Sunday, August 27, 2006

How looking for a NYC apartment is like online dating

In NYC, if you don't have a ton of extra cash to get a broker, you probably have to use Craig's List. Craig's List is a free website. People post ads for their apartments. Then you e-mail them with information about yourself. If they like your e-mail, they contact you about an interview or open house. Then if you meet them and they still like you they will give you a call to come talk some more or to offer you the apartment. My friend Jenny has been dating using, and I've started seeing similarities between our experiences.

How looking for an apartment online is like internet dating:
1- You read listings in which people post flattering pictures. People write descriptions that make them (or their apartment) sound good, but not so good that you'll be disappointed when you meet them/see the apartment.

2- You write back using a catchy subject line (my current favorite is "Making me your roomie would be great! Leaving me homeless would be sad.") Your e-mail should make you sound good, but reveal enough of yourself to hopefully make a good match. For example, if you couldn't clean to save your life, you'd be pretty miserable if you misrepresented yourself and ended up living with a neat freak. The same is true of if you hated sports, pretended to love them and ended up with a sports nut.

3- When you have an open house, you have to pick out an outfit and do your hair and makeup so that you look nice, but not like you're trying too hard.

4- You need to tell stories and be interesting so you'll stand out amongst the 50 other people they're seeing, but you can't seem desperate.

5- Everyone wants someone "laid back" with "no drama." (Half of the people who want a "laid back" roomie are the same people who write "MUST BE CLEAN. Seriously. NO MESSES. NO DOGS. NO CATS. NO COUPLES." Heh. Yep. You're laid back. I can tell.)

6- Sometimes people say they'll call but they don't. They're just not that into you.

The Differences
1- If you take a little time to think about an apartment, someone else will probably snap it up and sign the lease. If you take a few days to think about dating a guy and call him up, he probably won't have gotten married in the mean time. (Although Jenny warns he might have secretly been married to start with.)

2- You don't have to find a man. It's nice to find a good one, but it's not a matter of survival. There is no deadline (unless you count the biological clock). You do have to find an apartment.

I have sent out more e-mails applying for and apartment than I have sent out college applications and job applications in my entire life. Yep. So far, I've found one I liked but they were supposed to call me today and didn't, one I liked but she doesn't like the idea of me having friends (especially boyfriends, I think) over, and one that is PERFECT, but they're not going to decide until the end of the week. It would be a gamble to wait on them, because in the end they might pick someone else! Oh, well.

Clara's agreed to let me stay as long as I need to to find a good place. That's removed a little of the stress. Today also helped because I went to see three apartments, and each time I walked through the park. After a week mostly stuck in my apartment packing, reading Craig's List and sending out apartment-seeking e-mails, it was so great to be out in the fresh air and green.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blog stuff

1- I have been busted by Val. You see, there is a setting on the blog that lets me post-date entries. For example, when I was in Iowa you may have noticed no new postings. Then, all of a sudden there were 5, and according to the dates, I wrote them every few days. Yeah, I cheated.

2- Why do I fib about the dates? Because if I put five entries worth of stuff into one mega entry, no one would want to read the whole thing. It would be too long. It also helps establish a timeline. It makes it easier to find entries in the archives, too.

3- Blogger (the site that hosts my blog) is all cranky. It has some bug and thus won't let me post pictures. Grr.

4- My internet connection is cranky, too. It quit when I was trying to post comments. (Half of which was to tell Kelly about my apartment search difficulties, half of which was to concede that I do know one person who looks great in jeans -- especially a shredded pair she inherited-- and a short dress, and that person is Val.) Grr again.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Fashion atrocities (a rant)

Okay, I was gone from New York for 30 days, and in that time there was a fashion revolution. Oh, I'm sure it's actually a constant thing that you barely notice if you live here, but was like when you see a young relative only once or twice a year. They look so different every time you see them.

When I left, some people were rocking the ugly, baggy boho look. A few sad souls were emulating Madonna's most recent look with '70s disco-exercise attire. Sundresses and peasant skirts with long tops abounded. The hot new fashion accessory for that outfit was to cinch your waist with a wide, '50s-style belt. Culottes were improbably popular (ugh). Most girls, myself included, were wearing A-line skirts with fitted t-shirts.

Then I came back, and now tons of girls are wearing sundresses over jeans, miniskirts over leggings and the skinny jean. Now I'm not a fashion expert, by any means, but I suddenly find myself very opinionated on the subject, so I'm going to get it out of my system.

I am willing to support leggings under a skirt or dress. I used to rock the leggings look back in the mid-90s, and it can be cute as a button. What's more, this will allow women to rock minis they'd previously been unable to wear due to shyness, being too lazy to shave, veins, pallor or cellulite. All I ask is that no one go back to wearing them under baggy shirts, sweatshirts and sweaters. It made everyone look like they were shaped like a fudgesicle-- a chubby oval on top and a skinny little stick on the bottom.

The sundresses over jeans look...well, it's just strange. It only looks good, I can't think of anyone it looks good on. The jeans make the skirt of the dress bunch up. I think the outfit is intended to look free and artsy. Instead it just looks like the girl got distracted while changing her clothes, or ran out of clean shirts.

The skinny jean. Oh, the skinny jean. Here's the deal. Clinton and Stacy on TLC's "What Not to Wear" have valiantly spent several years trying to convince the public that tapered pants are evil. They also did a tremendous public service by educating the fashion-challenged on the horror of pleat-front pants. On a recent episode, they warned a woman they were helping (I'm paraphrasing because I'm too lazy to look up a transcript), "For some reason, tapered pants are going to be really 'in' this year, but you should ignore that. Tapered pants only look good on the skinniest models...and they don't really look that good on them."

The skinny jean makes you look like a ham hock if you have a butt or thighs. If you're petite and very skinny, they will make you look like you have short little toothpick legs. If you're tall and skinny (like a model)...well, chances are you have big feet. Tall usually means big's a physics thing. Big feet are okay. I have big feet, and I don't mind them... but it's not a feature I try to highlight. Well, the skinny jean is like a giant neon arrow pointing at your feet. You might as well strap on clown shoes.

Perhaps worst of all, I fear the skinny jean will encourage those poor women who persist in wearing "mom jeans." Mom jeans have tapered legs, pleated fronts and high, often elastic waists. They are, perhaps, the ugliest form of clothing in existance. The pleated fronts make women's stomachs look pouchy. The seat of the pants are strangley cut with large, ill-placed pockets that make a woman's rear look both flat and dumpy. Why would anyone wear them? WHY?

I hear women who wear them call them comfortable. How can it be comfortable to look that bad? Besides, ankle room is comfortable. Get a pair of jeans with a middle rise and a little bit of stretch in just the right size. They'll be comfortable, and you'll look so much better, you'll feel like a million bucks.

You know, sometimes I wish Iowans were more stylish. I sigh when I look at a room full of people all dressed the same, reguardless of age. All of them wearing jeans or jeans shorts with a baggy's depressing. But, at least Iowans have the good sense to resist most idiotic fashion trends. I think the worlds of New York and Midwestern fashion have a lot to learn from each other. New York teaches us that fashion can be fun, and we can all find a specific look that expresses who we are. Iowa teaches us that we don't have to jump on the fashion bandwagon. Stay strong, people. Resist the skinny jean tyranny.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Back in the City

Monday, it was really tough to leave Iowa and my parents. It was so great to spend time with them, and they thanked me for wanting to. Also, I as stressed about coming back to the stressful things waiting here, especially my job and my apartment hunt. I spend pretty much all day every day looking at apartment listings.

Tuesday, I met Jenny for drinks. I had butterflies in my stomach, like when you have a date with a person you like. I realized, suddenly, that I was excited to see New York. New York is my boyfriend. He's high maintenance, but he's worth it...I think.

Wednesday, I met up with New York Jenny, Laura and Riza (which is how I should have been spelling Reesa all this time) for Pub Night. I drank too much, which was dumb, and got sick. It is the second time in my life that I've done so, and I felt like such an idiot! I'm too old for such foolishness, though Jenny (a respectable, responsible 35-year-old) assures me that it happened to her recently. You see, most three appletinis is my limit. Well, I only planned to drink half of the third one. But then I looked down and...huh! It was empty. How did that happen?

Then I was giving out massages, and one recipient bought me another drink. I wasn't going to drink it. I remember deciding not to drink it...but then I looked down, and...Huh. The glass was empty again! How did that happen? When I was still sober, this guy Paul offered me a massage. I said no. He asked again when I was drunk, and I was too out of it to refuse gracefully. He started massaging me PAINFULLY. (I have BRUISES from it!) I couldn't figure out how to tell him to stop. Then, once the torture ended, he asked me for tips on how to improve. I just shook my head and leaned on Laura. She realized I was in trouble and took me to the bathroom where I tossed my cookies.

While I was doing so, Paul asked Jenny for my number. Thankfully, they didn't give it to him. Jenny took me home in a cab. I drank lots of water, had some Tylenol and ate lots of saltines. Then I woke up at 4:45 and repeated the process. I woke up this morning feeling fine, however. Thankfully, I don't seem to suffer from hangovers.

I'm starting to get really frustrated with my apartment search. It's making me all emotional. I called Jenny, Madrid, Laura and Paul to vent about it. They're being very sweet and patient about it. Wish me luck...because cardboard boxes are drafty.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Family and the Iowa State Fair

Monday I spent the night at Unkie and Helen's. It was Karen and Lynn's anniversary, and I told their kids stories about the wedding and what they were like when they were little. Then Hannah, Connor and I went swimming in their pool. We had rootbeer floats, then I read to Hannah before bed. It was great to spend time with all of them. They're so close to my heart.

Friday I drove up to JB and Erika's in Waverly to visit them and my adorable, carrot-topped nieces. They were so cute. Courtney is getting less fussy, so she'll let me hold her and smile at me. Brooke is hilarious, talking and having conversations with her dolls (Amy, Baby and Other Baby). She loves to run, pumping her arms. Her former-track-star father is already working on her technique. J.B. and Erika talked to me about life and their jobs, which was nice.

I got to read to Brooke, sing to her, change her diaper and play with her. She is so adorable, it's not even funny. She loves to call me "April" (her other Aunt), but I don't take offense, because she loves calling J.B. "Mommy." She also loves to be tickled and tipped upside-down. "Again," she exclaims, "again!" The next morning J.B. made us great pancakes and French toast. He's such a good cook! It was hard to leave with Brooke waving out the window.

I drove straight to the Iowa State Fairgrounds where I met up with Mom and Dad. We wandered the barns and the flea market. We went to the Agriculture building where we saw the Butter Cow and Butter Superman. Yes, life-sized sculptures made entirely of butter. Now this is not tactful, but everyone was commenting on it. You see, Butter Superman was on a pedestal, which put his...tights at eye level. Man of steel, indeed. Or as Mom put it..."Woah. Superman's got quite a package!" "Well, yeah," I replied, laughing, "but I wasn't going to say it out loud!"

Then Dad spent quite a while bartering with implement dealers. We ate lots of good food (hand-made lemonade, great lamb and amazing beef dishes) and went home tired and happy.

The next day, I went to the fair again, this time with my college friends: Jennifer, Jessica and Kelly. We've done so for the last three or four years, with free tickets from their company. We toured the Avenue of Breeds, which has everything from bunnies to sheep to emus to elk.

Jessy bought the deep-fat fried Oreos, which tasted like Oreos that had been swallowed by fresh doughnuts. Positively decadent.

Then we went to a concert. Train was performing (Meet Virginia, Drops of Jupiter, etc.), and we were in the third row. The concert was fun, and the lead singer was hilarious. He doesn't seem to take himself seriously, which is great. He's also very skinny, and I think he was wearing womens' jeans. They looked fabulous.

As the concert ended, it started to rain. Everyone poured into the Varied Industries building, which was packed. Then we dashed for the agriculture building so the girls could get their first glimpse of the Butter Cow and Superman. Then Kelly was off to the pork tent, and the twins went for lamb. We climbed up to the Arts and Cultural Center to see the doll houses, wood carving, photographs, sculpture and paintings. Then it was time to go. I grabbed a corn dog, then bought some salt water taffy and a last-minute lemonade. I adore the fair!

Then I went home for some last-minute bonding with my parents, knowing how hard it would be to leave them the next day.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The first loss

Sunday we went to Wayne Skardtvedt's birthday party. He has sheep and is a good friends of Dad's. I grew up showing sheep with his kids. We had a good time and great food, but met a rude awakening at home. You see, while watching the news we discovered that a friend, Tiffany Becher had died in a car crash. Her SUV rolled at 4 a.m., and she was ejected into the road. "Oh, Tiffany," Dad said to himself, "what were you doing out at that hour?"

"It happens, Dad. I've been out tons at that hour."


"Well, not tons. But enough to happens." Although, when I think about it, I don't think I've ever been driving at that hour. In a cab or on a subway, yes, but not driving. Maybe she shouldn't have been driving. Maybe she was just too tired, which is dangerous. But as my dad said, "It doesn't really matter." What matters is that a kind, beautiful girl is gone. Girl. I keep thinking girl, but she was 30...a woman by any standards. I think she is the first person I've ever lost who was about my age...someone I grew up with. Her smile used to light up rooms.

The day before the service, I went to Nadine's house in Storm Lake (see photo of a goose-caused traffic jam at left). Nadine was one of my professors in college. She helped my with my poetry, and we discussed my educational and career options. It was helpful. She also cooked me amazing food (she's a gourmet). I spent the night in Storm Lake, and the next day we visited Nadine's 97-year-old mother, Miss Sarah. Miss Sarah tells the best stories about growing up as a moonshiner's daughter in the South. Then I left for the viewing in Fort Dodge. There was a knot in my stomach as I stood in the long line waiting to get in. I didn't know if my parents were inside. I didn't want to break down sobbing...I didn't feel I had the right.

It's sort of a theater thing. I was once in a scene where several people had to cry. One rehearsal, I started crying too hard, and my director reminded me that the person most directly effected by the tragedy should be the focus and react most strongly. I know emotions can't always follow logical rules like that, but I didn't want people stricken by tragedy to feel like they had to take care of me.

I managed to hold it together, though I got teary while talking to Tiff's dad. He held my hand, talking and smiling. He's usually the strong, silent type. He said more words to me then than he had in all the years I'd known him. And when Tiffany's brother, Travis, saw me, he was so surprised that he started laughing and gave me a big hug. I was glad I could make him happy, if only for a moment. That's about the most one can hope for at a time like that. Then my parents arrived and walked through the line. I was so glad they were there. Now whenever I get in the car, Mom tells me to drive carefully. There's a new nervous inflection, and I don't brush it off like I used to. I tell her, as sincerely as I can, that I will be careful.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Farm life

It's nice to be home after so many nights in other people's houses. I'm glad I came to stay with my parents for so long, because it's letting me get used to the new house. I began thinking, "I'm so glad to be home, sleeping in my own bed in my own room!"

I've been playing with the big, gorgeous new Nikon N50 camera my parents gave me. It was a present out of the blue, not for Christmas or my birthday or anything! Well, maybe it was kind of a graduation present, but either way, it was a nice surprise. I've never had a manual camera before. I love photography, and I'm really looking forward to trying new things.

I've been wandering the farm taking pictures. I love how the farm pretty much looks the same as it used to when you look toward the highway from the front step. Mom and dad put a chair and a swing on the step, which makes me feel more at home. Sitting on the front step in the morning and the evening used to be a habit of mine.

The pets would all gather around me to be pet while I watched the sun rise or set, looked at the stars and lightning bugs at night or the mist rising from the crops in the morning. Now I can do that again, though only Hooligan can make it onto the step, as it's too high off the ground for the dogs. But the dogs would follow me as I walked around taking pictures of them, Hooligan, crops, even pretty weeds, like chicory and morning glories.

Yesterday, the barn swallows gathered: hundreds sitting side-by-side on the telephone lines and swooping open-mouthed through the air, swallowing blue sky and the insects therein. There's something beautiful about the way they fly that is different than the starlings and the sparrows.

The swallows flutter, then glide, and it's so graceful that I can't look away. The golden hawk glides more grandly. The killdeer run swiftly on their long legs before taking flight. The vultures circle ominously with their vast wing-spans. But it is the swallows who hold my gaze the longest.

I don't remember seeing them on the farm before the tornado, but now a few nest in the barn. I hope they've come to stay.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Travelling in Iowa

So for the past week, I’ve basically done nothing. I helped my parents move out of the apartment and with stuff on the farm. I read several books, watched TV and got my parents hooked on DVDs of season 1 of Everwood. Unfortunately, I’ve just done some online research, and they’re not planning on releasing the subsequent seasons on DVD. On the one hand, I’m mad because I WANT THEM, and on the other hand, I feel bad for hooking my parents on a show they will be unable to watch more of. Oh, well.

I was getting a little restless on the farm, but it was going alright. Then my dad started bossing me around. He even used words “You’ll do what I say because I’m putting a roof over your head.” AAAAAAAAAAHHHHH! Way to make me want to visit, Dad. I replied that when JB visits, all he’s expected to do is bring cute children. I told him maybe I should have a baby so I can do the same. I don’t mind volunteering to help my parents, or having them request help and agreeing to help them. I was planning to help! But being told I have to help because I’m staying under their roof? They complain my brother doesn’t visit enough, but when I come to stay…sigh.

So I decided it was time to get out of there for a while. Where did I go? First I went to Iowa City to visit some high school friends, Harmony and Gwen. We went to dinner, and all the RAGBRAI riders were there. In the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, thousands of people travel more than 400 miles in 11 days (I think). It’s hot and hilly. Each night they camp and party. This year Lance Armstrong joined in for a while. Anyhoo, a bunch of riders were in the restaurant we picked, wearing riding gear and crazy wigs, sunburned and sweaty. We went back to their place and watched Hitch, which is a cute movie.

Harmony is doing excellently in her pre-med training, and Gwen just got a promotion. They have two cats, a rabbit and a cute, hyper dog now. I wonder how they’ll divvy them up if Harmony has to go away to med school.

Monday, July 31 I drove up to Grandma and Grandpa Kiley’s. I’d never seen their house before. I especially liked a little garden they have out back. I interviewed Grandpa Russ, and he told me a lot about his childhood, being in the military in Germany after the war, and marrying Grandma Carol. Grandma Norrie told me about she and Russ got together and how they got to the point where the whole family could get along.

The next day I drove to Grandma and Grandpa Gilbaugh’s. We went to the Senior Center where they volunteer. We served food and played cards. Some of the people I played with turned out to be in their 90s, which I never would have guessed. I hope, if I get that old, I can be that healthy and with-it. Then we went home for Jeopardy and pizza. I interviewed Grandma Carol (Grandpa Kenny wasn’t too talkative) and she told me about her childhood, her marriage to Grandpa Nissen, her marriage to Grandpa Kiley and her marriage to Grandpa Gilbaugh. She taught me two important lessons: choose your husbands carefully, and don’t take responsibility for fixing someone else. She told me her goal in life is to be remembered as a person who lives joyfully. That’s a great goal…one of the best.

But now I'm back on the farm and things are fine. I think my dad and I have a two-week limit. If we're together any longer than that without a break, we start fighting (or, as he would call it, "getting loud.") But now all is peachy!