Monday, May 31, 2010

Style over Substance?

I watched Julie and Julia today. This was shocking to me, because I fully expected to exhaust my capacity to continue to watch and shut it off at the thirty minute mark. However, I found the storytelling engaging (a parallel tale spanning generations that reminded me of a different sort of parallel anachronistic telling in Steinbeck’s East of Eden) and the characters tolerable.

Somewhere between being surprised to find it tolerable and being shocked to find myself enjoying the flick, I realized I have developed a tendency to gravitate towards good storytelling. I now find myself immersed in an eight-hundred page book on basketball because I love the way the writer writes. He uses enough far-flung analogies and pop-culture references sprinkled into an insightful and enlightening account of basketball that I would likely read his account of the history of pants if he wrote one. And I’ve read more about hard rock culture than I ever would have thanks to Chuck Klosterman (author of Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs) enjoyable pennings.

I’ve also heard the preacher/speaker/author Rob Bell talk about the craft of creating a sermon with similar sentiments. The content is important, vital, or course, but there is something to be said for style. And I think I resisted this point for many a year. Which is why I have put myself through countless documentaries on PBS (this should be interesting) and have an autobiography of Andrew Jackson written in the 1920s on my bedstand (though it does serve a potent sleep aid).

So now I am resolving to limit myself to fifteen minutes or fifteen pages, and if the narrative of the movie/book hasn’t drawn me in by then, chances are it never will. Sure, I will have instances of feeling like I enjoyed the ride, but never really got anywhere (as I feel after every Lost episode). Hopefully, however, I will also eliminate all the waiting for realized potential I have undertaken for books/movies. And, almost as promising is the new avenues for enjoyment in the seemingly mundane plotlines (i.e. cooking). I just hope I don't find myself sitting through many more chick flicks in the future.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Power of Socks

Today is laundry day. Unlike some, today is laundry day not because of routine (it’s Tuesday), convenience (the Laundromat is emptiest today), nostalgia (my favorite shirt is dirty) or any other reason than by necessity. Like many others, today is laundry day because of need.

Laundry “need” is defined differently from person to person, but I essentially make laundry day the last day possible for me to put on a semblance of articles of clothing and (1) not smell putrid and (2) not be naked. As Mark Twain once said “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”

Laundry day approaches as quietly as a freight train. About a week in advance I realize that I am starting to resort to the undershirts with pit stains that glow in the dark (and coincidentally make the armpit of the shirt so inflexible I cannot fully put my arms by my side. I have no idea how old sweat coalesces into the shirt to make stainless steel, but it does, I promise).

A few days before laundry day I start wearing tennis shoes with argyle socks and/or dress shoes with socks that show the Nike swoosh when I sit. Depending on the week, such as this week, I can extend laundry day a few more days. I occasionally even pay homage to a Michael Scott like parody of Tom Petty’s most well known hit with my “internal waredrobe” or lack thereof (that sentence had so many allusions David Copperfield got jealous). (and I know its allusion v. illusion smart guy)

However, I made the decision to make today laundry day after assessing my workout clothes wardrobe. Note: I clearly do not usually care what I workout in, but occasionally I cave. Today, I looked at the full length mirror in the fitness room in my building and realized while I thought I was getting into better shape, I suddenly looked like an awkward eighth grader trying out for the basketball team he has no business being on. I noticed that I didn’t grow in height or girth, and my shorts and shirt were appropriate for a grown man. My shoes looked a little funny, but I had been running in a version of them for years (I am devoted to a specific Asics model).

Then it hit me. I was wearing tube socks. Just the term reeks of middle-school-awkwardness. They are the dreaded “no man’s land” socks. That is, they aren’t the cool ones that look like you’re not wearing socks or the short ones that I wore growing up. Yet, they aren’t like the super annoying full length socks that excessively exuberant basketball players wear. They are somewhere in between in “no man’s land.” That is no man should never be allowed to wear these socks.

The socks are not solely responsible for the appearance as much as the people I normally notices wearing them. They are, by rule, skinny, skinny but obviously slightly uncoordinated males (I am sure they are worn by overweight guys as well, but in that case I like to imagine they are the high basketball type and they just got swallowed by the giant calves).

In an instant, I was transformed from a somewhat athletic individual into a skinny, awkward guy who should not be anywhere near the weight room. It’s amazing how one seemingly innocuous article of clothing can transform someone. I finished my workout (sheepishly) and immediately conceded that it was in fact laundry day.

As much as I am prepared that laundry day is coming (by the uncomfortability of my T-shirts as indicated above), I am always shocked when it actually arrives. I always imagine that I will discover one more pair of boxers hidden in the drawer. Like Zeno, in his dichotomy paradox of motion, I can acknowledge that I am closer than I was yesterday, but it always seems like I should never actually get there. That is, until I turn into junior high jimmy.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Kind of green

I have found myself going kind of green in the last few years. I'm not sure if its a knee-jerk reaction to the urban wasteland/concrete jungle in which I reside or not. However, I suppose it has more to do with slightly prioritizing quality over quantity with regards to edible sustenance (a sacrilege to my former self as friends would attest to) as well as wanting to see more businesses do well in Detroit.
The biggest adjustment for me is sticker shock. I just have to remember I am comparing organic apples to apples now (just for the record, I haven't yet swallowed all the organic junk, I'm just focused on buying local for now . . . let it simmer). I just got back from this lovely bakery just on the outskirts of hipsterville Detroit, MI where I spent ten bucks on two loaves of bread and a cinnamon roll. And the cinnamon roll sucked (stupid impulse buys).
But the bread is fantastic. I mean, I had been pretty much exclusively devoted to Aunt Millie's Hearth Honey and Crunchy Oat for the past seven years of my life. To be unfaithful was hard, but when the girl next door is pumping out loaves of Red Ale beer bread, Poletown Rye, and the new standard Motown Multigrain I'm pretty much hopeless to resist. The bread is delicious and hearty a quality which Aunt Millie's only possessed more of the latter with just enough of the former to make it tolerable.
I also find myself plunking down an absurd amount of money for a half-gallon of udderly (sorry I tried to keep myself from putting that in there like three times) delicious milk from a local dairy farm. And honestly, if there was a news story that Calder dairy was pawning off heavy cream as skim milk, I would not even be that shocked. But for now, I'll live in the bliss of savoring creamy skim milk from a glass jar every morning. I just have to recognize that a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk are no longer fixed at $2 in my mind.
Some changes haven't even required a financial re-equilibration. I am discovering new products that have changed my world. I mean, I have seen the piddly cartons of Greek Yogurt that Meijer's has tried to pawn off on me for years. But as I ventured into the ever confusing, half carnival, half whole-foods snobbery Trader Joe's, I realized that I could sample a decent quantity of Greek Yogurt for a few bucks. And the protein to dollar ratio in that stuff is out of this world. Not too mention its delicious with just a dab of honey drizzle on top.
Other changes are more a matter of necessity and convenience. For example, if I want to buy fresh fruit without a trek to the suburbs or a paltry selection at jacked prices, I have to hit up Detroit's Eastern Market on Saturday mornings. And I am still waiting for the Saturday morning when I am not impressed by their selection. Here I usually am the guy strolling back to his car struggling with several bags of fresh fruit, vegetables, maple syrup, and/or a house cactus depending on the mood.
And the other day it hit me that I am sort of doing all that hippie stuff I sort of secretly despise. Some of it makes sense and some of it is just easy to do. Don't get me wrong, I still think NBC's one week tie ins involving Law & Order suddenly tracking down hydrocarbon killers is ridiculous and a lot of the organic movement is pretty far from reality. Yet, the whole buying local thing has started to resonate a little bit simply because I want Detroit to succeed. Oh yeah, and it hasn't hurt that I am finally acting on the economic reality that a little more spent on quality food now will probably pay big dividends in quality of life and health bill costs later.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Night Moves

For the past week now I have been working the night shift on the labor and delivery unit at Hutzel Women’s hospital. This means, besides the obvious fact that I am occasionally welcoming a small, slippery, life into the world with my bare (but gloved) hands, that I am sleeping during the day and awake at night.

I am not a complete stranger to all-nighters. I pulled a few “almosts” through the years at friends sleepovers and the like. I completed my first legitimate 24 hour stay with the waking world my last night in the college dorms at Michigan State. I knocked one out working on a tedious busy work project at Indiana Wesleyan. And for one horrendous month, I essentially pulled an all-nighter every sixth night while taking trauma surgery call as a med student (read: I fell asleep standing in the operating room on multiple occasions because someone once decided that would be a beneficial experience to put medical students through).

However, unlike those forays into the nocturnal universe, this past week has been a permanent stay. Even when I get a day (night) off, such as today, I still attempt to stay awake through the night (which really isn’t too difficult because I tend to wake up sometime around the dinnertime hour and as much as Garfield is my hero, I struggle to eat lasagna, then go back to perpetual napping).

The work nights are fairly predictable. That is, after the day shift time completes their cross-over time and I’ve settled into “the pit” (my term for where the labor and delivery doctors and nurses sit watching fetal heart monitor strips; not that unlike the wall street pit, I suppose), things become eerily quiet (as one would expect). Occasionally my attention is roused as I go running into room to say hello to a new soul or into the operating room to watch one be pulled from one world to another.

Other than those exciting moments, the night generally consists of trying to stay awake while reading, or attempting to dodge interns that want to set up suturing contests for the med students (which consist of locking medical students in a supply closet with a needle, thread, and washcloths and a set of ill-defined rules).

The off-nights are the ones where things get really interesting. Because, like a Pavlovian kanine, I awake, make coffee and read the online editions of the requisite local and national papers. Then I look at the clock and realize that it is 7 pm, I am eating frosted mini-wheats and every possible thing I planned to do today is impossible to accomplish (note: I live in Detroit, MI, which besides being famous for other things should be famous for any relevant store closing at 5 pm. Especially when the Tigers play a day game and the wings season is done).

I can usually think of few things to knock off before nine pm. Namely, I travel to the suburbs, do some grocery shopping, take a run, and catch the last of whatever interesting prime time TV is on (today, the Celtics-Cavs game 6. Faaaaantastic).

But inevitably, one am rolls around and I feel a panic like I should be getting tired, but am not. At this time, I force myself to close the blinds because its weird that the city is asleep (as it has been since five pm, but at least now, the sun also is shut down) and try and pretend it’s the day.

I answer all the e-mails I’ve waited to reply to. Answer a phone call or two to my west coast acquaintances, catch up on all of the serious and non-serious news I have been missing out on the last few days. Of course, now its 2 am, and I can’t in good conscience study at 2 am, so I wait for tiredness to set in.

And of course it does. Even earlier than my usual 9 am bedtime, by 4 am, my body is psychologically defeated and lets me drift off to slumber reading whichever piece of fiction is on loan from Detroit’s fine public library system. And while its not the sort of cognizant slumber that characterizes my naps, I am not quite fully asleep either.

Sleep is never quite as deep on the days off, and my state of awakeness is never quite as acute either. I find my self in a sort of perpetual half-sleep. Amazed constantly that I am either sleeping at such an hour, or awake at such an hour. And while I simply try and reverse the am/pm function of the clock in my mind, the outdoor lighting, television schedule, internal clock always remind me I am doing something unnatural.

Thank goodness I only have two more nights left before I can return to some sense of normalcy. Because even if the working days will be 14 hours long, at least I will know what to do with myself when I get a day off.