Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why seven weeks is suddenly feeling like a very long time

I hunched down in my too-small middle school desk at the back of the room, trying to appear friendly yet mostly invisible in my silent observer role. In stomped an eighth grader in Ugg boots, her side braid artfully messy, her makeup expertly applied.

Slam! went her bookbag in her chair. "Oh my gah!" she shrieked. "Why is there wet stuff in my bag? Oh my god, it's my hair product. You guys, my hair product leaked all over my bag!" Hand flapping, procuring of paper towels, and fastidious and lengthy removal of all offending product ensued. She turned around and noticed me at the back of the room. "Who's that?" she shouted to everyone and no one in particular. "Is that a student teacher? Do we have a student teacher? Oh my god, do you remember the student teacher we had last year? What was her name? Ms...Ms. something...Ms. D! Oh my god, do you remember Ms. D? I hated her! I hated her so much! I hope this one's better than Ms. D. I think so. She looks better than Ms. D. Oh my god, Ms. D, ugh! Haha!" 

Internet, I think it's going to be a long semester.    

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why I'm not cleaning again until 2012

You'd think that what with all this free time on my hands (ahh, winter break), I would be the most in-shape person with the cleanest house in the history of ever. At least, that is what I would assume I would do with my time if I were bored, which I am, frequently, instead of sitting on the couch watching tv and eating bon bons, which is how I've actually been spending my time. You think I'm kidding?
Way back in mid-December, in the midst of end-of-semester angst, I scoffed at the idea of bored. Bored, pshaw! mid-December said to January me. If you're bored, just clean something. If you're bored go to yoga. Go to the gym. In fact, I command you to!

Well. I don't know how many of you are fellow central New York Staters, but the weather conditions lately do not exactly encourage leaving the house. If not for my part-time job I probably wouldn't leave the house at all. In fact, this week, when I didn't have to work? I didn't leave the house for two days. I didn't change out of my pajamas for two days. Should I not advertise that? I did shower. I am not an animal

So, ok, you say, no going outside. In which case your house should be spotless, right? And, I'll admit, I did let things go for a little while. But I have to add a caveat here to say that for me, "letting things go" only approaches the cleaner end of other people's normal. I am a pretty clean person. But the last couple weeks, I let the bathroom counters get a bit grungy. The kitchen counters too. The sink. The stove. Still, not really a big deal. But.

But. I have one, shameful housekeeping secret. Since moving into this apartment, I have never mopped. Not once. Not the living room, not the bathroom, and definitely not the kitchen. Internet, I moved in here in August. The first of August. That is over five and a half months of never once pushing around a damp rag on the floor. When I moved in, a Swiffer mop was propped casually against the kitchen wall. Hint, hint, it seemed to say. Yes, I will definitely do that soon, I thought to myself. And, well. I mean, I would have, but the floor just never seemed that dirty. Such is the beauty of brown, wood kitchen floors, I guess. And, it's not like I never cleaned it. I would run a vacuum over it when I did the rest of the house, and if I spilled something I would usually wipe it up. But I just never got around to mopping. But that, I decided, would change, if only to have something really boring to blog about.

So, I took some before shots...             

...and went to work. This is what the Swiffer looked like after I had finished mopping my entire never-been-mopped-in-five-months-if-not-longer kitchen and living room:
Even I was surprised at how seemingly little I had accomplished. Does this mean I win?

And then the after shots:

I think we all know the moral of this story: never clean.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Why at least I'm not kicking cushions

Well, I'm late by about two months for this one, but wouldn't it have fit in oh-so-well back when I was talking about just how much I love the holidays?


So, what do you think? Is this a case of life imitating art? Or should I just go ahead and make myself a t-shirt right now that says, Hey hey, I'm a walking cliche?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why my pants have changed, but everything else is pretty much the same

If 2010 turned out to be not all that stellar, it was momentous in at least one way: it was the year that my passport expired. It seems almost impossible; ten years felt like such an interminable amount of time back in 2000, when I got it to replace the passport I had gotten at fifteen, which was only valid for five years. But expired it had, and between September 28 and yesterday, when my new passport arrived, there were a good three and a half months in which I was unable to take off on a last-minute international trip, a prisoner in my own country. I lived every day in dread that my rich millionaire would suddenly and unexpectedly show up and want to jet me off to Paris for the weekend, and I would have to refuse for lack of proper documentation--but luckily, or unluckily, however you want to look at it, that scenario never came up.

Whatever else this decade brought (coming of age? loss of innocence? the beginnings of a hard and crusty veneer of bitterness and jaded cynicism?), this was definitely the decade of travel. The decade of three visas and dozens of trans-continental plane flights, countless hours spent cramped and desperate and definitely not sleeping in a metal tube hurtling over the Atlantic. Dozens of stamps, back when they still did arcane things like stamp your passport. Heathrow, Gatwick, Lyon, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle. All of that evidence gone, forfeited for the privilege of a pristine, blank, new passport with no history, no story. All those stamps, all that evidence of another life lived, gone for good. So you know I had to document it.

In 2001 I arrived in France for the first time, apart from a whirl-wind 36 hours in high school, sandwiched in between Spain and Italy, feeling almost like an afterthought. In 2001 I arrived in France for the first time that counts, landed at Lyon's Saint Exupery Airport, and I only regret that nothing can ever possibly seem that new and different and exciting again. I lived with a host family. I took public transportation for the first time in my life. One day on the bus, heading home after an appointment at the coiffeur, a boy leaned over and sniffed my hair. I narrowed my eyes and shot him my best I-am-not-to-be-trifled with look, a look I aparently had years to go before perfecting, because instead of taking the hint he started talking to me. "It's not the 1960s, ya know," he said, or rather I thought he said, though I couldn't fathom why. "Your jeans?" he said, in response to my blank face. "People don't wear bell bottoms anymore." I glanced down at my faded jeans, the bottoms sloping out gracefully over my sneakers. It was 2001 and the height of the boot cut jeans era. Boot cut, flares, call it what you will (anything but bell bottoms, thank you very much), I had them. Then I looked at his skin-tight denim-clad legs, tucked into his white high-top sneakers, and smirked. The skinny jeans craze was still years away in the U.S., and had he been on my turf he would have been laughed right out of Western Maryland College, right out of the entire Old Navy-loving U.S. of A.

"Well, they are à la mode in the United States," I replied haughtily. (Being French, he of course understood that à la mode means "in fashion," and not "with ice cream.")

"Well you are not in the United States," he logically (though a bit irritatingly) replied.

I decided I hated him, though I couldn't help secretly being a little pleased at the fact that I was having an actual encounter with an actual French person. And what's more, I understood him. And more than that, he understood me. I must be making progress.

"So, you are American?" he asked. "East Coast West Coast?" he said in English, now. "Snoop Doggy Dogg?" They surrounded me now, him and his boy gang circled around me like wolves. His earnestly French pronunciation of "Snoop Duggy Dugg," though, made them all seem somehow less menacing.

"Err, yes," I replied. "Um."

"Is it true what they say about President Clinton?" he asked, followed by a lewd gesture. "Have you..." (lewd gesture) "...with President Clinton?" His boy gang snickered in the background. So much for multi-cultural exchange, I thought. In the background a conversation ensued regarding whether or not I was hot, and if so, to what degree. No agreement was reached at this meeting of the minds. Snoop Dogg chimed in with his opinion. "Je te trouve jolie, mais..." he trailed off and waved his hand in a circular motion around his face, his eyes searching and quizzical. This would become a favorite story among all my American study abroad friends, but especially for one girl in particular, who never tired of repeating the punchline, "I find you pretty, but..." with the accompanying vague and yet all-encompassing hand motion, and then cackling in glee. It was official. I hated him and his asshole friends. I shot him a withering glance that I hoped was more effective than my previous don't-mess-with-me glare, and attempted to gaze purposely and meaningfully out the window. To my relief they soon got off the bus, and I was alone with my thoughts and the scent of my freshly washed hair, that had started all of this in the first place.

Over dinner, I told my host parents what had happened, that a boy had smelled my hair on the bus. Or did I accidentally say sniffled? In any case, my host mother interrupted before I was through. "Were they Arabs?" she asked, her tone turned serious.

"What?" I asked. I didn't know why she would be asking. They weren't wearing turbans or flowing robes or riding camels or anything, if that's what she meant. "No, I don't think so," I said. "They were, they weren't."

"What did they look like?" she persisted.

"I don't know," I said. "But they had this accent, it was sort of..." I trailed off, because I didn't know how to say "ghetto."

"They were Arabs," she replied confidently.

"Ok, but..." I couldn't believe how entirely she was missing the point of my story. "I mean, he sniffled my hair. Isn't that weird?"

It was the first time I had encountered the term, let alone the myriad and messy connotations and ramifications of it. Years later I would teach classes full of Ahmeds, Djamels, Farouks, Fatimas, Hamzas, Mehdis, and Youcefs. Years later I would only begin to understand the thinly veiled current of racism running through the country, and how it figured at the center of nearly every question up for national debate: unemployment, immigration, police relations, elections. At the time, I knew none of this. Looking back though, this kid on the bus, contrary to my host mother's steadfast belief--he wasn't even Arab. His skinny jeans and high tops, his tough street accent, his love of rap--he was just a white boy on a bus, trying to be gangsta.

Or maybe he was an Arab after all, what do I know? Maybe my memory fails me, or maybe I just didn't know what I was looking for. I was an immigrant too, after all, and anyway, he was way more French than I would ever be. Really, we were more alike than either of us knew. Just a French boy on a bus, dreaming of thug life in America, and an only borderline pretty East Coast girl with the wrong jeans, desperately wanting to be French.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why I left my ability to think up clever blog titles in San Francisco

After my red eye flight touched down at Mythaca Airport at 9:30 this morning, I gingerly navigated the unshoveled paths to long-term parking, where I chipped about three inches of snow and ice off my dormant car, paid the $29 exit/extortionist fee, and finally made my way home. The weather is sure better in San Francisco, I'll give it that. Although I suppose "better" is a relative term.

"Brrr, so cold," west coasters will tell you, turning their collars up against the wind and the fog. "It's been so cold the last few days."

"Yes," I say agreeably, wrapping my scarf tighter, since everything less than 72 degrees and sunny is cold in my book, and if it's 72 degrees I'll still wish it was 74. "Cold, cold, cold." Yet somewhere in the midst of all this "wintry" weather, there is still a year-round growing season, picturesque green hills lush with vegetation, and people-watching at outdoor cafe tables, huddled under the gentle, warming breath of propane heaters. I will take this version of cold any day, is what I'm saying. 

I've given myself permission to laze about like a semi-invalid today, doing nothing more strenuous that eat soup, drink tea, watch tv, and take unintentionally long mid-day naps, even though I'm not actually sick, I just went on vacation, for chrissakes. Though I did spend the last three nights sharing a futon with my friend Jamie, and the previous five nights before that sharing my not overly large bed with my sister and a chihuahua, in Mythaca for a visit, so it's been a while since I could stretch out in a bed that was all mine. Then there's the fact that I sort of feel like I need to embark on a cleanse diet after the last few days. I said my one goal for this trip was to eat my way through San Francisco, and I think I can safely say, mission accomplished. Plus, when you can make a meal out of bread, cheese, wine, and olives three times in four days, you know that ain't bad. Except for all the obvious reasons. But in the moment, it wasn't bad at all. But now it is all soup, all the time, and any other veggie-based leftovers I can dig out of my freezer. And yes, I do realize this post is scintillating. Talking about soup. If you don't like it, you know what? No soup for you!

We stayed with Jamie's lovely friends who were kind enough to spend the weekend and even take off of work to drive us all over the city, East Bay, and most of Sonoma County, while Jamie and I sat in the back seat admiring the views and regressing every once in a while into a chorus of, "She's looking at me! Make her stop not touching me!" Because we are nothing if not fabulous practice for parenthood. After our day of wine tasting, though, we promptly passed out in the back seat and were quiet all the way back, and I think perhaps there is a lesson to be learned there. 

So now I am back and a bit useless, and starting tomorrow I will only have twelve days left of winter break, help! Starting tomorrow it's down to business. Starting tomorrow I will get motivated to, you know, do stuff. Tomorrow. For now...*yawn.* Did you know that after five months of living in this apartment with cable included, after five months of never going above channel 100 because too many choices give me hives, at some point I finally realized I have access to HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, TMC, and all their accompanying on-demand choices? Do you realize that upon discovering this my first thought was, Oh my god, I could have been watching tv this whole time! What I am saying is, me and tv, we have a lot of catching up to do.

For now, I'll leave you with some pictures: 

It's me! It's me in a tree! It's me with no neck in a tree!
In which I never know which camera to look at.

 You can't tell, but these trees are full of parrots. Just like tv said!
In which I really wish I had brought my sunglasses...
...and remembered to wear pants. Whoops. I will just point at Jamie like she's crazy and hope no one notices.  
Taking a brief moment for yoga. And concentrating really hard on not falling. Standing on one leg with your eyes closed while under the influence of fermented grapes is...challenging. You should try it sometime. 
In which Jamie attempts to refute my claim that a cat can actually fit in a paper wine bag. (I still say she wasn't trying hard enough). 
Nap. (Not shown).