August 28, 2010

How Philadelphia Made Me Hate Christmas Carols

I have a long, complicated history with air travel.


Any travel, really.  I can easily be derailed somewhere in the middle of my walk from the couch to the fridge.  But in particular, air travel is a constant and merciless pain in my ass.

With me living in New York, my parents living in Florida, the rest of my family and old friends living back home in Ohio, Girlfriend living in Colorado for the first months of our relationship (and her family and friends still there now that she's moved), and everything in between, it's safe to say that I have to do a lot of flying.  And I always have, ever since I was a wee lad.


I'm told I was somewhat of a... problematic child.  I know, I know, it's hard to imagine your beloved author being anything short of a perfect child and a model citizen, but apparently I was kind of a drag as a kid.  Supposedly, I was fussy (I like to think I was just full of energy and verve), diabolical in my crib escapes (just the beginnings of a brilliant mind in action), and very quick to cry (I'd say that was just my passion revealing itself at an early age).


On their own, these are annoyances for any parent that can be excused because, after all, they're coming from the light of your life, the fruit of your loins, and all that.  But put together, and placed inside of a confided metal tube with wings for multiple flights a year... That's less than fun.  In fairness, I didn't force my parents to take us on tons of vacations growing up, so I can hardly be blamed for screaming or running in the aisles on an airplane.  And I certainly can't be held accountable for my first in-flight experience consisting of vomiting all over my mother and partially into the air sickness bag.


You would think that my childhood troubles with flying, much like with potty training, would improve or even completely disappear with aging.  But not mine.  Mine only seemed to grow more diabolical, mutating into ever-frustrating and patience-trying masses of bad luck.


For instance, I wouldn't call myself a superhero, per se, but I do most definitely have the ability to control the weather, as massive, roiling storm fronts tend to follow me wherever I happen to fly and keep me and my fellow travelers grounded with their rainy/snowy torrents.

 

(By the way, I realize that the above map isn't geographically accurate, in that America is not an island floating in the ocean, and that Mexico and Canada begin at our southern and northern borders, respectively.  But in the interest of not having the drawing look any worse than it already does, I excluded our brothers to the north and south.  Besides, there's a giant, evil cartoon cloud chasing a plane in that picture, so realism wasn't exactly my aspiration.  Regardless, to my potential Mexican and Canadian readers, I apologize.  Lo siento.  Soo-ry.)
Over the course of the last 6 years, I have not once had both my departing and returning flights leave and/or land on time.  Not once.  That amounts to at least 40 flights over that stretch.  When I fly home for the holidays, my family doesn't even plan for me to be there at the start of festivities, and usually have pools where everyone tries to guess when I'll actually land. (My family has a gambling problem.)

Cancellations and delays just became the norm for me.  I would purposefully schedule early flights so that when I was inevitably delayed, it wouldn't be too much of a burden for whoever had to eventually pick me up.  Once, while about to fly to D.C. for a conference with a few co-workers, our flight was canceled and we couldn't get any other flights out that day. (We had to drive all the way from Columbus, Ohio, to D.C. just so we could make our own conference on time.)   When it was announced, I stood there in silent shame, knowing that my curse had spread to others and was causing them anguish that I knew all too well.  I was like that carrier monkey at the beginning of Outbreak. 

But the worst of all happened back in January of 2007.  I'd just been down to Florida to visit my parents for New Years, and upon hugging them goodbye and stepping foot into the Orlando airport, I looked at the Departure board and saw those words that have become oh so familiar to me:

CANCELED

At this point, I wasn't even fazed.  The fact that there were storms in Atlanta (worst airport and city EVER, by the way) that caused my flight to Ohio to be canceled rolled off of me like water off of... well, anything, because that's what water does.  (Why should we give ducks such a prominent place in the simile?)

I walked over to the ticket kiosk to go through the usual rigmarole, figuring that I'd be able to at least get home late that night so I could go to work the next morning.  I approached the desk and the kiosk lady flashed a smile as big as a Hummer grill at me, clacking away at her screen as I explained where I needed to go.  She mentioned something about storms around the country doing a lot of damage to flight schedules, but that I would be able to fly into Philadelphia that night and catch a connecting flight there back to Ohio.  I was skeptical.


I stared into her intensely grinning maw, knowing that somewhere behind those pearly whites lay an evil creature that secretly lurks within all airport kiosk workers.  I figured I'd try to reason with her on a human level.


"Now, with all of these flights being delayed, I'm not going to get stranded in Philly, am I?" I asked, warily. "They're sending flights out?  No delays or whatever that will keep me there?  Because I have nowhere to go if I get stuck there."


"Let me seeeeeeeeeeee..." she responded, not once looking up from her monitor while she clickety-clacked away on her keyboard and held my future in her crisply manicured hands. 

"Nope, looks good."


"You're sure."


"Yes, sir."


And with that, I took my ticket and made my way to the gate.  And then into the plane.  And then out onto the tarmac.  And then... nothing.  We sat, not moving.  Don't panic, I thought. Things like this happen all the time.  You always wind up waiting a little bit before take-off.  You'll get to Philly in time for your connecting flight. 

After another 30 minutes or so, the captain came on over the intercom:

"Uhhhh, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.  Seems like we've got a bit of trouble with our reserve electrical system which (some sort of explanation that I didn't hear because my brain was starting to melt).   Sooo we're just going to sit tight while our techs work the problem out, and as soon as we get our departure instructions from the flight deck we'll be on our way to Philadelphia.  Unfortunately, we can't go back to the gate and let anyone out, so just sit tight."

I could practically hear the plane mocking me through my double-pane window.




Once we finally taxied out onto the runway, I did a bit of quick math in my head and figured that by the time we landed and deplaned, I would have a good five minutes to get to the gate to catch my connecting flight.  No problem, I thought.  Miles have been run in four, so I can easily pull this off. 

Right.

We landed, and even though I had everything gathered on my lap so that I could make a glorious sprint to the door a mere six rows in front of me, I of course was stopped short when the heavyset woman in 4B popped into the aisle and started arguing with her brood of kids about who would get their bag from the overhead bin first.  


Somehow I got by her in the jetway and sprinted through the halls of Philly's airport.  I was like Usain Bolt, except slower.  And not Jamaican.  Or black.  Or famous.  Maybe I was more like Seabiscuit...  Regardless, I ran practically across the length of the airport and rounded the corner into where my departure gate was.


Just in time to see the plane pulling away from the gate.


There are few feelings of disappointment greater in all the world.


Dejected, and realizing that as the sun had already set, I would be lucky to get home that night, I made the futile walk over to the airline's customer service station and inquired about getting another flight home.  But, as I could've foretold, there was nothing else going out that night.   Without offering me a hotel to stay at to compensate for their technical problems (silly of me to think that might happen), I was told that I could take the 8:00 am flight the next morning.


With no other choices available to me, I went to the airport bar to grab dinner and drinks and proceeded to watch my beloved Michigan Wolverines get pummeled by USC in the Rose Bowl.


I walked away (missing an amazing Boise State-Oklahoma game in the process) and settled into a seat at the next morning's gate, hoping to grab a few hours of shut-eye when the terminal emptied out.


I should say at this point that even though Christmas had already passed, the airport was playing a steady stream of Christmas carols, which, after the 25th or so song on the list, would repeat, on a loop.  For whatever reason, these songs, which I normally love, were being blasted out of the speakers, probably because of the din of an airport full of people that it normally has to compete with.  I figured they'd just shut it down sometime after midnight, when the flights were done for the day and the terminal was closed.


It wasn't bad at first; I sort of bobbed my head along to the ones I like, as much as you can bob your head to a 75-year-old holiday tune, at least.  But after a while, when the clock started to drift well past midnight, I realized that it wasn't going to stop.  Even though I was eventually literally the only person in the terminal, the carols continued blaring on and the lights all stayed on at full shine.


I consider myself a pretty hearty sleeper, so I ignored it, and gathered up a few spare airplane blankets and settled down for the night, using my carry-on bag as a makeshift pillow.  But the music...  The music would not stop.


1:00 am comes and goes.  Still the music goes on.


2:00 am.  Burl Ives tells me for the 19th time how holly, and also jolly, Christmas is.


3:00 am.  I hate Alvin, the Chipmunks, and his hula hoop.


4:00 am.  If I ever find Bing Crosby, I will beat him to death with a candy cane.


5:00 am.  This is what insanity feels like.  Cold and lonely, like the grip of Frosty the Snowman.


I'd been up for almost 24 hours at that point, and felt like I'd never fall asleep.  The music went on and on and whenever I felt like I was about to nod off, BAM, another rousing chorus about snow and cheer and all that bullshit would start up again.


Somewhere around the realm of 6:00 am I managed to fall into a fitful state of sleep.

I dreamed of a land where I am the only air traveler in the world; where my seats are always in first class, and first class is just called "Ryan" because everyone knows you can't spell "class" without "Ryan," unless you're going by a dictionary; where the insides of airplanes are lined with silken sheet-clad mattresses and buxom supermodels feed me Sour Patch Kids and beer (I promise you that's a good combination); where the word "delay" is never uttered, unless someone asks, "What does 'delay' mean?" and I answer, "Why, kind sir, I believe you're speaking gibberish. I've never heard of this 'dee-laigh' that you speak of" and we both laugh and laugh until our top hats and monocles fall off.


Imagine my annoyance, then, when I was pulled out of my peaceful slumber when I felt someone licking me.  I thought perhaps I was still dreaming and one of the aforementioned buxom, Sour Patch Kid and beer-wielding supermodel flight attendants had decided to take things to second base.  Slowly I opened an eye and saw what appeared to be a very dog-like face staring directly at me.


I felt certain that I'd either descended into madness or that during the short time I'd been dozing, an alien race of dog-men had taken over and now ruled the day.  I was ready to surrender and welcome our new dog-man overlords when clarity began to enter my sleep-deprived brain and I realized that some early traveler's chihuahua had wandered free of its carrier and was obtrusively licking my face.


And of course, through it all, the never-ending funeral march of the Christmas music carried on in the background.




So I sat there for a bit while some Latino mutt loved up on me, trying to decide whether it was worth the effort to try and go back to the wonderful land of sleep, but the steady increase of gathering passengers basically made that impossible, so I got up to go check in for my 8:00 am flight out so I could finally get home, pass out in my own bed, and put this nightmare behind me.

I walked up to the counter, presented my ticket, and heard words as smooth as the chorus of "Silent Night":

"I'm sorry, sir, but your flight's been delayed until 10:00 am." 

It's the most wonderful time of the yeeeeeear...

August 23, 2010

New URL

By the way, just in case you didn't see, the blog now has a new website address.

http://palewriterryan.blogspot.com

Just wanted to get the last name out of the URL.  Thanks for reading! 

Mono No Es Bueno

Girlfriend has the mono.

Mono as in mononucleosis.  Not a cool mono like mono-poly or mono-cle or even mono-Ginobli.

Any of those would've been fine, but this mono is a beast.  Racked with fever, achy all over, throat swollen to the point of swallowing being painful, fatigued to the point of moving around the apartment like Shaq in his later years...  Girlfriend is not a happy camper.

I love Girlfriend very, very much and hate to see her suffer, so I sprang into Dr. Boyfriend mode as soon as I heard the diagnosis, scouring WebMD and anything else I could find to see what I could do to help and what sort of treatment options there were.

Sadly, mono, much like cancer, the common cold, and Pac-Man Fever, has no cure.  She was just told to rest.  And take lozenges or the occasional ibuprofen.  And rest.  And keep cool.  And rest.  And she was not, under any circumstances, to do any sort of heavy lifting or other physically exhausting activity, as her spleen may have become swollen and could burst.   Damn that spleen.  It is a bad spleen.


It hasn't been a fun ride so far, to say the least, and my long-held belief that I could heal anything by doing the Mr. Miyagi hand-rubbing thing from Karate Kid has been soundly defeated.


Also, she really didn't respond favorably to my suggestions of "Sand the floor" and "Paint the house."

Another problem that freaked me out a bit:  She got so feverish at times that she was literally hot to the touch.  In bed, it was like spooning a lightbulb.  At first, I thought, "Cool, Girlfriend is actually the Human Torch in disguise!!"  And I envisioned us fighting evildoers and her blasting supervillains away with plumes of fiery awesomeness while I threw out sweet one-liners like "Hot enough for ya?" and "You're fired."


But sadly, this was not the case.  Girlfriend is not a superhero conjured up by Stan Lee.

So as the illness wore on through its initial, awful days, I felt paralyzed; powerless to help Girlfriend out of her mono-induced funk.  I bought lozenges, rubbed backs, dampened and re-dampened cold washcloths, bravely sat through more episodes of Without A Trace and Bones than any man should have to endure, stocked up our Netflix queue with loads of stay-in-bed-and-watch movies; I even put on American-flag shorts and challenged the mono to a boxing match like I was Rocky and it Ivan Drago.  But the mono would have none of it; all fell short of curing her.

Coming home from work during one such day, the great idea to buy her flowers popped into my head.  "I'll buy her some lilies," I thought.  "Lilies are her favorite, that'll brighten her day a bit."  (Note: Guys, if you don't know your lady's favorite flower, you're doing something wrong.)  So I walked up and down the blocks of the Upper East Side, searching out a flower vendor or a bodega that carried the lilies I so desperately craved.  After almost losing hope that I'd never find such a place, I stumbled upon a store that had one bouquet of lilies left, shining like a great beacon on a hill.


I walked into the store, over to the rack of flowers and reached out to grab the lilies.  Just as I picked them up, another guy, coming from the back of the store, made a move to snatch them.  I pulled them back to my chest, like a 5-year-old kid protecting his favorite toy, and probably instinctively gave him some sort of Clint Eastwood-esque glare.


Me:  Hey, sorry guy, I'm getting these.

Guy:  (Trying to shake off the stink of defeat)  Oh, it's cool.  I just really wanted to get them for my wife.  She likes 'em.

Me:  (Not buying his ploy)  Yeah, same here.  My lady's favorite flowers.

Guy:  Mine too.  Had a rough week, thought these would cheer her up.

Me:  Mine has mono.

Guy:  (pause)  Alright, have a good one.

Victorious and with lilies in hand, I began my proud walk down the street, buoyed by the knowledge that I was doing one of those good-boyfriend things.  A few blocks from home, I passed a couple walking hand-in-hand in the opposite direction.


What was funny was that seeing a guy carrying flowers, ostensibly, home to his girlfriend/wife prompted such different and obvious reactions in each half of the couple, and it's something that always, always happens in this situation.



Undeterred, I made it home and presented the lilies to Girlfriend.  She loved them but, sadly, wasn't instantly healed like she was Super Mario and they a magic mushroom.  But, to be fair, I think I used them wrong.


The worst of it has seemingly passed in the days since I started writing this post, and hopefully soon we'll be completely free of the mono curse.  According to WebMD, while her symptoms will eventually go away, Girlfriend will always carry the virus.  It'll lay dormant somewhere deep inside her, waiting for a time when lilies are scarce and our Netflix queue dips terrifyingly low.  Then, and only then, will it slowly and apathetically lurch to the surface, like a sloth on the attack, to sink its teeth into Girlfriend and transform her into one of the walking not-dead-but-kinda-dead-ish.

But this time, I'll be ready.

(Cue the Rocky theme.)

August 18, 2010

Jawsome

I have a special relationship with Shark Week.

I wouldn't say that I'm just a fan, but I also wouldn't say that I'm obsessed to the point of shaving my head into a dorsal shape and walking around with my arms out like fins in anticipation of its arrival.  What I do believe, though, is that Shark Week and I are sort of symbiotic; in essence, I think Shark Week is a fan of me as much as the other way around.

SW has always sort of been there in my life.   It launched in 1987, and every year following that -- even in the days before Tivo and the Internet and promotional advertising being EVERYWHERE -- I somehow just knew when SW had arrived, and it would find its way onto my TV; SW and I were like that creepy little girl in Poltergeist and her TV.


For that whole week, after school and homework and dinner, SW was the top priority.  The dog went unplayed with.  The fish no longer had me to gape at their antics.  Even my Nintendo would be relegated to the background during the glory of SW.


I'd sit for hours at a time, huddled under a blanket with a bag of Doritos or some other healthy snack suitable for the growth and development of a young chap like myself.  I'd watch, slack-jawed, as the huge beasts sailed across my screen and haughty British narrators used words far too large for my then-undeveloped vocabulary.


It's an odd thing, my life-long love of sharks...  I praise the holy name of SW, but never step foot in the ocean for fear of being swallowed whole (except for a recent trip to Florida, when Girlfriend lured me into the water with a trail of snacks).  Usually, whenever I step more than ankle-deep into the ocean, I'm convinced that this is about to happen to me:


And then of course there's the Jaws conundrum.

Jaws is one of my favorite movies of all-time, but it took me at least a couple dozen viewings during my childhood to actually watch the whole thing, start to finish.  My grandma, Grammy, had the VHS at her house from around the time I was 7, and I was transfixed by the cover art.  I thought, if this thing is half as good as SW, I've got to watch it.  What I'm told, though, is that every time I'd get to one of the scarier scenes, I'd announce that I had pressing business in the kitchen, always coming back just after the carnage ended and the waters had grown still again.


Eventually, of course, I valiantly fought through an entire viewing, and fell in love with the movie, and wanted Quint to adopt me and take me on adventures and teach me old sailor songs.  Nowadays, I only run to the kitchen when Snooki appears on-screen.

So, considering all of this, how odd it was to have SW come and go this year, and be almost completely unnoticed by me.  Sure, Girlfriend and I would watch in bed at night if we happened to come across it, and I would never miss anything with "Air Jaws" in the title, and my friend Rachel and I even developed a SW-themed arm-chomp signal for our flag football team's post-TD celebrations (we basically just stole Florida's Gator Chomp but say "Chomp, chomp" while we do it).

But SW no longer created that sense of urgency within me to watch it all that it'd done for 20+ years.  It was no longer appointment viewing.  Life, as it tends to do, had gotten in the way, so to speak.

It's all part of that grand experiment of growing up, I guess.  The realization that the things that used to mean so much to you just don't, all of a sudden, as the last vestiges of your adolescence flake away.  With my generation, it lasts longer than those before us. The way we were raised, the length of time we can stay in college, the lack of hardcore "adult" responsibilities that we have thrust upon us once we come of age that were simply a fact of life for our parents and grandparents... All of that lets us hold on to those "childish" things that we cherished for so long just a little bit longer.  But sooner or later, they have to be left aside for more important things.

I never thought I'd see the day, but apparently now I can throw Shark Week onto that pile.

At least until next year.

(Chomp, chomp)

August 16, 2010

Pardon Me, Your Suitcase Is On My Rubber Duckie

Riding the subways in New York City is a wonderful sort of adventure.

In the mornings, during the hour of rush, you're shoved up against all sorts of folks you'd normally never interact with; packed in close enough inside the sausage casing of a train car to pick up what kind of deodorant they're wearing -- by sight.


In the afternoons, perhaps on the way to the dentist or on a long lunch break, you come across the kinds of people who view waking up before noon as a sign of weakness.  And they are damn proud of it.


During those late night trips home after the bars have dwindled down to only the most desperate of hookup-seekers -- those who've made the drunken lush falling out of her not-quite-skinny jeans their own personal Bunker Hill -- you get to see the magic that unfolds prior to the next morning's walk of shame.


Sometimes, on the rarest of occasions, you even come across someone in the middle of a bath.  I had the pleasure of witnessing this one a few months back, when winter's chill was just giving way to the dawn of a new spring.  Birds were chirping.  Flowers were budding.  Lovers were cavorting hand-in-hand through the parks.  Homeless men were vigorously washing themselves with wet naps.

Yes, on this particular lovely evening ride back to my apartment, I stepped into the train and noticed that every single passenger had shoved themselves to one side of the compartment, like they were attempting a world record for most people packed into a subway car but were still waiting on the other half of the group to show up.  I was confused, but then the smell hit me, and I began to understand.  Seated at the far end of the car, amidst piles and piles of his belongings, sat a fat, massively bearded homeless man wearing only a dirty pair of cutoff sweat-shorts, washing himself with wet naps.  The other riders were forced to the other side of the car by the wall of stench wafting off of him, like the mist in that movie about mist.

 

He looked like I imagine Santa would look if Mrs. Claus left him and he picked up a casual smack habit to compensate.  A man at once at peace with and completely at odds with the day-to-day workings of a civilized world, allowing him to go about his business and not mind the various small creatures nesting in the wooly expanse of his beard while he continued to wash himself in the middle of public transportation.


A quick sidenote...  After a few years of living in this city I've become more than accustomed to seeing the homeless do really odd things.  I once walked past a pantsless, one-legged man in a wheelchair and didn't even bat an eye.  I've seen a man kung-fu fighting with a lamp post.  These are just the things you tell yourself are normal in New York, like taxis or tourists or a sub-.500 Knicks season.

So imagine my surprise when the sight of this David Crosby-esque bum meticulously cleaning himself with restaurant wet naps completely fascinated me.  Seeing him probe every nook and cranny with those wet naps mesmorized me for some reason.  I gaped.  I gawked.   And then we locked eyes.



Time froze.  Tension rose.  A stare-off ensued.




It was like a gazelle on the African Savanna looking up from a lazy drink at a riverbed and suddenly realizing that a lion is staring at it from the other side, only dirtier and beard-ier.

I imagine this disoriented him a bit.  I'd probably feel a bit odd myself if he suddenly violated the peaceful sanctuary of my shower time.

In that moment, an understanding passed between us.  This man has no worry left in him.  Man and bum, each going about their daily business.  Two ships passing in the night.  It was like The Soloist, but not completely terrible.

At the next stop, I disembarked, my nostrils freed from the cage of man-stink.  As the train began to slowly pull away from the station, I gave the man a little nod through the window, a silent handshake that said, "Go forth, friend, and wash like you've never washed before."  He, in turn, stuck the wet nap in his ear and scrubbed furiously, an act that said, "My ear is wicked dirty."

August 13, 2010

OK. So I Swear I'm Back This Time For Real.

So hey there...

I know what people might be thinking.  (Presupposing, of course, that people are actually reading this thing.)  I went away for a year before and came back, swearing that I'd write more, and then promptly disappeared like Lebron's effort in that last Celtics series (the wound is still fresh, lay off).  And now, here I am, saying the same thing all over again.

But I'm a changed man!  Promise! I'm back, and with an all-new focus on what this blog will actually be.  Look, I've even got a snazzy new font.  Mmmm, Helvetica...

I have to be honest, I'm surprised I stayed away as long as I did.  I love to write.  I really do.  I used to want to carry business cards saying so.


For some reason, though, I just could never figure out exactly what to do with this space.  When I was writing columns back in college, it was easy.  Ideas just flowed forth like a mighty river of insight and wit, and when that dried up for the week I'd just resort to the angry, liberal argument du jour.

Here, though, I could never quite decide whether to make it some sort of pseudo-diary (but who cares about my life that much?) or a political/sports/pop culture observational sort of column-thing (a poli-spor-cult blog?).  In the end, I crumbled under the weight of the vast landscape of possibility itself, much like my girlfriend, B, when we go to a diner with a huge menu.  So I lost the writing bug.  And I wasn't sure when I'd ever get it back.

But then I found Hyperbole and a Half.  This wonderful website -- and its author, Allie -- showed me that a blog can just be, like Seinfeld, about nothing.  It's a place to tell stories, to rant about the absurdity of life and its daily adventures, or to just put down all that's winding through my head.  With pictures!  Because yes, there will be pictures.  Allie managed to do what I'd always wanted to do with this blog when I started it, and even with my columns back in college: draw little illustrations to go along with everything I'm writing.

I'd like to say that the new-and-improved blog will be an homage to HaaH, but let's be honest, I'm just stealing a good idea and making it my own.  Because that's America, damnit. 

The illustrations won't always be gems.  In fact, they'll probably never be gems.  My talent in the realm of drawing probably peaked somewhere in 5th grade, when I used to draw comics and sell them to classmates for $1 a piece, and I'm sure it hasn't improved since.  Here, for example, is a picture I drew of a mountain goat:


So that's what you're going to get.  Stories.  Insight.  Poorly drawn woodland creatures.  I'm just as excited as you are, folks.  See you again real soon.*
*The author swears promises thinks hopes "real soon" does not = 1 year from now.

August 11, 2010

(Cue the Intermission Music)

Just ignore this big lapse in writing between the newer posts and the old posts.  The blog's changing a bit between then and now anyways, for the better; think of it like when the Batman movies went from Schumacher to Nolan.  Don't get bogged down in the details.  Instead, enjoy this picture of a monkey holding a pistol.