Thursday, February 28, 2008

Heard on my street

I don't know if it's a testament to how fantastic the section is or how crass my taste is, but the first thing I go to when I get Time Out Chicago every week is the "Heard on the Street" page. I'm such a huge fan that I've been compiling my own list:

“Yep, he’s crazy as a soup sandwich.”

“I just slept with you – I’m not gonna go on a date with you!”

“Did you go spray tanning today?”

“I just want to blow my brains out.”

“So that’s cool that your dad’s an ass.”

“I hope I black out tonight. It’s been awhile.”

“It’s not about lookin’ pretty. It’s about keepin’ all your digits.”

“Are your shoes on the wrong feet?”

“This isn’t about practicing. It’s about psychological warfare.”

“Let me tell you what your ideas are going to be.”

Thursday, February 21, 2008


At a happy hour last night, the bartender set a tumbler of cloudy liquid in front of me, and said the guy across the bar had asked her to send over a glass of tap water, no ice. What does that mean? Is it an insult? I would understand if he saw me take a tumble down the stairs, but that didn't happen until hours later...(It was the shoes!)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The ultimate test of humanity

I held out for as long as I could, but after the ground started to freeze and the snow started to accumulate (which no one shovels in my neighborhood of renters), I had to join a gym. I’m familiar with the 6 o’clock treadmill showdown, as I’ve had memberships to other gyms, but my current gym is especially tricky.

There are a couple of treadmills downstairs, but they’re no good because they don’t have personal TVs, and the gym is where I catch up on cable reality shows – Bravo, TLC, VH1 – they have it all. So I usually wait it out upstairs, where the majority of treadmills are lined up facing two walls in an L shape.

While gym etiquette is generally similar across the board, there are nuances to learn with each new membership. The first few times I went to my gym I gathered that the two walls created separate domains. People seemed to choose one side or the other, pace-stretching while they eyed time and mile counters and waited for something to open up. So the first person would take one leg of the L, and the second would take the other. If there was a third, he or she would awkwardly choose one side and pace at a safe distance behind the first or second hopeful, and so on.

Obviously this is a flawed system that causes me a lot of angst. What if all the people on my side are training for marathons? What if the dude on the other side crosses over when I’m not looking? What if I miss the end of Project Runway???

So I was relieved one day when, after apprehensively climbing the stairs, I saw a civilized line had formed in the middle of the treadmill L. When one treadmill emptied, the next person in line hopped on. Fascinating. This seemed to be the trend for a while, but it isn’t always the case. That’s not to say I try to convert the heathens, as I usually avoid talking to strangers at all costs.

My “When in Rome” strategy seemed to be working okay until the other day. Surveying the treadmill situation, I saw a woman guarding one half of the L and a man standing in the middle. Hmm. I timidly walked to the middle and awkwardly stood at a safe distance behind him. He turned and asked me if there was usually a line. Forced into conversing, I mumbled something about not really knowing, that usually I just try to keep track of who has been waiting the longest. “Was she here first?” I asked. “No,” he snorted. “Well, you’ve just got to hope that she’s not an asshole then,” I said. (This is why I don’t socialize with strangers. Verbal diarrhea.) “Ah,” he replied, “the ultimate test of humanity.” (Might I add that he had a cute accent and made me nervous.)

Shortly after our conversation, a treadmill luckily opened up on the other side of the heathen’s domain, and my foreign line buddy quickly claimed it. This is when I broke out into a pre-workout sweat. The heathen was technically second in line, but she was so focused on her side…what if something opened up on the other side? Do I continue to uncharacteristically speak to strangers and ask her if she wants the treadmill? But she seems pretty intent on her side…maybe she prefers the window view of Santullo's Eatery to Cold Stone Creamery while she's working toward her goal weight? Please, please someone get off on her side!

But my prayers went unanswered. As the belt in front of me slowed and the treadmiller began to collect her things, I glanced over at the oblivious heathen, then shamefully claimed the open machine. It was a split-second decision, and my social awkwardness trumped my civility. If this was the ultimate test of humanity, I failed.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rethinking technology

Being socially awkward and single, I’m a huge fan of text and instant messaging. The last time I was single, the thought of talking to prospects on the phone completely stressed me out – awkward silences, unsuccessful attempts to bring the conversation to a close – eh, not for me. So I was delighted to find this time around that nowadays you can get to know people without actually speaking to them. In fact, if I give someone my number and he actually calls me instead of texting, it tends to scare me off.

I’m starting to think, however, that all of this electronic communication might not be such a good thing. The impersonality of it gives people a precarious kind of confidence. I first saw the darker side of electronic courage when I met an avid text messager (I’ll call him TMer) last fall. A day of texting might have gone something like this:

TMer - 3:02 pm: wut u up 2?
Me – 3:10 pm: not much
TMer – 3:13 pm: jst back from workin out. want 2 hang out?
Me – 3:20 pm: no thanks, got some stuff to do
TMer – 4 pm: rock o luv marathon on, want 2 come over?
Me – 4: 25 pm: no thanks, busy
TMer – 7 pm: headin out 2nite?
TMer – 8:30 pm: headin to kincades, u?
TMer – 1:22 am: hope u had a good nite :)

This went on for weeks, possibly months. After I stopped responding entirely, I got “where u been hidin?” messages. I had to change my text message alert because I started to recoil in some kind of Pavlovian response to the sound.

But I wasn’t ready to break things off with my keypad. I just love the concept of talking to people without actually talking. So I continued to stand by electronic over personal communication. Until today, after I had an extremely unfortunate instant-message conversation with someone I’ll call IMer. Because I clicked the window closed in horror, I’m paraphrasing the following:

IMer: lunch today?
Me: brought lunch
IMer: you sure? i’ll pay
Me: got to eat my chili


IMer: how was your chili?
Me: tasty
IMer: i’m glad
IMer: how’s your tummy?
Me: full
IMer: how are your bowels?
IMer: from your silence, i think i should retract that comment
Me: uh, yeah… was reading something
IMer: gotcha, i will let you work, i feel like i am the annoying guy you wish you’d never met
Me: don’t think i know you well enough for bathroom talk
IMer: i understand

And that’s the end of that. Just a wild guess, but I’m thinking had we been talking face-to-face, he wouldn’t have inquired about my BMs. Is electronic communication causing us to be too comfortable with relative strangers? I know I’ve sent a few alcohol-induced texts I’d like to take back. Or maybe this new technology is a good thing. Maybe it has allowed me to spot stalkers and number two fetishes before any real damage is done, i.e. before they know where I live…

Sunday, February 10, 2008

“Love” in the time of cholera

I’ve been plowing through Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for about a month now, and I’m still waiting for the love story to start. I’m utterly stumped as to why this book is a classic, and why it has recently become a major motion picture and part of Oprah’s Book Club. The cover tells me Newseek called it “A love story of astonishing power.” I just don't get it. I don't find the writing particularly powerful, and despite the word being in the title and peppered throughout the book, I don't see how this story has anything to do with love.

The book’s protagonist, Florentino Ariza, is portrayed as a pining romantic, but he seems more like a womanizing stalker to me. His 50-year love affair is essentially an obsession with an adolescent crush who he barely knows and who barely knows he exists. While waiting for his one true love to reciprocate his feelings, Florentino sleeps with a slew of women below the pedestal, although this gets confusing because these affairs are also described with the word “love” — “love” is thrown around constantly, describing very different relationships, most of which I would classify as dysfunctional and abusive — far from loving.

One of these affairs is with a girl, a relative a quarter his age who is entrusted by her parents to Florentino to act as her guardian while she’s in secondary school away from home:

“She was still a child in every sense of the word, with braces on her teeth and the scrapes of elementary school on her knees, but he saw right away the kind of woman she was soon going to be, and he cultivated her during a slow year of Saturdays at the circus, Sundays in the park with ice cream, childish late afternoons, and he won her confidence, he won her affection, he led her by the hand, with the gentle astuteness of a kind grandfather, toward his secret slaughterhouse.”

A description of one of their "romantic" encounters:

“They had made love after lunch and they were lying together at the end of their siesta, both of them naked under the ceiling fan … Florentino Ariza loved her as he had loved so many other casual women in his long life, but he loved her with more anguish than any other, because he was certain he would be dead by the time she finished secondary school.”

As if the “secret slaughterhouse” metaphor and romantic portrayal of statutory rape weren’t disturbing enough, in another scene, Marquez comes right out and calls sexual violence love. This is a “romantic” little aside about a prostitute Florentino befriends:

“While she was still very young, a strong, able man whose face she never saw took her by surprise, threw her down on the jetty, ripped her clothes off, and made instantaneous and frenetic love to her. Lying there on the rocks, her body covered with cuts and bruises, she had wanted that man to stay forever so that she could die of love in his arms. She had not seen his face, she had not heard his voice, but she was sure she would have known him in a crowd of a thousand men because of his shape and size and his way of making love. From that time on, she would say to anyone who would listen to her: ‘If you ever hear of a big, strong fellow who raped a poor black girl from the street on Drowned Men’s Jetty, one October fifteenth at about half-past eleven at night, tell him where he can find me.’”

I don’t even feel the need to comment. Is this not extremely disturbing? How on earth did this book receive so much critical acclaim? I’m used to seeing violence against women sexualized in smutty ads selling beer and cars, but I almost find it more concerning that the same kind of romanticizing of abuse is being called great literature. Oprah called Love in the Time of Cholera one of the greatest love stories she’s ever read. That’s frightening.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Please vote ... on tipping eitquette

I forgot to tip my Peapod delivery guy yesterday, and it's haunting me. Their Web site says tipping is optional, but the man carried $160 worth of groceries to my doorstep, in 2-degree weather. And he was extrememly friendly, and didn't say anything about me being in flannel Christmas pajamas.

Okay I didn't really forget. I felt stupid because I never know how much to tip, like it's better to tip nothing than tip too little. This is especially disturbing because I was a waitress for five years. Please help remedy my ignorance by participating in the poll to the left.

The results are in! Fifteen people voted (very excited that 15 people read my blog, or that one person felt so passionate about tipping that they voted 15 times!), and the majority think $5 is a sufficient tip. Here's the breakdown:
  • Nada: 0 votes
  • $5: 10 votes
  • 15%: 2 votes
  • 20%: 3 votes
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