Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Maybe it's American yuppieness, maybe it's a caffeine addiction, but I like having a Starbucks on every corner. I am angered when a mall or airport terminal doesn't have one. People need their overpriced coffee fix (and oddly named cup sizes. "Is it French? Is it Italian?")

Something I find strange, though, is how frequently competing drug stores are across the street from each other. It's not like having two fast food places close to each other; their food may be similar, but there are differences. CVS and Walgreens, however, offer the exact same items for nearly identical prices. "Oh, I'll go to this one because they're selling 24-packs of Coke for $5. But that one has Tide on sale!" Often, the choice hinges upon which side of the street they're on and which one I'm driving down.

This kind of inane drugstore competition eats up prime real estate a perfectly good Starbucks should have.

Many people consider shopping a joy, but there are some things that take the fun out of retail therapy. Mall parking, for instance. Fights over limited parking spaces can cause bloodbaths.

Something that really makes shopping unenjoyable for me is having a maximum number of items I can take into a fitting room. It's tolerable if it's possible to hang the extra clothes on the outside of your door and switch them out with ones you've finished trying on. If you're not able to do this, trying on clothes becomes a competitive sport because you're forced to relinquish your items to a common rack.

You have to try on the first set of items, put all of your own clothing back on, leave your purse vulnerable on its little hook (to signify that the fitting room is taken) and rush over to your other possibilities. They are not safely cordoned off or looked after by fitting room attendants (they promised!) so it's likely you'll find other people rifling through your selection. Sometimes you got the last piece in your size or color you like, and your prized find is scooped up by another shopper.
Because of the danger of having your selection picked through, speed in trying things on is crucial, as is repeatedly poking your head out of your fitting room to check on the rifling situation. Because of this speed and distraction, assessment time is cut short. All you have to go on is, "Well, I guess this doesn't make me look like a cow or circus performer. I'll get it."

And all the while, insipid pop music streams through the store's speakers. Maybe it is time to learn how to sew.

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Project Runway" makes me want to learn how to sew, and Tim Gunn inspires me to be a better person (ok, a more fashionable one.) Not everyone can be "fierce," as the flamboyant wunderkind on the show, Christian, is so fond of saying. However, I believe in a world where everyone, regardless of size, shape, or financial status, should be able to put together outfits that are not cringeworthy.

Some of my cardinal sins of fashion are:

  • visible bra straps Bras are supposed to be worn under clothing and should not be seen. Big-chested women are exempt from this rule.
  • cut-off shirt sleeves You work out. Good for you. Now wear some sleeves over the gun show.
  • Crocs Spending some time in your garden? Sounds peaceful. Walking around in these rubber abominations because "they're just so comfortable?" Just say no.
  • beach/club clothing at work/class Anything that is shiny or shows too much skin is probably wildly inappropriate, unless, of course, you are a Playboy Bunny or Hawaiian Tropic Girl.
  • stripper shoes There is a reason why clear, strappy shoes are only sold in shops that also offer sensual massage oils and flavored prophylactics.
  • "dresses" that began life as blouses and tunics There's a difference between short and, "Whoa, I feel dirty just looking at you."
  • head to toe black seperates Only exceptions--it's your work uniform, or you're Cat Woman.

Obviously offensive:

  • fanny packs
  • mom jeans

Just annoying:

  • loud jewelry like bangles and earrings, worn in quiet settings such as work, class, or the movies

It's nice to be able to treat yourself to a fancy dinner every once in awhile. You can get out of the house, dress up, get served by gracious waiters and waitresses, sit in interesting settings, peruse extensive wine lists, and enjoy fine dining. Even people who are fairly proficient in the kitchen can appreciate the quality ingredients, interesting food combinations, and artful presentations talented chefs work with. Going out to dinner can making eating an especially pleasurable experience. I enjoy sharing meals with good company, talking over a few bottles of wine.

Then there are the experiences that mimic the Citibank commercial where the couple dines in a five-star restaurant, only to pick up convenience store snacks on the way home because they're still hungry.

On Friday night, my dinner was more like the latter experience. It was a friend's birthday, and she wanted to go to a trendy Asian restaurant on Lincoln Road (which is a trendy area in trendy South Beach. Yeah...I know.) Knowing what this meant, my boyfriend made a sandwich, and I ate a bowl of oatmeal before heading out. We walked up to the eatery, and if the bouncer at the door was any indication, we were in for an unpleasant experience.

We walked in and were shrouded in darkness. Disturbingly loud techno music blared from the speakers. In the dim light, we spotted our friends and squeezed into the seating area. The birthday girl apologized; she didn't know we would be simultaneously eating and suffering permanent hearing loss.

We yelled our orders to our waitress. "Sorry, we don't have the Spider roll tonight." Ok. "We're out of edamame." But you're an Asian restaurant...moving right along. "The only beer we have is Budweiser." Then we knew that something was seriously wrong.

We found ourselves gesticulating wildly, as if we were in a Spanish soap opera. Our "table" was too small to hold all of our plates and glasses, and we knew that if we weren't careful, our corner would turn into a soy sauce slip-and-slide. The tuna tartar tower was more of a molehill than a mountain, and we had to reorder all of the dishes again because the portions were more suitable for Lilliputians than normal-sized people.

Why would the establishment that I have just described pretend to be a place for eating? Why is the word "grille" in its name? Most importantly, why does it have a fully stocked bar and yet only offer one kind of beer?!

Places like this should just store alcohol in their kitchen spaces, call themselves lounges, and call it a day. They should leave the food service to places that don't aim to be clubs.

Friday, February 22, 2008

On US-1 near the junction for I-95, there is a popular pizza place that sells slices as big as your head. The entire building is a not-so-subtle homage to Italy; it is bright green and red, and the name of the restaurant is written in big white letters. It is almost always packed with families, high school kids, and beachgoers who were on Key Biscayne. I think it is safe to say that people are aware of this eatery's existence. On my way home every afternoon, I drive by a man who is probably in his sixties advertising for this restaurant. He usually sits on a stool under a tree. The sad thing about it is that he bears the harsh Florida elements wearing a giant pizza costume. To make it worse, he also wears a chef's hat (because pizza cooks itself?) Last week, there were heavy thunderstorms and tornado warnings; Mr. Pizza sat on his stool holding a dinky umbrella.

Team mascots and people walking around in costumes at Disney World make sense; this does not. I've seen a giant gator dancing around for an apartment complex and giant puppies trying to draw attention to pet stores. Wouldn't a commercial or billboard featuring delicious looking pizza work better than making a sad old man sit by a highway in a ridiculous costume? I don't see the point of having human beings don large costumes and walk around waving.

Everytime I see that man, I am compelled to pull over and discuss job options with him. Surely, pushing paper or even flipping burgers beats sitting around, wearing foam pepperoni.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Chocolate, cards, flowers, fancy dinners, sexy underthings, cherubs, hearts, all things pink and red. What is there not to like about Valentine's Day? It's fun even when you're single, though some aspects are different. Instead of candlelit dinners, there are happy hours with friends, and instead of lascivious lingerie, it's whatever you happen to be wearing under your clothes when going out after happy hour. Just because you started February 14th without a valentine doesn't mean you have to end it that way.

Some people think that Valentine's Day is a commercial holiday created by greeting card companies. That doesn't make it any less fun or worthwhile. St. Patrick's Day is supposed to be a day to remember what St. Patrick did for Ireland (I think), but it has turned into a green beer guzzling holiday. There's Cinco de Mayo, which is supposed to celebrate Mexican heritage and pride, but most people celebrate margaritas and Dos Equis. Holidays don't have to be so...serious.

The only qualm I have with V-day is the actual date. It ends the holiday gauntlet my boyfriend and I have to go through:

October: my birthday
November: his birthday
December: Christmas
January: anniversary
February: V-day

By the time V-day rolls around, we weigh a little more because of birthday cake, Christmas cookies, and indulgent dinners, and our wallets weigh considerably less. Sometimes I think we should stay home and not make a big deal about it, but I worry about the fallout. On my part, that is.

Today, February 13th, I may think foregoing V-day is a great idea, but on the 14th when I see other girls getting flowers and balloons and candy, will I feel like I'm not as loved as they are? On the 15th, when I'm talking with friends and they mention the fabulous restaurants they went to and the supersweet gestures, will I feel like there is something sorely lacking in my relationship?

The greeting card companies that "invented" Valentine's Day are quite clever. I am thoroughly brainwashed. Even if I know that deep down I don't need singing stuffed animals and two dozen roses to make me happy, this is not a risk I am willing to take. For my boyfriend's sake, we will continue to make reservations, and I will have empty vases waiting.

Hallmark: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,001
me: 0

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

There are some things from childhood that people will always enjoy. Candy--kids like sour confections or Nestle and Hershey's-like chocolates, and adult palates enjoy dark chocolate truffles. Toys--little angels turn into crazy monsters at the sight of signs for Toys "R" Us and FAO Shwartz, and older boys and girls bounce happily out of the Sharper Image or Best Buy with their new gadgets. Irreverent cartoons like "Family Guy" are wildly popular with the college age crowd and older. Las Vegas, with its lights and circuses (ok, also gambling, booze, and legalized prostitution) is dubbed "America's Playground."

It's good that in a culture like ours, where people work more hours and take fewer vacations than most people in other industrialized nations, we can take refuge in fun, albeit childish, outlets. Reliving lost childhoods is good in many ways, but the problem is when people who are old enough to vote buy clothing and accessories that are more appropriate for "back to school" shopping in the third grade. I'm talking about Tweety decals, Tinkerbell jewelry, and the most pervasive, and possibly the most offensive--the world of Hello Kitty.

I'm not going to knock Japan. The Japanese value childishness in their culture; cutesy images are everywhere, and if I'm not mistaken, it is the birthplace of anime and the schoolgirl fetish. I appreciate their sense of humor. Somehow, I think it works...for them.

I am going to knock grown women who brazenly don Hello Kitty gear here in the states. It's not okay for people whose ages are in the double digits to have purses, office supplies, electronics, or apparel emblazoned with images of a cute little cat and her friends in the same way that it's not okay for people to bring their beloved blankies um, anywhere. These things should be relegated to the most private corners of one's home. If a woman wants to wear Hello Kitty underwear, that's fine (refraining from making an obscene kitty joke. You're welcome.) But this strange infatuation with the dot-eyed cat or other cartoons should stay out of sight.

Some sites that pay tribute to ju
st how creepy that little cat is: (ridiculously funny...this guy's wife is a Hello Kitty fanatic),-evil/casio-exilim-720-possessed-by-hello-kitty-310113.php (innocent cameras Hello Kitty-ed out) (the HK AR-15!) ("The kitty klux klan--not to be confused with any other klans--will one day stop the cult of this evil feline and the world will be safe once more.")

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

small talk: these conversations often begin with or consist entirely of comments on the weather

Small talk is inappropriate and/or awkward:

  • when you're in the dentist's chair
  • when you've just exited a stall in a restroom and have to chat with the bathroom attendant
  • when you're waiting in line at a drugstore and happen to be buying something embarrassing
  • before I've had my coffee in the morning

"Awkward silence, begone" --->Entertaining small talk topics

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I've always been a stickler for grammar. Now I teach grammar and writing at a college in Miami, and my pickiness has gotten worse.

These are my essay pet peeves:

  • starting with a question
  • starting with a question directed towards the reader and then answering it
  • starting with a definition (I've actually had a student write, "Do you know what a boat is? A boat is..." It was a double whammy)
  • dry transitions ("First," "Second...") because some English teachers require transitional phrases at the beginning of each paragraph, but they don't bother to explain how to do it effectively
  • when I have to explain how to use quotations, how to paraphrase, and how to cite sources...many students have NEVER had to use MLA format
  • when students come in because they need help with an assignment, and they are paralyzed with fear over having to "analyze" something

I'm more annoyed with teachers than I am with the students because these kids have slipped through the cracks. I know there is a problem with overcrowded classrooms and underpaid teachers, but it's not right that there are people enrolled in college classes who can't even compose middle school level writing.

Friday, February 1, 2008

I can't understand the stigma attached to being left handed. When I was in kindergarden, my teacher arranged a meeting with my parents. At the meeting, Mrs. Dee told them, "I've noticed that your daughter writes with her left hand. If you would like, I can encourage her to use her right hand." My dad insisted that changing which hand I wrote with wouldn't be necessary and that he's a lefty and does just fine. They left the meeting, shaking their heads.

Earlier this week, one of my grammar students was watching me write an example on the dry erase board, and he commented on my left handedness. With this puzzled look on his face, he asked if it was hard for me to write and do things. I explained that I'm used to it, and it's not a big deal, but I don't think he was convinced.

What does "it's a right handed world" mean? Most people are right handed. And your point is?

While I occasionally smudge my notes because my hand goes right over what I've just written, I don't suffer from being a lefty. Where did this notion that kids should be taught to write with their right hands come from?

Here are some facts about using the "wrong hand":

  • Some famous lefties include Joan of Arc, Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Henry Ford, Lewis Carroll, Samuel Clemens, H.G. Wells, Jimi Hendrix, M.C. Escher, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Leonardo da Vinci.
  • Left-handers adjust more readily to seeing underwater.
  • Many think that lefties have an advantage in fist fighting (may sound like a bad thing, but think of it from the self-defense angle, not the rebel without a cause angle)
  • Some are dominant left-handers, who use their left hand for EVERYTHING. For example, they would use their left hand to swing a bat, hold a fork, play tennis, play golf, etc.
  • Some are dominant right-handers, who use their right hand for a majority of things and maybe only write and hold a fork with their left hand.
  • Left-handed children are more likely to test out as highly creative and to have extremely high verbal or math ability--both of which are considered to be predominantly left-brain functions.

Useful products for lefties:

And I found this one particularly this if you want to confuse your classmates or coworkers: