Thursday, April 24, 2008


Hurts. When someone you're dating decides they just don't like you, or think that things won't work out, after a time of getting to know you, this is painful, but it’s just another part of dating. You move on. Happens all the time.

When someone who is supposed to be your birth father denies your existence even while you are in the womb, then again as an adult, never having met you or known you, this is a rejection of a stranger. It is non-specific. It doesn’t have anything to do with who you are, or your worthiness. This kind of rejection is even less individualized than that of a rejection from a literary magazine that decides your work won't fit with the current issue, or of a company that decides you aren’t the right candidate for the job. This kind of rejection is not rejection, really. It isn’t supposed to hurt.

But yet it does.

I Heart Craigslist

Okay, I know there has been some scary-stalker stories associated with Craigslist, but for the last year it’s been quite the source of adventure, cheap accumulation, and asset relief for me. This week in particular has been one of shopping blessings on Craigs.

Today I bought a bike from a girl named Katie in Moon Township. She advertised on Craigslist a few months ago, and in the dead of winter not many people were looking for bikes yet. I e-mailed her and expressed some interest, but without a car I wasn’t able to coordinate getting out to Moon to get it at that time. Well, she e-mailed me last week to say the bike was still available and was I interested? Luckily my always-generous roommate offered to lend me her SUV in this morning (she walks to work to save the environment and also there is absolutely NO parking in our corner of the city, which is also part of why I ditched my own car). The bike is a lovely purple, and it was just the right price. Only fifty bucks. Most bikes advertised on Craigs in this area are going for hundreds, partly b/c there’s such high demand around here with all the students and the environmentally conscious urbanites, and partly b/c there are lots of trails and an entire bike culture with many specialty bike shops. But bikes also get stolen fairly often around here for those exact reasons, so for my first bike (as an adult, that is…I haven’t owned or consistently ridden a bicycle since age 12) I didn’t want to cough up too many bones.
Katie was sweet and friendly. Blonde hair, high-fashion make-up. She said she was moving to Toronto. I told her one of my best friends lives there now. As she was taking me to her basement, showing me the bike, and helping me wheel it outside to Kat’s car, we had a nice conversation about what she plans to do in Toronto. Her husband is already there, and she’s trying to get a job in sports marketing. It was a quick, friendly interaction. I was all set to go, as I’d gathered several bike supplies earlier in the week. Two days earlier I got a bike helmet, a bicycle tire pump, and a flashing light to use when riding at night for $12 from Anna down the street. She advertised on Craigs, of course, and we had a nice correspondence via e-mail. She used to live in my apartment building, in fact. When at the bike store later, I discovered that a Schwinn helmet like the one she sold me retails for $29.99. Boo-yah!

Then, right as I was steering my new bike into my apartment and fastening my brand new bike lock (this I actually DID buy from a store) on the back, Gwendolyn called. She’s the girl I e-mailed about her coffee maker. I don’t drink coffee that often, but I’m noticing with my new graduate student lifestyle and constant study mode peppered with intermittent late-night social activity, sometimes it’s just a must. I’ve been drinking it more often lately, and I’m actually starting to like it. And I LOVE iced coffee in the summer. Figured I’d get the cheapest thing they had at Target, ‘bout $20. But, in browsing my favorite Web site, I came across Gwendolyn’s ad. She wanted to be rid of her $50 coffee maker plus 2 packages of filters for ten bucks. So I rode my new bike over to her apartment (about six blocks away), met her dog, saw her apartment, had some nice pleasantry talk, and came home with my new coffee maker. 10-cup Hamilton Beach, with all the bells and whistles and timers. Nice.

I always wonder if in less brief transactions I might get a chance to be friends with some of these people. Maybe Katie. Especially Leah who bought my car. She was about the sweetest person I’ve ever met. Perhaps the young mother who bought my bookshelf. She looked like a good time, with that wind-blown hair and that artsy tattoo on her arm. That funny, bubbly woman who bought my Coach purse. Or the kind but shy girl who bought my roller blades, riding them wobbly around the parking lot while her boyfriend looked on. Maybe even that cute doctor guy who bought my end table. Probably not the Indian liquor-store owner who bought my video camera to monitor the cash register. There was no chitchat with him as he fumbled nervously with my camera, rushing to check the front of the store several times. He had a business to run, and a sketchy one at that.

There is another reason why I find shopping on Craigs satisfying, one that extends beyond mere frugality or the trash-to-treasure finds. It is, in its own way, saving the environment. Now hear me out. About a year ago I was reading Rolling Stone at Brandon’s and found an article featuring an up-and-coming musician. I forget her name now, but there was a full-length picture of her wearing a flowered dress, a smart red jacket, and white shoes. Cute. In the article interview, she confessed that although now she’s making decent money, she still insists on buying used. Every item of her outfit in that photo was purchased thrift. She said that it’s a moral thing for her. By not buying new, she’s not adding more material to the world, and she’s not supporting sweatshops. I had never thought of it that way, but it totally made sense. Not adding more material into the world. Reusing what’s already there. Not having to cringe at the tag that says “Made in Bangladesh, where everyone is starving.” Plus I’m becoming more and more concerned with environmental issues, and this reasoning further bolstered my desire to buy used whenever possible.

And so, I heart Craigslist. As with any relationship, there are things I like about Craig and things I don’t like. I have not found the job section to be particularly helpful. The personal ads are rather sickening. The apartment ads can be frustratingly deceptive. But there are products to fill almost every need, and I’ve had flash encounters with some friendly folks. And that’s always worth my time no matter what.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

God in the News

Whenever I flipped on the news last week, I did not see coverage on another Brittney Spears tragedy (why does CNN condescend to those stories sometimes?), but rather I see the Pope. Pope Benedict XVI has graced the United States for a whole week. He has counseled victims of priestly sexual abuse, he has prayed on Ground Zero for those whose lives were affected by the World Trade Center bombings of September 11. And, surprisingly, the media loves him.

I do not understand Catholicism. In my own increasing walk with God, I have continued the Protestant faith of my youth. I’ve always been intrigued by this large, historic faith that has the most beautiful churches, that exudes tradition and ritual from people around the world, has been the root of Holy Wars and centuries’ long strife, and that is the origin of my own faith. And that seems to refuse alignment with Protestantism. This faith whose name literally means “universal,” yet I get the sense people feel closed off from it. I have visited a few Catholic churches and have tried to learn more about the faith over the past year, partly to try to understand where my boyfriend comes from. It is the church of his youth, one that hasn’t called him back.

I saw a Catholic tract last week on the 71A bus on my way to class. It said that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that the Catholic Church is the Way, the Truth, and the Life of Jesus on Earth. It referenced the Bible verse that says Jesus’ bride is the church, but posited that He has only one bride and it is a Catholic bride. It cynically noted that Jesus was not a polygamist, and was not married to such offshoots as Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, or Methodist churches. And that’s when I stopped reading.

The only time I’ve been hurt by a church was when I was turned away from communion at a Catholic church. I did not know the rule that only Catholics can partake of God’s table—not all God’s people—in their eyes. I left the church feeling angry and rejected.

I also don’t understand the seeming fascination with Mary, Jesus’ mother. Of course she played an important role in God’s plan, but she was distinct from her son in that she was fully human. She was used by God, but she was not God. And so the prayers to Mary, the almost-worship of her confuses me. Brandon says it’s not exactly worship, but another avenue to God. Same with the saints, I guess? I received a rosary for Christmas (Dad is buddies with the priest in town who knew I had a mild interest in learning more about Catholicism). Prayed it a few times. But the praying to entities other than God feels disloyal to me. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me, right?

The church has a serious pull. In this country many people do not wish to sacrifice, do not wish to acknowledge evil in the world, do not want to work hard to eradicate sin in their life and focus on righteousness. It’s too much work, and does not promise immediate reward. It does not mesh well with our consumer-driven, immediate-gratification, greed-and-pornography-filled society. Many Americans lackadaisically go through life with an understanding of God that only reaches as far as the church doors. And if they enter into a church only once or twice a year, it remains an empty ritual. They do not allow it to extend into their lives, color the way they see the world, and give them purpose and a deeper understanding of what it means to love. Yet according to CNN surveys, most people believe in God and consider themselves Christians.

So it’s refreshing to see national attention on this thing of goodness, on someone who does the work of God. Essentially, God is in the news.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

An Incredibly Cheap and Satisfying Vacation

Last week, Wednesday through Sunday, Brandon and I took a much-needed getaway. Midwestern winters always drag on entirely too long, and we were both getting antsy for some sun. Pittsburgh feels slightly more dreary than Columbus did, though weather reports don't really confirm this. I was convinced I was as pale as I've ever been, although most people who bother to read this will know that I do tend to over-dramatize things. 

It was also the cheapest vacation we will probably ever be able to construct. 

Wednesday I hopped on the Greyhound from Pitts to Columbus. Met a few characters along the way, as always. I had with me a manuscript from a fellow writer in my workshop class. He is a comedic writer, who writes slapstick, in-your-face, electric-paced fiction. I was cracking up in line as we waited to board. A guy who calls himself "Dreadz" to commemorate his disgusting chunky hair (I always think dreadlocks look so depressing and deliberate on white people, but that's another story), wanted to read it. So I gave it to him when we took our seat. I carefully chose my spot in the next row and one seat behind him so I could record the pages on which he laughed and could report back to Dave. He read the entire thing (it's exhausting, really, that kind of charged writing), laughing aloud several times. Then I handed it to Nancy next to me, a Californian travel agent who happened to have worked for McGraw-Hill for 19 years(!) She tsked and handed it back to me after reading to page 6, saying, "I'm just not the market for this. If this guy tried to date my daughter, I'd hang him." Tough crowd. Well, the story did delve into some sexually graphic territory, and the main character is a narcissistic buffoon, but it really is funny. Somehow. Anyway, I arrive in Columbus after my guerilla book-agent experience, at around 6 PM. 

First we drove to Nashville to my friend Chris' new place. He's one of the few friends from high school who has reciprocated effort to keep in touch, yet I haven't seen him since '05. It's tough now that my parents have moved away from Knoxville, the place I most identify as a "hometown." Luckily we saved an hour due to time zones, though still arrived later than I'd hoped, at 10:30 PM. I finally met the love of Chris' life, Leah, and promptly fell in love with her myself. We chirped away about our common obsessions: recycling, organic food, the environment, and changing the world through teaching, while our boyfriends nodded along and stole side glances at each other. After a few glasses of wine, we hit the sack. 

Next morning Leah had to leave early for work, and Chris took us all around Nashville, excitedly pointing out areas of interest like an expert tour guide. He's totally in love with the city, and completely in his element with all that country music. We went to an indy music store, which reminded me of the one Brandon dumps all his money into in Columbus, and the boys were in heaven. We also strolled downtown, the club areas, past music halls, and drove by Vanderbilt University and the strip of town where all the record labels and recording studios are. Then we ate some BBQ beef for lunch (unfortunately the place toted all plasticware and styrofoam). 

Next stop: the beach! We drove about 7 more hours to arrive at Pensacola beach at dusk. It was beautiful, and we were so excited to actually be there. We had brought sleeping bags and figured we'd sleep in the car, or, perhaps, on the beach. I was a little nervous about the second option. It was spring break time, so we figured obtaining a hotel room might be tough, and we wanted to be adventurous anyway. Plus we didn't want to spend a bunch of dough. So we called the police and county sheriff to see if beach bumming through the night was illegal, and surprisingly it isn't. We found a pocket of coastal America that allows vagrants, I guess, since most places strictly forbid this. So, we smoothed out our bedding and watched the stars, the gleaming moon, and matched our breathing to the lapping waves. I was a little jittery when the occasional person would stroll along the dark beach, but the place was harmless and eventually I fell asleep.  

We awoke covered in ocean mist, though Bean referred to this (in a mechanical voice) as "condensation." Not sure why I found this so hilarious. So, we hung our two wet blankets and our towel over the wooden fence railing, put on our bikinis, and began to play on the beach. Finally! The sun was partially covered by foggish cloud, so we didn't think to put on sunscreen at 8:30 AM, though later we regretted this. I layed out for about a half hour, before Brandon's attention span expired and he pestered me into getting up and helping him dig a moat in the sand. A moat around a nonexistent sandcastle, mind you. Then we went running. I immediately realized that I was dehydrated (not wanting to drink much on the road of course), and had to stop after about a mile. Superstar Olympian had to keep running, of course, but that was fine. I had to get some water. So I meandered into one of the big hotels near our section of beach and found a bathroom accessible from the parking garage. I filled our water bottle and retreated, but not before noticing the pool on my way out. Brandon was done running shortly after, and we ate sandwiches and grapes that we'd packed for lunch. I realized that my face was red even after cooling down and decided we should lather sunscreen. It was too late. By the end of the day we were complete lobsters. Sad, really. 

After lunch we went to the pool at the hotel, following a family as they entered the key-access gate. The woman asked me if we had a key, to which I told her no. She said, "That's okay--we'll let you in."  Soon after we realized that we definitely didn't fit in. Everyone there had money spilling out their ears, and there was no one close to our age there. It was all yuppie, suburban families, complete with skinny wives with manicured nails and 2.5 kids each. But we didn't mind. Until a woman came up to me and with a venomous, hushed tone said, "I know where you slept last night, and I know you're not staying at this hotel. You are stealing resources, and it's not right. I suggest you leave quickly and quietly before I call the authorities." Whoa. I was shocked, embarrassed, mortified. I gathered our things and told Brandon we had to leave. Now. He begins barking "Why? Why?" and I'm shushing him and trying to leave quickly. We get outside the pool area and I tell him what happened. Did she work there? he asked. I didn't know. All I knew was that she terrified me, her threat, especially that she knew we'd slept on the beach. I felt a rush of shame, of being put in my place. Brandon wished he would have heard her or had known what was going on so he could jump to my defense. I pondered how these things happen to me individually. Slimy threats, racial slurs-- they never happen when anyone else is around. Anyway, Brandon and I could eventually laugh at this pathetic woman who obviously had paid a lot of money to be removed from lower class people like us. Her world is small and unimportant. Does she care about the election? Does she care about Darfur? Does she concern herself with international acts of genocide? Doubt it. 

After that we went to the entry of Pensa Gulf beaches to a Sea-Do rental and motored along the ocean for a while. I drove for part of the time, and it was surprisingly easy. Then we went out for seafood at Peg-Leg Pete's. We had raw oysters for the first time. Brandon liked them, but I'm still deciding. Eating them with Saltines and cocktail sauce makes it difficult to distinguish the mild fish taste, but what bothered me was the consistency. Slimy things give me the creeps. Then we had our first lobster. It was yummy, but, as I'd experienced once before, there's not a lot of meat on the thing, so we broke down and ordered fries to fill us up. 

Much to dragon lady's disgust, we enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep on the beach again. 

Then Saturday morning we got up, ate our packed yogurt, and went to the local YMCA for free showers (paid $2 to rent towels). By now we are thoroughly impressed with our frugality. 

On to New Orleans, a surprisingly short distance of 2.5 driving hours. We arrived at Bob and Mary Jo's house around 1:00. Bob is my birth mother Patti's brother. So they are my aunt and uncle by birth (yippee!). We ate sandwiches and chips for a late lunch. Note to self: sunflower-seed bread is amazing!  Then they took us all around New Orleans--showed us hurricane damaged areas that are still waiting for repair, BradJolina's new house, and the downtown/French Quarter area. The downtown is so unique. Brandon and I commented on the beautiful Victorian and plantation houses. Apparently right now is wedding season because we saw several different weddings in progress at the many large houses. All the houses had wraparound porches and balconies, with French black metal railings. We went to Cafe du Monde, a popular coffee shop, where we ordered Bob's favorite coffee. Chicory coffee is what it is, and it was indeed delicious. I looked over at Brandon and we shared a moment: Look at this, you could run a coffee shop like this one day. Then Bob and Mary Jo's middle daughter, Beth (my cousin!) met us. She is pregnant and totally cute. And sweet. It's exciting to meet beautiful people and know that you are related to them.   

We walked around the French Quarter a bit more. There were street performers and music everywhere. I figured it was only alive like this during Mardi Gras, but they said it's like that all the time. Wow. What a fun city. 

Then we went home and Mary Jo made an amazing jambalaya soup. Beth came over later with her dog Roxie--an adorable boxer that made me want to go out and buy a dog right this second. Then Amy and her family came over. She's the eldest daughter who has two kids. Her youngest, Nicholas, looks so much like Justin (my half-brother) it's uncanny. He is literally a mini-Justin. We ate and were merry, then Brandon and I crashed in an incredibly comfortable bed. Not that the sand was terrible--it was more like a very firm mattress. 

Next morning we woke up and began the loooooong, 14-hour drive back home. It wasn't terrible until the last 3 hours or so. Then we were both ready to be out of the car, not driving, and asleep in bed. 

Let's deracinate the cheapness of this vacation, which made it all the sweeter:

Gas: $170  
Lodging: beach, friends, and family $0
Food: family and friends: $0; groceries: $25; BBQ with Chris: $15; seafood dinner: $60; Burger King: $8; Cracker Barrel: $18
Entertainment: Sea-do rental: $45; beach fun: $0; touring cities: $0
Showers: family and friends: $0, YMCA: $2
Quality time with each other, Chris and Leah, and the Johnsons: $0, and better than anything we could buy

Total: $343 ($171.50 each)

That's what I'm talkin' about.