My American Life

Ira Glass’ 90-minute program + Q&A sesh at Jones Hall this past weekend ended on this pop-cultured note:

“Ira, when did you know that people were really listening to This American Life?”

“I knew people were really listening when my wife and I were watching The O.C.,  because we loved The O.C. when it was on (!!!), and a fictional character mentioned something about This American Life and another fictional character said, ‘This American Life? Is that that show by those hipster know-it-alls who talk about how fascinating ordinary people are?’ That’s when I knew.”

Ira’s touring show, “Radio stories and other stories,” began with only his iconic voice talking calmly, if not neurotically, from a dark stage. “I have gray hair,” he warned the audience. “And I look even Jew-ier than you thought I would, I’m sure of it.” The spotlight flickered onto his desk, and he began telling us about stories. His stories and other peoples’ stories, all while effortlessly arranging  the music and clips  through a CD player.

There were a few things that he mentioned that really stuck out to me. The first was that about half of TAL’s stories are gathered just from e-mails sent to their website. It’s that easy. I started thinking about the stories I’ve written and the ideas I could come up with for show themes. I tried to imagine myself reading aloud from some old non-fiction essay I had written. Could anyone find what I write interesting aside from the people who actually know me? I don’t know.

Ira also made note of his marriage, and how he thought it was a good one, but it’s so rare that he and his wife take the time to really talk about their feelings, which I thought was a way cool statement said by a fifty-something straight man. “We never take the time to say what we really think about. People open up on the radio because there’s anonymity there. You can hide while still getting your emotions out there.”

***

On Saturday, I spent the afternoon wandering around the Bayou City Arts Festival, which is kinda like Artsfest, only in a major city, and the point isn’t only to get wasted. I brought Zack’s digital SLR with me and took some pictures. I bought a keychain because I couldn’t afford any of the real art, which was much more innovative than anything I’ve ever seen at Artsfest in State College.

The whole time I was thinking, “Why can’t I do stuff like this? I need a hobby. How do you get a hobby? I want to take a photography class. But everyone takes pictures, right? I’ll never be that good. Dude, I want to start collaging. Yeah, mixed media. How do I do that without making myself look a bored eighth grader? I haven’t taken an art class since middle school.”

Then on Sunday, Zack and I went to Austin City Limits, where we listened to a handful of really fantastic bands and got horribly sunburnt. Pity party take two.

“I want to be a band (I used to play piano, but I can’t carry a tune). I want a jaw-dropping sense of fashion (need a bigger paycheck), and a waist line to match (need more self-control). I want to make music, or videos, or music videos. I need to learn how to operate computer programs that are useful. I gotta delete my Facebook.”

As Zack and I perused the art at ACL, I told him about the necklaces I used to make when I was younger and how I sold them at Rochelle’s in Wayne, and the t-shirt surgeries I used to perform in high school and all of the stencils I made. I used to have hobbies, I swear I did.

***

We met up with Matt Fox and his brothers for the Yeasayer set. I think I could count on one hand the times Matt and I hung out in real life. We’ve known each other for probably six years, but entirely through other, older Conestoga graduates and Livejournal. One of the first things he asked me was, “Are you still writing?” That’s how I was categorized by someone who doesn’t really know me, or knew me when I was eighteen. As someone who writes.

Goddamn. No. No, I’m not really writing.

I’m 23 now, and I’m feeling this insane pressure  to figure out what I really love and what I’m really good at. I need a passion. I need a hobby. Did I say that already? I need to either start blowing people out of the water with the stuff I was pretty good at in high school and college, like writing, or move the fuck along. And in the age of the Internet, how do you even get noticed for what you really can do? It feels like everyone’s trying to be the next big thing. It’s discouraging.

A lot of my extremely talented friends are doing really cool and creative shit with their lives right now. John is writing for the Denver Post and managing their music blog. Maddie is working for a badass design firm in SoHo, much like most of my other designer friends. Lindsay is interning at Bitch magazine in Portland.

My lack of radness makes me feel entirely mediocre. I need drive, or something. I womped to Zack before we fell asleep last night, staring at the ceiling. The dark room was my anonymity, my confessional, my personal radio show.

Zack tried to console me.

“I think you saw too much art this weekend,” he said.

The Real Hyde Park

You know when you live in a certain area, and that area is known for a specific place or thing but you’ve never experienced those things for yourself? It would be like living in King of Prussia and never shopping at the mall.  Zack lived in State College for eight semesters and one summer session and never once went to the Creamery. Blasphemy, I know.

Saturday night we hung out with our new friend Nick, who took us to two bars I’d never been to, all within a block and a half of our house. First, TC’s. A bar where guys sit outside, parked in a circle of fenced-in chairs. A bar that kind of looks like a rest stop. A bar where you can get $1 well vodka drinks, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. EVERYDAY. A bar where there are scheduled drag shows four nights a week.

We heard clapping coming from inside and rushed into the doorway. It was like everything I had learned in WMST 250 (Sexual Identity Through the Lifespan) had come straight off the Powerpoints and breathed itself into life. The room was comprised of mostly two types of people. Straight women (bachelorette party) and transwomen (some single, some with dates), with the occasional sprinkle of a man. It’s not like I’ve never seen a drag queen or been in a gay bar before. I’ve spent time in Provincetown, Massachusetts, almost every summer since I was born and I did live in Manhattan for a short period of my life. This was different though. The show was small scale, in an intimate setting. There was no cover.

The queens came down from the stage and walked around the audience, lip-syncing to Pink,  Tina Turner and Destiny’s Child. At one point I asked no one, “Is this Beyonce?” The host heard me and replied into the microphone, “Yes honey, yes it is.” I saw one bridesmaid say to the bride, “Oh my god, I’m having so much fun!” as she slipped a dollar bill into the hand of “Ashley Houston”, who knew every breath, sigh and stammer of lady Madonna herself.  Nick, Zack and I were the only people dancing. $1 vodka specials? That’s like…that’s like college, dude.

I saw one transwoman eyeing up Zack. I looked at her.

“What, bitch?”

No, just kidding. I looked at her, then looked at Zack again.

“Is he your boyfriend?” She asked.

“Yes, he is,” I said.

“He’s real cute.”

“Thank you.”

“Y’all make a gorgeous couple.”

And with that, we took the party to the Ripcord, the leather bar next to our apartment. I’m not exaggerating when I saw it’s next to our apartment. We share a parking lot. The only thing dividing our yards is a wooden fence.

I got ID’d for the second time since arriving in Houston. We walked past the dark and mysterious indoor bar, through the movie-watching room (no kidding) and onto the back patio, where there were men of all shapes, sizes and age (some dressed in nothing but two strips of leather). Nick introduced us to some people he knew, and I immediately got the twice-over from the only two women in the bar, who were from an organization called the National Leather Association.

One of the girls pulled me started giving me the shtick about the history, or rather herstory (shades of WMST 250) of leather. “It started getting popular around World War II…”

I nodded along. Fascinating. Another woman told me how nice it was to see another female at the Ripcord, then went on to ask me if I’ve ever had an interest in bondage. She started listing the pros of leather in the bedroom and its place in a healthy sexual relationship. The assless-chapped man behind the bar looked at me and shook his head. I was wearing grey skinny jeans, a black tank top and gold hoops. I thought I looked cool, but apparently not cool. Can’t please everyone, I suppose.

To  be honest, I was under the impression that a leather bar in Texas meant gruff, scary men bearing lots of skin and guns. That wasn’t the case at all. All the people I met were fun and friendly. One even guarded the door when I went to the bathroom. There was no lock.

Next time we’re in State College I’m taking Zack for ice cream.

An Open Letter

Dear Katy Perry,

I didn’t like you from the start. That first single of yours? “I Kissed a Girl”? Disgusting. After participating in the Vagina Monologues 2008, my blossoming feminism-ity hated that song. The rants I made really earned me points with Courtney Connolly and the rest of the girls from the cast, let me tell you. You later said in interviews that you’ve never even kissed a girl. What a phony!

No, I don’t even know your name, it doesn’t matter
You’re my experimental game, just human nature
It’s not what good girls do, not how they should behave
My head gets so confused, hard to obey

No, Katy. I did not like you at all.

But then the one and only Taylor Swift made this cute home video to your single “Hot N Cold” and I guess I didn’t think you were that bad. But that five-head! Which you sometimes covered up with horrible bangs! Those Pro-Activ commercials! Those ridiculous boobs! Your engagement to that tool Russell Brand! I couldn’t get on the bandwagon.

Then one day recently, my dear friend Katie Hudson (your REAL NAME, weirdly enough) and I were driving home from the mall and I could hear the murmur of a very catchy song coming from Mr. Hudson’s Audi speakers. What could this be? I wondered. Got home, Googled the lyrics. It was you, Katy Perry. It was your summer smash hit, “California Gurls“. I was obsessed. That shit was on repeat til my brother Michael told me I could not play it anymore. It was just so fun, so clean, so pop.

Then you performed it live on the MTV Movie Awards and god, it sucked. Your voice was so shaky you had to simulate a blow job to distract the audience. Not as clean as we thought. Cool.

However…you have redeemed yourself. For now.

“Teenage Dream”, your forthcoming single from your new album of the same name, might be in my top ten summer jams of all time. It has a jammin’ beat, a catchy hook, and adorable lyrics. It makes me want to jump up and down then make out for two hours in the back of a car.

Thank you for this.

– Allison “teenybopper” Berger

Monday Monday Monday

Monday is trash day in Houston. Never, ever in your life have you smelled such a stench. Riding my bike on the back roads is torture- in the morning, around ten, after the trash has been picked up and the cans are left open at the foot of each driveway- that’s when the humidity lifts the stank up into the air and lets it sit there, and I have to hold my breath for blocks at a time.

Gross.

This weekend we did CRAFTS. I had a small pile of things I wanted to frame- mostly pictures I’ve collected from dorm room to dorm room. Pictures I couldn’t just tack up onto the wall because, you know, I’m a real person now and everything. Maddie inspired me to make a photo wall- she created one for her apartment in Park Slope. On Saturday, Zack took me to the junk shop where we shuffled through boxes and boxes of frames. Then we went to Home Depot and got sheets of glass. Sunday I matted all the pictures, Zack cut the glass and attached picture hooks. Here’s the final product:

Center: Jim Dine print I bought at the Bryn Mawr College book store during writing camp, summer 2005.

Top and going clockwise: Sketch of two flappers, from a card Lisa Goochee sent me; the cover of “Betsy, Tacy, & Tib”, one of my favorite childhood books (my mother snagged it for me from the New Eagle library); a print of The Hague, which was given to me by my Dutch poetry teacher at the end of my semester abroad in Amsterdam; a drawing of a tree surrounded my all types of birds, another present from Lisa; a neat little mirror with a plant etched on it, which I found at the junk shop; the second stanza of a Louise Gluck poem that summarizes the Summer of Women, again sent by Lisa; the mixed CD cover that Maddie designed before I left for Texas (it says, “I miss you already” with a heart drawn from Brooklyn to Houston on a map of the US); a black & white photograph of a train and its tracks taken by Zack when he spent summer 2008 in China.

Here, listen to this:

Nothing New

Sunday I left the apartment at 2 p.m. to attend a Bollywood Aerobics class that was being held at my yoga studio. Yoga is hard- really hard. Especially Hot Hatha, which is slow moving in a room that is roughly 100 degrees. Vinyasa Flow is faster and more temperate, but it is really intense. I pulled two muscles chattarunga-ing today. I’ve been doing this shit for six days now…when is that flexibility thing supposed to kick in? I should be going twice a day with all the free time I have, but yogis like to charge a lot of money for their practices. That is the conundrum of being unemployed. All the free time in the world, but no money to do things. “Bollywood aerobics?” Zack laughed at me. “Yeah,” I said. “I’m gonna get all Slumdog Millionaire on yer ass.”

I got dressed, hopped on my bike, pedaled twenty feet to my left and- what? What is that? A homeless man sleeping on our side stoop? It was easily 85 degrees which feels like 100 in the humidity, and the man was fully dressed in long-sleeved clothing. A duffel bag laid comfortably under his head. A man in a tie and dress pants walked over from across the street, peered at the sleeping man as if to check for signs of life, and shook his head. He did not nudge him, budge him, or call the police. I kept riding along. Apparently the police came by and picked him up shortly after. Gotta get used to these things on Hyde Park Boulevard.

Bollywood aerobics is not something I plan on doing again…Which song did we learn a choreographed dance to? “Jai ho.” I was so, so right.

Earlier in the weekend we had a drink at Griff’s, Houston’s oldest sports bar which offers $1 Lonestars (the shittier version of Pennsylvania’s Yeungling) on Fridays. No complaints, only that I wish I had more friends to drink with. It was towards the end of the night. Zack was spacing out. I was getting sad.  I was falling into my half-drunken womp-fest about not knowing anyone, about not having any friends here and missing my favorite people from school.

“Wait,” Zack said suddenly. “Was that kid wearing a Diner shirt?”

I jumped up to get a get a glance of the boy leaving the bar. Black t-shirt with maroon and white detailing.

“THE DINER!!” I yelled. The kid turned around.

“Hey,” he smiled. “Did you go to Penn State?”

“Yes,” we said. “Did you you?”

“Yes,” he said. We introduced ourselves. “I graduated last year. I live right around the corner from here. I’m sure I’ll be seeing you guys around.”

WE ARE. No, we really are.

soundtracking

When Zack lived in ye olde Penn Tower, we used to make stir fry for dinner with the guys and blast The Band. It’s been two weeks living together and we haven’t made any stir fry, but Zack is whipping me up some of his famous buffalo chicken salad as we speak. This is what’s playing on the stereo.

In his words: “It’s LA pop/rock. Whatever.”

That’s one of the many things I love about Zack…he has absolutely no shame in loving a good, catchy pop song. You should have seen us trying to find the damn song on the internet.

“It’s Igloo and Harley,” Zack said. “Nothing’s coming up.” “Try Igloo and Harly.” “Igloo and Hartley.” “Iglu and Harley.” “No, it’s definitely Hartley.” “Maybe there’s an ampersand? Try it without the E?” “I-G-L-U & H-A-R-T-L-Y.” “Got it.”