Thursday, November 12, 2009

Veterans Day, Observed

On Memorial Day this year I wrote about my incredibly moving experience at the Vietnam War Memorial. I like to think that I appreciate America's Veterans and support the troops every day of my life, but this year I have made a conscious decision to spend my day off on Memorial Day and Veterans Day paying my respects and using my day off to observe the holiday as it was intended. Which, as it turns out, has nothing to do with barbeque.

On Tuesday I mentioned to a coworker that my plan was to visit Arlington National Cemetery on Veterans Day. I didn't necessarily want to go for the wreath-laying ceremony, but I wanted to pay my respects at the final resting place of so many of America's heroes. She was interested in coming with me so we coordinated and met at the Cemetery in the afternoon.

Neither of us have a personal relationship with anyone who has been buried at Arlington. I have only been there once before and for my previous trip I had the honor of going with someone in the Navy who was visiting members of his team who were killed in Iraq. This time I had no one in particular to visit, and the aforementioned Sailor is currently back on another deployment in Iraq. So many friends and loved ones were in my thoughts and in my heart on this day already, I fully expected my trip to Arlington to be an emotional experience. I had no idea that the most moving moment on this day would come from my coworker.

She was especially interested to visit the Cemetery for the first time. She has only been a U.S. Citizen for about a year, but came to the U.S. from Romania twenty years ago. She is an amazing person and she appreciates her U.S. citizenship more than anyone I have ever known. I suppose living under Communist rule will have that effect on a person.

We arrived to Arlington in the afternoon and decided to venture out on our own rather than join a tour. I was concerned that she would want to leave quickly because of the rain, but the weather may as well have been 75 degrees and sunny with how enthusiastic she was to walk the hallowed grounds of the Cemetery. We walked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and she took a photograph and wiped the tears from her face. After that we set off walking, nowhere in particular, just walking past the numerous grave stones and paying our respects as best we could. The rain came down, the temperature became colder, and through it all, we walked. As the winds came and tried to claim our umbrellas, we held on tight and walked along quietly. Acutely aware that our battle with the elements was no sacrifice at all compared to the experiences of men and women in uniform, their families, and the men and women whose names surrounded us. Walking silently with no one aware of our presence but the fallen heroes long gone, we swelled with respect and awe for the losses our country has suffered.

As we walked along and commented on names, graves and inscriptions, Cristina carried a small American flag and looked for somewhere to direct her symbol of respect and appreciation. As I continued to walk and wrestle the wind for control of my umbrella, she fell behind a bit, and when I turned to look back, she was paused before a grave stone along the path. She knelt down on the wet earth, put her hand on the stone so tenderly, as if she were caressing a member of her own family. She drove the flag into the earth and said, "Thank you, Major Young - for fighting for me." She stood up, dusted herself off, and leaned over and kissed the top of the gravestone before turning to continue down the path.

It was the most beautiful gesture I have ever seen. One woman with no personal ties, sharing an intimate moment at the final resting place of someone who will forever remain anonymous. To everyone who has served or is currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces - never doubt the effect your sacrifices have made. It has become a catchphrase in popular culture for everyone to "support the troops" but today I saw with my own eyes how deeply this support is felt by someone who still has emotional scars from living with communism and fascism in her own life. Someone who truly appreciates her freedom and her citizenship in ways that I will never understand, but am so privileged that she has shared part of her story, and her Veterans Day, with me.

Monday, October 19, 2009

That's what friends are for

I live in a large apartment building in NW Washington, DC. I am near the Metro and there are shops and restaurants nearby, I have always felt like everything I need is within walking distance. (Everything I want, on the other hand - that may require public transportation or a Zipcar. Depending on how badly I want it.) I have lived there for about a year and a half, but it's just lately that I've gotten to know my neighbors and grown to appreciate and love where I live.

I don't know the exact specifications, but the building is very large and it is mostly one-room studio apartments. There are some other floorplans, but the majority seem to be studio. The rent is expensive for folks like me at an entry-level job, but it's truly the best value for a studio in DC. There is an exercise room downstairs with a sauna and a hot tub. There is a sun deck on the roof, and a party room on the second floor for residents to get together. The party room has a flat screen TV, a comfy couch and chairs, a coffee maker, a lending library, and if tenants leave their drivers license at the front desk, we can have access to the Nintendo Wii. In addition to all of these amenities, the building hosts free coffee and bagels before work once or twice a month, and a couple of times a year they host a wine and cheese party for us in the party room. The building is rather old, and the hallways feel like a hotel or a dormitory, but it is worth every penny I can barely afford to pay to live there.

Even though I'd lived there over a year, it has not been until this summer that I have started to meet other tenants. The building management hosted a party in June, and one of the tenants tried to draw up interest in getting a team together for pub trivia. The pub trivia didn't exactly pan out, but once everyone had exchanged contact information, emails started to abound. There was always an invitation to a happy hour, a kickball league, dinner, game night, going away parties... there was always something going on. It has taken me a while to catch on, but this atmosphere of expensive one-room apartments seems to draw a similar demographic of people. We are all out of school and carving our career path and we're old enough to appreciate living by ourselves. At the same time, we are young enough that we're not at the point where we're ready to buy a house or get married or start a family. It makes sense that we should all come together in this little community of expensive studio apartments.

Yesterday was the birthday of one of the girls in the building. One of the guys in the building had bought her a birthday card and somehow that had a snowball effect and by the evening, we had a card, candy, balloons, cupcakes from Red Velvet, and we invited her and everyone else to get together in the party room to watch The Simpsons Halloween special. This led to the realization that we did not have enough cupcakes.

Brian, Beau and I ended up in Brian's apartment waiting for a call back from the birthday girl. We decided that a box of Ghiradelli brownie mix would save us from running out of birthday cupcakes. After much running around and gathering ingredients, we had mixed up the batter and started to pour it into the 13 x 8 inch pan. The batter barely covered the bottom of the pan. It was apparent that we had a problem and that problem was about 5 inches worth of cake pan.

We laughed at ourselves, then someone else had a box of brownie mix and we mixed that up (to a very different consistency) and poured it into the pan on top of the rest. The absurdity of the different brownie mixes, and people running out to different apartments to grab supplies and back to the brownie batter was absurd. I had a genuine moment of affection and said, "My life has improved so much since I met you guys." Beau looked at me in disbelief, spatula in hand, and said, "Really? This is your moment? You're having that much fun right now?" I reconsidered. Of all the incredibly fun things we've done together, why did I take that opportunity to tell them how much I appreciate them? I tried to explain,

"Yes. Because this moment is identical to what I would be doing had I never met you guys. Except I'd be in my kitchen by myself, feeling like a dumbass for picking the wrong pan and wondering how I was going to eat two dozen brownies all by myself."

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Okay okay, we're all racist! Can we talk about the issues now?!?!

Our top story tonight, President Barack Obama is still black. Well, half black, technically. But there have been no melanin-based changes since he was elected in November.

A series of events, beginning with Rep. Wilson's comment, followed by a weekend of protests and capped off with a former president making yet another quotable declaration - have now brought the issue of race to the forefront of discussion about the president. It was even a poll question in the Express this week.

The Express poll is a good example of the problem with this debate - "Do you think race is a factor in the opposition to President Obama?" Your choices are YES or NO. As Carter himself said when he brought this up in his NBC interview, "That racism inclination still exists" in the country. Of course. Without question it still exists, and if you were to put that as your poll question with a choice of YES or NO, you should get a 100% unanimous vote that we all agree - racism still exists. But to bring this up as "is race a factor?" will get you nothing but a never-ending dialogue with personal attacks and racial insensitivity. Of course racism inclination still exists. No one is denying that. But to suggest that race is the key factor in the opposition to Obama is irresponsible, unfair and dangerous.

Not surprisingly, the published results of the poll were 50/50. Split down the middle between yes and no on "Is race a factor." A 50/50 vote should show that this a very divided issue. The problem is, it's not a divided issue. I think most of us agree that race will inevitably factor into many peoples decisions, but this poll suggest that half of the people think race is the number one overarching factor. Which is irresponsible, because it does nothing but dismiss the opinions of his opposition.

I can not say this any better than Joe Scarborough did this morning. This country elected Barack Obama. His approval ratings until recently were in the 70 percentile range. The amount of hope and positive energy on the National Mall in January was palpable. But now, the protesters descend on the capitol over the weekend and accusations of racism abound. This issue of race is an important one and it is worthy of lengthy and substantial debate. But let's refrain from dismissing peoples' opinions as being race-based and try to work on solutions to some real problems. This argument about whether race is a factor is a distraction. During the primaries, Bill Clinton was accused of playing the race card. Joe Biden was accused of making racist comments right after he announced he was running for President. However much of a factor you think race may be to the opposition, this is not an argument that will ever get resolved. This country is in crisis. I for one would like to hear solutions on how to fix the economy, the healthcare crisis, the national deficit; rather than accusations and finger-pointing.

It is unfortunate, but there will always be an undertone of racism in all matters related to Barack Obama. Just like there will always be an undertone of sexism in all matters related to Sarah Palin or Hillary Clinton. Instead of reducing these people to categories and characteristics, can we just let them try to get something done? Our elected officials have enough distractions as it is. Let's stop reducing complex arguments about race to yes-or-no questions; and while we're at it, we're not accomplishing much by demanding apologies for rude outbursts either. It's time to stop focusing on the bad behavior and get to work on putting this country back together.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

When in DC, do as the tourists

I took a late lunch today and walked up to the Farmers Market in Penn Quarter. While the walk itself is only about 10 blocks, it's not a straight shot. The walk across the mall can be like navigating a racecar driving video game. You're going really fast, but you have to zig and zag across the sidewalk just to stay out of someone's photograph. Within one block I saw four different photos being taken right in front of me and at least three different languages being spoken. The best was the woman getting a photo of her friend with the capitol building in the background. When she had the camera on her, the woman smiled and said "whiskey!" She had a huge grin on her face.

That's when I stopped and decided to take my own picture. The photo itself isn't that impressive, but it is all part of why I am so in love with this city. I can walk a few blocks from my office on any given day and this is what I see. Just in one lunch hour I took in the capitol building, the Washington Monument and WWII Memorial in the distance, the Navy Memorial, Archives and the Smithsonian buildings. I moved here in May of last year, and after 16 months I still find this city as breathtaking as ever. I am truly, madly, deeply in love with this city. Sure, it's not perfect and it's expensive as hell. But there is nowhere else I would rather be right now. Thanks to the whiskey tourists for reminding me not to take it for granted.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Single in DC

This weekend was spent with several friends - all of us single and in our late 20s or 30s. It was an awesome weekend! I went to Six Flags and rode roller coasters, later that night I went to see Inglourious Basterds (excellent movie and worthy of another blog post altogether.) After the movie we went out for drinks and then after-hours get-together and some of us met for brunch the next day. It wasn't always the same people at every event, but there was anywhere from four to seven people at any given time.

During Sunday brunch, one of the girls said several times, "This has been a great weekend. I'm really happy we got together." She repeated it again later. "I just can't believe what a great weekend this was!"

A declaration with extreme disbelief that we could have fun might be insulting under normal circumstances. But no one was offended. We know that she is going through a breakup right now. Not a big, devastating, estate-dividing breakup, more like acceptance that it's not going to work out with the person she's been dating the last few months. No broken hearts, just that annoying feeling of knowing that yet another romantic relationship has fizzled and you are back to the flirtatious drawing board.

It was a great weekend spent with single, platonic friends and at one point, the inevitable conversation between came up - someone talking of setting someone else up with one of their friends, others frustrated because they don't have a boyfriend or girlfriend.

I just don't get it.

This is what's frustrating to me. This universally accepted belief that there is something wrong with being single. That being single means being lonely or being too selfish to commit to someone. Or being too "scared" of getting hurt.

Is it that difficult to belief that maybe, quite possibly, being single kicks ass?!?

Single people are fun. We are available. Literally! When you get the urge to go out an do something - see a movie or go to a bar, who do you call? Your single friends! We don't have to check in with anyone to make arrangements. We're social free agents.

I'm not judging anyone who is in a committed relationship. There is nothing wrong with either lifestyle. But when you get settled, you tend to stop looking outside the confines of your own nest. If you want to see a movie, you know who you'll go with. If you feel like going out to eat, you always ask the same person to go with you. If you need to vent about someone at work, or if you're feeling low and need an attaboy or attagirl, you know who's going to listen. If you are single, you get proactive and put more effort into your social life. You have to put yourself out there and stay in touch with people around you, and I find it to be a much more rewarding experience. We have all heard it a thousand times - no one else can make you happy, you have to make yourself happy. Those words are so true yet rarely ever followed. When you are single, you need to stop worrying about the pressure of settling down and take responsibility to make yourself happy.

Take this weekend for example. Six Flags was my idea. I have been wanting to go and it's getting to be the end of the summer, so I sent out an invitation to over 20 people. Of those 20+ people, four of us ended up going and we all had a great time. On our way back from the park, two of us wanted to see the same movie, so we invited the others and called a few people to join us. Some did, and others met up with us at a bar after the film. By the end of the night we were seven people strong and walking home at 1:30 in the morning planning for brunch the next day.

We all had a blast over theweekend, and I would argue that I had a much more enriching experience than had I gone to an amusement park, movie, and then brunch with one person.

If you are in a relationship and you are happy, I am happy for you. But to the rest of you - those who are in an unhappy relationship but afraid of being alone, those of you who are going through a breakup, and the people who are sitting around feeling bad about themselves because they are single - to you people I say, go out and meet new people and have fun. There is way too much pressure to settle down and not enough people celebrating the single life. And those of us who do, we generally do it silently because the rest of you start to judge. I know, all of you married folks hate us. That much is obvious in the way you encourage single people to join you in your misery.

Being single does kick ass, but in closing, I will concede one point. While I am a big advocate of the single life, sex is another matter altogether. Generally, it is not a good rule of thumb if you have been wanting to have sex to invite 20 people and then have fun with the four who show up. It's not quite the same arrangement as a trip to Six Flags. Sex complicates everything. And like the film I mentioned earlier, it is also fun, awesome and deserving of its own blog. (Preferably one that my parents don't read on a regular basis like this one.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Do you want to be on TV? Do you have a handgun carry permit?

Have I got a deal for you!

Last week I caught this interview on MSNBC. It was after a presidential town hall meeting in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The person being interviewed is William Kostric, who garnered much attention outside of the event and and afterward proceeded to be cussed out by Hardball host Chris Matthews for "...carrying a goddamn gun at a presidential event."

The desperation of the 24-hour news cycle never ceases to amaze me.

While I did not watch live footage of the gun-totin' protester, I did see an endless number of close-ups of Mr. Kostric's unconcealed weapon strapped to his leg. I can only imagine how this footage came to existence. I picture it now - the news cameras surveying the crowd, noticing the protester with a gun and the cameras suddenly swarming upon him. Speculation on a handgun outside a presidential event makes for great filler when they have to fill the downtime. It spurred quite a bit of controversy.

This controversy annoys me greatly. I especially like the part of Matthews' interview where he asks Kostric if he's part of the "birther movement" and pesters the man to ask repeatedly if he believes President Obama is a legitimate president of the United States. How disappointing it must have been for the host to find that his guest refused to rant about birth certificates like a true anti-Obama zealot.

While Kostric comes across as someone who is not accustomed to television exposure, he does not present himself as a zealot. He legally and openly carried a firearm without incident while protesting. The only chaos that ensued was in response to the media overexposure of this non-incident. Yesterday, the daily poll question in the Washington Post Express was Should it be illegal to carry guns outside presidential events? I can't even believe this is starting a national dialogue when there was no incident. As Kostric says in the interview, he wasn't doing anything illegal. Which Matthews answers by pointing out "You can chew gum in church, you can ride in on a pogo stick. There's a lot of things you're legally allowed to do." His point being, that with America's history of assassinations, it is inappropriate to legally carry a gun near a presidential event.

It seems to me that our history of assassinations is the reason why President Obama has a presidential motorcade with bulletproof vehicles, secret service agents and metal detectors. Is the guy deliberately trying to make a statement by standing across the street from the event w/a handgun? Certainly. And it seems to have worked beyond his wildest expectations. By showing up carrying his gun, he got a great deal of media exposure by sources who have nothing better to report and with the bonus of starting a national dialogue about the second amendment.

Now, thanks to the media exposure of New Hampshire, everyone wants to make a statement and get on television. This is the part that bugs me. Here is how I see this playing out.

  • A guy in NH shows up to protest and straps his piece to his leg, hoping that it will attract attention and give him the opportunity to stand up for 2nd amendment rights.
  • Said guy ends up with media exposure and succeeds in starting (again!) a national dialogue about gun laws and the likelihood of a presidential assassination.
  • The Second Amendment argument gets the masses on both sides of the issue worked up - as it always does.
  • People start showing up to more events with more guns just to make their point.
  • Eventually all of the attention turns it into a circus, and yes, inevitably someone will do something stupid and someone may get hurt.
  • Because the debate will escalate as it always does and someone will cross the line as they always do.
  • If (God forbid!) there is an incident, the anti-gun activists will be vindicated. They can be sure to thank the media once again.
  • Saturday, August 15, 2009

    Lines on Ale

    Now that I have cancelled HBO and ditched the expensive sports channels, I'm back to watching cable news networks when there's nothing on basic cable. I'm also back to remembering why it was worth the extra $30 per month to have the extra channels. The other night I watched Keith Obermann until I couldn't tolerate any more. Then I switched over to the O'Reilly Factor until I couldn't tolerate anymore. That continued on - back and forth until I lost the will to live. About ten times back and forth by 15 minutes into the hour.

    Tonight I caught an episode of Glenn Beck's program where he does not compare the Obama administration to Nazi Germany. If you have not heard about this particular episode, Beck begins by talking about eugenics, Nazi Germany's racial politics, and healthcare reform in the United States. Beck repeats several times that he does not believe that Barack Obama is advocating eugenics, nor does he believe that Obama wants to "Pull the plug on Grandma" as he has been accused of with the so-called "Death Panels." Beck removes himself from these preposterous claims and says that is NOT what he is trying to say. Then he points out the reasons why the same philosophy in Nazi Germany may be an unintended consequence of the proposed healthcare reform. He makes no accusations that Obama's intention has any comparison eugenics of Nazi Germany, but all intentions aside - in a crisis situation, he points out why it may be a likely result if the current healthcare reforms are passed. He also goes on to suggest that the people Obama surrounds himself with may be capable of such unthinkable acts. All the time repeating that he is making no accusations on Obama's intentions whatsoever.

    As Glenn Beck introduces his guests, I can't help but greet them with, "Nice to meet you. Your career is over." "Nice to meet you, your career is also over..." I'm watching and I'm shocked because I know - you can not mention Nazi Germany when speaking of the President of the United States. There are few things at all that you can make a logical and reasonable comparison to Hitler without sounding like a crackpot and losing credibility. This is especially so if you are reporting on Fox News. Likewise, if you are reporting on MSNBC making the same comparison with George W. Bush. Credibility is slim in this argument. I'm sure that the producers of this program knew how provocative this program would be, and they went ahead with it. I have to give them credit, they undoubtedly knew what kind of reaction it would get.

    While I am shocked by the audacity of Beck's claims, I can't say as I necessarily disagree with part of his argument. If I try my best to be objective, I must admit I will never refute the possibility of the way this country may react to a crisis situation. If his argument is (as it appears to be) that in an economic crisis, we may begin pulling the plug on grandma as a desperate attempt to save younger patients, I can't really refute that. I really wouldn't refute any claim against our government or the American public if it began with "In a crisis situation..." Frankly, our country has a history during crisis situations to do some incredibly fucked up things.

    Think of it this way - had there been a 24-hour news cycle and a 1942 version of Glenn Beck on a radio program claiming, "Japanese Americans beware!! President Roosevelt wants to drag American citizens from their homes and put them into camps!" He would not have been taken any more seriously than the current claims of Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity against Obama on their Fox News programs. Even in this lifetime, had a partisan political medium made the claim in 2000 that terrorists would fly airplanes into buildings on live television while the entire country watched, we would have found the whole scenario preposterous. That's a movie, that's a fantasy. That is not reality. Terrorists decimating the World Trade Center? Flying into the Pentagon? Taking over aircrafts armed only with box cutters? That just screams conspiracy theory. Yet, we all watched it happen didn't we? What if someone had told us that following said terrorist attack, the entire country would spend billions of dollars in resources and countless human lives taking over government and rebuilding a country unrelated to this this terrorist attack? C'mon! What are we? Idiots?!?

    Well... yeah, we are.

    I love this country and I think we are afforded a lot of freedoms we take for granted. (One of which is the free press that brings us these 24-hour news networks.) And for some reason, we think we are a lot smarter than we really are. This country has a long history of panicking in a crisis situation. Don't ever underestimate what this country is capable of when faced with a real fear (Like 9/11, like Pearl Harbor...) Death Panels, euthanizing elderly people... in a crisis situation? You bet. The politics of fear could easily sell this to America. Hell, people could even be scared into forming militias to be sent into senior citizen centers. History has informed me and I would not rule it out. When Americans fear our freedom and our lifestyle - we will support things that are clearly preposterous with the benefit of foresight or hindsight.

    Here's the problem with Glenn Beck. The politics of fear may work in a certain demographic - in this case the elderly (which also happen to be largely Republican) may take Beck's suggestions gravely serious. But when the overall population has the benefit of foresight and logical thinking, they will clearly identify this as fearmongering. For the same reason they would not have believed Japanese internment camps would be a possibility, for the same reason none of us would would ever have been prepared for a group of well-organized terrorists to take over aircrafts with box-cutters and change our lives forever. For the same reason that forming a detention center in Cuba for terrorists, exempt from U.S. protocol would seem far-fetched. Had Keith Obermann gone on his show with a panel warning us of that outcome, it would seem just as preposterous as the Republicans do with their claims of Death Panels, eugenics, and granny mercy killings.

    Glenn Beck may have crossed a line by drawing parallels between Nazis and Obama's healthcare reform and he probably won't be surprised to feel backlash and loss of sponsorship. Fearmongering is effective only when there is a clear and present danger. In this country, people are more afraid of the state of healthcare as it exists now. People who are struggling or unable to pay for insurance and medical bills could be in a crisis situation right now, and that is the fear they are responding to, not the fear of death panels or eugenics.

    Monday, July 20, 2009

    Remembering Frank McCourt

    I am saddened today by the news that author Frank McCourt passed away. I read his first Memoir, Angela's Ashes, not long after it came out and it immediately became my favorite book. It was one of those rare reads that reaches you so deeply that you feel like you have grown as a person. The kind you finish in a day or two and immediately begin to buy copies for everyone you know. I am sure that some of you reading this blog have read the book upon my recommendation, or perhaps on your own accord. At any rate, I hope it reaches you the same way it has reached me.

    I know some people did not enjoy the book as much as I because they found it depressing. The situation is most certainly heartbreaking - being raised in Ireland in such poverty, siblings starving and even dying in the bed next to him. What I found so inspirational about the memoir was Mr. McCourt's ability to shed light to his story by bringing humor through his innocent perspective as a child who knew no other life. There is nothing in my lifetime that could ever compare to what he endured in his childhood. If he can keep that in perspective and share his experience in such a moving memoir, I have no excuses to let anything hold me back. That is the inspiration his words bring to me. He was a wonderful storyteller and through it all he kept his sense of humor. Or perhaps that is how he developed one.

    In 2006, Frank McCourt came to Iowa City through the University of Iowa Lecture Series. I attended his lecture about his years teaching and he was an inspiration as always. Afterward, some friends and I went to a local bar and before I had finished my first drink, I saw Frank McCourt walk in the door. Of course, I did what anyone does when they run into someone they idolize, I told everyone who would listen, "That's Frank McCourt! You guys, Frank McCourt is here! Oh my God I don't know what to do, Frank McCourt is sitting across the room from me." Then I remembered to breathe.

    Normally I hate being in these situations because I do not want to invade anyone's privacy. As much as I want to let someone know how much I appreciate them and how much of a fan I am, I do not want to interrupt anyone's free time to gush incoherently about how great they are. I think fame would be a curse. I can't imagine not being able to go about my normal life without being interrupted and having to act interested in what people have to say when really you just want to eat a sandwich. That would be difficult, but I really did want to meet him.

    Luckily, icebreakers are much easier when the person is Irish. How do you let an Irishman know you appreciate him? You buy him a drink! I asked the waitress to bring is next drink on me. When she brought it over she pointed me out and we did a "cheers" across the bar. I'm sure I blushed from head to toe, but I was honored to buy the man a drink.

    Later (after his meal) when I was getting up, Mr. McCourt waved me over to his table. He was sitting with a couple of people on the UI Lecture Committee and a young man who worked for his publisher and was traveling with him. I sat down and talked to them a bit and Frank McCourt was every bit as charming as I expected he would be. He ended up leaving shortly after but the rest of us stayed and had a few more drinks together.

    I exchanged emails with the guy who worked for the publisher but it has been a long time. When I heard the news today, I found the email address and explained that I had met them in Iowa City. I expressed my condolences and asked that he let Mr. McCourt's family and loved ones know how much he was appreciated by so many of us. Frank McCourt truly was a national treasure.

    I was not sure if I would get a response or if the email address was still current. To my surprise, he responded right away and told me he remembered the night. After a few email exchanges back and forth, he confessed what Frank McCourt whispered after he waved me over to the table. The following is from his email...

    But I distinctly remember when the waitress came by and said that there was a lady that wanted to buy him a drink. And his response was, "Tell her I accept." When the waitress came back with the drink he suggested we invite you to come by the table. As you were approaching - he could see you, and I couldn't... he said you were my type.

    I'll never forget him saying that he thought you were my type, and that since he was happily married, he'd happily be my 75 year old Irish, bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winning wingman! And whatever happened in Iowa City, stayed in Iowa City.

    This morning I was sad when I heard of his death, and today I have had a good laugh to know that when I met this man I have so much respect for, he was acting like a frat boy. (How many senior citizens know what a wingman is?!?!) The man truly was someone who comes along only once in a lifetime. There will never be another Frank McCourt, and I know at least one person who will have a hell of a time finding another 75 year old Irish, bestselling author and Pulitzer Prize winning wingman.

    May he rest in peace. He's always been an inspiration to me, but I could not adore Frank McCourt any more than I do at this very moment.

    Thursday, July 2, 2009

    The Reluctant Barber

    The way I feel about going to get a haircut is the way most people feel about going to the dentist. I know I have to do it on a regular basis but there's always some level of pain involved. My hair is naturally thick and curly and no one knows how to deal with it, including me. So once or twice a year - when it's too long and I can't take it anymore - I go in and someone new tells me what would look great on me. Then they proceed to tell me unconvincingly why this is going to be the perfect haircut. I have gone to expensive salons and spent a small fortune and I've gone to cosmetology schools and spent $7.00. Doesn't matter where I go, I always end up with shorter hair that is no more manageable. I've had some really really bad haircuts (perhaps some of you remember them as well.) But I've never walked out of a salon and said, "Awesome! I love my hair!" It's generally not bad, not great, but much better than the mop I walked in with.

    The time has come once again when I couldn't deal with the length anymore so I walked into Supercuts to get it taken care of tonight. It's my natural inclination to turn around and run away from a haircut, but it wasn't until after I was settled in the chair that I realized... there were some logical indicators that would lead a person to turn around. The first of which being the fact that everyone in there was bald. Two guys - one with male pattern baldness, the other had a shaved head - were sitting waiting, my barber had a shaved head, and another barber was giving a kid a mohawk. A guy in sunglasses came out from the back room and asked me, "You ready?" and invited me into the chair. I was curious why the guys were waiting while I got right in, and apparently that kept me too preoccupied to question why the guy about to cut my hair was wearing sunglasses. I'm not talking about fashionable lenses or the tinted kind that change in different lighting. I'm talking dark - block out all the light - Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder sunglasses. I decided he wasn't blind b/c he saw me standing there. But it was a little suspicious that even in his license photo he was wearing sunglasses. There were a few times he looked real close at my hair before he cut it; maybe squinted a little bit. But what the hell, even a blind person couldn't cut my hair worse than some in the past. The months when everyone called me Lyle Lovett were very difficult. But it always grows back.

    When I was sitting in the chair, he looked over it closely - and I mean that literally. He said, "Now you just want this trimmed, right?" I said, no I'm tired of it. Do whatever you want with it. He said, "I don't want to cut it. I'll trim it but I don't want to cut it. You have great hair." I wasn't that cool with a trim and he wasn't that cool with cutting it short so we proceeded to negotiate for about five minutes. "No, if you leave it long you can do this... and this... and do you know how much money people pay for hair like this? And you want to cut it off?" He wanted to cut a half inch, I wanted several inches so we compromised and now it's a little longer than shoulder length. Is this normal? I kinda' don't think it is but I have never had normal hair and nothing feels normal about a haircut anyway. I hate haircuts.

    So, Blair (that's what his business card says - no first or last name, just Blair) told me exactly how he would give me the perfect haircut. I have to give the guy credit, he took a lot of time to work with my hair. He seemed to really enjoy his job. It was great to watch him work because he conducted himself like he was creating a work of art. He was very careful and was adamant that I had to keep my hair long. He showed me many different things I could do with it. "Don't ever pull it back like this. If you're gonna pull it back, do it up like this instead. See the difference?" The whole time he was cutting it he was making comments like, "You are going to like this. You're going to be dangerous! People will be coming back here and saying, 'Blair, I want you to make me look like her' and you're gonna have to tell them, 'no you can't look as good as me.'" This went on for quite some time with various colorful expressions of how awesome my hair was going to be and when I come back for another haircut I'll either have twenty boyfriends or an engagement ring. Maybe both. Who knows what sort of trouble this haircut will get me into in the imagination of Blair the Barber and his magic scissors.

    In the end, I think it was a pretty decent haircut but I never really know until the next day. He put a lot of time and effort and I am comforted by the fact that he seemed to be enjoying himself. I don't think he was blind, but I can't help but wonder about the glasses. I believe he may have had some sort of visual impairment. He definitely was hilarious. All in all, I paid about $30 to have a decent haircut and listen to a man compliment me and tell me about how hot I'm going to look. You just can't pay enough for that kind of service.

    Tuesday, June 30, 2009

    I'm Drenched. Life is Good!

    I took the Metro home tonight and when I got to the top of the escalator, I ran into a crowd of people standing around. Some of them were reading a newspaper or looking around nervously, but most of them were just... standing. They were waiting for the rain to stop.

    It was raining pretty heavily, but it's warm outside and 8:00 at night. It's not like these were people on their way to a business meeting or anything. Cleveland Park is not known for its Tuesday nightlife, it is very probable that wherever these people were headed they would be in for the night. I'm making assumptions, but no kidding - there were like 15 people just standing there waiting for the rain to stop so they can go on with their lives. Fifteen umbrellaless soles gathered under the shelter of the Metro entrance - reading a newspaper, checking their watch, all contemplating a big decision. It's raining. What to do?

    I can understand not wanting to get rained upon. When my naturally curly hair gets wet I look like Lamont from Sanford & Son. I'm sure this unusually large crowd of people had their own reasons for not wanting to go out in the rain. But to just stand there and wait until it lets up? There was no lightning, no thunder, no wind or severe weather indications. Just heavy drops of rain. I'm really really perplexed at the number of people standing there putting their lives on hold because of rain.

    While the huddled masses waited around, I looked up to the sky and challenged the rain to do its worst. I splashed through puddles and let the cool rain drench my entire body and it felt good to be reminded me why I refuse to grow up. At what point in life do people give up the fascination and excitement over the little things? When you're a kid, the only reason you can't go play in the rain is because your parents won't let you. I'm not suggesting adults should go back to splashing mud puddles and having snowball fights every day. It certainly wasn't on my schedule tonight to splash through the rain and walk drenched into my cold, air-conditioned apartment but when life hands you lemons, play in the rain!

    I'm baffled by the number of people held at bay by the rain. Grown-ups are boring. The world would be a better place if everyone took the time to play in the rain again. Rake the leaves up into a pile in the yard and them jump in! Take off your shoes and run through the grass until your toenails turn green! Remember what it's like to be a kid! So what if you have to wash your own clothes and wipe your own nose now? Just because you have a mortgage and a career doesn't mean you can't appreciate the little things in life.

    Sunday, June 28, 2009

    Don't Stop Til you Get Enough

    I started off my morning today as I do most - hitting the snooze button repeatedly with the TV blaring. Unlike most days, the channel was tuned to music videos rather than morning news. I woke up today to the now-ubiquitous sounds of Michael Jackson's greatest hits. This morning, MTV2 ran several hours of Michael Jackson videos, beginning with the Jackson Five performing ABC on American Bandstand in the seventies. Two things struck me immediately as I watched this performance. First, it's remarkable to see Dick Clark - whose appearance showed few signs of aging for thirty years - standing next to Michael Jackson - who became unrecognizable as the young vocalist standing next to the Bandstand host. By all indications, Jackson may have become a different species while Clark appeared to be sleeping in a cryogenic chamber. It's entirely possible that there may have been a supernatural force at work. Something like The Picture of Dorian Gray, but with Dick Clark putting a curse on the pre-pubescent Michael Jackson and stealing his soul to secure his own eternal youth. It may sound outlandish, but the visual evidence supports this possibility.

    Other than considering Dick Clark's gypsy curse to seal Michael Jackson's destiny and ward off crows feet for a few years, the other striking element in watching this tribute was the same fascination I have had since Jackson's death. It has been so long since I have associated the name Michael Jackson with his music. Sadly, as much time as I spent listening to the King of Pop as a kid and trying to imitate his dance moves, his talent has been completely eclipsed by his bizarre behavior, lifestyle and appearance. With the shocking news of his passing, I have heard very little from media sources about anything other than rave reviews of his immense talent. In recent years, descriptions of "Wacko Jacko" have included words like "pedophile," "freak," "Criminal," and "rapist." After his death, they have been replaced with the descriptives "genius," "innovator," and "Ground-breaking talent." No one has mentioned Bubbles the Chimp or the Elephant Man's bones lately, but all news sources instead highlight the sequined glove as they count of the number of gold records and Grammys Jackson earned.

    Whether speaking of his talent or his outlandish behavior, there is plenty to elaborate on either argument. The man had an abundance of both.

    Perhaps this will sound terrible, but I can't help but wonder what would have happened had Michael Jackson died ten years ago. There is something profane about this love-fest the country is having after the death of Michael Jackson. Clearly, the guy has always had issues but the train wreck that is Michael Jackson has reached a whole new level in recent years. I understand that the Jackson family had a closet full of skeletons but coming of age as a celebrity in the 70s and 80s is nothing compared to today's reality-TV obsessed culture. America loves crazy people and the media loves to exploit celebrities. I make no assumptions about the accusations against MJ. I don't know if he's a child molester or not, but all molestation charges aside, the guy had issues. I can't imagine why anyone would leave their child unsupervised with this guy even before his name became a punchline for jokes about little boys.

    If the current media coverage is any indication, Michael Jackson's legacy as a talented musician will supersede his reputation as a child molester and general all-around weirdo. His music and his talent have been praised non-stop since the news of his death and his albums are selling quicker than they can stock the shelves. As fascinating as this person is - in his abundance of talent as well as his disturbing behavior, the thing that disturbs me the most is the media. I suppose it's too easy to simply blame the media, the problem is more deeply embedded within our popular culture. I should not be surprised by the praise and adoration being heaped on someone who is more commonly recognized for his bizarre and allegedly criminal behavior and personal life. It's what we do in this country. At some point in the last 15 to 20 years, watching mental illness and instability under the microscope of celebrity media and paparazzi has become a form of entertainment. Americans can't seem to get enough of watching celebrities whose lives are more screwed up as our own. At the same time, we're not total heathens. We know better than to speak ill of the dead. That's rude.

    Friday, June 12, 2009

    I should be so much more excited about the Stanley Cup

    Tonight is game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals and the end of NHL hockey until the fall. I love hockey, but trying to choose between the Detroit Red Wings and the Pittsburgh Penguins is like trying to decide if I'd rather be poked in the eye with a sharp stick or poked in the eye with a fork. Either way is painful and makes me cringe.

    I haven't written about hockey since the Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs. After the Caps were out, that left Detroit against the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh against the Carolina Hurricanes. The only outcome I would have celebrated in the conference finals would have been if Chicago beat the Wings and then beat the Penguins. Knowing that would never happen, hockey became a lot less interesting after the Caps and Bruins were out of the Eastern conference finals.

    So that leads me to decide who to cheer for tonight. It has always been my policy to cheer for whoever plays against the Red Wings, but I can't bring myself to cheer for Team Crosby. Penguins? Red Wings? Fork? Sharp stick? Life is full of tough choices. This year I am pulling for Detroit. I never thought the day would come that I would cheer for the Red Wings, but I am doing it for political reasons. Detroit is in bad shape. The entire state of Michigan has suffered from the downturn of the auto industry and unemployment levels are far above the rest of the country. Foreclosure rates are on the rise and the people of Detroit need a reason to celebrate in the streets tonight.

    I hope I never have to say this again for the rest of my life, but GO WINGS!!

    Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    Memorial Day, Observed

    When you see the Wall for the first time, you are awe-struck by the visual simplicity of a memorial for something so complex as the Vietnam War. It is simply a wall etched with names, chronologically, of those who were killed or missing and unaccounted for in the Vietnam War. The size of the wall and the overwhelming number of names has a profound effect. Most people my age have learned about the Vietnam War through history classes or from watching action-packed Hollywood films. Some of us may have heard accounts from those who were there, the experiences they went through; or even from those who did not serve, but have stories about others who did. Anyone with an elementary education in American history knows of the Vietnam War, the protests, the political unrest, and the shameful way our country neglected the returning service members.

    Like most historical events, one can never fully comprehend without having lived through the event and seeing it with their own eyes. Could you effectively describe the events of September 11, 2001? I was in Iowa on 9/11, far from New York City, the Pentagon, or Pennsylvania; yet I will never forget the day. I sat in front of my television all day with friends and loved ones, trying to grasp the reality of what we were watching. It was a surreal experience from halfway across the country. When I hear stories of those who lived through it, I feel the emotional connection between the events I watched fearfully on television, and the experience of those who saw it firsthand. Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11. But, in ten years, will you be able to explain to an 18 –year old, exactly what happened in this country? If you were in NYC or if you were in Iowa, or if you were in Oregon, I don’t believe there is a way to make someone who has no emotional perspective truly understand what happened on that day.

    Unfortunately, that is the same disconnect I have with the Vietnam War. The facts I have learned over the course of my life, the people I have talked to about their experience, be it in the service or just growing up and knowing that their neighbor left and never came home – as much empathy and respect as I feel, I know that I will never truly understand what it meant to have lived through that time. I think that is the case for most people my age. We know the facts, but will never understand. That is why the Wall is such a moving experience.

    Of all the facts that have influenced my understanding of the Vietnam War, nothing I ever learned in a textbook, saw in a movie or even heard from a Vet that had the same effect as seeing those 58,261 names etched into nearly 250 feet of the Wall. It is the first time I understood the impact and devastation of what happened in Vietnam.

    250 feet of wall… 70 inscribed panels, each with up to 137 lines of names. Each of those names represents a member of the U.S. military lost in battle. 58,261 service members never to be seen again by their parents, husbands, wives, children, neighbors, friends, relatives… who now have a name on a wall to remember their loved one, and to remind the rest of us of our country’s history.

    I’m sure everyone who visits the wall has their own unique experience and understanding of the memorial. For me, it has not been any one individual, but the magnitude of seeing all of those names as the list goes on and on. Having no personal connection to any one person memorialized on the Wall, it is the overall structure and the collection of so many names that makes it so breathtaking. Many people come to the Wall to visit a loved one and see their name, perhaps leaving behind a card or flower to show that the person is still in their heart. For me, it is the list of names as a whole that I have always found so moving.

    Until yesterday

    On Memorial Day that list of names comes to life. On any given day you may find a card or a flower lain in front of the panels. On Memorial Day, I saw more than a daunting list of names with some cards and flowers. I saw letters written by friends and family, mementos left by those who served alongside the men and women fated to earn their name on the wall. A pack of Marlboro Reds, a picture of a the American flag drawn in crayon by a youngster, the words “Miss you, Daddy!” on a photo of a man holding a baby – and the realization that the infant in the photo is probably now older than me but still feeling the loss of her father.

    On the last Monday in May, we take a day out of our regular work schedules in remembrance of the men and woman who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. I have always had the utmost respect for those who wear the Uniform of the U.S. Armed Forces. The time I spent in D.C. over Memorial Day weekend has deepened my respect, not only for those who have served, but the families they leave behind.

    Thursday, April 30, 2009

    Round Two: Washington Ovechkins vs. Pittsburgh Crosbys

    Tonight I am all worked up about the Stanley Cup playoffs. Round one was the Washington Ovechkins vs. the New York Averys, now it’s the Crosbys vs. the Ovechkins in round two. Or that is what a casual observer may think.

    If you are a casual observer or have no idea what I’m talking about, here’s the superstar super scoop.
    Sean Avery is a punk who plays for the New York Rangers. He started the season as a punk for the Dallas Stars but after making inappropriate comments that embarrassed the management and the entire NHL, he was suspended from the league, released by the Stars and banished to the minor league. A desperate Rangers team picked him up right about the same time they fired their coach and replaced him with John Tortorella. During the first round of the playoffs with the Rangers, the only thing the commentators could talk about was the loose cannon Avery.

    Sidney Crosby is a girly hockey sensation who plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was the number one overall draft pick for them in 2005 and he’s their team captain and resident douchebag. He has been an NHL darling before he was even eligible for the draft, all eyes have been on him. The problem with him is that he knows all eyes are on him & uses a dramatic flair to try and draw penalties from his opponents. He such a superstar that his linemates often serve as his entourage when trouble starts. I have seen him fight and it is not pretty. There are some areas of the anatomy where you just don’t hit another man, no matter the circumstances. I have seen Sidney Crosby break the guy code on this one. I could go on but you get the idea. I am not a fan.

    Alexander Ovechkin. What to say about the Great 8? He plays for my team and I’m afraid this is blasphemy around these parts, but I can’t help myself. I don’t like Ovechkin. He is also a superstar NHL darling but I will give him the credit that unlike Crosby, Ovie fights his own battles. Actually, I would say he is the opposite of Crosby in some ways. When someone messes with Crosby on the ice, the rest of his team comes to his rescue. On the Washington Capitals, when the other team messes with any of his teammates, Ovechkin will come to their rescue. I give him a lot of credit for that because when he is on the ice, all eyes are on him. Unlike Crosby, he appears to use his powers for good rather than evil (or whining, as the case may be.) Unfortunately, Ovechkin is like Crosby in that he is a product that the NHL is selling. People don’t come to watch the Washington Capitals play, they come to see Alex Ovechkin score an acrobatic goal and slam himself up against the glass. He is always at the top of the league stats. He scored 56 goals this season, more than any other player. This certainly makes him a standout, but he also had more shots on goal than anyone else in the league. With 528 shots on goal, that puts his shooting percentage at 10.6%, that makes him #155 in the NHL rankings. On his own team, he is behind Semin, Fleischmann, Green, Backstrom and Laich. 528 shots on goal is a hell of a lot of scoring attempts. The second highest number of shots on goal in the NHL was Eric Staal with 372. Ovechkin made 156 more attempts than the second highest player, and Staal played 3 more games than Ovechkin did. Ovie will take any opportunity he sees to score and don’t get me wrong, that is a good thing. You can’t score if you don’t shoot the puck. At the same time, it explains why he is such a phenomenon. Perhaps some of it is raw talent, but he works very hard, he’s an intense player and when you take that many shots on goal, you always end up with the amazing shots that miraculously cross the line. The lucky bounces, the strange angles and pushing the puck while he’s sliding on his face – they all end up on the highlight reels so that everyone can gush about what an amazing player he is. Having watched him all season, I am not as fascinated as everyone else seems to be. I have seen how hard he works for the empty net goals to pad his stats. I’ve seen him cherry pick when Backstrom and Semin set him up with perfect assists. I have also seen him steal a hat trick from Brooks Laich by taking an empty net goal in a 3-1 game against Toronto. Two of those three goals were Laich’s. That annoyed me greatly. Brooks Laich is one of my favorite players. He always gives 100% and is always a solid player. He and Nick Backstrom are two of the most consistently good players I have seen. We have a lot of talent on our team and some of the players who bring the most to the team are ignored next to the blinding glow of Ovechkin’s popularity. It’s not just those two either, we have an immense amount of talent on our team but if you are only listening to the commentators, game recaps and news stories you would think that Ovechkin was the only one who showed up to the game. Same goes for the Penguins and Crosby. How many casual hockey fans outside of Pittsburgh know who Evgeni Malkin is?

    While I am not a fan of Ovechkin, I can not deny what he brings to my team. He is a great player and a popular player. The problem is not what he brings to my team, but what he takes away from it. 90% of the Capitals merchandise you see on the market has the number 8 or the name Ovechkin on it. The Verizon Center is packed with #8 jerseys and crowds shouting “MVP! MVP!” every time Ovechkin scores a goal. He is undeniably talented and no matter what team he was on, he would be an MVP nominee as he is this season – the same award he won last season. I am glad that the Capitals are selling out every game, and I am glad we have made it through the first round of the playoffs. I hope we go much further. But if we do, it will not be because Alexander Ovechkin singlehandedly played forward, defense and did some goaltending during the line changes. It will be because the Washington Capitals are a talented team with a brilliant coach who benched our dead-weight goalie before it was too late.

    Give credit where credit is due, and as long as my team is in the playoffs, I will be cheering for the Capitals, not the Ovechkins. (And most certainly not the Mike Greens. Don’t even get me started on that!!!) It takes a solid team effort to win the Stanley Cup and if there is one standout player to take your team to the championship, it is never a forward, it is the goaltender. The Caps have an impressive new goalie but he doubled his NHL games played during the playoffs. We don’t yet know what he can do. On solid team efforts, I go with Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings for the Stanley Cup finals. When it comes down to goaltenders, I say Boston takes home the cup this year.

    I hate to admit when I’m wrong, but I would love to see the Caps make me do it!

    [Photo by Jason Cohn - Reuters]

    Wednesday, April 15, 2009

    My purse is smart

    I was rushing out the door to go to work this morning when I heard a beeping noise coming from my unnecessarily large purse. It sounded like an alarm, but it was my cellphone dialing random numbers. It turns out I had unintentionally called a former roommate that I haven't talked to in months and made two calls to 850-800-800808085 and 080-850-80808. When I got to work I sent an email to my former roommate and apologized for calling her from my purse at 8:25 this morning. (I did not try to apologize to the other numbers.)

    As I was crafting my email apologizing for the bad behavior going on in my handbag, it occurred to me that I have an extra ticket to the Capitals & Rangers playoff game this Saturday. I bought the ticket before we had clenched a spot in the playoffs, so the seller was letting go of his tickets at a fairly low price. At that time there was no guarantee we would even be playing. I had faith in my Caps and can't pass up a bargain so I bought the tickets and a month later find myself with no one to go with. I don't know too many people willing to pay money for a hockey game, there just doesn't seem to be a lot of hockey fans around and the ones I know are always broke. So this has actually been bothering me lately. It wasn't a big deal to put up the money and treat someone to a game during the regular season, but this is the playoffs. I couldn't bear to sit next to someone and have them ask about "quarters" and "halftime" (They are PERIODS, people! There are three of them.) or take the time to explain why teams pull their goaltender to put another offensive player on the ice. I like introducing new people to the game, but the playoffs are intense high-stake games. I want someone to be excited with!

    It wasn't until the accidental phone call that I remembered that Missy was a hockey fan back when we lived together. In fact, she was a Rangers fan even when she lived in Iowa. So, I sent her the I'm-sorry-I-don't-know-how-to-operate-a-cellphone email and told her if she can make it to DC on Saturday I have a free ticket to the game for her. I just got off the phone with her and I have to say, I love my purse right now! She is excited about the game and is giving up her Mets tickets to drive out here with her boyfriend. I asked what he was going to do while we are at the game. She said, "I'm not worried about it." It's true there's plenty to do here and he has friends out here too. Still, it's funny. What a good guy.

    Life is funny sometimes. I knew Missy was a Rangers fan but it didn't occur to me to call her since it's such a long trip to make in a weekend. I have always believed in the power of the subconscious, but I have never known the subconscious mind to operate a telephone before.

    [edit: did I say the Capitals were playing the Rangers? After hearing the game 1 commentary, I amend that statement. What I apparently meant to say is: The Alex Ovechkin team is playing the Sean Avery team. There appears to be only one player on each team. The Ovechkins lost tonight, 4-3. Boo.]

    Wednesday, April 8, 2009

    Hockey Heaven!!

    I'm sure most of y'all have heard a little something about the NCAA basketball tournament that just ended. March Madness has been and gone once again. Well, while everyone was filling out their brackets and watching college hoops, another sport was getting ready for their tournament. The college hockey championship, or the Frozen Four as it is appropriately called, will be in Washington, DC this year. It's the chance of a lifetime that I should be a short Metro ride away from the college hockey championship, but the tickets have been sold out since I moved here last year and they are selling on the secondary market for an arm and a leg. I have been wanting to go to this tournament so badly, and preparing myself for another disappointment of watching it on TV like I did the Winter Classic.

    Nearly two weeks ago I watched the 16 best college hockey teams in the country on TV for the beginning of the tournament to narrow it down to four teams. I had no favorite team, no dog in the fight but I was on cloud 9 watching these college athletes play their hearts out. There was last-minute goals, double overtime, a puck actually went through the net and wasn't called a goal until they had continued to play another five minutes... the quarter finals were incredible and I have been trying so hard to find tickets in my price range for months. I was hoping that more tickets would be available after 12 teams were eliminated, but it didn't work out that way. I was bidding $100 on eBay for pairs of tickets that ended up selling for $300 and $400. Way out of my price range. I wanted to go badly enough to spend money I don't have and I started to doubt my better judgement when I found 4 tickets on eBay for $250 Buy-it-now priced. I jumped at the chance knowing I could sell 2 of the 4 and recoup my money, but this all happened yesterday at 5:00. The tournament starts tomorrow at 5:00 I had exactly 48 hours to get the tickets from Colorado, then turn around and sell them before the Frozen Four began. I felt a little sick to my stomach letting go of that $250, but the tickets have been so expensive, it was a pretty safe bet that I could sell the tickets and get some money back. Still, I had no control over the shipping and didn't have a buyer yet, so I was freaking out a little bit. Just a little.

    Well, I'm still freaking out but this time it's because I can't believe I'm going to the tournament! I listed the tickets on craigslist, two tickets for $250 and immediately found a buyer. So, to clarify - here is the math. I bought four tickets for $250, kept two of the tickets and got my $250 back for the other two. I still have two tickets and the same amount of money I had when I started. Free tickets!! That is exactly what I could afford to pay!!

    Technically, they weren't free. I paid $5 for shipping and gave someone $3 for Metro fare to deliver the tickets to the buyer. In the end I guess I paid $8 to go to this tournament. So, about the price of lunch. The tickets are for the two semifinal games and the final championship. There are four teams left. Tomorrow at 5:00 I will watch Boston University vs. Vermont and at 8:30 Miami (ohio) vs. Bemidji State. The winners from those two games will play for the championship game on Saturday.

    I am taking a friend from Boston to the finals, so he's hoping Boston University wins the championship. The person who bought the two tickets next to me did his undergrad at Bemidji State - the underdog of all underdogs in this tournament. Personally, I liked Vermont's team and would love to see a Vermont vs. Bemidji State for the championship, but now I'm just babbling. Really, I just wanted to watch great hockey and I have some really great seats for what is going to be an awesome tournament. Did I mention I paid $8 total for the tickets??

    I'm still waiting to find out what's the catch. Could I really be this lucky? I can't wait for this tournament!!!!

    Tuesday, March 31, 2009

    It's March!

    I'm not gonna lie, I'm phoning it in this time because I haven't written in a while and I want to keep this up at least once a month. I have also found a new motivation to blog in the form of passive-aggressive voicemails from my father. "Hello? I don't know if you remember me, but this is your father... my phone number is..." Yeah, I get it Dad. I remember you - the guy who would never buy me a pony. Okay, okay - how many "Are you dead?" messages do I need to hear before I get my arse in gear and update my blog? Hopefully no more. I will do my best to pop in with an anecdote every now and then just to let you know I'm alive. Perhaps something like this little gem:

    I try to avoid Dentists as much as I can, even after they tell me I have cavities. Since I don't have money, I just put it on my to-do list until a later date. When it hurts to brush my teeth, it starts to become a priority. It was way past time to just grab my wallet and head to the doctor. So I did.

    I went to my dentist and told him it hurt and we went through the whole drill.
    *tap*tap* does that hurt?
    *tap*tap* how about there?
    *tap*tap ho..
    YEOOWWW! Yeah. That one hurt a little.

    Turns out I had an exposed nerve. It didn't hurt unless something touched my molar right on the gumline. Something like a toothbrush or an evil masochistic dentist. Since there is a huge filling on that particular molar he said he'd pull out the filling and put a crown on it. If the crown doesn't cover the nerve and it still hurts for a couple months, I may need to go to an endodontist and get a root canal. Sounds expensive.

    I thought about it for a couple of days and was not crazy about going through a couple months of pain to find out if I need a root canal. Since it already hurts like hell, the process of getting the crown done sounds more painful than a root canal. So, I jumped rank and went to an endodontist recommended by a coworker. Before I did anything with my molars and naked nerves, I wanted to consult with the endodontist. I went in before work one morning, went through the whole *tap*tap* nonsense again and here's how that conversation went:
    Doc: If it hurts that much now, a crown isn't going to make it go away. I think you're going to need a root canal either way. Do you want to just do it now?
    Me: *sigh* Yeah, I guess so.
    Doc: [stands up] Okay. I'll go get the novacaine. It'll take you a few minutes to get numbed up and then we'll go in and...
    Me: Whoa! You mean NOW now? Like, right now?
    Doc: [reaching for a gigantic needle] Well yeah we have time. If you need some time to think about it you can make an appointment to come back.

    I'm thinking - What the hell is this place? Jiffy Lube? You walk in and twenty minutes later you get a root canal? I came in on a Monday morning to find out if I needed a root canal. Then I expected to make an appointment. Perhaps mentally prepare myself for the agony that comes with oral surgery. Now I have this endodontist sharpening his needles getting ready to drill through my tooth? I am never comfortable in making snap decisions. Especially on something involving doctors or a great deal of money, and this happened to involve both. I sat there for a moment, breathed heavily and realized that I was eventually going to end up back in this chair one way or another. At least this way I didn't have to take more time off work. So, he gave me the novacaine shots, I sent a text message to a coworker:
    Plz tell boss my appt. will take longer than expecting. Getting root canal today.
    And then he did it. I got a root canal at the drop of a hat.

    Hah! I finished up and it's still March! I'll be back next month!

    Friday, February 13, 2009

    Alive and Zipping

    Join Zipcar and get $25 in free driving! Things in DC have died down since the inauguration and it's back to business as usual. A bad economy and a lack of good subject matter have kept me away from the blog recently. I'm hoping for an adventure next week when I drive to see a Bloodhound Gang concert. Arranging the road trip alone was a bit of an adventure, but a promising one. The concert is close to Baltimore, far from the leash that has tied me to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority since I moved to the city. I love DC and I love how easy it is to get around without having a car, but I couldn't pass up the chance to see my favorite band again. The show is on Monday, February 16th and I've had tickets for months, but I was weighing my options for finding transportation to the concert. I decided it was time to sign up for a Zipcard.

    A Zipcard is a great thing and probably new to those of you far away from a major metropolitan area. Around here it's no big deal, it's just a plastic card (like a credit card) that you use to unlock cars. I realize how ridiculous that probably sounds if you're new to this concept, but I assure you it's entirely legit. It's a car-sharing program and they have hundreds of cars located throughout the city. Once you have an account, you go online and reserve any available vehicle and if it's available, you take it for a spin. If you just need to run to the grocery store, you can rent a zipcar at an hourly rate, or you can rent it for the entire day. It's incredibly convenient, although it is a bit gimmicky. Members are referred to as "zipsters" and each vehicle has its own name and personality. I will be driving Matrix MacDaddy to the concert. I'm really looking forward to meeting this apparent Scottish Toyota. Who knew?

    I signed up to be a zipster just for the concert, but I have to admit that the program makes me feel a sense of freedom I didn't have before. There are about 6 zipcars within a couple of blocks from my apartment and they have their own reserved parking spots. Now when I get home from the concert after midnight I don't have to worry about the Metro being closed or having to drop off a rental car at an airport somewhere, I can park my car a block away and get right to bed. Since I'm signed up and have my Zipcard, I can now reserve any car I want whenever it's available. That means if I'm at home watching a Taco Bell commercial and get a sudden craving, I can log onto the Zipcar website and hop in the car right outside and run through the drive-thru. Of course, that also means a bottom line of over $10 just for a bean burrito and some cheezy potatoes, but I must admit that there have been some nights when an accessible Taco Bell would be worth twice that much money.

    In all likelihood, I will not have the budget nor the poor judgement to get a $10 burrito late at night, but I will celebrate the freedom of knowing I can do so. In the few months I've lived in Washington I really have been a slave to the Metro system and this gives me access to so much more of the city. It's not as cheap as the Metro, but the prices are pretty reasonable when compared to the price of owning a car and paying for fuel and insurance. I can't wait to see the BHG in concert on Monday and I am so excited to be able to drive again!

    If you are reading this and you are in an area where they have Zipcars, I added a link to the Zipcar site where you can save $25 if you sign up. While I think it's a great program, the promo on this blog entry is completely selfish on my part. If you use the promotional code to sign up for an account, I'll save money on my account too.

    Friday, January 16, 2009

    Things to see and do in Washington

    The weeks to come are going to be busy out here in Washington. There's a big event, perhaps you've heard about it. It's on January 20th and it's called Incredible-Nuisance-And-Unusual-Gathering-U-Really-Aughta-Think-Intensely-of-Nomadizing; most commonly referenced by the acronym INAUGURATION.

    [Okay, nomadizing was a stretch, but "not being around" would ruin the acronym. ]

    I am truly afraid of the crowds that will descend upon this city next week. I do not have to work either of my jobs, as most employers do not expect their employees to be able to travel to work that day. Even the bookstore is closed for inauguration day. When a retail outlet closes the doors on a day they could make a ton of money, that says something about the chaos to come. I have four days off of work and was considering a trip to NYC but the budget is busted after Christmas. I also have friends from Iowa coming in for the inauguration so it'll be nice to see them and catch up. The next couple of weeks will be busy.

    Tomorrow I have tickets to see the Washington Capitals play the Boston Bruins. I'm sorry to admit I've become a degenerate gambler since I got here and I made a bet on a hockey game with a Flyers fan last month. The Flyers beat the Capitals 7-1 and to pay up on my bet, I had to buy the tickets to the game tomorrow. So, I will be at a Capitals game with a Flyers fan watching the Bruins play my team. Makes sense? No. This is why you should never gamble. You'll be out $30 like me.

    The aforementioned Flyers fan lives in Virginia Beach but works in DC at times. I don't really know him that well, but I am so desperate for hockey friends that I overlook the Flyers thing. (Actually, five of my hockey fan friends are for other teams... Devils, Islanders, Hurricanes, Flyers, Bruins. Damn. I need new friends.) Anyway, Flyers Fan is in the Navy and tomorrow he invited me to go with him to Arlington National Cemetery before the game.

    He had told me a few weeks ago he was coming up to put flags on some graves at Arlington and today he invited me to come along. Knowing that he's in the military, I wasn't sure how to respond. I asked if they were friends of his and he said a few members of his team were killed in Baghdad in 2007. When he comes up here he always tries to stop in Arlington. It seems like such an intensely personal thing and my first reaction was not to go. He said it was just a quick visit, "nothing mushy," and he asked if I have ever been to Arlington before.

    The truth is, I have lived here for six months and I have not been to Arlington Cemetery. I have not been a lot of places yet, for that matter. So, I will work on changing that starting tomorrow. It's supposed to be cold, so I don't think it will be a long visit, but I'm interested to see how things are going to go. My first visit to Arlington will be with a member of our armed forces, visiting some of his fallen comrades. My first reaction was to stay away from this personal occasion. After some serious consideration, I can't think of a better way to see the grounds. I have quite a few friends and loved ones who are in the military or are veterans. I could have taken a tour of Arlington Cemetery at any time as a tourist but I never did. In a way, I am kind of honored to be able to see the cemetery like this rather than in a group of tourists, gazing at identical gravestones while paying my respects. I'm a little glad I haven't rushed out to see the sites in DC.