Monday, April 28, 2008

Making Friends

When we were seven it was easy to make friends -- heck, even best friends. You could forge an insta-friend in as quick as it took the teacher to read Stone Soup and just in time for you to finish your Handi Snack.

Now, without snacks to share and without dorm-organized floor events, the pool of new friends to choose from is somewhat limited. Not that there is a lack of people, but it is the meeting of these people that presents a challenge.

So when I found myself after college graduation meeting some of my most favorite friends, I considered myself lucky. And even better, some lived and worked within 3 miles of me and my place of employment so that my 3 mile radius-big world was just that much more convenient.

Moving 400 miles away presented yet another friendship challenge but was easily solved with the glorious technology of video chat. Helping to simulate a realistic "hang out session," if you will, it was easy to spend time with video chat-enabled friends. A good example of the near flawless re-creation of a typical real-life hangout over video chat is Irene watching a Korean drama while I steam a shirt to wear to work the next day, her laughing intermittently, me trying so hard to relax these darn wrinkles.

But there are times when it would be nice to have friends who physically live in your area. Like last week when I wanted nothing more than some happy hour spicy tuna and tempura. Which is why I decided to go on a friend date, the sole purpose of which would be to have someone to share a laugh with, someone not too overly boisterous or too timid and most importantly, someone to keep me company when the desire for things like happy hour sushi struck.

I arrived early and sipped my lemon water. I wanted to be sure to make it for the $3.50 roll special.

Whenever I caught someone in the corner of my eye walking through the door, I'd look up with a look that said I was friendly but not overly anxious. Finally, my friend date arrived and ate at a good pace to match mine. And we learned that we had both been hit by cars earlier this year. And afterwards, that we lived 0.1 miles away from each other. This, I decided as we parted ways, would be a good friendship to have.

After a few days passed, BBQs were attended, hikes were hiked, runs were ran and work was worked. It crossed my mind that to build the friendship either she or I would have to contact the other again. Perhaps it could be like a one-friend-date-stand. Or maybe we will hit it off and she can hang out on video chat.

Monday, April 21, 2008

When Spinning Your Wheels Gets You Further Than You Thought

With the wind in my hair, trees flashing by, inches from death by swerving cars, riding a bike is exhilarating. It feels like when you were 8 and rode your bike around the neighborhood before dinner. When I rode my bike then, I used to pretend to put on my blinker when turning corners. Fake driving was satisfying and watching my streamers splay out, it felt like I could go so far and back again.

Now when I go bike riding, my hair still whips around, temporarily blinding me. But now there must be more care taken, the close cars driving next to us warrant more steady steering. And as we admire people sipping their espressos outdoors or eating salad nicoise at tiny round sidewalk tables, visions of car doors being suddenly opened pop into my head. And I see myself being thrown off my shiny blue Peugeot and into the street, shoulder first (I will try to do it gracefully), small children will grip their mothers' hands with their mouths agape and point in sheer terror...

My helmet is not strapped on tight enough. I'm suddenly aware of how it wobbles around on my head. I should have known, I should have stopped by the store before this ride and bought a new helmet made of new plastic blends, this helmet having been manufactured with the obsolete plastics of 1984.

Well, if it were to happen and I should be hit by a car, I should try to have it be as dignified as possible. I unfurrow my brow, ease my clenched teeth, for the sake of those we pass dining al fresco. And instead of biking 10 blocks deep into the neighborhood before turning back for supper, this time we pass through three cities. By miscalculation we bike much further than the yogurt shop we had planned to bike to. The lactic acid builds up in my legs. I'm not aware of it until my legs feel as though they could very well fall off -- and what would I use to pedal my bike then? What happens when there is too much lactic acid build up? Will my legs explode? Will it be like when pigeons eat the rice thrown at weddings... I stop biking. We take a break.

After biking 10 more miles, we finally get back home and I am thoroughly impressed with the mobility a bike provides. In one day, and just by bike, we've picked up a dress slip, my 10th free yogurt courtesy of my frequent yogurt eater's card, headphones and the April issue of Vogue.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Real World Adds So Much To My World

Because for the majority of my week I can pretty much tell what my day to day activities will consist of, I find myself yearning for the exact opposite of my (pretty) stable life from time to time. As I imagine it would get pretty expensive to get caught up in a coke habit and spend weeks in fancy rehab centers, and my chances of having Tom Cruise's next alien baby are pretty slim, I have to fulfill my craving for Us Weekly-worthy drama in some other way...

Enter in reality TV -- God bless The Real World. The latest season has just started, and save for fake reality TV (which arguably is better than real reality TV) and enthralling episodes of Lost, there is nothing more exciting. This season features your six run of the mill Real Worldians -- 3 attractive ladies and 3 attractive boys.

In the first episode, as I'm familiarizing myself with the baggage and troubled childhoods of each of the newly-minted stars, I am thrilled -- the attractive men are perhaps the most cocky, overly confident guys ever seen on this show and with washboard stomachs and biceps as big as my head to match! And the women are even better -- one has a warrant out for her arrest!! Could the producers have done a better job than this? I don't think so.

On top of all this, this season is special. The creators have a plot twist treat in store for its dear viewers -- and he goes by the name of PretyBoy. The first Real World housemate to be chosen by viewers, he is impossibly witty, referring to people around him as peasants and "friends" as associates.

The producers had the precious foresight to see that not only would PretyBoy's sense of humor provide the much needed source for many a house or bar fight but also that the fact that he was chosen by the masses would give him an edge, would give him a card to hold over everyone else.

PretyBoy is truly, as he likes to remind everyone, "The Chosen One." It's already clear that his presence will create massive tension and be an even greater source for more outrageous house and bar fights. Brilliant! Finally, something to supplement the nightly hookups and drunken shouting matches we've grown so accustomed to and come to expect from the MTV long-running favorite.

Monday, April 14, 2008

T.P. or not T.P.-- that is the question.

Long before you were reading about Cameron Diaz driving a Prius or an ex-Spice girl creating a clothing line made of recycled Big Mac containers, my mom was already ahead of the trendy times and acting as a leader of conservation. She could be the spokesperson for the Green movement. Except that her reasons for reducing, reusing and recycling are slightly different than why most people try to reduce their carbon footprint. Not too concerned with preserving the environment for future generations to enjoy, what my mom was really trying to do was maximize limited resources.

For example, when it came to toilet paper, we were told that one square would suffice per bathroom visit. Two squares of toilet paper would be allowed if we were doing number two (appropriately enough). This limit placed on toilet paper created an illusion in our minds that toilet paper was highly valuable, a commodity not to be used in excess or without need.

So in third grade, when I found myself in a bathroom stall at the roller skating rink across the street, after I knocked over a standing roll of t.p. into the toilet, panic gripped me. What to do? Leave it in the toilet where it would get sucked down and get stuck in the plumbing? Or risk contracting horrible diseases on the order of HIV to salvage such precious paper? I stuck my arm in and pulled it out and placed it back on top of the toilet paper dispenser.

Maybe this highly-held importance of toilet paper was too much. Perhaps nothing should have a kid feel so compelled as to throw an arm in a public restroom in order to save a drowned roll, regardless of the ply-count or the absorbent quilting.

But there can also be cases of using too much toilet paper and not enough reverence for the soft white squares. Such as my roommate who goes through entire rolls in a day, two days max. The trash can can oft be found spilling over with crumpled sheets of tissue, balls of paper. Because we have better plumbing than most third world countries, I am pretty sure he is not placing his soiled paper in the trash can. Actually, I am pretty sure the only way one can use that much toilet paper in such a short amount of time, is that he does away with the rough terry cotton towels common folk (such as myself) use to dry themselves after showering and instead uses sheets upon sheets of t.p. to dry himself. Or he is practicing being a mummy for a stand-up routine he performs nightly and must get the bandaging just right. Given that he works full time and none of his jobs (to my knowledge) involve putting on a show or mummy-acting, I can say with confidence I believe the extravagant use of t.p. is due to his substitution of shower towels for soft Charmin, 2-ply paper products.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Missing Spontaneity

Perhaps one of my favorite things about spring is the buzz in the air that increases in proportion to the increase in temperature outside. Friday afternoon waits for its evening counterpart to beckon us out of our offices and into the warm, bright air. Our steps carry an extra spring, and when combined with the need to get to Friday night plans, we practically run to our cars.

Empowered by the good weather and the feeling of good things coming, I get in my car and find myself stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. After an hour and a half of this, I am finally over the Bay bridge, in the city and the good feeling has become somewhat deflated. But I forget about this once inside the theater and am whisked away into the singing world of Margaret and her group of friends from Ohio.

After the musical, there is more driving. This time the driving does not require the crossing of any bridges, but is a straight shot down the Peninsula to the South bay. It is extremely dark on the freeway -- has it always been this dark? Where are the street lamps? I am watching the lines of the lanes in front of me, watch them blur, am thinking about the summer -- I catch myself almost falling asleep. I reach over for the pretzels next to me and pop them in my mouth, the crunching keeps me awake.

When I finally get to San Jose, I imagine sleep, comforting and enfolding and...

--but there is no sleep to be had because now we are going out. Which is not a problem, if I had been given proper notice and had time to gear myself up for this. But now all I really wanted was to go to sleep.

When had I become this person who needs to be given proper advance notice? This realization frightens me because that's what happens when you get old (I imagine). You don't want to just get up and go somewhere at the last minute when you've been thinking the whole time you're going to go do something else.

And with a crashing thud, I realize that my sense of spontaneity has been missing... where had it gone and when was the last time I had seen it?

It feels almost as if I had used it too much in college and spent it all.

Monday, April 7, 2008

From Point A to Point B

When speed is the impetus for movement on Monday mornings, it is important for one to focus on this one thing. It is crucial to not let thoughts of the plot twist from the french movie seen last night crowd one's mind because the careful selection of lanes and the exact timing of lane changes should take up the majority of one's mental capacity.

When one gets really good at the art of driving in morning rush hour traffic, it won't matter that the fast lane is full of chaotic drivers in their BMWs or metal boats who drive piled upon each other, within 2 inches of the accidents that are terrible and gruesome, the kind that we all slow to 25mph to look at and then recount in their gloriously terrible details to our office mates. Neither will it matter that the right lane is reserved for people either driving 90mph or 50 mph. And it won't matter that these are the only two lanes to choose from because in the middle lane is a big rig crawling along at 38mph.

To get to this state of skilled morning driving, it is crucial to want to get to point B from point A. If it helps to frame the importance of getting to point B as a means to living, then one should read the business section about the high rate of unemployment and about the thousands of job cuts and be thankful. When your colleague comes up to your desk to ask you for things, to look into this and that, to see if you've started working on something due 5 weeks from now, you will smile your brightest smile, as if your mother had just taken it off, polished it for you and fixed it upon your face. You will take care to select the right accessories to complement the shade of purple you are wearing, accessories that will communicate the essence of power words found on resumes like "sharp," "thinks on her feet," "self-starter."

And it's recommended to fuel this morning challenge with a smart mini-meal choice. Heavy, warm and/or comforting foods that might remind one too much of the comfort of one's bed or that might induce food coma should be avoided. It is best to stick to light foods, crispy foods. One that snap, crackle and pop when eaten. Peanut brittle is a good example of such a food.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

...I'd never think it odd that my grandma lived in the French-speaking part of Canada when neither she nor I speak French when I came to say goodbye

When we arrive at the funeral home, I am unprepared. Steps away from the entrance, I stop, turn around and go to my mother, who continues walking towards the entrance. I tell her that all of a sudden I'm not sure, that I'm a little scared. She says there's nothing to be scared of, barely losing a step. I follow her because there is movement all around me, no one else feels anything like what I'm feeling, so I push it aside to think about later and walk in with everyone else.

Everyone walks to the front of the room where the open casket stands. We gather around, hushed, and look to see my grandma lying with her eyes closed, her face smooth and at ease, like she is enjoying a deep, profound sleep. Something comes up from inside me and I look away -- it brings a lumpy ball, like too many spoonfuls of oatmeal eaten at once, to the back of my throat and tears to the back of my eyes. I am careful not to move my eyes too much, so I can avoid looking at everyone else, by staying focused on the lumpy oatmeal ball or the lace on my grandma's shirt. I am not prepared to see anyone else.

There are days of preparation before the actual funeral. People come and go, my aunts and uncles speak with people. The rest of us sit, observe, look at my grandma's peaceful face. And it is so peaceful and at rest. Her skin is tan and there is nothing beneath it troubling her, concerning her. Nothing at all to cause her to have even the smallest of frowns or furls. This is the story her face tells.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A Refreshing Visit

It was early when we found what we wanted to be. Almost immediately we were enamored. One day, after my brother and I had gotten back from the optometrist's office, we discussed our new found awe and inspiration, our desire to also be optometrists. What was not to like about a job that let you visit different people who sat still in a chair while you moved different lenses in front of their eyes as you asked "1? Or 2?" or "1? Or two?... 1? Or two? Or about the same?" Even at the tender age of 10, I recognized a cushy job when I saw one. And I was sure I could ask someone if lens 1 or 2 made things clearer just as well as they could, if not better.

Now fast forward 15 years...

The morning of my eye appointment, I was thinking of ways to get out of it. It's not that I'm not all for my visual health, I am. But I have become much more self-conscious and things probing close to my eyes or machines blowing unexpected puffs of air in them are unsettling. And just because I wear contacts doesn't mean that I should like these things or somehow be better able to handle them, because it's not the same at all.

"So just don't go," I'm told.

It's specifically the eye dilation part that I don't want to have done.

"So just tell him you don't want to do it," I'm advised.

Aside from the annoyance of the blurred vision and increased sensitivity to light that dilation causes, I am bothered that my optometrist doesn't look at me. And I find it hard to find it within myself to tell a man who doesn't look at me that I don't want him to put the drops in that will paralyze my ciliary muscles.

It seemed we would like each other on that first day we met, having both gone to the same high school and college. Lots to talk about -- me and my stint on the high school swim team for 5 days, he and what it was like when the school was only one classroom big, when they rode horses to class... But there is something about a medical professional who doesn't look at his patients that makes the situation odd and uncomfortable-feeling for the not-looked at patient.

As I'm waiting in a room for the doctor, it's a great surprise when he walks in because it's another doctor entirely. He asks me which contacts I've decided upon, and when I tell him, he declares what a good choice I've made. He says it with such gusto that I feel as though I have solved some ancient riddle that has long been waiting to be figured out or done long division quickly and efficiently in my head.

We then move onto other matters of importance related to my eyesight -- he shows me his nice pen with a self-molding grip (it has his name printed near the top and carries an impressive weight when held). I tell him about advertising and explain my time in market research before moving back to the bay. We discuss the property he bought in Florida that has since gone down the hole but will come back, and come back strong when it does, as it's water-front property.

Then he asks if I like what I do. I tell him I enjoy it. He says "good" and that's the important part -- that I don't mind going into work. He starts to scribble notes on my chart in the incomprehensible marks and scratches of pen point to paper that doctors use in writing things where clear script would be helpful, like prescription strengths or lab orders.

I am quiet as he writes. I want to make sure he is writing what he means to write. Then I ask him if he likes being an optometrist. He says he does, continues scribbling. (All the while I'm thinking He sure is writing a lot, I must be blind. Maybe he is writing special directions that need to be written in the charts of those who are exceptionally hard of sight.)

I want to ask him if he wakes up in the morning and just wants to go to work, that if given a choice of doing other things he would still choose coming into work. He tells me that he retired a few years ago, after owning his own practice for 32 years and liked being an optometrist so much he stopped being retired and came back to work.
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