Friday, June 24, 2011

Born Again Southern Belle

Dirty little secret: I was born in Virginia. And then spent the first 3+ years living further South still. So you wouldn't think that moving here as an adult would be so...challenging.

And yet, as my long-suffering friends and even longer-suffering spouse can attest, I haven't done so well at adjusting to living here on this side of the Mason-Dixon line. The grass isn't actually greener on the other side (not with all this rain), but it is more likely to support gay rights, oppose policy making by "christians" and just occasionally eat something that isn't breaded and fried.

But this week, while riding to and from work in 80+ degree temperatures and 10-to-the-kajillionth-power humidity, I think I actually figured it out. This part of the country was simply never intended to function within the parameters of the 21st Century; arguably it never quite mastered the 20th Century. Moving at the speed of a bicyclist one can appreciate the inefficiencies for what they are: opportunities to shirk one's duties. As they say here in my adopted home state, "Take off your shoes, Sweetheart, it's all id and no ego down here. Can I get you a julep?" (Try fitting THAT on a license plate.)

Mis-timed traffic lights aren't a reason to curse the imbecile in front of you and grip the steering wheel until you get a stress fracture, they are an opportunity to stop, sip some cool water, and observe the eccentric gentlemen across the street wearing a construction paper hat. Endless Metro delays, with their bad habit of stranding you in a tunnel just when you realize that you really kind of have to pee, are not of your concern moving as you are at about the pace of a horse and buggy. Need a pit stop? Why, there's Trader Joe's and the opportunity to chat with the nice college drop-out stocking those lovely containers of chocolate-covered pretzels. ("Why yes, they ARE delicious, aren't they? And have you seen the new blueberry Greek-style yogurt, it is simply to die for.")

And there is no reason to abandon this genteel pace just because you have gotten off the bike. Why rush to work when there are iced-coffees to enjoy as you while away the time on a park bench a block away from your desk? (Did you notice that that fellow screaming into his cell-phone is also sporting a pocket square? Who DOES that anymore?) Why tap your life away at a computer at 5:45 p.m. when there are so many patios and so many mojitos to try?

Take a cue from Congress, which has had more than 200 years to figure out how to reinterpret "work" in this climate: start off slow on Mondays, leave early on Fridays, and take the entire month of August off. (Plus good parts of January, March, April, June, July, November and everything after the first week of December, unless it's an election year in which case you are out from August until you know whether or not you still have a job.)

Slow down. Sit a spell and have a chat. Watch all the characters go by. You look hot, Darlin', do you take your tea sweetened?

I might just learn to like living in Virginia after all.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Now We're Cookin'!

If there is any one thing that most people know about me, it's that I don't really cook.

(Or that of all the many jazz greats out there, I like Dinah Washington best 'cause she sounds a little dirty. Or that I strongly disapprove of SUVs. Or that I'm better at thinking about meditating than actually meditating, which I try to convince myself is sort of meditating one step removed.)

OK, so among the many many things that people know about me is that I don't really cook. I can make a mean PB&J, or some very excellent Annie's gluten-free mac and cheese (secret is, less milk and more butter). But my repertoire is, shall we say, limited. For the most part, I believe that the kitchen is where the wine glasses are kept.

Well, as Dinah would remind you, what a difference a day makes. This ol' dog learned a new trick and cooked something today that met even the high standards of The Resident Chef. Yep, me--the chick with the wine glass!

See, now that I'm not burning an extra five or six hundred calories a day running (curse you, stupid knee!) I need to think more carefully about what I'm eating which means no more candy bars for lunch. I have some very exacting criteria:
  1. It has to be something that can be made ahead of time and stored ready-to-go in the fridge. (If I'm not getting up at 4 a.m. to run, I sure as hell am not getting up at 4 a.m. to cook.)
  2. It has to travel well. Specifically, it has to survive 12 miles in a panier bag bouncing along with me on the bike path.
  3. It has to be vegan. My beloved does most (read: all) of our cooking at home, and his idea of "vegetarian" usually means just one kind of meat. So lunch at work is my one chance to give my heart and arteries a bit of a break. Also, see numbers one and two, then think about a pre-cooked, bicycle delivered piece of meat. See what I mean?
So today, I cooked something. Crazy, right? Organic brown rice, lovely Rancho Gordo "Yellow Indian Woman" heirloom beans, cucumber fresh from our garden, scallions, cilantro and avocado. Oh, and the extra special ingredient: coconut oil, which makes the dish delicious AND makes the whole kitchen smell like summertime at the pool. It. Is. Awesome.

You can get the recipe here. So grab a glass of wine, crank up some Dinah Washington and take heart in the fact that if this old broad can pull off doing something new, anybody can. (And keep your fingers crossed for me that I can run again soon. I mean, this coconut oil is FANTASTIC but not exactly low in calories, you know?)

And yes, Mom. That is the funky old pyrex Spag's bowl you gave me from Grandma's kitchen--still going strong after all these years.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

You've Been Served!


To: Crazy Spooky Bus Driver, et. al. (see below for full description of the collective Defendant named herein)

From: Law-abiding and Increasingly Pissed Off Bike Commuter Girl

Re: The Daily Minor Indignities and Occasional Life Threatening Situations to Which You, the named Defendant, Subject Me, the Soon-to-Be Very Wealthy Plaintiff.

Dear Sirs and Madam (and buh-LEEVE me, I am using those terms loosely and with no small amount of sarcasm):

By accepting receipt of this memo, you are implicitly accepting service of notice of my intention to sue your ass all the way to Timbuktu and back when—not if, but when—you cause me, the aforementioned Law-Abiding and Increasingly Pissed Off Bike Commuter Girl (heretofore named in this memo as She Who Shall Retire Early), grievous bodily damage.

This class of defendants, enumerated below, shall henceforth and forthwith be known collectively as Possessors of Insufficient Social Skills or Fundamental Friendliness, Dumb Rude Insensitive Very Evil Revolting Shits (PISS OFF DRIVERS). This godless clique includes:

  • Crazy Spooky Bus Drivers Who Misuse Their Turn Signals, Implying Intention To Change Lanes When They Totally Are Going To Cruise Up the Left Hand Lane for Miles;
  • Taxi Drivers Who Swoop In and Out of The Left Lane Like So Many Crows Competing for Road Kill to Pick up a Fare;
  • Empty-headed Blonde Georgetown Students Chewing Gum, Tossing Their Hair and Trying (Unsuccessfully) to Parallel Park their Daddies’ Lexus SUVs;
  • Self-absorbed Lobbyists Who Double Park then Throw their Doors Open Regardless of Traffic While Talking on their Phones In Front of Pricey Restaurants;
  • Lunatic Pedestrians Jaywalking and Texting Simultaneously;
  • Tourists Who are Soooooo Clueless that Bicyclists on the Path Are Compelled to Shout “On your left. Your other left. No the other side. OK, tell you what: you pick a side and I’ll adapt;
  • Runners (and I use that term generously as your pace qualifies you mostly to be called “Amblers”) Who Listen to Music Too Loudly To Hear a Bike Commuter Bell As You Meander in the Middle of the Path.

Note bene, this list is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather embodies the general kind of person who I intend to sue the shit out of someday.

As exhibit A, a photo of me doing a pinky swear, so clearly demonstrates, I am a law-abiding bike commuter who never* runs red lights, rides the wrong way up a one way street or jumps onto the sidewalk. And as numerous character witnesses shall attest (hi, Mom!), I am typically too out of breath, too uninterested in reaching my destination and, most importantly, too fond of having the moral high-ground to violate posted speed limits on bike paths.

You, the members of PISS OFF DRIVERS, on the other hand, routinely run red lights under the misapprehension that the “Five Second Rule” is applicable in this context, speed up unpredictably under the misguided belief that getting to the next traffic jam just four nanoseconds earlier somehow enriches your quality of life, and step suddenly off the curb somehow thinking that it isn’t going to hurt like hell when I run you down on my bike (did you fail physics, or what?).

Ergo you are running the distinct risk of my taking every penny you’ve got someday since, ipso facto, you are not engaged in the give-and-take, ebb-and-flow, social contract that we call “traffic” and are therefore liable for all and any injuries on my part, including post traumatic stress disorder, unsightly bruising and the occasional broken fingernail.


A Blameless Bicyclist

*In this context, “never” is a term of art rather than an absolute calculation.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

An Ode to Dishwashing

Woe to us, the lowly and unsung dishwashers. We do not have reality shows featuring our work, nor lyrical lines of praise in restaurant reviews ("And the forks sparkle, just sparkle, making every bite a dazzling adventure!"). Friends do not come to dinner eagerly anticipating a truly smudge-free glass. Much like the goalie who gains attention more for failing to stop the ball than for dozens of successful blocks, only a dearth of plates or a stained coffee cup merit notice for he whose responsibility is washing up.

And yet, I delight in my role batting clean-up in the kitchen.

My much-derided but nevertheless undeniable "Virgo-ness" is, no doubt, partially to blame. I confess a visceral unease when confronted by dishes stacked in the sink or smears of one sauce or another on the countertop. My fingers begin to twitch and shall not rest until I am placing plates--like with like, from largest to smallest, all facing to the right, thank you very much--into the racks of the dishwashing machine. No doubt a pricey psychiatrist, were I to believe in such voodoo, would pinpoint my need for order in a tumultuous childhood or perhaps the feeling of responsibility shared by eldest siblings (that will be $200, please, and we'll see you next week).

True, too, is the joy...yes, I said it, joy...that comes with smugly refolding the tea towel at the end of sink full of sticky silverware and oily saucepans. When one's life is spent mostly in trying to attain long-term goals (completing a dissertation, reversing the injustices of capitalism or trying to improve on a 8:15 pace mile) there is satisfaction in tasks with a discrete and quantifiable completion. Where once there were dirty dishes, there now is a clean and tidy space. Where once there was chaos, there are now glasses placed neatly in their cupboard and knives sorted and housed securely in their respective drawers. I have no idea how to solve the mortgage crisis, but boy howdy can I scrub a cutting board.

I enjoy the quiet embodied in a sink full of soapy water. When the guests have left, and the kitchen is dark but for the one light above the sink, I like to turn on the little transistor radio that I'm supposed to be saving for emergencies and place it on the counter next to me. It's on low enough that only the occasional phrase or melody rises above the running water, allowing me to meditate on the value of friendship, or my good fortune in having such a cozy kitchen to call my own, or to think about nothing at all.

But the secret satisfaction comes from being the quiet support to the star of the show, the chef. Like Robin to his Batman (without the puns), Spock to his Kirk (without the ears) or Chewbacca to his Han Solo (okay, so I don't like to brush my hair, so shoot me) I know that without my efforts, our hero would fall faster than a shaken souffle. Just as there can be no Picasso painting without the canvas or the brushes, I defy you to make a truly great bacon-wrapped jalapeno pepper without a clean pan and plate. We who provide the clean dishes hear the secret, coded, plaudits in the fetish of "presentation" in fine kitchens (although I suspect that many share my opinion that all those artsy fartsy smears of sauces and foams on the plate just make it look like it still has this morning's breakfast stuck to it).

So here's to the dishwasher, nobly and anonymously putting the kitchen to bed at the end of the day. We raise a sparkling clean glass to you!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Confessions of a Cheater

"Your cheatin' heart/ Will pine some day/ And crave the love/ You threw away/ The time will come/ When you'll be blue/ Your cheatin' heart, will tell on you..."*

Hello, my name is Anastasia and I am a hair salon floozy. [Hi, Anastasia!] In my entire adult life I have only managed two meaningful relationships with hairdressers, and both of those were more than a dozen years ago.

Sure, I could blame it on my transient youth. With so much moving around, you barely have time to get to know somebody's name and how they feel about the '80s pop blaring through the salon before you're picking up stakes and having your split ends trimmed by some fresh new face.

Or I could fall back on the overall coiffure culture and the heady (no pun intended) hair scene of the West Coast. Back in LA, and then later too in Seattle, I went to "Rudy's," the key party equivalent of salons. You'd saunter into the place and eyeball the talent--hmmmm, the guy with the short bleached 'do and the tattoos seemed to be doing a good job on that girl in his chair, but then you didn't see her when she came in, did you, so who knows what his role really was in designing those kicky little bangs. Feeling daring, you put your name on the list and you rolled the dice; whoever called out your name was your destiny for the next half hour. You got a new stylist every time, and it was exciting and dangerous and you felt like you were living on the edge.

But this program is all about taking responsibility for our mistakes, right? So I have to tell the truth and admit that my laxity in who I allow to put their fingers in my tresses is due entirely to me. I'm drawn to the allure of a new salon and the mysteries it holds. What kind of shampoo do they use? Do they massage your scalp? Do they offer you coffee or--praise be--wine, or just season-old issues of "In Style" and "Details" magazines?

And there are the stylists; oh the frisson that accompanies somebody new sliding up behind me, placing their fingertips on my head and delivering that age-old come on: "So, what are we doing today?" At that moment, all my dreams seem possible. My hair will be thick and straight, no more unruly curls or unending frizz. The cut will look perfect without my having to blow-dry it or coat it with an unending variety of "products." It will cascade behind my ears and onto my neck in a glorious, shiny, smooth stream, the light reflecting off my saucy highlights and with a vague scent of exotic vanilla trailing behind me.

I know what you're thinking. "Your expectations are too high, Anastasia. That's why you can't commit." Well, duh. That and the $95 a really good cut seems to cost. But I just haven't met that perfect somebody yet, that stylist I'm ready to settle down with. So in the meantime, if you have any recommendations, let me know. 'Cause me and my hair are totally available and cruising for a new salon.

*Hank Williams, "Your Cheatin' Heart," 1952.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Ignominy of Middle Age

In retrospect, maybe three marathons in just over six months after a six year hiatus was...overambitious. Back in 1985 I was told I shouldn't consider taking up running—advice I blithely ignored after the late 1990s—and so I recognize that every mile is a gift. But this last race was a doozy, with long downhills that put my feet, heels and knees into a competition to see which could cripple me first. Add to this hours and hours in the garden that have left me all too aware of each and every muscle in my back and with several blisters on my soft middle-management hands. I'm shuffling around here like a recently retired football player.

But rather than moan about it, I am going to focus on the bits and pieces that don't hurt:

My elbows. And who the hell came up with the phrase “funny bone” for when you do hit your elbow, anyway? I have a pretty good sense of humor, and I don't find that at all amusing.

My hair. It's frizzy, perpetually "between" actual haircuts, and increasingly sprinkled with gray highlights, but at least it doesn't hurt.

My toenails. Not even the one I've lost, like, four times from running and that doesn't grow anymore.

That's not too bad for an overly enthusiastic, obstinate, unrealistic forty-four year old broad. Now where did I put that ibuprofen, anyway?