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Miss Peach

Like putting a good belt on a cheap dress

Mr. Mayor, Please Put On Your Thinking Cap

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Thursday morning, as I was getting ready for work (and running WAY late, as is always the case), a jet flew overhead so low and was so loud that I quite literally dropped, ducked, and had a mild panic attack in my bedroom.

Another jet went overhead afterwards, but it wasn’t as loud. About ten minutes later, another, though also not quite as loud. At that point, I turned on NY1, our all New York news, all the time station, to see if something had happened (no way was I going to go get on the subway if a plane had crashed into midtown) and they were in the midst of showing Wednesday night’s lotto numbers so I figured all was fine. Maybe there were wind conditions that required a shift in flight paths to go over my apartment? And forced the planes to fly really low? By this point, I was really late, so I ran out the door, hopped on the subway, and got off by the Park as I normally do.

I heard another plane, so I looked up, and sure enough there was a jet circling around the Park at a pretty low altitude. I’ve now decided the whole thing might be related to Fleet Week, which was upon us.

Maybe I’m being uptight, but let’s all just concede that if you feel like buzzing a major city in the USA, New York is probably not the one to pick, given what happened here a few months short of five years ago. Who authorized this? Who thought New Yorkers wouldn’t mind the sounds of roaring jet engines overhead in the morning? What city official though, “Yeah! Let’s celebrate [whatever the hell it is they were celebrating] by having low-flying jets around Central Park!!!” Is this person trying to make me lose my mind?

It’s enough that I just push all normal concerns out of my mind every time I get on a bus or on the subway, every time I hear a flurry of sirens, every time a “CNN Breaking News” alert hits my inbox. And I’m a very calm and rational person. I grew up in LA among floods, fires, earthquakes, and the Rodney King riots. When shit goes down, I know you just point yourself towards home, stay calm, and enact one of your seventy-thousand contingency plans. (And despite my semi-apocalyptic state of mind, I truly don’t sit around obsessing about all of this once the plan is, erm, set. Point being: am I a little grim? Yes. Am I slightly crazy and often paralyzed by potential disaster scenarios? Really, I'm not.)

When I got back yesterday from a blessed weekend away, my roommate mentioned that our NPR station aired a small piece about the planes--apparently city phonelines were inundated with complaints and panicked calls. Turns out it WAS for Fleet Week, and those planes? Were BLUE DEVILS. Or something like that. I'm just slightly flabbergasted that this was approved, and that they didn't think to, I don't know, warn the people of this city beforehand. Especially given that they've banned hot coffee from the subways, citing "safety". Because definitely, the next terrorist will be throwing scalding coffee at riders at random. Yep. Definitely.

Hm, I'd better start on a contingency plan for that one, hadn't I?

Forgetful Jones

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

This is actually a nickname my father had for me when I was younger, based on that Sesame Street character that forgets everything. Like him, I had trouble remembering things, like my graphing calculator and books for homework and school shoes. (How I lost my penny loafers, I will never know.) I was always leaving one book or another that I needed in my locker at school, and we lived 45 minutes and three freeways away. There was NO way I would have told my mom about it—this is one of those things that would have really set her off, and I would be in, as we call it in our household, “big T trouble”.

My father, however, could usually swing by my school on his way home from work, and so I’d call him at least once a week, whisper, “Dad? It’s Miss Peach. Don’t tell Mom, but I forgot X textbook in my locker and I have a quiz tomorrow. Will you pick it up for me?” He became quite friendly with Willie, our school’s gatekeeper, who would apparently greet him by saying, “So, which book did she forget today?” The other amusing part is that as an only child, my dad always found it to be hilarious that I would identify myself—because who else called him dad?

The other side of this, though, is that my parents also call me “old elephant brain”. Not exactly the most charming name, I know, but it is dead on—I have an uncanny ability to remember faces and names, or where we parked the car, or what someone was wearing to a certain event. This has been extremely helpful to my mom, who apparently relied on my four-year-old self to find the car after we’d been at the mall, and who will still call me on the way to a party to ask what Susie’s mom’s new husband’s name is, again?

So given that I rarely forget a name or a face, it follows that I find it extremely annoying that others don’t have such a memory. Now, I know I’m probably a bit more sensitive to it since I have this knack for remembering, but I’ve long suspected that I must be completely forgettable. In fact, I’m positive it’s actually the case. I now present you with a mere handful of the many experiences that confirms this:

We moved to St. Louis just before my sophomore year of high school, and though I spent three years in school there, there’s a whole group of my classmates who have no idea who I am. No, it isn’t because of how big my school was, because there were 80 people in my class. AND I was one of two new kids that year. Everyone should know who I am for that fact alone—you always know the new kids.

When I was in London, during my junior year of college, I was in some club and ran into Dan, who I’d never been close with but who I not only had classes with, but was on a committee with for two years in high school. I saw him in a stairwell, and was enthusiastically saying hi and asking how he was when he cut me off and said, “I’m sorry, but who are you again?” I reminded him and he seemed to feel bad, and when I told my friend we laughed for a good twenty minutes about it, but truth be told, it really bothered me.

Flash forward to my first year after college—I was at a bar in NYC with the same friend I’d been visiting in London, and another one of our friends, both from St. Louis—and we ran into Andrew, another classmate from the Lou. He said hi to my two friends but completely ignored me, and finally my friend said, “Andrew, you remember Miss Peach, don’t you?” AND SHE HAD TO INTRODUCE ME TO HIM.

I could really go on, but I think I’ll just cap this with today’s addition to the list:

We’ve had a temp in the offices for a while now, and he looks SO familiar to me. I immediately placed him as a guy who I went to college with. Then I thought maybe I was wrong, so I just let it slide. But today, he wore a shirt emblazoned with our alma mater’s name, and it all became clear. He had to be the guy I was thinking of. We had a bunch of mutual friends, my roommates and I would go see his band play periodically, we always went to the house parties he and his roommates threw… in other words, lots of overlaps and much time spent together in group settings.

So, finally, at the end of the day, I went up to him and asked if he went to our school, and he said he did, introduced himself, and asked my name. There was not so much as a glimmer of recognition. Not a hint that he remembered me. And the last time we hung out, I expressly remember being quite drunk and singing the high part of some song he was playing because I was the only one present who could come within any recognizable distance of that note.

I also remember him wincing when I tried to hit it.

And if that didn’t make any sort of lasting impression, I really don’t know what would.

Or I Could Just Wear a Lifevest All the Time

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I don't understand why people are suddenly falling off of ships left and right. It's like an epidemic. Did the railings get smaller or something?

This just makes one thing completely clear to me, and that is that I will not be going on a cruise anytime soon. I'm not exactly what you'd call coordinated. There's a reason I always wear flats and try to avoid ice skating and rollerblading. I don't have what you call balance or grace, despite the fact that I was born on a Tuesday and so am supposed to be chock-full of it.

I was reminded of a particularly klutzy moment from my past when, a few days ago, a friend emailed around a review of a restaurant where possibly the most embarassing event of my life took place. I was out with friends for dinner, three of whom I've known since high school and one girl who I had just met. We had finished the meal (during which we had all shared a bottle of wine, which would calculate out to ONE glass for me, thank you very much), and asked for the check. It came, and I leaned down to the right where my purse was sitting on the floor to get my wallet, and all hell broke loose.

Now, a word about the physical space: this was a tiny restaurant with a tiny back patio, where we were seated. The patio had small stone tiles on the floor that were reminiscent of cobblestone, so it wasn't exactly an even floor. And the chairs were those rickety wood violin-backed four legged ones you'd find at a "classic" italian place with red-checked cloths and drippy candles in wine bottles.

So, I was saying. I leaned down to the right, and the chair leaned with me... except it didn't stop leaning when I went to sit back up. It kept going. The legs all sort of folded under to the left, and I kept trying to ground myself with my right leg but I couldn't keep my footing. This is just so typical of me. Once I start going down, I just can't stop, and this was no exception. And because my friends couldn't do a thing, they apparently all covered their eyes, winced, and looked the other way while huddling into each other for support.

I went down--ALL the way down--to my right. But I didn't hit the ground. Nope, not me. I hit the guy sitting at the table next to me. And I apparently hit him at exactly the right angle, because he then started going over to his right, and he couldn't get his footing either. So he went over, but remember, this is a really small New York restaurant. So he didn't hit the ground either. He, of course, fell into the guy sitting next to him. And that guy? The guy on the end of the row of tables? He tried to stabilize himself by grabbing the table. And rather than stop the fall, the table went down with him.

At this point, you could have heard a pin drop on that patio. I was still on the floor, completely dumbstruck and incapable of doing anything except wondering whether my friends would understand if I just got up, left the restaurant, and waited for them down the block, and thanking god I hadn't worn a skirt that day. My best friend, god bless her, examined the chair and discovering the legs were loose and loudly proclaiming the chair faulty.

I don't think I have ever loved anyone more than I did her at that moment.

The guy I fell into was SO pissed at first. He looked at me with the nastiest look I think I have ever received. But when my friend declared the faulty chair, he suddenly became so nice and gave me his chair and stood to wait for a new one. I apologized profusely to him but I couldn't even bring myself to address the man on the end who now had his dinner on him. I turned to the table of girls who were trying their best not to break into fits of hysterical laughter and focused on keeping myself from bursting into tears while one of them quickly dealt with the bill.

I'm either resilient or used to mortifying myself in public, because by the time we got onto the street I was over the rock in my throat and was able to laugh along with them, to the point that we all wound up crying from the hilarity of it all. And the best part is that the one girl there who I hadn't met before dinner has since become somewhat of a friend, and every time something comes up about that night or that restaurant, her response is, "I remember they had an excellent goat cheese tart, but that is, funnily enough, the only thing I remember about that night!"

And now that you've seen what I'm capable of on terra firma, I think you'll agree that, clearly, putting myself on a ship where I'm surely going to be having a few drinks here and there is not a good idea. I'd be overboard in a minute. And I'd probably find a way to take whoever decides to travel along down with me.


Thursday, May 11, 2006

My godfather, better known to me as Uncle Jerry, passed away yesterday morning. It’s so strange and sad to think of things without him. I haven’t yet sorted out my thoughts.

Jerry was my father’s best friend and mentor, and our families have a shared history that I cherish now that I’m no longer living at home in a way I couldn’t as a teenager. We spent Christmas together every year; when his oldest daughter got married (years ago; Jerry’s youngest is roughly 10 years older than me) it was as if someone in our family was getting married. Whenever I went home, we saw Jerry and his family. They’re as much a part of California to me as anything else.

Jerry gave me books every year for Christmas and my birthday, and though at the time I’m sure I didn’t appreciate them, they were a large reason I became a lover of books. Now that I work in book publishing, I look back I can see that line, that connection back to Jerry and those copies of Madeleine L’Engle books that he and his wife gave me when I was 8.

He loved to sail. He had a boat he kept in Marina Del Rey, a small Catalina with a tiller, and I’ll always think of him on the boat, hat on his head, hand firmly on the tiller, racing whoever was nearby out of the harbor or past that next buoy.

My mom and I were talking today about him, and how over the past several months he hadn’t been lucid, really. He retired about a year and a half ago, and then had surgery on his foot that rapidly aged him for reasons we don’t understand. You would swear he’d had either a stroke or Alzheimers, yet the only two things the doctors seemed to be able to rule out were those two conditions. I think we all believed that with more tests, they’d discover the problem and right whatever was wrong. We truly thought they’d discover his potassium levels were off and prescribe vitamins and he’d be back, or something equally simple—Jerry was brilliant, and witty, and sweet, and generous, and so quickly not present that it had to be something utterly simple and fixable. It wasn’t anything big—no tumor, no neurological disorder, no disease for which he had the telltale signs and symptoms—that it somehow logically followed that whatever it was, was a simple matter of chemical or mineral balance.

My mom was telling me that he had rallied for a bit over the past week—he went for a walk with his walker, something he hadn’t done in months; he said “thank you for taking care of me” to his wife on their way back from a doctor’s appointment a few days ago. And he had this conversation with his youngest daughter, who got engaged about a month ago to a man named Seth. They were sitting in the house, and she was gauging his memory.

“Who am I?”
“And what will my new name be?”
And then he looked her in the eye, smiled, and put his hand over her left hand and engagement ring.

How Do You Say "Unfaithful" in French?

Monday, May 08, 2006

I srudied abroad for a semester in college. The benefits of this-and the amazing people I met and things I learned-could fill an entire blog in and of itself (and I wish blogging had been around at that time). There were some really moving things that happened, some absolutely hilarious moments, and some downright scary experiences. One particular conversation has stuck with me for some reason; I've hesitated to write about it because there isn't really a point or a punchline. But so much in life doesn't have either, so why hold back?

Oh, and, ps, this is a really long post.

I was traveling with Sarah, one of my best friends, and a random girl who had been on her program named Kat, for two weeks before we all headed back to the US for the summer and our senior years of college. Kat was from Texas and that's about all I know about her. She was very nice, but she traveled with us because it was convenient for her, and we never really connected as a threesome. I feel bad about that--not that it was my doing, but it must have been a little strange to be with two girls who were good friends with a long history as you traveled around, seeing something new (and often amazing) every day. But for the most part, it worked out. We met in Nice to start the travels; then Kat wanted to go to Florence, which Sarah and I had already seen and felt we shouldn't go back to. So we separated--Sarah and I hopped a train to Lake Como instead--and planned to meet in Venice before heading off to Budapest.

When Sarah and I arrived in Venice, we spent some time looking for Kat. I recall stopping at several internet cafes so I suspect we were just communicating via email. Somehow we found her (we were slightly annoyed, as whatever plan we had set hadn't worked and we'd blown an afternoon trying to find her while she sightsaw around Venice) and went to the train station--we had all locked our stuff in the lockers there for the day, and had about 15 minutes to grab it and hop the only direct train to Budapest. Sarah and I got our packs and turned expectantly to Kat, who was staring open-mouthed at her empty locker.

Kat hadn't properly locked the locker, and someone had made off with her entire pack: all her clothes, shoes, extra money, mementos, everything. It was devastating, and also supremely annoying. I felt terrible for her and also couldn't stop wondering how she'd messed up a very easy lock that had directions written in fifteen languages with pictoral explanations alongside each step. (This explains part of why the threesome didn't work.) We went to the station's police office and filed a report, but I held out little hope for any resolution. I'd been pickpocketed in Paris; I knew that 99% of the time it was a completely lost cause. There was little violence to worry about when I was there, but man, you could go broke being pickpocketed in some way, even if you were vigilant and street smart.

None of us spoke Italian and though the officer on duty spoke a bit of English, the lack of either party's fluency in either tongue let to a lot of yelling-Kat subscribed to the idea that if you just SAID SOMETHING LOUDER THEY WOULD UNDERSTAND EVEN IF THEY DIDN'T SPEAK THE LANGUAGE. I understood her frustration, but was mortified by her reaction. Sarah and I eventually stopped trying to help and just sat there agape, feeling bad for her and guilty that we were trying to figure out how many days this would shave off of our planned travels. Could we still do Budapest, Krakow, and Munich? Was it worth scrapping Budapest and maybe stopping in Vienna since we had to switch trains there anyway in our travels? Would we make full use of our Eurorail passes if we switched it up?

Self-centered, much? We both still feel a little bad about that.

Anyway, I still don't understand how this happened, and all I can think is that someone was watching over Kat. She must have had a whole big barrel of good karma and luck stashed somewhere, because apparently a station worker had realized that Kat's locker wasn't secure and had taken her pack to the baggage check area, where we got it and found everything intact. All I have to say is: luuuucky.

By this point we had missed the train, and had to take an overnight train to Vienna, switch stations, and catch a connection to Budapest. We had two hours to kill, but weren't about to put our bags back in the lockers. So we put together a picnic and settled on a bench near the station awaiting our train.

While we were waiting, a train conductor came over to us. He was Italian and middle-aged, and he seemed really agitated. He kept saying, "parlate italiano?" over and over. We didn't really respond-I knew he was asking us if we spoke Italian but my strategy in these situations was to just ignore them so they would go away, a strategy that had worked like a charm on the metro and whatnot. He started to yell, and so I looked up at him and said "no" in hopes of ending this right then. Then he looked back at me and said, "francese?" and held my eye contact, and for some reason I couldn't lie to him.

I speak conversational French but am in no way fluent. He started telling me in heavily Italian-accented, semi-broken French about how he had found a letter to his wife in their mailbox and he wanted me to translate it from English into French for him so that he knew what it said. I was taken aback and didn't really know what to do, and in my indecision I started reading it.

It's funny how language works. I spent so much of my time in France describing the words I was looking for. I can get around-order food, ask directions, inquire about tours and movie times and train schedules, and do it all with a good enough accent to be taken for a Swede. But when it comes to actual conversation, I never have the full vocabulary I need, and I wound up saying things like "angry, but with passion, and feeling inadequate, and sad about being inadequate, and mad that someone else is not inadequate, and wishing you were not inadequate" and someone would say "oui, la jalousie!" and voila! I knew how to say jealousy. (That's a bad example, because I have no idea how to say inadequate in French, and have known how to say jealousy since I was 13, and that's a terrible decription of jealousy to boot, but you get the picture).

This extended to my little translation exercise that day in Venice. The writing on the card was passionate and straightforward, but I didn't know how to faithfully translate it into French. Some of it was easy-I think it started with something like "My love, I am here in the United States and I miss you so much every moment." Okay, that I can handle, no problem. Then it got tricky. "If we were here together, we could love the way we were meant to, freely" and "I know our hearts are true and this love is real-come be with me, share the future we are meant to have and let us build our dreams together as we have always wanted." OK. Hm. That passage presented a myriad of problems--"build our dreams"? "Share the future"? These are phrases that I couldn't translate exactly, especially given my limited skills regarding French, not to mention the fact that they involved complicated tenses and conjugations (and those are not my strong suit, I pretty much speak French entirely in the present). I had to stretch a twelve-line postcard into a 15 minute explanation of the feelings behind the postcard, which had to be excruciating for the conductor because I barely made it through.

When I finished, he was silent for a beat, and then he started to talk to me. He was in love with his wife. She had been in trouble-I didn't quite catch what type or how-and he had taken her and her daughter in. They were his family now. He had done everything for them. He had given them a home and money. They were happy, or so he thought. He was alternately angry and devastated. I think he knew the guy-I got the sense this wasn't a surprise and he said something about how he thought this was finished now-and he kept walking away and then coming back to tell me another aspect of it all. It was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life. I just remember being transfixed, watching this complete and total stranger unload all of this onto me, a girl over 20 years his junior, in his second language. It was surreal. He finally stopped talking and I handed him the card before he walked away.

Kat and Sarah sat there while I explained the situation (they spoke Spanish), and I believe Kat's response was something like, "that's insane. Wait, aren't you sooooo glad I got my bag back?"

I always wonder what happened to him and his wife and stepdaughter. Did they work things out? Did she leave him? If she didn't, are they happy now? Is she quietly sad-does she feel like she owes it to him to stay, and that's why she does? Or did she go to New York to be with her lover? And if so, is she still here?

Anyway, a word of advice-if you're going to cheat on your husband with a man from another country, do not think your lover can just send you a postcard in a language your husband doesn't speak, because your husband will think it's suspect and will totally take that card and find a young tourist from the country of your beloved, and you will be busted.

Answer Me This

Monday, May 01, 2006

There are a few things that have plagued me of late. These are issues I have, and I turn to you for advice, reasoning, and possible rationales. Because these are the things that keep me up at night. And I really haven’t been sleeping all too well recently.

Question Number One: Could Meg Ryan get ANY more collagen in those lips of hers? When I saw her on Oprah a few months ago, I couldn’t get over her lips. Really, Meg? You look like Goldie Hawn in that movie that I cannot remember the name of when she forces her plastic surgeon to give her more collagen, and then walks around looking like a clown. Meg, I know you’re probably surrounded by yes people. I know no one will say it to you. So I will do the deed, and take one for the team.

Your lips are too big. It hurts me to look at them! I mean, all I can think of is how tight they must feel and how you must be a teensy-weensie bit afraid to smile too big because, seriously, what if they pop? Ouch. I’m serious. I don’t think I can look at any more pictures of you. I have such a visceral reaction that I wind up wanting to toss my cookies. In fact, I’m having trouble getting my coffee down now just thinking about this cover.

Question Number Two, for all the New York City Tourists in Town Now or Ever: Why do you ask me for directions when I have earphones in and am clearly not able to hear you? There are plenty of people around without the Sign of Not Wanting to Be Bothered hanging from their ears (the white iPod earphones, for those wondering). I know you’re a little lost, but please, when we’re crossing Broadway and I am lugging a bag, listening to my iPod, and The Red Hand is flashing, don’t wave, yell, and then GRAB MY SHOULDER to ask where the nearest pharmacy is. Please, please, PLEASE just finish safely crossing the street and ask someone on the sidewalk. The cabs are revving their engines, and I don’t want to die because I’m being polite to a stranger.

Question Number Three: For the love of Jesus, Mary, AND Joseph, why is it that we still have instructions for voicemail? If I were to sit down and somehow tally up the moments I lose listening to “At the sound of the tone, please leave a voice message. When you have finished recording, you may hang up or press one for more options,” how much of my time would have been wasted? Firstly, we all have got the hang of it now. There is no need for the stern phone company lady to tell me what to do after a beep. Secondly, what other options might I have? They aren’t answering. Either they’re a) otherwise occupied and really can’t talk right now; b) without their phone; c) ignoring me and could but actually don’t want to talk to me right now; or d) in a movie (or the like) and their phone is turned off. What else are you going to do for me? Please, enlighten me. What other options can you offer?

Corollary Question to Number Three: What is the “to leave a callback number” option, and why would one use it? I mean, y’all, if you want to leave a callback number, wouldn’t you just leave it on the voicemail? I’m sure there’s some really useful, makes life easier, and super simple application for this, but I have never used it, nor has anyone ever used it on me. Though technically I would have no idea what it was, so I guess someone could have and I just wouldn’t know it.

Which begs for Question Number Four: Why are there instructions for voicemail, but not for the "to leave a callback" option that in some way explains what on earth that function is?

Seriously, they should really just put me in charge. It would make so much more sense. To me, at least.