Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Christmas Story in three parts. Part 3: I hate humanity

Let's start with this e-mail, shall we?

I got it 11 days after I tried to purchase my Fung Wah bus ticket online, eight days after I got yelled at by the Fung Wah woman I called (Me: "Hi, I'm supposed to leave Saturday and my debit card record still says the ticket is pending."
Angry Fung Wah lady: "You come here, buy ticket."
Me: "Well, I already bought one, so I'd like to just try to figure out if that one will come through."
AFWL: "That's what I say, you come to office, buy you a ticket at window!")

And best of all, the e-mail came three days after I completed my trip. I'm still not sure what they want me to do though.

For my return trip to New York, Fung Wah the dance remix was exponentially more horrible than the ride up. It included features such as a seat next to the lavatory, an extra two hours stuck in traffic and a seatmate who wouldn't stop shouting into his cellphone. We all learned a lot about him, including but not limited to what he got for Christmas (a $1,000 Best Buy gift card, a sweater that he didn't really like but it was expensive, so he's keeping it, and a gift card to "Bloomies" among others.), what his plans were later that night (movie with Rachel. "That one with the woman, what's her name....she might be English"), and some tale of woe involving some street urchin his aunt took in for the holidays. ("By the time he opened up his third or fourth $500 present, he had to leave the room he was so touched. It meant a lot for me to remember not everyone is used to that.")

We were also privy to a fight with his sister when she tried to change plans. See, he only gets three weeks of vacation a year, which is not a lot (Editor's note: Screw you, pal. I got one day off for Christmas and had my pay docked.) There was shouting and name-calling and finally a resolution. But there were no winners, especially not the rest of us, who had to hear the story three more times as he called different people to bask in his righteous anger. ("And then I said, Laura, that's not a lot, I work extremely hard and in my downtime I try to pack in as much as I can...I know right? finally she saw she was being unreasonable.")

There's $10 that says she just got sick of his whiney, nasally voice and if that’s the case, Laura, you had a Fung Wah full of angry people on your side.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

If an assistant is at work and there’s no one to assist, does she make a sound?


It’s 2:00 and I’ve not made a peep. There was an e-mail for me earlier today, so I got to stick a Post-It on my computer that says “Nanette bus. cards” and then promptly forget what it means. (For a while I had one I wrote that just said “Anna?” and I eventually threw it away because it was frustrating me to not know A. who Anna was and B. what she wanted from me. Nobody named Anna has come looking for me though, so I think this has an important lesson: You can get out of doing things by avoiding them. P.S. Boss, I’m just kidding.)

Here’s today's breakdown:

9:04 – arrive at work.

9:12 – call mom.

9:25 – find out that I got her a duvet cover instead of a shower curtain for Christmas. Huh.

9:36 – decline to speak to assorted visiting relatives.

10:10 – write “Nanette bus. cards” on a Post-It.

10:32-10:57 – write previous blog entry recapping Christmas.

11:20 – clean out purse. Find deodorant, two dollars.

11:44 - briefly learn about the life and times of Gerald Ford. Appreciate how he overcame being named Gerald. Wonder if I thought he was already dead.

11:50 – go to bank. Witness man cut in front of woman by removing the retractable barriers while she looped around the maze.

11:51 – consider saying something to him. End up rolling eyes commiseratively with woman.

12:44-1:10 – attempt to get into the American Girl doll store for my cousin’s birthday present. Admit defeat. Realize there are too many people on 5th Avenue/Midtown/planet Earth.

1:20 – buy Whoppers from cafeteria.

1:22 - wonder why sign said "malted milk balls."

1:26 – eat Whopper

1:29 - eat Whopper

1:34 - eat Whopper

1:38 - eat Whopper

Consider eating another Whopper. Blog instead.

Christmas Story Part 2: A very Hector Flores Christmas

Against all odds, the Fung Wah delivered me in one piece (albeit with a small bleeding spot on my scalp). Yes, I am a hero.

I go from solo traveler to someone enveloped in a family. Red shows up with her dad, and I’m told a story that I immediately know will change my life: the ballad of Hector Flores. It must’ve been like shepherds hearing about a babe in a manger.

Red (who works at an elementary school, by the way) was in a meeting about a first grader having trouble. The obligatory 100-year-old kindergarten teacher/town buttinski leans over the table and confides, “Well that’s no surprise, you know who his father is, don’t you? Hector Flores” in a tone meant to make everyone gasp “Not THE Hector Flores?”

Apparently he’s the town’s simpleton Lothario (my new favorite phrase) and has, as Red put it, been kind enough to contribute to the town’s elementary school population boom. All with academic trouble, none with the last name Flores. (Hector is a love ’em and leave ’em kind of guy. He doesn’t leave his mark.)

Hector popped up repeatedly through the weekend. He generously brought Red’s mom several gifts, leaving the sign of the H on the tags, not unlike Zorro.

Red’s an only child, and her parents took me in as one of their own. (In a bit of corporate humbuggery, I couldn’t get paid this week unless I was at my desk, even though the office is technically closed. There’s no work to do today, so I may post several times.)

Her mom made me a welcome basket with cookies, Cape Cod shell candy and other goodies. That was more than enough treats for me, but they also got me Christmas presents and filled a stocking. I was speechless.

I also got to meet their neighbors. Red was explaining that the mom is “a young 40,” and “gives us all hope about getting older.” But I still wasn’t prepared for my introduction to her being her standing on her couch, conducting with wooden spoons.

Red’s mom and dad are the 7 and 8 year old kids’ godparents, and they literally had to drive their SUV across the street with gifts because it was more than four people could carry. For the next hour, the kids opened presents while we drank wine and ate cheese and crackers. They were the perfect kids, totally grateful and excited about the gifts without being insanely wild. At one point, the daughter opened up a soft sweater and hugged it saying “It’s beautiful and just what I always wanted” before trailing off into a blissful sigh. It’s fun to have rent-a-kids for the holidays. You need someone in the house to sprinkle reindeer food, track the sleigh and be fully prepared to hop into bed early because your babysitter has threatened to call Santa.

In addition to drinking my body weight in mulled cider and lighting luminaries I also got the pleasure of meeting her mom’s old friend Bonnie, one of those people who—instead of just nodding politely while someone tells a story—confronts them with, “What do you mean? Why is that funny?” Good times, Bon. Glad you came out.

We watched “White Christmas,” from like the ’50s, which was pleasant enough, but the real fun came at the end, when star of the silver screen Rosemary Clooney decided to share the most passive aggressive memories about her costars. Among the gems:

“She was the dearest friend. We traded Christmas cards for years until my list got to be over 600 people. It was just too long. I still think of her fondly though.”
Red yells out from the back: “Did she just say she bumped someone from the Christmas card list?”

“We were supposed to perform for the king of Greece, but when Bing found out he went ‘Not me’ and hopped the fence to go golfing, leaving us all lip-synching.”

“I remember there was one line in the song that Bert loved, and he’d sing it really loudly. I’ll never forget that line, it was just so funny to hear him sing it so loud….anyway….” (goes on to another anecdote.) Red: “What was the line, Ro?”

I may have to be at work, not working, this week, but I’ve come back refreshed, stuffed from good food, sore from laughing and restocked with a year’s supply of lotion. And, as with my night with Hector Flores, I’ll always remember it fondly.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Christmas Story in three parts. Part 1: Putting the fun in Fung Wah

I took the Fung Wah, aka the Chinatown bus, to Massa chusetts for a proper New England Christmas with my friend who lent me her family for the holidays. Luckily they were worth it, because the Fung Wah tested my tenacity. Any bus that will take you to Boston for $15 cuts corners somewhere, and in the case of the Fung Wah, that comes at the expense of English-speaking bus drivers, overhead bins with doors and the requiste pointing-out-of-the-exits routine. (There was no announcement at any point before departure, they simply took off when the bus was full. How refreshing that they treated us like adults who can figure out the obvious, I thought, until I realized all the emergency signs were in Chinese.)

On the plus side, they are liberal with their passenger lists, so although I had tickets for the 10 a.m. bus, they encouraged me to hop on the "9:15." It wasn't until I got to Boston that we discovered that there was no 9:15. How delightfully horror movie! Also, there was a small, pale little girl running up and down the asiles who looked like a little girl who died 30 years ago that day. Wonder what that was about.

Before the bus even leaves, the woman in the row next to me starts going to town on some yogurt. My first thought was "Oh, lovely! That's perfect bus food. Quiet and unsmelly." That was before I looked over to see her licking the spoon. The lid. The inside of the container. Like she was Alanis Morissette in the back row of the theater. This exercise was repeated twice more.

Because you only seem to hear about the Fung Wah in conjunction with phrases like "drove off the overpass" or "flipped three times" or see it with photos of dazed Chinese senior citizens wandering the highway, jokes flew about me wearing a precatutionary Special Olympics helmet. At one point we crossed a bridge in total fog, zero visibility, and I figured I should help out the beat reporter who draws the assignment and just go ahead and write the accident story lede and pin it to myself.

Red calls with about a half hour left in the trip. "Are you surviving? Use your helmet yet?" she asked, and for her touble got me screaming "Christ! Ouch! The fuck?" as at that exact moment a binder fell directly on my head from the overhead bin. I like to think it's a metaphor for the whole Fung Wah.

Coming (at some point):
Part 2: A Hector Flores Christmas, and Part 3: My Triumphant Return.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Does CNN think I'm busy or retarded?

CNN has got to be the perfect solution to being on the Internet at work. You look like you're catching up on today's Ahmadinejad updates (oh, Mahmoud, you so crazy!) but you're really getting sucked in by this:

Answers: Don't do it, and yes, she is.

CNN is quickly becoming my top source for all cat-who-called-911 news. But I have to say this takes the cake for uselessness.

The greatest part of this is that it's like a six graph story with three bullet points. WTF? The reader has voluntarily given up a few minutes of their day to read about Jessica Simpson being dumb (Weird, they forgot the Breaking News tag. Huh.) but CNN thinks they still need to distill the item to its essence and parse the difficult language found within the body of the story.

I know this is how Bush prefers getting his news, but the rest of us probably have the wherewithal to slog through the entire 200-word story to answer our burning Simpson-related questions. Or maybe, just maybe, they actually wrote it for Jessica to tell her what’s going on in her life.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The three most underwhelming Christmas songs:

3. Feliz Navidad — Please note that the singer and his merry band of assembled children never actually get around to wishing you a merry Christmas (in English at least). They just keep saying that they want to. Well you know what singer-I-won’t-make-the-effort-to-Google? I wanted to get you a present, but I didn’t. Please just treat my intent to as an actual gift.

2. Do they know it’s Christmas time at all? — No they don’t, Sir Bob Geldof, they’re from Ethiopia, which is a predominately Muslim nation. Do you know that the nation is more animist (Animism: the belief in personalized, supernatural beings (or souls) that often inhabit ordinary animals and objects, governing their existence.) than Christian?
Fun Kate fact: Do you know sometimes I’ll Wikipedia things even though I just said I wouldn’t Google something?)
I’m still waiting for the sequel “Do they know it’s Chinese New Year after all?” for the good people of New Orleans. Update: Still no snow in Africa this Christmas. It’s not looking too promising next year either.

1. Little Saint Nick — Christmas comes this time each year? Are you kidding me?!?!?! This is what we like to call “phoning it in” Brian Wilson. Could you stifle your yawn long enough to get out the chorus? It sounds like you wrote it during a commercial break and recorded it as soon as you dug up an old xylophone and a brother to sing falsetto. A sample: He don't miss no one /when he's haulin' through the snow at a frightening speed/With a half a dozen deer with Rudy to lead/He's got to wear shades cause the snow really flies/and he's cruisin' every path with a little surprise.

Also, the song ends with “little Saint Nick” and the bracketed instruction to “Repeat for a long time.” That’s the song equivalent of me just trailing off at the end of my entries with “blah blah blah” or maybe even Zzzzzzzzzzzzz…

To sum up. It is December. Christmas comes in December. We, the Beach Boys, like cars, to the point of shoehorning car/sleigh metaphor together. Pay me royalties or I’m locking myself back in my room.

Maybe I’m just bitter because Brian Wilson almost took my hand off last Christmas. I went to watch him pull an Ashlee Simpson lip-synching-stavaganza while taping a special for NBC. Because my dad is the only one I know who might like the Beach Boys, I called him when Brian was done.

Me: I was like three feet from him. You’ll see when it airs tomorrow. Man is he a bad lip-syncher! Did he have a stroke?
Dad: That’s so cool. Remember when you put me on the phone with Ed Helms? (Editor’s note: See entry “Ohmigah! It’s Ed Helms!”)
Brian Wilson turns corner to enter limo.
Me: Ohmigah! It’s Brian Wilson! Mr. Wilson, will you say hi to my dad?

I hand the phone to him and he takes it, attempting to shut the car door at the same time, nevermind that my hand is between the door and the car.

Brian: Hi Dad.

He hands the phone back as I cry out the hilariously succinct “My hand!”

And just like that, he was gone, with a cry of “Merry Christmas to all and to all" zzzzzzzzzzzzz......

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The A train experience

My usual two daily brushes with comedy are the wannabe comedians who accost people in Time Square with, “Do you like standup comedy?” in the hopes they’ll come to one of the myriad clubs and happily pay $32 for a pair of Bud lights to make the two-drink minimum.

(When my brother and his friends came to visit, they weren’t able to avoid the solicitors. Maybe it was because by the time you’ve dodged a full block of people it’s like you’ve just finished a slalom course and your resistance is worn down. Maybe it’s because if you answer “no” to “Do you like to laugh?” it makes you feel like you’re admitting that you like to set fire to the elderly. Whatever the reason, I came out of Starbucks and we had tickets to a comedy show that night. It was actually pretty funny. We got to see Jim Gaffigan, who(m) I like. And the doorman/ticket taker did a set too, which was much better than the woman who actually abandoned her joke before she got to the punchline. (“Just forget it. It’s new material and it’s not funny yet. You’re right not to laugh.” You don’t see that on Comedy Central.) )

The other bit of humor in my day is the conductor on my morning train who calls it “the A train experience.” For some reasons it always makes people smile. Related: My new synthesizer-based group is called Kate and the A Train Experience.

But yesterday I hit the jackpot: Homeless guy standup! Forget everything you know about homelessness because apparently it’s awesome.

I got on the A train (experience) at 59th, and a man got on behind me, mumbling. Nothing out of the ordinary yet. Apparently someone said, “Here comes that guy” because the next thing I knew, he’d launched into his routine, which actually got laughs instead of fear.

Open strong: “You damn right ‘here comes that guy; you in my living room! Look, you got your feet up on my couch. I can’t sleep at night, cause all night the doors go bing-bong-bing-bong-bing-bong. You alls just jealous, you pay $1,800, $1,900 a month for your apartment and it don’t go nowhere. I pay $2 and I go all over the city.”

Be edgy with you take-my-wife-please joke (explain why you’re homeless): “She was 398 pounds! She wanted me to buy her steak all the time. Do I look like I can afford steak? So I left her and went to live here.” Yes that’s right. Homeless on account of steak.

The grand finale (leave ’em wanting more): “And when you leave, please do me a favor and take your newspapers with you. I got company coming over tonight.”

Friday, December 15, 2006

This just in: Earth revolves around sun. Roommate still crazy.

Because people have been begging (begging!) for crazy roommate Monica updates, here ya go.

Things were going smoothly. I had my mold-catastrophe Thanksgiving (How many walls did your bedroom have over the holiday weekend? Because if it's more than three, you have me beat.) Monica seemed to express the proper human emotions for the situation, i.e. saying, "Oh that sucks" and the like. In what will probably be her finest hour as a roommate, she even helped me bring all my stuff back in to my newly spackled room. I thought, "Well maybe she's just socially retarded at first. I guess she’s coming around."


I don't see much of her (owing to the fact that I avoid her at all costs) so there was nothing to report after that. Until last night.

I had told her I was putting together a Goodwill box of clothes and that she should feel free to add to it. Apparently to her that meant she should feel free to add my laundry to the box. That's right. She went through my laundry bag (which had a detergent bottle on top, so there was really no doubt it wasn't to be donated) and randomly selected some of my shirts, pants and a small area rug to give to the poor and/or thrifty.

Nice to see you're still sticking with the crazy theme, Mon.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

He denied knowing them three times before the cock crowed

I was finishing up some Christmas shopping last week at Borders. (Yes, you're all getting books from me. Because I like paying a lot for shipping, that's why.)

I make my way to the deceptively innocuous travel section and see three oily teenage boys' heads bowed over a book with Talmudic intensity.

I catch a few snippets — Is that hair? Who's that flexible? Where's her hand? — in what can only be described as reverent awe.

None of them spot me at first, then one notices a girl (a real live girl!) in their midsts, and he instantly becomes the all-knowing wise old oak of the trio.

“Geez guys,” Pimply McRetainer says, “It’s a reverse 69.” He is suddenly disgusted by his rube friends, who clearly have not only embarrassed him but also insulted his intelligence.

Then he marches off.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Monday Morning Dance Party Vol. 12: "Middle school dance" edition

Remember how in middle school the boys would bathe in cologne and not get closer to the girls than they had to? Glad to see this guy is sticking with the theme.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

It's like the writing is music to my ears, and music is pain to my ears

I hated playing the flute as a kid. I hated to practice. I hated concerts in the gym/cafeteria (gymeteria?). I hated the long, black skirts all the girls somehow owned that make them (fine, us) look Pentecostal. I hated talking about aperture and 8 counts. I hated the oboe player behind me. I hated the stentch of my band teacher's dreams deferred that even a 13 year old could smell.

I'm not sure if this ties in or not, but I was also really bad. Last chair all the way throughout my short and painful middle school career. I was this kid who would relucantly practice, only to have the teacher say, "You didn't play this week at all, did you?" "Yeah jerkface, I did. I'm just really not the musical type" is what I did not reply.

To entice me to pick up my silver wand of doom, my mom would dangle the New York carrot in my face. True story: She hated the idea of me being a writer so much (unstable career move!) that she'd entice me with "But if you get good enough you can live in New York like you want and play on the subway for money!"

She was not joking. Sadly, this was all too real. (Because whereas writing might not be stable, subway music is, as everyone knows, a straight shot to greatness and a 401(k).)

Despite being in 7th grade and living in Iowa, states away from a subway system, I knew this was probably not the brightest path my future could take.

But every time I pass a subway musician, I can't help but think what might have been.

The underground musical range is staggering. Would I have been part of a professional duet? Playing that sad-sounding Chinese string insturment? Cranking out the Christmas tunes on a trumpet? An accordian version of "Guantanamera"? Or been like the man under the 42nd street stop who just listlessly inhales and exhales into a harmonica? Because let's face it, no matter what instrument I picked up, it wasn't going to sound any worse than my flute skillz.

(Sidebar: I went to visit a friend at 125th street last summer and heard "Guantanamera" literally three times. Thrice! On the subway, outside a restaurant and then blasting from a car. I like when people embrace stereotypes.)

I usually see these minstrals while I'm on my way to my job. At an office. Where I write. But I can't help but thinking how great it would be to make people pay me to go away.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

But hark, what makeup through yonder window breaks.

I ducked into Sephora yesterday to get a Christmas present for a friend of mine. Previously, I've boasted about my gift-giving talents, but this trip shattered that notion.

Quickly, I realized the error of my ways. Much like Vinnie Chase is Queens Boulevard, my friend is Sephora. I'm 82% sure she has 97% of the bronzers, lip venom, lotions and potions on the shelves. I can't even do that math. And oh dear Jesus, the staggering shades of reds and pinks. It's more than one person can deal with.

This is the girl who was more crushed than I was last year when I didn’t get that beauty editor job.

Me: Yeah, so it looks like I didn't get it.
Her: (Muffled sobs)
Me: It's OK, I'll get something else.
Her: But, but all those free nail polishes!

My usual experience at Sephora involves me skulking around, testing teal eyeshadows and trying to put on as much makeup as humanly possible while ducking salespeople and making a serious, pondering "Yes, I might buy your wares" face.

Then I steal make liberal use of their of their rookie error of not putting a "one per customer" sign on their tissues and Q-Tips and slink off into the dark night.

But today, oh today would be different. They'’d finally make commission off me. Or not.

It was like being a co-worker of Bill Shakespeare, being handed his birthday card to sign and getting told to just jot down a sonnet or a little iambic pentameter.

(Sidenote: The last co-worker goodbye card I had to sign was for a guy whose last name was Teoh, and——because I never had any interaction with him——I had nothing to say, so I wrote "Every time I see your name, I want to sing 'Day-O.' " My office clearly has some sort of hire-the-handicapped quota they met with me.)

Apparently, lotions that smell like desserts are very big right now. As are bubble baths that smell like margaritas and daiquiris. Usually when I come home smelling like alcoholic beverages it's unintentional and not entirely welcome. After being knocked backwards by a few choking smells, I admitted defeat and fled.

Which is why I can write this post. She's getting nothing from Sephora me.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Monday Morning Dance Party Vol. 11: "She's better than you" edition

She can hold eight fans. You often spill your beer. Game, set, match geisha.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Whos down in Whoville

Christmas! Yeah! It really truly is the hap-happiest season of all. Especially in Midtown, where you can celebrate with your 50,000 nearest and dearest. The other day was the Rockefeller Center tree lighting (slash one-year anniversary of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson almost cutting my hand off. That's a story for another day though.)

On tree-lighting night my cubemate called me over to her window.

Her: "Listen, you can hear singing."
Me: "Wow, it's like being in Whoville. Maybe Christmas really doesn't come from a store. Yep, I think my heart just grew three sizes."

So welcome, people from all over this great nation of ours. And I suppose the rest of the world. (People who presumably live in places where trees are in abundance come to New York to see foliage. This, I believe, might be that irony that people keep telling me I should look into.)

Someday, I will win my Pulitzer for an expose entitled "Tourists: Why do they realize nobody is behind them?"” It will feature a hard-hitting look at why they stop dead on the sidewalk, why they get flustered when people won’t stop so they can take photos as they try to block the whole sidewalk, and of course, why they don'’t understand that you walk on the left side of the escalator.

To answer your questions:
1.) "The tree" is that way. It's huge. You'll see it.
2.) Yes, the skaters too.
3.) I promise, it'll be faster to walk than take a cab.
4.) I understand it's 7 blocks. Walking will still be faster.
5.) I'm happy to take your group photo for the Christmas card, but let's get you out of harm's way first.
6.) No, don't buy that NYC Santa hat.
7.) Yes, it's a real Rolexx. That second X is for x-tra love from New York to you.
8.) No, I won't give you directions to the Times Square Applebee's. It's against my religious beliefs.

In the meantime, here are a few tourist carols to warm your crusty old heart.

Oh holy crap!

Oh holy crap, the tree is big and shiny
It is the night to get in the way.

All around, weary New Yorkers are groaning.
Waiting for you to stop and take your picture.

Faaaaaall on your knees, poooooooose with your brother.
It doesn't matter where, or who is behind you.

Oh tourist, oh tourist diiiiiiiiiiivine.

Deck a tourist

Deck a tourist for blocking the doorway
Cause that really gets in your way
It dawns on them a little too late
That blocking entrances makes us all late.