Sunday, March 28, 2010

La Cucaracha

Quote of the blog:

My roommate Gaby is scared of dogs - and understandably. When she was nine she was on her bike when three dogs started to chase her – two German shepherds and one cocker spaniel (Gaby uses the term “ferocious cocker spaniel”). As they chased her and nipped at her fast-peddling feet she heard the owner call the dogs off, “Hunter! Killer! Beast! Get back here!”

I’m not afraid of dogs but I am afraid of large bugs; cockroaches specifically. Three years ago when I discovered a gargantuan cockroach in my room I called Gaby for help. She was not inclined to assist me – she is not a fan of cockroaches either. Finally, in all seriousness, I looked at her and said, “I will take a bite for you.” She looked at me, nodded, took the can of Raid from my hands and walked with me to my room.

Sometimes, when we walk by a larger dog, Gaby will still move behind me and whisper, “You owe me a bite.”

****

Last Thursday, my friend Mycah told me and my other friend Talia about a commute he’d had earlier in the week. He was on the subway to Brooklyn after a long night of traveling. He sat across from a man who fit a certain subway rider stereotype. I wish there was a name for this persona. If you’ve ridden the NYC subway, or probably the metro anywhere, you know the type: the person who carries themselves in a way that lets you know they don’t care what you think, they know they're cool. That's right foo', they wear their sunglasses on the subway. This guy slouched confidently in his seat (if you can call a slouch confident), head slightly cocked to the side, his legs spread apart with his forearms resting on his thighs (I think this posture is meant to discourage people from sitting next to him). He stared ahead with disinterest and, I like to imagine, his lips were pushed out just a bit – like some people do when they raise their chin and give an acknowledging “what’s up” head nod.

Mycah saw something move on the rider’s shirt. He looked closer and thought he saw a giant cockroach peering around the edge of the man’s jacket. The bug waved one long antennae at him. Mycah did a double-take, blinked, and when he looked again it was gone. His tired mind must have imagined it. At least, that's what he thought until the cockroach crawled out from under the man’s jacket - it was an American cockroach about 2” in length (as opposed to the 1/2" German cockroach that also dwell in NYC). It crawled up his shirt, onto the outside of his jacket and down the forearm. All of this took just a few seconds. Our cool subway rider hadn’t noticed the stowaway and maintained his aloof demeanor until he saw a movement on his sleeve. When the rider saw the cockroach he lost his cool. He jumped up and frantically shook his arm, dislodged the cockroach and sent it flying across the subway car. It landed at the feet of a woman who screamed and proceeded to stamp the roach over and over again. The subway rider adjusted his coat and resumed his nonchalant pose for the rest of the ride. The roach’s destination was never discovered.

Mycah reenacted the scene for Talia and me. We laughed and shuddered all at once. The idea of having a giant cockroach inside the clothes you’re wearing - uhhhhhhh.

The morning after Mycah told us the tale of the subway roach Talia came into the office and exclaimed, “It’s Mycah’s fault! If he hadn't told that story!...”

I was surprised, “What happened?”

The previous evening, after Mycah shared his story, Talia went home to her studio apartment on the Upper East Side. She opened the window by her oven and set about making pasta for dinner. The sauce was simmering in a pan on the stovetop when she got a phone call and walked out of the kitchen for a moment. When she returned she was horrified to see a huge cockroach and a baby cockroach on the windowsill looking down at the sauce in the pan. They reached out and grabbed each other’s foreleg, swung their legs back and forth as they squeeked out a “One! Two! Threeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Talia yelled “Nooo!” and rushed forward as BOTH cockroaches jumped into her pasta sauce. It was a double cockroachicide. I’m just glad that she saw them before she stirred them in or put the sauce in the fridge for later.

Those stories remind me of another story that I can’t tell without shuddering. It’s not specifically about cockroaches, but I feel like it’s related. One Sunday, Gaby and I sat in church two rows behind a man who attended our ward. He was an interesting sort of fellow and, well, would probably never win a gold star for hygiene. We were singing a hymn when I grabbed Gaby’s arm in alarm. A full tick/flea-like bug scurried out from his collar and down the back of his wrinkled shirt. Gaby gripped my hand in return as a medium sized spider crawled out in pursuit. A girl, the only one on the pew in front of us, calmly reached out with a tissue and killed the first bug. I don’t know what happened to the spider. That was three years ago and we still get the heebeejeebies when I think about it.

Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m brave, that I would be steady and calm if faced with an emergency; however, if you throw a giant cockroach into the mix I am neither of these things. If I were to provide an excuse I would say it’s because I lived in Panama when I was nine and ten. The cockroaches there were massive and flew through the air, the wings making a heavy bddddddddddd-ddddd sound. Sometimes their long antennae would poke through electrical sockets like live wires. One time a large roach flew around my bedroom and I threw a book at it. Alas! My aim! The book only hit air and then the wall. The cockroach changed direction and flew directly towards me in what I perceived as attack mode. I yelled and dove under my covers. I wouldn’t come out until my mom saved me (moms are good at that). I don’t deal well with large roaches. Never have, and based on the next story, probably never will.

So a few years ago I came home from work, we’d just moved into our apartment a few months before and we had left the windows open. I was in the middle of leaving a message for my sister when I screamed mid-voicemail and hung up. A Monster Cockroach scuttled from the window behind my dresser. I called Gaby in a panic. Her calm voiced reassured my pounding heart and I could tell right away she had a plan, “Ok, I’m going to be home soon.”

I sighed in relief. Reinforcements were just what I needed.

“I want you to go to the kitchen and get the can of bugspray under the sink.”

Yes, bugspray. That makes sense. “Ok, I’ve got it.”

“Ok, good,” She said, “Listen carefully. Go to my room. Spray the baseboard at my door. That way if it leaves your room it won't come in to mine.”

A half hour later, after promising to take a bite for Gaby, imagine the following scene:

Gaby and I staring at my dresser. We knew the monster roach hid behind it. If my brother were home we would have pulled the “man card” but we were on our own. Gaby had the can of Raid and I had stomping boots on. My job was to pull out the dresser and Gaby’s job was to spray the roach. We decided that it was time to take action. We stood there for another five minutes.

Finally, we counted, “One, two, three.” I pulled the dresser from the wall and Gaby looked, and looked, and then jumped and screamed. The next five minutes went something like this:

Both of us: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (gulp of air) AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! (Gaby sprayed Raid the entire time).

I looked at Gaby. She was spraying Raid behind the dresser, her eyes shut. Somewhere in our screams I had retreated to the doorway. I was yelling and laughing, “Don’t lose it! Watch where it goes!”

She opened one eye and then yelled back, “It crawled behind the other dresser!" She looked at me, "And you LIED about it’s size! It’s HUGE!”

To be fair, I hadn’t told her how big it was. I was afraid she might not help me if I told her I had a roach the size of a mouse in my room. I wouldn’t have helped me if I were her.

I waved fumes out of the way to see Gaby, “I’m scared.”

She couldn't see the cockroach any more and stopped spraying. We took a few moments to gather ourselves and reposition. Gaby sat on my desk, every once in a while spraying behind the dresser while we discussed tactical options. I sat on my desk chair with my legs up underneath me (you know, in case the roach ran out from under the dresser). Again, our strategic plan was to pull the second dresser away from the wall and spray the Goliath. I took a deep breath and pulled the second dresser out from the wall. We both looked behind it. We both screamed again.

There, lying on its back in a puddle of Raid, was the massive cockroach. Its long crawly legs stretched up to the ceiling. It was ginormous. Gaby sprayed it some more just to make sure it wasn’t faking death. We may have used an entire can of Raid.

We needed to dispose of the body, but I just couldn’t get close enough to it to pick it up with anything. Gaby declined my generous offer for her to throw it out. I’m embarrassed to say that I ended up taping a dustpan to the end of a broom handle. I held the bristled-end of the broom, and scooped the roach into the dustpan, and walked – the dustpan at the end of the four feet pole in front of me - to the garbage room by the elevator on our floor.

Even in death the cockroach held some power. For fifteen minutes we jumped at the slightest noise or brush of cloth on the leg thinking it was a nasty insect.

It’s kind of a catch-22 with bugs, rats, etc. Once you notice a few, you start looking for them, and the more you look for them the more you see. And sometimes you think you notice insects that aren’t there. Even now, after retelling these stories, I just jumped when my hair brushed my neck. If I can’t maintain my cool when I’m only writing about roaches who knows what I would have done on the subway if one actually crawled onto my sleeve.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Loch Ness and Pumas (famous mythical creatures)

Quote of the blog:

Watching a Planet Earth video with Gaby:

Gaby: Wait! Did they just say PUMA???

Brook: Yes, that’s a Puma.

Gaby: Pumas are real!?? I thought they were just a brand! You know, pumas, the mythical creature of the Andes!

*****

For three consecutive summers I worked for a college coordinated London Study Abroad program. Our groups spent six weeks in London and finished up with a four-day trip to Paris. The students were around 18-24 and many of the students had never traveled much, let alone been out of the country. There are too many stories to tell in just one entry – but here are a couple of my favorites:

One summer we visited the hilltop ruins of Old Sarum near Salisbury, England. On the way one a professor gave a short lecture about the 5,000-year history of the site. As we walked up the hill one of the girls asked if I had ever been there before. I replied, “Yes, but it was five years ago when I was a student on study abroad.” She slowed and asked wide-eyed, “Were they ruins when you were here?” Yes. Yes they were.

Before I get into the next story, I’d like to make an observation on human nature. From what I’ve seen, it seems that, generally speaking, when people travel as passengers they tend not to pay attention to directions, signs, etc. Most of us sit contentedly in the passenger seat and watch the scenery, change the station, chat, etc. and don’t pay too much attention to the details of the directions unless we need to. There are of course, the opposite types – we all know a friend (or maybe you are that friend) that can always identify north or drive directly to any place they’ve ever visited. This type of friend, however, seems to be the exception.

This principle proved to be especially true over and over again in Europe. Laurie and I herded our little flock of students all over London and took a trip of 24 of them to Scotland. It was our first time ever to Edinburgh – which the students knew – but as soon as we were off the plane we were asked by a group of girls where the bathrooms were. Laurie and I looked around the terminal, saw a sign for the restrooms and pointed the girls in the right direction. Those situations were frequent and, I thought, provided an interesting insight into group social dynamics.

While we were in Edinburgh (ps. Scots might be some of the nicest people on earth) we took a Haggis Bus tour which included a trip to Inverness to Loch Ness to engage in some cryptozoology. The tour guide talked about the history of Loch Ness and how Loch means lake, etc. We got dropped off for the boat tour of Loch Ness and piled onto a boat with a group of about 40 other tourists. We sat on benches in the enclosed deck and looked through the big glass windows across the expansive lake. Each pane had small stickers of dinosaur-esque monsters on them. The stickers were designed so the monster was cut horizontally in half with a space between the body and the neck. That way, if you positioned the sticker with the water just right it looked like you caught a picture of a surfacing Loch Ness monster – his back and neck and head above the waves. Very fun.

The guide on our vessel was a ginger-haired Scottish lad of about twelve. Ok, he was probably 18 but he looked like he was twelve. For twenty minutes we sat and listened to his brogue as he held up different sonar imaging of the bottom of the lake, talked about the history of the Loch Ness Monster, the first sightings, theories, legend, etc.

In the middle of a sentence one of our girls impatiently thrust her hand in the air. The kid looked surprised but called on her. In my memory she was chomping gum and twisting a strand of hair and asked her question with a disenchanted valley girl inflection –but I am not so sure that any of that is accurate. What I do know is that she asked, in a tone that somehow conveyed impatience and ignorance and a touch of boredom, “When do we get to see the castle?”

We all turned. The boy asked, “What castle?”

She insisted, “You know? The castle that’s Locked? Locked Ness Castle? The famous one?” She peered through the windows looking for the castle.The rest of the tourists stared at her in disbelief. Our group shrank in our seats.

As soon as we docked she hopped off the boat and charged to a a pay-phone. First called her mother, “Why didn’t you ever tell me about the Loch Ness monster!?” Apparently her mother was quite shocked to find out her little girl had never heard about Nessie.

We couldn’t figure it out either. Had she never watched Scooby Doo or other cartoons that at one point or another referenced Nessie? And, even if she didn't ever hear about the Loch Ness monster growing up, what did she think about the presentation on the boat? The pictures we took in front of the the massive sea creature statue by our bus? The stuffed animals, the signs, the lectures?

After calling her mother she called her fiancé in Washington (she was on a study abroad, he was not). We heard one end of the conversation but she filled us in on his answers after hanging up. She tried a different approach with him than she had with her mother:

“Honey, I’m in Scotland! What would you say Scotland is most well-known for?”

He answered, “Highlander, kilts, bagpipes, Braveheart, haggis…”

She prompted, “Right! And do you know anything about any kind of folklore or famous creatures?”

He said, “Oh, you mean the Loch Ness Monster?”

She hung up fuming, “How does everyone know about the Loch Ness Monster but me!?”

To be honest, we were wondering the same thing.

Monday, March 15, 2010

MONSOON!!

Quote of the blog -

Allyson (about work): "This day exploded in my face."

****

My series of unfortunate, yet comical, events started Saturday morning when I realized I left my cell phone at work on Friday. I knew I'd want my phone so I decided to make the 25-minute ride to work. The weather was less than favorable - I woke up to waves of rain crashing against my window panes and wind howling around the corners of our building. I opened my curtains and peered outside, shuddered, grabbed my umbrella and went to work.

When I got home I sent my friend Alicia this text: "I'm having serious doubts about tonight."
Alicia texted back, "Why?"
My response: "I've been outside."

Alicia, Gaby, and I planned to attend a 20's-themed murder mystery dinner that evening. Despite the torrential downpour we decided we'd make it. We got all dolled up, took our biggest and sturdiest umbrellas, and caught the A train downtown towards Penn Station where we would catch the train to the event.

Well, we looked pretty cute in our 20's attire. The train was running on the local track instead of express and we were worried about catching our train at Penn Station on time. As we pulled out of the 86th street station a huge "BOOM!!" and accompanying flash of light echoed through the station. Our train was stalled. We were going to miss our train if we didn't do something. We decided to try to catch a cab.

We exited the station, our umbrellas at the ready. Our skirts whipped around our legs and the cold rain pelted us sideways. I held my massive umbrella close around my shoulders. *I heard the metal creak as it started to bend. Without warning the wind shifted direction and whipped the umbrella in front of me and blew it out like a whisk. I shreaked and my roommate Gaby and I watched as the wind ripped the fabric down the umbrella's metal skeleton ribs. I was drenched in 5 seconds - not that the umbrella would have made any more of a difference than the awning we stood under. The rain was pouring sideways. We waited for a cab on Central Park West across from the swaying and creaking trees in Central Park. I looked at Alicia, she was smiling- enjoying all moments as she is apt to do - and shaking with the cold. Gaby looked concerned and kept checking her phone for the time. The rain was torrential. It was as if Mother Nature was standing to the side throwing buckets of water on us.

We looked at each other, a ragtag group, hair soaking, rivets of water dripping down our faces, running mascara - and decided that we were done for the evening. We passed some MTA workers on the stairs back into the station. They yelled, "What are you DOING out? You could be home! Warm! Watching TV!" They were pumping water out of the flooding station.

Before exiting the station we looked like this:






After we looked like this:




I wish I could describe what the rain looked like at 86th. Torrential is the best word I can think of. It was still raining when we got off the train in our neighborhood but not as hard. The wind was still blowing. I had my camera out and took pictures of the discarded broken umbrellas on
the street. I still had it out when Gaby's umbrella blew out in the wind:

video


It was a good thing we came back home. We took a walk through the park across from our apartment the next day. I had read that winds of up to 80 mph had whirled through the city. We counted over 15 trees blown over and ripped up. It was eerily quiet and sad and beautiful all at once. Uprooted trees with bright roots stretched towards the sky. I've included a few pictures from the park as well. I'm sure the murder mystery would have been fun, but if we
had gone I might have guessed: Mother Nature, in the park, with the wind.

*The line about hearing the metal creak was an exaggeration. The rest is absolute truth (including the ripping fabric down the skeletal umbrella). My exaggeration was inspired by the non-exaggerated umbrella my boss showed me today. She had been out on Saturday and had held her umbrella directly in front of her like a shield - until the wind bent it to the side like a candy cane.






I'm not sure if the tree on the left was struck by lightning or if it was just snapped in half. I heard both theories.












The rounds of earth ripped up by two trees. They fell over and the tops of the trees are actually crossing each other. This part of the hill felt like something out of a fairy tale. It was beautiful and tragic.














The roots grew around a drainage cover. When the tree came out the cover came with it.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Story of the Subway Flirt

Quote of the blog:

Brook: “Holding Out for a Hero” is my theme-song.

Justin: “Hmmm...in order to attract a hero, you may not want to openly admit that.”

*****

The story of the Subway Flirt happened two summers ago but I think about it often. Sometimes I’m amazed at how much life can change with just one choice. One decision has the potential to change your entire life, character, experience, everything.

The Story of the Subway Flirt:

The First Encounter:

One morning, two summers ago I was on the train to work. I felt good: I had just gotten back from a month-long vacation with friends and I had started my study abroad job earlier that week. Also, I was in a new outfit and felt cute. Life was good. I stood in the middle of the train (no seats to be had) when I noticed a tall, well-dressed, handsome fellow standing by the doors looking at me. He gave me a smile and I smiled back. Next thing I know, he walked over and stood next to me. Typically, this is where I get awkward and don’t know what to do. I can be pretty oblivious (see blog entry “Wait, was that guy hitting on me?”). I had my earphones in and was checking out an album my friend gave me (matt pond PA, Last Light). I didn’t want to turn off my iPod but wanted to give the guy a chance to flirt if that indeed was what he walked over to do.

After a moment of contemplating, “WWAFD?: What would a flirt do?” I pulled out an earbud, smiled at him, and asked him if he knew the time (nevermind the fact that I could have pulled out my iPod to check myself). Well, we ended up talking the whole way to work. He told me about his job at Columbia, his PhD program at NYU, etc. etc. He got off one subway stop before my stop and smiles over his shoulder at me as he walked up the stairs. My heart smiled. It was a good day.

3 Weeks Later:

Three weeks later, I was on the way home and saw a guy at the opposite end of the train looking at me. He was taller than most and was smiling at me over a sea of heads. I realized it was my Subway Flirt. He mouthed something and I smiled and shook my head to let him know I didn’t understand what he said. Well, next thing I know we were properly winding our way through the crush of people to meet in the middle of the train car. We talked the half hour to our stop. That's right our stop. HIS stop is MY stop. We started walking down the street together and kept talking. I found out he likes dogs, plays in a band, etc. I told him I had been practicing the guitar and he offered to give me guitar lessons. I thought that sounded like a great idea. He was engaging but not overly confident. I was charming.

We got to the main intersection and he smiled at me like he wants to say something. I thought he was going to ask for my number. I mean, he did offer to teach me to play the guitar but I wasn't just going to offer my number. So, I waited for a moment, then said, "Well, this is where I go this way." I pointed South.

Him: "Oh, this is where I go that way." He pointed East but didn't move.

Then there was this long full pause.

Me: "Well, maybe I'll see you again on the subway sometime."

Him: "That would be really nice!"

pause

Me: "Ok, well, have a good day."

pause

He looked like he was going to say something but didn't. I waited just another instant then flashed a smile, turned and walked away, glanced over my shoulder – he was still standing there. I smiled again and kept walking. Then I went home and checked out his band on MySpace.

2 Weeks Later:

I looked for him every morning on the train but the odds of being on the same train and the same car aren’t great in The City. One evening I got on the train after work to go visit a friend. I passed the Columbia University stop at 116th which is where the Subway Flirt would get on, but he didn’t. At 137th I glanced up to see him get on my car and walk right up to me. He smiled and told me he got on at 116th but saw me and switched cars. He saw me and switched cars! I was flattered. I was meeting a friend at the next stop so our conversation was just a couple of minutes.

One Week Later

One week later I decided to do some cyber-stalking. I typed his name into the Columbia website (he also told me which department he worked in) and up pops his email. It was that easy. I polled my coworkers: should I email him? Should I not? With their encouragement: "who knows when you will see him again" and "he would have asked for your number if you hadn't gotten off the train at the next stop!" I decided to email him. My coworkers, and even some friends on gchat, were rooting me on.

The email:

"Jason,

I hope you don't mind that I got your email off the Columbia website. I thought I would take you up on that guitar lesson. Maybe this time we can meet somewhere other than the subway. Unless you want to try some panhandling.

Brook (the girl from the 1 train)"

Well, an hour later I got a response! He says that he is always up for some panhandling and would like to meet on the first car of the 1 train right after 5:00 pm. But I couldn’t! I already had plans! I told him I couldn’t that night but maybe the next would work. He emailed back ten minutes later. "I have a meeting at 3:00 but am open until then. Can you sneak out for 20-30 minutes?" Yes. Yes I can. I touched up my makeup, checked my hair, and went down to meet destiny.

So, we met. It was nice outside and we walked by the park and down by the Hudson River. We talked about this and that. Then he looked at me and kind of stopped. He said that we had a great vibe and a connection and he said how he is attracted he was to me. He said that he would love to teach me how to play the guitar. I was full of smiles. Then he said he felt like I should know up front that he is…

MARRIED.

Yes, that's right. Married. What the what!?

Me: "Um, you're married? I feel somewhat foolish."

He assured me that I shouldn't feel foolish and indicated that guitar lessons would work best at my place. WHAT?? I asked him how long he’d been married. He said 7 years (he was 35).

I said, “Are you happy?”

He looked at me and said, "When you get married you will understand. It is really, really hard."

I looked back at him and said, "I don't doubt that at all. But it seems like the things that can make us the happiest are the things we have to work at the hardest."

He got quiet for a moment (at this point I had started walking back in the direction of work)...and he responded with a low, "Well said."

We get to the corner and he encouraged me to at least go for a cup of coffee. I declined.

As I walked back to my office I realized how glad I was he said something up front! He hadn't worn a ring and had he decided not to say anything and invite me to do something after work some night I would have gone. What was so surprising is how surprised he looked when he realized I was NOT ok with the situation. I don’t know. It blew my mind that an affair could be arranged casually on a four-block walk to the river. I thought, “It ‘s that easy.” If I were just a bit of a different person, if my values were just a bit different, or my resolve, or anything it could have been a completely different scenario.

I got to my office and thought again about how lucky I was that he said something. I sent him an email saying that I appreciated him letting me know he was married up front. He sent me reply almost instantly back saying that if I “ever wanted to do lunch in the park in the Spring to just let him know. It's lovely that time of year.” I didn't reply, but perhaps I should have, I could have told him to take his wife. A friend told me that when he confessed about being married I should have said, "You may not have any respect for your marriage, but I do." Those comments always come to me (via myself or my friends) after the appropriate moment. Until then, I'll keep it in my mental file of vicious rhetoric.