Monthly Archives: January 2009

Tutus of Scarsdale

Yesterday I took my sister to Scarsdale to buy character shoes. Character shoes, for those of you who are not affiliated with the theatre, (and yes, I spelled it that way on purpose in hopes you would pronounce it “theeataah”), are high heeled shoes with a flexible, suede toe. They are made to look like pumps but allow for much better dancing. Meg, my sister, needed them because she landed herself a dancing role in the high school’s production of Guys and Dolls. She is a phenomenal dancer and I am very proud of her. But yesterday in the dance shop I surmised the dancing world is one I fear I will never understand. I will explain.

First, you have to understand a bit about Scarsdale. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Westchester County is famed for its wealth, and Scarsdale is among the wealthiest towns. You can easily tell the town is made of money, what with its cobblestone crosswalks, pretty red brick buildings and the adorable antique train station adjoining the tracks. Cafes and shoppy-shops line the street that’s crowded with SUVs and Saturday morning coffee-hunters who don’t know how to drive the SUVs. The shops are not ordinary shops either, or at least, they are not particularly useful to the majority of the American population. Apart from the CVS I spotted, I couldn’t understand how some of those places stayed in business. What kind of demographic, I wondered, requires wine stores, diamond sellers, and custom bathroom remodeling on a regular basis? It was among this elitist commercialism that we found our destination, the Dance shop.

In I trudged sporting track pants, hiking boots and untidy hair to find myself amidst a sea of pink froof. (If that is not a word then I hereby proclaim it one). I looked, to say the least, quite out of place. Pink and purple tutus were arranged about this two-room store, made, no doubt, to seem like a ballerina wonderland for the wide-eyed five year old customer with parents who could afford such froof. Pictures of dancers from Swan lake and the Nutcracker lined the walls, and children’s books such as Angelina Ballerina adorned the shelves. The tutu sizes ranged from teeny to adult. Full ballerina costumes hung high on the wall as decoration, and point shoes were draped over the corners of the cabinets, which, unsurprisingly, had pink bows and ribbons painted all over them. The store was run by two very small women with high pitched voices. When Meg told them she needed character shoes, one of the ladies led her into the next room. The sea of pink turned instantly black: we have entered the realm of real dancers. It made me wonder, at what point in a dancer’s life does she no longer wish to be the girl in the Nutcracker but rather want to express her individuality by wearing the uniform black?

As Meg tried on her shoes, I walked around the store, looking at the photos of contorted dancers and running my fingers through the black, lacy dancing outfits. I thought to myself I was in another world, one with which I was quite unfamiliar. I have never seen a real ballet, so to some extent it is no surprise I find it so foreign. But as I looked at a photograph of a woman bending backwards touching her fingers to her arabesqued toes as a gentleman in heavy makeup and white tights held her back with dramatic flare, I decided that there must be much more to dance than what meets the unknowing eye. Dance might be beautiful, but I think, or at least I hope, that there is more to it than that. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and such subjectivity is applicable to dance as to any other art form. But I remembered how I felt after seeing my first opera. I sensed that there was much more to opera than what I had noticed, in the sense that the music was full of symbolism and meaning that stretched far beyond a beautiful melody or a passionate verse. The music and the acting were steeped in centuries of tradition and all the performers fully acknowledged the history of the art form they were presenting. I expect dance, and particularly ballet, must have similar traditions, histories, and realms of symbolism to which the performers are to be held accountable. It must be a delicate balance between upholding exceedingly high standards and branching out into undiscovered territory of how to best display feeling and beauty with one’s body.

“How much?” I asked my sister when she finished trying on the shoes. She made a face that could only mean one thing. “Scarsdale,” I said sardonically. My trance was broken and I growled a little bit as I walked back out to the car. What a goofy place it was, now that I think about it. But though I feel at complete liberty to make snarky comments about Scarsdale, and the fact that this Scarsdalian dance shop charged my sister $83 for her shoes, I am thankful I went to the shop yesterday morning as it gave me time to reflect on something I had never thought of before.

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Aerobic Kickboxing; an introduction

I went to get my butt kicked. Tis Kicked.

To be more precise, I feel like churned butter. “Is that a good thing?” my sister asked when I got home. “I dunno,” I replied. All I know is that I am quite sure I tore my innards to shreds and that they are floating what in what is now indubitably a gelatinous composition of random fleshy bits.

My friend Erin and I decided that we would try out some of the classes at the YMCA. Aerobic Kickboxing Monday, Tai Kwan Do Tuesday. We arrived just on time to Kickboxing Monday, found the room, and started to stretch, not knowing what to expect. One other lady walked in, then another. In came Carl, our teacher, sporting a purple tank top and black short shorts—an outfit chosen, no doubt, to show off his bulging muscles. He made our acquaintance, and, unless I am mistaken, looked us both over a few times. “Never done this before?” he asked. How could he tell? I felt immediately self conscious. It didn’t help that the lady in front of me looked like she had emerged from a Buns of Steel video with her cute, little, skin-tight outfit and a figure short, fit and feisty. I wondered if the YMCA had put her there as some kind of masochistic motivator.

Carl strapped a microphone onto his head, turned on some kind of pulsating techno and got us all hopping side to side. The lady in front of me clearly knew what she was doing, because she took the liberty to throw in some punches and kicks without Carl’s instructions. Well la di da.

Carl said at some point during the lesson that everyone moves at their own pace. This was a lie. And it didn’t take long to figure that out. Carl and the music kept our pace. I suppose that is why one goes to a class like that, to make someone else set the pace so that you don’t succumb to the temptation of slowing down when you start to get tired. But it wasn’t only Carl making you do it. In a group like that, peer pressure makes you do things with your body which you would otherwise consider outrageous. It’s the ab exercises and round house kicks to the side that really got me. Didn’t know I had those muscles, but they will surely make themselves heard tomorrow.

Over the course of the hour I got myself in some very unladylike positions and gyrated my body in ways of which I am sure my grandmother would not approve. At these awkward times, I found myself giggling, but my laughter would die out as it got harder and harder and my poor buns started to burn. At the end of each set Carl would say, “And relax.” I found this funny because he never meant it.

The exercise really wasn’t so bad, I suppose. I remember having some really brutal softball practices when we had to sprint up hills as punishment for losing. That was bad. But for this, I think with some more practice I would get better at kicks, swings, and punches. One of the tricky things about this kickboxing class, though, was the coordination required to pull off some of the moves. Think about how difficult it is to pat your head and rub your belly and then pat your belly and rub your head. Well, kickboxing presented a fairly similar predicament. Step, kick, step, turn, touch, punch, turn, step, kick, and so on. It is kind of like a dance, except that you are pretending to kick the crap out of someone. And instead of someone or something, you hit merely the air between you and your reflection on the far off mirror. Maybe other people don’t have this problem, but it struck me as rather goofy to just punch the air, especially when you could see yourself through it. It’s difficult to concentrate and stay intense when you are forced to look at yourself grimacing at the air that apparently must have deserved a good boxing.

I have discovered that I have very dainty fists. Or at least I looked really dumb punching at nothing. Both could be true.

Was it worth it? Ask me tomorrow.

Will I go back next week? Probably.

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And This is Why the Geese must Die!

If you’ve been reading or listening to the news in the past two days, you could hardly have missed that a US Airways flight crash-landed in the Hudson River. And why did they crash? Because some bloody geese flew in front of the plane and destroyed both engines on impact! I am pleased how the media is handling the story—focusing on the heroism and skill of the pilot and remarking on the miraculous circumstances of the situation. But so far I haven’t seen anything about how we can make sure this never happens again. The solution is one of which I am sure anyone who has ever walked on a baseball field would approve: Kill the geese!

Call me cold-hearted, but frankly my dear I don’t give a damn. Geese have been quite a problem for some time, and with no natural predators to control their population, Geese happily parade around parks, beaches and playgrounds pooping over every square inch. In addition to this, they are really quite mean, especially when they are protecting a nest. Once, my father and I were trying to drop off our windsurfing equipment at the beach and soon discovered we had to pass a family of geese. Despite the fact that my father is a big guy, standing 6’1″, and despite that he was waving a 7′ long, yellow surfboard, the geese flew around our heads, occasionally trying to swoop down and bite. It wasn’t until my dad actually hit one of them with the board that they fluttered off. They are practically fearless, and it is our fault. They are so used to our presence that they see no need to be restricted to uninhabited areas. Even if they did have this fear, there are so many of them now that they look crowded even in the parks and fields. Geese may make a lovely V in the sky, but they make one heck of a mess on the ground and in the water.

And now, it becomes apparent to the world that the overpopulation of geese poses another threat, and this one to our very lives. Praise the Lord for this knowledgeable pilot who could safely land the plane after the disaster. I am very thankful that no one was seriously hurt, and I hope that what did happen was concern enough for people to start taking the goose problem more seriously. There are several things we can do to help the situation.

  1. The first is obvious. Get a gun. Though because New York State might raise a ruckus, the second solution provides what I believe is actually a legal way to kill geese, namely a bow and arrow. Shoot down the brutes and give your dogs a tasty meal. Feed the carcasses to zoo animals…I bet they’d love them. Besides, it is really fun to use a bow and arrow.
  2. Another solution has been proposed where the geese are tranquilized and put in a sanctuary. If you have this kind of PETA conscience and cannot bring yourself to kill the geese, please conduct this very expensive removal technique without using my tax dollars. Thank you.
  3. This is my favorite solution: kill the eggs whenever you see them. Do your best to scare away the parents and then break the eggs. You’d be doing a great deed for society.

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The Travel Bug

My dad and I have a running joke that he infected me with the Travel Bug…an extremely contagious and chronic syndrome  characterized by an infernal itch to see more of the world and its people.  You know you have the Travel Bug if you satisfy the following criteria:

1) You see a picture of a waterfall and wonder how close you can get without being churned to bits.

2) You slurp a vermicelli noodle and wish you could learn how to make pho in Vietnam

3) You have a “1000 places to see before you die” day calendar.

4) Snorkel Flippers feel like a natural addition to your feet.

5) You are determined to climb a mountain no matter how many blisters may rupture.

6) You wish you had eaten termites when you had the chance.

7) You may possibly be willing to try hitchhiking again.

8) The show GlobeTrekker makes you feel warm and happy inside.

9) You look outside at the dull, gray and chilly winter weather at 43 degrees latitude and make resolutions to be elsewhere the next winter.

10) The following video fills you with joy:

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The Snarky Recent Graduate

It is a sensitive time in the life of a youth whose life outside of school is just about to start. Be patient with us, all of you employed readers and inquisitive parents. I would exercise caution, if I were you, when asking a recent grad what they plan to do with themselves. Never forget that this is pretty much the only thing they think about all day long. It would be kinder to distract them from this plaguing question, instead of asking it of them again. I realize of course that curiosity may get the better of you. I too have let the question slip with friends I haven’t seen in a while. But the reaction is usually the same: either the person knows exactly what they are doing and are tired of telling people, or fire flashes across the ex-student’s eyes lighting up a combination of anxiety, excitement, and frustration. In the latter case, the poor youth struggles to quell the turmoil before stumbling over one or two responses chosen from a list of rehearsed answers, developed just in case such anxious moments should occur. Askers, be prepared for ambiguity, embellishment, nervous humor and/or snarkiness. Here are some responses you might get:

Q. So, what do you plan to do with your life?

A. What have you done with your life?

Q. So, do you know what you are going to do now?

A. You’ll know when I know!

Q. What are you up to these days?

A. Oh, you know, the usual.

Q. What are your plans now?

A. World Domination.

Q. What do you do all day?

A. Precisely what I want. (Texttwist rocks!)

Q: Are you planning on going to grad school?

A: Hell no! Do you know what I just went through? I’m tired, leave me alone.

Q. Are you looking for jobs?

A. Sure. Got any for me?

Q. Are you currently working?

A. I’m freelance writing. (Sure you are.)

Q. Are you currently employed?

A. I am self employed. (I pay myself with chocolate cake)

Q. Congratulations on graduating! So what are you doing now?

A. Well, I had a temporary job co-coordinating a conference back on campus in Chicago, but it ended just before Christmas. My father has hired me to do some refurbishments around the house as he is considering selling it after my sister graduates from high school. I am also planning a trip to South East Asia, I’m applying for jobs, and we’ll see what happens! (This is actually what I’ve been doing. Sounds good, but it’s slow going.)

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Never underestimate the Hymn

I’ve taken to playing hymns on the piano in my spare time. It’s a tricky mental exercise for me because I never could get the hang of accompanying a voice on the piano, even my own. Regardless, I still like to try. Singing is fun and the music in my old Episcopal hymnal presents a challenge.

What’s amazing though is that sitting down with the hymnal is never just a mental exercise or something to kill the time. It always turns into a period of reflection and awe. There is a wonderful thing about hymns, you see. They are so old. For many people, this is the precise reason why they reject hymns seeking a more contemporary tune with which they can better relate. I don’t judge. People worship in all different ways. This is the way the Lord likes it. But I feel it is a mistake to reject hymns under the naïve understanding that they are outdated and therefore useless. This is more than a mistake; it is a travesty. Each time I open the hymnal, even to songs I have played a hundred times, I am constantly struck by the almost celestial relationship between the melody and lyrics. A good hymn recounts the love affair with love himself, the everlasting relationship that stirred millions of minds, hearts, and souls for generations. The fact that they music can be hundreds of years old indicates to contemporary audiences that God’s love is ageless, transcending both time and space.

Take this hymn for example. I was playing this last night, and it inspired this post. Love Divine, All Loves Excelling. Read the lyrics first as if it were a poem. If you know the Lord, or even if you don’t, pray the words, mean them. Then listen to this choir sing them.

1. Love divine, all loves excelling,
Joy of heaven, to earth come down,
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou art all compassion,
Pure, unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.

2. Come, almighty to deliver,
Let us all Thy life receive;
Suddenly return, and never,
Nevermore Thy temples leave.
Thee we would be always blessing,
Serve Thee as Thy hosts above,
Pray, and praise Thee without ceasing,
Glory in Thy perfect love.

3. Finish then Thy new creation;
Pure and spotless let us be;
Let us see Thy great salvation
Perfectly restored in thee:
Changed from glory into glory,
Till in heaven we take our place,
Till we cast our crowns before Thee,
Lost in wonder, love, and praise.

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Camera Gear

HOk, so… For Christmas, I asked my dad for a new zoom lens for my Nikon. I didn’t think he would go for it, because not only are lenses difficult to shop for, but they cost an arm and a leg to buy new. Much to my surprise, on Christmas morning, I opened up a Nikon box to the Cadillac of Nikon d40 lenses: the 18-200mm.  I was stunned, and I still am. I wasn’t sure I was going to keep it, this thing is so nice (And it comes with a 5 year warranty!). But yesterday I went walking with it in the woods and boy was it fun. Check some of these shots, none of which could have been taken without the special lens:

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Digging up Shakespeare for a good occasion

Yesterday was the birthday of a good friend of mine. Among many of his excellent attributes, John has an uncanny ability to memorize excellent writing, whether it is Scripture, Aristotle, or Shakespeare. I recounted as I wrote him a birthday poem that during second year I told him I was reading Shakespeare’s Henry V for my Histories and Comedies class. Without blinking, John immediately launched into his favorite monologue from the play, and I must say, I don’t blame him for memorizing it, for surely it stirs the blood of any citizen, or for that matter, any person who believes in something to fight for. I have decided to copy and paste it for all to admire. It is a famous speech, but I thought I would publish it anyway. John, buddy, this one is for you.

The scene is towards the end of the play as the Brits head into war and Westmorland wishes they had more soldiers.

WESTMORELAND. O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

KING. What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

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