Christmas Eve, All That Sparkles

I got Christmas with my family this year, for the first time in two years. Well, not the whole family, as my sister is too busy being married and entertaining her in-laws to return to the Midwest for the holidays this year, but that’s just what happens when people get married—they split holidays and feign interest in people they barely know, just as we do with our own extended families.

There are two absolutes in my family for Christmas: There will be some presents and delights, but those are balanced by awkward moments with relatives that only come around once every few years.

Still, this Christmas was important.

The weekend started with my mother in the hospital, which has been the norm for 2012. While most children would panic over their parents being in the hospital, it’s one of the few times that I actually feel relaxed: At least I know that she has around-the-clock care and access to the medicine and machines that allow her to breathe. It’s terrible, but I find that I get extra hours of sleep when she’s admitted. At least I know I won’t get any phone calls in the middle of the night that way. Well, at least I hope I won’t.

I visited upon arrival and she was in bed #33, the number of many memorable athletes like Jason Varitek, Zdeno Chara, even Nick Swisher, which put me at ease. We gossiped about my love life, nail polish, sports, and life in Chicago while sipping root beer and watching college hoops, our mutual love, in the visitor’s lounge. She sounded good, at least in spirits, as we chatted like we would over a nice dinner. I tried to ignore the fact that she was in a hospital gown and hooked up to machines. I pictured us drinking margaritas instead and it helped a lot.

After five days in the hospital, they let her leave yesterday, which is just as normal as her being admitted in the first place. Once the doctors get her medications stable she’s free to roam the world with those that don’t require 40-pills a day and a constant stream of oxygen from a machine, until she crashes again. Her lungs only work with the perfect combination of steroid medications, oxygen, and rest. As long as that Trinity is in check, she’s fine. In the absence of one, she’s a mess. An absolute mess.

When she got home, she wanted to open presents immediately. I got her a robe since she spends much of her time in pajamas these days, and I was surprised to see a small box with my name on it. Our usual Christmas tradition is just a pile of cash and a shopping spree the day after Christmas, but this year that approach wasn’t feasible—she can’t gallivant around the mall without a wheel chair or Hover-round and I’ll be in New York on vacation before the stores re-open.

I opened the box to find extravagant diamond earrings, the type of extravagance that comes with insurance papers, certification cards, disclaimers, an uncomfortably high volume of stickers, and a price tag higher than my big-city rent. I was elated and uncomfortable. It was the nicest jewelry I had received since the engagement ring I sold on Craigslist after the messiest breakup of my life, but I knew the earrings came with a hidden meaning.

These were the “I might be dying” earrings. I hate to call them that, but I know my mother and her sentimentality well enough to know that this wasn’t just earrings, but the gift that you give your daughters when you’re terrified—when you’re not sure you’ll see them next Christmas. And as much as I tried to smile and appreciate them, my mind immediately wandered to her at the jewelry counter, where she pondered what she’d like her daughters to have in her absence and she settled on timeless diamond earrings that sparkle even in dull light.

I removed the tags and shoved the studs in my ears. I piled my hair up into a loose bun on top of my head so that my lobes and neck were exposed for modeling. When she nodded in approval, I hugged her and rushed to the bathroom, slipping across the hardwood floors of the kitchen as I dashed to admire them myself.

They were not only gorgeous, but also important. They made me feel taller, prettier. They distracted from the scars on my neck that have never healed from surgeries of my own. I kept turning my head to watch them sparkle in the light. My mother intercepted me just outside of the bathroom door to tell me that she wanted to make sure we had something nice because she was so uncertain about her future. I’m not sure when she bought them, but I imagine it was probably somewhere between the most recent hospital visits and talks of being added to the lung transplant list.

We drove four hours to Ohio today. I wore the earrings with a blue polka-dot dress that reminded me of one I refused to wear when I was a child, but loved now as an adult. Lola slept on a blanket of my lap and we watched episodes of Parks and Recreation on the iPad while my folks hummed along with Christmas carols. My dad made a point to tell me that “Same Old Lang Syne” is his favorite Christmas song, just as he does every year when he hears it. I tried to sleep, but every time I did someone had something to say. It was like a sleepover where you think everyone is finally asleep, but finally someone pipes up and sparks the conversation again. It wasn’t a nuisance at all.

After we arrived, I had a list of errands to run before our holiday party started. Two errands in, I swept the bangs out of my eyes and realized one of the earrings was missing. My eyes welled with tears and I started yelling that we had to pull over so I could find it. I plunged my finger between the seat cushions, nearly lost a digit as I traced the seat’s track looking for gold. I moved the floor mats, shook out Lola’s blanket, and all that I could find was the silver earring back that was supposed to lock into place, but had clearly failed.

We checked the grass when we got back to my grandparent’s house, but the ice on the grass and salt on the driveway were just red herrings—the sun sparkled those fucking giant lumps of salt just like diamonds, but every one of them was worthless.

I searched the bathroom. I crawled on my hands and knees on the carpet, as Lola followed me around wagging her tail, thinking I was on the floor to play a game with her. My mother remained calmed, insisted she’d buy me a new set, and I choked back tears as everyone assured me that it was okay, and I assured them that everything was NOT okay. When my grandmother insisted that it must be in the car since we found the back under the seat, I snapped angrily, “IT IS NOT OUT THERE.”

I went into the bathroom and cried quietly. There were too many people in the adjacent room for my typical sobbing and I’d already created enough of a scene by snapping at my grandmother (I later apologized). I checked my sweater and my dress. I shook everything out, but came up empty. I kept thinking that I had been careless with something so sentimental and that fortunately my mother was in the other room for now, but there might come a time when she would not be there and I would have lost something she specifically gave me with explicit instructions: “Remember me, and oh, by the way, don’t lose these.

It was on the floor register in the bathroom. The prevailing theory is that the earring fell out, down the front of the blue polka-dot dress that I adore and rested along my waist, cinched tight by a royal blue belt, but who cares how it got there, because there it was there, resting on a little metal slat just inches from falling into the hot air return, to assuredly be lost forever. I grabbed the earring, threw open the door, and proclaimed sarcastically that it was a Christmas miracle. Of course to everyone, myself included, it felt like a real miracle, but it’s certainly hard for me to show emotion, especially in these types of situations.

I touched up my makeup and joined my family for our holiday with extended family. It was impromptu and didn’t last long. Everyone has families, children, in-laws, and better things to do, but for a few hours I pretended to be interested in stories from cousins proclaiming that their five-year-old is the smartest on the planet, aunts who all need surgery for their sciatica,  and my grandfather, who loves to talk about his time in the Navy.

When it was time to leave, we returned to our hotel. My mother has been asleep for hours already, exhausted by the company and the traveling. I’ve been anxiously sitting in an empty hotel lobby, sipping bourbon from a soda can, feeling the heat from the fireplace, and flipping through the channels on the communal television.

Soon, I’ll tuck myself in, readying for Christmas morning. I’ll wake up, put on a fancy dress even though we are agenda-less, and put in the diamond earrings that my mother gave me. I’ll spend the day embracing my lobes to make sure they are secure and giving some extra attention to my mother. We don’t know how many more Christmases we will have, but we’ll undoubtedly savor the ones we have.

Discovering Your Inner Zambrano

When I started this website, I wasn’t sure that anyone would read it. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted anyone to read it, but the first post went up. I assumed it would be largely ignored, but Craig Calcaterra retweeted it, long before we were friends, which resulted in a respectable number of hits for my first day. It was an ice-water bath awakening that meant no longer would my long-form writing hide in secret, but forever rest in the annals of the Internet for strangers and close friends that I’ve always tried to keep just outside of the feelings zone to read (and judge).

When I closed my laptop that first day, I didn’t set any goals. I did, however, set one rule: Be honest.

I don’t have a propensity for dishonesty, but I do omit tough truths to make things more palatable, not just in writing, but also in everyday interactions. It’s easier to tell a friend that dress doesn’t make her ass look huge and it’s the same principle that’s caused me to sign dozens of petitions to save the whales, feed the homeless, and buy library books for underprivileged children. Couching everything, pleasant or unpleasant, with enough positivity that it becomes too saccharine-sweet to deny, is an effective feeling saver. But in writing, here especially, I promised myself I wouldn’t tip-toe around topics, that I’d never gloss over my emotions, and that telling the entire story, no matter how naked it leaves me to the reader, had value. Now, that doesn’t mean sharing everything—I’ve never wanted this site to turn into a public journal of petulant missives, but I’ve also wanted to avoid the converse: Putting on airs of perfection and togetherness for the sake of producing content.

****

For three weeks now, I’ve been thinking about a game from May 2009. The Chicago Cubs were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field and I wasn’t at the game, but I was watching on television. That season I watched nearly every Chicago day game—Cubs or White Sox, it didn’t matter—from the desk in my home-office. I had a horrible angle on the television and far too many phone calls to pay close attention, but I could see the reflection of the game, its inverted image appearing in the glass on a framed Paul Westerberg poster in the living room, keeping tabs with just enough interest to know when someone got a high-leverage strikeout, hit a home run, or sang Take Me Out To The Ballgame off-key*.

*This was every Cubs day game.

Carlos Zambrano was on the mound and I was on the phone with the client I hated to call. Their business was based in Indiana and in stroke of brilliant Hoosier homage, their hold music was “Pink Houses” by John Mellencamp, a never-ending loop of empty promises of tiny salmon dwellings for you and for me. Nyjer Morgan, then a Pirate, was on third base and right-handed Big Z threw a wild pitch in the dirt. Geovany Soto got in front of the ball, but his attempt to block it deflected it off to his left, darting away from him like a rocket. Zambrano rushed home to apply the tag. I’m not sure if Morgan was safe, but home plate umpire Mark Carlson seemed to think he was.

****

If I’d written this yesterday, it would have been like watching Pulp Fiction on cable. The associates of Marsellus Wallace, Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vegas, would show up in their pressed black suits and skinny ties. Jules Winfield would still say that hamburgers were the corner stone of any nutritious breakfast, but instead of calling Brett a motherfucker, he’d call him little sucker. Also, the entire scene of Vincent and Jules walking from the elevator talking about foot massages and Mia Wallace snorting cocaine while listening to “Son of a Preacher Man” would have been missing, too, and the entire thing would have been cheapened.

Nothing in my life, or anyone else’s for that manner, has been perfect, but I was probably more sheltered from harsh realities than most. We never had a six-car garage, a Maserati, or a yacht, but we did have a country club membership, Disney vacations, and my mother had enough twenties in her wallet that if I stole one to buy albums at the Record Exchange after school she wouldn’t noticed. I traded a banal suburban existence for four-years of odd-jobs and education near the Ohio River, where instead of mooching financially and emotionally off of my parents as most college students did, I latched onto a man eighteen years my senior for support. There was fulfillment in the insulation, a protective bubble where nothing bad ever happened because money, antidepressants, and vacations from problems could solve everything, for me, but not for him.

He had an anger issue, something I never understood. I’d seen people get angry—I once witnessed an intense emotional meltdown over a missing hairbrush—but I never related with the desire to punch walls, shout profanities, and I’d never, not even for one moment, felt so out of control emotionally that I felt I could hit someone, or something.

****

Zambrano got in the umpire’s face, his histrionics igniting the crowd. For a renowned hothead like Zambrano, it was commonplace for him to feel so vehemently about a call that people were no longer surprised, but still delighted, by his behavior. Even today if you Google him, one of the top search results is “The Top Five Meltdowns of Carlos Zambrano.”

There’s no off-switch to an upset Zambrano and even before a rapidly aging Lou Pinella could waddle from the dugout to home plate, Carlos had already been ejected. Just like the wild pitch, brushing against the umpire wasn’t intentional—it was incidental contact in a passionate disagreement, but the rules dictate a suspension and Zambrano knew it from the moment his hands grazed the pecs of the man in charge.

Seeing the melee reflected off of Paul Westerberg’s crotch from my Aeron chair, I rushed into the living room just in time to see Zambrano launch the game ball deep into the outfield. I’ve always assigned a deep meaning to that gesture, some sort of reverse protest that mimicked that of bleachers dwellers throwing home run balls back onto the field—but after he threw his glove at the dugout, I figured he was probably just angry.

****

I took my mother to Denver recently to meet with a team of doctors who are regarded as the best in the world for her ailment. It’s something I’ve alluded to in passing many times now, as it’s something that’s been consuming my time, my thoughts, and energy for years. She’s never been well, but she’s also never been this ill before—it’s uncharted territory for kids who shouldn’t be forced to confront the morality of their idols, for a woman who is really still within the age-range of people allowed to have a mid-life crisis, and for the doctors that can’t figure out what’s wrong from her.

Seeing her wheel a suit-case sized oxygen concentrator with her at all times, and the fear and frustration on her face while we shuffled from CT scans to breathing tests to doctor’s offices looking for answers, was enough for me to expect a death sentence. Fortunately that moment never came, but the ambiguity of what the right treatment plan for such a rare-disease is weighing heavily on everyone.

As I drove our rented compact back to the Denver airport, I watched the Rocky Mountains disappear in the rear-view mirror, the peaks tucked in the fog. We found Delta special services, a counter specializing in checking pets, helping military-personnel, and summoning wheelchairs for those who can’t stride freeing through a crowded concourse and were told to wait in the seats by the door that were currently occupied, one by a large shipping crate containing a full-grown German Shepard, the other by its owner.

A small man the size of a peanut with the face of Mr. Miyagi greeted us with broken English, missing teeth, and a chip on his rounded, aging shoulders and he refused to budge until my mother fastened her seatbelt, which was his cue to push the wheelchair through the terminal as though his hair was on fire. When we reached the security line, he went ahead, motioning for me to join him, and tucked me into a busy line, cutting dozens of passengers. I stood awkwardly between two businessmen, hoping there wouldn’t be an incident.

I unzipped my boots, snatched three plastic bins, and started unpacking the contents of four bags—two of mine, and two for my mother. The man behind me started huffing even though the line was stalled as they scanned the space-age breathing apparatus keeping my mother’s lungs oxygenated, and I worked faster than Mark Buehrle to ready myself. Two iPads, two iPhones, two Macbooks, and a random battery from one of the many medical devices my mother almost all in their totes, before I’m rudely interrupted.

“Get back in line, what are you doing up here?” the shorter of the two businessmen yelled at me, as he tried to hover over me authoritatively, though I was a head taller than him.

“They said I could come up here, chill out.” I hate that I used the phrase chill out, too.

“That’s not how it works! Get in the back of the line!” Napoleon demanded, as he shoved the TSA-provided bins along the rollers, pinching my fingers between them, as he maliciously applied pressure.

Out of sight from my mother, who had already been granted a pass to the gate-side of the security detail, tears welled in my eyes as I yelled, “HOW ABOUT YOU TRY TRAVELING WITH YOUR DISABLED MOTHER AND THEN YOU CAN TALK TO ME ABOUT HOW TRAVELING WORKS.”

Were it not for my fear of body-cavity searches, I probably would have kept going.

****

The coaches got Zambrano back into the dugout without further incident, but even at the bottom of the steps, he wasn’t depleted of rage. He grabbed a bat from the rack and proceeded to take out his frustrations on an innocent Gatorade machine. He knocked the top off, shards of plastic flying around the dugout, as he hit it once, twice, and then a third time. He started down the tunnel to the locker room, but he thought better, returning to give his sports-drink victim one final throttle.

Zambrano was suspended for six games and fined $3,000 for the incident.

****

For weeks, there have been pockets of tension resting where my temples used to be. The veins in my forehead bulge while in traffic and in board meetings; I even clench my teeth when playing fetch with Lola, my frustrations vetted on a plush ball that has stubby ears, bulbous eyes, and a curly tail like a monkey. My life isn’t terrible, in fact in many ways it’s much better than it was a year ago, but the umbrella of worries for my family, career, and the deeply rooted fears of ruining relationships and ending up alone affect my daily interactions have made everyday tasks like commuting 70 miles without swearing and honking like an asshole, and making dinner much more difficult. It’s temporary, I’m not an angry person, but it’s a compounding effect of worrying, longing, and overachieving.

Tonight I put two raw chicken breasts on a plastic cutting board, which based on its design and complexity I believe came from a late night infomercial. The recipe required that I pound the breasts for even and expedient cooking, so I wrapped them each in parchment paper, while I searched for the meat tenderizer. I found three can openers, but no mallet in the top drawer. I found various basting brushes, hand towels, and breath mints in the second drawer, but nothing heavy, nothing bang-able. Slamming the drawers now, another side effect of anger and something I’ve never done before, I stomped to the pantry looking for something, anything, to bludgeon the chicken corpses. Armed with a can of stewed tomatoes, I returned to the counter.

I pounded lightly, evenly. Julia Child would have been satisfied, but my lungs knew what was coming before my brain did; I took a deep breath and kept going. Banging out frustration. Beating out tension. Now in a rhythm, I was on a mission to annihilate the chicken, the dented-can tearing the breasts into scraps. Yelling, stomping, a full-body trouncing and whipping on the poultry that would have knocked down a full-grown man, let alone a defenseless quarter-pound of meat.

Tears streamed down my chin and onto the parchment while I relentlessly ruined the only thing I defrosted.  The can broke open and the jagged metal sliced my knuckle and I couldn’t tell what was blood and what was the spaghetti-sauce starter. I grabbed a roll of paper towels, put my back against the cabinet, and let my slippered feet slowly slide out from underneath me, as I ended up on the floor, my head buried deep in my own arms for support and comforting.

Anger isn’t unwelcome; it’s just often misunderstood and unmanageable. It took ruining dinner and a box of Kleenex to be honest, but at least it’s no longer quiet.

Baseball Office, Baseball Offseason

I couldn’t go to work again today.

I wanted to go as I’m eager to return to a schedule that doesn’t involve fourteen hours of television, codeine cough syrup, and reading with cat naps between pages, but the relentless fever that antibiotics just won’t kill is still waging a war on me—so, I’m here again.

The doctor recommended bed-rest specifically, but I ‘ve spent the morning fielding conference calls from my home office since I couldn’t travel the 35 miles to my real one. As you’d imagine, I certainly like being at home better than staring at the slate gray walls, of which decorating is discouraged, in my real one. Add in an hour of Chicago gridlock, and I’d prefer to never leave.

When I moved back to Chicago in June, I was adamant I find a place with at least three bedrooms, one of which could be an office. I’d always wanted my own space that wasn’t a sleeping space, a TV space, a cooking space, or a bathing space. I wanted a sanctuary for writing, creating, and collaborating.

I had an appointment to view the apartment at 9 am, and was told that we’d have to rush to see the unit and they’d have to have a check in-hand at their River North office by 10 am, because another interested couple would be on the clock starting then.

After a five-minute walk through, we rushed out of the building, into the broker’s ailing Honda Accord, and I screamed turn-by-turn directions at the agent, who didn’t look old enough to even have a driver’s license.  I later learned he was an intern, which explained the shitty car, lack of direction, and no sense of urgency about filing paperwork that generates commission fees.

In the bank across from their office, I waited beyond a petite old man in a Member’s Only jacket. He brought in a jar of pennies that he wanted the teller to roll for him. Judging by the neighborhood and her patience with him, he had millions in the bank, which I assume was not always deposited in penny-form, but sometimes was.  I impatiently tapped my foot, looking from side to side. The security guard probably thought I’d planned to rob the place, which did cross my mind if it meant I could have a cashiers’ check before 10 am. That old man was oblivious, though the teller looked sympathetic. He was retired and should have could have rolled his own pennies in his free time, but he probably preferred to spend his Saturday morning running mindless errands like asking a lady that makes $10 an hour to shove currency in paper wrappers or get his suits dry cleaned, even though he hadn’t worked in twenty years.

At 10:03 am the broker called his colleague to inform him that the deposit was collected and that his clients couldn’t have the apartment. I heard an audible swear word and I’m not sure it was the broker or his client, but I like to imagine they were already standing in the kitchen admiring the granite countertops and under-mount lighting, asking which utilities were included, when they were told they couldn’t have it.

This 9′x9′ office costs me roughly $400 per month— big city prices—but as I always told my customers when I worked in sales, “You’re worth it.”

So far, it hasn’t disappointed.

It’s one of the few rooms in the apartment with taupe walls, as I hounded the management company to freshen the paint in other rooms and they chose a green that’s not quite hunter, but not quite sage. It’d probably rank around #35 of list of colors I’d choose myself, but better than taupe that ranks closer to #156.

The floors are wood. Real wood as far as I can tell, but I’d imagine they are the thin-planks suitable for rentals, not the expensive tongue and groove of Brazilians you’d find in million-dollar homes. It’s a small floor plate, but it’s echoes since the ceilings are twelve-feet high*.

*that’s an approximation, but I just looked the wall up and down and imagine I could stack at least 2.5 Altuves.

The desk is too big for the space, but I’m reluctant to give up the large easel-legged monstrosity with patterned glass top. It’s a conversation piece, mostly because it looks more expensive than it is, and I’m sentimentally attached to the dark wood legs. Three years earlier, I tied a three-foot pink leash around the leg, and attached a four-pound puppy with the biggest Muppet eyes you’ve ever seen. Nine hours a day, she’d keep me company. She’d stir, chase her tail, then take a nap at my feet, a pattern she’d repeat several times a day. In the teething months, she decided to chew on the cross bar and the little divots from the most un-ferocious dog’s teeth still remain. She’s older now and even without the leash she still wraps her body around the desk leg in the same way. This desk isn’t going anywhere.

Three weeks ago, I stood on a step stool cursing. I had a level in one hand, a hammer in my back pocket, two screws in my mouth, something called a molly in my left-hand, and a power screwdriver tucked under my armpit.

“Are the shelves crooked, Cee?”

“Fuck you very much, they are straight.”

“They’re crooked, aren’t they?”

“…Yeah, they are.”

Fortunately, the Starting Lineups and Bobbleheads don’t care if their permanently resting place is slightly askew—in fact, Pedro Martinez has been nodding approvingly ever since I placed him there, although sometimes he loses his balance as though he’s been drinking. I won’t fix the shelves because I’ve already done enough damage to the sheet rock, and I’m not sure I could fix them if I tried, honestly.

The wall opposite my desk has a ten-foot bookshelf that’s stuffed with books. Some are baseball, others are textbooks. There’s something called “The Art Book” and a travel guide for Italy, though I’ve never been. Despite my otherwise organized space, the bookshelf houses books in all directions. Vertical, horizontal, diagonal. Spines facing forward revealing their names, spines turned towards the wall, not out of shame, but out of laziness. Top to bottom, bottom to top. Books. Everywhere.

When I had my housewarming party, I wanted this room to be perfect. I’m not alone in my baseball adoration (I don’t like calling it fandom, it’s more than that), so of all 1800 square feet, this is the room that would get the most attention. Friends were impressed, and I was proud. Not only is it a baseball distinctly baseball, it’s a space distinctly Cee.

I’m proud of the room because it’s the most settled I’ve been anywhere since Louisville. Never have I spent so much time meticulously picking artwork, deciding layouts, and choosing positioning. It’s a space that matters given the numbers of hours I spend per week writing. Of all of the rooms here, this one gets the most use.

I always cringed when working with designers who want to create spaces for our clients that are cliche “extensions of their personalities,” but that’s exactly what I’ve done. Perhaps it’s just the fact that I’m older and taking ownership (rentership?) in a space, which I haven’t in six years because of wanderlust.

The room is smart—it’s a high-brow baseball room, if there’s such a thing. It’s not a desperate-fan-clinging-to-the-game; it’s not full of MLB licensed bullshit that’s sold in high volumes to line the already deep pockets of organizations. The prints on the walls are infographics and screen prints created by friends and local artists. There’s a periodic table of sabermetric terms created to raise money for charity and freak injury baseball cards. The Captain, #33, looks over my shoulder while I type this.

The work space is perfect for warm days, there’s a window and a door, but it’s chilly now that the weather has turned and my bare forearms are freezing against the glass-top as I type this—but perhaps that’s just the fever.

I should be in bed, but when I’m home I just want to be in here. I’m resting, albeit vertically, with Ryan Adams albums, hot tea, my laptop, and an advanced copy of a baseball book that’s not out until March. Even though there won’t be any games to watch on the 42” TV since the season is over, I’ll be in here a lot. I have an endless pile of offseason assignments to write in the form of three columns a week, churning content at a rate that can only be achieved with a good editor and endless caffeine.

As always, I wasn’t ready for the season to end. I wanted a few more evenings of rushing home from the suburbs, putting on yoga pants and t-shirt, propping my feet up on the over-sized desk, while watching a game procrastinating on my evening assignments. I just have to remind myself that the offseason is equally as fun, just different.  For once, I’m not sad and miserable for the offseason. There’s a lot of huddling, writing, and reading that can happen in this room until first pitch.

The (Subjective) Art Of Keeping Score

The crowd was sparse in section 226 at Wrigley Field that Saturday afternoon, even after the game had started. The row in front of me was completely empty, and the eight seats between me and the aisle were vacant–except for one.

He was an older man. He had obviously dedicated his life to eating right and exercising regularly. Though his biceps and face sagged, revealing some age, he was in impeccable shape. He reminded me of my grandfather’s friend, the one who always took delight in asking people to guess how old they thought he was.  When they’d guess 65, he’d squeal with delight and clap his hands exclaiming, “I’m 78! I sure fooled you!” This old man sat alone, but conversed politely with the young couple behind him. He limited their interactions to the moments between innings, so as not to distract from the game, each saying just enough to temper the loneliness of section 226.

He sat cross-legged and sideways in his seat, enjoying the space that being alone affords, a scorebook on his lap. He kept a pen tucked next to his ear, the tip resting just under the bill of his felt Cubs hat. He would score a play and in one fluid motion tuck the pen back over his ear—something he’d no doubt mastered only after years of practice.

Our seats were too far removed for conversation, but in the second inning he noticed me sitting in similar posture to his own. I too was alone, scorebook perched on my lap. He nodded in approval, I responded in kind. We returned to our respective pads, each writing, in the scorekeeper’s secret code, “BB” to denote a Wellington Castillo walk.

While I can thank my father for teaching me to scoop balls from the dirt without turning my head and for knowing how to properly block home plate, my earliest sports memories involve my mother, who worked tirelessly as a Little League booster. When I was very young she coached our teams, but when she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, she traded her fungo bat for a pen (always pen) and a scorebook. If there was a game, she would sit behind the backstop and keep score—every detail, including balls/strikes, recorded permanently. On the drive home, I’d hold her book and ask her what the hieroglyphics meant. Soon “1B” “K” and “6-4-3” became part of my everyday vernacular.

In my late teens I started keeping score, a hobby that blossomed out of evenings alone at Louisville Slugger Field, content in solitude so long as I had a paper companion. The first game was stressful at first, as I tried to recall the lessons of my youth, but the rules and methodology flooded my memory without a cheat sheet. After scoring a 7-5-6-4-3 double play, I thought, “I guess my mother did teach me something.”

Years later, I was still using those lessons in the language of scoring in section 226. Following the sixth inning, the old man took the seat next to me. He said hello just like my grandfather always did, with a weird hesitation and hum just before blurting the words, a habit I think many developed in the early years of telephone usage when they were waiting for an operator to make the connection. “It’s nice to see the younger generation keeping score at a game,” he said. “I thought it was a lost art. I taught my sons to keep score when they were your age.”

“He thinks I’m 15,” I thought.

If it’s not a burden,” he said hesitantly, “would you mind keeping score for me while I run to the warsh-room?” Warsh. Just like my grandfather.

“Not a problem at all, Sir. It will be here when you return.”

I’ve been asked to do this often enough that I have perfected the art of keeping two books at once. To be asked to mind a scorebook is a hard-earned honor in my circle of baseball friends, most of whom treat an afternoon at the ballpark as a scholarly endeavor, not a keg party (though sometimes we sneak a flask of bourbon). It wasn’t until a game early this season, in which I broke down Bryce Harper’s hitting mechanics with words, gestures, and diagrams, pondering this important matter with my companion (also a baseball writer), that I realized how different we were from other attendees. With such company comes the responsibility of keeping score the right way when entrusted with someone else’s book;  not only is it the polite thing to do, it is a showcase for your own baseball knowledge. One would hate to mind a friend’s, stranger’s, or in some cases, a lover’s book and denote something incorrectly in pen (always pen). That permanent record of ignorance, an “E-10”, error on the score-keeper, is embarrassing and destroys credibility.

As the old-timer departed for the gentlemen’s rest, I l scoffed inwardly: “Of course I can keep score for you old man. I have a knack for this.” It had always been the truth…until that seventh inning at Wrigley Field, when I looked down at his scorecard and was completely befuddled by a mess of scribbles, scratches, and abbreviations I’d never seen before. Not only did it seem like we’d been keeping scores at different games, I wondered if he’d handed me a scorecard from a cricket match or the launch code for a nuclear missile he’d acquired in the Cold War, because none of it made sense.

I put our scorecards side by side looking for similarities, but observed mostly differences. We had how we documented walks and strikeouts in common, but little else matched. Where I used a line to show a base runner, he used dots. I used “1B” to acknowledge a single. He used a dash. In the third inning I marked a fly ball to centerfield as “F8,” a small number one in the lower left corner to denote which out of the inning it had been. In his box was a giant number 8, with nothing else.

If the seventh had been limited to a 1-2-3 inning with strikeouts and fly outs, I would have been able to mimic his style easily enough to fake competency,  but of course it was an inning of complex and unusual events that I found impossible to capture in his style. There was a pitching change. On my card I knew exactly where to put it, but on his card I left it blank. I wasn’t sure how he would score Starlin Castro fielding the ball, stepping on second base, and throwing to first for a double play; I considered 6-6-3, 6-3, and 6u-3 as possibilities.

When he returned, I handed him his scorecard, relieved for the exercise to be over.

“ I’m usually pretty good at this, but you’re scoring the game much differently than I do.”

Apparently puzzled, he took the seat next to me, removing the pen from behind his ear with a twirl. I talked him through the events of the inning.

“I didn’t know how you’d mark a pinch hitter, so I left it blank.”

He muttered something, wrote the name on the blank, but did not indicate which inning the pinch hitter had entered.

Ten minutes later, I was still recapitulating what he had missed during his long sojourn to the bathroom. “…Then Starlin Castro fielded a ground ball, stepped on second and threw it to first for a double play.”

He thought for a moment, then scribbled 6-3 across the center of the box, confirming my suspicion that we’d score that occurrence differently. When he was all caught up, he shook my hand and thanked for me for minding his book, then returned to his seat on the aisle. It felt like a rebuke.

After his departure, my mind dwelt on the nuances of scorekeeping. I’d encountered subtle differences in scoring  before, but nothing like this. Sure, at times determining what actually occurred on a play (a hit versus a error, for instance) can be subjective, but I had never considered that clearly defined events allowed so much room for variation. I had incorrectly assumed that we all maintained our meticulously detailed artifacts in the same.

Like any curious-minded individual with too much free time, I decided to conduct an experiment. I sent a list of questions, a blank scorecard, and a link to an MLB Gameday/box score to 10 people, and asked them to score the seventh, eighth, and ninth inning of the game I’d scored for the stranger at Wrigley Field.

The participants were of varying backgrounds and skillsets, but none are professional scorekeepers. Their scoring experience ranged from six months to 25 years, though the average participant had eight years of scoring under his/her belt. Once I received all of the scorecards, I printed them and pinned them up around my office, all in a column, so I could review the results.

And then I laughed. A lot.

Of the 10 scorecards, there was only one that closely mirrored how I keep score, and I recognized the handwriting immediately: It was the scorecard of my best friend and frequent baseball seat-mate. The rest were incredibly different.

I never laughed in judgment, nor did I ask aloud, “What the hell was he thinking when he scored that?” I laughed at just how different the baseball experience and the scorekeeping was for each participant. I read the origin stories of how they learned to keep score: The more traditional cards were kept by those who were taught by former coaches, in the press box, or had careers as scorers in high school, filling in Little League scorecards for nickels. The more avant-garde cards were kept by the self-taught and the newest scorekeepers. They challenged tradition with every out, submitting creative (and in some cases very colorful) scorecards.

As you can see from the examples I’ve included here, the responses were varied, but decipherable. While there is a guide that contains examples of how to keep a scorecard like an official scorer, after looking at the research, I’m not sure I’d advocate for conformity. If you want uniformity and easily identifiable information, visit Baseball Reference and Retrosheet and read the box scores. If you want the narrative, it’s tucked between the tattered corners and warped pages of a rain delay. It’s in the mustard stains from a Chicago dog in the fifth inning, and in the boxes that are crossed out because I scored in the wrong column…again. It’s in the unique way I misspell Mark Teixeira’s name because I’m dyslexic, and it’s in the squiggly numbers that I filled in on the crowded train to complete my book on the way back to the city’s center.

One thing is apparent from the narratives I received in response from the participants: We all have the same mission, documenting games,  but  have different ways of doing it. Some keep score because their father taught them; others keep score to establish a deeper engagement with the game. Some share a book with their spouses, others use it as a tool to fight their loneliness.  One person admitted they don’t even know why they keep score, it’s just what they’ve always done. In all of the reasons, there is a great joy and pride in creating and sharing their books.

Personally, my biggest motivator remains the day that I will finally be able to rush home after a game and frame my scorecard and ticket stub from my first no-hitter, but so far all of my scorebooks remain  intact. If they lack historically significant events, they maintain a personally significant record of my games, my travels, and time with friends. It’s likely I’ll continue to keep score. Some folks take pictures and put them in albums, but I have a shelf dedicated to books of 6-4-3s, 3us, and F9s to tell where I’ve been.  I think about teaching others, my unborn children and nieces and nephews, in the same way my mother taught me. For me, keeping score at a game is about patience, passion, and engagement.

The sweetest thing of all, though, is what I learned from conducting this experiment: scoring is something anyone can do and yet there is no right way to do it. It is a completely individual form of art. In short, scorekeeping is exactly like life, and if an old man’s scribbles in a corner of the world that is section 226 at Wrigley Field don’t match up with my aesthetic sensibilities, who am I to criticize? Each game we score is a way station; we make our mark and move on, cave-painters at the stadium. We have a record of our passing, and no one can judge us.

A special thanks to the following, for submitting scorecards, sending narratives, or just for talking baseball: Nick Tavares, Matt Hegarty, Ryan Pavlicek, Kyle Worrell, Nicole Haase, Daniel Yaussi, Brett Myhres, Adam Brown, Ruhee Dewji, Josh Nelson, Mark Primiano, Harry Pavlidis, and Michael Bates. 

You Deal In Beginnings

Cee,

There is something I realized months ago, but it never seemed worth mentioning until today.

I bet you can guess what I’m going to say, can’t you? If you can’t guess, I’ll tell you anyway, but I just need you to guess.

(Probably that I always end up back where I started and it’s my fault, I guessed.)

That’s not what you write about, I wouldn’t say something so vindictive.

You write about beginnings. You write about the feelings of adoration you get from people and things that come into your life and make you feel good… by knowing how they find you special. Conspicuous by its absence is much discussion of how you want to do for them.

Write a blog for long enough and display it publicly, and people will start to offer you free psychoanalysis. It’s one of those days that unsolicited advice waited around every corner.

A friend emailed this morning to tell me that she hoped I’d find a boyfriend by October, since her wedding is soon and she didn’t want me to feel the pressure of attending alone. She also was hinting that I hadn’t sent my RSVP yet.

While signing up for a gym membership tonight, feeling awkward and insecure while I answered a litany of questions about my assumed sedentary lifestyle, the salesperson insisted I smile more. When I refused, he insisted he could tell that I just wasn’t, “the smiling type.” Anyone who can smile as they sit in an uncomfortable chair discussing their insecurities with a complete stranger is not only the smiling type, but also likely pumped full of lithium.

And tonight, on a 35-minute-and-five-second conversation on my commute home, I said goodbye yet again to someone who has meant quite a lot to me this year, citing irreconcilable emotional differences—he’s in love with me and I just want to be friends.

No goodbye has ever final between us, because he still has hope that we’ll be together. Of course, in true Cee-form, I have no idea if we’ll ever be together, but I like to keep him close as a friend, regardless of the emotional duress that causes for him.

Apparently feelings do not operate on a binary switch for most, which comes as a great surprise to me, though it shouldn’t.

His parting words tonight haven’t been about judgment. I certainly don’t feel harshly judged reading the things that he’s said, holding a mirror in front of my face while he reminds me of themes that occur not only in my writing, but also in my life.

Knowing you the way I do, I always wonder, why you’re this way.

Get in line. As the third person that’s given me emotional advice today, I can say it’s easy to wonder these things. Hell, I wonder these things often, and I still don’t have an acceptable answer.

But let’s not over-react, it’s not as though I’ve got serious problems. After all, I finished my education, as planned. I’m successful in my career. I pay my bills on time, I floss everyday, and I always take the trash out. The closest I’ve got to addiction is a bourbon cocktail every now and again. My desk is organized, my projects are finished on time, and I’m working out more often.

Still, it’s fair to say I live on my toes, crouching to pounce on new opportunities. I’ve spent years focused on instant gratification, on generating happiness in the short-run, while throwing long-term happiness on the bottom of the pile.

And I’ve done it all alone. Sure, there have been men. And friends. And family. There have been dates, there have been beginnings, and there have been moments where I’ve felt that I’ve finally found the things that complete all of the social norm equations. But then it fizzles; my feelings disappear, and I continue on the path of building my life alone, always with short-term goals in mind.

Perhaps the greater question: Am I afraid to commit to people, to things, to jobs, to houseplants because I’m insatiable, or simply because I’ve not found anything worth dedicating myself to?

I assure myself I’m a good person. I care deeply for my family; I’ve had the same best friends for years. Lola gets regular walks and her favorite peanut butter bones every night after dinner. I’ve certainly committed to baseball, to reading, to writing, to favorite beverages, and I’ve even finally chosen favorite toothpaste.

I’m able to commitment, I swear.

Was it the moving all the time?

Sure, that probably has something to do with everything. Survival mechanisms kick in when life is reinvented, sometimes by choice and others by happenstance, and all of your belongings are shoved into boxes and totes and shuffled from state to state. There is inherent longing in frequent changes. It’s easy to want the things you no longer have, but in the same breath it’s even easier to miss the things you’ve never had. If I resign myself to a city, to a man, to a mortgage, to a ritual, what happens when something better presents itself?

When opportunity knocks, I don’t want to say, “Sorry—already committed.” I want to pack my bags for a plane, I want to have a first kiss, and I want as many opportunities to see no-hitters as possible.

Is that wrong?

Who made you feel ugly and unattractive?

Myself, mostly.  Well, strangers too. Bullies in high school. A stranger who once called me fat while I was walking the dog late at night. Glances where I can’t tell if someone’s judging my appearance, leering at spinach in my teeth, or just thinking they really love my sweater.

Hard to say, but easy to assume the negative.

Who or what made you feel so self-protective that you could need love, but not want people?

I lost myself in my longest relationship, and he knows that. He’s well aware of the years I spent in a small town, feeling suffocated by staunch conservative rhetoric and judgment, while placating the wishes of someone who barely loved me. I abandoned my hobbies, my desires, even my family. I gambled on love, threw myself hopelessly to him, sticking around and loving blindly in a manner that is so ridiculous that when I recount our relationship to others they can’t imagine that was ever me. Countless days of loving a partner that was too oblivious, too busy, too critical to love me back. There is such a thing as conditional love: He loved me when I was blonde, when I was thinner, and when I cooked his favorite meals. Wishing and hoping finally disappeared, and I started fighting with him to love me.

When he didn’t, I moved on. As you’re reading this, you’re offering your free psychoanalysis of the day: You’re thinking, “Well, now we’ve figured it all out. She’s scorned on love and terrified of relationships! She’s full of beginnings and no endings because she’s had one terrible ending and is afraid to feel hurt again! Why doesn’t she see what’s so obvious?”

Except, it’s not true. I’m not afraid to fall in love. I fall in love all the time, with people and things and places and moments. I’m not adverse to feeling pain, if it means that I can experience temporary joy. I’ve embarked on numerous relationships that I knew had no feasible end game. It’s never been about pain of losing or loving or giving too much.

You always write about beginnings.

Now you’re not being fair. I don’t write about beginnings, I often write about the ENDING of beginnings: Big difference. It’s easy to write about how things go from fantastic to miserable in short-spans of time. Producers and writers have gotten rich off lesser stories, because that’s just how human nature works—the ending of the beginning is the story, in life, in love, but especially in dating.

Dating follows a script so perfectly and becomes the most exploitable, most obvious way to convey and control emotions—it’s the story everyone knows, and as readers, as writers, and even as curious humans living out the events, we want to know how it ends.

The Beginning

Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl; he tells her so. Boy does everything in his power, and sometimes things beyond his power, to let the girl how he feels about her. Girl, if the boy is lucky, reciprocates. Then, there’s a decision.

The Endings

Boy and girl continue to put in the effort. They preserve the precious gift they’ve cultivated. They buy houses, have babies. They see concerts, go to ballgames, travel the world. They buy Christmas presents and bigger cars with their dual incomes. They live together until one dies, or someone falls out of love—either of which could happen at a moment’s notice, reminding us that all relationships are volatile.

Or, that stage is skipped. Boy and girl continue to put in the effort, until one decides that they no longer care to put in the effort. Just because someone loves you, doesn’t mean they are made for you. Boy or girl, or maybe both, realize that sometimes it’s easier to re-heat a dinner for one than it is to worry about peanut allergies. Boy or girl, or maybe both, see the value in spending Christmas alone on Michigan Avenue, locking eyes with a curious stranger, looking at the lights while everyone else is with their families.

Boy or girl, in this case girl, want love, just not from those people—and choose to be alone.

But fear and wanderlust are not the only paralytic here: So is compatibility. I have never experienced enough happiness with anyone or anything that making sacrifices didn’t feel like settling. It’s not about anticipation of what could be, but the reality that things could be better from the beginning–why embark on journeys that seem doomed from the start? Why are we expected to make sacrifices and negotiate to create fulfillment, rather than just trying to cultivating it on our own?

Endings are always biter. Endings are terminus. Endings are just awkward moments between beginnings, when good feelings start again. The events in the middle, those are just life. The problem is that plans are flawed. My plans are flawed, and your plans are flawed. And you over there? Your plans are flawed, too. You can’t beat the system–you’re going to fail. You get married, and you’re miserable, so you get divorced. You find the love of your life and they die unexpectedly. You stay single and that’s judged, too. It’s melodramatic to say that we all end up alone, but there’s pretty sharp evidence to suggest that’s true–it’s just a matter of where you fall off the continuum. Eventually momentum is lost somewhere between good, bad, and numb.

There’s a baseball analogy about how you live your life. You don’t have any middle-relievers. You never GO to your middle relievers. Not to mention your closer, I haven’t even gotten to your closer yet, but you’re living everything in the first few innings, on repeat.

Why can’t you trust the middle relievers?

He’s probably not wrong. I’ve never felt the need to use the middle relievers, because my starters usually give up ten walks in the first three innings and I’ve gone straight to bringing in Nick Green to throw a few innings. I have good intentions; I have an arsenal of arms ready to throw should there be a leverage situation, but life is full of under performance and rain delays.  The question I can’t answer to anyone is if that’s such a bad thing. Does life have to follow convention, or is it acceptable to build as you go, living life on-demand, and hoping that eventually the cards remain standing on a rather fragile house of cards that rests on a tight rope above a shark tank? It will always remain acceptable for strangers, for lovers, for gym salespeople to give their two-cents on how the lives of others are structured. It’s about gaining the strength and conviction to realize the flaws in our own plans and adjust accordingly: Sometimes the judgment can eye-opening.

An Experiment in Bias

Since you’ve opened this, you’ve volunteered for an experiment.

Please, read Excerpt A:

Dear Momma and Daddy,

‘I hope I didn’t seem too sad when you left that day. Watching you all drive off made me realize” — she starts to write, what a long journey I have set out upon, but the pretty-writing alarm sounds again, and she damps it down to ”how much I was going to miss you. But since then I have been so busy studying, meeting new people, and” — she grandly thinks of figuring out Dupont’s tribal idiosyncrasies, already knowing she’s going to settle for ”getting used to new ways of doing things, I haven’t had time to be homesick, although I guess I am.

‘The classes haven’t been as hard as I was afraid they would be. In fact, my French professor told me I was ‘overqualified’ for his class! Since he had a peculiar way of teaching French literature, in my opinion, I wasn’t unhappy about switching to one a little more advanced. I have a feeling that it is harder to get into a university like this than it is to stay in it. I suppose I shouldn’t even think like that, however” — she starts to write lest I have a rude awakening, — and what is lest supposed to mean in Alleghany County? — then downscales it to ”because it might be bad luck….

Love, Charlotte

 Now, excerpt B:

Dear Mother and Dad,

I’m in Rome looking for an apartment, though I haven’t found exactly what I want yet. Apartments here are either too big or too small, and if too big you have to shut off every room but one in the winter in order to heat it properly anyway. I’m trying to get a medium-sized, medium-priced place that I can heat completely without spending a fortune for it.

Sorry I’ve been so bad about letters lately. I hope to do better with the quieter life I’m leading here. I felt I needed a change from Mongibello—as you’ve  both been saying for a long time—so I’ve moved bag and baggage and may even sell the house and boat….

With Love, Dickie

These are passages are excerpted from popular novels. Aside from the obvious differences in content and writing style, take a moment to think about all the ways these two passages are different.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Green Felt Pressure Test

I tricked my mother into buying me my first journal in the summer before fifth grade. It was a composition notebook, the kind with the black and white dots in a random pattern. During our back-to-school shopping at the local suburban superstore compound, I snuck the contraband notebook into a shopping cart already overflowing with school supplies of every type—folders, scissors, glue sticks, and Trapper Keepers. I nestled it between a lunchbox and calendar, hoping my mom wouldn’t notice.

It wasn’t that she would have begrudged me the money; my parents were always willing to spend money on educational endeavors, as attested to by my collection of Hooked on Phonics and Schoolhouse Rock! Videos. I just wanted privacy. I did not want to answer questions about the notebook, didn’t want her to know I intended to begin a journal. Had my mother asked, I would have told her that the dotted-notebook was required, flashing the school supply list too quickly for her to ascertain that it didn’t contain a line item for a composition notebook.

I wish I could say that I wanted the journal because I knew that I was destined for greatness as a writer, but the reason was much simpler: I didn’t have any friends and I intended to use the notebook to make it seem like that was a choice. There were a myriad of reasons for my solitary state, most of which now seem like excuses: My family moved often, I was shy and anxious, and even as a child I was skeptical of the motives of strangers. It only took a few tastes of being teased and having my feelings hurt to adopt an adage: Being alone is easier than being disappointed.

Not having friends is socially awkward in a way that multiples loneliness, squares and cubes it. Living without closeness of others is obviously painful in itself, but think of all the little daily opportunities for you to be reminded of your singular status. Something as simple as taking a meal in public becomes a cause for sadness and embarrassment. Even as adults, most people don’t like to dine alone. It’s difficult to know where you should look and if you should even smile, because it’s suspect to see a stranger smiling without understanding what provoked it. The menu is taken away and you’re left with nothing to occupy your time outwardly, and it can be terrifying. In these instances, it’s important to provide your own entertainment and focal points, lest you stare too long or erupt in tears and storm out of the restaurant (or elementary school cafeteria) because the pressure of keeping up your façade becomes too great.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Hall of Nearly Great

The ebook that everyone’s been talking about, The Hall of Nearly Great, was released last Wednesday. Chances are, you’ve already purchased a copy, but if for some reason you got distracted, couldn’t find your credit card, hate happiness, or were waiting for your paycheck, I’d like to take the time to remind you that, “Good News! The ebook is still available!”

I’ve finished reading the whole book now,  and while you might find my opinion horribly biased since I’m one of the authors, I will assure you that it’s a fabulous book with some really great stories about baseball players that even my mom purchased. Essentially, if you don’t buy the book, you’re less cool than my mother, in which case I’ll tell everyone you like Barry Manilow albums, Murder, She Wrote re-runs, and mom jeans.

If you’d like to purchase the ebook, you can click here. Using this link will not only allow you to purchase the ebook (that can be read in any number of formats, including just .pdf on your computer), but it will also give me a little extra bourbon money… and to that I say, “Cheers, dear reader.”

In case you haven’t heard, The Hall of Nearly Great is, “is an ebook meant to celebrate the careers of those who are not celebrated. It’s not a book meant to reopen arguments about who does and does not deserve Hall of Fame enshrinement. Rather, it remembers those who, failing entrance into Cooperstown, may unfairly be lost to history. It’s for the players we grew up rooting for, the ones whose best years led to flags and memories that will fly together forever. Players like David Cone, Will Clark, Dwight Evans, Norm Cash, Kenny Lofton, Brad Radke, and many others.

This is not a numbers-driven project (although our contributors lean analytical in their views). Our plan isn’t to be overbearing with stats and spreadsheets to convince you that these players are worth remembering. What we aim to do, instead, is accomplish that same task through stories. Think of your favorite players growing up: they have their moments, games, seasons, quirks, personalities, and legends worth remembering and sharing. Now, combine the best of everyone’s forgotten favorites, and you’ve got a Hall of Nearly Great. Ask the people who have those memories and love for these players to write essays about them, and you have The Hall of Nearly Great ebook.”

Read the rest of this entry »

June 1st: No Hitters, Good Dinners

Today was the day.

I took the elevator to the eighth floor, and waved my badge in front of the keypad. I never let the badge touch the keypad, treating each morning’s entrance to the office suite as a challenge to test the limits of the RFID range in my badge, delighted to find that the badge and keypad don’t actually have to touch to open the door—the sheer approximation of its presence was enough to gain entry.

But that’d never happen again.

My messenger bag was uncharacteristically light that day, I’d reserve some real estate in the main compartment for my various personal effects like mardi gras beads, lavender hand lotion, Washington Capitals sock monkey, framed photo of Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield.

They were going home.

My paper and electronic calendars for the day didn’t contain any meetings. Instead, both versions, the paper iteration scrawled in green sharpie, just contained the phrase, “Fuck Yeah” and two exclamation points—marking my last day in a job I hated.

The morning was meant for web-surfing, the lunch hour for fish tacos and bourbon with favorite coworkers, and the afternoon was spent catching up on box scores.

The Boston Red Sox lost to the Detroit Tigers, 7-3. Quintin Berry notched three singles, stole two bases, and scored two runs. He made a game-saving catch as the Tigers celebrated their first victory at Fenway Park since 2010.

Read the rest of this entry »

Trepidation In a Homecoming, Life Without Plans

I worked as a kitchen designer while I was completing my undergraduate degree, almost by accident. I started in the showroom selling high-end appliances, embarrassing my co-worker competition by the sheer volume of product and extended warranties I could sell, even though I worked part-time. A customer once told me that I have the sort of face that could sell anything, there’s a real honesty in my eyes, and I suppose I have no reason not to believe him. In an attempt to boost sales, the manager decided I would attend the training classes to become certified in design, and that I’d no longer be polishing the stainless on the showroom floor.

I already had a love of real estate and architecture, which would later manifest itself in a career in real estate finance and development, and this job was an exercise in designing dream kitchens on any budget: matching paint colors, selecting subway tiles, explaining the purpose of a toe-kick, and working with AutoCAD, making perfect sense of gridlines and building standards to create renderings, blueprints, of what the path to a complete kitchen would look like.

In a consult, I’d make a rough sketch by hand, trying to capture the feel of the space, sometimes grabbing style magazines with dog-eared pages to belabor the design point I was trying to make to an ignorant consumer. When they left, I’d spend hours in front of the computer working to arrange the boxes on the computer screen, knowing all the tricks of a veteran like remembering heat-shields on cabinets next to stoves, the right side cabinet for a micro-hood, and that no matter how much customers resisted the price, kitchen organization is much better with sliding shelves.

Read the rest of this entry »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.