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Archive for September, 2008

Shout Out Loud

You may think in this post I’m going to reveal the nickname that I have kept buried for 20some years. You’re wrong; that name follows me to the grave…except for those of you who already know it, in which case I’m shit-outta-luck or currently plotting my revenge should you reveal it.

Instead I plan to follow up my last post about the way we tell stories with friends with a “The Way I Tell Stories with Friends.” The best method by which I figure to do this is to tell you a story…one that happens to involve a nickname.

My gym, called BOOM, I guess because of the high-impact and high-intensity of the classes was my haven in New York for a year. The word filled an orange circle in neon green or white lettering with an ! meant to show just how much of an impact this gym could have on your life. Trainers often stood outside the glass door entrance soliciting people to give it a try and get a free work-out with one of them. As often as they shouted this, they would mumble comments out of the sides of their mouths when they were ignored. Ones like, “you should use it so you can lose it” and “come on girlfriend, it’s almost Thanksgiving…you know you don’t need another pumpkin pie,” laughing at their own wit. I joined before I noticed these “encouragers,” otherwise I probably would have passed.

When I worked out there, I stuck mainly to the cardio room, running on the treadmills and ellipticals. Typically, I plugged into my playlist and out of the world around me.

One night after work, I walked to the gym, changed, filled my water bottle, and looked around for the next available machine.

The only one open was a squeaky elliptical positioned precariously between a nicer elliptical and a treadmill, both of which were getting a workout from the people pounding on them. The guy on the treadmill caught my attention. A few years older than I am, he had an 80’s sweatband around his head and was rocking to whatever ‘jams’ were on his ipod. I stepped on my machine and began my workout.

Lost in girl-pop and tunes by Journey, I toned out all the other New Yorkers sweating to their oldies, Friends episode, or ESPN countdown. But the guy on the treadmill kept catching my attention. He bumped up his speed, digging hard into the revolving band. He pushed it up again and as he did, he yelled out “Go Go, COME ON.” I almost fell off the elliptical. I turned to him, but his eyes were closed and his shaggy hair flopped back and forth to whatever rhythm the beat of his music set.

I looked around and other people were watching this guy, who was totally unaware and absorbed in his regimen. Their mouths quirked and we cocked our heads and the interruption before going back to our workouts.

About three minutes later, the speed on the guys treadmill revved up again. His arms pumped faster, and he yelled “OH GO GO YEAH YEAH.” And again, I completely lost my balance. I frowned at the disturber. Looking down the row of machines, I found a different one at the far end. I snatched it, glancing back to see he was finally getting off, dripping sweat and confidence at his running capabilities. Not bothering to towel off his machine, he walked right by the paper towels and into the Men’s Locker room.

Now not only had he disrupted mine and several others’ workouts, he also failed to clean the machine he rained sweat on for the past 50 minutes.

Disgusted, I finished my time out and gathered my stuff to leave, deliberately cleaning my machine as if to make up for his slobbery. As I headed to the subway, I called my friend in desperate need for someone to commiserate with my experience.

“So, tonight at the gym there was this guy,” I began, “and as he worked out, he’d just shout out all of the sudden, really loudly and randomly…” I demonstrated and a few people glanced at me as they passed by. “It was like he had exercise tourette’s …and everyone stared at him as he’d shout out. Exercise Tourettes kept this up for my entire workout. Do you know how hard it is to focus on a machine I’m already pretty unstable on when someone is shouting next to you? Damn near f-ing impossible…”

She laughed on the other end of the phone as I retold my story, slightly exaggerated of course, but that was the fun of telling it. Exercise Tourettes became one of my first nicknames, and one of which I’m most proud, but certainly not the last one my lips have uttered. The best part of telling a story, I think, is coming up with the names of the people you’re talking about in the event you don’t actually want to use their real ones…which of course you never because what’s the fun in that?

So most of you who are in my stories may be wondering what I call you when I telling one…you may find out soon enough and I’m sorry in advance.

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On Saturday night, I got together with some friends who I hadn’t seen in awhile. They were girlfriends I knew in college who I could always count on to stop and listen when I had something to say. The four of them live together in DC, and I ventured in from the Burbs to spend a few quality hours conversing over wine and cheese. The best thing about these four girls is that they are all great storytellers. Each one has a different style and while it often conflicts with another group members’, when I get together with them, I know I’m in for a good time. After spending all day Saturday cooped indoors with 3 toddlers while it deluged outside, I was ready for some adult talk.

We sat in the kitchen of their beautiful townhouse as Kate* cooked brie with marionberry jam and brown sugar and JuniorMint* arranged a cracker platter. Dodge poured the wine.

After a glass of wine and an initial catch-up session, the stories started to flow as we shared our adventures over the past year. JuniorMinty spent her year in the South, the dirty South working on a college campus as a Service Coordinator (I think that’s right) and she had plenty to dish about her experience, but the one that made my eyes water and my throat hoarse with laughter began:

“So one night I went into a Bojangles

And I was next in line behind a rather obese black woman who was giving her order to a scrawny white kid behind the counter. “What can I get you?” the kid asks. (In a southern accent Jess mimics the woman) “I’d like a bucket of your 12-piece fried chicken.”

The boy answers, “Is that for you to eat here or to go?”

And the woman says (still JuniorMint’s southern accent), “Boy, do’I look like I can eat a whole bucket of chicken bys myself?”

–and without missing a beat—The boy says, “Bitch I don’t know your life.”

At which point, JuniorMint says she stepped away slowly before anything else could get out of hand.

She finished…but not before adding with hand emphasis, “Guys, we’re talking really large.”

When we recovered, Kate reminded us of her experience in a Chinese restaurant where she was eating dinner with her family.

They were led to sit by the door to the kitchen and the kindly-looking Asian woman took their drink and meal orders before going through the double doors to place them. Kate and her family were chatting as usual when they heard some clanging in the back, and the doors flung open with the kindly-looking Asian woman backing out yelling, “You dumb fuck…I tell you 5 or 4 time…”

At which point Kate and her family, and now all of us were laughing so hard we can’t here the end of the conversation/story.

This was probably the 20th time I’ve heard that story…the first time being in Bath when we were all abroad. That line became a motto for the group…and we used it just about as often as we could in any situation, the most recent being JuniorMint’s interaction with a prank caller:“So the other day, some number calls Cowbell* and she doesn’t recognize it. Naturally I suggest we should call it back. The phone rings and a guy picks up, “Hello?” he answers. I clear my throat and say,

You dumb fuck I tell you 5 or 4 time to NOT kick my dog**…you kick my dog!

I couldn’t keep a straight face after that so I had to hang up…

Each story led to another story with elaborate descriptors to convey our points…

“You know…she’s tall and kind of Lurch-like, he’s the guy who always starts a story with yo, she’s the girl who makes herself ugly on purpose.”

And then we blow the story way out of proportion which is clearly how rumors get started…

“Wait, she broke up with him and now she’s pregnant. Who’s pregnant, not Sam? No one’s pregnant. They’re engaged. He got her pregnant and then dumped her. Isn’t he 40 and divorced. No he’s 30 and never been married…”

We all talk over each other, breaking off 1-1 conversations to interject our knowledge and version into the mix, until finally someone over-shouts the group and says:

“We’re talking about Sarah guys, not Sam and Sarah is not dumped, engaged, or pregnant.”

To which we all go…”Ohhhhh…” as if we knew that information all along.

I laughed so hard that night as we shared our latest awkwardness’, catastrophes, and adventures. And I realized that the best forum for a story is gathering around a kitchen counter with bottles of wine and the best audiences are the friends who know that this story, whatever it happens to be about, could only be told by you.

*names changed for obvious reasons.

**You Kick My Dog Prank Call

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And for now, a taste was all I needed.

A few weeks ago, I left The Big Apple and headed south. And while I knew I would definitely miss it, it’s fun to reflect on the time I spent there. For my last two weeks in New York (i.e. my two weeks notice), I stayed with a good friend, struggling to cram in a few last dates with the city.

I went out to dinner with friends where we spent one evening sharing a mozzarella appetizer imported from Italy at a rustic Italian restaurant in Alphabet City (or around there). One night we opted to stay in and ordered from Cafe Habana, the eclectic Cuban restaurant in Nolita.

A warm Saturday morning prompted a long walk through the streets of the city. Park Avenue shut down for Summer Streets, an event where New Yorkers are encouraged to walk their dogs, bike, run and just enjoy the weather as the meander up/down Park Avenue. I walked from the 30’s up to Central Park and the 70’s, meeting my friend Claire at MOMA for lunch and a surprise street fair.

One of my favorite things about New York is the surprises that spring up around every block. This street fair was only one block (avenue to avenue) and was in support of a dance studio’s 50th anniversary. People crowded around food stands, ordering gyros and fried mozzarella or smoothies and funnel cakes.

I left the fair and wandered up to Central Park, stopping in shops along the way. I settled onto a spot beneath a tree whose shadow spread over one of the many lakes in the park. I read there for a few hours, intermittently glancing around at couples and families picnicking, homeless men napping, and hundreds of singles walking dogs, checking Blackberries or reading newspapers.

As a final farewell, New York even threw me a bon voyage parade. Granted, my parade just happened to coincide with the Dominican Day Parade. Thousands crammed along the 5th avenue route as spainish music blasted from floats. On Madison avenue, running parallel, another street fair boasted my favorite kettle corn truck, KettleCorn NYC that offers free samples of exotic flavors like Chilli Lime, Coconut, Cotton Candy, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cheddar Caramel…all of which I find utterly delicious.

As I had done on many Saturday mornings, I spent my final Saturday wandering the stands at the Union Square Farmers’ Market. The outer perimeter of the park is lined with various vendors selling vegetables, fruits, meats, cheeses, and grains. While I enjoy wandering through the stalls rooting through local produce, I much prefer the Union Square artists. An eclectic crew of struggling artists descend daily, setting up the rusting poker tables with all of the items they are trying to sell. One young black t-shirt, multi-pierced vendor hovers behind his table with his hands deeply rooted in his denim pockets. Photographs, digitally mastered, of the city are mounted on frames lined with masking tape and then dyed with the chemicals used in developing (the effect is a sepia colored border over the picture).

Beside him a woman sits in an outdoor camping chair as people scan the folded cartoon, slogan or political t-shirts on her table. A thin black man with hip-length dreadlocks slowly paces behind bongs carefully arranged to descend in height order. I stop at the next stand, where a hipster is arranging a framed print of the Empire State Building. Magnets are scattered over the table, like pick-up-sticks, with images of the City atop animal sketchings. I looked carefully at the prints, whimsically painted images of Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State, and the Chrysler Building. I couldn’t resist buying one, and haggled him down a bit. He included a few of the magnets for me as well. I finished my last date with a glass of wine and a nice dinner with a group of friends, knowing that in a week I’d be in Pennsylvania, unemployed (well…just a break until I started my next job the following week). But it’s fun to say, I’m currently unemployed and watch the reactions of the people I tell.

A week later, my bag packed and one-way ticket bought, I walked to Penn Station. Passing the Empire State and Macy’s, I dragged my loaded suitcase through the crowded streets of New York, hardly believing it had been a year and I was leaving for good. It was a goregous day. And the City made sure that when I pulled out of Penn Station, the sun glistened across the skyline and waited until it was night and I was gone before it stormed. New York and I parted ways on excellent terms, with an understanding that I might be back in the not-so-distant future, that this may not have been just a bite I took, that soon enough, I might be back to eat all the way to the core.

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