Monday, November 17, 2014

Let's Talk About Weather

One night during my senior year at Kalamazoo College in Michigan I drove a few friends home after Half-Off Long Island Night at a bar. Most of the people lived within walking distance of the bar, but it started to pour so I snaked my way up and down one-way streets to get my passengers home safely. The last person I needed to drop off was Mark, a guy who I was semi-dating at the time. As I pulled away from campus and onto Main Street the rain became a monsoon. I could hardly see in front of me and was grateful there were no other vehicles on the road so that I could drive at 5 mph. A siren started to sound from behind me, but the rain was too dense to see where the ambulance or fire truck was coming from. Luckily I was near Mark's street so I kept driving.

Parked in Mark's driveway, we sat and listened to the rain and sirens for a while. I'm not sure what Mark was waiting for, but I was biding my time hoping he would invite me inside. Mark was not the most "physical" guy I had ever dated, but he was a sweet man and just what I needed after my boyfriend of three years had stomped on my heart the previous summer. Any action I got from Mark was initiated by me, but I had never been ballsy enough to invite myself inside Mark's home.

We started to comment on the weather, the lightning illuminating the sky, and we gradually approached the subject of "us". Somewhere in this conversation I received a text from one of my housemates: Where are you? I replied: In my car with Mark. What's up? Immediately my phone rang. "What do you mean you're in your car?" Laura snapped.

"Uhh I was driving people home after drinking at Roadhouse and now Mark and I are in my car?" I tried to send Laura telepathic messages saying, I am trying to make a move here and you're cramping my style. Unfortunately, our telepathic language is normally relayed in wide eyes and eyebrow movements so she wasn't picking up on my message.

"Don't you hear the siren?"

"You hear it too?" I said, looking back to the road. Mark lived one street over from my house so it was possible that I could hear the ambulance if it was near my roommates. "It's moving really slowly. Oh my god!" Suddenly I wondered if the ambulance wasn't moving. What if it was stopped because it was tending to whoever was hurt? What if it was stopped at my house? "Is everyone okay?"

"That is a tornado siren," Laura said, "there is a tornado in the area."

The brief panic I felt that one of my housemates may be injured deflated. "Oh," I said, turning to look at Mark. I'm from the coast of Georgia. I wasn't sure if I had ever heard an active there's a tornado seek shelter now tornado siren. I had heard the ones they tested in Kalamazoo from time to time, but the unending siren I was hearing that night hadn't registered as the same sort of siren. Mark was from Michigan, however. What was his excuse? "Should we get out of the car?" I asked more hesitantly than I should have.

"YES GET OUT OF THE CAR. We're all in the laundry room."   

I relayed all of this information to Mark. We went inside his house. The tornado never came to our street or our college, but I was grateful for the sudden temperamental weather because it got me what I wanted -- and invitation inside. 

I was reminded of this night in my car with Mark when I woke up this morning to tornado sirens in Milledgeville, Georgia. Having grown up on a small island off the coast of Georgia, I forget that there are areas of the state where tornadoes can actually form and cause some damage. It was 9:30am when the sound of the siren woke me up. After a fever-and-sore-throat fueled night kept me from getting much sleep I felt delirious and thought, "I don't remember hearing them test the sirens before. Oh well. Maybe they test them once a month and I never paid attention." I pulled my comforter over my head to go back to sleep. On a typical Monday, I would have already been at my assistantship for an hour and a half at this time, but when 1:30am rolled around and I was still tossing and turning I emailed my advisor telling her I was too sick to come in. Before I shut my eyes I instinctively checked my phone. My daily TimeHop app was waiting for me to view it, I had a few texts from some MFA friends, and a weather alert: Tornado Warning in effect until 10:15 a.m. Seek shelter now.

I sat up and took out my earplugs. The siren was still blaring and it was pouring. My cat, Belmont, stretched on the body pillow on the floor and looked at me sleepily. I couldn't remember the difference between a warning and a watch so I called one of my old housemates, Christine, from Kalamazoo. When she didn't pick up I checked my texts from my classmates. They were from Penny and Kera asking if we were all going to meet at the local coffee shop at noon for our Monday writing date. I responded to the group text: I'm not going to make it out today because I am super sick and it hurts to swallow. I had to call in sick :( Btw, is there a tornado warning?

Kera responded: Yes - we're all downstairs taking cover! Stay away from windows. She asked if I needed any medicine and offered to pick some up later. Then she added: Also, tornado is actually heading in our direction from Macon, so this is no joke!

I stood up and reached for Belmont. My cat gets scared if I move too quickly and she darted from my grasp. I chased her into the second bedroom, picked her up, and dropped her when she dug her claws into my chest. Instead I grabbed my laptop, told Belmont she was on her own, and went into the bathroom. 

This seemed humourous to me -- four years out of college, living on my own, having dealt with a few harrowing storms during my time in Chicago and yet I was still relying on friends to tell me what to do during a tornado. Tornadoes are one of  two natural disasters I just don't think about because they're never been huge threats in places where I lived (the other is earthquakes). On the southeastern coast we get tornadoes with hurricanes, but usually you're more worried about the hurricane as a whole rather than the tornadoes that come with it. And truth be told, hurricanes in coastal Georgia were awesome because we would always have the threat of the storm, schools would be closed, and sometimes we had to evacuate, but the hurricanes never actually hit the Golden Isles. They would get close enough to make businesses board-up and then suddenly they would catch the Gulf Stream and ride it straight into the Carolinas. My memories of Hurricane Season include eating at Chic-fil-a with friends after school was closed in the middle of the day, driving through flooded areas in golf carts, and sitting on the beach watching the Atlantic ocean waves battle each other. My family and I wouldn't even evacuate until it was mandatory. When it came to hurricanes, I did the minimal amount of preparation required. Tornadoes, however, are so unfamiliar that I will do whatever people tell me to do. Seek shelter? Done. Sit in a door frame? Got it. Pull my mattress into the bathroom and create a bunker out of my bathtub? I'm already there.

I did not bring my mattress into the bathroom, but I did spend the next hour sitting on the floor with my back against the tub texting storm updates with Kera. She was being fed information by the people at the college and I was telling her what I was hearing outside -- rain, the siren, and possibly hail at one point when suddenly the rain was so loud that I thought a window may have flown open. Penny reported that everyone in the library was also taken to a basement area. Jeanette began texting me and told me how to duck-and-cover should a tornado actually pass over my apartment. A tornado entered south Baldwin County, the rain became so deafening that I could no longer hear the siren and then suddenly it all seemed to stop. A voice replaced the siren, but I couldn't understand it. By the time I left the bathroom the voice had stopped and there was a series of low honks, a sound that I learned during a snow emergency in Chicago meant "all clear." I started to text Kera when the voice spoke again and said, "All clear. The emergency is over."

As I left the bathroom I noticed blood on my hand. I looked down and saw a bright red streak where Belmont had sunk her claws into my chest. "You little bitch," I said to Belmont, who I knew was still hiding under my bed, "I was just trying to save your life." I had to use the last bandaid in my apartment to cover the small hole. I guess if Belmont and I are going to go through this for the next three years I'll have to get more bandaids.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Milledgeville Update

Hello, dear readers! You would think being in an MFA writing program would mean I would write blog posts more often. Sadly, that seems to not be the case. Since coming to Milledgeville I have been writing a lot, but not for this blog. Part of it is because I am trying to perfect my writing for class, another part is that I am writing for freelance gigs, and the last part is that I just have not had much to write about.

It has now been almost two months since I left Chicago and I am desperately homesick. The smallest thing can remind me of the Windy City and God help me if I am even slightly inebriated when this happens because it is instant beer-tears. I am trying to "make do" here. I am inviting people over to my apartment to hangout or watch a movie, I accept EVERY invitation that I get, I am going to the gym whenever I feel sad (thank god because I also can't stop eating comfort food), and I got a cat. The cat's name is Belmont (named after a Chicago L stop -- big help when trying not to have anything remind me of Chitown) and while she is still a bit skittish around me I think we are becoming friends. She has now learned that there is not a horrible monster atop my bed and that if she jumps up there then she will be scratched and pet. It's a slow learning process, but I think we'll make some significant progress by December -- just in time for me to take her to St. Simons for the month-long Christmas break, thus freaking her out again. Hooray!

Good Things About Milledgeville 
(because listing thing always makes me feel more positive)

  1. Food and drink is cheap. Two mixed drinks will cost you less than $8 (together, not each) and when the Braces play, the one "happening" bar in town marks everything half-off. I never thought I would care about when the Braves played until now!
  2. There is just one panhandler in Milledgeville, which is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you aren't passing a minimum of ten people asking you for money everyday, but on the other hand you get a bit tired of the same man approaching you over and over. My boyfriend gave this man money once, but didn't a second time. After this second time, the panhandler stomped off and overturned a trash can lid because he was so angry. Surprisingly, that has never happened to me in Chicago. At least I know who to avoid on the street!
  3. Being surrounded by other writers has influenced me to write more and seek-out freelance jobs. I am fortunate to have scored a few paying gigs and even wrote an article that ended up being published on the Huffington Post! That definitely would not have happened if I was still in Chicago.
  4. "Free" gym membership at my college's Wellness Center. I realize that my Student Fees technically pay for me to use the gym, but that money was taken out of my financial aid before I ever saw it so it feels like it is free.

Okay that's all I've got for now. Maybe I'll become gradually more appreciative of this town as time goes on. When people ask me, "How are you liking Milledgeville?" I answer, "The school is nice and my classmates are nice, but I hate the town." That pretty much sums up my current sentiments.

Fun fact: Flannery O'Connor, Milledgeville and Georgia College's claim to fame, hated Milledgeville too. What a smart lady!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Toto, We're Not in Chicago Anymore

On Thursday, July 31st I officially moved out of my apartment in the Rogers Park neighbourhood of Chicago and headed south to my graduate program at Georgia College and State University. During the move my favourite purse broke, my dad lost his wallet, and a man in a red car was kind enough to leave some of his paint on my silver car. Needless to say, I felt the travel gods were telling me not to leave Chicago.

The drive to Milledgeville, GA was long. Google Maps says the route should only take twelve hours to drive, but with construction and traffic jams nearly every twenty miles it felt closer to eighteen. At one point I wondered if we would ever get out of the state of Indiana in two days. We did, thankfully, and arrived in Milledgeville about thirty-six hours after we left the beautiful Windy City.

The closer we got to Milledgeville (Milly) the more the reality of this move began to sink in. The small country roads, farm after farm, and 90+% humidity kept reminding me how far I was from the Midwest. Twenty-four miles outside of Milly my mother pointed out the Rock Eagle camp that I went to when I was in middle school. I was never a big fan of going to camp as a child (my mother will never let me forget the time she had to come and pick me up early because I was "sick") and I started to feel the familiar butterflies in my stomach that I would get when rolling up to a cabin with my blanket and duffel bag.

We continued along the small two-lane road. We passed spray-painted signs for "VIDALIA ONIONS" and "FRESH PECANS" and then came "PECHES". I took my eyes off the road to stare at the sign. "Peches"? Georgia is The Peach State. Someone can't spell "peaches" in The Peach State?! I looked at my mum and pouted. "What am I doing here??" She gave me her normal It's Going to be Great speech. We passed a few more farms, an abandoned plant, crossed over a large lake and entered Milledgeville.

My apartment in Milledgeville has recently changed management companies. The previous management company let the complex become a student ghetto, but the new guys are trying to spruce it up. You can both see where the new guys have done a lot of work and where some improvements still need to be made (for example, an AC vent in my kitchen likes to drip a significant amount of water during the night and three of my four windows are broken). It's not too bad though and with some real TLC I think the apartment will become pretty nice. This is the first time I have ever lived alone so that is going to take some getting used to, especially since I know no one in Milledgeville. Needless to say, this next month or two is going to be a hard adjustment (I like being surrounded by people), but I'll just have to hope that it will all get better.

After moving all of my stuff into the apartment and going out for a birthday lunch (I moved to Milly on my 26th birthday!), my parents headed back to their home on St. Simons Island. My boyfriend, who lives three hours from Milly, stayed with me to help me set up and settle in. Unpacking was a bit hard because that's when I finally realized that this was it -- the point of no return. It didn't help that the street next to me was called Hancock or that there was a sign for Water Tower Place. Every little thing reminded me of Chicago or the friends I had left and I became more and more depressed and worried that this was all a horrible mistake. I mean, I'm only twenty-six. Did I really need an MFA now? Couldn't I have waited until Columbia College could finally offer me some money? Or maybe I should have just gone to Columbia and dealt with the crippling student debt later. All of that would be better than living in Milledgeville, GA, right? Right? What if I die in my apartment and no one knows because I don't have a roommate or any friends in town?!?

Ross decided it was time to leave my apartment for a little while. I was clearly losing my mind and freaking out and I wasn't even alone in the apartment yet! Milledgeville doesn't exactly have a lot to do (aaggghh!) so we drove to Walmart to pick up some things for the apartment. For those who know me you know that this is a big deal -- I hate Walmart. I am from the Bible Belt and, for me, the website just hits a little too close to home. Walmart is scary, redneck, rude, and the people there will either run you down with a shopping cart or just shoot you if you are in their way.

So there we were -- in Walmart because the closest Target is forty-four miles away. We grabbed a few things for my kitchen, some coffee creamer, a new mirror, and a few other random odds and ends. We went through the Self-Checkout and a pair of tongs I had grabbed didn't have a bar-code. A man behind me was wearing a Walmart-blue polo shirt and a nametag so I started to ask him what I should do, but then I realized his nametag said "Kroger". The man sighed, "That's been happening all day." I wanted to pointed out that he was dressed exactly like a Walmart person and should maybe remove the nametag, but doing so would have kept me in Walmart that much longer. I found an actual Walmart clerk, asked her how I could key-in the tongs and she snapped, "I am NOT leaving my post." I remembered why I hate Walmart, put the tongs down and left.

Later in the evening Ross and I found ourselves back at Walmart. That's right -- once was not enough! This time it was to get cleaning supplies, a tire pump, and a cake with candles so we could celebrate what was feeling like a very depressing birthday. The store was mobbed. Walmart is the happening place in Milledgeville and is apparently becoming my equivalent of walking up and down Michigan Avenue. This time I started to therapy shop and impulsively grabbed a purple owl-shaped fly swatter from a bin of colourful fly swatters. When we were ready to checkout, I realized that we had forgotten to get hand soap. The toiletries section was on the opposite end of Walmart and you could barely see the aisles through the throng of people. Devising a battle plan, Ross weaved his way to Self-Checkout while I pushed and pulled my way towards the toiletries. A steady stream of "screw this, I hate this place, what am I doing here, this is actual Hell" rolled through my head.

Finally, I broke through all of the people, but was blocked by a mother and her three children. They were ambling as slow as possible with their empty shopping cart and I rolled my eyes as I trudge behind them. The Walmart crowd was oddly dense around these women, but I thought nothing of it until I passed two young girls who were whispering into a phone, "Honey Boo Boo's whole family is here!" I looked around aghast. In Chicago, I had joked to everyone, "You don't know where Milledgeville is? Well do you know Honey Boo Boo? She lives right outside of the city. Yep -- I can't wait to see her all of the time." Clearly I was kidding and never thought that I would actually see Honey Boo Boo. (I watched my first episode of Here Comes Honey Boo Boo during the trip from Chicago to Milly. It didn't exactly make me feel any better about the move...)

Now I was on the lookout. Honey Boo Boo is actually here? Am I actually going to see her? The woman in front of me turned around to look at something. She was short and plump and had laser yellow hair on the top of her head with a layer of chocolate brown underneath. Her face almost turned to look at me and I suddenly realized -- that was Mama June, Honey Boo Boo's mother. I looked at the girls walking in front of her cart and finally recognized them from the one episode I had watched. A shorter, younger girl was leading the pack. She wore gray shorts and a lime-green hoodie that was pulled over her head. She also turned towards me and I recognized her blond curls immediately: Honey Boo Boo. I stopped short and the crowd of Walmart people quickly filed passed me to get to the Boo Boo clan. I ducked into a shampoo aisle and watched everyone walk away. One woman approached Mama June and threw her arm over June's shoulder. June laughed, but shrugged the woman off and made a gesture that said, "We just want to shop. Please leave us alone." I quickly called my mother and texted my close college friends: "...Honey fucking Boo Boo just passed me in Walmart."

I met Ross back at Self-Checkout and tried to explain why I was so frazzled about seeing Honey Boo Boo. It wasn't that I was excited to see her. Honestly, had I not heard those girls whispering on the phone, I probably wouldn't have noticed the Boo Boo clan at all. I was more flabbergasted by the fact that here I was in my new "home", Hickville, USA, and I was in a Walmart and I had just seen Honey Boo Boo. I am from the state of Georgia, but I am from the coast. Coastal and inland Georgia are worlds apart and, after living in the Midwest for almost eight years and Chicago for almost three, everything was beginning to feel like culture shock overload. I needed to get out of Walmart and I needed to get out of Milledgeville. Unfortunately, only one of those things could be accomplished immediately.

Ross and I split up to pay for our separate items (I was not buying my own birthday cake). My items didn't want to scan and the machine kept acting like I wasn't bagging anything. I pulled out my fly swatter and found an empty plastic ring stuck between the owl's eyes, where the price tag should have been. I didn't know how to key-in the fly swatter and after the rude clerk from earlier I didn't want to ask for help. I put the swatter to the side and figured I'd leave the money on the conveyer belt when I was done (a whopping $1). The woman waiting for my spot grew impatient and called a clerk over to hurry me along. The man came, scanned the rest of my items for me and left. Ross finally reappeared and started placing the bags into the shopping cart. The woman behind me pushed her cart towards us, forcing Ross to move my shopping basket. She began unloading all of her crap onto the conveyer belt, even though I hadn't completed my transaction. I turned towards the woman. I wanted to yell at her and unload all of my frustration on her. I wanted to tell her to "BACK THE FUCK OFF" and that her cowboy hat was stupid and that she looked like a hick. I wanted to tell her that I hated this town and lament that I hadn't even been in Milledgeville for twenty-four hours and yet I had already run into Honey Boo Boo. My friends were far away, I had left my theatre family, I was about to live by myself for the first time ever, I had moved from a major metropolis to a town that didn't even have a Target, I had returned to the Bible Belt, which I swore I would never do, and to top it all off I was in Walmart for a second time that day. I thought about throwing my birthday cake in the woman's face. Instead, I swiped my debit card and entered my PIN. The fly swatter was still on the conveyer belt. I knew if I left a dollar then this woman would take it so I grabbed the purple owl, through it into a bag and thought, "Fuck it. I'll deal with the karma later."

Ross and I left Walmart and headed to Mellow Mushroom for pizza. As we unloaded the bags into my car I confessed my theft of the fly swatter. I pointed to the bag containing the offending object and stopped. At the bottom of the purple handle, where I had been holding the swatter, was a bar-code. The purple owl had a price tag the whole time and I hadn't even noticed it. I thought about returning to the store and paying for the swatter, but decided against it. Returning to Walmart would possibly make me breakdown in tears and I imagined myself weeping at the Self-Checkout. I had already seen Honey Boo Boo. The last thing I needed was to end up on

The offending owl fly swatter.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Homestretch

I have entered the "homestretch" of my time in Chicago. Two weeks from today I will be officially moved into my new apartment in Milledgeville, GA. I would be lying if I said I wasn't terrified. This next week is my last week at both of my jobs and all I can think is, "This is the last time I will set up the Actor Dinner. This is the last time I will work a two-show Saturday. This is the last Monday morning train I will have to catch." (Just as an FYI, I am leaving Chicago to go to grad school in Georgia. I will be getting an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing and working with the Nonprofit Department -- they're paying me to go to grad school. Yay!)

When I first knew that I would be leaving Chicago, I started a Chicago Bucket List. This list mostly consisted of places to eat and drink since I have already done most of the touristy things in Chicago. So far I have not done a great job at crossing things off my Bucket List. It's hard to complete a list of "Best Eats and Drinks of Chicago" when you know you will stop receiving a paycheck soon (my graduate program will give me a small stipend, but it won't quite cover rent). I was able to cross-off "drinks at the top of the Hancock" though, which was very exciting. The Hancock is my favourite building in all of Chicago and I have always wanted to go up there for drinks. The view was amazing, the drinks were strong (but expensive), and the crème brûlée was TO DIE FOR. Seriously, to anyone thinking of going to the top of the Hancock for drinks, get the crème brûlée.

View from the Signature Room

Besides crossing off my own personal Bucket List, I have done a few other "firsts" in Chicago this month. One "first" was going to a Korean spa. A friend of mine emailed a Groupon deal to me and said that we should go to the spa one evening after work. I purchased the Groupon, we set a date and that was that. It wasn't until a few hours before Katie and I were to meet that I thought to look up information about the spa. I had never been to a spa before to I was unsure if I should wear a bathing suit or if we had to walk around in robes. The website said that uniforms were provided and guests were asked to leave their clothes and belongings in assigned lockers. When you went into one of the pool-spa rooms you had to check your uniform at the door. Then what are you wearing?  I ask myself. I kept reading these directions over and over. When Katie arrived at my apartment I asked her if I should bring a bathing suit. "Yeah," she said, hesitantly, "it's nude?"

So Katie and I went to a semi-nude spa. I say "semi" because clothing was only prohibited in the bath area. It felt strange at first, stripping down in front of a bunch of strangers and then walking around without a way to cover myself. The towels that were provided were washcloths so there was no hope of building a cocoon. You had to shower before going into the baths. Shower heads lined the walls and small five-inch barriers separated each "shower." Katie and I lathered up and giggled nervously. There were a few Asian women in the baths and one small child. I did not have my glasses on and thus could not actually see anything other than blurred figures. I began to feel oddly comfortable. Sure, I was naked and practically showering with my friend, but everyone else was naked too. It even felt a bit empowering -- all of these women walking around completely nude and making no attempts to cover themselves. I wanted to raise my fists and shout, "Yeah! Female bodies are beautiful! Everyone flaunt what you've got!" Katie even commented, "Your tattoo looks great in here." I turned, displaying my back tattoo to the women in the baths, "It was made for this precise moment!"
After the spa.

Another "first" this month was driving a boat down the Chicago River. Obviously, being from St. Simons Island, I am not a stranger to boats and I have driven a few, but there has always been an actual boater with me. Usually, I am on someone's boat and they offer to let me steer for a bit. This time, however, I was the experienced boater. 
My roommate and I purchased a Groupon (are you seeing a pattern in what I do with my time?) for a two-hour electric boat rental. The boats are docked right in the loop and you are allowed to bring food and drink and have up to ten people on board. Emily and I each invited four friends. Everyone met at the harbour in time to sign paperwork that basically said, "If we crash, we are held responsible." I was the only one in the group with any boating experience (and my credit card was authorized for any damages) so I got to be Captain for the evening. We watched a video that stated it is illegal to drive a boat and drink alcohol. One friend and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. "It's an electric boat," we agreed, "how hard can it be?"

The answer -- very hard. The boat had both sensitive and delayed steering. This meant that if I turned the wheel slightly left we would veer sharply, but not for  few minutes. The river was also crowded with water taxis and architecture tours. I had a half glass of wine and stopped. The possibility of damaging the boat was suddenly too real. It took a lot of concentration to keep a straight course, but I think I did a decent job. In fact, the most harrowing part of the night was when one of my friends said she had to pee. We had just made it down the Navy Pier and were heading west again, hoping to do the north branch before we had to return the boat. We passed the boat docks and my friend pleaded to pull over. Everyone on the boat agreed that to pull over would mean the boat trip was over. Finally, someone convinced my friend, who was fortunately wearing a skirt, to kneel over an empty strawberry container and pee there. My friend did not want to do this, but as we passed the boat docks she realized she had no other choice. Everyone on the boat turned away from her (except me because I had to keep looking straight ahead) and she peed into the container. The things you do to not return something before you have to!

Boating photos.

My last "first" is an Independent Bookstore Crawl. On July 11th, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel officially declared July 12th Independent Bookstore Day in Chicago. A close friend of mine was driving down from Wisconsin to spend the weekend with me and, being writers and book-lovers, we decided to spend Saturday afternoon "crawling" the participating independent bookstores. A theatre friend of mine joined us (she is the one who actually told me about the crawl) and we made it to three of nine bookstores. That does not sound like a lot, but remember that the bookstores were in different neighbourhoods and that we had to take public transportation everywhere. Each store had sales, raffles, and treats. By the end of the day the three of us had almost twenty books each and we each won a raffle prize! It was very exciting. I highly recommend participating in Independent Bookstore Days.

 We got the goods!
 My pile of books (minus the bag I won in the raffle).

So there are some of my Chicago "firsts"! They weren't on my Bucket List, but they should have been.

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Lesson from "Carrie"

Last week I saw "Carrie the Musical" with a friend. Yes, this is a musical based off of the Stephen King novel (spoilers!) about the high school girl who is tormented by her classmates and ends up killing them all at the prom with her mind powers. Hopefully that did not just ruin the book/movie/musical for anyone. I will admit that I have never read the book or seen the movie and thus did not know the whole story. I knew Carrie was a loner and assumed she was picked on and I knew that she killed people at her prom. However, I always thought the blood she was covered in was the blood of her victims after she had stabbed them all the death. The whole telekinesis thing was news to me! Her psycho religious mother was also something I did not know about. When the mother was singing about how a woman's period is her "curse" because she is impure, my jaw actually dropped and I said, "The fuck?" loud enough for my friend to just nod her head.

All in all the show was decent. My friend and I thought it was worth the $20 tickets and this was also my first time experiencing Chicago's renowned Victory Garden's Theatre, which was also worth the price of admission (Sandra Oh was in the theatre across the lobby starring in "Death and the Maiden"). The singing was great, the staging was well-done and I wouldn't deter people from going. My only qualms about the show would be a) the zealot mother and b) the slightly skewed anti-bullying message.

First, the mother. In every writing class I have ever taken I have learned that all characters need to be three-dimensional. Even your villain/antagonist has to have some reason for becoming the bad guy. Think back to some of the classic villains we all know - Scar, Maleficent, Voldemort, etc. All of these villains are mean and terrible people (and lions), but you see where there evil comes from: jealousy, revenge, blindly believing they are in the right. Although we may not sympathize with the bad guy, we at least see a more humanizing emotion in them rather than just "I'm gonna kill you!!" Carrie's mother did not possess any sort of humanizing trait. She came off as a crazy zealot who, when Carrie gets her period, says, "I hoped this day would never come," meaning she hoped her daughter would never hit puberty and turn into a woman. What? Did you think she was going to die before she was 13? Also, as far as the musical goes, it is not exactly clear how Carrie came to be. Clearly the mother "sinned" and had sex in order to have Carrie. The mother sings about Carrie's father and how she was "young and lustful" but she never says that she didn't want to sleep with Carrie's father or that he raped her. The whole time that she was singing about what a travesty a woman's period is all I kept thinking was, "You clearly menstruated, too, if you had a child! You clearly had sex! Stop being a hypocrite!" I think it's also safe to say that I was taking to mother's view on "the sins of being a woman" a little too much to heart.

Now for the bullying. We all know that bullying is bad and that we should all just be nice to one another. The Golden Rule: Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You (funny story -- until I was 21 I thought it was "Do Unto Others as They Do Unto You" -- slight difference in interpretation). Carrie does show us the error in bullying others, but the message I got was, "Don't bully because then you'll die." Also, there was one male character in the play who was clearly gay, but not out. He did not act flamboyant or anything, but he would comment on how his male friends looked good in a tux or jokingly say that he should ask one of them to prom, and all of his male buddies would give him questioning looks and there would be awkward silence. The first time this happened in the show it was humourous. By the fifth time my friend and I thought, "So you're saying don't bully people because they're different and yet you won't stop making jokes at the gay guy's expense?" Bit of a mixed anti-bullying signal.

The next day, I was thinking about Carrie as I went for a run. I was practicing for a 5K Colour in Motion Run on Sunday. I would be doing the run with my friend, an actual runner who will be doing the Chicago Marathon this fall. I wouldn't call my runs "training", but I was trying to build up my stamina so that I had some hope of not holding her back too much during the 5K. All my life I have hated running not because I find it hard, but because I hate the way I look while I run. Throughout most of my childhood I have battled low self-esteem. I have always blamed the South and my beach-community home for this low opinion of myself because nearly all the girls in my school were size 2-4 and wore bikinis whereas I have always been in the double digits and felt more confident in tankinis or, even better, with a t-shirt over my bathing suit. Only in recent years have I stopped calling myself "fat" and it wasn't until college that I actually began to look at myself and go, "Okay, I don't look too bad." (And last year I bought my first bikini! Say whattt?)

As I was running I was thinking about Carrie and the bullying she endured. I wondered why, when the girls laughed at Carrie in the locker room, I had empathized with her. I have never been the victim of bullying. In grade school I always felt felt and like kids would make fun of me, but no one did. One boy in middle school called me a sheep once (because I was round and had yellow-white hair), but even at the time I remember thinking that he was just trying to get a rise out of me and that calling me a sheep was pretty dumb (hippo would have been much more insulting -- or whale!).

I turned a corner on the beach and continued jogging along the lake shore. Ahead of me, seven teenagers were gathered in the middle of the sidewalk. A few of them turned and saw me coming and motioned to their friends. Immediately I felt my adolescent insecurity well-up. "They're going to make fun of me," I thought, "mock the non-skinny girl at her feeble running attempt." Naturally, I was right. Just as I passed the group of teens I saw two girls smirk at the boys and start an exaggerated lopping run behind me. I thought about Carrie and fantasized throwing the group into the lake with my mind powers. Almost as a gut reaction I spun around, flicked the girls off, and said, "Fuck you." The girls' jaws dropped and they stopped dead in their tracks. I continued my jog and noticed a group of adults looking at me in awe -- most likely the parents of the teens wondering why this random person just flicked off their children.

Feeling like the "weirdo" can make you do strange things. You can suddenly go mind-power crazy at your senior prom or you can shout profanity at a group of children who may or may not have been poking fun at you. Having that immediate "fuck you" reaction towards some dumbass teenagers certainly took me by surprise and I wondered if I would feel this self-conscious during the 5K on Sunday.

It turns out the sudden self-esteem drop was just that -- sudden. I jogged the 5K by myself (my friend is also about a foot taller than me so a light run for her is like a jogging giraffe), but instead of my typical anxieties while running ("Oh god, I am going so slow. Does this even count as a jog? How ridiculous do I look? Why are my thighs so big??) I actually enjoyed myself. I kept up a steady jog for at least 4 of the 5 kilometers and finished the race in 33 minutes -- 5 minutes faster than all of my practice runs! I felt accomplished, fit, colourful (you know, because they throw coloured powder at you during the run), and relieved. I had just run with about 1,000 people and did not let my insecurities get to me. Had I let my usual self conscious feelings take over I probably would have walked the entire 5 kilometers. If only Carrie could have been so lucky!
Before and After the 5K Colour in Motion Run.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

It's a Dan Brown World

As a nonfiction writer, I am glad that the crazies of the world (and especially the CTA) seem to be attracted to me. They provide me with excellent writing material and guarantee that my train commutes are rarely boring. Recently, I haven't met any notable crazies except a woman on the CTA who kept shouting that I was "the whore of the CTA" and "the whore of the airport." This was at 8 in the morning and I was too dumbfounded and jet-lagged (I had just returned from Ireland two days previous) to do anything but sit there and ignore her. We were the only two in the train car for about three stops. As soon as the typical morning rush began to bombard the train she turned her shouts elsewhere.

This week, however, I had a much more dedicated crazy. I was on my usual 8:06 a.m. train, which, I have noticed, seems to attract more crazies and angry people than the 8:09 train (the "you're a whore" woman was on the 8:06) -- I guess those three extra minutes of sleep really help! I was able to snag a corner seat. These seats are coveted on the new CTA trains where all seats face the aisle. If you're on a corner then you can avoid being sandwiched in by your book-ending neighbours and it also gives you a little nook to tuck away anything you may be carrying.

I claimed my corner seat, put my tote bag in the nook and began reading a new book a friend lent me. It took only four stops for the train to become jam-packed and a petite woman with a Starbucks cup squeezed onto the seat next to me. Normally I am so engrossed in a book on the train that I am oblivious to anything going on around me. What drew my attention away this morning, however, was the constant turning of the woman with the Starbucks cup. Every minute I would see her head turn and look at me. She did this enough times that I went from self conscious to annoyed very quickly. I then realized that she was talking, but it was at a level where you couldn't tell if it was to herself or to someone near her. Turning my head slightly - the perfect angle of being able to look at her without looking like I was looking at her - I saw that she had her iPhone in one hand and her ear-buds connected to the iPhone. "Ah," I thought, "she is talking to someone on the phone."

I went back to my book, but something about the woman's conversation kept drawing me away. I couldn't understand anything she was saying, but I was curious if she was actually talking to someone or not. She would say a few sentences and then stop, wait a few seconds, and then start talking again, but it wasn't the normal stop-and-go you'd except from a two-person conversation. Finally, I took a peek at the phone in her hands. There was nothing on the screen saying that someone else was on the line. "Here we go," I thought. The woman then dialed a number from her Contacts and waited for it to connect. The number was labeled "Signature, Inc." and was given the designation of "Home." I wondered if this woman was so dedicated to her job that she intentionally labeled it as her "Home" or if she just did not know how to work her iPhone. She waited for the call to connect and when it did she put her phone up to her ear even though her earphones were still in her ears and attached to her phone (for those of you that don't know, this means she could keep the phone on her lap and talk through the speaker on her headphones). Now I knew things were about to get interesting.

"Hey, hey -- it's me," she began, "yeah, I'm on my way down now, I'm on the train. Yeah look -- I talked to the detectives and the FBI and they're just not gonna do a thing. Not a damn thing." She had my full attention. People talking to phantoms on the phone usually say some interesting things, but the ones who bring up detectives or the FBI are even better. "It's that church, you know," she continued, "no one is gonna do a goddamn thing against that church. That's why I'm callin' the State's Attorney. The city of Chicago knows. Oh they know. And they're not gonna do a goddamn thing. They said two letters, two words, and one goddamn thing," She kept repeating this line a lot: two letters, two words, one goddamn _______. I could never completely understand that last word, but each time I thought I heard "game," "pagan," or "thing."

As I eavesdropped, I realized that I hadn't turned a page in my book for a while. It was still open in my hands and people were either going to think I was the world's slowest reader or, my real concern, this woman would realize I was listening to her. She was still glancing over at me from time to time so she was obviously paranoid. I put my book away, pulled out my phone, and began texting what was happening to my roommate. The woman continued to get angrier and louder on the phone: "Because I'm the next target. And no fucking, goddamn way am I going to let someone make me The Target and get away with it. They are endangering lives and no one cares. Not the city of Chicago or the FBI. They think they can just take lives and take mine and not have to pay. No goddamn way. NO GODDAMN WAY. They said -- they said to me two letters, two words, one goddamn thing. Yeah, you know it. Fuckin' church, fucking satanic rituals. Coming in here and taking people's live. I'm not gonna let them. Chicago may be looking the other way, but ain't no one gonna come and make me The Target and not get something from me. NO GODDAMN WAY."

From this point, the woman's conversation began to repeat. I was intrigued by what was going on and wanted to learn more, but all I could piece together was that a church in Chicago is performing satanic rituals on their parishioners, the parishioners are dying from these rituals, the city of Chicago is aware this is going on, but choosing to turn a blind eye, and since this woman is The Target, no one wants to help her. I wondered if she had read any Dan Brown novels lately.

I took another look at her phone. Apparently the call had connected at some point and although she had been talking for about ten minutes, the call time said she had been connected for less than two minutes. I also noticed that Signature, Inc. was an 800 number.

The train finally went underground and the woman got off the phone. She continued to talk angrily to herself about the church and how she had all the evidence that would bring them down. She stated, to no one in particular, that she had a video that would prove everything. She pulled up the video on her phone and, being the creeper that I apparently am, I watched it over her shoulder. The video was of a pair of feet, wearing black sneakers, and walking on carpet. The camera did not move above the ankles and trailed these feet for several seconds until the feet reached tile. At this point the feet moved out of the frame into blinding light and the camera was lifted and moved slowly across a wall of mailboxes. I noticed the woman's current footwear (black sneakers) and gathered that she had videoed her own feet walking down the hallway of her apartment building, into a tiled foyer (hence the bright light probably coming from the front door of the building), and the mailboxes were the ones for the apartment building.

As the train passed through the dark tunnels I was able to get a look at the woman's face. I recognized her immediately as the same woman who, a few weeks previous, had told everyone on the train that we were going to die because the train conductor was new and didn't know how to drive. She said this after the train knocked everyone around a bit at the spot where it always knocks everyone around a bit. I remembered thinking, "Give it a rest woman! Clearly you don't take the train that often if you think a little jolting is the conductor's fault." Now, seeing her again, that previous morning and her shouts made much more sense. I also realized that she was a regular commuter and that our paths will probably cross again.

As we passed through the Loop, most of the morning commute crowd had dispersed and there were about seven other people milling about on my side of the train car. (Some of you may be thinking, "How could all of this possibly take place in one morning commute?? How long are you on the train?" I am on the train for 45 minutes. Just enough time to see most Crazy Train Events from start to finish! Lucky me!) The woman was still very agitated and said, "No one believes me. No one fucking believe me. These goddamn motherfuckers are gonna get away with it -- well not if I have something to say about it! I'm gonna throw this coffee in someone's face and maybe then they'll fucking listen to me." At the mention of "coffee" all seven heads in the train perked up and turned towards me. The woman was holding her coffee in the hand nearest me. I decided that, although I like listening in on these crazy stories and enjoy relaying them to friends, I was not about to become an active member of this woman's delusional morning. I grabbed my tote bag and began to stand when the woman suddenly hopped up and walked to the train door. Everyone watched her out of the corner of their eye (or maybe they were watching for any sudden movements of her Starbucks cup). The woman continued to look over her shoulder at me so I stayed in my seat. I didn't want her thinking I was one of the church members sent to follow her.

The train stopped and the doors opened. As soon as the doors closed again I grabbed my stuff. I stood and headed towards the door since mine was the next stop. I hopped over someone's stretched out legs and planted myself right in front of the exit. I looked out the windows and was suddenly met with the reflective stare of the woman's eyes. I thought she had gotten off at the last stop! Without thinking, I spun to look at her. She was standing right next to me, glaring and looking ready for a fight. I took two huge steps back, making sure to place the outstretched legs between myself and the lady. She kept her eyes on me and I nonchalantly adjusted the straps of my tote bag around my wrist, acting like my almost leap backwards had been a totally natural thing.

Finally the train stopped again, the doors opened, and I let the woman exit before me. We both went up the escalator and while she stood on the right side I scurried up the left. I made it through the turnstile, up the second set of stairs and out of the station. I walked swiftly in the direction of the Sears Tower and waited until I was two blocks away before pulling out my phone to leave a friend a message about everything that had just happened. Before I began talking into my phone I looked behind me to make sure the woman and her Starbucks cup were no where in sight. Then I had to laugh at myself - who was the paranoid one now?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Red Line in Real Time

This is going to be an unconventional blog post. My best friend and I have a habit of creating long email chains between each other and respond to the chain multiple times a day. The other night, I was on my way to see a friend's improv troupe and I started to respond to the email chain to pass the time on the train. As I was responding, however, a man sat beside me and it was clear that he was one of the typical Red Line Crazies. I started typing a stream-of-consciousness narrative to my friend so that the man wouldn't talk to me (because he was definitely trying to and I was just not in the mood). I thought the email ended up being an entertaining and pretty accurate portrayal of a daily/nightly experience on the Red Line! (I took out the very first sentence since it was in response to what my friend had said in her email and I doubt she'd want me publicizing her work woes. Also, things in brackets are the edits I am making right now so that the whole thing makes a bit more sense.)

Oh shit. So I'm on the train right now. I was starting to respond to [your email and] this man just sat next to me. I'm not looking at him, but he's got a ton of blankets tied around him, he's carrying a broom and drinking out of a 12 liter pop bottle. My music is a bit loud, but I think he was trying to talk to me about a yellow snow bus? Oh good. Now he's just coughing into the air and not covering his mouth. Omfg now he's talking about us being on the island of Argyle or "snow island." That must mean we're arriving at the Argyle stop. No, sir, I am not going to look at you. I'm just gonna keep typing and act like I do not hear him. Nooooo don't set the pop bottle behind my head!!! If that spills on me I will do unpleasant things to you with that broom. 

Also, I stepped in a puddle and now my foot is soaked. Fuckkkkkk. Also, I have a discount code for 2 for 1 tonight -- crazy man, stop hacking up a lung beside my head!!! Omg moveeeeee. Wtf. He's talking again. Hmmm I'm a bit curious now bc I heard something about a fish at the Sears Tower. Okie, I'm gonna start typing what he's saying:

Capture the picture. The picture is stone. Capture the picture. (Deep shit right there. Oh oh, now he's taking a drink again...[Now] he yelped and is staring out the window. Wtf is happening? Damn, he's stopped talking now. Right when I was about to start transcribing. WHOA SIR. YOUR HAND IS VERY CLOSE TO MY THIGH. REMOVE IT PLEASE. Now he's mumbling...I can't understand him. Speak up, please!) What is the phone? I don't want to say no more, not forever. I have my wallet. I only heard that though...Craigslist. He didn't say anything to me, let's see. Can you see that? Don't want to get no dance floors we gonna knock them against the door! We don't need 'em (he's acquired a southern accent all of a sudden). Ah. Pot. Pop? Pot. (Hmmm I just looked up. He doesn't look crazy? Sort of like an older, gaunt Ed Helms.) This is a four mile walk. Wilson to Southport. Then to Thorndale and then the snow on the beach BELMONT. (Belmont's the next stop btw.) Ohhhh the dog Tiga...(ummm. He's reading something [now], but I don't think [it is in] English. I'm hearing "pine cone trees" and something about an avalanche. Is the dog Tiga in [the avalanche]?)

Okay. So I'm off the train now. Funny story -- when the man first got on and tried talking to me, I didn't respond [so] he started talking to a man who was sitting across from us. [That] man got off a few stops ago. Well it turns out [that man] DID NOT get off [the train]! He just moved to the next car to get away from the crazy guy bc he  and I just passed each other at Belmont! This is why you should always wear your headphones on the train, even if you're not listening to music. You can easily ignore people and not look too rude!

I hope you enjoyed this. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

#Snowpocalypse (Because Whatelse is There to Write About?)

I am part of a storytelling group in Chicago. We perform once a month and share prepared personal essays on a stage at a bar (not as sketch as it sounds; it's very bohemian!). I wrote this piece (it's still rough) for next month's performance so I thought I would share it here:


When I was little and growing up on a tropical island off the coast of Georgia, I used to dream about snow. Every Christmas, as the thermometers inched painfully slowly towards the 30 degree mark, I would think, “Yes. This is it. Snow! It’s going to snow!” and every year I was inevitably disappointed and had to make due with building creatures out of cold sand instead of wonderful, fluffy snow. Luckily, I made up for my lost snow days by moving to the Snow Belt of Michigan for college and then moving to Chicago. I have since made many a snowman, the traditional I’m-not-a-mature-adult snow penis, snow angels, and enjoyed lots of sledding, slipping, and sliding.
This winter has been one of the coldest winters in recent history. Many areas of the Midwest and New England hit record low subzero temperatures in January. Schools closed, jobs told employees not to come to work, and frostbite advisories were plastered everywhere. The South also experienced a bit harsher winter than they were used to. Instead of the typical one-week per year of 30 degree temperatures, suddenly southerners were experiencing a week and a half of freezing temperatures. Sheets of ice formed on cars, there was a need to use the words “salt” and “truck” in the same sentence, and some schools also shutdown…for 40 degree weather.
Okay, okay, I will cut the South some slack. When “cold” to you is 60 degrees then I can see not wanting to go to school in 40 degree weather. I mean, I went to a high school in Brunswick, Georgia that was laid out like a college campus so we had to walk outside to get from one class to the next and we still had to go to school when the temperature dropped to a surprising 20 degrees sometimes, but maybe the students nowadays have thinner skin. Or maybe parents now care if their children drop dead of hypothermia. Who knows! The point is, even though in my day we still went to school when it was below freezing, I can understand that 40 degrees feels like 5 degrees to someone who doesn’t have boots and instead has to wear toe-socks and flipflops in the winter (a style that I totally embraced back in high school).
Yesterday, my Facebook feed began to blow-up with talks of snow from my Georgia friends. Friends from South Carolina, Alabama, and Florida commented that they were stocking up on Taco Bell, pop, and chocolate to see their way through the coming snowstorm. Others wished everyone a safe drive to and from work in such conditions. One status in particular caught my eye: “Attention all [Georgia State University] students! Campus will close as of 1 p.m. due to severe weather conditions. Go stock up on bread, cheese, and head home NOW!” I asked my friend what the “severe weather” conditions were. His response: “There’s a chance of snow flurries.”
Snow flurries…snow FLURRIES?!
I need to be more sympathetic. I need to remember what it was like to live in the South having never experienced a Michigan blizzard, driving through blinding snow in Indiana, or walking over solid sheets of ice after freezing rain both melted and froze the mounds of snow around my Chicago apartment. I’m trying to remember that many of my southern friends have never even driven on ice before. They think layering is putting on a long-sleeved and a short-sleeved shirt at the same time. I doubt there’s even a snowplow within a 100 mile radius of my home town!
I try to remember when I was new to the snow. When I was that crazy girl running around Kalamazoo College’s campus and asking my roommate to take pictures of me with my mouth wide-open, head tilted straight back, and tongue collecting as many snowflakes as I could. I remember refusing to walk with my Midwestern friends in the winter because they walked like normal people while I shuffled like a crippled penguin. I remember spinning out my first time on an unplowed road and yelling at my car to just please just stop! I remember the time I poured Morton salt on the steps of my house senior year because I thought that’s what everyone meant by “salting.” I, too, was a snow-virgin once!
And then I see Facebook posts about “My windshield wipers are frozen. I can’t go to work?!,” “Shame on the governor for not calling a state of emergency!” and hastags of “snowpocalypse” and “snowday2014neverforget.” The Starbucks on my island closed at 3 p.m. because of the cold. People are posting prayers and quotes from the Bible, saying that they all need to stick together to get through this harrowing time.
Also, can we please all remember the time in 2011 when Atlanta really did have a snow storm? There was about two feet of snow covering the whole city. For Chicago that’s like, “Two feet sucks, but whatever. We can still go about our day,” but two feet in Atlanta is actually something to talk about. The city only has four snowplows and those all had to go to the airport. So yes, Atlanta is no stranger to snow that halts the entire city, but is this now going to happen every time is snows? My mother works for a college on the coast of Georgia – they closed because the "roads may be icy." My boyfriend lives outside of Savannah – his work also told him not to come into work. Even the National Parks closed!
Listen-up, fellow Georgians and southerners, I am here to tell you that snow is not the enemy. Snow is not there to kill you or do you any real harm. Snow is basically rain that’s decided to solidify and stick around for a while. Yes, it’s cold as fuck (I know a “fuck” can’t be cold, but stick your bare foot into a pile of snow sometime and you’ll learn just how accurate of a description “cold as fuck” is) and it’s slippery and can cause some serious damage when your car spins out or you fall asleep in it or there’s an avalanche, but that’s a lot of snow. A lot of snow. Not 2 bloody inches.
And let’s take the moment to talk about the actual weather-related danger that poses a threat to the South, specifically the coastal regions: hurricanes. As I said before, snow is not there to kill you, but hurricanes kind of are. Hurricanes are board-up-the-windows-and-get-the-hell-out-of-dodge worthy. They come with winds so strong that they can send a regular flimsy McDonald’s straw straight through your hand. They come with flooding, which really sucks for the coastal regions, where people have destroyed the marshlands to build McMansions (i.e. you covered up the natural sponge that could have saved you from a flood, but now you risk losing that boring, bland house you built -- good job!).
Hurricanes come in categories, everyone knows that: 1-5, least damaging to incredibly dangerous. I can remember evacuating for a hurricane once: Hurricane Floyd. He was a 4. I would say about 40% of my island left for Floyd. Some people boarded up their windows, covered them with packing-tape Xs, and moved valuables off the ground. Those of us who left went inland. As per usual, the hurricane hit the Gulf Stream and, instead of slamming into the Georgia islands like it was supposed to, it careened into South Carolina.
My point is, there was no real urgency to the hurricane. Some of us (mostly old people and people with kids) took a little road trip inland with minimal preparations to our homes and then we came back. Since Floyd, my family has never evacuated again. The last hurricane to come that close was Charley. I was working for the National Park Service at the time, a small settlement that is now archeological ruins on St. Simons Island. Charley was also a 4. Did we evacuate? Nope. Did my National Park flood? Oh yeah. Quite extensively. Did we still have to come to work? Yep.
And yet, this winter, in fact as I am typing this piece, the park is closed...for 30 degree weather. My mother also told me that they called in the National Guard in Atlanta. That's right. Chicago gets -15 degree weather that "feels like" -40 and we get what? A snow day? Or at least those of us with very nice bosses did. Atlanta gets less than 1/4 of a foot of snow and they get the bloody cavalry.  I know a guy who goes to Georgia Tech who spent 12 hours trapped in his car before abandoning it on I-75 and just walking home. Some students even slept overnight on their school bus because the traffic was in such a gridlock. Some kids even spent the night in their elementary school because of the snow!
State of Georgia and just the South in general, get your shit together. You're embarrassing yourself.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


Greetings from Chiberia! This is the new name/hashtag for the weather that has currently consumed Chicago. There's a lot of snow, but not quite enough to officially earn the "Snowpocalypse 2.0" title (which, if you could see how much snow is out there right now, then that is really saying something about Snowpocalypse 1.0!). Chiberia is a pretty apt description, however.

It is cold. Excuse my language, but it is really fucking cold out there. I have been checking my weather app nearly every hour for the past two days and it hasn't displayed a double-digit positive number since Sunday around 1:00 p.m. Currently it is one degrees Fahrenheit (it was zero degrees an hour ago so we're getting warmer - yay!) and "feels like" -15. Yesterday, my roommate and I joined all the other Chicagoans in performing the Boiling Water Experiment. I filled up a teakettle with water, waited until it started to boil, and then Molly and I went outside and poured the boiling water into the snow. You can really pour the water anywhere because the purpose of the experiment is watching the water immediately turn to snow/steam. It's pretty cool! A lot of people are burning themselves because they are taking pots of boiling water and tossing it in the air, which inevitably kicks some of the water back onto your skin. Molly and I were much smarter than that (although I did accidentally sink my foot ankle-deep in snow so that wasn't too fun).

Besides that, there is really not too much to say about Chiberia. The heat is my apartment is practically non-existent so as I type this post my windows are covered with towels to stop the cold air from seeping through (there's also frost on the inside of the windows...thank you to my landlord, Steve Bojic -- that's his real name!). I am wearing two hoodies and am snuggled under three blankets. It's also a Tuesday and it is the second day my office has been closed due to the weather. This was a wise decision because many of my coworkers live in the suburbs and last night the Metra trains suddenly cancelled all of their departures during the evening commuting hours. The school district has also been closed for a second day in a row and there are stories all over the news and Facebook of people being stranded in the airports and train depots because nothing is coming in or out of Chicago.

On Sunday I worked at Heartbeat Theatre. We are in the middle of a 3-week long story festival that we host every year and it is safe to say that this is a crazy time. From 3:00-10:00 p.m. Thursday - Sunday we have a different Chicago storytelling group/solo artist performing at either our theatre or at the Kentwood (from my Are You Kidnapping My Husband story). Snow had been pouring down on Chicago since Saturday afternoon. I was manning the box office and most of the calls I was receiving were, "Are you still having shows today?" The roads were awful and the Front of House (FOH) Manager later told me that we should have cancelled, but, as usual, we did not and the shows went on!

Around 1:30 p.m. the girl who was the shuttle driver for the day came to the theatre and reported that the parking lot had not been plowed. She had also gotten stuck numerous times on her journey to and from the theatre. "I'm sorry," she said to the FOH, " I can't drive in this. I just can't. I don't feel safe." I had just caused a tremendous paper jam in the ticket-printer so I immediately raised my hand, "I'll do it! You do box office and I'll shuttle!"

Luckily and sadly, I do not have any fun stories from driving the shuttle around in nearly two feet of snow. The lot was eventually plowed, but the snow never stopped falling. The plows could hardly keep up with the rate at which the snow was piling up. The van spun out and got stuck numerous times, but each time we persevered. I have since named the van Shackleton because of his impressive barreling-through-snow capabilities. I sat in the van for four hours and only shuttled two people. The last person and I bonded for about 15 minutes after I picked her up from the last show of the night and we sat behind two cars that were stuck: one was trapped in a parking space they were trying to pullout of and the other was stuck waiting for that parking place. Finally, the car directly in front of Shackleton moved up enough so that I could pull into an unplowed alley. Shackleton and I stopped and started numerous times as we created a path for the three other cars that decided to follow our lead down the alley and eventually we did make it to the next road. Shockingly, the middle seat of the van did not flip up once!

So that's all from Chiberia folks. Nothing too exciting, but that's mostly because none of us want to venture outside. My neighbours are trying to venture out, however. I keep hearing their cars squealing against the snow and ice in our alleyway. Last night, a car did this for forty minutes before they were finally able to make it out of the alleyway. Did I mention that not a single snowplow has graced our alleyway all winter? My landlord says, "The city will do it," but I don't see why they would when the alleyway is private property and Mayor Emmanuel has already cut the budget for snowplows this year. I made the mistake of asking my landlord if a plow would ever come through our alley or if we would just have to wait until the snow melts naturally (currently, I cannot get my car out of my parking space and Molly cannot get hers in). My landlord responded by calling me in hysterics about how I could possibly expect him to put a plow on the front of his car. Needless to say, that was not at all what I meant and clearly Chiberia is getting the best of everyone's sanity.

Stay warm!