Tuesday, January 12, 2010

All Up In My Nasty Pieces

I’ve been told the streets of New York will make you feel brand new. Some even say the lights will inspire you.

That being said, Jay-Z has clearly never walked to his NYC hotel with a ginormous Adidas duffel bag and $15 boots in the hell that is mid-January.

Fresh off a snowy trip to the Big Apple two weeks ago, I once again stood in front of Penn Station last weekend, freezing and ready to celebrate Liz’s birthday.

The trip was already off to a better start thanks to a competent bus driver who had resisted the urge of Small Town America in favor of the less scenic but far more practical I-95. As much as I missed hearing my fellow passengers telling the bus driver to f himself, this ride up had been quite peaceful.

The walk from the bus to the hotel was less relaxing, and I came to the realization that some bodies are simply not made for sub-50 degree weather – mine being one of them.

Insanely jealous of the gentleman working outside of the Russian Tea Room who looked like an ass clown in his costume, but a very very warm ass clown, I stiffened my shoulders and walked the rest of the way looking very much like a transvestite linebacker.

The hotel we were staying in for the weekend, courtesy of Liz’s father, was beautiful and quite modern. And by modern I mean a bathroom without any locks or real doors, surrounded by nothing but glass and a bit of bamboo that still revealed one’s silhouette. Bridget and I were both disturbed by the sliding glass door to the shower that was accessible from the bed and were determined to find a remedy. I’m hardly Amish, but no one needs to see me peeing or shaving or washing my nether regions. Bridget seemed to agree.

We managed to fashion a covering over the glass doors that involved robes and coats and a chair and a bit of flexibility and were ready to get on with the evening.

That night we met our friend out at a bar where her roommate was working. I instantly fell in love with Shannon (fake name so I don’t get sued), not because of the large amounts of free alcohol she gave us, but because her 4’10” spunk was contagious.

After an unfortunate mixing of beverages “made with love”- and therefore abandon - by Shannon, we all headed over to another bar once her shift had ended.

This bar was not what one would call classy, but I’m a sucker for urban flair and was tempted to get my Save the Last Dance on. Guido style, that is.

After huddling in a corner for awhile, I was approached by an 18 year old Latino gentleman I will call Jose. Jose was a fan of hair gel but seemed kind, and only wanted me to dance with him. Normally I’m a big fan of underage Latin men, but as Liz began pushing me out onto the dance floor and I looked back at my three committed, happy, in love friends, I felt a sudden wave of “is this really what my love life has come down to” flash over me.

I politely told Jose I would not be able to dance with him but he asked a second time. I turned him away again as Krystie’s boyfriend lectured me about the terrifying act of asking a girl to dance and informing me I was a horrible person. Noted.

I felt pretty shitty at that moment, but Jose was not to be denied. He swung back around for round three, this time actually begging me, complete with prayer-formed boy hands. Shannon cut in at this moment, all 4’10” of her, and set Jose – and another guy who was after Bridget - straight.

“Look, these are my girls. We’re lesbians. Get away.”

Shannon turned to us, disgusted. “I don’t want them rubbing their nasty pieces all up on me.”

[Editor’s note: We found out the following evening that Shannon actually WAS a lesbian (bisexual to be exact), and she actually wanted Bridget to be HER GIRL, and she actually wanted Bridget’s nasty pieces all up on HER. Let me now take another moment to laugh].

Turning me straight was too weighty a task for Jose and he promptly walked away. A few minutes later we were approached by a group of gentleman in their 30’s who asked us all to dance. A few of us protested before the one guy said, “Hey, I’m married, it’s just a dance.”

Dragged out onto the floor, I began dancing with his friend, who promptly asked me if I was married. After informing him that I was not the chain to someone’s ball, he creepily slid an arm around my waist and said “well I am.”

Seriously considering becoming a lesbian with Shannon after this disgusting remark, I moved away to see her and Bridget grinding on the dance floor. Poor Bridget had unknowingly become a tease.

We decided it was finally time to leave after a 400 pound man puked on a couch dangerously close to our belongings. I had yet to find my soulmate and Bridget was leading on a lesbian.

The following morning, after spending an hour lying on the hardwood floor of the hotel room, I was beginning to think Shannon had made our drinks with a little bit more than love. Perhaps a ruffee.

Despite my stomach ache, I managed to shovel down a generous helping of zucchini bread, a bagel, a large bowl of fresh fruit and some walnuts at the delicious hotel breakfast. Far be it from me to turn down free food.

The rest of the day was spent shopping, eating some more, and then eating again at a hotel cocktail hour before getting ready to go out and…eat again.

There are few things more delightful than the concept of pigs-in-a-blanket, and I helped myself to one too many before plopping down at a Moroccan restaurant shortly thereafter for Liz’s birthday dinner.

While I wasn’t a fan of the low seating that seemed to highlight a stomach roll working its way up above my pants, the place was delightful and the food was great. After spilling half a shell of mussel juice into Krysite’s glass of Sangria (sorry Krystie …but clearly you didn’t taste it), I slipped away to the bathroom. Upon my return, I was trapped at the bottom of the staircase by a belly dancer who herself was a bit too close to my nasty pieces. Five minutes later, I maneuvered my away around her stomach and back to the table.

The rest of the evening was very low key and after nearly falling asleep on the subway, I felt a little sad that 23 and 24 (in Liz’s case) clearly marked the beginning of old age. 12 year old fresh-faced Jose didn’t know how good he had it.

The following morning after voicing our complaints that Secrets of Aspen and Teen Mom were freezing on our TV screen, we left the hotel, said our goodbyes to Bridget and got back on the bus.

Our bus driver was a gem of a man, and spent the first fifteen minutes of our trip rattling off such wise instructions as, “it is against bus regulations to take off your shoes, but frankly folks, I don’t mind. HOWEVER, one bad foot can turn this whole bus out. Trust me, it HAAAASSS happened. If you know your feet ain’t right, do us a fayyyyvor and keep ya shoes onnnn.”
Gentlemen on the bus were told to “be a sweetie and wipe the seaty” in the bathroom, as if “yo moma was comin in after you,” and with that, we were on our way.

Taking a moment to reflect on another weekend in NYC, I wondered whether or not Bridget and Shannon would make a go of it. I loved Bridget’s boyfriend and was secretly rooting for him, but the idea of free drinks from Shannon was a nice concept.

I knew Bridget was incredibly embarrassed and hardly amused by the entire situation, but she could take comfort in one small, 4’10” thing.

At least it’s a good story.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

You Broke This!

After a few months sans a bus trip, I decided to hit the road in late December. Destination: the big Apple. Transportation: Chinatown wagon.

Despite severe snow warnings, I packed my things and hopped on a Friday afternoon bus to NYC. The driver was a native English speaker, a pleasant holiday surprise. I smiled and walked down the aisle, hauling my backpack and purse behind me. After a very unfortunate Greyhound incident circa 2005 in which my bags were placed on a bus headed to Salt Lake City, I have since kept all belongings on or around my person when traveling.

As is the case with every bus trip I take, I took a moment to scan the rows for potential boyfriends. I found no such gentlemen who fit the bill, and was forced to sit next to a man who had trouble understanding basic American physical boundaries. He also appeared to be doing some sort of physical therapy, his legs strapped inside a rubber band contraption that would expand and contract against my thighs.

I decided to take a quick nap while my seat mate went spread Eagle. I woke up about half an hour later, unsure of my surroundings. I didn’t see a trio of homeless men on a bench with “the City that Reads” etchings covered in bird shit, so I knew we weren’t in Baltimore. I then became very alarmed as I realized we were driving around Annapolis. The water was beautiful, but this was not right.

An hour later, yet to see a highway, we were parading down the quaint main streets of Wilmington Delaware, population 7. This, too, was not right.

After several additional hours touring America’s Small Towns, we were finally approaching the city. The driver, however, had one more surprise in store for us: a one hour, complimentary tour of Jersey city.

“WHERE THE F*^K are we!” a man yelled. Sensing a bus on the brink of a riot, I searched for a pen and notebook. The disabled man next to me was getting increasingly annoyed and began talking on the phone to a family member. “We’re going to be late. This driver is taking us through f@#&@& @ Kansas!”

There is indeed no place like home, and I was delighted to finally arrive in NYC a mere six hours after departure. On the bright side, the Mormons weren’t going to get my bags. Not this time.
Stepping off the bus with what I believed to be one to two drops of pee collecting in my leggings, I had to look for a bathroom ASAP. The intense cold did not help matters, and I realized the grave error in wardrobe judgment I had made, dress shoes and leggings be damned.
I eventually found a bathroom in Penn Station, pausing to note the “no bathing” sign that greeted me at the door. Apparently they had heard about my incident in the Boston train station earlier that year.

Unfortunately, I could not fit into the stall with my backpack and had to wait for Bridget to arrive. This seemed incredibly discriminatory to old ladies with massive hunchbacks, but I had no time to concern myself with human rights issues.

Bridget arrived a few minutes later and we headed to a Southern eatery for dinner. I have always enjoyed corn and took immense pleasure in a delicacy known as the corn fritter, cousin of corn bread and friend to all – except diabetics. I felt approximately 52 pounds heavier after the meal, but enjoyed the experience nevertheless.

The night continued with a trip to a karaoke establishment akin in appearance to a Chinatown brothel slash cocaine den. The owners clearly put more effort into the interior and made my karaoke experience one to remember, despite the fact that I refused to sing and played a weak tambourine.

We had to haul ass a few hours later to catch the final train to Bridget’s town on Long Island and while I couldn’t smell it, I was fairly certain one or more of my toes were now bleeding. While examining each of my toenails to pin point where said blood had originated, the LIRR announced there would be no more trains to Babylon for the night. At 2:30 am, our only option was to take a one hour subway ride 20 stops to Jamaica. Once in Jamaica, I asked Bridget if we could run across the street to the fried chicken establishment so I could change into pants. I was then told, in kinder words, that doing so would result in an inevitable rape/murder combo.

Instead, I was forced to put on sweatpants over my leggings on the train platform. I am told several people were taken aback by this gesture, but c’est la vie.

After another train ride and a cab, we arrived at Bridget’s house at the ripe hour of 5 am.

Originally scheduled to meet our friends in the city the following morning, we woke up to a street full of snow. Despite my disappointment that the reunion was a bust, the idea of being snowed in with Bridget’s family was oddly appealing.

Not to be disappointed, that afternoon I had the pleasure of watching Bridget’s father insist on snow plowing the neighbor’s driveway, who repeatedly asked him to stop doing so. Ready for a bowl of popcorn and a box of Entemann’s, I watched as the man waved broken pieces of plastic in the air and shouted, “You broke this!” Bridget’s father continued to plow over more broken bits while yelling, “was it expensive?” Unphased by the entire ordeal, he entered the house shortly thereafter, announcing that “McStuds” was in the building. No one could argue with that.

The rest of the day was spent shoveling, eating and playing a particularly competitive round of snow basketball, during which time I may have cracked my left knee cap. After tasting what I thought to be blood in my mouth, we called it quits and spent the rest of the evening inside.

The following day all the buses were cancelled and I was snowed in with the McElroys for one more evening. Sitting around as Bridget’s grandfather ate a tub of Farina and her parrot recovered from a drunken episode linked to a fermented pomegranate, the weekend had turned into something quite different.

It turned into a good story.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

So This Is Where the Wild Stuff Happens!

In my first real trip since leaving Ireland a year ago, I made the trek to Boston this past weekend with Bridget and Liz. Many of the events that ensued will haunt me for years to come. All will provide me with endless joy.

I took a ten hour train from Boston to DC on Thursday night, which was unfortunately quite uneventful. No one massaged my leg or told me I was gorgeous.

When I arrived at Boston South Station, I had some time to kill before Bridget was coming and was looking a bit worse for wear. It seemed appropriate at the time to relocate to the train station bathroom, where I proceeded to shampoo and condition my hair in the tiny sink. Many patrons seemed disturbed, but I continued about my business, wrapping my hair in a long-sleeved shirt when the washing was complete, turban style. Moving my backpack and purse and hoodie to the corner, I pulled out my make-up and put on a fresh face. I'm fairly certain several people thought I had cancer, others a mental illness.

After I freshened up, I searched the train station for an electrical outlet. I wasn't about to leave the station with wet hair.

I finally came across a seemingly 100 year old socket in the middle of the station directly across from a Dunkin Donuts, where I pulled out my hair dryer and sculpted my clean locks. I made the decision to keep my head down to avoid making eye contact with anyone else, while simultaneously keeping a look out for the po po. This was hardly the time to get arrested.

After getting my physical appearance in order, I sat down to finish reading A Prayer for Owen Meany. This was a huge mistake, as the end was horribly sad and I suddenly burst into tears, sobbing uncontrollably before excusing myself from a crowd of people and moving my things to another part of the station. Once again, I was next to the Dunkin Donuts.

I plopped down next to two lesbians as a man came around asking for money to buy a coffee. “Honest to God, I’d give you money, but I’m homeless, too,” the lesbian said.

“I’m not homeless!” the man said. “I just want a cup of coffee. "

Bridget arrived just in time, as it was getting awkward and I was pretty sure I would no longer be welcome at South Station.

I had booked a hostel for us near Back Bay, within the Boston metro area. Liz and Bridget were very skeptical of this from the very start, as the reviews described the YWCA as more of a halfway house for elderly people. But the place was cheap and in a good location and I was confident I had seen worse.

Still, I became very nervous walking there for the first time. We were pleasantly surprised when we walked into the lobby, which looked like a college dorm. And then we were greeted by the smell. Reminiscent of a nursing home, it stung the nostrils.

It took us awhile to check-in and the man at the front desk seemed to be very confused by our multiple debit and credit cards. We finally made it to our room on the fifth floor. It was not what one would call "inviting" or "homey" or "fresh-smelling," and consisted of three cots, a desk, a lamp and a lovely set of drapes. Nevertheless, this was our home for the weekend.

Bridget went to the bathroom, and after nearly ten minutes, I stepped outside to see what was taking so long. Bridget was standing in the hallway speaking to an old lady, who had been complaining about the state of the restrooms. “They made this bathroom co-ed as of last week and I don’t like it! I was in there takin a tinkle and I saw feet on the other side and I said to myself, ‘hold on, that’s a man in there!’

Moments later Bridget escaped and we survived the evening unscathed. The next morning we went to Coolidge Corner, where we had an amazing brunch at Zaftig's, consisting of chocolate french toast with raspberry sauce. Bridget looked a dusting of powdered sugar away from puking but we managed to finish like champs and moved on to Fenway Park.

During our tour of the stadium, a lovely 80 year old man working there invited us out for tea and cookies. We politely declined before he launched into an inappropriate story involving a 30 year old woman with children who once propositioned him in exchange for the chance to wear his World Series rings. "I didn't say yes, but that night alone in my room I second guessed myself. I'm only human, girls! I'm only human." Enough said.

After a delightful hour or two spent relaxing in Boston Common and the Public Garden, Bridget and I met Liz, who had flown in that evening. We walked her back to the hostel, where she immediately berrated me for my decision to book this place and insisted there was smeared feces on the wall next to her pillow. We agreed to disagree.

It was in the bathroom that we first met an elderly woman who told us she had been living at the YWCA for 2o years. This revelation was incredibly disturbing to all of us, as was the amount of time she spent in the bathroom stall. The poor woman, God bless her, was not all there, and began making me feel very uncomfortable. I made a mental note to remind my parents to treat me well if they had any hope of avoiding an equally dismal future.

Waiting in the hostel room while Liz dropped off her things, we heard a pounding at our door, and were greeted by a rather large, older black woman in a housecoat and slippers. "I'm ya neighba! Ya don't need to slam ya doors!" The scary woman spent the next minute demonstrating how to properly close our door without disturbing her. We took that as our cue to hit the town.

That evening we went to Sissy's K's in Faneuil Hall for wings and beer. It was here, among all the glorious accents, that I came to the conclusion that I will one day wed a Boston firefighter. A Boston firefighter who gives up his dangerous line of work once we start a family, while still maintaining his firefighter physique.

The following morning we took advantage of the free breakfast at the hostel. I stood in line in the kitchen, watching in fear as an incredibly tough looking woman began to cause a scene.

"We're supposed to get french toast or pancakes everyday and this is the FOURTH day without any of it. I need to speak to a manager!"

I wondered if she had ever been in a female prison gang as I reached for my bagel. Bridget opted for a belgian waffle, proceeding to confuse the multiple condiment bottles and pouring what she thought was syrup all over her hot treat. In an unfortunate turn of events, it was vinegar.

After breakfast we took a train to Salem in search of witches past and present. The Loch Ness of the United States for me, I was very excited about our trip.

Our first stop was the Salem Witch Museum, which was equal parts cheesy and disturbing, the "disturbing" portions being those when our tour guide, a legit Wicken, showed us the ceremonial Wicken robes and explained that they were "just like everybody else." Except not really.

After the witch museum we toured the House of the Seven Gables, the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of the same name. This was of particular interest to me, as Hawthorne has been my homeboy since I read The Scarlet Letter in eleventh grade. After touring the gables house, including a sweet hidden staircase up through a chimney, we then entered Hawthorne's actual place of birth. There was one tour guide sitting at the door and she told us we were free to look around. Thus, we thought we were alone.

Entering the bedroom on the second floor, we debated Hawthorne's hotness while admiring a striking portrait of the author as a 20-something. Turning to the bed, I exclaimed, "So this is where the wild stuff happens!"

We walked through the doorway to see a second tour guide sitting in a chair. She looked less than pleased with my comments and we quickly made our way downstairs before we were asked to leave.

After indulging in some delicious witches brew ice cream, we walked the adorable streets of Salem before making a pit stop at the cemetery/Salem Witch trial memorial. Of particular note were the numerous open containers of cat food next to several graves. During our walk through the cemetery, I went over my funeral arrangements one more time with Bridget and Liz. Should I pass before them, I instructed them to have my lower half cremated, preserving my torso up for display at the funeral. This has always seemed like a win-win situation to me. Friends and family can pay their respects at get one last look at my mug in the casket, while my legs and feet, the instruments that allowed me to go so many places, can be scattered around the world. They both seemed upset by this and we left the cemetery shortly thereafter.

That night we returned to the hostel to a horrific smell. It was as if someone had collected 15 soiled diapers and placed them in various locations throughout the 5th floor. And then shit one last time on the walls for good measure. Liz was not amused and began holding her shirt above her mouth/nose region. On the bright side, our room suddenly smelled much better in comparison.

Entering the bathroom with my nose pinched shut, I immediately recognized the crazy lady's sandal-clad feet in the middle stall. Sitting in the stall to the right, I dropped approximately 8 coins out of my pants pocket. The crazy lady began kicking the coins back over with her sandal. "I can't reach the nickel yet," she explained. A minute later the final nickel sailed back over to me.

The following morning I got up early to take a shower. The soiled diaper smelled had disappeared, but the crazy lady had not. She was once again in the bathroom with her plastic CVS bag and a bucket. Putting on my make-up, I was certain she had exited the bathroom a few minutes later. About half an hour into my morning routine, a girl got into one of the showers and began struggling with the hot water.

"Counter clockwise," a voice from the middle stall muttered. Why / how was the crazy lady STILL in the bathroom stall 30 minutes later!? Upset and confused, I exited the bathroom and we left for the day.

On our way to a Duck Tour of the city, we stopped inside of a Scientology church. The vibe was very unsettling as a woman herded us into an elevator and closed the doors. It was one thing if Tom Cruise or John Travolta were in attendance, but otherwise I had places to be.

We escaped the Church of Scientology and boarded our Duck Tour bus, one of those vehicles that transforms, Ms. Frizzle style, into a boat. Our tour guide was a real dimepiece and took to barking at dogs and quacking at pedestrians. As is the case with any tour, we had the standard douche bag behind us who would not stop talking and felt the need to yell out answers to questions instead of allowing the tour guide to do so. This particular D-bag was a woman from Philadelphia and by the end of the tour I had the urge to physically assault her.

We were starving by the end of the tour and headed to the Union Oyster house, the oldest restaurant in America, for a bowl of clam chowder and some mussels. We then hit the Freedom Trail, during which time I posed for pictures on a Republican donkey while making inappropriate gestures and purchased a stuffed animal/beanie baby-esque baked bean named Poot, who is now sitting proudly in my cubicle.

In a decision I still question, we reached Bunker Hill and climbed all 294 steps to the top of the monument. By the time we turned around, walked the rest of the Freedom Trail and returned to Boston Common, the middle toe of my right foot felt very inflamed. Still, we pressed on and returned to the hostel. On our walk back, we noticed the large pile of trash that had been spread out on the sidewalk since our first day there. If the box of Wheat Thins was still there the next morning, I was going to claim them. Someone else could have the open bottle of honey mustard and the box of tampons.

We spent as little time in the hostel as possible before heading out for dinner in the North End, the Italian neighborhood in Boston famous for its delicious food. Our waitress was a real bitch, and felt the need to correct my pronuncation of 'gnocci.' She also lost server of the year by never refilling our water glasses, correcting Bridget's pronunciation of another dish, practically throwing my salad down onto the table and giving off a very unpleasant attitude. Luckily, my food was great. Liz, on the other hand, did not enjoy her ravioli. She insisted we leave no more that a 10% tip for the horrible service, instructing us to quickly gather our belongings before the waitress had the opportunity to confront us.

In a stroke of pure luck (and maybe a little fate), we stumbled upon the Black Rose. It was full of nothing but Irish men, and we suddenly felt like we were back in Galway. Our time was well spent at the Black Rose, as one of us most likely found her soulmate, a gentleman with a four bedroom house in Galway. Translation: a place for me to summer.

The guys began complaining about the women at home, explaining, "when Irish girls look at American girls, they think $&%, time to hit the gym."

I suddenly felt less guilty about the foot-long Italian sausage I had recently consumed.

After inappropriately telling said gentleman approximately 20 times that he needed to marry my friend, we went to a second bar in South Boston that was even more Irish than the first. We were all seconds away from peeing through our jeans and were forced to relieve ourselves in a public parking lot. Some of us were less discreet than others. You know who you are.

There was a huge line to get in to the bar and several Irish girls were shoving in front of us. Liz was not having it.

"Excuse me!" she yelled over the crowd. "We are in the United States, aren't we? And you all speak ENGLISH? Because in AMERICA, this is what we call a line."

One of the Irish girls moved slightly closer to Liz and gave her an excuse for her behavior.

"I understand," Liz replied. "And that would be a LINE CUT."

With that, we were in the door, only to leave ten minutes later when last call was announced.

Our last night in the hostel was uneventful, but we woke up to find a piece of paper under our door asking us to be quiet. I was sad to say goodbye to our room but it was time to move on. Giving my final respects to the bathroom, including the sign warning guests that "oily shower stalls could be slipper," I headed down to the lobby to check out with the girls.

"The guy who checked you girls in made a real mess of things!" the lady at the front desk announced. "You girls in a hurry?"

"Yes, kind of," Bridget said.

"Well let's have a seat and get comfortable."

The woman spent the next ten minutes pulling out about 15 sheets of paper with voided credit card statements, purchases and returns, all the while referring to each of us by the other one's name. Bridget politely nodded, Liz appeared to be five seconds away from a throw down and I began laughing uncontrollably in the woman's face. We finally got thing squared away and busted out of the YWCA. Boston, and our time in the nursing home, had come to an end.

My amazing weekend in Boston is now over, but I take comfort in the knowledge that I will one day return to the beantown YWCA, if only to say hello to the crazy lady. While there, I'll pull the shampoo and conditioner out of my very own CVS bag and begin washing in the sink. A new group of friends will enter the bathroom for the first time, and I will ceremoniously become the new crazy on the block.

Con: I doubt any Boston firefighters will want me.

Pro: At least it's a good story.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Laura, Have Some Cookies

Sprawled out on the floor of the doctor’s office yesterday afternoon as two women handed me Nilla wafers, it became apparent that I was what one might call “prone” to passing out.

I passed out for the first time in the tenth grade during a family trip to Mount Vernon. Touring the old home, I felt incredibly hot and nauseous and moved over to the staircase to take a breather. I remember telling my brother I felt sick – just as I had at the movie theater – before waking up on the ground with my mother and a geriatric stranger underneath of me. I still feel particularly sorry for the elderly gentleman, as it was no small task to keep all of my dead weight from crashing to the ground. Tenth grade was not a particularly slender year for me, as you may remember.

The fact that I had passed out was of less concern to me than the state of my bangs, which my mother had started to smooth down to the sides of my forehead to make way for the wet paper towel. I was too weak to speak, but wanted to somehow express to her that my bangs were to be left on my face as-is.

A security guard got me a cup of water and escorted me to a special building, where he made a mandatory call to Mount Vernon security. “We have a woman here who passed out, looks to be around 28 or so.”

I was thrilled to pass for a 28 year-old, not realizing at the time that any 14 year-old who looks to be approaching thirty probably has some weight issues. Attempting to correct my bang situation, I assured my parents I was fine and we continued on with our tour.

A year later I passed out a second time after over-exerting myself during a particularly intense game of pick-up basketball on a Carnival cruise. I was determined to keep up with the guys on the court and had enough self-control to remain conscious until I returned to my cabin. I spent the next 15 minutes sitting on the floor of the shower stall, barely conscious and reminding myself that it would be incredibly inopportune to faint in a tiny cruise ship shower with the door locked. My brother was involved in an all-day ping pong tournament and wouldn’t be back to find me for hours.

Head traumas replaced fainting spells the following year, the first incident occurring during a Powder Puff football game in college. I am an incredibly competitive individual and treat most recreational sports with a disturbing level of seriousness traditionally reserved for professional athletics. Our team was behind with a minute or two remaining and I knew I had to get a touchdown or risk losing the game. Our quarterback launched a decent spiral into the air and I leapt in the end zone, forgetting I was neither in the NFL nor wearing padding of any sort. The result was a dropped ball and several torn ligaments in my neck.

That winter I continued to use and abuse my head in an effort to ensure permanent brain damage. Vacationing in Pennsylvania with my family and cousins, I decided to spice things up a bit. I could think of no greater game than launching my clog as far as possible in my cousin’s front yard, and insisted my family gather around as I prepared for the event. In all my excitement over another competition, I neglected to notice the large patches of ice below my feet, walking briskly on the driveway before shooting my right leg up in the air to launch the clog. My shoe went skyrocketing into the air as I slipped on a patch of ice and slammed the back of my head onto the driveway. My brother began laughing before realizing I was both unable to breath properly and crying. This didn’t seem to affect him greatly, as he refused to retrieve my clog. My New Year’s resolution the next evening was pretty clear: no concussions in 2006.

Much like my other resolutions in years past, I made it approximately three months concussion free before breaking the streak. Our school had an annual spring festival and I was delighted one Saturday in April to discover an assortment of challenges and games on the quad. Of particular interest was a huge moon bounce-esque obstacle course that was calling my name. I insisted on participating and encouraged my suitemate’s friend to race me through the course.

A normal person would have treated this moment as a friendly, fun activity, but I was not created like most, and saw the moon bounce challenge as the perfect opportunity to showcase my athletic prowess.

There was a small circular opening that you had to crawl through to enter the course, but when the whistle blew I decided to leap head first through the hole in an effort to shave a few seconds off of my course time. What I had not anticipated was bouncing into the air by way of head-first dive before landing directly on my neck, where I remained contorted for the next three minutes, convinced I was paralyzed. There was a very disturbing hot, tingling sensation in my neck, and I pictured my life as a paraplegic.

Finally managing to roll over, I knew I had to finish the course even if I had no hope of winning. (Picture the final scene in Cool Runnings).

I was incredibly disoriented as I pushed through the barricades and made my way to the climbing wall to find my competitor just in front of me. With a renewed zest, I leapt up the climbing wall, neck and neck with the other girl. The final portion of the course was a slide, but time was ticking and I decided to take another approach and jump off the top instead. I neglected to take into consideration the trampoline properties of a moon bounce, hitting the bottom of the obstacle course before being launched several feet away into the grassy quad, where I landed on my knees. I spent the next two days in a neck brace, distressed that my New Year’s resolution was already broken. ONE concussion in 2006!

I evaded head trauma for the remainder of sophomore year before returning to my tried and true fainting episodes the following fall. I had been holed up in the library working on a project for my journalism class. Looking through a heavy metal filing cabinet of newspaper archives, I located my article and slammed the filing drawer shut…right on my finger. The pain was surprisingly intense and I suddenly felt very faint. Never one to cause a scene, I discreetly walked behind the cabinets and out of eyesight before passing out like a true lady. I woke up soon thereafter, staring up at the ceiling before calmly exiting the library and calling my roommate. “Yeah…I’m gonna be a little late for dinner.”

My bad luck continued after college when I moved to Ireland and managed to produce a stomach ulcer requiring hospital attention. I have never been good with blood and immediately felt dizzy as the doctor stuck the needle in my arm. Moments later I was channeling the spirit of the exorcist, thrashing about wildly on the hospital table and knocking the needle out of my arm and onto the ground. I woke up to discover blood all over the place and my body drenched in sweat. Apparently I had not only passed out, but seized as well.

“I can’t find the needle!” the doctor said, searching the floor rather annoyed. Oh I’m sorry, I know this must be traumatizing for YOU.

Another phone call was made to my roommate, once again informing her I would be late for dinner. Seizure or no seizure, I still had manners.

Things continued to go downhill upon my return to the U.S., where I ha d the pleasure of passing out yet again, this time at the “lady doctor.” Mental note: paper gowns tear quite easily.

After fainting in my birthday suit, it became quite clear I had a serious problem on my hands. If I couldn’t withstand a tiny needle or physical exam, how the hell was I going to birth a child!?

I pushed these fears to the back of my mind as I entered the doctor’s office yesterday. I was simply going to get my ear checked, no need to faint.

Sitting on the stool as the nurse’s aide shoved a metal instrument into my ear, I started feeling a little nauseous. I knew my face was beginning to get pale and decided to nip this thing in the bud. “Umm could I just have a quick drink of water and lay down for a minute, I feel a bit faint,” I said.

After relaxing for a few minutes, I felt better and moved back over to the stool, where the nurse continued to stab into my ear canal. Once again, my face was draining of all color. “Yeah, I’m going to have to have another drink,” I said, standing up and walking over to the table. Just as the bathroom evaded me during Jungle 2 Jungle, I never made it to the table either, instead collapsing on the tile floor. When I came to, I was sprawled out on the floor, my hair a hot mess.
“Laura, are you okay? Laura, have some cookies,” the nurse said. I wanted to tell her my name was in fact “Lauren” but this didn’t seem like the time or place. Laura graciously accepted Nilla wafers while the doctor attempted to locate some orange juice. “The juice is expired,” she stated, and I settled for tap water.

I apologized multiple times to the doctors before smoothing down my dress and returning to the stool. “You’re going to have a serious problem when you have a child,” the doctor said.

As I drove back to work that afternoon, my hair pasted to my face, I began to ponder my next fainting spell. Would I pass out in the frozen food section, sprawled on top of the cream cheese containers? Or perhaps on a date, slipping out of consciousness mid-kiss. He would just think he was THAT good.

“No, really, I’m having a lovely time,” I would have to say, sweat dripping down my back, “but I’m going to need a candy bar, a moist towelette and a flat surface ASAP.”

The date would be surely be ruined, but as I sat there nibbling on my Butterfinger, I would see the one ray of sun peeking out through the storm cloud.

At least it’s a good story.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I'm Telling You, I Itch!

A few days ago, my roommate expressed her concern regarding accommodations for our trip to Boston this September. The only reasonable hotels were located miles outside the city limits and we had no friends to speak of in the New England area. This only left one option: the hostel.

I have seen my fair share of hostels in the last two years and recognized Liz’s concerns. Yet, much like the public bus, I have always felt a sort of kinship to this cheap, if not sketchy, form of shelter.

My first hostel experience occurred two years ago during my time abroad. A few weeks into my trip, I spent a weekend in Wales. This initial hostel experience spoiled me, and I left the lovely abode with a disillusioned sense of cheap travel. Breakfast was free, the sheets appeared to be clean and there was a lovely den, complete with a fireplace and library for all to enjoy. Hostels were okay in my book.

After a handful of perfectly fine experiences in other places, my roommates and I began planning our spring break trip to Italy. Seasoned travelers by that point, or so we thought, we were confident in booking our own accommodations and secured our own hostels for both Rome and Florence. We had gone to the local STA office a few weeks prior and decided to let our cute travel agent, Toby, go ahead and book Venice on our behalf.

With uneventful stays in both Rome and Florence, we arrived in Venice eager to see what sort of palace Toby had booked.

After a ferry ride away from the touristy portion of Venice, we arrived at our hostel. Stepping inside, something did not seem right. Accustomed to the traditional 20-something crowd, we were surprised to see a soccer team full of 9 year-old boys in the cafeteria - the cafeteria which also served as the lobby.

We walked up to the front desk to check-in, slightly disturbed to find an elderly woman fishing through a giant laundry bin to our left. We soon learned this was where you fetched your “fresh” linens.

Despite some initial concerns, we lugged our suitcases up the stairs with a sense of hope. We would be spending our Easter here, afterall.

Trudging up to the top of the steps, we were immediately accosted by walls painted an ungodly shade of bright yellow. Instantly regretting that my sunglasses were out of reach, I proceeded ahead of the others and took a peak in our room.

I’ve never toured a women’s prison before, but I imagined it would have an uncanny look and feel to the room I was currently looking into.

Over 15 sets of bunk beds were lined up in the narrow space, stacked three high and nearly touching the ceiling. A cluster of Asian women were huddled together near the front of the room, muttering in broken English. I tried to prepare the girls as they walked over.

“Picture a prison.”

Hauling our luggage past the United Nations Women’s Correctional Gang, I was getting pretty alarmed. Damn that Toby!

By some small miracle I was to sleep on one of the bottom bunks, two strangers above me. I had enough trouble maneuvering a traditional set of bunk beds, never mind a threesome.

That evening I attempted to get a good night’s rest, which was incredibly difficult as the woman on top of me – so to speak – began yelling at the girls in the adjoining room to shut up. I imagined my life as this woman's bitch, forced to get a cropped haircut and go by the name of Lawrence.

The next morning I woke up feeling particularly itchy, but it was Easter morning and I had no time to dwell on paranoia. Besides, I had a free hot breakfast to look forward to!

We got dressed, squinted past the yellow walls and arrived at the cafeteria, where we grabbed trays and got in the serving line.

“Hot chocolate or coffee?” the woman on the other side asked me.

“Umm orange juice?”


Apparently write-ins were not acceptable. Grabbing my cup of hot chocolate, I waited for the next woman to serve me my breakfast. Instead, she plopped a hard roll on my tray and nudged me along.

Hot chocolate and a hard roll without butter were bad enough, but it was Easter morning! Toby would hear about this.

We sat silently at the table, gnawing at our rolls. I’ve always had a hearty appetite and one roll wasn’t going to hold me over for an hour, much less until lunch. After our five course meal, we bought some fruit at a local store, which once again hardly seemed sufficient. But food was becoming the least of my worries. The itching had not stopped.

That night we flew back to England. The next morning I woke up covered in little red bumps and was itching like crazy. My one roommate insisted this was “all in my head”, which was somewhat true. The red bumps WERE on my head, too.

After some frantic Google investigating, I came to the disturbing conclusion that thanks to Toby, I had gotten a troubling case of bed bugs from the Venetian prison.

For those of you who are fortunate enough to have never come down with bed bugs, the itching is not nearly as bad as the mental warfare this condition creates. To know your skin is infested with bugs you picked up from sheets out of a communal bin is a realization I wish on nobody. Well, except for Toby.

I purchased some anti-itch cream and looked like quite the prize as I answered the door that evening, covered in white medicated spots, to greet our very attractive handyman. Life was good.

I spent the rest of my time in England trying to avoid yellow walls and managed to return to the U.S. with nothing more than a slight mental condition.

The following year I arrived in Ireland and was generally pleased with the hostels I encountered. In the next five months I traveled the country without a harrowing story to be told.

And then I went back to England.

I had decided to return to Bath for a few days before moving back to the U.S., but was slightly apprehensive about my travel arrangements. Bridget wasn’t coming with me and it would be first time staying in a hostel without a friend.

Bath has very few accommodation options and I settled for the cheapest place I could find in the center of town. I didn’t plan on spending much time in the room anyway, and was willing to sacrifice a little luxury.

Had I known the emotional basket case I would become after leaving Ireland, I would have booked a private suite at the Ritz-Carlton, no expenses spared. I spent the first night in Bath sobbing uncontrollably in my hostel bed, which must have been very alarming for the five men who were sharing my room. Bridget was gone, Ireland was but a memory and I was miserable. Wearing flip flops in the shower and sleeping on top of my passport and valuables did not help. Listening to the man in the bunk next to mine moaning while lying in boxer briefs was no consolation, either.

The next day I was supposed to stay with an old high school friend who was living in a neighboring town, but plans fell through late in the day. Sitting in the basement of my old school after visiting my study abroad tutors, I realized I was without a place to stay that night. If I left the townhouse to venture out for food, there would be no guarantee I’d get back in. The tutors closed the building after 5 and if you didn’t know the code on the door pad, you couldn’t get in.
I sat at the computer, contemplating my options. It would be nearly impossible to find a hostel with an open bed and the couch in the basement looked pretty cozy. I knew a security guard came around at midnight to check the building, but I was praying he would go no further than the classrooms and bypass the basement turned living quarters.

It was only 6 pm and I had no more than a few cookies on me. Rationing them out over the next six hours like a World War II housewife feeding her eleven children, I moved to the couch around 10 pm. Setting an open textbook out on the table in front of me and keeping the lights on, I created the perfect scene. Should the security guard come downstairs, I would simply tell him I had fallen asleep studying.

I drifted off to sleep moments later, shivering on the tiny couch in my sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers. British plumbing and heating, FYI, is deplorable.

A few hours later, I woke up to the sound of someone coming down the steps. Oh God, I suddenly thought, springing up on the couch, what have I done?!

A security guard came around the corner to find me sitting on the couch, calmly holding a textbook. I tried to play it cool, rubbing my eyes and shaking my head. “Oh geez, I must have fallen asleep while studying!” I said, quickly gathering my things.

“That’s okay,” the pleasant man said, walking me outside. “Are you okay?”

“Oh yes,” I lied, standing there like a crazy bag lady with my backpack and a pair of sneakers in my hand. “I’m just going to head back to the house.”

A lot of thoughts crossed my mind as I wandered the streets of Bath at midnight, the most frequent of which being, “OH SHIT.” It was a freezing October night and I had nowhere to go, surrounded by crowds of drunken teenagers. If you’ve ever lived in England, you understand just how frightening those British adolescents can be.

I went to two hostels, both of which were full for the evening. I’m a fairly calm traveler but the idea of sleeping under the Pultney Bridge was too much, and despite falling for a very attractive homeless man the year prior, I had serious doubts he would still be in front of that same McDonalds, willing to lead me to a safe corner of town.

1 a.m. came and went before I stumbled upon one final YMCA hostel. By the grace of God, they informed me there were two beds available. I had never been so happy to sleep in a communal room in my entire life.

The next, and last, evening of my stay, I returned to the first hostel. The moaning man was still there.

Two more guys had also moved into the room and chatted with me briefly before going out to explore the city. With the room to myself for a short period of time, I began condensing my bags. Aer Lingus was a real bitch about excess luggage and I knew I’d have to throw away a few of my items prior to take-off. With that in mind, I tossed my Adidas shoes into the trashcan, taking a moment of silence to remember all the places they had been.

A few hours later the two guys returned. I watched from my bed as one of them walked over to the trashcan, peering in and yelling to his buddy. “Dude, someone left really good shoes in here!”
I raised the book I was reading in front of my face to conceal my laughter.

“Seriously, look at these,” he said, picking the right shoe up and examining it in the air.

“Don’t pick that up, you don’t know where that’s been!” the other one said.

The friend ignored him and continued inspecting my shoes. I watched in horror as he lowered his face into one of them. “They kind of smell and I think they might be women’s, but they’re in really good shape. Dude these are GOOD shoes! Why would someone throw them out?”

His friend looked fairly disgusted. "There's got to be a reason someone threw them out!"

Wholly unconvinced, the guy at the trashcan picked up the left counterpart and walked over to his bunk to try them on. “Fit like a GLOVE dude.”

It was incredibly hard to stifle my laughter as I watched the new shoe owner beaming at his second-hand Adidas before taking them off and placing them neatly next to his bunk.

That night after the boys went out on the town, I considered leaving a note on the shoes.

“Dude…these ARE women’s shoes. They were mine.” -Lauren.

Instead, I left the hostel quietly that night and headed to the train station, happy my shoes would continue to lead a life of travel and adventure. It was time for me to go home, but they had other places to see.

The following day I returned to the U.S. and the comforts of my own room, finally free from another hostel experience gone wrong.

My stay in Boston next month will be just shy of the one year anniversary since my last hostel experience in England and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate. Some prefer the luxuries of a clean hotel room, but I’m partial to the hostel, my home away from home during the most incredible two years of my life.

Despite my fond memories, there is a very real possibility that Liz’s concerns will come to fruition, and we’ll end up sitting in Fenway Park lathered in anti-itch ointment while strangers help themselves to our footwear. Should this be the case, I’ll no doubt console Liz, all the while hiding the smile spreading across my face and the realization I’ve come to embrace.

At least it’s a good story.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Hey, It's Lamb Chops!

For most, Halloween is but a distant thought, lagging behind last minute summer barbeques, the farewell to white come Labor Day, and the first pile of red and orange leaves.

But I am not most. For me, Halloween has always been THE holiday, and one that must be planned months in advance if done properly. And so I began my brainstorming last evening, weighed down with the burden of picking the perfect costume.

I’ve come a long way, costume wise, since the five consecutive Halloweens that I paraded around as a five to eight year old witch. My creativity wasn’t in high supply at the time, but I loved my costume and knew better than to ruin a good thing.

The particularly religious friends I had were only allowed to wear cheerful costumes, their parents surely viewing our witch and vampire ensembles as the devil’s work. I always felt especially sad for them as I watched my brother put the final touches of fake blood on his face.

My mother may have given us the secular freedom we desired, but she wasn’t one to waste money, placing store-bought Halloween costumes into the same category as the Lunchables: overpriced consumer goods we already had at home. And so each Halloween, my younger brother and I would root through the giant black trash bag of costumes my mother had collected over the years, searching for the perfect ensemble. The problem was that there were very few complete costumes in the bag. A cowboy hat, a witch’s broom and a hippie vest were all great accessories, but hardly the makings of an award-winning outfit.

Despite the wardrobe challenges, I finally hung up my witch hat and moved on to bigger and better things. Following an especially lucrative trip to Epcot one October, I emerged that Halloween as an impeccably dressed Japanese woman, complete with an authentic rice hat and decorative fan. To complete the costume, my mother covered my face in white powder. In hindsight, this final touch may have been offensive to the Japanese community.

The following year I continued to represent various ethnicities, this time posing as a Mexican man. The painted black moustache and brightly colored, striped blanket wrapped around my body screamed Little Tijuana, but it was the sombrero with the box of Hot Tamales resting on the brim that really completed the package. The costume became a real nuisance, as homeowners would demand to hear a little Espanol before handing over the goods. This clever back and forth always ended with me saying, “Je parle francais,” disappointment registering on their faces and they tossed me a Baby Ruth and closed the door.

My language skills aside, I was becoming quite the expert at trick-or-treating. The trick was to hit an upper middle class neighborhood, bypassing both the humble communities with stingy residents and the rich ones with massive yards that made it impossible to hit the proper number of homes in that two hour window of time. With this in mind, my mother began taking us to my best friend’s neighborhood, where the candy-lawn size ratio was perfect.

I’ve always been an incredibly competitive individual, which may explain the pure joy I felt every Halloween as I ran feverishly from house to house, always remembering to say “trick or treat” and “thank you” in the hope of collecting a bag full of candy too heavy to hold. Each year I would collapse on the floor at 8:01 pm, dumping out my bag of treats for inspection. From there, the candy would be separated into categories. Candy bars on one side, sweet things on the other, Jehovah's Witness pamphlets in the trash. Lollipops and Smarties were in a fourth category: cheap shit.

After the candy was separated into piles, trading would commence. My bartering skills improved with each Halloween, as I learned how to negotiate with the finesse of a divorce attorney. Three twix bars for one Butterfinger and a lollipop…not so fast.

While I viewed the world of Halloween candy collection with the utmost respect, my mother was far more cavalier. I still remember one particularly painful Halloween when she answered our door well past the standard 6-8 pm trick or treating time in our neighborhood to find two teenage boys on the doorstep, one of them in a wheelchair. “Trick or treat!” the paraplegic said.

My mother politely excused herself for a minute before running upstairs, where my brother and I had spread out all of our candy. “Kids, I ran out of Halloween candy and there is a boy at the door in a wheelchair and I feel sorry for him. Give me some of your candy.” I was in no mood to hand over my coveted Butterfingers, wheelchair or not, settling for a few fun sized candy bars I wasn’t as crazy about. I felt sorry for the kid too, but rules are rules.

By the time I entered high school, most of my friends had stopped trick-or-treating, a decision that boggled my 14 year-old mind. Why anyone would skip the ritual of running frantically for two hours in the pursuit of free candy was beyond me. Unphased by my peers, I emerged that Halloween in my best costume to date: Mary Katherine Gallagher. Save a few embarrassing “Superstaaar”s I had to do on command, I counted my candy that night with a real sense of satisfaction.

I continued to trick-or treat for the next three years and entered my freshman year of college with two costumes already in tow. That October I discovered I was just about the only college student on campus interested in trick or treating. A little discouraged, I decided I wouldn’t let this disturbing adult behavior bring me down. Clad in an intricate Little Bo’ Peep dress my mother had made herself, I set out on my own that night.

Walking down the street in a nearby neighborhood, I began to feel very out of place. There wasn’t anyone over the age of ten in sight and young mothers were sending disapproving stares my way. Nervously approaching my first house, I rang the doorbell. “Trick-or-treat,” I mumbled, trailing off at the end as the homeowner’s distaste became quite obvious. Apparently there was something particularly offensive about a 5’7”, 19 year-old college student indulging in a joyful holiday tradition. Seemingly disgusted, she tossed a Kit Kat in my bag and shut the door. Two houses later, I knew I wasn’t welcome in the neighborhood. I walked back up to campus, three measly candy bars in my bag, utterly dejected. I knew Halloween would never be the same again.

I returned to the dorm room looking rather depressed as I recounted my tale to others. I was then informed that trick-or-treating over the age of 16 is “frowned upon” in Virginia. Some would even call it illegal.

A lot of questions raced through my mind at that moment. WHY did I pick a school in Virginia and WHAT would they do to Little Bo’ Peep in the slammer were two of them.

In an attempt to cheer myself up, I decided it was time to put on the second costume I brought from home: a homemade head-to-toe sheep. I spent the next twenty minutes walking up and down the halls of my freshman dorm, creating quite a stir in the process. Determined to save the holiday, I marched down campus to the auditorium and entered the costume contest. Five minutes later, backed behind tremendous crowd applause, I won first place. Most of the kids thought I was Lamb Chops, but to-mato, tom-a-to.

I had to say goodbye to traditional trick-or-treating that fall of 2004, but that didn’t mean the costumes had to end. It is a well known fact that Halloween is an excuse for college girls to dress like sluts, but I was determined to forgo the skimpy skirts and suggestive mouse ears in favor of a legitimate costume. With a renewed sense of spirit sophomore year, I went to a costume party dressed as a tube of Crest toothpaste. My mother had sewn the white felt costume during my fall break, carefully cutting out the blue and red letters to spell “Crest.” To top it off, I wore a white lampshade on my head intended to resemble the cap of the toothpaste. Lampshade in place and digging into my skull, I doused my cheeks and forehead in baby powder before coating my face with a thick layer of hairspray to make the powder stick.

The costume was by far my most creative, but left little room for movement as I tried to dance at the bar. Mistaken at times for a lampshade, I was also accosted by two drunk freshman who sandwiched me between them before bouncing me back and forth, Night at the Roxbury style, in an attempt to “squeeze the toothpaste.” It was a harrowing evening, but I slept soundly that night, another Halloween done right.

After all of the hulabaloo I caused as a toothpaste tube and a junior year Girl Scout costume that was sub-par, there was an enormous amount of pressure senior year to pull off an amazing outfit. I toyed with the idea of posing as Lorena Bobbit, complete with a knife, nightgown, serial-killer esque hair and a hot dog in a jar, but my friends suggested I wear something less abrasive to the male sex if I had any hope of finding a dance partner that evening.

Naturally, I went with option number two: crazy cat lady. I spent hours that Halloween attaching dozens of feline pictures onto my blue robe. The night of the party I had my hair in Dollar Store curlers, cat toys dangling from the pockets of my blue robe, nylons that came just above the ankles, glasses and blue slippers. As a final accessory, I carried a cat bowl with frosted flakes taped to the bottom, the name “Fluffy Meowington” scrawled on the front with a black Sharpe.

The epitome of sexy, I arrived at my roommate’s boyfriend’s apartment to find a handful of guys eyeing my costume with intrigue. One of the guys finally came over, taking a good long look before speaking. “You’re not expecting to hook up with dudes in THAT costume, are you?!”

Apparently not.

I spent that evening at the costume party just as I had the last two years; an outsider in a sea of sluts. An outsider with another amazing costume, might I add.

In the years to come before I have my own children (and a legitimate excuse to re-enter the world of trick-or-treating), I will continue to uphold the standards I set for myself as a young child in any venue I can.

This year will be no different, as I spend the next two months fashioning the perfect costume. With any luck, I’ll create another masterpiece, something surely ill-suited for meeting and mingling with “dudes.” And if by chance I meet my soulmate at the punch bowl while attempting to balance my hot dog in a jar and butcher’s knife, well…..

At least it’s a good story.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I’ve never had good luck with public transportation, buses being no exception. The plethora of horror stories I've accumulated since childhood would lead the average person to an alternative mode of transport, but the bus inexplicably remains my safety blanket in the world of travel. No matter how many times it uses and abuses me, I always come back for more.

For various reasons, I didn’t get my license until sophomore year in college, instead riding the big yellow school bus up until the very last day of high school. This would have embarrassed most, but I always enjoyed my ride in the very first seat behind the bus driver. I’ve never been one to look for trouble and never ventured past the first or second row of the bus as a result. I wasn’t named homecoming queen because of it, but I managed to escape the shenanigans in the back.

The only trouble I ever had began in sixth grade when a girl two years older than me decided to sit next to me every day to get under my skin. She also decided to call me Betty. Mocking was one thing, but my name was not Betty! I spent the next year reminding her on a daily basis that my parents named me Lauren, thank you very much. She didn’t seem to care.

Sixth grade came and went and I continued to ride the bus for the next six years with my name and honor intact.

After high school, I graduated from the public school bus to the Greyhound, which was always a real treat. My trips from Fredericksburg to Baltimore around each holiday were not for the faint of heart, and almost always involved a passenger with no legs. The drive from college would have taken two and a half hours at most, but the Greyhound operated much like the pony express and doubled that time. Part of the problem was the token legless passenger, who took an extra fifteen minutes to get off the bus and use the restroom during one of our many stops. I’m in no way mocking the disabled, just explaining why it would have been faster for me to rollerblade down I-95.

The Baltimore station was always the scariest and most disorganized of the stops. Traveling home for a wedding one Friday night in college, I had the pleasure of watching the bus driver search each of the ten buses in the terminal for my luggage. He couldn’t seem to tell me why my luggage had moved from MY bus, finally finding it underneath a Greyhound minutes away from leaving for Salt Lake City. I had always wanted to check out Utah, but this was not the time or place.

I finally got my license, and therefore a car, halfway through college, but reverted back to public transportation while studying abroad in England my junior year. We were doing a ton of traveling in those four months and money was getting tight, so I suggested we forgo the traditional plane and take a bus to Paris instead. How bad could a 13-hour ride really be?

We left our place in Bath at 3 am the morning of our trip and boarded the bus. It was strangely full for a middle of the night departure and we had to quickly scan the rows for any available seats. I immediately saw an opening in the first row and plopped down while my other three roommates headed further back.

Upon first glance, the man sitting to my left in the window seat appeared to be your average bloke. But after getting situated and glancing back over, I started to take better inventory. A portly gentleman who spilled over into my seat, the man appeared to be homeless in both looks and smell. He had tufts of hair missing from his head and fingers that resembled sausage links. He flashed a smile and I began to feel a bit uneasy about the journey ahead.

Sitting back in my seat, I put in my earphones and closed my eyes, hoping to sleep for the next three hours before our stop in London. After what must have been no longer than fifteen minutes, I woke up to the feel of something on my thigh. Eyes still shut, I realized Sausage Fingers had his hand on my leg, massaging my left thigh in a circular motion. His fingers felt incredibly heavy and I sat there motionless, trying to decide what to do. I could suddenly feel him moving closer to me, his breath on my neck as he whispered “gorgeous” into my ear. Enough was enough.

I opened my eyes and shot him the meanest look I could muster. I’m not sure it came across that way, as I’ve never been one for confrontation, but he removed his hand from my leg. I turned around and met Bridget’s gaze, attempting to silently convey the molestation that had just occurred. Once again, my facial expression failed to deliver the correct message and Bridget simply smiled and waved before closing her eyes.

Turning back around, I was at a loss. If I fell back asleep, God only knows where those paws would roam. But if I stayed awake, I would risk verbal interaction with him. I opted for choice two and tried to focus on the sweet jams of Gavin DeGraw coming through my earphones. Sausage Fingers still wanted more, though! Half an hour after the unsolicited leg massage, he once again placed his stumps on my leg, this time shifting all of this weight on my body while attempting to remove his Velcro shoes. When he finally removed them, it became quite clear Sausage Fingers had been wearing the same Velcro shoes for about 18 years. I was also fairly certain a large rodent of some sort had recently crawled into one of them before taking its last breath.

Looking back, this would have been the appropriate moment to speak up. Something like “kindly remove your sausage links from my leg,” would have worked. For those who prefer a more direct approach, “fuck off!”

Instead, I said nothing, and waiting patiently for him to play Mr. Rogers.

Two and a half excruciating hours later, Sausage Fingers exited the bus. Ten hours later we arrived in Paris.

In the years since that night in 2007 when a homeless man with seemingly kind eyes took advantage of me, Sausage Fingers has turned into a legend of mythic proportions. I often think back to 11-year-old Lauren, sitting on the yellow school bus, answering to “Betty” and unaware of the path that would soon lead her to Sausage Fingers.

Years from now when I put my own daughter on the school bus for the very first time, a tear or two in my eyes, I’ll surely wonder what lies ahead. She’ll no doubt call me from a pay phone after her first foreign groping, feeling vulnerable and used. Like any good mother, I’ll offer her words of encouragement and advice, before reminding her of the most important thing.

At least it’s a good story.