The Long Road to 6.0

You know all those cheesy romantic movies from the ’80s and ’90s that have a scene that shows a happy couple holding hands, awkwardly ice skating (in New York, usually) and laughing, while an appropriately corny song plays on the soundtrack? I wanted to be prepared for that moment, so, for the first time in my life, I went ice skating.

Awkwardly skating and laughing at the same time is tougher than it looks. I can do one or the other, but not both simultaneously. This was the first time I’ve ever tried anything requiring more balance than walking in a straight line, and it wasn’t pretty. I spent the first hour of the session getting intimately familiar with the railing at the side of the rink, while everyone else was skating circles around me and seemingly doing triple axels. When I finally summoned enough courage to let go of the railing, my skates, sensing newfound freedom and rejoicing, started going in opposite directions, and forced me to contemplate whether I was ready to do splits.

After some more practice, I was able to skate (with my left foot forward only) and to make turns (right turns only). In fact, I got so good at making turns that I’d do them without intending to. This caused some confusion to the other skaters as I’d spiral out of control and start going in a small clockwise circle in the middle of the rink, without being able to get out of it. Everyone else had to dodge out of my way as I was doing my involuntary holding pattern. I also made quite a few lovely thudding noises as I skidded into the (thankfully padded) walls of the rink.

At the end of the night, I lost my gloves somewhere. It was a good day.

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My Left Foot

I love learning new things. Most recently, this love manifested itself into a desire to learn how to dance, so I went and signed up for a salsa class.

It’s unfortunate. I really should instead try to focus on learning things to which my brain and/or body is actually well-suited to. For example, learning how to sit on my ass and watch TV. I think I’d be a natural at that. But not dance. I’ve tried dancing before — not willingly, of course. My prior experiences have mostly been me getting dragged by someone to dance. “You’re pretty athletic — I bet you’d be good!” they’d say in order to convince me. I knew better. When I dance, I mostly look like a marionette with tangled strings who somehow came alive long enough to have an epileptic seizure. The people who drag me to dance usually stare at me, open-mouthed, for a few moments, then try to distance themselves from me with a “we don’t know each other” look, and then never ask me to go dancing again. A few kind souls have tried to improve my dancing. The most constructive piece of advice I’ve received was “Maybe you should try to look a little less two-dimensional.” I still have no clue what the hell that meant.

At the first salsa lesson, the instructor covered the basic forward and backward step. “One, two, three,” he’d say outloud as the class did the moves to his count, “five, six, seven.” I stepped along with everyone else, surprising myself. Hey, maybe I’m not beyond hope after all! The instructor paced around the room, looking at everyone dancing, and nodded approvingly as he passed me. Maybe I AM a natural!

And then he stopped counting and turned on music instead. I stood there, stupidly looking around, trying to find the beat in the cacophony of percussion emanating from the speakers. The woman with whom I got paired up to be partners was staring at me expectantly. I was desperately wishing for someone to start counting “one, two, three” to me. No one did. It was just me against the music. Finally, at what I deemed to be an appropriate moment, I started moving. “Wait, I think we’re getting off beat,” my partner said. The “we” meant “you,” of course, but I appreciated her delicate and polite nature. I tried again. A quick frown crossed my partner’s face, but she went along with me, clearly confused.

“What’s going on here?” the instructor said, approaching us. Damned if I knew. “Keep to the beat,” he helpfully suggested.

I tried my damndest best. He watched us for ten or fifteen seconds, then held up his hand to indicate we should stop dancing. My partner and I looked at him. I was expecting a brilliant bit of wisdom from him that would tear through the veil of confusion that kept me from being the next Fred Astaire. He thought for a moment, picking his words carefully. Finally, he turned to my partner, said, “I’m sorry,” and walked away.

At least no one accused me of being two-dimensional.

A Political Pundit is I

I don’t think I’ve ever written a post about any political issue, but there’s a first time for everything. If you listen to pandora.com or any other Internet Radio station, you should be aware of a recent ruling that may kill off the medium. Go to this website to sign a petition or contact your representative in Congress.

I know, for a post on politics, there are suspiciously few rants about high-visibility topics here, and I haven’t even called anyone a war-mongering closed-minded conservative or a bleeding-heart liberal. Well hey, I’ve got to start somewhere. Next week, I will examine the question of whether married gay stem cell researchers who don’t believe in evolution should be allowed to have abortions while burning the American flag in Iraq.

As the Days of Our Lives Turn

Every love affair ends. I am saddened now to be contemplating ending a relationship that started out so well and has been so dear to my heart for quite some time. It’s heartbreaking to consider whether something that has started out so full of promise and that you have put so much time into has become not worth pursuing further, but that’s the tough position I’m finding myself in. The higher the expectations are at the beginning of a relationship, the bigger the letdown eventually is.

I am talking about my love affair with “Battlestar Galactica.” I watched the pilot episode on a whim more than a year back and fell in love with the show. “Battlestar Galactica” was ridiculously better than any sci-fi series about killer robots in outer space had any right to be. I stuck with the show through its good times and the bad, but now I’m confronted with the question of whether it is time to end things. By now, “Battlestar Galactica” is more self-important and boring than any sci-fi series about killer robots in outer space has any right to be. And so, I am faced with the prospect of saying goodbye.

I have flirted with other shows in the meantime, seeing what else is out there for me. I first tried “Dexter,” which is a critically acclaimed, but little-known, show about a serial killer who works for the Miami police department, but despite the interesting concept, after seeing Dexter a couple of times, I decided that the magic spark just wasn’t there between us.

I tried “The Shield” next, and had really high hopes after really enjoying the pilot episode. Unfortunately, although the pilot promised an entertaining series about a dirty cop with few morals, the show’s writers quickly decided to change Vic, the main character, from a dirty cop into a saintly cop who happens to swear. Whereas Vic was seen killing a fellow detective in cold blood in the pilot, by the third or fourth episode, he is altruistically risking his life to free a wrongly accused gang member whom he doesn’t even know. Oh yeah, and he saves a baby from drowning and might even feed a hungry puppy at some point. Yawn. If I wanted a show about good cops solving crimes, I’d watch any of the fifty other cop shows on TV. I made it through the entire first season of The Shield, but then decided that the relationship would not progress further.

I tried things out with the cool kid on the block that all my friends recommended — “24”. Unfortunately, after watching the first three or four episodes of the first season, I got fed up with the laughable and cliche plot turns. Family member of the hero kidnapped? Check. Double-agent inside the agency? Check. Computer expert breaking encryption with a couple of keystrokes? Check. Suave, ruthless, and mysterious assassin planning everything to the last detail? Of course. Sorry, but I want some more originality.

So here I am now, with no promising prospects, facing the realization that I may spend the rest of my life alone, without that special TV show to complete me, tuning in to “America’s Next Top Model” on TV every week. It is a frightening thought.

The Stripes of Sanity

“Did you see the zebra?” I ask. My friend had called me early in the morning and demanded that I go hiking with him and his girlfriend. I am lounging in the back seat of the car, looking at the scenery of the East Bay flying past us — scenery that, apparently, includes a zebra.

“What are you talking about?” my friend says. He’s driving.

“There was a zebra. By the side of the road.”

“Uh-huh.”

“No, seriously.” I twist in my seat, trying to look behind me, but the zebra is gone. “Stop the car. Make a u-turn.”

My friend doesn’t acknowledge me. I have a reputation as a joker. If I was driving half an hour outside of Oakland and someone announced that there was a zebra by the side of the road, I’d probably keep driving too.

We finally reach our destination and start walking. When we summit a peak, I look behind us and trace the road we drove up with my eyes. I am looking for my zebra.

My friend’s girlfriend comes up to me. “Are you sure it wasn’t just a horse?” She asks.

“I am sure!” I say.

I am not so sure anymore. But I don’t want to show doubt.

“Well,” she says, “maybe it was a magical zebra. Maybe only you can see it.”

I am beginning to doubt my sanity.

We finish the hike. We are driving back. I am looking from side to side. We pass several horses. Some of them are white with black spots on them. They are not zebras. But, I think, from a moving car, could I have mistaken one of them for a zebra earlier in the day?

I feel myself getting depressed. Zebras live in Africa.

And then:

“There’s an ostrich by the side of the road,” I say. Maybe I overheated on the hike.

My friend starts a derisive laugh and suddenly slams on the brakes. He pulls the car off to the side of the road and jumps out. Fifty feet behind us, behind a barbed wire fence, a curious ostrich is pacing back and forth, looking at the cars.

We slowly approach the bird. And then, through a clearing in the trees, a couple hundred yards behind the ostrich, we see them. Two unmistakable zebras, calmly grazing in a small meadow.

I stand there, feeling smug and victorious. Those are my zebras, and they’re not imaginary.

Greek to me

When I meet new people and tell them I’m a foreigner, I’m always amused by those who try to guess where I’m from. Of the people who try to guess, most say Greece. You’d think Greece was populated solely with lanky computer geeks.

In high school, I used to work as a cashier at a Greek store. The overwhelmingly Greek customers would come up to me and initiate conversations in Greek. Most would immediately switch to English when they saw my confused look. But one time, a woman started enthusiastically talking in Greek to me as I was ringing up her purchases. She talked animatedly and fast, never leaving me a moment to interrupt her. After the first 45 seconds or so, I gave up on trying to explain that I have absolutely no clue what she was saying because, well, first, she was obviously enjoying herself, and secondly, by that point I had let her talk for far too long to suddenly explain that I didn’t understand her. After about 4 minutes of one-sided Greek conversation (which seemed far, far longer), the woman finally said something that sounded like a question and paused, looking at me. I gave her a somewhat lost-looking smile.

The realization slowly washed over her. I could see it in her face. “You don’t speak Greek at all, do you?” she said.

I sheepishly shook my head.

In absolute silence, she handed me the money and left.

I still wonder what she was saying.

A Newt Adventure

While hiking yesterday, I came across a fat and happy newt scrambling across my path on his stubby legs. He was making little progress in crossing the trail, but seemed content to keep schlepping unhurriedly along. I gave him a stick that he happily climbed on, and when I picked the stick up, he hung on there, his webbed feet gripping the stick like a miniature gymnast. His tail curled in a mischievous, yet stylish manner.

I touched his scaly skin and he stared off into space, unbothered by contact. I gently poked his bright orange underbelly with my finger, and got no visible reaction. I picked him up between my thumb and forefinger, and then he became unhappy, waving his short legs and swiveling his head around, trying to look at me. I could feel his tiny muscles move beneath my fingers.

I set him down at the side of the hiking trail, out of the way of other hikers or mountain bikers who might crush him. He paused for a second to get his bearings, and then resumed his slow journey.

It wasn’t until hours later that I learned that newts possess glands in their skin that secrete a potent neurotoxin.

Today’s tip: wash your hands often.