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The Mountain Day Chronicles

October 17, 2012

So it’s been a while, right?

(RIGHT)

The truth is I write blog posts all the time! In my head, in my phone, on post it notes, in my Gmail drafts. (The gmail ones are the best. They’re basically half finished stories about the weird things I did as a kid or while in college. They rarely make sense or have an ending.)

While reading one of these endingless (which is not the same as endless) stories, I suddenly got all weepy and nostalgic for my tiny New England college campus. Today they are celebrating Mountain Day, which is awesome, traditional, and traditionally awesome.

There are few things my college likes better than fall holidays. We love them so much that we even made up some of our own, managing to involve ice cream or some kind of specialty cake containing ice cream in most of them. Mountain Day is the best one. (Founder’s Day is a close second, because you get to eat a cake shaped like a hat, but it also involves getting up early.)

Mountain Day is celebrated annually, decided at random, and is kept a secret until the very last second. It’s a day that is deemed Too Perfect to do anything but Fun Things. It’s field day for college students, but with less organized sporty activities and more ice cream. The idea is that everyone is supposed to hike to the top of nearby Mt. Holyoke, where they will be handed ice cream by the President of the College. If you’re too drunk not in the mood to hike, you can also take a bus to the top. This seems simple enough, but naturally, I usually found a way to complicate it.

The philosophy behind predicting Mountain Day is fairly straightforward. It’s based on the same logic used to predict snowdays: if you do all of your work, go to bed early and generally act like a Responsible Student, tomorrow will be Mountain Day. If you drink half a box of Franzia and fall asleep on a futon at UMass, tomorrow will not be Mountain Day (and you will probably miss your 8:35am Chaucer seminar).

From the first day of classes, we scoured the weather reports and the calendar, like meteorologists looking for huricanadoquakes. (This is a thing I just made up.) We were looking for the perfect storm of un-perfect-storm-like weather: sunshine, mid 70s to low 80s, and maybe a nice breeze on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday (the elusive Mountain Day assisted three-day weekend was rare).  Some narrowed the window, insisting Mountain Day had to fall before the first day of hunting season on October 1. Those in this camp held fast to the urban legend that crazy western Massachusetts hunters can occasionally mistake college girls for deer.

Sophomore year, my roommate and I decided to skip the bus and actually hike to the top of the mountain. I’d never done any real hiking, and I liked the way it sounded. We brought water bottles and trail mix and wore hats and sunscreen, because hiking is serious business.  She’d heard about a historic detour we could take, and since asking me if I’d like to take a historic detour is on par with asking me if I like puppies and pure joy, I insisted we go.

The Horse Caves are these big rocks on the Holyoke Range that jut out, creating a giant overhang. They’re where Daniel Shays of Shays’ Rebellion fame hid out with his horses. From the Horse Caves, we figured we could hike up to the top of Mt. Holyoke, which is where we would collect our promised ice cream. But when we finally reached the top, something was wrong. There was nothing there. No summit house, no people, and most importantly, no ice cream.

“Do you think the ghosthorses got here first?” I asked, looking around.

By the time we realized we’d hiked up the wrong mountain, it was getting dark. We finally wound up stumbling onto the main road and flagging down a bus carrying students who’d been nature-savvy enough to climb the right mountain. On the way back to our dorm, we bought three pints of ice cream and ate them in our natural habitat, in front of the TV.

The next year, I was determined to try again. But then I learned that there is one thing in this world that can ruin Mountain Day, and that thing is traffic court. The previous year, I’d been pulled over and charged with passing a school bus. Not only did this not actually happen, but it was also my first time getting pulled over and I was so rattled and the Massachusetts cop was so angry that all I could do was cry and not be able to find my registration in a timely manner. When I related all of this to my parents, they insisted I fight the ticket. (“You can do that?” I asked, wide-eyed and slightly terrified. Authority figures!) My parents and I practiced and prepped all summer, staging mock trials in my kitchen and screaming lines from “A Few Good Men” at each other. And then, when I was scheduled to appear in court on a Tuesday in late September, I knew what was coming.

I went to sleep early the night before my court date, and the chapel bells rang early the next morning. It was official: instead of missing a day of classes, I would be missing Mountain Day. Deciding it was a good luck charm, and that it would be worth it if I won, I got up, put on my Most Professional Undergrad Outfit and went to meet my dad, who had driven up to act as my lawyer for the day. The angry Massachusetts cop was there, scowling. He told his story, I told mine, and the judge ruled in his favor. I cried so hard you’d have thought they were sending me to jail. Then I started ranting like a lunatic and dad had to drag me out of the courtroom so they didn’t actually try to send me to jail.

I drove back to campus, got a burrito and sat on the front lawn of my dorm, yelling at underclasswomen.

“Climb the mountain!” I yelled, like the sage old 20-year-old I was. “Celebrate your youth! Cherish it!”

I told my tale of woe to anyone who would listen, embellishing until it got wildly out of control. By dinner, I was practically telling people I’d spent my Mountain Day in jail after a wrongful imprisonment. The first-years on my floor offered to make “Free Ally” t-shirts, which I appreciated. A friend came up to me in the dining hall: “Dude, I heard you got tazed?” People bought me ice cream while I re-enacted the trial.

“GUILTY!” I bellowed, in my best Judge voice. (No one said this.) But, celebrate your youth, guys.

The next year, I finally made it to the top of the correct mountain. Taking no chances, we took my roommate’s car. We honked the whole way up, and, for the sake of consistency, ate way too much ice cream.

In Defense of Titanic

April 11, 2012

Even though I’m not the most regular blogger, I think we know each other well enough by now for me to reveal a deeply personal fact: I was shaped by 1997’s “Titanic.”

To say I have an obsessive personality would be a gross understatement. I live for those all-consuming, brain overloading fixations that keep me up half the night in a search engine frenzy, and Titanic was the thing that showed me how deep an obsession could go. (2.5 miles, to be exact.)

I saw the movie in a crowded theatre with my parents one Friday night in early December. I was 11. I remember being nervous as we drove to the movies, but I can’t remember exactly what had already been explained to me. I knew it would be long, I knew there would be boobs, and somehow, I knew Leo was going to die. This last part was the most troubling. I’d loved others before, but not the way I loved Leonardo DiCaprio.

Like every other teen and preteen girl, my bedroom was already plastered with his pictures, and I’d practiced introducing myself as Alexandra DiCaprio to various family members. I memorized weird pieces of trivia about his life (his middle name is Wilhelm, you guys), I taped all his episodes of Growing Pains off Disney Channel reruns, and I hunted down every movie he had ever been in – even the ones that were probably not appropriate for an 11-year-old, like “The Basketball Diaries” and “Total Eclipse.” (As an added bonus, both of these also got me into inappropriate poetry.) As always, when I found something I liked, I was determined to like it better and harder than anyone else. “Titanic” shook my world because it combined things I already liked a whole lot into one big perfect storm of feelings.

Let’s review:

1. Leo

2. Romance. It’s a safe assumption that I’d never been in love at age eleven, but there were boys who I liked “SO MUCH IT HURT MY CHEST.” Romance was a topic I thought about a lot. Clearly, Titanic is an accurate portrayal of what it’s like.

3. That ghostly beginning sequence. Any allusion to ghosts hooked me immediately: ghost people, ghost ships, ghost DiCaprio, ghost anything. This has not changed.

4. Historical drama. No one loved old timey things more than my preteen self. Besides Leo, period pieces were my one true love.

5. History in general. This is A THING that REALLY HAPPENED. (!!!!) Guess who checked out every single Titanic book in the middle school library during Christmas vacation ’97?

6. ADULT CONTENT. Nothing made me feel more sophisticated than a solid PG-13 rating.

7. Billy Motherf*cking Zane. I’d seen “Dead Calm.” I knew what was up.

I breathlessly watched the first half of the movie, eyes glued to the screen, loving it more with every second. And then the ship crashed and I proceeded to completely lose my shit. Breakdown, right ahead! I started crying as soon as poor old Jack was dragged away from Rose in handcuffs, and I didn’t stop until the Celine Dion credits rolled. And it wasn’t just like a, “oh there are some tears in my eyes and maybe one or two rolling down my cheek.” This was an all out, puffy eyed, snot spewing 90 minute sobfest. I was weeping. “Wailing!” as my mother will tell you.

I was causing a scene and people were turning to stare, but I could not be contained. My parents silently debated removing me from the theatre. And as sad as I was over the plight of Jack and Rose and everyone besides Cal, I could tell that something more was happening to me. I had never been that invested in, or that heartbroken for a bunch of fictional people. Sure, movies had made me cry before, but there was always the quiet, it’s only a movie reminder in the back of my brain. That did not happen here. The only thing happening in my brain was This is LIFE or DEATH ahhh Leo, Leo AHHH! I walked out of the theatre that night with my 11-year-old heart completely shattered, and with the belief that I had just seen the greatest movie ever made. From then on, I lived and breathed Titanic.

Do you know what it’s like to live and breathe a three and a half hour movie about an improbable love story and a simultaneous historical disaster when you’re 11? It takes commitment. For one thing, you’re 11, so three and a half hours basically feels like two years. Your puny prepubescent brain then takes on the arduous task of separating fact from fiction. No, there were no Jack and Rose, BUT there were young couples in love on the Titanic. Clearly I must research ALL OF THEM. Yes, the band did play as the ship went down. I MUST LEARN ALL THE SONGS.

Over the next few months, I saw the movie 15 times, and I developed some strange rituals. I held my breath every time Jack and Rose went under at the end. I read every book I could find on the sinking, and memorized a ton of factoids about the disaster and the making of the movie. For my birthday that year, my parents got me a bootleg copy of the yet-to-be released VHS tape, and a Heart of the Ocean keepsake necklace, which I secretly wore to bed until the chain snapped one night. Friends who hadn’t been allowed to see the movie came over to watch the bootleg and eat junk food. I was basically running a speakeasy for preteen girls. I spent every piano lesson for the next two years learning various songs off the soundtrack. And at the end of each nightly shower, I forced myself to turn off the hot water and stand in the freezing spray for one whole minute, just to see what Jack meant about that water being so cold. But probably the most bizarre thing I did was make my friends act out various scenes from the movie while we floated in the ocean on boogie boards or strapped ourselves to the top of my swing set in order to yell, “you jump, I jump!” at each other. The weirdest part of all of this is that I always cast myself as Jack. I think it’s because Jack Dawson was the most perfect human I had ever encountered, and I knew that in a group of middle school girls, no one else would do him justice. Once a control freak, always a control freak.

These productions quickly became a favorite weekend activity, and my friends and I made ample use of dialogue we’d memorized, along with the official James Horner soundtrack and costumes I pulled together from a box in my basement. Mine consisted of my favorite and most versatile pair of Mudd cargo pants, a button down shirt that possibly belonged to my father, and an old pair of his suspenders. I topped it off with an ancient plaid jacket I found at a tag sale, and lace up leather booties I made my mom order from the American Girl dress-like-your-pioneer-doll catalogue.

I know this because all of it happened during a phase where I videotaped every single thing I did. Most of the time, it was up to two my two best friends and me to reenact the whole movie (minus the sexy bits), and that was exhausting. So, we somehow evolved this into “Leonardo DiCaprio & Kate Winslet: Best Friends.” Our movies became a series of adventures where Leo and Kate routinely found themselves in all sorts of trouble. Leo and Kate go to a haunted house. Leo and Kate get lost in the woods and find a spaceship. Leo and Kate get in trouble with James Cameron. Naturally (I guess?), I was Leo. One friend always played Kate because she had the most perfect curly hair, while the other ran the camera and could do a great maniacal laugh, so she was James Cameron. Also, for some reason James Cameron always wound up being unmasked as some kind of evil genius, even though an off screen Billy Zane took much of the initial blame. A staple scene included one of us yelling “GODDAMMIT BILLY!” while glaring at something out of frame. Sometimes we made my 4-year-old sister play Old Rose.

A video from my 12th birthday party shows a group of about ten of us, starring in our own version of a behind-the-scenes DVD extra. We enter playing the part of our assigned actor, and then begin shooting bloopers as their character. It’s very middle school meta. In the final scene, one of my friends pretends to punch me in the stomach, while I’m chained via plastic handcuffs to a pole in my basement. Rose charges in waving a plastic axe, we all laugh and then they leave me stranded in the basement with the lights off. We all giggle in the darkness, and then ten 12-year-old voices yell, “NEVER LET GO.”

As time passed, the obsession gradually faded, and it became more of a running joke than anything else. But some things did last in private. For years, I set an alarm to go off in the early morning hours of April 15 so that I could commemorate the sinking. I would actually get up, put the Titanic soundtrack in my Discman, and listen to “Nearer My God to Thee.” The first year I didn’t do this, probably the year I started high school, I felt like a traitor to my former self.

Last week, I went to see Titanic in 3D. And, it really is kind of an awful movie. Nobody is at their best, except maybe the 1997 special effects guys. And possibly Bill Paxton’s zany, offensive sidekick. But seeing it on a big screen like that brought back the visceral memory of being a kid and feeling something that intensely for the first time. There are entire scenes I still know by heart. (After saying the lines into my camera lens or to myself in my bedroom mirror so many times, I will probably always know them.) And it’s stupid and silly, but, I mean, I’m flying, Jack!

Do you remember all the 1997 news reports about women climbing onto the bow of some cruise ship or whatever, waiting to see if Jack Dawson would rescue them? I do, because I cut them all out and put them in a goddamn scrapbook.

There are plenty of things about this movie to hate on, and I agree with everything in this hilarious Jezebel post. (It’s-a-me! Fabrizio!) But this movie (this MOVIE!) was my thing, and to hate on it would be to hate on my 11-year-old self, and she had enough to deal with (especially since she spent her free time running around pretending to be Leonardo DiCaprio).

I’d never really had a thing before, and I liked being an expert in something. I’m a girl who likes her trivia, and this movie taught me how to obsess. I mean really obsess, to the point where you don’t really care if you ever sleep again, because there is just so much to KNOW. Plus, when you’re an 11-year-old girl in love with a boy in your music class who tells your friend he won’t dance with you because you’re not popular enough, the belief that there might be dudes out there willing to freeze to death for you is weirdly comforting.

Jack Dawson: setting impossible and dangerous standards since 1912.

The 100th anniversary of the sinking is this Sunday. I don’t think I’ll be waking up at 2am to listen to the Titanic soundtrack or anything, but maybe I’ll post some weird factoids on Tumblr or something. 11-year-old me would like that. (Sidebar: you can tell I’m old now because I said ‘waking up’ instead of ‘staying up.’)

Oh, by the way, did you know an iceberg 1-4 meters high was classified as a Bergy Bit? This has been your Adorable Nautical Trivia for the day.

No Direction Home

February 6, 2012

“You look like Bob Dylan right now.”

I stopped and looked at my roommate. We were standing on the corner, ankle deep in winter sludge, arms loaded with boxes, bags and random knickknacks. My hair was standing about six inches away from my head, I was wearing at least two hoodies under my peacoat, and I had a beat up guitar case filled with shoes balanced between the curb and my foot. We hadn’t slept in almost two days.

“Sexy Desolation Row Bob Dylan,” she clarified. “Not 80s moustache Jokerman Bob Dylan.”

Sincerely, I said, “that is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”

Then the Crosstown bus pulled up and showered us with slush. We were moving.

There is a fine line that one walks when it comes to sleep deprivation – and walking this line is often the only way I know how to get anything done. I purposefully wait until the last minute to finish everything, mostly because of the mandatory mania this provides. Project to finish? Stop sleeping! Deadline to meet? Stop sleeping! Apartment to move out of? Stop sleeping!

Not only do I become more productive, driven, and focused, but I’m also way more fun when I’m tired. However, this comes with a price. One that is paid with sanity.

In college, most people were sleep deprived to some degree, so it was fairly normal to be fairly crazy – especially once finals arrived. Oddly enough, finals were my favorite time of the semester, because everyone just about lost their minds at the same time.

Part of this was due to the stress of having to move out. My friends and I looked at moving as the ultimate Do It Yourself challenge. And, whether it resulted in falling down a flight of stairs or in not being able to see over the steering wheel of a Uhaul truck, we usually got the job done. Of course, unpacking was always a bit of a magical mystery tour in itself – why is the coffee maker packed with my sweaters? Did I really bubble wrap individual Post-Its? Oh yeah, I forgot that I filled this mason jar with soymilk and then put it in a box with my socks!

I always blamed these types of things on the insane workload, which pretty much scrambled everyone’s brains to some degree. But, finals were a dangerous time. People pitched tents in the library, bathed in coffee, and filled up all of the public computers with pictures of themselves making this face.

The dormlords left campus kitchens open all night and restocked all the pantries with things that were sure to send your blood sugar soaring – which is exactly what you need when you are hyped up on caffeine and have been drinking vodka and Gatorade out of a Nalgene bottle all night long. It was normal to be insane, and that is why it was completely fine when I became convinced I was Joan Baez towards the end of my junior year. I had become obsessed with Bob Dylan after writing a paper on Woodstock the previous semester, and I was supplementing that report with a 35 page paper on 60s counterculture and music evolution. I ran around barefoot in a white thrift store dress for the last week of school, titled the paper “Dig Yourself,” and turned it in with a mix CD.

I chose a different soundtrack while moving out of my first New York apartment a year later. Before I continue this story, let me just emphasize that moving in New York is awful. Actually, anything having to do with real estate in New York is awful. You end up paying more money than you actually have to live in a box with bugs and crazy people and things that fall apart.  You get so excited when your apartment has basic human things – like a bathtub or a closet or a washing machine in the basement. “Oh! You have a dryer! Here, take my last 9 paychecks!”

I shared my first apartment with two other girls for about a year. It was the week Michael Jackson died when I moved out, and, like the rest of Harlem, I was feeling inspired. And, true to form, I stopped sleeping for three days and did all my packing after I got off work at midnight. One of my roommates had already moved out, and I was using her empty bedroom to pack boxes (I had dubbed it The Fort) and practice my moonwalk. It was then, as I was dancing to “Thriller” in my underwear at 4 am in my sweltering empty apartment, that I heard it. It was the unmistakable sound of the Grudge.

If you are unfamiliar with this particular villain, it sounds just like this:

I freaked out. So, I did what any rational 22-year-old adult would do when being stalked by a ghost killer from a Japanese horror movie in the middle of the night: I put on “Beat It,” climbed into an empty box, and waited for my certain demise while dramatically lip syncing. When I didn’t hear anything else, I climbed back out and resumed my packing. And then I heard it again. It took three rounds of this for me to realize that the end of a roll of packing tape sounds a lot like the Grudge.

The next day, I moved in with my college roommate on the opposite side of the city. And then, when the two of us decided to move all the way back to the west side eight months later, we took a slightly different approach. After finally admitting partial defeat, we hired movers for furniture and big boxes of books. But we stuck to our principles and were still determined to move everything else ourselves, by way of 849082084 bus trips. We were going to make our collegiate selves proud.

The day before moving day, we packed up carts and suitcases and small boxes, and we shoved whatever we could into spare tote bags (us former New England college students have a lot of tote bags). We tried to wear all of our clothing that would not fit in boxes or bags, and I was definitely carrying some hangers and cat food around in a laundry basket. Our leases overlapped that weekend, so we were technically the proud renters of two New York apartments. But in a small ironic twist, this did not stop us from looking homeless.

We loaded up as much as we could carry, walked to the bus stop around the corner, loaded everything onto the bus (to lots of stares and a soundtrack of “Excuse us! I’m sorry!”), rode across the park, unloaded everything, walked the three blocks to our new place and up the six flights of stairs, and then went back home to do it again. On one trip across town, we ran into a former classmate.

We explained that we were moving, and that it was just like finals in the real world! But by then we were so bedraggled and loaded down with our belongings that it prompted her to ask a very reasonable question.

She looked at my roommate and me – sweaty, dirty, exhausted and blocking the aisle with the contents of our bedrooms as we shared iPod headphones blasting Bob Dylan b-sides.

“Are you,” she paused, “moving all of your stuff on the bus?”

We looked at each other. Were we? Could we? That old feeling of a DIY challenge came rushing back for an instant. Would we get in trouble for trying to load a box spring onto a city bus? Could we get two mattresses all the way across town and up six flights of stairs? Did we really need all those books? What would Bob Dylan do?!

Someone – I don’t remember if it was me or her or Bobby D himself – stopped us. Otherwise, we might still be halfway across Central Park, trying to convince one of those horse and buggy operations to tow our kitchen appliances through the snow.

It’s probably good that we’ve had a two year break from these types of adventures, because now our lease is up again. Our management company tried to raise our rent by 13% (WHAT?! Whaaaaat?), so my roommate and I will be hightailing it out of our 6th floor tree house at the end of the month. And, oh man, I never realize how much stuff I have until I decide to move all of it at once.

Bob Dylan would not approve. But, then again, Michael Jackson probably would. I’ll poll the Grudge on the subject, but I might have to stop sleeping for a week or so before that happens. (Challege accepted.)

With a Bang (ish)

January 25, 2012

It’s 2012! The year the world ends, or whatever. And, however morbid it sounds, I think I can say that if this past New Years Eve celebration had to be my last, I could probably make peace with that. (But still! What gives, Mayan calendar?!)

For the past two years, I’ve gone down to Florida to visit my grandparents with my family for Christmas and New Years. And, let me tell you, it is a blast. First, it’s the only time my parents, sister and I get to spend a large chunk of uninterrupted time all together, and we have the most fun four people can possibly pack into two weeks. Second, my grandparents are wonderful. All they want to do is feed you and tell you stories and argue with your political opinions while they hug you.

Every night, the dinner conversation basically goes (and I may be paraphrasing), “I don’t agree with ANYTHING you are SAYING. Also, I LOVE you and think you are GREAT! Hey, do you want pancakes for breakfast? How about eggs? Fruit? Bacon! Here, finish your pasta.”

My grandparents live in this town in southwest Florida that is almost entirely populated with retired transplants. And, possibly, alligators. I can’t speak for the gators, but the people are almost all uniformly tiny, old, Italian, and generally from Queens. It’s like everyone you’ve seen in Goodfellas has a non-mob affiliated doppelganger, and they all live there together. Also, everyone perpetually thinks I’m 12. I routinely get carded at the country club, and at Carrabba’s, which is like the Olive Garden’s more legitimate sibling.

Christmas, for the most part, is pretty much how we would spend Christmas anywhere. We hang out with relatives, eat too much food, yell at each other across the table, and my dad is generally the only guy in the room not named Sal.

“Sal!”

“What?”

“Not you! Sal!”

“WHAT?!”

“…where’s Sal?”

“Oh hey, Jim.”

Meanwhile, my grandfather is the definition of the neighborhood watchdog. He is constantly uncovering scandals and Busting Shit Wide Open and it’s awesome. He used to have this column in the local newspaper, and it was like Andy Rooney, but with more action and less whining. (I still love you, Andy.*) In addition, he loves to tell stories. He’s hard of hearing, so most of his stories END UP BEING TOLD LIKE THIS. Normally this is fine, but sometimes he starts talking shit about the neighbors who live across the canal, and then outdoor dinners get a little dicey.

“HE’S A HORSE’S ASS!”

“Shhhh!”

“HE IS! HE’S A HORSE’S ASS!”

“Keep your voice down!”

“What? Doll, he can’t hear me!”

“…yes he can.”

“Oh. Well, he’s a horse’s ass.”

On New Years, reservations are made at Palmetto Pine Country Club. Last year, my sister and I opted out of the celebration. Instead, we stayed home and yelled greetings to the Fun Family across the canal (not the horse’s ass). We ate pancakes, trapped a giant bug that looked like it had escaped from Jurassic Park in the bathroom, and jumped in the pool at midnight, just because it was there. But this year, we compromised. Sister and I would attend dinner at the club, but we would go to the early seating (to beat the crowds, naturally) and ring in 2012 at home.

At 6:00, we walked through the door. The room was decorated for a party, but it sort of felt like the weird kid’s birthday party in fourth grade. The dance floor and most of the tables were empty, everyone looked like they were there for a stop and chat before moving on to the next part of their evening, and the DJ wouldn’t arrive for another few hours (for the late seating party people). An old guy sat at one corner of the dance floor, playing a tiny upright piano. He was really good.

Otherwise, the club looked the same as always. Palmetto Pine has been the scene of many a life-moment for me. There is a family-famous picture of me running across the golf course when I was maybe three or four. I’m wearing this strawberry print dress and ruffled socks and my hair is everywhere and I look like I’m about to explode with joy. We used to come all the time for lunch when we visited, and they had the greatest chicken fingers in the world, and a pool table in the men’s locker room. My rant about the latter was maybe my first foray into speeches about gender inequality. Also, I learned to drive there. When we were younger, my grandpa would take my cousins and me out in his golf cart, and teach us the rules of the road. Two of us sat with him on the bench seat in the front, while the other was strapped to the back in the place where the golf bag would go. And, because we were between the ages of 6 and 10, there was the occasional problem.

“Okay, nice and easy. Now ease your foot off the gas. Slower. SLOWER! SLOW DOWN!”

Unfortunately, there was no time for golf carting on New Years. We made our way around the room and my grandma introduced us to everyone. If New Years were prom, my grandma would have been the queen. Everyone loves her and she is the greatest! We paraded around the room and as usual, everyone thought I was 12. I was wearing makeup, so maaaybe 16. Maybe. Then we sat down.

“Can I take your drink order?”

I mulled this over. Lately, I’ve been very into sampling the wide world of whiskey. This might be because I’m working my way up to scotch – but just so I can drink scotch and sing about it in my disgruntled old man voice. (This is a thing.) But my alcohol tolerance is iffy. Sometimes, when properly conditioned, I can drink things like whiskey and be an adult about it. Other times, I’m two beers deep and singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home” under the table.

But by this point I’d been on vacation for two weeks and the previous night had been two-for-one cocktail night at Carrabba’s, so I was ready. I decided I could go with something girly and delicious, like an old fashioned or Maker’s and ginger ale. But this was NEW YEARS AT THE COUNTRY CLUB. Go big or go home, kids.

“Jameson on the rocks, please.”

Everyone looked at me. Everyone. My sister, my parents, my grandparents, the waitress. People at the next table, the old guy playing the piano, probably the alligators lurking on the edge of the golf course.

“How-how old are you?”

“25. I have ID. Do you want to see my ID?” I ask people if they want to see my ID almost like it’s a dare now. Like the way a pirate would ask someone if they want to see what’s under his peg leg.

“No, that’s okay.”

When she brought our drinks, everyone asked me what mine was. Grandpa was especially intrigued.

“What is that?”

“Whiskey.”

“Whiskey?”

“Irish whiskey,” dad interjected. (Ireland represeeeent!)

Eventually, this evolved into a story about how my grandpa used to go out drinking with his navy buddies, and they all got whiskey and he was not having it. They teased him and ordered him a glass of milk. Whatever, milk is delicious. They made poor life decisions and my grandpa did not. He is the best.

It was just after 8:00 when we finished dinner, but the entire town was practically shut down already. We pondered what to do next. Sister wanted chips and salsa. Mom wanted to go dancing. Dad wanted fireworks. I loved all these ideas.

We bought chips at CVS before mom and I tried to convince the rest of the family to go dancing at some place we found on Google maps called the Dixie Roadhouse. This was a no go. But dad did convince us to indulge a long-held fascination of his: the roadside fireworks stand.

We drove around for a while listening to a random mix CD we found under the passenger seat. The Beach Boys, Clapton, the Stones, the Kinks, Led Zeppelin, the Who. We found a tent selling fireworks next to a strip mall and pulled into the parking lot. Stairway to Heaven came on and my mom decided this was her JAM. Dad got out to peruse the explosives, while the rest of us turned up the music. That is how I came to be sitting in a southern parking lot, blasting Stairway to Heaven with the windows rolled down on New Years Eve.

I leaned out the window and yelled, “DAD! SPARKLERS!” Everyone loved us.

We drove back to my grandparents’ house blasting Baba O’Riley. We parked in the driveway before the song ended and the four of us sat there until it did: singing and playing air guitar solos and steering wheel drums. There’s video evidence of this, but they might kill me for putting it on the internet. (Parents, would you like to weigh in here?)

We went out onto the pool deck and continued the danceparty. And then it was time to break out the fireworks. Dad had gotten a bunch of roman candles and little rocket things and sparkers, and we took them all out onto the dock. It was pitch dark, so dad had me shine a tiny flashlight over his hands while he lit the matches. It was a foolproof system and not at all the way people lose fingers.

There were sparks and several pops before the first rocket shot up over the canal like a flare gun.

“That was it?” mom asked. We glared at her. “I mean wow! That was IT!”

Dad encouragingly mumbled, “at least we know where the fuse is!”

We looked at each other and pointed. “The quick fuse!”

We shot off several more roman candles, danced around the pool with sparklers, drank champagne while wearing sunglasses and watched the first fireworks of 2012 explode over our heads just after midnight. Then we all fell asleep watching Jaws.

Hopefully, the Mayans and the crazies are wrong and I’ll get to do it again next year. But until then, I’ll be back here, writing things and watching out for rogue manatees.

*Just in case his ghost is reading this? I don’t know.

some things you do for money, and some you do for love love love

September 27, 2011

Caution: Feelings ahead

Around 9am yesterday, I wrote the last word of my first book.

This has sort of happened before, but not really. I’ve been writing this book for three years, and I’ve “finished” it twice before. That is to say, I wrote a chapter, didn’t know what to do after that, wrote “the end” on the bottom of the page, and called it a novel. Yesterday was different.

I’ve been setting deadlines since I started writing. My newest one was October 6. But then I started writing when I got up on Sunday and found I couldn’t stop. This is never a bad thing. I’ve always said that I write because I can’t not write – and when it’s good, it’s really good. I finally stopped a few hours after sunrise, and I did so because there was nothing left to say. Then I fell on the floor and cried until I laughed.

This book has gone through a partial rewrite, and at least five titles. It has two narrators, and it reeks of being 22 and not having a clue what you’re doing. In a lot of ways, that’s what it’s about. It’s about not knowing exactly what you’re doing, but going forward anyway until you eventually get to the other side. It took three years because sometimes, that’s how long it takes to get there.

This was kind of what I intended it to be – but there were a few surprises. I started writing it for National Novel Writing Month in 2008, which was a pretty big year. I had finished college, started working, moved to New York and had one relationship explode and another implode. I was lonely, didn’t feel connected to anything, and I missed how sure I had once been about everything. I wallowed for a while, then I ran around being a crazy person, and then I finally sat down to figure it out. To do that, I did what I’ve always done: I started writing.

I never wanted to write a book about falling in love, but that’s eventually what happened. It’s a book about finding your way, but it’s also about love and loss and learning when to let go. It’s about loving yourself enough to let go, and learning that following your gut is what will lead you through the dark.

I have plenty more theories about timing, and about lessons and growing up, but for now, I just want to say thank you to everyone who helped me along the way. Everyone who listened to me talk about it: who nodded as I stumbled through plotlines and got tongue tied and blushed and said, “it might be stupid.” Everyone who let me say: “well, actually, I’m writing a book.” (Thank you, because saying it out loud helped make it real.) Thank you to the music I listened to when I needed something to talk me through at 4am. Thank you to my roommate, who staged dramatic readings with me instead of going to bed. To my friends and my family, who genuinely want to read it and see it get published. And to my mom, who found it open on the computer one day after I decided I should give up on it two years ago and called me to say, “I’m sorry I read it, but I just couldn’t stop.” (And who has subsequently called many times saying “Did you finish it yet? Finish it, finish it, FINISH IT.”)

…I finished it. It needs work (maybe a lot of it), but it has an ending. And it’ll get there. We will get there.

i’ll tumbl for ya

September 21, 2011

Soooo this is happening

allytooms.tumblr.com

i’ll be back, once i have something long(ish) to say

Oh the Weather Outside is Weather…

August 26, 2011

As I dodged lines of people waiting to get into grocery stores on my way home this afternoon, I happened to overhear an argument between three very passionate gentlemen. At first, I couldn’t really tell what was going on. The one thing I knew for sure was that the only thing they could agree on was that this hurricane business is, in fact, a government conspiracy.

And, listen, I know I haven’t written a goddamn thing here in months, but we can get back to that later. There’s no time to revisit my lametastic summer now! There is a STORM A-BREWIN’!

Don’t even worry though! New York is way ahead of you, Irene. We are shutting down our entire transit system, including all commuter rails, just to spite you. But according to those guys on the street today, shutting down the exits and entrances to Manhattan isn’t being done just spite Irene. Rather, it’s being done to kill us.

The arguments were as follows:

Theory 1: Government experiment! A zombie virus will be unleashed in Manhattan this weekend. No way out, so good luck. Hope you’re fast.

Theory 2: Also a government experiment! Biological warfare edition! No way out, so hope you like the plague.

Theory 3: They’re just going to nuke us. Screw New York, amiright?

Guys.

People are freaking out.

And whenever this happens, I get stubborn. And irrationally annoyed.

Sample conversation:
Ally: It’s going to rain. Big deal.
Not Ally: It’s a hurricane. This is an actual thing.
Ally: Whatever. I’m going to pitch a tent on my roof and never come back.
Not Ally: Shut up. Here, take a couple bottles of water.

I mean really, I guess the planners have a point. But I do think that New York is overreacting a little bit. Then again, isn’t that attitude what got Stockard Channing into trouble in that terrible movie where Natalie Portman is an unwed teenage mother turned wedding photographer? Or something? Is this an actual film?*

In an attempt to get on the same page with my fellow East Coasters, I’ve been watching some of my favorite disaster movies. And now I just have this image of me standing on my roof tomorrow afternoon, and George Clooney and Marky Mark appear to advise me that I “best get down below.” I call the pink coveralls, guys. Where’s John C. Reilly?

But really, I think my roommate and I are ready. We’ve got cereal and Zebra Cakes and board games, and there’s a bottle of gin in the freezer if things get really messy. We’ll probably turn out the lights and light candles and pretend we lost power and make a fort out of couch cushions, which is more or less a typical weekend for us anyway. And then once our broken windows start leaking we’ll most likely watch every episode of Rich Girls on youtube (seriously? seriously) in order to feel better about our lives.

I highly recommend watching Rich Girls if you’re at all worried about this weekend. Whenever you’re stressed out about anything, just go and watch Ally Hilfiger try to make a burrito. You will feel like someone hears you. Which is all any of us need, really.

Be safe out there. Because, you know. Rain.

*Edit: IT IS A MOVIE. “Where the Heart Is.” Do not watch this.

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