Friday, January 29, 2010

Chatty Taxis

After working abroad for ten years, I missed the Metropolitan Museum, ubiquitous Asian nail salons and Lenny’s turkey sandwiches. But perhaps the most important: a quiet taxi ride. In Barcelona, taking a taxi was like being a therapist for ten minutes, as I heard all about drivers’ woes, affairs with Cuban women, how much they hated the PP (partido popular, the right-wing Spanish political party), and especially, upon hearing my accent, long tirades against our former President.

If the animated chatter wasn’t enough, taxi drivers in Barcelona often smoked with the windows rolled up, or had a drink while on duty. One driver complained about the new strict breathalyzer limit. “I can’t even have oil and vinegar on my salad,” he shouted, throwing his arms in the air, and off the wheel, while driving. Another got angry when I suggested a specific route and asked if I’d like him to pull over and let me drive. After a sheepish “No,” he offered me an olive branch: “Hey, my son is about your age. Maybe you could go out with him? Best way to learn English is an American girlfriend!”

I was happy to be back in the New York, where I’m lucky if the cabbie mumbles an acknowledgement when I get into the car. Sure, they zigzag across the Manhattan grid as if on crack and the leather seats spew funky smells, but NYC cabs are usually fast, efficient and quiet. Whispering in mysterious languages in their terminator-like ear attachments, they rarely want to talk to me – and the cool new (at least, new for me) TV screens in the back give me an excuse to zone out.

That is, until recently. Two weeks ago I was heading downtown when the white-haired Jamaican driver turned around and said: “Are you a movie star?” Flattered, I smiled and said I wasn’t. “You look like movie star,” he insisted. I blushed and said, “I wish.” Suddenly it was as if I had slipped him and extra 20 bucks to be my own personal Dr. Phil. “How can you say you are not a star? You have to believe you are a superstar. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?” This went on for the rest of the ride and ended with me shouting, “OK, OK! I am a superstar!” As I got out of the car, he asked me if I was married or looking for a man. Disturbed, I passed him a five dollar tip through the window and politely declined.

A few days later I hopped into a cab in Battery Park to go to the Upper East Side. It was a long ride on the FDR and I planned to close my eyes and sleep. As soon as we set off, the dishevelled Eastern European driver started to drop F-bombs. I checked if the barrage was directed at me – but he didn’t seem to be talking to anyone in particular and was not wearing a Bluetooth or cell phone wire. Was he angry to have to drive so far uptown, or was he suffering from a flare-up of Tourette’s syndrome? The insults got louder until, much to my relief, we pulled up at 77th and York. As I gathered my cash to pay, he turned to me with a genuine smile and said, “It’s supposed to be nice out later. Let’s hope so. Have a really nice day.”

And just the other day I had a disgruntled chauffeur with a serious grudge against the NY lotto. “People don’t need that much money,” he insisted. “Why do you need 100 million dollars? What could you possibly spend it on? It will make you crazy. One, two, even three million, and maybe you are still Okay. More than that – you’re crazy. I know a guy drove a cab for years, then he won the lotto. You know what happened to him? He’s crazy. Spread it around, I say – give more people a chance. I hate the stinkin’ lottery.”

“Yes, it’s better not to play,” I agreed, desperate to end the conversation.

“Not to play? This is crazy talk. You have to play to win!”

Maybe I'm just moody and antisocial or have no patience. Possibly I'm a hypocrite because plenty of cab drivers have had to suffer my annoying cell phone calls to friends, relating last night’s drinkfest and subsequent hangover, the excruciating pain of my recent bikini wax or other mundane details of my life. Or I’ve changed since living abroad. Whatever the case, I never thought I’d yearn for a spin in Barcelona, where at least I could pretend that I couldn’t speak the language. And with the new laws preventing cabbies from chatting on their cell phones, I think there's gonna be a whole lot more talkin going on!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Back to Braces

Hi, my name is Amy M.C., I’m 33 years old and I am about to undergo orthodontic treatment…again. Why would I subject myself to something so unsightly and embarrassing at my age? Am I so vain (I probably think this song is about me)? Or am I just lame?

When I told my family I was getting braces again, my brother asked if I was going to go back to high school while I was at it. However, one need only look at Exibit A (the x-ray above) to see what has induced me to fill my mouth with metal at my age. Apparently, I am a vampire rabbit.

I first got braces when I was ten years old. A complete hypochondriac (I secretly hoped to break my leg so I could go to school with crutches. Why? Ask my therapist), I coveted braces like other girls my age coveted Dorothy’s red ruby slippers. I would unfold paperclips and pretend I had a retainer. When asked if I preferred clear or metal, I shouted “Metal!” with glee.

Five years, a night brace, rubber bands and constant teasing later, I was ready to take a chisel to my teeth and remove them myself. My eighth grade science teacher actually asked me why I would ever wear braces to begin with. According to him, only television personalities and models should bother—I was draining my parents’ bank account for nothing. I wonder how Mr. K. would have felt if his mother had asked him to “tuck in his teeth” before taking photos, or if being called Bugs Bunny on a regular basis wouldn’t have persuaded him to bite the bullet, despite not being a male model. And male model, he was certainly not (*shiver in disgust at sudden image of Mr. K naked*).

In fact, in one of my more traumatic memories, I was standing at the tether ball court watching a boy play at summer camp. I wasn’t annoying anyone, but apparently my huge gapped teeth were because he sneered and said “What are you lookin at bucktooth!” (Only one was buck?) Don’t feel bad, friends, payback came some six years later when the same boy, now a waiter, hit on me at a party he was working at and I had fun reminding him who I was before happily declining his offer).

So, I was ecstatic when, at age 14, the braces came off and I was suddenly a ravishing beauty complimented continuously for my sumptuous smile (kidding). But over the years, my irksome ivories have defiantly moved out of position, much to my distress. And yes, I am vain – why shouldn’t I be? If you spent your early insecure childhood with buck teeth and a mullet, you’d want to make the most of your “attractive” years too!

So that brings me to where I am today. Having gone to see an orthodontist, where I underwent a humiliating photo analysis, I have decided to take the plunge. I will spare you, and myself, the other photos taken during the session (The horror!) And despite the fact that the dentist told me I could surgically move my jaw forward or take some teeth out to push back my prominent overbite and really prevent me from looking like Eleanor Roosevelt, I am sticking to just a small, 6-month treatment to straighten these wayward fellas out, during which my friends, coworkers and loved ones shouldn’t be surprised or take it personally if I decline to smile.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Earwig’s Delight: Not for the Scatologically Squeamish

Here are two conversations I earwigged this morning as I made my way into Manhattan. The first is not for the faint of heart, so if you are baffled by bowel movement talk and all of its intrigues, skip down to the bonus (albeit less shocking) conversation.

Convo 1. As I made my way to the shuttle this morning, I found myself the unwitting witness of a young couple talking about a bathroom crisis. You may wonder just how close I was to be able to hear such an intimate conversation that was clearly not meant to be shared with 9 am commuters, however, dear reader, I certainly was not hovering between them. They were not whispering…oh, no. They were neither discreet, nor quiet:

Girlfriend: Oh my god, I’m going to crap myself.
Boyfriend: So, let’s go find a bathroom.
Girlfriend: (aghast). EWA. Not here.
Boyfriend: Where then, in your pants? You use public bathrooms all the time!
Girlfriend: (hissing loudly, clearly annoyed) To PEE. Not ‘the other’. And then I can stand.
Boyfriend: So, stand then!
Girlfriend: Then I won’t have leverage.
Boyfriend: (clearly fed up by the diva-like behavior) Jesus Christ, just go poop already!

I didn’t get the conclusion of this emergency, as just then, the Ebony Hillbillies, my absolute favorite street performers, began doing their thing—their loud and crazy country instruments flushing the poop talk away.

Convo 2. On the shuttle, I grabbed a seat and gasped as a very large object suddently appeared in my face, moving toward me at an alarming rate. It was a backside, and it belonged to an obese, middle-age woman who wedged herself into the two chairs next to me. I thought she was alone until she leaned over me, her watermelon breasts settling into my lap, and spoke to an equally large (younger) version of herself (daughter?) and a young, thin, hipster boy standing at her side (boyfriend? brother?).

Big Mamma: We gotta get him some new shoes.

(mother, daughter, boyfriend and me all look downwards. Said shoes were reminiscent of the popular 80s Keds sneakers, color blue, with various gaping holes revealing dirty socks).

Boyfriend: yeah, I know. But I, like, love these shoes.
Girlfriend: You, like, need titanium shoes.
Boyfriend: Yeah, I, like, saw these cool sneakers that had, like an inner and outer layer, that kind of like, prevented holes.
Girlfriend: Your lips are chapped.
Boyfriend: I know.
Girlfriend: I have stuff, like, for your lips.
Boyfriend: No, it’s ok.
Girlfriend: You’re just going to endure it?
Boyfriend: (shrugs, beginning shades of annoyance).
Girlfriend: Is it a germ thing?
Boyfriend: Uh…I just don’t really, like, like it.
Girlfriend: But more because of the germs?

Instant relief when the train stopped at Times Square so I could escape the tag-team accosting of this poor boy. Our car opened in the narrowest part of the platform (about half a foot wide). As she attempted to exit, Big Mamma turned to me and said, “looks like we aren’t exiting here,” in annoyance and pushed past me to the second car where the platform could accommodate her size. Begging to differ, I stepped off where I was.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Inappropriate Undershirts

We’re having a heat wave! But not on the streets of New York, where 44 degrees admittedly feels like a spring afternoon despite the fact that it's the dead of winter! Oh no, it's in my office, where bodies, computers and fluorescent lighting are mingling with a defunct heating system and producing a sauna effect. However, we are not walking around clad in plush towels in a David Barton gym, more’s the pity. We are dressed for the subarctic cold in preparation for the normal Monday morning cold-after-the-weekend office. What is one to do?

This morning when I woke at 6 am, the wind screaming through the skeletal trees and the sky hazy with the suggestion of snow, I wrongly chose the heaviest of my wool sweaters and pulled it over a thin, ratty, brick colored long sleeve t-shirt, my thinking being that nobody was going to see what I was wearing underneath anyway. After ten minutes at my desk with menopause-like hot flashes and beads of sweat beginning to form around my hairline like a cold drink left in the hot sun (so unattractive), I ripped my sweater off, revealing my ugly shirt complete with shelf-like padded bra embarrassingly protruding and perfect “flabs” a-flaunting. One positive note: The "Serial Tid-Bitter" from my office (see blog post Bit Fest) is steering clear of my desk.

It reminds me of another time I wore inappropriate underclothes when flying to San Francisco a few years ago on Virgin America. A fearful flyer, I have long since dressed as comfortably as possible in preparation for the drug-induced coma that allows me to fly without screaming “We’re all gonna die!” So, on the day in question, I donned some sweats, a white tank top (sans brassiere) and a zip up sweatshirt to hide the fact that I was freestylin’. Of course that day I got called off the line and was told to remove my sweatshirt and stand with my hands out (so could not cover up), allowing my fellow passengers and the disgruntled security guard to see my (meager) goods.

Much like wearing grandma undies or not shaving can turn an otherwise singleton night into meeting the man or woman of your dreams (to your complete distress), wearing a crappy undershirt will summons the powers that be and create a situation calling for an unfortunate unveiling. Let this be a lesson…always wear underclothes that can stand on their own if you are suddenly asked to prove you are not a terrorist, have a shitty office heater that threatens to suffocate you, or experience menopausal flashes, panic attacks, or an unexpected love fest.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Earwig’s Delight: Key-Books

As I stood on the train platform this morning, shivering in the upstate New York cold, I halted my teeth chattering just long enough to overhear a conversation that kept me smirking all the way to Manhattan. The players are two men in their late 30s, shootin’ the shite in between coughing up masses of phlegm and spitting on the tracks (I know, I know…I’m sorry). For clarity, I will call them “Beard Boy” (man with salt-flecked, red bushy beard) and “Wool Hat” (man with army-print ear flapped hunter’s hat).

Beard Boy: “Oh man, I need to get me one of those e-book thingers.”

Wool Hat: “e-book?” (face scrunched up in annoyance/disbelief).

Beard Boy: (Here I assume he provided a definition of an e-book [thinger], but unfortunately, a passerby chose this moment to cough in my face, and thus the keen insight was forever lost).

Wool Hat: “Oh like one of those ‘Kinders’? Yeah, but you can only read books with them. They need to make it so it has everything a computer does.”

Beard Boy: “Would it have as much memory though?”

Wool Hat: “Dunno.”

Beard Boy: “Cause I need memory.”

Wool Hat: “Do ya?”

Beard Boy: “Ah, yeah. Gotta have memory. I don’t have enough of my own memory. Heck, I can’t even find my keys!”

Wool Hat: “Where’s My Keys!” (said in deep, exaggerated voice, while hopping from foot to foot, palms facing upwards, giving his rendition of Beard Boy looking for his keys).

Beard Boy: “That’s what that e-book should do, find your keys!”

Wool Hat: “Yeeeaaaaaah!” (proverbial lightbulb going off).

Beard Boy:That’s what would sell.”

Wool Hat: “Bzzzzzzz, bzzzzzzzz. You’re keys are here!” (can only assume this is the ‘Kinder’s’ way of getting its owner’s attention).

Unfortunately, just as this stimulating conversation was getting good, the train rolled in and we climbed into different cars. I really think they were on to something.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Fat is the New Thin

Last night the Biggest Loser was on NBC. And although I’m feeling slightly embarrassed to admit that it’s one of my favorite reality television programs, at least there are only five of you reading this blog who now know my dirty little secret. In my defense, the contestants on this show are actually doing something positive—losing up to a full person worth of weight or more and getting healthy the hard way (aka: diet and exercise) is to be applauded.

But during this season’s premier, as I simultaneously gawked at the three people who weighed A QUARTER TON while shoving Magnolia cupcakes down my throat, I started to really think about obesity outside of the entertainment value of watching fat people haul ass to get fit. I mean, it is, after all, an epidemic. Forty million people in America are afflicted—way more than the measly swine flu everyone is in an uproar about—and yet nobody is running scared. Would we be more frightened of obesity if it was contagious?

This week I tried to observe just how bad it is. And boy, is it bad. People on the train who barely fit in their seats (one woman across from me had to sit in a reclining position because of her mounds of flesh and chins…chins that surely collapse her airway while sleeping, causing sleep apnea), movie goers whose cheeks spill out and under the sides of the chairs, children who already weigh a few hundred pounds (who is feeding them?), and a scary abundance of motorized scooters meant for the elderly or disabled but used by obese people to get around more easily (and not have to walk). And all you have to do is go to any Walmart to see a line of obese and overweight Americans in all of their splendor.

Perhaps I sound cruel, and if so, forgive me. My father is a “weight-ist” who has been drilling into my head since I was a child just how terrible obesity is. Once in the car he shouted “There goes the fattest ass is Mount Kisco!” to a poor pedestrian walking by. He later saw it was his cousin. All jokes aside, and forgiving my father for this hang-up, what the hell is going on in America to make us so flippin’ fat??

1. Bigger is Better: We think it about our cars, food portions and houses. Why not about our bodies? We’re the country that proudly came up with the SuperSize concept, after all.

2. Fast Food Nation: Across America, “real restaurants” (locales that only exist in one place and serve fresh, cooked-on-the-premises products) are an endangered species, while opportunistic fast food chains and strip malls continue to sprout up, targeting children, busy people and low income families. And now that New York provides calorie counts, I am flabbergasted by what is in some of the food I grew up on (Friendly’s for example, where one is hard pressed to find any dish under 1,000 calories [half of your daily intake!]).

3. Go Gluttony!: Instead of condemning it, we celebrate it in shows like the Food Network’s Man v. Food.

4. Clueless: Personally, I had no idea I was drinking 400 calories when I ordered my daily Chai Latte, and I have a sneaking suspicion I’m not alone. Every season on the Biggest Loser, when they show the contestants how much sugar they typically ingest in one year (with their SuperSize sodas and the like), they are shocked to tears. We just don’t seem to know any better.

5. Laziness: According to the American Heart Association’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2010 update(1), inactivity is one of the main things weighing America down (no pun intended).

6. We’ve Let Ourselves Go: A 10-year longitudinal study on women’s health from the School of Human Movement Studies at the University of Queensland(2), claims that women begin to gain weight when they get married and have children, more so than single women. A women’s health specialist commenting on the study suggests that single women are thinner because they are still trying to attract a mate. (Looking at some husbands I know, I’d like to wager a bet that men pack it on just as much as women when they’re comfortably “settled”). But just because we’ve met someone, does this mean we should stop caring about our looks and health? Why define ourselves by our marital or relationship status? How many pants sizes do we change before we realize we’ve stopped giving a crap?

7. We’re so busy: With work, partners, kids and Facebook’s Farmville, we have no time to cook proper meals and go to the gym. But is that really true? There are plenty of easy, fresh and healthy recipes (check that would take less time than defrosting those french fries. And insurance companies and businesses would do good to think about installing prevention measures for busy employees as an incentive to make time (points for good health, installing gyms in the workplace or offering discounts at local gyms). They would save a lot of money in obesity-related illnesses and missed days of work (and so would we!).

8. I’ll Just Get Gastric Bypass: Instead of working on weight issues the old fashioned way, more and more people I know seem to be opting for surgery as an “easy out”. It’s not easy…aside from the mortality rate from gastric bypass (about 1 out of 350 people), this procedure comes with a slew of complications (anemia, early osteoporosis, “dumping syndrome”)(3). There is no magic pill, we actually have to get off the couch and do the work(4).

9. We Feel Entitled: We’re free to be fat!! How dare airlines charge us for two seats! ("Fat rate, or flat rate, ma’am")(5). Who cares if the poor person next to us is tittering on the arm rest from lack of space?

10. It’s the Norm: Fat is the new thin. It’s not something to be ashamed about when everyone around you looks exactly the same.

I’m sure I’m just grazing the tip of the iceberg with the reasons Americans are fat, and it’s all been said before, but I just think we really need to start giving this disease the respect and fear it deserves. It’s important, it’s deadly and it’s spreading at an alarming rate. Put it up there with anthrax poisoning or freaking Ebola! We should all be running towards the gym! Alternatives to joining the gym could be yoga classes, kickboxing (added bonus, anger management), outdoor fitness (, conservation volunteering, cycling or anything else that you enjoy doing (so as not to give up at the first drop of sweat).

1. AHA’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2010 update


2. Brown WJ, Hockey R, Dobson AJ. Effects of having a baby on weight gain. Am J Prev Med 38(2), 2010. (

3. Gastric Bypass Surgery: Risks. The Mayo Clinic.


4. Health Club Pays Off! Man Loses 100 Pounds in One Year.

5. Obese have right to two airline seats.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Bit Fest

Workplace violence or bullying is a hot topic but why doesn’t anyone talk about being bit-slapped? The first time I experienced it several years ago, I thought it was just Sandy*, a coworker with a personality disorder that forced her to relinquish a string of boring and inane “tid-bits” to anyone with a pulse, regardless of their indifference. But now I see that every office has one (or multiple) “bitters**”—people who feel a divine calling to relate the trivial, random, excruciatingly boring (or excessively intimate) details of their lives to your horror and discomfort (while not caring about or listening to anything you have to say in return).

I’ve tried lowering my head and typing to send off signals that I am working, to no avail. Like a well-trained tracker, my ears perk up when I hear the tell-tale footsteps of a bitter in hot pursuit of a bittee, making me stoop to jumping up to use the bathroom or faking a phone call to avoid the avalanche. (As one bitter told me when he blatantly interrupted my hectic work day to tell me about his love life: “I know you’re busy but just thought you’d want the update.”)

Does this happen to anyone else? Or am I just too nice? Open? Welcoming? Is there a sign on my forehead reading: Bitters Come Forth and Bit Me?

I’ve written a list in order to classify the different types of tid-bits, which I hope will help me first understand, and then successfully avoid, the bitters in my life.

*Name changed to protect the bitter
**Not to be confused with cool, fun workmates who you enjoy having a “two-sided” conversation with.

Types of Tid-bits

1. The Quota Bit: Usually thrown out at random, regardless of the topic of conversation at hand, or in a frenzy at the end of lunch in order to ensure the daily tid-bit quota is fulfilled (see number 10).
2. G/B-Bit: Any tid-bit of or relating to a person’s girlfriend or boyfriend. Particularly irritating when said significant other has no name, but referred to as “my boyfriend said this, my girlfriend thinks that…”
3. Recycled Bit: Any tid-bit that has been heard before, recycled and used again for lack of new tid-bits. Sometimes slightly changed to disguise the reusage.
4. Floater Bit: A random and off topic tid-bit that is thrown out in a desperate attempt to interrupt normal flowing conversation and draw attention to the bitter. Usually results in bewildered silence from the bittees.
5. Rescue Bit: Not given by the bitter, but offered by another coworker to try to distract attention from the embarrassing Floater Bit.
6. Boomerang Bit: A tid-bit that just keeps coming back, even when the conversation has moved away from the original tid-bit.
7. Serial Bit: Any tid-bit that, like a soap opera, comes in daily installments.
8. Work Bits: tid-bits that relate to tales of woe in the workplace, heroic martyrdom in the face of impossible demands and huge workloads.
9. Bargain Bit: Any tid-bit relating to money, especially the saving of, or fear of spending too much of.
10. 4th of July Bits: The grand finale! Tid-bits that are given at a machine-gun-like pace after a weekend trip or similar event that generates a backlog of bits.
11. Bait Bit: designed to make the bittee take the bait and respond: "Oh really, why is that then?"
12. Bottom of the Barrel Bit: Makes you seriously wonder WHY the bitter felt that this was need to know information. Real life example: “My deodorant flaked all over me this morning.”

Monday, January 4, 2010

Post-Holiday Annoyance

Tis the season for post-holiday depression, and judging from the mass of eye-sagging zombies on the train to Manhattan this morning, I’d say there is a greater chance of suffering from it than swine flu. And it’s no wonder people are twitching with post traumatic stress. For weeks we’ve been corralled into roped off checkout lines at department stores while buying gifts we know nobody will like, spending crazy amounts of money despite the "current economic climate", dealing with irritating family members en masse, taking “stock” of our lives and feeling bad about where we are, eating obscenely and then moaning about our love handles, and so on. Yet year after year we put ourselves through this ridiculous frenzy only to come out feeling like complete shit. And no, I am not just a sour, angry person who opened a blog to complain to anyone who will listen—I usually love the holidays! But this year I’m just not feelin’ it people!

My affliction, however, is slightly different. Rather than depression, I have post-holiday annoyance. Things that I usually tolerate are resulting in visions of going postal dancing around in my head. Today on the train, for example, I noticed a girl smiling dreamily into space while looking at her blackberry and I was horrified to see my reflection of utter disgust in the train window. I could bombard you with more examples, but I don’t want to dwell or bore. Instead I think I’ll narrow it down to sounds.

Top Ten Annoying Sounds (in no particular order of annoyance)

1. sniffling, sneezing, coughing*, especially the martyrs who come to work doing so while simultaneously spreading their germs across the office
2. eating an apple
3. the repetitive scrapes of a spoon against a plastic yogurt container as one tries to get every last bite*
4. slurping on coffee
5. multiple people typing busily away on a computer*
6. heels clicking with self-importance across a hard floor
7. children screaming, crying, whining or talking in general
8. munching on noisy snacks (mixed nuts and the like)
9. crinkling the popcorn bag at movies
10. Rachel Ray’s voice

*star signifies hypocrisy.