Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Moderate Reaction to My Little State's Very Big Election

I never discuss politics here, but I feel like I have to get my take out there just this one time. Then I'll shut up. This entry will probably not make me popular with any of my friends, but I stand by what I write as thought-out and careful. Skip it if you'd like.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Cut Above

Today's Greatest Idea Ever (TM): A lawnmower that runs on grass clippings. Think about it. Oh yeah. Don't act like you're not impressed.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Girl in the Corner

Her coffee was getting colder. She considered walking back to the counter and asking to be topped off, but one glance at the line made it clear that it would cost her ten minutes, easily. In all likelihood, she'd lose her seat as well. How were there this many people out on a weeknight?

Maureen had arrived early and waited to snag the seat she now occupied. It was prime real estate: a leather armchair nestled into the corner by the lamp, where she could see the entire coffee shop laid out in front of her like a panorama. Although she loved the coffee and brought along a novel from the public library, she primarily frequented this corner cafe for the opportunities it afforded to watch people. As the evening wore on and the temperature dropped, many folks would come bustling in from the cold, struggling to remove their gloves and squinting at the never-changing menu while the young server leaned on the counter and waited.

She had been coming to this coffee shop for months now, having discovered it by chance one rainy afternoon when the crosstown bus just didn't arrive for any discernible reason. Providing refuge and a hot cup of tea, Barry's Bean quickly became her second home, and her nightly decaf coffee was her daily reward--always looked forward to, always waiting at the end of a long day.

Unlike the homogeneous business crowd during the daytime, the patrons of the night shift here were an eclectic and fascinating mix of every kind of population. Young college students would come in and fumble with their headphones and portable music devices, while older couples would engage in considerable discussion about the possibility of splitting a sandwich. A few businessmen from the city would often slump in, sleeves rolled up, ready to take one collective step closer to finishing their never-ending paperwork over a hot drink. An elderly woman and her dozing husband always occupied the same booth by the window where she would dutifully narrate that morning's paper to him in Chinese. And every night, at almost exactly 9:10, Officer O'Houlihan would stop in for his usual--large decaf, extra cream, no sugar. It was generally waiting for him when he arrived. That he broke tradition tonight and added an oatmeal raisin cookie to his order had greatly amused Maureen; it was refreshing to see that even the most stone-faced customer was just a little bit human, too.

Yes, it seemed that Barry's was the kind of place that quietly appealed to everyone. It was not the flashiest of coffee shops, but business was steady and the tip jar was always pretty full. Barriers of social strata and age polarization broke down at the door--no match for the crisp smell of freshly ground coffee and apple crumble. "Small Talk" was listed on the menu (it was free). And as the line at the counter stalled, Maureen put down her book and sipped her drink, unaware of how much time had passed since she'd first sat down. She looked out the large window for the moon but it was hidden somewhere in the clouds.

The customer currently ordering was a gentlemen of about forty who was very persistent in knowing the exact calorie count of each baked item before making his decision. As Maureen listened to this customer's interrogation of the clearly overwhelmed high school boy behind the counter, she immediately felt sorry for the kid. He was far too small for his billowing apron and was now attempting to ascertain the caloric value of baked goods he did not make for a customer he could not possibly appease. Even if Maureen hadn't been here before, she could still tell that he was new at this; in fact, the calorie count was listed very plainly on a poster immediately in front of--and facing--his nutritionally-conscious, badgering client.

She intently watched the rest of the line as one might an old black-and-white suspense movie, waiting to see whose patience would wear thin with the querulous customer at the head of the queue. To her growing surprise, however, everyone in line seemed perfectly satisfied with simply waiting their turn. Her eyes focused in on a boy and a girl, both in their twenties. They were both facing the counter and sporadically talking, leaning slightly towards the each other with each whispered sentence. After a few moments of silence between the two, the girl reached out and plucked something off of the boy's jacket shoulder; he looked at his shoulder, glaced at her, and softly smiled. She took hold of his arm and they pulled in together ever so slightly, still not saying anything.

Maureen realized that she suddenly felt different. Gone was the wry smile from observing the middle-aged health nut at the counter. Her stomach seemed to have turned. When she paused to think about it, she recognized the feeling as emptiness. The unoccupied chair to her left came into sharp relief as her eyes wandered, and she struggled to concentrate on the soft, jazzy holiday music playing above her head. This cafe was her refuge and her favorite place in the world, and she realized--perhaps for the first time--that she had never been able to share it with anyone. The joy of that first sip, the relieved exhalation that followed, and the small thrill of wondering what the other customers were thinking about--these were all such important pieces of her life, but had only been savored in solitude. She would have loved to tell someone special all about her visits and how much these little things meant to her.

The couple would head for the door in a few minutes, hot beverages in gloved hands, content to enjoy simply walking into the night together quietly. She told herself that she should be happy for them, and she earnestly wanted to be. When they parted ways later, she guessed, they would both go to bed that night thinking about each other. There's some safety in that.

As the completely defeated server called into the back room for his manager and a nutritional facts guide, the bleakness of Maureen's thoughts enveloped her. At this moment, she thought, everyone is thinking about someone, but I am the only person in the whole world who is thinking about me.

Her coffee was getting colder.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Tangled Up In Green

It's windy in New York City. After putting it off for weeks, I decided today that I finally needed to get a scarf. As I haven't begun classes or student teaching for the semester yet, I found myself with some free time and decided that this was the day for such a shopping adventure. Insert cryptic, foreshadowing hook here.

I wanted to find something plain, inexpensive, and not douche-y, so right away I knew that Greenwich Village was out. My decision felt justified when the first dude I saw on the sidewalk stepped in front of me with cartoonishly rigid posture and a whiff of arrogance. This young man was rocking Bob Dylan sunglasses and an olive green, WWI-era military jacket, complete with a Gunnery Seargent Marine insignia on his sleeve. He must have thought it complemented his skinny jeans. I debated asking him what unit he served with but he'd have to take out his earbuds to hear me, and he was probably listening to a podcast of this morning's news from Iraq because he is so supportive of his country and all that. I would never want to interrupt this hero as he returned to whatever base in the Village he was stationed at. Also, he seemed like he was in a hurry to get to Qdoba.

I walked up Fifth Avenue on the off chance I could afford something there, but I only can take so many doormen and bellhops eyeing me suspiciously before I have to leave. I strolled over to Sixth Avenue instead to see what Chelsea had in store. Pun.

My first stop was Old Navy. This store has been a standby for me for years, namely because the prices are excellent, the clothes last me a while, and I honestly prefer plainer clothing. If nothing else, solid colors highlight my traffic-stopping good looks. I never found the regular scarf section, but there were a few hanging on the clearance rack and I grabbed one for 99 cents.

That's right. 99 cents. And it was green. Not like a muted green or a forest green or any of that. Green green. Kermit the Frog green. Crayola Crayon green. I immediately liked it for that reason, and the price, but I knew that it would not work for more professional occasions. Still, for less than a dollar, I picked it up if just for the rest of my walk. This was a very intelligent decision.

Having never once even considered the finer points of scarf shopping, I still figured that this would be a quick trip. I was hoping for something gray or white or black--really basic stuff. Shouldn't be hard to find, right?

Well, it was. I struck out at more stores than my friend did when he was trying to land a summer job (Small-Target-Audience zing!). I tried many stores haphazardly as I walked by them, including:
  • American Eagle: Seemingly hadn't heard of scarves
  • Filene's Basement: Offered designer named scarves at reduced prices (like only $59!). Also was on the 3rd floor (?)
  • Urban Outfitters: Would I like to try a shawl instead?
  • T.J. Maxx: Forced me to realize that scarves might not be unisex. Naive ignorance leads to fear of buying a girl's scarf and getting laughed at.
  • Dude on the corner: Did not offer colors that pale Irish kids could pull off without looking even more pasty.
  • Urban Outfitters #2: Very nice scarves for upwards of $28, which is apparently a great price, I am told.
  • American Apparel: There were scarves in the window, so I checked. I was walking by it anyway. Of course there wasn't anything I would or could wear. Yes, I am ashamed of myself for even trying.
So what did I learn today? First, scarves are apparently not just a piece of fabric, like I had previously thought. Even thought they look the exactly same, scarves must have some secret magical quality that allows them to be fashionable where a strip of wool would not be, thereby jacking up the price. Second, scarves are a hot accessory item that should compliment your outfit (they are, after all, #97 on Stuff White People Like). Silly me for thinking that they were just protective winter gear. Finally, I have absolutely no idea how to pick out a man's scarf, if such things exist. Of the four or five all day that I saw that could decidedly be called manly, none were even remotely in my budget. I might be a cheapskate but I just can't part with thirty plus dollars over a periodically useful rectangular strip of cloth.

I might just stick with my green crayon scarf.

My Blog Turns 1

On December 31, this blog celebrated its first birthday. I was not there because I was drinking, but it was one year ago that day that I ripped the year 2008 a new one and this blog was born. I'd love to say we've come a long way, but we haven't. The only thing that kept me from delivering a similar kiss-off to 2009 was that I actually had plans on December 31 this time. Shocking. Anyway, hooray for acknowledging insignificant milestones that happened 12 days ago. In the previous decade.