30 November 2006

The Photo Ode to the Subway iPod

Ever noticed how many people wear iPods on the subway? This is just a 6-stop ride on the E train tonight... and I counted nearly 25 iPods... Here are a few...

29 November 2006

Photo blog of the day: Locks for Love

My sister has always had long hair. No, wait... I take that back. She cut her hair short once in... I think it was around 1986... and was so traumatized that it takes years for her to get up the courage to cut it now. Her husband - a strapping, handsome man of 6'5" and who could pick me up by my ankles without even adjusting his center of gravity - loves her hair long. VERY long.

So when she got her hair caught in the engine of the leaf blower a few weeks ago, she decided that she needed to cut it a little shorter. And seeing the length of her hair now, she decided to donate a few inches to Locks for Love. (And by a few inches, I mean... a foot.) Her husband refused to cut her hair... so she asked me to help her out.

I - being totally willing to do anything because I'm adventurous (and because it's not my hair) was ready and excited! To be honest, we were all a little nervous... she because we were about to cut off a foot of her hair... and me because, well, her husband is a big guy... and so far, he seems to like me, and I didn't want to jeopardize that.

But we plunged ahead... rubberbands in hand... scissors at the ready... tv on for soothing background noise. I'm not sure why we had to put a bed sheet over 50 square feet of the floor, but hey, who am I to judge? The goal was to lop off ... uh, I mean, carefully and lovingly hack two braids... and then make the remaining ends look neat. Or, as neat as I can... (*wince*.)

Here goes...

I've always wanted to try being a red-head... but hopefully, another person somewhere with NO hair will enjoy it more...

Yay Sue! (And please forgive me, Matt... but it was for a good cause...)

28 November 2006

Let your vote count!

The time has come, dear readers, for me to decide where my next adventure lies! So let your vote count, and let me know which place you think I should go. Those who know me know that travel is my greatest addiction (with the possible exceptions of air, water, and chocolate), and stirs my soul. It also keeps me occupied and intermittantly gives me a really good tan.

Fortunately, I've managed to work my way into a professional situation where I'm going to have two whole months... yes, MONTHS... off next year. I've been saving my pennies, and it's time to book the trip. Since I won't have a ton of options to take long trips until... oh... I'm 80 years old... I figured I will have to enjoy what time I have while I'm still young, stupid, and highly mobile. But now, the challenge! I have to decide where to go! So I'm asking you to vote on which of the below trips I should take. (Legal disclaimer: After all the votes are tallied, I will count them carefully, take them to Florida to have the chads verified, and then throw all the ballots out and let Katherine Harris decide...)

Candidate A: China, Tibet, and the Yangtze River
A 22-day tour cultural and culinary tour of the far East, including Beijing, Xian, a 5-day cruise on the Yangtze River, Lhasa, Tibet, Chengdu, Wuhan, and Hong Kong with an added 5 day tour of Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia tacked on to the end, just for giggles.

Candidate B: The Adriatic - Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and Bosnia
A 16-day cultural tour of Zagreb, Sarajevo, Dubrovnik, Split, Lovran and Ljubljana, with a side order of 3 nights in Budapest, Hungary and dessert consisting of 3 nights in Vienna, Austria. Shorter trip, but to a super-cool place with the options of extensions to pretty much anywhere in Europe. Can you say 'cross-continent train extension'? I thought you could...

Candidate C: Amazon River Cruise and Rainforest tour
An 11-night tour of Iquitos, Lima, and an Amazon River Cruise on Río Marañon and Río Ucayali on a privately-chartered 19th-century-style riverboat. Options to add a pre-trip to Bolivia and Peru, and / or a post-trip to Machu Picchu and Cuzco, Peru. Now THAT would definitely require some serious innoculations... and the bugs there are probably bigger than I am... I could run a contest: How many mosquitoes does it take to bleed Beth dry? Sounds like fun!

Candidate D: Thailand, Cambodia and Laos
A 21-day trekking and backpacking tour starting in Thailand's Golden Triangle, where the borders of Burma, Thailand and the Laos meet. Travel by boat down the Mekong River, through Laos' mountains and jungles to Luang Prabang. Then, off to the present day capitals of Vientiane and Phnom Penh, before finishing with a 3 day visit to Angkor Wat. Optional 3-day extention to the serene Thai island of Koh Chang for recovery by snorkeling, beaching, massages and elephant treks. I could also take a trip to my friend Alex's pad in Singapore, cuz hey... it's the same friggin' hemisphere, so it MUST be close by...

Let's feel the power of Democracy!!! On your mark.... get set.... VOTE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Now, who wants to come with me? (*wink*)

26 November 2006

What's wrong with turkey?

The great American tradition of stuffing oneself full of an average of 3,000 calories in the name of giving thanks is over (and that doesn't include the other tradition of snacking before and after. But don't worry, a mere four hour run, five hour swim, or 30-mile walk will burn all that off.)

My Thanksgiving was truly awe-inspiring, especially because my sister and brother-in-law hosted and I didn't have to cook a thing. My donation to the meal - the can-shaped cranberry jelly that makes a satisfying "schlurp" when it is removed from the container and whose first ingredient is "corn syrup" - was well received. My sister's in-laws were in town - and let's not forget her four children - so all told there were a total of 9 people (and one dog) to enjoy the Thanksgiving bounty. And while this is probably not the most dramatic of crowds, the weekend was made even more challenging by the fact that the week before, my sister's dishwasher broke, and (perhaps even more tragically) the oven too. So my sister was facing the challenge of a Thanksgiving dinner with a serious and severe shortage of major kitchen appliances.

She was surprisingly calm about the whole thing. Most likely because she wasn't the one cooking. That fell on the shoulders of her husband.

My brother-in-law was also surprisingly calm in the wake of this lack-of-kitchen-appliances storm, and made an amazing spread that we were all too happy to gorge on. He deep-fried the turkey (which was absolutely delicious, but I still find the idea humorous. Only in the land of deep-fried Mars bars, Oreos, and Twinkies would someone even conceive of the idea of configuring a way to boil an entire 19-pound-turkey in a vat of oil. I challenge each of you to a brief adventure: Search "deep fried" on Google images, and several terrifying experimentations pop up.) The deep-fried turkey is an amazingly culinary feat... and tastes absolutely stunning, is surprisingly moist, and actually gives some flavor to an otherwise fairly tasteless fowl. Perhaps the best part is that it only takes about an hour to fry a 19-pound turkey... a vast improvement over the requirements of my mother's cooking during my youth, which included early rising and multiple bastings during the day which usually ended with a turkey so dry that it actively sucked the moisture from your salivary glands. (I think that's why gravy was actually invented.)

Which brings me to the point: I had turkey for Thanksgiving. But I know of so many people who didn't. The new age of "personalizing" the meal has taken a turn for the bizarre and strange. One friend of mine was graciously invited to a friend's parents home for dinner, and was treated to a lobster dinner. Her host, at multiple points during the day, explained that lobster WAS the traditional meal that the Pilgrims had. I laughed, and scoffed, and vocally doubted that the Pilgrims in their time had lobster dinners. But becoming rather curious about it, I did my due diligence, I looked up what the Pilgrims did, indeed, have for their "Thanksgiving" meal (I put that in quotations, since it wasn't called "Thanksgiving" back then... it was a celebration of the harvest and the colonists' recent victory over the "heathen natives." But I digress...)

It seems that the earliest versions of the harvest meal probably included fish, berries, watercress, lobster, dried fruit, clams, venison, and plums. Yep, lobster. It did *not* include potatoes (considered poisonous by most Europeans at the time), milk (there were no domestic cattle at the time), butter (which I'm guessing seriously compromised the lobster), or pies of any sort (the supplies of flour had been long diminished, thus preventing any sort of baked good from making an appearance until much later.) In fact, the word "turkey" itself applied to any foul, so when the governor sent his men "a-fowling", they would have been lucky to return with wild ducks.

Which means, ladies and gentlemen, that Thanksgiving as we know it - is a farce. But you probably guessed that already, since the holiday is less about the Pilgrims now than it is about turkeys, pumpkin pies, and Christmas sales than anything else.

Needless to say, like the annual craving for candy corns, the human brain has evolved to the point where even a "traditional" Thanksgiving meal of lobster is not quite satisfactory. Two days after the lobster feast, on our weekly trip to the local diner for lunch, my friend had to order mashed potatoes simply to quench the annual craving. Another friend enjoyed the bizarre experience that is "tofurkey." (For the record, I've tried tofurkey, and it's kind of like an oversized excuse for vegetarian sausage combined with a good dose of Silly Putty. Vegetarians swear it tastes great, but let's face it - vegetarians are crazy.) She's been craving stuffing with sausage ever since. And let's not even try to figure out who came up with "turducken," okay? (I admit, the idea of "turducken" and "tofurkey" is more unappetizing than anything else, so I'll take a deep-fried anything over that.)

My brother-in-law deep fried the turkey, made the green beans and pumpkin soup on the stove, purchased a pumpkin pie, and borrowed the neighbor's oven for the must-have stuffing and sweet potatoes. Since then, I've had several people offer stove top-stuffing-recipes (not the boxed "Stovetop", but the actual, physical STOVE. TOP.) I have yet to hear anyone suggest how to make a pumpkin pie on the range, although my suggestion that they make it in the toaster oven was met with a few raised eyebrows... For the record, it was meant as a joke.

I was in charge of the dishes.


22 November 2006

Why jump out of a perfectly good airplane?

My soon-to-be-ex-husband, when I asked him once why he lost interest in me, told me that I’d “lost my fire”. I’m not quite sure what that means, except perhaps it was his way of saying that he was bored with our marriage. But in response to this (among other influences), I found that at age 33, I have begun to do things that would convince myself that I had not, in fact, lost my fire… whatever that meant. In the process of re-igniting my fire, I found myself doing things that should only be excused if you are between the ages of 15 and 23 – easily the most stupid developmental years of any human being’s life.

I’m going to refrain from writing about some of my juvenile-like exploits of the last 7 months, which have included: Getting a tattoo, traveling to a third world country alone (okay, I’m kind of proud of that one), and other embarassingly weird and dumb things that I will forever - under oath - refuse to admit to doing as a legally competent person. (Fortunately, very few of them have left any visible scarring... but I digress)...

First of all, let me say that the jumping out of an airplane idea wasn’t totally impulsive. I’ve been thinking about it for a few years. And for the record, I’ve never considered myself hyperactively acrophobic, either. I can psych myself into being rather brave when it comes to edges of things like buildings and canyons. But I’ve never been amazingly fond of heights (especially heights without barriers between me and it), and can also psych myself into being quite a wuss. So skydiving to me ultimately represented something that I needed to do in order to sort of face my fears. Kind of like SCUBA diving certification was for my mild phobia of being underwater. At least that’s how I reconcile it in my head. But what propelled me most recently to actually ‘take the plunge’ and actually, well, take the plunge? Having lately been accused of playing life “too safe” by a husband who was looking for someone with ‘more fire’ (and ultimately found someone, thank God), I think I needed to prove that I could actually follow through with … well … something stupid. And brave. And fire-like. Or whatever.

But I didn’t want to jump alone. So I took my sister with me.

I will admit that this was probably the dumbest part of the whole thing. After all, if I managed to plummet to my death from a-way up there, there would be mourning, and some logistics to clean up (as well as a Beth-sized mess), but not much more than that. My sister, on the other hand, is the drop-dead-fabulous mother of four boys. (Pun not intended, I swear). So asking her to jump out of a plane was probably not the smartest thing for me to do. That being said, she’s my best friend on top of being my only sibling. So I couldn’t *not* ask… and I kept reminding myself that she could always say no, and simply meet me when I was down on the ground. And anyway, I needed a ride.

The actual decision to drive 2 ½ hours to the Skydive Ranch was made rather impulsively the week before. I chalk that up to my theory that once a decision is made to do something really, really stupid, it should be done with very little opportunity to change one’s mind. That’s the working theory today, anyway. It’s also kind of a theme of my life… while I don’t consider myself a crazily impulsive person, I am prone to intermittent bouts of “well, I’m not getting any younger” and go off on some tangent of life, like getting a tattoo, and justifying it by saying things like “once a decision is made to do something really, really stupid, it should be done with very little opportunity to change one’s mind.”

Since I don’t own a car (or rather, since my husband has our car, and it’s 4-door sportiness wouldn’t handle the 7 people anyway, especially since four of them require car seats to be legally installed), my sister’s family - including the dog - and I all piled into their Honda minivan and headed up to Skydive the Ranch, which is located about 30 minutes south of Woodstock (peace, dude.) My nephews were glued to the minivan’s video monitor the entire ride, enthralled by some never ending video featuring the Peanuts gang reenacting various historical events, like the Mayflower voyage, the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and other – to use my sister’s phraseology: “Obscenely educational” things.

My brother in law – sandwiched between the two eldest boys in the back – slept, stirring only when his 7-year-old son started absent-mindedly fingering his face.

My sister drove and I narrated directions and tried to keep our minds off of the incredibly moronic afternoon activity we’d planned. It didn’t work very well, and every once in a while during a lull in our conversation, we’d glance at each other and say supportive and nurturing things like “This was a dumb idea.”

The website for the Ranch outlines what to expect when you arrive, and gives you a chance to do some preparation at home in order to shorten your “training” time when you arrive. Since my sister and I are geeks, we watched all the videos (made circa 1982) that told us that no parachute is perfect, no plane is perfect, no jump is perfect, no person is perfect, that accidents happen, and to enjoy the ride. One narrator from the National Parachute Safety Guild (or something) looked like a ZZ Top wanna-be and I could only imagine what his crotch-length beard looked like as he plummeted towards the planet at 200mph. We also printed out the waivers that we would need to sign, and read them thoroughly in order to understand that Yes, we waive our right to live; Yes, we won’t sue if we die; No, we aren’t drunk; Yes, we have life insurance; No, it doesn’t apply here; Yes, we understand what DIE means; Yes, we’re absolutely, 100% positively sure we waive our right to live. We also watched an amazingly helpful video that told us what to do as we were plummeting out of the plane – hand signals, where to put your feet, hands, how to read the altimeter, how your tandem jumper will help you, and what training you’ll receive when you arrive at the jump site. Of course, none of this actually happened, but I’ll get to that later. All told, this preparation material would have been amazingly terrifying, except that the people who made the videos seem to have a pretty good sense of humor: A 12-inch action-figure Grim Reaper made several cameo appearances throughout. Oh, and they also told us to wear warm gloves.

But we weren’t worried too much, figuring that we’d get more actual training when we arrived. We were – how shall I put this? – completely wrong.

Arriving at the ranch, most of our crew being under 7 years old, the first stop was the bathroom. I should have known then what kind of afternoon we were in for. The outhouses were barely past port-o-potties, and the only reason they weren’t portable any longer was because they’d sunk into the ground over the years and been rooted to the earth with weeds and grass.

The “Ranch” consisted of: A large tent, two or three trailers perched on cinderblocks, and one hull of a wheel-less, hollowed out school bus, on which was painted “Skydive the Ranch”. Oh, and a wooden fence that separated this professional establishment with the “runway” and “landing field”, which was basically a strip of grass. One group of jumpers were landing as we arrived, so we watched them come down. There were several “pros” who were wearing matching parachute / jumpsuit combinations, or had fancy arm-wings which I can only assume helped them steer or look more like Batman, I’m not sure which. There were a few first-timers (you could tell because they were tandem) who came down mostly screaming or laughing or both.

My sister and I set up Matt and the boys on a picnic table, and headed over with our waivers in a nice manila folder to check in. We handed our prepared paperwork to a 15-year-old suicide blonde who had a shock of pink hair dyed bangs and more piercings than would be permitted through a metal detector at an airport. It would have been comical, except for the fact that we were about to die. After taking our credit cards, they assigned us to our tandem jumpers, and my videographer. Dave, my tandem guy, reminded me of the guys that never left high school – at least, mentally. When I asked where he was from, he almost immediately told me that he’d just driven in from Indiana where his girlfriend had dumped him and all of his stuff was in his car in the parking lot. I half expected him to ask to move in with me, and I wondered if he would still want to if I threw up on him during the jump. I also hoped that he wasn’t despondent over the breakup to the point of doing something dumb, like forgetting to pull the parachute out or something. My sister’s tandem guy was from Holland and didn’t speak a word. Ever. I still don’t know his name. I don’t know which was worse, honestly.

About this time, Dave told us to put on jump suits (the only time that the term literally applies.) They were amazingly fashionable (not)… approximately the color of a yellow Hi-Lighter and slimming… much like wearing an industrial shower curtain liner. After donning these ridiculously ungraceful suits (which were surprisingly hard to get into, since we’d worn multiple layers), and dutifully putting on our mandatory gloves, Dave said “Do you have everything out of your pockets?” Since there was no way to actually GET my pockets at this point, I said “Yes.” I have no idea to this day if there was anything in my pockets. Then, Dave put on our harnesses. At this point, my sister’s guy led her off to the field. Expecting to follow, I turned to Dave, at which point he said “Oh Shit!” and ran off to his parachute pack. I can tell you, first hand, that one of the last things you want to hear when you’re contemplating jumping out of a plane with an “expert” on your back is your “expert” exclaiming “Oh Shit!” and running away. It’s almost as bad as waking up during surgery and hearing the surgeon say “Oops.” The only redeeming part was that we were still on the ground.

So I stood, alone, waiting for my video guy and Dave to train me. My sister was off – one of the bright yellow spots waiting on the field. I waited about 10 minutes, which made me nervous, because if I was going to jump out of a plane with my sister, I would prefer that my sister actually be on the same plane as me. It also gave me plenty of time to become even more nervous about the fact that – oh yea – I was going to be jumping out of a plane. I double-checked to be sure that I had my gloves on.

Eventually, Dave and the video guy came back. Dave asked if I wanted to wear a helmet. I tried to make some joke about how a leather helmet probably doesn’t help much when you splat. Dave chuckled, and explained that the helmet was mainly to keep your head warm. The video guy made the crucial decision for me, however, when he explained that for video purposes, I’d look better without the helmet. It was purely vanity, but I chose not to wear it. In hindsight, as I look at the photos, I’m not sure how much worse I could look with it, but in order to look as cool as possible, I decided to skip the helmet. (My sister, for the record, wore the helmet. I’m not sure who looked dumber: Her with the hat, or me with my hair straight up like some bad 80’s punk music video.)

Dave then took me to “train”… which was basically standing inside a wooden box (“This is the plane”) with a hole in the side (“This is the plane door”) and being told to keep my head up (“It’ll look better in the video.”) Then, we pulled on some straps that were attached to a few pulleys (“When I say ‘flare’, pull these down”) and that was it. It took less than a minute. We then walked over to where my sister had been standing for 20 minutes (with her mute tandem guy) and waited for our plane. That was all the training I got which was, apparently, 100% more than the training that my sister got. I kept waiting for the video we had to watch, or the official legalese that they had to read, or the official training information session that we were going to get. There was none. The next step was climbing on the plane.

When the dual-prop plane came rumbling down the field, I was reminded of the school bus. Empty, minimal, and in desperate need of a new coat of paint. It stopped in front of us, and we went around the rear of the plane. The props were spinning, of course, setting up a nice little backwash of wind that I was totally unprepared for. It knocked me a few steps sideways, and I thought “Well, that’s annoying” and then realized that the wind coming from the props was nothing compared to the wind that would be coming at my whole body when I jumped out of the plane. Gack. So we climbed on the plane. There were two benches on the plane, which we straddled and sat – basically – in each other’s laps, lined up like sardines. There were a few ‘pros’ on board, but there were a few tandem first-timers too. The plane started rolling – and I realized that we were facing backwards. I remarked that it was disconcerting taking off in a plane facing the wrong way, and the tandem-guy in front of me went off on a safety lecture about how facing the rear of any traveling vehicle was the safest way to travel, whether it was by plane, train or automobile. My sister made some quip about how hard it would be to drive facing backwards. I couldn’t help think that I wanted him to be my tandem guy, instead of my recently dumped “Oh, Shit!” friend, Dave.

At this point, we were told that we were going to climb to about 14,000 feet, which was when we were going to jump. It’s amazing how little difference there is between 100 feet and 14,000 feet… after all, if something goes wrong at either height, it’s only a matter of a few seconds before the inevitable happens. As someone once gracefully explained it to me, the falling isn’t the challenge… it’s the landing that poses the problem. I remember reading a book once that said that in order to fly, all you have to do is hurl yourself at the ground, and miss it. So that was my backup plan – if the chute malfunctioned, I would just miss the Earth and I just fly to safety. Nice.

Just about the time that we reached 6,000 feet, they opened the door. I had a sudden moment of panic, and then watched a guy slip out the opening, and then they closed it. It was very sudden, and rather jarring, and a little bit of bile rose into my throat. “Oh shit,” I said to my sister, “That guy just jumped out of the plane! Did you see that?!?” “Um, yea,” she replied. About this time, I had a sudden wave of guilt over having my sister – the mother of four – join me on this trip. I turned to her very seriously and said, “If you don’t want to do this, you don’t have to.” At the time, it felt like the responsible thing to say – to remove any pressure she may be feeling from me. However, as she told me later, the only purpose it really served was to freak the crap out of her, which wasn’t exactly what she needed, having been already freaked out by the fact that we were now climbing to over 9,000 feet and getting ready to – oh yea – jump out of a plane.

The plane was loud – a dual-prop plane usually is – and was made louder by the fact that the “door” was actually a heavy plastic shield and not an actual, technical door. As we reached about 10,000 feet, Dave told me it was time to strap up. So he scooted up closer behind me (I hadn’t realized that getting closer without actual penetration was even possible until that point) and started attaching his harness to mine. The straps were pulled amazingly tight, probably not helping the “I can’t breathe” feeling that was creeping up since we took off. Once securely attached, I re-checked my gloves (yep, still there), and looked up – they were rolling up the plastic door, and I looked down and saw clouds. We were above the clouds. Significantly above the clouds. And significantly above the Earth.

The next steps happened very quickly, which I think is on purpose, because if we first-timers actually had a chance to THINK about what we were seeing, we’d back out and come back down in the plane, at which point they would have to pry our trembling bodies out of the corner of the plane. As people jumped, we scooted forward on our benches, with our tandem guys firmly attached to our asses. I double-checked my gloves. Still there. As I looked ahead, I could see people jumping out of the plane door.

Actually, jumping isn’t really the right word. Falling really doesn’t describe it either. It seemed to me that they were being SUCKED by some gigantic vacuum out the door and down towards the planet. They fell so fast that it seemed that they were being propelled by more than just gravity. I’ve been on roller coasters, and felt that stomach lurch that comes at the top of a long drop, and I couldn’t help but wonder if my stomach would feel that way the entire trip down. It didn’t seem possible to keep from puking if that was the case, and I was surprised that no one mentioned this earlier. I asked Dave, “Which falls faster, puke or people?” and without pause, he replied, “People.” Apparently, he knows this from experience.

Next, the tandem couple in front of my sister was sucked out of the plane, and it dawned on me that we were the last two out of the plane. It also dawned on me how stupid it is to be last off the plane, after having watched everyone else get sucked out of the plane. And then it dawned on me again that overall, it was stupid to jump out of a plane no matter what order you happen to be in the line. But it was too late to say anything to her, because she was being scooted towards the door. I have my sister’s jump on my video, and on it I can hear her saying “Aaack!!” and can hear myself saying “You’re good! You’re good!” I’m not sure if she heard this, if she needed to hear this, or if I was just saying it to make myself feel better about talking her into this. But that was the last thing my sister heard me say before she was sucked out of the door and plummeted towards the planet.

As I watched her fall, I remember quite distinctly thinking: If I live through this, she’s going to kill me.

Then it was my turn.

We shuffled towards the door, and I held onto my harness straps for dear life, just like Dave told me. The wind from the props and the plane moving was intense, but I was too freaked out to feel anything like a temperature. We rocked in the doorway, and then we tipped over the edge and my feet slipped of the edge into… nothing. My stomach lurched, almost painfully, and then stopped lurching. I recall a moment of relief when this happened, thinking that at least my stomach wouldn’t come out of my mouth completely. The noise was deafening, as the air rushed past us and we started falling faster. I remembered to keep my head up, and my feet back… and suddenly the camera guy was in my face, reaching for my hand. I reached out to give him a “high five” as he told me he might do… and then opened my mouth to smile for the camera.

That was a mistake.

For future reference, when you’re traveling 200 mph, opening your mouth is not a good idea. Why? Because air has an amazing ability to inflate your mouth and lungs with a terrific force, and suddenly I couldn’t exhale, and my face skin was flapping in all sorts of funky, flappy ways. Remember those guys in the old space-training movies? They put them in a wind tunnel and then film their faces flapping? It’s all very funny… until it’s your face. The whole Superman flying gracefully through the air looks great in the movies, but 200mph does a little more than just ruffle your hair-gelled curly-cue. No matter how much gel you have in your hair, the air feels practically solid, and it flattens you. And your hair.

I managed to close my mouth, and start breathing again, and then I had just a moment to actually look around. About this time, we went through a cloud. It wasn’t much of one – just enough for me to see white… feel wet… and then it was gone. And all the video training about what to do when you're falling? Never occurred to me. Sooner than I realized, Dave was pulling my hand to the rip cord. I gave it a yank and the parachute came out. After a few bumps and swings, we were floating, and I realized I wasn’t deaf any more. Dave asked “How was it?” and I replied “Holy shit, that was CRAZY! My sister is going to KILL ME.” He laughed.

We had a nice float down. We did some turns – which basically meant spiraling weirdly and wildly one way and then the other – and I was laughing most of the way down. I felt like a little kid. When we got closer to the ground, Dave told me to put my legs straight out, and when he said “Flare,” I pulled on the straps, just like during training.

My sister said that my landing looked hard. But I don’t recall it being all that bumpy. Then again, I was so high on adrenaline, that I don’t know if I would have noticed broken bones for a few hours until the high ran down. The photos of us afterwards show both of us rather wide-eyed and freaked out by the whole thing. When I ate our picnic lunch about 20 minutes later, my stomach was still twitching from nerves.

In the end, we free-fell for under a minute – about 50 seconds, Dave said. I’m not sure if it felt like more or less – it was all kind of a blur. My sister said that she took a look around at the world while she was falling. I kind of missed that part, except for the clouds. I was too busy trying to breathe, keep my mouth closed, and try to keep my flapping face under control (I failed on that last one.) I think that I’ll have to go one more time, if only to have the opportunity to enjoy the freefall a little more, now that I know to keep my big mouth closed.

And for the record, my sister didn't kill me. And in case you ever go skydiving… keep your mouth closed, and don’t worry about gloves. Contrary to what the videos tell you, gloves don’t really matter all that much.


Adventures in Boobland

Fair warning - don't read if you're easily offended by boob-talk.

I had to leave the apartment for a few hours on Sunday because the realtor was having an open house at my apartment. Having recently broken back into the dating scene, I have realized that my boring bras were simply not going to cut it in the fast-paced world of underwear fashion in New York City. So I decided to go to this place called Intimacy on 90th and Madison - they are "bra fit specialists" and I am in need of "date bras"... meaning, I have bras that are utilitarian, but nothing lacy or in the least bit interesting in terms of impressing men (or women in my karate locker room, for that matter.)

For those of you who don't know me, I would never meet any sort of a description close to "busty." I was blessed with the early blossoming of "buds" (as they cutely called pre-pubescent breast growth in the 1980's) when I was only eleven. While one would assume that this early start would result in a long growth period, I stopped developing when I was eleven and a half... and never picked it up again. Kind of like ballet lessons. But the long story short of it is that I have never had to worry about giving myself a black eye while doing jumping jacks.

In my search for a sexy bra, I've gone to Victoria's Secret, Saks, Bloomies, Macy's and Lord & Taylor and totally struck out with the bras there. They are pretty, yes, but there was major sagging... the bras looked like balloons that have been pre-inflated and are now shrunken back over my breasts into sagging, lumpy scraps of lacy fabric. You never want a bra to look better hanging with NOTHING in it than when it hangs on your breasts, so overall, the experiences were very depressing. But in the name of getting support, I fully expected to go into Intimacy and have them tell me I was wearing a bra that was too big, and that I now officially needed to buy double-A cups... preferably from them for $350 per bra.

Hearing that there was a wait if you don't have an appointment, I went at noon – when they opened – and was told to wait just a few minutes for someone who would help me. I sat, for about 30 minutes, watching several HUGE women with HUGE breasts come and go, feeling decidedly atypical for the store. And then I was asked by Evanny, a woman whose business card identifies her as a Bra Fit Specialist, to "come back to my suite." I wondered what undergraduate degree is required to become a Bra Fit Specialist, but don't ask as I followed Evanny to my "suite", which was a small, whitewashed dressing room with a cock-eyed, wooden slatted door. Ushering me in, Evanny tells me to take off my top - down to my bra please - and she'll be right back, as soon as she completes her interactions with her other client, she promises that I'm all hers.

As I take off my top, I start to read the literature on the wall, which consists of lots of "Before" and "After" photos of women with various brassiere and support issues: One whose cups runneth over, and one who is looking to fill up some cups… any cups! The latter reminds me of me – but I hope I don't look quite as meek and pathetic as she does in her "before" photo. I'm sure I do. There's also a diagram of a European "fitting" system, which consists of a series of diagrams pointing out various problems with the way women wear their bras. There are lots of arrows, and a woman with a bad 1970's hairdo pointing at various points on the model's body where some horrible tactical brassiere issue has gone terribly awry. Somewhere in there, I read that only 15% of women are wearing the right size bra… and for some reason I think I am one of those women (despite the fact that my mere presence in a place like Intimacy should – by default – make me realize that I solidly fit into the 85% majority.) Still, I keep trying to delude myself, and I read on… and of the top 10 myths of bras, I begin to realize that I am exceedingly under-educated in the world of breast support. I am only beginning to learn everything I am doing wrong.

About 15 minutes after Evanny left me in my suite (and listening to 5 very LARGE black women who yell back and forth from their suites that their "girls are looking MIGHTY FINE in these!"), Evanny returns and joins me in the suite. She's not a small woman, and with both of us inside the tiny room, we barely have room to breathe. I fleetingly wonder if the other Specialists are able to get into the rooms where the other large-breasted women are, or if they are all standing outside their suites. But I don't have time to think about this long, since Evanny has immediately started eyeballing my current, it-fit-5-minutes-ago-but-is-now-suddenly-an-insecure-and-ill-fitting bra.

Evanny: Hm. Well that's just not going to work at all. That bra is far too big.
Me: Yea... I kind of knew that.
Evanny: Turn around...
Me: (I turn around)
Evanny: (pulls my bra back straps together to the point where I think she's cut off all the circulation to the top half of my body and I'll never be able to inhale again.) There, that's better. Turn back around.
Me: (I turn back around)
Evanny: (eyes my boobs) The cups look okay. Bend over like you're touching your toes.
Me: (bending over, glad there are no latex gloves in sight and that she doesn't ask me to cough.)
Evanny: Yea, the cups are okay. Put your arms up in the air.
Me: (arms up)
Evanny: (pokes my under-boobs) Well at least you're not coming out the bottom. Take off your bra and let me see your breast tissue.
Me: (taking off my bra)
Evanny: (looking very intently at my post-period, smaller-than-usual-and-shrinking-fast-because-she's-staring-at-them breast tissue) Yes... I'd definitely say a 32C.
Me: (jaw drops to nearly below my breast tissue)... C?!? Like a C cup? Are you kidding?
Evanny: (evidently having no sense of humor whatsoever) No. Why would I be kidding?
Me: (realizing Evanny has no sense of humor, laughs anyway) Well, I was sure you'd tell me I'll be looking for double-A cups.
Evanny: (stares intently again at my breast tissue) No. You're definitely not a double-A. That would just make you flat.
Me: (glancing down, wondering if I got the only blind Bra Fitting Specialist in the world) Well, I kind of look flat.
Evanny: No. (Dead serious.) You're not. You're definitely a 32C.
Me: But my rib cage isn't that small. Won't a 32 be too small?
Evanny: No. 90 percent of the support of the breast tissue comes from the straps around the rib cage, so it needs to fit appropriately. (She says this as if I'm a 3 year old.) I am a 38, and as you can see, I'm much larger than you are.
Me: Hm. (Yes, decidedly mono-syllabic, since I'm half-naked and she is not, I don't want to start a conversation about who is bigger… she obviously is. So I decide to look on the bright side): Well, this is good news, at least 32C's are easier to find than 36A's! (I'm really excited now, because it is definitely difficult to find 36A's, and the prospect of not having to look any more is getting me very excited!)
Evanny: Actually, 32C is hard to find.
Me: (no longer excited)
Evanny: Most bra manufacturers make them, but no one stocks them, because they tend to think of them as a waste of money. But we have them here.
Me: Oh good. (Of course you do. And they're $350)
Evanny: I'll be right back.

At this point, Evanny leaves, and apparently the door locking thing is optional in ALL the suites... because she leaves the door open, at which point I am topless and now staring at the other VERY large black breast tissues in the other dressing rooms. I'm feeling very pale and anorexic-looking about now, so I close the door... or at least try to, because the little lock thing is broken and the door likes to sit about 2 inches open with the mirror reflecting my topless-on-a-stool pose perfectly into the outside area. Resigned that all dignity is lost, and that in the name of cleavage to come, I may as well not try to salvage it, I simply sit – half-naked – and wait.

Meanwhile, the conversations from the other suites continue:
"Hey, Janene! Come here and look at these babies! They look like they about to FLY outta here they pushed up so high! Whoo-eee!! My husband's gonna LOVE playing with these!"

"I ain't never had so much space between them - I didn't know they didn't have to touch!"

"I saw this place on Oprah - she said if I don't have the right bra, I was gonna have boobs down to my knees... is that true?" "Well, I don't know about that." "They could, you know. They're big enough to reach my knees if I let 'em go without a bra my whole life."

"I don't like seams in the front - they make my nips hurt" (response from salesgirl: "Well, the right seams won't... try this one") "Ooh baby, you're right! This is nice!"

"Where's Janet?" "She didn't want to come." "Why not?" "I don't know. Something about not being comfortable with strangers feeling up her boobs, I guess." "Well, she always has been a little uptight."

"Double F! Who in the name of God Almighty wears a double F! ….... Oh, I guess I do!"

Evanny returns holding about 7 bras... All look like they're made for 10 year olds and would barely encircle my thigh.

Evanny: I brought you some every-day styles, and some lacy ones too. We'll start with the every-day ones to make sure we have the fit right. Try this on.
Me: (starts to put on bra)
Evanny: Is that how you put on your bras all the time?Me: Um... (insecure again) Yea...
Evanny: Hm. (non-committal.) Okay I guess. Now adjust your breast tissue into the cups.
Me: (reaching to pull up boobs)
Evanny: No no no. To put your breasts in the cups, reach in there and grab em' from underneath. They're yours. Put 'em where you want 'em. (she the proceeds to demonstrate by reaching in and grabbing them and putting 'em where she wants 'em.) Like that.
Me: Okay... (blushing and slightly embarrassed by my obvious lack of control over where my boobs have been goin' for the last 20-some-odd years) Oh, look! I actually fill up the cups! (excited!)
Evanny: Of course you do. (bored.)
Me: But it's a C! (amazed!)
Evanny: Yes. (seriously unamazed.) Okay, so we have the fit right. How do you wash your bras?
(For about a millisecond here, I'm excited… because I have a feeling that after failing all of her previous pop-quiz boob and bra questions, I have a chance of actually getting this question correct! So I blurt out proudly:)
Me: Hand wash, warm water. (beaming with pride.)
Evanny: Never use warm water. Only cold.
Me: (deflated… egotistically as well as breast-tissually)
Evanny: The elastic in a bra is like a rubber band. You know how when a rubber band gets hot it sags and droops, but as soon as you put it in cold water, it snaps right back up?
Me: (nodding noncommittally, not wanting to make the quintessential upper-East-Side faux pas of admitting that I've never done such elaborate experiments with rubber bands before, nor do I want to risk getting another question wrong, since I feel as though thus far I have achieved fairly poor marks in boobsmanship.)
Evanny: Well, they do. The same thing happens with the elastic in your bras, so it's important to use only cold water so that the elastic snaps back.
Me: Okay.

I kept trying on bras – some worked, and some didn't, but I was so excited about finding sexy bras that fit that I just couldn't stop. It was like retail-cocaine. I even tried to buy the chicken-cutlet inserts, except they didn't have my size in stock. (And for those of you who don't know what chicken-cutlet inserts are, don't ask. Either you don't want to know, or you don't NEED to know, and in either case, it's simply better not to ask. But if you're a guy and after you get behind-the-bra with a small-to-medium-boobed girl for the first time, and notice that something resembling raw chicken patties are suddenly in your hands or on the floor, be a gentleman and DON'T ASK. We wear them to impress you, so just ignore them and just look at the REAL boobs for God's sake).

So now I'm a 32C. Well, sort of a 32C... sometimes the cups are a little big, but most of the time, they fill right up! Whoo hoo!!! And while none of my bras were $350, I still managed to spend WAY too much money on underwear that few will ever see besides the women in my karate class' locker room. But still, they're pretty and make me put on a smile, which is – in the end – the best thing to wear anyway.


The Turd - A Makeover Story

In the grand plan I have of making over my life, I've decided to re-do my faded / lopsided / fairly sad "tramp stamp" of a tattoo. For those of you who don't know what a "tramp stamp" is, I didn't either, until someone mentioned that to me a few days ago. Apparently, among the cool people of the world, it's a tattoo that is placed in the small area of the back. When I first got my tattoo there - over 10 years ago - it was a novel and unique place for a tattoo. It was easy to hide, won't stretch when I get fat, and I didn't have to look at it every moment. So it worked for me! Now, however, when I go to the gym, it seems that everyone has decided that this is a good place for a "stamp", and I no longer seem unique, but in fact, rather pedestrian. Now, it's cool to have your "tramp stamp" expanded into an artistic asymmetrical look that wraps partway around the waist, or up onto the back.

I am going to stick to symmetry, however... there's enough imbalance in my life already.

Which brings me to: The Turd:

The Turd was the name of my tattoo as christened by the tattoo artist (Dan) that I commissioned to redesign my 'stamp.' Okay, I knew it was rather sad looking. And I also knew that the artist who did the original work wasn't Michelangelo. (In fact, one word of advice when you get a tattoo: Make sure that the person *giving* it to you is sober.) And I don't think that Dan and his cronies really wanted me to know that they called it "The Turd" - it kind of slipped out during conversation. I didn't take it personally at the time, due to a combination of a) an attempt at being "cool" and b) being scared to death about getting another tattoo. I haven't been upset about it since, either because, well, the new one is so much better.

Dan took my old stamp, and turned it into an amazing work of art by simply incorporating the Turd into a new, most fabulous design. Here it is, in all it's red-and-angry-post-scarring glory:

It's not nearly as angry looking now - nearly 4 months later. It's a little less red, a little less swollen, but nonetheless still gorgeous. There may be some more touch up work to do... but doing too much more to "clean it up" makes me feel like one of those scary people with the plastic surgery addiction: "I swear, this will be the last time I have it tucked!"

But for now, it's no longer the Turd... and for the record, yes, it hurt like a *EDITED*.

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