Monday, November 30, 2009

Creep-tastic and How!

There are some unwritten but pretty crucial rules to riding the metro. I'm fairly certain I haven't learned them all yet, but I hold to the ones I have learned. I've come to appreciate the boundaries firmly established by unwritten rules of mass-transit. Things like, if you are standing by the door of a crowded train when it stops, even if it's not your stop, step out to let others off and then come right back in. You don't need to ask to sit next to someone, just take the empty seat and try not to elbow them in the process. Excessive eye-contact is inappropriate, in fact any eye-contact is inappropriate but we forgive each other brief glances as long as we look away fast. Most importantly, though, the most important rule of the metro is to simply NOT be a CREEP. Simple, right? Wrong. Apparently, at least for some people, this is a real challenge.

There was no free seat. Which is fine, because there rarely is a free seat when I'm running late as I was that day. So I stood, leaning against the side of the train, my iPod gently pouring Aaron Copeland into my ears while I drifted in and out of full consciousness. That's what I love about mass transit: you don't have to be awake to get to work. And generally, I take advantage of that fact pretty well. This day, though, something kept me semi-alert. Honestly, there is no reason for that guy to be staring at me so much. He has now surpassed the "look away fast" limit and is boldly venturing into territory reserved only for the mentally handicapped and the extremely creepy. Folks, this could get ugly.

But, you know, it's kind of a crowded train, so I just move a bit. Put some people between us and relax again, let my consciousness wander into....wait, what the heck? did he just move too? Really? He feels so compelled to stare at a semi-conscious fellow traveler that he gets out of his seat? Code orange, people, we have a code orange.

And now I'm kinda cranky, because this is officially encroaching on my nap time. I take my commute seriously, I love that extra 45 minutes of shut eye. And this jerk is about find out just what 6'1" of pissed off post-India Cathlin looks like. I'll give you a hint: she isn't cuddly.

Luckily for him, he's sane enough not to try to get any closer. He's just standing there, staring at me. Like a total nut job. And I'm thinking: How PC is it to kick a man in a train in America? Because it totally made my day in India.

"This is Foggy Bottom, George Washington University, doors opening on the left." Perfect. See you later, crazy face, this is my stop and I'm taking it. But I must have smushed a whole colony of ants in a past life because Karma obviously has it in for me. I get like ten steps from the train before I feel his hand on my shoulder and hear his voice saying "Good morning! It is so nice to see you today!".

Stop. Turn. Utilize full height. Glare. "Do I know you?"

"You have made this day beautiful because you are beautiful. Goodbye beautiful!" And he's gone.

What the WHAT? Listen buddy, I don't know what you're smoking, but at 7:45am I don't even make my own day beautiful, let alone anyone else's. Whatever though, he's gone and I'm late for work. I'll just log that away under "Could have been so much worse". Because, of course, it does get worse.

Ironically, there is a seat open the next time. And when providence hands you an open seat on the metro, you take it. The iPod is in, the train is gently rocking, eyes are closed, and we're off to dream land. Or we would be, if friendly passenger next to me would stop poking me. Ok fine, he's probably new and wants to know how to get to the Lincoln Memorial or something. So I open my eyes and glance at him, quirking an eyebrow to communicate "Can I help you?" because, honestly, it's not even 8am and I haven't got the energy for complete sentences yet.

"Can I show you something?" he says. And he tilts his iPhone toward me. And there on that otherwise harmless device he has so cleverly written

You have beautiful eyes. Please don't close them.

Oh, brother! Really? Did I have to sit next to a serial killer today? Look, I know you probably have a set time frame and all, but I'm kind of busy today. Could we reschedule the rape and murder thing for another time? Cuz today just doesn't work for me.

And honestly, that was my internal reaction. Not creeped out. Not scared. Just annoyed at the prospect of being killed on a Tuesday. Because, obviously that's what's going to happen. That's what always happens. I've read the books people. I know these things.

On the outside I only really have the energy to say "Ugg, I'm tired. Just back off okay?" And then I put my earbuds back in and close my "beautiful eyes" because it's 7:43 in the morning and I'M TIRED!

But, as previously established, he's crazy. So he taps me again. This time he wants to talk to me about what I do here, how long I've lived in DC. And I'm SO not into conversations with serial killers. That doesn't seem to bother him though. When I don't answer he just guesses. And then he tells me all about himself too, because obviously the girl who is leaning away from you, cranking up the volume on her mp3 player, and looking the other way REALLY wants to hear about it. He graduated from GW, (where he obviously got a minor in creepy public transit come-ons). And now he works at the World Bank, when he isn't annoying innocent commuters that is.

But then he makes a tactical error. He asks me the one question you should never ask someone like me.

"What is your religion?"

That, my friend, was a serious mistake. See, he thinks asking a question like that will either draw me out (because religion is a safe topic right?) or push the creep out level to whole new heights. Little does he know. Now we are entering my territory, buddy. Because when it comes to religion I'm really good at creepy. Really, really creepy. Prepare to be creeped out. My veins quickly fill with the adrenaline of a hardened RM, I can feel my fingers slide into the "I really care about your soul" position, and I let my face radiate the scary "I've got your answer right here" look that turns even strong stomachs and closes even the politest doors. You asked for it, buddy, and here it comes.

I. Am. Mormon.

That's right! Those crazy, polygamist, Jo Smith worshiping, magic panties wearing FREAK SHOWS? Those are my peeps! Do you wanna hear about it? Do ya? Cuz I'll tell you, dude, I'll tell you.

And he murmurs something about Mitt Romney, but there is no way I'm giving him the upper hand now. I've got my "Won't you try my jello salad?" smile pasted firmly on my face and I WILL launch into the first discussion, pal. You want that in English or Spanish? Cuz I can do both, buddy. And if you don't shut it down, I so totally will.

And you know what? At that point he suddenly realized he had to get off the train sooner. Huh. Bummer. I was about to open with a Hymn. I'll just file that under "Reasons I'm glad my religion is freak-tastic".

But they always come in threes, don't they?

The bus is rapidly surpassing the train as my favorite part of the commute. For starters, I always get a seat on the bus. For another, the seats are more comfortable and therefore more conducive to the main purpose of my morning travel time: snoozing. And boy, can I sure snooze on a bus.

So the bus comes as per usual, and I climb aboard as per usual. I flash a weak smile at the same bus driver I see every AM at about this time, swipe my metro-card, and head for the back of the bus where I'll get more leg room. I'm about two rows from my usual seat when he gets my attention. He's seated on a row by himself, grinning at me and waving his arms. I can't be sure what he said to me just then, I silence my iPod for no man at this hour of the day. So I just glance at him to let him know I heard him, give him a chance to realize I'm not whatever girl he is mistaking me for, and convey the "not gonna happen, loser" impression that is now the crux of any interaction between us. Just to be on the safe side, I sit as far to the back as I can and put my bags on the seat next to me, blocking me off from all human interaction for the next 15 min. I love people, I really do. After about 8:30am I totally love them. Before that, well, let's just say I prefer to pretend they don't exist.

And of course, he gets up and switches seats so now he's sitting directly across from me. Awesome.

But I'm ignoring him, of course. Blocked off from all sights and sounds I'm determined to get that extra 15 minutes of sleep this morning, so help me. That's about when he started trying to kick my foot. I caught it out of the corner of my eyes that were almost but not quite fully closed. Ok, simple, I'll just tuck my feet under my seat and out of his reach. Fine, whatever, let me sleep.

And then I feel his hand on my leg.

WHAT THE FRACK YOU TOTAL PSYCOPATH?! So of course I jerk violently, open my eyes, and proceed to suck the life out of him with my homicidal glare. I officially hate this man. I don't know him, I don't want to know him. But I hate him. Oh, do I hate him.

And he chuckles awkwardly, sitting back again, unsure of how to proceed now that I look less like a drowsy commuter and more like an Amazon out for blood. Yep, it's official. He's a dead man.

Or he would be, if it weren't for the other passengers. We've just reached the busiest stop on the route and four more people climb aboard and fill in the seats around crazy-dead-man and I. One woman casually sits down next to him, opens a paper, and crosses her legs. I don't know if she did it on purpose or not, but she just totally cut off his visual of me. I official love this woman. I don't know her, I don't want to know her. But I love her.

Only a few more stops and we reach the train station where I'll transfer to the orange line on the last leg of my daily commute. When the bus stops I get up quickly, gathering my things and moving away without looking in the general direction of loser-face again. But there is a pause between the songs in my iPod and I hear him as I step down off the bus.

"Goodbye Beautiful!"

Seriously, the next time some dude calls me beautiful, I'm going to vomit on his shoes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

See you in the sub-continent!

I wrote a post yesterday listing reasons I want to be back in India right now. It was satirical and a bit much for this blog, so I posted it on my other blog instead. Still, since this is the India blog, I feel I should include some version here. So, here are some things I miss about India. Some of them I miss a little, some of them I miss a lot. Some of them, I ache for.

1. Jasmine in my hair. Oh, how I miss having fresh flowers in my hair! I still use a sort of coconut-oil in my hair now (no really, I do. the humidity in VA totally warrants it), but still I miss the way the cool blossoms would sometimes fall to the side of my braid and brush against my neck. I miss the moments when a breeze would catch me from the side and envelope me in the smell of fresh flowers hanging from my own hair. There was something so feminine about wearing jasmine. It totally made up for the sweat and dust and gunny-sacks for clothing.

2. Gunnysack clothing. Ah the churdidars! No, they were not a great fit for my figure (obviously whoever invented them was totally flat chested and had no hips), but oh were they comfortable! It was like wearing pajamas all day. Especially the 100% cotton ones. Also, I could get away with so much more color in my wardrobe in India. I was actually pretty conservative there, and in retrospect I wish I would have purchased more flamboyant churdidar sets. Something in bright orange with green stripes. Yeah. Only in India.

3. Temples. Do I really need to explain this one? Is there anyone out there who doesn't understand the desire to sit in holy places? Religion is my drug of choice, any brand, any time.

4. Me. I miss me in India. I miss the way I could look at myself and think "Hey Cathlin, let's go have an adventure, eh? Cuz you're awesome. So. Totally. Amazing." And I meant it. I loved me. I loved the tan-lines on my feet that looked so white it was cartoonish, my crooked fingers, my hiccup-laugh, my witch hair. I loved it all, accepted it all, lived in it all. I've lost that, somehow. Amidst all the hot showers and clean sheets I've lost the joy of being me.

5. Fear. It's been a long time since I've seriously thought "So this is how it ends for me?" and I miss that. I miss walking through the jungle alone at night, on my way home from an interview, trying not to jump at every sound, seeing mad elephants and evil cobras in every shadow, not looking down for signs of the scorpions I would later see smashed on the road in daylight. Riding home on the back of a motorcycle with a total stranger, unable to hold onto anything for support (It's totally not PC to hold on to a strange man, no matter how fast he is driving). The sinking feeling that comes when I realize I'm totally alone and suddenly, totally lost.

6. Maaza! Ah, Maaza! You were the very nectar of the gods for me. How many gallons of your sweet mango flavored glory did I wallow in on the hard days, revel in on the good ones? Want to know the secret to my heart? Find me a way to get Maaza in the states. Seriously. I'll totally have your children in return.

7. Faces. So many faces. It is neither easier nor harder to love people when you don't speak the same language. "My name is? My name is?" "Which Country!?!" "You...Obama!!!" Yes. Me, Obama.

8. Rickshaw rides. Because, really, when it comes to near-death experiences, nothing beats the fun of an auto rickshaw in rush-hour.

9. Michael Moments. I can't really think of a better name for the type of experience I'm thinking of. Those times when it hits you, suddenly, that you are in India. You are standing in a bus thronged with total strangers with Tamil songs blasting over the speakers and your translator holding your hand, grinning at your wide-eyed excitement. You have three colors of powder caked on your forehead, your feet are so dirty they look like you are wearing gray-brown socks. You are plastered against five different women, the smell of incense, spices, fruit, and other human beings bombards you from every side shouting "INDIA INDIA INDIA" until you are no longer sure where India ends and you begin. I haven't explained that well. I can't. You really want to know? Come visit me in India. I'll be there in 2011.

Oh, and if you are in the mood for some ubber-sarcastic Cathlin, I'm giving in to my inner demons and posting that original rant here. Warning: Contains inappropriate references and high levels of man-hating sarcasm. In other words, if you don't know me well and love me, don't read the following.

I'm going back to India. Here's why:
1. I don't have to worry about dating in India. What's that you say? I don't have to worry about dating in America either? Shut up and get off my blog. Of course I frigging do. I'm Mormon. I go to a singles ward. The universe will open up and swallow me whole if I don't. Also my sister will keep badgering me about my ovaries if I don't put forth a minimal effort. Seriously. I'd do almost anything to avoid another ovaries chat. I'd even date. But in India, I have more important things to talk about with my family. Like my chances of survival. So yeah, I'm going back to India. Leave my ovaries out of it.
2. Americans are stupid. Don't get me wrong, Indians are stupid too. I just don't identify with Indians. It's less embarrassing for me. I hate Americans. And people. "There is not a bus big enough to run over all of the people that I hate."
3. Idly with chutney. I could totally go for some fermented rice cakes with unbearably hot sauce in the morning. Love myself some early morning indigestion. This morning I ate yet another bowl of boring Special K. Which was awesome, because I pretty much love Special K. What's my point, you ask? What's your point? Did I not just tell you to shut up and get off my blog?
4. Temples. I miss worshiping a woman. I really do. Not that I ever really worshiped her, in fact, a lot of the time I had to have a little prayer first just to let God know He had no reason to be jealous. "I'm just here for the food! I swear!" Plus, the food totally sucked. And I had no idea what anyone was saying to me. But there was less guilt, you know? Like, they could tell me to repent and start dating all they wanted and I'd have no idea what they were talking about. Ovary chats are so much easier to deal with in Tamil, you know?
5. Kicking people. I really miss the opportunity to kick some dude. Granted, it only happened just the once, but still. It rocked. I would totally kick another jerk-melon right now. Also, the melons in India were awesome. Awesome as in they inspired me with awe and disgust. Jackfruit melon? Yeah, pretty sure that came from another planet. A smelly, over-ripe planet where people are stupid but you get to kick them so it's okay. That is why I frigging love Jackfruit.
6. Sweet milk. I hate sweet milk. Sweet milk makes me want to cut out my own tongue and poke my eye out with it. And if I didn't have a tongue or an eye, I'd totally sue some jerk-melon and get a huge settlement for it. Then I'd kick him, and steal his jackfruit.
7. This post would make sense if I were in India.
8. Shut up and get off my blog.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Amateur American

I walk blisters onto my feet on my lunch breaks. I can't help it, I need to get to know this city. It hurts, and I should probably remember to bring better walking shoes more often. Still, I need to meet this city, because this is my city now. This is my city.

Washington DC is so fake it's real. Everything about this place is contrived, the architecture, the spacial relations between monuments, the sidewalks. And it's pretty effective too. I defy even the most cynical citizen to spend a few days here and not get at least a little shaken up by our heritage, our mission, our country! On the flip side, I defy even the heartiest of patriots to spend more than a few weeks here and not start to wonder what it is we've been playing at all these years. That's how it works though. DC overpowers you with monuments, museums, visions! And for a little while, that's all you see. The obelisk, Lincoln's Temple, the timeless dome of the Capital. And it seems so much bigger than you. It seems so old, so grounded. So very very real.

Except it isn't real. None of it is. It isn't even very old.

This country was not built by superhuman geniuses. It was built by farmers who didn't like paying overseas taxes. We are held together by geography and a shared story, one we make up a little more with each generation that passes. What is the American Dream, anyway?

Doesn't everybody dream?

Washington had several sets of teeth, made from wood, ivory, and mostly the teeth of other animals.

Jefferson made his own version of the bible, cutting out large sections of the New Testament, mostly anything that talked about Jesus' miracles. He didn't think those parts were true.

Hamilton, who lead one of the original political parties in this nation, wanted to run this country on a loose interpretation of the constitution. I guess since he helped write it, he didn't labor under the impression that its authors were gods. Or maybe he did. They say he had a big ego.

Madison stood 5'4" and never weighed more than 100 pounds.

Franklin lived in sin with a married woman and believed Christianity was a good idea but ultimately corrupted and untrue.

Ok, ok, I'll stop. Please don't sick Glenn Beck on me.

The point is, I love this city! I love that it's wrapped in its own hypocrisy, wearing it proudly like a mink coat in June. And I love that despite that, so many people are still trying to do good here. They still believe they can make the world a better place, that DC is a seat of real power that can be used to change the world for good. They are the right wing looneys looking to save family values. They are the left wing nut-jobs fighting for human rights and environmental responsibility. They are Americans. We are Americans.

I'm not a democrat. I feel I should let you all know this before you conservative pundits grab your torches and pitchforks. And now, before my liberal friends whisk out their superiority complexes I'd better be sure to confirm that I am also not a republican. I'm an independent. A proud leaner neither this way not that. A fence sitter. A spectator. An American.

But I live in Washington DC, with "tea baggers" (seriously people, get a better name already. You're grossing me out.) fighting for what they believe in, or what someone else believes in, or just fighting because they can. They think they are more American than you and me. Who knows? Maybe they are.

I live here with disgruntled liberals mumbling about change, transparency, and corruption. They are so used to being the underdogs at the political table that now, even with a filibuster proof majority, they play martyr as though it were an Olympic sport. They chant "Change" like a Sanskrit mantra that has lost all meaning. Who knows? Maybe it has.

And yet, I believe in this city. I believe in its whitewashed walls and reinvented history. I believe that every once in a while, something slips out and affects the world for the better. I believe that a group of farmers and amateur philosophers built a nation on nothing, and it's still standing. It's battle torn, lop sided, and completely unlike this perfectly planned out capital city, but it's still standing.
One nation.
Under God.
With liberty and justice for all.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What do you mean this year doesn't exist?

I'm not supposed to be here. I'm not supposed to be doing these things. I'm not this person. But, since my real life can't start again until I go back to school next year, let's have a little fun while we wait, shall we?

First off, a quick catch up on what's gone on since India. I think the most important thing that happened is that I survived, made it home, and didn't bring any uninvited microscopic guests with me. Overall, I call that success.

Then there was my thesis. I wrote it, it rocked, it's over. Please don't make me relive that in blog form!

Then, I applied to exactly one grad program. I've always been pretty certain of what I want in life, so I really didn't see the need to apply to any safety schools. Luckily, the University of Edinburgh didn't disappoint. Given my research as an undergrad, they admitted me to the PhD program without a master's degree. Or in other words: Suck it monkeys, who you callin' small town?

Then I graduated. Wait no, that sentence was far too straightforward to describe my graduation day. Let's try that again:

I never intended to walk at graduation. Why would I? I went to the largest college on campus (whose name will not appear here because I consider it inaccurate and a total misrepresentation of most of the departments that comprise it). Besides, I had a ticket to DC and no immediate responsibilities. Then, approximately a week before I was to fly to DC (having finished my last .5 credits of "wellness" via independent study), I got a very unexpected phone call. It would appear that I had been nominated and elected Valedictorian of the Anthropology Department. Yep. That's right. Wait for it...wait for it...


And then I figured maybe I'd be nice and accept the honor and walk with my peeps. (hello peeps!) However, apparently American Airlines had other plans for my graduation day. Specifically, they thought it would be much cooler to strand me in Phoenix. Now I know what you're thinking: Oh dear, poor Cathlin! She's so soft spoken and shy, there is no way she was able to fight her way onto another flight! She must have missed her graduation after all! Poor little thing! (If you seriously think I'm that kind of pansy, we need to talk. Call me.)

Of course I got home in time. American Airlines doesn't like to switch passengers onto other airlines, but they will. Thank you Delta, by the way, for getting me to SLC exactly one hour before I was supposed to be in my seat on the stand, in front of thousands of complete strangers and several extremely important non-strangers. (PS, If you are one of the rock stars who came to my graduation, THANK YOU! You rock my planet, you really do.) Luckily, my supa-fly big sister was at the airport, waiting to drive like a mad woman for Provo. Unluckily, I didn't have time to grab my luggage. I had planned to wear my wine-colored dress under my graduation robes, but I think providence had a better idea. So I led the Valedictorians onto the stage in black pants and curly-toed Punjabi shoes. And really, why would I wear a dress to graduation? I wear the pants in this relationship, and we all know it.

Oh, and did I mention I had whooping-cough for my graduation? Yeah, trying not to cough up a lung while Elder Christopherson congratulates me on my achievements, ahh the memories. But I did it. I looked that whooping cough dead in the eyes and I said: "Not on my watch, beotch." Did you know Elder Christopherson served in the same mission as me? Yeah, we're tight.

And for the short version again: I graduated.

Suddenly, however, at the prospect of going right back to school mere weeks after finishing the-paper-that-almost-did-me-in (aka my thesis) I grew faint and began to see spots. In another stroke of luck, my awesome future PhD supervisor was totally fine with my plan to defer my enrollment for a year. I now have an official start date of Oct 10, 2010. And so it happens that I earned my self a year of free time. A year to live someone else's life. A year that doesn't exist.

I've decided to use this year to explore what it would be like not to be me. Already I've done several non-Cathlin things.

I nannied for a few weeks, and am happy to say the kids and I all survived (didn't they Gloria?)

I spent all the money in my bank account...on purpose. Normally, knowing that I had no job would have stopped me from flying around the country, from Utah to DC to New York to Utah to Phoenix (on purpose that time, hi John and Cammie!) to Las Vegas (hi Hillary!) to Utah to DISNEYLAND (Hi mommy!) to Utah to Seattle (Hi Gloria, hi ocean!) and eventually back to DC. Was it scary using all the money I had saved? Of course. Do I regret it? H to the no.

I went to the American Idol's Live tour, and screamed my voice to shreds for Adam Lambert. I knew how he flew on Idol, but I really hadn't expected him to go so..."Village People" on tour. But as Heather aptly put it, Adam's performance seemed to proudly declare "I'm here, I'm queer, and now I'm gonna dance." And oh, did he dance. That man could be gayer than the volleyball scene of top gun, and I'd still scream till my ears ring for him. And come to think of it, I pretty much did.

I sold my car. That's right, for the first time since I was approximately 12 years old, I am without my own car. I find it simultaneously liberating and confining. But the metro and I are growing on each other, I think. In fact, look for future posts about the anthropology of metro riding. I do love knowing I'm living a greener life without a car. I'm actively looking for other ways to decrease my carbon foot print, so if you have any ideas please share!

Oh, and I got a job. Now, that in itself is not a particularly strange thing for Cathlin to do, I know. And I kind of failed this step in the "live someone else's life" plan. You see, I'm supposed to be working at Borders, or Barnes & Noble, or Pottery Barn. But, we are living in a recession. So, I take what I can get, and if that means I have to work as a research assistant at a non-profit working to improve the public education program, well, then, I guess I'll take it. But it is a little closer to my real life chosen field than I had anticipated. Also, they told me there was no possibility for promotion when I took the job. Why, then, did they just promote me? Never fear, though. They can hand me the key to the company squash room, and it will have no impact on my long term PhD goals. This is, after all, the year that doesn't exist.

Future plans for the year that doesn't exist include (but are not limited to):

Learning to fence. (My class starts in January)
Learning to Tango. (I already found a club, just looking for the time)
Unleashing my sarcasm whenever I friggin want to. (You think I already do that? Boy, are you in for a surprise.)
Striking up conversations with total strangers in elevators, trains, and on street corners. (Freaky much? Bring it.)
Utilizing the power of parenthesis more often. (Like this!)

But what do you think? What things should I try in this non-year of my life? What are some things you would never expect Cathlin (or Jen, or Jenni, depending on how you know me) to do? Let me know, but I'm warning you: I just might do them!

I'm baaaack

I know I promised several of you that I would keep this blog running post-India, and I know it's been about a year since my last post. So, let's just agree to forgive me and move on, shall we?

Meanwhile, welcome to the Year That Didn't Happen! I'll be trying many new and exciting things this year, and generally being a whole different person while I wait for my life to resume on Oct 10th of next year (yes, that is my official start date at Edinburgh). Check back for my first post as a girl living someone else's life later this week. In the interim, however, here are some videos I never got to post while in India. Enjoy!

(And aftr much tribulation, behold, I did find success in uploading the videos.)