Monday, June 30, 2014

New York, Here I Come!

In less than two months I'm going to do what, to me, used to be the unthinkable: take a vacation. I used to think that I'd rather be trapped in an elevator with Justin Bieber and Honey Boo Boo's entire family than go on a vacation. Even when I watch TV, I can't relax; I just keep thinking about all the work that I still have to do. I didn't think I'd be able to deal with several days off, because I rarely take even just one day off.

The last time I did any real traveling was when I participated in a study abroad program in Spain; that was thirteen years ago, when I was twenty. Most of my classmates slept or sunbathed all day and then went barhopping at night with American tourists. I walked up and down the streets of the city I lived in, ate tapas at Spanish bars, visited Barcelona and Bilbao, went to museums, talked to Spaniards (who were amused by my clumsy attempts at Spanish), almost converted to a new religion before I finally realized what they were talking about (I'm not making that up), and wrote down everything I saw and experienced in my journal. I resolved that when I got older, I'd continue traveling and see the world.

I didn't. Instead I got my master's degree and started teaching high school students, half of whom cursed me out or started fights in class; the other half showed me poems and rap lyrics they wrote and confided in me about their problems with other students and their families.

I went on to teach college students during the day, where I had to deal with students who acted like Kim Kardashian had just been elected president when I gave them B's. I worked in a bookstore and a clothing store at night. I had the money to travel, but I didn't have the time.

I traveled to Kentucky to review AP literature exams. I traveled to New Orleans and St. Louis for weddings. I went to my parents' home in another state twice a year; lately I've had to go there more often to help them with personal issues, and I even had to give up my spring break one year for them. But I haven't gone anywhere that was just for me. 

Now I'm in my thirties and I think back to that twenty-year-old girl I used to be, the one who didn't work all the time and was eager to soak up as much of life as she could. I stopped being that person several years and several jobs ago. I think that working two or three jobs, seven days a week, for so long drained me and turned me into a neurotic workaholic.

Last year when I was going to my parents' house to take care of their dogs so that they could go on a vacation, I thought about how unfair it was that I never got to go on my own vacations. And then I thought, what's stopping me now? I have the money and I have the time. So why not go?

I chose New York because I've read so many books and seen so many TV shows and movies that are set in New York. I also heard that you don't need a car to get around the city, which is good because I usually don't stop shrieking until I take my hands off the steering wheel.

So I finally booked a trip to New York for the end of August. I reserved a room for four nights in Chinatown, partly because it's on my list of places I want to see. I also want to see Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and that Serendipity cafe from that John Cusack movie. I want to eat New York style pizza (though I still think Chicago-style pizza is the best), buy an "I Heart New York" T-shirt and be the stereotypical New York tourist. I also kind of want to dance on that giant keyboard in Fao Schwartz like Tom Hanks did in Big. I'm not bringing any work with me, and yet somehow I think I'll be able to relax. I can't wait.

What about you? What's your dream vacation?

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Prom Night

I didn't go to prom in high school. I was significantly overweight (which is why I go to the gym so often now), and most of the guys didn't talk to me that much unless they needed help with their homework or they were making fun of me.

I could have gone to prom with one of my guy friends, which is what I did for a few of the other school dances. But I always thought that if I did go to prom, it should be with someone I really liked and who felt the same way about me. There was something romantic about prom (maybe it was because of all the cheesy prom scenes from high school movies that I'd watched), and it didn't feel right to me to go with someone that I didn't have romantic feelings for. I'm not criticizing anyone who did attend prom with a friend, though, because I'm sure that can be fun too.

On prom night, I went to Dairy Queen and watched movies at home. I didn't tell my friends how much it bothered me to have to look at all their prom pictures when we were back in school; they were oblivious to how much it hurt me.

I've been thinking about it lately because even though the school year is now over, I still remember all the articles I've read about high school students who invited celebrities to their proms.

I don't know if anyone else has heard of it, but I guarantee you that the next time there's a homecoming dance or a prom, there will be more news articles about even more teenagers who want movie stars, musicians, and athletes to escort them. It reminds me of when I was in high school and I had a crush on Lance Bass, who was in the boy band N'Sync; he later turned out to be gay. I also had a crush on Ricky Martin, who also turned out to be gay. (My gaydar wasn't very good back then.)

Those articles bother me. I can understand the appeal of going with a celebrity to prom. Everyone has had a crush on a celebrity at some point. They often seem larger than life, and many of us (myself included) tend to create this imaginary image of them that often contrasts with who they really are.

But I think that many of those teenagers invite celebrities not just because they have crushes on them but because they want to be the center of attention. They want news articles to be written about them; they want to be on TV; they want all eyes to be on them on prom night.

I think it is nice when famous people accept those students' invitations. Contrary to many of those students' hopes, none of those invitations resulted in romantic relationships. But it is nice of those celebrities to take the time for their fans. I don't think it's nice when teenagers promote their invitations on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube and go "viral", which makes the celebrities feel pressured to say yes.

I think it'd be even nicer if those teenagers invited "the shy kid" or "the class nerd" to prom instead. I remember what it was like to be a nerd in high school, and I know how much it would have meant to me if I had been invited to go to prom.

But instead these teenagers make it clear that their expectations are set very high, as if they feel entitled to go out with Grammy winners or Olympic medalists. And I don't think that's right. I'm not saying that celebrities are better than regular people; they're not. But I don't think they should be pressured to go out with these kids, especially since it seems like those kids want celebrity dates not necessarily because of the celebrities themselves but because of what they get out of them.

What do you think of this new trend? If you could have gone out with a celebrity, who would it be? If you did go to prom, what was it like?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When It's Hard to Be Polite

Today I went to a cafe to write. I like writing in cafes, partly because of the good food and coffee, and partly because I like the atmosphere. It's also because if I have to listen to my wannabe musician neighbor play the same chord for hours at a time, I just might plaster his door with One Direction posters for all our other neighbors to see.

While I was writing, I noticed an old man with a cane hovering over my table. It made me uncomfortable, but I kept writing. Then a barista loudly asked if anyone would be willing to share or give up their table for the old man. Two men sitting nearby offered to share their table; they were very friendly and nice about it. But the old man just stood there; he was adamant about getting his own table. The barista kept loudly asking for someone to give up their table again and again. Finally I reluctantly said that he could have my table.

I told the barista and the manager that I had a right to sit there and I didn't appreciate being pressured to give up my table. Don't get me wrong; I know he couldn't sit at one of the high stools near the window. When I'm on the bus or train, I always give up my seat to elderly passengers. I try to help older people in other ways. Once I helped an old woman carry her groceries in the pouring rain. There's another elderly homeless woman who hangs out at a cafe near my apartment, so sometimes I put a few bucks on a gift card and give it to her so that she can buy food and coffee.

So it's not like I'm completely indifferent to the elderly. But I think if I buy something at a cafe, I have the right to sit down. I would never do what that old man did; that is, I would never stand over someone's table and insist that someone else give up their seat. In fact, I went to that cafe because the first one I went to was too crowded.

The manager and barista defended the customer, saying he was a regular. I'm a cafe regular too; I drink so much coffee that sometimes I start running around like Speedy Gonzalez. I don't think that regulars have the right to demand their own tables; I never do that at the other cafes I frequent. The whole situation made me angry.

I try to be nice to people, whether it's opening a door for someone with their hands full or helping someone in a wheelchair cross the street. I don't expect people to go out of their way for me, but it bothers me when people are rude, like the driver who screamed at me when I crossed the street (the sign said walk, so I thought it was okay) and then drove up beside me and kept screaming. It bothered me when some kid was running down the sidewalk so fast that he knocked me into the street, in the face of oncoming traffic. Instead of apologizing or helping me get back up, he and his friends pointed and laughed at me lying there in the street.

It bothers me when jerks shove me out of the way to get on the bus first, or when my neighbor refuses to be quiet at 3 A.M. (I asked) and then acts like I'm the one with the problem because apparently he's a vampire who doesn't sleep at night.

I try not to let it bother me, but it's hard to be polite when I encounter rudeness almost every day. I know that I should be mature and grownup, even when others are not. But sometimes I want to respond to their rudeness by giving them a taste of their own medicine. I don't, though.

What about you? How do you deal with it when people are rude to you?