Monday, July 30, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises...a tale of personal humiliation and epic despair

When I was in 9th grade, I gave myself a concussion by hitting my head on a backboard.

Man, that's a great opening line, isn't it?  Especially when you consider that by that point, I'd grown to my full height of a whopping 5'7" and couldn't even jump to touch a basketball net, let alone a backboard.  The story is pretty embarassing, in truth.  What happened was this. 

I was a very self-conscious teenager.  I was overweight, I had short, curly hair when everyone else had long, shiny locks.   I lived in fear of being laughed at.  I obsessed over "what people thought."

So, I was pretty stoked to have made varsity volleyball as a 9th grader.  JV and Varsity traveled together, so the awkward JV's got to be in the presence of the amazing Varsity girls.  JV played our game (we won) and then it was time to get ready for the Varsity game.  I have no idea why I was walking up the bleachers, but as I was climbing up, I caught my toe on one of the bleachers.  As I teetered and caught my balance, I was so incredibly preoccupied with worrying that I looked stupid that I stood up, raced forward and WHAM!!!  ran headfirst into a basketball backboard that was lowered over the bleachers.

The world spun, little sparklies appeared in my vision, and I sat down heavily as parents raced toward me.  Setting aside the obvious question - why the heck was a backboard still down over bleachers? - by the end of the evening (after enduring a bus of laughing volleyball and soccer players and a visit to the doctor), it was determined I'd given myself a concussion.  Needless to say, I didn't play in that Varsity game.

Some things don't change.  I'm still overweight, and I still have short, curly hair while everyone around me has sleek, well-coiffed locks.  But if you'd asked me yesterday morning if I was still terrified of looking stupid, I would have said "Well, sure, a little.  But I've learned to laugh at myself when I do dumb things.  If I wasn't able to laugh at myself, I would have died of mortification years ago." 

That's all well and good, but sometimes, it's hard to keep that 9th grade neurosis at bay.  Like yesterday, for example, when I went to see The Dark Knight Rises.  I'd been looking forward to this movie.  I was by myself, which is always an exercise in being self-confident (it helps to look everyone in the eye and secretly chant "Yes, I'm here alone, and happy about it").  I'd watched my eating that day so I could splurge on a kids popcorn (the smallest option, and the cheapest!) and I was ready to go. 

I walked into the theater, which was pretty full, and started up the stairs.  And then, you guessed it.  I caught my toe, teetered for a split second, and then ignominiously doused the stairs with popcorn and soda as I took an involuntary knee.  There was an audible groan from the full theater (I didn't hear laughter, to everyone's credit), and I did my best to laugh it off, smiling and thanking the crowd while trying to pick up popcorn.  This time, though, laughing it off didn't work.  As I shuffled out of the theater to dump my now empty kids pack and find someone to clean up my mess, I felt 14 years old again.  Face hot, tears welling up, voice wobbly.  I kept it together, though, fetched the cleaning guy and then escaped to a seat in the front row to nurse my humiliation. 

It took me a good 15 minutes to calm myself down and stop freaking out that the entire theater was looking at me and laughing.  Once the previews started, it was easier, and then, suddenly, I found myself thinking about the Aurora shooting.  Before I could stop them, my eyes darted to the exits and before I could stop it, my brain wondered if I should have picked somewhere other than the front row.  Because, you know, in the front row, there's nothing to duck behind.  In true compartmentalizing style, I shut that unwelcome thought away and focused on the testosterone-laden spectacle laid out before us.

Maybe it was my state of mind, but all the destruction and action in The Dark Knight Rises seemed a little, well, unreal to me.  Oh, I know, it's not supposed to feel real, but really, how did Bruce Wayne get from the Far East back to Manhattan when all the bridges were busted?  That's not to say I didn't love the movie.  Christian Bale is an amazing Batman, even though I kept wishing he'd just quit trying to be the Bat and give the young guy the suit.

On a more serious note, ultimately, the legacy I've taken from the movie is the bleakness and despair of it.  Even though Batman saved the day, the audience is really left wondering if saving the day was worth the price.   Or if the day was worth saving.

I spent a lot of time thinking about my movie experience yesterday evening.  Happily, I'm over the episode on the stairs, and can now, honestly, laugh about it.  But I'm ashamed of myself for spending so much energy on my own humiliation and giving only fleeting thought to the people who died watching the same movie that I did.  It's so hard to reconcile life these days; the small things that seem so important in the wake of everything that seems so huge. 

I guess all we can do is cling to the bright side.  For the Dark Knight, it was the redemption that comes from sacrifice.  For me, it was that my clumsiness saved me from eating the empty calories of movie theater popcorn, small size or no.  But I don't think it's right to hope that the folks in Aurora could find a bright side to what happened.  Maybe I'll just hope that they find something bright to smile about, somehow. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Grand Pacific Northwest Adventure, Part 1 of 3: Seattle

Subtitle: Baseball, Sushi, and the Waterfront Hiking Trail (June 30 - July 3)

Ok, so, for a bit of context, the Grand Pacific Northwest Adventure (GPNWA) was born when my brother and I decided to hang out for a few days during the summer while his wife is deployed on a frigate with the Navy.  He made the idle comment "well, the Red Sox are playing the weekend before the 4th in Seattle" and that was all I needed to hear.  From that evolved a three-city adventure for me, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

Our Seattle adventure began with my poor brother enduring what was probably the most convoluted flight screw up/rerouting ever.  While he was sprinting between terminals, I was enjoying a stress-free trip via Southwest, and when I arrived in Seattle, I secured our car, marveled at the 70 degree temps, and hung out in the cell phone lot until 3pm when he was supposed to arrive.  By 4pm, when I hadn't heard from him, I will admit to a little bit of in.  I would like to tell you I didn't pull out my phone and scan the headlines for plane-related news, but I'd be lying.  But eventually I found an online flight tracker that told me his plane would land by 4pm, and sure enough, a few minutes after that, it did.  I have never heard of a more jacked up flight process than the one he endured.  By sheer force of will, he made it to Seattle in time for us to race to our hotel, wait for them to finish cleaning our room (at 5pm.  Huh?) then head downtown to catch the Red Sox v. Mariners game.

The story of how we got seats in the 7th row on the 3rd base side is pretty awesome, and can be summed up by one word “subterfuge.”  My sister-in-law enlisted me to make sure that SHE could buy our Red Sox tickets for us as an early anniversary present to my brother, so I had to, er, mislead my little bro into thinking he didn’t have to buy the tickets.  Needless to say, it worked, and we had a great time, although the Sox picked that night to be unable to hit more than a single and lost in extra innings.   By the time they surrendered in the 11th inning, Pete and I had surrendered as well, to jet lag, and vacated the park early. 

Turns out our lovely hotel, The Cedarbook Lodge, served a fantastic “northwest” style breakfast, including hard-boiled eggs, various salami-like meats and salmon, along with hot oatmeal and some yummy apple jam-type thing.   (Side note: oatmeal is amazing…when someone else cooks it for you.)  For the record, the Lodge was an amazing place to stay and I highly recommend it if you're going to Seattle.  More on the terry cloth lined robes later. 

We began our day two with a trip to the incredible Pike Place Market, where we did not, alas, see the famous fish-tossing guys.  But we did visit the original Starbucks and buy some artsy-craftsy stuff and take lots of pictures.   We also visited the Seattle Aquarium, the Space Needle and the Seattle Center, all of which had the air of slightly tired tourist attractions focused mostly on kids.  But still, there were great views to be had and adorable river otters to photograph.  (Side note: the otters were not, happily, as pissed off as this river otter I just heard about) And there was sushi to eat for lunch at Japonessa.  Yummy goodness. 

That evening, we wound our way up to Queen Anne, a beautiful neighborhood northwest of downtown, for a pleasant dinner at Emmer & Rye.  My brother and I always manage to have pretty good dinner conversations, and this one ranged from family to work to god to finances.   Then we went back down the hill and turned in early. 

Our final full day in Seattle began with the Woodland Park Zoo, a pretty good zoo, I’d say, and also the lucky folks who managed to buy  The tiger made a weak showing (she had the nerve to be sleeping!), but there were wolves and meerkats.  And the obligatory penguins, of course.  After the zoo, we had lunch on the pier and then took a harbor cruise with the perkiest tour guide ever.  Then, we faced a dilemma.  What to do next?

Neither my brother nor I are terribly decisive when it comes to travel plans. Thus, we spent a lot of time doing the whole “well, what do you want to do?  I don’t know, what do you want to do?” thing that drives outsiders nuts, but is a pretty standard thing in most families.  We literally sat paralyzed on the pier with indecision for about 20 minutes, until finally we decided to investigate the ferry system.  We walked down there, putzed around the maps for a bit, and then decided join the commuters and give a ferry ride a try.  Thus began the weirdest part of the GPNWA.  By this time my phone was dead, so I have no photographic evidence.  You'll have to take my word for it.

Not knowing much about the ferries, we decided to go to Bainbridge Island.  I could tell my bro was skeptical about the whole thing, but lacking other options, off we went.  Bainbridge Island, according to the city website "is located within the Central Puget Sound Basin, east of the Kitsap Peninsula and west of the City of Seattle. With 53 miles of shoreline, the island is approximately five miles wide and ten miles long, encompassing nearly 17,778 acres, or 28 square miles (73 km²), and is one of the larger islands in Puget Sound."  That translates into "small and sleepy island," in case you're wondering.
When we arrived on the island, we got off the ferry and somehow found ourselves following the "Waterfront Trail".  All we had was a tiny map from the map booth at the ferry station.  So we set off.  We walked along the waterfront (that was lovely) and up through a park and then we found ourselves in a residential area.  So we kept walking.  And walking.  And walking.  Every time I wondered if we were lost, we'd see a tiny brown sign in the distances, and we'd head for it. Sometimes the signs had arrows pointing in opposite directions; those were super helpful. .  Sometimes we walked past dumpsters and through patios.  Other times, we were squeezing between hedges and the back wall of a historical museum.  It's only now, as I look at the map I found online (at left), that I realized we walked the entire "Western Loop" of the trail.  
And then we were done.  And we looked at each other and said "um, ok, now what?  We're stuck on Bainbridge Island (population just over 3000) with nothing to do and we'd really rather be back in Seattle eating more sushi."  So we decided to try to catch the ferry back.  Problem was, we were about a 1/2 mile away and we had 8-10 minutes.  So we set off at a "brisk" pace.  Eventually, the fear of having to find entertainment for another hour if we missed the ferry meant it was time to double-time it. So we jogged the last 3-5 minutes, all the way up the long, winding, EMPTY walkway to the ferry, and breathlessly thanked the dude who was literally holding the gate for us (and was none to happy about it).  

Then it was back to Seattle for more sushi at Nijo Sushi (nom, nom) and dinnertime conversation.  This time, I wound up getting a free financial counseling session from my super-smart bro.  Always a plus.  Then, back to the hotel so we could chill and relax until Pete had to leave the following morning.  We eschewed the hotel breakfast and instead found a cute little diner in nearby Des Moines, WA called Blue Vanilla Bakery.   And then Pete headed back to Virginia and I back to the hotel, where I spent a luxuriously afternoon taking a long bath, walking the trails, enjoying the terry-cloth robes that came with the room (terry cloth on the inside, cotton on the out) and lazing about.  My sloth-like behavior stretched into the evening as Jenn's plane was delayed multiple times, but eventually she arrived, thus beginning part two of the GPNWA.  But that's a story for another time.