‘Sup, Beautiful?

A couple months ago some of my friends and I went bowling. We were at a cheap bowling alley in a not-so-great part of town. I don’t understand a lot of sports, but I do enjoy throwing heavy things, especially at places where nobody will hassle you.

The bowling alley has a bar, and for some legal reasons, the bar area is demarcated with a sign declaring you must be 21 to enter. There’s no barrier, just a sign for you to read and obey. However, as soon as you purchase your drinks, you can walk all over the entire bowling alley. You can even stand in line at the snack bar to order chicken fingers and cheese fries WHILE drinking your beer. (U.S.A. U.S.A!)

So my gang has this friend Dan, and Dan works at a bar and an art gallery and like seven other places, because Dan is really likable. The bartender at this bowling alley looked like our friend Dan, but smaller, so among ourselves, we started calling him Lil’ Dan. “I’m going to see Lil’ Dan,” one of us would say, and head to the bar for another pitcher to share.

I need to take a break here and explain that most of my friends are guys, and mostly we talk about music and food we want to eat at that moment. We talk about Rush. We make extensive puns about Led Zeppelin. We eat burgers and fries and tacos and party trays of chicken nuggets. To summarize, this is not a crowd that routinely talks about each others’ looks. If I’m going to compliment one of them, I’ll say they’re funny. If they’re going to compliment me, they’ll say I’m funny. (True story, last Friday, one said I was pretty and I just said “Well, you’re probably biased, cause who wants an ugly friend?”)

At the end of the evening, when they’d turned on the lovely nighttime Cosmic Bowling accouterments, it was time to close out my bar tab, and I walked over to Lil’ Dan. There was one other guy standing there, a bowling alley employee just chatting. Lil’ Dan sees me walking up and I expect the typical Friday night routine of where a bartender is professionally courteous to me in a way that shows that he/she works for tips and I pay them and we smile and I tip 30% because I’m nice and also was probably a jerk at one point or another and need to absolve myself some for general grouchiness and I choose to absolve myself typically to bartenders. (I’m sure some of that money does good stuff eventually, and isn’t that what tithes are intended for?)

So I’m walking up, and Lil’ Dan looks at me, and instead of the routine where he feigns recognition and then prints out my bar tab, he looks right at me and says “‘Sup, beautiful?”

First response was for me to look in my immediate area to see if he was talking to someone else, maybe a very attractive person directly behind me. Second was to laugh. To laugh in a very un-beautiful guffaw-y kind of way. Third was to say, “Seriously?” out loud right there. And I did all three of these things in quick succession. Then I stood there awkwardly and paid my bar tab and probably tipped 35-40% because I had just laughed right at someone.

I can only remember being called beautiful by my own mother, and maybe my friends if/when they’re drunk, but they’re saying it more in a “Godfather” way. Pretty by maybe five or six people. Cute, maybe twenty. Aside from my mom, probably 100% of these people were trying to impress me and eventually sleep with me, or my friends trying to make me feel good, or a person trying to get me to tip them because that’s their job.

I have an inherent distrust of people commenting on my looks positively. It makes me suspicious of their motive if I don’t already know what their motive is. I have zero trust issues when someone tells me I look like the blobfish. Just, yeah, I got a round face, he got a round face. A list went around my middle school for a while of an apparent ranking of prettiness of all the girls and I was near the bottom and I was like, eh, figures, there are some really pretty girls here. And there were! I can show you my seventh grade yearbook! (Somebody even put it on Facebook!)

This isn’t about like body dysmorphia, this is more like, if I’m nice looking or terrible looking, why should I have to care? I rarely have to look at myself (really, I can even floss without a mirror), and if we’re in-real-life acquaintances, well, you gotta look at me. If I was an actor or a model or a TV news reporter, it might make a difference if I was pretty or not, but I am a teacher and adviser and writer and radio DJ. The things I want to accomplish in life have little to do with how I look. I’m just, eh, not interested in my looks beyond that I’ll wear clothes that generally fit and if I have a glaring blemish on my face I will cover it up.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m sorry, Lil’ Dan. Whether you were being actually honest and nice, or if you were just doing your best charming-bartender schtick, either way, I probably shouldn’t be so cynical. It’s not your fault I have a million crazy issues with stuff and also don’t care about my looks, so you basically just told a fish he needs a bicycle. You don’t know me well enough to tell me I’m funny, or smart or good at picking out paint colors, or parallel parking or baking carrot cake or to give me a compliment that fits the range of things I agree with and don’t think there’s motive or awkwardness.

But you don’t know about these internal valuation battles I’m dealing with, so, I’m sorry.

And, as a well-adjusted lady out in the evening should say to a gentleman who pays her a compliment, thank you.

Flying places from Atlanta

There are a lot of great businesses in Atlanta. CNN and Turner Broadcasting, Coca-Cola, Newell Rubbermaid (who make Sharpies and Prismacolors and other stuff), Equifax, Holiday Inn, The Great American Cookie stores, Tyler Perry, Spanx and the Weather Channel.

There is also another business, which I will politely call Shmelta Schmairlines. And Shmelta Schmairlines is having a really great week right now on the public relations front.

First up, this morning I saw a charming story of a child defecating on some newspaper in a seat on a non-stop flight from Beijing to Detroit. I looked it up. It’s 13 hours and 15 minutes.

“Passengers on a [Shmelta Schmairlines] flight from Beijing to Detroit last week were horrified when a Chinese child squatted on his seat and proceeded to defecate,” the story goes.

Then, just now, I saw a story on a “terse” exchange between a Shmelta pilot and an air traffic controller. (I guess “terse” means funny-but-also-scary, because it’s nice to have some comedy in the workplace but also like, statistically this is probably how I’m going to die.)

But if you Google news search the name of this airline right now, you know what story is on top? Free in-flight streaming TV and movies will now be on every flight! Yay! You’re saying you want to give me a distraction from watching a child take a dump or possibly my air traffic controller and pilot having a verbal altercation that puts my life in danger in the form of a free episode of  “Mad About You?” Super!

Since I live here, generally, if I fly on an airplane, it belongs to Shmelta. From Atlanta, you can fly direct to any city on earth on Shmelta, and that’s worth the trade-off of general disgustingness that every Shmelta flight is. I have flown on a Shmelta plane that had propellers, in 2013. I have flown on Shmelta planes without air conditioning. I have flown internationally on Shmelta from Paris with the stomach flu next to women eating pickled lamb parts out of jars hidden in their purses. And the pilots and attendants are in on the joke. And it’s not just them, it’s everyone.

A few years ago, I was flying to D.C. and the in-flight movie was “Marley and Me” and the guy sitting next to me, right as I was putting my headphones on so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone or listen to them and I was choosing instead to listen to an insipid movie and the guy turned to me and said “Oh, in case you’re going to get upset, the dog dies at the end.”

Thank you, asshole.

However I will keep flying Shmelta because most of the flights from Atlanta are on those planes and also because of Biscoff. Those cookies are like a baked-good version of an amnesia pill. Once on a flight there weren’t a lot of people and the attendant asked if I wanted extra cookies and you would have thought I won the lottery. (And not like a scratch-off $3k lottery but like a $90 million Powerball.)

Now take this meal voucher that doesn’t work!

Sonic youth

I am in my hometown this week for my annual 1-week summer vacation. Usually I get to come here for 4th of July weekend because it’s also my stepdad’s birthday that week, but this year my mom and stepdad went to Alaska on a trip they won in a raffle.

My hometown isn’t really even my hometown, it’s just the place I lived the longest of all the places I lived so far. I lived here from age 3 to age 11, and then again in the summer when I was 17. My mom and her siblings bought my grandpa’s house here when he moved, and we share it. It’s in Myrtle Beach, S.C., the home of the TV show “Myrtle Manor,” the ficticious home of Kenny Powers, the place where this happened tonight, where thong bikinis are banned but you’re allowed to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet, a place with 250 golf courses and one college, the home of the Gay Dolphin and a Nascar theme park and a pyramid-shaped Hard Rock Cafe (where I saw Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar in 8th grade).

I am not really a beach person. I can get sunburned walking to my car in a parking lot. Plus, it’s loud, it’s filthy and also there are sharks. There used to be a few record stores and a few decent, divey music venues. Now there are no stores and just a handful of country venues. I come here to sleep late, eat at restaurants, go to the outlet mall for back-to-school work clothes for the fall and read books all day.

Today my mom and I went to my favorite divey burger joint. It’s one of those places where you throw peanut shells on the floor and graffiti is encouraged and there are license plates on the walls. The beers come in bottles and the cocktails are 16 oz. and in plastic cups. There’s a roll of paper towels on the table. They’re a local chain, but only the original location, in its tiny, grimy glory,* is the one I go to. It’s also directly across the street from the condo I lived in when I was a toddler here, which is behind a Krispy Kreme.

We got a booth inside, ordered large vodka-pink-lemonade drinks and burgers with fries. The waitstaff are mostly older women who have been doing this for years (not old in general, but old to be waiting tables in divey establishments, like, they’re 40s/50s), and young guys (20s) working the bar and the line, which you can see from the restaurant.

I was wearing jeans and my 2014 Criminal Records Record Store Day t-shirt, which is an homage to the cover of “Goo” by Sonic Youth, released in 1990.


One of the kitchen guys dropped off some burgers at a nearby table, walked past us, stopped, turned back. “That’s a great shirt,” he said. “I really like it. And Sonic Youth are just mind-blowing.”

“Thanks,” I said. “Yeah, I really like them, too.”

My mom looked surprised. Very rarely do people comment on my clothes, and if they do, it’s on my t-shirt collection. A small selection of band shirts, 80s-era basketball t-shirts, indie record label shirts, Mystery Science Theater shirts (yes, I have two or three), WFMU shirts, college radio shirts, etc.

So yeah, this town is tacky, even a little trashy. And I’ve done some trashy things here (like once I heard “Single Ladies” being played at the outdoor stage in this little bar district area and ran there from the bar I was at, quickly organized a small group of ladies and led them in the “Single Ladies” dance. When the song was over, we group-hugged and I ran back to the bar I was at with my parents and their friends. And then I think I drove my stepdad’s SUV home with the parking brake on.)

But every once in a while, somebody will say something that shows there is still some indie holdouts here. Not everyone is only listening to club beats. In every trashy tourist town, in some divey burger shack, there might be a line cook who wants to tell you your shirt is cool and they’re real into Sonic Youth. I’m glad we were there for each other today.

Plus, I got to tell my mom a 10-minute history lesson on Sonic Youth and noise rock and post-rock in the early 90s.

It’s the little things that get you through. Like for example tomorrow, I’m going to get a dip cone. That dip cone will get me through. Maybe we’ll play some skee-ball, too, and ride the new giant ferris wheel. You know, vacation type things.



*Photo from this guy’s blog, where he eats the peanut butter burger.

The hard work

Last week I watched an interview of a pretty musician with a clever late-night host, and at one point they were both talking about how neither of them likes to take the easy way out. An anecdote from it stood out to me, of a kid asking what he could do to grow up and get a job like the host, and the host just says, man, kid, you gotta work really, really hard and be really good and still maybe not.

At 5:40 p.m. on July 3, I was in my office talking on the phone with my grandmother. It was her birthday, and I wanted to call her before the evening got away from me. And evenings for me mean I’m at the desk. Sitting in the chair. Evenings are when I finish things because there aren’t as many distractions in the office, especially in the summer. Evenings are when I write the next day’s to-do list, review my monthly aggregate to-do lists, check the next-day calendar and confirm appointments, clean up my desk. I’m not my best in the mornings, so I try to make things easy on myself for the next day. “So what’s going on?” she asked me. I told her not much, and that I thought a lot of people had left early, since it was a holiday weekend. “But you know how I am about following rules,” I said. “And I never leave early.” And she laughed a little, and then went off to entertain her party guests.

In the interview, the pretty musician pontificates that if a recording is on digital tape, fed through computers and software to make it be perfectly pitched and toned, is it still real? And he has a little moment talking about all the work that goes into cutting something like that from tapes by hand with razorblades and fixing it and keeping it authentic. The interviewer keeps bringing it back to something they share: they’re both Catholic. But I don’t think that’s all. I think some people are just rewarded by knowing they did something the hard way, whether anybody else knows it or not.

For some people, the doing of the hard work, and knowing that you did it, that you took extra steps, that’s enough. And whether or not other people understand if you did the work the easy way or the hard way, they only see the product.

One of my favorite paintings of my own I think is 24×36, a canvas size I easily could have bought off the shelf at the art store, but I didn’t. I built the frame in the school woodshop and then stretched and tacked the canvas myself, and gessoed and sanded and gessoed and sanded and then painted heavy oils on a collage mixed media of handmade paper and hand-stitched string patterns. If I sewed a stitch, it was real. If I tied a knot, it was real. And this covered large areas of the canvas. And then, on top, went solid-base oil paints, squeezed through these plastic patterns I’d measured and cut. Thousands of individual acts. And every single one was perfect. And I was very proud of it, not really because of how the finished product looked, but because of how I had worked on it, and because only I would ever really know what it took.

If you take the shortcuts, you know you took the shortcuts. If you did the work, you know you did it. And at the end of the day, what matters is what you know. What matters is you know the difference.

Hard work is the reward for hard work. Don’t look for anything else.

I hate your feet

One day last week I was in line at a popular chain Mexican joint at lunchtime in the business-y neighborhood where I work. The line wraps around the tables, so when I get in the line, I see this cute dude in front of me: tall, nice hair, cool glasses, good outfit (navy shorts, red gingham shirt with the sleeves rolled up), nicely groomed and carefully disheveled in that punk/prep way. Kinda like that dude from Vampire Weekend, but a little more southern-public-college guy.

Whatever. Cute. I’d give him an 8, a 9 if I was feeling generous. I mean, he wasn’t George Clooney, but he was real easy on the eyes.

Once the line advances a little, and I get around the tables, I give him the full look, and he drops to a 3. Why? Flip flops. And not just flip flops, but flip flops and nasty, dirty, too-long toenails. Toenails that almost hang over the end of the flip flops and I can see the dirt from the five or so feet away I am standing.

Look, humans: let’s quit it with flip flops. For real. Are you standing on a beach or a deck around a pool or a boat? Are you in a shower that you share with near-strangers, like at a gym or in a dorm? Are you in a nail salon and have just gotten a nice feet treatment? Are you inside your own home? Are you naked or in a swimsuit? Then fine. Fine. FINE. Wear the flip flops.

Are you fully dressed and out of your home during the day, on a weekday, nowhere near water of any kind? Are you in a place where people are trying to eat food? Shut it down. I know it’s summer. Buy yourself a pair of low-top Chuck Taylors, OK? Or class it up with some Jack Purcells. Or, so you don’t even have to worry about tying, get some topsiders or something. Slip-on classic Vans. You don’t even have to wear socks.

Think about the upsides. First, your feet are safer.* Second, you don’t make that awful flapping noise when you walk. Third, I don’t have to see your feet, ever, and neither does anybody else.

Women, this goes for you too. I’m going to let sandals pass, I guess, so long as they don’t make noise. I mean, I’m not going to wear them, but I guess if you are into that, whatever. Keep your feet and nails clean and neat and nice and wear noiseless sandals and I guess I can’t complain as much (I mean, I still don’t want to see your feet, but I’m not going to be a total jerk here).

* Look, Imma be real. I have seen some stuff. I have seen women in flip flops walking around Manhattan and D.C. in the summer with their feet generally covered in that disgusting big-city street filth and sweat, like black gunk on their whole feet. I have seen people in flip flops at outdoor concert/festival things getting their feet stepped on and toenails broken. When my mom was a kid, she walked her cousin to the store and was wearing flip flops, and opened the door to the store, caught the edge of her toenail and it came right off. Bled for the mile-and-a-half they had to walk back to their house. Once when I was a kid, I was wearing sandals to go to a sliding rock, and my dad stepped on my foot accidentally and my toenail cracked down the middle. My mom had such bad ingrown toenails her whole life, and dug them out at home in big bloody messes. In her thirties, she had them surgically permanently removed from her big toes. They’re just skin now. (When she gets pedicures, she gets her nail lady to just paint a little fake toenail right on the skin.) I danced pointe ballet for four years, and ballet for 14 years total, and my feet are just disgusting, bony, callused, bunioned hooves. My pinky toes are so misshapen from it the nails fall off. I wear a special little brace thing when I sleep on my right foot because it hurts all the time because the bones and tendons are permanently damaged. I’ll wear a peep-toe shoe maybe three times a year, and even then I just feel like people are sickened by the sight of them.

Point being, take care of your feet, y’all. Wear some damn shoes.