Friday, May 23, 2014

A Letter to the College I went to

Not a golf course
Dear Middlebury College Office of Alumni Relations:

I am sure golf is a fine game. People seem very frustrated by it, but they do keep playing so there must be something to it.

You know, golf has a white, elitist reputation, but maybe that’s all in my mind, and maybe I’m overreacting. I know for a fact that there are at least two multi-racial men who play golf, because I’ve seen Tiger Woods and Barack Obama doing it on TV.

And so much land is set aside for golf that might otherwise go to egalitarian purposes like playgrounds or forests, so I’m thinking golf must be good for society in some way, even though I haven’t grasped it yet. Probably keeps a lot of club manufacturers making good old-fashioned American profits. And the people who make those wee carts, I bet they make them in Reedsburg, Wisconsin and also maybe Georgia and China, and that some of them also make big trucks and drills and hopefully not machine guns.

I’ve been an ambivalent alum, I admit. I did appreciate my education, And I still do, and I really had a very positive experience there as an undergrad, other than my size 6 light blue high wasted Esprit blue jeans that someone jacked from the laundry room. Still pissed about that. But you know what, I ended up majoring in something much different from what I set out to do which has its very good points and a few bad. I did go on to a couple of advanced degrees, so y’all can take credit for putting me on track for that, anyway.

Middlebury has changed quite a bit since my husband and I went there in the 80s, and we aren’t sure both of us could actually get in today. Our three kids reacted to the prospect of applying to Middlebury with a hearty, “Hell, no.”  Something about your application or acceptance rates threw them off, repulsed them, even. When we went there, you were a small, liberal arts college in Vermont that no one had heard of. There were some seriously undesirable dorms, and we lived in all of them. I promise all the graffiti I wrote was small and in pencil and you’ve probably already torn down those buildings anyway. We had plenty of spoiled rich kid classmates, who drove around campus in their Saabs, a handful of campus parking tickets fluttering from their side mirror, and wore TopSiders with no socks in winter because they were hardened from skiing in the Ice Bowl. Our friends were artsy and well-rounded and had a decent band and I’m sure the current crop is also artsy and well-rounded and actually pretty academically buxom if you know what I mean by that. Perfect SAT scores and also perfect teeth, that kind of thing.

I admit I probably should do a better job of responding to the pleas for donations to the annual fund, but did I mention those three kids of mine? They picked other, equally expensive private colleges, so you might have to wait a few more years, know what I’m saying? #strapped

But getting back to the golf thing, I have had a love/hate relationship with golfish clothes over the years. The preppy thing happened when I was in high school (yes, I’m that old. How’d you think I got so crotchedy?) so, like, I have a certain fondness for a bright pink polo shirt and pants with tiny cocker spaniels embroidered all over them. And monograms on things. My label! Promoting me! That’s like super golfy, right? But at some point the preppy thing started seeming elitist and very East Coast and we moved out west and wore our jeans even after the knees blew out and found over the years that the flannel shirts outnumbered the oxford shirts. So, wait, what was I talking about?

Oh, right, golf. So I think golf is played by both men and women, which is good. I’ve seen female mannequins at the Nike store and they’re in golf clothes, too.  I probably know some women who golf, but they might not have time for it because like you know they’ve got to work 29% harder than men to make the same salary or something like that.

As for the artificial pesticides and fertilizers used to keep all that grass nice and short and green on the golf course, well, the bees and frogs might have something to complain about, if there were any left. Too bad about that.

So, I’m gonna pass on the invite to the annual Alumni GolfTournament.  It’s important to keep up the Great Traditions. When I went to Midd, there was something called “Paul Newman Day” where people drank a whole case of beer by themselves, 24 beers in 24 hours. I never had enough spending money back then to participate, but I think of it every time I see Paul Newman's face on salad dressing in the supermarket.

Your Friend,

Hamster Relish, Class of 1985

Monday, May 19, 2014

Out to Lunch

The point when I realized the A train wasn’t coming was after the third, loud and completely unintelligible announcement at the Chambers station. I turned to a guy next to me, and he said, “We gotta take the E,” and he started walking to the other end of the platform. I followed, but saw that I also had the option of the 2 or the 3, so I followed the signs through the labyrinth and got on an uptown 2.

“Next Stop, Chambers Street,” was what the announcement said, and then, “Stand clear of the closing doors.”

I had walked from the Chambers Street station of the A, C and E to the Park Place 2 and 3, and now I would be completing the triangle of no progress, more or less. I sat through the Chambers Street stop, and as the doors closed again, it said, “Next stop, 14th Street.”

I had wanted West 4th, which is a local stop on the red line, so I was going to overshoot my stop and be even later for my lunch date.

I don’t have many lunch dates in New York City, because I have about as many people to see for lunch as I have fingers on my left hand. Most New Yorkers have real jobs, too, so they don’t really have time for lunch. Not that I ever aspired to be someone who goes out to lunch all the time. Wasn’t that a thing, “Ladies Who Lunch?” Isn’t that something I never wanted to be?

Express trains are good for crying, because you aren’t interrupted by lots of people getting on and off, especially if you’ve had a rough morning, and a migraine pill, and some meanness you tried and failed to correct on Twitter.

I got out at 14th Street and headed to a southern exit onto West 13th Street. I made my way down two short blocks to West 11th and then made a bad turn and went two long blocks the wrong way. Asking Google maps where the restaurant was, I discovered I was now a half a mile from my destination, on foot. I called my friend, and she was very understanding, even about hating New York. “I don’t just want to live someplace else,” I said to her. “I want to burn the whole place down.”

She replied, “That’ll take some time.”
Lunch was brief and delicious and fun. I am grateful for my five fingers’ worth of New York City friends, even if I’ve borrowed them from other people or from other lifetimes. She directed me, squaring my shoulders even, and pointed me back to the 1. Even I can get the 1 right. It’s a local train.

On the platform I was asked by a confused and distraught traveller how to get on the 2 or the 3 going uptown. I explained that he could go out and up and cross the street and go down and swipe again or get on this train and switch at another station. As I did this, my train arrived, and as I stepped towards it the doors closed for it to leave.

Make no mistake: New Yorkers in general are helpful and kind and will give directions and shortcuts. But in an urban area with 17.8 million people, even if only 1% of them are complete assholes, that makes 178,000 complete assholes, and some of them might drive subway trains.

On impulse, I tossed my jacket between the closing doors of the subway train, the way you might interrupt the closing doors on an elevator. This is a stupid, dangerous thing to do because doors in New York City subway trains don’t work the way they do on elevators. They close on your coat or your bag or your hair or your purse or your arm, and then the train leaves. The driver had seen me helping that other passenger and saw me do the jacket toss, too. The door opened and I got on.

The other people already on the car might have had faces filled with concern or scorn or derision or relief, but I don’t know because I didn’t look at them. I focused on my phone and played Bejeweled, because no one needs scolding by strangers, and especially not today.

When I got off the subway, I was looking forward to a quiet afternoon writing in the apartment. From the 1 to our apartment it’s only a few blocks, and those blocks aren’t the most unpleasant in TriBeCa. As I walked, I fired off a couple of tweets about the subway train driver’s incivility and how I almost sacrificed my jacket to the 1 train, and I found myself distracted by a man standing on the curb, half-facing me, pantomiming pecking at an imaginary phone in his hand and making terrible creepy cheeping noises.  He said something derisive in his heavily French-accented English.

If my phone came with a flame-thrower app, I might be in jail right now.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Illustration courtesy of Max Russell Berkes
It was from the mid-70s, and we pronounced the name, “Hor-nay,” like it was French. It had been my grandfather’s. He died while I was at college freshman year. The car was a vivid shade of dark green. In the end it was sold, but it was mine to drive for the summer of 1982. Summers in St. Louis are hot and humid, but the AC on the Hornet worked great. It even had a special setting on the AC dial, a few clicks past “MAX” it said “DESERT ONLY.” And it even had electric windows.

You’d be foolish to take that vehicle to the desert, though. It had so much trouble accelerating up hills that the engine would actually cut out completely. So there you’d be, on a freeway entrance ramp, at a dead stop, cranking the ignition hoping it would catch, the motor giving an irregular “wowp, wow…WOWP,” cars piling up behind you. Once we got it home the plan was always to park it on the street, slightly uphill from the house.

It was perfectly ugly, that AMC Hornet, but not quite as exuberantly and hilariously ugly as the Pacer of the same vintage, so it didn’t even have the cachet of being the most ridiculous car on the road. The shifter was on the steering column, and “P R N D L” was written in dial on the dash, but above that, in case you needed to know, it said, in wide pale letters, “TORQUE COMMAND.”

My favorite thing to do in the Hornet was go run errands with my friend E., and pull up next to other people, roll down her window, the motor in the door faintly squealing and groaning as it unsmoothly opened, and shout something ridiculous like, “Hey, good looking!” and drive away slowly, laughing. Driving away fast wasn’t an option, because that would kill the engine, too. E. had to get the window to close again by pressing the button and pushing the window up with her hand flattened on the glass. Otherwise, the window would not close all the way.

The previous summer I turned down my Aunt Mary’s old tan Chevy Nova. It could have been mine and it would have been the coolest car I ever drove. I wouldn’t go near it. The Nova was sold to the mailman. The Hornet was sold to E.'s family, and when I think of it I hear her laugh, still, many years later.