Friday, December 21, 2007

Controlled Spontaneity, and This is Why My Family Hates Me.

Two, two, two posts in one!


Picture it, Christmas party, December 9. December 9, people. That's like 12 days ago.

Random conversations abound, and I'm flitting back and forth between a few of them. Eventually, I approach my friends Ann and some other friends. Without having to say a word, Ann turns to me and says, "So, want to go to Mexico for Christmas?"

I stop for second.

"Sure," I tell her.

Turns out the conversation before I arrived was along the lines of Ann saying "I want to get away for a little bit for the holiday. Just a quick trip." And then I showed up.

For my part, I haven't left this city since my Provincetown vacation last July. I'm itching for a vaca. And given the season, well, I had the time. And my credit cards will hurt, but oh well.

We did about three days of research before we ruled out any destination in Mexico. No to Acapulco, Cancun, and any of those other cool (warm) touristy cities. We opted instead for either New Orleans or Miami.

Almost without trying, we settled on New Orleans. Cajun food, casinos, non-stop drinking... in the bag. We found hotels rooms for under $100 and airfare for a reasoanble price.

I swear this is the first time I've ever booked a flight less than 14 days before the departure date.

The feeling of spontaneity was exhilirating. I've always said I wanted to wake up one day and say, "I'm doing something big," but this is so far the closest I've come. Let's just call it a controlled spontaneity. Not quite 24-hour spur-of-the-moment, but definitely less advanced notice than one is used to having to plan for.

I leave this morning. I'm horribly excited.


I'm also unacceptably bad with my own familial relations. I'm an awful person and I hate myself for that.

Quick background: My mother is one of a dozen children, which means my generation of cousins is tremendous. We range in age from 45 to something like 9. It takes me about 5 minutes to go through each aunt/uncle to count up the number of children each of them has. It's crazy.

Of course, this also means it's a little difficult to keep track of all of them. Many of them were born well after I reached adulthood, meaning I've really never met them. When I went to college I moved quite far from home -- and thus pretty far from all of my family -- which somewhat further disconnects me from my family.

So how does this relate to this post? I had this trip to New Orleans planned for about nine days... and had completely forgotten that my cousin Jay lives in New Orleans now. He's finishing up medical school at Tualne. He's freaking 25 years old. He makes me feel totally old.

Of course I love my family. But it's so hard for me to keep up with them. And I feel like a total tool for being excited about this New Orleans trip for over a week without it ever even crossing my mind that I have kin down there and that it would be criminal for me to go there without having drinks or dinner with him.

Thankfully, I found his number and texted him my travel plans and asked him if he'd be available. He said he would, and I now totally look forward to catching up with him.

New Orleans here I come!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why Not?

I walked by a homeless person on my way to the grocery store tonight. She asked me for some change. As I usually do, I politely refused by shaking my head and holding open an empty palm.

I passed by her again on the way home.

She: Spare some change?
Me: No, sorry. [Shaking head and holding out open palm]
She: Why not?

Huh? Did she really say "Why not?" I hate to break it to you, lady, but I owe you positively no excuses for my decision not to do something that's wholly my choice to make. There are probably millions of reasons I could have chosen not to give you any of my money. Let's list some of them, just for fun:

- I don't have much money of my own
- I don't like panhandlers
- I give "at the office"
- I don't give to street panhandlers
- I don't like you
- I prefer to give directly to charities
- I think you're probably some lazy ass who should get a real job
- I just spent my money
- I am a Scrooge, and proud of it
- What the hell have you done for me to deserve any of money at all?
- I don't give money to people wearing blue hats
- The little green martians told me not to, and I obey their every suggestion
- A homeless person once bit my leg, so now I avoid them at all costs

What do all of the items on that list have in common? No, not "it's the truth," because I don't actually subscribe to all of the reasons listed there. The one characteristic shared by every single item on that list is that each one is perfectly valid reason for me to have chosen not to give you any money, lady.

"Why not?" I have my reasons.

My Language, or I Just Had a Margaret Cho Moment

This conversation actually occurred at my local Whole Foods earlier tonight. Really, I don't make these things up.

I approached the cashier with my purchases and loaded them onto her platform. She started ringing up my purchases, and then:

She: How are you?
Me: Fine, thanks. You?
She: Fine.

[Wait for it.]

She: Paper or plastic? Hey, how do you say 'paper or plastic' in your language?

[And there it is. I momentarily lost the power of speech.]

Me (internal): Did she...?
Me (external): Wha...?
She: How do you say 'paper or plastic' in your language?

[Oh no she di'n't! Except that, well, yes, she did. She actually repeated it.]

Me (internal): Are people actually still like this?
Me (external): Uh, you mean, in English?

[I didn't see the need to go through a long explanation that, despite my facial features, "my language" is English. Shamefully, my Chinese skills have deteriorated dramatically in the past ten years. Sadly, I'm better at French and Spanish -- hell, even Italian -- than I am in Chinese.]

She: Oh. I thought... no, I really thought you were from...
Me (internal): Please don't. You'll only hang yourself.
She: I don't even know where.
Me (internal): That's a pretty good dial-back. I'm glad you didn't actually try to guess what Asian country I'm from.
Me (external): [nervous laughter]

I was immediately taken back to Margaret Cho's routine I'm The One That I Want. Part of her routine talked about an exchange during the run of her (short-lived) show All-American Girl. A local television station (I forget where) had just switched over to an ABC affiliate, and she was talking to a reporter.

Reporter: Why don't you tell our viewers, in your native language, that we're switching over to an ABC affiliate?
Margaret Cho: [looks into camera] They're switching to an ABC affiliate.

That's me. Know how I say "paper or plastic" in my native language? "Paper or plastic."


Am I the only one who is seriously disturbed by this little caveat calmly thrown into a commercial for Lunesta, a sleep aid drug?

"Call your doctor right away if after taking Lunesta you walk, drive, eat, or engage in other activities while asleep."

Seriously, what the hell? Sleep-driving? That scares the crap out of me.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Virtual Networking

It seems like only yesterday that my friends insisted that I get a myspace page. "It's so much fun!" they told me.

"I'm not 16 and in high school!" I protested.

"No, seriously," my 25-and-over friends repeated. "It's fun, you should join."

So join I did. And I quickly linked up with the friends whom I knew were there. Then I branched out and found more friends of my own, people who I didn't even know had myspace accounts.

At first I vowed only to have "friends" as myspace friends and not clutter up my page with all kinds of random, stupid friends. That resolution quickly got tossed, and I started linking up with random bands, just to keep up with their tour dates. Then other more indie people would find me by noticing who I was friends with, and they'd ask me to friend them (it's a verb, you see) too. That's kind of how I got turned on to Ryan Huston (great voice, doesn't hurt that he's very easy on the eyes) and Royal American. Then I just started friending my favorite bands just to be able to keep track of their tour dates, in case I was ever actually able to go.

Then slowly, my closest friends started getting too busy to log on to myspace with any frequency. So where posting random silly comments was one of the most fun things you do on myspace, such frivolity rapidly curtailed itself. I started to bore of myspace.

Then some people (not myspace people) told me I'd have to sign on to Facebook.

"Uh, I'm not some 20 year old college student," I protested.

"No, seriously," my 25-and-over friends repeated. "It's fun, you should join."

And the cycle begins anew.

Most of my myspace friends are not on facebook. But facebook has all these mini-feeds and stuff on them that makes it so much more dynamic. You can see all kinds of things that other people doing. Most of them goofy, but some of them pretty fun. I happened to find a high school classmate on there -- who knows two of my close friends. What a small world.

Oh, and you can play a Scrabble-ish game on there, as well as poker. And some stupid cute little game called Diverman.

Strangely, given that these are "social networking sites," I haven't actually met anyone off of these sites that I didn't know already.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Me to Gift Horse: Say Aaah.

I got an early holiday gift from a girlfriend of mine recently. (I say "holiday" gift because she's Jewish. This means that technically I was late in giving her a holiday gift. But then she went out of town, so it's all good.)

Anyway, so I got this gift. I don't have a tree, so I really have no place to store unopened gifts, so... well, I just open my gifts as I receive them. It's much simpler that way.

So anyway, what she got me was awesome! Great gift, perfect, timely, definitely something I'll read and use. I was totally excited when I tore open the wrapping.

Inside the front cover: a receipt. At first, I figured it was a gift receipt. But it wasn't. It was an actual receipt.

And the book was $4.99.

I'm torn. On one hand, it really is a pretty cool book and I like it. On the other, it cost five frigging dollars! I know it's the thought that counts, but wow.

Worse yet, I have no idea what I'm going to get for her now knowing that she didn't spend all that much on my gift.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

"Bad Financial Choices," They Say

WaPo today reports that the government has brokered an agreement to freeze interest rates for those homeowners who risk foreclosure under the whole sub-prime mortgage crisis.

Proponents argue that this is a great idea, and would stave off tons of foreclosures. Critics -- labeled "conservative" by WaPo -- say the plan "amounts to a bailout of people who made bad financial decisions."

On some level, I can understand the criticism: people bought their houses knowing their payments would balloon after a certain amount of time; they took that risk; it's tough cookies that they can't now afford it. It's not much different from getting a fixed-rate mortgage knowing that your income stream was going to severely plummet a few years down the road.

But where I hit a philosophical problem is this: these people are in trouble, and these conservative critics would just as soon toss these people out on their butts than do anything to help them. Where are these people supposed to live? Do you really think apartments will be willing to rent to them if their credit history reflects a foreclosure?

More importantly, the critics here cite "bad financial decisions" on the part of the owners and would just as soon leave them to their own devices. But then I end up asking the same question I'd ask of conservatives who advocate for privatizing Social Security: what happens to those among us who make bad decisions?

Social Security was meant to be a safety net, allowing people at least some amount of money upon retirement (admittedly, not a whole lot). Privatizing Social Security -- under this whole "it's my money, dammit!" rubric -- means that instead of people putting into the system and getting back something come retirement time, people would keep their money and "invest" it.

But what of people who "invest" the money unwisely? Sounds like we'd find conservatives saying to their 68-year-old grandparents, "hey, you stopped contributing to SS taxes long ago. That money didn't grow for you? Too damn bad."

You know we as a society would never do that. We'd have to provide them with assistance. So again, really, we'd be "bailing out people who made bad financial choices."

And if the solution to this apparent conflict is pointing to the fact that even privatizing Social Security provides a floor so that seniors can't squander all their money, then... well, why is that any different from Social Security in the first place?


I tried to make some ravioli tonight. It was a dry run of something I was planning to take to a party this weekend. I thought I was becoming some master cook or something, adept at the ways of food.

I was wrong.

And just because I am a glutton for idiocy, I will tell you just how stupid I was, so that real master chefs out there can tell me just how big of an idiot I am.

I had some egg pasta sheets in my fridge and I needed to make an appetizer for this party. So I had this thought that I would cut the sheets up into the right shapes and fill them with fruit flavors like raspberry jam or something. Then I thought that instead of boiling the ravioli (like one normally would), I would fry them. Breaded.

Does that sound good? It sounded good in my head. The execution was a whole different matter.

First failed attempt: I cut the sheets into square for purposes of folding them into triangles with filling. It didn't even make it to the breading stations. The pasta was so brittle that it kept cracking whenever I tried to fold it.

Second failed attempt: Perhaps if I boiled the pasta first before filling it then frying it, it would come out better. That failed because (1) the pasta started breaking before I even removed it from the water, or (2) if I got it out of the water intact, it broke as I tried to stuff it -- this time because it was just too soft.

Third failed attempt: In a stroke of genius, I broke out the little round cookie cutters I had just purchased from the Whole Foods a few weeks ago on a whim. I would cut the pasta sheets into little rounds, I figured, then layer one on top of the other. This would prevent anything from breaking prematurely. Finally, I managed to assemble the ravioli and get them through the egg-wash-and-breading process. I heated some canola oil in a frying pan and started tossing the breaded ravioli in.

That was strike number three. Oh, and by the way, I used a cookie shape that was just too large. I couldn't taste the fruit filling at all. The ravioli was terrible. (Perhaps some confectioner's sugar sprinkled on top would have helped, but I seriously doubt it.)

In short, it tasted like crap. I will not be making this for this party this weekend.

Thankfully, I formulated a backup plan while I was grocery shopping, and picked up a few tins of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls. Now instead of little mini-ravioli filled with a fruit flavor of some sort, I will be bringing crescent rolls dressed with fruit filling (and raisins).

Well, I'm taking that, and some lemon bars and creamy onion canapes. I love Paula Deen.

I need a better kitchen. And some actual skills.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Geek Love

I have a whole new wonderful celebrity crush.

I'd been avoiding Iron Chef America for a while now. It never really interested me, frankly, because speed-cooking is not something I cared about. As of a few months ago, cooking was something I barely cared about, let alone speed cooking.

Then I got addicted to Giada de Laurentiis and Paula Deen, and, well, Food Network in general. The fact that I can even speak competently about some of these television personalities, comparing and contrasting their cooking styles and kitchen demeanor, speaks volumes about that particular change with me.

So how could I resist when I found out that Giada de Laurentiis was going to be on Iron Chef (working against Rachel Ray, whom I'm far less excited about). On top of that, on another episode, Paula Deen competed as well. I love those two women -- how could I not watch those episodes.

You know how they say you show up for one thing and fall in love with another.

My new celebrity food crush is Alton Brown.

Alton is not what I could generally call "hot." Sometimes he's kinda cute on his show, but in general, I'm not at all sure he'd turn my head if I walked past him on the street. At least in terms of physical appearance.

But listening to him serve as the primary host/commentator on Iron Chef truly takes the cake (no food pun intended). What makes him sexy is not the way he looks, though it doesn't hurt. What makes him super-sexy is the fact that he's so freaking smart. The fact that he's able to pull from such a vast array of food knowledge from nowhere so he can provide such rapid-fire -- and if you haven't seen the show, I really do mean rapid-fire -- during the show is incredible. Without saying a word, the chefs just launch into their work. They start cutting and chopping and frying and mixing almost without a word, and all it takes is Alton watching them, observing what they're putting into their pots, and coming up with precisely what these chefs are doing. Being able to pull from the top of his head the "classic" elements of certain dishes just from the very beginning of the chef's work.

His comments are truly amazing.

(If someone comments that he's really being fed this information from Google during the show, I will never speak to you again.)

And they're intoxicatingly sexy. He's like the Tim Gunn of food. They're both smart and articulate and able to command such a vast degree of specialized knowledge off the tops of their heads.

Knowledge is power, y'all. I'd carry their children.

Monday, December 03, 2007


I often find myself wishing and hoping that someone, somewhere, of whatever deific persuasion, is keeping tabs on me for the many times I find myself generously resisting my baser impulses.

I casually mentioned (over GoogleTalk, 'natch) to a friend of mine just now the fact that GoogleTalk now offer GroupTalk -- kinda like a conference call on IM. His response: "Yeah. So what. Who actually uses that anyway?" I refrained from telling him that he dragged me into several group IM conversations several years ago, albeit back on MSN messenger.

Similarly, remember my friend who chastized me for not sending timely thank you notes three hours after I received a birthday gift? I totally bit my tongue with him too.

This past weekend I had dinner with a friend Lisa. She tends to blab a lot, monopolizing conversation, even to the point of interrupting my thoughts as they come out of my mouth. (I don't think she means to, but she does.) She's done this for years. I have never called her on it.

My brother is annoyed at the fact that I have Answer Call on my cell phone (the caller hears a song rather than the sound of my line ringing). The last message he left me was "Dude, you really need to change that feature. It's annoying." I want to tell him to suck it. I know that I won't.

These are relatively petty things, and things I know one really shouldn't score karmic points for, but I kinda hope they're building up somewhere. I hope they're sitting there alongside holding the elevator door open for bitches who don't even acknowledge the effort and telling the hot-dog guy that he gave me too much change. Small stuff that adds up, you know?

The problem, of course, is that once you sit there and hope that your good acts are going to pay you back somehow, you've removed yourself from the realm of pure altruism and relegated yourself to the selfish standard: doing good because you hope it comes back to you. Booma-booma-boomarang.

But I can't help it: I do still hope that those times I've volunteered at a soup kitchen help make up for the fact that I never give panhandlers money. I hope that my being the designated driver at a party helps make up for the times I've been an obnoxious boor to random strangers at a bar. And I hope that for all the times I overlook over people's faults because I want to give them the benefit of my good graces, I hope others are willingly granting me that same leeway.

They tell me the energy you send out to the universe is what you get back, in spades.

Here's hoping only the positive vibes I send are susceptible to magnification.