800 Words on Chicago

On my first trip to Chicago, my boyfriend and I stayed in a seedy-looking motel a long bus ride from everything other than a White Castle. Chicago isn’t a cheap city to sleep in, and after previewing the cost for a hotel room for our second trip, we threw caution to the wind on our most recent trip and rented a place in Lakeview on AirBnb last weekend to be close to the theater at which his brother is performing his first solo show.

During our first visit, my boyfriend and I had done a lot of the touristy stuff. We did the architecture boat cruise, which should be a mandatory activity for all first-time visitors to the city. I developed an opinion on the best deep dish pizza (Peaquod’s) thanks to my boyfriend’s brother. We caught a show at Second City. We posed for an obligatory selfie under the Bean and stood on the glass platforms on the Willis Tower.

Last weekend, we visited the Shedd Aquarium, which was great, if a little spendy. We did some shopping on the Magnificent Mile, which I first got to know watching Oprah as a kid and hearing the show sponsorship messages as the credits rolled. I insisted on another stop at Peaqoud’s and DMK Burger Bar which we’d enjoyed during our first trip.

My favorite moments on this trip were the ones that weren’t overly touristy. While Second City is mobbed by out of towners, the Annoyance Theater is more of a comedy sleeper cell, located in a new space in Lakeview. It’s produced talents like Stephen Colbert and is more offbeat and local. It was great to watch my boyfriend’s brother’s first solo show and to catch a few ensemble productions.

How beautiful is that skyline? It’s beautiful even when you can’t really see it.

Before leaving Boston, I had considered tossing in some workout clothes in case I felt the overwhelming urge to go for a run while we were on town. Our AirBnb was about a mile from the Lakefront, so I figured it may be nice to get some fresh air. I decided against it, which I immediately regretted upon arriving to the breathtaking skyline of Chicago. So after dinner one night I excused myself, walked over to a nearby Marshall’s and bought some workout clothes. (Hey, I needed them anyway.)

I got up early on Sunday to go for a jaunt by the water before we got ready to leave town. Not wanting to tire myself out before I got the water, I took advantage of Chicago’s bike sharing service and pedaled down to a station near the paths along the lake. Once I’d docked my bike, I started jogging.

The lake was still covered with fog, the sun trying to push its way through. Joggers, bikers, walkers, and serious groups of distance runners all cruised along the well-kept pathway. It was reminiscent of Boston’s Esplanade, but the path was set farther from the road, making it slightly more peaceful. Although it was too early for them to be open, small cafes were spread along the path for thirsty athletes and hungry tourists on a stroll. People lined up along the water to fish.

As I made my slow jog along the path, I rounded a gentle corner and saw the impressive Chicago skyline before me. It was still shrouded in fog, but the outline of the Willis tower and the Trump Tower were still visible. Somehow, Chicago has the height and density of New York City, but I don’t find it as imposing or overwhelming. Maybe it’s because the city goes for miles beyond, offering lakeside high-rises and small apartment buildings like the one I was staying in. Once I’d seen the skyline, I turned to head back. While it was not a good run from a pacing or distance perspective, it was the happiest I’d been after a run in weeks.

I love that, unlike Boston, most Chicago neighborhoods have the basics for urban living right outside your door, even if you’re 10 miles outside the downtown area. Lakeview had grocery stores, take-out joints, a variety of bars, wine shops, and bagel places within a 10 minute walk of our place. And, after an ill-advised urge to load Zillow on my phone, the real estate for sale was the same price as metro Boston, but each unit seemed move-in ready.

Lithuanian Combo Plate from the Grand Duke’s Restaurant

For our last meal before heading out of town, my boyfriend’s mother requested that we visit the Grand Duke’s Restaurant, a Lithuanian restaurant a few miles from Midway airport. She reveled as she eavesdropped on men at the bar speaking her native tongue. We all marveled at the sheer quantity of food that came with our order. It was amazing, and I’d consider dealing with the hell on earth that is Midway in order to have an excuse to stop in again.

Jeez, 800 words. That escalated quickly. All this is to say; I like Chicago and would consider living there were it not arctic cold there for half of the year.

~FIN~

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The Idiot’s Slow Crawl Out of Debt

It was all downhill from here

It was all downhill from here

Look at that idiot.

There I am, barely accustomed to my post-pubescent body. (I thought I was chunky then. I was the worst–look at that beauty! Anyway.) Glowing with consumeristic joy over the acquisition of both my first cellular phone that wasn’t drilled into the frame of an automobile and my first credit card. The ink was barely dry on my first private student loan and the federal loans that allowed me to pay the University of Rhode Island for my first year of college.

I’d worked babysitting jobs and a horrendous retail job and hadn’t lived away from home for more than a week in my life. Money had no long-term use for me; it was all about having enough to gas up my crappy car (easy enough in the halcyon days of a gallon of gas costing less than a gallon of bottled water) and some left over to buy a CD at Newbury Comics, and maybe some late-night diner breakfast at Bickford’s.

Fast forward about 15 years and the long-term consequences of my financial choices have become abundantly clear. I pay about $500 a month in student loans. (Sadly, a song compared to what some of today’s graduates have to face for their bachelor’s degree.) Over the years, I’ve been rent-poor. I’ve had to leave unsafe apartments or was asked to leave by roommates to make room for someone else. I worked a series of rewarding but low-paying jobs and tried to keep up with friends whose salaries were considerably higher than my own. I’ve had the unexpected stints of unemployment and little savings to cover it. It was manageable when I had one relatively low-limit credit card. But then I got a second in a foolish attempt to transfer a balance for a lower interest rate. Then my freelance gigs dried up during the recession. One day, I woke up and I had more than $10,000 in credit card debt.

That idiot’s chickens came home to roost.

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A Hypothetical Retail Controversy

Let’s examine a hypothetical situation, shall we?

For the purposes of our story, let’s imagine a retailer. It has a storied history of selling overpriced, mass-produced clothing for young adults. Because it is not known for being inexpensive, it must ruthlessly maintain an image of being cooler than all the other fast-fashion retailers. This consists of partnerships with artists and designers looking to make a quick buck by slumming, and oftentimes generating outrage by selling clothing that is offensive as it attempts to remain edgy.

The hypothetical interior of a hypothetical store

Sometimes, this means appropriating the name of a minority group to sell panties. Other times, it means selling products that are at best dunderheaded appropriations of clothing items from other cultures or an unfortunate arrangement and placement of “patchwork and geometric patterns.” At worst, the retailer steals ideas and designs from the independent artists who are arguably cooler than this hypothetical retail behemoth. In each case, the retailer apologizes for its poor taste after dozens of shocked media outlets call for comment.

So when this hypothetical retail store elects to sell an article of clothing that is, at best, a very inappropriate placement of “holes… from natural wear and fray” on a shirt referencing the location of a massacre on peaceful protesters 44 years prior, who would be surprised? Why would we breathlessly scorn this retailer for its poor choice of color and complete lack of respect for American history, spilling barrels of ink to in the rush to be the first to condemn this theoretical idiocy?

I’d like to think, in this entirely hypothetical situation, we’d raise our collective eyebrow. Instead of rushing to tweet our outrage, we’d explain to our kids why a blood red sweatshirt with the name of that particular location is a reminder of a hideous event in American history that should not be repeated—especially as we, as a nation, continue to grapple with how to handle peaceful protest without resorting to violence against our own citizens. We’d see this naked grab for headlines and outrage for what it is; an attempt to appear ballsy and antiestablishment for kids who are too young to know that actual rebels don’t buy pre-distressed shirts at the mall.

Good thing this is all hypothetical.

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Writers Need Ideas from Hollywood?

As I was skimming the Boston Globe on Wednesday morning on my way into work, a headline caught my attention. “For inspiration, writers turn to Hollywood.”

…’Scuse you?

The hardcover comes first. Then the movie. Then the paperback emblazoned with the words “Now a major motion picture!” Everyone knows that. But the usual order is being upended this week, as not one, but two of Boston’s best-selling writers [...] are publishing novels that were inspired by Hollywood, not the other way around.

Full disclosure: I’m a woman with a bachelors in creative writing who’s never had a fiction piece published anywhere. Nor am I knocking the need for fiction or creative nonfiction writers to hustle. It’s hard out there for a writer and these fine wordsmiths want the finer things in life, like shelter and food.

But are you people nuts?!

A perfunctory search brings up dozens of results of mainstream media and bloggers ruminating on the dearth of ideas coming out of Hollywood in recent years. Even successful movies, like the very fun Lego Movie, have already had some part of their creative universe decided for them. For the love of all that’s good and right, someone bought the right to make a Peeps movie. Yes, a movie about the worst Easter candy is coming to a theater near you.

Getting ideas from the people who paid money to make movies about pink marshmallows should be a last resort for writers. What happened to watching people on the subway or at a restaurant and imagining their lives? Why not read Reddit or a community newspaper or whatever source you like looking for real-life stories from which you can draw inspiration, as local boy Andre Dubus III did for monster hit novel (and movie!) The House of Sand and Fog?

I’m all for film adaptations of books. (I can’t wait debate the merits of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild versus the Reese Witherspoon film adaptation.) But I believe that authors can dive deeper into the internal universe of the human experience. Let the filmmakers have all the Peeps they want. Writers should be developing their own ideas and optioning the rights later.

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Back to School

Perhaps I’m the biggest nerd out there, but I loved going back to school.

Remember it? Your parents, who made a habit of rejecting most of your requests, set aside money to take you shopping for new stuff. At the bare minimum, you were getting a new pair of shoes, a pair of jeans, some killer flannel shirts, and some underwear. Maybe you could sneak in that Tori Amos t-shirt you coveted when they weren’t looking. I don’t know your life. I can only speak from my experience.

And the school supplies! It starts with the choice of lunchbox in elementary school, then evolved into Trapper Keepers and various binders with which to hold notebooks and other necessities. Fresh pencils and pens were the greatest, until you lost them or someone permanently “borrowed” them after the first week. All the brown bag book covers had yet to be doodled on. The future was limitless.

It was also great to come back and see how people had changed over the summer. This was especially great once puberty started and you’d legitimately not recognize some classmates because they’d sprouted peach fuzz and a new nose sometime between June and September.

Watching Facebook explode with pictures of smiling children heading back onto the school bus, it’s hard not to wish adulthood had the same built-in timeline for renewal. We attempt it with New Year’s resolutions. When we start new jobs, we often feel like kids waiting for the yellow chariot to pull up to our driveway, taking us and our Miss Piggy lunchbox off into the great unknown. We shop the end of season sales year-round to try to keep our wardrobes fresh. But it’s hard not to wish for that one big annual transition to make us reevaluate and grow.

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Summer 2014

Don't leave, Summer, you're the best.

Don’t leave, Summer, you’re the best.

Despite the fact that it’s currently 80-something degrees outside and both air conditioners in the apartment have been blasting all day, summer is unofficially over now that the sun has set on Labor Day. The summer of 2014 went by in an all-too-fast blur, much of it rife with horrifying news from around the globe. However, there were some shining moments to remember as we head into the final stretch of the year. Let’s think about those, shall we?

Summer came at all. After a brutally cold and snowy winter, the entire region awaited warm weather and lazy summer days with anxiety. Would it rain all season long? (Nope.) Would it be hot? (Not really.) Everything would be all right, if we could just make it to those warmer months. (Correct.)

There was no “Song of the Summer.” Say what you will about the relatively recent trend of dubbing one pop anthem the inescapable hit of windows-down season, but there really wasn’t one this year. Sure, Iggy Azelea’s “Fancy” was an early leader, but it burned out fast. I’m just sad “All About that Bass” didn’t start seeing regular airplay until the waning days of August. (However, that means music industry marketing folks are having emergency meetings to sharpen the knives for summer 2015. Prepare for an onslaught of universally appealing pop!)

Road trips. New England is the most beautiful place to be in the summer. Everyone is outside, sweating and baring their skin to the suddenly fierce sun. It’s best to take advantage of several long summer weekends around the region. This summer, I visited Martha’s Vineyard, Newport, Ogunquit, York, Jamestown RI, Portsmouth NH, Scituate MA, and Lake Winnipesaukee. Can’t wait to see where fall’s road trips take me.

Running outside. There’s nothing better than being woken up by the sun and getting a quick jog in before work, feeling the day’s heat slowly beginning to build. Sadly, that only lasted for about a month before the mornings started getting darker. Ugh. (Sorry. Positivity!)

Weddings! My good friend got married this summer at a lovely, low-key ceremony. She’s one of my first very close friends made during post-college life to get hitched, and I’m so happy for her.

Summer of the Shandy. I think I drank what feels like 500 Narragansett Del’s Shandies and Harpoon Big Squeezes. To say nothing of the Narragansett Summers. Fall beers are awesome, but summer beers are finally giving them a run for their money.

So, what was your favorite part of Summer 2014? Let’s reminisce so we can use these thoughts to keep ourselves from giving up entirely when it’s -30º in a few months.

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Insult to Injury

Although I am generally more active and willing to be outside in the summer months, I often gain weight when it’s warm outside. Every day, I wear the stretchiest, loosest, most breathable clothing I own. While I walk more places, it’s typically to a patio upon which to dine and drink al fresco for hours. By the time cool August nights roll around and I’m donning my jeans, I notice they’re a little more snug than they were in the spring.

Combine this with an increasing number on the scale and a recent vacation during which I ate and drank my way across the port towns of southern New England, I’ve been pushing myself hard to exercise this week. I made my valiant and sweaty return to the gym on Monday, stunned at how much of the strength I’d lost in a mere week away. Tuesday I rested (and ate pizza nachos) but I returned yesterday.

Tonight, I was a little tired, but figured I should push myself to do one more fitness class this week. I’d missed the start of a short class by mere moments, so I waited around for the 45 minute (and more challenging) class to begin. The warmup began with some squats. My muscles were tired, but I felt fine. We did a few downward facing dogs and cobra poses to get loose. Sometime between the slowed-down burpees and the mountain climbers, I felt a stabbing pain in my knee.

Shit.

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