It Hardly Matters

Monday, February 27, 2006

A Little Poem from the Vault


A full lunar eclipse
a girl in a classroom
a list of novels

How nice that these things remind you of me.

Oldest Girls

When my sister and I were young, my parents sent us to day camp every summer. Not a fancy overnight camp--day camp. Camp Massasoit was affiliated with Springfield College, where my dad was the Assistant Athletic Director, and was situated on what was known as the college's "East Campus," nestled between the Monsanto plant where half of my old relatives worked, and an on-ramp to the Mass Pike. Despite it's urban location, we campers enjoyed several varieties of trees, the requisite lake, a ball field, even a pueblo (in which we sat on rainy days, making God's Eyes and chucking empty chocolate milk cartons at each other). My mom drove us to camp in the morning, and Dad would pick us up after work.

Camp Massasoit was a repository for sons and daughters of Springfield College employees and Pioneer Valley's population of borderline juvenile delinquents. Most of us had parents that worked blue-collar or low-paying professional jobs. Even as a young girl I knew where my camp landed in the pecking order of New England's many camps. I imagined that the overnight camps, situated deep in the Vermont woods or on a sprawling farm in northern Connecticut, offered their campers miniature log cabins with gingham curtains sewn by woodland creatures, breakdancing instructors, acting lessons from Michael J. Fox, and a selection of gentle, fawn-colored horses.

The summer I turned 11, it was my fifth year at camp. Campers were divided into age groups, the most envied of which were known as "Oldest Boys" and "Oldest Girls." You didn't know what group you were in until the first day of camp, so I was taken by surprise when they called my name for Oldest Girls--technically, I was on the border between Oldest and Second Oldest. I left my pack of 10-year old friends, turned bright red, and walked my bright red shorts and basketball T-shirt across Council Ring toward a mob of long-haired 13-year olds wearing fluorescent short shorts and spatter-paint sunglasses on lanyards. Holy shit.

The first day or so, I did my best to never speak. I hoped the triumvirate of power, Vicki, Cathy, and Michelle, would skim their eyes over my head, never to rest on my pale and petrified face. (I figured this would happen naturally, as they were all about a foot taller than I was.) These three teenage girls represented the most powerful regime I had ever encountered; fueled by hormones and boredom, they ran Oldest Girls with an iron fist wearing a lacy fingerless glove. Vicki, the leader of the pack, sported a Woonsocket, Rhode Island teased blond mullet, a scowl, and a penchant for doing whatever the fuck she liked. Her sidekick, Cathy, looked not unlike the then-hugely-popular cartoon character after which she was named. With her huge glasses, brown curly hair, and mouth full of metal, she seemed destined to be unlucky in love, dotting her i's with plump hearts until she died surrounded by a few dozen tabbies. Rounding out the group was Michelle, an exquisite, six-foot-tall black girl, who I think was recruited mostly for her looks but also to balance the power structure with a bit of sweetness.

And then there was me. On day three, as I silently sat on a picnic bench, waiting for our group to go to archery, a shadow passed over my outstretched legs. "You need to shave your legs." My heart froze. I might have peed a little. Standing above me, were the Big Three, Vicki in front, arms crossed. I squinted up at them, partially blinded by the sun that seemed trained on their every movement. "Um, yeah," I managed. Until that moment, I had honestly never considered the subject of shaving. "Yeah, and why are you wearing those baby clothes?" I think this came from Cathy, her head sprouting from Vicki's left shoulder. "Uh...I..." As I searched for an explanation to another phenomenon I had never thought about, the deafening bullhorn that signaled a change in activity period sounded. I stood up, eye-level with Vicki's training bra, stepped around their formation into the throng of campers headed to boating or riflery. I had been recruited. And if I was to get the job of Number Four, I knew had to make some serious changes.

Through a series of feigned illnesses, I managed to avoid the girls for the rest of the day. When I got home that night I ran a bath, stealing my mother's disposable razor from the medicine cabinet. I examined each downy hair on my shins, and began soaping them with Camay until the bar crumbled in my hands. Terrified, I held the razor over my right leg, eyes tearing up and hands shaking (the best way to start your shaving life, I know), and practiced the motions I imagined I was supposed to do in order to free my Neanderthalish limbs of their matted outer covering. "What are you doing in there? Dinner's ready!" My mother's voice thundered through the bathroom door. "Nothing! I'm almost done!" I screamed, dropping the razor into the sudsy water. I knew she was coming in. My mother was always coming in.

"What are you doing?" she yelled. I burst into tears. "I'm shaving my legs these girls at camp told me I had to and they are so ugly I can't go to camp tomorrow with hairy legs all the other girls at camp are shaving" I blathered. My mom came over to me, helped me out of the tub, wrapped me in a towel. I blathered on. I dried off, got changed, and sat down to dinner with a promise from my mother that she would teach me to shave my legs after we ate the hot dog casserole that was getting cold. My father and sister chomped away, oblivious of the mother-daughter ritual that was soon to take place. After our lesson, I rummaged though my dresser drawers, looking for the most grown-up campwear I could find, including the shortest shorts I owned. I settled on a pink and purple ensemble, pink shorts with a stripey shirt. Collar up. No socks with my Keds, hair sprayed up into a kind of souffle. Sunglasses. I was SO Number Four.

Later that summer, I was the proud owner of my first "boyfriend," Jamie--he of the painter's cap with a mudflap at the back. When he took it off, his hair was the exact same shape. We were devastatingly cute together, which was why Vicki picked him out for me. I shared my first dance with him at the Picnic Grove to Berlin's "Take My Breath Away." All that and we had exchanged about 13 words. We broke up the day camp was over via Cathy communique. She decided I didn't like him, and told him so. And she was right, so it all worked out for the best.

It was a summer of firsts, a summer of transformation. Being part of the Oldest Girls gave me a taste of arbitrary power and coolness that was easily recognized in many social situations to come. I never saw or talked to Vicki, Cathy, or Michelle after that summer. Come to think of it, I don't really remember talking to them much at all.

Friday, February 17, 2006


This past Valentine's Day, my date was not with some charming, attentive boyfriend or even a mildly interesting single acquaintance--it was with the television set. (No, I don't own any cats.) I had a plan, demonstrated by the following equation:

Red Wine + Olympic Speedskating =
A relatively-happy-and-somewhat-distracted-from-loneliness Mega.

An attainable goal...or so I thought. Little did I know I was about to have a Reality TV Meltdown.

I'm pretty much a reality TV whore, and will watch anything involving fat people trying to resist pyramids of glazed doughnuts, drunken college kids making out with each other in hot tubs, teenagers trying to marry off their parents, or starving yuppies battling for a coconut. But my favorite reality shows are those that pluck the fabulously talented from obscurity: Project Runway, America's Next Top Model (yeah, talented may not be the word here), and the mother of all reality shows: American Idol. So every Tuesday and Wednesday nights, I'm glued to the TV to hear every cracked note and every powerhouse rendition of "Chain of Fools". I've been known to weep when underdog-type contestants get through to the next round. I said I don't own any cats!

This year, my roommate Saint Peg and I have what's commonly known as Olympic Fever. We've been watching as much lugeing, curling, snowboarding, and skating as we can stand. Feverish as I was, on Tuesday, while purchasing my Sauvignon Blanc, I was contemplating the American snowboarding team's curious choice of pinstriped uniforms and the mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a vest that is Johnny Weir. The night before, as Saint Peg and I watched the women snowboarders rip up the halfpipe, we became hungry for more competition during the commercial breaks. After a brief trip though Time Warner Cable's offerings, we decided to counterprogram with 2-minute glimpses of Pomeranians and Shiba Inus at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Yes! We had it down: the second Bob Costas started to speak, we'd leap for the remote and press "Last Channel" and a millisecond later we were studying Rocky Balboa's Uncle Tipsy the Rottweiler's textbook gait. Counterprogramming: a thing of beauty.

Anyway, Tuesday, the plan was more of the same. Peg and I ordered pizza, and endured the final moments of women's curling, settling in to behold another night of our new reality habit, Olympic sporting events. I called my sister to remind her about the Dog Show. She had already missed the first night--tonight was the crowning of Best In Show. After my spiel, she asked, "What, no American Idol for you tonight?" Lightheaded...mouth glass very nearly dropped. I had forgotten about Idol. Everything started to go dark. I hung up and leapt to the small TV set in the other room, frantically switching channels to FOX 5. My head spun. I think I screamed. Peg laughed and started eating the pizza, while I ran from room to room in my fuzzy slippers, a whirling dervish.

After a minute or so, I caught my breath. I planted my ass in front of Idol, poured another glass of wine during the commercial break, and cried when the little skinny kid with the bad haircut sung Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up," well, just like Josh Groban. I felt warm and fuzzy. Valentine's Day had surpassed my expectations.

I'll wrap up this whole box of chocolates with this, a paraphrase of my AM New York Horoscope dated 2/15/06: If you don't have a sweetheart, get a dog or a cat or a bird. Or a fish or even a plant.

A plant.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Craigslist Poetry #5...more from Val Day*

Crappy Valentine hung up on me.
I just don't get it

A year later and my heart still cries
thanks for breaking my mirror shithead

beautiful boy, its Valentine's Day
you always said we could never be more than friends

I'm Not
Thinking of you today, too bad really.

oh i almost forgot
who cares if a soldier dies

*constructed exclusively from message subject lines on the New York City missed connections board dated February 14, 2006

Craigslist Poetry #4...Valentine's Day Edition*

A Valentine to Myself

Today, more than ever
I think I am the luckiest girl
we crossed paths twice today
A Valentine treat
Don't know what your plans are tomorrow

This is the Last Worthless Evening
my dirty, filthy, matted, troubled Valentine
you used to say
style is the answer to everything

*constructed exclusively from message subject lines on the New York City missed connections board dated February 14, 2006

Friday, February 10, 2006

Massey Is a Genius

It just needs to be said.

Please read this.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Money Doesn't Grow on Trees

In warm months, the branches of the yellow-leaved tree outside my bedroom window are heavy with shitting birds. Last September, my sister parked her car under it overnight and in the morning we had to break out the bucket and my pink dishwashing gloves and scrub about 100 significant piles of birdshit off of her Jetta. That fall, each night at dusk, the shitters screeched their warm-weather guts out, comparing notes (I got the sideview mirror! I got the driver's-side door handle! Right on, brah!). Self-congratulatory bastards.

Any way you slice it, it's nice having a tree outside my window. Even though I suppose it's more common in Brooklyn than in Manhattan, being able to see foliage directly from my New York Metro Area window is especially pleasurable. Yet another reason why I love living in Brooklyn. When I first moved to New York, I landed in the West Village. For the first six weeks, I stayed with my friend in her studio on Mulberry Street and only knew how to walk to get 1) pizza, 2) cash, and 3) to the bar. Little did I know that those three destinations (the order of importance of which could be debated forever) were pretty much evergreen in terms of their absolute necessity for survival in the big city. In that respect, not much has changed since I made the move across the East River. Tony's Pizza, the AutoCash2000 at Khim's Millennium Market, and Daddy's (happy hour! fireplace!) see their fair share of my face and my dollars.

Brooklyn became my home because I was sick of living in a West Village apartment in which I could scramble eggs while sitting on the toilet. My roommate and I bought copious amounts of Ikea shelving and a miniature dish rack, attempting fruitlessly to maximize the 600 square feet that was 26 Leroy Street Apartment 6. In this "two bedroom," there were no closets, a stand-up shower, and plaster walls with mouse tunnels dating from 1865. Charming, indeed. We happily paid close to $2,000/month for this apartment--being 25, we didn't know any better. To make ends meet, we put our silver dollar pancakes and bacon from the Waverly Diner on our Visas and sold CDs at Bleecker Street Records. Somehow we avoided debtors' prison and survived as semi-starving recent college graduates in a neighborhood that now, five years later, welcomes only B-list actors and couples with a combined annual income of over $500,000. No wonder my roommate moved to Sunnyside and I to Williamsburg, where one can easily walk to the Pay-O-Matic and, on the way, grab a slice of pizza for $1.65.

I don't recall ever seeing birds in the trees outside my apartment in Manhattan. When I moved to the West Village, I didn't give much thought to trees, or lack thereof. I didn't think much about money, or lack thereof, either. I suppose the tradeoff for paying a bit less in rent is that I get to have a tree full of birds outside my window. But of course, being Brooklyn birds, they gleefully, mercilessly, shit on your car.