Hi! I’ve been away! It’s been awhile! I am sorry.
Holy Bat Museum!
I spent the last week in Louisville, KY for a conference. I have to admit that I LOVE traveling for work. At least, the traveling I have done for this job, which is the extent of my traveling-for-work experience. The only conference I go to lasts almost a week long, and the last two years, it’s been in a neat city that I never would have visited otherwise. Last year it was Minneapolis, and this year it was Louisville. Last year I ended up having dinner with a friend of the family who convinced me to start this blog, and thus was born I Heard Tell. I also toured the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture garden, home of Spoonbridge and Cherry:
Spoony spoon spoon
And visited the Mall of America. There were a total of FOUR “Lids” stores in the Mall of America. That’s right, four of the same chain of baseball hat stores in one mall. It boggled the mind. In response, I bought a Mall of America shotglass.
Conference also means a week of high-class hotel living. This year my room had two beds in it! On the first night I started out in one bed, and then hopped into the other in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. I awoke in the morning confused, but somehow smug. This room also had two sinks, but no closet or fridge.
Which leads to the downside. Hotel living is not perfect. I don’t love eating out for every meal, because I miss planning my own meals, cooking, and having a refrigerator. There is something bizarrely rustic about buying a bottle of cranberry juice and keeping it cold by storing it on a frigid air conditioning vent. And by rustic, I probably mean wasteful. You’re kind of roughing it, but not really, but you’re still not really comfortable.
You do get to expense your meals, which is exciting, although it still makes me feel guilty, because I work for a small nonprofit. Although last week one of my dinners consisted of cookies and pretzels, so I don’t think the lifestyle to which I am accustomed was really a serious drain on my company’s bank account.
During the one-week trip I suffered a fever and sinus infection. (Another thing I love about hotels is that you can pick up the phone in the dead of night and someone on the other end will tell you where you can buy Tylenol at 2am. ) I also endured a harrowing late-night illness after dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack (perhaps I should have known that I was tempting fate by ordering the crab-stuffed shrimp; in any event I’m glad I didn’t also buy a t-shirt from there because I now have enough memories from Joe’s Crab Shack).
Despite all this, I had a fun time in Louisville. It seems like a city that’s working hard to attract tourism. There were all sorts of cool museums that my convention-booth hours did not permit me to visit– although I did get a chance to peer into the windows of the bat factory at the Louisville Slugger Museum. I think I gained about as much insight and entertainment by doing that as I would have by actually going on the tour, because they’re bats.
Sorry for the absence everyone! (i.e., both of my lovely readers.) I spent the week in Portland, OR with some friends. We visited Naked Aging Hippie Hot Springs and sampled some delightful beverages (Pear Cider! Fat Tire! and Down Easters– which is a blend of dark rum and Moxie. We brought the Moxie as a gift from Boston because it is apparently regional. And by ‘regional’ I mean ‘gag-inducing’).
We also sang karaoke to Nine Inch Nails. The memory of growling “I wanna f*ck you like an animaaaal” into a microphone at a seedy bar in front of a mildly alarmed, toothless elderly couple will remain with me for far too long. I now know that it is possible to experience the highest and lowest points of your life simultaneously.
However, at last I have returned once more back East, to the coast of my birth. Three or four good nights of sleep, and my brain will work again. At least, I can hope.
I flew on a tiny airline this weekend. The stewardesses wore T-shirts. A small bottle of water was $2, and according to Brian they didn’t allow you to bring any food on board with you. I disobeyed this rule and smuggled a Twix bar in my carryon, worrying that the delicious caramel would interfere with radio and navigation frequencies.
I ate the Twix fearfully, in secret. I imagine that the stewardesses, upon discovering contraband Outside Food items, snatch them away and eat them immediately, right in front of you. “Mmmm!” they say exaggeratedly, with their mouths full. “This tastes like homemade! Thanks a lot.”
Some New Hampshire interstate
GPS goes dead
Cell phone GPS
Your new destination is
My Garbage Can Street
I may not be in school any more, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get a Fall Break this year. It’s not a very ostentatious break, the one in Fall. It’s a little darker, a little shorter; you generally don’t get to go that far away during it. Girls don’t squeal its name as they rip off their tank tops and do the Froog. It’s not necessarily an excuse to drink, unless it’s a brandy-in-your-tea, hunkered down in your wool sweater, muttering under your breath as you watch dried leaves swirl in the icy wind that rattles your closed window kind of drinking. Not that there’s anything wrong with that kind of drinking, but wouldn’t you rather have sandy legs and a sunburn and down a $9 cocktail with the word ‘Tiki’ in its name as you giddily anticipate the end of the school year? Of course you would, and Fall Break knows this. Fall Break is Spring Break’s wizened, gimlet-eyed grandfather. You may have a week off, it warns, but Winter ain’t going anywhere. It’ll be right here, waiting for you when you get back. And you’d better have found a decent coat by then.
This Fall Break was different. I spent the second week of October in Miami, staying in the fanciest hotel I’ve ever not just snuck in to use the bathroom of; lounging by the pool and sipping complimentary icewater. The trip was a graduation gift to my friend from her grandmother, and I was the lucky friend in tow. It was a bizarre mix of extreme luxury and shameless cheap-skatery. The two of us shared an enormous, king-sized bed in a suite with a marble bathroom and a closet with real, removable coat hangers. Every morning we sat cross-legged on the thick carpet and spread peanut butter and jelly on Saltines with a swizzle stick. I had brought my hotpot, and we made Ramen and ate it out of the ice bucket, passing the tongs back and forth. We tiptoed around the mini-bar, fearing we would be charged for leaving fingerprints on the $3 Kitkats. It was like Pretty Woman; if Julia Roberts had pushed Richard Gere off the balcony, then snuck her best friend into the room for a week. Having never spent any time in a hotel that didn’t have vending machines in the hallways and hideous carpeting, I often felt like a fish out of water, or perhaps like a fish in a ratty t-shirt and flip flops suddenly swimming in temperature-controlled Evian and finding its bed made up a different way every time it comes back to the room. Everywhere I went, people with nametags smiled warmly and asked me if I needed fresh towels.
It was great fun, if a little strange. Sometimes it’s nice to see how the other half-percentile lives. We watched, round-eyed, as a fat, balding man with a shaved head and a mustache cavorted by the pool with a young, tanned brunette in a bikini. He had a white towel around his waist. She was wearing shades and a baseball hat, and her long, red, manicured nails flashed in the sun. We got priceless looks from the front desk by asking where to get good takeout Burritos and whether there was a Marshalls nearby. We strolled through South Beach on Friday night, sneering at the long lines of wannabes waiting to get into nightclubs whose bouncers, had we tried to get in ourselves, probably wouldn’t have bothered to disguise their laughter with fake coughing fits. At another nightclub in Coconut Grove, a one-armed lawyer told me I was born to dance in Miami. And last but not least, a pair of uniformed Miami police officers sitting at the table across from us in a restaurant, after learning where we were from and that we were on vacation, casually inquired as to where we were staying. When we told them the hotel, they asked for the room number. “They probably just thought you were hookers,” my mother said flatly. What a vacation. The memories will last a lifetime, and the stolen mini bottles of shampoo will last at least a few weeks.
I have never in my life been so glad I had a boyfriend as I was during my three week visit to Japan. Not because of the specific boyfriend– it didn’t matter who he was, nor did it matter that ours was a relationship forged upon mutual convenience and desperation, your average highschool romance. In fact, I broke up with him a few weeks after I returned to the United States. He had served his purpose, which was allowing me to answer in the affirmative the first question on the lips of every Japanese girl my age I was introduced to: “Do you have…boyfriend?” It was clearly important to have boyfriend.
I was the only one in our exchange student group who DID have a boyfriend at the time, and since I had no particular fondness for any of the five other girls I was traveling with, that was fine by me. Actually, it was great by me, especially when I got to hear the others have to awkwardly explain, in as clear and concise English as their interrogators could understand, why they didn’t in fact have boyfriends. Since we went to a girls’ school back home, no one expected us to ever have boyfriends, and thus it was not a question we were prepared to handle. Questions like, “Do you have…grasp of Heathcliff’s motivations in Wuthering Heights?” or “Do you have…inordinate crush on your gay science teacher because he’s the only attractive male you see on a regular basis?”; now those we could have gladly expounded upon.
I would have needed far more than three weeks in Japan to even begin to understand the relationships between the teenage girls and boys there. Certainly there was a lot going on below the surface that I missed, and above it, which I also missed. What I did pick up on fairly quickly was the predator-prey dynamic.
“They like blonde boys here,” Karen, a British foreign exchange student told me. “The whole light-haired, blue-eyed, All-American thing. It’s really big with the girls.” She had been living in Japan for over six months, attending the same highschool that I accompanied my host student to. Karen was tall and pretty, with a strong jaw and a blonde pixie cut. “I get mistaken for a boy all the time, because of my short hair,” she said. “Japanese girls come right up to me and ask me out all the time– they’re very aggressive about it.” It would have been difficult to believe her, had I not had a chance to study this phenomenon up close.
After only a few days spent following my host student around her highschool, I came to the following conclusion: all preferences for foreign blondes aside, it appeared Japanese boys had to do very little when it came to the dating game. In fact, the only game it remotely resembled was Hungry Hungry Hippos.
Perhaps I should give credit where it is due, however. I suppose in their own way, these boys did work tirelessly and with an admirable determination– their unifying goal being the pursuit of awesome hair. In Japan teenage boys tended to carry hand-mirrors in their pockets, whipping them out automatically and without a trace of self-consciousness at every stop on the train to make sure nothing was out of place. At school their jeans were ironed into deadly sharp creases, their jackets worn with devastatingly cool casualness. They stood waiting for the bus, posed against brick buildings like they were shooting an album cover. They were clearly meant to be appraised, admired, and cunningly pursued within an inch of their hip lives. And against their steely-eyed, knee-socked female pursuers, they didn’t stand a chance. They were like delicate fawns with stylish glasses, tripping shyly through the forests of highschool in really cool sneakers.
That girls were the aggressors most of the time was as strange to me as it was compelling. The myth of the quiet, submissive Japanese schoolgirl was put to rest for good the day my host-student Mariko and I stalked a group of boys from Wisconsin for an entire afternoon at Tokyo Disneyland. “There they are!” we’d say in excited whispers, clutching each other, then strolling past them for the tenth time, whistling casually. There were half a dozen of them, all blonde and wholesome and clearly unnerved enough already. It’s no small feat to enjoy yourself at Disneyland in your native country; let alone in Tokyo where a giant costumed Mickey Mouse can come up behind you at any time and yell at you in Japanese. We didn’t leave those poor doomed boys alone until that evening, when we finally got up the courage to approach them and ask innocently if they would to pose for a picture with us. It was too dark for the picture to come out very well, but the glint of triumph in Mariko’s eyes was unmistakable. I was mostly amused by the whole thing. Amused, and slightly terrified. Don’t think I am ungrateful; I certainly enjoyed my time in Japan and still value the lessons I learned from the (female) friends I made there, but it was nice to return home to dynamics between the sexes that I more or less understood, and to boys who didn’t scatter like quail at the slam of a locker door.
Toward the end of the summer I took an aluminum baseball bat on a Trailways bus and no one, including the driver, gave either of us a second glance. I took that as an indication of how far this country has come and then gone back again in terms of heightened security for travelers. I can remember a time late last fall when my fellow passengers and I had our baggage searched and were questioned fiercely by security before we were permitted to board a Peter Pan bus out of Albany. They demanded to know whether I had any guns or knives. “No? Razors? No? Well, what about fingernail clippers?” This last one surprised me. I didn’t in fact have any, but even if I had, what sort of damage could I possibly have done with them? How do you threaten someone with fingernail clippers? “Pull this bus over. Don’t mess with me, I’ll clip you.” Certainly you could injure someone with them, but only…very…slowly. The in-bus movie that trip was My Father the Hero, a romantic comedy starring Gerard Depardieu as a father who must play the part of his underage daughter’s lover so she can impress a boy (although the boy who would be impressed by anyone’s dating Gerard Depardieu I certainly wouldn’t go near). It was halfway through this lighthearted, overtly incest-tinged romp-which was inescapably played on the bus’s speaker system, so that even those passengers who hadn’t brought headphones or rented them from the driver could enjoy the show-that I realized why security was so strict about passengers not having access to any sorts of harmful or sharp objects. They were only trying to protect us from ourselves. Had I had access to fingernail clippers, I could have inflicted much more bodily harm on myself in my efforts to distract myself from the movie. My only other explanation for the fact that no one batted an eye at me as I clutched my menacing travel accessory is to take it as further
proof that, as far as appearance goes, I am about as non-threatening as it gets. On the threatening scale, I am ranked just below yogurt. And not the kind with active cultures, either. The kind with listless, inactive ones. The state of being congenitally nonthreatening (cases are also referred to as having a high “wuss-factor”) does have its plus sides. My ability to do well in card games where looking innocent helps you do well is slightly increased, although when that slight increase is coupled with my incompetence at card games, I just about break even. Perhaps this is why running has become my sport of choice; it works with my wussy appearance, rather than against it. As a person who naturally looks intimidated, I appear much more in my element when running away than I do standing firm, clutching a bat and staring straight ahead, my knees defiantly touching.
I was surprised by my reaction to spending a weekend deep in the woods of Vermont. I’ll admit that I’m a city girl who finds Central Park’s foliage more intimidating than its performance artists. But while I admired the extraordinary beauty of the endless woods surrounding the small wooden cabin where we stayed, I was not accustomed to my subsequent feelings of isolation. Even in the most secluded depths of Central Park you can still buy a hot dog. It’s difficult to find an area in the woods of Bard’s campus that has not been previously discovered and marked by territorial beer cans.
These woods did not kid around. They began to get dark around 4 p.m., which meant that for the last six hours or so of my day, my body was gently insisting that it was time for me to go to sleep. It was the same feeling I used to have during an afternoon of double biology in high school, except with more miles of birch trees and darkness and fewer DNA strand models made out of gum drops. (I wish more teachers tried to generate interest in class material by presenting their students with candy analogies or candy-related subject matter. I would be much more interested in doing my philosophy readings if the main arguments of the text were spelled out with mini-marshmallows.)
I’m glad I made this trip with someone I know and trust, because there’s something about the knowledge that the nearest telephone is a winding ten-minute drive away that can really bring out the creepy side of innocuous statements like, “Good, here’s an axe! For chopping firewood.”
Being in a cabin in the woods gave me a lot of time to think about being in a cabin in the woods. It seems I achieve the same level of philosophical introspection observing a beautiful sunset that I do watching the Home Shopping Network. Living deep in the woods and surrounding myself with the natural world would, I believe, waste the time of all involved, plants and wildlife included. Rather than recording thoughtful observations about life and nature, I would record thoughtful observations about the TV shows I was missing. I would spend my time checking to see if my pants were actually wet from sitting on the muddy ground, or if they just felt cold. I’d rather leave the solemn examination of man’s relationship with nature to those whose prior experience with woodland creatures is not limited to Disney and Warner Brothers cartoons: dedicated individuals who can distinguish between an animal and a Pokemon.
This isn’t to say that I didn’t have a good time this weekend. What I wouldn’t enjoy doing for a long winter was fun for a couple of days. I discovered fire. I chopped wood, vicariously. And most importantly, I came back alive to share my story so that I might someday, somehow, profit from it.