Friday, June 27, 2008

Beg, Borrow or Steal . . .

or pay whatever it takes but next time you are in New York City, I highly, highly recommend seeing "In The Heights". It is by far the best musical I have seen in a long time. I loved the dancing, the music, the rapping, the NYC jokes, even the jokes in Spanish I really didn't get . . . there is a reason this won the Tony Award for Best Musical this year.
The only downside? I went for a work event and ended up sitting next to a pretentious snob (who I previously found only slightly annoying)who was either pecking away on his blackberry, smirking at all references to his snooty alma mater (no offense to any other Stanford alums but UGH! enough already, I get it, you went there and you really don't think a Puerto Rican girl from Washington Heights could hack it - what an ass!) or actually laughing at the cheesiest moments when I will not lie - I had tears in my eyes. There is nothing I hate more than the self-entitled pretentious elitists who never had to work for anything so they look down at those who do.
But luckily, that didn't ruin the show for me and now I'm ready to go see it all over again.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How am I already 3 years past the big THREE OH?

Growing up I didn't have a lot of birthday parties or super-fancy gifts but I don't believe a single birthday went by without a cake, candles, a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday and generally a scoop of ice-cream and maybe a game of heavy, heavy hang-over. Consequently, regardless of whatever else transpires on the anniversary of my birth, a birthday never feels quite right until I blow out the candles.

This year my birthday fell on a Saturday but I was lucky enough to get an early start. On Monday night I received a text from my friend Brooke offering me a chance to go to the Sigur Ros concert with her at MoMA Tuesday night. If you aren't familiar, Sigur Ros is an Icelandic band Emily introduced me to just before my trip to Iceland last summer. I fell completely in love with them as my sister and I circled the Ring Road listening to their haunting melodies. I had tried to purchase tickets but they sold out within about two minutes of going on sale so I was elated when Brooke offered me her extra ticket.

We arrived at MoMA (a short walk across the street) about an hour before the show which gave us plenty of time to wander through the Olafur Eliasson exhibit. The exhibit is comprised primarily of light installations which gave the experience a semi-dream quality which is both difficult for me to describe and even more difficult to capture on camera, but I tried:
The orangey-flourescent lights in the below photo was hard on the eyes but somehow invoked the drudgery of long, dark winters without natural light even though I have never experienced them.
My favorite installationpiece in the exhibit is entitled Your strange certainly still kept. The piece is comprised of a completely black room with throbbing strobe lights with a thin strip of falling water in the middle of the darkened, flashing room. Turning the corner into this blackened room with only flashes of light and the sporadic dripping of water was reminiscent of last summer's drive through the fog to Dettifoss. It made me want to go back.

I also really liked Space Reversal which is a nook platform on which you can view your reflection in never-ending mirrors both above and below and in front and behind you. Which can be awkward in a dress. There was a line to step onto the platform and while Brooke and I were enjoying our unending selves, I noticed the view from below and advised Brooke not to look up my skirt to which a man waiting for his turn quickly replied "I wasn't." Or was he . . . .? I also liked this swinging fan called Ventilator.

We lucked out with a prime viewing position on the third floor, just below the helicopter, looking down at the stage set up for Sigur Ros. Despite some grumblings from hipsters and angsty artistic types behind us, we stood our ground leaning over the rail and soaking in the spectacular show that radiated from below. And I do not choose the word radiated lightly. This concert is definitely landing somewhere in my top 5 list of all time best concerts, were I to ever sit down and create such a list. I was riveted. The staging, the haunting sounds, the lighting. I couldn't get enough. It dragged me back to Iceland on a wave of nostalgia, to my sister and me making our way around the country in constant awe at the ever-changing beauty of the scene outside our window.

Here is the view Brooke and I had of the show:Okay, so that was a bit zoomed, but our regular view was pretty amazing as well:
And the the view the show had of our beaming faces:
Continuing the birthday festivities on Wednesday as I was returning to my office from a trip down the hall one of the secretaries asked why I was getting flowers. I had no idea, although I did suspect my mom was behind it. As I thought, my mom decided to send me flowers early for my birthday so I could enjoy them throughout the week. And I am still enjoying the last remnants of them on my desk today - bright orange gerber daisies, tulips and tiger lilies.

On Thursday I received a package in the mail - also from my mother - containing two small wrapped boxes. In a misunderstanding on the phone I thought she said I could open them while my mom thought she was only granting me permission to open the mailing envelope. Consequently, I was able to unwrap a pair of silver earrings a couple of days early but left the companion box from my sister unopened.

Friday night after work I attended a cocktail party for work on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum featuring the Jeff Koons on the Roof exhibit. Despite a threat of rain, the weather held out beautifully and I was able to wander around the exhibit with the backdrop of the sun setting over Central Park. It was pretty crowded most of the time but we stayed until the end and I managed to take a couple of quick pics of my two favorite sculptures - I especially love the Balloon Dog.

Friday night I had another package waiting for me and talked my mom and my sister into allowing me to open everything early . . . because it was more fun to open presents with both of them on the phone and when would I have a chance to talk to them tomorrow? As I suspected, my sister had given me a coordinating piece of jewelry to match the earrings from my mom - a fantastic silver bracelet. My sister and I then spent an hour or so laughing on the phone over this ridiculous website. It made us laugh so hard I felt like we were sitting on the couch next to each other, which made me miss having her around and want the next week or so until her visit to NYC to arrive sooner.

Uncharacteristically, I woke up early Saturday morning (meaning about 830, but I was up until 1 or so). Not uncharacteristically I simply moved myself from my bed to the couch and watched reruns of 90210, my favorite guilty pleasure, I will not lie. I had a brunch date at noon so I didn't spend too much time lazing around. I met JooYun at the Rocking Horse Cafe in Chelsea which reminded me of the oft-joked about short story by D.H. Lawrence - "The Rocking Horse Winner" - we had to read in sophomore English. It was my first introduction into sexual symbolism and I was shocked by the whole thing. Which is probably why I still remember it so well all these years later.

Post-brunch Joo and I did our usual shopping rounds. I used up the gift card from my parents to William-Sonoma and purchased some knives I have been eyeing for years. Sadly, they are still in their box. I need to buy some tomatoes or something equally fun to slice. Maybe avocado!

Despite being a moderate summer day with temps only reaching 85, my usual weekend fatigue set in and the heat dragged me down so I returned home for some relaxation time to gear up for my self-planned birthday night out. I spent the afternoon lying in the grass on my roof 40 floors above the City with a light breeze and a plentiful helping of sunshine. I snacked and read and closed my eyes and listened to my ipod and continually applied sunscreen until my sister called and I headed back to my apartment to get ready to go out.

I had dinner with three unconnected friends at Kum Gang San in Korea town. We enjoyed Korean barbeque and chatted over kimchee, tofu and the 20 little dishes of tidbits that come with your meal. After dinner it was on to karaoke where another 4 or 5 friends joined us. I had a great time singing and laughing and ignoring that I am another year older.

Here is a pic of the whole group post-singing our guts out:
And those of us with endurance, pressed on for dessert at Max Brennar which is essentially a real-life take on Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory complete with pipes of chocolate running across the ceiling and the pungent aroma of chocolate in the air. I ordered the Chocolate Mess which was described thusly:

"This warm chocolate cake can be eaten with spatulas straight from the pan. It is topped with ice cream (dark, milk, white chocolate or vanilla), toffee bananas and a mountain of whipped cream with candied hazelnut crunchy bits on top. Served with additional chocolate chunks, toffee cream and warm chocolate sauce on the side."

All I will say is they weren't lying about the whipped cream. Oh, and honestly, it was far too sloppy for me.

I think I would have preferred to have Bich-Nga's Intense Chocolate Fudge Cake, which although a bit on the extra large size, was delicious.

That being said, as you can see, I still managed to polish off a large portion of my own choice.

Oh, and the other dessert diner? My personal trainer. Gotta love a trainer who approves of decadent dessert on your birthday!

It was a fun night out and an enjoyable birthday. Of course, that being said, the next morning I couldn't help but reflect on my 33rd birthday and feel a bit empty. You see, I am one of those strange people who actually enjoys the obnoxious attention thrust upon people on their birthday - having a restaurant full of strangers sing, being asked to dance on the table with a tambourine (my 25th thank you very much), dancing with the waiter to a full mariachi band . . . bring it on! I remember going out to dinner for my brother's birthday once when he turned 9 or 10. The restaurant had a miniature train set running along a shelf up near the ceiling around the entire place. The server dragged my brother out of his seat and made him choo-choo (or something) around the room with the entire staff leading everyone in happy birthday. My brother was mortified. And I was jealous. I never got to do anything so exciting as have a whole restaurant sing to me! So I'm an attention seeker. . . big deal, obviously someone has to be, right? Well, since I planned the party myself I wasn't getting that kind of crazy birthday embarrassment thrust upon me. And while I had a great time and received some beautiful snapdragons from Wendy, a red velvet cupcake from Brooke and a beautiful Breakfast and Brunch cookbook from Alison . . . I didn't get to make my birthday wish and no one sang to me. Of course, I should confess that back on June 5th while I was entertaining some summer associates (what we call law student interns) at a sports bar watching Game 1 of the NBA finals (how happy am I that the Lakers lost!!), one of the summers told the waitress that it was my birthday which resulted in the bar erupting in happy birthday, a significant amount of banging of pots and pans, a lot of strangers telling me happy birthday, a free piece of cheesecake that tasted a bit too much like fridge and a random stranger snapping my photo (so if you happen to stumble upon it somewhere out there on the web, let me know!). But that wasn't my actual birthday and these boys were just trying to make fun of my age.
And perhaps 33 is too old for songs and candles and cake but to me, these simple traditions are at the heart of every birthday whether it is belted out in a bar full of drunk strangers, in a restaurant that tries to dump tequila down your mouth or in my parent's kitchen. So, Sunday afternoon, I took my cupcake out of the fridge, stuck a candle in it and made my tired and worn out birthday wish.
And while I thought that would make a tidy ending for my thirty-third birthday celebrations, that isn't the end of the story.
At 7:30 I set off to attend my semi-regular Sunday night Hearts game with a group of Mormon singles. When I arrived at the evening's location I went out to the roof deck to wait for others to arrive and chat with a couple of the other early card players. I was then asked what I knew about the surprise party. For a second I thought it might be for me but I brushed that thought aside knowing vaguely that another more socially connected card player also had a birthday in the near vicinity. But a short while later when one of these boys made a second inquiry with the party organizer about the surprise she smirked in my direction and explained the surprise was for both me and the fellow card playing boy. Trust me, I was still surprised. And I enjoyed the opportunity to have a deck full of people sing happy birthday to me and to blow out a real birthday candle I didn't light myself. Never mind that the surprise party was really planned in honor of the other guy, I was happy to be tacked on at the last minute to enjoy my dim spotlight before I settled into a game of Hearts.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chapter XVII: Erosion

By early February, only a month after settling into new routines in Salt Lake Mitch was on his second job and I was supporting us with my mind-numbing data entry job with an insurance adjusters firm. I was tired of people reacting to our sudden move (and my dropping out of college mid-year) by telling me finishing school just isn't much of a priority once one gets married. Sometimes I tried defending myself by explaining that I was in the process of transferring, not dropping out. But sometimes it was easier to just let it rather than making up an excuse for leaving a scholarship and three quarters left of college behind.

I worked from 8 am to 5 pm while Mitch supposedly looked for a job and supposedly trained our new puppy. In my second attempt to find unconditional love we impulsively agreed to take in a fuzzy fluff ball of a puppy we named Stuart. He was half chow, half charpei - a chow-pei. And despite being adorably ugly and trying really hard to comprehend, all the wrinkles must have continued into his brain because he was the dumbest dog ever.

We moved into a four-plex in a decidedly poor neighborhood just off State Street and 3900 South. On the plus side it was a split level with two bedrooms and one and a half bathrooms which seemed the height of spacious luxury at the time (still does today from my New York City living perspective). In addition, our neighbors who shared several walls with us were long-time friends of mine. Of course, the major down side was the proximity to State Street and the sketchiness of everything past our driveway.

As with our prior move I was optimistic and convinced this was a step in the right direction for our marriage. I was happy to live closer to my family and friends and oblivious to the subtle changes my marriage was inflicting on me.

One of Mitch's older brothers and his family lived not too far away in Layton and occasionally we visited for Sunday dinner. One such Sunday, after using the bathroom, I impulsively stepped onto their bathroom scale. I had not weighed myself since the summer of my engagement when I wanted to prove my weight training was adding muscle by breaking the 130 pounds barrier. I didn't make that goal before the wedding and weighed somewhere in the range of 126 pounds. To my horror, when I stepped onto that scale less than six months later the needle pointed to a shocking new number: 140.

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I was a lucky teenager. I never worried about weight. I was naturally thin and was able to eat anything I wanted without thinking about what that would mean to a scale. Partly I can thank my parents for never owning a scale, but I can also thank them for giving me an excellent metabolism. At least, at the time. I won't comment on my metabolism now.

I was also lucky with the friends I had as a teenager. I was fortunate enough to have friends with interests that did not revolve around how much they weighed. We shunned fashion magazines (and fashion in general) and embraced free food whenever and wherever it was offered. We didn't diet. In fact, I was generally confused by teen movies and sit-coms that portrayed thin girls obsessing over their weight. It just didn't register with me. Not just because I was thin but because I could not comprehend not eating.

Like I said, I was lucky. Lucky to have friends and family who gave positive reinforcement and lucky to hit those critical teen years during the grunge era when everything was oversized anyway.

In college I paid a bit more attention to my weight primarily in terms of monitoring the effects of weight lifting and rock climbing. Like any teenager I had hang-ups and insecurities about my looks and my general attractiveness and self-image, but my size was never part of that apprehension.

My main hang up over my looks was just questioning whether I was pretty and I just thought my clothes were all wrong and felt powerless to fix them due to money and/or a complete lack of fashion comprehension. As a freshman I vividly recall getting ready to go dancing with 2 or 3 of my roommates. My preparation involved a shower, grabbing a t-shirt and pairing it with my favorite oversized jeans that only stayed in place with the aid of my vintage wide leather belt with floral tooling I stole from my mom. No make-up. No special treatment for my hair other than possibly using a hair dryer and not tying it up in a bun with my homemade scrunchi. I just let it fall down my back to graze the hippie 70s belt at my waist (because we wore pants pulled up to our waist back then). I wore my usual random assortment of mismatched silver stud earrings - a dinosaur, a flower and maybe a star or a couple of hoops. I may or may not have worn one of the beaded necklaces I made myself. Then I would sit on my bed and wait as my other roommates debated what to wear.

For whatever reason they would traipse into my room with two or three tops posing with different combinations seeking my advice. They would ask me such questions as "do these earrings go with this belt?" and baffled I would either nod in the hope of making it easier or scrunch my face and shrug my shoulders in defeated honesty. Each of my roommates was thin and attractive. None in the overtly drop-dead beautiful category but each could be described as pretty or cute in her own distinct way. Each time I sat through the fashion show of roommates critizing their thick ankles, their fat knees, their zits, their crooked nose or their overall shape, I learned to turn a critical eye on myself. And the longer I sat there waiting for them to get ready, the worse I felt about myself as I sized myself up in the mirror wondering about the shape of my nose, size of my ankles and how well my earrings went with my belt. As the year progressed I let them talk me into trying new things - like makeup.

But only to a point. By mid-way through my sophomore year of college I was dating Mitch and my new roommate Gretchen was much closer to my natural inclinations. Enjoy food, exercise because it is fun and confidence followed. I was probably a rare bride since I was hoping to gain a bit more muscle mass during my engagement rather than starve myself to fit into a dress.

By the time I got married I had absolute confidence in myself. I was in excellent physical shape. I was dressing better (although it was still the 90s) and I was wearing make-up on a semi-regular basis. I remember looking at photos of myself from
bridal showers and being surprised at how pretty I was. I entered my marriage confident in my appearance.

But at some point over those first five months of marriage, that confidence started to erode.

Erosion is a funny thing, it is generally difficult to watch it in action. The hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah are rock formations which rise in tall, thin spires from the arid canyon floor. They were originally shaped and formed by water and wind erosion working against the hard and soft layers of rock. I'm not much of a geologist but I believe it takes hundreds of thousands of years for these structures to take shape but pinpointing that first strong wind that chipped away the weaker rock is insoluble.

Likewise, ruminating on the genesis of my weakening self-image is futile. By February of 1995, when I stepped onto that scale Mitch had already chipped away at that weaker layer of rock around my surface that was my self-image. He saw a vulnerability and slowly and steadily he pushed a little wind on by and little by little I became entirely reliant on him for how I felt about myself.

When the number 140 stared up at me from the bathroom floor I was shocked. Suddenly all of the little nits revolving around my weight rushed at me: "Why don't you work out anymore?" "Why is everything you cook so rich? Are you trying to make us both fat?" "Are you letting yourself go just because we are married now?" and on and on. These queries were easily dismissed one at a time but with the evidence right in front of me I knew I couldn't deny it any longer. Mitch was right. I had gained over 10 pounds since we got married and none of it was muscle. Immediately I viewed this as a reason why he no longer seemed to want to have much to do with me in the bedroom.

*********************************************

I walked back into the dining room and for the first time in my life I turned down dessert out of a fear of calories. At that moment I bought into everything Mitch had been telling me about how I was letting myself go. Nevermind the stress. Nevermind the move. Nevermind that I was the only one bringing in a steady paycheck. I was getting fat and to Mitch, nothing could be worse.

Within the week we joined a gym. Initially I had hopes of working out together. But I was soon shoved aside and told I was not a suitable workout partner since I am a girl. So I tackled it on my own and began weight training again and soon I was into step aerobics. I didn't have a scale to measure my progress so I just pushed myself to work out as much as possible whenever possible.

At the same time I slowly stopped eating. Not immediately and not consciously. But our money problems, combined with my delusional image of myself as overweight and the stress of a failing marriage was a perfect storm of an excuse to just stop. I had a breakfast drink in the morning, rarely ate much for lunch and very little for dinner under Mitch's watchful eye.

In five short months Mitch shattered the contended image I had always carried of myself with respect to weight. Irrespective of how my pants fit, he managed to contort the image I saw in our bathroom mirror into one wider than desired. Even as the weight quickly fell away and I was easily twenty pounds lighter, something in the back of my mind whispered it wasn't good enough.

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