Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Fidget Fest

And March’s Most Annoying Metro North Commuter Award goes to…

Um, what? Not another annoying commuter post, you say? Oh yes, folks. You got a happy, feel good blog last week—filling my monthly quota. Saaarry. It’s angry blogger time (moohahahaha *holds pinky to mouth a la Dr. Evil*).

Now where was I? Oh yeah. Annoying commuter. So I’m sitting on the train minding my own business and trying to edit a dreadfully boring paper on business models, when “Fidget Woman” scrambles onto the train with an air of flustered self importance and dives into the seat next to me. She was all a flutter, trying to get herself “settled,” manically arranging and rearranging her several bags and zipping and unzipping her purse while simultaneously slurping the dregs of ice coffee from her plastic Starbucks cup, as if she was so busy and important that she had to multitask to sit down (even though she had an hour-long train trip ahead of her).

After finally achieving the appropriate balance for her pile o’ bags, she unzipped her purse and took out her cell phone. Aghast, I realized she had the key pad tones activated, and began to obsessively dial every contact in her phone while projecting a loud string of R2D2 beeps and chirps. After each call and subsequent irritating voicemail, she put her phone in her purse, zipped it, and took out a book, only to read maybe three lines and start the whole bewildering sequence again.

At one point, someone finally answered. The call went like this:

“Hi sweetheart? How are you my love?” (pause…)
“Wait…what? No…No…NO! Absolutely not. Why? Why do we have to? I just…NO. I can’t. I just can’t. I said No. Why can’t we do this tomorrow?” (pause…)
“Oh thank you. Thank you darling. Thank you so much for doing that.”

After this, she snapped her phone shut and returned to her book, where she must have ingested all of three words before unzipping her purse and grabbing her phone again.

“Really?” I finally said, turning to her. “You need the key pad tones blasting with each tap of your finger? You can’t just read your book? Why are you so fidgety? Read. Your. Book.”

OK, No, I didn’t say that. I just shook my head and tried to ignore her. And to put the literal icing on the cake, she then began to scratch her head profusely, a shower of powdered sugar scattering towards me and settling on my shoulders like freshly fallen snow.

Anyway there is a larger point to this rant. As in, why are people so fidgety? Are we so overstimulated by mixed and multimedia, the flickering lights of phones, computers and television sizzling our nerves, so that we can’t stand even one second of quiet solitude? A book doesn’t blink and beep enough so we get bored reading it? Man, I even know people who bring their phone into the bathroom to text (NOT me *cough*). Do all of these children really have ADD or is it just that they can’t sit still and focus unless being bombarded by the bright lights and loud noises of Call of Duty? In my opinion we all have freakin ADD! We can’t even sit on a train and read three lines from a book.

I suppose I should just carry a video ipod with me on the train. I could have put it on in front of Fidget Woman, and she, like a psychotic just given a shot of Haldol, would have settled into a quiet and zombie like state of submission.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Have a Nice Day

A cheesy Bon Jovi lyric to some, a staple American phrase to others, but ah…sometimes it's really nice to hear!

This weekend as the sun radiated warmth for the first time in months, I took my bike out on the local trail. No sooner had I started pedaling when I was bombarded by a steady stream of “Hi,” “How are ya?” and “have a nice day!” from the multitude of sun seekers who had crawled out of the woodwork.

Even the disgruntled teenage youths slouching down the path with hoodies and streams of cigarette smoke trailing behind them waved as I raced by…as did small children, already trained in the art of polite greetings. Time and time again I found that I had to turn back and shout “uh…oh…yeah…you too!” all too late, surprised and impressed at the unexpected friendliness that I’d missed in ten years of living abroad in a country where the best I hoped for was a cluck of the tongue and a scowl from other pedestrians.

And even though I was born and raised in the U.S., coming back after all these years, I still can’t get used to it…the friendliness. I remember staring in dumb confusion as a check out girl at the supermarket said “Hi, would you like paper, plastic or both?” in a chipper sing-song voice, or feeling slight shock at the waitress at Applebee’s who bellowed “Hi, my name is Wendy, and I’ll be your server today! Can I start you folks off with some drinks or appetizers?” or the unfounded suspicion that slides over me when people strike up convos in the elevator at work or tell me to have a good one as they step out onto their floor. What a difference from Spain, where, even in the most uppercrust of restaurants, it wouldn’t be shocking to merely get a bored “dime” (tell me) as a salutation, and where I was never greeted by any passerby, anywhere, except in annoyance.

“Yes, Americans say have a nice day, but it’s fake…superficial,” several Spanish friends said when they defended my comparison of New Yorkers to Barcelonians. And maybe that’s true. One had to work hard to break the ice in Barcelona, especially as a guiri (derogatory term for foreigner). In shops, I found I had to be aggressive and sometimes rude to get any respect, or speak Catalan instead of Spanish (instant bonus points from those shopkeepers who got a kick out of foreigners learning their language and not just Spanish!). But once that ice was broken, people tended to open up and really let you in. We in the U.S. may say have a nice day to anyone who will listen, but do we mean it?

I like to think that it doesn’t matter. When someone says it to me, it forces me to smile and say it back, and I get an instant “high” that lasts for a few minutes or sometimes longer. Does it matter if it’s superficial or fake if we start someone’s day off right? Make them feel important for a second? And my personal favorite—get someone to smile?

As I passed a family sitting by a pond on the bike trail, I suddenly heard a deafening chirping all around. The father, decked out in knee high baseball socks looked up and said: “I think it’s attack of the frogs!” followed by a dorky laugh. My first reaction was to make a face and say “Herdeeherrr” under my breath (thanks for that trait, Dad). But instead I let myself get drunk off the good vibe. “Yeah!” I said, smiling. “Crazy! Who knew there were so many frogs this season!” And even on the way home, when I met the same guy at the same pond, and he repeated verbatim his earlier comment about the frogfest, I smiled in acknowledgement and said “Yes, wild! Those crazy frogs! Have a great day!”

Monday, March 15, 2010

Chop You, Scott Conant!

Is anyone else getting tired of the “mean” judges on reality TV? Alright, I know, it’s reality TV, in and of itself a tiring but unfortunately inescapable part of life. Deconstructing all of its evils would be as useful as undertaking a literary criticism of Dan Brown or Ken Follet. Like anything the first time around, Simon Cowell’s brash, rude and painfully honest critiques on shows like American Idol used to be funny. Back in 2002. After all, people are morbidly fascinated with other people getting put down on national television—why else would Jerry Springer have become famous in the 90s?

Even over in Spain, where I lived for a decade, they have a version of Cowell on Operacion Triunfo, a sort of “Spanish Idol”. His name is Risto Mejide, called “Risto” as if Madonna or Cher. Always decked out in a leather jacket and big, designer, lightly tinted shades, his fights with the host and his tantrums on set are so pathetically planned and scripted that it's embarrassing to watch. He once told this poor, sweet, young (and pretty) girl that she had the most boring face he had ever seen. Is that really necessary? Simon Cowell is often funny because he hits the nail on the head with why a person's singing sucks…Risto is just a dick. Anyway I digress…back to America.

As we know, nowadays even quirky, random YouTube videos are eventually brought to the mainstream and beaten like a dead horse until there is nothing new or refreshing about anything, and Cowell, as with anything else, has become a product meant to be replicated…a string of pathetic, wannabe “bad ass” judges have followed in his wake. Enter Scott Conant.

Admittedly I only watched a recent episode of The Food Network’s Chopped for one reason: one of the chefs, Hannah Hopkins, is from Dish, my favorite local restaurant—a slice of funky Brooklyn in my one horse town. Everything from the mouth watering menu to the ever-changing local art adorning the walls, the dark mood lighting and the half price wine Wednesdays make Dish a divine dining pleasure. So when I read that Hannah would be on Chopped, I looked forward to her winning with ease.

The show, hosted by an apologetic Ted Allen, challenges four chefs (in this case Hannah, two cocky American men and one older French chef) to make a starter, main dish and dessert using a basket of random ingredients (a chicken liver, raspberries and asparagus, for example). With each round, the judges pick apart the dish, pointing out merits and mistakes, and remarking on how creative it is before axing one of the contestants. During round two on this particular episode, the chefs were charged with making a pasta dish with mackerel. This is where Scott Conant really became the raging a-hole he is. The chefs, racing against the clock to create the dish, all committed the deadly sin of undercooking their pasta.

Conant immediately began twitching in annoyance, as if having some kind of epileptic fit or allergic reaction. “Is this a joke?” he barked several times, muttering about how it “pissed him off.” He proceeded to humiliate and yell at the chefs, who stood with hanging heads and flushed faces as if in the principal’s office at school. When Chef Hannah was "chopped" in the second round, she left the show teary and defeated. My question is, why is this necessary? Are these chefs in boot camp with the U.S. Marines? Do the judges have a right to rip contestants to shreds and make them feel like complete shit just to feed their own bloated egos? As I angrily Googled Scott Conant later, I saw blogs and news feeds alike dedicated to his “cantankerous” rants. One was because a chef decided to include raw onions in his salad, something Conant apparently hates (the chefs not only have to throw together a meal with bizarre ingredients in limited time, but also have to read his mind as to his likes and dislikes). Another was because a chef had dared to serve string cheese and celery whole.

All I have to say is what a fah-reiking Divo. Anyway, I know today’s blog post is a personal one…not many of my (five) readers will have been to Dish or care about Conant’s treatment of one of my favorite chefs. But I'm sure you can commiserate on these cookie cutter judges that really need to get a hold of their rampant self-importance—or any such ego maniac (a few of my university professors were just as bad!). There is a difference between knowing your stuff and giving constructive criticism to push people and make them be better at what they do—and just being an annoying, bitchy, fartbag.

P.S. Despite my hatred for him, I plan to go to Scott Conant's restaurant on West 14th street, Scarpetta, to see if all of his hauteur is warranted and to make sure his pasta is fully cooked. If it is as good as the reviews say, maybe I’ll forgive him and become a flagrant hypocrite by raving about him in my next post.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Shiny Happy Blogger

It’s come to my attention from a “fan” or two whose names shall remain anonymous that I am, at times, an “angry blogger.” My first reaction to this was: “WTF Mofo!” I mean, angry, moi? No, no, no, no. Admittedly, I'm occasionally impatient, once in a blue moon irritated, and, rarely, antisocial, but most people who know me would say I’m almost always friendly, fun and kindhearted. Besides, it’s not my fault that people suck.

So this blog is going to be a happy blog. Yay! After all, what’s there not to be happy about? The sun is shining and it’s broken 50 degrees two days running! Yay! Two articles I've recently read suggest that red wine makes women gain less weight and might aid in digestion.** Perfect! Mamma needs a bottle o' wine! I’ve been in such a good mood, in fact, that last night on my train ride home, I did not awaken the chubby, sweaty, bald, snoring man who decided to lay on my shoulder for an hour and fifteen minutes, lifting his dome only to cough in my ear or as backlash from an extra violent snort. Anything for a fellow commuter! Nor did I scoff at the screaming babe whose wails pierced my ears as I commuted in this morning (I do believe, after all, that the children are our future).

And there are other reasons the glass is half full! The Olympics are finally over, I no longer have to pretend to be interested when people talk about them, no more ‘O Canada’, and my couch potatoism and crappy nighttime television programs can resume their rightful place in my life. The office tid-bitter is keeping his distance (for now). And, in possibly the best news of the week, my favorite actress, Sandra Bullock, who is so deep and multilayered, finally got the recognition she deserves at the Oscars this year! Whoohoo Sandy! Now if only James Cameron would be recognized for his killer dialogue...all would be well with the universe!

So…hmm…how bout them Mets? Look here--it’s just no use. Sometimes I like to vent, is all. And where better to do it? I started this blog for two reasons. One was to get my creative juices flowing. I do write other stuff you know. Novels and whatnot. And they’re not angry. The second was to catalogue observations that I thought might amuse or resonate with others. So, I observe a lot of annoying people. The world is full of them. Is annoyance too in the eye of the beholder? Do other people walk around smiling all day? Is it really just me? I guess what I'm trying to say is that I am an angry blogger, mmmkay? And while I most certainly will have happy blogging days, for now I just feel like bitching. Deal with it!

**Excuses to drink up:



Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Experts: Who needs 'em? No really...who?

The world is full of “experts” who are chomping at the bit to educate their fellow humans—from the annoying commuter who feels the need to explain to tourists that the Times Square Shuttle only has one stop, to the grandmother who feels it's her calling to tell you to shower before entering the pool at the gym, to the third time vacationer who insists on helping you navigate the hotel buffet. But did I ask you?

Last summer I went to watch Shakespeare in the park at Boscobel, a 19th century mansion overlooking the Hudson River. It was a gorgeous day, and before the sun sets and the play starts, ticket holders can picnic and enjoy a bottle of wine in the lush gardens. As I did just this, already embarrassed at the fold up table and chair I was assured was needed by another expert—my mother—I noticed a couple who had really gone all out. They looked like a Monet garden scene, with the woman in a long cotton dress and straw hat, a blue and white checkered tablecloth complete with mouth watering feast, and the backdrop of colorful roses exploding behind them. To my annoyance, they sat next to me when the play opened and the woman leaned over, invaded my personal space, and asked if I came here often. After admitting it was my first time, a look of flushed satisfaction came over her face as she proceeded to let me know “how things were done” here. She listed the plays she'd seen as if applying for a job as a Shakespeare analyst, described how the actors were quite raunchy and even made the tragedies seem funny, gave me the Cliff Notes version of the play we were about to see and provided the intricate details of her picnic dinner. I couldn’t even bother (lest I act as an expert myself) to correct her assumption of my literary ignorance—I had spent a full semester at University studying the complete works of Shakespeare and knew the plays inside and out. “And you might want to shrink down in your seat, because they pick people from the audience to help them act out!” she squealed unbecomingly. What intense satisfaction I felt, then, upon the realization later on that the people “picked out” of the crowd were obviously actors and had their lines scripted, so my overenthusiastic friend would NEVER be picked, raise her hand and whinny as she may.

Flash forward to this weekend. I decided to try Pilates for the first time at a local gym. An unsocial person by nature, my plan was to go 15 minutes early to get a good seat and to avoid having to talk to the regulars. Foiled again. As I sat minding my own business, a middle age woman expert came over to me and said “You got the wrong rubber band.” I wanted to say "And you have a thorny rose tattooed to your leg, but I'm not complaining." Instead I gave a half-hearted thanks and exchanged my rope for the correct, plastic Thera-Band. I resumed my position when I heard: “Oh, and, we usually turn our mats vertically.” Swinging my head to the right I scrunched up my face and said: “What?” to try to ward off her unwanted advice. “Otherwise there won’t be room for everyone else.” Before I could move, an older man (think Chris Elliot from his Get a Life days, but gray) came in and shouted “Oh boy, a Newbie!” to my distress. Walking over to where I was sitting, he circled around like a lost dog trying to pick up his poop scent. Finally, the woman expert leaned towards him and in an obvious whisper, said: “She took your seat.” I stood up dramatically, moved my mat into vertical position and gave her evils while Chris Elliot squeezed in next to me.

At that moment I vowed that I would kick some Pilates booty, Newbie or not! And boy, did I. As Chris groaned to my right and the lithe, scrawny ass teenager cried to my left, I pushed myself to the limit, with a smile (grimace) on my face. But with every move we made, Chris felt the need to give me a tip (You may not want to use the band on your first day, I betcha don’t know what we do with the pole…), or ask if I was regretting my decision to join the class.

At one point as we lay on our sides, facing each other, doing leg lifts, Chris’s gelatinous belly fell out of his shirt and sank onto the floor like a half filled water balloon. “Gonna come back for more?” he said through clenched teeth as sweat slipped off the remaining “island” of hair on his head and invaded his eyes. I ignored him and kicked my legs higher.

At the end of class, Chris slinked over to me and again asked if, being new, I would dare to try the class again. Looking around I noticed he was the only man, and picturing his lame attempts at the moves and his obviously out of shape physique (despite being the mayor of the class) it occurred to me that he was only there to meet women. “Bring it on,” I hissed.**

**Actually I said "Yes!" followed by a dorky giggle but I thought my other ending was more dramatic.
***As a side note, it’s been several days since I can walk. But we won’t mention that to Chris or any of the other experts in the class.