I watched as the muscular twenty-something man lugged an enormous duffle bag up the steps to the upper level of the train. He tossed the bag on the seat in front of him with a thud, and from across the aisle, I could make out the word “rugby” stitched in orange letters on the maroon background of his bag.
He wore black athletic pants that snapped up the side, and several of the snaps were undone, revealing his hairy calf. Broad streaks of dirt stretched across the back of his white t-shirt. As I looked up at his face and noticed mud in his closely cropped blond hair, I thought, “That must have been some rugby game.”
My new favorite Nine Inch Nails song came on my iPod, so I turned up the volume and focused my attention on the buildings rushing by. A few minutes later, from the corner of my eye, I could see the man digging through his bag, then turn around to ask the woman behind him a question. She shook her head ‘no.’ He got up and asked the woman behind her something, and she shook her head ‘no’ as well.
Cyndi Lauper came on next.
I noticed that the man looked upset – he rifled through his bag several more times, then put his head down and stared at the ground. He pressed his fingers to the bridge of his nose and… was he crying? I turned down the volume on my iPod just as he got up to ask a woman in front of him a question.
“Excuse me, ma’am? Do you possibly have a cell phone I could use? I just lost mine and I need to call my mom.”
It was at that moment that I realized this twenty-something rugged man was actually just a teenage boy – maybe seventeen years old. The third woman shrugged him off with a quick shake of the head, and he slumped back into his seat, rubbing the back of his neck.
I reached down into my bag and grabbed my cell phone, then caught his eye from across the aisle.
“Do you need to use a pho-“
Before I could finish my sentence, the woman behind me said loudly, “I wondered if he was looking for a phone! I have a phone. It’s a government phone – I hardly ever use it.”
The boy walked down the stairs and back up to our side of the train. He hung his head low to avoid hitting the ceiling.
“Tell me the number – I’ll dial it for you,” the woman barked. “And be sure to stay right here.”
“Oh, I will,” he said.
As the boy waited for his mother to pick up the phone, the woman said in a booming voice to no one in particular, “This is your tax money at work here, people!”
“It’s busy. But, thank you,” he sighed, as he handed the woman her phone and started to walk back to his seat.
The boy still within earshot, the woman cackled, “Even if he tried to steal it, it wouldn’t do him any good. Thing’s so old.”
Which leads me to my open letter to the 6:00pm Metra train:
First, to the three people who told the boy they didn’t have cell phones, I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt, which is probably undeserved since I saw one of you whip a cell phone out of your purse minutes after getting off the train at my stop today. But if any of you did have a cell phone and were just too… what? Scared? Cynical? Lazy? to offer it to this young man who was clearly distressed, I hope that someday you are in a situation where you are in desperate need of a simple favor from strangers and are turned down just as coldly.
Next, to the obnoxiously loud government employee, when you make the recipient of a good deed feel like a criminal, and you try as hard as possible to draw attention to your random act of kindness, it doesn’t make you a Good Samaritan. It just makes you a jackass.

Five Easy Pieces – The Conclusion

Step Three: Experience the local flavor
After our gourmet dinner the night before, I figured that I needed to let Jessica experience traditional Chicago cuisine, so I took her to a neighborhood dive for a true Chicago-style hotdog. My plans were foiled when she told me that her dad taught her never to eat hotdogs because they’re made with cow noses.
“Yes, but 100% beef cow noses,” I added. She chose the hamburger. Yeah, because I’m sure there aren’t any noses in a hamburger…
But still, I schooled her in the proper way to eat a Chicago hotdog. For the uninitiated, it involves exactly these ingredients:

  • 100% all beef red hot
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Pickle
  • Sport peppers
  • Neon green relish
  • Celery salt
  • Mustard
  • Poppy seed bun

“Seriously? You put all that on a hotdog?”
“Yes, although I admit, I’m not a big fan of the relish. But the one thing you must remember above all is the mustard. You must never, ever, order a hotdog in Chicago with ketchup.”
“But what if I like ketchup on a hotdog?”
“Doesn’t matter. It’s just not done. Some places won’t even serve it.”
“Really? No one eats ketchup on hotdogs here?”
And then I told Jessica about how ketchup almost destroyed my friendship with Natasha. She was born and raised in Chicago, but due to a tragic congenital birth defect, prefers ketchup on a hotdog. I can’t even watch her eat it – it’s like watching someone burn the American flag or put a crucifix in a jar of pee. So anytime we go out for hotdogs, it’s like ripping a bandage off a partially-healed wound. It always starts with:
“I can eat whatever I want on a hotdog! I’m paying good money for this, and if I want to put peanut butter on it, I can!”
“Peanut butter would be less of an abomination.”
“Shut up!”
“No, you shut up!”
“You’re not the boss of me!”
“Oh, hey. Our order’s ready.”
Step Four: Expose yourself to culture
After my karaoke shaming the previous night, I wanted to put the spotlight on someone else, so I took Jessica to see my friend Seamus perform in a play at a local church. I promised her an evening she would never forget, and sweetened the pot by telling her that we would be able to drink beer from cans in a church gymnasium.
For the past three years, we have gone to see our friends in a play at this church. Each year, the story involves someone rich who wants to shut something down, and then there’s some singing, and a big dance number, and then the townsfolk band together and the rich guy has a change of heart. One year it was the local newspaper being bought out. This year, it was a classic hotel being torn down to make room for a new high-rise. These are the kind of heartfelt battles that made Chicago the city it is today.
And each year, there is at least one key scene that makes absolutely no sense, but sticks with us more than any of the others. Last year it was some talking bears who were feuding with chipmunks. This year, it was a group of hotel guests who loved to use words containing the letter “X.”
I forgot to warn Jessica about the obligatory nonsensical scene, so this was the look on her face for a good portion of the play:
Shortly thereafter, there was the big dance scene, and the rich guy had a change of heart.
Step Five: End on a high note
Once our evening of Miller products and metal folding chairs was over, both Jess and I were pretty wiped out. We decided, however, to stop off for one quick drink before heading back to our respective homes. I took her to my new favorite local bar that specializes in fancy cocktails. I ordered an old fashioned, and Jessica got the dirty martini.
”I love dirty martinis! But I’ll just have one.”
These would be famous last words. Although I am a lady, and a lady never calls a friend a lush, I will say this much: Jessica ate 18 olives that evening. I’ll let everyone figure out for themselves how many martinis that was.
Our “just one drink” turned into many drinks, and even more laughs, when suddenly I saw Jessica waving to a table of men behind me. Within minutes, we found ourselves flanked by a quartet of the most handsome and best smelling young men this fine city has to offer.
“Oh honey! You smell good! What are you wearing?”
“It’s Burberry.”
Chicago men wear Burberry cologne, and they’re damn proud of it.
As hard as we tried, we could not get the bartender to keep the bar open longer for us. Something about the law. So our quick nightcap turned into you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. Somewhere around 3:30am, I sent Jessica back to her hotel and immediately crashed.
The next morning, or rather, later that morning, I called Jessica up before her flight back to St. Louis, and all she said was, “Ohmigod – that was so much fun! I love Chicago!”
Works every time.

Five Easy Pieces

The last time my friend and fellow blogger Jessica was in town, she told me that even though she had been to Chicago many times before, she never really saw the appeal of the city. I took this as a challenge. So last week, when she was in town again for business, I was convinced that with my patented five step program, I would make her fall in love with the city by the end of the week.
Step One: Begin on a full belly
You can’t really appreciate the beauty that is Chicago if your belly is rumbling, so I took Jessica to my all-time favorite restaurant, where I hope to become such a regular that they deliver my food before I’ve even ordered. However, as much as I’d love to tell you the name of this restaurant, Natasha made me swear to never again mention the name. Nat is convinced that the place has become insanely crowded ever since the last time I mentioned it on my site, even though she and I are the only ones who read this blog. But perhaps putting the name out into the universe somehow made it more popular, so I can’t risk it.
In any case, [restaurant name withheld] didn’t disappoint. I had to pace myself with the wine, though, because the last time I was there, I drank almost an entire bottle myself and started hugging co-workers. And with Jessica’s self-professed hugging tendencies, I just couldn’t risk a scene.
Every detail of dinner was perfect – from the wine to the main dishes to the desserts and coffee – that is, until Jess pulled out her credit card to pay for dinner. Her card had a strange design on the front of it, so I asked if I could get a closer look.
“Oh, isn’t it the cutest? It’s an Anne Geddes card.”
As I looked more closely, I saw that there were two babies dressed as flies sleeping peacefully on what appeared to be – pardon the disturbing imagery – a gigantic pile of shit. I literally tossed the card back at her plate and screamed, “Noooo! You DO NOT have an Anne Geddes credit card! She’s psycho! Why do you have pictures of baby maggots on your credit card?! All her pictures look like dead babies!”
“Wha- ? No they don’t! They’re cute! They’re not flies – they’re fairies, sitting on a toadstool! And a percentage of my spending goes to child abuse victims.”
“Um, you mean like those babies she drugs and hangs inside of pantyhose to hawk her calendars? Like those child abuse victims?”
“Whatever. I think they’re cute.”
I just prayed that the waiter didn’t think the card was mine. I couldn’t risk ruining the good thing I had going at [restaurant name withheld].
Step Two: Take in some live entertainment
After our fabulous dinner, I wanted to expose Jessica to some of the activities we common Chicago folk engage in on a regular basis, so I took her karaoke singing with some friends of mine.
“If you guys are really good, I’m gonna be so pissed.”
“Don’t worry, Jess. We’re not.”
I never knew quite how accurate a statement that was until I started out the evening singing Lionel Richie’s, Hello, about two octaves too high for my already limited range. Every attempt to recover resulted in a bloody mess of flats and sharps. It was the longest three minutes of my entire life, and I honestly think it really did hurt me more than it did them.
I tried to convince myself that maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought, until Jessica called me the next day and said, “Hey, so something’s been bothering me that I want to talk to you about.”
“Okay, shoot.”
“So, I was just thinking about yesterday at karaoke when you sang, Hello, and I’m thinking that you just pretended to sing that badly so that I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable going up on stage.”
“Uh… what?”
“I mean, I was telling my husband about it, and we both just thought that there’s no way someone whose voice was truly that horrendous would actually get up on stage, right? You were just trying to make me feel good, right?”
“Oh. Uh… yyyyeeahh. Yeah, you got me. That’s me, all right – just always trying to put people at ease…”
That evening, I discovered that Jessica is more than a little bit country. Her Missouri twang came out in full force as she chose one country song after another. I had never heard any of the songs she sang, so I can only assume that she did an outstanding job. I was a bit disturbed, however, at how excited she was to sing a song about a girl who was really poor and had cockroaches running across her feet and then her dad sold her into white slavery and then they all called her fancy.
I was all, “What the f*?” And she was like, “No really, I love this song! It’s a good ‘un. Mmm hmmm.*”
*Ed. Note: In reality, Jessica sounds nothing like Billy Bob Thornton from Slingblade, but I like to pretend that she does: “Mmm hmmm. Some folks calls it a weblog. I calls it a blogsite. Mmm hmmm.”
When I sent Jessica off in a cab back to her hotel at the end of the night, I had no idea what cast of characters awaited us the following evening.
[To be continued]

Once Upon a Time in DC: Chapter Four

Before we headed to breakfast, Vivian kept muttering something about wanting to go to church. This puzzled me, since I’ve never known her to be the religious sort, but the rumbling in my belly made me quickly forget her spiritual awakening. We got to the restaurant just in time because minutes after we were seated, the DC brunch crowd stormed through the doors and hovered around all of us early birds like a pack of hyenas.
We were famished after our late night of hitting it hard in DC, so as soon as the food arrived, all conversation ceased. I needed to focus my energy on finding the perfect balance of breakfast flavors and textures. It didn’t take me long to find my rhythm:

  • French toast
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Bacon
  • Juice
  • Breathe
  • French toast
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Bacon
  • Juice
  • Breathe
  • Repeat until done

When we got the check, I nearly choked on my last crispy bite of bacon. $60 for breakfast? For three people? WTF?!
Okay, let me quickly do the math:
French toast = egg + bread
Scrambled eggs = eggs + butter
Bacon = bacon + grease
Juice = orange + pressure
If my calculations were accurate, this would have come to a grand total of $0.67 for raw materials. And they charged me $20 for that? But in a town where the government pays $700 for a toilet seat, I suppose I got off easy.
After a bit more complaining, Dee, Viv and I left the restaurant and started to head back to the hotel to check out. As we were walking, Vivian tugged at my arm and said, “There! That’s the church I was telling you about! I want to go check it out – come on.”
I stopped dead in my tracks when I turned my head and saw:
“Okay, are you insane? We are not going to a Scientology church! That’s a cult!”
“Jenny, don’t be so judgmental. You just know what you’ve seen on Oprah. A lot of cool people are into Scientology. Kirstie Alley is into it. Lisa Marie Presley.”
“They believe in aliens and that bad alien spirits are stuck to our bodies – that’s nuts”
“I heard Chaka Khan is a Scientologist.”
“Chaka Khan?”
“Chaka Khan.”
“Chaka Khan?”
“I feel for you if you can’t open your mind to new things a little, Jenny. Dee-Dee will come with me, won’t you, Dee?”
Vivian stomped ahead with Dee-Dee in tow, and I watched as they argued a bit outside the church.
Eventually, Dee and I just couldn’t convince her to come with us, so we had to leave Vivian in DC. I don’t really know what happened to her after that.
While waiting in the security line at the airport, I kicked myself for getting in the line behind the little girl and her stuffed tiger. Dee-Dee wisely chose the line with the harried businessmen and their laptops.
“Honey, I’m gonna need you to walk back through and set your tiger on the conveyor belt. Can you do that for me?” inquired the unusually sweet TSA rep. The girl just stood motionless with a puzzled look on her face. I was waiting for her father to tell her what to do, but instead he just waited for the security personnel to shove his daughter back through the metal detector.
“That’s it. Just go through there, and set your tiger up on the machine. He’s going to get an X-ray! Isn’t that neat?”
I looked at my watch and tapped my stocking-footed toes, hoping to god that the little girl hadn’t stashed a switchblade or heroin inside of her doll. She looked awfully nervous, though. As I walked through security and tried to reclaim my shoes, the little girl kept staring at the conveyor belt.
“Where’s Tigger?”
As it turned out, Tigger was stuck because Tigger only weighed two ounces and couldn’t push his way through the little rubber strips hanging in front of the conveyor. I reached in and yanked him out, handed him to the girl, and hurried to catch up with Dee-Dee because I was certain she had made it through security well before I had.
But when I looked ahead toward the gate, I didn’t see her anywhere. Did she go to the bathroom? Did she ditch me? I turned back around toward security and saw Dee-Dee standing by a glass wall. As I moved closer, I realized that she was, in fact, standing inside a glass box. I raised my arms up in the international sign for, “What the hell are you doing in that glass box?” and she waved her hands around wildly in the international sign for, “Please get me the hell out of this glass box.”
Eventually, a gruff looking uniformed woman grabbed Dee out of the glass box and led her by the arm toward what in layman’s terms is known as the pat-down area. My hand instinctively reached down toward my camera, but as I saw Dee being manhandled by a woman who I suspect was an extra on Prisoner: Cell Block H, I decided not to draw attention to myself. Instead, I called Vivian and left her a message with the play-by-play:
“Okay now Dee’s standing up for some reason, and the woman just told her to sit back down. Now she’s saying something about her sweatshirt. Dee’s totally yelling at the lady! Why is she giving her so much attitude? She’s gonna get an anal probe, I just know it – oh my god this is so awesome! Wait… oh, it looks like they’re letting her go now. Oooh, Dee looks pissed! Okay, I gotta go – bye!”
“Dee! What the hell was that all about?”
“Oh, I am so pissed off right now. When I was going through security, they told me that I had to take off my sweatshirt. I told them I couldn’t because I didn’t have appropriate attire underneath.”
“What are you wearing underneath?”
“A bra.”
“Oh. So you said no?”
“Yeah, and then I said that if I were a man, no way would they make me walk shirtless through security. And then I said what’s the difference between a black hooded sweatshirt and a huge bulky sweater? I said you could hide a lot more stuff under a big sweater than this yoga sweatshirt.”
“Uh, okay – you talked about hiding things under your sweatshirt?”
“To prove a point.”
“Never a good idea.”
We made it to the gate on time, and had a pretty uneventful return flight, aside from the woman next to Dee who kept smacking loudly as she ate her food, and then grabbed the bag of pretzels right out of Dee’s seatback.
“Oh, were you gonna eat your rabbit food?” she asked, once she realized that she had forgotten to wear her cloak of invisibility and that Dee could see her take the pretzels.
Dee-Dee just rolled her eyes and sighed, “No, go ahead.”
I turned up the volume on my iPod and thought about how my trip to DC ended exactly as it had begun, with shoulders shaking and eyes watering trying to fight back the laughter.

Once Upon a Time in DC: Chapter Three

“Vivian! Hey – perfect timing!”
“Hey gals, what’s shaking?”
“Ready to check out some Dada?”
“Oh yeah!”
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that all museums in DC are free. I thought it was a trick, but Vivian assured me that we would not be tackled as we walked up the stairs to the exhibit. As we headed into the exhibit, there was a crowd of people reading the description on the wall. I stopped to read it, but noticed Vivian and Dee-Dee walking ahead.
“Pshht. Reading is for suckers,” Vivian said, and stormed through the crowd.
The exhibit was packed with art lovers and haters alike. As we walked into a room with a sculpture of a pig-headed man in a Nazi uniform hanging from the ceiling, I heard a man say to his wife, “I hate this. I absolutely hate this. You know I hate this kind of thing. I’m leaving.”
She told him that she had read that the Dadaists wanted their art to make people uncomfortable. She said it would be over soon, and that he should just wait in the lobby. And then I saw a confused looking young boy – about five years old – scanning the crowds as he held onto his mother’s purse. I heard him say softly, several times, “Where’s Dada?”
After the exhibit, which we all agreed was amazing, we cleaned out the gift shop and then headed out. On our way to the Washington Monument, we decided that our desire for culture had not yet been sated, so we strolled through the sculpture garden. In it, we saw some sculptures.
And some more sculptures.
And some more sculptures.
And then we asked ourselves some hard-hitting questions.
Finally, being in our nation’s Capitol filled Vivian with all sorts of activist energy, so we went out in search of a peace rally. Fortunately, they are plentiful in Washington. Unfortunately, however, we stumbled across the saddest, most unorganized peace rally in the entire city. Our peace rally consisted of three hippies standing in the empty fountain in Dupont Circle, one man with a microphone, and another man in a wheelchair carrying a sign that said, “Make levees, not war.” Vivian bought a purple peace sign button from a man in tie dye for $1 and we headed back to our hotel.
After unsuccessfully attempting to replicate Baby G.’s whore eyes, the three of us hopped in a cab to meet up with our group at a Mediterranean tapas-style restaurant. Fortunately, in between the peace rally and whore eyes, we had stopped for pizza, because when we arrived at the restaurant, we were told it would take two hours to get seated.
There was wine and there were desserts, and everything in between tasted like goat cheese. And I mean that in the absolute best possible way.
After dinner, our numbers again dwindled. What once was twelve suddenly became four. But like any good general, Dr. Greene led the charge to continue hitting it and hitting it hard in DC. So he, Dee-Dee, Vivian and I stumbled off to a pool hall where we met up with some friends of his. I’m pretty sure that Dee, Viv and I won every game of pool, but only because Dr. Greene’s two friends kept disappearing at the bar.
Eventually, the smoke and beer and tapas got the best of us, so we decided to head home. Dr. Greene drove off with his pals, and the ladies and I shuffled back to the hotel. After the previous evening’s discovery, I warned Vivian that I apparently suffered from night terrors. According to all reports, I had punched Dee in the face the night before, so I tried to be extra careful about not moving around too much, as is my tendency.
This proved a fatal error, because Vivian, perhaps dreaming of skydiving, occupied the bed in such a dramatic spread eagle fashion that it took all my strength to hold myself on the edge of the bed. My body was contorted like an origami frog onto the tiniest plot of mattress – trapped in an isosceles triangle of pain formed by Viv’s arm, leg, and the edge of the bed.
I woke up unable to turn my head more than two inches in either direction. “Dang, Viv. Do you think you could take up any more of the bed? Sheesh.”
“Yeah, you really did take up the whole bed. At one point I looked over and Jenny’s body was shaking to try to keep from falling.”
“I can’t help it! I’m a big girl!”
“Oh yeah? Well then big girl buys breakfast!”
And off we went.
[Stay tuned for the highly overrated conclusion…]

Once Upon a Time in DC: Chapter Two

It was like watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve as we kept checking our satellite-synchronized cell phones to mark the exact moment when Alexis and I would turn a year older. At midnight, we cheered and hugged and clinked glasses, when suddenly I wondered aloud, “What the hell am I celebrating? I just crossed over into another demographic! No one cares about the 35-44 age group! The only junk mail I’ll get now is a bunch of coupons for antacids and wrinkle creams.”
My mind started swirling with the realization of what it meant to suddenly be 35. What had I accomplished in my life? What did I have to show for my 35 years? How had I made my mark on this planet? The bitter taste of failure started to bubble up in the back of my throat, or perhaps it was the Knob Creek, but either way, I knew something had to change. So I did the only thing that seemed right to me, and demanded that we find another bar. This one reeked of mediocrity.
Shortly after leaving the bourbon bar, we lost four of our comrades to excessive fatigue and pre-hangover headaches, leaving just Dr. Greene, Dee-Dee and me to forge ahead. I said I would hit it hard, and I couldn’t start out my new year by surrendering that early.
We ended up at a bar that served beer with a heavy dose of smoke. However, the combination of margaritas, bourbon, and self-reflection had left me feeling mellow.
After finishing half my beer, we decided to call it a night, but not before stopping in a scary 10’ x 10’ storefront that sold empanadas until 4:00am. Dr. Greene promised us that these would be the best empanadas we had ever tasted. And they were. They were also, coincidentally, the only empanadas I had ever tasted, but that didn’t detract from their deliciousness.
I would have taken a picture of our actual meal, had the cashier not been sporting a tribal tattoo right in the middle of his forehead. Even with my clouded judgment, something told me this was not a prudent photo opportunity.
It was far too late for Dr. Greene to head back to Maryland, so Dee-Dee and I doubled up in our hotel bed and offered the other to Dr. Greene. The last thing I remember before falling asleep was Dee-Dee sharing a retched tale of her friend whose house was infested with bedbugs – international bedbugs nonetheless – and how all her furniture had to be burned.
Apparently, this story must have crept into my subconscious, because although I recalled sleeping soundly, the next morning Dee-Dee asked Dr. Greene if he heard me moaning in the middle of the night.
“Oh, you mean when she sat straight up and was like, ‘Ehhhhhhhhh, ehhhhhhhh?’”
“Shut up! I did not.”
“Oh yeah you did! And you totally hit me in the face, too!”
“I made a Frankenstein sound?”
“Kind of, but higher pitched, and not so drawn out. More like, ‘Ehhhh, ehhhh.’”
“Well, I’m glad you can both laugh at my night terrors. What if I was having a heart attack? It’s your fault, telling me those stupid bed bug stories when I’m sleeping in a hotel bed.”
Both Dr. Greene and Dee-Dee had splitting headaches, so I doled out ibuprofen and went to the bathroom to get some water. Just as I was handing the glass to Dee-Dee, I heard a crunching sound.
“Did you just chew up those pills?”
“No, I ate some pretzels to wash them down.”
“You chased pills with pretzels?”
“Yeah, why?”
We had a full day planned. I had read about a new Dada exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, and really wanted to check it out. It was a sunny day out, and we had dinner reservations later that evening, so I wanted to spend some time seeing the city.
After a quick breakfast at a restaurant with the filthiest bathroom I had ever seen in my life – international bedbugs would have been a welcome addition – we bid farewell to Dr. Greene and made our way to the museum. Just as we headed toward the entrance, a cab pulled up and out walked Vivian. Right on time.
[To be continued]

Once Upon a Time in DC: Chapter One

“We’re gonna hit it hard in DC,” he said, as he handed me a small package, “And this mix CD I made for you is just the beginning.”
“Did you bring Greedo?”
“What do you think?”
I don’t know why I even asked – Dr. Greene always came prepared. And true to his word, we would hit it, and hit it hard in DC. Dee-Dee just sat innocently in the back seat, unaware of the adventures that awaited us.
“So do we get to know what the plans are, or is that a surprise?”
“All in due time, ladies. All in due time,” he said, as he turned up the volume on Fantasy.
It was my 35th birthday, so my friends and I flew out to DC to meet up with Dr. Greene and our friend Alexis, who shares my birthday. Vivian was taking the train in from New York and would meet us the next day.
The last time I was in DC on vacation, I was a wide-eyed 11-year old crossing guard captain, heavily crushing on a swarthy boy from Appleton, WI who was sitting three rows in front of me on the tour bus. We were on the same crossing guard field trip, he in his yellow windbreaker, I in my green. I took spy photos of him with my Kodak Disc camera and giggled with my girlfriends as we said his name and ducked behind the seats. Somewhere in the dark corners of my parents’ basement lies a single photo of that boy, his face blurred as he turned around to find the source of the laughter and camera flashes. I remember he had heavy eyebrows.
Our plane had been delayed, so Dee-Dee and I told Dr. Greene to drive us straight to the restaurant. The only freshening up we needed to do involved salt, lime and tequila. Our first pitcher went down very quickly.
As did the second.
Natasha and Alexis arrived somewhere in the middle of the second round, and we waited patiently for a table as we watched stubborn women start a fight with a mentally unstable man over a bar stool. DC is high strung, I observed.
We ate at a Mexican restaurant whose name I can’t recall, and I’m pretty sure I had shrimp, but really, these details are irrelevant. What is important to note is that we got what would be the first of several birthday desserts.
After remembering that I detest flan, I prodded the team to lead us to the next venue. The night was still young. I was still 34.
We ended up at a bourbon bar, where I was told that ordering bourbon on the rocks was not hitting it hard.
“Ice is for pansies,” Dr. Greene told me, but I wanted to last the night.
With each sip of whiskey, my body grew more relaxed, as did my memory. I needed to jot down some notes from the evening, but my notebook was immediately ripped from my hands.
“What are you writing?” Natasha slurred.
“Give me that!”
“No, let me see it!”
“What’s she writing? Are you writing about us?”
“Let me write something. I’m gonna write a haiku.”
Suddenly my notebook was being tossed from person to person, like a cruel schoolyard game of monkey in the middle. By the time I finally got it back, seven pages were filled with jibberish like:
Tops off in 2006
Live, live, live.
T-Con 2006!

Old man?
Olds Cutlass?

Whore eyes, you will get
Some whore eyes they will be sexy
Whore eyes, whore eyes I see

Even my camera was hijacked. Although I’m not a fan of violence, I was drunk, and frankly, the only way to get it back was by force.
punch dg.jpg
By the time I had retrieved that which was rightfully mine and polished off the remainder of my bourbon, I glanced down at my watch and realized it was just two minutes to midnight. Thirty-five had almost arrived.
[To be continued]

The Return

Hey Viv, it’s Jen. Just wanted to make sure you got to your train okay. We’re still at the airport. Dee-Dee is currently being strip searched by an Amazon, so hopefully we won’t miss our flight. I’ll fill you in later. Bye!
Watching the typically mild-mannered Dee-Dee get belligerent with the security personnel at Reagan National was one of the highlights of my trip to DC. Getting to third base with a prison guard-esque woman wearing blue latex gloves was probably not a highlight for Dee-Dee. But man, was I tempted to pull out my camera…
DC stories and illustrations to come later this week!

This is my birthday post

It’s not really my birthday yet, but I’m leaving for DC on Friday to celebrate, so I will be partying with some lobbyists and senators and interns all weekend, and wanted to be sure to capture a few important thoughts while I’m in a reflective mood.
As a Pisces, I am the oldest and wisest sign of the zodiac, but now that I’m turning 35, I don’t like to think of myself as old. I prefer the term “mostly dead.”
And while I believe in astrology, I have never been much of a fan of daily horoscopes. This would be why:

Pisces (Feb. 19 – Mar. 20):
The talent you’ve mastered has been neglected of late – get back to it! You’re happier and more fulfilled when you’re practicing your “thing,” and everyone around you will benefit.
Chicago Sun Times, Tuesday, March 14, 2006

The talent I’ve mastered. Talent. I have mastered. Mastered.
Uh, hello? Little help?
Now, there are all sorts of “things” that I “practice” that make me “happier,” but how exactly am I supposed to know which one of these is “my thing?” Because now, not only is my happiness and fulfillment on the line, but I have to worry about everyone around me? So if I don’t practice “my thing,” none of you will benefit? This is bullshit. What kind of birthday horoscope is that?
God forbid I don’t do that one talented thing I do, because then the rest of you will have to suffer. Some birthday this is turning out to be.
Another thing I learned today, while watching the repeat of the premiere of the new cycle of America’s Next Top Model, is that if I ever go on America’s Next Top Model, I will make sure not to seem like I have any self esteem. Tyra doesn’t like it when people don’t find themselves hideous. Tyra gets very mad when you think you did well in a photo shoot. Tyra will not tolerate anything other than utter self-loathing. The most important thing to know about modeling is that there is always someone prettier and thinner and taller than you, so don’t you ever forget it. And in Tyra’s case, there is always someone with a less bulbous forehead.
Well, I guess the good part about getting older is I don’t have to have a point to my entries anymore. Old people are always starting stories and not finishing them, and I know for a fact that this is a talent of mine, so I look forward to cultivating this gift in my 35th year and beyond.
Oh yeah, and old people also tell the same stories over and over again. Like, did I ever tell you about the time I got locked in a basement? God, what a fright I had. Or when I got drunk and hugged a co-worker? Lordy, lordy, lordy. Oh! I know you haven’t heard this one yet! One time, I paid $7.50 to download really terrible ringtones for my cell phone. I was really reckless when I was 34.
Wait… what was I saying?

Ring Master

“Now that I finally got that You’re Beautiful song out of my head, I’m happy to say a really good one has replaced it.”
“Oh yeah, what?”
Din Da Da.”
“You know – from Breakin’? Or is it from Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo? You know it: Din da da, dun doe doe, din da da, dun doe.
“Never heard of it. Those are actually the words? I don’t think I ever really saw either of those movies. We didn’t have cable until I was older.”
“Nat! Tell me you’re joking! How is it possible that you have never seen Breakin’? It’s such a good movie! There’s like these two really good breakdancers – Turbo and Ozone – and they meet this rich white girl, Kelly, who’s studying to be a professional dancer. She falls in love with one of them – I think Ozone – and then her parents get mad. Ozone calls her Special K, and she wears fingerless gloves. It’s so good.”
“Yeah, sounds like it.”
“And it’s got the classic storyline that all movies should follow – ragtag group of neighborhood kids has to set aside their differences and band together to save the teen center. Big dance numbers and then it’s all din da da, dun doe doe, din da da, dun doe.”
*** Later that same evening, in car on way to bar ***
Din da da, dun doe doe, din da da, dun doe. Hey – I should see if I can download that song off my cellphone.”
“Can you do that?”
“I don’t know – I never tried.”
“Maybe they have it as a ringtone.”
“Ohmigod! That would be the most awesome ringtone ever! Can you imagine? You call me and my phone just goes, din da da, dun doe doe, din da da, dun doe. Awesome.”
*** Ten minutes later, still trying to figure out how to download ringtones ***
“Well, it doesn’t look like they have Din Da Da, but they have In Da Club. Oh – I’m gonna download Push It! Wait – do I really want to spend $2.50 to have Push It as my ringtone?”
*** Twenty seconds and $2.50 later ***
“This doesn’t sound like Push It at all!”
“Seriously, Jenny – that’s the worst version of Push It I’ve ever heard. Do not even set that as the ring for when I call you!”
“Don’t worry, you’re still the theme song from Facts of Life.”
Facts of Life? That’s even worse! Give me a better ring than that. What did Dee-Dee get?”
“Uh, lemme see. Oh, she’s Asian Jingle. Do you want to be crickets?”
“No, I want to be something good. Download the Doobie Brothers Black Water for my ringtone! I wanna hear some funky Dixieland, pretty momma gonna take me by the hand…
By the hand, hand…
Take me by the hand…
Pretty momma! But seriously, Nat – is it really worth another $2.50?“
“Are you putting a price on my friendship?”
“Oh, for the love of… fine. You’re Black Water.”
“And you should see if they have Rock Me Amadeus! That would be so cool – doo doo dee, doo doo doo doo, doo doo dee. Amadeus, Amadeus! Amadeus! Amadeus, Amadeus! Amadeus!
“I don’t know if I want my phone singing in German. Just creeps me out a little. Oh wait, unless it was 99 Luft Balloons! Doo doo doo doo doo. Doo doo doo doo doo doooo. Dee bee daa bee baa beeda baa, bada bee bada bee ba bada bum… 99 eins zwei drei! 99 luft balloons go by!”
“That’s a psycho ringtone.”
“Like Black Water is cool?”
“You’re the one who just paid $2.50 for it, not me.”
“So that’s how we’re playing it, Nat? Fine, let’s see… Contacts… L, M, N, Natasha… Assign Personal Ringtones… okay… Black Water… Delete… and… Greensleeves… ASSIGN! YEAH! Hey, who’s that calling me? Oh it’s just Ye Olde Natasha McGreensleeves. Hey Renaissance woman, where’s your lute? What’s that? You want to go out for a turkey leg and some mead later? Uh, let me get back to you on that. Ha!”
“Oh, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about me calling you anytime soon.”