Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Truth

"I sure did live in this world.”
“Really? What have you got to show for it?”
“Show? To Who? Girl, I got my mind. And what goes on in it. Which is to say, I got me.”
“Lonely, ain’t it?”
“Yes. But the lonely is mine."     
--Sula, by Toni Morrison

The above quotation appeared on my high school yearbook page. While my peers were quoting Dave Matthews Band songs, I went with this somewhat melancholy-yet-triumphant piece of text that resonated tremendously with me at age eighteen. Because for much of high school, I did feel like all I had was my mind and what went on in it -- it was all I could count on. Friends, even good friends, can be petty and suddenly decide to not be your friends anymore. Parents, I learned at age 13, can leave you. All you ever really can count on is you. This notion comforted me
rather than saddened me -- in fact, it's only as I've gotten older that the less cheery part of the sentiment (namely, the lonely way we all go through life) has hit home.

Disclaimer: Shit's about to get real on the Vagnino Monologues. Usually I use this blog to showcase my funny side, but right now I'm going to use it as medium of honesty, mass-communicated. One of the reasons I haven't been blogging much since moving to Chicago is that I have been very, very depressed. It's been a rocky few months, to say the least. And one of the harder aspects has been feeling like I have this happy/witty persona that I have to put out into the world -- the Katie on my Facebook page and Twitter feed is successful and always doing cool things with friends. She has 1,150 friends! How could she be lonely and depressed?

Something no one tells you about getting older: your ability to make friends and connect with people diminishes. Not because your social skills deteriorate, but because the opportunities to meet new people decrease dramatically. And you get pickier -- as you know yourself better and better, you understand intuitively with whom you would like to spend your time. And then there's the fact that your friends find life partners and start having families, and while they don't love you any less, they have less time for you. You don't have a confined social space (like a college campus) to ensure that you run into people all the time. You may or may not like the people you work with, and even if you get along with them fine at work, you may or may not have anything in common with them outside of work.  

Which is all to say that when you move to a new city where you know only a couple of people, like I did in August, and the people you know have significant others that they live with/spend the majority of their time with, life can get lonely fast.

I think my loneliness would be more manageable if my career(s) were taking off. But unfortunately, my teaching job here the past few months has been borderline intolerable. Just an all-around wretched experience, from the lack of institutional support, to the pay, to the students themselves, who were among the most disrespectful, unpleasant, and unmotivated that I've ever encountered. I love teaching...but these past few months, not so much.

And writing?  Well, I'm not writing. I've been too depressed, too consumed with grading essays written by students too lazy to even use spellcheck. Too busy working at my restaurant job to compensate for my ridiculous teaching salary. The idea of writing a poem, of having enough emotional and creative energy to generate something, is completely foreign to me. Which contributes to the cloud of depression I've been living under -- I'm a failure of a teacher AND a poet.  Good thing I paid 60K for a degree that qualifies me to teach assholes and not have time for my own writing.     

I felt it was necessary to come clean in a relatively public online space about all this in order to move forward. To own my lonely, so to speak. Having my mind and what goes on in it is all well and good until that mind becomes chemically depressed. Then it's just as unreliable as an unsupportive friend or family member. I've put out the feelers for finding a therapist here, because I don't know that I work through all of this on my own.    

So that's where I'm coming from. (I do want to say that I have met and connected with a few folks here and I mean them no offense -- I don't think my social life here is devoid of potential, it just has taken a little longer to come into focus. So if you're a new friend of mine here reading this and thinking "wtf, I thought we were friends," we are!  I just wish there were more of you).

Apologies for the downer post, but especially in light of recent events, being upfront about mental health stuff seems more important than ever.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Hostess with the Most-ess

It's been a long time since my last post.

I've been busy.

But now I'm back! And despite my best efforts to resist the siren song of the restaurant industry, I find myself once again at the mercy of the most insane smattering of humanity one can imagine. Working in restaurants will make you hate people in about .01 seconds. Doesn't matter what restaurant. Trust me on this.

As always, I am the most employed person I know, in that I work roughly 4-5 jobs at any given time. And because there were no openings for servers at the place where I had a lead/connection, I'm running the host stand. At a place that serves close to a thousand people a day, located in the heart of tourist Chicago: downtown Michigan Avenue.

                                               (Apologies for the incorrect grammar)

People are constantly flooding in without reservations and it's tough to keep up. Also, our owner, Tommy* (name changed) is the friendliest/most popular man in Chicago and tells basically everyone he meets to come on in, drop his name, and they'll get a table, instantly. So it's become virtually impossible to distinguish between his actual friends that need VIP treatment and some random guy he met somewhere once whom he has no recollection of now. People drop Tommy's name so often that the staff actually had shirts made that say "I know Tommy, too."

Some of the current trends of insanity I am dealing with every day:

1) People can't get the time they want on OpenTable, so they just book what is available and come in when they wanted to book, i.e. an hour before their reservation time.

My response: (paraphrased and delivered more politely) Those slots on OT were booked for a reason and you will get a table when you reserved a table. I'm not going to reward bad behavior/set a precedent that showing up an hour before your reservation is okay. Get a drink at the bar and deal with your life.

2) Party of two wants a booth that seats 4-6

My response: (tactfully) Live in the real world, folks. You are two. I have parties of 6 that can't sit at a deuce.

3) "Hi, we have a reservation for 8 but we're actually going to be 15, hehe!"

My response: Okay, we'll do our best to accommodate you.
My response in my head: JESUS H CHRIST ARE YOU JOKING. Because now you actually need two more tables, which depending on the night, I may or may not have. FML.

4) "Hi, we have a reservation for 8, but we're only going to be 4."

My response: No problem
My response in my head: Still probably fucks up my plans for table-plotting but now I can take a walk-in.

BOTTOM LINE: For the love of God, PLEASE call a restaurant where you have a reservation and let them know if the number in your party changes. It is relevant to us, I promise you. Even if it's a seemingly minor change, like from 6 to 5, it may affect where we seat you.

Oh, and don't be that guy who drops the owner's name when I tell you it's a 45-minute wait for a table (which, duh, if you come in at 6:30 on Friday night, what are you expecting?) because it does not curry any favor with me. You are probably the 5th person in the last half hour to say you know Tommy. TOMMY KNOWS EVERYONE IN THE CITY OF CHICAGO. Take a number, chump, or, here's an idea: just make a reservation like the rest of the planet!

Monday, September 24, 2012

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry: Slightly Political Edition

There's just so much going on in politics at the moment that it seems appropriate to post a poem that veers on the political, or as close to it as I'm comfortable with in poetry. I rag on free verse sometimes, but I adore this poem by Adrienne Rich. It has no recognizable form per se, but its logic is understandable and the shape the poem takes (somewhat fragmented, with some bursts of white space) feels absolutely right. The last stanza floors me every time I read it.

The story of how I found this poem is somewhat interesting. I had rented a Zipcar and upon returning it, I was checking the various compartments to make sure I wasn't leaving anything behind. In the glove compartment, I found a copy of Rich's The School Among the Ruins: Poems 2000-2004. I kept it (is that stealing? or finders keepers?) and this was the first poem in it I read. 


That the meek word like the righteous word can bully
that an Israeli soldier interviewed years
after the first intifada could mourn on camera
what under orders he did, saw done, did not refuse
that another leaving Beit Jala could scrawl
on a wall:   We are truely sorry for the mess we made
is merely routine    word that would cancel deed
That human equals innocent and guilty
That we grasp for innocence whether or no
is elementary    That words can translate into broken bones
That the power to hurl words is a weapon
That the body can be a weapon
any child on playground knows    That asked your favorite word
                                                              in a game
you always named a thing, a quality, freedom or river
(never a pronoun, never God or War)
is taken for granted    That word and body
are all we have to lay on the line
That words are windowpanes in a ransacked hut, smeared
by time's dirty rains, we might argue
likewise that words are clear as glass till the sun strikes it blinding

But that in a dark windowpane you have seen your face
That when you wipe your glasses the text grows clearer
That the sound of glass crunching comes at the height of the                          
That I can look through glass
into my neighbor's house
but not my neighbor's life
That glass is sometimes broken to save lives
That a word can be crushed like a goblet underfoot
is only what it seems, part question, part answer: how
                                you live it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

My girly factor

I've done a fair amount of soul-searching on this blog, contemplating big questions like "am I a snob?" and why I thought I'd be married by now. But last week, as I sat in a vibrating massage chair watching Sex and the City and sipping prosecco while someone painted my toenails, I was struck by how behaving so girly felt unnatural to me. As Carrie Bradshaw would say in voice-over: "I got to thinking: how girly is too girly?"

I think it depends on the girl. Or woman, rather. I have recently started thinking of myself as a grown-up woman. Which brings me to an interesting point re: nomenclature. When I have asked men my age if they self-identify as "men," usually they tell me they prefer to think of themselves as "guys." "Man" seems too somber, too cowboy. Girls, unless they want to associate themselves with 1940s gun molls ("gals"), don't really have an in-between label like that. You're a girl until magically poof! you're a woman. (Except for a brief, confusing period of time articulated best by Britney Spears when you are "not a girl, not yet a woman" - thanks, Brit!).

In terms of my own gender and how it manifests itself in performative behavior (did I mention I taught a class called "Gender: Myths and Truths" at Emerson?), I have never considered myself that girly by traditional markers. I wear little make-up and often forget to wear jewelry (though I do like receiving it, future boyfriends!). I have always had more male friends than female and better roommate experiences with men, I mean, guys. I own very little pink. So when my last boyfriend told me I was the girliest girl he'd ever dated, I wondered if he had been dating, uh, mannish types. And it turns out, yes, many of his exes are androgynous in appearance and are now in relationships with women. So in comparison, I was a delicate lady flower.

I do own one very "girly" thing -- my phone, the HTC Rhyme. When this phone was introduced, it got a lot of press due to the fact that it was ostensibly marketed to women (despite HTC's claims to the contrary). It's slim and purple and came with a bunch of silly purple accessories (like a light-up charm to help you find it quickly in your giant Kate Spade tote).

Why did I buy the Rhyme? Because I'm a poet and I couldn't resist a phone called "rhyme." And also, I like purple (though not as much as Marie on Breaking Bad). In hindsight, I probably should have read some product reviews and bought a better Android, or just sucked it up and gotten an iPhone. The Rhyme did not sell well and HTC is not making any software updates for it. And my tech blogger friends tell me I'm the only person they have ever met that actually bought one. I do love to be unique!

The bottom line: I love being female and take great pride in my femininity - I just don't typically wear it on my sleeve. And sometimes I wish I felt more camaraderie with my sex. Like when I'm invited to bachelorette parties and baby showers and feel a little awkward and out of place. There's just something so parodic about certain female rituals. While harmless, they reduce being a woman to its worst stereotypes and celebrate the most normative of female roles (wife and mother). Don't get me wrong, I someday hope to be a wife and addition to being a poet and teacher. But I want all those labels on the same level of importance; why do I only get thrown a party with tiaras and penis balloons once I decide to get married?

Oh, and FYI hypothetical future bridesmaids in my wedding: No penis paraphernalia at my bachelorette, please. Let's just go somewhere with a good wine list and shoot the shit.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Crying at the gym

I know you've probably heard numerous people say they hate the gym, but I really think I hate it more than anyone else. For instance, have you ever heard of someone sobbing uncontrollably while working out? Well, now you have.

Let me back up.

Every time I move to a new city, I face the decision of whether or not to join a gym.  I belonged to Crunch (R.I.P.) my first two years in New York, and actually faithfully went a few times a week, then New York Sports Club (which I think I literally went to twice in two years). In Boston, I did yoga at a studio in my neighborhood and, in my final months, joined GymIt, a bare-bones $20/month no-commitment gym.

Here in Chicago, my roommate is a member at Fitness Formula Club and there's a location literally across the street from where we live. I hemmed and hawed and toured the place and finally decided to join. My biggest issue so far is that everyone I see at this gym is already perfectly in shape. I'm the only one who looks like I need to be there. And the classes have been all over the place -- I went to a step aerobics class that was kind of advanced (I couldn't keep up with the choreo so I just gave up and just started doing my own thing) and then a yoga class that was annoyingly remedial.

The sobbing came about during my one free session with a personal trainer, a chipper, well-meaning 5'3" man named Juan who speaks so quickly and with such a heavy accent that I only catch about 1/3 of what he says to me. Juan did an assessment of my strength prior to our session, in which it was determined that I basically have none.

I was dreading our actual session and I didn't really understand why until after I broke down crying in between sets of squats and these horrible things called "plank scissors." You see, the gym reminds me of all the humiliation I felt growing up due to being the most unathletic person on the planet.

You think I'm exaggerating, but seriously, I'm the worst. I'm not strong. I don't have good hand-eye coordination or balance. I've never been fast and once my boobs came in, it was clear I never would be. I'm flexible, hence my ability to do yoga, but that's my only physical gift. And from age to 6 to 18, I was reminded on a daily basis in gym class how inept I was. And when you're a kid, being good at sports = being good at life. Everyone sees how good/bad you are in gym. I may have been getting good grades, but I wasn't able to really brag about that. And every time I was introduced to a new sport, I felt this desperate glimmer of hope: maybe this will be the one I'm good at. So what that I couldn't play tennis, maybe soccer would be my sport. Ok, soccer's not my thing, but maybe I'll surprise everyone and be an amazing basketball player in spite of my petite stature. Or hey, maybe my stocky legs and broad shoulders will make me a total animal on the swim team.

But just like in a Richard Yates story, I experienced soul-crushing disappointment when I failed. The inner monologue of "I suck" returned with a vengeance. And what I have realized is that all those feelings come back, PTSD-style, when I'm at the gym. Just walking into the facility makes my heart race and my palms sweat. All my successes in life recede and I'm back in 4th grade, picked last for kickball AGAIN. All I can think about is how ridiculous I must look, flailing around on whatever equipment I happen to be on. How hopeless I am and what a waste of time it is for me to work out, when who I am kidding, I'm never going to be toned and firm. Italian women are soft and curvy, so I'm fighting an uphill battle against my genes.

Juan didn't really do anything wrong. He just happened to be there when I was at my most vulnerable and he was pushing me, which is his job. But something snapped and the next thing I knew, I was blubbering about being out of shape and having a shitty metabolism and apologizing for how much I sucked at all the exercises he was teaching me. I was BAWLING. On the floor. At the gym. Juan felt so bad he offered me a bunch of free sessions. I politely declined.

I will keep going, but one-on-one with a trainer is too much pressure. I prefer the anonymity of group classes or machines where I can watch TLC shows like "Say Yes to the Dress: Big Bliss" and "Teen Moms" and feel a little less bad about myself.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Things are happening

I finally feel settled enough in my new home in Chicago to report on what my life is like here. After a slow and slightly lonely start (thank God for the Olympics, which made staying in every night watching TV seem like an acceptable thing to do), things are finally happening. Good, exciting things. Such as:

1) I got into a choir

In Chicago, a lot of choral groups hold their auditions in spring, as opposed to late summer, so many of the groups I was interested in had already accepted their new members for the upcoming season. It was looking like I'd only be able to share my vocal stylings with my fellow drunk patrons in karaoke bars. But I auditioned for The Apollo Chorus this week, and despite my inability to sightread bass clef (which led me to accidentally curse in the audition -- oops), I have been invited to join their Alto 1 section. With 110 members, Apollo will be the biggest choir I have ever been a part of. It's also the oldest choral organization in the country. They have performed Handel's Messiah every December since 1879. That's a lot of Halleluias.

And speaking of halleluia-- 

2) I am employed

As of the day I left Boston, I had nothing locked down job-wise. The interview I had in July for a lecturer position at Roosevelt University didn't result in an offer....but they did like me enough to offer me adjunct work. I am teaching two sections of English 101 (Intro to Composition) and so far, I'm really enjoying it. Roosevelt's rhet & comp program is just similar enough to Emerson's that I feel like I know what I'm doing, but just different enough to feel new and fresh. And the students are cool -- there are less scowling hipsters, to be sure, but so far, they seem ready to work and learn (with the exception of the girl who, when I asked her after class why she refused to participate in a group activity, said she "just wasn't feeling it").

3) The Big Quiz Thing is coming to Chicago, with me as the host/quizmistress

After side-kicking/Vanna White-ing in Boston with Quizmaster Noah for two years, I have earned my hosting wings and will be helping launch the Chicago edition. Starting Oct. 4, I will be hosting the best live game show spectacular on either side of the Mississippi on the first Thursday of every month. The venue: Uncommon Ground in Edgewater. More details soon....but if you're in the Chicago area or have friends there, please encourage them to check it out. I REALLY want to be a D-list Chicago celebrity by the end of the year.  

I am repurposing a silly Funkin' A! picture for promotional purposes:

             I look kind of like a game show host, right?

For the full event details, visit the Facebook event page!

4) The Food Committee is finally under one roof

My best friend Jon is the co-founder of the Food Committee, a very, very exclusive organization dedicated to eating only really excellent food in excellent company. And now, we're roommates (as well as Elite Yelpers) and can take our culinary adventures to the next level. I am convinced that Chicago is the best restaurant city in the country (yes, even better than NYC) and I vow that no meal shall be wasted.

5) I have located my CSO

CSO = coffee shop office. I am notoriously bad at getting any work done at home, so finding a place nearby with wifi and decent coffee is essential. I was about to give up on my neighborhood when I stumbled upon Eva's Cafe. It's kind of on a sketchy, weird block, but it's adorable and has good, cheap food and reliable wireless. This is where I will be pretty much every day I'm not teaching. It's where I am now, in fact.

6) I went to my first Cubs game at Wrigley Field (and obviously, they lost)

Baseball is the only sport I even remotely care about, and I love rooting for underdog teams. The Cubs are, therefore, totally deserving of my support. Except when they play the Cardinals, of course. Then all bets are off.

7) The cats are getting along

Actually, this is a lie. They are better than they were a month ago, but there's still a lot of hissing (Maude), growling (Maude), and food-stealing (Meaty). But occasionally they occupy the same room and ignore each other peacefully. So that's something. 

8) I'm kinda sorta maybe possibly perhaps dating someone. And that's all I have to say about that.  
That's all the news that's fit to print at the moment. Happy Friday and God bless you and these United States of America. (Yeah, I have been watching too many convention speeches).

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My wit, condensed to 140 characters

The inevitable finally happened: I joined Twitter. I resisted for a long time. I couldn't convince myself of the usefulness/purpose. Was worried I'd feel self-indulgent. Concerned no one would follow me.

These fears have not entirely been put to rest, but I have to say, after a few days, it is more enjoyable and addictive than I thought it would be. Is this the beginning of the end of my productivity?

The 140-character thing is genius. It's like a game/puzzle, to reduce whatever joke/self-promotion/breaking news/gossip into a handful of words and symbols. As a writer who values concision and a poet who likes formal constraints, I dig this aspect. I also like all the lingo: hashtags, handles, feeds. Twitvernacular, if you will.

My Twitter empire is in its infant phase, as I have less than 20 followers. To be exact, I have 16. 13 of the 16 are folks I know. The other three, I have no idea who they are. Which is kind of cool. Could you be lucky #17?

I can't promise any revolutionary content, but I think I have Twitter potential. And I promise not to just post pictures of Maude sleeping.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

Summer is winding down as we head deeper into August, the Sunday of months (in my opinion). Like Sundays, August inspires lethargy and sometimes dread at the thought of being productive again come Monday/September. I, for one, am eager for fall, my favorite season. I'm ready to say sayonara to summer.

Late Summer
by Jennifer Grotz
Before the moths have even appeared
to orbit around them, the streetlamps come on,
a long row of them glowing uselessly
along the ring of garden that circles the city center,
where your steps count down the dulling of daylight.
At your feet, a bee crawls in small circles like a toy unwinding.
Summer specializes in time, slows it down almost to dream.
And the noisy day goes so quiet you can hear
the bedraggled man who visits each trash receptacle
mutter in disbelief: Everything in the world is being thrown away!
Summer lingers, but it’s about ending. It’s about how things
redden and ripen and burst and come down. It’s when
city workers cut down trees, demolishing
one limb at a time, spilling the crumbs
of twigs and leaves all over the tablecloth of street.
Sunglasses! the man softly exclaims
while beside him blooms a large gray rose of pigeons
huddled around a dropped piece of bread.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Chicago! Olympics! Exclamation points!

Welcome to my first blog post since my move to Chicago!

Yes, one week ago today, I set out on 1-90 W with my mom and my diabetic cat, Maude. Sitcom fodder, I know, right? We arrived the following evening after driving through the scenic states of Massachusetts, New York, Ohio and the top of Indiana.

My new digs ain't too shabby:

There are skylights and an amazing amount of natural light. There's a dishwasher. A patio. A fireplace. Central air. I feel like such a grown-up. It's all so civilized. Maude's adjustment has been a little rockier, as her new home is inhabited by another cat, Miss Meaty. The cats are hopefully moving toward being civil or at least aloof toward one another; right now, there's a lot of hissing and growling and chasing. 

In between unpacking, I have also, like the rest of the world, been watching a lot of Olympics. I realized yesterday that I watched the Beijing Olympics also after just relocating to a new city (Boston). I think I will always associate the Summer Games with living out of boxes and feeling disoriented.

I love watching gymnastics, probably because it was the only sport I was even halfway decent at as a kid. I totally had the gymnast body, before my boobs came in: short, broad shoulders, strong stocky legs. If I'd had a little more grace and balance, I coulda been a contender. I was good at vault and floor -- couldn't stay on the beam to save my life. But I remember feeling awesome after doing my first unassisted back walkover. I was a good little tumbler -- being close to the ground helped. I went to All-American Gymnastics in St. Louis a few times a week. Other than the foam pit, the thing I most looked forward to most was getting a reward of a small bag of Farley's Fruit Snacks after practice. Nothing like some high fructose artificially-fruit-flavored gummies to ruin your dinner.

The best part of watching the Olympics is how everyone is suddenly an expert. It's easy to get lost in the moment, beer in hand, bemoaning to your peers how not sticking the landing is going to result in a 3/10ths deduction. I mean, we all sound like assholes. But it's all in good fun. I nicknamed this gymnast Bangs:

Bangs did not have a good night last night. Basically, the Fab Five could have done the Funky Chicken for their floor routines and still won gold. 

But don't think I always root for the U.S. -- in many cases, I'd rather see another country win because, let's face it, the U.S. is going to get a ton of medals. That South African guy who beat out Phelps for the gold? For the rest of his life, he can say he beat Michael Phelps, most decorated and celebrated Olympian ever of all time*. Yay for that guy and for all the underdog countries who consider it a victory just to make it past the qualifying rounds.

*until some other freakishly gifted athlete tops that

So here I am, in Chicago, getting acclimated. Gearing up to teach some freshman comp at Roosevelt University and hopefully do some freelance writing as well. Hoping to join a choir and maybe even audition for a play or two. It's a whole new world.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Saying Goodbye

This song has been playing on a loop in my head for the last several days:


The part that really makes me bawl: when Gonzo says "Sometimes it's better to go" and Camilla the chicken makes a sad chicken sound. 

I have reached the tough part of moving -- saying goodbye to some really good friends. And unlike my last move, wherein I knew I would be visiting easily and frequently since my new home was only a 4-hour drive from my old home, this time it may be a while before I see some of these folks again. And they're good folks, trust me.

To Graham, Nicholas, Josh, Suzanne, Joelle, Peter, Charlene, Mo, Joe, Alexis, Pincus, Liz, Mike, Akshay, Amy, Matt, Elizabeth, Ben, Grace, Kira, Darien, Michael, Thuy, Mariel, Moses, Kevin, Dr. Frank, Tim, Holly, Rich, Kirsten, Alex, T.A., Bruno, Brink, Chef, Shannon, Megan, Ryan, Gabi, Dave, Emily, Sarah, Tina and others I love but might be forgetting (it is almost 3 a.m.): please stay in touch. I miss you already. Thanks for making my four years in Boston amazing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I have just returned from a one-day camping trip to Unity, ME. I haven't done a lot of camping in my day -- prior to this, my last camping trip back in 2007 to the Berkshires only differed from normal life in that my friends and I drank beers in a tent as opposed to someone's living room. We didn't hike, swim, or fish. We ate a lot of marshmellows and listened to music from a wireless ipod dock. It wasn't really roughing it; we were at a camping site, so there were even public restrooms nearby. It's not really camping if you don't urinate outside, in my opinion. And by that standard, this recent trip definitely qualifies.

I journeyed to the northern reaches of the northern-most state in the union to take part in the annual staff trip at the restaurant where I work, Lineage. Every year we close the restaurant for a day in order to partake in some morale building/staff bonding (and binge drinking). In years past, we've gone to Duxbury, MA to visit Island Creek's oyster farm. This year we went to Sparrow Arc Farm (after a quick stop at the Smuttynose Brewery in Portsmouth, NH) to see where most of our produce comes from. We toured the farm, learned about their methods, and actually got to pick some vegetables (summer squash, cucumbers, carrots) for dinner. 

I ate a raw radish right out of the ground and swore never to go hungry again. Well, the first half of that is true.

 As is tradition, the kitchen staff prepared a truly epic feast. We brought with us, via refrigerated truck, an entire small pig to roast. We also brought about two dozen lobsters.

And two cases of wine (Elk Cove pinot gris and pinot noir) and 24 six-packs of beer. We always budget 1 six-pack and a bottle of wine per person, roughly. And we always manage to consume it all, this time plus a few vodka-infused watermelons. After the farm tour/labor portion of the trip, we spent the next eight hours playing lawn games (our chef has a real knack for the beanbag tossing game, Cornhole), throwing water balloons, getting sunburned, snacking, drinking, and relaxing. It was, even for a non-outdoorsy person such as myself, fantastic. I know I complain sometimes on this blog about the trials and thankless tribulations of waiting tables, but the staff I have gotten to work with for the past 2.5 years couldn't be better. We truly get along famously even outside of work. Only two people were not able to come this year (record attendance) and one person even invented a fictional uncle death in order to get out of her day job to come.

I don't know whose tent I eventually ended up in, but I did manage to get in a few hours of sleep -- it started raining around 11:30 pm and after it stopped, I was too tired to rally. In my defense, we met at the restaurant at 6 am in order to get on the road and be at camp by noon. When I woke up at 2:45 am to pee, many people were still around the campfire arguing about Disney movies and using pie-irons to make hotdog sandwiches. And at 7 am this morning, we cleaned and packed and hit the road again. I fortunately don't have to work tonight, but to my comrades-in-arms working on little to no sleep: finish strong.

"Finish strong" is one of our staff sayings, coined by our chef. Every year on the staff trip, we get some sort of memoriabilia. Last year, we got shirts bearing another great chef quote: "Less force, more finesse," which is his advice to newbie oyster shuckers. This year we got beer koozies that say "What happens in Maine stays in Maine." And in order to honor that sentiment, I will wrap things up by saying that a great time was had by all, and thankfully no one had to use the established safe word (waffles). And since a reporter from the Boston Globe witnessed part of the adventure, certain events will soon be made public. (Luckily he left right before one of the cooks decided to semi-streak across a field wearing nothing but this thong.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Strippers and Sausages

Happy Belated 4th of July! Did you listen to Katy Perry's "Firework" on repeat all day?

 The 4th, or Independence Day as some prefer to call it, is one of those holidays I often feel is overrated. Like New Year's, it never seems like my plans come together in time and I end up drinking joylessly somewhere, concerns about the hangover I'm working toward killing my buzz.

But this year, I had fun! I was with people I like! I ate grilled sausages (3) and watched stripper movies (2)!

The day started off with a viewing of the greatest comedy of the 90s, Showgirls. I own the special collector's edition of the film, thanks to my mom, who is also a huge fan. In addition to the DVD, the box came with:

--a blindfold
--shot glasses
--a giant poster of naked Elizabeth Berkeley

I have probably seen Showgirls 20 times, but it's really the gift that keeps on giving. I notice something new and terrible about it with every viewing. Also excellent: this hilarious mash-up of Showgirls and the Black Swan trailer.

So I commenced my day-drinking (very American) around 1:30 pm, ate sausage #1 and watched 2 hours and 11 minutes of big-budget softcore, peppered with some of the worse dialogue ever written ("You look better than a 10" dick and you know it!")

Then I headed out to Somerville for more drinks and food. And, unbeknownst to me, more sausage. To be fair, had I known that grilled sausages were the planned meal for dinner, I probably would have not eaten a sausage for lunch. But when life hands you multiple sausages, you just eat them.

Sitting outside with some delightful Davis Square residents, sipping basil gimlets, I started to understand what the 4th of July is all about. Unfortunately, the second gimlet erased this epiphany. I think it had something to do with the freedom to spend a Wednesday drinking outside and consuming cased meats and countless tortilla chips.

As it began to get dark, we contemplated going somewhere to watch fireworks, but the sky was already lit up with lightning, so we decided to rely instead on our fond memories of fireworks, since all fireworks basically look the same.

And then I went to see "Magic Mike." For the second time.  

That, my friends, is how I spent my last 4th of July in Boston.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Firsts and Lasts

First off, I apologize for not updating this blog in over a month. I'm gearing up to move halfway across the country, and my plate be full. I do plan to keep writing this blog in Chicago and take the brunch blog more seriously AND possibly start a third restaurant-reviewing blog with my new roommate. BIG BLOG PLANS!  It's easy to have big blog plans when you're facing temporary unemployment in a new city and a recession!

This post is about some things I've been doing for the last time, due to the move, and some new things I've done for Boston bucket-list reasons. (Side note: a co-worker recently pointed out that the whole "bucket list" term/concept didn't really predate the terrible 2007 film, but we know seem to have forgotten that and it's become a culturally understood idiom. Weird.)

So last things first:

1. My last time helping out as a B-Cutie at The Big Quiz Thing in Cambridge. There has been talk of me starting up/hosting the Chicago edition of the BQT....which would be exciting. It's been a blast working with Quizmaster Noah for the past couple of years and I've even been "recognized" a couple of times by fans, which makes me feel like the awesome celebrity I've always suspected I'd become. Here's a fun video we filmed a little over a year ago in Harvard Square, promoting the show by asking people on the street questions in exchange for candy:

Skip ahead to 4:28 to see a creepy man ask how many questions he has to get right to win me!

2. My last class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. It was a really educational experience for me and hopefully my students, of which there were 6 total.  My students ranged from stay-at-home moms, to poets with MFAs (a.k.a. as qualified as me to teach the course), to a 95-year-old man who said that writing was keeping him alive. I do really enjoy leading a workshop, so that was good to find out and keep in mind for the future.

3. My last time riding the Bolt Bus from Boston to New York and back. While I will miss the proximity to the Big Apple and all my friends there, I can't say I will miss anything about the 4-hour bus ride with spotty WiFi and prolonged bathroom breaks at an Arby's in Connecticut with a two-stall ladies' room. Yes, flying to NYC is costlier, but if I never ride another Bolt Bus, it will be too soon.  

4. My last brunch shift at Lineage. Ok, this hasn't happened yet, but it's coming soon. Maybe my last brunch shift ever if I manage to not need a restaurant job in Chicago. If I do end up getting a restaurant job, I will make sure to wear a cross around my neck to the interview and explain that my Sundays belong to Jesus.  

5. My last concert with The Oriana Consort. Singing with Oriana this past year has been a lot of fun. I sang in German, Latin, Old Slavonic, Hebrew, and English. Our last gig of the season was performing at the 50th Harvard Reunion, where we sang pieces arranged by famous Harvard grads. We closed the concert with a jazz arrangement of "Being Green" (by Joe Raposo, class of '58). So I went out singing Muppets. Click here to listen to clips from the 2011-2012 season.

And some firsts:

1. Visiting New England amusement parks. I went to Six Flags New England on Father's Day and am going to the amazingly named Funtown Splashtown USA, located in Saco, ME, this coming Tuesday. Funtown Splashtown USA, not the be confused with their sister park in Cambodia. I have been wanting to check out FTST ever since seeing a billboard for it on I-90 two summers ago. I love it when dreams come true!

2. Going to Massachusetts' South Shore, specifically Hull, MA. I had been to the North Shore (Gloucester, Ipswich), but never the South Shore, so when a deal for Memorial Day at a B&B in Hull popped up on Groupon or one of those other deal sites, I snatched it. Spent two lovely days near Nantasket Beach, sun-bathing, playing mini-golf, eating ice cream and playing Fascination


Fascination is this totally addictive old-timey Boardwalk arcade game that's sort of a cross between Bingo and Skeeball. Best of all, you win money, not lame stuffed prizes. I won $4. It was a proud moment. Also debuted this season's bathing costume:

Huh. I thought I had more firsts to report....I did cook with a wok for the first time last week, but that's not that major.

I do have my first Chicago job interview on July 10 (after a good phone interview this week) -- and that's thrilling since I have been assuming I'll be jobless and spending my first month desperately sending out resumes. If I actually could secure a job before moving, that would be incredible. I don't want to say more for fear of jinxing it, but just send me positive vibes on the 10th if you think of it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

This Space Is Not For Rent

When I started this blog back in 2008, I wasn't sure what kind of content I'd be putting up here. I didn't then, and still don't, read many blogs and didn't have a clear concept of the function of them. But I thought it would be a good outlet for my musings and observations and a way for people (mostly friends and family) to keep up with developments in my life. I hoped it would get me writing more regularly, which it has. 

And mostly, the feedback I get from my small readership is positive. People tell me they think the blog is funny (and cleverly named -- thank you, Noah!) and when I don't post for a while, it doesn't go unnoticed. My stepdad, for instance, is always encouraging me to post more because he likes forwarding my posts to his co-workers, who apparently enjoy reading it despite having never met me. 

So all in all, I dig the whole blogging thing.

But it has happened occasionally that someone will ask me to take down a post, usually for their own personal reasons. And this really irks me. Because this is a personal blog. It's not The New York Times. And I stand by my right to write whatever I feel like. Now, I don't engage in personal attacks (well, not often) and I never aim to hurt anyone's feelings. I don't lie/make things up, either. I may exaggerate for the sake of humor, but I think that's within my creative prerogative.

So when I was asked yesterday -- well, actually, more like told -- to take down a post (a poetry post, no less) from last December, it really pissed me off.  The issue was that before reposting the poem, I explained my connection to the poet. And that connection was that we share an ex. I said I'd never met her, but that I admired her work and hoped to meet her someday. And then I posted her poem, which had been previously published in Ploughshares. 

Apparently, six months later, she came across it and freaked out on our mutual ex, and he basically demanded I take it down. Which I immediately did. But I'm irked, especially because of how he went about it -- he didn't say "Hey Katie, [redacted] saw your blog post that mentions her dating life and she's upset. Would you consider taking it down or editing out that part? I would appreciate it, thanks."

No, he wrote in an email including the link: "Delete this."

Again, I did. I don't want to upset people.  And to be fair, he called and apologized for the curtness of the request.

But this isn't the first time this has happened, so I feel compelled to assert here, on this publicly-read space that I 100% author and own, that I feel entitled to write what I want here. If you are in my life, you might wind up here. Sorry, them's the breaks. For instance, if you are an ex-boyfriend and cavalierly brag in an e-mail about having sex with a Brazilian, I might design a t-shirt that says "I Fucked a Brazilian" and post the image here. (Stuff white people like: boasting about one-night-stands with non-white people?)

Oh, wait, I did do that -- but then I took it down when he asked me to. Even though I did not name him or provide any identifying information, i.e. there is no way anyone who doesn't know me personally would know whom I was talking about.

So from now on -- I'm not taking anything down anymore. Date me/be my friend with caution, I suppose. I can promise that I won't make up things about you or say intentionally nasty things. But this is the masthead of my blog:

Editor-in-Chief:  Katie Vagnino
Managing Editor:  Katie Vagnino
Staff Writers:  Katie Vagnino
Copyeditor:  Katie Vagnino
Publisher:  Katie Vagnino 

You get the idea. If you think I'm a snarky bitch, feel free to write all about it on your blog and I will never ask you to take it down.

(here's that aforementioned t-shirt design. It is available in S, M, L, XL)

Monday, May 7, 2012

So You Think You Don't Like Poetry

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine posted one of my poems on his blog. I'd like to return the favor -- so here are two pieces I'm particularly fond of by Peter Swanson. Peter took my formal poetry workshop at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education and decided to trust my feedback even after I misspelled "scansion" on the board on the first day. Since class ended in March, we've stayed in touch and continued to workshop poems in various bars around Boston. Fun fact: He also got his M.F.A. at Emerson. Currently, he lives in Somerville with his wife (the talented Charlene Sawyer, who designed my new website) and their delightful cat, Finty. Hope you like his work as much as I do.

First Day of Kindergarten

You will now be judged by those who do not love you.
The life you had before will be given new names:
recess, reading-time, the weekend, summer.
And the world will be divided into two—

into those of us who spend our years
attempting to undo that day, to find
the comforts of the book-lined nursery,
the ancient house that's filled with family,

And into those who try to replicate
the hour when the dullness of their lives
exploded in a thousand leaves of fire.

Jetsetters and the dream-besotted,
you will know them by their distant gaze,
their eyes, once yours, now fixed on trailing lights.

Dainty Curtains

"It was a room-shaped room with furniture-shaped furniture and dainty curtains."
– Ian Fleming, Thunderball

Our dreams, and nothing else, imagine rooms
Not shaped like rooms. We wake in bed-shaped beds,
And drag our human shapes through day-shaped days.
New shapes will never change our waking words.

Our love, be it ordinary, murderous,
Bestial, spiritual, always assumes the shape Of love. The words define themselves for us:

Give us this day our bread-shaped bread
And forgive us our dreams that come stranger
Than fiction. Forgive us our bodies
That wither like bodies, and give us our coffins

In their coffiny-shapes. For Heaven,
We know, is devoid of rooms and furniture,
While Hell is lined with dainty curtains.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Next Stop: The Windy City

The rumors you've heard are true. As of mid-July, I will be a Chicago resident.

What's prompting this relocation? Not a job. Not a lover. Not a quarter-life (third-life? I don't plan to make it to 120) crisis. I'm just ready for a change of the big, dramatic variety. I've been living on the East Coast since 1999, when I moved to Connecticut for college. And it's been good to me. But I guess what they say is true -- you can take the girl out of the Midwest, but you can't take the Midwest out of the girl. 

I'm feeling the pull to be closer to my kin. I'm tired of paying $7 for a beer. I long for strangers to smile at me on the street. I am excited to see my family, almost all of whom live in St. Louis or further west, more than once a year.

The hope is to find a teaching job or writing gig with some creativity (i.e. not writing ad copy). Till I find the right opportunity, I'll be dipping into my savings. I do have my housing figured out; I'll be moving in to the 3rd floor of my best friend's lovely townhouse in Old Town. For the first time in my adult life, I will have a dishwasher and a garbage disposal. And access to a kitchen/dining room suitable for entertaining.  My dream of having a spice rack may actually become a reality. 

This move means big changes for Maude, as well -- she will be sharing her home with ANOTHER CAT. We'll see how than pans out. The other cat is, like her, older and pretty mellow so hopefully they will just stay out of each other's way. Hopefully.

Not that Boston has been a bad experience -- quite the contrary -- but I'm excited for a fresh start, new people, a new city to get to know. I will of course miss some folks here, but I have 2.5 months to say my goodbyes. I think when the time comes, I'll be ready to leave.  

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Server Manifesto

Tonight was one of those nights in the restaurant industry where I pray to Jesus that I won't have to be waiting tables much longer, that my indentured servitude to the service industry might soon be coming to a close. I'm 31 years old and I have a master's degree. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, LET IT END.

Let me explain where I'm coming from and clear up some possible misconceptions you might have about what I do (specifically what I do 3 nights a week to pay back my student loans; I also teach college freshman how to write at a private, expensive college, but wouldn't you know, that doesn't pay the bills).

First of all, servers get NO respect, except from other servers. And I'm not just talking about the customers, like the man tonight who tried to "correct" me and convince me that arugula was a kind of cheese. The back-of-house, the cooks? They think we're morons, too. Lazy, stupid assholes who have it easy -- we just have to sell the food they are making. I know, line cooks and sous chefs make paltry salaries. When you're eating at Tom Collichio's restaurant, it's some no-name dude back in the kitchen sweating to make your food. And he makes about minimum wage to do that, despite what you're paying for that filet mignon. It's not fair.

Here's something else that's not fair -- servers make less than minimum wage, based on the assumption that tips will make up the difference. People who have never worked in the industry have some vague notion of this, but I don't think they know the actual math: $2.65 an hour, folks. Minimum wage in the state of Massachusetts is $8.00. I make, per hour, about a third of that. Yup.

And what I do isn't as easy as the cooks who disrespect servers think. Because I'm not just writing down orders. I'm good at what I do. And there are servers who aren't good at what they do. I encounter them all the time. If you don't know what the soup of the day is? FAIL. Hi, I work in a restaurant where we print our entire menu daily. And while not every dish changes every day, it's common that 30% of the menu will have changed. Or, for example, we still have salmon, but instead of coming with a celery root puree, quinoa, and a shaved fennel salad, today it's served with pearl pasta, foraged mushrooms, on top of a citrus-infused glasage. Oh, you don't know what a glasage is? Guess what, I didn't either, but I had to learn and memorize it so I could explain it to you when you ask about it.

As servers, we hear all the time how great the food is and we regularly relay that information back to the kitchen. But how often does the kitchen hear how good we are? Well, never. It's not like patrons wander back after eating to tell the kitchen how well we described their food. How they were going to just order the burger, but then heard how the Maine lobster pasta is a hand-cut pappardelle and changed their minds. They prefer to think of us all as idiots, or as this internet commenter (and presumably BOH, or back-of-house) wrote, "the fucking idiot waiters [who] are making double their weekly intake while they get to giggle through service, snack, and have their free staff drinks while the cooks are cleaning up the kitchen."

#1 -- I don't get a shift drink. I occasionally am offered dregs of wine that won't be serve-able the next day. Whoopee. 

#2 -- Giggle through service and snack? Where the F do you work? I am usually working my ass off and am in the equivalent of a mute fugue state during service, except when tableside, when I'm charming the shit out of people by answering all their questions and making sure they have everything they need. P.S. I not only have to know everything about the food, but also be familiar with and able to describe about fifty bottles of wine and more than a dozen signature cocktails that feature things like chamomile bitters and Skinos ( which, if you're wondering, is a savory Greek liquor).

Here's what to you need to keep in mind the next time you're considering tipping less than 20%: I have PTSD from this job. I have server nightmares almost every night. It's stressful work. And it's largely thankless. And that's why, even when the service I receive when dining out isn't top-notch, I still tip 20%. Because this industry can be wretched. And there is nothing worse than leaving work on the verge of tears and knowing that no one knew how hard you worked, or how your table almost didn't get their appetizers because the kitchen lost the ticket but you noticed in time to correct it before too much time had passed. (Yes, that happened to me tonight). 

Yeah, the customers can be annoying and treat you like dick. But what hurts more is when the kitchen folks, the ones who are supposed to be on your team, fail to recognize the challenges of we do, of how much the difference between an adequate server an excellent server can make in terms of a dining experience. They must recognize it when they eat out, but somehow, once in the vortex of the kitchen, it sometimes feels like us against them. 

I'm lucky -- I've enjoyed a largely positive experience working in a well-run restaurant for over two and a half years. But after nights like tonight, it seems like a wash. I really wish that part of culinary school was compulsory training as a server. Just one night on the floor, I think, would make all the difference. You try and keep a straight face when someone asks if they can get/only be charged for half a cup of coffee and then have their half cup perpetually refilled to the half way mark. JUST TRY.          

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Every girl needs a hotdog boyfriend

Really, it's not as dirty as it sounds. 

I have written before about my close proximity to Spike's Junkyard Dogs in Allston. When looking at apartments, I remember noting it in the "pros" column that I would be living near a place where I could procure a hotdog after midnight. Is the neighborhood quiet and safe? Eh, ish...BUT HOTDOGS LATE NIGHT?  Sold. 

But aside from being a regular patron, I have a special bond with Spike's. Or rather, one particular employee of Spike's. I jokingly refer to him as "my hotdog boyfriend" but really, it's not a joke. What else would you call a hotdog salesman who calls you by name and gives you free fries occasionally?

I know his name, too: John. He was actually one of the first people I met after moving to Boston. I moved a whole month before my grad program started and it was a fascinating experience because I got to see what it would be like to have no friends. I don't really recommend it.  But I did get very comfortable chatting up strangers in bars just out of sheer raging loneliness. 

So a day or so after settling into my studio in Allston, I ventured out to lunch. To Spike's. And John instantly pegged me as a newcomer to the area. He commented on what I was wearing and said something like, "You don't look like you're from here." I told him I had just moved from Brooklyn. "Well, you look very New York," he said.  I took this both as an insult and a compliment. 

And so our relationship blossomed. We have discussed everything from the novels of Charles Dickens and Obama to our various sleep disorders (he's an insomniac, I tend to oversleep whenever possible) and hot sauce preferences (me: Sriracha; him: Cholula). Once, I drunkenly invited him to come to my a cappella concert in Cambridge and he actually showed up. My friends were like, "How do you know that guy?" And I was like "He sells me hotdogs late at night."

You might wonder if our hotdog romance ever became a real romance. The answer is no. I think at one point he might have asked for my number and out of awkwardness, I gave it to him and he texted me once and I didn't write back and then we never spoke of it again. Because as nice as he is, I like the dynamic of our relationship as is, that of hotdog seller and hotdog consumer.  

It's been 4 years and a lot of hotdogs and curly fries. When I move to Chicago this summer, I will miss John. Fortunately, I am moving to a place famous for their hotdog culture. A total coincidence? Perhaps not. 

(Yes, major disclosure slipped in there -- I am moving back to the Midwest! A post about this is forthcoming)