Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Apocalypse Complex

While my meditation class comrades sat around me, presumably following their steady flow of breath and relaxing their body parts in time with our instructor’s soothing voice, my monkey mind did its usual gymnastics:

God, I can’t wait to get out of here so I can smoke a cigarette and drink a glass of wine. He better not keep us late. I’m hot, my legs hurt. Ouch, shit, is my back fucked up again? I should call the chiropractor tomorrow. She has the coolest name. Dr. Lady. Was her father Mr. Lady? I hope so. Can I ask her that without sounding like a douchebag? Probably not. Okay, okay, relax hips, relax hips.

The cartwheels continued until I reached the core question that I find myself returning to whether I be distracted in English class, letting my mind drift on a bike ride, or pretending to listen to a yoga teacher whose gone on a bit too long about the importance of nonattachment:

What would happen if we, in this room, were the last people alive on earth?

I’ve got a bit of an apocalypse complex. The cold war world of my formative years created an unshakeable sense of impending doom. The Russians were at any given second ready to blow our country to bits. The soundtrack was that Sting song: Do the Russians love their children too? (It seemed deep at the time, but in retrospect it was only Sting-deep, ie deep on the surface, enough so that he can throw his pointy-faced glare around and look angry-sexy, but in actuality, quite shallow. Deep if you’re a 12-year-old, which I was.) The movies reinforced the tragedy-in-waiting: the post-nuclear war scare TV movie, On the Beach; Night of the Comet, that movie about the annihilation of everything but the ditzy Valley Girls and the mall; Red Dawn, War Games. These movies terrified me, but they also gave me hope. Once the super hot popular girls were killed off, maybe I would have a chance with the out-of-reach cute boys.

In AP English, I ranked. I shuffled. I dealt people like they were cards. My best friend Ang can have Brian because she’s had a crush on him forever, and then I could take KJ. Not the brightest penny in my wallet, but reallyreallyreally cute. I wondered if we would have to sacrifice anyone. Who would end up being the lonely Anthony Michael Hall character from The Breakfast Club with not even a pity makeout session in his doomed future? I decided that teachers would be taken out of the running. Even the cute ones were sooooo old, but maybe high school guys wanted that experience coupled with a desire to be mothered. I didn’t worry too much about who would be the hunter, the gatherer, the defender of our meager supplies for that led to the conclusion that we were totally fucked. I didn’t camp. I didn’t know how to rub two sticks together to create fire. I just knew how to pair people up based on their appearance and (my assessment of their) level of coolness.

I thought about this stuff way too much.

After I saw Alive--the movie about the soccer team that crashed in the Andes and resorted to cannibalism to remain, ahem, alive--one fine hungover Sunday afternoon during my college years, a new level of complexity was added to my assessment. Who would we eat? For a few days after the viewing, I walked around campus in a haze. I snuck peeks at asses, not out of the usual sexual urge, but rather to assess their relative meatiness. Damn. I may need to lose some weight unless I want to be eaten by hungry soccer players in the Andes. More likely for my situation at the time would’ve been hungry bandmates on an alcohol-deprived feeding frenzy in hopes of getting drunk off my malt liquor-saturated blood.

The coming apocalypse shapes more than my daydreams. One of my greatest fears is being stuck at my mom’s house when the apocalypse comes. (I repeat the phrase “when the apocalypse comes” far too many times to be healthy.) Despite growing up in Vortex-of-Evil, Virginia, I am at heart a west coaster. When I stepped off the train in Portland, I felt a kinship with the city immediately. Portland, baby, where have you been all my life?

When I return to the east coast on the yearly Christmas pilgrimage, my shoulders tense up to my ears as soon as the plane lands. Despite 5 years of yoga, my muscles tighten to violin strings. I have whipped up this image of the east coast as a dog-eat-dog hate palace. When the apocalypse comes I want to be in Portland, passing a joint with my neighbors as we collectively figure out what the heck we’re going to do, not beating off angry Hummer-worshipping suburbanites with sticks from my mother’s yard.

The Christmas of 1999, I remained in Portland for the first time since I had moved from Virginia. The Y2K hysteria had me in its talons. “What if the air control systems get messed up and I can’t return in time for work?” I asked my mom, attempting to sound reasonable. She shared in my mania, or at least humored it, and agreed it might be a good idea for me to remain. In retrospect, the excuse sounds completely idiotic, but I stick to my guns, “I didn’t want to be in fucking Virginia when the apocalypse came.” No Russians were involved, but it could have happened.

The meditation teacher tells us to cup our hands to our eyes, to come back into the room slowly at our own pace. I peek through the slits of my fingers. I’m pretty sure the teacher would pair up with the beautiful Brazilian woman seated to my right who asks all the right questions in a charming accent. I would be left with a choice of three—the somber tattooed guy who is taking the class to be less angry; the friendly, eager-to-please fellow who reminds me of a floppy dog, or the guy who sounds like Woody Allen. Barring the Brazilian woman having a hidden bisexual streak, I think I’d have to go with tattooed guy. Angry might come in handy at the end of the world.

Monday, July 16, 2007

My What a Long Finger You Have

Mr. Crud points out that it isn't exactly clear what I'm doing in the previous post's photo. Why, I am flicking you, the kind reader, off. Only for illustrative purposes of course. The monitor photo shoot was rushed because I feared I would be discovered sitting at my desk making funny faces at my computer with my helmet on.

Reminds me of the time that I did a drunk stop at McDonald's for my favorite post-happy hour dinner of 2 cheeseburgers and a large order of fries. Too lazy and/or drunk to remove my helmet, I moseyed up to the counter.

"You ride a bike?" the extremely perceptive McDonald's worker asked.
"Yup." I pointed to my trusty steed, haphazardly locked to the railing outside.
"There's a kid that comes in here and he has to wear a helmet all the time. He doesn't ride a bike."
"Yeah, wow. Well, I do."
"I was just checking." His stare became glazed again. "You never know."

Never before had I been paranoid that I looked like someone who needed a helmet at all times, nor did I believe that a McDonald's employee could create a new insecurity.

Perhaps I could have put my extremely long middle finger to some use that day.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

My Country has Problem, That Problem is Transport

I am the trinity of transportation. I walk, I bicycle, I drive: most frequently the first two. I try not to be self-righteous about my amazing contributions to saving the planet by not driving, especially because my choices have less to do with Al Gore and more to do with me.

In a car I become an asshole. The east coaster in me wants to dart and pass, to punctuate every sentence with a flummoxed comment on the driver in front of me. “You better be old, motherfucker because there is no excuse for going 15 in a 25.” The west coaster-yogi in me is constantly reminding myself to calm the fuck down, and to use such momentary delays as opportunities to practice patience. “What a great chance to open myself up to awareness,” I say through clenched teeth.

I’m not even a very good passenger. Again with the running commentary on the cyclists, the pedestrians, the overly polite car in front of me who waves every single person across the street. “Come now,” I say, shooting eyeball daggers. I admit to reaching for the horn and flicking people off to the extreme dismay of Mr. Crud. “Don’t you ever do that again when I’m driving,” he’s had to say a few times. He points out that the gun rack-toting chode won’t be coming after me and my fuck-off finger, but rather him as he is the man of the car. “Oh come on, they beat their wives,” I say.

And then because he’s a sociologist, we have to analyze the multiple levels of class prejudice just displayed in the space of 30 seconds.

On a bike I am a bit better if only because I am at a distinct weight and speed disadvantage. I am not a holy rider. I obey most of the rules of the road, but I’m not fanatical about it. Part of my cycling assholery can be traced to the fact that I am always on the road right before meal time when my blood sugar tends to be low. Not a time when I am at my best. My blood sugar has ruined many a good time.

Last Sunday I was pedaling home after yoga class, recently procured corporate burrito calling to me from my saddlebag. To avoid the blues festival traffic on Waterfront Park I opted to ride across the Steel Bridge and take the toilety smelling Eastbank Esplanade. Weather wise, the day was nothing less than glorious, a magnet for promenaders of all stripes.

First I zoomed past the ambling gawkers who took pictures every four steps. “Way to be aware of your surroundings,” I grumble. Then came the slowest cyclist in the world. She must have been in the lowest gear and then barely pedaled. I thought I would tip over if we went any slower. After an eternity—“eat me, eat me,” whispered my burrito—I passed her only to get stuck behind her boyfriend who smoked a cigarette as he rode. I’ve never quite understood the appeal of smoking and cycling. I tried it once in college and found it to be logistically difficult and not to mention plain uncomfortable to put so many demands on one’s lungs at once. However I would like to see a smoking triathalon, especially the swimming part.

I passed the smoker only to hit upon endless waves of baby strollers, amblers, stop-and-pointers—“fucking tourists,” I spat—and then, I shit you not, a gang of Segways clogging the entire width of the Esplanade. Does anybody think these things are cool, convenient, or useful? Please raise your hand so I can flick you off. Whenever I see a Segway I see Gob from Arrested Development prissily rolling along the sidewalk and I laugh. How lazy do you have to be? (If you have mobility issues, please ignore my Segway hatred. Segway to your heart’s content and flick me off.) I sighed as loudly as I could, dinged my bell urgently, and one by one the gang straightened into a line and allowed me to pass. They weren’t even going that fast. I could have kept up with them at a brisk walk. I imagined their leg muscles atrophying with each second spent on the Segway. “That is some lazy shit,” I muttered.

Have I mentioned I’m a mutterer? Ride behind me and you will here a stream of “Nice move, dipshit. No, no, stop, motherfucker, my turn, my turn. Jesus fucking Christ, jackalope, I have the right of way…” I don’t even notice I’m doing it until somebody passes me and I realize I’ve been heard. Or someone responds angrily, and my feelings get hurt, and I cry.

I am at my most self-righteous as a pedestrian (please see “Bitch Blessings,” which I will someday learn how to link to this post). I have been utterly spoiled by Portland’s polite drivers. When I moved here 12 years ago, I was taken aback by the cars stopping in the middle of the street as I stood waiting for a break in the vehicular flow. “Go! Go!” I waved them through. Now I am indignant that any car would even think of trying to continue on its way if my feet touch the street. I’m trying to walk here, is that a crime? I think to myself in my mind’s best imitation of Harvey Weinstein’s scratchy timbre. Not only do I hear voices, but frequently they are doing poor celebrity imitations.

Transit brings out the worst in me and most other people. We’re Americans dammit and we should be able to get there now, now, now without those other assholes impeding us. In the local paper, cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers duke it out every few months in the wake of the latest cyclist-pedestrian-driver death outrage. Everyone has their “Letter to the Editor” story about how all cyclists don’t obey traffic lights, how all drivers are inconsiderate dickheads, how pedestrians need to pay attention or else--splat. I humbly propose that we are all the assholes. That our heads are so far up our own gas pipes that we can’t get past our self-righteousness, our utter belief that we are number one, yet also the victims of terrible drivers everywhere. I’m ready to break the cycle.

My name is KT and I am a transit asshole, or (time to cash in a few more chips on ye olde artistic license) transshole. My apologies to the transsexual assholes who may have had their eye on transshole.

It’s mine, all mine. Now out of my way.

All kt All the Time

I'm having a bitch of a time getting a photo onto my profile--is there a computer whiz in the house?--and I didn't want these "gems" of my morning monitor photo shoot to go to waste.

I think boredom has increased my vanity by a good 40%.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Bitch Blessings

The light changes to green, the forbidding red hand turns to chipper white walking man, I step into the crosswalk, the picture of sunny day innocence and light. The car, an early 90’s sedan with rust patches, pulls close to me. I stop and make a “what the fuck” gesture with my hands. I feel very New York. In my daily lunchtime walks I have specific penalties for dealing with drivers in crosswalks. Should the driver stop, giving me plenty of room to cross, I hustle through the crosswalk and maybe even toss out a smile. If the driver inches forward I slow down, turning my purposeful march to a saunter. All you gotta do is stop, buddy.

Mr. Crud points out that the drivers may not be aware of my system, that I may just be prejudicing people against slowpoke pedestrians. My system works by osmosis, much like learning American history. In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Or 1942. Almost the same thing. The drivers don’t know that they are learning crosswalk ethics, but the knowledge that I drop sneaks into their brains like the weird flying ants that moved into our house for a period of 2 weeks and then proceeded to fall dead on the windowsill of my office. Just another one of my flying ant teachings, but this knowledge doesn’t die on a dusty windowsill. Their former crosswalk rolls become stops and soon they forget that they ever thought of driving into a pedestrian filled crosswalk.

And if you get aggressive and show no signs of stopping, you get the “what the fuck.” After she screeches to a stop, I continue on my merry way and catch a few syllables of angry nonsense coming from her mouth. It does not penetrate the wall of iPod sound. At the end of the micro-rant she yells, “Bitch!” and squeals away.

Never one to be even medium-speed on my feet, I yell “I can’t hear you!” I speak the truth. All I got was bitch. Good one, kt.

I’ve actually become somewhat fond of "bitch" thanks to a childhood-adolescence-early adulthood full of fat-related hollering. Fat bitch instead of plain old vanilla bitch. When I was fat, I knew I was fat but at the time, I felt like it was a label I could escape if I was nice enough, smart enough, wore the right clothes, slathered my face in makeup, and all those hopeless escape plans that tunneled me further into self-loathing. When I did something so offensive as walk down the street, I was reminded of the extra layer of me. (In the town where I grew up, yelling at women from cars was a treasured pastime.) I went through a fat pride period in college but it was more posturing than real. All in all, I was pretty psyched the first time that I was called simply “bitch,” and to this day I remain almost grateful when my girth is not part of the insult equation.

A short and incomplete list of acceptable bitches:
Blonde bitch
Snobby bitch
Ratty-haired no-neck bitch
Skinny bitch (a girl can dream)
Downward doggin’ bitch
Toilet cloggin’ bitch
Rig and focus bitch (for you theater lovers)
Crabby bitch (yo Maryland!)
Smarty pants bitch
Shitty pants bitch
I’m too tired to think of bitch names bitch

That’s Ms. Bitch to you.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Great Moments in Music History

The Jennie Dean Junior High Talent Show! At long last I had found the perfect opportunity for my nerd posse to show all those miserable 12 and 13-year-olds our stuff. Except for Lori, aka the cute one, we, aka the dorky ones, were all chorus veterans. We just needed the perfect song. A worthy quest had found us. We scribbled notes back and forth, held our breaths for the other 3 to exclaim "Perfect!" Shortly after we caught talent show fever, we came down with the seasonal bug that afflicts the nation: Superbowl Fever. Krista passed me a note between classes: Superbowl Shuffle!!!!!!!! It was a suggestion truly worthy of the battalion of exclamation points.

The following Friday the girls came over for a slumber party/rehearsal allnighter. Costumes: we would paint our faces like football players and borrow our fathers' old jerseys. I indulged in a fantasy that I would ask Jim Parrish how to paint my face and with that one question he would fall deeply in love with me. Characters: there were a lot of Bears so we would be switching off a few times. I was chosen to be William "The Refrigerator" Perry. "No offense," Lori said.

We watched the video and practiced the shuffle, which was about as easy as the "choreography" we had learned for "Up Where We Belong" in chorus class. Step to the right, pause, step to the left, pause. We funked it up, laughing at Krista's swinging hips and my attempts at breakdancing. Can I integrate a body wave into this? It was a question I often asked after renting "How to Breakdance."

Now for the tough part. The words and, oh yeah, learning to rap. While I kept my finger poised on the play and pause button, Krista scribbled down the words. Every so often we had to replay and replay to get at some garbled rhyme. This ended up taking most of the night. By the time we had a full set of lyrics in hastily scribbled bubble script, we were too exhausted to practice. We climbed in our sleeping bags and dreamed of our own Superbowl victory.

Sunday morning over breakfast we told my mom of our brilliant plan. "Oh, so that's what the ruckus was about." We rolled our eyes at each other. The Fresh Prince was so right. Mom slapped another round of pancakes in front of us. "Isn't the talent show in a few months? The Superbowl will be over in a couple of weeks."

We masked our panic with cool disdain. "So?" I asked. The Superbowl Shuffle is a timeless classic. How did she not know that?

Krista didn't copy the lyrics for each of us as planned. Lori didn't dig up her crusty Halloween makeup. We had been defeated by scheduling. I could officially stop worrying about the comparisons between me and The Refrigerator