Tag Archives: strangers

Your house is as crazy as you are.

26 Nov

…yeah, shit that works.

Flying back from Boston last week, a couple with his-and-hers corderoy pants were seated next to me. As if that didn’t effectively convey the “crunchy vibe” they were going for, when they shuffled into their seats, I was practically forced to claw my nose off my face as I surmised that the guy used one of those “natural crystals” in lieu of deoderant.

Unless you grow jasmine in your armpits, please don’t use natural anything when it comes to combatting body odor.

I tell you this to explain that I may have been prematurely soured on them. I spent the next hour staring straight ahead, watching them out of the corner of my eye, trying to figure out what their deal was.

As soon as they took their seats, they both began sketching on pads. From their conversation, I gathered they were designing a house. It struck me as odd, because the guy appeared to be in his 40s, and the woman looked like someone recently out of college. Father/daughter? Professor/student? Husband/wife?

How I felt.

I didn’t need to wait long to eliminate at least two of those options. As soon as they were told to put their tray tables away, they held hands. But to say they held hands would be to underrepresent what was occurring. It was a non-stop flurry of hand-holding. If it were an Olympic event, they might’ve medaled for effort, but not for style. It made me want to reach over and kneel on their collective arm and put a seatbelt on it.

Even with the handicap of each only having one arm to work with, they managed to continue sketching. From their dialogue, I couldn’t tell if they actually had a plot of land they were designing a home for, or if this was an inflight-activity designed to keep their minds off crashing, or if they were just bat-shit crazy. Their sentences would range from rational and intelligent, to plain stupid.


Him: So if we orient the house toward the stream, we should get great natural light on the porch in the evening and strong morning light in the kitchen. Is that what you’re thinking?

Her: That’s perfect. I’m going to make this entire wall cabinets. And then the sink will go here, under the window.

Him: Looks good. Where are you putting the stairs to the upper level?

Her: I thought we could do a rope ladder.

(Me, silently: A rope ladder? What is this, a TREE house?)

Him: That would be cool. 

Her: Right here. It will save space and be fun.

(Me, silently: Wait? He didn’t even call you on that bullshit?)

Him: I don’t see any closets. Where are you going to put clothes?

Her: Hooks and shelves.

Him: Hooks and shelves? What about your shoes?

Her: They’ll go in the mud room. Can I have a mud room?

(Me, silently: She has to ask permission for things? I want to smack them both.)

Him: Sure. So shoes will go in the mud room? Where – on the floor?

Her: Hooks and shelves. Hooks and shelves.

(Me, silently: What is this, kindergarten? No closets? Again, not practical.)

Him:  Got it. What about the fridge? You don’t have a place for it.

Her: Hmm. Maybe the basement? Can I have a basement?

(Me, silently: Again with the permission! And seriously? Was the kitchen too obvious for the fridge?)

Him: Sure. You can have a basement. You’ll probably want to put the water heater, furnace and other things down there though, so don’t use it all for living space.

Her: Great. I’ll put the fridge in the kitchen. (Thank God!) It’ll go under the counter. (What?) With the freezer next to it. (Huh?) And a dishwasher next to that. Can I put a fireplace in?

Him: Sure. You can have two flues off the same chimney, so you can add one without a problem.

(Me, silently: Wait. This place already HAS a fireplace? Does that mean it exists?) 

Do you understand now? They were crazy! I wanted to reach over and snap their pencils in half and tell them to do something useful. Fortunately, I was able to redirect my ire because at this point (ten minutes in the air) the woman unbuckled her seatbelt and announced she needed to use the restroom.

SERIOUSLY. We JUST took off and we will be on the ground in 50 minutes. You can’t hold it?

Wait. So you like rope ladders? Then let me show you how to get to the bathroom…


The planets are in alignment. Literally.

28 Feb

I did not take this photo. Some awesome photographer from Reuters did. I'm borrowing it to illustrate my story. Is that technically copyright infringement? I sure hope not.

Leaving yoga last night, I happened to look up and see the moon. Well, the moon (a sliver) and two very bright stars underneath it. My memory jogged to a Facebook post I’d read the night before, in which a friend had urged everyone to head outside and check out Venus and Jupiter, just under the moon.

I looked around and realized that what I was seeing was MUCH brighter than anything else in the sky, and I knew I was looking at planets. With my naked eyes. I became inexplicably excited and couldn’t take my eyes off them, except when passing other pedestrians. And I realized: apparently I’m the only person who finds planets to be a kinda big deal, because everyone else was shuffling along, talking on cell phones, not looking up.

I wanted to stop strangers and say, “Look up! Check it out! Those are PLANETS.” And I considered doing it – I assessed every person I walked past, trying to find someone I could share this marvel with. But that’s when I figured something out: when you’re walking alone, after dark, and you approach strangers, they’re going to think you’re either a) A criminal, or B) Crazy.

I couldn’t decide if the yoga mat over my shoulder helped or hurt my cause. On one hand, it showed that I wasn’t homeless (unless it was actually a bed roll), but on the other, it could mean that I was some kind of crazy Earth Mother who liked stars AND astrology.

This mild self-awareness prompted me to exercise some restraint and NOT approach strangers. However, if they’d studied me closely, they would’ve seen my eyes dancing from their faces up to the moon and back, much like a dog trying to hint that he’s ready for you to fill up his bowl. No one looked up. Their loss.

Unable to contain my enthusiasm, I called Alan and my sister and encouraged them to head outside, and sent my friend Betsy a text. I needed to share this with someone. I mean, it’s not every day that the planets are aligned so you can see them on a casual walk.

You know what else doesn’t happen everyday? Spotting the person who hit you with her vehicle. That’s right.

Walking down T Street, I was just about to cross the opening to an alley, when a Prius turned to enter. I hesitated for a moment before crossing its path (it was a Prius after all – and the same color as the one that hit me, at that!) and in that moment, I looked up at the driver. It was Tina. The woman whose face I had seen vividly through that same windshield once before.

Not sure how I recognized it.

I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me to bump into her (no pun intended) since she lives two blocks from me. But I did just celebrate my one year crashiversary (Feb 13!)  by observing that I hadn’t seen her since that night in the ER. Guess I celebrated too soon.

Ironically, for the first time since I’d set eyes on the moon, with the one person who stood a chance of recognizing me, I didn’t feel compelled to stop her and ask her to look up. Instead I just tucked my chin down and hustled past, glad for the anonymity.

Nestled back in my home, I googled “Venus, Jupiter, Moon” to make sure that what I’d seen were actually planets. (Yep!) But then I found this article that informed me I’d missed the real bonanza last May, when Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Mars were visible to the naked eye, with Uranus and Neptune visible with binoculars.

WHAT?! I missed the chance to see SIX planets at once with nothing more than opera glasses? Where was I when this happened, and why didn’t anyone drag me outside? Also? Maybe this explains why no one mirrored my amazement last night. They probably all had seen six planets last year and would’ve been like, “Yawn. Big deal…” if I’d stopped to point out Venus and Jupiter.

It would’ve been kind of like that time in France when a couple stopped me and asked for directions and – because I couldn’t actually understand their question, I thought they were gesturing at a building that had caught fire the week before, so I’d excitedly responded to their simple inquiry with: “See that? It burn! It BURN! Burn big! Go bye!” Their eyes had grown large and they started backing away from me as if I were about to light them on fire.

So anyway. I guess there are three morals to this story: First, trying to engage strangers on the street is a recipe for looking crazy. Second, when the planets are in alignment, expect the unexpected. Third, if ever you don’t understand what someone has asked you, err on the side of giving them directions to a supermarket. At least you will have communicated something non-threatening and potentially helpful.

The good news? The planets will be visible for a few more weeks, so you haven’t missed your chance to see them. I just ask that if you DO see them and want to share the joy with a stranger, you point to the moon and tell someone how to get to FoodLion.

Clearly you love your job. Not.

3 Oct

I’m tempted to start a short film project featuring the concierge in my office building. She’s a heavy set woman in her mid-forties, and she clearly hates her job. Or me. One of the two.

I’m generally friendly to strangers. I go out of my way to say hi in the elevator. I strike up conversations over the bathroom sink. I ask cashiers how their day is going and actually listen to the answer. I figure we’re all in this together, so why not get to know each other a bit?

Apparently the concierge disagrees with my approach. Every time I greet her in passing, she gives me a stare that borders on hostile — a stare that I would probably reserve for people whose incompetence negatively and directly impacted my day. Oh, and she never actually answers me, even when I frame up the exchange with a question.

“Good weekend?” I’ll ask on Monday morning. She stares back as if I formed the words using Pig Latin.

I’ve gathered that she does speak English, because there are sometimes people hanging out talking to her. But for whatever reason, she’s decided she doesn’t want anything to do with me.

Bless her heart – that’s not the best approach to take with me. Because my response to that? Game On.

Fine line between a concierge and an animatronic chicken.

Case in point: Today, heading out for lunch, when I stepped off the elevator, she was in the middle of a huge yawn and we locked eyes. So as I walked by, I tapped her desk and said, “Late night?!” and winked at her. (No response, btw.)

Other days, I’ll make comments that are ludicrous – like whipping in from a downpour and commenting, “Been outside lately? It’s gorgeous!” without a trace of sarcasm.

And still: no response. I’m beginning to think she’s an Animatronic Concierge that our property management company leased from Chuck E. Cheese.

Each day I plan to get a bit more ridiculous in my attempts to engage her, just to see what will happen. In my mind, I’ve gone as far as to imagine walking in pantless and asking her if she can recommend a dry cleaner. Or bringing in a cat in a cat carrier filled with squirrels.

Because those are the places my mind goes. That’s normal, right?

I just can’t understand why she won’t be my friend.


My heart grew three sizes that day.

16 Sep

My parents just got back from their first visit to The Big Apple. They went as part of an organized tour, not realizing that their dates would place them there for the tenth anniversary of September 11. I asked if it had impacted the trip in any way.

“Not really,” my dad said. “Just that we were greeted by the National Guard when we entered the city through the Lincoln Tunnel.”

As someone who has regularly traveled to NYC for work, I could easily imagine what impression that might make to a sweet midwestern group arriving via bus. It also reminded me of my own random experience with the Midtown Tunnel when I was relatively new to the city.

When I was 23, the company I worked for sacked everyone in our NYC office. I was asked to pinch hit for a month, flying up every Monday morning and returning home every Friday night to keep the doors open. (This was before 9/11, so flying wasn’t the chore that it is today; even so, I kick myself for not discovering the Acela earlier.)

As a 23 year-old, getting to explore the city on an expense account was hardly a bad thing, but there was one part I dreaded: having to find a taxi to the airport each Friday during rush hour. There were cabs everywhere, but – apparently due to the shift change – very few would accept passengers. Especially for a one-way fare to LaGuardia.

So imagine me, one Friday at 5:00, grateful to be sitting in the back of a cab, staring out the window as MidTown blurred past. (This was pre-cell phone, so of course I was looking out the window. No phone calls or Facebook to entertain me back then.)

Just outside the MidTown tunnel (our route out of Manhattan to LaGuardia), stood a policeman, redirecting traffic. Cars were temporarily being sent around the block while they did something in the tunnel. My driver followed the other cars.

When we approached the tunnel for the second time, I could see that the cop was generally sending cars around the block again, but was letting an occasional vehicle through the tunnel. My driver must’ve noticed this too, because when we pulled up to the cop this time, he rolled down his window, gestured at me, and said, “Airport fare…”

No dice. The cop just shook his head, blew his whistle, and gestured for us to make another lap. His mistake was in letting the car directly behind us go through the tunnel. That set my driver off, and I spent the entire block hearing him plot out his revenge.

And sure enough. When we approached the third time, my driver pretended he couldn’t see or hear the cop and just kept moving straight toward the tunnel. It wasn’t until the cop pounded on the hood of the car that my driver acknowledged him. And man, I wish he hadn’t.

Things quickly escalated, with the cop and driver yelling at each other. I tried to slouch down in the back seat and be invisible, but couldn’t help but snap to attention when my driver yelled, “Fuck you!” And the next thing I knew, he was sprawled against his own hood, getting fitted with cuffs.

If hailing a cab during rush hour on Friday was difficult, trying to find a new cab outside the MidTown tunnel – where everyone is already en route to their destination – would be impossible. I stepped from the back seat.

“Excuse me,” I timidly said to the cop. “How am I supposed to get to the airport?”

“Not my problem,” he responded. “This cab is impounded. Guy’s a real asshole.”

“That makes two of you,” I thought. But I kept my mouth shut and considered myself lucky to get my suitcase out of the trunk. I settled for mentally flipping off the cop as I walked away, heading back “inland,” away from the tunnel, wondering how I’d manage to score a second cab.

Fortunately, not all New Yorkers are like this cop. About a block away, standing in front of a small Italian grocery, I limply raised my hand, trying to grab any taxi that passed my way. Behind me, looking like a grandfather, the grocer tidied outdoor displays of fresh oranges.

He looked kind of like this.

“What are you doing?” he called with a thick Italian accent.

“Trying to get a cab to LaGuardia,” I told him. “My flight is in less than an hour and my other cab was just impounded.”

He nodded as if that were normal. Then he said, “Hang on. You’ll never have luck like that. Let me get my sons on the job for you — if we can’t get you a cab, we’ll give you a ride.”

Seriously? I heard him whistle, and two guys about my own age materialized suddenly, then – after getting the story from their dad – took off running to opposite corners of the block. They worked the street like high school cheerleaders promoting a car wash, running in traffic, whipping towels above their heads.

I stood awkwardly by, watching. Within ten minutes, they were helping stuff my suitcase into the trunk of a new cab. I held out a twenty-dollar bill to one of the brothers as a thank you tip. “Nah,” he shrugged. The other one, in perfect New York speak, piled on with, “Fuggitaboutit.”

Minutes later, as we pulled past the same cop who had impounded my last ride, instead of flipping him off, I just waved and smiled. He might have been an power-tripping asshole that day, but the real New Yorkers? They were something special.

I think the word for you, ma’am, is “cornhole.”

19 Jul

Actually, ma'am, you might want to rethink how you're handling the corn.

Sunday morning I had just approached the corn table at the farmer’s market when an older woman muscled in next to me with her basket.

I sized up the corn and selected an ear, peeling a small bit of the husk down about half an inch so I could look at the kernels.

“You know, doing that dries it out,” the woman told me.

I had headphones in so I pretended I couldn’t hear her, bagged the ear and did the same thing with another ear.

She started speaking again, only more loudly. “You can get the same result by doing this –” she started working her hands around the ear in a gesture that I’m pretty sure could start a fist fight in New York. Or end your career as a sign language interpreter.

I’m generally polite, and would normally accept someone’s tip with a bashful smile or light apology.  But I grew up in rural Michigan, helping my dad with his sizable garden, making my first $20 selling vegetables (including corn) door-to-door from a Radio Flyer wagon, which I pulled while wearing overalls with a patch that said, “I’m proud to be a farmer.”

So I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I suggest it unlikely that her corn-handling qualifications match or exceed mine.

Which — along with her rich city person’s Williams Sonoma farmer’s market basket  —  is why her advice immediately rubbed me the wrong way.

So you know what I said?

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