Don’t Get Too High Tech

My mom is always making my dad get rid of things. Although she’s always telling me how many storage units she’s gotten him to parse down and empty, he pretty consistently texts me childhood drawings, old photos, or other random long forgotten items that he comes across in cardboard boxes.

Today he texted me this letter slipped into some sort of time capsule that my twin neighbors and I made almost 17 years ago to the day:

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I loved making time capsules as a kid. A few years ago I found the one tucked into the deep abysses of my grandmother’s basement that my siblings, my cousins, and I had made in 1999. The mini Entenmann’s doughnut added by my cousin Mason was still distinguishable, which was both remarkable and unsettling.

I am 90% sure the handwriting is mine – my lowercase r’s were always a bit overextended, like an umbrella to the next letter over, and I remember being so completely bummed when nothing happened on Y2K. There had been so much hype, and I thought all computers fitzing out would lead to an exciting extended blackout situation, when everything would just came to a stop and we would light candles and run around chasing fireflies and telling spooky stories till … maybe forever, if we couldn’t reeducate the computers. When I woke up on January 1, 2000 and realized I could make breakfast without having to forage for berries or hunt venison, it was a major let down.

Anyway, I guess today I’ve been wondering what my apparent concern about being “too high tech” was all about. I know when I was 11 I did not yet have AOL, which was essentially my introduction to pre-social media. I used computers for maybe a few homework assignments, but mostly for playing computer games. I distinctly remember enjoying computer games (not video games, of which the only two I had any interest in were Super Mario 64 and the sexist snowboarding game 1080, don’t even get me started) that had to do with people and places – Where in the World is Carmen San Diego? Sim City, Nanosaur, some game where you ran a Crayon Factory (weird), like every 90s American kid – The Oregon Trail, and The Sims.

Funny naming  all those games now – Come to think about it, they all contain some sort of topic I’m still interested in to this day:

Carmen San Diego: Mysteries, true crime, international intrigue, travel, badass solo female travelers

The Oregon Trail: American history, adventure, the great outdoors, camping out, purchasing supplies in bulk (Amazon = the new American general store?), avoiding death in the form of snake bites and/or cholera (in my case Langton Street splat rats *shudder* and getting hit by cars)

Sim City: Design, beautiful buildings, beautification, community, emergency disaster preparation, living in fear/anticipation of my first earthquake

The Crayon Factory: Colors, design, mixing and matching patterns, finding beauty in colors, alignment, lines, and circles, efficient processes, business practices

The Sims: I enjoyed everything up until actually “playing” The Sims. I would create all kinds of people – friends, family members, imaginary folk I made up – and spend hours designing how they looked, what they wore, what their different personality levels were. Then I’d put their lives on pause while I built them the most insane pimped out houses ever – Everyone knew the cheat code that would give you stacks of Sims Dollars, it was something like rosebud?!?!?!?! and you’d copy/paste it a million times in a row and when you’d hit Enter you’d watch your Sims Dollars go through the roof, and you could go construct yourself whatever kind of house you could think of and fill it with out of this world things. I mainly constructed Victorian style homes with lots of bookshelves and bay windows, which is not far from the real life I live today (although I must admit I live amongst the San Francisco Victorians, but not in one). Also, it was fun to get your Sims to fight, duke it out with the occasional Grim Reaper, and yes, I admit, do the nasty. It took properly configured personality levels and a lot of Simtalk (heated arguments between attractive Sims really seemed the best way to get things going), all while keeping an eye for POS (AOL speak for Parent Over Shoulder, lol). But after a quick Google search it seems that a little Sim sexual experimentation was pretty juvenile, people are really twisted (Google search not recommended).

Nanosaur: The one game that was less of a “computer game” in my mind but much more of a video game. Something about being a dinosaur and running around a violent dinosaur land in search of some eggs. Sort of the outlier here but it came on all the multi-colored Macs and was honestly a hell of a time.

All this to say that I wasn’t a young techie by any means, and I can’t really remember what I would have been so concerned about to write a foreboding letter to a bunch of unknown future folk. We’d always had a computer and by the early 2000s we had several in the house, so it would have been nothing new. I remember my dad telling us we were moving on to high speed Internet at some point, and we’d no longer have to yell at each other to get off the phone or switch out the ethernet cords or listen to that start up jangle. I can still hear it, but having a hard time coming up with the onomatopoeia to describe it. However, perhaps at the time I was reading a lot about Y2K and computer systems in the New York Post, which I read every morning since it opened like a book and was written for absolute nincompoops and future Trump supporters.

But today I realized what a little slave to technology I have become! While biking home yesterday evening from a burner party out at China Beach, my iPhone fell out of my pocket while I was crossing a major intersection. I think the cars had the right of way for about 25 seconds, and it honestly was not till the 22nd second that the final car rode over my phone. If you can even call that thing a phone anymore – Photos, Tweets, messages, messages to friends abroad, my banks, my music … And I can make calls on it if I absolutely must/sending a text would be weird/FaceTime feels too invasive. But unfortunately even the LifeProof case I bought for it a year ago (after forgoing a case and having to get the screen fixed twice in one month, they don’t call me “Spill” for nothing) did not protect the screen from shattering.

Which made me recall – When I was 16 I had an iPod mini, a bright pink little thing with a very Apple sleek white circle in the middle where you could fast forward, rewind, etc. The screen itself was still black and white, but it was simple. It played music, I had a cell phone for calls and texts and other stuff I did at the bank or on the computer at home.

That iPod mini also fell out of my pocket while crossing an intersection (this time I was walking) and just like yesterday evening I stood on a corner with bated breath, watching as every single car miraculously passed over it, til that last car’s front right wheel flew over it, jolting the device around on the pavement. I ran out and picked it up off the ground – The crazy thing was, it still worked! The screen was about 3/4 not broken, so I just couldn’t see the album name of the song I was listening to. The white wheel worked well enough for me to scroll and select songs, music played into my ears, and the best part? When the car had driven over the iPod, it scratched some of the pink color off of the skin in jagged edges, revealing the cool silver color underneath. It looked like a very edgy pink/silver zebra pattern that today they probably make cases for. I used that iPod for many years.

And my iPhone 6? Well the LifeProof case is actually fine (they would have gotten a letter if it wasn’t) but the screen is totally black and cracked. I thought it was dead as a doornail, but all day today it acted as my little beeper, buzzing or vibrating each time I got a text or an email. So there’s still some little sort of light inside.

I had a Skype call scheduled at 8am with my friend Julia today, she lives in Israel and has a one year old kid. I knew I couldn’t oversleep this call, I barely have enough time to get myself to bed on time and she needs to tuck in a baby boy with a man bun.  As I drifted off to sleep last night I wondered how I would wake up without my alarm – Should I email Julia and let her know that I might be late because I’d be waking up on my body clock?

But I didn’t, the sleep catching up with me before a decision could be made, and I ended up waking up around the time that I normally do – 6:15am. Granted, I had fallen asleep at like 10pm. But there’s something to be said for routine and  an earlier-rising sun.

After we got off the phone I was feeling a little anxious as I have been lately, and decided to go lie out in the sun at the pool for exactly one hour. I lay down on the beach chair and immediately felt the urge to tune out the chorus of happy children in the wading pool, and thus reached for my bag to pull out my phone and earbuds. Nope, no phone today Alice. Just relax, sit back, and think of nothing.

So I immediately starting running through pricing models for my mom’s business, and all of the sudden needed a calculator at that very absolute instant, and reached for my bag again – No phone, no calculator. Shucks.

Then I realized my Airbnb app was on my phone – I hadn’t checked today for messages because I couldn’t get any notifications! What if the guest had written me and I wasn’t responding and then she left a bad review and the house burned down and Airbnbettr up in flames along with it??

At this point I realized I was the opposite of relaxing, and it was about five degrees too chilly to be sitting out in a bikini anyway. I biked home in defeat and immediately checked all my emails and texts and Airbnb messages on my computer when I walked in the door.

Nada. Absolutely nada. What a feeling. Technology, I thought, who needs it?

I had to go over to Brian’s to talk shop, and I knew I needed a walk. I love listening to music when I walk, I’ve graduated from CD player to built in Nokia radio to iPod to iPhone over the years. I can walk without but really prefer not to – For these situations I still keep an old iPod that came with the laptop computer I purchased in 2009 (they’d throw one in if you were a student).

The UI is totally different – The background is just black, the apps are shaped differently, you can’t navigate from app to app by hitting the home button, and you can hear the phone sort of recalibrating when you switch from song to song before the first one ends.

I only actually found out about the fingerprint recognition feature a few months ago, it was something I always just clicked “Skip” on figuring it was still in beta and would just piss me off. But I’ve gotten quite used to it since let’s say last January, my thumb even hotter that it has become in recent years.

While walking over to Brian’s I couldn’t figure out what mood I was in, and kept getting fed up with a song halfway through. And so many times, just out of muscle memory, I’d place my silly thumb on the 2009 iPod home button and wait for the magic to happen. Just like those videos of babies trying to swipe paper issues of Time Magazine, I was waiting for the device to recognize ME, my thumb, my digit, and for the screen to change before my eyes and present me with something tantalizing. Only this time I had to press, swipe, then scroll. Oh the horror.

Even though my computer has everything on it – Gmail, iMessage, FaceTime, Airbnb – the works, I still felt some sort of lack today without my phone. I couldn’t pull it out to take photos. I couldn’t pull up Spotify. I got home and checked my email and had two new messages! I’m usually notified on my phone beforehand, and realized it’s now less of a feeling of “Ah, mail!” and more of a “Wow, that message is stressful, I’m going to mark as unread, block it from my mind, and deal with later” or a “Damn it, wish I was at my computer right now so I could respond with a real keyboard”. Because no matter what I still hate touch screen keypads. Long live Blackberry #bbm.

So that’s the end of a long free write on technology, new and old, and how today I am a semi-slave to it. I have gotten high tech enough to the point that I’m on my computer but still yearning to reach for my iPhone so I can hold down my thumb print, open an app, and scroll through a bunch of memes while simultaneously watching a TV show, building a website, responding to a work email when I’ve said I won’t til tomorrow, and spending an hour or more free writing on WordPress when I really should be going to bed in the hopes of the natural sunlight waking me up yet again to start another week of LIFE AS I KNOW IT!

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Translation, tears, titiliation

When Zhu’s latest album (GENERATIONWHY) came out a couple of months ago, a colleague of mine sent me the song Palm of My Hand. “It’s got a verse in French, sounds real sexy,” he said to me. I took a listen to the song, the melancholy but soulful electric guitar whirring behind an ambient tune, police sirens wailing in the background. It sounded like drug-fueled sex in Paris in a forbidden place with dimmed, red tinged lights.

And then the French. I was working on something on the computer, listening to the song, not paying close attention to what the silky voice of the jeune fille was saying. But all of the sudden I found my eyes starting to blink back the formation of tears, my face turning red. I rewound the song and took in the lyrics. How terribly, deeply sad! I translated them into French for my colleague, and have pasted them below.

J’crois que je poursuis un rêve impossible
J’pense que ça marchera pas mais j’y ai cru quand même
Je me revois, je revois tes yeux, je revois ta bouche, je revois tes cheveux, ton visage
Je me demande si toi aussi t’y penses
Je me demande si toi aussi tu
Tu me revois quand tu fermes les yeux et quand tu rêves
C’est un rêve impossible, tu m’avais dans la paume de ta main
Tout ce que tu avais à faire c’était de me dire de rester
Mais tu es reparti, puis tu es revenu et puis tu es reparti et puis tu es revenu
Encore et encore et à chaque fois c’est la même chose
Tout ce que tu avais à faire c’était de me dire de rester et je serais restée
Je serais restée pour toujours, toujours avec toi
Alors pourquoi tu es parti, pourquoi tu m’as laissée?
Ça va nous échapper entre les doigts, et un jour ou l’autre de toute façon, tout ça va s’arrêter

I think I’m chasing after an impossible dream
I think don’t think it’s gonna work, but I believe it anyway
I see myself, I see your eyes, I see your mouth, I see your hair, your face
I wonder if you think about it too
I wonder if you,
If you too see me when you close your eyes and when you dream
It’s an impossible dream, you had me in the palm of your hands
All you had to do was tell me to stay
But you left, then came back, and then you left and then you came back again
Again and again and every time it’s the same thing
All you had to do was tell me to stay and I would have stayed
I’d have stayed forever, forever with you
So why did you go, why did you leave me?
It’s going to slip out from beneath our fingers, and one day or another in any case, it’s all going to come to an end.

Ouf. Quelle tristesse profonde, l’amour perdu.

I Googled the song on Google France and Google USA to read reviews, see how it was received by French speakers and English speakers. All the English blogs concentrated on the music itself, mentioning the “sultry” or “seductive” French at the end, never once bothering to look up the meaning! One blog simply mentions “a female voice speaking in French”. On the other hand, the first French blog introduces the song as one that “nous a bouleversé”, or that “moved us deeply”…”un brin déprimante mais résolument sublime”, “a tad depressing but resolutely sublime.” I couldn’t agree more.

Now obviously it makes sense the French are going to immediately understand the lyrics and react to the song differently. I was just a bit surprised by the English-speaking music blogs – Were they not at all curious what she was saying? She goes on for about a minute, she’s sort of poetry-jamming, and it just sounds intense. But, ah, I suppose maybe it doesn’t matter, for a non-French speaker perhaps it just adds to the exoticism of the song, the darkly sensual vibes, the allure of the unknown. But, if you are interested, you can thank me for the tears streaming down your face (I only stole half that line from Coldplay, come at me Chris Martin).

Funny how songs hit you differently after you’ve been in love, or after you’ve just lived a bit longer.

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Just being again

December 31st, 2016 I just up and deleted my Facebook. I had tried to do so a few months prior, but my premium Spotify account was linked to my Facebook, and I didn’t want to delete it and start over. They really know how to lock you in. But t’was the day before a new year, and I figured it was a better time than any to shake myself loose of all the saved songs I’d replayed a thousand times and start off on Spotify clean too.

On Facebook, I had gotten down to 284 friends, only followed twenty-odd people, had no stalking addictions to speak of, and only checked it once a day purely out of habit or procrastination. Over the years my reaction to a Facebook friend invitation had morphed from an immediate accept into an exasperated snarl. “Ugh, did they really just friend me on freaking Facebook?”

Before pushing delete, Facebook has you download your entire Facebook history. It’s both horrific and nostalgia-inducing to read random Facebook wall posts going back to 2005. Names are omitted for some reason in the .html file, but for the most part I could still read a cringe-worthy wall post and still be absolutely positive about who wrote it, just based off of voice and content. Interesting to view the evolution of how much social media behavior has changed in the past 12, 10, 8, even 2 years – It seems I used to have full on conversations over my Facebook wall completely accessible for anyone to read! So much of my life I shared on that damn thing.

There were a bunch of reasons I wanted to delete Facebook having to do with the Big Brother aspects, and thoughts like this:

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But I think the main reasons were a digital detox and as a way for me to actually better handle the relationships I have in this life.

Facebook doesn’t make it easier when your friendships fizzle out, not the ones that have naturally fallen off due to physical distance nor the nasty ones that have been put out like a candle in the rain. Whether at the end there is bad feeling or faded feeling, in my mind I try to cherish that friendship for what it was at that time and find the beauty in our exchange – It’s okay that relationships can’t always last forever. But Facebook dangles these people out in front of me day in and day out. I don’t want Facebook to shape my memories of what my friendships are or what they were.

I think I forge intense bonds with people more easily than others, and I’m lucky in this way. I can’t think of a single stage in my life so far where I didn’t have a girlfriend I felt totally got me, who I could count on all the time. For all the living and traveling alone, I was never really alone – I’ve made many friends as the years have gone by that I had more than just a simple friendship with, but a very close connection and the ability to engage in deep, meaningful conversation. Most recently in Colombia I only had one day in two weeks where I didn’t find a temporary travel buddy who I really connected with. And I’ve been so fortunate to have grown up very close to my mom, dad, sister, and brother, and that will always be.

Facebook, after a while, just felt like when I watch movie trailers because I don’t feel like reading a book or doing something productive, and then I don’t even end up watching a movie because I’ve wasted an hour of my life judging two minute previews. People I once truly cared about reduced to a cliché profile photo (the jumping with arms spread on a beach shot, the funny face shot, the bar shot, the back shot in front of natural lake/cliff/scenery, the bff shot, the boyfriend shot, the newly engaged shot with the girl’s left hand with sparkly ring on her fiancé’s chest, the girl friend shot, the headshot better serving LinkedIn) posting political opinions I didn’t care to read. I spent the last couple of years deleting Facebook friends and binge-ufollowing people – At the time of deletion most of my Newsfeed was NY Magazine and The New York Times, and I know I’m not doing myself any favors living in my own echo chamber.

Last summer I didn’t feel like going home one night. I had a reckless sort of feeling juicing through my body, and I found myself at a bar across from my apartment. I quickly made friends with a group of partiers my age that seemed up to no good, which was exactly the vibe I was going for. I didn’t know any of them, they didn’t know me, we’d stumbled into each others’ nights and the next day we’d wonder if it was all a dream. I could be anyone I wanted.

I ended up out with them until 6 in the morning, sort of flirting with this one guy, I can’t remember his name. We both hated our jobs and were soaking up Saturday night for all it was worth before Monday hit us over the head. We teetered back to my apartment early in the morning and woke up together a few hours later. We didn’t hook up, I think we both just didn’t feel like being alone. We went out for breakfast, winding up at a diner somewhere off Polk Street discussing our San Francisco lives and careers. He had a similar role to mine except he worked for some weed delivery app, so yea, that must suck, I said to him. I wasn’t into him, but I liked sitting in this red leather diner booth, complaining about life while treating myself to an ostentatious stack of fluffy pancakes with maple syrup and bacon that could only be purchased with tech money, talking about how even when life is good, totally, totally decent, you can still just be so damn lost.

While I truly appreciated our breakfast b*tch sesh, I had no interest in seeing him again. He walked me home, got my number, but I was confident in the hopes he’d never call or text. I’d remember it forever as that night I decided to do whatever I wanted because I didn’t care about anything past Saturday night, past living in the moment, and I thought I’d met someone else who felt the same. And I was right – he did never call or text, but he did add me as a Facebook friend a few weeks later. Are you kidding me??

I love my life in San Francisco, but the job thing I really haven’t figured out yet. While I’ve finally figured out what my calling in life is, naturally there are massive barriers to entry, insane start up costs, and the last business I successfully ran was probably a lemonade stand to fund my 1997 Tamagatchi habit. So today I deleted my LinkedIn profile too. Because while I sit here trying to figure out what on earth Customer Success really means to the tech industry or what 95% of the tech industry means to anyone outside of the tech industry or how the hell I’m going to accomplish what I’ve decided to accomplish, I need not only to cut out the distraction but also cut out the ability to compare and imagine. For some reason looking at people’s resumes is the the only real thing that brings out feelings of uncertainty and insecurity in me – Maybe other people are above that, but I’m not at the moment, and I accept that.

I’ve never been someone who was dying to be the absolute best. My parents never punished me for bad grades, I have just always naturally wanted to do the best I can do. And academically I always have – I was totally content with a 91%, felt like I could have done better with an 85%, 75% I could go in early for extra help, and 65%, well, as long as I could pass the NY State Regents exam I’d probably be fine. Never had a desire to go to an Ivy League school. Woke up to take the SAT for a second time, decided my scores were perfectly reflective of who I was as a student (above average in English, average in math), and went back to bed. I partied like an absolute animal in college but graduated with honors. I’ve always been my biggest competition – Alice, you can do better. You can eat better, you can feel better, you can study harder, you can get better grades, you can speak better Spanish, you can get a better job, you can have better pay. I’m my own motherf*cking cheerleader and my own worst Pageant Mom.

You could scroll through LinkedIn for hours through people who you or sort of know, people from high school you’d never dream would be gainfully employed, now they’ve got the word “Executive” in their job title and a receding hairline. And for some reason I start rabbit holing, start questioning why I don’t have an Exec level position at 27, whether I should have traveled less, whether they’re breaking even at the end of the month or eking out of their college loans, whether or not they cramp up in the middle of the day from the stress or dip out of the office food a good afternoon cry-around-the-block? (Okay, it’s not that bad all the time, but on the days when startup life gets rough, it is, and I wonder if everyone experiences such tumult in their job on a daily basis).

It’s too overwhelming for me to be competing with myself – Alice, you can make this happen, you passed Belgian statistics, you can project cash flow, you can’t sit in a cubicle for the rest of your life slinging software to people with dialup – and then to then be competing with the shadows of lives past, and their connections, and all their connections. The big Latin-based words we throw into our resumes and workplace bios, the euphemisms – “Ethan taught high school English in Baltimore, MD after graduating from university. He then transitioned into pharmaceutical sales to leverage his communications and business skills…” Are you joking?? Ethan left his Teach for America job at an inner city school in Baltimore because being a pharma sales rep pays hella cash and you don’t have to walk through a metal detector every morning to teach a bunch of hardened youth why they should care about Ethan Frome!!!

Am I still on Instagram? Hell yes. I can discreetly choose to follow whomever I want to follow, and share the beautiful, Instagramable parts of my day or week with people who appreciate them. I can share with other photographers and architecture enthusiasts with Beauty in Buildings. Do I still have this blog? Do I still have Gmail? Yes to both. I’m not trying to disappear from the cyber world, I’m just trying to find my footing on my own, my memories of who I’ve been and who I’ve been that person with, how it felt to get to know someone and never see them again, to sit around and wonder who or what they’ve become. To concentrate on what I want to be and what I want to create without getting sucked up into comparing my intelligence, luck, degree or connection with some random person who isn’t even doing what I dream of doing.

Two weeks in and the only real backlash I’ve had from deleting Facebook was missing two friend’s parties because I hadn’t remembered to transfer them to my real life calendar. I have an urge to check it when I want to procrastinate work – But I can’t! I literally just end up doing more things. So so far, so good. My phone is full of the numbers of the people I want to text or call, my computer full of photos of all of them, of memories I’ve made, things I’ve seen, people I’ve loved, buildings I’ve passed. And they’re all just for me.

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Cartagena, November 2016

Although I respect that on a global level it’s been less than stellar, I have to say all in all, on a personal level, 2016 has been a pretty good year. However, by the day before Thanksgiving when I packed up my suitcase (I just don’t do backpacks) for a two-week vacation to Colombia, I was feeling a bit burnt out. Let’s put it this way, startups do not become Facebook over night. Additionally, Trump had just won the election;  the guy I liked had just left San Francisco; and my shoulder was starting to hurt in freestyle. As the days became shorter my life felt increasingly vélo, boulot, dodo – Ugh!

I was a little nervous – The last time I’d taken an trip down below the border I’d come back, quit my job, and gone on a year-long odyssey across nations. What if I felt compelled to do the same? Would I ever want to live a normal life?

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The view from the hostel I stayed at in Cartagena, The ViajeroI shared a cab to my hostel in the Centro Historico with a couple from Barcelona and Uruguay on whom I practiced my rusty Spanish. Not yet used to the currency (1000 Colombian Pesos is about 33 cents),when the cab driver dropped me off first I accidentally paid for the whole taxi ride , and the couple tracked me down at my hostel to pay me back! The whole cost of the trip amounted to about $4 USD, but it was appreciated nonetheless. Realizing it was 85 and humid, I put my suitcase down, changed out of my long sleeve black shirt, long black pants, long black socks, and heavy black combat boot high heels (I consider these my signature shoe), changed into the fewest amount of clothes I could find, and set out to eat and take pictures of buildings.

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Lonely Planet recommended a delicious seafood restaurant, Espiritu Santu, just a few blocks from my hostel, and it was there I met my first temporary companion of the trip, another American female solo traveler named Latricia. She was from a rural part of Beaumont, Texas but worked for the city of Houston, and I immediately liked her friendly Southern vibes. Her mother was from New Orleans and she spent her summers as a kid under the guise of her grandfather in the Ninth Ward. In typical Southern fashion, she was eating pork ribs; I ordered the bass above complete with patacones (fried plantain slices), avocado salad, and my new favorite, arroz con coco (coconut rice). I do not know how I’ve lived my 27 years of life up until this point without it.

Latricia’s clothes that day, a marigold blouse and deep lavender shorts paired with the brightest magenta she put to her slips were just made for posing against the brightly colored facades of Cartagena’s oldest neighborhoods. I convinced her to leave the Old Quarter with me to go to Getsemaní, a lower-class neighborhood on the other side of the Avenida Venezuela. Only a few years ago it was off-limits to gringo travelers like ourselves (although Latricia blended in much more naturally with the locals than I did), but like many underdog neighborhoods around the world,  it’s experiencing swift gentrification – As of November 2016 is a central hub for hostels, hip coffeeshops, and dance halls, and of course, street art and graffiti. I acted as Latricia’s paparazzo and managed to stop every couple of blocks for some Beauty in Buildings shots, one thing I was intent on doing on this trip.

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That night Latricia and I went back to Getsemaní to Club Havana, a popular salsa club known for its mojitos. We showed up early, and the lack of people made me assume it was a dud. We sat at the bar and talked life and politics over mojitios (I caught on that she was not a Texan who had voted for Trump). All of the sudden we realized we could barely hear each other anymore – The club had swelled to maximum capacity with the arrival of the female-led salsa band, and more and more tourists screamed their drink orders to the bartender through the small space that was open between me and Latricia. After a bro-esque gringo, attempting to impress a local chick and her friend, had his credit card decline three times (so cringe), we decided to squeeze our way out of the bar and walk down the street to the Plaza de Santísima Trinidad. It was full of people, lots of teenagers dancing in the street, food vendors, groups of tourists, stray dogs. The plaza was lit up and it appeared that this, in fact, was the place to be on a Friday night.

A friend of mine had recommended Cartagena Connections, a walking tour company, so I signed up on my second day for their food tour. Led a a German, Jonas, and his apprentice, a French guy named Nico, they were both in love with Cartagena. Like many foreign men I’d meet on this trip, they’d met Colombian girls abroad and had moved over here to be with them and found jobs in tourism.

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The food tour was strictly fried food, but I snapped this photo on of a bunch of kids at one of my favorite things about Colombia – fruit stands! At any time of day or night you can buy cheap, freshly prepared fruit. In The Mission each cup there would go for $6! I actually don’t really like mango (unless it’s dried and from Trader Joe’s), I find ripe mango a little too gooey and sweet for my taste. But in Colombia a speciality is to serve mango slices unripe, drizzled with lemon juice, and topped off with salt. It is a bitter recipe for sure, but nice and tart! What’s more, fruit stands seem to understand that everyone has their own preference for mangos, so most of them offer an array mango in about 10 different states of maturity, so you can always pick the level of tough, sweet, or bitter that you desire. They’re very pro-choice.

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Arepas. Colombia’s national snack, I would describe these as cornbread pancakes. You fry them up on a stove, cut them open, stuff them with mozzarella and / or meat, fry them again, and then serve them with one last dollop of butter on top. The yellow-corn arepas (arepa de choclo) are sweeter than the white ones (arepa de queso), and each region of Colombia has their own take (and opinion on who makes them the best) on the arepa.

Costeños (people from Cartagena) were lined up all over eating arepas with that extra slab of butter on top. Good genes I guess, because most Costeños to me some tall, skinny, and lanky, and with well-defined muscles. On the busy streets where we stood enjoying the deep fried food, the people watching was incredible. What the average Colombian looks like is impossible to say. From the deep black of the descendants of escaped slaves to the dark brown of the indigenous so to the paler descendants of the European and the Lebanese, the people bustling their way down a hectic Cartagena Street tell the history of all the different people who have done the same over the course of pre-Colombian & Colombian times.

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More arepas! This woman was preparing arepas de huevo (arepas with egg). Yellow cornmeal is rolled and flattened, and then thrown into a deep fryer. It emerges looking like a taco and pita bread had a child. It’s then cut open, filled with ground beef and a full raw egg, and then thrown back in the fryer. Top it off with pico de gallo, spicy sauce, guacamole, and finally, suero (a sour-cream-like sauce). The Cartagena Connections guys explained that arepas de huevo are very indicative of many of the people that have settled in Cartagena – The egg was brought by the domesticated chickens brought over with the Spanish. The corn was already being grown by the indigenous populations. The frying and the seasoning of the beef was brought over by African slaves. And the suero, the fermented milk-based sauce was brought over by Syrian and Lebanese immigrant merchants, the same ones who would later spawn Shakira (Paste Magazine).

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I was not convinced I was going to like this treat – Dried guayaba (imagine a very thick fruit chew) with queso costeño. The latter is cheese from the Caribbean coast – It looks almost like a block of feta, but the texture is quite soft and the taste a bit salty and at times almost flavorless. Fruit and cheese? I don’t have synesthesia…But I liked it! Interesting textures together, a surprise fiesta in the mouth.

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There was a Scottish man staying in my hostel, he taught Spanish and French at a private school down in Cali. I thought he was Colombian at first, his Spanish without accent to my ears. Two of his friends had arrived from Medellin for the night, would I like to go out to dinner and salsa with them? It was exactly what I had had in mind. A Brazilian they met at the beach that day joined as well – Aside from the Scottish guy, no one spoke a word of English, so it was my first experience of the trip not just to communicate i.e., ask the price of something or for directions, but really to converse entirely in Spanish. And I held my own! Although I was pretty jealous that the Brazilian, with no formal training could find himself completely fluent after just a few weeks of traveling through Spanish-speaking South America.

Back at the hospital we scooped up our newly arrived Dutch roommate, and were off to salsa. We ended up at a small but maze-like Cuban club where tables and chairs formed small alleyways for a dance floor. Fidel Castro had died the day before, and patrons were dressed all in white, eyes transfixed to the screens of the television broadcasting images of memorial service for Fidel.

The party moved next door to a proper nightclub, filled with gringos, locals, and prostitutes dancing to salsa on the first floor and imported jams on the second. We moved from the second to the first, where the Colombians were teaching me the ways of salsa. Then the police showed up and shut the place down. I couldn’t confirm the rumors in the chaos. We spilled out into the plaza with hundreds of other party-goers, street vendors, and performers. The effects of having given in to the guys standing on the street corners whispering “Marijuana! Coca!” to passing-by tourists had finally caught up with the Scotsman, and the group slung him between their shoulders and ushered him back to the hostel together. I decided to call it a night too.

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Outside of the Centro Historico, Boca Grande is an area of Cartagena that from afar could be Miami – It’s beach and condos for miles. Boca Grande is also the name of a beautiful old fashioned Florida town near my grandma’s, and these associations, conjuring up images of flat paved highways, pristine sidewalk, newness of Florida convinced me that it would be the same here in Cartagena. The Brazilian, Wellington aka “Tom”, from the night before had taken a certain liking to me, and said he do whatever I wanted that day. And I wanted to rent bikes and bike to Boca Grande. I also wanted to know why his name was Wellington, but he didn’t know.

Easier said than done. From the Centro Historico the sidewalk edging along the coast to the wealthy, condo-heavy area of Boca Grande was covered in rubble or gaping holes, and ran along a highway. It was rainy season and the roads were flooded from between a few inches to three or so feet. The bike ride was not exactly what I had in mind, but with my mother’s classic credo, “You’re not leaving until you have a good time,” in mind, I persisted along the muddy potholed highway, Tom pedaling behind. If he was unnerved biking along a Colombian highway on a rickety rented bike with shady gears, he didn’t show it.

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Once in Boca Grande, we pedaled along the beach until we let ourselves be roped in by a very salesy fisherman, we had a full meal of fish and arroz con coco. I freaking love arroz con coco. Tom watched our stuff while I plunged myself into the ocean and then fell asleep on the sand, lulled to sleep by his endless repeating of “No gracias” to the many vendors of massages, marijuana, jewelry, cigarettes and whatever other things are for sale on a beach.

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We biked back to the Centro Historico as the sun was just beginning to set, and we made a few circles around the walls of the town. We crossed through a park in Getsemaní, it was nothing special, but when I glanced to the left there was a massive king iguana! It was just lounging on the grass and trying to eat as many tuffs of it as it could. Tom and I took a million photos, the iguana practically posing for us. A mother and her two young sons stopped to ogle the creature as well, and the mother confirmed that it was not every day she saw a king iguana in her city, and that these are not the Colombian version of squirrels. He was really guapo.

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Tom and I biked through to Plaza de Bolivar to sit down and eat the cups of fresh watermelon and mango we bought from a black woman in a traditional dress selling fruits and chasing her rambunctious 3 year old down the street. As there had been on my first night a group of eight or so teenagers were dancing traditional dances to the heavy beat of some drums. Flashbacks to traditional dances as I watched in Senegal and New Orleans, the music and movements forced from one side of the ocean to the other to reproduce themselves and evolve in a new land with new people. Sometimes the kids stripped down to nearly nothing, loin cloth and tassled bikini tops, feet and hands moving to an almost dangerous African beat, faster than your eyes can keep up with. For other dances the girls donned long hooped skirts and the boys danced around them in a manner more Spanish.

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For my last night in the city I wanted to do something bougie, so Tom came with me to a semi-fancy restaurant, La Cevicheria. On the corner of a busy area, it’s still manages to having relaxing atmosphere despite the impromptu singer who set up a boom box and mike across the street,  the writhe dancer she brought along, and the infamous rap duos with boomboxes tangled around their necks harassing locals and tourists alike. Somehow I was able to tune all that out and enjoy the subtle lighting, the nautical blues, the colorful combinations of fish in my ceviche, a crisp glass of white wine. A classy end to my first leg of the trip – I wouldn’t change out of my bathing suit for the next week up on the coast in Santa Marta.

To be continued!

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Amy, Translated

When the Wifi and TV are out on a four-hour flight, and you’ve got a journal and Frank.

I couldn’t resist him
His eyes were like yours
His hair was exactly the shade of brown
He’s just not as tall, but I couldn’t tell
It was dark and I was lying down

You are everything, he means nothing to me
I can’t even remember his name
Why’re you so upset?
Baby, you weren’t there and I was thinking of you when I came

What do you expect?
You left me here alone; I drank so much and needed to touch
Don’t overreact, I pretended he was you
You wouldn’t want me to be lonely

How can I put it so you understand?
I didn’t let him hold my hand
But he looked like you, I guess he looked like you
No he wasn’t you
But you can still trust me, this ain’t infidelity
It’s not cheating, you were on my mind

Yes, he looked like you
But I heard love is blind

Je ne pouvais pas le résister
Ses yeux étaient comme les tiens
Ses cheveux étaient exactement le même teint de châtain
C’est juste qu’il n’est pas aussi grand, mais je n’en ai pas rendu compte
Il faisait noir et je m’allongeais

Tu es tout, il ne veut rien dire à moi
Je ne me rappelle même pas son nom
Pourquoi t’es tellement vexé?
Bébé tu n’étais pas là, et je me pensais à toi quand j’ai joui

A quoi tu t’y attends?
Tu m’a laissé ici toute seule; J’ai bu tant, il me fallait toucher
Ne le dramatise pas, j’ai prétendu qu’il était toi
Tu ne voudrais pas que je sois seule

Comment je peux le dire afin que tu comprennes?
Je ne lui ai pas permis de tenir la main
Mais il t’a ressemblé, je suppose qu’il t’a ressemblé
Non, il n’étais pas toi
Mais tu peux toujours avoir de la confiance en moi,
Ceci n’est pas l’infidélité
Ce n’est pas tricher, je t’avais dans l’esprit

Oui, il t’a ressemblé
Mais j’ai entendu que l’amour est aveugle

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Brussels Writing Workout Workshop

Prompt 1: I forgot to turn off the oven!

Marie shut the dresser drawer with great finality. She had the proof, that lying, cheating bastard. How did he think she wouldn’t notice? Was he really so daft? The brown hairs in HER hairbrush. “It’s winter, your hair gets dark at this time of year,” he had quipped. The unrecognizable, silky black thong in her underwear drawer. “I bought that for you two Christmases ago,” he thrown back at her. “I can’t believe you don’t’ remember! Or even wear them!” The late nights at the office…so cliché, so typical.

Marie had brushed these incidents off, but deep down she knew her husband was playing her for a fool. But she had no definitive proof til yesterday when she’d seen them making out at the grocery store. Yes, in Aisle 7, next to the tea and coffee selection. He’d told Marie he had left town for a conference in Los Angeles the day before. But there he was, deciding between Earl Grey and Peppermint with his tall, leggy brunette lover. It irked her – tea? She would have been less upset if she’d come across them in the wine shop together, buying a few bottles for an alcohol-fueled, forbidden romp, pre-drinking to quell the guilt. But tea? It was so homely, so cozy, so comfortable in terms of what a married man goes shopping for with his mistress. He might as well have been buying soap and laundry detergent for a spring-cleaning Saturday morning at home.

Marie had just finished decorating her husband’s birthday cake. A small blue candle was enforced into every square inch of the rectangular vanilla cake. She had also packed her bags, loaded the boxes into the car, and put Leo, their five-year-old tabby cat, in his carrier in the backseat. Seeing to it that each and every candle was aflame, she stuck it back in the roaring hot oven and closed the door. As she drove away from the house, she thought of the phone call she’d get from her husband upon his return from “Los Angeles”, and ask if she had any idea how their lovely home had burnt to the ground.

“Oh,” she’d reply, “I must have forgotten to turn off the oven.”

Prompt 2: Unavailable at the moment

“Sorry miss, but Jonathan is unavailable at the moment.”

“Umm, okay, well, can you tell him that I found his phone in the back of a cab? He can call me at this number if he wants it back.”

“Okay, I’ll let him know.”

Jeez, this guy was pretty hard to get in touch with. I’d found the phone squished into the seat of the taxi, I’d heard it ringing after I hopped in out of the rain, scooching down the navy blue, faux-leather backseat. Melissa, the caller ID said. I’d picked up and before I could get a word in edge wise, a concerned voice hissed, “Jonathan, where are you?” I told Melissa that this Jonathan she had called had left his phone in a cab, did she possibly know where I could find him? I heard the phone click, she’d hung up without saying a word. I tried calling back but it went straight to voicemail.

I looked through his recent calls and found a “Work” number, but it led me to the voicemail of a sultry female named Jessica. Puzzled, I scrolled through the contact list, settling on “HQ” for a second shot at getting this guy’s brand new iPhone 6 back to him. I’d want someone to do the same, right? The secretary of a large, well-known bank answered, I explained the situation to her. She recognized the name and number and told me she’d let her boss (Jonathan) know. But he never phoned me back. After a day or two, I decided this Jonathan guy just didn’t want his phone back. No problem, I thought, I could use an extra 300 bucks or whatever it was worth.

But then the calls started coming. Blocked numbers with tough, angry male voices at the other end. “Jonathan, ya jerk off, we know where you are, and we’re gonna find ya. Aright??” Jenna, Elise, Samantha. “FUCK YOU JONATHAN, FUCK YOU. YOU SACK OF SHIT,” the women would scream into the phone and then hang up violently before I could quietly tell them Jonathan was long gone.

And so curiosity killed the cat – I clicked open “Messages.” It had felt like a private zone before, but all of the sudden I felt like I should find out whose phone I was about to trade in for Coachella tickets. There were messages to and from men with foreign-sounding names, written in what had to be some sort of code. Messages of the most sexually graphic nature from all kinds of exotically named women. And then updates from “Melissa” on “the kids”. Lena was five and judging from a text on February 2nd, had lost a front tooth. Milo loved Legos, there were lots of photos of his colorful, blocky creations on warm fuzzy play rugs. Jonathan seemed to respond sporadically to Melissa, and when he did it was sweet and kind.

Who was this Jonathan and what was his deal? I was enraptured as I read through his multitude of messages, peering into his life. Or lives. He seemed like a pretty messed up guy. And possibly dangerous. Was he an illegal arms dealer or something? Was this just one of many phones with which he trafficked drugs or Eastern European women? Did he lose this phone or was he trying to get rid of it? Was his name really Jonathan? Whose phone did I have in my hand?

Like I suspected Jonathan had been in the backseat of that cab that day, I was suddenly overcome with the overwhelming sensation that I needed to get rid of this phone. NOW.

Prompt 3: Car crash

Mrs. Wilkins was sharp. While her voice was wobbly and her knees knobby, her back a bit curved from the scoliosis and her skin thin and veiny, Mrs. Wilkins had an upbeat sprit and an unwavering love of life. Even as many of her friends at the retirement home were losing theirs minds or spirits seemingly every day, she always woke up on the right side of the bed. At 93 years old, she was still the life of all the parties at the Boca Grande Home for the Elderly. Even the younger men, still in their 70s and usually new to the home, often following the death of their first wife or pressures from their adult children, would ask her to dance before any other lady in attendance. She had a fiery spirit and a delightful Southern accent from living her entire pre-retirement life in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Maisie, as was her first name, had been rising at 6am on Sunday mornings for years, and it was tradition to meet Daisy Wheatly at 7am for the Early Bird Special at the Nautilus Diner. It had been like this since 1995, which she and Daisy had met at a local Bridge championship and had fallen head over heels. Maisie’s husband had died in 1985, and he and Maisie hadn’t had sex since 1955. Joe had been a jerk and Maisie a lesbian, but it simply wasn’t an option for a good Southern girl like Maisie Wilkins to run off and leave Joe behind. For Maisie, even at this age, it still wasn’t an option and would never be, but that’s what Sunday mornings were for.

The Nautilus Diner was about 20 miles from Maisie’s retirement home, far enough that she and Daisy wouldn’t run into people they knew. Old people, Maisie had realized, were the worst gossips. The retirement home functioned just like high school had, with its residents retreating into almost teenage-like states, forming various clicks and lunch groups, with rumors still spreading about who was going steady with whom and who’d winked at whom during afternoon water aerobics class at the community pool.

Maisie enjoyed the long, predictable, early-morning drive to the diner in her 2002 beige Buick. It was definitely an old person-mobile, her grandkids always told her she should trade it in for an Audi. It was grandiose and spacious, unnecessary for a little old lady like herself, but it reminded her of the days when all cars were gigantic, elegant driving machines, when her children were still children rolling around in the roomy backseat before seatbelt laws were enforced, and when she hadn’t a single gray hair.

Maisie was driving along at a steady 35 miles per hour, but in these parts of retirementville, Florida, it was almost considered on par with drag-racing. She kept eyeing out for any radars or cops, seeing as the local police took no pity on the elderly drivers. They were known to give out tickets to the old folks for a mere mile over the speed limit. It was extortion. She didn’t want any trouble that day – she and Daisy hadn’t been able to meet the week before because of the annual Boca Grande BINGO tournament, and she missed her Daisy.

Maisie sped down the long, smooth, stick-straight road typical of south Florida, pushing her foot ever so gently on and off the accelerator, her eyes squinting through her thick-rimmed glasses ahead. And then out of the bush, an alligator darted out onto the road from nowhere. And Maisie’s big old Buick was headed right towards it.

Prompt 4: Deviant workplace behavior

Joann had been an employee of Hasburger Paper Industries for 33 years. As executive secretary, she’d sat behind the front office desk for all those decades, years, days, from 9am til 5pm, save her 21 vacation days per year. Joan always took her full vacation, treated herself, even though lots of her co-workers didn’t. Typical New York workaholics. In her tenure she’d seen all sorts of employees come and go, the dramatic exits of those “let go”, the lunch-time trysts, the jittery first days of the recent grads who still looked uncomfortable trading in the college sweatshirt for a suit and button down.

But management had changed and Joann knew she was going to be pushed out. She couldn’t use the computers like these new young office assistants, with their fancy spreadsheets and Google search prowess. When Joann had started out they still had her on the typewriter. She was not happy about her job loss looming in the distance – While she’d never really needed a job (the massive trust fund Joann’s grandfather, a shoelace tycoon, had left her cancelled out any real need for gainful employment), she had always liked the routine and responsibility of a job. No husband, no kids, not even a cat, just Joann. Work got her out of the house and always had. Thirty-three years she’d put in and management would one of these days kick her to the curb, her desk packed neatly up into a cardboard box.

Her revenge had begun as petty. Taking printer paper home, a few paper clips. Then she’d gone for the coffee filters in the breakroom, and then to the bags of gourmet coffee itself. She knew how much the office spent on all the supplies, she’d done the bookkeeping herself after all. They spent $35,000 a year caffeinating all the employees. Who’ll really notice if a bag or two is missing? But her pilfering habit had begun to intensify. The week prior she’d taken home $500 worth of toner, three boxes of ink cartridges, a 5-pound hole puncher with the brawn to punch through 200 pages at a time. Joann neither drank coffee nor had ever purchased a computer for herself, let alone a printer. The unused office supplies began to amass untouched on her dining room table.

Prompt 5: Snow Day

Principal Sanders looked at his clock. It was 4am. He flicked on the TV for the weather report. There was already three feet of snow and it wasn’t about to let up. He felt around on his bedside table in the dark til he found his telephone, and called Beatrice, the school secretary, to let her know that school would have to be cancelled. She would call the parent representatives, who would spend the pre-dawn period calling all the parents of the school to tell them to keep their kids at home that day.

If he had paid a little more attention to the weather reports, he might not have done what he did the day before. He sighed, lying in his bed and staring up at the ceiling. His eyes adjusted and readjusted to the light from outside hitting the white paint of the ceiling above. The refractions projected different images on the ceiling, morphing into subsequent images like moving clouds on a summer afternoon, changing outlines with the passing of a carefully driving car with its brights on, a next-door neighbor switching his hall lights on for a quick trip to the bathroom, a streetlamp finally flickering out after years of functioning.

Sometimes the shadows danced into her shape, into her face. Not how she’d looked yesterday when he’d left her, but from the first day he’d made her acquaintance, her first day of teaching 11th grade English five years ago. She was fresh out of the Teacher’s Certificate Program, bursting with energy and enthusiasm for the written American word. Her red bob bounced up and down with such thrill when you got her going on Steinbeck.

When he’d locked her in his office yesterday afternoon, after the bell had long since signaled that it was time to go, well after the last janitor had swept up the last of lunch, her hair fell flat and dull around her face. Her cheeks were red, not with the excitement produced by the finalization of the Summer Reading List, but red with rage for him locking her inside his office, the principal’s office.

As he walked towards his car, he felt unsure of the events that had just transpired and that would transpire. He would deal with her tomorrow, he had thought to himself, I’ll come to school early, that shouldn’t be a problem.

Prompt 4: Blank fortune cookie

The plates of General Tso’s chick and beef with broccoli had been cleared, the white tablecloth stained with scattered spots of brown, orange and yellow sauces. Soy sauce, duck sauce, sweet and sour sauce, they were hard for children to contain to their plates. It was a tradition for the Macintoshes to go out for Chinese on Christmas day. Eloise, matriarch of the Macintosh clan, didn’t like cooking another huge meal so soon after Thanksgiving. When you have six kids and a husband, it’s just too much.

The waiter came by and plopped two baskets of fortune cookies on the table. The kids flew at them, the three teenagers grabbing the baskets and taking first dibs over their equally eager younger siblings. Carl wripped the plastic wrap off with his teeth, spitting the transparent cover out of his mouth so it fluttered down onto the table. He snapped the cookie in two with his beefy hands. Once she’d shed the wrapper, Erica bit the end off the right side and slid the little white slip of fortune out between her thumb and index finger. Jacob drew his hand into a heavy fist and crushed it down upon the cookie, still wrapped in its plastic protective shell. He didn’t even want the stupid cookie or lame fortune. The collision of fist to table made it shake and wobble, sending water spilling out of the sides of the half-drunk glasses, diluting the stains on the dirty tablecloth.

Ten-year-old Phil threw his cookie at Lily, seated next to him, who swatted it away with excellent reflex, and it hit the bald man seated at the table next to them square in the bald spot. Eloise swiftly took away their cookie-eating privileges, picking up the delinquent cookie from the floor and stuffing it in her purse, apologizing profusely. That left Annabel with the last cookie in the basket. The last child in the family, she felt it was fitting.

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Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Inspired by a disastrous stint dog-sitting a few years ago. Possibly to be continued. Enjoy.

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Winston promptly stepped in it as soon as he had finished, the warm, odorous feculence squishing and squashing beneath his small ivory paw. He jolted forward from the curb, attempting to pull my arm out of its snug little socket as he lunged menacingly at the squirrel squatting nearby, examining the acorn he’d stashed in the same tree that Winston had inadvertently fertilized. I yanked him back towards me which provoked a loud, grating bark, and Winston furiously stormed back at me, his beefy frame dawdling circles around my new beige suede boots.

The squirrel bolted, ditching its prized nut to flee this slobbering, wrinkled, wretched wildebeest referred to by most as a bulldog. I felt a pang of jealousy as I watched the squirrel spring off the ground and scamper up the delicate oak tree that gave shade to this square of Chelsea sidewalk, instantly out of Winston’s reach and removed from the various atrocities the brute might commit on the ground. Just then, as if to taunt me, Winston’s front left paw, fresh with warm excrement, swiped the tip of my new shoes as he pranced around my legs. “GOD DAMN IT!” I shrieked, cursing the day this beast had ever been brought onto this earth, but moreover the day I let my sister, Violet, sucker me into taking care of her newly adopted godforsaken dog child while she honeymooned on the Greek Isles.

“Ohhhh, hey there big boy, ohhh yes, that’s a good boy!” A cooing, patronizing, yet distinctly male voice came from behind me, prickling every hair on my neck and sending my blood pressure through the roof. Why did dog people insist on speaking to these animals like an overindulgent mother speaks to her newborn baby? It’s not a human, it’s an animal, and a hairy, smelly, sneezy, drooling one at that. This dog was a permanent infant, except 80 pounds heavier and constantly licking my shins like they had a Tootsie-Roll center. Never before had I ever felt an urge to Purell my kneecaps.

“Winston is super touchy-feely,” my sister had raved. “We actually keep a slobber towel in every room of the apartment, because he’s just never not really dipping saliva somewhere. Isn’t that a riot?” I had stared back dumbfounded at my older sister as she related this to me, utterly in awe as she proceeded to give the dog a treat and let him lick her entire face, starting with her chin and sweeping across her eyes. There was so much liquid I half-expected her mascara to run. Winston had just finished eating most of Zoey’s wet cat food, and I had wondered if Frank would come home later and smell the Friskies Classic Tuna Paté all over Violet’s face when he went in to kiss her hello.

“Yessss, dat’s a good boy!” The man’s voice was closer this time, and I grimaced at hearing a grown man talk like someone dangled a baby in front of him and ordered him to make it clap. In the few days I had spent dog-sitting, I was never quite sure how to act when taking Winston for walks – I was afraid people would take me for a dog person, so I tried to actively show frustration instead of pride when he did things like pee on flowers or stop in the middle of the crosswalk when we were already jaywalking. I spun around with a scowl on my face, hoping to scare off this hyper-feminine maniac who so desperately wanted to reach out and touch the four-legged monstrosity with fresh feces on at least two of his scruffy paws.

The full-blooded male specimen bee-lining towards me and the animal would have knocked me off my feet himself if Winston hadn’t done so first, capitalizing on my brief loss of concentration to fully bind me up in his leash. He stood there panting with what I could swear was a full blown grin on his face as he watched me lose my balance and land flat on my butt on the cold October sidewalk. My bare hands smacked down loudly on the concrete to break my fall, and I immediately felt a sting on my palms similar to the one experienced by my ego.

“Oh gosh, can I help you up?” The divine being rushed over to my aid, kneeling down to try and disentangle me from Winston’s woven web of hyperactivity. The scowl that had been plastered on my face melted into a gaping jaw, unable to answer the heavenly body’s simple question.

“Wow, he really pulled a fast one on you, didn’t he?” His soft, rosy lips moved and words burst forth from within, and I found myself nodding as his hands gently touched my calves when he slid the leash out from underneath. Winston seemed equally stupefied at the wondrous figure standing before us, this ethereal man who had in just a few short moments wound his way into our lives. The gargantuan dog was actually still, sprawled out like a leapfrog mid-stroke (the bulldog version of sitting on all fours) waiting for the god-like creature’s next move.

The tall, dark-haired, eerily handsome mortal raised himself up on a pair of sturdy, jean-clad legs and I found myself staring up to the heavens above. The sunlight gleamed and hit his jet black hair in such a way that it cast an aura around his head, and at that moment I truly believed in angels. With Winston’s leash firmly clasped in one hand, the exalted one extended his other hand to me and graciously hoisted me up off the gritty sidewalk.

“Thank you,” I managed to eke out, unable to look at the sublime male directly in the eyes. I skirted his gaze, nervously brushing myself off. I had dragged myself out of Violet’s cushiony king-size bed to take Winston for his morning walk, hoping to wear him out so he’d be too tired to make a ruckus while I crept back in my bed til noon. I had neither brushed my hair nor donned a bra, and I hoped that my black pea coat was concealing my lack of chest support.

“No problem! I spotted him running around you from down the sidewalk, kind of saw that one coming. You’re sure you’re okay though?” Oh, how sweet! He was genuinely concerned for my well-being, his deep emerald eyes giving me the one-over while checking for signs of distress on my body.

“Oh yea, I’m fine, you know, it’s, umm, mostly my pride,” I replied nervously, tucking a wisp of my corn-colored hair behind my ear. I examined the handsome stranger’s face – his dark hair rested perfectly atop his head where I could tell he pushed it back out of his mystifying forest-colored eyes. His square jaw was strong and harbored the most splendid, brilliant rack of teeth I’d ever seen. Freshly shaven, his skin radiated perfection save a jarring, jagged scar above his left eyebrow. Instead of distracting from his beauty, the scar only seemed to highlight his otherwise unearthly symmetry.

“I’m Erick,” the supreme being offered, presenting me with his right hand. “What’s your name?”

“Alice,” I heard myself saying while I absorbed the warmth and contour of his manly, deft hands. “You know, like Wonderland.”

“Ha! Nice! I guess you could say I’m Erick, like Prince Erick! Gotta love a Disney reference once in a while.” He winked, and my eyes widened. Oh! He thinks I’m clever! 

Erick turned his attention to Winston, kneeling down to give him a rough nuzzle on the head. The gluttonous critter was sprawled back out on the sidewalk, motionless in Erick’s aura. I’d never seen the monster so still.

“And what’s this little troublemaker’s name?” He asked, his voice getting all high-pitched and doting again. I bade myself to look past it – Everyone has flaws, I reminded myself. It must be his only one, there is no way this man-angel has two entire flaws. With that in mind, I forced a smile.

“It’s Winston,” I answered with as much enthusiasm as I could muster.

“Hey there Winston! Aw man, I love bulldogs,” he said with a slight, sweet southern drawl, earnestly looking back at me. “I actually grew up on a bulldog breeding farm out in West Virginia. I didn’t have brothers or sisters growing up, so I was kind of like a wolf-boy with these bulldogs. I played with them all day, everyday, they were like brothers to me. Is he yours?”

“Mine?” I repeated, my voice rising with a mix of anxiety and perplexion. There was a lot of information to process at that moment – A bulldog breeding farm? Wolf-boy? Bulldog brothers? But at that exact moment Erick looked back up at me from where his perfect body and soul knelt next to the hairy cousin of a hog, and I found the kindest, most searching eyes staring back into mine, unworthy of their gaze. He wanted me to say yes, he needed me to say yes.

“Yes,” I lied. “Yea, it’s mine. I mean, yes, he’s my dog.”

“Wow, you sure are lucky, I can tell Winston here is a special breed. He sure looks a lot like some of my old dogs.”

“Oh yea, I’m totally lucky,” I confirmed convincingly. “Um, how many dogs do you have?” I asked, not really wanting to know the answer.

“Too many to count back in West Virginia, but when I moved to New York a while ago I just brought my top three comrades – Johnson, Doc and Elvis. Wanna see ’em?”

Before I could say no, Erick whipped out his phone – three enormous, life-threatening dogs on top of a bale of hay stared acutely back at me out of the screen.

“My god, is that one a…” My voice trailed off. I couldn’t remember the names of any of those dog breeds. I could tell you all the provinces of Canada but I could never be bothered to learn the difference between a cocker spaniel and a German sheppard. They were all the same species of ick to me.

“Yea, Elvis is a Rottweiler. He’d been badly abused as a pup, but I took him in anyway, saw something in him, you know? He’s still got some anger issues, but it’s just a question of putting the muzzle on him when he’s around people. And I took out an insurance policy on him, just in case, you know, he gets carried away in public or something.” He began excitedly flipping through his photos of the four-legged monsters while I wondered what level of loose cannon a dog had to be before a dog owner felt compelled to protect itself against potential lawsuits it might provoke.

“Wow, you really must love animals,” I managed, trying to feign an interest and change the subject as far from dogs as I could. “So you said you moved to New York a little while ago, what are you doing here?”

“Well, I’d signed to this modeling agency, but once I got settled in and made a few bucks, I quit the biz and I’m currently getting my Ph.D in education at Columbia. I want to rehaul the public school system in the U.S., but specifically in Appalachia. It’s a region that’s dear to my heart. Not everyone had the same chances as me.”

I swooned. A do-gooder, a smart, Ivy League, good old-fashioned Southern do-gooder with Disney-prince looks. I shook my head, trying to wake myself up from this dream. Maybe I’d gone back to sleep after all.

“And how about you, Alice?” He asked me, the sound of my name leaving his sublime orifice ensuring me I was alive and awake. I told him about what I did, what I wanted to do, he laughed, I laughed, he bit his lip, I blushed, the sun shone and the birds chirped and the sun and the moon and the stars aligned and there was no more war or pain or poverty and wounds healed and eternal joy was reached and and then Winston spotted the same god damn squirrel scrounging around for that nut and proceeded to go entirely bezerk.

Winston leapt off the ground and charged across the sidewalk. A rickety old lady on her walker inching her way along the street found herself right in Winston’s path. The cheap metal walker went flying and crashing and the spindly old lady tipped back, slowly falling til she hit the ground, landing flat on her butt.

“Oh my god!” I screamed, rushing over to the poor, innocent, very senior citizen. Her bruisy, purplish, veiny skin was so frail, and I was scared she snapped her feeble wrist in half when she’d hit the ground.

“I am so sorry, oh my gosh, please don’t die, oh my gosh, this is all my fault!” I was panicking.

“Oh, hush dear, I’m quite alright,” the old lady assured me in a wavery, rattling voice. “I was a battlefield nurse at the Battle of the Bulge, I’ve been blown back by Nazi artillery much stronger than that little pup! How is he, is he alright?”

“He who? The dog?” I asked, bewildered. She wanted to know if Winston, the dog that almost ended her seemingly record-long life, was okay?

“He’s fine! I got ’em!” Erick’s chirpy voice sounded from behind me again, and Winston bounded up to me and the old woman, practically knocking her back down to the ground as he gave her face one big licking.

“Winston!” I shouted, trying to shoo him away from the poor old woman, but she just laughed.

“Ohhh, that’s a good boy!” She cooed.

“His name is Winston,” Erick added. “Isn’t he a catch?”

My upper lip curled in disgust. What was wrong with these people? An unruly dog nearly mauls a ninety-five-year-old war veteran to the ground and this is the reaction? I had to get out of there.

“I…I gotta go,” I stammered.

“Wait, what? Why?” Erick was confused.

“Well, umm, it’s late.” It was 9 a.m. I had to be in a bad episode of The Twilight Zone. I’d never actually watched The Twilight Zone, it was a little before my generation, but I was sure the plot lines ran similar to this madness.

“Okay, well hold on a minute, let me get your number. We could go out one night, or even better, we could take all the dogs out for a walk together! We could even make it a thing!”

I just about fainted at the mere idea. I shook my head wordlessly, unable to respond, felt around on the ground for Winston’s leash, and looked back into Erick’s big, beautiful, pleading puppy-dog eyes. I sighed.

“I can’t,” I replied, wishing so badly that I could.

“You can’t?” Erick verified with disbelief.

“No, I just can’t.”

And with that I thought I’d make a dramatic exit, mysteriously walking away from the dashing stranger on the random Chelsea street where fate had brought us together. But instead, Winston had laid back down again and wasn’t ready to leave Grandma, so I awkwardly tugged and pulled at the 80-pound beast while what could have been my Prince Charming helped the old lady to her feet, completely at a loss. By the time I made it into the lobby, I turned around and all that stood where Erick had once been was the scrawny squirrel, finally gnawing on its precious nut.

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