Kristin and Jessica: The Examined Life

“Hey Jess, do you ever feel something like buyer’s remorse after indulging in a huge meal? Like, you wish you could return it all, receipt in hand, and, like, forget the whole thing ever happened?”

“Like, only every time I eat. I mean, I don’t have an eating disorder or anything, but given that men are attracted to beanpoles, and given that I’m, like, single, you begin to think dieting is adaptive, you know?”

Kristin examines her latte with visible concern.

“Shit, I don’t think they used sugar-free syrup. Taste this.”

Jessica takes a sip with hesitation and purses her lips.

“Yeah, I don’t know. Even the sugar-free stuff has tons of carbs, sweetie. If you’re trying to slim down, you really shouldn’t use that junk.”

“What did you eat today? I totally need to go to the gym and do some cardio. I ate, like, a huge sandwich this afternoon and I’m feeling like such a fucking heifer.”

“You swallowed? Have you tried that trick I taught you?”

“Yeah, I took a box of Dunkin’ Donuts home last Sunday and tried chewing them for the taste, but it’s just not, like, satisfying, you know? So do you spit it into the trashcan or into a bag, or what? I mean, aren’t you afraid someone will find out?”

“I usually use a plastic grocery bag and take it our myself. Not that it matters. When my parents clean the catbox, they use those things and it looks about the same. Kind of lumpy and shit.”

“That’s gross! So what do you normally buy to chew?”

“Well, it like depends. I usually go to Trader Joe’s and buy something salty and something sweet. Like, recently I’ve been on a huge toffee kick even though I know it’s like terrible for my teeth. Then I’ll get some chips or something. I mean, it’s a little weird, but it’s better than being bulimic, you know? That like messes up your organs and stuff.”

“Jess, what else do you do to stay skinny? You’re so much thinner than I am.”

“It’s kind of sick, but I used to wear a tight rubber band around my wrist and smack myself when I wanted to eat something bad. Like I’d reach for the cookie and WHACK! I think it’s called conditioning or something. But, um, yeah, that Thinspiration bullshit doesn’t work. All of those skinny chicks just make me feel bad and I’m totally grossed out by pictures of fat people. Same thing with food porn. Doesn’t really do it for me. I guess another thing I used to do was eat a couple bites of a meal and then cover it with salt to make me not want to eat anymore. Or… what else? Oh, I kind of have a constant zero sum equation like mapped out in my head of what I eat and what I work off. I don’t know. Well shit, in middle school I just ate salads until I could feel my collar bones poking out.”

“Maybe I just want to be thin because it’d be, like, really fun not worrying about what I’m eating, you know?”

“Yeah, I totally do.”

Brooke: The Examined Life

“Everyone… excuse me. May I have your attention please? So, uh, cheers to Brooke on her graduation day. We all wish you much happiness in the future.”

The champagne has already come, but I’m too busy thinking about that Morgan Stanley consultant I screwed last weekend. He took me to a posh little French-Vietnamese place near here. Was it two blocks away? Pine Street? Maybe it was on Market… Anyway, the problem with men who make six figures in their twenties is that they normally have nothing interesting to talk about. They’re well-versed on the headlines, but their knack for detail is wasted on Excel spreadsheets and obscure research. The worst part is that the credit for that grueling exertion is gift-wrapped for the company partners, the former slaves who stuck out consulting long enough to reach a position of repute. At least Mr. Morgan Stanley talked about the genocide in Sudan. Bless the fuckworthy yuppies. And bless my father for making such an original toast.

I should stand up.

“Thank you everyone for coming. Yeah guys, I uh… have had a great time here, but I’m happy to move on.”

“What are you planning to do, Brooke?”

Thank you Grandpa for cutting straight to the chase. He had been mapping out his vocation and retirement since he was in nappies. Maybe it’s a generational thing, but a career is actually the last thing on my mind.

“Well, to tell you the truth, things have been going just swimmingly at the strip club. You should come by sometime, Pops.”

Crickets. At least my Uncle Mark laughs. Bless his quack doctor for the cheap cannabis card and his steady stream of Vicodin prescriptions.

“Brooke… that’s not entirely appropriate.” Mom whispers to avoid making a scene. She always strives to preserve the happy veneer of our family life.

I clear my throat. “I’m just joking guys. I don’t know what I wanna do.”

The slightly uncomfortable silence grips the table until Grandpa, an unshakable Republican, and my father, recently disabused of his Democratic leanings, begin to chat about the economy. My uncle pretends to understand what’s being discussed and leans thoughtfully on his hands. His eyes volley from Grandpa, to my father, and back, probably wondering what the hell an “economic stimulus package” is. He most likely knows the word “stimulate” from his vast collection of porn. Maybe that’s why he looks so interested.

Bruce and Rusty: The Examined Life

“Rusty, this is disgusting! You have at least fifteen discrete bottles of lube lining your bedside table. Aren’t any of your tricks grossed out?”

“Get off it, tranny. You’re just jealous that I’m getting some.”

“No seriously. You have scores of half empty containers just sitting there like some sick shrine to asses past. Does anyone ever really roll up to your bedroom after events and say, ‘Aw, hell no, Astroglide? There is no way I’d let you butter up my cheeks with some of that slop. Only Wet Platinum for me, baby.’”

“I just don’t want to be Shanghaied with some KY when the evening calls for Maximus, if you know what I mean.”

“You are nasty. Just speaking with you makes me want to take a long, hot shower. And that’s not an invitation you lovable pervert.”

Japanimosity: The Battle Over the Toaster Oven

I lived in Niigata from 2007 through 2009. The Japanese separate most of their trash into 5 or 6 types, although the number of bins in any given prefecture can run in excess of 20. All of these, by the way, are collected on different days. The once-quiet Niigata community suffered a cataclysmic crisis when I tried to dispose of my broken toaster oven. Innocently, I put the appliance outside among other people’s large trash: mattresses, bookshelves, computer parts, etc. The following day, my company received a call reporting an abomination, an unforgivable stain on the Asahi Mansions in which I resided. Yours truly had disposed of her damaged toaster; I calmly took responsibility and agreed to hold onto it until the proper “large unburnable” trash collection day. No problem, right? PROBLEM. The landlord wasn’t finished with me. I’m an easy target for the Japanese trash bureaucracy because gai-jin (“foreigners”) just don’t understand. Psh. Well, this guy tries to blame the blonde for not only the oven, but a laundry list of other appliances including a VCR, a vacuum, a busted TV and even some improperly sorted garbage (putting plastics with the burnables is a big no-no). I refused to take the heat for any of this other shit; my manager wanted to preserve the social harmony and suggested that I take all of the rubbish into my house anyway. In a very polite, indirect and essentially Japanese manner I basically said, “No fucking way.” The next day, I found a pile of crap outside of my door, all marked with stickers saying #202 (my apartment number). Apparently the junk had been informally “registered” to my apartment. Furious, I called my manager who spoke once more with the landlord; they told me that apparently all of the rubbish was mine because there were stickers on it that said #202. Wait, let me get this straight: I hadn’t had time to get a decent cell phone or my Japanese foreigner registry card, but I had adorned my all of my refuse with neat little stickers? Such a crock. The rubbish war raged on. Sometimes my ears burned walking down the streets; some old women seemed to be whispering,

“Oh, that’s the girl!”

“Yeah, did you hear about that toaster oven?”

“She didn’t?!”

“Oh yes… she did.”


Vertical Cities With Happy Garbage Trucks (Japan, 2007-2009)

  • There is a succinct Japanese phrase (which now escapes me) for “working-extra-hard-the-day-after-vomiting-in-front-of-your-boss-from-too-much-alcohol”. Draw your own conclusions from the fact that they have a protocol for this type of thing.
  • If you ever hear an ice cream truck in Japan, don’t bother chasing it down. In order to make garbage vans more polite, the Japanese decided that they should play children’s melodies while driving through residential neighborhoods. No tasty treats. Just mounds and mounds of super-sorted trash.
  • I’d been complimented countless times on my superlative chopstick form. At my welcome party, 40 pairs of eyes watched me eat, all with mouths agape; they uttered hushed asides to one another like concerned parents viewing their child taking her first steps. It wasn’t meant to be insulting, but I couldn’t help feeling like the damaged foreigner who miraculously could eat with knitting needles. I half expected them to break out in applause.
  • I made my share of linguistic faux pas, not unlike the adorable, elderly woman in my class who, pointing to a chair, asked, “Can I shit here?” For instance, I was giving a lesson to three young professionals on words for body parts. I pointed to my chin and declared, “Chin… chin.” They erupted in laughter. Apparently “chin chin” means “testicles” in Japanese. Can I add that my cleft (thankfully) isn’t deep enough to support the comparison. Interestingly, I made a similar mistake while living in Brazil when learning Portuguese. I was talking about my flight, and I’d wanted to say it was “sacolejando”, or shaky/turbulent; instead I said “sacohelado” which translates as cold ball-sack (again, testicles). Good times. My other huge mistake in Japanese came during a kids’ class. They were a little rowdy and not understanding a word of English, so I decided to switch gears and play a game. I exclaimed, “Okie dokie, do you want to play?” Much to my chagrin, the little monsters started laughing and pointing at my chest. They heard “doki doki”, and therefore, to them, I’d said, “Tits BLAH BLAH BLAH blah BLAH?” Meh.


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