Saturday, February 27, 2010

Coke Bust

As mail continues to pour in from various lawyers about our impending home foreclosure, and now that I've been legally advised to be on the look out for my house going up for Sheriff's sale (at which point we can legally stop paying rent), and with rent-day approaching, Dave thought it wise to do a little research on our house.

He searched the Sheriff's page for our house and came up with nothing. Then he googled our address, and all at once, a lot of questions surrounding this place were answered. He called me at work to tell me.

"Guess what happened in our house a few years ago?"

My stomach flopped. I was sure he was going to tell me someone was murdered here. The house has a creepy vibe which the possibly satanic scrawlings on the walls in the basement don't do much to ease.

"Our landlord was busted selling $4,000 of coke and methamphetamine to a police informant."

Ohhhhh, that's much nicer! And it certainly does explain this house being vacant for a few years (the landlord was in prison), the random undesirable people stopping by in the middle of the night searching for him (sometimes cordially, sometimes not. "You hiding him? He in there??!?!"), the water bill getting racked up to almost $500 (and left unpaid), the gas getting cut off from lack of payment (which lead to us having to put down a deposit), the landlord's wild mood swings (he's on coke!), and the creepy, possibly satanic scrawlings in the basement (drugs lead you to do and think strange things- I once became convinced that a plastic bag was my child when I was on acid.)

So our house, in addition to being his lavish second house (thanks for the jacuzzi tub dude!) where we're pretty sure he brought people to bone down, was also where he ran his large-scale drug operation.

What strikes me as the funniest part of this is that the tenants who succeeded him were 3 straight edge kids. I mean, what are the odds?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Brand X

Remember wayyy back when internet communication was all AIM and personal webpages? Back in those days, I was "vegancorex" (still use the screen name, I've had it longer than just about anything else in my life. Weird...) and had a slick angelfire website which I can no longer access (delete! delete! delete!) because I lost the password. I created it when I was about 16 and tapered off maintaining it by the time I turned 18. Last night I stumbled across the page (oy vey...) and found the joke section. Here are some highlights... get ready to groan.

How come you never see straight edge kids on commercials?

Because they always choose brand X!

How many members of Earth Crisis does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

None. They destroy the machines and use candles.

How many straight edge kids does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

None. They can already see clearly.

Why do anarchists drink herbal tea?

Because PROPERTY (proper tea) is theft!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Soviet seconds

"Hello thar. What ahre you selling? Lang-u-age learningk softwaar? Ok. Do you have Russian? Yea? Do you speak Russian? Yes, I speak. I am from south Of Russia. Place called "Georgia." You learningk to speak Polish? I can teach you many, many bad words in Polish. Do you half int-er-net? No? Oh. Too bad. I vant to show. If you are to search me many, many pages will come up, you can read my crim-in-al reckord and see many, many photos of my Russian prison tattoos. I was in Russian prison for years. I have many tattoos, all ovar my bod-hey. I can show. No? Do you have boyfriend? Oh. Do you want seckont boyfriend? I could be be. No? Ok byebye."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Skarpetki reign

There are certain words in Polish that I absolutely love to say. The first word I became infatuated with was "kanapki" (sandwich) and took any opportunity that presented itself to use it.

"Dave... what do you wanna do for dinner tonight? Maybe want to have some KANAPKIS?"

"Uh, sure..."

"No, I want waffles. I just needed to say kanapki. K-A-N-A-P-K-I. Kanapki. Do you want to say it? Kanapki!"

But I've long since moved on from kanapkis. (I'm now over half-way through level 1 in Polish. Kanapki was so last week.)

Of course I'm always trying to use my new-found language skills. For example, I've been trying to engage Pippi in conversation. I ask her what her name is (in Polish), then answer for her (in Polish) "My name is Pippi. I live in the United States. I am a grey cat. I am small. Ella, my sister, is big." She stares at me, interested and with what I think is a glimmer of understanding in her eyes, but she never really jumps in. Perhaps she speaks Ukrainian. Anyway. Using my new language is fun and all, but what I really love is that catchy Polish vocab.

Kanapki's reign ended when I stumbled upon my new favorite word. When I learned it I laughed out loud. I said it at least 25 times in a row. I looked around my kiosk to see if there was anyone I could say it to. I said it at home as many times as I could get away with. I thought it as I fell asleep. It popped back into my mind the second I awoke.

A few days ago I was in the shower, scrubbing up and reciting it to myself.

"Skarpetki. S-K-A-R-P-E-T-K-I. Skarpetki. SKARPETKI!!!"

I lathered up my hair. "Skarrrrrpetki!'

I soaped up my sponge. "Skarpetki."

I stayed in the shower until the water became cold, gazing out the window, dreaming about the future, smiling to myself, and mumbling "skarpetki" over and over. At times I attempted to roll my R's, others I went heavy on the "KI". I said it every which way. "SKARPETKI!" I got out of the shower smiling.

Skarpetki means "socks."

As I dried off I wondered if anyone out there learning English was as attracted to English socks as I am to Polish skarpetki. I felt a bit doggish. What if the tables were turned? How hard would I laugh if I were a fly on the wall watching a foreigner stand naked and soapy in their shower with a crack pot smile on their face as they chanted a heavily accented adaptation of the word "sock"?

With my towel wrapped around me I went into to my room feeling a little silly, and a little childish. I combed my hair, unpaused my "Harry Potter and The Order Of The Phoenix" audio book, and started getting dressed. Black bra, black undies, black beater, black jeans, and....

Czarny Skarpetki!!!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Unexpected Perks

So as I've mentioned before, I work for a language learning software company called Rosetta Stone. When they hired me, I was more desperate for a job than I'd ever been. This was my first winter trying to survive as a face painter on the off-season and it did not pan out. Hellooooo ramen noodles. So, after working over a month for $10 a day (face painting = commission), I hopped on Craigslist and started sending out the ol' resume. And then the the re-written resume. And then the rewritten resume with cover letters. No one even emailed me back. It was absurd! I never have trouble find a job. I'm not sure if you know this, but I quite closely resemble an Animaniac (in appearance and personality) and most employers think having a cartoon on-board is good for business.

(in midnight sun in northern Sweden)

(at Familia Sagrada in Barcelona, Spain)

I must have applied for at least 30 jobs before I got a call back. The first was a kiosk cafe in an office building. I had 2 very long interviews (yes two, for a kiosk) that ended in a phone call saying the job was between me and someone else so they flipped a coin to decide... and I lost. They actually left that in a message on my phone. A few weeks later, they emailed me asking if I wanted to come in for a third interview (THIRD!) along with another series of interview questions that I was supposed to answer, again. I wrote back asking them to clarify that they were asking me to do a third in person interview after already conducting two lengthy in person interviews on two of my days off where I met both owners and talked at length about my experience and background. And to their slew of idiotic questions ("Can you make change quickly in your head? Are you a team player?") I answered, "Yes, I promise you I have what it takes to work at a cafe... as I told you in the interviews when I answered these same questions, and as my background in working in cafes clearly shows. It's not exactly rocket science."

I did not hear back from them.

Thank god.

Then Rosetta Stone called me. And I took the job, graciously. I was very excited about the prospect of learning languages for free (despite my fear that I would totally suck at it- which it turned out I totally don't. Yay Polish!), getting paid, and eating something more than Thai peanut noodles every night. You could say that my interest in my job was very 1-sided. Educate ME, pay ME, feed ME. I hadn't expected anything more. I should learn to stop expecting.

When I first started face painting, I thought it was going to be an impersonal slap-paint-on-face-you-look-great-NEXT sort of exchange. I thought that the people at the end of my brush would just be contoured canvases plopping down in my chair, getting up, plopping down, getting up, and at the end of the week I'd make a tidy sum off them. But then I realized that it was more than that. A whole lot more.

These people, especially the children, were not just getting a random images slapped onto their cheeks. They were choosing what they wanted to be transformed into, what face they wanted to show the world, what persona they would embody for a day. Sometimes these choices were very brave- the little boy who wanted to be a pink butterfly with purple lipstick and sparkles- despite the protests of his teacher and the ridicule of the classmates. The girl who wanted to be batman- "NOT batGIRL", while her mother told anyone who would listen that "That girl ain't right. The only thing that make her cry is when I threaten to put her in a dress. She THINK she a BOY but SHE NOT!" The woman who had just spent months in the hospital who told me she thought she was going to die, but she didn't want to die without getting her face painted at least once. She became a tiger.

(Pierce, me, and Dave with our faces paint on tour)

Gender expression, self-assertion, strength... all these things came from the end of my brush. And that was only part of my job. A face painter is also there to make people feel safe, validated, to tell them that whatever face they want to show is ok. I became the authority on rights and wrongs in face painting- telling Dads that if their boys wanted glitter then they would sure-as-heck get glitter, and if they (the Dads) didn't like it then I would be sure to leave the glitter off their faces when they got them painted. I told Moms who fidgeted when their little girls wanted to be Spiderman how great it is to have raised a little girl who wants to save the world. "Beats the heck out being barbie, doesn't it?"

Face painting certainly wasn't just a series of contoured canvases, and I was certainly more than a moving paint brush. And as I've come to realize, my new job isn't just selling language learning software to anonymous passersby, and I'm more than a saleperson. I had expected to be able learning languages for free. I expected working in a temperature controlled building, having a cool boss, working alone. All great perks. But a perk I hadn't expected is the impact my enthusiasm for language and travel would have on people, and in return, what impact their inspiration would have on me.

I don't interact with normies at length very often. My own personal circle of friends is mostly grumpy old hardcore kids and society-drop out types. When I'm face painting the maximum time I chat with someone is about 3 minutes, and that's while I'm also talking to their child ('Keep your chin up for me... good job... do you want sparkles?) The longest conversation I've had as an on-duty face painter was with a woman who is a professional clown, and that was mostly just me grilling her for how she got into it, how she learned, where she performed, and her favorite balloon animals. But at Rosetta Stone, I talk to normies for up to an hour at a time. Once we get past the fact that I have tattoos and they don't (sighhhh) and establish that we're coming from different places but that's ok, we start talking language and all surrounding it. And that's where my job stops being just work.

Technically my job is sales. I demonstrate the product, I answer questions, I try to convince the person in front of me to buy. I'm pretty good at it, but the "product" really sells itself. Because, as I tell people when they protest the price, that I'm not really selling a product. ("Well technically I am, but...") Then I explain how the ability to speak another language isn't really a "product", it's a skill- a skill that can alter their entire lives. Once you understand another language, you could pack up and move to a city across the world, find a new culture that may suit you better. You could meet someone who will become your best friend, and you two will grow old together, laughing all the way to the end in _____ (pick a language, any language.) You could meet the person you'll fall in love with. You could find new words that define things you thought were undefinable, find your self sorted out more clearly, use language that conveys precisely what you have to say. ("Language frames thought.") You can do anything you want, but you can do none without first learning the language. I'm not saying this because I'm trying to sell them, I'm saying this because it is true.

If they want, I tell them about my travels. I tell them about my first time in Europe, and how it wasn't until I got to Poland that I felt like I was on another planet. The buildings still ravaged from World War 2. Stumbling into Medieval courtyards. The juxtaposition of American movie posters and ancient buildings. The foreign flavors of borscht and fried cabbage. The distinct lack of English speakers and how I knew if I got lost I would be SCREWED! How exhilarating that thought was.

(photos from my first trip to Poland:)

Once you start down a new path, others branch off of it. In my trip to Europe, I (kind of) conquered my fear of flying. During my few days in Poland, I knew that if I could be there, I could be anywhere. And everywhere. The whole world opened to me, and I knew that I'd be globe-trotting forever because of it.

Then sometimes people well up with tears. Sometimes hey tell me their secret long-abandoned dreams of wanting to travel to some far off place. How I make those desires feel "important." I tell them that's because they are important (duh.) It's funny, punk rock taught me the importance of self (DIY) education, encouraged me to follow my dreams, connected me to a network that enabled my travels- all of which I take for granted, and all of which I forget that normies don't have. So through my job as a language software sales-girl comes the spreading of punk rock ethics to normies, and just like these ideas spoke to me, they speak to them as well. Funny, isn't it? In the end, whether they buy or whether they don't, we stand on opposite sides of the counter, reaffirming the other's desires and encouraging the other to learn language, travel widely, and love passionately.

Today at work I talked to 2 people today, and only 2, and they each told me how inspired they were not just to learn a language, but to change their lives. And if they follow through and I had anything to do with it, well, that's quite a job perk. As for me? I started learning Spanish... you know... to supplement my Polish. The more paths to walk the better...

Do Widzenia!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Forever? Whatever. (anniversary post)

When someone tells me that they want to be with me "forever", I never know how to react. My gut instinct is to laugh (which I can tell you never goes over well.) See, for a person to claim that something as transient as love will last an eternity is just so over-blown and ill-thought out that it's just plain ridiculous to me. It never seems earnest. It always seems juvenile. And it's a sure-fire way to make me very, very uneasy.

See, when I was about three I would storm around the house chanting, "I'm never getting married and I'm never having babies! I'm never getting married and I'm never having babies!" (This was in rotation with, "I love kittens! I love kittens!" and "I want juice! I want juice!") So when I got older and said, "Mom, Dad, I'm never getting married and I'm never having babies." they were not in the least surprised. Babies aside (that's a discussion for another day), it's just not in my genetic make up to yearn for a contract of love (verbal or written- "forevers" or marriage licenses.) As sure as I still love kittens, it's not.

My dislike of "forever" should not be mistaken for a dislike of commitment. I'm committed to veganism, to straight edge, to punk rock. I can go ahead and pledge a personal eternity on those. What I dislike about the idea of one person committing to another "forever" is the short-sightedness on the reality that people will inevitably move in different directions, AND that the moving is both natural and good. I'm also maddened by the widely held belief that just because something doesn't last "forever" doesn't mean it's not worth-while. It is!

Life doesn't last forever but it's worthwhile. Let's compare relationships to brunch. The ratio of the work you put in for brunch verses the time it takes you to eat it is severely lopsided. Not only that, but after all the work, and all the clean up, and the short moments of home-cooked bliss, you're left with nothing. There is nothing in your kitchen but a lack of certain ingredients. The dishes are clean, no sign of meals-gone-by. You digest and expel your brunch. But was it worthwhile? Did you not enjoy every mouthful fully? Will you not go on to dine again?

I'm just being reasonable here. So when I'm told by someone that they want to be with me "forever" (after double checking that I haven't wandered into a Disney movie), this is what I say:

"How about we stay together for as long as we're happy, and when we stop being happy, we call it quits?"

What more could you want? Happiness until happiness is gone, then the ability to continue moving the direction you're going? I see no honor or romanticism in making promises you more than likely will not be able to uphold. Swearing oaths that you will preserve your feelings (or at least pretend to) even if they change. I don't get the desire for self deception. I see no point in two people trying to fit together when the shape of their lives have changed. It's the ol' square peg in the round hole. It doesn't work. But people force it in the name of tradition, cultural expectations of what "love" is, fairy tales, and blahblahblah whatever. They crave it, think it's "right", think it's "normal", and I don't. I always make a point to tell dudes there ain't no forever with me (or anyone really, I just happen to be more aware of the nature of relationships.), and they tend to get get upset. Despite that, I practice full disclosure with anyone I date. Awwwkwwward.

I'm writing this because exactly 1 year ago today I started dating my best friend. His name is Dave. We play in a few bands together, we live together, we work together. Here is how I realized that I was falling in love with him, back when he was just my best friend/roommate/band mate:

We were in Europe on tour. On the particular day that I felt the pluckings of my heart strings we were in Bologna, Italy (where the panoramic photo that heads my blog was taken.) Dave and I walked around the city together talking about our ideal future lives. As I described mine (which at the time I thought about quite frequently- a small apartment in Europe with a balcony overlooking a cobblestoned street, living with little more than my record player, records, a radio, my books, and a desk), I felt a distinct sinking feeling in my middle- almost as if I had been hollowed out. Where did my organs go? Dave listened to me rattle on about my ideal life adding every now and then, "That sounds great!", which I knew it once had but at that moment sounded worse with each detail I gave.

I asked Dave about his future life and I literally have no idea what he said back. Because it was right then that I realized in our future lives, Dave and I would no longer be as close as we were right then in Bologna, Italy. I would have my apartment and my records, but he would have something else, somewhere else, without me. Would we even hang out?! Would we talk on the phone?! Would our friendship get relegated to annual accidental late-night AIM conversations?!?!?!

My future was a lonely place that I didn't want time to lead me to anymore. But if I didn't want to be in meticulously-dreamed up dream-life, then where did I want to be?

My middle was now full of squirming knotted snakes as my the question answered itself. I wanted to be in that day wandering Bologna. Or back in the tour van shivering in my sleeping bag. In Texas, in the desert, in Antarctica. Anywhere that Dave was. Without Dave, life was 2-dimensional. No amount of peaceful solitude, no antique desk, no apartment above a flower shop, no breezy European life would ever come close to even the worst times with him.

These first feelings I thought were merely those of a very close friendship. I had felt the same about my best friend Maura in the 3rd grade. But as time went on, it became apparent that there was something more to it.

So, here we are. It's been a year. I still don't believe in "forever", but I can't imagine a tomorrow without Dave there with me. I was joking the other day that we're like the pointer of a Ouija board, gravitating toward the same things, neither of us sure who's leading the way. I imagine that's how the future will be. Maybe it'll go on "forever", though I have no way to know. I can never promise feelings, I will never take emotional oaths that bind (some call it "marriage"), but what I can do is tell the truth, and this is it:

For the foreseeable future that I can't even dream an end to, I want to be with Dave.

Maybe I'm just arguing semantics.

Forever? Whatever. Maybe I'm a believer...

(in St Petersburg, Russia)

(In Moscow, Russia)

(on a bus to Barcelona)

(at Fluff Fest, Czech Republic)

(one of the best nights of my life- St Petersburg, Russia)

(Barcelona, Spain)

(Barcelona, Spain)

(LOLs during sets...)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

snow cats

I live in a north-eastern city that is under the dillusion that it is Miami. Every winter it snows here, and every winter the city instead of say, sending out a fleet of plows, salting, and keeping public transit functioning,  it acts as if it's a freak storm (we all know Philly is usually tropical), shuts the entire city down, and sits inside watching movies. Once the snow slows, the city sends its one single plow out. ("Don't worry folks, Bob'll make his way down to your street eventually!")

So, snowed in with space heaters blowing, Dave and I took a million photos of our friends, Pippi and Ella.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

ORANGE you glad...

When Dave and I got back from tour this summer we immediately started house hunting, as we had gotten off the plane quite literally homeless. Our things were in storage on Oregon Avenue, Pippi and Ella were in Mass with Dave's parents. The only thing we had between us was Dave's luggage (the airline had lost mine in Italy.)

From the airport we took a train out to the suburbs to move into our friend Christmas' spare room temporarily while we looked for new digs in the city. House hunting in Philly has always taken me a maximum of 4 days. Always, except this time.

Dave and I looked at place after place and each was worse than the last. One was carpeted (bad enough in itself) in 3 different colors and degrees of shag, another had bedrooms so small we wouldn't have been able fit beds inside of them, and one place was windowless ("But heat's included! I'd be willing to cme down on the price!") After 2 weeks of living with Christmas (her roommate, and an indie duo from NY) and feeling really terrible about it, we miraculously found the house we live in now.

You will find I'll be writing a lot about this place because it is currently under foreclosure and we are renters, our landlord is a psychopath, and I think this house used to be where he brought people to seduce them. (I think this because they stop by occasionally late in the night.) But our house, foreclosed or not, is a fucking South Philadelphian palace. 2 bathrooms- 1 with a jacuzzi tub (that I more or less live in), a GIANT kitchen/dining room with absurd amounts of storage, a washer and dryer (in the basement, not the kitchen like my last place!), it's EVEN a  got a dish washer. The only downside we saw (other than the entire interior of the house being beige-washed) when we first checked it out, were the 14 atrocious Italian-restaurant-circa-1986 mirrors glued to the living room walls. Here is a photo I snapped during the viewing:

(the furniture is our landlord's)

Come November Dave FINALLY figured out how to remove the mirrors and the transformation of our living room began. His evening of chiseling revealed moldy, damaged walls. Ew. And ugh. But after some spackling, sanding, cleaning, and debating with the roommate about what exactly constitutes "fall orange" (since we seemed to have differing ideas on it), I painted 3 of the 4 walls. Despite being unfinished, it still looked pretty sweet...

(Dave, Pippi, Ella, and I in the living room. This photo is by Julio- check his blog with lots of cool photos HERE)

Months later, the 4th wall remained. I hadn't painted it along with the others because it's 2 stories tall, I'm short and ladderless, and it looked like SO MUCH WORK. But today I woke up with the urge to do some mindless painting. And with Dave's help, it was so much easier than I had expected. He suggested that I not paint the ENTIRE wall, but draw a line following the ceiling of the first floor and only paint below it. Since it was his idea he drew the line, then I got to painting...

Here's the wall just seconds before I painted it:

Part way through the first coat:

And finished 2 hours later!

Feeling very accomplished after that (and being totally sucked into the audio version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), I decided to take my painting up to my room. I've been wanting cacti for a little shelf in my room for weeks, maybe months, but I never have the extra money. I decided that poverty wouldn't keep me from my cacti any longer, and I made some out of an old cardboard box I found in the basement.

And now it's off to dream of spells and dragons.