London: is this English? (by me)

cig

“Ends” just sounds better than “butts.”

I must say I do like England.  Quite.  It’s quite jolly.  OK – I haven’t heard anyone say any of those – nothing involving “quite”  or “jolly.”  Bloody hell.  Haven’t heard that either.  But last night at a pub in Cambridge I did hear “fuck off.”  Not in a nasty way.  A group of college-aged kids were having some drinks and telling stories.  This is before two of the girls started kissing to entertain the boys.  The boys didn’t really seem too shocked or entertained.  We all have cable now don’t we?  Then I had to go to the loo.  I’ve had to pay a few times this trip – but this would be a freebie as I was a cider-drinking patron of this pub.  I always find it interesting to see what’s for sale in the ladies WC (water closet).  This time it was a box of three condoms for 3£ (about $4.50) or a box containing one sanitary towel (interesting term) and a tampon (nice combo) for the same price.  Holy shitballs!  For that price I can get a whole box of tampons in the U.S.   – Wow, that sounds like something a mother would say.  Oh.  I am a mother.

As far as British words are concerned, one of hubby’s work mates did say ‘lorrie’ when talking about a truck.  I asked him about it.  He said those who drive them are called ‘truckers.’  Go figure.  We also noticed on a pub window it said “free house” and wondered what that was all about.  We wiki’d it and found out that pub means public house – a place for all to drink rather than a private club.  And the free part may also refer to the idea that the place is not affiliated with any particular brewer.  Could you imagine if there was a bar in the U.S. and the only thing it served was Natty Boh?  (That’s cheap stuff in the Maryland area for those of you unfamiliar.)

eggs

breakfast – eggs and salad?

 There have been many peculiar things I keep noticing on this trip.  The toilet thing is very interesting.  They are much smaller than the American counterpart  – but the main thing is the amount of water they use.  I think the Europeans have it figured out.  Less water and smaller toilet.  Less to clean and less wasted water. And there’s no tank.  Just a toilet coming out from the wall.  I guess the water fairy delivers water magically when one flushes.   But there are some other things here that I don’t get – like the bacon.  I mean, the Bacon.  Kevin Bacon.  I love watching TV in other countries and he’s been popping up on iPhone spots – or are they spots for a cell service?  I guess this is like David Hasselhoff being huge in Germany.  I also saw Al Pacino – yes, Al Pacino – in an ad for an internet company!

Regarding bacon – Pat (hubby) warned me about the English Breakfast.  He ordered one the other morning:  bacon (more like ham), sausages, eggs, bread, a tomato, and beans.  Well, he skipped the beans.  Beans?  Who the hell eats beans for breakfast?  Yesterday I ordered a simple breakfast – two eggs and toast – and it came with salad!  Who the hell eats salad for breakfast?  We’re talking a full blown salad; tomatoes, olives, and balsamic vinaigrette.  I ate it.  When in Rome –  or close enough to it.  Or, when needing something green in one’s diet.  Or, when knowing an order of fish and chips is coming for dinner.  Other oddities:  the system of measurement is metric I believe.  I haven’t purchased fruit yet, but I think it would be weighed by the kilo.  And I think height is given in meters. So, on the highway the other day with hubby driving a Ford (slightly ironic we would leave the U.S. just to drive an American car) – I noticed the speed sign said “60.”  I thought – Gee, that is really slow.  I generally just take the kilometer reading and divide it in half.  So in Sweden (for college) when I read 110 I knew it was about 55 mph.  So, the sign said 60 but it felt like we were going 60 mph.  How odd.  I knew we were not doing 30 mph.  So I asked Pat.  He told me they did speed on the “motorway” in miles per hour!  Hello?  I’m just an American trying to figure out the funny-looking money – now I’m really confused.  And this Ford is a diesel.  And the ice cream truck is a Mercedes…..

I could live without ice cream.  But the ice cream trucks over here are gorgeous.  I really liked the one with Snow White …….

dammit – I digress.  This keyboard is driving me nuts.  The shift key is not where it’s supposed to be and neither is the @ symbol.  It’s cool that it has a £ sign and a Euro sign – but I can’t figure out how to make it work.  Some other stuff is moved too.  So bear with me.  And the wifi is really spotty.  Yesterday it took me a few hours to send the pics from my iPhone to my email account.  And then I had to use the business center at the hotel to download the pics to some temp file in order to write this. But I know if I don’t write now I will forget. 

twinkies

$22 for a box of Twinkies

snowwhite

pretty woman luring you to eat ice cream – she left the dwarfs at home

Back to ice cream:  The trucks are very pretty.  And many of them are Mercedes.  One truck was called Mr. Whippy.  I think the one with Snow White was there just to lure people in.  With her innocence.  Bitch.  Maybe they should just show us the cellulite growing under her white dress.  It’s kind of a loose dress now isn’t it?  And the candy stores!  Oh my!  Luckily my sweet tooth has diminished as I’ve gotten haggard.  Good thing.  The Hardy’s Sweet Shop here is like something out of a movie.  It is like a tribute to the seven deadly sins.  Gluttony? (I’ll have a kilo of everything pink please.)  Sloth? (Then, I will sit around and shove stuff into my mouth while I watch Beverly Hills 90210 – on TV here)  Lust?  (I will have sex while eating chocolate bon bons while fantasizing about a well-endowed, life-sized nutcracker made of toffee.) Wrath?  (I will tar and feather anyone who touches my Twinkies or Swedish Fish.)  Envy?  (I will go back to the states and curse all Brits who live near a Hardy’s.) Pride?  (I am much better than you because I have been to Hardy’s you lame fool.)  Greed? (I must have more sherbet lemons!  Screw the poor kids starving in ___________.  I will give my charitable donation next month.)  Speaking of Twinkies – Hardy’s has them.  And it seems they were made by Hostess.  Must be old.  Oh yes, they were known for shelf life weren’t they?  The price on the box was 15£ – that’s about $22.  I forgot to look to see how much they cost individually.  I left the shop with a bag of fudge.  One of the workers let me taste a “banana.”  It was a yellow piece of candy looking like a banana. I told him it tasted just like what we call circus peanuts.  What the hell is a circus peanut?  You’d think one would eat actual peanuts at a circus.

FB exit

Another funny thing are ads and signs.  I love good advertising and I wrote my Master’s thesis about ads – so I think I pay more attention than most.  So I noticed when I saw an ad that said one could “stick them on Facebook.”   Huh?  I tried to figure out what it meant by looking for context clues.  The ad was about sharing opinions and it followed a line about tweeting and fell before a line about starting a blog.  I even looked for an explanation online.  Does it mean “follow” them on FB by “liking” them?  Who knows.  Great ad though.  It even mentioned “ocelot colon” when talking about making a fancy modern sandwich.  Who doesn’t love an ad with that?    I also love the different signs in the subways.  You see “sortie” in Paris and “sortida” in Barcelona.  In London I figured I’d see “exit” as it’s an English-speaking country.  Wrong. 

underground_logo

Speaking of metro systems (subways) in general, Paris had beautiful light fixtures near the entrances to theirs. I also liked the way London uses the same Underground logo for all of their communication.  If the word “Underground” is not in the blue space, then another word is – such as the name of the stop, or some sort of announcement.  And Pat had already brought me a “Mind the Gap” t-shirt.  You hear it all the time on the trains.  They don’t want you to step into the space between the train car and the platform.  Barcelona had air-conditioned trains.  The hottest Missouri summer I ever spent was a week in Paris and London metro cars. 

Pat and I had to get from the St. Paul’s Cathedral area to Heathrow Airport to “hire” a car. (We were renting a car to drive from London to Cambridge.)  A taxi would be very expensive.  So I talked to a guy at the metro station who explained the Oyster card.  We had to pay £5 for each card; which he said we could sell back at the end of our trip. It would let us get to the airport cheap – for about £2. We would just have to get our suitcases up and down some flights of stairs and change trains lines once.   Luckily it wasn’t rush hour.  I took the two carry-ons and Pat took the suitcases when we hit a staircase.  In the London metro system (as Mr. Oyster man explained) we needed to scan the card as we entered the line AND when we exited.  That way the system would know how much to charge the card.  If I hadn’t gotten into the info line, it would have been £4.5 (about $6) each way every time we got on the metro!  It’s quite a discount to use this Oyster card.  I keep thinking of what other stupid travel things we must be doing. 

When I was in NYC a few months ago I realized I’d been riding the 7 train across town for years instead of the shuttle.  Duh.  Today I paid $7.50 for a cup of coffee.  $4.50 for the coffee at the hotel bar.  The rest was a tip.  She looked stressed.  This waitress in question had also put some of my leftover food on a plate so I could eat it for breakfast.  Apparently this is not a normal request.  It was not heated.  Apparently, a microwave is not a common thing here.  Hello?  If any hotels in Europe had microwaves in rooms, then crazy Americans would not have to go downstairs and ask for such odd things – like – can you put this on a plate and nuke it?  Anyway, cold Chinese is not good in my book.  Cold Chinese and an overpriced Americano coffee for breakfast.  Hmmmm.

OK – I have some errands to run here in Cambridge before we head to Stratford (the one upon Avon).  We did go punting yesterday with a guide.  That is when you ride in a shallow boat along the Cam River (I think) and hear about the history of Cambridge University.  The boats are pushed along with poles.  Lots of the tourists do it.  Oh, apparently Pink Floyd is from here – I guess they played everywhere!

Tally Ho!  (haven’t heard that one either)

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Barcelona Part Hmmm: Father Daughter Sandals (by me)

shoes

Shoes I’ve been seeing all over Barcelona.

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Dad is wearing the brown ones in the middle.

When traveling, there are always things that remain very similar among people – especially when you’re in western cities.  It’s hard to avoid McDonald’s and it’s sometimes great not to avoid a Coke.  And a lot of the fashions are similar.  For example, two guys just walked by wearing Nike t-shirts and they weren’t a speakin’ no English.  So for the last five days or so, I’ve seen lots of people sporting things I would see around the U.S.  But sometimes things are just a tad off, and then I try to figure out why they strike me as funny.  You know – things that make you go “Huh?”.  Case in point; the case of the father-daughter sandals. For the first few days here I noticed many people of both sexes wearing these specific leather sandals.  Then the other day I noticed a father and his two small daughters had them on.  I asked about them and they explained they were ‘Mallorca’ sandals.  Mallorca is an island not too far from here.  I was there as a college student.  I didn’t notice anyone wearing them.  Maybe I wasn’t obsessed with what’s on people’s feet while walking then.  My feet didn’t hurt when I was 23.   I don’t know why I found this so odd since I could think of many examples in the U.S. where dads and daughters could match sandals:  Teva, Nike, Adidas, Birkenstock, Crocs, and the run-of-the-mill dollar store flip flops.  Maybe they are more fashionable and less sporty?  Fine leather vs. rubber?  Fashion vs. orthotics?  Vogue vs. Field and Stream?

The Men in Black

Another thing is the weather – and these men in suits!  Holy hell!  It’s about 90 degrees here during the day.  And it’s about 90 degrees at midnight.  It took me a while to figure out why I was so hot.  In Pennsylvania it’s hot in the summer – but in the evening it cools off.  Not here.  And the men; the business men – everywhere you go you see them in black business suits.  Just walking around.  In 90 degree weather.  I want to go up to them and ask  if they are, in fact, crazy.  I guess it is no different than other workers – U.S. or otherwise – who have to be clothed in some long-sleeved, long pantsy way due to their job.  But c’mon!  At least the women have figured out the flowy skirt and sleeveless top.  I’m not suggesting a sleeveless suit coat and capri pants, but take off your suit coat when walking down the street for the love of all those poor souls burning in hell.  Is this what they do on Wall Street in August?  I’ll have to go check.

Lack of Conditioned Air

I’ll be the first to admit that we overly cold the air in the U.S.; I grab a sweater when we go grocery shopping.  I get a parka when I go to the movies.  In the states I’ve lived for any considerable time; Missouri, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska – it seems one often goes from one temperature extreme to the next.  It is pretty common to go from a house with AC to a hot car which then cools with AC to the outside hot temp while walking through a parking lot or campus or city street or whatever to a an office building or business or store with AC.  But here it’s just hot.  The metro is hot which makes sense since it’s outside (but luckily the trains are very cool) but the odd thing is once you get into a restaurant, you will not freeze to death.  The same with other places.  Even with AC, you won’t freeze to death.  I have sweaters packed but have not needed one yet due to weather or AC.  I must admit it is odd to eat inside and be hot.  I can understand being hot while eating outside – but not inside.  Some of the restaurants don’t have AC.  It’s also strange to be hot inside a bathroom stall.  Very odd.

Green Light for Parking.  Red Light for Thinking it was the Metro.

garage

Notice the green lights showing open parking spaces. And the red lights too.

alley

On our way to dinner near the church.

One night a local took us out for a little tour to the castle of Montjuic.  Think fort on top of a mountain.  I didn’t know we were going up Kilamanjaro.  Otherwise I would have made up some story about bladder control and differing Spanish gravity in order to get dropped off at the top.  Anyway,  it was worth the hike in a skirt and heelish sandals on cobblestones.  Afterwards we drove to an area called Barceloneta.  It’s near an old church called Santa Maria de la Mar.  He was taking us to eat something like tapas (the Basque equivalent). So we had to park – it was odd good.  Part of the street sloped downward to a parking garage located under the street.  I had accidentally discovered such a place earlier that day when I went to visit Gaudi’s Casa Mila (La Pedrera).  I was looking for the metro station and was not happy to walk down a flight of stairs only to find parked cars.  Son of a bitch.

Another thing about traveling – screwing up finding your way around.  Metro stations are not always that easy to find.  And just because you emerged from one metro station does not mean you will be able to find your way back to it, even though it may be only one frickin’ block away.  And just because the turnstiles work one way at one station, does not mean they work the same way at every station.  Trial and error.  Every time.  I got over the fear of asking for help a long time ago.  Some poor guy at a newsstand helped me twice. Once to tell me he didn’t sell ‘still’ water – the next to direct my idiot blondeness to the metro two blocks away.  I digress; back to the parking garage.  One of the men I was with pointed to the green lights on the ceiling that indicate which spaces are open.  Wow!  Why don’t we do that?  Imagine driving into a parking garage and knowing immediately where the open spaces are?

Getting Home from Dinner at Midnight

I’m a night owl but my hubby is not.  Even so, I like the idea of eating dinner at 7 PM or so.  Before I got here I heard dinner time in Barcelona is around 10 PM.  I know you can always find a place to eat before that, but by the time we rode the metro to wherever we were going to eat (green line to red line to yellow line) then walked to the place we were to eat, ate, convinced the waiter to bring the check, then walked and rode back to the hotel – it was easily midnight or later.  We’ve had some really great food, and some so-so stuff.  Just like anyplace else I suppose. In Barcelona, I got to witness an ’employee lunch.’  The food was paid for by the company doing the training, and rather than a spread of sub type sandwiches or wraps with cheese and fruit trays – it looked more like what we’d call plates of appetizers.  Nothing too odd – except the hot rice and seafood dish that I’d had a few days before; black in color due to the squid ink.  The other odd thing was the beer on tap. I can’t imagine the looks on people’s faces once walking into the employee lunch and finding a beer tap next to the bottles of water.

More later on Paris and London.   Probably stuff about toilets…….

Barcelona Part Hello: Man Punches Audi

We got here on a Saturday at breakfast time, although it was more like after-party time to us. The flight was uneventful which is always a good thing.  I sat in business class while my husband sat back in sardine class.  His company bought the business class ticket for him, and my ticket was purchased using frequent flyer miles (coach).  Last winter we had gotten two tickets to Czech Republic with miles – and we both got bumped from coach to business class for the round-trip.  Not this time.  In fact, when my husband went to ask the Delta agents in Atlanta about me getting bumped from coach to business – they were downright douchey.  The husband is “Diamond” because he flies so much.  I am “Coal.”  Actually, he got me Gold status, but besides the free checked bags, it didn’t seem to help much that day.   He decided I got the good seat on the way over and he’ll get the good seat on the way home.

I think I was the only one up there not drinking the free booze.  What the hell is my problem?  I’m not a big drinker and I knew I’d be taking an Ambien to sleep.  And we’ve all heard stories about the effects of booze mixed with Ambien.  Who knows – perhaps I would have found it necessary to walk up and down the aisle removing everyone’s headphones.  Maybe I would have gone to the cockpit door, knocked, then said “Landshark.”  I sat behind Flava Flav.  He’s a rapper.  In the vein of not being a paparrazzi rat, I won’t tell you anything about what he read, ate, drank, or how many times he got up to pee.  I will only tell you that he seemed lovely.

metro

It’s cool that you can see from one train car into the next. Very bright and clean.

We landed, got to the hotel, took a nap, then went downtown via metro.  The metro (subway) here is great.  Easy to figure out so far and very clean.  I also liked the way you can see from one train car into the next.  In NYC, for example, there are those slammy doors, and noise, and wirey things, and balancing between the cars, and scary monsters.  Here you could walk between trains if you wanted to.  They are also very bright inside.  The odd thing is that once the train arrives, you have to open the door by pushing the handle.  The doors don’t automatically open like in other cities.  They have kiosks selling stuff like other cities, but they also have wall-sized vending machines.  So if you need a sandwich, a candy bar, OJ, a liter of water,  rolling papers, condoms, soda, or some Chips Ahoy – they’ve got you covered.

marina

Barcelona marina

We took a stroll down Las Ramblas to get to the marina. Of course it’s pretty.  I suppose that’s why  tourists end up there.  And the people painted to look like statues were pretty cool.  But I wanted to choke the guys who were selling these things they want kids to put into their mouths to make this really annoying sound.  I can’t really describe the noise.  What parent is going to buy this thing for their kid?  The one who wants to beat their child to death I suppose.

Walking around the marina was beautiful and we settled on a place to eat.  I don’t know what we were thinking – eating in a high traffic, touristy part of town.  The place looked beautiful but was overpriced.  Wait.  It wasn’t even overpriced.  The food blew.  At least what we ordered.  I can’t even remember the name of the place.  Our salads were just okay and for a main course we decided to split an entree of  local prawns.  It was $36 Euros for a plate of about eight steamed prawns.  By the time we removed the heads we were down to something resembling cocktail shrimp.  Langostinos my ass.  Bland.  Uck.  Of course all the tables around us seemed to order the right thing.  Sea bass baked in salt and paella with the real prawns.  We tipped the waiter nonetheless, then realized tipping is not a normal thing in Spain.  He ended up giving us a free beer and glass of wine – restaurant karma.

Man punches Audi

On the way back to the metro station we were waiting on a sidewalk to cross the street.  I appreciate that you get a green walking man signal here rather than the white man in the U.S. who is hunched over.  They even welcome bikes to cross too!  Anyway, we heard a bit of a commotion to the right and we saw a man in a small dark vehicle get out of his car and walk back to a guy in an Audi and try to open the driver’s door.  That didn’t work, so he punched the window.  I believe he was yelling too.  He did this for a bit, went back to his car, and it seems he was still pretty pissed because he got out of his car and went back for a second round of Audi window punching.  We crossed the street after the punching and after we got to the other side I made a point to look at the woman who was in the small dark car; the date, wife, sister, or girlfriend of this window puncher.   I thought about what conversation must be going on inside that car.  And what about the conversation inside the Audi?  I’m guessing a woman was not driving the Audi.   light

Another thing about transportation here:  I heard there are more motorcycles here than in any other European city.  Tonight on the way to dinner my hubby remarked that it’s very odd to see women standing at the gas pump with a helmet on, filling up a motorcycle or moped.  Mainly because they are standing there in skirts and sandals.  I say it’s really weird that all the mopeds and motorcycles are black!  What’s the problem?  There are seas of them all over the place, and they all look the same.  Hello?  Where are the pink ones?  The turquoise ones? The zebra-striped ones? C’mon!  This is Gaudi land.   One of Pat’s (husband) work buddies says he bets the fun-colored bikes are in Italy.

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View from Montjuic

We did the bus tour yesterday to get the lay of the land.  It was fun.  It’s freaking hot here.  Missouri hot.  We went to Montjuic.  A mountain.  Great view.   We walked by another marina area.  Lots of areas by water here.  Lots of boats.  Saw the beach area.  Saw lots of areas.  My brain started to get mushy. We took a nap then went out for dinner  – determined not to go to a place crowded with tourists.  I wanted to find a hole in the wall.  I wanted to find a place where the chefs cook for a smaller number of people rather than a huge crowd.  In the latter case one ends up eating food found typically at Ponderosa.  No thanks. One of Pat’s friends suggested a place, so I Googled it, and it got good reviews .  It is called Cera 23.  It was in a neighborhood called El Raval and we had to walk in a quiet alley to get there.  Looking at the alley, one would never know a restaurant was down there.  It was great!  Long story short – we ended up eating there again the next night after our concierge sent us to a tapas place that was overcrowded with tourists and had a long wait.  Over the course of two nights, we had two good appetizers:  crispy prawns and a ceviche of white fish.  Our main dishes were fab too:  a hake with a wonderful sauce and black rice with seafood and squid ink.  It was very rich so I was glad Pat and I shared everything.  I had a blackberry mojito – very good.  The place is owned by two brothers I think.  They were very sweet.

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Yesterday Pat was working so I went to La Sagrada Familia – the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen.  It really was amazing.  I’ve seen many churches over the years; Notre Dame, Chartres, St. Pat’s, Sacre Coeur, and various basilicas in the U.S. and other churches in Prague, Montreal – and places I’ve forgotten about.  But there was something about this particular church.  I used the audio guide and it was nice.  It talked about how Gaudi wanted the perfect amount of light in the church so perhaps that was part of it.  I really liked the choir loft idea – it was overhead, but along the side walls toward the back for perfect sound.  I suppose the church will be done in a number of decades.

Before I went to the church, I went into a department store called El Corte Ingles. It was near the metro stop near our hotel, The Princesa Sofia.  It’s always fun shopping in foreign countries.  I had just enough French (four years) to figure out enough words to get by in Catalan. (Reading, not speaking.)  So yesterday I had to figure out if the sale price was already listed on the tag or if it would be taken at the register.  It didn’t really matter – I didn’t buy anything.   But I did like this skeleton mannequin.  I guess I need to buy some of their dang face cream. skeleton

Time to get out the door for today; a visit to a Gaudi building or the Picasso museum.  I suppose I will wear my bright, purple Asics again.  Nobody gave me weird looks yesterday.  Plus I need to turn off the TV.  The channels in English are BBC and I’ve been listening to reports about the royal baby boy all morning.  The headline I liked best before the birth:  “Kate’s cervix big as a baby’s head!”

Adeu.

Pre-Barcelona: Men have it easy. (by me)

My husband didn’t have to pack any bras.  I guess that’s a good thing. (It’s one thing to be 52.  It another to be 52 and have moobs. Luckily, he doesn’t have any).  I digress. His lack of having to pack any bras points to a much bigger, and much more serious issue:  Packing.  Packing and the battle of the sexes.

The eve of our trip, Pat was giving me a hard time due to the late hour and the detail that I’d not yet put one item into a suitcase.  I didn’t see it as a problem due to my nightowlyness.  When asked if he’d finished packing, his response was, of course, “yes.”  This is because he likes to do things early.  He doesn’t fiddlefart around like me (I know this is what he is thinking most of the time).  It is also because he owns a scrotum.  Those scrotum-toters can pack for a two-week European trip in about four minutes.

When I asked what he packed he replied “Five pair of Dockers, a bunch of polo shirts, a pair of jeans, some shorts, a bunch of those colored t-shirts, a few pair of shoes and some underwear.”  Oh, he may have mentioned a pair of bathing trunks.  Wow. The stress. He was packing for a work trip to Barcelona and the Cambridge, England area; hence the Dockers and polos.  The hardest decision was whether the khaki-colored pants looked better with light blue or navy.  So I ventured up the stairs to the bedroom and got a gander at his packed suitcase.  It sat, mocking me.  The man suitcase.  Boring. Simple.  Packed.

Then I ventured into my closet.  And my clothes hung there, mocking me.  I started putting things on the floor.  Simple enough.  These four skirts, and these eight shirts.  These jeans and these two shirts.  This sundress. This pair of capris and these shirts.  A few light sweaters.  These pants and these two shirts. And so on.  I figured if I had a few shirt options for each bottom, I’d be set.  It all seems simple enough at this point, right?  It’s still way more complicted than the man-pack described above, but so far, it’s not too bad.

Then it hits.  Reality sets in.  This is when your husband walks into the closet and sees you just standing there.  Or so he thinks. He thinks you are just fiddlefarting around.  But, THIS is where the real packing begins. The real torture.  The reason I waited until 11 PM the night before.  It’s time to pack the under layer.  The accessories.  Jewelry. All the stuff you have to think about for each outfit.  All the stuff men don’t have to worry about.  Well, at least not my husband. (His beauty kit outweighs mine though.  That’s another story.)

bra

Which bra goes with THAT shirt?  Oh yeah, I need the racerback bra for that one.  And a few of the packed blouses need a strapless bra.  Now is not the time to become bohemian. And one shirt in particular calls for a black bra because occasionally the straps become visible.  And how horrific would it be for my nude straps to show.  How pedestrian!  How teenager.  And some of the shirts can’t take a traditional bra at all – they call for a more casual, colored jog-bra type contraption.  But wait – there’s more – one of the blouses is so sheer that I need to pack a shelf-bra type camisole top for it!  Some of you gals may be thinking “convertible bra.”  I think I tried one before.  No thanks.  I like to keep things complicated.

Now we move onto underwear.  The husband has two types.  Boxers and non-boxers.  (The non-boxers are NOT tightie whities.  They have been banned.  I told him if I ever see those again I’d whip out the female version – big white briefs a la Bridget Jones.)  Again, for each outfit I have to stand in the closet and think of my ass.  This is a topic that gives me enough stress as-is; now I have to think of it from a pantyline POV.  Which outfilts can handle regular panties?  Which pants call for a thong?  Do any of these skirts need a slip so I don’t look like a skank-ho walking through town? Spanx. Spanx?  Thank God I haven’t gone there yet.

Now it’s time for jewelry.  By now I’ve decided I should have been born a scrotum-toter.  This is all just a bunch of bull shit.  So I just throw my most-worn jewelry into my jewelry bag.  But, of course, one cannot just throw it all into a bag.  It becomes a complicated system of this necklace going into this ziploc baggie, and these two necklaces going into that baggie, and so on.  This, in the hopes I will not be fighting to untangle anything on the other side of the Atlantic.  Earrings.  Crapfest.  I have to get earrings.  Do I really need earrings?

Shoes.  I’d been worrying about this dilemma for weeks prior to the trip. My feet, calves, and knees hurt all the time.  The doc says it’s just old lady syndrome.  OK.  That’s not what he said.  But I need arch support and tape on my right knee.  (At the end of a few miles it all hurts nonetheless.)  So, I have a few pair of shoes that are okay looking.  So they are packed.  I really want to wear my bright purple Asics every day, but I am loathe to look like an American tourist.  Plus, I’ve never worn sneakers with a skirt.  Never.  I don’t plan to start now.  But on our first eve in Barcelona I did see these on a guy.  He even posed for a pic.  He was French.  Or at least he was speaking French.  After this sighting I decided I would wear my bright purple Asics as I may be the toast of the town.  Or at least the toast of French teenagers in Barcelona.

nike

These Nikes with pink laces were on a teenage guy. I guess my purple sneakers won’t be so offensive after all.

I also saw these shoes on a gal.  I think she wore these just to rub it in my face:  “Ha, old lady American!  I am petite and I have good arches.  Take that!”

Back to packing:  I didn’t even talk about belts.  That’s because for this trip I only had to pack one.  And I skipped over the beauty kit section.  And medicine.  And the purse I use when traveling.  And the Clif bars I pack.   At this point I’m tired of talking about packing.  I really hate packing.

Unpacking is much worse.

blue shoes

I don’t know. (by Salvatore Bongiovanni)

“I don’t know.” Those three words ringing in my ears like the clock tower on Old Main. I was desperately grasping for the right words. Damn it Sal. She’s right there. How many times did you rehearse this in your head? That’s it. Let loose. COME ON. Nothing. It’s as if my brain couldn’t pick an emotion and just decided, “Screw you, you’re going to be paralyzed, so deal with it.” One hot jumbled mess of everything I had felt for six months, culminating in being rendered speechless right in front of her. How could you not know? Is that what you’re going to respond with? I felt like I had been cheated. Like she had broken the rules or something. You don’t get to say that. It’s your turn now. I did my job. It’s not fair. But all I could force out was, “Okay. You just have to let me know.”

cupids-accident

There were only a few weeks left of school and everyone was more than ready for summer vacation. Flip flops and shorts made their way out of people’s closets and into the hallways. Final exams stood between the students and their freedom. I was nearly halfway done with my high school career and had no idea what the future held for me. AP Courses, SATs, and college applications waited in the wings; everything was moving so quickly. With all this on my mind, I walked into the chorus room, waiting for my last class of the day to start. There was an elongated break before chorus would start, which meant extra socializing time of course. The other tenors and I were discussing what was going on that weekend when she called my name. I went over to the piano where she was standing, “Hey, Lizzy.” I don’t remember what she said or what she wanted. All I remember is a sensation racing through my body. After engaging her for a few seconds, I had this feeling like I had been slapped in face. Call it cupid’s arrow if you’d like; I don’t care. But it was an incredible crystalizing moment where everything just made sense. I had never been so caught off guard by my own feelings. All I could think was, “Wow, she is so beautiful.” It was as if I was seeing her for the first time in my life or through a lens I had never looked into before. It was something I thought was only possible in a Hollywood film.

I had never had a girlfriend and there had really only been one other point in my life where it was even really possible (unless you want to count my semi girlfriend from Preschool, which nobody does for some reason). But Lizzy was nothing like anyone I had ever liked before. She wasn’t the prettiest girl in school. She wasn’t the most popular girl in school. She wasn’t the most interesting girl in school. But in that split second, that one moment, she became all of that to me. I can’t explain it, and I probably sound like someone who’s been watching too many romantic comedies, but it was a staggering moment. I looked at her blue eyes looking back at me, talking about who knows what, and it just… happened.

So we started texting regularly and I eventually brought her to the beach one day over the summer. It was me, Lizzy, and our mutual friend, Ben. When Ben and I were alone, I decided to ask for his help with Lizzy. “Oh my God. Sal I had no idea! Is that why you brought her here?” I suppose it was. I don’t know. I guess I just thought that if I could get her to a brand new place outside of school, we could connect on a different level. When she returned, Ben casually brought up the topic of who we liked. Lizzy teased us and wouldn’t tell us. “Come on. Tell us,” I pleaded, trying not to sound too desperate. We were treading water in the ocean at that moment and it was appropriate, because what came out of her mouth made my heart sink like it was a hundred pound block of lead. “Henry,” she said. “Henry? My…my best friend Henry?” I staggered. “Yes! Oh my God he’s so cute!” I floated silently while Ben and Lizzy discussed what she had just said, but it was just ambient noise to me. I just wanted to be somewhere else. I wanted everybody gone. “You barely ever talk to him though,” I blurted out, not wanting to believe this was real. “I mean, I wouldn’t know what to do,” she said sheepishly, “You’re our only mutual friend. Would you help me?”

Am I going to help you get with my best friend? A guy you never talk to? A guy you have nothing in common with? A guy who has literally never given you the time of day? Is that what you’re really asking me to do? “Uh. Yeah I guess I’ll help you.” She thanked me a million times. I was happy at the prospects of us talking on a more regular basis, but not happy about what the purpose would be. Did I really want to do this? Could I even do it if I wanted to? Someone needed to help me make this decision.

I’m not sure why I went to Carter. Maybe it’s because we were two of the only people left on planet Earth who still used AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) more than Facebook and he was always online. Maybe he was just online at the right time (or the wrong time, depending on how you look at it). But he’s a trustworthy guy. Confident. Carter is someone who you know is thinking through is choices logically and does what he does for good reasons. He was skeptical at first when I told him my situation. “You want to be doing this for the right reasons, not sabotaging her or being selfish,” he said. And he had a point. It was important to do what I wanted to do, but not at the expense of my friends. So I said it was what I wanted (which it was at the time) and he wished me good luck.

I needed that luck. For three months every conversation was “Why isn’t Henry talking to me? What else do I have to do for him? I don’t understand.” We would talk online and video chat for hours on end. In the beginning it was all about him. I felt invisible. I’m right here. He doesn’t even look at you. Look at me. But as time went on, it became less about him and more just about us. It became two people just really getting to know each other. Our ins and outs. Our secrets. Everything. Through all the late nights when we both could have been sleeping and all the time we could have been actually getting our work done she became the best friend I ever had. Someone who I wouldn’t go a day without talking to. I knew she liked me. I knew we were meant to be together. Hell, I even rigged Secret Santa at Christmas so I could get her a present. We were perfect for each other. The problem was, everybody else thought so too.

“Do you like somebody?” Lizzy’s twin sister Trina had pulled me aside during lunch to talk to me. “Um. Maybe,” I said, half laughing, “Why do you ask?” “Is it someone that I know?” “I’m not telling you Trina.” “Is it someone that I know?” “It might be.” “Is it someone who…lives in my house?” Real subtle, Trina, “I told you I’m not telling you.” “Okay, well. If it is, I just want to let you know that I approve. And your secret’s safe with me.” It was nice to have her on my side and I really appreciated that conversation. I felt like I really had a chance at being happy this time. But Trina was just the first to figure it out. Soon all of our friends knew and before long, realized that Lizzy was kind of taking advantage of my kindness.

“You can’t string him along like this,” they would say. “Why don’t you just date him already?” “I still don’t know about Henry, though,” she would say. “Sal does all these things for you, listens to all your problems, and you and Henry literally never speak. You don’t even make any sense.” This all went on without me knowing of course, but they were right. I was starting to think that what once seemed mutual had turned into a one-way street. I was constantly venting to Carter about everything, “I don’t understand what I did deserve all of this, man. I just don’t. How can she just lead me on for so long?” “Listen, after everything you’ve done for her, if she still doesn’t want to be with you, she doesn’t deserve you.” So I decided to finally talk to her about it. No more beating around the bush. We were going to talk this out whether she liked it or not.

It was a Monday. I was lying on my couch staring at my phone. It took me ten minutes just to send the text, “Are you home? I need to talk to you.” Before Lizzy got home I went on Skype with my friend Megan, who also knew what was going on. I was nervous, more nervous than I had ever been before. “I don’t think I can do this. I don’t even know what to say.” “Sal, look at me. You can do this. You deserve her,” she said, “Pretend I’m Lizzy. Now say it.” We rehearsed until Lizzy signed on. I still wasn’t ready, but Megan hung up on me so I had no choice. I called Lizzy and I just said it, “Look, I know you probably already know this, but I really like you. And I just thought you should hear it from me rather than our friends,” and I finally exhaled. She was speechless. Completely speechless. As if that moment hadn’t been building for months. As if she hadn’t known I was eventually going to tell her. Nope. She stared blankly at the computer screen and kept on typing away doing God knows what. It was almost as if she pretended not to hear me. She sputtered back some nonsense, even though she was clearly trying to distract herself from what I had said. And for the next hour and a half I tried to get an answer out of her. It was basically, “No I don’t like you right now. I did for a little while, but I don’t anymore. But it could happen in the future, I don’t know.” “I don’t know.” Thanks for clearing that up. How is it possible for you to continue to string me along even after I talk to you straight up? She even acknowledged she had feelings for me at one point, but apparently she stopped. My heart skipped a beat at that one. “Okay. You just have to let me know.”

It eventually boiled down to her not wanting to be with me. It was one of the hardest realizations I had ever had to come to, but it was true. We promised each other we would still remain friends though (because that always works out, right?) so I decided I would ask her to the prom. Was it denial? Today I would probably say yes. But then, all I knew was there was nobody else I could see myself going to my prom with.

Customized M&Ms, “Lizzy” “will you go to” “prom with me?” Imagine those three quotes on three separate candies, coming out of a mini candy dispenser in order; did your heart just melt? Yeah. That’s what I thought. Everything was perfect. My best friend and I were going to go to prom and it was going to be awesome, right? Right. Until Trina called me one afternoon, two days before I planned to ask Lizzy. I was at my friend’s house and stepped out to talk to her. She told me Lizzy didn’t want to go to prom with me. There wasn’t even anyone else she had in mind. It just couldn’t be me. The only one that actually wanted to go with her.

After that, Lizzy and I stopped talking. Well, let me rephrase that. She stopped talking to me. The girl who had become my best friend, my rock, had deserted me. Cut me off like a hangnail, like I was a disposable part of her repertoire of friends. I spiraled downward. I was nothing without her, or without our talks at the very least. I lost so much and she made me feel like it didn’t even faze her. I was at my low point. Lizzy had disappeared from my life. My hopes were crushed and my best friend was gone. My life, as I knew it, was over; at least that’s what I thought.

The next few weeks became some of the most liberating of my life. Within less than a month, my braces came off, I killed it on stage in my first lead role in the school musical, got a smoking hot date to the prom, and even had my first kiss. Ever hear that every action has a reaction? Well I was feeling about the strongest reaction I could have imagined. I felt like a brand new person. I became who I still am today: someone who embraces life’s hardships and uses them to improve myself.

Although I never received the apology that every day I hoped for, I know that I am a better man because of it all. I went through a process that all boys have to go through at some point. I now know not only when to stop chasing a girl because she doesn’t like me, but when to stop because she doesn’t deserve me. I’ve still never had a girlfriend; I guess I just haven’t found someone yet who was worth all that effort again. But I know when I find her I’ll know it. I’ll have that same crystalizing moment and it will all start again. But I have gained a mindset from that chapter in my life that I have taken to heart that will stop me (I hope) from repeating my own history. I don’t fear what comes next, but instead I wait in anticipation. I look forward to the cleared pathways and open doors that await me that I don’t even know exist yet. I intend to embrace everything about my life for however many chapters I have remaining, and I can thank Lizzy for that, if for nothing else.

Scared puppy. (by Kyle)

Exhausted from a particularly unbearable shift earlier in the evening, I decided to stay in and go to sleep early rather than go out this Saturday night. I was frustrated equally with both rude customers and coworkers and was not really in the mood to go out and socialize. Reesee, my dog and my family’s ‘baby,’ greeted me as he did any other family member when they left the house for more than twenty minutes: by ramming into me and imposing his unconditional love. He was seven years old at the time with an intimidatingly broad bone structure that contradicted his loving, harmless personality. Reesee was a pure bred chocolate lab and was the biggest lab our vet had ever seen. While not being in the worst shape of his life, Reesee had started to succumb to onset hip problems that are very common among his breed. The weakening in his hind legs would become very apparent whenever he would climb up stairs or try to hop up on the couch. Reesee’s deteriorating health was correlated to the lack of exercise he received when he was younger.

After a quick belly-rub I went upstairs to my bedroom to unwind and eventually fall asleep. At one point during the night I heard rustling coming from the kitchen. This didn’t alert me though as Reesee was notorious for getting into the trash at night and I was just too drained that night to stop him. God damn it… I’ll clean it up in the morning. Finally my consciousness gave way and I fell into a deep sleep.

dog face

I awoke to my mother shaking me awake in the early hours of the morning. “Reesee is very sick. He’s been throwing up for a while and he’s shaking uncontrollably.” Immediately the urgency of the situation hit me through the trembling undertone of my mother. Reesee, in her eye, was her baby and their strong bond was illustrated every time he spent the day following her around the house. We went downstairs and found Reesee quivering in the corner of the living room. Alone and petrified, his brown fur began to shed off in thick, unnatural patches. Reesee’s eyes were opened wide with great big black pupils. These were not the ‘puppy-eyes’ that he had perfected years ago and our family had become accustomed to seeing at our elbows during dinner. Rather, this was look of pure anxiety and fright that still sends a cold shiver down my spine. That was when we saw it. The remains of a yellow, half-pound bag of chocolate chips lay tattered in the corner of the room. Upon further inspection we found that nearly half the bag was gone. Reesee had eaten chocolate before and not gotten sick, but never this much chocolate. We called our normal veterinary clinic and they referred us to a local veterinary emergency center. We rushed over to the emergency center and they took him into the back immediately.

There I sat, bloated with anxiety and grief as my other and I awaited the vet’s return. The thought of losing my dog weighed heavily in my stomach. My mother and I were moved to a room separate from the waiting room for our privacy. As we sat, my mind raced with hundreds of thoughts. Why didn’t I just get the fuck up? My mom assured me it definitely wasn’t my fault, but I couldn’t shake my own disdain for my neglect. We began to reminisce on our fondest memories with Reesee and I could hardly contain myself. I recalled the trip to the breeder and picking him out of the litter. So many puppies were climbing and prying their way to the top of the pen for attention, but one caught my eye. I knew right then that my puppy was the one at the bottom being trampled by his brother and sisters. We brought him home in a small cardboard box that today wouldn’t manage to contain nearly a third of Reesee. My mom always loved that story and it was comforting for the both of us to reflect on it together. I made a promise to my mom then, “If Reesee makes it out of this, I’m gonna spend way more time with him and take way more walks. He deserves so much more”. She agreed and we resumed waiting an eternity.

Finally, just as my stress began to peak, a man in scrubs entered the room. I was immediately distraught. Where was my dog? The vet began to explain the situation, but I was in no shape to interpret any of the obscure medical terms. Eventually, I regained my wits long enough to understand what the man was conveying. Reesee had eaten three and a half times the lethal dosage of chocolate for a dog his size. The vet went on to explain that he really wasn’t sure how, but that, “Reesee is alright and making a recovery.” Sitting there as an emotional wreck, this incredible news suddenly overwhelmed me with both glee and relief.

Nearly five minutes later, I began to hear the clacking of paws from down the hallway, a sound that still resonates warmly with me today. Reesee exploded into the room with more energy than my mom and I combined. With his tail rapidly whipping from side to side and his tongue drooped half a foot out of his mouth, he barreled into us with the force of a crashing wave. After being poked and prodded by the emergency vets for the better half of a morning, Reesee was ecstatic to be in such familiar company once again. My best friend and I were reunited after one of the most terrifying mornings of my life. Soon enough and despite the odds, Reesee and I were headed home for some much-needed rest and relaxation.

I will never forget that car ride home. All 130 pounds of his robust, Labrador frame sat atop me while Reesee tried to poke his head out the window. As I sat there, slowly being flattened by his weight, I could feel his body trembling and his heart, still beating frantically. When we finally made it home Reesee hopped out of the car and galloped into the house. After drinking what seemed to be an entire gallon of water, he crawled up onto his favorite spot at the end of our family room couch. Our family spent that evening together in the family room enjoying each other’s company and reflecting on the craziness of the day. The whole ordeal served as a glaring wake-up call for our family, having never come so close to losing our beloved dog. I really wanted to take Reesee out and give him the attention that he really deserved, but I realized this would have to wait until tomorrow because that night he was just too tuckered out.

My Thoughtless Thought (by Kane Sarver)

Four months ago I felt invincible to a certain degree. I wanted to accomplish many things and was extremely motivated. Motivated almost to the point where I found nothing could stop me. A certain tenacity and pride built up inside me as I pursued my aspirations. Like a fire, the feeling of invincibility grew until I decided—three months ago—that I actually was invincible. I was succeeding on my own terms. I spent every ounce of time I had from eight in the morning to ten at night going to meetings, classes, and doing school work; all the while still getting my physical fitness and food intake in. I was attending all my classes and had little trouble keeping up with the material. I was focused, dedicated, and motivated… Unfortunately I was also fooled.

Two months ago I had my thoughtless thought. I had gotten back to my room earlier than expected. I was exhausted, yet happy, sitting at my desk doing my math homework. I was happy because I was doing it, I was accomplishing something. I was building the knowledge that I sought and was building myself up as a person because hard work and knowledge are generally deemed the building blocks of life. At around ten that night I got a call from our mother. I could tell she was crying as she stated, “I don’t know how to tell you this.” I immediately thought to myself do not panic. I had prepared for this call for some time.

I knew my grandfather was going to die soon, as he has been in out of the hospital multiple times in the past two years; the entire time on dialysis. He had reoccurring battles with a deadly bacteria and suffered occasional memory loss. I kept thinking, you can handle this, Kane. Just try and comfort her and help her get through this. Our mother, crying over the phone—I hate it when mom cries, regardless of the reason—told me, “Your dad passed away earlier tonight.” I stuttered, unable to reap the words from my tongue with which to speak. “My father or your father,” I asked. My heart became uneasy in the following milliseconds as I knew that clarifying wouldn’t save me from what I was about to hear. I wasn’t so invincible anymore.

broken glass

My mom told me how dad had just died of a heart attack. I could only think to ask: is he going to be alright? I had no other thoughts in my head, I had no success, I was not tired, I couldn’t even think of what death meant. I could only think to ask if dad was going to be alright. Thoughtlessly that was my only thought.

To be completely honest with myself, I should have expected it. I remember when you and I were little dad would always tell us he would live until he was 120. It may have been stupid for me to believe, but I started to. On his last birthday I even joked that he was almost half-way dead because he was approaching sixty. The worst part is that I wasn’t truly joking. I believed it and I think you did too. Dad couldn’t die because he wasn’t 120. He couldn’t die because he beat up four bikers at a bar just to save his own bike. He couldn’t die because there was nobody tougher than him and nobody that I held myself closer to. I partly think I thought I was invincible because of him. Two days before he died, he told me how proud he was of me doing my internship and taking so many college courses, and how proud he was of you for having your life on track. He talked about how we were doing so well and that he loved us. He was the one that told me that I could do whatever I wanted; that we could do whatever we wanted. I was invincible because my dad was not going to die.

However I did get a call and it hit me that I am not invincible. Even worse was that time didn’t stop for him. I got back to school and had to drop a few classes to cut my schedule down to a normal size. I had just missed too much school and could not even begin to handle long work days again. I crestfallenly dropped my internship within a few weeks as I couldn’t keep up with it anymore. I couldn’t stand to go home. A trip home on the weekends to market (which I had been doing in the previous weeks for my internship) was no longer a success to me but something that plagued my mind. I began to wonder if all the schoolwork that I had been so focused on, the internship I took to put myself ahead, the military work I had been trying to achieve was not actually how I found myself to be successful. Within an hour of a single phone call on a cold Monday night, everything that I had defined as my success and everything that I thought I was doing right seemed so wrong. All of these things had kept me from being with dad or seeing him for periods of time. All of these things kept me away from our family for the last two months and have continuously held me back from feeling motivated. Everything I had set for myself as a success turned on me in an instant and became my warden.

I kept hoping to myself that things would get better. I kept hoping that I could feel like things would become meaningful again. I decided to make it my goal to just try and stick it out through the semester, solely on the thought that the next semester I could start with a  “clean slate”. My grades dropped rather harshly. I thought that was okay because eventually I would have that “clean slate.” My lack of internship was “tied” to this semester. I blamed everything on “this semester” because this semester was just unlucky and nobody would be able to pull through under my circumstances. I thought I needed to have a “clean slate.” It’s been two months and this thinking has only driven me into a worse spiral.

Now it is this month, and the other night I got a call from mom. She was crying again because we had a small fight before I left back for school. I asked, “why are you crying?” She replied saying, “I don’t know,” but I think she was crying because did not care about anything anymore. I was possibly going to get kicked out of ROTC. I wasn’t going to get good grades and I wasn’t going to be successful. I wanted to be motivated but I was not and I think it broke her heart because she knew. Something about hearing her crying again—this time for my sake—made me realize: there is no “clean slate.” If things are going to get better it’s not going to be because of something that begins or ends. I am not going to magically be motivated again and I will not find myself to be successful at anything unless I actually try. Even though I have lost most of what I thought made me successful, I now realize that success is still obtainable. It is just going to be in a different way than I imagined and with more effort than I thought. Everything I actually do now makes me successful, and that thought will keep me motivated.