Thursday, April 29, 2010

Creative College Credits

I was watching this week's episode of Glee (a brief--and snarky--Glee-cap here), when the roller rink they featured took me back to my college days. I went to a liberal arts school in Ohio, which offered all sorts of interesting classes. For instance, for my PE credits I took horseback riding and rollerskating. It's the latter that I flashed back to this week.

The class wasn't taught by one of the school's professors. Instead it was taught by local competitive skating star Betty Lou, backed up by her loyal partner Don. Betty Lou was 150-years-old. Don was 155. And they were both still skating. Competitively. This meant that not only did Betty Lou take her skating very seriously, but she also dressed for the occasion. She outfitted herself in a short little skating skirt that bared her wrinkly knees. Don also wore skate-appropriate (though interestingly, not age-appropriate) clothes. He usually had shiny black pants and some sort of flowy shirt on.

During our lessons, Betty Lou would tell us what skill or trick we were going to learn and then she would demonstrate it. I'll say this for her, she was certainly spry. She could zip around the floor with all the grace and ease of Ginger Rogers. After we were given the demonstration, the music was turned on, the discoball spun, and we were off to try it ourselves.

One trick that I never could master was called "Shoot the Moon," which consisted of skating in a tucked position and as you move, sticking one leg straight out in front of you while keeping the other knee bent close to your chest. Never fail, every time I tried it, just when I got to the shooting part, my balance would betray me and down I'd topple. This provided great amusement to my friend, Kentucky Roomie, who would dissolve into giggles as she whizzed around the rink, Betty Lou-style, shooting the moon all over the place.

Often at the end of class, Betty Lou and Don would regale us with one of their skating routines. They'd put on some sort of waltz and skate around the rink with smiles plastered on their faces. It was the kind of slice of Americana that you don't appreciate when you're 20, but looking back you realize it's the stuff of Norman Rockwell paintings. I don't know what ever happened to Betty Lou and Don, but I'd like to think they're still skating, dazzling college kids with their mad skills, and shooting the moon like a couple of teenagers.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Different World

Riding the bus during rush hour is generally a run-of-the-mill occasion, but catching the bus during off-peak hours is a special kind of joy. As I've mentioned before, rush hour commuters are the "average Joe" of bus riders, and are, by and large, normal. But take a ride during some other part of the day, and you never know what you might see. I left work early today because I was sick, which never makes for a fun bus ride, but today was especially delightful.

When I boarded the bus, it was pretty empty, so I took a seat near the front and started reading my magazine. It wasn't long before we picked up Character #1. She was an older lady wearing what looked like either a threadbare muumuu or a hospital gown (she didn't have the tell-tale plastic bracelet, though, so I'm going to go with muumuu). She also had a rag on her head (and I don't mean this in any sort of derrogatory way, it literally was a frayed rag, tied loosely around her head). Of course, she sat directly across from me. Apparently, C#1 had some sort of skin fungus (scientific name: cooties), because she proceeded to scratch her knee continuously for the duration of the trip. She also felt the need to vocalize said scratching with a repetitive, "Mmm, yeah, there it is." It was enough to make me want to run for the hydrocortisone, RID, and a bleach shower.

Shortly after C#1 boarded, we stopped to pick up another load. It was at this point that Character #2 came aboard. She was also an older lady, who appeared to be normally dressed. Not surprisingly, she sat next to C#1 (as is usually the case in these situations, the strangest always seem to flock together). Besides being afraid she might catch the cooties, this lady fascinated me as she began to dig into her handbag, pulling out a pair of scissors, and not the little grooming kind, but full scale scissors. She then pulled out several pieces of paper and began to cut them with the scissors. The clippings fell into her purse, all while C#1 looked on intently.

Enter Character #3. This man was middle aged, and suffered from a syndrome that had previously been reserved for the under-25 set: his extremely baggy pants, which, incidentally, were belted, riding low. That is to say that they were falling down. This revealed a pair of underpants and a little bit of buttcrack. Buttcrack that C#3 proceeded to stick dangerously close to my face. I'm not sure why he opted to stand, because there were plenty of available seats, but he started a conversation with the driver, so I guess that's why. His posterior was so close to me that I scooted over to the next seat (which thankfully was empty), so as not to get wind of anything unwanted. C#3 was talking to the driver (this mostly consisted of talking at the driver, who was otherwise occupied) about the playoffs, which I initially thought was the Caps Game 7 . . . but turned out to be some other playoffs that had nothing to do with hockey (or anything else coherent, so far as I could tell).

The driver himself was also particularly charming in his own way. He alternately slammed his foot on either the gas or the brake, depending on whether we were trying to go or stop. On at least one occasion, his lead foot nearly resulted in my face slamming into C#3's butt. In between the jerking forward motion and the bonecrushing brake jobs, he entertained himself by honking the horn in a particularly repetitive, yet unrythmic fashion. I'm not sure what or who he was honking at, but after nearly every stop, almost as soon as he slammed on the gas, the horn tooting began. And the best part about it all was that the cast of characters that were along for the ride seemed to think nothing of the incessant honking. Or perhaps they were too concerned with their own itch, scissors, or playoffs to pay much attention to the other entertainment on board. Or maybe I dreamed it all in my Mucinex-induced haze.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

All the World's a Staged Apartment

Living in D.C. has it's advantages. One of these is the fact that when the rest of the country's real estate markets tanked, ours merely dipped (thanks to the proximity of the Federal Government). And now it appears to be turning around a bit. With that knowledge in hand, WH and I are getting ready to put our apartment on the market. Anyone who's ever sold a home knows that it's not a simple, easy, or particularly enjoyable process. In fact, it's a little like going for plastic surgery (or at least I imagine it is).

The sales process starts with selecting your realtor . . . fortunately, we had friends who could walk us through this and that part was easy. Same as with a doctor, you want to work off of referrals from people in the know. Once you've selected your realtor, you need to have a consult. This is perhaps the most painful part of the process. It's the equivalent of the plastic surgeon circling your thigh cellulite with a Sharpie or outlining in marker across your cheekbones what needs to be lifted, sucked, and tucked. Your friendly neighborhood realtor walks through your lovingly decorated (and in our case, comfortably cluttered) home and tells you what is wrong with it. You see, your home is like the pear-shaped girl with the hook nose . . . she could be very pretty, but she needs work. Closets must be purged, walls must be painted, floors buffed, and everything you own that shows any character must be thrown out or put into storage. In short, your home should look like a suite at the Hilton (though most suites at the Hilton have more square footage than our fair castle).

Once you've had the prescriptive visit, you need to go through the actual process of prepping for surgery. This consists of purging all of your things from your home. There should be as few things as possible in your closet (I now have one pair of shoes, two sweaters, and a bathing suit in my closet . . . but it looks like there's tons of space!). You need to remove all of your family photos, knicknacks, and plant life. What you want is complete sterility, because, again, this implies space. In the course of our purge, I filled nine garbage bags full of clothes and items to be donated and twelve large black bags (you know, the industrial-sized ones?) with garbage. (No, our home didn't look like one of the ones from Hoarders, thank you for asking.)

After you've gotten rid of all identifying details, you must then hire someone to come in and paint and do any other sprucing up that needs to be done so that your apartment looks perfect. This is the "surgery" part of your process. It's only slightly less painful than the diagnostic phase. Like all contractors, they will leave dust, dirt, and general disarray in their wake. But this is okay, because you have to have someone come and professionally clean your hotel suite, er . . . home, before it can go on the market.

At this point, the realtor returns (much like a post-operative visit with your surgeon where he removes your bandages) and "stages" your home for photos. Even more of your things are rearranged, even removed, and the photographs are taken. Just as your new nose or suddenly slender thighs might be unnatural, so too is your apartment, but it is now perfect enough for strangers to judge it. It is at this moment that you discover exactly how Heidi Montag feels. You have become trained to see a cockeyed painting on the wall or a stray speck of dust on your bureau. You obsess about imperfections you miss on the first pass, and think maybe you need another consult. But the good news is that some other poor bastard is suffering through the same pain so that you can come in and scrutinize their closets and buy their home. And so the circle of life goes on . . .

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Public Service Announcement

On today's bus ride I encountered something I've seen before: a woman with curlers in her hair. In public. On the bus. This got me thinking about two things. The first being, what motivates someone to leave their house with curlers in her hair? Did she forget? Is there a lack of mirrors in her house? Would those extra ten minutes during the bus ride make all the difference for the curls? I have a friend, who shall remain nameless, who was once discovered to have a curler in her purse. When questioned about it by us, her friends, she admitted that she often drives with this curler in the front of her hair, because, yes, those few extra minutes really do make a difference to the curl. Mystery solved.

The second thing I thought about has many more layers than simple curls. This is the phenomenon of people who think that public transportation is their own personal grooming lounge. Sure, most of us are guilty (at least the women among us) of touching up our lipstick on our way into the office. I can understand that. But in the course of my many years riding Metro and the bus, I have seen it all, including a perfectly normal-looking man drinking beer on the train at 8:00 a.m. I wasn't particularly aggrieved seeing him, but I have seen other things that have set my teeth on edge.

What does rankle me are the people who choose to trim their nails on the train -- the clip, clip, clip echoing through the train. I have seen this many times . . . and usually the person doing the clipping is allowing the clips to fall where they may. Another thing that totally grosses me out is the nail-filer. This culprit shapes her nails, flicking and snapping her emery board to and fro as she whips dust into the Metro air. Yuck!

Also ire-inspiring are the people who feel the need to tweeze on the twain, er, train. I don't know about you, but I can barely see to read my book in the soft yellow lighting in the the trains, let alone yank persistant facial hair out by its root. Not to mention that it takes a pretty steady hand to tweeze one's face. The rocking, bumping, jarring motion of the train is hardly an optimal environment for this sort of hair removal.

One time I even saw a guy flossing his teeth. That one made me almost throw up a little in my mouth. The whipping and snapping of the floss and the little bits of food and spit and who-knows-what-else becoming airborn in a public space was not good. Fortunately, he was not sitting near enough for me to be in the line of fire. But it did make me think about how easily this man might catch and/or spread the swine flu. Talk about a pig . . .

But perhaps the best (or worst) personal grooming habit I've seen was the time this woman was painting her toenails on a rush hour Metro train. Talk about needing a steady hand. I was fascinated by Train Toe-Polishing Woman and stared at her for a long time. First, she wrenched her foot up next to her, pretzel-style, removing her shoe and sock. Holding the bottle of polish in one hand and the brush in the other, she delicately lacquered her nails. TT-PW stopped short of using those little toe separator things that keep your toes from smudging the polish. And when I left the train, she was starting on the second foot. I couldn't help but wonder was she going to put on those little styrofoam flip flops that they give you in a salon and shuffle off the train while her nails dried, or would she wait till they were completely dry and simply put her shoes and socks back on?

The point of all these tales? A public service announcement to my fellow transit riders. The next time you are running late and think perhaps you'll finish getting ready during your commute, please consider your fellow riders and reconsider your grooming. And keep the tweezers off the twain.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

My Favorite Kind of Politics

There is hardly anything so nuanced as office politics. It's a minefield we all tread carefully upon day after day. Volumes have been published on how to deal with coworkers, how to manage up, how to manage down, what to do when you're on the bottom, how to stay on top, how to get on top, etc. It's a topic everyone can relate to and everyone has a story to tell. Why do you think The Office is so popular?

I've been working in offices since I was 17 years old, and like everyone else, I have a million stories that would make you laugh, cry, and shriek in horror better than anything Hollywood could produce. I could easily add to the volumes that have been written (and perhaps I will, via this space, over time). Recent workplace drama got me reflecting on some of the crazier things that have happened to me over my office years.

My first job was working for a woman who was friends with my mother (What can I say? Nepotism works!). Additionally, my mother sat as president of the board of this organization. I was 17, and wasn't so priviledged to expect special treatment. I just wanted to come in, do my filing, collect my $12 an hour, and go home. My mother's friend, the Crazy PhD, was nutty as a fruitcake. She ran a department, largely full of academics supported by a team of five administrative assistants. She also had her own assistant, with whom she had worked for many years. My task was to provide general support as necessary for any of the assistants or their bosses.

CPhD was loaded. She drove a sleek new convertible, wore $2,000 St. John suits, and never wore shoes. She had shoes, she just chose not to wear them. She would waltz around the office, leaving hellfire and damnation in her wake, all in bare feet. She could regularly be heard in her office "firing" one of her staff. She'd dial the phone, and before the person on the other end could even speak, she'd bark, "Gerry? Do you want to be fired today? No? Then I suggest you straighten up and fly right!" I can't tell you how many times I heard her fire people. The first time it terrified me, but when the offending party was still around the office the next day, I realized she was all bark and no bite. And still, I did my best to avoid the bark at all costs.

One day in the middle of the summer, when most of the staff was on vacation, I had nothing to do. I asked the office manager for something to fill up the time until I could go home. Her inbox was also empty, so she suggested that I dust the wood furniture in the office. There's something soothing about the smell of lemony Pledge, so I was happy to oblige. I was on the second desk in the front office area where the assistants sat when CPhD breezed by.

To this day, I can still see the scene that followed as if it's a movie playing on a screen in my mind. She walked by me in her bare feet, and backed up. "What. Are. You. Doing?" she barked at me. I had just spritzed some Pledge on the side of the desk, so I was wiping it up when she asked a second time, "I said, 'What are you doing?'" I thought it was pretty obvious what I was doing, so I stammered, "Um, well, uh Pledging this desk." CPhD was having none of it, "Oh no you are not. Stop that right now!" I thought she meant right after I finished wiping the smear of Pledge on the side of the desk, so I took another pass at it and she snatched the cloth out of my hand and boomed, "Now!" My hand was frozen in the air, mid-wipe. The assistant whose desk I was wiping was dumbfounded.

"Who told you to do this?" she demanded. "Uh," I barely managed. "Who? Who told you to do this?" "Uh, Teresa," I said as I threw the office manager under the bus. CPhD looked from me to the assistant whose desk I was cleaning and screamed, "The daughter of the president of our board DOES NOT CLEAN DESKS! Now, GET UP!" I turned 17 different shades of red and slowly got up off the floor. And with that, she was gone with a swirl of her suit, leaving a cloud of Cinnabar mixed with Pledge in her wake.

The assistant and I just stared at each other in shock before we dissolved into nervous giggles. Neither of us could believe what had just happened, nor could we figure out if we were in trouble. One thing was for certain, the office manager was about due for that call, "Teresa, do you want to be fired? No? Well you better straighten up and fly right!" And to this day, I can't even begin to think about office politics without being reminded about that first taste of crazy. I also can't smell Pledge without flashing back to that office during my freshman year of college.

I'll bet CPhD doesn't even remember that day, but I know that I'll never forget it. But what I took from that experience is that if you don't want to be fired, you better straighten up and fly right. And I have, ever since.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Are You Clueless or Just Stupid?

If you're anything like me, you are continuously amazed by the cluelessness of the general population. You know, the people who stand at the bottom of the escalator looking up with their mouths open. Or the people who drive down the highway with their left blinker on, mile after mile. Or those poor souls who walk five-abreast down the rush-hour sidewalk, unawares that the entire population of Dupont Circle is trying to get around them to walk home. But sometimes what first seems like cluelessness is actually deliberate stupidity. Cluelessness I can forgive; I can even laugh at it good-naturedly. Heck, I've even been clueless a time or two. Stupidity, however, is not so easy to forgive.

Take this morning's bus ride for instance. I was riding my usual route at the usual time to the usual location. About halfway there, the Electronic Lady that we all know and love started mechanically repeating, "Please do not stand in the rear door well," like a three-year-old trying to goad her older brother. Over and over the Electronic Lady kept saying her line, not even pausing to take a breath (I suppose this is the advantage of being electronic).

I looked up from my magazine to see what was causing the Electronic Lady such distress. Lo and behold, it was someone standing in the rear door well. Over and over, she reminded us to stand clear, and yet my co-rider just stood there, iPod headphones in his ears, seemingly clueless. After about 47 (I counted) of the Electronic Lady's announcements, another rider tapped the Rear Door Well Man on the shoulder. The RDWM plucked his headphones grudgingly out of his ears, and looked at the man who touched him. It was clear that the Electronic Lady was about to blow a gasket with her announcement by this point, but as it turned out the RDWM was well aware of her dismay, shrugged his shoulders at the man who had tapped him, and continued to stand there anyway. All of this time (about five minutes had elapsed), the bus driver did nothing, callously ignoring the electronic lady's obvious agitation.

After what seemed like an eternity (and in bus years, it probably was), the RDWM exited from the rear door and the Electronic Lady finally got to rest her vocal cords. And I was able to return to my magazine secure in the knowledge that the Electronic Lady was at last at peace, and that nobody was going to fall out the rear door . . . at least for now.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What Goes Around Comes Around

I couldn't believe what happened to me yesterday. For once, I was not the butt of a cosmic joke. In fact, I was able to press the reset button and send a little good karma out into the world.

I was walking home enjoying the delightful weather and off to the side by a parking meter was a woman squatting to undo her bike lock. And that's when I saw it . . . this poor woman had done something that I had once done. I immediately felt the pain that she didn't know she was in. She was wearing a skirt that fastened up the back. She had buttoned the button, but neglected to zip the zipper. In short, her butt was out.

I laughed to myself (wouldn't you?), and then I tapped her on the shoulder and told her that her zipper was down. (For the record, I did not tell her that her "butt was out." She was wearing red and white striped underwear.) But the real kicker is that when she thanked me (after first looking ashamed and confused) her accent revealed that she was Russian! Just as my own underwear savior had been! I was amazed (and I only took slight glee in the fact that someone else had done something so ridiculous).

When I relayed the story to my friend the Gay Lawyer, he declared that it was the universe rebalancing itself. I think that's exactly right. And now, I can rest secure in the knowledge that the next time I leave the house with my heiny hanging out, the universe will provide cover . . . or at least a helpful Russian woman.

Bus Bravado

It happens at least once a week . . . as I've discussed before in this space . . . I end up sharing the bus with a loudmouth. Usually it's someone on their cell phone, but this week it was a guy who was talking extremely loudly to his friend. You know this guy. You've seen him at a bar, or in a restaurant, on a plane, at the pool . . . and on the bus. He's the loudmouth guy who talks loud so that everyone hears him. He talks loudly about his car, his woman, his salary, the '82 Chateau Lafite Rothschild in his wine cellar. And he does this because he's compensating for his shortcoming somewhere else.

This week's Bus Loudmouth was a middle aged guy with a beer gut, wearing a T-shirt under a blazer and a pair of jeans with loafers and no socks (of course). He boarded the bus the stop after mine on Tuesday morning during rush hour. He was with a friend, and they were talking from the moment they boarded the bus. That is to say, he was talking. His friend was glancing around, seemingly embarassed by the volume of BL's voice.

But the kicker was what BL was talking about. Since he was standing right in front of where I was sitting, I was in a prime location to hear every word:
Bus Loudmouth's Friend: Oh.
BLF: Oh.
BLF: Oh.
BLF: No.

And on he went until his friend got off the bus (though I'm not sure if he got off because it was his stop or from humiliation). This guy was, as my father would say, a gaping asshole. Did he really think anyone on the bus really cared? I don't think his friend even cared. BLF's body language betrayed him, and it seemed as if he wanted to crawl under a seat and hide.

The woman sitting next to me kept snorting with every loud blast of his voice. Other passengers did what we bus riders always do when confronted with a breech of bus etiquette like loud talking early in the morning: we sent BL the stinkeye, and went back to our reading material. Except that I was engrossed. I sat taking notes furiously to transcribe the conversation in order to relay it here. And I chose to laugh on the inside at the punchline, wondering if anyone else had caught the irony of the situation. Here's this guy who could spend "a million-five" on a car riding the smelly old Metrobus. Really? Even though my neighborhood is pretty well off, did this guy really think anyone was buying his bravado?

I dunno, if I had a million-five to spare, I'd probably hire a driver to shuttle me around in silence so I could quit riding the bus and avoid all future Bus Loudmouths. But that's just me.

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