Monday, July 31, 2006

Beef Jerky

One of the football guys came in for tutoring today and consumed an entire pouch of beef jerky in the first five minutes of our discussion about the media portrayal of organized crime. As he spewed chunks of dehydrated cow hide, I thought how similar he was to Corey.

He would rip a chunk of the leather with his teeth and say "Oh man, Tony Soprano is the top dog." I could just picture Corey sprawled out in the green leather chair, bag of turkey jerkey on his lap, squealing with delight that Tony Soprano is the shit.

Why do people eat jerkey? It smells so bad and hurts your teeth to bite into it. Worse, why do jerkey eaters talk with their mouths full? They generally seem to be watching or discussing something exciting to them when they partake in jerkey eating. I think they are living vicariously through their mob obsessions. I think they are gnashing their teeth through rawhide as if to say "I could have killed this beast myself. I'm a big strong man. Now please scratch my back so I can fall asleep more easily."

Worst of all, the student left his crumbs and jerkey pouch sitting on the table. I want to put it in his folder with a note that says "Please discuss, in 500 words (double spaced) your fascination with this product and the reasons you left the empty container for me to throw away."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Pool Party

This fall, Pittsburgh Rugby bids farewell to our Ni-Ni, who will move away to follow love and an exciting career in mathematical education. We celebrated her fabulousness yesterday with a pool party. I haven't submerged my body in a long time (minus the fully clothed swim test required to join the rowing team), so I was nervous to put on a bathing suit and go to this party.

I was shocked by how self conscious I felt about baring my butt to the women I tackle on a regular basis. Why did I have body image troubles now, after hours of conversation with them about the wonders of dairy products and high calorie treats like Belgian beer? I covered my tankini with mesh shorts and a tank top, prepared to excuse my modesty before a team of bikini-clad confident people.

When I got to Kelly's house, I was shocked. The men's team were drowning one another in the pool already and the whole women's team was wearing surf shorts, hiding under the umbrella by the cheese tray. Eventually, someone bravely suggested she had low body confidence that day. We all confessed our similar feelings. We were so angry with ourselves, our otherwise confident and fabulous selves. Sitting around that table were surgeons, teachers, contractors, engineers...adults in positions of authority, leaders in the workplace. We feed off one another's physical strength to make difficult choices requiring spiritual strength. If we couldn't wear swimsuits comfortably in front of rugby people, who support us through marriages, divorces, career changes, and sexuality/identity crises, where would we ever feel comfortable?

This discussion made us feel poweful enough to stop eating the cheese and build an obstacle course ending with a slip-n-slide race...where none of us took off our shorts.

Throughout the rest of the night, we played actual games for hours. Beanbag toss, volleyball, basketball, more slip-n-slide competitions, but I couldn't help feeling sad that I felt sad about my butt. We pumped up our testosterone levels through healthy competition and drank away our acknowledgement that we aren't as far ahead of the societal pressure as we previously thought.

At least my team won at volleyball.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Frontal Lobe

I'm reviewing a book for Pitt Magazine called "Another Day in the Frontal Lobe." It's the memoir of a brain surgeon, a female brain surgeon in a sea of male ones. Very excellent reading. Early in the book she describes the competitive and aggressive nature of brain surgeons. All I can think about as I read is that this woman sounds like a rugby player.

"They're the kids who never lost at musical chairs," writes Katrina Firlik of these ubercompetitors. Heck! Ask any rugby player you see if he or she has ever graciously lost at anything at all. You will open up a floodgate of "I had to win" stories.

At Freya's bridal shower recently, I remembered how I get when I try to participate in silly games. I am not fun to be around. I don't brainstorm my answers for the bride trivia with other guests and I certainly do not let people copy off my word searches. If I don't leave the shower with the nicest door prize, I do not leave happy. Which is why I think Dr. Firlik and I should be friends.

Sure, she has a husband and baby and a rugby-free life in Connecticut. But that's only because she doesn't know she needs to play rugby and be my friend. She's a writer, I'm a writer. She saves people's lives, I teach people how to read. We are clearly compatible.

I just read a chapter where she put her great big foot in her own mouth by assuming one of her patients couldn't speak and asked his parents questions about him as he sat there twiddling his thumbs. I always do crap like that! I think what I will do is knock on her door the next time I am in CT for a rugby game and challenge her to a contest of skill. If I win, she has to hang out with me. If she wins, I'll speak nicely of her book in the magazine.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Rowing Through the Chop

It was windy last night and our little boat did not fare so well along the choppy rivers. The thousands of drunken speed boats zooming through the ignored NO WAKE zone didn't help, either. Wave after icy, oily, brown wave sloshed over the side and tinged my Penn State socks brown.

"It's ok! Just keep rowing!" The coxswain encouraged us, as most people had stopped moving to stare at the white caps rushing toward us. There is no better reminder of how tiny you are and powerless against nature than a two foot wave zooming at you while you are perched atop a Fiberglas shell that is narrower than your hips. I was in the advanced boat again, though, and we were working on power strokes anyway. Bridget in the stroke seat just kept on rowing, even when the water dipped out from under her and her oar stroked the air.

When we got out and turned the boat upside down to carry it back into the boat house, it occurred to me that, as the shortest person, in the bow end of the boat, the entire contraption was angled down toward me. I heard and then felt the water from the bottom of the boat crashing down on me. I was soaked, a drowned river rat. Glasses in my mouth felt clean and hygienic compared to the bacteria I imagined now swirled on my skin. I did the only thing I could think of when I got home.

I gave Corey a big hug and started smacking him with my wet Penn State socks.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

I'm Gross

It all started with the humidity. My face was covered in a perpetual layer of my own slime and the Coppertone sweatproof sunblock I've been slathering on each morning. The lenses on my current glasses have reached such thickness and concavity that my unkempt eyebrows and eyelashes brush against them, smearing the face gunk in hair-shaped brush marks all over my sight line.

Last night, after my bike riding lesson up a series of hills in Highland Park, I could barely see through the smudges. I did the thing old, disgusting men do. I did the thing I have watched, horrified, my teenaged students do. I did what a woman who, with nothing but a sweat-soaked shirt and no other options, must.

I stuck my dirty glasses in my mouth and I licked my lenses clean so I could see to ride home.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Demon's Redemption

On Friday, we celebrated the end of summer writing camp by letting the children read their work in an auditorium in front of their families. Kids don't like to sit still and listen to each other for three hours. They get antsy. I had already informed my class we were going to win the "fast and efficient competition." I lined them up alphabetically and had them taking the stage just as the person before them was finishing. We wound around and into the lobby. Perfection. Even the naughty demon was into behaving when I used the word "win."

So as we stood in the lobby watching the eighth graders clearly lose, I noticed a big person picking on my hopelessly nerdy home-schooled student. The oaf was trying to force him to eat leaves or some other mean thing and my student was curling into a ball, trying to implode. Furiously, I moved forward to intervene...but was headed off by the demon.

She stepped in between them, grabbed the leaves from the bigger kid and told him to eat them his own damn self. Then she told the oaf, in a string of eloquant and colorful words, to leave her friends alone and get the hell out of there. She put her arm around the home-schooled student and led him back into line. "Don't you worry about him," she said, ushering him along so as not to slow the pace.

I pulled her aside and thanked her profusely for standing up for her classmates. I am so filled with joy that at the end of the class I am able to like her enormously. I am not left with the horrible images of her disrupting class again and again. I found myself posing with her for a photograph, thanking her mother for the pleasure of her company, and saw my mouth forming the words "I hope I see you next summer."

It's so interesting to me how differently I feel about her now that I see her true loyalties. I think I really do hope I see her next summer now that I see how hard she will work defending our team. If only someone had been mean to that kid earlier in the class I wouldn't have had to eat so much fruit trying to figure her out.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

More Secrets

My neighbors fight a lot. I would say Corey and I do, too, since we seem to be always raising our voices at one another. But I am rarely actually angry when I do this. I've just grown up in a household where people can't seem to hear one another unless they are yelling and their faces are red. I like to call what Corey and I do talking loudly.

My neighbors fight. And I listen. Whenever I hear them getting wound up, I turn off all the lights in my apartment and sit in the green armchair in my office by the open window. To the innocent houseguest, this chair is positioned so as to catch the evening sun as I curl in the wingback chair with a good book.

Total cover.

I have it angled so I can prop my head on the window frame and comfortably rest my ear against the screen to hear them yelling. I sit in the dark and close my eyes and concentrate on the best reality series around.

Normally, they argue from either the living room or the back bedroom. I hear the loud sounds, but the words come across in random snatches. "Lazy! Hate! Hawaii!"

Tonight, they fought in the kitchen. Right by my office window. I heard everything. I sat with my fingers in my teeth listening, occasionally pattering down the hall to the air conditioned fainting couch to report to Corey. A few minutes ago, she caught him reading Playboy during their argument. Which led to an angry discussion of how he can afford smut rags when she covers his rent. I ran to the bedroom so fast Corey said he thought I was being chased by a bear. "She's a sugar momma!" I said, and dashed back so I wouldn't miss anything.

I justify this eavesdropping by considering myself a writer. I tell myself I'm comparing their arguments to ours, like a healthy-relationship-meter. We pretty much win because I've never threatened in earnest to smash a crock pot on Corey's head. Or told him I was changing the locks and putting his boxes of $5 Marshalls shirts on the sidewalk outside. I tell myself I worry for her safety in such a volatile environment.

Really, I worry they can see the glow of my laptop as I record their every word--knowing with my selfish heart that my dusty apartment with the kitchen filth and rotting peaches on the table and bike chamois on the floor? That's the greener pasture.

Secret Summer Behavior

Today was the last day in the classroom with my seventh grade summer writers. They've been really awesome, but I have one kid that is so damn naughty and distracting that I find myself exhausted just trying to keep control over the room. Near the end of class today, the demon interrupted another student who was reading her yell at me for delaying snack to allow this student time to share. Internally, I seethed. The blood left my body. I shivered with rage. Externally, I gripped the podium and had a discussion about respect.

I was so relieved to see 21 other students rolling their eyes at me. They knew. They know the demon child has no control over her behavior and ruins our blissful bubble of creative expression. They are on my side. The demon glared, but I have learned that when she's mad at me for disrupting her disruptions, she is quiet. I'll take it.

So after class each day, to rejuvenate, I like to sit on a bench and eat large quantities of messy, organic fruit with my fingers and with no napkins. My produce delivery provided juicy, juicy blueberries this week. After the demon's mother took her away, I plopped on a bench on fifth avenue and let the purple nectar stain my shirt, fingers, face. Bliss!

These berries are so plump and delicious. When I'm eating this fruit, there are no students or fellow grad students walking by. There is no trafic. My football guys aren't waving madly to get my attention from the shuttle. I just close my eyes and savor the fruit. I think of nothing but the berries. (I even block out the humidity) Then, I pack myself up, messy face and all, and walk off to my other job. Dr. N. pretends not to notice the juice stains on my shirt and life is good.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Today, I rowed with the big boat. After the captain's meeting, we discovered the tech nerds boat needed a rower. The tech nerds have been rowing together since January. I've seen them on the river. They can turn around! They can row backwards! They are very advanced. The head coach looked around at the ranks of novices, in search of a good enough rower to not tip their boat. "Take that girl, with the camelpak."


I left the whiny nurses behind and skipped to the dock, with my new nerdy team of pleasant people who don't talk except to repeat the coxswain's calls. We pushed off from the dock and rowed, all eight of us, in unison. It was terrifying and fabulous at the same time. "Cup the sparrow, cup the sparrow," I repeated in an effort not to death grip my oar. I glided along behind Bob. I dipped my blade into the river. I finished my stroke. I rowed.

I looked over my shoulder after awhile and saw the ninth street bridge approaching. I was so excited to be rowing in unison with my nerdy friends, I hadn't noticed when we hit the "open water" of the river. Booze cruisers swished passed us. The Gateway Clipper drenched us with an enormous wave of brown water, but we didn't care or notice.

After my long and tedious hours in the factory, I thought that repetitive motions such as rowing would take me back to that miserable place where my brain shut down. But I am surprisingly mesmerized by the rhythm of the oar. I don't even get motion sickness. I just row.

As I glided along riverbank watching the fisherpersons cheer for our boat, I knew why people fall in love with this challenge. I have never been so thankful to have a distinctive accoutrement. My lucky camelpak has earned me a seat in the good boat.

Monday, July 17, 2006


I think I'm a big baby. I've already been chastised for wimpiness by a Texan because I cannot function in this heat. I'm sure it's not worse here in Pittsburgh than it was in NYC. Yet I cannot move. Or clean. Or certainly cook.

Yesterday, we left the bedroom air conditioner on all day so I could retreat in there to my fainting couch while Corey brought me Miller Light. (Did I really write several weeks ago that I loathe air conditioning? This must have been before humidity moistened my life) I woke up really early, too, because I had to catch up with the filth that has taken over the apartment while I'm teaching summer school. Every half hour of scrubbing required an outfit change and at least 2 hours of recovery lounging. I wanted to take the Magic Eraser to my skin and scrub off the clammy flesh clinging to my overheated body.

By the time Deadwood came on at 9pm, I had drunk my way far beyond any ability to work on my writing projects and was somehow hotter than I was before Miller time.

I sluggishly relocated to a fainting couch in the living room and propped lunch box freezer packs all over my body and moaned at God's cruelty in creating humidity. And then I looked at Leon and Alma and my other Deadwood friends. I remembered the stifling heat of South Dakota and how we abandoned our campsite in the desert, unable to deal with it. But really I was unable to deal with it and demanded we move on to Wyoming.

I see a pattern forming. On the very first entry of this blog, Corey describes me having heat stroke on move-in day. Am I using the heat as an excuse to avoid work? Am I allowing myself to seem ill so others will toil while I lounge? Or, more probable on this 93 degree day with 43% humidity, are humans just not meant to operate under such conditions and I'm the only one smart enough to figure it out?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Rugby Love

Yesterday I played rugby for the first time since May. In eight years, I have not gone that long without playing. Life feels strange and disorganized without my weekly practices and my Saturdays, now filled with trips home and other chores, still feel empty. So I was extremely excited to wake up at 5 in the morning, pack my bags and coolers, and head off to Ohio to play in the 7s tournament.

While cheering for the men's team yesterday, I noticed one of their players walked a little funny. I didn't recognize him and couldn't understand why he dragged his leg when he sprinted down the field. This guy was amazing; he was fast, had field vision, tackled fiercely, and was easily the best player on the field. But why the silly leaping?

"Hey Gabe, who is that dude in the red socks?"

"That's Timmy. He lives here but plays for us each year in this tournament."

"Why is he leaping?"

"He only has one foot."

I had to talk to this person. The minute the match was over, I hunted him down, gave him cold water, and asked him to tell me about his foot. He had an accident years ago and has no toes on his right foot. He also cannot bend his ankle and so has to drag the foot along when he runs. He wears a big, red, rubber shoe over the stub to protect it while he plays rugby. He then tried to show me where they dug out some of his hip in a failed attempt to make an ankle.

Timmy could easily get a prosthesis, he says, but because of the great care you have to take with such mechanical wonders, he could never play rugby again. He keeps the stump because, somehow, he has learned to play on. He waved his hand, gesturing at the sea of ruggers at the tournament. As we were speaking, someone's errant kick landed on his lap. He shook the rugby ball at me and said "I could NEVER give this up."

It felt really good to be home.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Once upon a time in a factory in central PA, a young girl works on an assembly line in the summers to pay for college. On her first day, a delightful Puerto Rican woman named Evie shakes a cardboard receptacle at her. "What you call this, honey?" Evie asks.

"" the girl replies.

"Wrong! The only box in this factory is the one between your legs. That's a shipper."

And so, equipped with the appropriate vocabulary, the young girl learns to build, stuff, and stack shippers. Quickly. She grows spry and confident, moving 15 shippers per minute on a good day.

But the girl is not happy. She looks at her shredded hands, cracked and dry from the cardboard and frowns as her untaxed brain screams for stimulation. The girl vows to continue her education, to work instead for an institution of higher learning where she would never have to use her factory vocabulary. She longs for the day she can put that skill set away forever.

Several years later, the girl is a graduate student. Her funding comes through a research position for an academic journal on campus. As the journal gains international circulation, the department decides the office is worthy of new furniture and carpet. Pronto. Someone must box and stack and move the contents of the office, disassembled containers and palates to be provided. That someone must be young and strong and not presenting a paper at a conference in Japan. Everyone looks to the girl, who silently nods.

The girl sighs over her new task, rolls up her sleeves, and allows her body to assume rhythms it would rather forget. She imagines herself back in the hairnet, can almost feel the polyester uniform as she folds, stuffs, and stacks. Folds, stuffs, and stacks.

Her boss enters the office an hour later and joyfully exclaims "Oh! You're almost done!!! How did you pack those boxes so fast?"

"Dr. Newman," the girl responds, "precision, please. These are not boxes. They are shippers."

Monday, July 10, 2006

Hobo Packs

I've discovered a new favorite camping meal this summer: hobo packs. I've been spending a lot of time perfecting the little foil pouches, filling them with fantastic things and fresh herbs and whatever I can find in the house. Sometimes blue cheese gets in there. The best thing about them is that even though I am doing tons of work preparing them at home before we leave, by the time we set up camp and build the fire and throw 'em in there, it feels like they were effortless. To clean up? Just wad that foil and throw it in the recycling bag.

As I sat munching my oregano/sage/olive oil chicken with potatoes and squash this weekend, I began wondering what vegans eat while camping. You can't really (probably?) put tofu in a hobo pack. I can't imagine rice would do well in there and vegetables alone are not enough protein to satiate a vegan through the night. So how do they camp? What do they eat on the trail when backpacking? I need to know!

When I finished my thoughts and fabulous packet, I also decided I will dive into dessert hobo packs as my next experiment. Mountain pies, I am so over you. Hobo packs are the new cool thing. Imagine if I put raw cookie dough or cake batter in there? Or fruit with brown sugar and oatmeal? Oh man, the weekend needs to hurry up and arrive so I can go camping again. Is it cheating to make hobo packs in the oven?

Saturday, July 08, 2006


I can't stand wearing pants (trousers, if you will). This is not to say I prefer skirts or shorts. What I mean is that I can't abide wearing garments on my lower half. I just don't like it. Since I've been very small, I've been scrunching up my leggings and removing my jeans the minute I walk in the door from school. Nothing is comfortable!

I can remember exactly two pants/shorts I have felt perfectly comfortable wearing. The first was a pair of navy blue, size 32 O'Neill's rugby shorts. I wore them everywhere, much to my mother's chagrin. I am always shocked to see how unflattering they were when I look at photographs because I loved those shorts. By the time they died they were a light purple and had lost all their dye. They met their demise when Big Hippopotamus Maggie ripped them in a game of touch rugby in 2003. I will never forgive her for being overzealous. By that time, they were so far beyond sewing repair I had to let them go. To my knowledge, the only US distributor of O'Neill's shorts sold me the last three pairs he chose to carry. But now I'm up to size 34 and they aren't the same...

The other was a pair of Old Navy khaki pants. They actually were flattering and I wore them almost every day for a few years. Then I lived in Europe for awhile and literally wore them every single day for six months. By the time I got on the final train to Heathrow, I could read through the tissue-thin, threadbare pants with tattered ankles. I sadly handed them over to the trash can.

I don't know quite what I can do about this. I bought some cute skirts this summer and they are okay, but they still can't beat sitting around in a Penn State shirt that reaches my knees. Maybe I need some more dresses? With empire waists? If only O'Neill's were not located in Ireland I would stock an entire wardrobe with their deep pocketed, front-tying goodness. Clearly the solution is for me to move to Ireland.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Full of Hate?

Am I a hateful being? Am I so brimming with vile negativity that I can't function as a joyous person? As I write this, Dr. N is in the background asking me how to click save and whether she needs to double click the icon. I am actually even sick of complaining about her inability to use a computer! I have never been sick of complaining about anything. Which makes me wonder if I am just full of hate.

It's really fabulous outside today. No humidity. It's one of the coveted 60 days of cloudless skies in Pittsburgh. I have organic zucchini to munch on. Corey cleaned the kitchen last night. How could a girl be unhappy?

And yet I sit here brimming with rage that the University pays me to work the computer for this lady. A high school kid would do this for minimum wage. Corey has said that technology is meant to make people more efficient and that if she can't get past double clicking, she should perhaps not try to use the technology. He's right. She is certainly not efficient using the technology. But why does it bother me so much?

I've gotten to a point where I don't even stop what I'm doing when she requests things because the requests are so horrifying. Save this to the desk top. How do I print more than one copy? What do you mean PowerPoint is a program? Why can't I open my email through PowerPoint?

Perhaps what's really going on here is that I have lost hope for the future of the world. I spend 5 hours with a PhD who has won international awards for her work who can't operate a computer and then move on to tutor football players who can't write. Do I seek out these jobs because I am full of hate and they allow my misery to fester? Am I attracted to these "fixer-upper" people like a moth to a blow torch? What if, when I become self-employed, I realize I am just as much a curmudgeon as the technophobes I have hated working for to date?

I need a chocolate sundae STAT.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mmmmmm Potatoes

I forget how much I love potatoes. Right now, I am eating potato salad out of a Ziploc bag with my fingers. I told myself I had to wait until 11am to dig in, but I just couldn't. My cubicle neighbor says it's ok and she won't think less of me. I just hope I'm not starving at 5pm...

Anyway, eating this delicious potato salad made by my friend Elaine in the style of her mother, Mary Gayle, reminds me that I love potatoes too much to give them up in my life. Corey does not eat potatoes. Rather than cook two meals each night or make other accommodations or have him in my way cooking pasta while I'm trying to fry things, I've just eliminated potatoes from my life. Why?????? How could I do this??? How could I forget about my starchy friends and their fabulous texture. Elaine's potatoes give just enough resistance as I bite through the tangy, creamy sauce. They fill me with joy. I have been living on a constant rotating diet of pasta, rice, pasta, rice, pasta, rice, cous-cous, rice. I am through!

From now on, I will cook potatoes. My unborn children cannot grow up in a house without potatoes! They just can't. Corey will have to wait until I am done cooking the entire meal and then make himself another starch on the nights I cook potatoes. Just think what I've been missing: mashed potatoes with gravy. Potato salad. Roasted potatoes with lemon juice and olive oil. Scalloped potatoes. Baked potatoes with everything imaginable. Hash browns. I'm starting to sweat as I list these foods. I feel like I've been lost in a twisting tunnel and Elaine's potatoes have been sprinkled on the ground to guide me into the light.

With this, the last bite of Mary Gayle's potato salad, I swear to never forget my tuber friends again. I will sing their praises wherever I go and eat their flesh forever.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Cabin Turns 30

Thirty years ago, my dad and his brother and friends bought a few acres of land in Tioga county and erected a creosote soaked huntin' camp. This cabin is where my family goes to gather and imbibe. Since I can remember, we have packed up the car and headed "upstate" whenever the weather was fine. Some years it was just my immediate family, other years the entire extended crew of 30+ people spewed onto the property in bonfire, chicken pit, hill-rolling, hair pulling glory. This weekend, the big family went again to celebrate the anniversary.

16 people spanning three generations crammed into the two rooms (although Corey and I pitched a tent outside to avoid the cigarette smoke...) and I remembered that I was born into the correct family after all. Corey's family may appreciate my need to constantly read, but my family knows what it means to just kick back and be our judgmental, whiney, imperfect and fiercely loyal selves. It was so good to be home again.

Yesterday, we burped our way through three meals consisting entirely of fried foods before heading around the canyon to participate in our favorite activity: hillbilly watching in Potter County (God's Country). My parents staked out a good bench by the line-dancing gazebo while the rest of us gathered funnel cakes and kettle corn. And then we watched.

Full bellies hung over our powdered-sugar-covered legs, beef jerky and candy wrappers scattered about, the children whipped one another with glow sticks, and we sighed with contentment after photographing mullet families with rat-tail kids. The men folk argued and grumbled over who had the best parking spot for a fast escape. We had a heated argument over the remaining cans of Labatt. Waiting for the fireworks to start, I just know the same thought ran through all our heads. "Those people will never be as cool as us."