15 Books

“Jessica Lahey: English teachers tend to fall into one of two camps when it comes to literacy: Those who believe we should let students read anything they want so they will be more likely to engage with books, and those who believe teachers should push kids to read more challenging texts in order to expose them to new vocabulary, genres, and ideas. Where would you pitch your tent?

Stephen King: You don’t want to leave them in despair, which is why it’s such a horrible idea to try teaching Moby-Dick or Dubliners to high school juniors. Even the bright ones lose heart. But it’s good to make them reach a little. They’ve got to see there are brighter literary worlds than Twilight. Reading good fiction is like making the jump from masturbation to sex.”

-Excerpt from “How Stephen King Teaches Writing” by Jessica Lahey, The Atlantic, Sept 9, 2014

My friend says I can’t come to her house to hang out tomorrow night until I’ve done the “15 BOOKS THAT CHANGED YOUR LIFE” Facebook challenge.

At least it’s not ice water.

I’m supposed to not think about it and just write them down feverishly, tag some people on Facebook I probably haven’t talked to in ages, then run along with my merry self. Sort of like if I came to your house and threw books at you as soon as you opened the door and I ran screaming into the night. My book selections deserve more thought than that. If they’ve changed my life, then they have earned a permanent place on my bookshelf. It was not a challenge to be taken lightly and without a great deal of thought….

So without further ado…

15 BOOKS THAT HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE (BECAUSE KATE FORCED ME TO DO IT):

1). The Island of the Blue Dolphins: When I was little Reading Rainbow was all the rage. Levar Burton was mesmerizing.

This is probably exactly how I would react.

This is probably exactly how I would react.

I hear there is a project to bring it back to TV and gosh that would be amazing and yes, I would totally watch it.

I remember sitting in my usual spot to watch Levar and various children give me their book recommendations, when they mentioned a book about a girl surviving on an island all alone. It was based on a true story. There were dolphins. I was 6 or 7 and IN. Truth is, I can’t remember much about the story line, but I do remember being so completely in love with this book that it was all I could talk about for years after.

2) The Witches: I still have my original copy of this fantastic book that my mom bought when I was 7. I read it cover to cover. Then read it again. Any woman who had an itch on her head and shifted about uncomfortably in her shoes was OBVIOUSLY a witch. I had to be careful.

3). Superfudge: When I was 9 I entered a contest where you picked your favorite passage from a book and read it aloud. I made it to the finals with my stirring rendition of an excerpt from Anne of Green Gables. It was passionate, moving, and so utterly melodramatic it fucking HURT. Then I watched as a small pixie-ish girl walked up to the podium and read a passage from Superfudge by Judy Blume. She was hilarious and won the contest. A few months later, after getting over my crushing defeat, I read Superfudge and laughed my head off. This was my first lesson in, “Just Make ‘Em Laugh, Angelle”.

4). Anne of Green Gables: All I ever wanted was long flowing red hair I could put in two braids. I also wanted to not be the tallest girl in my class who was reading well above her grade level, but we can’t have it all. I fell in love with this book, this world, this ANNE. Such a plain name for such a vivid character.

Megan Follows as Anne. This movie was my JAM.

Megan Follows as Anne. This movie was my JAM.

5). Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret: Disclaimer: Are you a dude? You may skip to the next selection if you wish ;) This book appeared in my life around the time my body started to look different. Puberty was weird and awkward. I was already wearing a bra and dealing with the jealousy of the other girls and the curiosity of the boys. This book was confusing and comforting all the same time. What was a pad? Why was it attached to a belt? Do people care how big your boobs are? Do I care? Wait…THEY GET BIGGER?

6). Go Ask Alice: Where “Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret” was confusing, “Go Ask Alice” was straight up terrifying. Drugs are bad, mmmkay? This was also around the time the D.A.R.E. program had made it to my school and we regularly had police officers coming in to explain the dangers of taking drugs. DEATH! UNWANTED PREGNANCIES! SEX WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT! BAD FRIENDS! JAIL! Calm down, officer, I’m eleven and live on a military base in Germany. In the middle of nowhere. I’m pretty sure I’m safe…FOR NOW!

7). Pet Sematary: I am an admitted scaredy cat. I slept with a light on until just recently. I’m not going to tell you when “just recently” was, but a bad bout of insomnia will make you cave to your natural circadian rhythms being interrupted by a light shining in your face all night. I don’t know what prompted me to pick up a Stephen King book at 12 years old. Maybe I felt like I’d read everything I was interested in at the library? Maybe I wandered into the horror/supernatural section, who really knows, but this is when my literary love affair with King began. It’s also when I became waaay respectful of sacred Native American burial grounds. Just don’t mess with them. Ever.

8). Sherlock Holmes Mysteries: I was 13 and I was in love. Real love…not the chase him around the playground and send notes in class love, it was the sighing, falling on your bed clutching your heart because GOD IT HURT kind of love.

I did a lot of that.
I still do a lot of that…
but I digress.

His name was Sherlock. He was arrogant, snarky, intelligent, and my perfect man. My heart jumped when he would read people by their clothing and body language. I felt lightheaded and woozy when he would solve the crime. He wasn’t real, a bit of a wanker, and also a drug addict, but *le sigh* he was everything.

Mmmmm yes....

Mmmmm yes….

9). Spring Moon: First day of Freshman high school English, we were given this book to read. I had no idea what to expect. I’m including it in this list, because out of every book we read throughout high school, this one ALWAYS gets a shout out. ALWAYS. Hashtag: GoldenLilies

10). Interview with the Vampire: By this point in my young life, I’d already been exposed to sex in literature. King has a bunch of it, Spring Moon had some scandalous scenes that made us all laugh, but Anne Rice introduced me to a new kind of sex. The kind that was different from the terrifying and sometimes even hilarious scenarios illustrated by other books. It was dark, it made me feel things, it wasn’t always between just a man and a woman, it was FASCINATING. I couldn’t read enough of her books. Then I discovered her Sleeping Beauty trilogy and…holy crap. My 14 year old brain exploded with all of this new information about sex and how it happens. Anne Rice is single handedly responsible for some of my most inventive and satisfying sexual fantasies. I think she’d be very happy to hear that. (honorable mention to the VC Andrews classic “Flowers in the Attic” that I read on loan from a friend since it was way too scandalous to have in our school library. Talk about mind blowing.)

11). Anything by Shakespeare: These plays were all a part of my continuing quest to bring the paintings of Alphonse Mucha to life. I’m still like that to this day and it’s still fucking EXHAUSTING.

ugh...me...being insufferable...as usual.

ugh…me…being insufferable…as usual.

I can recite lines from Romeo and Juliet if you want.
Anyone?
Anyone?

12). Power of Myth: Joseph Campbell taught me that there is more to life than standing on a stage and reciting lines. He taught me that we are all made of stories that have built on each other from the beginning of time. That love is complicated and a hard thing to define. That at 17, my life could be whatever I wanted it to be. Acting didn’t have to define me, nor did the melodrama that accompanied it. Campbell ignited my interest in where these stories came from. How were they told and passed down generation after generation? How did they shape cultures? Who told them before they were written down? No one person or book has had such a profound effect on who I would later become. Storytellers fascinate me and rather than reciting their words, I wanted to be one.

13). Siddhartha: By nature I’m a bit of a worrier, until recently I had a horrible fear of flying that led to a not so horrible love of Jameson. In moderation, of course. Now, after flying all over for two years, I’m the annoying person who falls asleep on take off and doesn’t wake up until we’ve landed. Siddhartha was my first exposure to Eastern religion that wasn’t watching The Golden Child for the 30th time. It opened me up to new ways of thinking about the world and embracing meditation and contemplation as a way to deal with stress of every day living. My friend Kenny is a Buddhist and one of the calmest, gentlest souls I’ve ever known. There may be something to all of this. I always recommend this book to people who are every bit as lost in life as I was the first time I picked it up.

14). The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: There was a time in my life when literally every single person I knew was either in the middle of reading this book, or had just finished it. I couldn’t walk down the street in DC without seeing someone reading a copy. I would wake up and see it sitting on the nightstand of the guy I was dating. Since everyone was doing it, obviously I was going to do something else. Until a rainy Paris day in November of 2008 dawned gloomy and cold. Sick of watching The Simpsons in French, AGAIN, I went for a walk to the bookstore Shakespeare and Co. across the street from Notre Dame. There are never more perfect bookstores than those in Paris and there I found Kavalier & Clay. It sat right on the top of a stack of books, politely asking to be read. I did. I loved it completely. Every time I look at my copy I think of those cold days I spent in Paris reading Neil Gaiman, Elizabeth Kostova, and countless other authors to warm that spot of loneliness I felt. It was one of the most amazing times of my life.

15). The Night Circus: Finally we come to The Night Circus. Books have taught me many things over the years, but none have told a love story quite like this. Normally my books are filled with Sci-Fi, horror, gore, vampires, dystopian societies…etc. The story of competing magicians, Marco & Celia, absolutely melted my heart. I may or may not go back occasionally and read my favorite parts. If this book has taught me anything, it’s that even though you may think that part of you is jaded and gone, it isn’t.

“Someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find their treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice cup of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift. Your sister may be able to see the future, but you yourself can shape it, boy. Do not forget that… there are many kinds of magic, after all.”
― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

Honorable Mentions:
Christopher Pike: For when I graduated from Fear Street and Goosebumps
The Sandman: For your first jump into graphic novels. This one by Neil Gaiman is PERFECT.

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Parenting 101

I think it was when we had just walked in and the twins started throwing gravel in the air like confetti, while the principal tried to explain the schedule for the Back to School Picnic, that I realized this outing was going to be “rocky”.

Pun intended.

My sister had to work, so I was asked to accompany my mom and my twin nieces to the picnic so they could see their new school and meet their teacher. They’re 4 and I was more than happy to spend a day with the girls as they are getting to an age where they have opinions,

“NO, DEE DEE, we’ve already seen this My Little Pony!”
“NO, DEE DEE, I want to wear THE PURPLE ONE!”

We’ve made it through a Sunday together with no bloodshed and only a few crocodile tears, so I figured we were ready to be out in public where if I said, “Hey, you’re being awful, quit it.” They would. They would quit it.

Nope.
Nope.
Nope.

As the principal explained that the parents would be visiting in shifts, I watched as the twins threw gravel in the air, at each other, at a poor unsuspecting car that someone had parked on the school grounds. They were close enough that I could see them, but far enough away that a “Girls, behave!” in a small voice would not have sufficed. This was a yelling moment, a moment where you scream, “DON’T YOU DARE THROW THOSE ROCKS! THAT IS A DEFINITE NO!” I couldn’t do that while this lovely lady was telling me the picnic schedule so instead my eyes got very big as I waited for the wailing of a small child who had fallen victim to the twins’ rock throwing extravaganza, to come drifting across the courtyard. Finally I was able to break away, grab the rocks out of their hands and try to explain to them that rocks live on the ground and hurt when thrown at people.

I pointed them in the direction of the playground on the far side of the courtyard. One stayed close and all of a sudden the other was off like a shot. In my life I have babysat for many, many children. I’ve even watched a few of my friends’ kids. I have never, and I mean NEVER, seen a child run like this little girl can run. It’s absolutely terrifying and fascinating to watch. She starts out fast, but if you even look like you’re ready to grab her to stay close she hits overdrive and good luck catching Cheetara, because she’s running so fast she’s actually in the future now. People keep throwing out words like, “soccer” and “track star”. I keep throwing out words like, “superhero?” and “STOP!”

So she took off and I’d been awake since 4am and did not know I had signed up to run track at 5pm. She made it to the playground where I managed to grab her arm and was met with, “YOU’RE HURTING MY BONES!” screamed into my face as I tried to explain why you should stop running when someone says to stop. I would like to say it was a civil conversation where my grievances were heard, motions were passed to refrain from running away, and we adjourned with a hug, some tears, and cheesy Full House music.

Nope.

After squirming around while I tried to explain that I was losing patience with her, she took off for the slides. I let her go with a sigh and hoped that we would all get through this without losing our minds.

We made it through the principal’s short presentation in the library while the girls played a little too loudly in the background. They were actually shushed by a parent. Um, this is a school correct? Where kids play? You shush, shushy lady. They’re playing nicely and not murdering each other, or your kid, so chill out. Finally we were let go to see the classroom where they would learn to be proper young ladies. Their teacher gave her presentation while the girls proceeded to play with everything in arm’s reach. When she got to the part about “nap time”, I may have laughed. Out loud.

“The children are expected to stay on their mats and not run around the room.”
“Ok.”
“They get used to it and like the down time.”
“I’m sure they do. I hope they do. Please Jesus I hope so.”

It’s a Catholic school; I wanted her to appreciate the religious reference.

We left the classroom to join the picnic outside where with each passing minute, one seemed to running faster, and the other just seemed to have gone deaf with all the good my, “No”, “I said NO, get over here!”, and “PUT THAT DOWN!” were doing. We ate and as I had been threatening Running Twin with, “If you keep this up we are LEAVING!” for the last two hours, the picnic actually being over never crossed her mind. So now we were really leaving, because it was over, and she thought it was because she was being a demon. Cue the full on mental breakdown of a 4 year old. I had to physically pick her up while she screamed bloody murder and escort her out of the festivities.

I managed to get her to the car without selling her and she didn’t want to sit in her seat. I quietly explained that we were all tired and the other twin climbed right in, Running Twin refused. So I changed tactics,

“Do you need to hug for a bit?”

She opened her arms, nodded her head, and we hugged it out on the curb while my mom and Calm Twin waited in the car. We talked and hugged and when she was ready we went back home and got ready for bed.

Parents, I get it. Sometimes you think us singles with our wine, our bullshit dating stories, and our ability to pick up and go anywhere we want, whenever we want, that we don’t get it.

We get it.
We GET IT.

We get it so much that sometimes we opt out of contributing to the population. Sometimes we are complete assholes about kids. Then other times a little girl who just needs to run it out, puts her arms around your neck and asks if she can see the cows on the way home So you head home and hope the cows are out so one day she turns to you and says, “Hey, Dee Dee, remember the picnic? And after we saw the cows??”

Your heart melts a little bit and you realize that this parenting thing might not be so bad after all.

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On Birthdays and Busted Butts

I’m going to be 35 at the end of the month.

The other day I sat in a moderately cushy chair. The air came out of the cushion, went through my flabby inner thighs, and made an enormous fart noise.

In a room with about 4 dudes.

Since I’m a sophisticated lady person, I proceeded to laugh so hard I almost farted for real. It was then I realized, maybe it’s time to buckle down and get serious about getting in shape. For real this time. Not low impact yoga where they give you a massage at the end and wave their lavender scented hands over your face and tell you to breathe deeply. I wanted to go to a class where I would leave sweaty and unable to form coherent sentences.

Enter: Kickboxing

I watch a lot of movies. I’m also a single girl who has the upper arm strength of a tiny kitten.

um...scuse me...I will boop your nose so hard. I'm trying to get by.

um…scuse me…I will boop your nose so hard. I’m trying to get by.

Inspired by Buffy, Black Widow, Wonder Woman, and countless other badass females who I do not in any way identify with on TV (except for that time Buffy had to kill Angel and haven’t we all been there? Breaking up is hard.) I decided I wanted to learn how to defend myself should a person (or vampire) try to grab me on the street. So, I googled kickboxing and found that there is a gym devoted to all styles of boxing and self defense about 10 minutes from my house. That Saturday I put on my workout gear and prepared to join the Real Housewives of Rockville at kickboxing.

I was wrong.
So wrong.

I’m not really used to frequenting actual gyms where people know how to use the equipment. I’m more accustomed to hotel gyms where it’s just me at 8 on a Friday night wondering if this episode of Castle will be interesting enough to make me forget my lungs are trying to break free from my chest. The front desk people were incredibly friendly and since I was very early for the class, had me sit until they were ready to check me in and “wrap my hands”.

Whatever that meant.

I waited and realized that the gym was the exact temperature of what it must be like to hang out inside of an igloo. However, undeterred by the frigid air I hoped a grizzled old man in a fedora would notice me and call me “kid”.

“We could make millions, kid. You stick with me, kid. Come on, kid. I’ll show ya around.”

Instead the coach walked by, asked if I was cold, then proceeded to tell his guys to move their bags so I could sit down. I was only in the gym ten minutes and already being treated like I was going to get the “vapors” and “always depended on the kindness of strangers”. Before I knew it, class was about to start and a girl came over, wrapped my hands in a bandagey sort of stuff, shoved two boxing gloves at me, and pushed me in the direction of class where a bunch of girls who looked barely old enough to drink at a bar legally were standing. Where were all the women my age who are also scared of dying alone and having their faces eaten by a cat? Or just had a baby and want to fit into a sexy dress for their high school reunion? Apparently, they go to a different class and I was stuck with a bunch of 20 year olds who I’m almost positive mainlined 30 Red Bulls each before they walked in.

I chose a punching bag and put my vitamin water and kind bar underneath it as a devastatingly handsome man told us to start running laps. Ok, handsome man, I can do this running thing. I’ve done it before. So I ran.

and ran.
and ran.
and ran.

We did some other stuff while we were running, but I don’t remember what as my brain couldn’t function beyond thinking,

“Why did you think it was a good idea to eat right before this torture? Why? Did you honestly think that would end well?”

After what felt like an eternity circling the gym, we all went to our punching bags where we then did push ups, squats, and crunches. Meanwhile, my stomach decided whether or not it was going to keep my lunch or have everyone look at it on the gym floor. I watched through my haze of nausea as two bouncy 22 year olds flirted with the teacher as he walked over to me.

Handsome and now Adorably Concerned Teacher: “Are you ok? Do you need to sit out for a minute?”
Me, reswallowing the veggie chik’n nugget I ate an hour ago: “I’m fine. Yeah I’m going to sit for a second.”

I sat out for about 10 minutes while my stomach settled and then jumped back in for punching and kicking combinations. Punching stuff felt awesome. I had a full on fight with that punching bag and I’m pretty sure I won. Just as it was getting fun, class ended. Instead of hobbling back to my car, I decided to stay for the self defense course where I learned proper fighting stance and defensive maneuvers while house music played in the background like I was in Blade.

I finished the class on a wave of endorphins and signed up for a year membership to learn how to properly kick someone’s ass who has THE AUDACITY to mess with me.

Sunday morning dawned bright and shiny. Any movement I made, aside from the flutter of my eyelids, hurt and made me slightly nauseous. I had scheduled brunch with a friend so it was of the utmost importance to drag myself out of bed for a bloody mary. I briefly wondered if I should roll into my closet and hope some clothes just stick to me. I made it to brunch though. I’m not sure how. I think I blocked it out.

By Tuesday I was feeling significantly better after two days of walking like I had crapped my pants. That afternoon I was feeling bold enough to goof off with one of my coworkers. Just as I’m reenacting the punchline, my leg goes too far forward and next thing I know, I’m in the fetal position clutching my butt in pain.

I spent the rest of the week on large doses of Ibuprofen. There was even an important meeting where I couldn’t control the volume of my voice and said things out loud instead of in my head.

That was fun.

So as I reach my mid-thirties, I’m reminded to take it slow and not try to slay vampires my first week.

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It’s a Long and sort of Awkward Story….

Hey cats and kittens!

I’ve brought my big bag of shenanigans over to Long Awkward Pause for a guest post! Please give my Bucket List and LAP some love today. I’ve turned off comments here so feel free to comment over there.

xo,
A

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YOU get an update! YOU get an update! YOU’RE ALL GETTING UPDATES!

I’m alive!

So here we go:

-I got a job! HUZZAH & saints be praised! It’s mindless and pays the bills so I can go home and continue writing. My coworkers are delightful and that is all I’ll say about that :)

-Some of you (two of you…probably) might be wondering what the project is I’m working on with my friend. I haven’t asked Pat if I can divulge anything yet, but he’s busy opening his show Giant Box of Porn at the Capital Fringe Festival so I don’t think he’d mind. I’ve always had a bunch of crazy characters running around in my head so Pat and I are putting these people in a script and shooting a web series. We are still in the preliminary stages of development, but I’m super excited for all of the three people to watch it on YouTube once it’s done.

-I will be writing a guest post for Long Awkward Pause, so check that out in the coming days if you miss my stories and cat gifs.

Stop giving me that look you know you miss them.

Stop giving me that look you know you miss them.

-Sad things: Due to finances not being where they need to be I had to make the hard decision to not attend BlogHer. I will be ever so grateful that they chose my post “Once Upon a Time in New York” as a Voice of the Year. It may never happen again, but I will always cherish the recognition. It means a lot to me.

*cry break*

and we’re back…

-I found this video essay on creativity while perusing a Buzzfeed article about a chick who wore her contacts for too long and amoebas ate her eyeballs.

Yes, that’s a thing that happens.

We all have those doubts in our abilities and sometimes they lead us to stop doing what we love, because it’s difficult, or it “sucks”, or it isn’t as funny as someone else, or the big reason…it doesn’t pay the bills. Sometimes we need to hear that it takes time and practice to do something well. Which leads me to one of my favorite quotes by Ira Glass, host of This American Life:

ira-glass-quote-88471

The moral of the story is this, don’t give up on yourself and be sure to take out your contacts every night or an amoeba will eat your eyeballs.

imagesKJ6S2JP0

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The Girl at the Rock Show

My first outdoor festival was a concert thrown by the now defunct DC radio station 99.1 WHFS. Their infamous HFStival was always the highlight of the end of year activities at my high school. It was the end of my freshman year and only the second concert my mom allowed me to go to in my life. The first was Hootie and the Blowfish.

Go ahead. Laugh it out. I’ll wait.

I’m not exactly comfortable around large sweaty crowds and it was my first experience with shirtless men who should never, ever, be shirtless. The first hour was spent trying to not let too many people close to me and doing my best to hold up the crowd surfers without dropping them. It was hot. It was crowded. I was pretty sure someone in the crowd was dead and rotting, judging from the smell. Then the first band started to play. There is nothing in the world like live music. I couldn’t feel my sweaty t-shirt sticking to my back. Or the fact that someone had thrown an empty plastic bottle and it just hit the side of my face. The minute they started to play it was like every cell in my body synced up to the loudspeakers and started to hum.

I don’t smoke.
I like my whiskey in moderation mostly.
Music I like pure, heated, and injected right into my veins.

From 15 on, I lived for big, sweaty concerts. No longer was I the shrinking violet whose mom said to, “Stay with your friends! Don’t get lost! NO DRINKING!” I became The Girl at the Rock Show. I fought my way to the front of the crowd so I could be as close as possible to the band. Sometimes to the detriment of my fragile teenage eardrums. Later, I graduated from the stadium rocking shows to the smaller venues like the 9:30 Club in DC where every spot was a good spot and my eardrums got a further beating.

I became a pro at maneuvering through an unruly crowd of mostly drunk high schoolers, shirtless college guys (and sometimes girls), and people who you’re pretty sure are too old to be there. Moshing was still a thing when I was in high school so I would mostly hang at the front to either side of the crowd. This was (and maybe still is?) such a problem with seeing shows in the states at that time. Yes, you may see this band up close, but are you ready to have a rib broken? Although, after an Oasis concert in 1997, you would have thought I won the damn mosh pit when I came home with bruises along my chest and arms. It was actually just me holding onto the barricade in the front row where I was so close to Liam Gallagher I asked him for a sip of his beer. Like the dapper gentleman he is, he poured it out on the stage right in front of me.

I’ve never been so turned on.

Every concert was a chance to dance your face off and see whatever band was currently filling up the various mixtapes and CDs that littered mine and my friends’ cars. These mixes were my life blood and as with most amazing things, there was a secret to them as John Cusack explains in High Fidelity:

“The making of a great compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do and takes ages longer than it might seem. You gotta kick off with a killer, to grab attention. Then you got to take it up a notch, but you don’t wanna blow your wad, so then you got to cool it off a notch. There are a lot of rules.”

Also, as with most amazing things, there weren’t any rules. I once took the soundtracks to Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Trainspotting, smashed them together into an epic mix cut with lines from the movies, and added some Beastie Boys for shits and giggles. I’m pretty sure someone has a mix I made that is just random tunes with the singing mice from Babe (which I found hilarious at 17) in between songs.

Then one summer, I paid a lot of money for my sister and I to go to a big two-day concert extravaganza. The Roots, Amy Winehouse, Incubus, some other bands, THE BEASTIE BOYS…it was going to be a spectacular two day cavalcade of shenanigans. Except it wasn’t. At all. The promoters had the brilliant idea of scheduling it in the middle of a DC summer which is more or less like having a concert on the sun. The humidity was 100% with a temp of between 95-100°F. The only way to cool off were two makeshift water tents filled with people trying not to faint from heatstroke. A bottle of water was two dollars and there was nowhere to escape the heat. In trying to procure my fancy $2 water, I missed about half of Amy Winehouse’s set. Defeated, my sister and I sat on the grass and counted the minutes until the Beasties were up. The minute their set was done, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Maybe it was age. Maybe it was the fact that I was spending my hard earned money to melt on a field and get a sunburn despite reapplying sunscreen all day. Whatever it was, the energy wasn’t the same, and Ticketmaster wouldn’t give me a refund for the second day which we spent at home covered in aloe.

It took me about a year to recover from that experience. Then just as fast as I swore concerts off, a year later I bought tickets to a Vampire Weekend show at La Cigale in Paris. Even an emergency appendectomy three days before couldn’t keep me from hobbling all the way across town to hear them throw down some beats and play a crazy awesome cover of “Ca Plane Pour Moi”.

So as the summer music festivals kick into high gear, remember to wear sunscreen, drink plenty of water, and that yes while building your city on rock and roll may seem unstructurally sound…

it’s probably the only thing keeping the people from burning it down.

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Are You Being Served?

5

My first experience in the hospitality business came along when I was 16. A cute little French inspired café opened in my neighborhood and they were willing to take on a fresh faced teenager with an appalling lack of mathematical skills. I have often told friends that I’m crap in emergency situations.

Busy Friday nights at a café qualify as an emergency situation.

I don’t scream and cry in a corner, I just lose all sense of what I should be doing and end up giving people lemonade when they asked for orange juice. I mess up the register. It’s a cavalcade of Angelle at her worst. I’m surprised they kept me on as long as they did. Finally one day they said they would call me when I was on the schedule next and wellll they never called.

5 years later as I was standing in the middle of a busy night at my first waitressing job, I remembered that frazzled girl, and decided I needed to get my shit together.

A restaurant had opened in DC that boasted not just dinner but SINGING as well. My friend who I met while attending summer music theater camps in high school said that we should try out. We needed money and this was perfect. The idea of singing was fun, but maybe not the idea of also serving people food. Oh well, I have to pay for things at some point, so might as well get a job and become a productive member of society. We auditioned that evening in front of a packed restaurant and as nervous as I was, I totally loved it.

Yet still the idea of this not being an exclusively singing job wasn’t something I fully comprehended.
Yet.

So the waitressing education of Angelle began.

I learned how to greet 4 new tables, drop off water, get drink orders, sing a song, get food orders, fire apps, and sing another song. I was a complete nightmare at it the first year. Ask my former boss, who just recently ran for mayor of DC, he said that OUT LOUD at a particularly rough brunch service. I got better. Sort of. I made amazing friends there: Musicians, performers, actors, regulars. The whole service part of the equation was an after thought at some point. We knew the guests came to see us sing and the food came second. As my two year stint at the cabaret came to a close, I was only beginning to learn how to work in a restaurant.

My next job would be much different from my first. There was no singing, no fabulous gay neighborhood with a packed house of men and women just there to have a good time. I went from the bacchanalia to a corporate restaurant across the street from a Friday’s. It was….jarring…to say the very least. I like to call my 9 month stint at this place: Server Boot Camp. I hated every goddamn minute of it. It’s also where I met the infamous Adam of my tattoo post. This place is where I learned about actual serving. The real underbelly of how normal, kind people, turn into the scum of humanity when walking through the doors of a restaurant.

We didn’t take reservations so people would wait hours to sit at a table to enjoy their spinach dip. They would sit down ravenous and ready to eat the wall sconces if they were on the menu. I still was a pretty shit server at this point, but getting better. The only way to describe it is “cluster f*ck” from beginning to end. Whether it was the serving, the behind the scenes liaisons that I should not have been having, or the endless, endless, endless, dumb corporate rules, I was miserable. Two other girls were planning to get out of there as soon as possible and were whispering about a new fancy restaurant opening in Bethesda. They took me into their confidence and said they were planning to jump ship very soon.

After finding out Adam was sleeping with not one, but two other servers…I told him he was an asshole and jumped ship too.

My next place was just as corporate, but a more upscale steakhouse. If you’re wondering about my journey to becoming a vegetarian, this place was the start. Not that their kitchen practices were gross, actually it was one of the cleanest kitchens I ever worked in, it was the smell of cooked meat that had somehow settled into my pores that made me want to vomit. I had learned a few things at Server Boot Camp, like how to properly handle high maintenance guests, to anticipate my table’s needs, and checking back occasionally to make sure all was well. I had not learned a few things like, don’t sleep with the people you work with. Just don’t do it. Really just don’t. Actually, never do it.

Ever.

Otherwise, my stay at this place went very well. I really liked our GM, Ned. Even if he was a bit too involved in our personal lives. I think he just really enjoyed the gossip. I’m sure as a married man with children, the lives of his 20 something servers were a hell of a lot more interesting. After two years, I had learned a lot and moved on to a “foodie” type place in DC.

No I still hadn’t learned that one final lesson.

The next few years were filled with three more serving jobs, culminating in me “leveling up” to assistant manager of a place in downtown DC which I documented briefly here and here. Once I’d moved back home from New York, my 10 years in the restaurant industry came to a final close.

There are some days I miss joking around with the kitchen staff and learning the Spanish words for different foods, like I was in an episode of Dora the Explorer where she was waitressing to put herself through college.

Can you say LANGOSTAS?

I miss the camaraderie of the staff, some of which are still my dearest friends to this day. Drinking buddies were built in and you never had to worry about who you were hanging out with after work. You all went to the bar in clothes reeking of (and sometimes painted with) various sauces and smells. We bonded like WWII soldiers stuck in the trenches under enemy fire, except it was surly patrons, low tips, dinner rushes, getting triple sat, and bitching about the person who “couldn’t stand” their meal, yet ate the whole thing anyway, and is demanding a refund. However, as hard as it can be, I recommend that all people between the ages of 18 and 26 try it at some point. It will humble you and open your eyes a bit to some of the hardest working people out there who don’t get holidays or overtime. Some are professional servers who are amazing at what they do and some are working everyday to send money to families in other countries. They do it because they have to and they do it because they love to.

It’s hard out there for a server, but we all have to eat.

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