Friday, May 29, 2009

stupid things i am mildly excited about

In my life now are several stupid things I am mildly excited about:

1. I decided to take improv classes at Second City, a theater/comedy company in Chicago. I wanted to take a straight-up acting class but I couldn't make the time, but I think improv would be just as good for my goals: challenge myself, learn to overcome fear of floundering, learn performance skills, etc. We shall see how it goes!

2. An exercise ball is coming in the mail on Monday to replace my godawful painful ass-sweat-inducing iron maiden of a office death throne. I had to ask my judge yesterday if he didn't mind that when people came into his chambers the first thing they would see would be a fat Chinese man balancing atop a giant red ball. He didn't seem to mind, but recommended also that I try the wooden chairs in his office. I am also thinking of wearing a helmet so that when the exercise ball pops and my head slams backward into the corner of my desk, I don't die. And perhaps also some sort of welding mask so that the extremely hot milky tea I am sure to be drinking at the time won't spray a hot lactose font into my face and leave it covered in burns.

3. After this weekend's fun in New York, I have decided to revive my online dating profile. It is summertime and it is time for me to start having more awkward meetings with strangers. I don't like filling out online profiles because they are just cleverness surveys and I get awfully nervous trying to find witty things to say. But it's better to answer with evasive cleverness rather than literal honesty, because who wants to go on dates with bores who write that the first things other people notice about them are their asses or Cubs paraphernalia or Dodge Chargers? Ugh. Anyway, I wrote that the first things people notice about me are halitosis, enuresis, and encopresis. This means bad breath, bed-wetting, and fecal leakage. Last night I received a message from someone I am most definitely not going on a date with: "Doesn't 'halitosis' mean bad breath? Why on earth would you want people to know that you have bad breath?" FAIL for so many reasons. NEXT.

(CH and I talked a bit on Monday about how it was impossible to be friends with people who took themselves too seriously. I asked her to define what she meant by "taking yourself too seriously." She said, "Okay, say you break your arm. That's pretty funny! I mean, it sucks and hurts, but if you think about it, it's pretty funny too! A person who takes himself too seriously doesn't think it's funny." This was the best example ever!)

4. So many of the foods that doctors recommend you eat every day are part of my almost-daily diet, including: yogurt, oatmeal, bananas, tomatoes, carrots, leafy greens, almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, legumes, oranges, raisins/cranberries/other dried berries, grapes (in addition to raisins! I eat the babies and the grandparents together!), black tea, herbal tea, ginseng, vitamin supplements, flax seeds, and dark chocolate. I feel so self-satisfied about my healthiness!

5. I blew a chunk of cash on a new old bike. It's a single-speed (not fixed gear) 49 cm Fuji Espree with 27" knobby tires and slightly raised handlebars in the BMX style. It's slightly too small for me, and the wheels are slightly too big for the bike, so it does that dangerous thing where the front of your feet get caught in the wheels when you try to turn too sharply. Also, there is only one brake installed, so I had a few close encounters with the back bumpers of some cars on my commute to work yesterday. Nonetheless, riding this swift and simple steed gives me unfathomable pleasure.

6. A dedicated bassist joined my band this week and already we sound infinitely better.

7. I jogged to work today and wiped my armpits with a moistened paper towel upon arriving.

name my band

Hello friends, because I want to play some shows at the end of July, the time has come for my doo wop band to acquire a name. The suggestions from band members thus far have been a little too pop- and Seinfeld-jokes related for my tastes; a band that plays oldies covers and harmony-rich piano ballads in 6/8 time should not be called The Urban Sombreros.

I found an online band name generator that gave some excellent suggestions, including
  • Nun Against
  • Original Nutmeg Of The Idiotic Trail
  • Monochrome Missing
  • Fax Fuse
  • Exasperated Gym And The Bootleg Tissue
  • Asthma Face
  • Extra-strength Underwear
  • Fractional Pattern
  • Futile Fidelity
  • Nonsense Committee
"Exasperated Gym and the Bootleg Tissue" is truly amazing, but perhaps inappropriate for this band. The name I have been nursing/cherishing for a few years ("Whip It Out/Tuck It Back In") is better for my hair metal project than for the doo wop project.

So, I am at a loss. Please send me suggestions. "[Noun] and the [Nouns]" is always a good template, but no one is exactly a band leader in my band so it should be more equitable. "The [Nouns]" is also good.

"Swine Flu" is probably taken, so don't even bother.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

memorial day

A lovely time in New York. I've already written about some strangers on God si love. Maybe I'll write about the people I love later.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Just rereading old chats. I miss this dear friend. :(

11:54 PM me: what are you wearing?
11:55 PM yowza
friend: red blazer
me: V.v.V
friend: made of donuts
me: :(:)

27 minutes
12:23 AM friend: poop
12:24 AM me: POOOOOOP

broken social scene

I saw some bands over the weekend at the University of Chicago. The student government had hired a bunch of big name acts for their annual end-of-the-spring celebration, held in a cordoned-off courtyard surrounded by Gothic buildings and filled with 18-22 year-olds. The perimeter of the alcohol-serving area (Miller Genuine Draft BLEECHHH) was lined with orange construction fencing; I'd forgotten the collegiate obsession with the regulation of alcoholic beverages and it felt quaint and patronizing to be penned off in a donkey farm. There were three tables on which approximately 3,000 Lunchables were stacked. These were free and were meant to substitute for dinner, since the concert ran from 6pm until 11pm. Some flavored colored water beverages were free too. I got a ticket because my friend, a grad student there, was able to snag a few extra cheap tickets with his ID card.

I saw Voxtrot, Santigold, and Broken Social Scene.
The first is a peppy pop rock outfit from Austin fronted by this cute young Pete Wentz lookalike in thin suspenders. I don't know why he is touching his face in all of these photos. You know, I was most grateful that he had no tattoos showing because that's not my aesthetic. They were good musicians and I liked the way this guy moved around, but I otherwise can remember nothing else about the band.

Santigold was much more interesting. Before she came out, her two backup dancers/singer took positions at extreme ends of the stage. They were wearing big sunglasses, and huge gold lame bubble bottom blouses tucked in the front into tight black pants. The outfits were ridiculous and not at all flattering (the two women looked like ring-ding-a-ling bells, and the tucked-in part of their blouses made it look like they had scrota). The only source of music was a saggy-breasted white male DJ nodding along with one ear cocked against his headphones and shoulder.

Santigold came out in a fitted gold lame croptop blazer and a tight paisley-patterned bodysuit. I had never heard of her before and my friend described her as "sounding like M.I.A." But actually, she sounded nothing like M.I.A.! Her music is dub! Mid-tempo drum and bass rhythms played by the DJ with simple melodies, sometimes more chanted than sung, by the singer. Some reverb. The backups mostly danced in a jerky robotic fashion and did very little singing. They punched the air as their faces remained completely expressionless. Santigold's voice was flexible and strong, and she was extremely courteous and appreciative in her banter with the crowd. It was overall a lively and entertaining effect.

There was then some milling about while the next band got set up. I am too old to be standing around for five hours listening to music. I especially can't do five hours of dodging around on tiptoes for a good view as 6'5" men stand directly in front of me. My feet were killing me and all I wanted to do was for all the young enthusiastic kids, singing along with an Andy Samberg boat-related song, to quiet down and sit down and let the nice old lady rest her bones. Don't you have some Friedrich Hayek to be reading, hrmm??

Anyway, after their busy tech ran around setting up six microphones and tuning and testing eight guitars, Broken Social Scene eventually came out. Some people really like them but I had never heard of them either. Their gimmick is that there are about twenty musicians in their collective, which allows them to create lush soundscapes live, or at least that is what the promotional materials said. Only about ten of them showed up this weekend but it was still enough for drums, three guitars, a bass, a saxophone, a trumpet player, and an organist, plus four part harmony, at any given time.

I suppose this was all to be admired, but I still could not generate too much enthusiasm for them. First, I have low tolerance for guitar vanity. I once walked out of a show at the Double Door because I was disgusted by the guitarist's matching black and white Gibson Les Pauls. They were not necessary. Second, Broken Social Scene appeared exactly as above: a crowd of nerdy indie rock dudes staring down at their guitars. When music writers write about them, they use words like "coaxing" to describe how they play their instruments, "soaring" to describe how they sing, and "lush soundscape" to describe their sound; all of these descriptors should give you an indication of how dull the experience of watching them actually is. There is only so much of droning perfect cadences with driving eighth notes by one guitarist, florid flourishes by another guitarist, and ringing bell tones by the third guitarist, rumbling organ fill, plus reverb-heavy vocal harmonies in sixths, that one can take. You know sometimes when you have a terrible headache you think it's better just to die than put up with your headache? During BSS's set, my feet-balloons hurt so much I fantasized about having a hacksaw and just sawing through my legs at my shins. One person tried to crowd surf - DANGEROUS, CHILDREN!! - and all I could think of was how relieving it would be to be carried off my feet for a moment. I would risk being dropped on my head from seven feet high for that!

I guess the moral of this story is that I am a crabby old crone. At one point during Canadian Foot Torture's set, I looked around at the faces of the people around me. I like doing this during movies, too. Just try turning around for a second, and what you see is often more dramatic than what is on the screen. What you see is pretty colored lights glowing off the faces of people collectively enthralled by a performance. They laugh simultaneously and their hearts all swell together when the lead singer's voice sweetly jumps one octave above his normal range. Nobody notices the crabby old crone puzzling over their behavior because they are all focused on something else. It reminds you of how close you are to human connection - it is literally all around you - but how you are not able to let yourself get there because you want to turn around and look at it rather than experience it. I hate clapping along to performances, you know. I never feel more alienated.

Speaking of alienation, I started a new blog to document my conversations with strangers: God si love. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

not so hard

Olympia and I composed a song together tonight, up on my MySpace page now. It was really fun! We've been attempting to play bluegrass stuff together since she moved in but tonight was the first time that we have really applied ourselves to putting a song together.

What you hear was recorded in one take. O primarily played fiddle and I primarily played guitar, but I had a tambourine under my right foot and O stuffed two egg shakers into her socks (producing the scrotum-like effect you see below). 

Our feet played percussion while our hands played stringed instruments and our voices sang. I am very proud of our authentic jug band-esque resourcefulness!

In other news, when I woke up yesterday the steel wool I had stuffed under the dishwasher looked like this:

Which suggested to me that something from inside the barricade had attempted to push its way out. It could also just have been the pressure that popped the steel wool out, but that is probably wishful thinking.

Even as I speak I can hear the thing scratching around inside the kitchen cabinets (but so far not emerging from the steel wool barricade). I hear its nasty little bubonic plague claws tapping on the hollow particleboard. They sound as big as Lee Press-On nails. Even though I have spread peanut butter-flavored poison pellets for you all over my kitchen, you insist on returning to my countertop for the delicious, delicious "health nut" bread, you dirty fucking chihuahua. When I catch this rat I am going to put it live in a pot of cold water with a cold brick of tofu and cover it and slowly it heat it up to boiling and then the rat will burrow into the cool tofu to escape the hot water and then I am going to cut it up and serve it like an olive loaf, like oatmeal health nut bread, that fucking fucker, and then I will put this rat nut bread into a breadbag and leave it out for its rat family to nibble on. HOW YOU LIKE ME NOW RATS!?!!?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

pleasant images

When you have spent the whole day thinking about rats, it is soothing to recall some pleasant images from California. 

Here a butterfly poses before my boyfriends in the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. Under the butterfly but out of the frame is my grandmother in a wheelchair, enjoying a close-up view of one monarch butterfly attempting to inseminate another. 

Here is my dad, proudly showing off his new shoes. He has foot problems so he has bought and returned three pairs of running shoes in the last month in an attempt to find something suitable. I recommended low hiking boots/trail running shoes, advice he pooh-poohed, and then a day later he returned home from work declaring that he had found the perfect shoes (which were trail running shoes). And they were only $34.99 per pair! He bought two, and complained to me that the women's version only cost $29.99 because of sexism. He wore them inside the house with these blue labratory-style shoe condoms because he didn't want to scuff them up in case he still wanted to return them.

Here is Boo failing at catching a soccer ball in mid-air.

Here is Boo enjoying his post-waterhosing towel rubdown.  What a guy. Aw.


Hey ladies so I had an awesome day yesterday. Would you like to hear about it? First, a dear friend dumped me. Second, I dumped* my not-boyfriend. Third, I watched a rat walk from my sink to my dishwasher, and then disappear up into the latter. God is great!

No more about the first two, more about the last. I was composing an emotionally exhausting email around 1 a.m. last night when I heard some scuffling, rattling sounds from outside my bedroom door. The neighbors upstairs? Next door? Someone in the hallway? When I opened the door to investigate, the scuffling reached a pitch and then abruptly died down. A few minutes later I saw a gray Norway rat the size of a tall boy not walking but strutting through my kitchen.

(Okay, so this is not a Norway rat. But God might have left some naked mole rats for me too, you don't know.)

I gasped, howled, and slammed the door, then suppressed the urge to scream/cry/shake Olympia awake. When I regained my courage, I grasped the Swiffer in my right hand and a broom in my left, and used both to jab at the dishwasher. I could hear the rat rattling around in the dishwasher baskets.

I didn't want to tackle this problem in the middle of the night, so I shut my bedroom door, stuffed towels under the door to block out the rats, then put in earplugs and then searched cat postings on Craigslist, but none looked suitably agile. Then I slept and had nightmares for six hours about rats. In between these nightmares, I had a relatively pleasant dream that the rat I had seen was actually a mother possum, and there was a family of possums dangling by their tails from my dishwasher rack. Somehow the thought of family values comforted me.

In the morning, I investigated. So there are some structural problems in my apartment that have allowed rats to access my kitchen. First, there are a number of 2'x1' holes in the cupboard behind the sink.

When I told the exterminator this, she said, "We can't help you. You need a carpenter." Anyway, I had to cancel my exterminator appointment because my landlord called me up in a fury, told me to read my lease, and informed me that he had a contractual right to try to cure the problems in the unit himself before I resorted to self-help. I looked, and indeed this was in the lease.

There are also numerous other holes around the rest of the cupboard unit, and the dishwasher is missing some sort of panel that prevents rats from using it as an buffet line between my oatmeal and my bread. Oh yeah:

it gnawed a hole in my oatmeal container, and then managed to get to the other side of the kitchen, up to a 3' high countertop, where it chewed through the bottom of a bread bag and ate half of four slices of oat-nut bread. I only found out about the latter when I attempted to make myself a sandwich and instead found four messily chewed-up slices.

Holy fucking shit ladies, this means that my tall boy-sized rat friend fattened itself up to the size of a Jack Russell terrier on my bread and staggered its fat little yeast-drunk ass back into its warren last night. I was so horrified when I reached through the hole in the bottom of the bread bag that I immediately dumped it into the garbage without pausing to take a photo. The rat also left little half baby finger-sized turds behind.

My landlord arrived two hours later than he said he would, with one of his 80 year-old Polish slaves in tow. He keeps two to seven Polish workers penned in one of the basement apartments and calls upon them whenever he needs sloppy work done in an unworkmanlike fashion. This man then spent two hours shaping three pieces of plywood into a miniature Stonehenge (like the letter π). He would enter my apartment and track dog poop and dust everywhere, hold up Stonehenge, curse, leave the apartment and saw or grind it on a power tool outside, and then return and repeat the process. If you look at the hole above, it is hard to see how a Stonehenge-shaped plywood structure would really improve the situation. After two hours of this, the man had a coughing fit, said something in Polish, gathered up his tools, and left, having done almost nothing. (All of the holes remained.)

So it was time to do some self-help. I ventured through the rain to Ace Hardware, where a friendly salesman with a Mike Ditka Chicago accent convinced me to buy steel wool, spackling, plaster grid tape, plaster reinforcing plates, poison pellets ("Peanut Butter Flavor!"), and a rat trap the size of my face. This thing looks like it could just snap all the fingers off all the infants in the world, all at once!

When I got home, I put on my rat protection outfit for courage, because I knew I could not crawl underneath the sink otherwise. This consisted of (1) jeans, (2) a long sleeve shirt, (3) a denim jacket, (4) hiking boots, (5) heavy duty rubber gloves, (6) a balaclava, (7) ski goggles, and (8) a headlamp.

Later I got hot and ditched the goggles and swapped out the balaclava for the extra heavy duty valve-filter facemask that my dad stuffed into my carry-on bag for protection against H1N1 flu (which he pronounced "heenee"). This was also the same model of facemask he mailed me in 2003 during SARS. No sense in getting hantavirus except that several times I rubbed my eyes and nose and OH MY GOD THEY ARE MUCUS MEMBRANES!!!

Then I spent a few hours sweating, cursing, hammering, drilling, hurting myself, and spreading debris all over my kitchen. The Polish worker had left behind a piece of plywood, and I used leftover brackets from a shelving project to fashion it into a makeshift barricade for the lower portion of the dishwasher. Now the dishwasher doesn't open all the way and I have drilled holes into the floorboards, but who gives a shit, tenant's right to self-help. I taped and spackled the smaller holes in the cupboards and then used another bracket to reduce the gap between the cupboard and one of its walls from 4" to 1.5", and then stuffed the remaining gap with steel wool.

In the process, I bumped some of the pipes under the sink, and they started leaking. So now in addition to having rats, I have a slow leak under my sink, right in time for floorboard-rotting and mosquito seasons.

(Scenes from my home improvement odyssey.)

I also spent a few frantic hours throwing away vulnerable-looking food or finding secure places to stash it.

My landlord came hours later (after I had called to say that his worker left in a coughing fit and never came back) announcing his plan. It would not be enough, he declared, to simply plug up the holes in the apartment and keep rats out. First, we would have to catch the rat, in the apartment. Then he triumphantly revealed the solution: two hubcap-sized glue traps.

I surrendered my peanut butter to his stupid fucking idea, vowing to seal the holes in my apartment with steel wool, broken glass, poison pills, and duct tape after he left because I sure as hell was not going to break the spine of or drown in a plastic bag in soapy water a gummed up rabid half-alive rat clawing to be free. Also, the pipes are fucking leaking, so the glue traps got saturated anyway in a few minutes and are now worthless.

So. Now it is approaching the hour when rats run free. Soon I will retreat to my room, block the door, and drown out the scratching noises from the kitchen with Pandora. I will post an update if there is one. Courage, Mom.

* So haven't exactly broken up with Harry even though I keep vowing to do so. I have bored too many people with the issues involved to say much here except that they are basic life-goal questions such as "Do I need scintillating conversation or just love?" and "Is there sense in enjoying the short term if there is no long term?" etc. Blah blah.

Monday, May 11, 2009


I saw some friends in San Francisco this weekend. It was at a dyke bar in Bernal Heights where I was scowled at by patrons either because I wore an embarrassingly ugly red sweatshirt superimposed with pink animal silhouettes, because my gender presentation was more normative than theirs, because I had invited male friends, or because they were or I was being bitchy.  I could have just been paranoid, too.

My high school LV friend brought her new boyfriend. They recalled a story of having a double-date that night with the boyfriend's friend, whose new girlfriend turned out to be KT, whom LV and I had gone to school with. They didn't like KT, but were not specific about why. Later, LV's boyfriend said, "Well, KT can go suck a dick."  

I didn't hear him say this, but RW recalled the conversation later.  RW and I agreed that that was an appalling thing for a man to say.  I'm not really sure why - "misogyny" alone doesn't cut it because seems to be a placeholder to describe something else. I guess it's the violence and lack of consent and subjugation implied in saying that a woman should be humiliated by having a penis in her mouth. It's hard to explain, but you all know what I mean.

RW and I pieced together a fuller story from what she had heard and what I had heard. LV's boyfriend was vision-impaired. So was his friend, whom KT had gone on the date with. KT had said some hard words to her boyfriend, along the lines of, "I don't know if I could be serious with you because I want children, and how will you be a father if you are blind, how will you go hiking with the family if you can't see, etc." On the one hand, you feel some complicated sympathy for KT.  On the other hand, LV's boyfriend heard this, and he was clearly hurt by what she had said, but maybe he didn't want to articulate exactly the way that this was offensive to him, so he later said that KT could go suck a dick. 

The moral of this story is . . . there is no moral.  It's sometimes hard to be a human being, in this world, with other human beings.  It's hard to know how people need to be treated. Emotional events are happening around me, and for the first time I feel that I have resources (i.e. patience and maturity and the kindest friends) to understand them, or at least not freak the fuck out when I don't. Some of this involves Harry, but it's too tedious to recall here what you can already read in the examples from Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.

I was in Midway Airport yesterday trying to navigate my way out of the terminal.  Many people from my flight were trying to do the same thing, at different walking speeds, some with friends or family, all with differently sized rolling duffles and bags and laptop containers and dog totes. Down one long corridor ran a series of moving walkways. These things are a gamble because sometimes the riders ahead of you don't understand to walk on the left and stand on the right, so you end up waiting behind people and crawling along at slower than a walking pace. 

I strode on the first moving walkway behind an Asian boy with upright bearing and a tidy messenger bag. At the end of the walkway, he glanced over the shoulder of the person in front of him, held that look for a moment, and then continued onto the second walkway. I did the same and came to the opposite calculation (that the heavier-looking people in the second walkway would slow my progress, so I should walk alongside the walkway).  

I mean, I was right, of course. I reached the end of the second walkway before the Asian boy did, because halfway down the walkway, two people walking abreast stopped and fiddled with their luggage. But just watching the sharp way the Asian boy looked, calculated, and decided convinced me that he would be an excellent engineer and husband, so I raised my arms over my head and allowed my irresistable pheromones to waft in his direction.  Just kidding, I kept walking because my aim was to reach the taxi stand before the other passengers, not to lasso a smart Asian engineer husband with my armpit hair. 

On the other hand, when Harry and I took showers together, I noticed that he haltingly filled his entire cupped palm with Olympia's shampoo before lathering it up on his 1.5" of hair.  We are talking about a quarter cup of shampoo here, enough to wash a family of Lhasa Apsos.  The half-full bulk-sized shampoo container was empty after his two weeks in Chicago. (Sorry, Olympia! Please have some of my radishes.) At a loud concert, Harry was unable to comprehend how to use earplugs and when I finally rolled and stuffed them into his ear for him, he dropped his voice down to a whisper because he didn't understand that I continued to experience the loud bar when the sound was quieter for him. He is some sort of physicist/engineer but apparently not the kind who notices whose shampoo and how much to use, or other people.  Yet I found these bizarre Asperger's-like behaviors also very endearing (but sometimes, like the flat-palm clapping, appalling). 

It's hard to know what to like when I am so undiscriminating in what I find fascinating! I could marry a prune!

layers of consciousness

I am reading Defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendant's Reply to Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts. I am in the 4th dimension...I am interested in metaphysics...I can see through walls...

Thursday, May 07, 2009


I'm in my parents' home in Palo Alto. Dad just stopped by to say, "It's really best if you open both the doors and the windows, so when moths fly in through the doors they can exit through the windows and not crawl into your ears and kill you at night." Now he is singing, in Chinese, "Bruce Lee, your buns, your fists, your buns, your fists."

Saturday, May 02, 2009

botanic gardens

In the morning I chatted with CH and dawdled until I got stir-crazy and then decided to bike up to the Chicago Botanic Garden. It was sunny and decently warm. I used sunscreen but nonetheless got a sunburn. I have been dehydrated most of the day. 

The first ten miles of the ride are awful: up a busy street (Elston), lined with Home Depots and Best Buys, with traffic lights halting your progress every half mile, against a strong headwind. Every time you bike northeast on Elston, there is a strong headwind. The fifteen miles after that are on a nature path/bike trail, from which you can still see busy urban thoroughfares most of the time, but it's a city and you take whatever nature you can get. Further north the traffic calms down and then you are winding through trees, lagoons, and swampy muck.  

There were many bikers on the path.  You can bike languorously, enjoying the sunshine and your company and the freedom of two wheels. Or, if you are like me, you can put your head down and spin your legs until your overheated face looks like a blood bag and every passing biker double takes upon seeing it, and you will refuse to pause to eat your bag of walnuts even though you are very, very hungry, because you are trying to train your body to run without nutrition in case a war with China starts and your only avenue of escape from the internment camps is to Canada, in one day, by bicycle. You will suck on a backpack-bladder filled with water. 

Every two miles or so you must cross a road. I lost the trail at Harms Road, and decided that the road marked "TRAIL TEMPORARILY CLOSED" must have been the continuation of the trail, and then spent half an hour pushing my bike through shit-smelling mud up to my ankles. LF called at this point to say, I saw on your status message that you were going to the botanical gardens! Let's bike together! But I had to say, Ah, LF, I said I was going to the "botanic" gardens, not the "botanical" gardens! "Botanic" is Chicago. "Botanical" is New York. Alas, I could not join LF.

I don't like biking for fitness, so I am not very fit for longer bike rides. So not long after my mud wallow my ass and legs starting aching and I started whining. Owwwweeee! I said, when nobody was around. Two hours after I started, I finally got to a sunny bench in the botanic gardens. There, I hurriedly ate an avocado with a dagger, and then sat still in the sunshine for exactly four minutes. Then, because I had lost so much time with the mud wallow, it was time to get back on my bike and find the commuter rail station. It wasn't so bad though; at the station, I got a nice quiet sit-in on a bench in the sunshine. 

Here is a basic fact of life that I have only very recently learned: if you look like an unaccompanied woman, unaccompanied men will talk to you. I have just learned this because until I moved to Chicago, I always looked either accompanied or unwomanly.  Since apparently I have made a sport of half hour to four hour-long* conversations with unaccompanied men, I sincerely appreciate this newly-learned fact of life. When I got on the Metra train back to Chicago, the train car I chose already had another bike in it, so I had to negotiate a bit with the bike's owner where I could lean my bike. The bike's owner was an unaccompanied man, white, medium build, in his early 40s. He was completely bald, and since we were heading to Skokie, I thought he might be a skinhead. (This turned out to be completely incorrect, as he was an Israeli citizen.) I took the only available biker's seat, which happened to be right next my new friend's seat.

I immediately took out a Chicago Sun-Times, New Yorker, and Twix bar out of my backpack, and started gnashing away at the candy and reading intently about Burmese pythons spun out of their cages and into the Everglades during Hurricane Andrew. One would think this signaled unavailability - I really did want to just read, since I was too tired to maintain the chumminess that the sport of talking to strangers requires - but my new friend seemed very intent on talking to me, so finally I set aside my periodicals, shoved the last bite of my chocolate finger into my mouth, and said, "Hello, I'm [Bananarchist]. What's your name?

His name was Gary. He started our conversation by saying several times that the conductor had asked him to lash his bike against the train using bungee cords he didn't have. Yes, but what's the worst the conductor could do if you didn't lash your bike down? I said, with a shrug.  Gary replied, I don't know, pitch a fit? We laughed, and I said I could probably stall the conductor with sweet talk for the forty minutes it would take us to get back into Chicago. 

We did the usual: where are you from, how long have you lived in Chicago, how do you like living in Chicago? Immediately the topic of conversation turned to Israel, because although Gary had lived his entire life in Chicago, he decided some years ago to become an Israeli citizen and had spent the last two winters in Galilee. I asked him if it was difficult to become an Israeli citizen. His answer: If you're Palestinian, yes; if you're an American Jew, not at all. It's probably too easy, in fact. This was interesting. Why do you think it's too easy? I said. He gave a thoughtful response about zionism and AIPAC, and I said some things to indicate that I had a grasp of the geopolitics. He said he wasn't sure he was comfortable with his own decision to become an Israeli, and then I said something anodyne about disagreeing with foreign policy from a global perspective but not judging the individual for his personal decision, and then there was a pause to commemorate our shared politics. 

Gary had a return ticket for Israel in nine months, which seemed to me like an awfully long time in the future. It was a ticket, he said, but it was not a commitment to go back to Israel, since he could always just get a refund. He was trying to see if Chicago would take again, but already, in his second month home, he was starting to feel disappointed by the city's slow pace of change. He had taken the train today to the north suburbs to buy a bicycle, with the intention of biking home, but he got tired and hopped onto the commuter rail.  I joked that his $150 bike might be enough to keep him tethered to Chicago. He said he would sell it.

He asked my occupation, and then confessed that he was thinking about going to law school. He was unemployed but had worked primarily as a bartender until leaving for Israel. He said he had consigned himself to never making any money. He considered himself a "wannabe failed academic," because of his interest in English literature, but decided to forgo the doctorate's debt and "the fifty-fifty chance, at best, of finding work on the other side." He wanted to try war crimes in the International Criminal Court. I'm aiming for the Hague, he said, but with a smile to indicate that this was something that would never happen. He confessed that he was more of a dreamer than a doer. I encouraged him by saying that it was difficult but humanly possible to get a law degree and be trying war crimes within five years. You would think this part of the conversation would be tinged with rue, but it was not. It was matter of fact. 

He mentioned off hand that he hadn't done so well at keeping the jobs he'd had. Then I asked him a question I knew would be too personal: why do you think you didn't keep those jobs? "Personality conflicts" was his response. I pushed again: what sorts of personality conflicts? You see, the reason I did this was because I didn't get a sense from him that these topics were out of reach, and the conversation, even treading in this touchy territory, was light and quick. It is amazing how quickly you can become intimate with a stranger. 

Gary's response to my second question was, Oh, you know. Anger management, rage, bitterness, problems getting along with others. To name a few? I said. He chuckled. We then talked about a recent job interview he'd had for a bar position, where the manager of the bar asked him a series of questions about the maximum capacities of the bars he'd tended, his philosophy for how to handle crowded bars, and something about a mysterious "positioning in the ring." I said this was absurd, since a bartender's ability to tend bar had nothing to do with his ability to answer questions about tending bar. Gary concurred, and then told me about the other hoops of fire he'd had to jump through for previous positions: drug tests, several rounds of interviews, questionaires, oaths, etc. We paused to commemorate our shared distaste for meaningless exercises of authority. 

As we entered Chicago, I finally said a few barely personal words about myself. I was happy to have chosen Wicker Park to live in rather than Lincoln Park because I was not exactly the Lincoln Park type. He said, Yes, I knew when you came in that you were not that type. What gave me away? I said. He said, You didn't seem like a sorority girl. Sorority girls don't have bikes covered in mud. They can't speak intelligently about the world. (His exact words were not as patronizing as these.) 

We arrived at his stop somewhat by surprise, and he hurriedly gathered his belongings and wheeled his bike to the door. Our last bit of chatter was me telling him I hoped to read about him leading the prosecution of Ivan Demjanjuk, the Cleveland Nazi.  There was no pretending that we would exchange phone numbers or that we'd ever see each other again or that we even wanted to.** We simply wished each other well, and then he walked his bike off the train. 

And that was that. I got off at the next stop, biked a few blocks to my apartment, drank a liter of water, and then collapsed on my couch. Bavarian No-Longer-Boyfriend called and we had an atrocious (but unfortunately, very typical) conversation consisting of either silence or me asking open-ended questions and getting one or two words in response. I had plans to see some more Bloodshot Records bands this evening, but I realized that my legs could not support my weight for the three hours I'd have to be standing, so I lay prone all night instead. And now I am typing this little story out. It's possible that nobody else on the planet thinks these meetings with strangers are interesting, but they are completely fascinating to me! Is this normal? Is it a sign of desperation? Predation? Antisocial personality disorder? I CANNOT STOP TALKING TO STRANGERS.

* The four-hour conversations happen when I am trapped in the window seat of a plane and the person with the aisle seat is an unaccompanied man. This happened twice in January alone! 
** But really, I could find him I wanted to. He told me his last name. I Googled it, and found a match in a few New York Times comments. He signs these comments Gary [Last name], [city in Galilee], Israel. The thoughts expressed are intelligent, but the punctuation is inconsistent. NEXT.