Saturday, September 29, 2007

the heart of the hood

Having grown up in suburbia, I'd always wanted to live that "city" life--you know, staying in some highrise and taking public transport everywhere and carting my groceries home in a little metal cart on wheels. It seemed so exotic and fancy. But over the years as I've hung out with cc in her hood, I realized that its neighborhoody vibe is much more my style. In Lincoln Square, they can walk to good restaurants and interesting shops, the El is nearby, friends don't have to spend 40 minutes trolling for parking (and when they do, it's free). The bumping nightlife isn't too far away, but the area is quiet with a lot of families. It has cute cafes, parks where kids play little league and martial artists practice on Sunday mornings, and its home to the Old Town School of Folk Music, which, despite it's hippie-ish name, offers classes in everything from Flamenco Dance to Capoeira.

This last week, I spent several more days at cc's barren digs. Even though we both had to work, we went to comedy shows, a friend's book release party, and stayed up watching all the premiere-week shows. It was a blast, as usual.

But as I was packing up my air mattress and saying good-bye, I was also getting my last look around her place. I've been coming over there for tea and great conversation for almost five years. I can't count how many times I've sat on her green-and-gray stripedy couch, gossiping until the sun peeked in through the blinds, the birds began chirping and her husband stumbled in half-asleep asking, "you guys are STILL TALKING?" Or how many times her son, b, came tearing down their long front hallway wearing some sort of superhero getup. I've crashed over there so much, and always got great sleep in that oh-so-comfy Spiderman sheet--covered bed.

It was hard to recognize the place without all the signs of the family who'd lived there: no framed black-and-white baby pictures on the walls; no wall-to-wall bursting cases of books; no viney-plant that I'd given them on the kitchen windowsill. (It touched my heart that her husband, P, took it to San Diego as a carry-on item). And there wasn't a Power Ranger in sight.

I know it's going to break cc's heart to hand over the keys today. Even though she was born and raised in New York, she appreciates how great this city is more than anyone else I've ever met. And while I'm lucky that she's going to be here for a while longer yet, saying goodbye to her place is just another reminder that soon I might be saying goodbye to her.

Lincoln Square is just never going to be the same.

Friday, September 28, 2007

it's people who make the difference

I'm the only one in the office today; everyone else is out or traveling for work. From the moment I walked in, it's been a battle to stay focused and get stuff done, but then when I got an e-mail addressed to the entire company about the merits of social media, all that productivity went out the window. Attached were some YouTube clips: Ask a Ninja (which is just awesome in general), and this.

I can't even explain why, but suddenly I was sitting here all alone, and crying.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

what sucks about being a story collector

is having to throw a good one back.

Despite asking permission before posting, changing all identifiers that didn't destroy the story and purposely making the item extremely hard to stumble upon via google, I've removed "The ballad of Craigslist's 'Missed Connections,' " because my friend is having second thoughts about it being out there.

For those of you who missed it, I apologize. There's nothing more irritating than a post that goes up and then suddenly disappears. Here's the gist: Basically, a person that I may or may not know was sitting in an undisclosed location and made eye contact with someone very attractive. A post on Craigslist and a few e-mails later, they may or may not be talking on the phone/meeting up/destined for each other.

Sweet story; I'm sad to let it go.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Three Indians and a White Guy walk into a steakhouse...

When H came to visit in July, my parents took us out to dinner. My mom chose Sullivan's, because she had been there before with some colleagues and thought H might appreciate a hella good steak.

He did. As did my father. My slab of tuna was just okay and I believe my mom liked what she had, whatever it was. But of course, everybody knows that when you're sharing a meal with the DNA shareholders of your significant other--until you've achieved that certain level of comfortability--what you're consuming has little to do with how the evening goes, save for being the object you concentrate on to keep from thinking about what the other people at the table are thinking about what you might be thinking they're thinking about. Um, awkward.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't even close to the first time H had hung out with my parents; it was important to me that they all met each other straightaway, mostly because he lives so far away and I wanted them to know he wasn't a serial killer or someone who couldn't appreciate the virtues of a good chapati. And I was actually proud, because that time around, the three of them started to behave a little less oddly and more like their regular selves. Which was a lot less stressful on me.

I really thought we were all acting close to natural and that it went very well. Sullivan's has a '40s, sort of swanky decor, and it was pretty dimly lit. We were all seated toward the back, but that didn't stop three separate people from coming over and asking us how things were going. The fancysuited manager type guy even came by to ask if we were celebrating a special occasion. I simply replied "no," without any further detail and looked at my dinnermates with confusion. They didn't ask the people at adjacent tables any questions.

At the end of the night, a hostess came over with what I assumed was a satisfaction survey, which we thought was odd for a place that is considerably more fancy than Chili's (nothing against Chili's, but babyback ribs were not on the menu, to say the least). It was a card to fill out so Sullivan's could thank us for spending an evening with them. I filled out all of H's California information, and didn't think twice about it.

A few days later, he received this in the mail:

This note is undoctored, save for a tiny bit of PhotoShop trickery by H on his name.

You both? HER PARENTS? Our server, Jennifer, must have been working overtime--on making assumptions, because our conversations were very innocuous. It doesn't matter that she assumed correctly. I purposely told the manager nothing, so for all they knew the Indian people could have been the White guy's parents. Geez, it's 2007, for God's sake. Needless to say, that note freaked me the hell out.

My peeps aren't restaurant types anyway. So this past visit, H came over to the house and my mother cooked an eight-course meal in the comfort of her own kitchen. And for someone whose only experience with Indian food has been Cadiz-made chicken curry and undercooked rice (What!? I was nervous!), H did extremely well and said he enjoyed the food. I was much more relaxed and everyone was acting like themselves. For once.

Friday, September 21, 2007

too close to home

I haven't had a lot of time for books lately, but cc gave me one to read during my recent travels that was quick and extremely engaging. The Chicago Way is a private-eye noir that appealed to me for several reasons, but the thing that kept me turning pages was the dead-on description of the city. I was all ooh and ah-ha about places I recognized until the detective went to meet some acquaintances. River North gallery district? Hey, that's where I work! A double-dip from Mr. Beef on Orleans? Hey, I walk past that place every day! An unassuming little eatery with a red awning under the Brownline El tracks? Now hang on just a clock-punching second!

In the book, Brett's Kitchen is the setting for the detective's meeting with a mob connection, a place where they get cannoli and arrange a rendezvous with the big boss. Brett's also happens to be located across the street from my office (we can see it from the window), and sometimes I go there for both breakfast and lunch. The wry waitress has a new hair color every few weeks and reminisces about life back in Mexico, where she'd get her morning glass of milk straight out of a cow. However, the place is often bumping and people sit at the tile-topped tables to enjoy oatmeal with brown sugar and raisins with the newspaper. Or even for a meeting. And in the refrigerated case, next to the banana bread and frozen Snickers, is usually a whole tray of cannoli.

Normally, I'd chalk that kind of description up to artistic license and not think too much about it, but after I found out that the author was a journalist, I thought twice. Because if there's anything I know about good journos, it's that they do their homework. And not only was this guy an investigative reporter and one of the only ones to interview serial killer John Wayne Gacy, he's also behind A&E's Cold Case Files, which resolves real-life (and sometimes bizarre) murders.

So now every time I go to Brett's, I reevaluate the suited guys wrangling messy Mexican Chicken Sandwiches out of the corner of my eye and hope that I haven't done anything to piss them off.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

pay more, sleep more

"I just can't understand how you sleep so much."

"Mom, I hardly think six hours of sleep is too much."

"I know, but I get to see you for two minutes and then suddenly you're snoring on the couch. And I wake up earlier than you do!"

"Whatever, I'm tired!"

"There might be something wrong with you. Have you been taking vitamins?"

"Not really."

"Maybe I'll pick some up for you at Wal-Mart."

"WAL-MART?! Don't you know that the only reason they can keep prices that low is by advising their employees to go on government assistance and forcing people in the Third World to work for like 0.002 cents an hour? I can't believe you can still go there."

"Cadiz, face the truth: people are not going to stop shopping there just because you watched some movie."

"I think it's worth the extra I have to pay to be able to sleep at night."

"So that's your secret: Don't shop at Wal-Mart, and you'll fall asleep in a matter of seconds."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I can't believe you've been around for a full quarter of a century. But I'd like to think I had something to do with how well you've turned out. Happy Birthday, little brother. I love you more than you know.

Monday, September 10, 2007

my dance card's filling up

I've managed to cram enough into the next couple months to justify why I may not have a job by the time our office closes. This week, I'll be in Connecticut with the colleagues to tie up some business stuff, and when I get back to Chicago on Thursday, H will be flying in from L.A. (cue the cheesy music and slow-motion running), which will be nice because I haven't been able to see him since the Fourth of July.

In October, I'll be making another collegiate trip to cc's house and one to Mobile, Alabama to see how the actual college students get by. (Word on the street is that it's with HD-tv, an Xbox 360 and lots of outdoor grilling and beer). Then off to L.A., where H and I might take a road trip to San Diego to see his sisters and also so I can decide if the place is worthy of cc. If I don't deem it suitable, her husband may have to think of another plan because I won't let her go.

I will likely carve out enough time to post just as usual, but I thought you'd appreciate a head's up. When I whine about not having a job come November, at least you'll know I had an excuse.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

everything but the Ramen

Last week I spent a few days with cc in her nearly empty apartment. Her husband accepted a professorship in San Diego and has taken everything but the couch, tv, old computer and one pot to California. CC is looking for a gig out there, but nothing seems to compare with the awesome one she has now. So for the time being, she's staying here in Chicago and living like a college student.

Very much like a college student myself for a few days, I brought over an overnight bag and an air mattress and crashed at her place. We had pizza, ice cream, takeout kung pao chicken, movies and some company on the El ride into work (our offices are a stop away from one another on the Brown Line). On Friday night, we took in some hot dogs at Murphy's and a preview production of 'Night, Mother, a very thought-provoking story about suicide that was also a 1986 movie starring Cissy Spacek. After tears were running all the way down my neck, somehow dodging feather-capped drunks at OktoberFest didn't seem appropriate anymore. Instead, we swapped stories about family and commiserated about how much life sucks over appetizers and alcohol.

I love hanging out with cc. Few people understand me the way she does, and even fewer know exactly what I'm thinking about a situation even before they turn to look at my face. Which is why she got me this mug (and some awesome graphic novels) for my birthday:

The back says "Pessimist's mug."

Even though it's killing me that soon she may live more than 2,000 miles away, I take comfort in my skills at maintaining long-distance relationships. You're the best, cc.

Friday, September 07, 2007

An eye for observation

During college, I interned for a summer in Minneapolis. It was by far not my first experience away from home, but it was the first that required me to procure my own residence outside the state of Illinois. I'd never been there before and even though it was summertime, Minneapolis loomed ahead like a snowy forest of tall, blond people flinging lutefisk. On top of that, I was raised in the church of paranoia so I couldn't just sublet an apartment with some stranger or show up and find something when I arrived. So two months before I was supposed to be there, I signed up for the summer in St. Paul at the College of St. Catherine. In a dormitory.

The campus was a ghost town. I had a two-person room all to myself, and there were supposedly seven other people living on the floor. I had my own sink, but the bathroom, kitchen and tv room were communal. However, for the first few days I hadn't run into a soul. The grounds were lush and flowery, and I could hear the bells from the chapel every day. It was a nice place, but lonely.

If you must know anything about me, it's that I do not like to be alone for long stretches of time. An afternoon with neither human contact nor anything good to read/watch can drag on like the Paleolithic Age. Don't get me wrong, I need time to myself just like anybody, but I prefer it to be when I know someone is elsewhere in the house or on their way home. During college, despite the 39 other people on our floor, I wouldn't be able to sleep until I heard my roommate's key in the lock. Bizzare, I know. So staying at St. Kate's was freaking me out; mostly because I thought no one would be around to hear me scream.

One evening when I went to the community fridge to get a cup of yogurt, I saw some foreign salami. I hovered around the tv room waiting to see if anyone came by looking to make a sandwich to whom I could say hello. Eider (ay-ther) is a tall blonde from Spain with a gentle voice and dark eyes that crinkle when she smiles. Plus she has that soft accent I hadn't heard since my time studying abroad. She was interning for the summer at Fallon advertising agency, and would be commuting into Minneapolis every morning on a bus, just as I was. I liked her immediately.

Even though I met La Mariachi through a mutual friend and ended up staying most of the summer at her house (which was a lot closer to downtown Minneapolis), when I was at the dorm, Eider and I would walk a few blocks from St. Kate's for some of the most excellent cheeseburgers I've ever had at Highland Grill. My afterhours project was to create a scrapbook for my university organization and she came up with some great ideas--I remember thinking she had a great eye and that we would have made a fabulous team if we ever worked together. Sometimes Eider would come salsa dancing with us at First Avenue or Quest, but while we were busy trying to follow our partners' intricate turns without getting tangled up and breaking our necks, she was often hanging back and observing the beauty among the chaos.

After that summer, we both went back to school. We haven't really kept in touch save for the updates I get about her online magazine, but this week I got an e-mail about what she's been up to: She spent almost a year traveling around Southeast Asia taking pictures, and has posted one for each day of her trip, here.

Two-hundred ninety-one photos are quite a lot, but she's really captured the feeling I get when I go back to certain parts of the motherland. If you have some time, check it out.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

just keep your fat mouth shut

The thing about falling asleep early is that you end up waking up early, too. Often on days when you don't have to. Which is extremely irritating.

The other day when I had a couple of hours to kill in the morning, I was flipping through the channels and caught Fat Camp on MTV. Somehow I got sucked into the documentary about camper smacktalking, hooking up, politics and slackerdom, and stuck it out for the entire two hours. And I wasn't even interested in the characters' losing weight, but more keen on seeing the drama unfold.

Yesterday my coworker said something that reminded me of one of the characters and I said, Hey, the other day I was watching this show about Fat Camp...but she cut me off. Offendedly, as though I were commenting about her personally, and then the other coworker joined in, too. At first I laughed along, but in trying to explain that what I was saying had nothing to do with being overweight, I forgot what it was. The mock-outrage went on for just a little too long.

I came away from that conversation feeling like a jackass, but then I remembered that these people decided I'm probably the only person who thinks Flight of the Conchords is funny.
They probably wouldn't appreciate the nuance of Fat Camp anyway.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

crass in the name of love

Dear People,

Get your boobs checked. And your pipes. And the rest of yous. It's way less sucky than the alternative. This may be hard to accept, but you are not invincible, after all. As someone who's spent way too much time pacing around helplessly in hospital waiting rooms, trust me when I say that your loved ones will thank you for taking care of yourselves.

Much love,

p.s. Oh, and don't forget the sunscreen. And the vitamins.

Monday, September 03, 2007

hopes for the next generation

We don't have a lot of family on this continent. Aside from my parents and brother, it's pretty much just my dad's sister's husband's father's nephew in Long Island and his wife. Whom we almost never see.

So it was kind of nice to get a visit this weekend from my cousin's best friend Ayesha and Ayesha's husband. They took the Amtrak up from Tennessee. My dad's niece is an only child, so Ayesha is really a lot more like a sister to her. And when I was in Mumbai for my cousin's wedding, Ayesha was so kind and wonderful to me. It was great to see her again.

They've only been in the States a few years for his job, and my parents went out of their way to make them feel at home and comfortable. I think my mom sees a bit of herself circa 1977 in them because she kept referencing how people in India think living here is a cakewalk but it's a lot more difficult than they imagine. Especially when you have no family or support system and have to figure things out for yourselves. My parents drove around our town showing them places we'd lived (some of which I'd never even seen) and talked about how back in the day they had their white friend Tom inquire about apartments for rent because whenever my dad would call, there suddenly weren't any available. They were quick to add that things are a lot better these days.

I felt a little out of place in their fish-out-of-water bonding, because this has always been my bowl and I was too young to process what my parents went through back then. We walked around the neighborhood my parents have lived in for 21 years, stopping at the park and near the subdivision swimming pool.

About halfway down the bikepath, just as we came to the pool, several people splashing around in it stopped and turned to look at us. One guy, who looked to be in his mid20s, glared. I didn't make much of it until we were turned the other way and heard a rubber ball smash into the chain-link fence right behind us. Hard and loud. Then another one. These were definitely not cavort-y overthrows but pointed baseball pitching aimed right at us. The worst part about incidents like that is that even though you can't prove that they are hate-based, your gut knows it without a doubt. So I made us turn around and get out of there, because if one more ball smacked the fence between us, I didn't know if I'd be able to stop myself from hopping over it and tearing out that kid's long stringy hair by the fistful. That wouldn't make a nice impression on our guests at all.

As we walked down the path, we saw a bunch of girls in hijabs carrying brightly-wrapped gifts into the meeting hall attached to the pool, which was obviously rented for the occasion. I wondered if those nasty people in the pool (and I say people because no one said anything to him, including the lifeguard) had seen the girls, made some assumptions and taken it out on us. I couldn't help but worry for those girls and their party.

I was seething about that incident the rest of the weekend. Later I mentioned it to my mother, and she thought she was the only one who had noticed that pool guy. I'm sure we all noticed, even though no one said a word. It's sad that we tend to remove ourselves from a situation like that and rarely respond, even just by asking if the guy had something he'd like to say. Ball-throwing is tame, but will the kids around him who saw what he did build on the sentiment in the future? I can't help but worry for my children.

That bit of nasty didn't stop me from delighting in the fact that the bump that is Ayesha's tummy will grow into a baby come January. My mom and I are convinced it's going to be a girl, so while Ayesha and husband were at the Sears Tower and Shedd Aquarium yesterday, I made a pair of Saartje's Booties (Ale, I think she's in NL!). Ever since I saw the pattern, I've been looking for someone to make them for.

I'm really hoping it's a girl.