Monday, June 28, 2010

Picnic Lunch

It's been a while since I've had one of those "am I being filmed for a reality show" bus experiences.  I had chalked it up to the fact that I was on vacation for a couple of weeks and that perhaps the crazies had also all gone on vacation.  Until today. We all know not to eat, drink, or litter on the bus or Metro -- it's plain as day on signs on the bus and train (and this handy "manners" page from Metro).   So imagine my surprise when I saw a woman having a full picnic lunch today. 

My co-rider was sitting in the seat directly behind the driver (separated by a partition of sorts).  The Lunch Lady had, balanced on her knees, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a juicebox, a bag of potato chips, and an half-eaten apple in her hand.  She was eating said apple with a loud munch-smack at every bite.  She was speaking loudly, mouth full, to her friend sitting next to her.  She didn't bother to offer him any of her treats, though. 

The bus was particularly crowded, so I found myself standing directly over her meal.  As I was standing there, afraid she might throw her apple core at me when she finished it, LL opened her window, surprising me by throwing the core out into the street.  I had to resist the urge to drop my jaw and bug my eyes out.  Next she started on her PB&J. She continued to chew with her mouth open, carrying a conversation about "Little Ray" while she ate.  It seems Little Ray was having some trouble with school (which was confusing to me, as school is out for the summer).  I was half afraid she might wipe her peanut butter fingers on my suit, as I stood there hovering over her.  Maybe my momma just raised me right, but I actually felt a twinge of bad manners, standing there practically in her lap/plate while the bus jostled on.  She gobbled up the sandwich, again tossing the trash out the window.  The man sitting across the aisle from her, whom I alternated looking at (because, really, it's rude to stare when someone's eating), seemed just as dumbfounded as I was by the full meal being consumed on the bus.

We rode along and the Lunch Lady ate on, tossing her garbage out the window as she finished each "course."  The bus filled up even more, so I was able to move slightly past where she was sitting, while still marvelling at her chutzpah.  What was the most surprising was that, besides the one guy across the aisle, nobody seemed at all phased by her elaborate meal.  I've seen people eating candy, sipping water, and once I even saw a man drinking beer on the train, but I've never seen such a display as I saw today.  The only things missing were the red and white checked tablecloth and an army of ants. 

But after I thought about it a little more I realized that perhaps this lady, incited by the fare hikes that went into effect yesterday, decided to get her full money's worth out of her now 20 percent more expensive bus ride. Maybe, just maybe,what I witnessed today was a sophisticated form of rebellion; an "I'm taking what is rightfully mine" moment. In which case, I really have to give her kudos.  I mean, how many of us wanted to find a way to "stick it to the man" when we found out about this latest round of Metro increases?  And this brave soul, this renegade, took matters into her own hands, starting a grassroots movement.  So think of that the next time you see someone whip out their lo mein noodles and chopsticks on the L2 or a plateful of red beans and rice on the Red Line, and raise your fist (or eyebrows, if it suits you) in support of this peaceful protest.  But please, throw your trash in the proper recepticle -- protest is no excuse for littering.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wimbledon in the Suburbs

This week's marathon Wimbledon match got me thinking about the summer during college that I spent working at a tennis club in Bethesda.  It sounds glamorous, but let me tell you, it wasn't.  There were no rich, muscular, well-tanned hotties to be seen.  In fact, I was the youngest person by at least two decades.  The cast of characters was vast and varied -- a strange mix of elderly retired and awkward yuppies.  It was also a hotbed of gossip and sexual tension.  The elderly were like a bunch of hormonal adolescents on and off the court.  The days I couldn't work, my sister or my Kindergarten Friend (I've known her since we met in the Doll Corner in Mrs. Spangler's class) would fill in.  Our duties consisted of making sure the members signed in and making sure that nobody went on the courts with black-soled shoes.  I think we also sold tennis balls, but I can't really remember.  It was deadly boring, but paid something like $10 an hour, so it was worth it, kind of. 

Our boss, the Tennis Pro, was about 65-years-old and the stud of the courts.  The old ladies loved him, comb-over and all.  Tennis Pro's Girlfriend was a wretched woman.  She was a perky, blond, 60-something who pranced around the clubhouse in her tennis skirts, fake hot pink fingernails, and matching lipstick.  She never signed in like she was supposed to, and generally pretended that "staff" didn't exist.  She called me "Carrie" the whole summer.  She and Ed spent a lot of time in his office, her girlish giggles tinkling out from under the door.  It was nauseating.  Also in the cast was the French Lady and her husband, Hair Plugs Man. FL sounded like Minnie Mouse with a French accent and HPM had fresh hair plugs and a reddish scalp that looked like a baby doll, little tufts sticking out in all directions.  HPM was extra friendly with "the girls" at the desk (me, my sister, and KF).  Rounding out the group were "The Kids," yuppies Steve and Lisa, who lived together but were not married(shh!), and also were not "kids." 

It was definitely a ragtag group, none of whom should've been wearing short tennis skirts or shorts.  Every once in a while, one of the old ladies would come out of the dressing room or toilet with part of her skirt tucked up in her tennis panties.  It wasn't good for anyone involved.  Also controversial was when someone who wasn't a "regular" showed up to play.  It usually did not go over well.  God forbid they showed up without a court reservation.  When that happened they were relegated to the wall where they could hit balls at the practice board.  Those were also usually the same people who would show up in inappropriate footwear.  If that was the case, TP would just turn them away.  I suppose it's a bit like showing up at The Prime Rib without a jacket -- you just don't get in.

TP loved nothing more than a "paaaw-ty" (he had a very heavy New York accent--he also loved to say paaaw-ty), and used each of the major tennis tournaments as an excuse to throw one for the gang.  The big paaaw-ty was for Wimbledon.  He began planning for it weeks in advance.  Any time someone came into the club, he'd ask them if they were coming to the paaaw-ty: "Steve, Lisa, are you coming to the Wimbledon paaaw-ty?"  They, of course, were.  TP even planned a "mock" Wimbledon tournament for the members of the club where they played each other in elimination rounds in advance of the paaaw-ty. 

Finally, the day of the paaaw-ty arrived.  The elderly drank to much, Lisa made out with Steve, TP flirted with everyone but TPG, causing an uproar, HPM's hair wafted in the summer breeze, and general (boring) mayhem ensued.  It was as if someone had mixed the Golden Girls with The Real World.  The only thing missing was a hot tub.  I was in college at the time, and had never seen a party quite like it.  I still don't think I have.  But at least I know that when I hit my AARP years, I have someting to look forward to.  I just need to learn how to play tennis -- either that or get hair plugs.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Side You Don't See

I am a current events junkie.  Maybe it's my background in PR that generates my insatiable appetite for news.  Or maybe it's something more.  Something happening half a world away has been able to move me since I was a child.  I can remember seeing video of starving children in Ethiopia when I was a child and being moved to tears.  Since then, countless other stories have touched me and inspired me.  One such story, just a year old, is the story of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman who died before the eyes of the world during the protests in the wake of the Iranian election last year.  One of the reasons her story resonates (besides the horror of her last moments), is that she is a woman like so many of us, with dreams and ambitions, who was moved by injustice. 

This story also holds something very personal for me.  WH is from Iran, and some of his family still lives there.  His cousins in Iran are my age, young women in their 20s and 30s, much like Neda.  I first "met" the cousins on Facebook before we ever met in person.  As Americans, we often hear about the oppression of women in Iran.  But what we don't hear about is the amazing and indomitable spirit of these women.  (WH also asked me to note that it's not just the women who face crackdowns by the police and military in Iran, but also many young men.  Students, both men and women, opposing the government are in danger all over Iran.)  We often forget that Iran is a country that, prior to the revolution in 1979, was very Westernized. His parents photos from that time show chic fashions, young people drinking and dancing and having a good time. In many ways, it's very different from Iran today. And his cousins are too young to remember Iran before the revolution. 

I've spent our last two vacations in Europe with the Iranian cousins (as well as other family from all over the world).  We meet in Europe because it's nearly impossible for them to get visas to the U.S.  The first thing that struck me was that the photos the shared via Facebook looked like they could have been taken in Paris or London or Washington, D.C., because at parties, in their own homes, they don't have to cover up.  The pictures that we see of Iranian women in the streets of Tehran don't reflect the personalities underneath. 

Last year we met in Germany for the first time.  Within minutes, we were gossiping like old friends.  Later that night, we got further acquainted over cocktails with the family as I practiced a few Farsi phrases on them. I learned that they care about family, music, travel, art, fashion, and all of the other things that many American women do.  One cousin is more up to date on Western pop music than either WH or I are.  It's intoxicating for her.  She speaks perfect English, goes to university, can drink you under the table, and when her favorite song comes on, she cannot sit still.  Another cousin is the social butterfly. She has lots of friends and knows where the best parties in Tehran are every night of the week.  She goes to work and she goes to parties and she travels when she can.  A third cousin is more sensitive.  She's a writer who is hoping to go to Italy to study next year.  They are members of a tight knit family of parents and children, aunts and uncles, sisters and cousins who mean everything to each other.

The point is that some things are universal.  As WH would say, "We are more alike than we are different--we're all human, after all."  Spending time with our Iranian cousins, it's easy to forget what they will go home to -- because they don't let it change the way that they live.  They don't let the fact that they are required by the government to cover up keep them from painting their nails or wearing eye makeup or having their hair perfectly done.  They manage small acts of rebellion by letting their hair peek out from under their scarves or by wearing lipstick and Chanel sunglasses.  Underneath the drab covering that they wear in the streets are designer jeans and chic, colorful tops, just like you'd see on any Western woman -- but what's more than that, underneath the covering are truly incredible women. 

The human spirit is amazing . . . you can learn to live with anything, if you have to.  But our Iranian cousins don't just "live with it," they thrive.  They are thoughtful, intelligent, enthusiastic, fearless, worldly, and aware.  And from half a world away, these women that I see only once a year, inspire me.  Don't call them victims, they are heroes. 

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Go to the Head of the Class

I saw this article today about 60 heads found at an airport.  Supposedly it was part of "an illicit body parts trade."  (This begs the question, does one check their severed heads at the counter, or carry them on?  But that's another question for another time.)  While gruesome, the story reminded me of another severed head story from my past.  Before you think I've got some deep, dark past as a mafia hit woman, let me 'splain. 

When I was in high school I was the teacher's aide for the school's anatomy and physiology teacher.  You really couldn't ask for a better deal than grading papers and cleaning lab trays during first period.  What's more, the teacher had also been my field hockey coach, and often "didn't notice" if I was a little late for school.  My teacher had managed to procure a bunch of fetal lambs from some farm which she had taken to NIH to have them preserved and stored until the class was ready to dissect them. 

One morning, while the girls were stuck in a breast cancer awareness assembly (An assembly which was pretty weird in and of itself.  They gave us these little rubber boobs that had "tumors" in them that was supposed to demonstrate something or other.), the boys were given a sneak peak at the lambs.  Or at least, they were supposed to be.  The day before, our teacher had gone over to NIH to pick up the lambs and was given three big industrial black trashbags.  Imagine her surprise when, in the front of the class, she reached in and pulled out, not a lamb, but a severed head.  I think the best part of the story is that, undeterred, she kept looking for the lambs in the other trashbags.

I have never been more disappointed to miss a class in my life.  While I was feeling up a mini rubber boob, the boys were getting a gander at some poor sap's severed head.  Word spread like wildfire throughout the school.  The one severed head quickly turned into heads -- with tongues hanging out.  If I recall correctly, the school guidance counselors were dispatched to talk to the boys and make sure they weren't too traumatized by the head.  Who are we kidding?  These were teenage boys . . . they probably had worse growing under their beds. 

So when I heard about the 60 heads at the airport today, I had to wonder was someone just blowing it out of proportion?  Maybe there was really only one head in a garbage bag.  Maybe the people carrying the heads thought they were carrying lambs.  Sure, it could be a human body parts trafficking operation, but it could just be an innocent mistake.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

When Government Works

This afternoon a coworker and I were discussing how great the staff in Jim Graham's office is.  I often call on them when I need the wheels of D.C. government to move a little more quickly than they're apt to.  This reminded me of one particularly riduculous instance when the staff was really helpful.  I could fill volumes with the strange things that happen to me on a daily basis. I don't know why they happen, but I figure I may as well capitalize on it by sharing them with the public.

I woke up early one May morning about three years ago to a loud grunting sound coming from my living room.  The living room is adjacent to my neighbor's bedroom, so I automatically assumed someone was getting a little early morning delight.  I couldn't have been more wrong.  When the noise continued, I decided to get up to investigate.  That's when I realized that the noise (which sounded kind of like a deep, gutteral "huuuuh, huuuuh, huuuuh...") was coming from my window air conditioner.  Since it  was 6:30 in the morning, I was pretty limited on my course of action.  It was too early to call anyone, so I decided to bang on the a/c unit.  That just angered the beast inside.  It "huuuuhed" a little louder.

I sat on the couch watching the morning news, distracted by the groans until 7:30 when I called my parents.  They offered little help.  I looked up the number for Animal Control and called them.  Being a D.C. Government agency, they were not really helpful.  "We'll send someone out as soon as we can," the operator assured me, but couldn't give me any idea as to when that might be.  It was worse than dealing with the cable company.  I emailed my boss with the unique situation and told her that I'd be working from home for the day.  And the waiting began. 

While I was waiting, I started to receive emails from coworkers.  They had heard from my boss about the creature in my air conditioner and wanted to know if we could start a pool to guess what it was.  Never wanting to put a damper on anyone else's illegal gambling, I encouraged their participation.  Several coworkers even called me at home so I could describe the noise to them, thus upping their chances of guessing correctly.  One coworker guessed it was a rat, another a squirrel.  There was a guess for coyote, one for a pigeon with Jerry Fallwell's soul reincarnated (as he had recently died), and one brave soul who suggested a dik dik (which, it turns out, is a small east-African antelope).  Each person had ponied up $5 to enter the pool. 

Around noon, I called Animal Control back.  They informed me that my case was already closed and that an officer had already been to my home.  I assured them that this, most definitely, was not the case.  The operator told me that there was a deer loose in the street "somewhere in the city," and that that was taking up all the officers' time.  She couldn't tell me when I might expect an officer to save the grunting beast in my a/c.  So, as the May temperatures climbed in the noonday sun, the poor creature grunted a little more laboriously and a lot less frequently.  Not long after that, Wonderful Husband (then Wonderful Boyfriend) arrived with lunch to keep me company.

By the time 4:00 rolled around, I'd had about all I could take of being trapped in my apartment with an angry beast of undetermined origins.  It finally hit me, if I couldn't get the city to do what I wanted it to, I'd better call in the big guns.  I called Graham's office and spoke with a woman who, I'm sure, did her best not to laugh as I described the predicament.  She put me on hold while she called Animal Control herself.  She nearly got the same runaround that I did, as they told her they had already closed my case.  She came back on the line to tell me this, and I assured her that I was still infested.  So back she went to Animal Control, and, I'm guessing, threw her City Council muscle around, because not five minutes later, Officer Bobby had arrived. 

Officer Bobby (I'm making that name up, but, as you'll see, it suits him) was 14-years-old.  He had recently grown a mustache.  He had borrowed his father's uniform for his big day on the job, and it was three sizes too big.  Officer Bobby was extremely skilled in wild animal removal.  He used the very sophisticated technique of . . . wait for it . . . banging on the air conditioner.  Pure genius.  I'll bet you didn't know that I could be a Animal Control Officer.  When that failed to dislodge the mystery creature, he scratched his head, looked at me and WH and said, "Well, I don't know."  I encouraged him to remove the air conditioner and see what happened.  It was at this moment that he looked at me as if I had told him to catch a wild animal . . . oh wait, I had.  He enlisted the help of WH to pull out the a/c unit while I stood back squealing and covering my mouth with my hands. 

Officer Bobby and WH pulled out the unit and revealed a very disheveled looking pigeon who promptly flew out of the a/c and away from our apartment.  They replaced the unit and Officer Bobby looked at me, said, "Well, that's it," and left.  WH and I looked at each other very confused and turned on the a/c to finally cool off the apartment.  My first order of business was to inform my coworkers of the results (sorry, no dik dik) of the extraction, announcing the winner of the pool.  There was some argument as to whether the pigeon actually did have Jerry Fallwell's soul or not, but since the stakes weren't all that high, we agreed that was the closest guess to correct and awarded the money accordingly.

So, while it's not the habit of WashingTina to endorse political candidates, what I can endorse is the absolutely stellar staff in Jim Graham's office.  Just wait till you have a wild animal in your air conditioner, whether it be coyote or dik dik, and you'll quickly find, the path of least resistance is through the City Council.  If only this were the case for all government matters.