It was a Saturday

… when the snow fell. It was the kind of day most sane New Yorkers would have spent indoors, curled up in bed with hot chocolate, an SO or a four-legged substitute.

But Lola wasn’t daunted. She threw on her rain jacket and marched outside. Snow, after all, is her preferred form of precipitation.

I’d spent the last two weekends in full hibernation. With Phil and the beast in town, there was no choice but to go outside.

Luckily, the Manhattan-bound train actually made all the local stops in my hood (circuitous routes to the city are par for the course on weekends) and, get this, we got to Chinatown without me having to emit my patented grunt of MTA displeasure.

Why were we in Chinatown on a Saturday, aka the day of monster clusterfudges? Two words. Joe’s Shanghai.

There, we were seated at a table of high-schoolers who all knew each other (At least I think they were in high school. One of them had a full beard, and beards always throw me off). The bearded one dominated the conversation, which mainly consisted of them congratulating themselves on their decisions.

“Great call coming here.”
“My inviting you to hang with us is so justified, since you recommended that we come here.”
“We are so amazing at life.”

When they talked about their plans to go to Strand — one of my favorite places in the city — it was official. I wished right then and there that I was a full-bearded, self-congratulatory manboy.

Coincidentally, Phil and I also were going to Union Square because of a show later that night.

We had the choice to go to Strand ourselves (effectively surrendering from the challenge I presented myself in PROBAATD a mere day after I made it) or go to Barnes & Noble, book-filled yes, but at least with the prospect of distracting myself with coffee and a cookie.

The cookie won.

“Can you solve this — First 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits of e (e is italicized so I’m guessing it has some kind of mathematical definition)?” I texted my brother.

After some back and forth that involved terms like “sliding windows” and the answer being a “clever use of SQL” [1] (obviously things I would never say), he asked me…

Him: Why are you reading that at 8 p.m. on a Saturday?
Me: I’m at Barnes & Noble waiting to go to a show nearby. So there.
Him: For shame. Reading tech books on a Saturday night in the greatest city in the world.
Me: What are you doing tonight in the most presidential city within 49 states in the continental US?
Him: Going to the market to get icing so we can make donuts……………..
Me: You guys are wild.
Him: We’re going to use REAL EGGS for it too. Watch out — badasses coming through.

Outside, we ran into this. I later found out it was this. I kind of wish I saw it, but there was another kind of party to go to.

Fuerza Bruta (Phil would like you to know that he took this magnificent picture.)

I took a few pictures, but my BlackBerry pictures came out much better. I think it had something to do with the ethereal, grainy quality of the good ol’ BB and a much greater sense of wonder I had as a first-timer. It was fun nonetheless.

(Just to give you an idea of how slow-moving making concrete plans can be for two young professionals living in different cities: Phil said he wanted to see the show after seeing my post in June. We are now in an entirely different year.)

Afterward, we headed to the Lower East Side, only to find an incredibly long line at our destination.

I walked up to the bouncer: How long is the wait?
Bouncer: I don’t know. It’s like one in, one out.
Me: Seems excessive to me. (Looks at Bouncer #2 standing in front of a door adjacent to bar #1.) Are these the same bar?
Bouncer #2: No. Different. Where are you trying to go?
Me: I was trying to go there, but never mind. Got any recommendations?
Bouncer #2: Are you just trying to grab drinks somewhere?
Me: Yep.

He then opened the door to reveal a dark space with a second door that opened to a hidden bar. There was no photography allowed, but I’m pretty sure I was in Narnia. Except instead of talking animals, there were bartenders (I mean, mixologists). I’m pretty sure I  even saw Ryan Gosling(‘s cousin’s best friend’s sister).

There was only one way to end the night: a late-late-night stop at Crifs, land of bacon-wrapped hot dogs topped with egg and sauerkraut.

But here’s the thing: the hot dog made it home. My phone didn’t.

After some mild (read: major) panicking that may or may not have involved me dumping the contents of my purse onto my bed while yelling “I can’t figure out the cloud!”, I eventually succeeded in tracking and texting it.

Just how did I approach the subject with my phone-napper?

“Hello. I am your conscience.”

I’ll never find out if such a message would have moved my phone-napper to repent, because this supposed napper turned out to be my friend. I’d left it in his car.

And so ended my Saturday.

How was yours?

[1] Upon reading this, my brother had this to say:

Him: Oh shit. That’s mathematica code not SQL. My stupidity is now shown on the internet forever.
Me: I’ll edit.
Him: No, no. It’s good. Leave it. It shows that I am human. Fallible.
Me: Is that a common error to make? Or is it like a writer mistaking “than” for “then”?
Him: Probably the latter. Two totally different languages. Two totally different meanings. The syntax is totally different.

And there you go, interwebs. He claims the donuts were his undoing, much like the hot dog was mine. Must run in the family.

In case you were wondering, the donuts were “Not bad, but could use more awesome.”


In which I reveal my one true flaw

I did it again.

I promised myself I wouldn’t. I even gave myself a pep talk right before. But faced with the temptation, I could only resist for a lousy two minutes. And half of that I spent fumbling for my wallet.

Hi. I’m Karen and I’m a bookaholic.

All things considered, it’s not THAT bad. I mean, compared to other addictions, the worst that could happen is that I overload my brain. Or be buried alive by an avalanche of books once perched atop a poorly secured wall shelf because – who are we kidding? – I have no room in my room for grand bookcases.

So, there I was, walking into Barnes & Noble, one of my favorite post-work stops when I still have brainpower to spare, thinking I’d pop in, flip through a magazine or a book or whatever, and pop right back out. I noticed it was 6:20, a mere 40 minutes before book readings there usually happen. I casually Googled who might be there that night (because going up four flights of escalators is too much to ask of someone on the ground floor), and, lo and behold, it was Maira Kalman – super illustrator and artist of all the things.

Just the night before, I’d told Phil that I loved how “Sixth and Mission“married illustration with words, much like Kalman’s “The Principles of Uncertainty.”

Clearly, there were external forces at work here. I had to buy her new book.

(Is rationalizing a feature of addiction? Because… I think it’s perfectly justified in certain situations.)

My bookaholism is only exacerbated by my work’s proximity to this glorious, four-story Barnes & Noble. I’m there so often I know the employees by name. There’s Jake with the peg leg, Roman the this-is-a-no-sitting-on-the-floor-zone enforcer, Sandra with the yellow high-heeled boots, Meg the angry Nook teller and Samir the Magnificent (Electronic Cataloguer).

“Welcome, my dear Karen,” they said. I took my usual aisle seat diagonal to the podium, perfectly positioned to either give the author my signature come-hither stare not unlike a groupie at a Best Of Julie Andrews As Maria Von Trapp Played By Julie Andrews concert or sneak out as unnoticed as one can be in a completely open space where you can see everything and everyone.

Kalman and Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket) took the stage. Using a photo of an empty, messy desk, they described how Einstein used Kalman as his muse for the theory of relativity (M for Maira! C for Calman!).  It was the kind of conversation best experienced by a third as a spectator, chin on palms, carpals pressed together, grinning shamelessly.

They were witty. Too witty. So witty that by the time I got my book signed, all I could say was, “Hello. Hi.” Brilliant.

Once on the subway, I encountered an all too familiar conundrum: read the shiny, new book or the one I’ve been working on for… forever?

This got me thinking of all the times I’d chosen the shiny, new book over the perfectly great current one. It’s one of the major downfalls of bookaholism. Often, the new becomes the old until the old is once again new, and the never-new is never-read.

I’d had enough. With Rafiki-like conviction, I declared to my fellow commuters and the pantsless crooner who, with his rendition of Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You,” went from a Grade A creeper to the stuff viral YouTube sensations are made of: IT IS TIME.

So, here it is. Project Read One Book At A Time, Dummy. In it, I’ve listed all the books I’ve started in the last year and have yet to complete and hope to complete in 2012.

Do feel free to share reading tips of your own or to scold me for no reason in particular. Do not, however, take this as an invitation to scold me for my life, er, book choices, for I will return the favor by scrutinizing your choice of hats.

So there, Bookjudger McJudgerson.

I’m aware this could get frustrating. I’m also aware I’ll very likely suffer a meltdown involving a book, a match and a vat of red ink. But I’ve never been one to back down from a worthy challenge. I am, after all, Winner and Champion of Spontaneous Spelling Bees With Scant Participation.

But maybe this is much bigger than that.

Maybe this is for all the bookaholics out there who never had someone tell them that good books are meant to be finished. That that shiny, new one will still be there a month from now. So please, please buy groceries before you go to Barnes & Noble. Because I’m pretty damn sure you have that on your Kindle.

Yes. This is for you.

Meanwhile in Twitterville, vol. 1

Nevada sunset. Photo by Marco.

In case you missed it on my Twitter, here are the top 10 links that people have clicked on this month so far. I excluded all the links to this blog (I figured there’s room for only one narcissistic act of self-linking, and that’s going to be to my tumblr).

As you can see, it’s a pretty random list, which means people who read my tweets are just as random as me. I dig.

1. Always read the terms and conditions
2. Possibly the next engagement-photo craze
3. Who are the 1 percent?
4. I’m not as smart as I thought I was
5. I’d hire him
6. Outliers: The kind of book a Canadian would write, living in America
7. Why I love New York
8. Five resolutions for aspiring leaders
9. Sixth and Mission, illustrated
10. PressPausePlay

What you didn’t click on but should have: The Paris Review’s excellent interview with Maya Angelou (such great nuggets, e.g. “One of the great arts that the writer develops is the art of saying, ‘No. No, I’m finished. Bye.’ And leaving it alone.”) and neat quotes by scifi author Bruce Sterling on following your weird.

Happy Tuesday!

A rock and a white place

By some accounts, on one certain sixth day, living creatures were summoned to fill the earth. But on another sixth day, a band of ne’er-do-wells in Vegas summoned all their strength to rouse themselves from the dead (a figurative kind of dead; this is a lighthearted entry, after all) for some physical activity.

What can I say – We were an ambitious sort. It wasn’t enough that we’d barely slept all week, had danced the night away more than once, with one of those instances occurring on the eve of the new year, some (ahem, one) of us in multiple-inch heels with no spare flats to save our feet from certain doom.

Exhausted, dehydrated and drawn to anything neon so long as it promised us the chance to spin a fortuitous wheel, we looked those five days in the eye and proclaimed, “Hogwash!”

We were going hiking.


Red Rock Canyon. The name, taken literally, conjures images of a canyon of red rocks. Figuratively, it conjures images of a canyon of red rocks. So, how we ended up on a canyon of white rocks was entirely, well, my fault.

While the boys were busy studying a map of the canyon at the visitor center, I may or may not have been busy studying a live tarantula in a tank. It was just so hairy and motionless – Did you know its bite is only as poisonous as a bee sting? I sure didn’t.

“Trail 3,” our resident driver, Marco, said once we got back in the car. “Calico Tanks.”

“Trail 3, eh?” I mused, unfolding the map.

This trail starts at the Sandstone Quarry parking lot. It winds through a wash and there may be seasonal water present in a natural tank at the end.

My eyes glazed over and wandered to…

Trail 5. Keystone Thrust. This trail is accessed from the upper White Rock Spring parking lot. It takes you to the most significant geologic feature of Red Rock Canyon – the Keystone Thrust.

Perhaps the “white rock” part of the description should have been a clue, but there were thrusts! And keystones! And significant geologic features! This Keystone Thrust in particular sounded magical, as if at any moment we would stumble into swords in stones and baby Ewoks.

I had to go to there.

“Hey!” I said. “This sounds way more interesting.”

“I guess we could do that,” Marco replied.

Working through my phone’s spotty reception, I attempted to Google some images of the thrust while Marco called the others.

“Hey guys…”

My phone laboriously loaded photos.

“… we’re going to Trail 5 instead…”


“… Karen said it sounds more interesting…”

Still loading.

“… It’s just past Calico Tanks.”

As I waited for the thrust, we happened upon the glorious red rocks. Surely our parking lot couldn’t be too far off, I thought.

“Got it!” I said, triumphantly holding up my phone to reveal images of the rocks.

Really white ones.

Outside my window, the red rocks zoomed past. So did the parked cars. And so did the many people who figured out that in order to hike among the red rocks, they had to go to them.

“So uhh,” I began, “apparently the thrust is a geological anomaly!”

I gulped.

“Geologists from around the world come to study it!”

It was time to panic.

The air grew thin; I felt my throat tighten.

“You’ll be fine!” Marco said, thinking my fear of heights was getting to me. “You just have to conquer your fears.”

I imagined everyone taking pictures with the white mountain, later regaling friends with the time they, fighting exhaustion, drove a ways away from the city center to look at some pretty regular rocks. They’d think of me, and their cheeks, in a cruel reminder of what they didn’t see, would turn red.

At Trail 5, the parking lot was noticeably emptier. We tentatively set foot on the gravel lot.

Phil, ever the supportive boyfriend, quipped: “So, what did you guys do at Red Rock Canyon? Oh, we went to see the white rocks.”

“Red rocks are so mainstream.”

I plotted his demise.

What made it worse was that Marco tried to take the blame. There was only one thing to do; I would sacrifice myself to the next available wolf.

But for several minutes, there was nothing. Hikes, believe it or not, can be pretty monotonous when you’re dreading the nothingness you’re walking toward. When Marco decided to climb a nearby crest, we all followed.

Monotony over.

Normally I have an incredible fear of heights, especially in the presence of rickety ladders, rail-less roofs and laws of physics-defying elevators. But when allowed to ascend on my own terms, on my own two feet on fairly stable ground, I do just fine.

Which is why I was able to do this.

And this.
Scaling it or feigning imbalance on the edge, however, would have been an entirely different thing. Which is what some of the guys did in completely undocumented fashion, as I was curled up elsewhere in the fetal position.

In the end, no one seemed to mind that we ended up on the white part of things.

And the best part was from far away, the red rocks were still pretty spectacular.