Booking Through Thursday: Anticipation

Do you still get excited about new books as you did when you were little? In general? New books in particular, like from a favorite author? Or do you look at all new, unread books with the same level of anticipation?

I don’t remember getting excited much about new books when I was little. I think I probably just devoured everything. The last time I remember getting really excited about a new release from a favorite writer was for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I don’t think I’ve reached that level of excitement since. That said, I do always get a little excited when I hear that a writer I like is releasing something new. And I pretty much get excited to read anything new. Part of it has to do with the fact that it’s gradually making a dent in my unread bookshelf, but it’s just exciting to be starting a new story. It might become a new favorite, and reading only helps me to learn more as a person but also grow as a writer.

Friday Five: I Scream

  1. 1. What’s something this past week that made you slightly bananas? Work. Too much overtime.
  2. 2. What did you do last Sunday? What are you planning for this coming Sunday? Last Sunday, Paul and I went for our weekly walk in the park. This Sunday, I’ll be having belated birthday cake.
  3. 3. What’s something you fudged this past week? Not much–probably just some typos at work and little things like that. Nothing major.
  4. 4. What was this week’s most interesting scoop? That Paul’s sister Julianne’s boyfriend now refuses to go into their house because he can’t stand their mother.
  5. 5. What was the cherry on top of your good or bad week? Bad week, and it was that pesky overtime. I’m supposed to get out of work at 3, but I think I left late every day but like one. Fortunately, today was only an extra 20 minutes, but there were some days where I was pushing an extra two-plus hours. At least that overtime pay is good. I have bills to pay.

I’m 25 Now!

So, yesterday was my birthday. I am 25. Despite being surrounded by people who either just turned 25 or will soon and are freaking out about it, I give no shits. Bring it on, 25!

Paul came over as usual Friday night and presented me with a really pretty gift basket he put together himself full of candy, bath products, Firefly on DVD, a bottle of wine, and a white gold and diamond necklace shaped like a cute, little dog. So we ordered pizza, drank some of the wine, watched some Netflix, and went to sleep.

I celebrated my actual birthday by first dropping off what I’m sure was enough recycling to end global warming. And then I found out that to park at the casino, where I wanted to go to gamble, you had to pay $60 cash due to a concert later than night right next to it. Had I known that, I would’ve come up with an emergency plan B, but instead I had to go to PNC and bitched up a storm about the parking. The good news is you were reimbursed if you earned enough points on your player’s card, and the only downside there was everyone was losing and ready to eat lunch when I still needed 100 more points to get there, which is kind of a good thing because it meant I wasn’t losing all my money. In fact, I had an okay day at the slots, and since it was my birthday, I got a free tote bag and a coupon for a free buffet good for the next month. Guess where I’ll be heading for a date night?

I was conflicted over where to eat–as much as I love the casino buffet, we’re all getting kind of tired of it, and I didn’t want to try something new and risk not liking it when it was a birthday meal. Plus I wanted to get the hell away from the North Shore before the damn concert started, especially since tailgaters were already showing up at 11 in the morning. So we went over to the South Side instead and went to Cheesecake Factory, then did a little bit of shopping. I managed to find a little something for Meri’s birthday already.

As for my presents, Mom’s tackling my Etsy favorites and got me some cute hand soaps, galaxy tights, and shorts. Brandon got me a new makeup case.

Paul and I were tasked with making cookies for Josh’s graduation party next weekend, so we had to gather baking supplies on our way back since I clearly have almost none. And for a little bit, it was looking like this would be a rough spot in our relationship as Paul is very particular about what he uses to bake with, but it ended up being okay, and the cookies turned out really well after some trial and error with my oven.

I declare my 25th birthday a great success!

Friday Five: Gatterstories

What random letter was generated by the online random-letter generator (this doesn’t really count as one of your five questions)? W. Ugh.

  1. 1. What article of clothing, whose name begins with the letter, have you never worn? Wedding dress. Obviously, it’s not an article I own–and a quick scan of my closet didn’t give me any insight on items starting with “w” I haven’t worn–but I’ve never been married and therefore have never worn a wedding dress.
  2. 2. What book, whose title begins with the letter, are you looking forward to reading? Walden by Henry David Thoreau.
  3. 3. What mode of transportation, whose name begins with the letter, seems like it would be fun? Wagon. I also know this from experience because my parents used to cart Brandon and I around in one when we went to the zoo. Perfect solution to tired kids who are too old for strollers or being carried.
  4. 4. What form of exercise, whose name begins with the letter, have you recently engaged in? Walking. I try to go for a nice, long walk once a week.
  5. 5. What fictional character, whose name begins with the letter, would be good company on a long trip? Wash from Firefly. He’s funny and charming. He’s also probably my favorite character on the show, which of course means he didn’t survive it.

Booking Through Thursday: Format

All other things being equal, what is your favorite format for reading? Hardcover? Paperback? New book? Old book? Leather-bound first edition? E-book?

My only real preference is for a physical book of some kind–I’m not a fan of e-books personally because I don’t trust technology to not break or malfunction, plus I like having shelves packed with books. I did used to be kind of a non-e-book purist, but there really are plenty of good things about e-books and there’s not good reason to go rejecting technology just for the sake of doing so.

I have a slight preference for paperbacks, since they’re smaller and easier to handle, but I’m not the type to wait for a book to be released in that format before I buy it. I do appreciate a good hardcover for their durability.

Which brings me to another slight preference for a new book, but even then it’s more like a book that hasn’t been beaten to hell or written in.


In Which Pittsburgh Traffic Hits a New, Infuriating Low

First off, a recap of my life the past few weeks: work, walks in the park, hanging out around Washington.

Now, last night, I went to see Ben Folds with the Pittsburgh Symphony, and Leah, Terra, Brandon, and old middle-school classmate Levi tagged along. Rachael was supposed to go but ended up not being able to, and I feel kind of bad because this is the second time she’s missed out on a show she was supposed to attend with me. But Levi took her ticket. I didn’t exactly think an extra Ben Folds ticket would be hard to get rid of, and I was right.

So, I’m a stickler for recycling, even though my apartment doesn’t provide it and there’s no convenient places to drop it off near my apartment or work. There’s one place on back roads between the two that lengthens my commute, so if I’m in the area or desperately need to clean the shit out, I do take it there. But they recently put up this nice, big sign saying it’s for residents of that township only, and I am not a resident of that township. So I’m trying to avoid it.

Fortunately, there’s a place in Pittsburgh I can take it, and I try to leave early whenever I go into the city to get it there, even though it’s often out of the way and traffic ruins my life. There’s been many a time where we’ve had to ditch the recycling drop-off plan because of traffic, and last night was one of those nights. Fine. It blows, but I’ll be back to gamble on my birthday Saturday and can take a big haul then. But the traffic didn’t end there.

Let me be clear–I left my apartment over two hours before Ben Folds was supposed to start playing. This would normally be plenty of time to drop off recycling, get Terra, and make it to the theater with time to spare. In fact, I thought we’d be killing time before the show. Instead, Brandon and I quickly realized on the way to Terra’s that recycling wasn’t gonna happen. And then as we kept sitting in completely stopped traffic, it started to look like we wouldn’t be getting to Terra’s until 7, which is when I had planned to be at the theater. I like aiming to get there early, and this entire night is one of the reasons why–not that it made a damn difference this time.

We looked up alternate routes to Terra’s in traffic but none were helpful, so we had to stick it out. We made up some time and things were looking up.

Then Leah calls and says they had trouble finding parking–despite the fact that the theater’s general area has probably four or five lots and garages–and they ended up a few blocks away, which isn’t a bad hike, but it’s a huge pain in the ass when you’re running late and you know that if not for whatever chaos has befallen the city, you’d be parked next door.

So I did still scope out the parking situation, but it became a very desperate “we’re going to the first one we see” situation. Which basically landed us across the street from where Leah parked.

Apparently, Pittsburgh was hugely busy last night–in addition to Ben Folds, there was a Pirate game, an Arctic Monkeys concert, and a musical at the Benedum. And we passed every single one of those things on our way to Ben Folds, which meant not just traffic but hoards of pedestrians so large that even when lights turned green, the cars were stuck. We sat at two or three lights for about four or five turns each because things were so congested that only one or two cars could make it through at a time. At 7:30–showtime–we were sitting in my car in traffic right in front of the theater. By the time we made it a few blocks down the street, hiked it to the theater, sorted out the ticket situation because I wasn’t sure if Leah had picked them all up or left ours at the door, then got seated, we’d missed approximately 40 minutes of the concert. Now, I’m not sure if he started on time and from the sounds of it, we only missed three, maybe 3 1/2 or four songs (although one was “Effington,” one of my favorites), but it’s still incredibly frustrating. I was even using my Pittsburgh app that helps you find available parking, but the garages it was telling me were open were only open to people with leases. So thanks for nothing.

The good news is Ben Folds played for about another two hours, so in the grand scheme of things, we only missed a small chunk, but it was a chunk nonetheless. But I did hear my other major favorites: “Zak and Sara,” “Annie Waits,” “Not the Same,” and encore of “Narcolepsy,” love song that keeps growing on me “The Luckiest,” and a killer “Rock This Bitch.” For those who aren’t Folds fans, “Rock This Bitch” is this live tradition where if someone yells, “Rock this bitch!” he’ll make up a song on the spot. Last time I saw him with the symphony, it was a section of the show where he played by himself, so he did this very dramatic, dark song about climbing down Mt. Washington. This time, though, he involved the entire symphony and created this epic, really good song–this time about a scary cab with a driver who played clarinet while driving.

If you’re a Ben Folds fan, I highly recommend checking out one of his symphony shows. The environment (and ticket price) are a lot different than the usual club shows, but the skill and the beauty of hearing the songs adapted for a symphony is fantastic. “Narcolespy” is one of the most gorgeous examples, as is “Not the Same,” complete with the audience as a choir, while “Zak and Sara” is pure fun and “Rock This Bitch” is impressive. It’s well-worth it, trust me.

We ended the night with Mad Mex and my early birthday presents from Terra, which were some little metal stamps that say “As you wish” and “Stay shiny,” plus a little shirt with a penguin on it, handmade earrings, and Wizard of Oz duct tape that’s surprisingly adorable.

And because I can’t have a simple night, I was met with more parking woes when I got home–my lot was full of people who don’t live here and I was forced to park at the Methodist church next door. I don’t have to resort to that often–it was normally when a snow storm was coming up and I knew I’d get stuck in my own lot–but it’s happened enough that I almost feel like I should slip them a thank-you note and a check.

Today, I took the day off to sleep in after what I knew would be a late night. I’ve been in bed for most of it.

Friday Five: Shppng

  1. 1. Roughly how many plastic shopping bags do you think are in your house right now, and which store is represented most by them? God, I don’t even want to think about it. Probably around 100, maybe more, most likely mostly from grocery stores.
  2. 2. Roughly how many gift cards do you possess, and about how much are they worth in sum? I’d say five at most. I know I have a couple for restaurants, plus one for the liquor store I keep forgetting about and one I just got from credit-card reward points for Barnes & Noble. They’re probably worth $100 altogether, but that’s a high estimate.
  3. 3. What’s an aisle at your favorite grocery store or drugstore that you pretty much never walk down? The pet and baby aisles. I have neither, although I do occasionally by cat food for the local stray.
  4. 4. When you shop for groceries, are you most likely to grab a shopping cart or a shopping basket? How often do you grab neither? I almost always grab a cart unless I’m only there for one or two things, then I don’t bother with either. I’ll probably transition over to a cart later in the summer when the farm stands open up–and I need to remember to visit the local farmer’s market–because then I end up splitting my groceries 50/50 between the store and fresh, local produce.
  5. 5. What was the last thing you purchased just in case? Tampons. Although that’s not so much a “just in case” as it as an inevitable need, but I bought them way sooner than I knew I’d need them because that’s something you don’t want to be caught without. Sure, I have some pads left over from my pre-tampon days, but tampons are so, so much better.

Booking Through Thursday: R-Rated

How do you feel about explicit detail in your reading? Whether language, sex, violence, situations and so on … does it bother you? Faze you at all? Or do you just read everything without it bothering you?

One of my favorite events in college was the annual banned book reading during Banned Book Week. They made it into a contest–anyone could get up and read any passage they wanted, then a panel of three or four judges, normally professors and seniors in the English department, would judge the passage on its shock value, literary merit, and how shocked they were that it was banned on a numerical scale. Now, before we get into explicit reading–of which there was plenty that week–let me just say that you’d be amazed at what some people ban or challenge. The best was The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which was challenged for promoting overeating and obesity. Obviously, it completely crushed the category of shock over its challenge/ban.

The thing is, one night of celebrating banned books has a way of introducing you to so much graphic sex and violence in literature that in a way, it desensitizes you. And obviously to have loved the event as much as I did, I have no problem with explicit content.

In any writing, I tend to think it’s best to be honest and tell a story in the most straightforward way possible. Sure, you can leave out explicit details and still have a strong story, but–especially when you’re dealing with nonfiction–I think it’s important to include the detail and be very clear about what happened. Life is messy, often literally, and things shouldn’t be sugarcoated, at least not for an adult audience. It’s important to acknowledge what happens, especially from a historically standpoint. Some of the most effective graphic yet understated passages I’ve ever read came from The Pianist.

The same goes for language. I’m strongly against omitting cuss words from literature entirely. That’s not to say every single books needs to have at least one, but more like when that’s how people talk, it’s accurate to use those words. You can absolutely have characters who don’t use them and you can absolutely leave them out entirely, but you can also go too far on the opposite spectrum and make such an obvious effort to exclude them it’s distracting. Similarly, so are cuss words that are there for shock value, and it’s pretty easy to pick those out.

Now, when it comes to sex scenes, the rule of truth still applies. That said, I’ve been made uncomfortable by things like the rape scene in The Lovely Bones, although rape scenes should make one uncomfortable. But much like violence or swearing, sex is a thing people do, and I’ve read some excellent sex scenes. But one of the things I’ve learned in my venture of reading the 50 Shades trilogy is that my tolerance for the frequency of sex scenes is pretty low–more than a handful per book and things start to get gratuitous and, frankly, boring. I’ve read so much sex at this point in 50 Shades–barely 100 pages into the second book–that I do literally roll my eyes every time one character says or does something suggestive. When your characters are fucking more than once per chapter, you’re overdoing it.

Then again, I might just not be cut out for erotica.

And Then There Were None

We started Meri’s send-off to El Paso with a group dinner at Vietnamese restaurant Nguyen’s. I had the misfortune of eating small box of Bagel Bites before Meri texted everyone about getting dinner first, so I stuck to sushi, which is the smartest choice for me at Nguyen’s as their portions are huge and Paul heckles me every single time my judgment fails and I order the pad thai.

After the waitress found out about Meri’s move, she got a complimentary desert with the plate decorated with cowboy boots. It was adorable and amazing and we devoured it as a group.

And the rest of the night was spent just pretty much dicking around and drinking. We played a couple hilarious rounds of kings, Paul acted like an ass and sucked up to me so hard the next day that he offered to take me to see the new Oz movie, even though it looks like a silly child’s movie and he doesn’t want to go.

It was one of those nights that in some ways was uneventful but was nearly perfect (Paul ruined it for me, that’s how much of an ass I thought he was). But the company was great and everyone seemed to have a good time, and it was a nice low-key send-off, I think.

Best of luck to Meri in El Paso. I look forward to her tweets.

The next day, Brandon and I saw Eddie Izzard in Pittsburgh. It was our second time seeing him and while I think he was funnier the last time we saw him (I actually cried), he’s still my favorite comedian, I still laughed the whole time, and I still had a great time.

Shout-out to the man two rows in front of us who threw the middle finger after a joke about the Tea Party. I’m not sure what you were expecting, sir, seeing an openly transvestite and liberal comedian.

He didn’t return after intermission, but that just meant a couple in the same row stole his and his wife’s seats and got a better view, so hooray for them! Plus it’s always a miserable experience to be sitting near someone who isn’t enjoying the show and is being a disrespectful ass about it.

Brandon and I stuck around for a post-show Q&A he did out in the lobby, which was pretty cool. I wish people would’ve asked more creative questions–like, you know, ones he hasn’t answered plenty in interviews already–but I’m sure some people just want to chance to speak to him, which I get. I was content just to listen to him and see him, especially outside of a performance setting.

And Then There Was One

If you had told me back in college that at least a solid half of my friends would move across the country to pursue careers or dreams or just new lives, I wouldn’t have believed you–not because I didn’t believe it but because it’s one of those things that lots of people talk about but few actually do. Hell, I was surprised our Craigcations actually happened.

But a couple weeks ago, we saw another friend off–this time Tessa for Los Angeles to pursue acting, and we saw her off with a going-away party at Lynn’s, because how else are we gonna do it?

It was a nice, unusually low-key night for Lynn’s–it was crowded for dinner, but within an hour or so, almost everyone cleared out and the bar was mostly empty except for some regulars and Tessa’s friends, which was nice. I prefer bars when they’re quiet (unless dancing is happening), which probably means I prefer not going to bars.

Really, it was a nice, calm night. Nothing happened, we all just sat and talked and hung out and took pictures and wrote in Tessa’s sort of guestbook with well-wishes, memories, and advice with varying degrees of seriousness, like “don’t do porn.”

Best of luck to Tessa. I hope to see her in a show at work, except not in the distant future because I want to be looking for a new job before 2014 ends.

As it was Memorial Day weekend, Paul, Brandon, Kelly, and I went the next day to Ohiopyle, which ended up being too much of a clusterfuck to enjoy, so after a pretty short hike, Paul and I headed off to Sarah’s for a cookout, which is always a good time. It was kind of a low-key day there, too, although no one stayed too late.

And with that, there was just one thing left to do–have a little going-away party for Meri the following weekend, as she took a job in El Paso.