Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Tips for Commuters: A Public Service Announcement

Get ready. 

Hey there. Welcome to my own personal hell: a commute in New York City.  The subways are teeming with sweaty, angry people who clip their nails and fall asleep on you, and it will take you about an hour to go 8 miles so yes, even if you are slow, you could probably jog there faster. You ready? I’ve compiled some tips to make your journey under the filthy streets of New York City a little more tolerable.  Every bit of it comes from my own experience, so enjoy my hard earned wisdom. This is about the extent of it. 

Stand Your Ground
First thing you’re gonna want to do is find your standing spot--the place on the platform that will give you prime access to the door when it opens upon the train’s arrival. Ideally, it is in the car that will leave you closest to the place you want to be when you arrive. It’s going to take a few days to figure it out exactly—don’t despair.  For me, it’s two floor squares past the poll that has the smiley face graffiti on it. (Irony.) The door opens right in front of me, and when I get off at Union Square, I am directly in front of the staircase that takes me closest to the 4/5 train—my next destination. 

Failing to find an optimum spot on the platform could lead to being boxed out of the train when it gets too crowded, or leave you lining up like cattle to get up a staircase when you get where you’re going. This could add hours onto your commute.

Avoid the Pregnant Ladies and Old People
If you’re standing on the platform with a pregnant woman, back away. Once you get on that train, if a seat does come up, you’re going to have to give it to her as you will be the only decent human on the train car who does so. If there are no seats and no one offers her a seat, you’re going to be infuriated, start yelling and saying things about CHIVALRY and NO ONE HAVING MANNERS, and generally becoming a screaming lunatic while 300 people in a car pretend they can’t hear you. Same goes with old people and people with disabilities. Homeless guys, however, generally get a whole bench to themselves. (Hashtag Benefits). 

Stand Aside
Let. Them. Off. The. Train. First. Why is that so hard? 

Have My Back
If you’re wearing a backpack, take it off and hold it in front of you. No one likes an asshole.

Profiling: It’s Not Just for Racist Cops Anymore
When I get on the N train after a long day of sitting on my ass, I really need to sit on my ass more—but there is never, ever a seat. So, I do what I do best: I profile the other commuters. After picking me up at 14th Street, the N will stop at 8th Street/NYU and then Prince Street (SoHo—affluent shopping and celeb spotting), before Canal (Chinatown) and finally onto Brooklyn, the County of Kings, Realm of the Nail Clippers.

If there is someone sitting down who looks young and desperate to be unique, I know they’re getting up at 8th Street to head to the dorms. If they look a little bougie—if they’re wearing stylish, expensive clothes and have good highlights, there is no way they’re heading either to Canal or Brooklyn—they’ll be gone by Prince Street. Stand in front of one of these people, and you will get a seat when they get up.  No one gets up to leave at Canal—instead, thousands more people pile on the train, usually holding bags of stinky fish. Enjoy it and know you’re halfway home. Get to know your fellow commuters, and you, too, will be able to use it to your advantage. 

On the way to work, profiling won’t work. Everyone is headed to the city, so try to find a spot close enough to the door that you can get a few breaths of air when it opens.

When a Fight Starts, Move
I learned this the hard way. It seems pretty self explanatory, right? But chances are you’ll be so wrapped up in rage from being stuffed in a hot, smelly tin can with 300 other people who are all more despicable than you that you’ll forget that you should be minding your own physical health and instead you’ll want to start cracking skulls. Just like our friend Begby here. I have gotten punched and had the wind knocked out of me, just by standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

If a fight is verbal but escalating and you can’t move because of the crowd, murmuring things like “it’s okay, everyone calm down” sometimes helps, but I can’t promise anything. You could always try acting crazy--insanity usually unites the less insane members of a train car in fear/derision. Which brings me to...

Do Not Engage
I have often seen people engage with some unsavory characters on the train, thinking themselves open-minded, or like the MTA's version of Mother Theresa. Look, I appreciate the sentiment. I am a sucker for an underdog--I root for the Mets. We always want to help those who are less fortunate. However, on the subway, you've got to be careful.

I'm a bit long in the tooth, and in my days, kids, I've seen it all. I've seen young women engage in philosophical conversations with strangers on the subway, I've seen them ask a homeless person about  their hopes and dreams. I've also seen all of the following responses to such conversations:
-Unwelcome touching
-Stalking/following from subway car
-Public masturbation 
-Public defecation
-Public urination
-Screaming of obscenities
-Throwing of garbage and other objects in the direction of said Good Samaritan

It is always a bit of schadenfreude for me to see someone who starts out thinking they're better and more tolerant than me leave the train picking chewed sunflower seed shells out of her hair (true story). I feel bad, too, though. I remember when I thought I could change the world, too. (Spoiler: You can't.)

Things NOT to Say When You're Stuck in a Car with 300 Other People During Train Traffic
-"I smell smoke."
-"Remember 9/11?" 
-"I have gas."
-"Did you ever see 'Alive'?"
-"What's going ON? Does anyone know what's going ON?"

Things NOT to DO EVER on the Train
-Clip your nails
-Pick your nose/touch pole
-Eat smelly things
-Eat yogurt
-Engage in conversation with a person wearing headphones and reading a book
-Sit when a pregnant woman is standing
-Sit when an old person is standing

A few last Dos & Don'ts:

DO take care to not breathe on me.

DON'T hog the pole, even if you're desperately trying to prove your love. And for God's sake- matching sandals? Have some decency.

DON'T use those things! Are you CRAZY!?

DON'T hold your newspaper this close to someone's face unless you're asking them to beat you with it.

And lastly, DO always be nice to your train conductor. It's not his fault that the trains smell like pee pee and are always running late!

Now, go and find that standing spot and enjoy that stinky commute!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Patience is a Virtue!

I know how he feels.

I was born four days early— and it's safe to say that was the last time I ever arrived anywhere ahead of schedule. 

I am what's known as a "late" person. I am tardy to every party. A late bloomer, I was still in my awkward stage until 30. I am late to adopt trends--I was buying my first beeper well after you had your first cell phone.

Yes, I said a beeper. Just go back and read it, and stop acting incredulous. It was 1999.

I'd like to think it's charming, my devil-may-care attitude towards time... but in truth it is very annoying for other people who are not me, but are instead waiting on me. My cousin once told me "I would hate to calculate the number of hours I have waited for you in my life." It gave me some perspective-- but not enough to get me to her house on time.

It's always been this way. It's part of who I am--I am Julia, I am  fromBrooklyn, I am a writer, I am always late, and I am always sorry, but I never change.

I remember when I was a kindergardener, and how chaotic mornings were-- my parents trying to get three kids out the door and up to PS 127 and then get themselves to work on time. There I'd be,  telling my mom I was deciding which velour outfit to wear to school, then sneaking off to go back to sleep in a closet somewhere. In high school I had the option to take the city bus in the mornings, it stopped outside my house and ten minutes later it would drop me off right outside of school... if I took it. I didn't. I always opted to walk, weaving in and out of the random hidden streets near our campus, taking my time and usually skipping first period. Because what ever happens during first period?

My first real job was at Rolling Stone magazine, and I loved it. That magazine meant everything to me as a kid-- my dad got me a subscription one year after he saw me buying it with my babysitting stash, and I think I kept every issue for about ten years. I still tremendously respect their brand of long-form journalism, even though it's now long gone. (You can read my all time favorite RS article in full here, it is absolutely astounding--I read it 12 years ago and it still resonates. I know I am digressing.) I jumped in with both feet to that job. I loved the environment, loved the friends I made. I loved smoking cigarettes in the back offices, I loved sneaking into the library to read old issues, I loved it so much I learned to give tours of the office, which was filled with historic music memorabilia. I loved everything about it. But not even love could get me there for the 9:30 start time.

Even the kid who ate weed brownies at his desk was on time. If you can't beat a stoner...well, that says something. By the way, I just Googled him thinking I'd find the hilarious pic he had on his desk of him and Snoop Dog smoking a blunt, which was featured in High Times magazine, and it turns out he writes for Sons of Anarchy, so... I guess I should't have judged, as I sit here writing a blog no one reads/should read.

It didn't matter how many times I was spoken to about my tardiness, I couldn't make the change. I tried-- sincerely. I really did. I set alarms, I took cabs to subway stations where I could catch an express train. Maybe not in high school, but as an adult I truly wanted to be on time. I hated the stress of it being late. Every morning felt like this:

Yet somehow, translating my want to my actions just seems impossible. The fact is, my pillow always wins.

At my most recent job review, the only negative comment that was made was my lateness. At 37, it was feeling like it was actually affecting my career. I mean, if that's all they have to say that you need to improve, why aren't you going further? Because you're late every day, so you're beat.

What I have learned is this-- employers-- not all and not necessarily my current ones, but many--judge the chronically late the same way--or even more harshly-- they would judge someone who comes in reeking of booze, or who calls out sick on Monday mornings because of too much partying over the weekend. We lack will power. We lack ambition. We are shirking responsibility. We are a liability.

I think it's too harsh, but when it comes down to it, I've never tried to defend my lateness, or even talk about the coworkers who come in later than I do, because in my heart I know it's wrong. It doesn't matter that I get my work done-- and well. What matters is that it is wrong for me to indulge the terminal uniqueness that makes me feel like the 9am start time doesn't apply to me. It's a character defect-- says my therapist. (She's kind of a bitch.)

As someone who has completely reinvented the way I lived (taking the long way out of crazy credit card debt, 50+lb weight loss maintained, booze free, smoke free, buffalo chicken wing free) it makes me mental that I can't seem to change this. All that other stuff was much harder to address.  So WTF is the problem here? Well, I wanted to do those other things. So I've got to WANT to do this.

And so. And so I am trying.

About a month ago, I started a new routine. I've done it before, had stints where I am on time for work, but this time I am worried less about doing it for other people and more about doing it for me. I set my alarm clock for the same time every day (6:30am) and turned off the snooze function. For twenty minutes I have coffee and do my morning prayers, then at 6:55 I either start writing for a half hour or I work out. (You can blame the new routine for the resurrection of this blog.) Then I get ready for work.

So far it's working. I haven't been in past 9am in weeks. I stop for coffee on my way into work, instead of going back out for it once I am settled in, which also saves time. And I am still there with time to spare. Sometimes I even go to the fancy coffee place that takes forever because they steam my milk and like to chat. The folks in my area at work have been cheering me on when I arrive, which is nice. I've actually started liking my coworkers even more because of our little morning chats. I don't know if my bosses have noticed the change but they shouldn't have to. Like Chris Rock said, you don't deserve credit for doing something you're supposed to do.

The level of anxiety I feel every day has dropped dramatically-- I don't have to run and knock over old ladies on my way to work, I can just walk down Lexington Avenue at their painfully slow pace. I am eased into the day, like being born in a jacuzzi. Yes, that's right-- being on time is like a water birth.

I am not fool enough to say I am cured. I would say I am in lateness recovery. I am only one snooze button away from a relapse, but I am taking it a day at a time. And for now, I don't have to feel like this guy anymore.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Just Hold Your Peace, Thanks

Here’s something I have learned since I got betrothed: an engagement ring casts a spell.

The effect it had on me was magical. Suddenly I felt like a door had opened and for the first time in my life I could see a future—a future with this man. I had been so happy that morning, and in the days prior, just living in the present. And now there was a shiny, real future to be happy about. Like when Dorothy opens her door and finds Technicolor waiting outside. That moment when I was ugly-crying on the Brooklyn Bridge, snotting all over the iPhone videos shot by strangers who were capturing the event for posterity—that was John and I stepping through that door, moving towards our brightly colored future.

On my beloved, it’s been an enchantment as well. He talks about what is to come with an excited urgency in his voice. He loves to spend Saturdays looking at houses we can’t afford, he obsessively calculates my commuting time from potential neighborhoods, he talks about our family as if it’s something that we’re waiting for in the mail. He makes our future life together so tangible that it feels like we can go to and track it. It will be here any day, the house with the breakfast nook and the window seat. We’ll order the baby on expedited shipping. We will name him John, we will name her Johnathana.

Others have been spellbound as well. My girlfriends want details, have helpful suggestions, and advice that reminds me to focus on the marriage and not the wedding. I love the way my married friends can bring back their own wedding-planning experience, while still loving the moment they are in, kids clamoring to get their attention. I love the way my single friends can get wrapped up in the excitement, and make it feel so fun, making me feel the buzz of excitement--while still offering me unfailing support during what is a shockingly transitional time in my life. I look at them and wonder—when did they get so wise? Weren't we just kids?

My coworkers—well that’s a story. In the nine months following my engagement, four more women have gotten engaged. There will be three weddings three weeks in a row—mine in the middle. I work at a fashion publication, and I can pretty much guarantee this is the only trend I have ever and will ever set in the workplace.

Even my brothers are acting like I am a grown up. It’s unnerving.
"Does she look older to you?"

Yet those aren’t the only spells that have been floating around since John Moses put a ring on it. There have been some ugly spells, too. Like the kind that turned the Beast into the Beast. The kind that Mrs. Shrek got before she met Shrek. Sorry, I don’t really remember their names, and I am too lazy to Google.

It's Fiona, you shithead.

You’d be shocked—no, let me say it this way—you’d be fucking shocked at what people think is acceptable to say to a bride-to-be. Oh don’t worry, pregnant gals, I know you get it, too. And to be fair, maybe my groom gets it, too—but he has an amazing ability to brush it off, while I take it all to heart.

Take, for example, those who dole out so much passive aggression that you want to remind them that it’s supposed to be passive. Those who call your ring “cute” or exclaim “Finally!” and then go in for a hug, acting so relieved that you are not ending up the spinster/slut-living-in-sin that they’ve been saying you would be/are.

Then there are the “helpful” types. The first woman who helped me into a bridal gown, a gorgeous, Vera Wang duchess satin a-line creation, smiled at me in the mirror and said, “You look like a bride!” only a moment before she raised a boney finger and poked at my back, declaring, “Now I assume you’re going to LOSE. THIS. WEIGHT.”

In fairness, if Skeletor had poked my belly, I would have nodded and said simply “Yes, maam.” But my back? Almost every massage therapist who has ever touched between my shoulder blades has declared them "skin and bones" and remarked that I need to build up my musculature there or I will shrivel up like a crone. Even my self-esteem wasn’t low enough to believe her.
"We will not have fat brides!"

Other helpful types: The acquaintances who ask for details about your dress/wedding/bridal party only to explain why you’re doing it wrong, because you’re not doing it like they would.

Also in that category, the “You’ll Sees.” As in, “Oh, you still go on dates? You’ll see. You’ll see when you get married.” Or, “You still think he’s funny? Oh you’ll see.” Sweetheart, you’ll see yourself right off our guest list, and thank you very much.

My favorite wicked spell, though, the one that took me by surprise, was the one that was cast over people that I actually liked. People that, though friends, have proven unable to set aside their own bullshit and feel happy for John and I, and instead feel it necessary to take the wind from our sails. They make bitter comments, poorly disguised as jokes.  Don’t get me wrong—I spent most of my life in dark bars where your bitterness was a measurement of your charm. I surrounded myself with people whose brand of humor was more like Statler’s and Waldorf’s than Kermit’s. So I get it—sarcasm is my native language (you don’t say!) but at the same time, when a friend is happy, well, I honestly am happy for them. And if I can’t be because my own bullshit is in the way, well then I fucking pretend.

Even these guys can pretend.

The jokes about my fiancĂ© needing health insurance and/or citizenship and the remarks that I must have demanded a ring/am just like any other woman obsessed with getting married started the moment we changed our Facebook status to “engaged.”  It should be noted that none of that is true-- John's a citizen, we believe garlic and naps cure anything and therefore insurance is superfluous, and I honestly used to get the sweats when people talked to me about marriage, convinced it wasn't for me. So it's not that I worry they've hit some truth. The thing that upsets me—is…can’t you do better? I mean seriously. If you’re going to be an asshole about us getting married, I would respect you more if you didn’t go for the low-hanging fruit. The clichĂ©s.

What I am saying is, don't be a hack about it. 

What’s most offensive to me is not that I have aligned myself with such bitter people over the years--the bitter are my brethren-- but rather that I have aligned myself with such unoriginal bitter people.

If you can't wish us well, then be funny. If you can't be funny, be quiet.  You don't have to speak now. You can forever hold your peace. Trust me--we will all be fine without your input.

I could conclude by telling you how I’ve decided to ignore the negative and focus on the positive. I could say that I am learning from these people the value of believing in myself and the power of my convictions—but if you know me, you know that’s not in my nature. So I will tell you the truth: these assholes sure are making it easy to cut down that guest list.

184 days, people, 'til the real fun begins. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Just a Gerbil in a Wheel

It's been a while since I posted, and I wish it was because I didn't have anything to say. It's not true at all-- in fact, I've been dying to blog, to tell you all about my weight-related dementia. I have so many disturbing stories to share! However, the sad fact is, I simply forgot the password to this blog. And, since I created it by creating a new email-- the password to which I ALSO forgot-- I was stuck in a sort of circle-jerk of access impotence. If you get what I mean.

So it's been a while since I posted last, and since then a few things have changed:

  1. I got engaged! The future Mr. Moses and I will be married this coming October 12, 2013. I couldn't be happier. You can read all about his sneaky and amazing proposal here. As you can probably imagine, my impending nuptials have unleashed the hounds of mental distress with regard to all things weight-and-fitness related. 
  2. I got a new job! I've been here almost two years so, yeah, it's been a while since I wrote. 
  3. I am sure there are other changes, but those are the big ones. 
Here's what hasn't changed: 
  1. My weight.
Not one pound. No matter how many calories I meticulously count, Points I journal, sit ups I do-- it hasn't budged. Not. One. Pound. In more than two years. 

I've been to doctors who just tell me to keep doing what I am doing, I've been tested and discovered that my metabolism is slow, and I've been to a nutritionist who actually told me to try to eat only 1,000 calories, and even I am not crazy enough to follow THAT advice. 

So, here I am. Still working at it, still trying, still frustrated. 

Today I sat down with my Weight Watchers leader to talk about their new 360 program. It was introduced in January, but I am a creature of habit, and I have been doing the old program. Like, the 5 year old program. The one I lost all my weight on. The whole approach is more balanced, even more focused on nutrition than it used to be-- and honestly won't change the way I eat that much, except that I am being told to eat more. I won't lie- that scares me. 

So in a way it's sort of a new beginning, and I am glad that I was finally able to crack the password code to get on here. I have a lot to share-- there's a lot to say when you're a bride-to-be and your weight becomes a Socially Acceptable Dinner Table Conversation, and I am anxious to start writing about that. No one reads this blog, but at least I can have a laugh, even if it's at myself. 

Of course, this blog isn't only about weight-- it's about how I see the world. Does that mean I need to change the name? Oy. I should have never come back!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Don't you know this girl?

If you want to read my words of wisdom on Weight Watchers--you need more help than you realize. But you can find it here.  Yours truly appeared in the September/October issue of Weight Watchers magazine, wearing a dress I truly hated. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Stick It

It occurred to me last week, as I was lying on a massage table in Chinatown with no less than 30 needles stuck in my abdomen and feet, that I am a searcher. I am always looking for some kind of self improvement. And, in that special way of mine, I've become addicted to it.

I haven't always been like  that. I spent most of my teens trying to be someone else and my twenties were spent searching for nothing but a snack and a drink and, when motivation stuck me, a boyfriend. But somewhere before I hit 30, suddenly I realized I wasn't at all who I wanted to be, and I started to search for myself. And suddenly I find that I can't stop.

This time, I am searching for relief. For the last four years, I've had bad anxiety. I always had anxiety, but I hit some kind of crossroads wherein the end of my drinking (which had always numbed my fears with a blurry haze of hilarity and horror) combined with  one traumatic experience (bed bugs-- truly awful) followed by another (the death of my beloved friend Maggie) just brought me to some sort of breaking point. I broke down under the weight of it.

You're such a pinhead.
So, barely able to function, I went on meds. I regret it. I am sure not everyone does, but I was too out of touch with my health to recognize the side effects as they built up-- the nightsweats, the weight gain, the other things I won't get into. I wasn't educated about my health, and I just think that you are your own advocate for health-- so do the research. If you take the meds, take them-- but do the research first.

Let's be honest though- what bugged me most was the weight gain. 20 stubborn pounds that, nine months after coming off the meds, won't come off, no matter how I diet, exercise and yes, even starve myself (in one misguided exercise of futility).

So here I am, in Chinatown. Pledging to drink herbal tea (that tastes like poo) every night, with the promise that the blockages will be removed and I will, in fact, find the calm I am searching for. I might even lose the weight, my herbalist said, as my endocrine system gets righted. For that, lady, you can stick whatever you like wherever you like.

And here I go, continuing to search. I never could have predicted the way my life has turned out, so who knows-- you never know what I might find.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Delectable Horror

Here it is, the place where my two inner selves do battle. The Germaphobe vs. the Chubby Kid. The squeamish fighting the indulgent.

Ground zero: the streets of New York City.

The Battle Royale: Donahue vs. Street Meat. 

I have a weakness for New York's various forms of cart food. I walk past the Halal meat guy every night after work, his twinkling lights mesmerizing me as he calls out like an old carnival barker: "Kabob! Kabob! Schwarma!" I watch as tourists in Times Square indulge in dirty water dogs, their indigestion a souvenir they subject themselves to for the "experience." Further on, the guy at the baked potato cart piles pillows of sour cream and mounds of bacon-- street bacon--onto my favorite type of carb. Is there anything better?

"I'm like a salad bar on steroids."
 I can usually avoid the pitfalls of these temptations by reminding myself of how germy they must be. I strut past the schwarma guy and think of E-coli, I avoid street bacon by reminding myself it's probably got bird crap somewhere in it. When I really want to be grossed out,  I look at the sniffling humanoids picking at the glistening buffalo wings at the local deli buffet. No sneeze guard known to man can protect against the horror of a Times Square lunch hour.

Fuck the Man. Give us your money.
That's all changing now, as more and more haute cuisine carts pop up in New York. I noticed it about four years ago, when I stumbled upon a Mud Truck on St.Mark's place, parked outside of Starbucks. I generally dislike Starbucks because I find it infuriating that they charge so much for coffee, so I headed towards the Mud Truck. The coffee, I should say, was delicious. The Mud Truck describes itself as "anti-establishment coffee," so I was shocked by the sticker price. But still-- it was good, and not Starbucks. Somehow getting ripped off by an independent vendor was more appealing.

Gourmet ice cream, because in SoHo regular ice cream isn't good enough.
Since then, new trucks are seemingly on every street. Forget Sal, the vendor from my where I grew up in Brooklyn, who was rumored to sell you pot if you asked for a pretzel with no salt (I was always to fixated on a Chocolate Eclair ice cream to try him). Now dessert trucks run by famed pastry chefs drive around the city, gourmet ice cream vendors are everywhere, and even tapas trucks roam the streets. They're basically restaurants on wheels. They're chic and cost effective-- they're a culinary craze.

And worse... they're clean. They're retro on the outside and spotless on the inside, breaking down my usual resistance. Suddenly I am defenseless. I walk by and eye them, while the vendors inside call to me, offering me a sample or a free soda with whatever I buy. The mean streets have become a very unsafe place for me.

I am kind of at a loss for how to deal with this development. So for now, I am relying on word association:
Street food= food truck= eating at food truck= body like Martha Dumptruck. 

Sorry, Martha, I feel your pain but I want to be a Heather!
I'll let you know how it goes.