Sunday, November 27, 2011

Making East Coast Friends...

I moved to the East Coast six months ago, and since arriving, I've spent most of my free time making new friends.  It's what I do.  I go out.  I network.  I meet people.  I introduce myself to complete strangers.  I become new friends with my friends' friends.  Heck, I even joined a kickball team, and of course, I go to the happy hours.  You get the point..

From all this social activity, I've honestly and proudly made friends with other twenty-somethings who have also settled and now live in DC.  These new friends hail from the Midwest, the Southwest, the South and even from so far as the West Coast (all places I've also lived), but also those who have been here from the beginning--and are still here--the "East Coasters."  This bunch, however, has been the most difficult to befriend, but why?

Without a doubt, the East Coasters maintain an "air of reservation," which I have come to understand.  Perhaps, East Coasters might lack some trust for those of us who subscribed to Manifest Destiny (but there is something to be said about the fact we all say "go back East" and "head out West").  The simple fact that East Coasters are the most difficult of all Americans to warm up to and befriend, from my experience, unequivocally stems from the reasons derived from these observations:

First, East Coasters are more reserved.  They let on much less (and a lot less at first) to new people, friends and strangers.  Therefore, it takes longer to really get to know them, and they also reserve much more about who they are, what they do and who they know.  Maybe this is because they have larger and more numerous circles of friends, but it might also have to do with old money: how far back their families go into America's history and how politically, socially, and/or financially connected their namesake might be (and don't even begin to ask about their family's coat of arms).  Nevertheless, those who have lived on the East Coast their whole lives, along with their parents, grandparents, and their grandparents' parents (who were probably Pilgrims) just don't warm up very easily.  I've even experienced this with women dating back to my very first girlfriend in high school (who was from Middletown, NY) to the more recent pursuit with a wonderful East Coast woman.  I've also experienced this with new East Coast guy friends who look at me strangely when I make commitments early, easily, or tell them I can do this or that without thinking through it all for more than a moment.  It's fair I get those looks from my East Coast buddies, and to be honest, West Coasters are synonymous with flakiness.  This I know.

Second, East Coasters are just busier, and their busyness largely results from allowing an insurmountable amount of nightly and weekly events onto their plates (which I have also started to do..).  Yet, it also has to do with making decisions about where they go and what they do in their free time a bit more carefully.  From what I've collected in the last six months, it takes a lot more vetting from an East Coaster before they commit to (let alone attend) an event, get-together, happy hour, etc.  Trust me, I've tried them on all fronts--from happy hours to fundraisers, dinners to visiting local art galleries.  It just takes more persistance, more eagerness, and you must always be honest with them, both about what to expect, but more importantly, who will be there.  East Coasters will always fulfill their commitments, which is in stark contrast to West Coasters (sorry, I had to go there), but it also takes a lot more to get their commitment.  In DC, this is more of a commonality than anywhere else because, (I mean, come on) it's DC, so you never know who's going to be out where you're going or who that stranger might know--about you, your organization, your boss or your coworkers while you're out doing your thing.  Thus, East Coasters are more reserved (see #1 above).

Third, East Coasters are more selective, but please, allow me to explain this before my East Coast friends take offense.  By this point, I simply mean that East Coasters allow a much smaller spectrum of West Coast's (et al.) fashion, style, dialects, lingo, slang, and demeanor into their diaspora.  Although the East Coast can stake their claim in the moon of style and fashion (Manhattan), and the various movements across the nation either spur from the East Coast or just plainly do not survive (read: Ed Hardy and tribal  tattoos).  Basically, most of what bleeds TMZ is really a recipe for disaster amongst the East Coast high crust/brow.  As well, East Coasters' appreciation for tradition (but not traditional), and their preservation of continuity is instrumental to their selectivity, which exists.

Fourth and finally, East Coasters have more depth.  I know I'll catch a lot of shit from some Cali friends about this, but if you read this post, you'll understand my claim..  In no specific order, East Coasters create better invitations, write more meaningful emails, leave lengthier voicemails, entertain thoughts longer, delve deeper into the emotions one feels, stay out later or longer (and to make sure you're home safe), tell you their thoughts without sacrificing their emotions, and they get straight to the point on matters.  Does this all come from their mutual concern for not letting on to others as easily and being more selective?  I think that truly plays a big part, but I also think that this nation has a melting pot of truly different people who are a conglomerate of their whereabouts.

In conclusion, I've merely tried to note a few of the qualitative differences between the people I've grown to know from living in the different parts of the nation.  My basic premise was that East Coasters have been the most difficult to befriend, and this feeling hasn't changed in the course of writing this post, but one thing is for sure, the sustainability of friendship with the few East Coasters I have made (and cherish) are unprecedented friendships.  They've not been fair-weather friends, they've given the best advice, and they've truly been there.

Night and day, I'm becoming more and more an East Coaster: more reserved, busier, more selective, and a deeper human being.  I've also been committing more of myself to the relationships I currently have (both here and afar), creating lasting friendships but also making inroads for a way of life that might soon proscribe to what's above.  However, I can only culminate as an East Coaster from my upbringing in the Midwest (Indiana), Southwest (Arizona), the South (Texas), and the West Coast (California), but never in spite of this whatsoever...

...who can relate?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

For the Sake of Men this Movember.

It's not uncommon that I support causes.  It's also not uncommon that I've joined causes, ones that are bigger than myself and claim the lives of others.  So you shouldn't be surprised to read this Dandygram about what the next one is all about...

Moustache Season--better known as Movember--is upon us, and you all can be damn sure I've registered myself this year.  In fact, I've gotten other great guys and gals to register for Movember where we'll embrace the hair of the wild.

Basically, I've pledged to cultivate a genuine, 100% face grown moustache for the entire month of November.  Why, you ask?  To raise awareness and funds for men's health, specifically cancers affecting men.  To start this month, I have sent emails to my DC Mo Bros, Mo Sistas, and am now dedicating this Dandygram to it, too.  More importantly, I would like to ask you, my trusty and fearless readers, to join me by signing up or donating or growing a moustache or being a Mo Sista or just simply encouraging the men in your life to think about our health.  Together, we can change the face of men's health and do it in a thoughtful, fun way.  

Before I get more into what the Movember movement is all about, here are some cold, hard facts and a very personal story to put my involvement into better context:

Did you know that 1 in 6 American men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime?  True story.  Also, 1 in 2 men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.  Thirteen million adult men over the age of 20 in the United States have diabetes--and a third don't even know it.  One in eight men who suffer from mental illness actually seek help, and finally, a third of the 571,950 cancer deaths expected to occur in 2011 will be related to obesity, physical inactivity, poor nutrition and thus could be prevented.  Those are just the cold, hard facts of the matter.  Now, here is my personal story and the reason for my involvement this particular year:

During August 2011, my stepdad was diagnosed with prostate cancer.  He became one of the six who get diagnosed.  After a colonoscopy, a tumor was detected--and buried--in the transverse (horizontal) section of his colon and very close to his spleen.  Ligaments hold the colon in place there, so the doctor had to cut out a major part of that section and re-attach the pieces.  In all, he had about 14 inches removed from his lower intestine and now has a gnarly scar.  Presently, he is days away from going in for a second opinion to discover whether he will undergo chemotherapy.  He is just one.  One story of the millions of affected men, but he's the one that has made this month personal for me.

My dear readers - as more people (men and women both) become involved in Movember, more lives will be impacted.  It's plain and simple, but with a hairy twist!  Guys (Mo Bros): start growing your moustaches today, and tomorrow, make a statement, provoke conversation in the workplace, talk with your friends, call your doctor for a check up, style it for Thanksgiving over the turkey and dumplings, smile while riding your bike or in the coffee shop or everywhere.  For the sake of men, be healthy.  Gals (Mo Sistas): support your guys this month as they grow out a moustache, smile about the irritation from the fact we're growing moustaches, encourage us to visit our doctors and get ourselves checked out, make healthy meals with us, and remember, the moustache will be gone on December 1.

Here are the rules, and it's not too late to participate:

Now, if you truly want to take part in what I've joined (along with my friends) and start raising money for men's health, then get registered with DC Moustachery here (it's FREE and no moustache growing is required...that means you Mo Sistas!).  With that done, Movember will send you all the information you need to start raising awareness and funds on your own or with us for men's health.  We've had a good first two days -- $110 for the cause! -- but that's just the tip of the iceberg (or should I say the stubble above our upper lips) for Movember, DC Moustachery and men's health!

If you would like to participate, but don't want to register or grow a moustache, you can always donate directly to our cause by typing in "Trevor Sparks" here or "DC Moustachery" here.  All proceeds go to the cause, not me.  I promise, and it's really that simple, but honestly, more than your money and new Movember moustaches, I want you all to know it's cooler than cool to be healthy.  I just rock a moustache as a reminder (pictures and a Moustache Party coming soon!).

Movember will now forever be a part of my future Novembers, and as your friend, I ask that you please take a stand with me too.  It only takes one to make a difference, but working together, we can make and do so much more.  I leave you with a moustache style guide:

Saturday, September 24, 2011

[I feel like] This is long overdue.

My dear readers: I am so sorry for such a delay in posting Dandygrams.  Life has really been delivering for the last two months.  Nevertheless, I presently have a few minutes to catch my breath and write (along with sincere encouragement from Janou), so I would like to address a few things that have been on my mind lately.  Here it goes..

First and foremost, let's get something very clear: there is a significant difference between a compliment and flattery.  To be sure, it took me years to really get this figured out, but I have learned.  I would like to give a lot of credit to my dear friend Megha for explaining it to me so eloquently.  

Here's the deal (gentlemen and aspiring Dandies take note): Flattery is not a compliment, and there is a very important distinction between flattery and compliments.  Compliments are sincere and well-deserved.  Flattery, by definition, is "excessive and insincere praise, especially that given to further one's own interests."  An example here would be good:  You have beautiful eyes.  Wow.  Good line sweet talker!  I mean, if you want the pretty lady to say, "I'm so flattered," then you've done well.  If you want her to say thank you, compliment her on something in her control:  You look beautiful tonight (or) That is an amazing dress.  These are the type of things women have in their control.  

As Megha would explain, our parents and genetic code give us our eyes, so we really have no choice in the matter or how they look.  Our style or our appearance, however, is something we control and this deserves admiration.  So gentlemen, bite your tongues for a second and think of a better line that would compliment women because it means so much more than flattery.  Not only that, compliments don't come across as cheesy, and of course, women know the difference.

Now to the second thing that's been on my mind, and this one shoots to the core of so much that is being said in conversation these days.  I've blogged before about how certain aspects of my generation have encompassed the ability for many to communicate effectively, such as the way text messaging has shortened our sentences and abbreviated our feelings or how nobody sends postcards, writes letters or mail thank you cards anymore.  Well, here's yet another downfall to our communication abilities and it's stacked right up there with the rest of them.  

[I feel like] people should know about this.  [I feel like] it's important to share.  [I feel like] there are a lot people always saying 'I feel like' for no good reason at all.

I have no doubt you are each rapidly catching on to my observation since 'I feel like' is EVERYWHERE, but WHY?  That dumb prefacing phrase has no real purpose in conversation.  It's simply a subtle way to insert indetermination.  As if our generation doesn't have enough of that already.  Basically, it is just more indecision for my already indecisive generation.  

Here's my suggestion: just get your feelings and opinions out there without fear you might be wrong, judged or questioned for what you're saying.  While those things do happen and sometimes we get called on misspeaking or improperly verbalizing our ideas, we're humans and humans are prone to error.  Whenever 'I feel like' is said, it's just a way of interject a prepositional phrase to what you are already going to say, which is based on what you feel and the listener is obviously aware of this once you say it.  

That said, it's now time to go out and PLAY!

Friday, July 29, 2011

In No Specific Order: Taking a Moment for the Brain, Heart, and Soul

Let's be honest: it is so damn easy to be consumed by things in our daily life that constantly draw our attention away from what really, truly matters.  It happens, we're all victims of this, and it's inevitable.  However, we can thank goodness for the hearts and minds of three special women: Rachel Sparks-Graeser, Leslie Cunningham, and Hailey Wist.  Why these three women, you ask?  Let me explain...

Two years ago, my cousin Rachel's life forever changed after she had moved to New York City and learned that children were being sold into prostitution all over the world. No longer content to live as she had been, she began wrestling with how to get involved. The result?  The SOLD Project.

Last year, my cousin Leslie took on a challenge to provide mothers--of young and old children alike--a photographic reflection about giving birth.  She combined her powerful, literary eye for the joys and surprises of motherhood along with her talented understanding for the media driven concept of feminine beauty to please and strike home a cause that is common for all women who have walked into the circle of motherhood.  From her dedication to #goodness came The Afterbelly.

This year, my friend Hailey (whom I would say is an Alice Waters protégé) invited four suburbanites to grow a summer garden in rural Arkansas.  During this time, they discovered the forgotten satisfaction of digging in the dirt and porch sitting with neighbors. They ate within a 100-mile radius, sold their goods at a local farmers market, and gained (or deeply instilled) their compassion for sustainability.  Hailey's spark birthed The Garden Summer

Please, take a moment outside of yourself to fill your brain, heart, and soul with the amazing and powerful work of these three incredible women.  

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Pepitoria: A Simple Dish, A Perfect Dish

As you probably already know, I have been living with a host family in the DC suburb of Greenbelt, MD since I moved out here after graduating from Cal at the end of May.  It's been grand, and I've learned a lot about having Gramma and Daddy Bob as my housemates...

Unfortunately, my time has come to move on (and out), and on Saturday, I'll sign a lease for a new apartment in downtown DC with my friend Nick!  However, that is not the exciting news OR the real reason for this post.

The reason for this post is FOOD.  Authentic Spanish food to be precise.  Tonight, for no apparent reason, my Greenbelt host Gramma made Pollo en Pepitoria for dinner.  If you didn't know, Gramma is 100% Spanish, and 100% awesome; to be sure, what she made for dinner tonight was--without a doubt--the best meal she has cooked since I moved in and took over their basement (however, I have yet to try her famous Paella!!).

After coming just shy of licking my plate at the dinner table, I immediately asked to see her cookbook where the recipe was found so that I could copy it down.  Seriously: print this recipe, cook it, and I guarantee you'll be sharing it with your friends and family soon enough.  Without any further delay, here's the recipe:

Pollo En Pepitoria (Chicken in Egg, Almond, and Sherry Sauce) from The Food and Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas

"Pepitoria" applies to poultry and game dishes to which egg has been added, either uncooked or hard-boiled, and is a favorite Spanish preparation.  Although most often found with chicken, many believe that a hen, slow cooked, produces the tastiest "pepitoria."  I have found that a kosher chicken gives the best results.  This dish combines all of the ingredients most often associated with Spanish cooking -- garlic, saffron, sherry, and almonds -- into an unusually savory sauce.

Please note!  There were changes to this recipe for tonight:  Gramma served this over rice and just used chicken breasts (Daddy Bob doesn't like chicken with bones!).  She also used a mortar and pestle to crush the blanched almonds because "it is better that way."  Also, she didn't use any ham or the egg, but she definitely would have, and why?  That's another story . . .


4 tablespoons olive oil
One 3 - 3 1/2 pound chicken, cut in small serving pieces
(Optional) 1/4-pound piece cured ham, cut in julienne strips
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons minced parsley
1/4 cup dry sherry
3/4 cup chicken broth
Dash nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground pepper
15 blanched almonds
1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped

In a large casserole, heat the oil and saute the chicken over a high flame until it is well browned.  Pour off all put 1 tablespoon of the oil.  Reduce the heat, add the ham, onion, garlic, and 2 tablespoons of the parsley, and cook until the onion is wilted.  Stir in the sherry, broth, nutmeg, saffron, bay leaf, salt, and pepper.  Simmer 10 minutes, uncovered.  Remove the chicken, ham, and bay leaf to a heated platter.

In a food processor or blender, chop the almond until they are finely ground.  Gradually add the contents of the casserole and blend until smooth.  Return the sauce to the casserole along with the chicken, ham, and bay leaf.  Cover and cook in a 350 oven for 20 minutes, adding more chicken broth if the sauce thickens too much.  Sprinkle the hard-boiled egg over the chicken and cook 5 minutes more.  Garnish with the remaining tablespoon of the parsley before serving and accompany with a green salad and a light red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon.

Muchas gracias Gramma!  Viva la España!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The DC Metro: A (Novice) Rider's Experience

There's something about living in a metropolitan city, being a blogger, and riding the city's local metro system that, within a short period of time, a post about riding and commuting on the metro each day will inevitably come around.  With that said, here's that Dandygram:

Since moving to DC, I have become a DC Metro commuter.  Honestly, I don't have an atypical commute for residing out in the suburbs and driving to the local park-and-ride station with the rest of my neighbors (read: Greenbelt, MD). 

I am, however, new to it all.  In fact, I enjoy the commute via Metro (most days), so I am not going to rant about what I find obnoxious about my morning and evening commutes (although I might drop a few hints, like the investment I made in a damn good set of noise-canceling ear buds shortly after my first day of riding) or tell you about the obscenities I've witnessed whilst taking the late train back to my parked car after the weekly happy hour that went longer than predicted (more below on this).  Instead, I am going to try my best to tell you what it's like to see, hear, feel, and ride on one of the cleanest and nicest metro systems in the U.S. as a novice daily commuter.

There are a few caveats about being a novice Metro rider.  To start, you must learn and quickly familiarize yourself with "Metro etiquette," and this begins from the moment you swipe your fare card into at entry point to when you leave your destination's station.  Now, in what I think is the most chronologically correct order as possible of the day's events, here's what I've learned about Metro etiquette but with the twist only I know how to give for what I've observed:

First, do not spend more than two full seconds during the hours of 7:00am and 9:00am trying to get your pre-loaded SmarTrip Metro fare card or Metro card to work and process at the mere two of seven available entry machines.  If you spend as much as (heaven forbid) five seconds or more trying to get your fare card to scan, you may as well wait for the next train because the grudges, glares, and growls from the riders behind you--also waiting to scan their cards at the less-than-what-is-necessary entry machines--will haunt you stop after stop and make you feel like you were, once again, in fourth grade again and have been "that person" to have given too much time (and lip) at the hallway water fountain.

Second, the escalators have a very specific protocol.  This was something explained clearly by a colleague of mine who also commutes into DC from equidistance but on the southern leg of the Orange line.  She explained that riders on the escalators--both going up and down--are to "walk on the left, stand on the right."  This communal understanding quickly became about as simple as tying shoelaces, but if (again, heaven forbid) you are "that person" standing on the left, might as well open an umbrella because all the bringers and the buyers with their leftovers from lunch will surely let you know like a bad performance at a Shakespearean theatre.  (Not to mention, there's the slapping of women's high heels and men's dress heels as they slowly approach your unwavering stance standing on the left side of the up escalator, which make you nervous enough to shuffle between two people standing on the right who already get this.  Oh, and God forbid you do this on the escalators at L'Enfant Plaza or Metro Center... YIKES!)

Third, if no seats are available on your train, it's absolutely acceptable to stand.  However, you must ensure you've found a low center of gravity before departure and throughout the length of the ride.  For example, take what I like to call a "three pointed pose."

The "three pointed pose" is simple: two feet planted firmly on the ground a little wider than shoulder-width apart (for a lower center of gravity, obviously).  Additionally, make sure to have at least one hand firmly gripped on an overhead handle bar.  If you pretend to look cool (like I have witnessed time and time again from my carefully selected seat towards the back of the front train each morning) and ride with less than a "three pointed pose," it will be your luck that the conductor has a lead foot and brakes sporadically, or worse: abruptly stopping at least four times upon arriving to each station only to make sure his front train is perfectly aligned with their "stop-precisely-at-this-mark, Metro-system-conductors").  This, I'll have you know, makes the aforementioned witnessed cool "two pointed posed" rider lunge forward in dismay, surprise, and utter embarrassment.  If only they had read this post!  Nevertheless, just stick to any version of a "three pointed pose" if there are no seats available.  And trust me, the unsuspecting riders investing their trust in your cognizance will silently thank you for not falling into their laps.

Fourth, get into a routine--at least for the morning commute.  This is something I've learned to be quintessential each morning during my commute on the Orange line into DC (7:30am - 8:20am).  If you are a reader, like a former Metro commuter and colleague in my office has informed me, you can get through books upon books during your daily commutes.  However, if you ride half of your morning and evening commute with the sun beating through the windows and onto the seat you were fortunate enough to secure, fighting sleep becomes your daily routine.  

I have a Kindle (thank you, self, for having jumped the gun on a Christmas gift and getting it back in return).  I have a new iPad (thank you, Mom).  I occasionally pick up the Express newspaper that is handed--nay, forcefully given--to me each morning at the entrance to the New Carrollton station.  I also have an abundant supply of magazines along with the daily emails and education alerts that can be read on my Blackberry.  But for crying out loud, there is nothing short of getting slapped in the face that can keep me from closing my eyes, drifting in thought, and becoming complacent and/or losing a sense of time and place (read: nodding off).  This comatose phenomenon has become quite commonplace during my morning commute, but I've observed the more experienced riders are able to essentially set some sort of internal clock that alerts their circadian rhythm with the sound of cuckoo birds that it's time to disembark at their precise station.  This, unfortunately, is not something I've mastered.  Instead, I fall victim to nodding off and then coming to, but only to be one (or four) stops beyond my station where I disembark with my sleepy head held high, go up the escalators and walk across the wrong station, and take the escalator down catch the next train back to McPherson Square.  How truly humbling.

Nevertheless, I have found a fix to this problem beyond a good night's sleep, and it's seeking out the daily Washington Afro before boarding.  Needless to say, their reporting is timely, it works to keep my interest enough to stay awake for 30 minutes, and I've consistently arrived at my stop without the morning nod off!

Fifth, I have slowly picked up on the etiquette for Metro commuter people watching.  This is a more delicate kind of thing for commuters because you'll quickly realize that when you park and ride each morning, familiar faces begin to appear on your trains and in the seats around you.  However, those are not the people to watch.  It's people like me--the newbies to it all, or those going on their first day of a job or an interview, or better yet, the DC tourists. 

Yes, I can say it.  I have become captivated by the tourists who congregate on the Metro: the school groups, the church groups, the families, the couples, the newlyweds, the Tea Partiers, you name it.  I am so fascinated by their bright-eyed and early-Monday-morning-bushy-tailness to go visit a big marble memorial.  Like, where the hell did you get this energy to stare at some stone???  Can I get a fraction of that energy for my computer screen and a day filled with building Excel spreadsheets please?  Only kidding--I love my job.

Sixth, those damn broken escalators--especially at the end of the work day--are tumultuous for the flow of foot traffic.  There's something fascinating about a working escalator four out of five days a week that this all becomes second nature.  But when on the fifth day, the escalator is not working for whatever apparent reason, and everyone is forced to actually hoof it up and down "manually," the stopped escalator (read: STAIRCASE) becomes this freak of broken technology: so foreign, so archaic, and totally un-apropos!

Get over it people.  This broken technology is now called a set of stairs, and believe it or not, each step even has YELLOW PAINT TO HELP YOU OUT...

Lastly, there's the etiquette for the last stop on the metro line.  I have the luxury of parking and riding the Orange line where it both originates for my morning commute and terminates for my evening commute.  However, the Metro etiquette will remind us that, at the end of the work day or into the later part of the evening if you've had a few drinks for happy hour with friends, you really don't want to be "that person" who is aroused from a mid-evening nod off in his seat to find out from the conductor clearing the trains and picking up debris that it's the "LAST STOP! LAST STOP! WAKE UP AND GET OFF MY TRAIN!"  Yeah, once is enough for that, and I've learned.

So, there you have it.  Whether you're ready to make a trip to visit DC as a tourist or are interested in relocating to the suburbs of the Beltway, or if you just want a DCist perspective on the etiquette of riding the awesome DC Metro, I hope this will provide you with a good foundation for what to look for, what to (and what not to) do, and how to make yourself just blend in.  Plus, if you ride in from New Carrollton and PG County, blending in is not a bad thing whatsoever...

Next up on The Dandygram: Spending a Weekend Outside the Beltway.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy 4th of July!

From my family to yours, have a safe and happy 4th of July!  

Love from DC,

Friday, June 10, 2011

My feet are wet but far from cold.

After another long lapse without posting a Dandygram, dammit I am back!  I am also no longer a California resident.  I type that with a smile on my face because I now reside on the East Coast.  It may not rhyme with "best coast," but this is freaking Washington, D.C.  Really, it doesn't get much better than this.

A little less than a month ago, I received my diploma.  That was probably one of the happiest, most freeing/liberating/empowering/prideful moments of my 20s.  Now, I've "seen some shit" and done a lot of crazy things that sets me apart from my typical 28 year old counterparts, but earning a college degree--and doing a cartwheel across the stage--has been one of the most incredible journeys thus far.  It took me to Southeast Asia and back, but it also brought me here, to DC, for an entire semester last fall.

UC Berkeley, c/o 2011

I don't have quite the post-graduation romantic stories that our parents and grandparents tell us about when they took their first real dive into the real world, but for me, this is it.  No doubt about it.  Granted, I came here with some damn good savings in the bank, but it will only go so far because DC is just as an expensive place to live, work, and play as NYC or SF.  Not only that, getting a good, well-paying job AND an affordable/nice room or apartment are about two of the hardest things imaginable--the latter more so than the former.  Shoot, with looks to kill, it's only a matter of time . . . slightly kiddding.

So, where am I at this point in my life?  I'll tell you this, despite all the real uncertainty (for what seems like the first time in my life), I am not and will not go through a Quarterlife Crisis.  Shit, I passed that point at least two years ago, and it never happened then, and I boldly believe that now, there's just no damn time for that mess.  However, that's not to say the conditions aren't ripe: currently, I am sitting on a bed in the basement bedroom of my best friend's grandparent's home in Greenbelt, MD.  I have a job that can only afford to work me as an intern for three days a week and pay me $10/hr, and it costs me $12.75/day to commute there and back.  Now, I am not swimming in debt--my car's paid off (great grad gift, btw!), I have some money stocked up, and I am living rent free until I can find an affordable and nice place in the District.  Taking the good with the bad, the joys of now living in the most desirable city for a political science undergrad completely outweigh the few-to-little-to-no downsides.

What am I saying . . . I have four day weekends.  I have an amazing and growing network of young professionals who, from everyone I've talked to so far, started out just like I am now.  I've been to kick ass parties, fashion show fund raisers with Real Housewives of DC, tubing down the Shenandoah River, countless happy hours, a Cal Alumni barbecue, Ocean City for a weekend, and out to my host family's Chesapeake Bay house to pick crab and watch the sunset!  Did I mention I've only been here two weeks so far?

The time off is good, don't get me wrong.  The fact that I don't have to do homework during my time off is probably the single greatest upside to being finished with school (for now), living in a new city, and trying every day to flex my extroverted personality to the max.  I thought I knew a thing or two about networking, but my rookie skills pale in comparison to some of the people I've met in the last two weeks.  Down time is almost a past time, and I barely work.  So, with that said, I have a few other things I need to do before I go to sleep tonight, and on top of that, I need to work on my one-liners for this barbecue for Rep. Steny Hoyer tomorrow night.  You never know who you'll meet at those things, and this guy needs a J-O-B.

As far as my initial claim about East vs. West, well . . . I guess the only thing I can say at this point is we on the East are "ahead" of you all out West.  By the time you read this, I'll probably already have done 2 or 3 hours worth of shit, and I'll be waiting for you to catch up.  Ha ha, just kidding.  Miss you CA.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Power of the Stink Eye.

Whether giving one, getting one, or being witness to one, the stink eye is truly galvanizing.

Being given the stink eye will no doubt catch you off-guard.  And in the right situation, it can stop you dead in your tracks.  At its greatest level of effectiveness, the stink eye is used to display an array of emotions simultaneously, from disgust to distrust; from disdain to contempt.  When used in public, the stink eye receives a surprising reaction from the recipient, and rarely is its use unwarranted. 

For example, I walk to and from the UC Berkeley campus each day from my apartment.  I have about a mile walk each way, and much of this is done during the rush hour traffic through downtown Berkeley (what little there is of both).  Nevertheless, I walk through numerous intersections where cars are impatiently waiting for the crosswalks to clear so that they can proceed through. 

When this happens, there is a small reaction needed to ensure (or avenge) that I, as a walker in my right of way merely trying to regain the safety of the sidewalk on the other side of the street, am noticed and not crippled.  As the car's bumpers slowly approach the crosswalks, getting ever so close to my knees and seconds from paralyzing me, a stink eye is shot directly through the car's windshield and into the driver's eyes.  It usually gets them to stop just short of cutting my legs off, and they are taken aback as if surprised at their own doing.

The key to a powerful stink eye is the direct eye contact.  Making eye contact when giving the stink eye is the difference between a disapproving look that warrants a reaction from the disapproved (a stink eye at its finest) and a snotty elitist glare that merely looks as though one is turning up their nose when they don't get their way (not a stink eye whatsoever). 

Stink eyes are the most common replacement for saying "asshole" or flipping the bird, but the discreetness and intimacy involved with the stink eye is what makes them so incredibly effective.  However, they are rarely effective if unnoticed, and there's nothing worse than an ineffective stink eye.  So use them wisely and sparingly.

It is not easy to give a powerful stink eye, for it's not merely a glare or raised eyebrow.  It may or may not be acceptable to give the stink eye to the low brow stuff, but I'll let you be the judge of that. 

The stink eye is a unique glance-slash-look that is typically perfected by women and well emulated by men.  It can't last too long because you'll risk looking like a snob.  Honestly, it usually takes more intellect than common sense to understand the environment in which to give one.  So arguably, it's the knowledge of the violations of common sense when the stink eye is warranted most. 
In no way do I condone practicing, but if you happen to catch one or see one (and it's not followed by a big smile), take a mental note.  And trust me, you'll know one when you see it.

Believe it or not, the stink eye is also used flirtatiously.  In my opinion, this use of the stink eye takes the cake.  If a stink eye can be given but then almost immediately followed by an unbecoming smile during the same instance of making the initial eye contact, it will make you entirely forget if you deserved receiving the stink eye (which I doubt you did), and therefore, you, as the recipient, should soon approach this person and explore their personality. 

Like I said earlier, don't go around giving stink eyes with unbecoming smiles afterward because the unbecoming smile is nearly as hard to produce as the stink eye. 

(The inspiration for this post came, in large part, from a dinner with Hailey W. and Yvette S. in Georgetown last year.  So, for my two inspirational friends, I found the following a worthy tribute to you both.  I miss you!)


Sunday, January 23, 2011

How I Know It's the First Week of Classes.

There's something very interesting about the entire back-to-school rigmarole.  It's been taking place for over a week now at Berkeley, and it is something so commonplace that I am quite positive it also occurs at other campuses.

What I've been observing for the past few years as a college student is no doubt associated with my generation of college students--commonly referred to as Millenials, Gen-Ys, or a personal favorite: Boomerangs.

During the first week of classes each semester, the anticipation begins to mount like a 22 year old virgin at the strip club, and it's always the same: who's in your classes, what are your professors like, and perhaps, will the graduate school instructor be attractive enough for that slim chance to flirt your way to earning maximum "participation points" without sacrificing your standards.

These common yet sometimes nerve-racking features during the first week of classes are always fun to observe, but I don't think they can compare to the unique little phenomenon I'm referring to.  It's the one that happens shortly after thousands and thousands of young college students at UC Berkeley each receive a few thousand dollars at the exact same time.

Financial aid disbursements . . . cha-ching!

Immediately following this incredibly liberating deposit into the hands and pockets of the young and restless Millenials a few days before the start of the semester creates the anticipation for you-name-it indulgences.

This all recently dawned on me during a trip to Target as I approached the checkout counter with my items.  I could clearly tell from the look on the clerk's face that the indulgences of the financially enabled students of Berkeley were upon her.

After a few items were scanned, I thought to ask how she was planning to prepare for this, but I merely said in the nicest way, "So it's about to get very busy in the next few days with everyone getting their financial aid, huh?"  No smile at all.  Instead, I watched her shoulders drop, and I could definitely sense that she was not impressed with my inquisitive nature.  All I can say in her defense is that she might have been working at Target during an August when this has happened.

What is so unique about all of this is the inevitability for the instantly gratified Gen-Ys to spend a very large portion of this money right away.  Beyond a shadow of doubt, it is happening all around me.  I see it everyday and in every way, and it is absolutely hilarious--probably because I do it too.

What's even funnier is that all this shopping and spending and buying and consuming is consolidated in such a short matter of time, the retail stores probably hire temporary help for the month of August and the month of January.  For those two months, it's better than Black Friday for the restaurants, grocery stores, bars, and shops in this college town.

Once the realization sets in, however, things quickly settle down, and it suddenly becomes much easier to make a reservation, buy a drink at the bar, or find somebody to help you locate that jar of maraschino cherries that is always in a different damn spot in every damn grocery store.

For the younger students, those still under parental control of sorts, the spree slows down when an auditing of the debit account occurs and parental reprimands ensue.  For the rest of us, it's the personal auditing of our purchases and bank statements after the first few weeks of school, where we essentially say to ourselves, "I need to make THAT last until MAY?"  Priceless.

I'm not here to offer any sage advice on the matter, but I will say this: I've take an opportunity to invest a portion of my disbursement money into some stocks last year.  It was something I was interested in doing, but from what you've read and now know, each of us clearly have the resources to do it.  It didn't take much research to figure out how to purchase stock on my own, and with a little help from an online account, it was all done very cheap and easily.  Plus, it was fun, and you know what the best part was?  I made money, and not only that, it was just sitting there waiting for me when I needed it.

Well, it's now 9:19pm in Berkeley . . . on a Saturday night . . . during the first week of classes.  I think you know what that means . . .

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Conversation Behind the Conversation.

It has been quite some time (too freaking long) since I last blogged.  I feel mildly ashamed since so much has happened in the past two months.  Therefore, I'll make this Dandygram a quick recap and pledge to start posting more frequently during my last semester here at Cal.

As most of you already know, I spent the last four months (the fall semester of my senior year at UC Berkeley) in Washington, DC.  It was incredible, life-changing, and very expensive.  It was probably incredible because it was expensive, but the bottom line is, I did what it took to make the most of it.

What also made those four months incredible were three memorable trips to NYC to visit my cousin Lindsey.  Crashing in her spacious fourth floor walk-up, tucked away on a nice street in Williamsburg, I spent three weekends living the life of a New Yorker.  Well, a lot of my time was spent on the bus rides to and from DC, navigating through the subways, and riding in numerous taxis, but nevertheless, once we arrived at one of our many destinations--a swanky Manhattan house party, a nightclub, the numerous and verrry late brunches, and a few choice karaoke sessions--I truly had the best time I had had the entire month or week. 

In (what seemed like very little of) our down time, we also leisurely shopped, ate dinner, and went to a few Broadway shows, and throughout each weekend, I lived the life of a New Yorker through my cousin's eyes, yet at the same time, I was constantly reminded of how much I was still very, VERY much a tourist.  Thank you for every memorable moment, Linds.

Back in DC, with emptier pockets and a sobering head, I really settled down in my last two months.  Plus, with most of my friends as well as myself running short on funds, the majority of the free time in my final weeks were also running short since there was still a long and arduous research paper to write.  Long story short, this semester worked out to be quite the academic boost!  However, I really did not like the last minute cramming and writing of my second 15-page research paper in 72 hours.  Never. Again.

As for my time in DC being life-changing, well . . . I guess that's to say I became an East Coaster at heart and in mind.  I definitely gained more love for the East Coast than the love I retained for the West Coast; I was actually disappointed, depressed, and distraught when I finally had to leave.  Even though I was making a near seamless transition back to the Bay area, Berkeley, and my final semester of classes, DC--and the East Coast in general--really grew on me.  On the short list?  Well, it's really cool to wake up and be in the first time zone of any in the USA.  I didn't feel so lazy--even when I slept in, I knew anyone else I wanted to call from California or Arizona were still three hours "behind."

To be more precise, however, DC became my kind of place.  From the moment I arrived, during all the time I spent there, and from all the people I talked to or observed, it was clear that an entire portion of the DC population are my age and just like me: they aren't from DC, they didn't grow up very close by, and they moved to DC for work--largely because of their interest in politics. 

You see, I haven't grown up in a place that has been permanent for me.  I mean, I guess I will always call Indiana my home, but after the last ten years, California has felt just as much of my home as Indiana does.  I am definitely through living in California, and I can't seem to think I would ever live in Indiana.  For one, I never feel right being in Indiana now because I haven't lived there since 1999.  And two, I can tell you for a fact I don't fit in well. 

I've also moved homes and states every four or five years since I was 11, and it hasn't stopped (partly due to my six years in the Air Force, but not entirely).  Neither of my parents live in the city where I graduated high school, and I have yet to see a majority of my high school friends whenever I am back in either Indiana or Arizona. 

I guess this is a little more than I needed to say in justification for why I felt a greater sense of belonging in DC than anywhere else, but I can imagine it helps paint the picture for why my time in DC was life-changing as well as incredible (and expensive).

So what remains?  Well, *sniff* an emptiness in my heart and the constant memory of my last four months in DC.  I never thought I'd gain such a desire to live anywhere, but there you have it.  I need not go on and on and on.

As for the time in between DC and Berkeley--Festivus, Christmas, and New Year's Eve--here's the low down:

My final days in DC are a bit of a blur but not from what you're probably thinking; it's a blur because of the near sleepless nights glued to my computer screen, exerting all mental effort to the writing of a research paper on how John Locke's theory of liberalism and Montesquieu's theory of republicanism were incorporated into the ideals of James Madison and written into the Constitution.  Needless to say, it was a 72 hour process that took up my remaining days, nights, and farewell celebrations in DC.  What. A. Drag. 

Immediately following a swift clean-up and checkout from the UC Center on the absolute last day we could stay there, my good friend Kevin from Cal (who is now a happily committed man living in DC) picked me up for a few beers and to send me off for Christmas in Indiana. 

All went according to plan (except for the losing streak in five competitive games of pool), and I boarded my short flight back to Indianapolis with a nice beer buzz.  At that point in the week, I could have used anything to take my mind off the fact that I still needed to finish my paper by the stroke of midnight.  I took comfort in the fact that I still had a few hours to write and edit after I touched down in Indianapolis.  Talk about waiting to the absolute last minute . . .

Nevertheless, that damn paper got finished, and I am damn proud of how it turned out.  For the next few days, I slept heavily (almost to the point of stiffness and depression), and it was an irresistible feeling to make the guest bedroom as blacked-out as possible, not look at the clock for the first 3-4 wake-ups, and eventually roll out of bed in time for lunch.  Dead serious, and I have to admit: since I am now in my last semester of college, the 30-day long winter breaks will soon be a distant memory, so I soaked this one up.

The following days in Indiana were a whirlwind of family visits, last-minute shopping, food preparation, and of course, great meals.  Probably the absolute best part of being in Indiana is making, baking, and cooking food of all sorts with my family.  And not only that, the left-over meals my dad can put together are truly great.  Thanks Dad!

After a quick overnight to see my mom's family for Christmas in upstate Indiana, my time with family began to grow short.  Just as I had driven from California to Indiana back in August, to store my car for the fall semester, the drive (different route) was growing inevitably closer.  While I had anticipated the nearly month long drive along the southern border in August, this time I had only four destinations and an additional pit-stop in half the time before reaching my new apartment in Berkeley: Topeka, KS (the pit-stop); Boulder, CO; Albuquerque, NM; Sedona, AZ; and Los Angeles, CA.

Taking a different route across the country provided a much different perspective on places I know I would never, and I mean never, want to live. When I thought New Mexico or Texas were difficult states to drive through, I had no idea that what awaited me once I crossed the border from Missouri: the most boring and ugliest state of Kansas. (I've since checked my friends' hometowns on Facebook, and I am sure I won't be offending any of them by saying that.) For an 18 hour drive from Indianapolis to Boulder, Topeka seemed to be the least desirable, but most cost-efficient and middle-of-the-drive place to stop and hang my hat.

In all its monotony of amber waves of grain along the highway, the state of Kansas has, by far, the most anti-abortion signs of any state I have ever driven through (30+).  My favorite sign?  "Smile, your mother chose life."  Thanks Mom!

Christmas 2010
Luckily, I had a few seasons of Mad Men to keep me highly entertained in my hotel room, so there wasn't any worry of possibly encountering any strange Kansas people--pro-life or pro-choice.  As soon as I could get out of bed the following morning, I was happily on my way to Boulder to see my cousin Lauren (sister of Lindsey from NYC), snowboard, and ring in the New Year in the Rockies.
My time there was great, but unfortunately for everyone in company on trips to the mountains or just out and about, it was bitter cold.  The first real snowstorm came into Boulder just hours ahead of me, and with it, freezing cold temperatures in the mountains.  We were relentless, however, and devoted ourselves to at least snowboard New Year's Eve since a few friends of Lauren and her boyfriend Kyle had rented a cabin in the Keystone village for NYE.  The morning we left, there was a fresh new 6 inches of snow at Boulder elevation, and this only meant a few more on top of that up in the mountains, but what we didn't foresee was how extremely cold it was going to be.
Negative seven degrees Fahrenheit at 10am on New Year's Eve in the parking lot of Keystone.  Hmm, that is a little cold.  I unfortunately made the mistake of putting on thick socks for the ride up and never changing out of them and into thin socks for boarding.  This is a big no-no, and you can ask any serious boarder.  See what happens is that if your boots fit snug, which they should, and then your feet will just barely fit in with thin socks.  When I laced up with thick socks on, I could immediately feel it wasn't right, but I pushed on in order to get up and on the slopes. 
By the third run, my right foot was nearly numb due to the inability of blood to circulate.  Not only that, I think I had the onset of frostbite, so we all agreed to take a break, warm up, get a few drinks, and see if I would regain feeling in my foot. 
I did, but it happened nearly two hours later and many thanks to Lauren's wrapping ability:

Once we made it back out, I think we only had a few more runs left in us because our faces, noses, ears, necks, and lips were nearly frostbitten after the first run out of the lodge.  We decided to scrap the day after maybe eight runs to get settled into the cabin and meet up with everyone.

New Year's Eve made out to be a more interesting one than year's past.  There was no club music, large groups of drunken people, cramped spaces, or the like.  Instead, it was a nice group of three couples and me, the odd man out.  After a nice homemade dinner and a few drinks, the entire day hit my body and head like a semi-truck, and at 9:30pm on New Year's Eve, I was already in bed.  In my defense, it was merely a nap, but being woken up at 11:45pm to shouts and calls for drinking some champagne and ringing in the New Year, I was down in a flash, only to watch TV for about 20 minutes, and then I was right back where I had left, tucked in for the night.  I think I felt the entire year's worth of partying--in Berkeley, Southeast Asia, Washington DC, and NYC in my body at that moment, and so as a way to prepare for this year, I slept the majority of that night.

A few days later, I was again on my way to Berkeley and still had a majority of my winter break and traveling ahead of me.  I stopped over night in Albuquerque to spend a night with my friend Dave. 

The following day, I drove to the Grand Canyon for lunch and a beer while I waited out a few hours for my sister and mom to arrive in Sedona for the week.  In all the time I lived in Phoenix and have traveled there since my mom and stepdad moved there (now 12 years), this Grand Canyon visit was only my third.  I'll let the best picture I could capture with my phone tell you why I felt a bit ashamed of not visiting more.

My time in Sedona was extremely relaxing and very enjoyable.  It was also the first time in quite a long time my sister Erin and I had been able to be with our mom together for longer than a day or two.  It's quite a rarity with our combined schedules that we were able to do this, and despite this fact, I still spent plenty of my time in my stepdad Jim's mancave in the basement of their Sedona home--far away from my mom, sister, their charm swap projects, and their crazy invented songs about future charm swap projects ("E-dangledangle, R-dangledangle, I-dangledangle . . ."). 

Even the neighbors knew we were coming to Sedona, so they made a snowman to greet us.

With my time growing short and the prospect of getting back to Berkeley by the following Monday, I still had time for a quick overnight in LA to see my cousin Rachie and good friend Justin.  It is definitely a treat to have friends and family in LA because over the years, LA has really grown on me as well--especially West Hollywood and the night scene.  I'm sure you can imagine why. 

It is now Thursday, January 20.  I have been back to school for a week, and after attending nearly all of my classes, reading through my syllabi, and seeing what's in store for the course readings, I definitely have my work cut out once again.  I also can tell that this semester will be, by far, my favorite semester--both academically and socially.  While most of my old friends are now gone doing other things, there are a few more to look for in classes and on campus from my four great months in DC.

UCDC Fall 2010 Berkeley Students (many are not pictured)

All the best in the New Year and look for more (and much shorter) Dandygrams in the very near future.