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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

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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.

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

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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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The Time I Took an Actual Midnight Train to Georgia

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

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As I researched good travel options to get me from Washington, D.C., to Hilton Head, S.C. for a week-long vacation, it quickly became clear that there were no good travel options. I could fly out of Baltimore at 5am; I could spend $700 to take a direct flight to the island; I could hitch a ride down with friends, but I'd get in two days late.

When someone suggested I look at Amtrak options, I laughed - until I found a $100 ticket to Savannah, the stop closest to my destination. The catch is that it was an 11-hour train ride - 11 hours on a train, you guys - but at least it was overnight, leaving at 7:30pm & arriving at 6:30 the next morning. My mom's flight was to land in Savannah at 9am, which meant we could easily meet up to drive to Hilton Head.

And that's how one warm August evening, I ended up on a literal midnight train to Georgia. What follows is a timestamped account of my 11-hour adventure south.


7:30pm: I exchange pleasantries with the middle-aged man sitting next to me. He'll be getting off early, he says, in Richmond, & he does not crack a smile when I apologize in advance for being the sort of person who eats a tuna sandwich for dinner in an enclosed space.

7:35pm: I am seated behind a very loud, very large family. I think I count 11 of them, total, with at least seven children, the youngest of whom are seated directly in front of me & have incredibly grating child-voices. The non-smiler next to me continues his trend of not smiling as we are subjected to a great deal of high-pitched yelling & absolutely zero adult intervention. I am slightly more forgiving when I realize that this family, who boarded in Philadelphia, is bound for Miami... which is a 24+ train ride, altogether. Those poor, poor parents.

7:45pm: In my stress, I consume an entire bag of Cheddar Chex Mix & immediately regret it. My actual dinner, a tuna sandwich on multigrain bread, sits untouched in my carry-on bag.

8:15pm: I Instagram two sunset photos, like a very basic Internet person, & spend a great deal of time texting with friends & with my mom, who has to wake up at 3am for her flight. Clearly, we're a family with travel smarts.

7:55pm: One of the teenagers in the family in front of me has a revelation: "I just realized that 'chillax' is 'chill' & 'relax' smushed together!" she howls. Her relatives proceed to laugh hysterically.

10:00pm: I pop half a melatonin, recline my seat, cover myself in a thin fleece blanket I got for free at a baseball game, & settle in for an hour of uninterrupted, almost-even-comfortable sleep.

10:45pm: This outstanding Facebook conversation reaches a culmination.

11:00pm: I awaken with a start as the man next to me - a new guy, as the other got off an hour & a half ago - begins to snore. Loudly. Very loudly. Pushing my earplugs further inside my ears to try to block it out, I drift in & out of sleep.

11:45pm: The familiar & dulcet tones of Sesame Street ring out over the train car, even over my earplugs. With her whole family asleep, the child in front of me has opted to lull herself to sleep with TV... out loud. But with her whole family asleep, no other adult on the car seems to feel comfortable asking her to to put on headphones. Snoring Seatmate & I sigh at one another in frustration, & my eyes well up with tears of exhaustion as I take a quick walk through the train to cool off.

11:55pm: When I return to my seat, Sesame Street has been silenced. "It woke her mama up," Snoring Seatmate explains sleepily. The relief in his voice is palpable; he sounds the way I feel.

12:00am: It's official: midnight train to Georgia! I pop the other half of the melatonin & fall asleep for approximately 30 minutes.

12:30am: "MAMA! MAMA!" I awaken to the frantic louder-than-whispers of the child in front of me. "MAMA, I'M SCARED! It's scary on this train when everything is dark! There are noises!" To my relief, Mama is not having it. "Go to sleep," she grumbles, & the child obliges. I send up a blessing to a God I don't believe in for Mama's train-parenting techniques.

2:15am: I am 85% conked out, but I'm awake enough to realize that I just farted in my sleep. I hope that Snoring Seatmate, for all his own inadvertent bodily noises while asleep, will forgive me. I'm not even that embarrassed. I mean, it's 2:15am, & I ate a whole bag of Chex Mix for dinner.

3:30am: I awaken again to find that Snoring Seatmate & I have fallen asleep with our heads inclined toward one another. I have been sleeping awkwardly close to a total stranger. I overcorrect this embarrassing behavior by curling into a ball against the window.

4:45am: Snoring Seatmate, who has not snored for many hours, exits in Charleston without so much as a head-nod in my direction. After all we've been through together, man? I thought we had something.

5:00am: The old man across the aisle from me is coughing up both lungs. Is this croup or Ebola or some natural result of being approximately one thousand years old? There's no way to know. I breathe into my neck pillow & pray that I do not contract the Bubonic plague before I get to see the ocean again.

5:15am: Now begrudgingly but fully awake, I consume half of an hours-old tuna sandwich under cover of darkness in the hopes that no one will be able to trace the source of its pungent odor.

5:31am: My 92-song playlist finally runs out of songs.

5:35am: The train starts moving backward. Ebola Man is the only person around me who is awake, but he appears unconcerned. WHY ARE WE MOVING BACKWARD?

5:55am: I discover that my beloved straw fedora has been crushed under the footrest of my seat. I observe a moment of actual mourning, as I doubt I'll be able to find a suitable replacement to keep my very pale self from burning at the beach.

6:00am: Seven cell phone alarm clocks go off simultaneously, awakening half a grumbling train car. I note with some relief that we're moving forward again, though I don't know when it happened.

6:15am: As the sun rises, we pull into Yemassee Station, which looks like the set of a cheap horror film (see photo). An abandoned hardware store sits across the tracks from the station, & heaps of broken furniture litter the ground for dozens of yards. Each sign is missing at least two letters, including the sign for the train station itself. I realize that this "town" is just 20 minutes away from the home of a high school classmate who once told me I would burn in hell for being Jewish. I decide I would rather face that fate than live in hell, which is what this place appears to be.

6:25am: The kids in front of me are blissfully still asleep, but Ebola Man next to me just coughed up a wad of phlegm the size of a gumball. I start to wonder what shtick must be to the strangers around me, & I decide that I'm probably the girl who's always shuffling stuff around, looking for stuff in my purse - my contacts, my Chapstick, my phone charger, the rest of my tuna sandwich. It occurs to me that I might be inadvertently annoying.

6:35am: My stop nearing, I head to the restroom to freshen up (which seems like an oxymoron in a restroom like this). When I return, the child seated in front of me is awake. And watching Sesame Street again.

6:55am: About 25 minutes behind schedule, the train pulls into Savannah's Amtrak station, a comically small, isolated building surrounded by exactly nothing. My Weather.com app tells me the humidity level is 100%, no joke. I head to the bathroom to do some more freshening up (again with the oxymorons), because what else am I going to do for the next two hours? Thanks to the glory of Neutrogena face wipes & copious amounts of dry shampoo, I emerge looking surprisingly decent, given that I've just spent a half a day of my life on a train.

8:00am: My friend Rachel, who is interning in Savannah for the summer, arrives at the station to catch an 8:20am train to South Carolina! Before her train boards, we have just enough time to laugh at the ridiculousness of seeing a familiar face in such a ridiculous place at such a ridiculous hour, &, of course, to snap a selfie.

9:15am: Having taken a cab to the Savannah International (haha) Airport, I meet up with my mother, & we point our rental Kia in the direction of Hilton Head Island. Our vacation begins!

[10:00am: I learn that we cannot enter our vacation condo until 4:00pm & that it will therefore be six more hours before I can even think about napping. I promptly burst into tears.]
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Notes To My Younger Self on the Eve of Turning 30

Monday, August 4, 2014

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Yes and Yes's "Notes To My Younger Self" is helping spread the word about The Post College Survival Kit. We learned the hard way so you don’t have to! Don’t wait until your thirties for a better job, a nicer apartment, financial stability, & better relationships/friendships. Seize the day, kiddos.

I'm about to turn 30. Maybe you heard? That's happening tomorrow, & I'm pretty enthusiastic about it, despite the fact that my twenties have been a collectively phenomenal learning experience. Onto the next!

Still, like most people who enjoy the sound of their own voice (read: every blogger), I have some thoughts on the matter. Shocking, I know. As I reflect on the last decade & prepare to leave my twenties behind, I'm joining Sarah of Yes and Yes for her series “Notes to My Younger Self,” sharing a few small-but-valuable life lessons learned in my time as a twentysomething.
  1. Don’t be ashamed of what you like. For me, it’s bad TV dramas (long live Grey’s Anatomy), trashy magazines (I love you, People), &  cheap beer (gimme that PBR). I spent a long time trying to live up to other people’s expectations of good taste, hating it all the while – & I looking like a fraud. Push your limits, try new things, expand your horizons, etc., but when you find something you dig, own it.

  2. Do your chores. Nobody's giving you a gold star if you wash your dirty dishes or make your bed, but you'll feel a whole lot better if you do. Dedicating five minutes to basic household cleanliness goes a long way in making you feel like your living situation doesn't suck (even if it sort of does).

  3. Negotiate your salary. The first time you’re offered an amount of money that ends in “000,” you’re going to experience minor palpitations and daydreams of ballin’. But the salary you settle for now will impact your ability to ask for more down the road – which means you could find yourself struggling to pay rent at 30 (ahem) & kicking yourself for not being smarter at 22. But wait! Actually…

  4. Learn to ask for what you want, period. Whether it’s a higher salary or more foreplay or just a burger that’s cooked more to your liking, master the art of self-advocacy & become the kind of person who can eloquently articulate your wants & needs. The worst they can say is no – but they’ll respect you for asking.

  5. Save your damn money. Why wasn’t I saving bank during the three years in my twenties when I didn't have to pay rent? I have no idea. Don’t be me, OK? The future will come, and you’ll be pissed at your past self if you’re flat broke for it.

  6. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Go to parties. Do adventurous stuff. Date questionable characters. Spend some of your hard-earned money traveling or skydiving or getting tattoos. Have fun. In your twenties, you can get away with a lot – like occasionally being drunk, selfish, emotional, and/or an idiot – but still end up being taken seriously as a fledgling adult. It’s a lot tougher to pull off drunk, selfish, emotional, idiocy around 30, when you’re expected to be an actual adult, so get it out of the way while you can. You’ll be thankful for the stories later.

  7. Go on vacation. You think you’re going to be able to take a week at the beach when you’ve got two kids & a career? You have vacation days for a reason. No matter how busy you are at 23, you are not too busy to use them for their intended purpose.

  8. Be a friend a friend would like to have. Yes, this is a line from a Tim McGraw song. He's a smart dude. How are you going to hang on to the people you love if you’re not following the golden rule? The older you get, the more work it becomes to maintain friendships – so be somebody who’s worth making the effort for.

  9. Wear sunscreen. Because Baz Lurhmann said so, & because you’ll be giddy when a recent college grad tells you, two days before your 30th birthday, that they would’ve guessed you were 25.
PS: In celebration of making it to 30, I'm still fundraising for suicide prevention. I have more than $1,000 to go before I hit my goal. Will you consider donating to this worthy cause? Visit www.stayclassy.org/kateis30 to read my story & join me.

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