Wednesday, November 3, 2010

I'm sorry, I just had to get political...

Be forewarned: this is the election edition of my blog, which I’m writing in a state of abject horror. If you are looking for fluffy statements about my drunken encounter with a monk, you'll just have to wait. Oh, Pennsylvania, what are you doing? Republicans, Republicans, everywhere, and not a drop of sanity. However, the real purpose of this post isn’t (only) to go on and on about my disappointment in the American public, the lack of a truly progressive party, and the problems inherent with a binary political system. No, I could talk about all those things, but I mostly want to talk about my dad.

He called me today as I was earnestly wrestling a spaghetti squash. Our conversation proceeded as follows:

 [Pleasantries are exchanged; topics include a subscription to Cooks Illustrated and the problems inherent in dressing the deceased in three piece suits] 
My Dad: “So, did you vote yesterday?”
Me: “Yes, and I’m disgusted.”
My Dad: “Why?”
Me: “Toomey and Corbett both got elected. Pennsylvania is now a red state. The Tea Party is becoming a legitimate movement. This blows.”
My Dad: “Amanda, don’t let the politicians pull the wool over your eyes. They’re all the same, and all we can do is vote out the incumbents.”
Me: “Well…”
My Dad: “Amanda, politicians have no idea what the average American’s life is like. They have no idea what the average American owns, or where he works. They probably assume the average salary is $170,000 a year. You know how I know this?”
Me: “How?”
My Dad: “I’ll tell you. Last weekend I was in D.C., and I paid $14 for French toast. That’s one slice of French toast. Not multiple slices.”
Me: “I don’t think that Congress sets the premium on the sale of French toast in the District of Columbia, Dad.”
My Dad: “I’m serious! That is a ridiculous price for eggs and bread on a griddle!”

Obviously I understand his point—the prices are inflated in DC such that the people who live there have no idea what people living in say, Montana, can afford to pay for French toast—but I just paid $25 for a dozen cupcakes, so I am really not the person to ask regarding a reasonable price for your carbohydrate needs. French toast aside, here’s the thing: I don’t LIKE the Democrats. If the conservative agenda is black and the progressive agenda is white, the Dems are smoky gray, and smoky gray pansies at that. Since no independents will ever have a shot in hell at gaining any ground here—as the majority of America votes based on Fox News clips and whatever add they see while they are chewing their high fructose corn syrup laden toast in the morning, if they vote at all—the Democrats are merely the lesser of two evils, and they still are a bunch of hacks who politick based on their constituents while running a jobs program for Halliburton. However—they are the closest thing we have to a progressive party who openly supports issues like gay marriage, is pro-choice, wants to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, supports teaching evolution in schools, acknowledges that global warming exists, supports stem cell research, and generally recognizes the importance of you know, science.  No member of the Democratic party wants to write Thomas Jefferson out of the history textbooks, or refers to the Civil War as “the great war of Yankee Aggression”—thank you, Georgia. I realize these issues might seem like semantics compared with the economy, the holy grail of the political agenda, but they matter to me. (PS—who the hell put Texas in charge of producing textbooks for the country? If it was up to me, California would be heading this one, with a headquarters in San Fran)

All of this aside, here is the next thing: My dad has had 30 more years than me to mull this over, and he’s right about everything, pretty much all of the time. Even when I bring up a topic I think he might not be as familiar with—such as inclusion, kim chee, the Bahai Faith, the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie in the 90s—he always has insightful comments that come from an angle I wasn’t even anticipating. What am I getting at, exactly?

I can only assume this doe eyed idealism won't last forever. But there is one thing I know for sure: one day in the not too distant future, I will find the current price index for French toast in trendy bistros in Adams Morgan to be an affront on par with Kent State.

Finally, I urge anyone who made it this far in this post to read George Orwell’s 1984. Anti-critical thinking? Anti-reading? A desire to dumb down the populace? George was right; 1984 and 2010 don’t look so different, after all…

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ikea Hangover

 It is 3:34 PM, and I have just returned from a trip to Ikea. Generally speaking, I am loathe to spend any part of my weekend in suburbia (uh—sorry to those of you reading this who live there; it’s nothing personal), but sometimes, the need to purchase goods in large quantities dictates that I must venture out of the hipster mecca (aka Lawrenceville). Today was one of those occasions. Having lived in this apartment since August, I had finally determined that it was time to purchase a couch, as sitting at my kitchen table all the time was getting kind of old. I also can’t stand staring at the bare walls any longer, and so I needed to locate frames for my already existing wall hangings.

Decorating is honestly the bane of my existence. I think this is because I am incredibly picky about everything I purchase. Typical purchase scenario: I am standing in the glassware section of Ikea, debating about buying a set of drinking glasses. I pick out tall, skinny ones and put them in the cart. I then think that Crate and Barrel might have ones I like more, and they might have the kind that are unevenly shaped and kind of modern looking, which I really enjoy. I take them out and put them back on the shelf. However, I am here now and I need them, so I put them back in. Before you know it, twenty minutes have passed, and I’m still standing there holding these perfectly good glasses that I don’t know if I want to buy, debating about whether it’s worth it to pay for shipping from Crate and Barrel. Who do I think is going to be drinking out of these? Jesus? Sadly, this phenomenon isn’t limited to purchasing household goods; the amount of time I spend in the cereal aisle at Whole Foods rivals the time it took the Feds to question Tony Hayward. Needless to say, it's best if I shop alone. 

When I do buy things, it always comes back to bite me in the ass anyway. Last summer, for example, I bought two photographs taken by a woman named Zim, at the Shadyside Art Festival, and they were totally worth it. One was taken in Vancouver, one was taken in Cambodia; all of her work prominently features light as the subject matter. They are beautiful. However, the caveat to this is that they came matted, and apparently these mattes are a size previously unknown to the framing community. I have not been able to find frames anywhere for these suckers, which is really a bummer because I’ve had them for over a year now. I am planning to just cave and take them to The Framery to have them framed, but this is more of an investment, I need to pick out the frames and probably spend about $200 bucks when we’re all said and done. Anyway.

Like every human being who has set foot in the store, I have a love/hate relationship with Ikea. A list format will best serve the explanation, so here goes:

1.      The Swedish names. Today I came home with a Ribba, two Sondrums, and a Viriserum. I really wanted a Honnefloss, but unfortunately they were sold out. This naming system rocks. It’s even better to go up to the salespeople and tell them that you are looking for these items by their proper names. The looks are priceless.
2.      Ikea literally has everything, including things you weren’t aware you needed. Oven mitts with cupcakes on them? A wine bottle opener? A potted ivy plant? A partridge in a pear tree? 
      3. They have an unprecedented number of accouterments and trinkets that can be used to add pizzazz to your home. I never thought a Horsnuffle would look so good sitting on my kitchen counter, but it is quite snazzy.
4.     . Lighting section. I am a big fan of incandescent lighting. I find overhead lighting to be hideously ugly, and therefore I have lamps all over my apartment. The paper types that Ikea offers produce a soft, yellow glow that makes me 80% more cheerful upon first encounter. 
5.      I can’t make a blanket statement just yet, but based on my experience, the salespeople don’t get terribly angry if you spill a cup of coffee in the frame aisle.

Things I Do Not Love:
1.     This place is a nightmare to navigate. I don’t know who designed the layout, but JC. I wish that when you arrived someone would give you a map as well as one of those lighted hardhats. Perhaps they could sprinkle Swedish fish throughout the aisles to lead you to the Market area, Hansel and Gretel style.
2.      Ikea literally has everything, including things you weren’t aware you needed. This is a big problem for me in particular because of the aforementioned Cereal Aisle phenomenon. I wind up seeing so many things that could be useful, I have no idea what to buy. I really could use a basket for my mail, and a table to put the basket on to fill this weird 2x2 space in my kitchen that is too small for much else. I could also use a filing cabinet. A wine rack would be great. Wall mounted or stand? Do I have extra screws? Do I own tools? How much of a pain in the ass will it be to install this shelving unit myself? Is it creepy that you can purchase Swedish meatballs and a mirror at the same store? Ahhhhh.
3.      They are always out of what I really want. This is a large problem. The Honnefluss would have looked great in my living room, but it was out of stock, and god knows I like to make these trips yearly events if I can help it.
4.      Just when you are ready to leave, you remember something you originally came for and forgot to get. This really could be a subsection of #2. At this point, you are forced to either navigate the store backwards or suck it up and just wait and see if the item in question could be found at Target.
5.      My final dislike is obviously the most pressing complaint Ikea receives, I am sure of it. You have to assemble all of the furniture yourself, and the directions are like a cruel game of Pictionary gone awry. Honestly, Sweden, can’t we include written freaking directions with this stuff? I’m tired of trying to figure out where the little man who looks like the guy from the Muzzy videos is putting the third screw.

So, this experience led to what I call the Ikea Hangover, which is characterized by the feeling of mushiness in the cavity that formerly housed the gray matter of your brain. I obviously combatted this by eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, drinking a lovely Sumatra, and writing a blog.

As an aside, this visit led me to a realization. Lately I have been tossing around the idea of getting a dog, because I really would like the company and I could take her to the park. However, I realized that the last time I was at Ikea, I bought an ivy plant, and it was sitting quite nicely on my kitchen counter. About a month ago I put it outside to get some sun, and then forgot I had it, until today, when I saw its counterparts sitting in the plant section.  I think I’m holding off on the living creatures for now. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Inspiration for Awkward Happenings

As a collective whole, you may be wondering where the title of this blog came from. Now, if you have ever had more than one conversation with me, it should be obvious. However, this particular event really hit the nail on the head and inspired the name...

At some point in the recent present, I was in Lawrenceville, doing some afternoon browsing after enjoying a cup of coffee in Espresso a Mano. I love that place; Matt, if you ever read this blog, you have cornered the market on exposed brick and espresso. Good job. Anyway.

One of the things I love about living in Lawrenceville is the plethora of independent boutiques, although in truth, I apparently only like to browse. I rarely buy anything, which I feel kind of guilty about because I obviously want to support independent stores and small business owners, but at the same time, I don’t want to pay $80 for a one size fits all flower print tunic. However, the one thing that I am always looking to purchase in these stores is handmade soaps. I love handmade soaps; they make showering pleasant, and they come in a variety of scents, and they allow me to patronize local establishments in earnest. My preferred variety is herbal.

My desire to support these local establishments plus my love of handmade soap is how I found myself in the following scenario:

I was browsing the accoutrements in a boutique on Butler Street. I was the only person in the store aside from the saleswoman, and so of course she began talking to me to me. Our conversation followed:

Hipster Saleswoman: “May I help you?”
Me: “Yes, I’d like to buy one of the rosemary-mint soaps, please.”
Hipster Saleswoman: “Oh, I love that scent. Good choice.”
Me: “Yeah, me too, I love things that are rosemary scented.”
Saleswoman: “Yeah, they really add something extra. I just bought a candle and it is really fragrant.”
Me: “Oh, that must be nice.”
Saleswoman: “It is, I’ve really been enjoying it.”
Me: "I can imagine. Sometimes it's nice to burn them while you take showers."
Saleswoman: "Yes, I do that all the time." 

As you can tell, there is a point when you cannot keep having the same conversation with someone about soap. This was the point in the conversation when the saleswoman and I were trapped in the moment of, “I don’t know what else to say but I also don’t know how to end this conversation.” This moment is usually characterized by avoiding eye contact with the person you are talking to while hoping that another human being materializes to interrupt. Sometimes when this happens, I tend to babble. Thus, the next words out of my mouth:

Me: “You know, the only thing about this soap is, whenever I use it in the shower, I’ll think about roasting a chicken.”
Saleswoman: “…Right.”

At that point, she proceeded to look at me like I had escaped the state pen, although this comment did serve the purpose of ending our awkward conversation. However, I thought her confusion was somewhat less than justified: when I used to roast chickens, in my pre-veg days, using rosemary on them was the best part. It is one of my favorite herbs, to eat or wear, or drink, actually. I suppose, though, I can see why the image of me showering with this soap whilst daydreaming about roasted chicken caused this woman to look at me like I was a few eggs short of a gross. It was this exact scenario, in fact, that led to the name of this blog: awkward happenings, indeed.  

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Peril of Dating a Monk

Honestly, I have been contemplating starting a blog for about a year. I didn't literally spend that much time debating about it; I just was busy with other things. More importantly, though, I was concerned that blogging was a really self-indulgent thing to do, as taking the time to publicly post my private thoughts is inherently self-indulgent. This is a compounded by the fact that this blog is not going to be a food blog, or a photo blog, or a blog about my backpacking trip to Indonesia, ostensibly designed to keep in touch with my family. So, how did I decide to embark, you wonder? Well, I decided not to take everything so seriously and just to chill out. Plenty of people blog, and these are stories I would email 98% of the readers anyway (as you are all most likely my personal friends). 

Also, I already have a Gmail account, so setting this took approximately a minute. 

The Peril of Dating a Former Monk

 Last weekend I met this guy named Louis[1] when I was out enjoying a Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest (excellent, by the way). So, you know. I started talking to him and I asked him what he did, SOP. He said that he was a photographer/sculptor. 

So, we keep talking, and it's okay; he has lots of interesting hobbies. He cycles, he takes photographs, obviously, he plays the guitar; also, he is a vegetarian. Sounds great. He owns three motorcycles and he drove up to Ohiopyle that very morning to take in the foliage and enjoy the weather. This is highly appealing to me; I love the foliage, and I really want to take a trip to Ohiopyle this fall, although I do not love motorcycles.  We keep talking, and I do notice one awkward habit he has: he does not make eye contact when he talks. This is highly unnerving. Actually, it is probably the most awkward thing a person can do to you, particularly when you are speaking with him in the context of potential romantic interest. I mean, what is the issue? Are you bored? Are you tired? Did you drink a cocktail laced with drain cleaner, causing your eyeballs to roll to the left quadrant of your head only? Unclear. Finally, at one point, he mentioned that he is a little shy, and so I said, "Louis, is that why you don't make eye contact when you talk?"

He responded with "Well, Amanda, the thing is, your eyes are like a FireWire to your soul."

That took me a minute to digest. I mean, I understand the sentiment, obviously; making eye contact with someone is certainly intimate, and I imagine he was going for an updated, less cliche version of the phrase "your eyes are the window to your soul." But, the completely sincere comparison of one's eyes to a FireWire--the serial bus interface standard for high speed communications and isochronus data transfer--seemed to me to a be a bit hyperbolic.

Yet, somehow, despite this, I found myself sitting across from this individual later last week, sharing mojitos and sushi. Why did I do this, you ask? Mostly, the aforementioned hobbies, and his love of Belgian beers. Also, he has a studio on the first floor of his house, which is appealing to me. [2]

During the course of our conversation, we talked about the neighborhoods we lived in,  and Pittsburgh in general. I asked him where else he had lived before Pittsburgh, and he responded, "Well, I lived in India for 12 years when I was a celibate monk." 

I honestly didn't know what to say to this; I have not yet dated any post celibate monks. I obviously had a lot of questions, the foremost of which you can probably guess. However, what I actually said was: "What made you leave...monkhood?" 

His response? "In order to understand why I left, you have to understand why I became a monk." 

Now, honestly, this in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem. I honestly hold no judgment, aside from my general surprise because you know, it’s not every day that someone tells you he used to be a celibate monk. However, I do have some experience in this area; my cross country coach in high school was a former monk, actually, and he was way zen. But, bottom line, I would rather date a former monk any day than an investment banker who utters the sentence, “You know, you have to be really smart to be an investment banker.”[3]

So, Louis proceeds to tell me about his entry into monkhood, which involved sitting in a field with his shirt off and allowing a spider to crawl from his navel to his neck; building an altar on a cliff on a cloudy afternoon; and also, giving up wordly possessions and pleasures, and so on and so forth.

At this point, I was pretty intrigued. I mean, it isn’t all that often that you meet someone who has given so much thought to the nature of the human experience and also the problems associated with consumerism and the modern pressure to own just about everything. Some of the things he told me were fascinating. For example, he didn't know what Seinfeld was upon leaving the commune, as he hadn't watched television in twelve years. There is something inherently interesting about talking to someone who missed a large chunk of a shared cultural experience, and who is wiling to expound on how that impacted his world view. Many people would rather talk about Jersey Shore and their Wii. 

At this point, you might be expecting this story to end in a sort of noncomformist romance. Well, no. Louis proceeded to tell me that he had 3 kids, one of whom was 19. This negated any interest I had in the monk. I can’t justify dating someone whose oldest child is 6 years younger than I am. That’s pushing the envelope too far, even for me.

Hence, The Peril of Dating a Monk:

1.    1.  Apparently, monkhood keeps you looking really young. The combination of a low stress lifestyle in a rural area and a vegetarian diet devoid of alcohol makes it virtually impossible for your future dates to wager an accurate estimate at your age. 
2.    2. Also, I’m considering purchasing one of those LED lights, perhaps on a keychain, and shining it on potential romantic interests in the future, upon our initial meeting. Bars are dark, and this could help prevent this scenario from cropping up again.  

[1]  His name is not really Louis.
[2] I know this because he told me, not because I let him show me his healing crystals. 
[3] Yes, someone really said this to me. And my response was, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.