Monday, May 23, 2005

Like Coked-Up Kangaroos

Stumbled into work this morning with very little sleep, purple fingernails, and a completely blissed-out attitutde toward life in general. Call it ridiculous, call it shallow -- but spending two hours within spittle distance of Bono will do wonders for one's general outlook on life. Especially if one is a red-headed midget with OCD tendencies exponentially larger than her own little self.

We had general admission tickets to last night's U2 show at the Wachovia Center in Philly.
Possessing such coveted tickets comes with certain obligations -- mainly getting to the venue wicked early to line up with other yahoos in hopes of getting prime standing location. We arrived at 3:00 for a doors open time of 6:00. We were conveniently in direct sunlight the whole time, had to bolt down some Wawa hoagies to sustain ourselves for the rest of the evening, and once inside, had five more hours of standing in a fixed spot to look forward to before the concert would be over. All the while we made friends with the other people who, while all very nice, insisted there was nothing abnormal about this behavior.

While I cannot vouch for the sanity of such an assessment, I will say that we did indeed score a great position three people deep from the right side of the ellipse (if the preceding sentence made no sense to you -- congratulations on having a life. To translate -- we done saw Bono right close, we did). The crowd at that proximity is delightfully wacko. Oh, they're polite, mind you. No slam dancing at a U2 show thankyouverymuch. But there is an extraordinary amount of hopping. After awhile the hopping becomes second nature, and before I knew it I realized I'd spent the bulk of the evening jumping straight up and down like a coked-up kangaroo. Slow songs offer little respite, as we were usually compelled to keep both arms suspended aloft in a manner not entirely unlike some strange Christian evangelist revival. I was strangely okay with this.

I shan't bore you with any more details of the show (though if I knew for certain that we were of like minds, oh how I could bore you with details). When we jumped in the car at 11:30pm to drive back to DC, my legs, arms, voice and head were decidedly on strike. I was stariving, dehydrated, soaked with sweat, and my contacts felt like sandpaper. Physically, I felt miserable. I resolved to do things differently for the next general admission show, for which we have tickets in October.

I will line up even earlier, I will. I will stand even longer, I shall. If arriving at the venue six hours before the band takes the stage only gets you in the third row, then clearly I must step up my game.


Monday, May 16, 2005

Kindred Spirits

From the Washington Post
I'll Take Manhattan -- Every Time
By Maura Kelly

I was getting ready to take a two-year sabbatical from New York for an all-expenses-paid master's program -- the only thing that would ever get me to leave Manhattan -- when I rediscovered Joan Didion's book "Slouching Towards Bethlehem." I flipped to the final essay, "Goodbye to All That," written nearly four decades ago, after she'd dumped Manhattan for Los Angeles. "Everything that was said to me I seemed to have heard before," she complained.
"There were certain parts of the city I had to avoid." Worst of all, she whined, there were no "new faces" in the New York.

Joan Didion, you fool! I thought.

If I were in New York right now, I would listen to all the conversations. I would visit every neighborhood. I wouldn't avoid a single Upper East Side blue-haired society lady, a single toothless street bum, a single street-corner saxophonist. What I wouldn't give for the faces! For a downtown coffee shop scene. Here's what might happen if I went to Doma, my favorite cafe, off Seventh. The Berlin girl with dyed orange hair behind the counter would hand me a Chinese cookie fortune with my change: "To affect the quality of the day is no small achievement." I'd look up from it, eyes wide, delighted; she'd wink and say, "Next?" Smiling, I'd move to a window seat and eavesdrop on a huge, pale, dark-haired man talking to a petite well-coiffed blonde. (An Internet date?) "My family moved here from Russia during the Cold War," he'd say. "Kids called me 'Commie,' thought I had nukes in my lunch box. I was 5. Funny, right? So I became a comedian." A shirtless man would walk by outside with a huge pair of feathered white wings on his back. (An extra from the set of the "Dogma" sequel?)

But no. I'm in a small southwestern Virginia city. Know what I avoid here, Joan Didion? The Valley View Mall, whose very existence has destroyed the vista it boasts of. The Wal-Mart, with the gun department next to the jewelry counter. The omnipresent sports bars, where people in business casual talk about nothing but college football. This town ain't for me because there's no place that gives me the simple hope that I could meet someone here who will change my life. In the Apple, I always knew that, at any moment, I might bump into some bewitching stranger.

Of course, New York could have burned me, like Didion. It could have destroyed me -- almost did. (Anything worthy of being deeply loved should have that power.) I indulged myself with booze and drugs for a long time before finally saying goodbye to all that, after some close calls. Like the time the guy I was flirting with at Jet Lounge bit my cheek so hard that I left with a nasty purple welt. Or those days I woke up next to a stranger. Or the morning someone I couldn't remember had apparently been in my room the night before -- as evidenced by the pile of change and a black lighter he'd left behind on my desk.

But New York also helped me survive -- bringing me comfort in the form of its citizens, appearing like benevolent gods during my darkest moments. As they did when I was walking home from a party late one night -- drunk, alone and broken-hearted. Drifting through a shadowy, lonely part of Hell's Kitchen, I heard two thuggish voices behind me.

I began to think saving on a cab had been a very stupid decision.

"He's gonna go nuts when he sees," one guy said.

"He's not gonna believe what we did," another agreed. "I mean, damn! Look at this thing!"

A gun, I thought as their footsteps got closer.

My heart was thundering in my ears by the time they flanked me. Too petrified to move, I stopped and stared down at my scuffed black boots.

"A lady like you shouldn't be walking by herself,"one said.

"Where you headed?" the other said.

That's when I looked up.

They were holding an arc of variegated balloons over me.

"It's beautiful!" I shouted.

"For our little brother, in a wheelchair," the first one said.

Then, keeping the rainbow force field around me, they escorted me to my door.

There have been so many other strangers in New York who have blessed me, saved me, become friends. Those people, immortalized in my memory, make the city the poem it is. Like the cabbie who gave me a free ride one icy New Year's morning when I had lost my wallet, my friends and my way. The middle-aged businessman who yanked me out of an oncoming car's path, saving my life before disappearing back into the Times Square mob. Or gravel-voiced Willy: He helped me quit smoking by keeping my pack in his register at the Abingdon Square deli and doling out cigarettes to me, one a day. (He died in 2003 of emphysema.) Or Maureen, the old woman in a wheelchair with a face like it was made of cheesecloth -- yet what a new face! -- who called out to roomful of strangers in an ATM center, asking for a volunteer to withdraw money from her account. I obliged; we had breakfast; she told me she moved to New York after she became crippled because it was the easiest place in the world to get around. Or the hipster with a soul patch and Marc Jacobs suit who slid into my booth one night at the M&R Bar and informed me "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" was playing, so I couldn't leave. Dinner followed; then a romance; now a comradeship that's lasted for five years. And there's the bright-eyed writer I discovered at a Williamsburg art opening in the eleventh hour of my New York tenure; we've been corresponding about the meaning of life since.

Yep, I'd tell Joan Didion, "Too bad you didn't see the people who could help keep you strong -- even if only by watching them smile at you on the subway and letting the corners of your mouth curl up in return. Then you'd never have stopped loving the city."

In a couple of autumns, if you notice what seems like a rough beast slouching towards Manhattan to be born again, look again. It's probably just me, returning.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

Educating Mom

Considering her darling, brilliant daughter devotes so much time, attention and ducats to a silly Irish rock band, I thought it would be a nice gesture to take Mom along to the first of, er, several, U2 shows that I am lucky enough to attend this year. So, leaving the menfolk to fend for themselves on the mean streets of South Philly, Mamasita and I proceeded to the Wachovia Center last night to rock.

Props must be given where props are due, for Mom spent the preceeding weeks studying lyrics and assigned albums. She bragged to all her "kids" at the office that her daughter was taking her to a concert. Appropriate excitement levels were attained. I, for my part, was six kinds of stoked as well.

Nosebleed seats, but a decent view. A nice mix of folks in the stands, although we could have done without a pair of flatulent fellows in front of us, but all in all a fine vantage point. We arrived just after the opening act, so we wouldn't have to wait long for the lads to take the stage.

And then lift off.

Those who know me and know of my musical predilictions would be forgiven for discounting any of my personal reviews as biased. But they are very much the bee's knees. The cat's pajamas. I lost my voice and pranced about like a lunatic. Mom occassionally shouted out the random lyrics she knew (very cute) and was as entertained by my antics as those of Mssrs. Bono and Company. After the show, she remarked that he really was an incredible performer. She may not be a full-on convert, but I think she at least gets it now.

And yes, I have made the transition from not wanting to be caught dead with my folks to happily inviting Mom along to rock shows. I might just be a grown-up yet.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Doo Doo Doo (Lookin' Out My Office Window)

A lovely day it was in DC -- a day such as one is very glad to have a big ol' window in one's office. So imagine my consternation when about lunchtime I heard a tremendous roar from two fighter jets streaking across the lovely blue sky. Having seen a lovely day or two marred by aerial malfeasance in my day, such an occurrance piqued my curiosity. I saw the F-16's go off to the north and west towards a hapless little Cessna. I then saw a big ball of light emanate from one of the jets, which then fired something off with a trail of smoke. This did not do much to allay my consternation, and I instructed our public policy director to fire up the old CNN. The jets circled the little plane, with one of them visibly dipping his wings a few times, before they flew out of sight, but still making quite a racket.

By then we all gathered in Nisha's office and eventually learned what everybody else knows by now, but for a few interesting minutes, we wondered whether or not to implement our trusty post-Bad Thing emergency plan. Eventually everyone went back to work, details to be learned on the evening news. Just a friendly reminder to anybody who thought about getting complacent about the state of things these days.


Monday, May 9, 2005


I just got back from a weekend getaway to lovely Savannah, GA. I had only been there once before, on a very brief and wholly unsatisfying trip to the riverfront where rancid ice cream was purchased and not much of an impression was made.

Granted, the riverfront can be a bit of a zoo, albeit a zoo with wonderful candy shops (no rancid confections to be found) and cafes that have fabulous fried oyster po' boy sandwiches. The real draw of Savannah is beyond the riverfront, where the city is laid out in a series of lovely squares surrounded by gorgeous gothic houses and trees with Spanish moss. Many of the houses are open to the public as museums, including the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Lowe, founder of the Girl Scouts. So you often see a packs of Brownies traveling about the city as well as people in period costume and drunken college kids (open containers are oh so legal there).

It's a bit of a spooky city, and has a lot of ghost-story-oriented tours and histories which seem to drive a substantial amount of the tourist industry there. How much of it is real and how much is hype is unimportant. At the risk of sounding a bit morbid, they have brilliant cemeteries. We went to Bonaventure Cemetary overlooking the river (free tours on the second Sunday of the month!), which is a great park filled with really beautiful statues and an interesting combination of, er, inhabitants: Confederate soldiers, Pulitzer-winning authors, a healthy representation from the (surprisingly) robust Jewish community, Irish Catholics and Oscar-winning lyricists.

Aside from the spooky factor, I was also most taken by the chow. Savannah being a Southern port city, they specialize in fried fare and seafood. One establishment, The Lady and Sons, requires you to put your name in three hours in advance -- but has spectacular fare. We ate ourselves silly on this trip, which is a fine thing indeed.