Monday, July 27, 2009

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

Since I'm relocating to New York for the next five weeks starting tomorrow, today's selection is one of my favorite poems about New York. I first encountered it the summer I worked as an intern at The Poetry Center in Chicago, where I was tasked with listening to audio recordings of 30 years' worth of poetry readings hosted by the Center. Mark Doty read this poem and it has stayed with me ever since.


Under Grand Central's tattered vault
--maybe half a dozen electric stars still lit--
one saxophone blew, and a sheer black scrim

billowed over some minor constellation
under repair. Then, on Broadway, red wings
in a storefront tableau, lustrous, the live macaws

preening, beaks opening and closing
like those animated knives that unfold all night
in jewelers' windows. For sale,

glass eyes turned outward toward the rain,
the birds lined up like the endless flowers
and cheap gems, the makeshift tables

of secondhand magazines
and shoes the hawkers eye
while they shelter in the doorways of banks.

So many pockets and paper cups
and hands reeled over the weight
of that glittered pavement, and at 103rd

a woman reached to me across the wet roof
of a stranger's car and said, I'm Carlotta,
I'm hungry. She was only asking for change,

so I don't know why I took her hand.
The rooftops were glowing above us,
enormous, crystalline, a second city

lit from within. That night
a man on the downtown local stood up
and said, My name is Ezekiel,

I am a poet, and my poem this evening is called
fall. He stood up straight
to recite, a child reminded of his posture

by the gravity of his text, his hands
hidden in the pockets of his coat.
Love is protected, he said,

the way leaves are packed in snow,
the rubies of fall. God is protecting
the jewel of love for us.

He didn't ask for anything, but I gave him
all the change left in my pocket,
and the man beside me, impulsive, moved,

gave Ezekiel his watch.
It wasn't an expensive watch,
I don't even know if it worked,

but the poet started, then walked away
as if so much good fortune
must be hurried away from,

before anyone realizes it's a mistake.
Carlotta, her stocking cap glazed
like feathers in the rain,

under the radiant towers, the floodlit ramparts,
must have wondered at my impulse to touch her,
which was like touching myself,

the way your own hand feels when you hold it
because you want to feel contained.
She said, You get home safe now, you hear?

In the same way Ezekiel turned back
to the benevolent stranger.
I will write a poem for you tomorrow,

he said. The poem I will write will go like this:
Our ancestors are replenishing
the jewel of love for us.

Friday, July 24, 2009

On Comfort and Convenience

Below is a re-creation of a scene that took place at Logan Airport on July 16, 2009.

Katie, a short, spunky brunette carrying a duffel bag, approaches the ticket counter.

KATIE: Hi, I'd like to check in?

UNITED AIRLINES AGENT: Great, can I see your ID?

Katie hands over her driver's license.

UNITED AIRLINES AGENT: Would you like to upgrade to Economy Plus for an additional $39?

KATIE: Um, what is the difference between Economy and Economy Plus?

UNITED AIRLINES AGENT: Five more inches of legroom.


KATIE: That's it? Five inches?




$39 bucks for 5 inches? And according to
United's website, it might not even be a true 5 inches:
"Economy Plus is an exclusive area of 6 to 11 rows in the United Economy® cabin, offering up to an additional 5 inches of legroom."

United is all about offering incentives to its various tiers of frequent flyer membership, like the ability to not wait in line to check-in and get priority on standby lists. And of course, the privilege to get on the plane first.

But I've never understood why pre-boarding is such a big deal. I hate being on planes; they're cramped and always smell kind of stale. I like to minimize the amount of time I'm on the plane; ideally, I'd board last and get off first.

And the special elite separate line for Red Carpet Club Members? It's right next to the pleb line. And unless you're the only Member on a given flight, which is unlikely, you're going to have to wait in it. That's right, you're going to have to WAIT YOUR TURN TO BOARD LIKE EVERYONE ELSE.

On my last trip, I got to sneak a peek at the Denver airport Red Carpet Club because my friend Jon is a Premier Executive or something. It was nice -- they had free fruit and copies of the Financial Times which I did not read.

What I did read was David Foster Wallace's brilliant essay on our culture's obsession with luxury and comfort, entitled "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again." Wallace chronicles his experiences on a 7-night Caribbean cruise, where people pay thousands of dollars for the privilege of being waited on hand and foot and doing absolutely nothing. The essay is hilarious -- I'll conclude this post with his description of the high-tech "fascinating and malevolent" toilets in the cabins:

A harmonious concordance of elegant form and vigorous function, my toilet has above it this sign:


Yes that's right a vacuum toilet. And, as with the exhaust fan above, not a lightweight or unambitious vacuum. The toilet's flush produces a brief but traumatizing sound, a kind of held high-B gargle, as of some gastric disturbance on a cosmic scale. Along with this sound comes a concussive suction so awesomely powerful that it's both scary and strangely comforting--your waste seems less removed than hurled from you, and hurled with a velocity that lets you feel as though the waste is going to end up someplace so far away that it will have to become an abstraction.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


About halfway up the mountain, I remembered: I don't much care for it.

I'm currently in Telluride, CO with college friends. Yesterday we hiked up the Bear Creek Canyon and today, we tackled the Jud Wiebe Trail, which ascends 1,200 feet.

Maybe the problem is that I'm not a good hiker -- I get winded pretty quickly and no matter how much insect repellent I put on, I still seem to be the flies' favorite.

But I think I also just don't really get the point of it -- you hike up, then you hike down. You snap a few photos along the way.

I have similar issues with non-destination walks, of the "let's just go for a walk" variety. I know it's supposed to be about the journey and not the end-point, but I'd prefer to figure out somewhere that I'd like to go and walk there rather than just wander aimlessly. Walking with no destination makes me anxious for some reason. Or if there's no particular location, I need a time frame, like an agreement with my walking companion that we will walk for 30 minutes and no matter where we are at that point, we'll stop and perhaps get a cocktail.

Sometimes I wish I were more outdoorsy. But usually only for a few seconds.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

First Dates and Last Dates

Unfortunately, sometimes they are one and the same.
Especially if you wear this shirt on the date:

I have romance on the brain this week, possibly because I attended my first Jewish wedding on Sunday and love was definitely in the air. The bride and groom, both friends of mine, are a perfect match and their courtship was effortless. Which just reminded me of how difficult and rare that is, to find someone you click with enough to make it past the first date.

My current boyfriend and I like to play a little hypothetical game where we take turns finishing the sentence, "What would you have done if on our first date I had [insert horrible, bizarre thing here]?" i.e. what would have been a true deal-breaker? We've filled in the blank with everything from "shown up wearing a t-shirt with your face silk-screened on it" to "told you I had a rare nerve disorder that makes me stick out my tongue every 30 seconds." It's a fun game, especially on car trips or waiting in line at amusement parks.

The only time someone actually did something on a date with me that pretty much ended the date then and there was on St. Patrick's Day in 2004. My roommate Allysha set me up with a guy she had met at the bar where she worked and insisted that we would hit it off. This guy, let's call him Jordan, showed up and to Allysha's credit, he was attractive. We started talking and he asked me where I was from. I told him "Missouri."

His face lit up. "Oh!" he said, "Let me show you something. If you're from Missouri, you'll love this."

And then he proudly showed me his cell phone, which had a Confederate flag plastic cover on it.

I laughed nervously. "Um, is that supposed to be ironic?"

He gave me a serious look. "No," he said. "It's not like that."

To this day, I'm not sure what he meant. There are two options: a) he meant "it's not like that" as in, he was racist and truly believes the South shall rise again or b) he didn't know what "ironic" meant.

I didn't stick around to find out. I think I faked a stomachache and got into the nearest taxi. Though later, when I told this story to friends, we all agreed that him not knowing the meaning of "ironic" might have been more of a deal-breaker than him being racist.

Tonight on the T, I saw a couple that appeared to be on a first and, sadly, last date. They were discussing taste in films and when the girl confessed to absolutely loving the most recent Indiana Jones movie, the guy visibly flinched. Poor girl. For her sake, I hope there are plenty of bad-movie-loving fish in the sea.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Don't Forget to Tip Your Waitress!

When I came in to interview for a server position at Exotic Sushi and Tapas, the owner, Cathy, looked over my resume and seemed surprised to see that I had graduated from Yale. When she e-mailed me to offer me the job, she wrote that she was worried I was overqualified and would be "bored" working as a server. Similarly, my boyfriend's family is baffled by my decision to wait tables. Wouldn't I prefer an office job, something more suited to my Ivy League skill set?

The answer is no.

I'm living in Boston to go to grad school and get my MFA. I need a job to pay my bills and while yes, I almost certainly could work part-time in some administrative capacity and take advantage of my knowledge of Excel spreadsheets, I am choosing not to. For several reasons:

1. I need a job that does not tax me mentally because I need my brain for class and for out-of-class writing. If I spent all day in front of a computer, I would not want to come home and sit in front of another computer to write papers or stories.

2. I don't need any kind of benefits because I get benefits as part of my tuition.

3. I find being a waitress to be rewarding -- I'm on my feet, being friendly, and multi-tasking. I'm good at it and I make good tips.

Having spent five years in New York, where I'd estimate 90% of the servers and bartenders are aspiring actors, musicians, artists, directors, photographers, writers etc, I am often surprised when customers treat me with condescension, presumably because I'm "just a waitress." Very few people are "just" anything. I don't expect special treatment because of my Yale degree but I also don't deserve scorn because I choose to wait tables to pay my way through school.

I'll conclude with this footage from the musical "Working." This number, performed here by Rita Moreno, is called "It's an Art" and I'm sure you can guess what it's about. This is exactly how I feel about being a waitress!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Five-Year-Old Mind

I'm on Cape Cod for the holiday weekend (and thank God the weather decided to behave), spending time with my boyfriend and his family, which includes his five-year-old twin nephews, Adam and Jack. They are energetic, hilarious little guys and this weekend, they were introduced to the zany fun of Madlibs. Can you guess which words in the following completed pirate story were supplied by Kindergarten-aged boys?

Jolly Roger

The black-and-white penis that waved in the breeze atop a pirate ship was called a Jolly Roger. There are many theories as to how the Jolly Butt got its yellow name, but most eyeballs agree that the red flag was designed to scare the living leaves out of the captains and crews on merchant trees. And indeed, it did. When a lookout shouted, "Barf ahoy!" and the captain sighted the dreaded skull-and-crossinchworms through his spy-cup, not only did it strike terror in his vagina, but it sent chills up and down the poop of every member on the chair. However, nothing generated as much stupid fear on merchant tattoos as the hoisting of a stinky red flag on a pirate spit. The red flag signaled that mercy would neither be asked for nor given--no farts would be spared.

Not that I'm a fan of gross bodily function jokes, but the simplicity of their humor is kind of awesome, no?