Spilling Coffee on Strangers

Oh, how I wish the title of this blog post was a metaphor and not something I actually managed to do last week, but alas…


Last Friday morning began like any other work day: I woke up, showered, took the 7:29am bus into NYC, and stopped at the Port Authority Starbucks to grab some coffee for the second leg of my 3-part commute to East Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Because I’ve been financially insecure (read: broke-ity broke broke) the past couple of weeks, due to some unexpected grad school-related expenses compounded by an unforgiving once-per-month pay schedule, I had been forgoing my daily Starbucks run. But I came into a bit of money and since it was Friday, I decided to treat myself, as one should every now and again. I purchased a white mocha & a croissant. Simple.

After stuffing some napkins in my pocket, I head to the Brooklyn-bound 3 train to find an unusually crowded subway platform.  There’s an empty train that it seems all the passengers were forced to vacate, so I join the crowd of disgruntled commuters and wait for the next train. When it arrives, we all pack in.

The train is crowded and at each stop it becomes more and more so. I start reading a New York Times article on my phone, so I don’t have to deal with the uncomfortable, accidental eye contact that inevitably happens when in close proximity with lots of people. I’m standing, holding on to the pole and my coffee in one hand and my phone in the other.

At Chambers Street, the train stops for an annoyingly long time. Train traffic ahead, they say. When this happens, people who have just arrived at the station run and push their way into a subway car, thinking that they *just* made it. (Wrong.) So, I’m reading my article and a gentleman bumps my hand while jogging into the packed train car.

I jerk out of his way, losing grip of my coffee cup, which flips in the air about four times—almost in slow motion—and lands on the lapel of the poor woman seated under me, spilling on her jacket and pants.

I. AM. MORTIFIED.

I grab the cup and hear myself apologizing profusely for what had just happened, “I’m so, so, so, so sorry”. The woman is quietly seething and I’m certain that all the eyes on that train car were burning into my skin. I rummage through my jacket pocket and hand her some napkins, to which she responds with a tight-lipped “thank you”.

Knowing that there’s no way I can stay in the same subway car as this woman whose morning I just ruined, I dash out of the doors and run two cars up. The new car is decidedly less crowded, so I slide into a seat, begin stress-eating my croissant, and try to calm my heart’s erratic beating. I try to quiet my mind with thoughts like: At least the coffee wasn’t hot anymore. At least you had drunken most of it. At least she was wearing black. At least the train was stopped, so you could run away.

Though, the only thing that allows me to continue my commute with relative comfort is the fact that in a city of over 8 million people, I’d probably never see that woman ever again.

And that I’d probably be able to laugh about this story in the near future, like right now.

 

A Lesson in Karma During 4th Grade Science

Did I tell you about the time my 4th grade science teacher put a curse on me? Yeah, that happened.

She was a slender thing, with dark skin and darker hair that was always tied in a low, thick ponytail, not unlike an actual pony’s tail: Ms. C. I remember exactly what she looked like, but for the sake of a good story I want you to picture Zoe Saldaña with glasses and anger issues.

Anyway, Ms. C was lecturing our class again on something “bad” we had done. I’m putting “bad” in quotation marks because I doubt that whatever deplorable thing took place was serious enough to warrant a 20+ minute talking-to, but then again, I remember Ms. C being quite the humorless individual. This part of her character, an utter lack of a funny bone, saddened me because she was one of the youngest teachers at our school. Unfortunately, she was no ally of ours.

Back to the story at hand: Ms. C was yelling at us, wasting all of our sweet time and putting us at a great academic disservice. I recognized that my peers and I could have been learning about the Earth, maybe even sparking a future career interest in geology in one or all of us, but instead a finger, a bony finger was being wagged at us. So, like all children past, present, and future in the process of being scolded, we stared blankly, counted our teeth, thought about why we drive on a parkway and park in a driveway; our minds were everywhere, but there.

When she finally wrapped up this speech, I was put in a mindset of praise. So much so, that before I had the chance to think about what I was doing, a whispered, but emphatic “Thank GOD!” escaped my lips.

“Who said that?! Who said ‘thank God’?! WHO?!”, Ms. C growled. Maybe this is the right place to note that I attended a parochial elementary school. Thanking God was serious business there, so saying it in the context in which I’d just done it was not small potatoes.

Ms. C scanned around the room for a tell, a crack in the facade, of the guilty party, but we were a bunch of (angelically) poker-faced 4th graders. In my heart, I’d hoped she’d just let it go, shake it off, etc. However, she took the situation from 0 – 100 (real quick) and threatened that if the perpetrator wasn’t named, we’d be missing recess.

Now, if there’s one thing that elementary school students value most during the school day, it’s recess: The daily opportunity to step outside of the educational assembly line and be children. You take away recess, you take away what separates kids from lower species, like adults. To my surprise, no one called me out (Though, one boy did look at me, but I shooed him with a “Boy-if-you-don’t-turn…” look.) and I’ll forever be grateful for that fact.

Still, I wasn’t going to allow my classmates to be punished for my compulsion to add commentary to everything, so I took a deep breath and put my hand straight up. Ms. C looked at me and twisted her face into a wry smile. “Okay,” she started.

At this point, I was scared. Not of the impending punishment, mind you. I was fearful of the possibility that she’d go off on yet another angry tangent. My little heart wouldn’t have been able to take two of those in one day.

“Okay, just remember that whatever you say or do is going to come right back to you. It’s called karma, boys and girls, and it always comes back,” she stared straight at me with the final three words, “to get you.

Silence.

Me, in my head: Is she threatening me? Who would say this to a child? And why is she bringing Eastern philosophy into this decidedly Catholic environment?

And that was the end of that. She gave us an abridged lesson and then dismissed us (even me!) for recess.

Every now and then since that day, I think back to Ms. C’s karma talk and wonder if what goes around had indeed come around and punished me, yet. For the longest while I didn’t think so: life’s been pretty good to me. But, now that I think of it, I bet Ms. C is the reason I’m allergic to peanuts. Yeah, that’s it.

He Was Never Seen Alive Again

(A 100-word story that I wrote for a Creative Writing class.  I remember rushing to write it the morning it was due, but it turned out to be one of my favorite, gritty little pieces.  Now I’m considering expanding on it.  Thoughts?)

Johnny was my friend. I won’t bore you with the details: how we met, what we had in common, and all that. Just know that we were friends.

Johnny was a good kid, but he had his demons. Most people can hide theirs, you know, smile and act like everything’s okay. And Johnny used to, but it got to be too much.

Johnny’s mom was an addict. And his old man? That bastard would beat the shit out of Johnny like it was a sport. Johnny finally got fed up and left. Ran away. He was never seen alive again.

Pitfalls of ‘Productive Procrastination’

(Originally published to the Cornell Alumni Magazine Student Blog on Oct. 26, 2012.)

Procrastination is the vice of every college student I know. The urge to spend hours watching YouTube videos of laughing babies, playing Tetris, or napping can be very strong when your other option is writing a twenty-page paper on whale communication.

But what about neglecting one assignment in favor of another? Or cleaning your room and editing your resume instead of finishing your required reading? In these instances, you’re doing something useful with your time—just not necessarily what you ought to be doing at that moment. This is the essence of what I call “productive procrastination” and, unfortunately, I’m a pro at it.

My struggle with productive procrastination has gotten much more difficult to manage since becoming an upperclassman. Because I’m involved in so many activities and have a more rigorous course load, I can always think of at least ten things I could be working on, in place of what I should be working on.

The fact that productive procrastination can sometimes be justified makes it quite the conundrum. First off, it’s exponentially better than unproductive procrastination (doing something useless). And in some situations, productive procrastination can actually be appropriate. For example, if you’re stuck on an assignment you could benefit from taking a break, working on something else, and returning to it with a fresh perspective.

That being said, one thing to keep in mind about productive procrastination is that, however you slice it, it’s still procrastination. So even though you may be able to reorganize your closet, map out your five-year career plan, or write a short story in the time you took off from your assignment, be warned: that whale paper will still be waiting for you. Only now, you’ll have even less time to finish it.

How to Be a Twenty-Something Loser

(In the style of Junot Diaz’s “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie”)

Your alarm clock blares, scaring you from your unpleasant slumber: the four-hour nap that you pathetically refer to as a full night’s sleep. Mumble a few expletives, then roll out of bed and shuffle to the bathroom like your great uncle Jack used to shuffle around, before he got his power chair.

After taking a piss, look in the mirror and fixate for a moment on your face. You look like a tired old man, in desperate need of a shave and a haircut. Then think, Fuck it, it’s fall, the rugged look is in.  You splash some cool water on your face and finally begin waking up, when you hear pounding on your room door. Oh yeah, you realize, you left your alarm on.

So, you open the door and decide to play dumb with your best bro/apartment mate. He curses at you about the noise and asks if you’re going to shut the goddamn thing off.  What noise, you respond, but you have to half-shout it because your alarm has escalated to an eardrum-shattering volume.

Smile when he calls you an asshole. He’s not a morning person, so he doesn’t take to your smile too kindly. Instead, he pushes past you into the room and rips the batteries out of the clock. He slams them into your hand and storms out the door, but not before you quip, Good morning to you too, sweetheart.

Shut your door and start getting dressed. Think about how much you hate your job and how quickly you’d quit if Sallie Mae didn’t have you by the balls.  But she does, so you throw on a blue plaid shirt with your corduroy pants.  Business casual? No, though you haven’t a shit to give. You figure it’ll be a few months, a year tops, before your crappy call center job is outsourced to India, anyway.

Go to the kitchen and assess your breakfast situation. It’s dire. There’s cereal, but no milk. Butter, but no bread.  Creamer, but no coffee. Your crisper contains a brown thing that may have once been a head of lettuce.  It’s moments like these when you loathe having a “bachelor pad” and wish you stayed home in your parents’ basement: Mom would coddle you to death and Dad would give you shit about not being an engineer, but at least you’d be guaranteed regular meals. Annoyed, you resolve to grab something at 7-11 on the way to work.

You get to work, late, and make a beeline toward your cubicle. Ignore the snarky receptionist who hates your guts because you hooked up with her girlfriend at the company party 2 weeks ago. Wave at your supervisor in passing: Don’t give him a chance to reprimand your tardiness or worse, force you to work through lunch to make up time. Stop and have small talk with the quiet, emo guy two cubicles down from yours. You want to stay on his good side, so that if and when he goes on a shooting rampage in your office, he’ll warn you in advance to stay home that day.

Look like you’re working, but really spend the majority of your time on Reddit and Twitter. Remain in the confines of your cubicle until lunchtime. Inch to the door with the intention of going to Chipotle, but get stopped by your supervisor right before you make it out. Work through lunch, while imagining untimely death scenarios for your supervisor. Eat the rest of the snacks you bought at 7-11 that morning.

Clock out at 5pm and drive home. Don’t buy groceries for the apartment. Instead, you and your bro, who’s now in a much better mood, have cereal and creamer for dinner. Watch TV, surf the Internet, and dick around until you fall asleep at some ungodly hour. Oversleep for work the next morning because you didn’t put the batteries back in your alarm clock.

That Rain

It’s raining outside.
But not just any rain:
That rain.
You know, THAT rain.
That rain that’s almost too light to be rain,
But  too rainy to not be rain.
That cold, miserable rain.
That frigid, mid-Autumn rain.
That rain that steals every bit of warmth from the air.
Yes. That rain.
That’s the kind of rain that’s raining outside.

Minor Dilemma

(Originally published to the Cornell Alumni Magazine Student Blog on Sept 7, 2012.)

Choosing a major is one of the most important decisions in a college student’s life. Luckily, I knew that I wanted to major in human development before I even enrolled—and two years later, I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Choosing a minor, however, has proved to be more of a challenge.

Now, I know that a minor is far from mandatory, but it’s something I’ve always expected to do; concentrating in only one field did not jibe with my Renaissance woman aspirations. After learning that my college didn’t allow double-majoring, I figured that a minor was the next best thing. But the hard part has been choosing the subject. So far, I’ve seriously considered a half dozen minors, from design to art history to information science.

The “minor dance” always starts the same way: I hear about a subject that sounds interesting, research the requirements, pursue it, and then change my mind. Every time. There are so many great minors available that, if I could, I would dedicate an extra year of college to completing three of them.

The semester I spent studying communication is the closest I’ve come to sticking with a minor. Things were going pretty well—until the English department introduced my dream minor, creative writing. And because it has fewer requirements than communication, I can even pursue a second minor: film.

As of now, I’m pretty confident that this will be where my search ends. But who knows? Game design is beginning to look intriguing . . .

The Invention of the Wheel

The smartest man in all the land,
Was given a special task.
Of his hand, by royal command,
For help, the King did ask.

“Use your head and build,” he said,
“A thing to help me travel.
Or I’ll behead and kill you dead.
Your life I will unravel.”

The man, confused, looked down bemused,
Pondering this challenge to meet.
Then he mused, (more than a bit amused,)
“Had not the King two feet?”

The King, in disdain, went on to explain,
What he wanted the man to make:
“Build me a crane that travels terrain,
My belongings and I to take.”

So, the man worked hard ‘til his hands were scarred,
To keep his side of the deal.
But his attempt was marred with utter disregard,
When, accidentally, he invented the wheel.

“This wheel is great, I must relate
My accomplishment to the King.”
So he rolled it straight to the royal estate
And to His Majesty the wheel did he bring.

The King, when he saw, nearly dropped his jaw
At the sight of this rolling wonder.
And still in awe, he lead a great “Hurrah!”
That ‘neath he and his stuff the wheel could go under.

Richard Cory

(an imitation of the original poem by E.A. Robinson)

When Richard Cory walked to and fro,
We townspeople watched his movements in awe.
He was the town’s most favorite beau,
Likened, quite nearly, to a demi-god.

And he possessed a quiet confidence,
And treated all men with their due respect.
No one could maintain his indifference,
When he spoke, causing women great affect.

And rich Sir Cory had want of nothing,
And was well learned in both art and science.
Not one I knew could, him- or herself, bring,
To say, “I dislike him,” in defiance.

So, we returned to our humble dwellings,
And dreamed of living Richard Cory’s life.
And Richard Cory intent on quelling,
Ended all he’d ever been, with a knife.

No, Mom

(Originally posted to my Tumblr on Jan 12, 2011.)

No, Mom, I didn’t wash the dishes.
Sorry that bothers you so much.
Sorry you think I sit around and do nothing all day.
Sorry I have my head in the clouds.
Sorry for thinking there’s something more, something better for me out there beyond the sky.
Sorry you don’t understand me.
Sorry you don’t even try to.
Sorry you’re a realist and I’m a dreamer.
Sorry this world’s been kinder to me than it probably has been to you.
Sorry my dreams haven’t yet been killed by the tragedies of life.
Sorry my dreams are bigger than any pot, pan, or coffee cup currently sitting in the sink.
No, Mom, I didn’t wash the dishes.
Sorry.