Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Schmearth Day

I had no idea today was Earth Day until I opened up TweetDeck tonight and saw that many people had, err, tweeted about the day. Let me start by being completely honest. I could give a shit about Earth Day. For me, it conjures up images of abrasive brown bags and product packaging and abrasive individuals holding clipboards outside your office, asking you if you have a minute for Greenpeace. No, actually, I DON’T have a minute for Greenpeace. I barely have a minute to pee, let alone run to this here deli to get a poor-tasting panini to scarf down my gullet while I continue to type meaningless words into a document that will likely get thrown out two minutes after it’s received.

Oh! Hey! You’re still there. Sorry, THAT was an embarrassing rant…

Anyway, Greenpeace, Earth Day, not for me. Except, what I find funny about all the clever little things Earth Day preachers encourage you to do is that many of them seem to be things we all used to do back in the day. You know, back in the day when men were men and kids walked to school in the snow uphill both ways. I mean, I think back on all the things my mom drilled into my brain as a kid:

1. No Littering. You know how you’re driving, and someone oh-so-casually rolls down the window to throw out their stale gum or candy wrapper? That makes me cringe. Mom never let us kids throw ANYTHING out the window. Not a gum wrapper, not a popsicle stick, nothing. If there were no available garbage receptacles, TOUGH, we had to keep the trash in our pockets.
2. Brown Paper Grocery Bags. When all the cool kids’ moms were getting their groceries bagged in plastic, my mom was still requesting paper.
3. Tap Water. Bottles of water were never present in my house. My mom never saw the point. We have a tap! We have glasses! These days, we’re constantly reminded about the damage we’re doing to the environment with all the throwing away of plastic bottles. To say nothing about the alleged flesh eating bacteria that will take over our bodies if we use a bottle more than once.
4. Reuse. There were few items in my childhood home that my mom couldn’t find a new use for after their initial purpose was achieved. Are you crazy throwing that jam jar away?! I can use it to house seeds, store buttons, save coins!
5. Actual Dishes. Paper plates? Not something I truly discovered until I was an adult. You see, paper plates are not reusable by nature. And, well, see #4.

So, given the above, I suppose one could argue that my mom was ahead of her time and, as a result, I’m actually a begrudging believer in the principles of Earth Day. Just don’t tell the folks from Greenpeace.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ring Bell for Service

My palms were sweaty. I wanted this job so bad. I prayed that the interview had gone well, that my hopefully-future boss liked me. That she thought I’d be a competent, capable employee. Sure, I didn’t have any previous experience, but I was motivated and enthusiastic. This was the perfect job for me. It had a short commute, and the hours were flexible.

It was Eckerd drug store. And I was 16 years old.

Of the many firsts we never forget, we never forget our first job. My sophomore year of high school, it seemed like everyone was getting a job. Always among the youngest in my grade, I was jealous of my seemingly grown-up peers and their new after-school endeavors. Some were scooping frozen yogurt at TCBY. Some took CPR classes in preparation for summer lifeguarding. Some folded sweaters at the Gap. And me? Apparently I just wanted to sell enema to the elderly.

No seriously. Of all the products I scanned and bagged during my days at Eckerd, few stick out in my mind as more frequently purchased than Fleet Enema. And Depends undergarments. Many a middle-aged man and woman came into the store to purchase these humbling items for their elderly parents. They usually brought coupons with them, so I suppose the humiliation was two-fold. There would be the clipping of the coupon: ‘Honey! $2 off Depends!’ And then the actual in-store purchase, wherein the customer would pick up the items (in the appropriate size, no less) and sheepishly put them on the counter for all--including the smug cashier, yours truly--to see.

The thing I learned about older people, in general, was that they loved their coupons, and they took them rather seriously. I’ll never forget the man who came in one day armed with a stack of coupons, and about 12 bottles of Dawn dish detergent to match. Dawn was on sale that week, and with all the coupons, well, I can only assume this man was confident that at the end of the transaction, I’D be paying HIM money.

He passed me his coupons after I’d scanned all the items. Right away I noticed they looked a little yellow, like a newspaper that’s been sitting out too long, or a book that’s been gathering dust in the attic. I took a closer look. The bottle of Dawn pictured on the coupon didn’t look like the ones on the counter. It looked like a version from a different decade. I checked for the date printed on the top of the coupon. Mysteriously, the date was missing! The coupons had been carefully clipped. This man was trying to cheat the system! With coupons that were easily 10 years old!

There were customers who would line up outside the store on weekend mornings before we opened at 9 a.m. Come rain, come winds, come winter, they’d be there. Let me tell you, there’s little power in the world more satisfying than being the cashier inside the store before it opens on a cold winter’s day. If I was feeling spiteful, I’d walk down the aisle closest to the door, and then just before reaching the door, I’d hang a sharp left and head for the register.

I recall wondering why these customers had to be there the very second the store opened. Worried you’re going to miss out on that 8-pack of Bounty? The 24-pack of Charmin? Even if you did, we offered rain checks. Would you believe some people actually accepted our rain check offer? And would then COME BACK two weeks later to redeem it?! They most certainly did.

There were some sanctimonious individuals who would wave the flyer in my face when they couldn’t find something.
‘YOUR flyer says Royal Butter cookies. I don’t see any Royal Butter Cookies.’
‘I’m sorry, ma’am. We’re all out.’
‘But YOUR FLYER says you have them!’
The flyers might as well have been placed by Gideon himself, for all the reverence they were awarded. Who had the heart to tell these customers that their precious flyers were created by some poor sad sack in Olathe, Kansas who couldn’t give a shit whether store #0876 ran out of Royal Butter Cookies?

My first Eckerd paycheck amounted to $65. But for life experience, I’d say it was priceless.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Preparing For Death

There are a lot of things that stick out in my mind when I think back to the funeral service I attended less than two years ago. There was the terrible injustice of being there in the first place – no 29 year-old should have to leave this earth. There is so much left to accomplish. The pastor tried his best to give all of us meaningful, comforting words, but it was obvious that even he was at a loss. One thing he did say, which has stuck with me, was, “even in life we are in death.” I couldn’t grasp what that statement meant, and his explanation didn’t satisfy me at the time. To be fair, nothing would have.

And yet. I’ve been saying that phrase over and over in my mind for the past several days. My best friend Kate is helping her mom through a devastating battle with advanced-stage cancer. What has her awestruck is her mom’s relentless grace. In the face of an endless string of appointments, treatments, pain and suffering, Kate says her mom is, more or less, at peace. She seems prepared for whatever lies in store for her. What a beautiful blessing. Don’t we all hope that one day, when faced with death, we’ll be prepared? But how do we get there?

I don’t believe you’re prepared for death unless you lived your life the way you wanted to. That you upheld your standards, pursued your dreams, treated those around you with kindness, gave those you loved all of your heart. My high school cross country coach, before every race, instructed us to cross the finish line with nothing left in the tank. If you did that, no matter what place you came in, you could be proud that you gave it your all. I think these instructions are appropriate beyond the world of racing flats and tiny shorts. No matter when death calls for me, I want to feel like I’m leaving on an empty tank.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Buh Bye, Newspapers

I came across this article in the New York Times today about hyperlocal web sites springing up in the wake of the collapse of the local newspaper. This evolution of news media should come as no surprise to any of us. While talking heads have been busy decrying the death of the local paper, innovation and evolution have, as they always do, quietly plodded along under the surface. The only difference is that we’re now moving along a new path, rather than a well-trod road.

I was lounging around the couch one recent weekend morning and caught an episode of Meet the Press. Or was it Hard Ball with Chris Matthews? Either way, it was a show no self-respecting 27-year-old should be caught watching, let alone be admitting to the entire Internet. And yet…the premise of the show was the future of newspapers. Specifically, the future of those dry, scratchy hard copies that make your fingers feel terribly uncomfortable before finally covering them in a nasty black smudge. What I found most disturbing about this panel of ‘brainpower’ was that no one on it was born in the digital age. Not one of these people grew up knowing any reality other than one where they picked up the newspaper from the front stoop. Not to mention, all the panelists were media professionals. They are, by nature, obsessed with newspapers! How are we going to get any real insight or diverse viewpoints? Like a doctor who cannot operate on his/her own child, these panelists were just too close to the action to be able to see anything objectively.

The Meet the Press/Hardball panel was terribly worried about who would report on city council meetings once we’ve put our trusty newspapers to sleep. They saw this information – and the coverage of it –as critical to citizens of any upstanding community. All this panel knew and could fathom was the notion of reporters covering local beats as the right of passage into higher level journalism.

Might it be possible that tomorrow’s city council meetings won’t be covered by steno-pad wielding journalists who report for the local Morning Call? What if these meetings are broadcast live via webcam, for all to see if they choose (perhaps the same audience known to watch Hardball on weekend mornings)? Locals could then comment on these meetings via message boards or web sites like the Times mentioned today.

I don’t know what will replace newspapers one day. I don’t think any of us do. But just because something is going away, that doesn’t mean it’s gone for good. Perhaps it’s just that its next iteration is one we haven’t invented yet. It might not be worse. It might not even be better. It may just be different. And I think that’s ok.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

San Francisco Treat

The last time I was in San Francisco I was so young that, well, I can’t even remember the last time I was there. I simply remember that I was very young, that we walked down Lombard street and that we rode the trolleys (are they called trolleys? It’s been a long day, and I’m blanking on the official name).

Now, circumstances have conspired to have me planning a return trip to San Francisco – this time as an adult! My husband just got a job with a company based there and they’ve asked him to come out for a week’s training. And, my company? Well, let’s just say that I have learned the meaning of the word ‘furlough’.

A few thoughts about furloughs:
1) The word ‘furlough’ is incredibly fun to say!
2) Being commanded not to work is a bit like being a kid and having your mom tell you that you MUST eat another piece of cake. OK!
3) Being commanded not to get paid is a lot like being a kid and having your mom tell you that you’re grounded for absolutely no reason.

So here I am, thinking that my furlough is the perfect time to accompany my husband on his business trip. And, by the by, when did I get so old and grown up that I have a husband who goes on business trips while I am a wife who accompanies him for fun?

So, the question is this: what do I do all week while hubby is at work? I received some great Tweetomendations (my made up word for the wisdom of crowds that is Twitter) today about various museums. And while I would be open to checking out one or two – preferably ones with photography exhibits – I’m going to be honest and admit that I’m not that crazy about museums. So low culture am I!

Of course I’ll go see the seals at Fisherman’s Wharf and check out the Golden Gate bridge. And I’m totally bringing my big SLR ‘I’m A Tourist!’ camera to capture the fog rolling in off the bay.

But what else should I do? Keep in mind much of my sightseeing will be done solo. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, but a lot of people think solo excursions are, at best, uncomfortable and at worst, strange.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lazy Days

What is it about exercise that makes it so easy to start, then quit, then start again, only to quit again? I absolutely love exercise in its purest form – simply being active – and yet I can’t seem to keep it as a consistent part of my life.

As a kid I spent just about every free minute outside. I rollerbladed around my neighborhood, played roller hockey with my brother and the boys, ran cross country all through junior high and high school. As an adult though, my exercise patterns have vacillated between being representative of a 500 lb sedentary sloth and a world-class triathlete (well…that may just be a bit of a stretch).

Back in 2005, I landed a spot in the New York City Marathon, and spent a very hot and humid summer training religiously. 26 miles is not a distance you want to mess with. That shit is hard! During the week I would run up to 10 miles before work; on the weekends, 18 miles before most people had gotten out of bed. I was determined. I finished the marathon with a reasonably good time, and after that I experienced a feeling that I imagine many Olympic athletes must feel following the Games. What now? I had accomplished a goal I’d held since I was 15. And not only had I run a marathon, but I had run one of the world’s premier marathons!

Last year, I got hooked on the Nike+ device. This little gadget tracks your speed, distance and time, and lets you compete with other people who have it as well. A few friends and I set up challenges, and for nearly five months we were fervent competitors. Our Nike+ competitions got me out of the house in the middle of winter, through bone chilling temperatures, in the pitch black (and yes - I know - unsafe) darkness of pre-dawn. The feeling of camaraderie – that we were all in this together – was strong. But honestly? My will to win was stronger. Pride can be so motivating!

This winter I fell victim to the cult following of Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred DVD. I got over the slight embarrassment at being one of ‘those’ ladies who works out in her living room. The abject difficulty of the workouts quickly took care of that. In its place I encountered humbling feelings of ‘Holy shit! I can’t lift my arms above my head!’ But once I had conquered all three levels of the Shred, or perhaps more precisely, once our tropical winter getaway had passed, Jillian’s workout gathered dust in the DVD player.

So now what? Spring is here. My Nike+ buddies seem as ‘over it’ as I am. I want so badly to be motivated. And yet. The laptop won’t budge off my lap and my ass won’t budge from the couch.