Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What did we do before YouTube?

Sometimes I use this blog to reflect on the great issues of the day, the unique challenges of being human in this complex modern era. And sometimes I use it to post silly videos featuring cats.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Thanksgiving, in statistics

Number of relatives that flew in from the West Coast: 5

Number of happy hours my brother and I hit before seeing our relatives: 2
Number of different pies baked: 4

Number of fights I had with my mom: 2
Number of fights she remembers us having: 1
Number of lines of bad dialogue in "Burlesque": 4, 387

Number of plastic surgery procedures Cher admits to having: 3
Number of Broadway shows seen: 3
Number of Broadway shows seen that were directed by Alex Timbers: 2
Number of drunk/high adults in the audience at the Peewee Herman show: 497
Number of glasses of wine consumed: more than 5 and less than 50
Number of times the woman next to me on the train to New York got up to pee: 3
Number of times I was asked about my love life: CRANBERRY SAUCE
Number of years my grandmother has been awesome: 92
Number of sticks of butter in my mom's stuffing: unknown

Number of regrettable drunken texts sent: 6
Number of tablespoons of Johnny Walker Black added to my chocolate pecan pie recipe: 4
Number of minutes I waited in line at Starbucks on Thursday morning: 25
Number of children with nicer winter coats than me spotted in aforementioned line: 3

Number of pairs of socks borrowed from my ex-boyfriend (at whose apartment I was staying) because I forgot to pack socks: 2 (sorry, Noah)
Number of times the word "number" appears in the blog post: 19!

And one bonus, non-numerical piece of data: for the best story that may or may not be true and/or grossly exaggerated told by a family member, it's a tie between

-- my aunt describing the time she met Cher and Cher appeared to be wearing a bedspread
-- my mom talking about seeing Stevie Wonder open for the Rolling Stones and falling off the stage

Ah, the holidays. The fun is just beginning.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Gobble, gobble

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I have already engaged in one angry/tearful discussion with a family member about politics, so for others who may be in similar positions, I recommend this helpful article from Slate about navigating those tricky topics.

The turkey: equal parts regal and ridiculous. All parts delicious!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Yelping about blogging, I mean, blogging about Yelping

I remember very clearly when I first heard about Yelp, back when it was first launching just as a site for New Yorkers to write reviews about local businesses*. It makes sense that Yelp originated there -- New Yorkers have high standards and love to complain loudly and publicly. I was at a party in Hell's Kitchen and my friend Sam was telling me about his new job with a brand new website.

"It's called Yelp," he said, "and it's a site where once you set up an account, you can review restaurants and stuff. Anyone can write the reviews and the businesses can't take them down, even if they're bad."

"Wow, that sounds really cool," I said. "I'll have to check it out." In my head, I thought it sounded retarded. I was sure it would never take off -- I mean, who wants to read reviews written by ignorant people?

Fast forward to the present, in which I am now not only a Yelp member, but a member of the Elite Squad. I applied and was granted Elite status in the summer of 2009; basically, in exchange for Yelping frequently (and wittily), I get invited to some special events with free food and booze.

And speaking of witty, I thought I'd share one of my favorite Yelp reviews ever, written by my friend, Jon. Jon lives in Chicago and had a "conflict" with a tailoring business. Here is his review of
Without a Trace Weavers:

A small hole in one of my favorite sweaters precipitated my search for a good reweaver, and Chicago Magazine recommended Without a Trace, with locations on the Gold Coast and in Chicago's North Park neighborhood. I dropped my sweater off at the Gold Coast location and was told they would be in contact with me when the repairs were completed. Fast forward several weeks later, and my sweater was ready for pick up.

Without a Trace's strange hours (open only until 4:30pm) did not make it easy for me to return to collect my garment, as I had recently begun work in the suburbs and it had become difficult for me to be downtown before they close. I did not pick up my garment until a few weeks after the repairs were completed, and only after several increasingly frantic and accusatory phone calls from the business. For the benefit (and entertainment) of all Yelpers, here is an excerpted portion of the most psychotic voice message:

"I don't know why you're refusing just to come pick up your sweater. . . um, this isn't right. . . I don't understand why you'd bring something in and not pick it up or return any calls. . . I just. . . it's something. . ."

I had never before received as bizarre or manic a voicemail before. Not from any ex after a bad breakup, or from any crazy member of my family. Now, this voice message may lead you to believe that I'm one of those sick people who gets off on dropping off garments for dry cleaning, alterations, or repairs. and then leaving them there forever sticking the company with the bill. Ha, the joke is on you, reweaving company! Reality? A too-long turnaround time and inconvenient hours of operations made it difficult to pick up my sweater, only one of several that I own and that provide me warmth and comfort on a regular basis.

When I returned to pick up my garment, I asked the nice young man working at the time if it was he that left me the aforementioned message. I told him that it was the single most psychotic, unprofessional voicemail that I had ever received. Without hesitation, the employee told me that it must have been the owner, Michael. This leads me to believe that I am not the first customer to suffer the indignity of dealing with the business's proprietor.

If you're looking for a healthy dose of abuse along with your garment repair, might I suggest Without a Trace? If you happen to be reading this, Michael, might I suggest for you some time on the couch with a good psychotherapist? It's not terribly professional to work through your obviously complex emotional issues on your customers' answering machines!

Sometimes when you write a negative review, the business will respond and apologize/offer an incentive to give them another try. Usually, if this happens, it will happen within a month or so of the review being posted. I, however, recently received a message from
Sandella's, a place I reviewed over a year ago. Here's my review and the subsequent message -- I suggest doing a dramatic reading to get the full effect:

Neither tasty nor healthy, Sandella's has little to recommend it. My ham, spinach and swiss "panini" was greasy and measly (seriously, like one slice of ham) and lacking the promised "mango habanero salsa." Also, it wasn't really a panini -- kind of like a sad, deflated burrito. I will not be back.

13 months later.....

Hello Katie. I know you had a bad experience at my restaurant and I appreciate the feedback. The reason why I have taken so long to write back is we have done an extensive menu change and have worked hard over the past year to make the food experience much better.

Since your review and taking into consideration some of your valid points we have hired a chef and worked with her for several months and redesigned the menu. I took the spinach and swiss product off the menu and now offer a choice of Iggy's foccacia along with our flatbread as a panini option. I too agree that what we were serving before was not good. We have also brought in brown rice, avocado and several other ingredients to update our products. We also offer a make your own option for rice bowls, grilled flatbread pizzas and the salads. You can also feel free to design your own panini if you so desire. I understand that you may not wish to give us another try and even worse we could disappoint you a second time but I assure you that we have tried to be a better establishment and many people do like what we are doing now.

So I appreciate the valid review and I hope there are no hard feelings. If you ever do give us a try again I really hope we do a better job this time around. We have really, really put a lot of effort into making things better. However we still are a moderate food establishment that tries to serve a decent product as quickly as possible so there are no miracles here!

Thank you for the input.
Sincerely, Nick M.

I am amused and touched by Nick M's response. He really took my comments to heart, it seems, but acknowledges the challenges of trying to serve "a decent product" in what's basically a fast-food venue. I may just give Sandella's another go.

*Apparently, Yelp actually started in San Francisco. New York was added soon after.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The ghazal: my white whale?

So this week I'm posting an example of a form that I have attempted, but failed miserably at completing:
the ghazal, pronounced either "huzzle" or "guzzle," depending on whom you ask. For those of you familiar with my work, you know I love form and don't shy away from a challenge. But the ghazal makes all other forms --pantoums, sonnets, even villanelles-- look like nursery school Dr. Seuss bullshit.

The ghazal is very old, with the earliest examples in Arabic verse dating back to the 6th century. It's also incredibly difficult -- there is a refrain repeated at the end of every other line, as well as internal rhyme. And as if that wasn't hard enough, the poet is also supposed to "name" him or herself in the last couplet. Because of the formal requirements, ghazals rarely are narrative poems; the repetition makes it almost impossible to move any kind of story forward. Many operate associatively through images or rhetorical word play.

This ghazal takes some liberties with the rules -- the internal rhyme is inconsistent -- but it's still, I think, largely successful.

The Ghazal of What Hurt
by Peter Cole
Pain froze you, for years—and fear—leaving scars.
But now, as though miraculously, it seems, here you are

walking easily across the ground, and into town
as though you were floating on air, which in part you are,

or riding a wave of what feels like the world's good will—
though helped along by something foreign and older than you are

and yet much younger too, inside you, and so palpable
an X-ray, you're sure, would show it, within the body you are,

not all that far beneath the skin, and even in
some bones. Making you wonder: Are you what you are—

with all that isn't actually you having flowed
through and settled in you, and made you what you are?

The pain was never replaced, nor was it quite erased.
It's memory now—so you know just how lucky you are.

You didn't always. Were you then? And where's the fear?
Inside your words, like an engine? The car you are?!

Face it, friend, you most exist when you're driven
away, or on—by forms and forces greater than you are.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

In Memoriam: Allston Cafe

Friends, it is with great sadness that I announce the closing of one of my favorite neighborhood haunts: The Allston Cafe.

Since moving to Boston a little over two years ago, I have frequented the Allston Cafe (formerly known as Herrell's, when it was under different ownership). On Yelp, I gave it a rare five-star review. It was really a unique place, beloved by Allstonians, and very popular. On weekends, it was often impossible to get a seat and the wait for their amazing breakfast sandwiches was sometimes epic, but always worth it. I always overheard people discussing their art shows, band tours, and latest tattoos. The wifi was free and the coffee was strong. And they served breakfast all day, every day. What genius created the Tiny Mighty, the eggless breakfast sandwich for only $2.14? What giant among men (or women) figured out that grape jelly would take the Meg Muffin (egg, cheese, sausage) to the next level?

Apparently, Allston Cafe was forced to close due to a dramatic rent increase to the tune of $1700, or roughly 794 Tiny Mightys. I recorded my final visit this past Saturday; I hope you enjoy my photographic tribute.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

What Kim Kardashian and I have in common

Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write. And for those of you keeping track, no, it's not that we've both been linked to a pro-football player or star in a reality show on E!

It's this:

Hey Kim, you and me both, sister.

As I approach my next birthday, which happens to be one of those decade-milestones, it's hard not to reflect on what I've accomplished in my life. I've never had a strict timeline of events in my head, and yet when I graduated from college, I did have vague ideas about where I saw myself 5, 10 years down the line. If you had asked me, back at the tender age of 22, where I thought I'd be now, I would have speculated that I'd still be acting in some capacity, hopefully at a professional/respectable level. And that I'd be married. No kids yet -- I would have figured that for the early chunk of my 20s, I'd casually date before finding my soul mate around the age of 26. We'd date for a couple of years, be engaged by the time I was 28ish and right around now, I'd be walking down the aisle.

Ok, so maybe I did kind of have a timeline. But it's not like I wrote it down or anything.

Actual recap of the post-college years goes like this: give up on acting after 5 exhausting years of doing bad plays in New York, decide to move to a new city and get my MFA in poetry, have a slew of serious monogamous relationships that ultimately fizzle, largely for reasons unknown (i.e. not for lack of love or basic incompatibility).

Now, this next statement is going to sound, well, snotty: historically, I tend to get what I want. This is due to some combination of luck and stubbornness. But the truth is, I got the lead in the high school musical, went to prom with the guy I wanted, and got into my first choice college. I usually get offered jobs I go after. In short, when I want something and decide to fight for it, I often get it. Hate me, call me a lucky bitch, but it's the truth.

Finding someone with whom to share my life and raise a family is something I want. Doesn't have to happen now, but as the years tick by, I get increasingly nervous that it will never happen. I know, 30 is not exactly over-the-hill. But it's also not 25.

Of the 6 girls in my 6th grade class at Wilson School, I am the only one that is not married. Three of them have babies already, too. The high school stats are equally staggering -- I am definitely in the minority as a single woman with no offspring to pose with in my Facebook profile pic.

I know, it's not a race. It's not a contest. Over 50% of marriages end in divorce, blah blah blah.
And I consider myself a feminist, so I HATE admitting that these "traditional" things, these 1950s housewife-sounding things are things that I covet. I do want professional success as well -- if I didn't, I wouldn't be accruing thousands of dollar of debt to go to graduate school. I'd just join e-harmony and spend all my time/effort/money on trying to "settle down." I don't plan to stop working and pop out babies.

But I hate feeling guilty/old fashioned about wanting these things. I hate admitting that I want them. I wish I had a "it''ll happen if it happens" philosophy, but that's not how I'm programmed. I have a very good life and I have a lot to be thankful for -- good friends, a supportive family, enough money to pay my rent and occasionally eat at a nice restaurant. But I guess I buy into that cultural fairytale that until I find a person to share it all with, I can't be completely happy. Partly, I do blame my genes -- both of my parents are terrible at being alone. Within a year of divorcing, they were both remarried. So I can blame them, I can blame society, I can blame myself. It doesn't really matter.

Kim K. came clean in People; I'm coming clean here. I'm not married and I'm a little disappointed about it.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Insight into the mind of a poet

Like many writers, I keep a journal. Several, actually. One for banal observations and whiny ramblings expected for the diary genre and then two others that I use for poetry/teaching/whatever else I need to write down when I'm at my desk (directions to restaurants, confirmation numbers). It's sometimes fun to flip through these hodgepodge notebooks and discover random things that I have no memory of writing. I recently came across this, well, list for lack of a better word. I'm guessing it was from a free writing exercise wherein I was trying to jumpstart my creativity. The "list" is as follows, verbatim:

rosebuds touching
a lonely harmonica
a patch of dead grass
unforgiving mailbox
where the wrist meets the hand
the second to last kiss
a church parking lot
flowers with the dirt still on them
zodiac sign language
selling individual balloons
a ballad, oversung
the worst sunset
a cracked pocket mirror
the Sunday newspaper
pewter souvenirs
not enough drum lessons
forgettable family dinners
steering wheel, too hot to touch
Tabasco sauce on everything
crowded aquariums
renting ice skates
one matinee too many

What does any of it mean? No clue. I really like "not enough drum lessons" and "unforgiving mailbox," though. And maybe I'll use "The Worst Sunset" as the title of my memoir. A lot of these would make great memoir titles (tell me you wouldn't buy A Ballad, Oversung: The Life and Times of Katie Vagnino). I don't think I ever wrote a poem or story incorporating anything from this list and the journal supports this: On the opposite page is a recipe for shrimp tacos that I remember copying from Real Simple.