $10 renewal fee.

But hey. I guess it's better than becoming a porn site?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Phenomenal Me, an Interview with @YettiSays

This week, you can find me at Yetti Says, where I answer questions from one of my newest Internet friends & insta-fave bloggers. I'm honored to be featured in her Phenomenal You series alongside four incredible ladybloggers. Click through for my thoughts on mental illness, self-worth, & five things I learned about myself when I decided to move (back) to Washington, D.C.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Where I'm From: A Tribute to the Buckeye State


I'm from big, shady oak trees & enough pollen to kill me,
From perennials that survive to find their way back in bloom every spring despite biting frost.
I'm from blindingly hot summer days & feet that blister on the scorching pavement as we let the car cool off after hours spent on the lake.

I'm from kickball on the cul-de-sac as the sun goes down,
And from autumn colors that rival New England's, but with people a hundred times nicer.
I'm from a foot & a half of lake-effect snow with no end in sight,
From no such thing as a day off school if you can get out of the driveway,
And from digging out your neighbor's car but knowing he'll shovel your sidewalk in return.

I'm from marrying your senior-year sweetheart & sending your kids to the same elementary school you attended, where half the same teachers still teach.
I'm from an aged but familiar face at every hometown dive bar,
And from still - always - identifying yourself by the year you graduated high school.

I'm from small towns whose Native American names you can't pronounce -
From Cuyahoga & Wapakoneta & Tuscarawas & Olentangy,
I'm from the North Coast & summers at Sea World & the best roller coasters you've never seen,
And flyover cities whose validity & worth are forever being underestimated.

I'm from brown & orange, wine & gold, & nemeses in the form of cities I've never seen,
From "Hang On Sloopy" & promising to call it Jacobs Field forever,
From witnessing & jersey-burning & ultimately forgiving,
From "Maybe this year" to "Maybe next year" to "Maybe some day,"
Because I'm from a home that taught us how to hope.

I'm from hard, nasally A's that come out after a few Dortmunders to tell you exactly where I began,
From middle class & white trash & never realizing that rich people think they're the same thing.
I'm from "two hours away" & a hidden cop on every corner,
From tree lawns & "needs done" & pop, not soda,
From the candy, the mascot, & the nut, in that order.

I'm from dollar drafts & homemade casseroles & half-priced appetizers at Applebee's,
From Friday nights spent listening to cover bands on the burning river you learned about in history books.
I'm from round on the sides & high in the middle,
And an enthusiastic "I-O!" shouted in return, no matter where else I may roam.

And I still believe that one of these days, I won't just be from here.
I'll be back here.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Life Lessons: Apparently/Maybe/Probably You Can't Take Photos Inside Starbucks

I'm waiting patiently for my Starbucks soy latte - because I am one bougie, basic you-know-what, apparently - when I notice that one of the baristas behind the counter looks ticked. Really ticked.

I follow her glare to the end of the bar, where a middle-aged woman is sitting on a barstool, finishing up a pastry. She's staring intently at her iPhone, holding it up at an angle in front of the big, silver, behemoth of a sink in front of her. I instantly recognize the familiar, focused look in her eyes, the way she's tilting her phone just so: She's trying to capture the perfect Instagram photo. And then, satisfied with what she's just snapped, she begins to pocket her phone.

The barista has a thick accent, & at first I'm not sure exactly what she's said - but the anger in her voice is unmistakable. "None of this!" she says firmly to the customer with the iPhone. "No photos!" The customer looks startled, like maybe the barista is scolding someone else. She looks to either side, but no one is there except me, & I look just as bewildered as she does. Turning back to the stern-faced barista & gesturing to herself despite the cup of tea in her hand, she squeaks, "Me?"

"Yes! You cannot take photos in here!" The barista is really mad now, glaring something fierce. This isn't your standard "Sorry, but..." or "Thanks for understanding..." sort of customer service. This is harsh & unfaltering &, frankly, confusing, because trying to take artsy, amateur smartphone photos has become something of an international pastime. Have you been on Instagram lately? It's positively replete with attempts at capturing creatives images of Starbucks cups.

The budding photographer splutters a little. "I was just taking a photo of the faucet," she explains meekly. "It's just a photo of a drop of water." She pushes her phone forward, & the photo on screen corroborates her story. But for all the anger in this barista's eyes, she might as well have flashed a photo of a thousand slaughtered kittens. 

Another barista, the one who's making my drink, mutters toward her coworker: "It's fine, I'm not even in it. It's fine." I wonder for a moment whether the angry barista is defending this one, somehow, if there's some reason she can't be in photographs - if she's a victim of domestic violence, or... I don't know, some other reason she shouldn't be photographed. But the customer's photo is as she explained: just a drop of water from a big, silver sink. And why all the anger? Can't she at least get an explanation or a little bit of kindness?

As the baristas mutter to one another, the woman with the iPhone turns to me. "I guess I shouldn't try to take artsy Instagram photos," she says, shrugging her shoulders & trying to laugh. I laugh a little, too, & shrug back at her in response, "What a Monday," I murmur. We're both still processing this weird & hostile scene.

But even with her coworker's placation, the angry barista is still angry: "You have to delete the picture," she insists. "Why are you taking it? You can't take photos in here. Delete it & leave!"

The customer, who looks exhausted by this point, turns & walks away. When she's out of earshot, the barista mutters, loud enough for me to hear, "No class. No class at all." She catches me staring at her, mouth wide open, but she doesn't seem apologetic or embarrassed - just as angry as she's been all along.

As I stop to grab a napkin on my way out of the store, I catch up with the customer to tell her what I've just heard & to say that I'd be emailing corporate Starbucks with a complaint. Maybe it's silly of me to inject myself into her scenario, but I want her to leave feeling like she has an ally, even if it's in a complete stranger.

She tells me she's going to send an email to corporate, too, & she seems pretty downtrodden, like maybe the day has just taken the mickey out of her. But then her face lights up a little, & she half-smiles at me: "You know, you can't take pictures in a Starbucks, but you can take a gun into one," she tells me. "How's that for priorities?"

***

Actually, Starbucks has a strict no-guns policy as of last fall, but I appreciate the sentiment. No guns, no photos, "no class," & never a dull moment, apparently.

At it turns out, this woman wasn't the first Starbucks customer to face the ire of a barista set on shutting down an amateur photography attempt. A rep confirmed for Business Insider last year that personal photography is permitted inside Starbucks stores, but the Internet is still full of similar stories & confusion about the company's in-store photo policy. For me, though, the issue wasn't that this woman was being prohibited from taking photos (although that's absurd). It's that she was being treated so rudely - as though she'd committed an actual crime - without being given even the slightest explanation as to what she had done wrong.

The Golden Rule applies all the time, even - & perhaps especially - in the service industry, going both ways. Drink your coffee & Instagram in peace & just be nice to other people, period. You're on notice, Adams Morgan Starbucks.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

On Cultivating a Personal Style & Trying to Become a Jazzy Old Woman



I've never thought much about fashion. I wouldn't say I have a great sense of style, but I don't feel like I have a terrible one, either. I wear what I like, which is usually a combination of comfortable, neutral, & classic, with a little bit of bohemian thrown in on occasion. I don't much like prints or colors, I don't wear anything structured or that requires ironing, & I haven't worn a skirt since 2009, when my very fashionable roommate admitted that even she felt they were too difficult to coordinate. I frequently  wear leggings as pants, I have a soft spot for anything cozy & oversized, & I love big, loud gold jewelry.

In other words, I'm a girl who knows what she likes, even when what I like isn't necessarily what's cool.

For the first time in my life, I have a walk-in closet, & it was a pretty thrilling moment last fall after I moved in & hung everything up, then stepped back to admire my handiwork. "Look at all my stuff!" I told myself triumphantly. "I have so many clothes!'

But, like, why do I need all those clothes? Why does anyone? As the year wore on, all my clothes on display in front of me every morning, I realized just how few items I actually wear. I'm forever returning to the same 20 or so pieces, dressing in black because I prefer it to just about anything else. I never want to wear my patterned GAP button-ups or my structured business dresses or my bright red corduroy pants. Why do I even own these things? This is someone else's style.

And I'm 30 now. Somehow, turning 30 has provided me with a new-found sense of entitlement - but not in a bad way. At 30, I feel like I'm allowed to own my style, to stop trying to be something I'm not, to wear all-black if I want to, to cultivate a style that works for me instead of one that I see working for everyone else.

So I'm getting rid of everything that doesn't suit me, & I'm only going to wear the things I love.

Since making this decision, I've listed nearly half of my wardrobe on Poshmark (which you can join, by the way, using my promotional code HMUGD to get a $5 credit). While I'd love to be able to just donate it all, money is tight, & I need to bring in extra cash where I can. Whatever doesn't sell there will go to ThredUp or the local Martha's Table thrift store.

The money I make selling my old wardrobe will go into my new one, a more carefully cultivated style that brings in only items I love & that fit my recently pinpointed aesthetic. I want more black, more textures, more drapey cardigans, more bold accessories that make other women say, "I couldn't pull that off."

You know those sort-of-crazy oldish women, the ones who are past middle-aged but not quite elderly yet, either? They're, like, 65 or 70, & they're wearing thick, plastic glasses & big capes & massive pieces of jewelry & crazy scarves & big, billowy pants made out of, like, curtains? Yeah. Them. I look at them - I saw one at the Arby's at the airport today, of all places - & am blown away by their ability to look chic despite the fact that nothing they're wearing is magazine-standard trendy - & despite the fact that they're too old for magazine-standard trendy, anyway. They dress for style, not sex appeal, & they always look comfortable & quirky & damn good.

My goal is to dress like one of those fabulously quirky middle-aged woman - long before I am actually middle-aged. And if I may say so myself, I think I'm off to a damn good start.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How Can You Run When You Know? #WeAreKentState


In the early 1970s, not long after the May 4th shootings, my parents met at a house party at Kent State University, where they were both students. When I was born in 1984, they still lived within the Kent city limits, in a tiny house across the street from Stoddard's Ice Cream. I may have been born down the road at a hospital in Akron, but in every other way, I got my start in Kent.

In the early '90s, I began attending day camp at Kent State for Kids, held on the KSU campus. My dad dropped me off at camp on his a way to work each morning, & I spent my days in "classes" that I'd chosen out of a booklet designed to look like a course catalog. I took archery & swimming & miming (?!) & Korean in the same buildings where my parents had attended their college classes - & where I would later attend my own. I wrote poetry while lying on the May 4th memorial with my creative writing class, which produced my first piece of "published" writing.

Later on in the '90s, my mom returned to Kent State to pursue her masters in library science. I remember waiting in line with her at the registrar's office & begging her to let me spray paint the giant rock at the front of campus, a college tradition that seemed like the ultimate in adulthood to my childlike understanding. "Maybe when you're older," she told me. In 1997, when we hosted my bat mitzvah party in the Rathskellar, a bar at the student center, I again begged my mom to let my friends & me paint the rock as part of the celebration. I was unsuccessful in my plea; I have still never painted the rock.

In 2001, when I was applying to colleges, I lied & told my mother that I had sent in my application to Kent State. I had not. (Sorry, Mom.) I loved Kent State, but it felt like my childhood, not my future. I had no interest in attending a college I'd known so intimately for my entire life.

And in 2005, when I decided I couldn't stay at Ohio University for another second, I moved back into my mother's house & began attending Kent State University, just seven miles down the road. I felt like a massive failure; it seemed seemed like the ultimate embarrassment to have transferred to the hometown school, the school my parents went to, the school half of the population of my high school went to.

It didn't take me long to realize it was one of the best decisions of my life.

I graduated from Kent State in 2007 with a Bachelor's of Science in News. Most of it was earned in Taylor Hall, the journalism building - the building whose parking lot paves the area where the unthinkable happened on May 4th, 1970. Each year on the anniversary of the shootings, I joined Kent State Hillel in placing rocks on each of the blocked-off spots where four students died. These days, Taylor Hall is the May 4th Visitors Center, dedicated to preserving the memory of what happened that day & why - what it meant for the school & the country & for history.

On my last day of classes at Kent State, I called my mother in tears: "I'm going to come back," I promised. "Maybe I'll get my masters here, too."

I never wanted to go to Kent State - but I have always been Kent State, intentionally or otherwise. Today & every day, I am proud to call myself a part of a university that carries so much history & still has so much pride - & oh, yeah, this degree is pretty nice, too. I am a Kent State alum from a family of Kent State alums. And #WeAreKentState.


This post was written for #WeAreKentState, a Facebook event asking Kent State supporters to wear blue & gold today. It was organized as a show of pride in response to Urban Outfitters' recent decision to sell a "vintage" KSU sweatshirt that appears to be splattered with blood.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

I Found a Warning Note from a Ghost (OK, or a Stranger)

I've worked from home for the last 3.5 years (!), which means I often work from Starbucks & other various places that seem hospitable to day-long camp-outs. Recently, I've taken to working from hotels, which offer all the desired amenities: a nice space, reliable wifi, clean bathrooms, & some sort of coffeeshop. No one thinks twice about a girl with a laptop set up in a hotel lobby for a few hours (though I've accumulated a mental list of excuses, should anyone approach).

I became enamored of the Marriott Wardman Park in 2009, when I lived two blocks from the back entrance. My roommate thought it was terribly weird that I'd sometimes take a book up to a sunny nook on one of the floors to hunker down for a few hours. Still, I had no idea of the hotel's size until I attended a conference there... a few months ago. Turns out, it's enormous - & perfect for working from home without actually working from home.

After half a day of hard work in the lobby/café, I decided to take the scenic way out on my way home. I wandered down a long hallway that took me to another wing of the hotel - a fancier wing, a quieter wing, a wing with no people & no noise but lots of mirrors & extravagant furniture. The whole area overlooks gorgeous gardens. I spent a few quiet moments taking it in, enjoying this space that somehow felt uncharted despite the fact that it was likely inhabited, even at that very moment, by dozens of wayward travelers. In one corner, I found this gorgeous old desk:

 

I started to take photos of the ornate gold rose twisting up off of the wood because, you know, I gotta Instagram my life. But then I wondered, "Is there anything in these tiny old drawers?" I figured they were empty because hotels in general - & this hotel in particular - are pretty clean placed. It seemed likely that housekeeping swept through the area on a daily basis, no matter how remote or Secret Gardeny it may have been.

I opened three of the tiny drawers, & they were mostly empty. One of them contained a broken gold rose; nothing too exciting. But the fourth drawer? Ohhh, the fourth drawer. 

I like to imagine the possibilities behind what I found in the fourth drawer. Did it come from a bored teenage boy, tired of spending time with his family & looking for ways to amuse himself? Did it come from a sneaky employee, communicating a warning message to a fellow staffer who had done something wrong? Did it come from drunk hotelgoers, laughing too loudly in the hotel lobby as they brainstormed a practical joke whose results they could never see? The possibilities are endless.

I thought about taking it with me, tacking it to my mirror to give me a laugh every now & then, but I decided to leave it where it was. I hope someone else finds it & thinks it's just as hysterical & creepy as I did.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hard River to Cross: Two Lessons in Facing My Fear of Water

 

I'm afraid of open water, & I always have been. I remember being a little kid, 9 or 10 years old, & being terrified to go into Crystal Lake, the perfectly nice, members-only body of water that I went to with my best friend Christina what seemed like every day of the summer. I'd yelp whenever my toes touched something that wasn't just sand, & I finally stopped jumping off the diving board because I couldn't bear to feel the slimy stuff that grew on the ladder back out.

Before you ask: Yes, I can swim! I'm not afraid of, like, drowning. I'm just afraid of... I don't know, of stuff. Of creatures. When I'm in a lake, I'm scared of fish, of feeling something brush up against my foot or my thigh that I can't see through murky waters. And when I'm in the ocean, I'm scared of the same thing, but on a larger scale - of God-knows-what lies beneath the surface wriggling up against me or worse. My fear isn't even of sharks, specifically, like it is for most people. I mean, sharks are scary, yeah. But I'm also afraid of crabs & eels & jellyfish whatever the hell else lurks in there.

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I recently went on a week-long vacation. To an ocean. To the Atlantic Ocean, specifically. I spent seven days relaxing on Hilton Head Island with my mom, Christina, & three other beloved friends in celebration of a few milestone birthdays, including my own. Because we were on an island, it follows that we spent some time at the beach, which was... hard for me. I waded about hip-deep into the water a few times, but I ran flailing out of it whenever sea creatures revealed themselves to be in close proximity. I yelped when I stepped on a sand dollar, I called it a day when my mom got stung by a jellyfish, & I nearly cried when I saw a guy catch a stingray.

Still, I wanted to force myself to keep facing my fear - so I bought a Groupon for a two-hour stand-up paddleboarding class on the May River. Early one morning, four of us drove out to Bluffton, SC, where we were greeted by our instructor, a toned & tanned 50-something yogi-slash-photographer named Roddy. After a brief how-to during which I nearly keeled over with anxiety, we got out on the water. 

And it was... so, so pleasant. Not scary at all, despite the fact that I was scared as hell. Maybe I was compelled by the fact that I'd spent $100 on it, or maybe I just didn't want to ruin the experience for everyone else, but I wasn't nearly as panicky as I thought I'd be. It was a surprisingly calming experience, out there in the sun, in the peace & quiet, trying something new & foreign & borderline terrifying. Ever vigilant about water-dwelling critters, I committed to not falling into the river, & no one was more surprised than me that I was able to stay on my board the whole time. But as it turns out, I was so proud of myself that at one point, as we hung out on our boards on calm waters, I decided to celebrate my accomplishment... by jumping in! 

(That part was short-lived, but... hey, I did it.)


 

I had a great time stand-up paddleboarding, but it didn't cure me of my fear of what lies beneath. Still, I decided to keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone by going sailing on the Potomac River last weekend with my friend Emily, who kindly invited me to join her on her father's boat.

Yes, I'm scared of boats, too. Obviously. Because boats could collapse, you see? And then I'd be in the water with all the creatures. Shudder. (And yes, this was quite an ironic & amusing fear for me to have while I was dating a member of the U.S. Coast Guard - & even for both of these recent water excursions, when I was joined by a friend who's a Navy vet. Sailors, man.)

Early Sunday morning, four of us made our way to an adorable marina in Alexandria, VA. With the new Capital Wheel visible across the water, we boarded a little boat & set off... which is when my anxiety kicked in. Thankfully, I only succumbed to about three minutes of serious panic before finally evening out & enjoying the morning, albeit nervously. If I thought too hard about where I was or what I was doing, I started to freak out again, but for the most part, it was a perfectly lovely two hours on the water - & it helped that the shore was visible on both sides. I mean, how perfect are these blues?


Am I still afraid of water? YEP. But I'm proud of myself for pushing past my absurd fear of fish & sharks & other slimy things & making some memories I can hang onto for awhile. 

Because while I've moved around a lot, I've always lived along major rivers - the Cuyahoga, the Ohio, the Potomac, the Piscataqua, the Navesink. I'm not much of a nature gal, but if there's one thing I find comforting, it's the sight of open water, no matter how much I don't want to go in it. Blue sky over blue water? From Ohio to D.C. & everywhere in between, that's what feels the most like home to me - & it feels good to make some peace with it.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Apartment is a Roach Motel: A Story of Neighbors With a Twisted Sense of Humor



The night I found a cockroach on my bathroom wall, I immediately sent a frantic email to our building manager. I successfully resisted the inclination to type it in all caps & use a lot of exclamation points.

Later that week, an exterminator sprayed my place for pests, & for good measure, the building manager had all my neighbors' units - above, below, & on both sides - sprayed, too. I returned home one day to find a little card near my sink that told me I might see "increased activity" in the hours after the exterminating, but that it would soon subside. I assume this meant that any cockroaches hiding in my place would come out into the open to die a slow & painful death.

The morning after that, I spotted two dead cockroaches down the hallway, just outside the elevator. I was headed out of town & figured the maintenance guys would suck 'em up in their daily vacuuming, so while I was grossed out, I went along my merry way & felt thankful that the pesticide was doing its job.

When I returned from my weekend trip to NYC, the hallway seemed otherwise clean, but the dead cockroaches were still there. In the same spot. Four days had passed since their initial appearance, so I decided it was time to approach the building manager. She apologized profusely & promised to have maintenance clean of the cockroach carcasses the next morning.

Two days later, they were still there. In the same spot. Fed up & thoroughly grossed out, I politely stormed into the building manager's office & politely demanded that the cockroaches be taken away ASAP. Again apologizing profusely (I swear I was polite, & I swear my building is otherwise clean), she accompanied me upstairs to see them for herself. "Oh my God!" she shouted, & she again promised they'd be gone by morning.

The next day, the cockroaches were gone. On my way to work that morning, I stopped into the building manager's office to thank her for taking care of it. I'd hardly opened my mouth, when she exclaimed, "I need to show you something!" & opened her desk drawer to pull out something small. She turned to me & said, "You're not going to believe this." And then she opened her hand, revealing what was inside.

Two plastic cockroaches. 

That's right. Those dramatically sized "dead" pests in the hallway were made of plastic. Kids' toys. Horrifyingly realistic, but not at all real. Someone in my building is a really jokester all right, & I spent a full week falling for their bizarre but perfectly timed shenanigans. One question remains: Who would do that?

Actually, wait, another question remains, too: WHY?!?!
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