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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Fav Foreign Singer of the Week: Carla Morrison

Carla Morrison…I came across her album Dejenme Llorar (and specifically the song “Eres tù”) this week as San Francisco has seen a sudden uptick in rain (first real rain since April). Her music makes me feel warm and cozy but also remember that there is still sol, calor, and sensualidad somewhere out in the world…

I unfortunately don’t know enough about Mexican music to say who she sounds like, but for me I’d say her sound is as if Patsy Cline and Linda Ronstadt had a surrogate child raised south of the border, born to strum the strings of a guitar and feel las emociones of all that is beautiful and heartbreaking in the human experience.

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Freestyle rap, 3 languages, NBD

Starting at 11 minutes in, Nico from the duo Nico & Vinz seamlessly freestyle raps in French, Norwegian, and English. A) That is a talent B) What a babe.

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11 Months

As I begin to write this and glance down at my computer calendar, I realize it’s been 11 months to the day since I updated this blog. What a pity! I used to be so diligent about writing but totally fell off the rails this year. Or, in the past 11 months.

11 months! What on earth have I been up to since October 2015? Clearly not writing anything groundbreaking on this here blog, although I can see people have been enjoying my accent tag and reading lots about the Navajo Code Talkers. I’d say slowly coming to terms with the fact that I live in a place, I have a job, I have an early morning routine, and I’m not about to buy a one-way plane ticket out of here anytime soon. Not because I don’t particularly want to, I’m just not going to.

So what’s happened in my life since 11 months ago, October 2015, or six months into my San Francisco stint/rest of my life/who knows? Recapping below for myself and anyone else who cares to know. I must say it’s been pretty damn good.

  • Travelled to Israel with my mom for my best friend from college’s wedding. Julia married an atheist ex-Haredi  Jew (took me a minute to figure out the right word order there), but the wedding in Jerusalem was hardcore Haredi. It was a Monday night marriage, Julia was veiled all in white. A wall was erected between the wedding hall, the women partied on one side while the men danced like they would legitimately never dance again. Linking arms, kicking feet, sliding on the floor, swinging partners, lifting each other up in chairs…Conservative men gone wild!

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Tel Aviv, mom said, reminded her of New York City in the 1980s with all the grit and graffiti, but set in Miami Beach. We were thrilled to be in Tel Aviv after four days in Jerusalem, we practically kissed the very ground of the wonderfully hip and edgy Boulevard Rothschild. Tel Avivians are effortlessly cool, toasted tan, uber sexy. Vegan food, Mom trying to speak Hebrew with everyone and their mom, beach cruiser bikes, a mischievous ex-Israeli solider, late nights in Dizengoff. Thought a lot about religion, traditions, belonging, and this crazy world we live in. Still a committed atheist.

  • Went on my first cross-country business trip and lived it up in the Hampton Inn of Hartford, CT for four days. The Tinder game was incredible, as was the Hampton Inn continental breakfast.
  • Punk Rock Alice in Wonderland, Halloween 2015. Would have been Alice Cooper in Wonderland but I couldn’t find a bloodied bat to chew on in quick enough time.
  • Eked out the tail end of a disastrous disastrous product launch alive. Alice alive. Out of my hands, I did what I could. Worked my a** off at a startup that amassed a terrific, talented group of people, many of whom I still call my best friends and still correspond with during the workday by iMessage or Spotify messenger since we can’t Slack each other anymore. Saw how poor leadership can derail morale and a great culture and workforce. Spoke up in front of injustice, occasional abhorrent chauvinism, poor decision-making, and for all the basic b’s out there 😉 Realized that at the end of the day you’ve got to look out for yourself.
  • Went through the stressful process of searching for another job while I still had one. So many “doctor’s appointments” I actually got myself sick. I think I interviewed at seven companies in three or so months. Phone screen one, phone interview, on-site, even a happy hour interview, final round. Tell me a little bit about yourself, why do you want to work at this company, what do you love about…, tell me about a time when… Being like, “Thank you so0o0o0 much for taking the time to talk to me”/this is literally your job.
  • Worked evenings and brunch at a restaurant on Divis. Waited tables all through high school and college, but a couple years behind a desk and I’d kind of forgotten how amped up you get during a busy shift, all the restaurant lingo. Two top getting up, clear it off, on your right on your right, BEHIND YOU!!, you want grits or toast with that, can I get you anything else, y’all have a nice day, vasos por favor! Probably walked six miles during a brunch shift. Bittersweet to leave.
  • Took a trip to LA, the place I somehow thought I would move to before I ended up in San Francisco. Cool city, but happy I ended up north. The entire time I was there I had “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow stuck in my head. This is Elllll Ay! Turned up on Hollywood Blvd at night and semi-fought off advances from an up and coming Bollywood star. Reunited with Harry for the first time in 10 years. Reunited with Andrea at the same Peet’s Coffee in downtown Santa Monica as in 2005 after a visit to the best Buffalo Exchange location ever. Saw a X-game snowboarders board down a 13-story snow-filled halfpipe in downtown LA. Rudimental were pissed, Netsky killed it, Incubus were absolute professionals. Brandon Boyd tears it up like he tears off his SSBD, tears to my eyes. I Miss You.
  • Took a Google Bus to Napa (or Sonoma? Still unsure) with 20 lovely ladies. Holy sh*t.
  • Turned 27 on April 13th. Last day at old job on the 15th, b-day picnic in The Panhandle with all walks of friends on the 16th, worked brunch the 17th, somehow was still able to start my new job on the 18th. An incredible birthday with all those I’ve had the pleasure of calling my people the past year. Most unique and (luckily) still unused gift was the rhinestone-encrusted taser from Keanu at the downstairs smokeshop. April was lit.
  • Celebrated my one year San Francisco anniversary on April 20th, 2016. Reminisced about being completely unacquainted with San Francisco when I arrived here one year before, falling in love with the hazy sunsets as I biked all over town while (very) patiently awaiting my start date and end of an era. The broken suitcase with 50 pounds of clothes inside that I lugged up to Bill’s 33rd floor office on Kearny Street, and dropped to the floor when I took a look at my first view of the city outside the window. “Blank Space” and “Style” on the radio when Matt let me borrow his car and I drove around the Outer Sunset to Ocean Beach, cruising down streets with Spanish names like Guerrero and Pacheco and Noriega. Regretting not bringing a sweater. “But it was sunny when I left the house!” Hating life biking up Taraval Street from the Y but forgetting everything at the top of the hill, the sweeping vistas of little boxes on the hillsides / little boxes made of ticky tacky. Walking in circles around the intersection of Market and Van Ness when I still took Muni. Accidentally ordering 500 ear plugs when the Tenderloin still kept me awake, but found the best home for them months later.
  • 11 months of great concerts: Rudimental, Wolf Alice, Air + Style, Rhye, CHVRCHES ft. Wolf Alice again, Yeasayer (sort of, they went on past my bedtime), Disclosure, Ja Rule & Ashanti, Netsky, Marian Hill and Bomba Estéro (this concert took the cake). Did not manage to get backstage at Netsky despite trying to woo the bouncer with broken Flemish. Can’t impress everybody.

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  • Developed legitimate tastes for kombucha and kale, as well as the preferred methods imbibing and preparing both. My friend Fern taught me the proper method of massaging the kale prior to eating it, and I’ve never looked back. She also taught me to stick the compost in the freezer, and it has been an absolute game changer. Kombucha is great for everything, especially after a long night out. That time I got carded for kombucha (it’s fermented, you know). Preference for kombucha on tap to kombucha from a bottle because bougie tastes better.
  • Had a workplace romance that actually remained unbeknownst to any colleagues.
  • Went out for tea with my Lyft driver from The Gambia. Flashback to Senegal, the goats, the names, the Fatous, the sand, the beaches, the textiles, sugar with ataya tea, over-cooked pasta with baguette, the heat, the flies, the rooftops, the waiting, the prayer, the palm trees, my bin bin, le francais, le wolof, le teranga, le mal de pays…The random connections we make in cars 🙂
  • Rode the roller coaster in Santa Cruz. Absolutely terrifying.

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  • Found the party in Japantown that goes til 6am. The woman in the Uber on the way home was headed out to run her third marathon. Priorities.
  • Drove down Route 1 in a Mustang convertible, although quickly realized Northern California is one of the last places you ever want to drive with the top let down (it’s cold). Best section is from SF to Santa Cruz. Around Pacifica you’re driving through a hazy sun-kissed dream of waves crashing, hills rolling, surfers catching, cars zipping, eggs and fruit for sale. They guy next to me in the car scrolling through his Facebook app as we flew up the coast at sunset – SMH.
  • Exasperated my swim club coach but finally learned to swim correctly. I am now a flip turner.

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  • Had my first whale sighting of the coast of Pescadero while eating something delicious called olallieberry pie right out the box.
  • Learned to take The Wiggle. Learned that Page Street from Market to Webster is a terrible idea regardless of it’s designation as an official San Francisco Bicycle Route. McAlister from Webster to Broderick never gets better. Any neighborhood that ends in Heights was certainly thought out. Learned that Google Maps on your computer will show you the terrain of your route but your smartphone will not.
  • Ascended Webster Street from The Marina to Japantown in a sundress and flip flops. Screw Redbull, poorly planned product launches and life crossroads give you wings.
  • Thought about dropping everything and enrolling in nursing school/moving back to New Orleans/opening a restaurant/becoming a real estate agent/buying a one way ticket to a banana republic to never think about SaaS subscription models again…
  • Unknowingly left my bike unlocked on 10th and Market for two entire hours. The feeling of horror when I realized what I had done, the feeling of sheer luck mounting it and riding off into the sunset. When Brian’s Airbnb guests saved my bike from the hands of a chainsaw-wielding psycho, not even knowing whose bike it was. What did I do to deserve this? #blessed #thankyou

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  • Went to my first California beach bonfire party in Land’s End. I felt so LC.

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  • Went to my first quinciñera! Que bonita!
  • Completely accidentally ate pot chocolate chip cookies and rode out the journey on a misting rainy San Francisco night in Chinatown and North Beach. Came face to face with the largest bowl of wonton soup I will ever order.

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  • Got double primed and contoured! Ahh!!!

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  • Nick came to visit for a whole week 🙂

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  • Still have not experienced a real earthquake, bracing myself for that one, but did experience simulations of the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes at Cal Academy of Sciences Thursday night blowout! Also saw seahorse shaped coral, a fish with double eyes (one set above water, the other set underneath), and an ethereal jellyfish.

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  • Grammy turned 91. Reunited with the whole Egan clan for another New England family reunion. Where will we all be in another seven years?
  • Recreated this Trader Joes “Punjab Eggplant” dish on my own and it was delicious. Directions: Buy all the vegetables and spices listed on the back of the box and throw it around the stovetop. Mmmm.
  • Realized I am an emoji.

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Next up? I suppose rolling with the punches in an early stage startup, wearing all the hats I can, as they say. Working as an inspector of the polls at a polling precinct on the mother of all election days (Tuesday, November 8th, please vote (for Hillary)). First Thanksgiving in three years at home in New York, flying to Colombia the day after. If you have Colombia tips, please email me. If you don’t have my email, text, FB message, Instagram message, Spotify message, or Linked In message, WordPress comment all work too. If you have my actual address, feel free to DoorDash/Uber Eats/ Amazon Restaurants/Instacart me some cupcakes with your Colombia tips included in the Notes section of the receipt.

And then who knows! It’ll be winter soon, but in San Francisco it’ll still be chilly in the morning, sunny by 11, nippy by the slightest drop in the sun at 4pm, hot enough to throw on the bikini at Dolores Park the next day, misting the next. So I still won’t know what time of year or what day it is based on anything except from what my iPhone tells me it is, and I’m thinking about just throwing it all away for a flip phone. Looking back on it, these past 11 months have been oodles of fun, even if I’ve mainly stayed put in The City (meaning San Francisco, all you New York-centrics!). Punctured with moments of complete loss and grief over being 26/7 and still not knowing what my **passion** is but knowing you gotta push on. So looking forward to good times with friends both old and new, bountiful opportunity, much more writing and buildings, and something to keep me on my toes.

Posted in Just for Fun, Musings, Rants | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Alice in Photos, Age 16

I know I keep going on about it, but I had a very intense walk down memory lane this weekend. On the search for building shots for Beauty in Buildings, I brought out my old hard drive and went through ten years of photos. I found photos that brought me right back to the moment the button clicked, photos that made me giggle, and photos that weighed down on a part of my heart. And then just some really cool ones that I totally forgot about!

My best friend in high school was named Jacki, and she was into photography and high fashion. She had the coolest clothes, purchased at fancy boutiques with her mom or snatched out of her dad’s side of the closet. She could combine them into new outfits in ways I could never even dream of, rarely if ever repeating an outfit. One rainy day when I was 15 or 16 she dressed me up in a few different ensembles and decided to have me model in my first photoshoot ever, Jacki’s retro-style home the background for the shots.

The last photo in the set is actually from a few years later. Our moms took us to Paris together a few weeks before we graduated high school. A collection of beautiful photos from the trip exists, but Paris is when and where our relationship fully disintegrated and came apart, and it’s never really been repaired. Come to think about it, this photo is probably the last one we ever took together.

But I suppose that’s what’s nice about photos – they capture one single moment in time and freeze it. You have to ask in order to get a backstory about a photo, there is only so much it can say on its own. I remember the day of this photoshoot, happy to be alone with my best friend at her cozy house on a rainy afternoon, and those are the memories I try to think of when I think of her. It will never be the same between us and I accepted that long ago, but it’s sometimes nice to look back at pretty pictures and remember a time where we were still an unfinished book.

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Posted in Just for Fun, Photos | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

One city, two takes

This weekend I’ve gone through about ten years of photos in search of material for Beauty in Buildings. It’s a cool feeling that even before Instagram existed or I even realized that I love learning about, appreciating, and photographing buildings, I was traveling to new cities and snapping shots of buildings! I found a goldmine of building photos in my old hard drive that I took from 2005 – 2014, from New Orleans to Amsterdam to Port-au-Prince.

In September 2012 I was still living in Brussels, and my ex-boyfriend and I decided to take a little weekend getaway to Cologne, Germany, which is just a short train ride away. Colm studied photography and is a graphic designer, and he’d very proudly purchased an old black-white-camera (I can’t remember the make or style) off of Ebay for one Euro. I brought my digital camera, and enjoyed walking around Cologne on Saturday taking photographs of the different neighborhoods and buildings we walked by.

I’ve been to two cities in Germany – Cologne and Berlin – and both times I was very taken aback at the look and feel of these cities. I’m American, and I’m always anticipating European cities to be a combination of antique, cute, and quaint, even the big cities. I arrived in Berlin and was shocked to be reminded of New York City – there were big wide avenues, lots of big modern buildings, and tons of Dunkin Donuts.

I’d done some research on what to do in Cologne, and Google flooded me with images of the Hollhenzollern Bridge and the Cologne Cathedral, both beautiful, ancient (the Cathedral being epically old, opening it’s doors in 1322. 1322!!!) structures in the city. But if the camera zoomed out to show the rest of the city that surrounds the church and bridge, you’d be shocked at how modern and new the rest of Cologne is! Lots of tall, boxy buildings undoubtedly built in the second half of the twentieth century. And that’s when it dawns on me the devastation that was left after Allied bombing campaigns during World War II. It’s pretty intense, and a miracle that those in charge did leave some of these buildings out of harms way, for history’s sake.

In my old hard drive I’ve got all my photos of colorful Cologne, and they lead right into the black and white photos that Colm sent me after the trip. The feel of the photos is so different! My photos came out vibrant and excited, while Colm’s were look thoughtful and serene. So much factors into how a photo comes out, to the feeling it invokes in the onlooker, and the message the photo sends – it takes me forever to choose a filter on Instagram or to finish editing a photo on my computer because the colors and lighting used can tell a completely different story from another, and sometimes I’m not sure which one I want to tell.

We actually took quite a few of almost the same shot a few times, as you’ll see below.

 

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