Monday, January 29, 2007

fremd's artsfest2k7

I apologize to anyone at Fremd who I told to check out my blog Monday night because I said I'd write something about ArtsFest...i ended up getting the flu that same night and couldn't get off the couch...and am just now this Friday morning starting to feel relatively back to normal.

(The following took place Monday, January 29)

Last night I felt like I was in high school again as I frantically tried to put together one more project that I saved till the last minute, inevitably giving up halfway through and falling asleep for a few hours. I woke up at 5:15, figured out how to use my mom's coffee maker, chugged down several cups, loaded up the van and left the house before the sun came up. Not only did I have ArtsFest today, but I had two other arts-related projects to complete before I even set up my table. First up, 6:45--interview Ms. Mungai for my documentary.
At 7:05 I bolted back home to pick up a project I forgot, then headed straight to Palmer's to meet Jenny for breakfast by 7:30. After my Ipod proved to be dead I told myself it would be a good day if I heard one of my favorite songs on the radio. And out of the radio cosmos came Billy Joel singing "You May Be Right." "Yes!" I cheered, and gave a caffeinated punch to the air. The song was still playing as I pulled up next to Jenny in the parking lot. I rolled down the passenger window, pumped up the volume, and sang,

"You may be right
I may be crazy
But it just may be a lunatic
You're looking for!"

at my best friend, who was applying makeup in the fold down mirror.

After a quick, but satisfying meal (french toast), it was back to the high school for my second of three artistic endeavors of the day. When it rains, it pours. I sat in Room 218, just as I had 7 years ago as one of Mr. Romano's psych students. This time I was there to play photographer, to capture candid images of him being the wonderfully engaging teacher that he is. For the most part I went under the radar, which is how I like to work (although i wouldn't call taking pictures of one of my favorite people work)...but at one point Mr. Romano asked me, "So Alyse do you remember high school?" The first (and only) word that came out of my mouth: "Unfortunately." Maybe that wasn't a fair word to use, but when the kid sitting behind me wouldn't stop making farting noises, I almost turned to him and said, "And that's why." And I snickered when Mr. Romano said something about how the boys will finally start to mature in college. One of his female students sitting next to me heard my muffled laugh, and said, "Ha and she laughs." Oh if you poor girls only knew, I wanted to say. The fart jokes are nothing compared to the manipulative mindgames. They don't even get any better in their 30's, which is worse because then they can't even fall back on the excuse of being an immature high schooler anymore. I'm not trying to put all men in a box, I am just speaking from experience. I'm here to talk about art, though, so I won't continue on this seemingly "man-bashing" tangent (although i should mention that the class's topic was the difference between men and women and how they're viewed differently in our society).

Twenty minutes later I ducked out of the classroom and ran down to my van to carry in all of my stuff to show in ArtsFest. This was my second year as a "guest artist," and I think it proved to be an even more successful and gratifying experience than last year. Last year it seemed the students were more interested in celebrity gossip as they paged through my SNL scrapbooks than anything I had to say about art or my own projects. Which is fine. I mean, last year I tried to put myself in their shoes, and had I met someone as a high school student who had worked at SNL, I would have peed in my pants...not so much because of the celebrity aspect, but just because it had always been a dream of mine to work on that show (I plan on putting together an overdue post about SNL's continuous place in my life at some point in the near future).
There were still a select few drooling over the behind-the-scenes photographs I took of Jessica Simpson at her edible body products photo shoot. One girl said, "Oh my god! Don't you think Jessica Simpson is like SO pretty??" "No, actually I don't," I stated blatantly. "You're missing the whole point of why I wanted to even show these books from the photo shoots. The point is to see how many people she has poring over her...her hair, her makeup, her clothes, her fake tan's all fake...So, no I don't think she's pretty." My words were falling on deaf ears. "So were you on Newlyweds??" I had a flashback of my best friend, Amy, calling me two years ago and leaving a voicemail message: "Um...I just saw you on Newlyweds...what the hell?" "Huh. Yeah, actually I guess I was, but I've never seen it. I just remember my friend calling to tell me that she saw me on TV." Never really made the effort to check that one out. I also pointed out that the rest of the scrapbook--which is filled with Polaroids of my not-so-ladylike/sultry/sexy/endearing self (usually wearing my dad's old t-shirts) sitting in for light tests of SNL celebrity hosts--shows how artificial lighting is another key factor for making someone look good. So it's not just the make-up artists and the haircare people and the fashionistas...the lighting technicians are also involved.

Ok, so as I was saying, this year most of the students actually took more of an interest in the books I've put together than the fact that they were one degree away from having talked to Cameron Diaz (another girl exclaimed, "You did NOT meet Cameron Diaz?!" I didn't know if that was a rhetorical comment/question, but I responded, "Yeah I did." Minor teenage freak out ensued)

I heard lots of, "I really like that she uses tissue paper," which I found interesting because I realized that almost all of my books have a fragility about them...especially my letter project book, which was literally falling apart as people paged through it.
And I got to reminisce about one of my favorite childhood books, The Jolly Postman, as I explained the tangible quality of including envelopes in almost all of my books. I love that interactive quality. This pairs with my love of creating projects which are collaborative. I want to involve people with my ideas. And because the process of creating the projects is obviously interactive on a personal level, I want the viewer of the books to feel as though they are just as involved by interacting with the artifacts on the pages.
It's interesting to watch people look through the books, and it's even more fun to see people, such as many of my former teachers, who participated in the projects, rediscover the letters they wrote or the pictures they took (for, the simply-named "the letter project" and "the camera project"). That's what I love about brings people together; it's about self-discovery as much as it's about how your expressions/interpretations fit in (or don't) with the likes of others.

In addition to the books I had laid out on the table, I also had a Powerpoint slideshow on loop projected on a board behind me, which showed about 55 of my photos, jumping from "portraits" to "travel" shots. One student astutely pointed out to me that what he sees in my photographs are people unaware that I'm present in their world, so much so that they have no idea I'm even taking their picture. (Again, flying under the radar...just like the heroines of my childhood--Harriet the Spy and Alex Mac) He went on to tell me about how he's been trying to get his dad to stop attempting to set up the "perfect picture." "I keep telling him--'That's not how life is, Dad!'" I told him not to give up, that someday hopefully his dad will understand. He proceeded to place a piece of paper in front of me with a pencil drawing of a girl sketched on the bottom half. "So what could I do to make her look like one of the people in your pictures?" he asked me. "Well," I began, although mentally noting that I was in no place to be giving art advice, especially in regards to drawing, "all I can suggest, I guess, is to give her some sort of environment...I think that'd give a different perspective then, right?" He probably could have answered his own question better than my weak attempt.

Mr. Pinley watched most of my slideshow and commented about my style, the way i frame an image, that I'm able to see the big picture but focus in on that important detail. "I could pick your work out of other artists." The more he said, the more my stomach twisted. But it was that good twisting, that nervous/excited kind I get when it seems I'm not just doing this in vain. I am actually getting a point across. I do have a distinguishable style. The other day Abbi wrote in an e-mail (about someone else), "I love when people find something that they were essentially born to do and get so much praise and recognition for it." It's not that I need or feel I deserve praise and recognition, it's just nice to experience those rare moments when someone validates what you've been doing. That feeling when you realize that maybe you were born to do what you've been doing and that what you've been doing isn't actually a waste of time.

A few other notable encounters...

I talked for awhile with the current senior editor of The Conspiracy, Fremd's literary magazine, the one activity I did all four years of high school (Writers Week a close second, with three consecutive years). It was so great to hear that the magazine's still around. She took an interest in the issues of Make This Magazine I had out on the table and also was one of the tissue paper usage fans. She told me about a family member (aunt or grandma?) in Japan who writes her letters on rice paper because the cost of mail is weight-determinant. That made me happy--both the fact that there is someone else in the world still corresponding with actual letters and that those letters are taking place on something unique.

"But why?" a different student asked as he aimlessly flipped through The Letter Project book. "Why? Because I wanted to somehow preserve the art of letter writing...people rely too much on communicating with each other electronically...I did this project in 2003, and it's even worse now."

Another boy approaching the table turned to his friend and said, "I think that girl is my dentist." As soon as he said that I recognized him as one of the patients from the dental office I worked in last year and greeted him, laughing. He was confused. Even more so when he started looking through my SNL books...."How did you go from working at SNL to working at Dr. Malis's office??" Good question. One day I'm changing Paris Hilton's Ipod and the next I'm suctioning the spit and blood out of this kid's mouth while he gets a root canal. Such is life.

My friend, Kevin, who just started working as a special ed. T.A. at Conant High School, dropped by ArtsFest on his lunch break. My table happened to be right in front of one of the two framed Class of 2001 photos on the wall. He pointed out his high school self. I remarked how young he looked and how funny it was that we thought we were SO old when we were seniors. As we posed together for a picture, I said, "Wow Kevin, this is just like rose arbor [when we linked arms and paraded through the gymnasium to hold roses for the people actually nominated for homecoming king and queen]." Haha.

He could only stay about five minutes because he had to drive all the way back to Conant, but it meant a lot to me that he showed up. Interesting how some people working within the vicinity of Fremd, who I would have expected to come say hi, never showed up. Then again a lot did make the effort and for that I am grateful.

One of the other artists there was Mr. Upin, the former head of Fremd's art department. It was so great to see him again. He's been through so much in the past five years, it was heart-warming to see him not only creating art there in person, but smiling and laughing while doing it.

So I will refute my previous "unfortunately" statement about remembering high school. It's better to recognize the positive than dwell on the negative, and if a high school can take the time to dedicate a whole week to the arts/artists and another whole week to writing/writers (Writers Week XIII will be Feb. 23-Mar 2), then I say I am proud to be a Fremd High School graduate.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

what's not wrong

Since the five of us girls, who we've lovingly deemed "the unit," all went to five different states for college (Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Wisconsin and New York...corresponding to the above photo), we decided to start unit e-mails to aide in keeping each other updated in the strange and mundane happenings of our daily, separated lives. Hard to believe, but we've been hitting "reply all" for over five years now...

...Even though we're not in college anymore, we are still (almost) in five different states (Ohio, Wisconsin/Illinois, Colorado, California, Illinois...corresponding to the second photo), and therefore the unit e-mails still exist. Tonight Jenny wrote simply, "let's play a little game called "what's not wrong?" followed by her list:

frozen strawberries
new jeans that are long enough
my family
you guys
bad reality tv
new music
the food network
my iPod, Steven

...As I sat in bed stressing myself out about upcoming art shows, lamenting my sore throat and anticipating a bad night's sleep because I drank coffee today, which means I'll probably have to pee 8 times before my alarm rings, my Gmail notifier ding-ed. One new message. What's not wrong, huh? That evokes nothing but pleasant memories. This is exactly what I need right now, I thought. As soon as I finished reading her list, I jumped at the chance to make my own...

chocolate milk
having the same pillow for 24 years
cowboy boots
four seasons (the climate and the band)
writers week
gmail notifier
worn in ballet shoes
camera sound
home videos
hasselhoff's "jump in my car" cover
jonathan safran foer
old trucks
napoleon dynamite
interpretive dancing
scavenger hunts
road trips
mail art
themed parties
pluto (who is still a planet by my standards)
socialized medicine
chubby hubby
photo booths
demetri martin
survivor's guilt
to-do lists
learning languages
external harddrives
uni-ball vision pens
extra peppermint gum
unit e-mails
mix tapes
repetitive geometric shapes
slippers with grippers
making this list to avoid doing anything i should be doing
(and obviously friends and family and pets but i was trying for no repeats...and sharpies)

...While I was mid-list, Carrie called me. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"Responding to Jenny's e-mail," I replied.
"What e-mail?"
"She just sent it. We're making 'What's not wrong?' lists."
"I don't know that game."

...Jenny and I had sophomore English together in high school with the brilliant Mr. Anderson (and then Abbi and I had him for American Studies junior year and Amy and I had him for creative comp. senior year...sorry Carrie, you missed out). About once a month or so Mr. Anderson started class by writing "What's not wrong?" on the chalkboard, and we'd all have to write down one thing on a piece of paper and pass it up to him. He then read the anonymous answers out loud. Hearing this wonderful list of quirky things that were right in the world put everyone in a good mood. It was the best way to start class, and it proved to be one of those lessons you carry with you...

...Carrie and I hung up, and I saw her sign onto Gmail. Sure enough, she sent a reply before I could finish...

"my new friend on eharmony...lucas"

And just as I was about to publish this post, the notifier ding-ed again. And sure enough, Amy over in San Fran responded:

long discussions
driving around in cars (jump in my car)
planning days! (release from school)
fruit trees
my hot tub
trader joes
pre made power point presentations
minimum days (wednesdays)=maximum fun

So--Abbi and anyone else out there--it's your turn now.

What's not wrong?

[photos: 1) Unit BBQ, 6/05, one of the five days we all were home post-college graduation, Carrie's backyard
2) Abbi's wedding shower, 6/05, Amy's backyard
3) Abbi's wedding, 10.28.05]

Thursday, January 18, 2007

october 25, 2003

October 25, 2003

For this late in October, it was unusually warm here in New York City, so Dario propped open the front door of Andrew’s Coffee Shop. Seventh Avenue and 35th Street. On one side we’ve got Macy’s and on the other Madison Square Garden. In one word: Noise. In two words: Noise and Tourists. All of the stools at the counter were occupied--full of people eating alone, people engulfed in the latest newsprint and scrambled eggs with toast. Forks, paper, chewing, noise. All the collective chatter floating above the booths gathered into one cloud of nonsense, and just barely Simon and Garfunkel faintly sang “Slip Sliding Away” overhead.

I heard him before I saw him. His booming voice penetrated the noisy restaurant.
A bold entrance, I must say. Having mentally noted his request I didn’t expect I would have to deal with the voice in person, but there he was rounding the corner of my section.
“THERE’S ONE!” he yelled and nodded at me.
His eyes were hidden behind black sunglasses--the kind you can get for 99 cents in a gas station impulse bin. Several people in surrounding booths stared at me. Probably as confused as I was that anyone would ever deem me "foxy." I met their concerned eyes with a slight smile.
“I NEED TO WASH MY HANDS BEFORE I EAT OF COURSE,” he bellowed, as he threw all his belongings--something multi-colored housed in a Victoria’s Secret shopping bag, a large army-green duffel bag and a black coat--onto one of the booth’s benches. He asked me where he could find the restroom and I pointed to the back of the restaurant. “Is it safe to leave my stuff here? I hear they rob you in New York City,” he said, mockingly. I told him his things would be fine.

There's usually a short line waiting to use the facilities, as the diner only has one toilet. While he waited for his turn to wash up he announced, “ARE WE IN HELL OR IS IT JUST HOT IN HERE? IT FEELS LIKE THE DEVIL CRAWLED UP MY ASS!” I let out a laugh.

When he came out of the bathroom he approached me from behind and made me jump when he tapped my shoulder. “Don’t worry—I tip better than anyone in here,” he told me as we both walked towards his table. He thrust his arms into the air and motioning to his fellow patrons, yelled, “I’LL SHOW THESE PEOPLE GRATUITY!”
He sat opposite his pile of bags. I handed him a menu and asked if he’d like something to drink. “I’ll have a tall glass of milk, I’m very thirsty.” I turned to walk away and he said to my back, “And put some ice in there. I’m very hot, I’d like my milk with ice.” I looked over my shoulder and said, “No problem.”

When I returned with his milk he was anxious to order. “I’ll have a ham and cheese omelet and whole wheat toast with butter…but make sure the omelet is big, add an extra egg if you have to or something.”
"Will do," I said. And he smiled. I walked over to one of the computers and placed his order on the touch screen. I glanced over at his table and he was looking at me still with the same smile. His eyes, blue, had a faraway sadness about them. I looked away embarrassed, like I was trespassing in someone’s daydream.

A little time passed and his food order appeared in the window. As I approached the line of booths, I noticed he wasn’t where I'd left him. So I put his plates on the table and looked towards the front of the restaurant. There he was--outside standing in front of the wall of windows brushing his gray hair and beard. I watched him for a moment. I don’t know if he saw me or only his reflection or possibly some combination of the two. When he came back in he sat down, looked my way and said, “Thank you amigo!” You’re welcome.

After a few minutes I walked down the aisle to refill some coffee cups and I stopped at his table to make sure he was satisfied with the size of his omelet.
“Are you Jewish?” he asked me.
I took notice of the two rather large crosses hanging around his neck. Uh-oh, I thought. This is not going in a comfortable direction.
“Yes…” I said.
“I knew it.”
“Your face.”
“My face?”
“Yeah…you remind of a girl from 30 years ago…nice Jewish girl.”

A line of a poem I once wrote popped into my head: “This isn’t the first time I’ve been told that my hair or something about the way I look at people reminds them of grade-school sweethearts.”

To him, I replied, “Really?”

"Let's go, Alyse! You're not in Kansas anymore!" My manager, Dario, is one of those ignorant people who thinks the East Coast, specifically The Big Apple, is superior to any other part of the country.

Unlike waitressing back in Illinois, here we are supposed to just leave the check with the food and go. Annoyed by Dario's comment, I dismissed my "midwestern mentality" and said my standard, “Well if you need anything else, just let me know,” as I placed the check on the table. Usually people just nod and avoid eye contact.
“I’m gonna need more food than this.” I smiled.
“This isn’t enough food for a man.”
“Ok, well let me know when you need more.”

I walked away and studied him while leaning against the kitchen window counter. His crosses, one wooden, one metal, hung low against a black t-shirt that read, “NFL 2002 San Francisco 49er’s” in large letters. He wore a black hat that had an American flag patch stitched on and underneath read “San Francisco.USA” and black shorts with white socks pulled up to his knees. To whoever was listening around him he either said, “I eat for soldiers” or “I eat like a soldier.” He signaled me over to his table, silently.

“I’ll have another glass of milk and another order of toast.”
“Ok, sounds good,” I said and took his cup.
“The ice in there now is ok, though,” he added.

I set his refill down in front of him and he said, “Is your name Rayshell?”
Confused, I said, “No…it’s Alyse.”
“That’s a great name.”
“Thank you…why’d you…”
“How old are you? 18?”
“No. I’ll be month from today actually.” [Thanks to my dad, everything is always a countdown. On the 25th of every month he reminds me of how much time has passed and how much is left till my next birthday. If he had been there he would have said, “Well congratulations, Lyse, you’re 20 and 11/12 today!”]
“What were you going to ask me?”
"Oh I was just going to ask why you guessed Rayshell of all names…Was that the name of the girl from 30 years ago?”
“No.” He answered simply, quietly, and with a slight hint of exasperation.
“Just look like one?”

I had other tables that needed my attention so I left him alone with his fresh milk and toast. While he finished I lingered back around the counter, keeping an eye out on my section, but at the same time distractedly singing some song under my breath. I caught him watching me. This made me slightly uneasy and I quickly looked away.

“You’re so pretty,” he called out to me. I looked up, alarmed. I didn’t think I heard him right.
“You’re so pretty.” He said this in a daring tone of voice. I felt my face burn. For someone who has spent her whole life--past and present--in the shadow of her beautiful friends, I was caught off guard.
“Um…thank you…” I turned around and decided it was a good time to make more coffee.

It didn’t take him long to finish his second helping. He signaled me over again.
“What do I owe you?”
I dug through the front pocket of my apron and retrieved his updated check.
“$12.05,” I said as I placed the receipt on the table.
He handed me a twenty without looking up. “I’ll take this to the cashier for you and be right back with your change.”

When I brought his change back there was another twenty-dollar bill sitting on the table. “Here’s your change,” I said.
“This is for you.” He pushed the twenty a little with his finger.
“I…um…I can’t take that…”
“Just take it and go away.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, have a good life.” He didn’t look at me.
“Um…thank you…very much. You have a good life too.” I felt stupid saying that as he looked like he'd lived many lives already. I stuck the bill into my apron, took his dirty dishes and walked away.

The next time I walked past him he said, “Say a prayer for me, ok?”
“Anything specific?”
“No. Just a prayer would be nice.” His voice had a twinge of sadness that matched his eyes.

He took his time gathering all his belongings to leave. At the door he put his stuff down to adjust something on his jacket. I couldn’t just let him walk away without at least getting his name. I quickly made my way to the front where he was standing.
“Sir?” He looked at me from behind the sunglasses. “What’s your name?”
He didn’t answer right away, and then said, “Thomas.”
“Ok—I will say a prayer for you Thomas.” Although I didn't admit to him that I had never prayed in my life.
“Thank you Alyse.”
And he left out the door still propped open.

[photo taken on 6th ave. in greenwich village in spring, 2005]

Monday, January 15, 2007

it's about damn time

A few weeks ago when it reached 60 degrees, one of the DJs on 97.1 said, "Well it looks like we get more bonus weather this weekend..." Try boGus weather. People don't seem to acknowledge the fact that the reason we have this uncanny weather is because our earth is dying...a little problem called Global Warming.

Snow and numb toes defined my childhood winters. I miss those days. Chicagoans who complain about the weather need to suck it up or move somewhere else. Personally, I love the variety and challenge of living somewhere with four distinct seasons…even when all four of those seasons show their fury in one day…it makes life interesting.

Now that it's finally winter weather, I thought I’d write about some memories of winters past.

* Building forts at the end of the driveway near the mailbox…I’d sit in them by myself and wonder what would happen if they caved in.

* Gathering fresh snow in plastic cups from the front porch so my mom could pour syrup on top of it. I’m still unsure where she came up with this idea…maybe it was just the poor man’s slurpee? But I loved it.

* Sledding by myself at "Pat's Lake" when the flag was green (meaning the lake was fully frozen and therefore ok to sled on). Then walking home with the wind whistling and it was only about 5:30, but it might as well have been midnight with the dark sky and lack of neighbors outside.

* Coming inside from playing in the snow and sitting on the kitchen floor with my bare, frozen feet defrosting atop the vent.

* Sitting in the backseat of my family’s minivan, driving somewhere at night. I tilted my head to look out the window. Huge snowflakes poured down at a certain angle, that against the black backdrop, looked like our van was propelling into outer space.

* After the first snowfall post-getting my drivers license my dad had me drive to the empty parking lot of the Korean church on the outskirts of our neighborhood. There he instructed me to do “donuts” so I would understand what it was like to drive in Chicago winters.

* The feeling I get almost every year when the ground is blanketed in snow...I don't want anyone or anything to ruin how perfect the untouched ground looks.

* journal entry from 2/17/03:

"Every news station tonight simultaneously reported on "Blizzard 2003" The east coast is hilarious. They freak out whenever it snows. It has been snowing for 12 hours now and we're supposed to get around 2 feet accumulation. I was sitting at my computer talking to Sheri around 1:30 a.m. and then went to over to the window--down below, 22 stories, in the open lot were two boys city sledding=placing a piece of cardboard on the ground, running and sliding on it while standing up. I needed to go outside. Zach and Kayla were of course already asleep. I IMed Chase telling him to go outside and play with me but he didn't respond. So I knocked on Tina's door cause I knew she was still awake and we went downstairs and outside. I shrieked and giggled and ran through the snowdrifts like I did when i was a kid. It made me so happy. How exciting it was to just run into the middle of Water Street and twirl in the falling snow. We crossed the street and walked in between the stores and watched the snow patterns swirl recklessly around the cobblestone. As we approached our building in return the one other person outside said my name and I was confused at first but just as soon realized it was Chase! I got so excited! We went inside to pack on more winter gear and went back outside. Walked to the seaport. Mine and Tina's footprints had already vanished. This time we went all the way to the water. We were out there for awhile taking it all in and everything was just so calm and beautiful...relieving. The walk back was brutal, windy snow stung my face and my nose was running uncontrollably all over my scarf. Nothing else on me was cold, though, which was impressive. We went to Chase's room and he made us real hot chocolate. Good stuff. We sat and talked for an hour. Chase said that he quit trying to figure out life and that his conclusion is we do it because we have to and the few rare moments that are filled with beauty are what last and what we try and hold onto. The last sip of my cocoa just missed covering the bottom of my mug so that when I moved the mug gently the cocoa shifted and the white circle of porcelain appeared in different places. The snow made the Brooklyn Bridge look like an apparition. The three of us sat there breathing. This, I thought, is one of those moments."

* Right before I went back home for winter break of junior year at NYU, there was another blizzard (12/03)….this is an email I wrote my friends on 12/6/03:

“listen to what happened today. this is really a piece of work. so i think i'm mentioned before that one of the huge windows in my room (which doubles as the common room this year) never really closes all the way. there is always a slight draft coming from the seams of it. this morning i noticed a few flurries coming in which made me laugh. as a precaution i took the picture frames off the window ledge that runs the length of the wall because some were old pictures of my grandparents. then i left to meet my mom at her hotel to help her bring luggage back here cause she's sleeping here tonight and taking some of my stuff home on the train tomorrow. i was gone about two hours. we came back and from the hallway you could hear wind in my really loud monstrous wind and as i was putting the key in the lock i said, "haha hear the wind mom? i told you" but then as it took extra effort for me to push the door open i realized that something wasn't right. upon opening the door i immediately saw the problem--one of the three huge windows was OPEN, i don't mean a few inches like normal if you were to open it, open like you had opened a door. i charged across the room and took a flying leap onto my bed (which is right under the windows and rises a few inches about the window ledge) and slammed it shut but it wouldn't stay. nyu almost had a fourth falling student in a semester. 31 stories. my stuff was ALL over the place. and there were piles of snow on my window ledge where the picture frames had been and on my floor, which ruined some art paper i had under my bed. my mom tried to hold a suitcase against the window while i went downstairs and told the front desk that i needed someone immediately. a man met me upstairs and hopped up on my heater to try and fix the handle. a huge guest of wind came and shoved the window open again and what was left on my window ledge went crashing to the floor. including my favorite green lamp (which just last night i was telling kayla and my mom how much i love) by some ounce of luck it didn't break. this is going to sound crazy but while i watched the man fixing the window i had this regretful feeling that i should have taken a picture before he had come up there. instead i took a picture of him fixing it, but it's not as dramatic. anyone could have posed for that. oh well. my room is a disaster area so i'm gonna go try and clean stuff up...or take a nap”

About a week later, I had to wake up at 7 a.m. to single-handedly push a large cart of stuff down the street about a mile to the storage building. Overnight it snowed about another foot. Carts aren’t meant to be wheeled through snow banks, but I trudged onward. It was difficult, but I managed….until one of the wheels hit something and the whole cart fell over. I just stood there in disbelief and thought, “Now what?” There was no way I could lift the monstrous thing back up. Not only was it huge to begin with, but it held all of my belongings (I was leaving the following semester to study abroad in Spain). Suddenly, a man in shorts (yes, shorts) came running across the street. I got excited because I thought he was going to stop and give me a hand. Give me a hand my ass. He literally ran right past me and didn’t turn around when I tried to say, “Excuse me?” He probably thought I was homeless. The cart had toppled over right in front of the entrance into a Jehova’s Witness building. Two Australians, a man and a woman, who were headed there helped me lift the cart, and then proceeded to help me push it the rest of the way to the storage place. I didn’t even know how to thank him. This incident pretty much confirmed that I was supposed to leave New York.

And, finally, here is an anecdote I wrote almost exactly a year ago:

(January 20, 2006)
Around 3:15 this afternoon it started to flurry, and little hail balls bounced off my windshield as I drove home from Blockbuster. As I passed the Montessori school on Freeman, I saw three girls crowding the open doorway on the side of the building. All three arms outstretched, hesitantly, catching the little white pellets in their cupped hands and looking at each other in awe. It’s hard to believe that it was 50 degrees and sunny yesterday while I spent my day off running errands in a t-shirt. I rented March of the Penguins and Grizzly Man. I don’t know—maybe I was in the mood for nature. Probably more so for some inspiration as I’ve been lacking that for awhile. I wanted to see the ideas that some people conceive and manage to pull off. Seeing other people indulge in their passions reminds me that I have my own passions to reignite and that I should start creating again.
Morgan Freeman narrates the penguin documentary and begins by saying, “…This is a love story.” A love story that made me laugh. A penguin waddling is funny. A mass of penguins waddling is hilarious. These empire penguins make a 70-mile treacherous journey multiple times a year. Love can be a mean joke. But this breed doesn’t seem to mind.
After dinner, Jenny and I were going to hang out at Borders, but about a quarter mile down Algonquin I suggested it wasn’t such a great idea to continue any further, seeing as neither of us could see more than two feet past the car. Plus, the streets weren’t plowed. I asked if she felt like ice cream. I haven’t eaten ice cream in months. We detoured to Oberweiss on the way back, where I got the best milkshake of all time, made with chocolate-peanut butter ice cream. We brought one back for her dad, whose utility van got stolen today in front of Mayor Daley’s nephew’s house. Not that a milkshake will bring back his dad’s dogtags that dangled from his rearview mirror. But maybe it would settle his stomach a little.
The Grizzly Man movie I watched later on, drifting in and out of sleep on the couch with my dog curled up next to me. Around 1:30 I woke up to the sound of what I thought was the garage door. I watched the parts of the movie I missed. How does it happen that someone who dedicates his life to preserving the lives of bears ends up getting eaten by a bear? I guess you could say this was a love story as well. It has a tragic ending, but maybe all love does. I started to wonder why my dad wasn’t home yet. For the past 20+ years he’s played poker with the same nine guys from the old neighborhood, the first Friday of every month, minus the summer. I think he’s at Orin’s, who still lives in that neighborhood over in Schaumburg, only a 15-minute drive from here. Hopefully the roads aren’t awful, I think, even though I know they are. Maybe I didn’t imagine the garage sound. I opened the front door and there was my dad shoveling the path leading up to where I was standing. I opened the storm door a few inches and said, “Why the heck are you shoveling now?”
He looked at me, bewildered for a moment. He doesn’t like when I start conversations without first saying “Hi.”
“See my car?”
“Yeah," I said as I noticed it perpendicular to the curb. “Is it stuck?"
“Well, yeah.”
“I had to go get the plow on the other corner just to get him to plow the entrance to the cul-de-sac because the snow he had plowed down the main street made a 3 foot high pile over there,” he continued, motioning behind him.
“Well do you want me to help?”
“That’s up to you.”
I enjoy the nighttime and had already gotten a little sleep, so I bundled myself in a big purple coat and joined my dad in the winter wonderland. He was already halfway done with half of the driveway. I asked him if he wanted me to take over, but he said if I wanted to help, there was another shovel in the garage.

The only sound is the shovels scraping the driveway. Two of my goals in life are 1) to better understand my dad and 2) to be ambidextrous. Snow is silent and heavy. About a quarter way down my side, I started shoveling with the opposite hand in the lifting position. If I am going to be sore tomorrow, at least I’ll be equally sore. It occurred to me that I might have just completed both goals. My dad wasn’t wearing gloves. Or a hat.
“I don’t think anyone ever expected this many inches. I mean I read eight inches somewhere, but even that was just one source.” He sort of chuckled, “Tom Skilling’s going to have a ball with this tomorrow!”
“Oh he’ll come up with all kind of record-breakers—largest snowfall above freezing…? I don’t know.”
I responded by throwing a few snowballs in his direction; a handful hit him directly in the back. He didn’t turn around. When he finished, he started right in front of my van just as I was getting to the same spot. We finished the driveway by shoveling the last bit of snow together.
Before he went to retrieve the car, he wiped some sweat from his forehead and said, “I broke my three-year winning streak tonight.”

At 3:45 I was still awake when the power went out. I think too much in the dark. Penguins and grizzlies and blizzards, oh my.

* * * *

In conclusion, go rent An Inconvenient Truth and figure out how you can help stop global warming and bring back the real season of winter.

I will leave you with a simple but beautiful poem that landed on my desk sophomore year of high school on a discarded page a day zen calendar page…:

Here in the stillness
of snow falling on snow

~Taneda Santoka

[photos: 1) taken 12/1/06 outside my house in the city 2 and 3) taken in 4/03 from my 22nd story window where i lived on water street in nyc, 2002-2003 4) taken the night of the story about shoveling with my dad 1/21/06]

Friday, January 12, 2007

we the jury

When I was in CLR (Creative Learning Room) 2nd-4th grades, one of our big projects involved holding a mock trial for Hansel and Gretel. We all took on the personalities of the courtroom. I was the Recorder. Maybe that's where it all started...this obsession with documenting life. I remember taking my job so seriously, more so than anything else we were learning about in our regular classrooms. I brought a tape recorder and recorded every word spoken. I probably took notes as well. My end product consisted of a newspaper article I typed up on my home computer. Mrs. Riley made me re-do the article because I spelled P.J.'s last name wrong. It was an honest mistake, though, as I always pronounced his name "Berquist"...I never knew it was "BerGquist." I never misspelled his name again.

On Friday I completed my first duty as a juror. Upon entering the Rolling Meadows courthouse a woman asked me if I knew where to get birth certificates. I apologized and said I was only there for jury duty. "Oh," she said. "You don't look old enough to be a juror." "Why? How old do you have to be?" Neither of us knew.
Then, as I stood in the security line, the security woman made a huge deal about the lunch I had packed myself, which she took out of my bag as she yelled, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH DIET FOOD??" Slightly embarrassed, I said quietly, "I knew someone was gonna say that..." "SOUTH BEACH THOUGH?? I MEAN LOOK AT YOU!!" "It's not because I'm on a diet," I insisted. "It's because there was nothing else to grab on the run." (note: this is something i took out of my mom's fridge. it didn't even belong to me in the first place).

As I walked into the jury waiting room, I had to blindly choose a panel number out of a bucket. Well this is fun, I thought. An element of surprise. I had flashbacks of walking to the lunhroom in 7th grade, when Blake came running out of one the math rooms yelling, "He's innocent! OJ's innocent!" and how shocked and appalled I felt even as a mere 13-year-old at the downfall of this country's legal system. As I looked at the #5 in my hand, I pictured being selected to take part in a trial involving a vicious crime and say that I had a small role in putting someone rightfully behind bars.

Turns out my third grade mock trial was more exciting. I sat in a room with about 20 other people as they showed us a video that clearly had not been updated for a few decades all about our responsibilities as a juror of Cook County. And that gave me flashbacks of how much I hated forcing myself to stay awake during instructional videos in school. For the next two hours I finished reading a book I started awhile ago called I Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere, thinking all the while that I should look into the probability of me having restless leg syndrome.

At 11:30 not a single person or panel # had been called to trial yet, so the lady dismissed us for a two-hour lunch break. That's the longest lunch break I've ever been granted in life thus far, so I bolted, called my mom to see if she wanted to meet for lunch, called my dad to tell him to meet us for lunch, and drove a round-about way to the local Chile's. Had a bloomin' onion and a "quesadilla explosion" salad.

When I got back to the courthouse I ditched the boxed South Beach caeser wraps in the backseat and headed back up to the jury room, back to the same chair I came from two hours prior. The lady in charge said if they weren't notified by 2:30 that the trials needed any jurors, then we'd be free to go. So I took Catcher in the Rye out of my bag and started back up with the classic adolescent novel (which I never read in my adolescence...and finally decided to dive into a few weeks ago). This Holden character cracks me up. Seriously--I laugh out loud at the way he speaks.

"I said Old Jesus probably would've puked if He could see it--all those fancy costumes and all. Sally said I was a sacrilegious atheist. I probably am. The thing Jesus really would've liked would be the guy that plays the kettle drums in the orchestra."

Amen, Holden. Amen. And speaking of kettle drums, I wish the deputy sheriff would roll in a few of those right about now.
At 2:32 we were given our $17.20 check and dismissed. So I didn't aide in carting away any criminals, but I did get paid by the U.S. government to spend a few hours reading for my own enjoyment. God bless America.

[photo: taken by Dana Edelson when I worked at SNL...sitting in to test the lights for Horatio Sanz, who impersonated Aaron Neville]

Friday, January 5, 2007

just an old-fashioned love song part 2

Two things happened this week that made me decide to write a follow-up music/memory post.
1) Petaluma Vale Livelli sent me a link to this New York Times article about Daniel Levitan's book I mentioned at the end of my original post...check it out:
This Is Your Brain On Music

Just an old-fashioned love song Part 1

2) Yesterday I was driving Max to fencing and "Don't Leave Me This Way" by Thelma Houston came on the radio. I thought he'd change the station, but instead he started pretending to disco dance in the passenger seat. So I joined in the fun, while still steering the Monte Carlo (i have a rental car till next week). And once again, I was bombarded with the instant memory of dancing at the Flamingo Club in NYC. When Abbi visited me at school during spring break of our sophomore year, I took her to see a borderline pornographic, disco version of A Midsummer Night's Dream called The Donkey Show. At the end of the show the place turned into an interactive disco and suddenly the audience becomes part of the show. We anticipated this and dressed the part, I in a one-piece spaghetti-strap jumpsuit, she in my butterfly-print shirt. They played "Don't leave me this way" and we went wild.

Those two reasons on top of the fact that ever since I posted the original entry, I keep hearing songs and thinking, "Oh man, I should have included this one too..." So here you go...a double dose of memories made by music.

"We are the Champions" by Queen--Freshman year at NYU I was out late with a few friends--Zach, Kayla, and Chase--and we stopped in this tiny walk-in healthy Mexican joint called Cosmic Cantina to get some food. We were eating our burritos and commenting that it was funny that they were playing Queen on their sound system. Enter: a girl supporting her very drunk boyfriend (his arm around her shoulders)...they approach the counter to order food, and the man asks if they'd like to add guacamole to their meal. The drunk guy, right on cue, starts punching the air with his fist and shout/singing "NO GUA-CA-MO-LEE NO GUA-CA-MO-LEEEEEEE..." to the tune of the chorus, "We are the champ-ions, We are the champ-ionssss...." The girlfriend was clearly mortified, and tried to get him to stop singing and flailing around. We all thought it was hysterical and sang "No Guacamole" on our walk home.

"The Sign" by Ace of Base--In 5th grade I left Thomas Jefferson Elementary School to be part of the Special Opportunities Program (S.O.P.) at Paddock. In an attempt to keep my friends at TJ and prove to them that I didn't think I was better because I left to go to some smart-people program, I went to their annual skate night at the Orbit Roller Rink. The rink's emcee announced that it was time for couples skate and switched on "The Sign," which happened to be my favorite song at the time. I searched for Joey--I was under the impression that he was still my "boyfriend" (even at a young age i idealistically thought that love triumphed location)--only couples were allowed on the floor for the duration of the song, and wanted my first experience skating with a boy to be with him. Finally, I spotted him, skating past...and holding hands with Mary Kate. Game over.

"She Loves You" by The Beatles--(This is really bizarre...i just typed that) and the song came on shuffle on itunes...out of 5200+ songs!) Speaking of Joey...every time I hear this song, I picture myself standing on the choir risers during our fourth grade concert, a bunch of 10-year-olds singing The Beatles. I was on the right curved side and Joey was on the left, directly across from me. We looked at each other the whole time we sang the song.

"Goodbye Earl" by the Dixie Chicks--The first time I heard this song, I was sitting in the back of Amy's Buick while she and Abbi drove around the parking lot of this Asian market singing at the top of their lungs. I believe we were sophomores in high school. I picture them singing in the Buick every time i hear this song.

"The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)" by Betty Everett--The one time I deviated from my regular dance lessons, I took a poms class at the Palatine Park District. Age 8? Our final routine, which we performed in the basement studio for our parents was to this song. I remember thinking I was old shaking my hips and my poms.

"Easy Like Sunday Morning" by Lionel Richie--During my spring break while studying abroad in Madrid I traveled around Europe with my friend Pat (a friend from high school who was studying in Ireland) and his roommate (also Pat). We were in Prague's town center and there was this guy with an accent sitting on a box, strumming a guitar and singing American songs. Quite a large crowd gathered around him and it was like a universal sing-along. This is hard to explain without a sound clip, but you know how Lionel sings, "Cause I'm eeeeeasy, easy like Sunday moooornin...woah oh oh oh..."? Well this guy in Prague sings the line and then goes "WHOAH. OH. OH. OH." Like, i said it's hard to explain without me singing it to you, but it made us laugh so hard...for the rest of our trip Pat would randomly look at me and in an exaggerated voice go, "WOAH OH OH OH!" and it killed me every time.

"I swear" by All 4 One--The first time I danced with a boy was to this song. It was at my bat-mitzvah...the DJ instructed me pick someone to start off the snowball dance with...I didn't know who to choose, so I went to the boy's side of the dance floor and said, "Can someone just dance with me?" A lot of eyes stared nervously at the floor. Finally, Joe stepped forward. "Thanks," I said.

"No Diggity" by Blackstreet--I think I may be prohibited from ever reentering Dallas because of this song. Abbi and I were visiting Amy in Waco, Texas. We went with to cheer her on at a half marathon she was running in Dallas. It was approx. 7:30 in the morning, and to get everyone pumped up I decided to blast "No Diggity" in Amy's Lincoln and start a dance party in the parking lot. My intention was to everyone jazzed for the race, but I think I only managed to scare a bunch of people.

"Red Red Wine" by UB40--Carrie and I sat together on school bus ride down to Galena, Illinois for a field trip in fifth grade. We listened to this song over and over and laughed hysterically every time at the line, "The lion smoked and the monkey get choked..." To this day I still laugh out loud when I hear this song on the radio. Just today I decided to look up the lyrics...turns out that's not even what they say! "The line broke, the monkey get choke" Two other songs that remind me of that same bus ride: "What's Up" by 4 Non-Blondes and "Again" by Janet Jackson.

"Wherever You Will Go" by The Calling--Freshman year of college I woke up in the middle of one night to Brianna (my roommate, who's bed was two feet away from mine) screaming. I sat bolt upright and saw her covering her mouth with one and hand and pointing at the TV with her other hand. I was scared to look, as this was not long after Sept. 11 and I assumed the worst. Instead, there on the TV screen was a blonde boy with a low voice singing in a ravine (?)...a music video on MTV (or VH1?) Turns out Brianna knew the band from back home in L.A....not only that, but she had a CD recording of them from when they were just a garage band and one of them wrote a song about her.

"You Gotta Be" by Des'ree--I listened to this song every morning before going to school in sixth grade. As silly as that sounds now, at the time it kept me going. Now, when I listen to it, I still feel this renewed sense of sticking up for myself and taking control of my own life. Funny that these are the thoughts of a former 11-year-old...

"Black Water" by The Doobie Brothers--Sitting in the back of a Jeep with Amy and Abbi on our senior spring break in Fort Lauderdale, FLA. Amy's aunt and uncle were driving us to dinner. This song came on the radio.

"Suspicious Minds" by Elvis--I was in Galway, Ireland visiting Pat, who was studying abroad there. We went to a diner place called Eddie Rockets for some french fries. I wanted to choose a song on the jukebox, so I walked over there, only to be stopped by a stumbling, drunk Irishman who also wanted to choose a song. We agreed on Elvis. I walked back to the table of boys, the drunk man followed. He insisted I dance with him, the boys of course egged me on. So we danced for a few measures. Then he kept asking if we wanted his burger in a bag. We politely declined. A bouncer (no joke, the diner had a bouncer) made him leave. He came back in and headed straight for our table again. "You want my cigarette?" he asked me. I don't smoke to begin with, and the slobbery half-gone one he put in my hand pretty much solidified the fact that i will never smoke. Gross.

"Thinking of You" by Hanson--Nicolette and I jumping on her bed with our arms outstretched as though they were wings..."Fly the wings of an eagle/glide along with the wind/no matter how high/i'll be thinking of you the whole time"

"Do You Remember" by Jack Johnson--Shawna and I started each morning of our roadtrip around the country by playing this song. He sings, "Over ten years have gone by..." and we called our roadtrip the 10th Anniversary Tour, to mark our 10 years of friendship. It was a good start to each morning, as we woke up with the sun and sang along.

"Shall We Dance" from The King and I--When my dad would come home from work around dinner time, he'd put this song on and we'd dance around the kitchen.

Again, I open the floor for anyone who wants to share a musically-induced memory.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

dancing with myself

I took Max out to a classy lunch at Subway today for his last day of winter break. Rap music filled the sandwich shop, and I couldn't help but move around to it. "Can you stop moving??" Max questioned.

This past weekend I danced more than I have in a long time. It all started with Nicolette's wedding on Friday night. From about 9 to 11 I tore up the dance floor. My date, Justin, and I danced to a few songs together, including "Summer Wind" by Frank Sinatra. I can probably count on one hand how many times in my life I've danced with someone...I was the one stepping on his toes, but other than my mis-steps, it felt great to move around as a pair.

My hair, which I had spent an hour straightening for the event (so as for one night not to get mistaken for a 12-year-old...which has happened 3 times in the past year), became a wacky, wavy mess by the time we left the banquet hall because I sweated so much.
But the night didn't end there.

We then continued onto the Infinity Room in Lincolnshire to partake in an Oldies dance party benefit that my sister put together with help from the True Oldies Station--94.7 morning DJ, Scott Mackay. 100% of the proceeds went to my sister's college roommate, Kelley, who was in a diving accident this past summer that left her paralyzed from the waist down. The event raised $3300!
I immediately took to the dance floor and pretty much didn't leave it until 2:00 in the morning. The only people there the last hour (the event technically ended at 1) were my sister, Scott Mackay, and myself. My sister had to drive the van home because I could barely walk through the parking lot.

Saturday was a new day. Full of new dancing potential. I went with my family to see the matinee performance of Mama Mía at the Cadillac Theatre. It took all the self-restraint I could muster to not jump out of my seat and start dancing in the audience. The 80-year-old woman sitting next to me seemed to be having the same problem. She shared in my enthusiasm when they started singing my favorite ABBA song, "Take a Chance on Me," and clapped her hands and let out a joyous squeal. By the time the ABBA medley encore began, she and I--without speaking, much less even making eye contact--synchornized seated dance movements, waving our hands in the air from side to side.
After the show I met up with Amy and her friends who were in town from Texas. We walked around the city for awhile, and ABBA, having infected my brainspace, made its way through my body and I found myself randomly dancing to invisible songs. "Alyse--there isn't even music!" Brant said. "There is in my head!" I rationalized.

Then came Sunday. New Years Eve. Amy, the Texans and I went to a party at the new McCormick Freedom Museum. I spent the first hallf hour or so checking out some of the exhibits, but the empty dance floor was taunting me. Finally, I couldn't take it anymore and single-handedly (along with Jenny and José) started the dance portion of the party. Eventually the rest of Amy's crew joined us, but it was a good hour or more before the rest of the party patrons took to the floor. Despite the all-rap music all the time [i.e. there are only so many movements one can do], I still managed to never stop moving and to piss off a few hardcore guests when I requested "Twist and Shout" by The Beatles...which was by far the best song played all night...I mean it's bad enough that they played a song that's main lyric was, "I wanna fuck you"....but then they played it AGAIN later that night.
My mom called at 12:01 a.m. to wish me a happy new year, and well, let's just say I had a few drinks in me and when she asked how the museum was, I shouted/slurred, "ISTARTEDTHEDANCEPARTY!" to which she deadpan responded, "That doesn't surprise me." I briefly passed out on the car ride to Amy's house, but as soon as we got inside, I was rarin' to go once again.

So I started thinking about my origins in the dance world and how I've gotten to this point, where I am no longer a "dancer," but I'm pretty much dancing all the time. I didn't decide to start walking until I was 18 months old. Less than a year later my mom enrolled me in my first dance class. After that first year at the park district, I transferred over to Bonnie Lindholm School of "the" Dance (still unsure about the reasoning behind the "the") until I graduated high school. I am not going to get into my experience as a member of their dance company right now because there is enough material to write a novel, but I will say that I probably spent more time in that dance studio/performing around Chicago than I did in my own house.
The result: a dance-crazed maniac.

I just bought this shirt for myself yesterday:
I'm pretty sure it was made for me.

So to answer your question, Max, no I can't stop moving. And I'd like it to become infectious.
So everyone turn up your speakers and start your own personal dance party to my theme song by Billy Idol:

"Well there's nothing to lose
And there's nothing to prove
I'll be dancing with myself"

more wedding photos
more oldies photos
more new years photos
shirt photo courtesy of
video courtesy of

Monday, January 1, 2007

my new year's resolution is to try and post an entry every day

(3 reasons why I haven’t posted in over two weeks:
1) amy’s home from CA for winter break, and being that she’s one of my only known daily readers, I don’t have her motivating me to make sure I post something for her to read every morning while she's teaching
2) the holidays
3) parents gave me the Lost DVDS (seasons 1 and 2), and I’ve become addicted)

so i started writing the following post several weeks it goes:

"You would kill me if you knew what I'm doing right now in order to talk to you," Amy said to me over the phone.

"Oh no. What?" I ask. Amy has been one of my best friends since first grade. She lives in Sunnyvale, CA now as a Teach For America teacher in East Palo Alto. Despite the time difference, we find time to talk early in the morning. By the time I get home from driving Max to school, she's getting ready to head to school herself.

"I'm using my bluetooth earpiece," she says with an embarrassed giggle. Well, probably not embarrassed because after 17 years of friendship, we are way beyond embarrassment.

"Well I guess it gets the job done...less strain on your neck."

She called just as I was on my way out the door. I'm walking to Filter, the coffeeshop a few blocks from where I live, to spend a few hours caffeinating myself, while editing a friend's manuscript and staring out a window. The weatherman on the radio said that "the wind-chill brings the temperature down to a chilly zero degrees."

"Well you'll be happy to know, that despite the fact that this is the coldest day of winter so far, I've decided to downsize my coat and therefore am not wearing the huge, purple, puffy-sleeved 80's number that everyone hates," I tell her. Ok, so maybe there is still room for embarrassment...our friend Abbi would jokingly (?) refuse to be seen with me senior year of high school after I bought the coat for $5 at a thrift store and thought it was really cool.

Then it's back to the earpiece. "You know I remember the first time I ever saw someone using one of those earpiece devices...” I begin to tell Amy the story of when I was living in New York City. It was my first year there, I think within my first week there, which would mean I, myself, didn’t even own a cell phone yet. I was in one of those corner delis, where you can get anything “for the road.” I was standing in line behind a woman who appeared to be talking to herself. Not just talking to herself, but literally talking about how she left a psych ward. I found this quite humorous (yet slightly strange…and wondered if there was some sort of padded vehicle waiting for her outside), noting it as one of those “only in New York” moments. Then she turned to leave. There was some sort of black device in her ear connected to a phone--which was clipped to her pants--by some sort of cord. I remember thinking, “What the heck is that??” and found that stranger than my original assumption that she was just a regular old psycho.

That took place in 2001. “Only in New York” took on a whole new meaning about a week later. I won’t go into all my personal recollections of September 11 (at least not now…someday maybe I’ll write a post about it...but for now I need to keep focused), but that day is worth mentioning because I did not yet own a cell phone. When I ran downstairs with my camera to stand in front of my dorm (on 5th ave. and 10th street) and stare at what happened, there was no one way for me to immediately contact anyone. I went to New York to start over, and seeing as this all happened on what was supposed to be only my 4th day of classes, I knew no one. There were people standing around me. I remember one man holding his cell phone and swearing at it because he couldn’t get a signal. And there was a girl standing behind me on a cell phone hysterically crying to someone on the other end, screaming, “DAD IS IN THERE AND PEOPLE ARE STANDING AROUND TAKING PICTURES!” I lowered my camera. From my vantage point I thought it was just a little Cessna that had caused the flaming hole and honestly wasn’t that concerned. But out of respect (and guilt) for the crying girl, I stopped taking pictures. I turned to go back inside. At that moment the second plane flew into the second tower. Then I was concerned—to put it mildly. I ran to my room and used a calling card to call home on the landline. My mom thankfully answered, and while she hung up to call my dad at work, I tried to call all of my best friends (we dispersed across the country after high school), only getting a hold of one. None of us had cell phones. In fact, the most popular gifts to give for high school graduation were calling cards. I had thrown my stack of them into a desk drawer when I moved into my new home, assuming they’d last me at least first semester, if not all of freshmen year. Within that month of September I talked my way through thousands of pre-paid minutes. When I went home for Thanksgiving that year, my parents gave me a cell phone for my 19th birthday (which always falls on or around Turkey Day). They knew I had emptied all my calling cards and feared that I’d never call home unless they sucked it up and bought me one.

Five years later it’s hard to imagine life without a cell phone. Everyone has one. Well, everyone except my friend Andrew, who said to me the other night when we were planning to meet up somewhere at a certain time—“You know,” he said, not masking his annoyance, “this is what people did before cell phones.” I felt guilty and embarrassed because I am usually the one who gets defensive about the past, and here I found myself doubting that if we said we’d meet at 8:00 in front of Starbucks, that’d actually pan out as planned without one of us calling the other to say we’re running a few minutes late. He’s right. The world worked, and possibly better, before these little phones.
Growing up, the only people I knew who had anything close were Zack Morris from the famed Saved By the Bell and George, my friend’s dad, who had a “car phone”—named so because it rested between the driver and passenger seats, hence only for car use. Even that still had a cord.
Now, as I already mentioned above, everyone has one. Even 8-year-olds. I am officially a "soccer mom"...oh excuse me, a fencing mom. On Thursdays I pick up not only Max from school but his friend Maddie as well, a fellow seventh-grader, and drive them both to fencing lessons. Maddie hardly smiles, gives off the impression that she’s an apathetic hardass, and answers everything with a bite of sarcasm. She reminds me a lot of myself when I was twelve. So the other day she was sitting in the back of my car and she gets a phone call. Yes, you’re thinking: what does a 12-year-old need with a cell phone? But it gets worse.
“I told you five times—I’m twelve,” Maddie seethes. Followed by a deadpan series of, “No….no….yessss….no. I gotta go now.”
“Who was that?” I ask with a laugh.
“These little girls who ride my school bus.”
“How old are they?”
“What?! Are you serious??”
She was.

Later on Max is telling Maddie something when, all of a sudden, mid-sentence he goes, "Woah! Is that a PS2??"
I look in the rearview mirror to see Maddie holding some kind of handheld device.
"Yeah," Maddy responds coolly, as though it’s the dumbest question ever asked. Max, clearly impressed, proceeds to discuss the high costs of the brand spankin’ new PS3 and Nintendo’s Wii vs. his brand new XBox 360. I continue heading north on Lake Shore Drive, smiling to myself thinking about Mario, Luigi and DuckHunt.
“You know, I’d much prefer old-school Nintendo.” I am dating myself and they put me in my place.
“Ugh! Those graphics suck!”
Here’s where I’m going to insert a huge thanks directed to my parents who never let my sister and me have any sort of gaming system growing up. Even though I went to Sara’s and Shelley’s just so I could play Nintendo for a few hours once in awhile, and even though I may have been jealous when you bought Sheri a first-generation GameBoy, I think my life hugely benefited from not becoming a video game addict.

My parents bought their first computer in 1988. It was an Apple IIGS. I was entering kindergarten, yet reading at a sixth grade level. So to keep me occupied they bought Math Rabbit and Reader Rabbit and a program where I could write stories and create pictures to go along with those stories.
In second grade I remember going to meet-the-teacher day the day before school started, and my teacher, Mrs. Drucker, came over to me and said, “You’re going to be part of an exciting new classroom starting tomorrow. Do you know what WTW stands for?” I shyly shook my head. “It means ‘writing to write’ and you’ll be part of the only class in the school that has computers in the classroom.”
[Thus began my “total nerd and hated by most of the rest of the school” standing, as I was bounced around from one guinea-pig “smart kid” program after another…but much like 9.11, that could be a whole novel as well. So I’ll spare you…for now.]
I stayed with the same kids 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades as part of this computer-integrated class. We learned adjectives and verbs by watching simple animations on the computers and then we’d use the new words to form opinions and write stories about dinosaurs and windy cities. In the later grades we learned survival skills from Oregon Trail and increased our math knowledge playing Number Munchers.

“But,” I say to Amy. I’m standing outside of Filter now, my fingers and nose almost numb.
“Nothing compares to that day in your house when we watched Bill Clinton speak on your computer.”
She laughs. “Yeah, on Encarta.”

Good ol’ Encarta—one of the first multimedia encyclopedias. I remember sitting beside Amy in her parent’s bedroom watching the computer screen. We were in fifth grade, and instead of looking through card catalogs at the library, we were doing our research using a digital version of an encyclopedia on her computer. She clicked the Play button, and suddenly there was our president speaking to us. I remember thinking this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen; this is a technological milestone.
(I wonder now if they still teach kids how to do real research or how to properly utilize a library’s resources. Or has education become too reliant on the World Wide Web?)

Then came Prodigy, followed by America Online, and suddenly I was “chatting” with people around the world. I didn’t become temporarily addicted to AIM (AOL instant messenger), though, until college. Unlike kids today who come home from school and head straight to the computer to chat online, I actually had things to do…like hang out with my friends IN PERSON.
(I know I sound like my parents when they talk about the invention of TV because the same things could be said…”we used to go outside, not sit in front of a box…”)

Kids don’t know life before all of this advanced technology. Even people my sister’s age, who are only three years younger than me, seem to be on the brink of having major face-to-face communication issues. She went to college already owning a cell phone, Ipod and laptop computer. And hit the social networking fiends full force the year she began her first year of college.

Yes, I have a laptop now, but I didn’t get one until I graduated college. And yes, I have an Ipod, but I’ve been degraded by a 12-year-old asking me, “What?? You can’t watch TV on yours??” Um, no. That’s what a TV’s for. I don’t even waste that much time watching TV on an actual TV, so why would I carry a tiny one around with me?

A few months ago I was at a dinner party, and there was this kid there talking about his life at college (I believe he attended NIU) and how he takes all his courses online. This blew my mind. I mean especially with the amount of time spent on online social networking sites (whether it be facebook, myspace, friendster, probably 50 others I don’t even know about…) that goes on these days, I wondered if this guy ever left his computer. How do you take the classroom out of the educational experience? At least half of what I learned in college came from listening to my classmates or impromptu lessons that my teachers taught. How can a computer possibly replace this?

But I am conflicted. I can’t completely criticize these impersonal methods of communication. On September 11 I was talking to Jenny on the phone as I sat on my bed watching CNN updates on TV of what was happening a mile away. I screamed into the phone as they showed a plane crash into the Pentagon. “THE WORLD IS ENDING!” I feared that when I hung up the phone with her, the line would thenceforth be dead. But I had to hang up in order to find out what was going on. My fear was not unfounded. Right after I hung up, I immediately picked the receiver back up. Dead silence. I ran to my computer. There were three solid rows of blinking Instant Messages lining the bottom of the screen. Somehow, through all of this, the internet stayed connected and because of that I remained relatively calm.

You wouldn’t think one would have to repeat this experience, but I was one of the few who did. On March 11, 2004, exactly two and half years (almost to the hour) after the worst attack on U.S. soil, I experienced the worst attack on Spanish soil, as I was living in Madrid at the time of the Atocha train bombings. Again, the internet stayed connected. I had the chance to e-mail almost everyone back in the States that I was okay before most even woke up to read the front page news. And thanks to AIM, once again, I talked with my friends studying abroad in London, Maastricht, Ireland and Paris while everything was going on in Madrid.

I've been having trouble thinking of how to end this post because it could potentially go on and on. Then last night I got a text message from a friend—the one whose manuscript I was editing when I began writing this post three weeks ago—that said, “You’re a good friend Alyse.” This came out of nowhere but brought a smile to my face. Maybe [some] technology isn’t so bad…

[photo of a photo: i took this picture of a photography i liked at the Rhona Hoffman Gallery. It was taken by Brian Ulrich and was party of his Thrift series.]