Don't Be a Stranger

Wednesday, January 29, 2014 

I misplaced my SmarTrip card, & by “misplaced,” I think I mean “dropped on the sidewalk.” It’s gone forever, unless I find it hidden in my desk drawers months from now (which is possible), so I had to go get a new one. Tonight I stopped by the Woodley Park Metro Station on my way home from an appointment, where it took all of three minutes to complete the entire transaction. I would've been on my merry, cold way home except that I lagged for a bit when I noticed the scene taking place around me.

A group of six middle-aged male tourists were crowded around two of the farecard vending machines, clearly lost. Their English comprehension skills ranged from moderate to nonexistent, & they were obviously struggling with the whole card-reloading process - the buttons, the instructions, the money. I thought about offering them help, but I'm always wary of insulting tourists by, you know, identifying them as tourists, so I just stood there for an extra minute, getting my getting-ready-to-go affairs in order (whatever that means) & trying to look approachable.

As I was about to put my earbuds in & roll out, one of the men approached me. "Are you American?" he asked me in heavily accented English, his expression hopeful. "Do you live here?" I told him I did & that I'd be happy to help, & then I spent the next seven or eight minutes walking them through the reloading process on all six of their cards. (We had to start & stop a few times because one of the guys was dead-set on displaying his understanding of the machines' instructions, pushing buttons at the wrong times, which put a kink in the process more than once.) I also helped them read through the Metro map & sort out their money because... foreign maps & foreign money are tough & terrifying, man.

As I started to help them, I was reminded of two trips of my own. On my first day in Israel, I tried to pay for a case of water with five agorot instead of five shekelim, which is (I think) the equivalent of trying to pay with five pennies instead of five quarters. The storekeeper laughed meanly & scoffed, "No, no," shooing me away to sort out my money troubles without any guidance or understanding.

On my summer trip to London, where I spoke the language but still faced considerable currency confusion, I dreaded paying for anything because why is their money so difficult to figure out? As I tried to figure out which coins would pay for a single miniature cupcake from the famed Hamley's Toy Shop, my anxiety must've been obvious to the girl behind the bakery counter. With no one in line behind me, she spent three minutes giving me a thorough & friendly currency tutorial that was much more helpful than anything I'd read online before my visit.

I spent only a few minutes with today's baffled tourists, but I walked away from that interaction hoping I'd been helpful & friendly enough to leave them with a positive impression of the U.S. & of those of us who live here. They were so appreciative, & for me, it was so easy. I didn't have anywhere to hurry off to, & it's not like it was difficult for me, as a native English speaker with knowledge of the city & of American money, to do what they were struggling so hard to figure out on their own. Beyond that, though, it's just so damn easy to be nice, & as much as I promise to forever cling to my penchant for snark & sass, even I can admit that it feels good to just be good.

Why am I telling you this? It's not so you can tell me what a good person I am; trust me, I'm very often not. And that's the point, actually. The point is that we so often forget how easy it is to be a decent person, so this is just a little reminder. Next time you're in a position to help somebody out, give it a try - even if you're a little busier than I was, or the request is a little more difficult than theirs was. In fact, you know what? Help somebody out even (especially!) if they don't ask for it, because asking for help is scary, but being offered help is an incredible relief.

Do something nice. Be someone nice. And pay it forward, ya filthy animals.

Fears I Didn't Even Know I Had

Monday, January 27, 2014

I would never say I'm a person who suffers from phobias in the real, clinical sense of the word. I would certainly say, though, that I'm a person prone to fear - in the broad, general sense of the word. I've always been anxious (I'm a twenty-something Jewish woman, which means the very fibers of my being are practically cemented together by a mixture of neuroticism & concern), but as my anxiety has worsened, so has my tendency to be afraid of, um, everything. Since moving back to the city, I've picked up a few new fears that are admittedly ridiculous & only occasionally debilitating.

Fires: I spent Thanksgiving with a friend who works in code enforcement, & somehow, our holiday table talk turned toward discussion of the Great White Nightclub Fire of 2007. What began as a conversation about building code violations took a turn for the macabre when we decided to watch video footage of the blaze, starting a few minutes before the flames broke out & ending in total devastation. Since then, I've found myself wary of any restaurant or bar (I'm lookin' at you, Science Club basement) that seems likely to keep me boxed in in the event of a fiery inferno. Cinder block walls & one exit door at the end of an long corridor? Yeah, I'm gonna die, bye.

Getting mugged: Remember how I said these fears were ridiculous? This one isn't. At all. I know a distressing number of people who've been mugged, & some in neighborhoods considered otherwise unscary. One of my male friends was robbed near H Street when he got off a bus in the rain. Two female coworkers were robbed on their walk home to Shaw. Another male friend has twice been robbed at gunpoint in Friendship Heights, of all places. Basically, no place is safe & no person is immune. I walk with my pepper spray at the ready, checking over my shoulder like a crazy person & remaining obnoxiously vigilant while I walk, probably to the point of freaking out the non-muggers around me. Elderly people & other single women are immune to my general paranoia, but if you're a dude or walking in a group, I'm pretty sure you're about to take me for all I'm worth (which isn't much, except for the whole being alive part, which I rather value).

Snakes inside Craigslist furniture:
This one is very specific, I know, but I read a few weeks ago about some people who found a dying snake inside their secondhand couch. (I swear I found a story that went more in-depth about the snake being a pet of the couch's previous owners, but I can't find that one anymore & now wonder whether it was a figment of my imagination.) I still have basically no furniture - & also basically no money - but I'd rather live in a sad dancefloor of an empty apartment than take in couches inhabited by dying snakes. Or any snakes, really. No snakes, please.

I can't be the only person with (mostly) unfounded fears, right? Right? I'd love to hear what niggling fears keep you up at night - or from buying furniture online.

Living Like a Hobo in My Own Home

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I moved back to D.C. with a twin bed of questionable (read: free & communal) origins. It had been the guest bed in our Jersey apartment, which meant no one ever really slept in it. Prior to moving, the most I'd ever done with/for/on it was check to be sure it didn't have bedbugs, spray it with copious amounts of Febreze, & take a singular midday nap on it. Suddenly, though, it became my every-night bed.

I seriously considered trying to accept life as an almost-30-year-old woman who sleeps in a secondhand twin bed every night, but downgrading from my two-bedroom, two-bathroom adult apartment to a tiny studio was difficult enough - plus, the twin squeaked any time I moved, waking me up every time I rolled over in the middle of the night.

Let's face it: A twin bed is no place for an adult.

And so, after a very serious, enlightening, drunken conversation with my friend Allison's boyfriend in which he touted the merits (price, reliability, comfort!) of beds from, I went ahead & ordered a queen-sized bed. Off the Internet.

The mattress arrived first, & I started sleeping on it immediately, even without a bed frame to put it on. So comfy! So spacious! So unsqueaky! In fact, I was so comfortable on my floor-bed that when the frame arrived a week later, I felt no hurry to assemble it or even to open the unwieldy, 60-lb. box it arrived in.

This was in part because I don't have any tools. I checked with some friends, none of whom seem to own a full toolbox (apparently not a requirement of adulthood, like full-sized beds are), so I just... sort of gave up for a bit. I slept on my floor-bed, & I enjoyed it. I couldn't take the twin bed to the dumpster on my own, though, so for about a month, my tiny apartment was home to two beds & a giant bed box.

(Did I mention that I also didn't own queen-sized sheets? It took me a week & a half, but I finally bought some. I'm kind of gross, I know.)
Finally, after a month of sleeping on my floor-bed, Nathan was coming for a visit & said he'd help me put the bed frame together. "You have to open the box, though," he told me, "so that I know what tools to bring." Grumbling all the while, I wrestled with the giant box &, after a brief struggle, got it open, fully expecting to face a jumble of unidentifiable, disconnected metal bed pieces accompanied by some vague DIY instructions.

Here's what I found instead:

Yeah, that's a fully-assembled bed frame. All I had to do with lug it out of the box, unfold it, latch the two folding parts together, & plop the mattress on top. I let this already-made bed frame sit in a sealed box next to my mattress for a full month before bothering to open it & realize that it was, in fact, already made.

Upon hearing this ridiculous tale, a friend summed up the moral of the story this way: The lesson is that you never have to wait for a man's tools to open your own box.

Ain't that the truth. Sleep tight, friends.

I Resolve Nothing

Thursday, January 2, 2014

It's been a long time since I made any sort of formal new year's resolutions. You see, I know myself fairly well, & I've been down that resolution road before. "I AM SO EXCITED TO CHANGE ALL THE THINGS ABOUT MYSELF & BECOME A REALLY AWESOME VERSION OF ME!" By March, I'm exactly the same as I ever was.

At the start of 2013, I scribbled a few sentences on a legal pad. Each sentence was no more than five words long, nothing particularly in-depth - just a few written reminders of things to focus on in the new year. I didn't think too much before I started writing; I just went for it. I didn't put any pressure on myself to OMG achieve all these high-pressure goals or else; I just gently nudged myself in the direction of betterment & sort of hoped for the best.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the not-putting-any-pressure-on-myself-to-become-a-really-awesome-version-of-me thing worked pretty well for me. Without pressure to achieve, I also felt no advance guilt about my likely failure (this should tell you basically everything you need to know about my entire personality) - and in that space between, I actually accomplished almost all of the items on my hastily written list.

This year, I'm taking a similar approach. My friend Jane wrote two lists - things to do more of in 2014 & things to do less of - & I'm going to try the same. As it turns out, all of items on my mental To Do This Year list can be summed up thusly: Be kind to myself.

In 2014, I'll try for a little bit less:
  1. Worrying
  2. Alcohol
  3. Gossip
  4. Mindless surfing of social media
  5. Diet Coke
  6. Indecision
  7. Comparing myself to others
  8. Frivolous spending
  9. Snacking
  10. Guilt
And a whole lot more:
  1. Writing
  2. Intuitive eating
  3. New music
  4. Adventuring
  5. Water
  6. Walking & exercising
  7. Red lipstick
  8. Plans & video chats with friends
  9. Good books
  10. Therapy and/or Ativan
Be kind to yourselves this year, friends. We deserve it.
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