Awkwardness at the Movies (In Which It’s Probably Hugh Grant’s Fault)

Did I ever tell you about the time I paid $25 to see Two Weeks Notice?  Back in 2002? When I still had a student ID and could buy them at a discount?

Two Weeks Notice, Sandra Bullock

I know, Sandy. I know!

As it turns out, I bought a ticket for me ($5), one for a friend of a friend, and then paid said friend of a friend $15 for the pleasure of watching the movie with me. This was all an innocent mistake, an awkward situation, but one that I remembered a decade later when at the Chicago Bulls game last night.

Aside: you know at ball games when people pass money in exchange for beer/cotton candy/etc. down an aisle of strangers? Does anyone just ever pocket the money or keep the beer? I doubt it, because if it ever happened, it would have certainly happened to me.

Moving on.

So I had actually bought tickets for about five of us, being the only one with a valid-looking student ID (so I was slightly scamming the system. It was Two Weeks Notice, people).  We get to the theater, take our seats. Everyone pays me the $5 they’re blowing. The friend of a friend, let’s call her Tracy, two seats down from me.

“I only have a twenty,” she says.

“That’s fine, I have fifteen,” I say.

I hand her the $15 via my friend that sits in between us.  The movie darkens for the previews.

She doesn’t hand me the $20.  In-between friend starts whispering incredulously.

“No big,” I think.  “She will give it to me after the movie.”

She doesn’t.

“No big,” I think. “She will give it to me at the bar we are going to, or at least buy me a couple of drinks.”

She doesn’t.

Nope, I never saw that money she pocketed a cool extra $15. Not to mention seeing what was a pedestrian romantic comedy – for free! And here I didn’t even get a hug at the end of what was apparently a date.

Not that I remain irritated by it or anything. Not that the $20 I’m owed plus a decade of interest would buy me at least 12 boxes of Triscuits.

The thing is, Tracy is a nice person. I’m sure this was not calculated in any way nor did she realize it happened. I do find it odd that she tucked away the $15 I handed her without reciprocating, but it was just one of those situations where your brain and your manual dexterity don’t quite align. Sort of like when I use nail polish remover instead of astringent. Sure.

And I, as is always the case, preferred simmering silently rather than confronting the issue. If you see something, say something. Or don’t.

I saw Tracy years later when we were seated at the same table at our mutual friend’s wedding. And I totally stole the pashmina she had with her. Ahhh, I’d be so much cooler if that last part were true.


…and the Other Gold (In Which I Wine and Dine with my Oldest Friends)

“I never had any friends later on, like the ones I had when I was twelve…Jesus….does anyone?”
–Stand By Me

Last weekend, I trekked down to suburban St Louis (technically Southern Illinois) for an all-too-brief mini-reunion with my oldest friends. Some exposition: I met Rebecca on the first day of kindergarten in 1979; I linked up with Karyn and Emily in Jr. High band (they played clarinet, I trombone) at some point in the fall of 1987. I met all other members of the gang in the interim. Our friend Callista lives in Swaziland, Africa, and was therefore unable to zip to Illinois for a weekend, but the rest of us met up for laughter, food, wine, and Erasure-soundtracked dancing.

So, yes, I’ve known all members of this 8-gal posse for at least 24 years. Ooooof. Is that really possible?  Not that we’ve aged so much since meeting, but that we remain so close-knit despite the miles, the life shifts, and the simple reality of the human condition.

It’s especially amazing considering I moved away from these fine ladies in the summer of 1988, when my Dad took a job in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A transplant to the buckle of the Bible Belt immediately before beginning high school?  Seemed like an unmitigated tragedy at the time, but I quickly took the Girl Scouts’ advice and made new friends while keeping the old.

I kept in close touch with my StL-area gals despite the lack of email, the expense of long distance, and the scarcity of visits. We made mix tapes. We wrote actual letters. We talked when our parents allowed. And I have never taken their friendships for granted.

Anyhoo.  Last weekend. Our friend Mike (one of the honorary male members of our gang) joined us as the founder of our feast. He and his wife are both professional chefs and split time between Dubai and Dallas, Texas (I’m not sure how they tell their differing homelands apart).

Mike prepared pounds and pounds of beef tenderloin along with cod for the non-red-meat eaters (i.e., me).  He also made simple preparations of interesting produce that allowed the flavors to shine. Mike introduced us to the wild world of gourmet salts, treated us to Hungarian dessert wine, and reminded me how I tried to cheer him on at a seventh-grade track meet. (He still placed last, but I refuse to believe this was my fault).

Rebecca’s girlfriend Lori, shouldering (literally!) four lbs of beef tenderloin

Mike cooks while Nicole looks pretty

My enviable plate (clockwise from left: roasted Jerusalem artichokes, cod, artisan bread, spaghetti squash, Brussels sprouts, green salad. Melange of mushrooms in the middle (prepared as a topper for the tenderloin but I partook of a taste)

Not bad for a bunch of late-30-somethings

Dance Party USA, proving that some things never change as you age

Our little group has always been, and always will until the end.  It’s a blessing to have a group of friends that has known you forever. And thanks to my geographical upheaval at age 13, I actually have two. This is something for which I will always be thankful – I know it doesn’t happen for everyone.

My Karaoke Life in 17 Pictures (In Which I Question Some Former Hairstyles)

I greatly enjoy cooking, reading, (very) (occasionally) jogging, playing trivia, writing, watching the MLB, and partaking in a number of other rather passive pastimes. But when it comes to pure unadulterated fun, there are few activities I like more than karaoke. And it’s not a phase, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve been on the karaoke circuit (if there is such a thing) for more than a dozen years, have more than 100 different song attempts under my belt, and am always in search of the newest venue or the latest song to challenge my meager pipes.  Now that I don’t having a driving commute, however, I’ve lost my practice venue, so some of my song attempts are totally on the fly.

While relaxing over Christmas, I was looking through some Facebook photos, and realized that karaoke was a very consistent theme. Some of the pictures below are bittersweet for various reasons, but there are universal truths that haven’t changed. ‘Baby Got Back’ done expertly by a couple of white chicks will still impress the right crowd, ‘The Rose’ should NEVER be performed — EVER — and while you may think alcohol can help your skills, all it can do is make you sloppy.

Without further ado, here are some high- and low-lights of my karaoke life, in pictures. Please excuse the gap between the early 2000s (when everyone was getting married and had professional photographers on the scene) and 2010 (when everyone had cell phone cameras at the ready).

January, 2001.  Childhood BFF Amy (who will show up a lot) and I sing ‘Baby Got Back’ at fellow BFF Rebecca’s wedding. I was about 19 red wines deep at the time. I appear to have cornrows and may or may not be a vampire, if we’re using my skin tone to judge.  This song led into a solo rendition of ‘Baby, One More Time.’  In unrelated news, my boyfriend at the time broke up with me about 36 hours later.

April, 2001.  Amy and I at it (‘Baby Got Back’) once again at Amy’s bachelorette party.  Believe those are still cornrows, ladies and gentlemen.  And who wears a white shirt out on a night that involves drinking on a bus?  We won’t begin to discuss Amy’s outfit – it was a bachelorette party in 2001, am I right?!

October, 2004. My bachelorette party.  Believe I’m singing Duran Duran’s ‘Rio.’ And I appear to be slightly more into it than any of my friends and relatives. The Bud’s chubby in my left hang is clinging to my pinky for dear life. THAT?  Is passion, ladies and gentlemen.

April, 2005. Zapata’s Mexican Restaurant in Collinsville, IL.  Where once I entered a karaoke contest so unashamedly rigged it made Idol’s inclusion of Sanjaya in the top 10 seem entirely legitimate.  And speaking of Duran Duran, this is the first exhibit of me singing karaoke while wearing a Duran Duran tee shirt … 

May, 2005. … and here is the second. Simon & John & Nick & Andy (sniff) & Roger. With a jean jacket and a red SKIRT, and the DEVIL HORNS UP HIGH, everyone.  Rep-re-sent.  This was at Ole Morales Tacos in Alton, IL.  Because when you sing karaoke at a Mexican restaurant in suburban St. Louis, you must wear a tee shirt honoring one of the biggest British New Wave bands of the 80s. It’s a known rule.

July, 2006. Yes, that’s my Hanson tee that I still wear to this day.  And my faded jeans that may or may not have had a hole in the knee.  That’s also my karaoke machine on the fireplace, which brought joy to no fewer than two dozen high school friends at this impromptu lake house reunion one summer in Chattanooga.

September, 2007. Me and the lovely Dr. Christine belting out … I have NO IDEA.  ‘I Touch Myself,’ maybe?  I think?  No recollection of this happening, but I look vaguely terrified. And am so ready to run that I’ve brought my purse on stage with me. This was Molly’s pseudo-surprise 30th birthday party in Atlanta. What bar are we in?  No idea.  Probably a Mexican restaurant.

November, 2008. Back to Zappata’s.  Back to ‘Baby Got Back’ with Amy. I appear to be doing a Corona-enhanced jig.

March, 2010. At my friend Ken’s wife’s surprise 30th birthday party. I’m with Ken’s cousin Claudine here, scared out of my wits as (I think) I was just conned into singing ‘Party in the U.S.A.’ and had no interest in moving my hips like anything in a room full of relative strangers.  I sang roughly 75% of all karaoke songs performed that night.  Yeah, I’m that party guest.

May, 2010. With Cincy pals Kelly and Leslie.  Leslie is ROCKING. OUT.  Can’t remember what we were singing, but the KJ appears more interested in playing with a metal turtle than listening to us.

August, 2010.  Ahhh … Four Trey’s.  The pride of Roscoe Village, Chicago. Note the Christmas lights.  In August.  And the trash can right by my feet, suitable for karaoke-induced vomiting.  My Chattanooga-turned-Chicago-turned-back-to-Chattanooga friend Amy (different Amy) and I used to enjoy wowing the crowd with little-remembered Wham! ditty, ‘I’m Your Man.’  This photo was snapped during her solo.

September, 2010.  Woo hoo!  Live band karaoke at the 10 High bar in Atlanta for Molly’s 33rd birthday. Bringing a bit of Illinois to the Peach State, I attempted some Cheap Trick – ‘Surrender,’ to be specific.  Kind of difficult with a key change right off the turnbuckle.

December, 2010. Okay, so this may look like a hot mess, or a party for nerds in someone’s basement circa 1993.  Neither conclusion is exactly wrong.  This convergence of attitude and outfits was at Lincoln Karaoke, the Asian karaoke stop north of Chicago that features private rooms, neon tambourines, overpriced draft beer, Solo cups (apparently), and more fun than should be allowed on any given evening. We are all wearing our 90s finest (I’m in a plaid-on-plaid-on-long-underwear tribute to Angela Chase) and if you look closely, the song we’re all singing is the Spice Girls “Wannabe.”  From left to right, that’s Molly, me, Suzanne, Taylor, some rando dude that was in our group somehow but didn’t get the dress-code memo, and Christine.

June, 2011. Jump!  For my love!  JUMP. IN. I shall, friends.  I shall.  This is at my friend’s Julian’s lake house, the best adult playground on the planet. Some like the jet-skis.  Others, the shuffleboard table. I prefer the less potentially deadly entertainment of the do-it-yourself karaoke roulette wheel of shame. Sometimes you discover songs in your wheelhouse that should be brought out for public consumption.  Other times (e.g. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘You Make Lovin’ Fun’), you grow to accept that some songs should be left to the original artists.

August, 2011. St Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  One of two places I’ve done outdoor karaoke – the other was Vegas. Here, Leslie and I are attempting to rock right now with Rob Base (and DJ E-Z Rock’s) ‘It Takes Two.’ Was not the crowd for this attempt, folks.  Was not the crowd.

November, 2011. Alice’s, in a remote area in northwest Chicago.  Hipsters, bikers, and Bruno Mars enthusiasts, all friendly, all talented.  Karaoke Fred likes his singers talented, his crowd relatively sober (despite the bar being open until 4:00), and his inflatable instruments neon-colored.  This is a magical place, despite the trend of everyone getting just one chance per night to sing.  Here I’m doing a standby, JCM’s ‘Hurts So Good.’

December, 2011. The Blue Frog, a wee itty bitty, super classy, karaoke dive spot in Chicago’s Gold Coast.  In the right-hand side of the foreground, John and Lauren are intently reviewing the relatively pristine karaoke books.  I’m in the background in a silver skirt, rather dressy for the venue but it was my birthday (observed).  Later in the night, I would get my hair attached to those Christmas decorations you see behind my head there.  While singing Ke$ha. Not my proudest moment. The party don’t start till I walk in.

Thanks for indulging me in this trip down karaoke’s storied memory lane!  And this gallery, sadly, doesn’t even include shots of three of my karaoke mainstays – Lebo’s in Cincinnati (every Friday, 1998 – 2001), MLT (also Cincinnati, every Tuesday, same years), and Martini Bar (Chicago, many Thursdays in 2011).

And last but not least, I’d like to share  a photo of my pal Marilyn.  This is from a few weeks ago at Tostada’s (another Mexican restaurant!) in Cincinnati.  I first met Marilyn in the late 90s at Lebo’s, where she would sing anything from Reba McEntire to Joan Jett. She had her standard comfort-zone favorites, but also wasn’t afraid to add something new to the mix.  Everywhere she goes she makes fans and friends, and always has her supportive husband by her side, switching places at the table when she takes the stage  so that she can watch the singers the rest of the time but he can watch her when she’s got the mic. Marilyn has to be pushing 80 these days.  So as far as I can figure, and God willing, I’ve got at least 40 or so good years of John Cougar Mellencamp, Ke$ha, and Sir Mix-a-Lot ahead of me. Stay tuned.

Swing and a Miss (In Which I Explain World-Series Ticketing)

Attention, sports fans! Game 6 of the 2011 World Series was postponed due to rain.  The St. Louis Cardinals, already the second-winning-est franchise in MLB, are going for their 11th title. The Texas Rangers are striving for their first – for the second consecutive year.  None of this is relevant to the story at hand.

The last time my beloved Redbirds were in the World Series, it was 2006. Saddam Hussein was hanged.  Pluto stopped being a planet.  Michael Richards and Mel Gibson kinda really screwed up. Big Momma’s House 2 was tops at the box office.  Also?  Not relevant.

Here’s what is. Mr. Glib and I were full season-ticket holders so had tickets to all three World Series games that would be played in St. Louis: games 3, 4, and 5 (if necessary). Before the opening pitch of Game 1 even sailed across the plate, we decided we would sell our tickets to games 3 and 4 (as one has to do to help offset the cost of the entire rest of the season) and keep Game 5.

We didn’t think they would sweep their opponents (the Detroit Tigers) but thought there was slight chance that maybe – just maybe – they could squeak out a series-clinching victory in Game 5, their final St. Louis appearance.  We bet on this slight chance – and we were right.

How lucky!  How fortuitous!  I – a lifelong Cardinals fan – was going to be breathing the same air as the team as they WON the World Series for the first time in 24 years (shut up, Cubbies fans, I know that doesn’t seem like a long time to you).  I would see the player pile-up on the pitcher’s mound.  I would smell the faint twinge of cheap champagne.  Tears would roll down my face as I jumped for joy with 50,000 other faithful.

Oh.  Except all of that?  Happened for the lucky guys that were holding tickets to Game 4.  What the what?

Yes.  Just like this year’s Series, one of the 2006 World Series games was postponed due to rain.  It was Wednesday night’s game – Game 4.  Those holding tickets to Thursday night’s game – “Game 5” – went on Thursday, which was technically the fourth World Series game.  Mr. Glib and I went, saw Jeff Suppan pitch a stunner, and cheered as our team went up three games to one. A really fun evening.  Still not the clincher.  Still no champagne.

Those holding Game 4 tickets attended the make-up game, played on Friday. Technically the fifth World Series game.

It’s just like the regular season, I suppose … if you have tickets to the August 2 game and it is rained out, you don’t go to the game on August 3 – people with tickets to the August 3 game hold the seat rights for that one.  August 2 ticket holders will have rain checks for whenever the schedule is free to host a make-up game.  Makes sense.  But in the case of World-Series strategizing, it seemed woefully unfair.

Of course, this makes me sound like an ingrate.  My team still won the World Series (and they are in it again a mere five years later!).  I still got to see one winner on the way to this particular crown.  But I’d planned to see the game – folks.  Allow me a little grudge holding.

And oh yeah … go Cards!  I’ll join ya in the stands one of these days. I can feel it.

My Experience (In Which I Capture the Minutiae From 10 Years Ago)

Here is another recycled post that I wrote just under a year ago, on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.  

I feel a little (okay, a lot) cheap jumping on the “9/11 memories” bandwagon when there are so many more important stories to tell.  People who were there.  Children and wives and husbands and friends and colleagues who lost loved ones who were there.  The somehow fortunately fated dozens who narrowly avoided being there.  Those who have fought for our security and freedoms in the ensuing decade. 

I am none of these things and yet have my own story to tell.  Those who find it interesting (i.e., my parents) already read this last year, so now I am just capturing it for myself I suppose. Here goes it.  

Fair warning: my 9/11 story is boring. I was safely in the Midwest (St. Louis, Missouri), as were all of my family members (except for those who were in the Deep South).  The friends of mine that were in New York or D.C. were out of harm’s way and quickly able to communicate via email. And yet, I remember my personal minutiae of that day as though it were 10 hours ago.

I was telecommuting for a company in Ohio (how progressive of me!).  I had friends, but none that lived close by.  I was single although casually dating a someone who was polite and generous and kind.  And I didn’t care about him one bit.  So there’s the backdrop.

I was up early in my second bedroom-slash-office, hard at work writing about investment strategies. As was the custom at my old company, an email preceded by two asterisks (**) simply meant “the subject is all there is to the email; no need to open to read.”  Around 8:50, an email comes from our CEO: “**AA plane has flown into the World Trade Center”  Oh-kay.  Horrific pilot error, everyone thought.  American Airlines stock will plummet.  My God.  The poor passengers.  Unsettled, I continue to work.

Fifteen minutes later: “**A second plane has flown into the World Trade Center.”  What the f*ck. No idea what’s going on in my office hours away in another Midwestern state but I had to get to a television. I jogged out to my living room; phone begins to ring.  It’s my best friend, at her office about 20 minutes away, inquiring about whether our close Brooklyn-based friend worked in or near the WTC.  We didn’t think so; we never really thought about it or knew.

Ignoring my computer, I sit with phone to my head and television on.  The towers collapse. I decide I need to get the f*ck out of my apartment. Not for fear, but for human, non-digital interaction.

I drove my car on a beautiful early-fall day to a local pub, Tom’s Bar and Grill. Bellied up to the bar.  Ate a taco salad.  One beer and several iced teas. Chatted for 3-4 hours with those who had come to do the same.  Mostly middle-aged men.  One bankruptcy lawyer and his friend.  These were my new best friends, and I knew I’d never see them again. I didn’t.

The guy I was halfway dating (who, my middle-aged friends advised me, needed dumping based solely on my obvious apathy) called me from his business trip to the West Coast and said he’d be on a flight home the next day.  Had he even been paying attention to the news, I thought? He ended up stranded for three more days before renting a car and driving cross-country.

My home the afternoon of 9/11

My home the afternoon of 9/11

I didn’t work for the rest of the week as the stock markets were closed. I cleaned and shopped and cooked. I called everyone that meant anything to me, no matter if they lived in the impacted areas or were out of harms way.  I wore red white and blue topped by an old Yankees cap that had an embellished American flag. People looked at me sympathetically as though I were a legitimate New York resident on vacation in the heartland. I felt like a poseur.

I felt shaken and sad and terrified but strangely alive and inspired by the patriotism that swelled universally. Everyone exchanged those sad smiles like you do at funerals. The restaurants and parks were full of people appreciating the company of loved ones. Revenge wasn’t even on the table; solidarity and survival were paramount.

Writing this [last year, and updating it today], I can say without question that I have less hope today than I did on September 12, 2001. The palpable sense of unity and shared experience that emerged following such tragedy has been completely eradicated in such a relatively short time.  Divided we fall, people.