Monday, December 28, 2009

Esprit (Dog) Park

In the distance, a shiny canine is leaping, hunting a ratty tennis ball and retrieving it and dropping it at someone’s feet. The animal heaves powerfully, and its tongue dangles from one side of its mouth. The dog gets closer, larger. I can make out a set of yellow teeth and a pair of black lips that fence in a wilting tongue. The tongue drips saliva until the ball is tossed again, into the trees, and the tongue retracts and the animal is microscopic again.

On this Saturday afternoon, on the path to Esprit Park, the air is arctic and angry. Forty degrees, maybe. It’s the coolest weather San Francisco has seen all year. The breeze plays with a heap of garbage that's scattered along the alley, a product of an “up and coming” neighborhood with still too many good-for-nothings living on its backstreets.

For me, Fridays are spent shopping and Saturdays relaxing. Most city-dwellers seem to occupy Sundays with repose and unwinding, but because I’m slogging away at the office on The Day of Rest, I improvise. Darren is out, so I snatch a new hardback from my make-do bookcase and throw on my jacket and lock the front door behind me. I’ve been wanting to read in the park since we moved to the neighborhood, but something always gets in the way, and I haven’t done it yet. (Shopping, maybe. Sometimes I shop on Fridays and Saturdays.1)

As I near the grass and the picnic benches, more dogs come into view. In fact, the public garden that I’d formed in my imagination appears to be a dog park — as in, dogs and owners allowed only.

Where are the young couples lounging under shady trees, opening picnic baskets and bottles of wine and staring into each others’ eyes? Where’s the romance?

Despite the fact that it’s forty degrees and windy, there’s dog shit everywhere. Which is not romantic. Mentally, I scratch “Have Picnic at Esprit Park” off of the list of things I want to do in my new neighborhood.2

I’m not sure if the city technically has designated this a dog park, so I decide to plop down on a vacant bench and open my book. (Hell, I’m already here.) I delve deep into a fresh novel — with only 120 pages, I’m determined to read every last word in one sitting — and get to page ten before a woman’s screech knocks me off the seat.

“Starbucks? Starbucks!” she wails.

I open my word hole to tell her there’s not a Starbucks within a mile of here — and to kindly shut up — before I realize she’d named her dog after the too-popular coffee shop.3 The shouting persists for longer than I can swallow. So I get up, close my book, and trek home.

It was fun while it lasted. (Read: If you don’t have a dog, go somewhere else.)

Hey, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.
2 Me? Sit in dog poop while wining and dining? Absolutely not.
3 Original, isn't it?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

GrubSteak: So Right, But So Very Wrong

Isn’t it strange how some things feel so right – but so wrong – at the same time? For instance: a new apartment that's bright and sunny but too small; a spanking new manicure that's clean but an unflattering color; a first kiss that leaves you wondering whether it was good or awkward, curious about what he thinks; owning a puppy – man's best friend! – without enough time or money to care for it.

I guess the best way to describe my right-wrong premise is like this: There’s a diner in Nob Hill called GrubSteak, open until 4am. (Grub? Right. Steak? Right. Open ‘til 4am? So right.) It serves its burgers with fried eggs on them. (So wrong.) Minus the eggs, the food is spectacular. See what I mean?

Take San Francisco. It’s a wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve, stay-up-all-night kind of town. It’s so right, but at the same time it’s completely amiss. It's not home. I’m a Portlander (or a Beaverton-er, if you want to get technical) at heart, but on the outside I’m a cold, hard San Franciscan. Case in point: Every day, I walk by a middle-aged lady in a red vest who kindly offers stacks of Examiner newspapers, and I can't even muster the energy to mumble, “No, thanks.” (It's wrong. Wrong!) I blow past herds of people on the escalator that rises from the Bart station, my over-sized bag bumping and bruising folks along the way. I hardly ever apologize. (Portlanders apologize.) I don’t chit chat with smiley strangers on the sidewalks or at work; in fact, I avoid conversation altogether by whipping out my BlackBerry for a pretend phone call – or, sometimes, just scowling.

Like me, everyone who lives in San Francisco isn't really from San Francisco. I’ve learned that San Franciscans come from various states and distant regions of the world to the City by the Bay for: (a) adventure, (b) love, or (c) work. (For me, it was all three.) I’ve learned that you can tell people you “just moved here” if you’ve been in the city for less than a year. After that – like it or not – you’re a local. Almost everyone I meet says he or she just moved to town.


I wonder if they all think Fog City is as wonderfully wrong as I do. I wonder if they’re as excited to find out which other cities are wrong – but right! – for them, just like I am. For now, San Francisco's entire population is familiarizing itself with the city’s splendor and oddities. But what comes next?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas Morning

As Christyn and Caitlin cuddle on the couch, hunched over their new smart phones trying (obnoxiously) to decide on the perfect ring tones, Mom's banging around in the kitchen amongst an aroma of eggs and cinnamon rolls. Dad's whirling through the living room like a tornado, erasing the aftermath: bright red and green paper strewn across the carpet, cats snuggled in opened Crate & Barrel boxes, and decade-old stockings overflowing with candy canes and oranges and Starbucks gift cards.

As for me? I'm taking it all in (and pumping it out, as you can see, for my bleaders), wondering what this day would be like if I were in San Francisco.

I can't image it'd be this good.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

An Off-Key Tradition

Since 1996, my family’s holiday tradition has been to sing a song that my sisters and I carefully wrote – and harmonized for our parents, in front of the video camera – when we were in grade school. On December 23, 1996, Christmas Eve Eve, my two sisters and I sat in my room for hours, crafting the lyrics to this ballad that would follow us through adulthood. We didn’t know then that it’d become a family tradition, a beautiful carol to be passed down through generations, written in ink in the songbook of life.

Mom and Dad knew we had a special performance planned for that evening, so I asked them to come dressed in their holiday best, ready to watch and listen.

"And don’t forget the video camera!" I shouted to them, turning on my heels and running back into my room, where I’d close the door and continue preparing my costume and hand-writing two programs for the show.

My sisters and I had a weird obsession with watching ourselves on TV. We weren’t vain or spoiled, but my mother video-taped everything – from potty training to family vacations – including an entire day of my one-year-old life, which she appropriately entitled A Day in the Life of Meghan. ("Here’s Meghan eating her baby food… ymmm, pears… and here she is now, playing with her stuffed animal in the backyard.") (For the first two years of my existence, before Christyn was born? I was a princess.)

As we grew older, we expected the camera to be at the beach, in the bathroom, at ballet classes, everywhere. Back then, Mom wasn’t herself without a bulky machine with a red blinking light on her shoulder, obstructing our view of her stunning features and scarlet hair. She was Mom with a mask. Most of the time, she’d set the thing down for a moment to scold us or help tie a hair ribbon that had come loose during our reenactment of the Olympic games. She’d set it down, walk in front of the camera to help us or scold us, and then forget to pick it back up. She always thought she’d turned it off, and so we’d continue prancing about the living room, balancing on stacks of couch pillows (for balance beam routines) and cartwheeling across plastic mats (for floor routines) and giving each other perfect tens. The camera would be pointed at a white wall. Viewers would never see our back flips or somersaults.

After the bows and applause, we’d jump up and down at Mom’s feet like hungry baby birds, asking, "Can we watch The Movie What We Did? Can we? Can we please watch The Movie What We Did?" Most of the time, we’d start this whining before she’d even put the camera down. So our family videos usually end with this squawking, and then my mother, finally, "Oh, okay." And then black.

So on Christmas Eve Eve in 1996, Mom prepared the camera and I spent the afternoon taping cotton balls to Christyn’s smooth, eight-year-old face and stuffing her red sweatshirt with pillows from my bed. She would play Santa, and I would be Mrs. Claus. Caitlin would be an elf.

"Why am I always the boy?" Christyn whined. She was getting older, irritated with playing only male roles in our productions. But what could I say? Someone had to be the male. And I’m the oldest, the director – the boss, let’s face it – and I got to be the girl. Or else I would cancel the play.

"Next time? You can be the girl." I promised. (There was no next time. This was the last production ever, the grand finale. To this day, Christyn's still mad at me.)

"Okay!" Christyn said, cheery.

Dad snuggled into his seat while Mom stood with the ten-pound camera on her shoulder, waiting for us to enter stage left. (Oh, the pain we put her through!) We marched down the hallway – left, right, left, right – from my room to the living room, belting out the song that would become infamous in our family:

To-morrow’s Christmas Ee-eve
To-morrow’s Christmas E-eeve
To-morrow’s Christmas Eeee-EEEEEVVE!
To-morrow’s Christmas Eve.

Okay, so it's not a beautiful ballad. In fact, if you’ve heard me sing this golden oldie, you’ve probably already shut your computer and walked away in irritation, because the intolerable tune is undoubtedly stuck in your head. But this is the one that fastened itself to our family; we sing it (off-key, the way it’s supposed to be sung) every year on Christmas Eve Eve.

Perhaps if my sisters and I had performed another play the next year – if I hadn’t promised Christyn that she’d get to be the girl – we’d have another tune in our heads. But we don’t. And here we are.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays

One Scrabble board. Two sisters. Three kittens. Too many cups of hot chocolate. Life couldn't get much better.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sprinkle Me with Sprinkles

My lips embrace a gooey, generously proportioned black-and-white-flavored cupcake from Sprinkles, and they shudder, surprised, before forming a childish grin. My taste buds break into a foxtrot across my tongue; they’ve been good all year, and – Hallelujah! – it has finally paid off. My arteries solidify in displeasure.

Me? I’ve died and gone to Heaven. I raise my face toward the glittering cobalt sky with every silky bite, every swallow, and my eyeballs may or may not be rolled back in my head. I lie around in the clouds, like a Care Bear. My five senses have merged, so all I can see, hear, smell and feel is Belgian dark chocolate cake beneath creamy vanilla frosting. How must I look to passersby?

And then I remember: I’m not in Heaven. I’m alive and healthy despite my newly hardened arteries. Struggling against the mascara-coated lashes that have intertwined cunningly on my top and bottom lids, I open my eyes and let them adjust to the muted lounge while I savor another mouthful.

Turns out I’m quite far from Heaven. I’m at work, drooped in my swivel chair while a congested group of Asian day-trippers walks through the lounge and past my desk, snapping photos and taking videos. The sales agent shouts over the group’s chatter in Mandarin, like she’s playing the role of a tour guide at Universal Studios. Which would make me a prop on the set.

Damp crumbs are scattered across my suit. I wipe them from my skirt and chin. One of the tourists breaks away from the cluster and comes toward me, excited. I can feel the chocolate between my teeth. There's no way to remove it (without looking like a cow) by the time she reaches me, so I do the first thing that comes to mind: I smile big, hoping for a reaction.

“What is this space, here? Can we use it for a party?” she asks, not seeming to notice the smears of black foodstuff that encrust my chops. I smile wider. She looks around, bright-eyed and giddy at the thought of living in a place like this. And then she sees my teeth, which are right there, out in the open, in a stupid grin as wide as a gorilla’s. She’s appalled, I’m sure. I laugh to myself, a bit embarrassed, wondering what to do next.

My new theory? Cupcakes bring out the children in people.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Hey, Martha Stewart? I'm Talking to You.

Props to you, Martha Stewart. You cook, you clean, and you decorate your home for every holiday and special occasion. But how do you do it, Martha? How? I know you think your magazine is useful, helpful, but it’s not. I don’t understand what most of it means. And you say your projects take twenty minutes to throw together? A half-hour, tops? Martha, why do you lie? For us servant-less, artistically challenged folk, everything you ask us to whip up takes double – or triple – the time you say it will.

But here’s what I really want to ask you: When decorating a home, where do you start? When you walk into a space without one chair, rug or piece of furniture in it, how do you know what to do? Do you dream up the fixtures or the fabric first? The blinds or the coffee table? The bar stools or the barware? (Or the drinks? When do you drink the drinks?) And when do you paint? And how do you know if you should paint? And when is the right time to hang artwork? Tell me about that, Mar.

For years I dreamt of the day I’d have an entire condo to decorate, a fresh canvas. And now I have not only a fresh canvas but also a job (that pays me!), which means I can buy cool things to put in the condo. But I’m completely lost, like a pianist without a piano. Like an artist without paint. I’m a designer – I know I am! – without an idea. What will I do with this place?

Surrounded by brick walls, concrete floors, timber framework and sky-scraping ceilings, I travel to a 19th-century museum, an old liquor warehouse, a clothing manufacturer, when I push through the front door. If I had all the money in the world, I’d find out where the designers bought every piece of furniture in these model photos, and I’d buy it all and arrange my house just like the pictures. That way I’d be sure not to go wrong.

Did I mention this is a one-woman show? In case you didn't know, men aren’t motivated to put paintings on walls or throw decorative pillows on couches or even unpack boxes that have been lingering in the living room and under the computer desk for a month now. They don’t care about that stuff, so it’s up to me – the woman – to swoop in and fashion a home.

But it’s a Catch 22: Darren doesn’t like decorating or furniture shopping, but he doesn’t let me go wild and do just anything with the place. (“Because it’s his place, too.” And I guess in this case, it really is his place, what with his name on the mortgage and all.) So when I see something at Macy’s or Ikea, I can’t just buy it, I have to send him a picture message or something to make sure we both like it.

If it were up to me, everything would’ve been in place by week two: we’d have perfect bar stools against the bar, a trendy coffee table over a cozy rug, and the house would be snug and homey all year round. I’d turn the heat up to 70 degrees instead of letting it sit at an icy 62. We’d get one of those free-standing gas fire places and make it look built-in, organic.

But it’s not up to me. And to make matters more complicated? Dar’s not a fan of my style. He says it’s Country Cottage. (As in, “You’re comforter is Country-Cottage Green. Like, straight from Pottery Barn.”) (Since when is shopping at Pottery Barn a sin?)

Anyway, we had our first furniture-shopping outing this weekend (if you don’t count our three previous trips to Ikea). We drove for twenty minutes, deep into the Richmond, to a place called Avetex Modern Furniture. Its website explodes with chic furnishing and fixtures for modern homes – so not Country Cottage, but that’s okay – so I assumed the store would be just as great. Long story short, the “showroom” was just that: a room, small and stuffy, with about three things in it including a computer so you can access its website and purchase items online. (So what's the point of having a store? Can you answer that, Martha?) We walked in, walked out, and drove home. And that was that.

Photos by Apartment Therapy

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Elfed Myself, So Sue Me

Last night, I elfed myself. Not in the digital way, where you paste a photo of your face to a dancing elf and then watch yourself do a silly jig across your computer screen. (Anyone been living under a rock for two years? Click here.) No, I'm talking real-life elf-ing. Let me explain: I dressed myself in red-and-white striped tights, a red sweater and a green tee, red socks over the candy-cane tights, Uggs (rolled down so the fluffy part showed, for effect), and a Santa hat. Walgreens was out of elf hats, the ones with the pointy ears attached. For this reason, most people called me "Santa Elf" the entire night: I wasn't quite Santa, and wasn't quite elf. But whatever. I was some sort of Christmasy character, and the kids freakin' loved me.

After elfing myself, I tip-toed all the way from the basement to the Club Level in an effort to remain unseen. (I'm usually clad in a stiff suite, an extra-starched white blouse and patent-leather heels, so wandering the halls in an elf costume is agonizing.) When the elevator opened and I stepped off, exhaling in relief, I plowed right into an old couple that lives in the building. The two didn't say anything when they saw me, but instead looked at my hat, bewildered, and then at my shoes. The woman asked, confused, "Oh... are you... are you going to the... party?"

Holy cow. She thinks I dress like this for fun? She thinks that when I get an invitation to a five-star party, and it says "festive attire," I go this far? No, lady. I'm here for the kids.

"I'll be decorating cookies with the kids," I said.


"In the Children's Room?"

"Oh, good, good." The couple gave me one more glance, and then the two looked at each other and frowned. They stepped inside the elevator and touched 11; they were going to get ready for the party, I imagined.

Later, the woman came to see me in the Children's Room. She asked me if I volunteered for this. I told her, "Not exactly." (But I totally did.)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Merry Christmas, Meghan Brown

I want a Christmas tree. My multi-faceted argument is as follows: (a) we have street access, which means effortless transporting of the materials in and out of the condo; (b) we have durable concrete floors; and (C) as much as I want one, we don’t have a kitten to bat at the shiny round objects that would hang from our Doug Fir and knock the tree over and ruin the place. Oh, and (d) our non-existent kitten won’t chew on the tree lights and burn himself up; that’s right, we won’t be finding ourselves in the middle of a Chevy Chase movie this Christmas.

Darren’s argument goes like this: (a) we already have three more pieces of furniture than can fit comfortably in our living room; (b) neither of us will want to vacuum the pine needles from the floor after dragging the tree in the house; (c) we don’t own a vacuum, anyway; and (d) we won’t be in San Francisco for Christmas. Oh, and (e) Bah Humbug.

Darren won this quarrel, even though my case was much more realistic and he is Scrooge reincarnated. So we (read: I) removed the same plastic, 24-inch tree from the same cardboard Walgreens box that we did last year. The “tree” comes with lights and tinsel and sad little ornaments that you have to wrap around the “branches” strategically in order to get them to stay. The box reads $9.99 in bold, red letters, right on the front. Instead of a typical-looking stand at the base of the “tree,” a shiny, red synthetic Santa boot steadies it.

Last December, I would have bet six-months’ salary that I wouldn’t be decorating my Charlie Brown tree again this year, but here I am, humming along to the holiday tunes in my head, wrapping paint-chipped ornaments made of tin around “branches” on a “tree” that is held up by a plastic Santa boot. At first it's a happy occasion (“I don’t need materialistic decorations; that’s not what Christmas is about, anyway”), but later that night, when Darren decides to yank our perfectly fine TV from the wall and trade it in for a bigger one at Best Buy and leave me alone in the silent house when we're supposed to be watching a Christmas movie together, I break down.

I wish I’d known a few tears is all it’d take for Darren to give in. I would have played this card a long time ago. Even though our new tree is not real (and from Walgreens, again), it’s a six-foot-tall beauty. Darren plugs it in in the mornings and after work, and he even lights our pine- and cinnamon-scented candles. Turns out he’s not a complete Scrooge.

Now all I need is a kitten.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Gretcheroonie is a San Francisco Treat

I met my best friend when I was eight years old. For one hour every Wednesday, the third graders in Mrs. Allen’s and Mrs. Viskov’s classes at Greenway Elementary School were allowed to switch rooms to meet new students and teachers and participate in various activities: painting, reading, Lego-building, and practicing the messy art of papier-mâché. I was sitting cross-legged on the scratchy carpet in Mrs. Allen’s classroom, listening to the teacher read a book about the mundane life of a ladybug. I noticed her, over and over, my future best friend, glancing at me. She was long and thin and smelled of a girl’s shampoo. Her face was smooth like soap. I’d only seen her a couple times before, in passing, when my classmates and I would walk in a line down the bright corridor of Greenway, each of us raising a hand in the air and forming a peace sign with our second and third fingers – like they did in the '60s – to make sure our line was quiet when moving from classroom to classroom, or classroom to lunchroom, because the principal didn’t tolerate our whispering and spitting, “Shhh!” We weren't allowed to talk in the hallways.

Her name was Gretchen. I went to her house for the first time when it was summer in Beaverton, when the thick air hugged my skin and smelled like pollen and roses. My cheeks ached from squinting against the dazzling sun. We sat across from each other on a picnic table in her backyard, playing Guess Who? and giggling wildly at nothing that grown-ups would have found funny. She would ask, “Does he have a mole on his hairy lip?” and we’d fall on the floor. Later, her older brother pushed us around the backyard in a wheelbarrow while her red-headed mom, Sally, planted flowers and made lemonade. Sally was so young then.

From that day on, I was to Gretchen as Mini-Me is to Austin Powers. She towered over me, a six-foot-high freak of nature next to a five-foot-tall sidekick. She happily piggy-backed me to the front of many crowds of parents that gathered at neighborhood pizza joints when it was time to receive our trophies and celebrate the end of a season of softball.

Gretch was no good at softball. She was a giant, and it took too long for her glove to reach the dirt, so most ground balls rolled right through her legs and didn’t stop until they collided with an outfield wall. By the time she’d sprint to the edge of the grass to pick up the florescent yellow softball and whirl it toward the infield, the batter would be rounding third.

To the world, we were a package deal, a new category of cool. We called each other Megowaffle and Gretcheroonie. (Yes, to 10-year-olds, this was cool.) In fifth grade, we were the only girls in our class brave enough to play basketball with the boys at recess. When the captains would pick teams, Meghan and Gretchen counted as one pick. (Only now do I find this insulting. I wasn’t good enough to count as a whole player? Another insult: When one of us scored, a regular two-point basket would count as three points, and a three-pointer earned our team four points. Back then I thought it was sweet.) She was much better at basketball than she was at softball. Her moves were fearless, effortless. She went on to play four years in high school and one year at Western Washington University.

On Halloween, in the fifth grade, Gretch made a funny. We sat at a long table during lunchtime, sharing the sandwich and carrot sticks that my dad had packed for me. She dressed up as her father that year, donning one of his extra-large collared shirts and a pair of size thirteen shoes. She furrowed her eyebrows and twisted her face, and in her deepest, silliest voice she pronounced, “Hi, I’m Mr. Gottfried.” I spit purple grape juice all over the boy across from me, who wore a white shirt. He was instructed to go home and change.

We did things like persuade Sally to tell her own niece (Gretch’s cousin) that she’d adopted me, that I was now part of the family. We even got Gretchen’s 93-year-old grandma to mail a hand-written note to Gretchen’s address, going on about how wonderful it must be to have an adopted sister. The letter arrived on the day Gretchen’s cousin came to visit. We milked this all weekend.

Once we asked our principal to call an assembly so we could perform a dance to Janet Jackson’s “Escapade” in front of the entire school; we’d been practicing for weeks. (Our principal said no, but we were welcome to dance in front of our class during music period. We did.) For my birthday, on April Fool's Day, she gave me presents like chocolate-covered cotton balls. They looked like candy, and when I'd bite into one she'd laugh so hard that no sound came out. We’d take shots of her dad’s espresso to get hyper and stay up all night, even though it tasted like dirt. We ate mint chocolate chip ice cream and licorice. We invented secret handshakes and silly songs:

Megowaffle is a waffle with maple syrup
Gretcheroonie is a San Francisco treat
When you mix them up together this is what you get
Waffle-Roonie, the maple syrup treat – hey!

I’ve lost track of Gretchen now.

This blog is supposed to be about the story of my new life in the city. Gretchen doesn’t have much to do with that, but she has everything to do with the story of my life.

Monday, December 14, 2009

I have only one question for you, Mr. Woods

Lo. Something funny and relevant for you! I found this on Jennifer Lancaster's blog yesterday. The topic has been beaten to death (no pun intended), but for some reason it still fascinates most of us. (If it doesn't fascinate you, get back to your "real" news and skip this post.)

What one woman would do with the $300 million that Tiger will part with...

* * *

There’s been so much speculation in the last few weeks about Tiger Woods: “What really happened the night of his accident?” “Did the pressure of being in the spotlight cause him to crack?” “Will his personal peccadilloes affect his ability to hit the long ball?”

Sportscasters and pundits alike ponder the moral and ethical ramifications of Tiger stepping outside the bounds of his marriage. Tabloids explore the seamier side of the issue, gleefully speculating on whens, wheres, and which cocktail waitresses. Fans want to understand what made him stray, while sponsors scramble to determine if he can still sell sneakers and sports drinks.

Me? I only have one question for you, Mr. Woods: Were you really that anxious to part with $300 million dollars?

Now I’m not telling you how to run your business or your life, Tiger. But when a man signs and then violates a $300 million dollar prenuptial agreement, I have to wonder. Were you tired of seeing so many zeroes on your bank statements? Or do you hate financial institutions and you simply ran out of mattresses to stuff? Was it hard to keep your pants up when your pockets were so filled with gold?

The only logical explanation is that your money’s a burden and you’re desperate to unload it. But if so, perhaps you could have considered these fine alternatives?

According to Sen. Mary Landrieu, $300 million large is exactly what it’ll take to remedy the shortfalls in Louisiana’s budget. If you weren’t on the hook for the prenup, you could totally write the Great State a check. You’d thrill not only the residents, but taxpayers all over the country! I bet we’d all run out and buy Buicks, Nikes, and Gatorade with the money you saved us. Plus, the folks in NOLA would treat you like a conquering hero at Mardi Gras, bestowing all the beads you could carry. You’d be so beloved, every girl on Bourbon Street would flash you. Since that sounds like the kind of thing you’d be into, everyone wins!

For $300 million bucks, you could have funded HUD’s Recovery Act, which is aimed at both re-housing homeless families and preventing them from facing the kind of crises that lead to homelessness. Home-wrecker? Pfft, more like a home-saver!

Maybe you could bail out the Philip Morris Corporation and pay emphysema-stricken Cindy Naugle her $300 million dollar judgment? Granted, most aren’t particularly sympathetic to the plight of Big Tobacco…and yet we’re not so keen on philandering fathers, either. (This one might be a wash for all involved.)

Don’t want to drop all that cash in one place? No problem! If I were you, I’d have invested $100 million in Twitter’s latest round of financing with the stipulation that no pajama-clad blogger tweet anything about me but my winning smile and Masters jacket collection.

A while back the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $100 million dollars to help eradicate polio. Now Tiger, are you going to let some browser-crashing-nerd steal all your glory? Or are you going to fork over so many bills those future generations of blindfolded swimmers will think that “polio” is what comes after “Marco”?

The cliché-loving part of me would take the last $100 million to buy the world a Coke. However, according to recent estimates, it would cost around $6.5 billion to purchase one twenty-ounce bottle for every single person in the world. I suppose folks could share, but that would entail multiple people placing their lips on the same thing, which is exactly how you got yourself in trouble in the first place. Maybe we should scratch that suggestion.

So, I guess I’d take that $100 million dollars and buy Elin something pretty… like an island. I suspect she deserves one.

- Jennifer Lancaster

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New York or San Francisco?

Today, Author Jennifer Lancaster asked her devoted fans via blog-post which cities she should hit on her book tour. Apparently she needs to know which metropolises are the most popular. I stumbled across her first book a few months ago, in the memoirs section at Borders, and have been hooked on her online diary since. Like Julie Powell, she’s a blogger-turned-author – and therefore my hero. She’s a spoiled ex-sorority girl (as in, she was kicked out of her sorority in college) and plain old mean (which is probably the reason she was kicked out). This combination makes for interesting stories about her New York adventures. One critic says she’s “the woman we all love to hate;” another calls her “foul-mouthed;” and one critic describes her as “abrasive” and “irreverent.” Anyway, this is what I wrote in response to her question:

2. Portland, Oregon

The West Coast has a bad (or good?) reputation for being crammed with nice people who say "please" and "thank you" and use their blinkers when they change lanes. But actually? I think there are plenty of sweet-on-the-outside, bitter-on-the-inside types who need help expressing their inner bitch. You can help them. I know you want to.

Hope to see you in May!

This got me thinking about West-Coasters, and about how much more pleasant they are than East-Coasters. I learned to drive in Oregon, where drivers study their manuals for fun, and where friendly police officers pull you over for turning your blinker on too early or honking too softly or driving too slowly, and then smile and say “Have a great day, young lady.” Before moving to San Francisco, I never imagined I’d feel lucky to be submerged in the kind of traffic in which people use blinkers and lay off their horns, but I am. (In Oregon, everyone does both.) The blinker is vital. I need to know that the Volvo in front of me won’t swerve into my lane without giving me a proper warning: a blinker, flashing steadily for 100 feet before the lane-change. A blinker is so comforting, like pie. They were invented for a darned good reason, so I wonder why East-Coasters refuse to use them…

I’ve been to New York only once, but my first impression was that it’s full of bitter old Jen Lancasters: taxi drivers, pizza boys, boutique owners, hot dog vendors, policemen. They’re foul-mouthed and snooty and don’t give a shit about you. If you’re sprawled on your stomach in the middle of a one-way street and you’re not a 70-year-old blind woman with two broken legs, traffic won’t stop – or even slow – for you; cab drivers will simply run you over, shrug, and say “C’est la vie.” Heavy-set, burly men behind pizza counters will yell at little blond girls to hurry up and decide and quit holding up their lines. The blond girls – who are used to patient teenagers taking their pizza orders at an empty, air-conditioned, pristine Papa Murphy’s in Beaverton, Oregon – will start to cry. To some people, like the little blonde girls and me, the Big Apple is a haunted house, a nightmare come true.

Perhaps some girls simply aren’t cut out for East-Coast living. Someday I want to go back and try it again. But for now, I’m perfectly happy, cozy in my San Francisco apartment, reading about someone else’s New York adventures.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Boys' Night at Royal Oaks

I’m leaning against the bar at Royal Oaks, a cocktail lounge on Polk Street, scanning the palely lit room. I’m dog-tired. I look past the overweight, drunken girls in teeny dresses who dance provocatively with men whom are toothpicks next to them. My gaze lands on a fiery picture of a tiger that hangs on the wall above a florescent “restroom” sign. The animal wants to jump off the painting and pounce on me, his claws leading the way. His teeth are ferocious, angry, like he has just found the hunter who shot and killed his mother when he was a cub. I think it’s interesting, looking at this Tiger, because our conversation (once again) has turned into a debate about Tiger Woods’ affairs. The words float in the background. Abruptly I remember that tonight, Dateline is showing a “behind closed doors” something or other on the scandal. Part of me wishes I were at home, watching it with a bag of kettle corn on my lap.

I’m the fourth wheel at Boys’ Night. Darren and David are fired up about a Gordon-something finance model, and then about Bill Simmons’ account of last week’s football (or basketball?) game. I continue to stare at the tiger.

“I’ll bet you’ll never guess,” Darren leads off, his face a cartoon, “which player Nike pays most to endorse its stuff.”

Oh, jeesh.

I signal the bartender, raising my empty glass and jingling the ice. I ask for another Raspberry Stoli and soda, and the bartender’s smile is all pity. I don’t appreciate her sympathy, though, because I enjoy going out with Darren and his friends; it’s just different than what I’m used to. My entire life has revolved around girl talk, girl things: makeup, hair, romantic comedies, shoes, clothes, George Clooney, pedicures, Sex and the City, strawberry daiquiris. Until I met Darren, I didn’t know much about professional sports except that my dad watched them in the garage while my sisters, mom and I watched “How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days” or “Pretty Woman” in the warm living room when I was growing up.

The boy-talk scene that Darren and David are acting out is new to me. Listening to it is like swimming in the Pacific Ocean: when I first get in the water, all I can think about is how badly I want to jump out, but soon I am numb to it, and I don’t care. The tiger won't stop staring.

“Hmmm,” David mumbles, thinking about Darren’s Nike-endorsement question as he pets his non-existent beard and looks at the ceiling. After a minute: “What sport does he play?”

“Football.” Darren is giddy. I'll never understand why.

This goes on for awhile, and later we take our seats at a round table in the center of the lounge. Two men approach our group and sit down in the empty chairs. One of them asks where we’re from.

“We’re from North Carolina,” Drew says. “We just graduated from Duke.” This gets my attention; beer spews from my word hole as I giggle quietly, trying to be nonchalant.

“Nice,” the man says. “Why’d you come to San Francisco?”

“I graduated in engineering,” Drew answers. (He graduated with a degree in business, finance.) I’m chuckling again. He goes on: “I want to build bridges.”

How does he come up with this stuff? I wonder. He’s not even taking a moment to pause, to think. I decide it’s a real talent.

“Oh, awesome!” the man is interested, and his temperament shifts. “You should come down south, where I’m from. We have the biggest prisons there!”

Drew looks confused and happy at the same time. He humors the guy. “Really? Nice.”

“Yeah, actually, I just got out of prison.”

“Dude, I said I wanted to build bridges, not prisons.” Drew is shouting over the music. I’m laughing hysterically. The escaped jailbird is leaning over me, trying to hear Drew. He looks embarrassed.

Tiger and the tiger are forgotten. We're kicked out of the bar at 2 a.m., so Darren and I go to our favorite pizza place in the Tenderloin. Boys' Night turns out to be all right.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Star (er, Blogger-Turned-Author) Struck

My excuse for not blogging yesterday is really, really good. If you haven’t figured it out yet, see the above photo of my very own signed copy of Julie Powell’s new book. Because I met Julie Powell last night. In person! The woman who wrote a book about blogging her way to Hollywood while mastering Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”! The woman who inspired my blogging!

Is that geeky? Because until last night, I didn’t realize how much of a geek I really am. I’ve always been a little bit of a nerd, yes, but last night I was almost embarrassed to be seen with myself. I sat in the front row at a tiny bookshop called Books Inc., one seat to the left of the aisle, so as to be noticed by Julie. She would read from her new memoir. My violent heart thumped against my ribcage at the thought of meeting her, the dorky blogger-turned-author who worked as a temp most of her life, answering phones and making coffee for her chauvinistic superiors. There’s nothing cool about that. But still, my heart wouldn’t decelerate. (The real reason I know I’m a geek, though, is because I have no desire to see the hit movie that stemmed from her first book. And if it were Amy Adams at the bookstore instead of Julie Powell, acting out a scene? I probably wouldn’t have gone.)

Fifteen minutes before the reading started, there were just two other people ready and waiting in their metal folding chairs – and they looked to be about 80 years old. (This is another reason I know I’m a nerd.) The shriveled man and woman absently flipped through the pages of the Chronicle, their wrinkled noses about an inch from the paper, their backs crooked like question marks. I wanted to iron their faces, make them smooth.

Are they lost? I asked myself. Do they know how often Julie drops the f-bomb? Are they going to be okay with that? Do they know how inappropriate she can be? I wondered if she’d drop f-bombs tonight; kids were roaming the shop with their moms, for jeez’s sake. I wondered which passages she’d read from her new memoir. I wondered if I should tell her about my blog, about the way her book Julie & Julia motivated me to write every day, to blog my way to Hollywood... I started to sweat. I looked around, embarrassed to be so jumpy.

Finally, Julie started reading. In one account, she illustrated the act of cutting open an animal – did I mention her book is about butchery? – and the way it feels to wipe raw cow flesh from her face. In the next account, she described her love affair, her broken marriage, and the guilt associated with being a “skank” and lying to her husband. Somehow these two stories make sense together in the book, but I haven’t read the book yet so I'm still thoroughly confused. Regardless, the passages were intriguing, so I bought the hard cover for a whopping $27.95.

When it was time for Q and A, the granny shaped like a question mark raised her hand and asked: “If you say you’re a skank, how would you compare yourself to (Julie & Julia film director) Nora Ephron’s skankiness?” The audience exploded in laughter, and Julie’s face became a strawberry.

I guess granny wasn’t lost, after all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Look What I Did, Cyberspace!

Today I spent almost eight hours browsing Microsoft Word's clip art collection, searching for jolly Santa heads, cutesy Christmas trees, dreidels, and something that represents Kwanzaa. My company is paying me to create a holiday Bingo game. (And next week? I'm supposed to dress up as an elf and decorate Christmas cookies with kids. But that's another story.)

You see, when my boss asked me to come up with a game for our staff holiday party (which is scheduled for this Thursday), I had to think fast. And, well, it's no secret that everybody loves a rousing game of Bingo. The best part about the game is you don't have to stand up in front of a group and embarrass yourself – unless you get a Bingo, of course, in which case you must shout very loudly. But it's not like charades or a contest to see who can recite the company's mission statement with the fewest errors (which is what my boss wanted to do, and what we would have done if it weren't for my weird Bingo obsession).

Like a child prancing home from school, waiving her painting proudly in the air ("Look what I did, Mom!") and then taping it to the refrigerator, I'm an adult coming home from a hard day at work, sharing my creation with cyberspace.


I know what you're thinking, and yes, this really did take me eight whole hours. But this is just one of the ten (or twelve?) cards I made. After I agreed to organize this game, I remembered that every Bingo card must be slightly different, and some of the cards should have completely different images than some of the other cards. I had no idea what I was getting into. Which is why I'm so proud of myself.

For today, this blog is my cyber-refrigerator, and my Bingo board is taped to it with a big fat A+.

Monday, December 7, 2009

8 Great Cooking Apps

About once a month, I take the time to write a few paragraphs for My articles used to encompass green issues, environmentalism, and lefty liberal stuff that would melt any San Franciscan's (or Portlander's!) heart. (Perhaps you know that last year, Portland was ranked the greenest city in the country, and San Fran took a close second. I like to think I had something to do with that.) Anyway, these days the posts are about cooking. Today's submission revolves around cooking AND your iPhone, so of course I want to share it with all my techie (and chef-y) bleaders...

Are you sick and tired of lugging your laptop into the kitchen – and awkwardly balancing it on the counter while trying to decipher a recipe – every time you make a new dish? And what about those awful splatters that cover your monstrous, 500-page cook books? (You know, the ones that unquestionably appear each time you concoct a fresh soup or pasta sauce.) If you have an iPhone or BlackBerry, you can say goodbye to heavy cook books and kitchen-bound computers and hello to effortless shopping, food preparation, and recipe-sizing. Simply download one or more of the applications listed below, and enjoy!

This popular application not only supplies over 95 recipes and full-size photos but also helps you plan an entire menu. When you choose a main course, Dishy will suggest multiple side dishes that go well with it. Chose one or more recipes from the database, and Dishy will scale your formula based on serving size. Dishy builds an easy shopping checklist for you, and when you’re ready to start cooking it tells you when to begin prepping each dish, so that everything’s ready at the same time. Dishy also offers large, step-by-step instructions (“no fiddly controls, so you can use the back of your knuckle if your fingers are covered in food!”) and count-down timers.

Look and Taste
Look and Taste doesn’t just produce recipes – it produces over 300 video recipes, making cooking effortless. The application updates its database every month, so you’re always current on the most popular cuisines from top chefs. Browse through 400 “quick tip” videos from professional chefs, who explain common kitchen procedures and cooking terms.

Kosher Coookbook powered by Cookshelf
This application includes over 300 of New York Food Writer Gloria Kobrin’s popular recipes. Users are able to access more than 50 customized meal plans for Shabbat and other Jewish holidays, which Kobrin has modified to suit kosher dietary rules. Meals can be sorted by course, cuisine and type of food. On an iPhone or iPod Touch, simply choose a recipe and add the necessary ingredients to the one-click shopping list before heading to the grocery store. The shopping list can even be viewed by – get this – store aisle or recipe. How much easier could life get?

Patrik’s Easy Cooking for BlackBerry
Get 72 of Chef Patrik Jaros’ (and food photographer Gnter Beer’s) delicious recipes tailored to amateur cooks, plus tips on how to turn supermarket convenience foods into succulent delicacies with little effort. Each dish contains a maximum of 5 familiar ingredients in completely new contexts, urging cooks to experiment with Jaros’ unusual creations. Browse recipes by category or chapter, view step-by-step slideshows of food preparation, organize an illustrated shopping list, search recipes and ingredients by keyword, send recipes via email, and more.

TinyKitchen allows you to sync your favorite meals and recipes with Google Docs: “No more typing recipes into your phone. Now you can edit them with the Google Docs word processor, share them with your friends, or upload them from MS Word files.” With this iPhone application, search over 70,000 recipes on and download them right to your phone; turn recipes into shopping lists; scale them up or down depending on crowd size; and even post and upload your meals directly to Tumblr and Twitter to share your masterpieces with friends.

Cooking Star
Looking to better your cooking skills, but not quite ready to step into a kitchen? The Cooking Star consists of eight mini-games and allows users to master each one to unlock real recipes and build their cookbooks. Tilt, touch, flick, and flip to cook up mouth-watering meals and become a star chef!

Kitchen Calculator PRO
This app will help you convert and scale recipes using standard cooking fractions and convert ingredients from weight to volume.

iEats is the new iPhone application available on iTunes. iEats: Appetizers is the first in the series. Easy to make innovative recipes, extraordinary plating techniques and tantalizing recipes by James Beard Foundation recognized Chef Marco Porceddu. iEats features beautiful pictures of each recipe, coupled with three perfect wine pairings. iEats will also calculate the amount of ingredients needed for the number of people you are serving. Select a recipe by preparation time, level of difficulty or “Feeling Lucky” Just shake the phone and get a random selection!

For a complete list of Cooking apps for your iPhone, click here.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reflections from Week One

September 10, 2008

Late afternoon light pours through the windows and soaks the cold, dark countertop at the check-in counter, which I’m hunched over. I’m numb while examining the hundreds of restless travelers lined up behind me. The cracked tip of my elbow cuts the plastic countertop; it supports the weight of my fatigued head, which lies frozen in my trembling left hand. A throbbing comes from my left hip and knee and rides up my spine, and I realize I’ve been forcing all my weight onto one side of my body for the entire ten minutes that I’ve been standing here. I place my right foot back onto the floor, transferring my 120 pounds, and I take a breath as sharp as a razor. Blood rushes to my head and I’m lost. I’m too lost to be mad, and too sad to cry. My eyes fill with waterless emotion, and I imagine how they must look to the large, black man positioned on the other side of the counter. I stare up at him, begging, silent. He is frosty and insensitive, and his fingers zip across the keys at a discomforting tempo. I forget to breathe and then I remember to breathe. And it hurts.

I grip a small duffel bag, which is packed delicately with just one week’s supply of clothing. It’s August, and no one told me about the wintry San Francisco weather when I decided to journey to the Bay Area for a quick visit, so the bag contains shorts and tank tops and sleeveless summer dresses. I’ve been freezing for a week. And now I’ll be freezing for another long while, because my airline ticket has been denied. I’m supposed to go back home to Oregon today. I’ve made so many trips to and from Portland and San Francisco this month (foolishly hoping to secure a job during an economic recession) that I can’t keep track of which airport I’m supposed to be at and which plane I’m scheduled to be on and when. I don’t understand why I’m denied this flight, though, because I paid $430 for the ticket just last week. The proof is on my credit card statement. I am opening a new credit card to transfer the balance from my current one, which I’ve maxed out, thanks to the exorbitant cost of airfare. I don't even have a job to pay it off.

I miss my family. I don’t want to move. I want to stay at home where Mom cooks and laughs at my jokes and Dad sits barefooted on the back patio with me until twilight, reading and doing crosswords and chatting about our upcoming vacation to Ocean City, New Jersey and the new flowers he and Mom planted yesterday. In the backyard, all I hear is the hum of our small, manmade waterfall. It’s the soundtrack to my thoughts – my considerations, my inspirations – which are loud and clear even though they mingle with Dad’s discourse. But in San Francisco, my peaceful yet productive reflections are hushed by the worry of not being able to get a job or pay my credit card bill or get on a plane or come home.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Summer Day at Dolores Park

To: Maijken (mobile)
Delivered: Fri, May 29, 2008 8:57:23 PM
hey, wht r u doing this wkend?

To: Meghan (mobile)
Delivered: Fri, May 29, 2008 9:02:33 PM
don’t know, supposed 2 b nice outside. maybe dolores prk tomorrow?

To: Maijken (mobile)
Delivered: Fri, May 29, 2008 9:04:11 PM
ooo, yah! i have never been but hear it is super fun.

To: Maijken (mobile)
Delivered: Fri, May 29, 2008 8:57:23 PM
ok, heron and jess want to come 2! bring some snacks and drinks, and we will lay on blankets and just hang out in the sun! dont 4get sunscrn!

On Saturday, I come to at first light and gather my goodies for the park: California Dreamin’ sandwiches from Safeway, white cheddar Cheez-Its, blankets, a sweater, a pack of wine coolers, sunglasses, water, and chapstick. I forget sunscreen. I turn lobster-red when I spend more than 20 minutes in the sun without slathering an SPF 30 over every inch of exposed skin. (I ignored this fact most of my life, which is why I’m wrinkling at age 23.) Nowadays, I try to lather up every morning, even in the middle of December when I wear a jacket, scarf and gloves most of the day. I realize this won’t reverse my already crinkled under-eyes, but a girl can dream, can’t she?

Anyway, by noon Darren and I are on our way to Dolores Park in the Mission. We arrive at the grassy hill to find hundreds of people already camped out for the day, with similar supplies as the ones we have in our grocery bags. I’m sure someone here has sunscreen I could borrow...

“Hey, where are you guys?” Darren’s already on his cell phone, trying to track down Maijken and Jason through the blanket of San Franciscans.

“We’re over here, on the North side of the hill, next to a bunch of balloons. See us?” Jason’s voice echos, bouncing off Darren’s earpiece. After a few minutes, we find them with Heron, Jess, and a few other people we’ve met since living in the city. They’re squished onto two blankets in a sunny spot on the grass, sipping beer and wine coolers and munching on pretzels and strawberries.

That’s what I love about San Francisco: any day can turn into a picnic, no matter the time of year. Case in point, I’ve spent a sunny day at the beach in November AND worn a tank top on February 1st. Both times I got sunburnt.

Today feels like summer. The girls dress in skirts and sleeveless tops, and the guys don t-shirts and shorts. When a four-person band sets up next to us and starts playing a rock song that I don’t recognize but find attractive, I bob to the beat and settle in for an unrivaled summery day.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Ahh, Sam. I Love You.

“I’m Captain on this trip,” Darren says presumptuously once we leave the apartment and flag down a blue and white DeSoto cab. A friend from college just moved to San Francisco from Portland, Oregon, and his girlfriend is in town visiting. Darren and I want to show them a good time, so we're gallivanting to Tiburon.

“Ugh,” I sigh in defeat. “Fine.” It’s his turn to be Captain, anyway.

Designating a Captain is the only way we can get through a day trip alive. Captain gets to make all the decisions: where to catch the ferry (I definitely would not have chosen Fisherman’s Wharf on a Saturday, the most touristy spot in all of San Francisco on the busiest day of the week, but that’s just me); whether we eat a snack on the boat or wait until we get to the restaurant; which road to follow when we get lost; and so on. Whoever is not Captain (we call this person Sidekick) has to go with the flow, no questions asked.

It sounds dense, but the arrangement works to our advantage. Sometimes it’s the only way we have any fun. Without Captain, we bicker about each of the above-mentioned options. When I go left, Darren wants to turn right. When I’m adamant about taking the boat from the Ferry Building, Darren would rather weave through European tourists and babies in strollers and stand in line for 45 minutes at Fisherman’s Wharf. With the Captain-Sidekick designation system, there’s no fighting, because Sidekick simply follows along happily, even if he or she is certain Captain is going the wrong way or making a foolish decision.

Anyway, after cheerfully waiting in line for the better part of an hour to get on the ferry at Fisherman’s Wharf (and trying my best to repress an I-told-you-so smirk), I’m voyaging across the Bay with Darren, Drew and Melissa, coffee in my hand and wind in my hair.

Ahh, the life of a sailor. My mind trails off until we hit land, and we’re running (the wrong way, I think) to Sam’s, which is best known for the twenty-somethings that lounge on its dock from 10 a.m. to sunset on Saturday afternoons in the fall. We run because the boat is full of young people who have the same plan as we do — to drink the day away with overpriced Bloody Marys on the dock of the Bay — and we want a good table, right on the water.

The ladies’ room is already packed with cougars and 21-ers by the time I squeeze my way in. I want to shout, It’s 10:30 in the morning, folks! Because I didn’t know this kind of early, early morning boozing continued after graduating from college. (Afternoon boozing, yes, but 10 a.m.? No.)

Later we meet Ydette and Rick, and we bathe in sun and liquor for hours. We share our sunscreen with the table next to us, and Ydette banters with one of the girls about her hometown of Miami, while Drew talks football with a new pal.

“This is from your friends across the way,” the waiter comes over with a Bloody Mary that I didn’t order, right as we’re about to leave. I follow her gaze to the corner of the dock, to two people who live at Luxury Condo.

“Aw, wow! Thanks!” I shout across the sea of inebriates, hoping to get their attention, as I raise my fresh glass of red juice to the sky. This leads to another round of drinks. And an entire night in Tiburon.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I Love My Ducks

I’m convinced the morning will drag on forever. I’m slouched in my desk chair, looking out the ceiling-to-floor windows and watching herds of happy men and women scurry in and out of Starbucks. (See the SportsCenter clip? Duck can relate.) They’re bundled up in scarves and pea coats. When I look down at them from the 54th floor of my building, they look small, like insects. But today I’m on the second floor, and they appear normal-sized. And boring.

The sun is frightened. It hides behind thick clouds that tint the city grey. I realize my mood is grey, too. I open my Gmail account and attempt to catch up on my correspondence with friends and family, but there’s not much they don’t already know. (And nobody likes having to read an electronic letter packed with tidbits about one’s life that he or she already knows.)

So I check my voice mail. Three messages: one from a vendor, one from a resident, and one from the San Francisco Chronicle telling me our subscription will expire if we don’t fork over another check.

I move on to Facebook. Elisa, one of my best friends from childhood, has sent me a message. I’m puzzled as to how long it has been idle in my inbox. Suddenly I flash to the movie “He’s Just Not That Into You,” when Drew Barrymore cleverly identifies the hurdles that come with possessing multiple outlets for communication (such as an unnecessary Facebook message inbox, for one): “I had this guy leave me a voice mail at work, so I called him at home, and then he emailed me to my BlackBerry, and so I texted to his cell, and then he emailed me to my home account, and the whole thing just got out of control… and now you have to go around checking all these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It’s exhausting.”

Luckily I know Elisa’s message isn’t a rejection, but I don’t know how old it is or how annoyed she’ll be with my tardy reply.

Regardless, my mood lifts when I see her video message entitled “I Smell Roses.” I watch the clip about ten times, and my drab afternoon is suddenly a remarkable one. Actually, I’ve been pumped ever since. If I were in the business of advice-giving (or medicine), I'd prescribe this video, no matter my patient's ailment – or Alma mater.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Meghan Saves Christmas

The leftover turkey’s gone. My desk calendar is flipped open to December. Macy’s and Nordstrom are decked in red and white and silver and gold, and holiday elevator music bounces off the walls while swarms of frenzied shoppers flip through the racks of discounted sweaters and slippers on their lunch hours. And I get the below email. This is how I know Christmas is here.

* * *

From: Luxury Condo Manager
To: Floramor Studios
CC: Meghan McCloskey
Subject: WTF happened to the decorations?

Hi Floramor –

We definitely do not have five dozen ornaments as your proposal suggested. The lobbies look incredibly bare. Red and white poinsettias need to surround the base of the trees. The wreaths in the porte-cochère were supposed to be 36 inches, and this is not what we received. They are smaller than 30 inches. The end result is they look tiny and out of place. The menorahs do not appear to have switches to control the lights for each day of the holiday. They look cheap. I could have found them at Walgreens for $12 each instead of the $100 each that we paid. The center piece on the Club Level is hideous. The outdoor tree lighting is very disappointing to say the least. I am puzzled as to why we paid $375 for one strand of lights thrown up with no rhyme or reason. For $375 per tree, I was expecting more lights and some level of order to the way they were strung. Honestly, a child could have done better than the three people you had working. They spent minutes as opposed to hours on each tree. Let’s discuss. See you tomorrow at 9am.

* * *

Yes, Christmas is here, but instead of the joyous season I remember from childhood, so far it’s a time of tension and hassle. Apparently the trees, lights and center pieces I chose for my building aren’t on par with what we have going on here at Luxury Condo. I was in charge of ordering the holiday décor, and I assumed Floramor Studios would do a fantastic job. Clearly, I was wrong.

But how can anyone (except for the Grinch himself) frown at the sight of a fresh Christmas tree splattered with white lights and sparkling ornaments and shiny bows and tinsel? So what if it’s a little crooked? For me, inhaling a clean whiff of pine spawns a smile – not a scowl. When I look up at the colorful, adorned trees, I can’t help but beam and reminisce about my past holidays: Twenty years ago, my mom and I stood in line to sit on Santa’s lap at the neighborhood mall; ten years ago, I eagerly awaited the last day of school before a two-week vacation of building snowmen and decorating sugar cookies; and two years ago, I dressed in my ugliest holiday sweaters and went to themed parties and played Christmas drinking games. But this is the first year I’ve witnessed shouting and name-calling at the holiday-decoration lady for putting up wreaths that are too small.

Is this normal Christmas behavior for adults in the Real World? If so, I’m on a quest to change things: Meghan Saves Christmas. (You know, like “Ernest Saves Christmas”?) I’ll spread my holiday cheer to grown-ups across San Francisco who are caught up in the caddy, superficial aspects of the holiday.

As Will Ferrell suggests in the movie Elf (which I watched last night while decking my plastic, one-foot tall tree), “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear.” But because my friends and family strongly advise against my singing, I’ll just do a Christmas dance (as pictured above).

* * *

The epitome of Christmas spirit, 2006: Jenn and I notice our sorority's Christmas tree sitting on the front porch (because it's the night before the last day of finals, and the house is shutting down for the holidays, so the house mom needs to get rid of the tree). We decide that no Christmas tree should ever be left outside in the cold, so we drag it back inside the house and prop it up against the couch in the living room. This way, everyone can enjoy it while studying. Merry Christmas!