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A picture in words

I’m sitting in my home office drinking coffee and looking through a small crack between the curtains at the light but steady snowfall. The dogs are sleeping soundly near my feet and music coming from the living room is our soundtrack for the perfect winter day. These are moments you can’t capture on film.

Sunday at Our House

006

Six hours a day. One, two, three, four, five, six. That’s 360 minutes. Or, 21,600 seconds. Six hours a day. That’s thirty hours a week. Ten hours short of a full-time job, or ten hours more than a part-time one. When I break it down like that, even I shudder at the thought. I spend six hours a day commuting. Yet I spend no more than two hours a day with my husband. I recently saw my best friend for the first time in almost a year. My sister and I live in the same town, but we rarely see each other outside of obligatory family events. My mom and I email each other daily (okay, OBSESSIVELY), but how often do we sit down and talk face to face? Not nearly enough. If I were to tabulate all the visits, I probably spent thirty hours with my grandfather from the time of his diagnosis to the time of his death. But I spend 1,560 hours a year commuting by car, train, and foot to live my version of the American Dream.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans spend an average of 100 hours a year commuting. If you Google that statistic, you’ll be pointed toward countless news articles that focus on a central theme: “Are Americans lessening our quality of life and neglecting our institutions by spending so much time getting to and from work? Isn’t there a better, more productive, way to spend so much of our time?”

While 100 hours a year sounds like a fucking pleasure cruise to me, the simple answer to these questions is yes. YES. We are lessening our quality of life. We are neglecting our families, friends, and homes. Yes. There are obviously better, more productive ways for us to spend our time. But when you make your living in an industry that barely exists outside of Manhattan, and you don’t make enough money to live comfortably there, what do you do? 

My husband and I were lucky enough to be in a position to buy a house in our twenties and I count my blessings for that every single day. But even with this ability, we were limited in our choices. We couldn’t afford to buy a house in the place where we worked. Were our standards too high? Maybe. But we simply could not justify handing over all of our money to live in a shoe box with bullet holes in the walls and a drunk hobo asleep on the front stoop. So we looked north. And then west. And then north again. And again. And again. Before we knew it, we were in the Poconos . . . which is in fucking Pennsylvania in case you’re not aware. To clarify: that’s two states away from where we lived and worked.

We don’t blame anyone for the path we chose; once we got our feet wet in the house hunting process we had a very strong and vaguely depressing understanding of our options and no one held a gun to our heads. At the end of the day it was our twenty-something dream to live in a cozy country town where everyone knows each other’s names (except ours of course, because we’re completely anti-social) and where the only sound for miles is the rustling of leaves and the occasional if not completely infuriating sound of a far-off neighbor’s rooster announcing the start of a new day (and breakfast, and second breakfast, and high noon, and afternoon tea, and sunset, and nightfall, and twilight, etc.). Seriously, the minute we stumbled upon our adorable little historic town nestled in the moutains against the triumphant backdrop of the Delaware River, we were sold. We were just jaded enough from our upbringing in metro NY and just naive enough to the harsh realities of commuting that we decided to give it a go. In the spring of 2003 we closed on a cozy, perfectly appointed cedar-sided home with 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths, sans bullet holes and drunk hobos on 1.03 acres of land in the Poconos. It felt like the start of something big. And it was…

Stay tuned for An Explanation, Part 2: Wherein I disclose the reason for my insanely bad attitude.

P.S. Are you wondering why some numbers in this post are spelled out while others appear in their numerical form? It’s a general rule (in my industry, anyway) that numbers one through ninety-nine are spelled out and 100 and above are not. Consider this a public service announcement. You’re welcome.

P.S.S. If you like the idea of getting random English tips and tricks, let me know. If you’d rather do without, then don’t read them.

Proof

 

For all those non-believers who are going to think I’m kidding when I tell them it’s snowing here, while it’s a brisk 45 degrees and drizzling in the city. And so the winter commute begins. In October. (Hold me.)

Huh?

Every once in a while I drive to work – just to break up the monotony of the never-ending-train-ride-from-hell. It’s a complete waste of money because I’m already spending $288 a month on my train ticket, and driving to work ONE TIME adds another, oh, $30 in gas, $5 in tolls, and $20 in parking, give or take. But honestly? As much as I would love to spend that extra $55 on a cute pair of shoes (or, maybe my cell phone bill?) there are just certain days that the thought of stepping onto that God-forsaken train literally takes the wind out of me and makes me want to throw myself on my bed and cry. While systematically pounding my fists into the mattress.

Low and behold: today was one of those days.

Driving to work is always a pleasant experience for me. In fact, I actually really enjoy it. Maybe I’m totally warped, but I spend most of the drive thinking about how different things would be if I were on the train. (i.e., “God, the smell of that truck’s backfire is so much better than The Curry Man who gets on in Middletown!” or, “I wonder if The Weird Coconut Lady is wearing her signature Thursday outfit?” etc.) It’s mindless and silly but that’s exactly what I love about it. I could be stuck in dead-stop traffic, but you know what? No one’s thigh is pressed up against mine and the only annoying person talking on their cell phone is me. SO EFF YOU, NEW JERSEY TRANSIT!

Anyway, on the days that I drive to work, I park in my building’s parking lot – and I’ve gotten to know the parking attendants pretty well . . . or so I thought. If you go back and read what I wrote above about how much I pay to park you’ll see that I averaged $20 for parking. Here’s why . . .

I noticed recently that the price for parking varied depending upon the parking attendant who collected my ticket. I read the signs, did the math, and paid attention to the time I arrived and departed, and it never seemed to make a difference. Whenever I handed over my ticket to a particular attendant (we’ll call him “Mr. X.”), the price jumped from $15 to $18. This may seem inconsequential – what is $3? – but it pissed me off. I don’t like to think of myself as being someone who is gullible or stupid and I finally decided to speak up for myself today. Here is how it played out:

Me: (handing over my ticket)…
Mr. X.: “Eighteen dollar.”
Me: (insecure; biting my lip) “Um, why is it always $18 for you, and $15 for the other guys?”
Mr. X: “Eighteen dollar.”
Me: “But why? I came the same time as last week. And it was $15?”
Mr. Ex: “I said EIGHTEEN.”
Me: “I know, and I don’t mean to be rude and I normally never say anything but I always come at the same time and it’s always $15 and you always charge me $18, why?”
Mr. X: “Lady? You have eighteen dollar?” (holds up his left hand to flash his five fingers three times.)

It turns out I have a bad ear for accents. I’m not sure where he’s from originally, but after a long and drawn-out explanation that ended with an apology and me tipping him $5, it turns out that the word EIGHTEEN sounds a lot like FIFTEEN in his accent. (I guess I could have just checked my debt card receipts all this time? Ugh.)

Let’s go back and revisit how ridiculous this conversation was from his viewpoint, shall we?:

Me: (handing over my ticket)…
Mr. X.: “Fifteen dollar.”
Me: (insecure; biting my lip) “Um, why is it always $18 for you, and $15 for the other guys?”
Mr. X: “Fifteen dollar.”
Me: “But why? I came the same time as last week. And it was $15?”
Mr. Ex: “I said FIFTEEN.”
Me: “I know, and I don’t mean to be rude and I normally never say anything but I always come at the same time and it’s always $15 and you always charge me $18, so why?”
Mr. X: “Lady? You have fifteen dollar?” (holds up his left hand to flash his five fingers three times.)

Yeah.

Seriously.

I’m ashamed.

 

I’m reading the Twilight series. I know. It’s absurd and ridiculous and if I did a shot of whiskey every time a character “murmured” something I would be shit-faced 24/7, but . . . it’s awesome in a holy-shit-this-is-so-bad-it’s-good kind of way.

I’m constantly reading books that are dismal, depressing, heartbreaking, disturbing, or just plain difficult to get through. So when I started the Twilight series, it was a welcome change of pace to read about the preposterous melodrama that ensues when a teenage girl with a penchant for bad luck falls in love with Edward, a hot vampire, and unknowingly befriends his mortal enemy, Jacob, A WEREWOLF. Have I lost you yet? Yeah. It’s ludicrous but trust me—it is UN-PUT-DOWNABLE. (Imagine Tyra Banks on Days of Our Lives. Would you be able to look away? No, I didn’t think so.)

Before I get any farther into this post I should probably mention that I’m a book snob. After spending almost a decade working in the book publishing industry it’s pretty hard not to be. I refuse to read mass market paperbacks and I’d rather DIE than be seen with a movie tie-in edition. (And don’t even get me started on Chick Lit.) Thankfully the Twilight books don’t fall into any of those categories, but they are, after all, written for young adults. I’m not against reading YA books per se, in fact I would place this toward the top of the list of books I’ve read this year. But Twilight? FOR THE LOVE OF GOD IT’S ABOUT VAMPIRES!!! Moving along…

The book snob in me was too ashamed to buy the first one in a store so I ordered it on Amazon. I tore through that 510-page tome like it was an US Weekly and the idea of waiting around for the next one to arrive in the mail? Unfathomable. So I did what any 31-year-old woman would do—I threw aside my self-respect and tore ass to Barnes & Noble between meetings to buy it. (I dragged along a coworker for support, who solemnly swore to never breathe a word about my addiction lest I spill his I-still-play-with-action-figures-secret. Don’t tell him I told you.)

Purchasing a Twilight book in person was nothing short of horrifying. The fact that my B&N houses the series in a special section under a huge “FOR TEENS” umbrella made it all the more humiliating. Add to that my superiority complex and I felt like a wine connoisseur drinking Carlo Rossi out of a paper cup (which I may or may not have done in college). But honestly? It was totally worth the humiliation. As I walked back to the office with a crisp new Twilight book in my bag, I felt giddy and excited like I was in on a secret that the rest of the world didn’t know. And not just that my 30-year-old male coworker plays with dolls. It was a secret I wanted to scream from the rooftops! “I HAVE THE NEW TWILIGHT BOOK IN MY BAG! I am just about to find out what happens when Bella looks up from the bright red blood pulsing out of her arm into the eyes of six ravenous vampires!!!” It was exhilarating.

Fast forward a few weeks and I’m just about to finish the third book in the series: Eclipse. There’s still a lot of murmuring going on and holy shit if Jacob and Edward don’t kill each other soon I’m going to do it for them, but it’s fantastic! My train rides have been so much more tolerable with these books as my companions and I was doing such a good job concealing them, thanks in large part to minimalist cover art and a very large handbag. But a few days ago, my train conductor Larry (who is sweet but doesn’t realize I’m not a morning person and strikes up conversations with me every fucking day at 6:00 a.m.) decided to talk to me about the thing I feared most. The following is our actual conversation: 

Larry: “So, what are you reading?”
Me: “Hm?”
Larry: “What are you reading?”
Me: (sheepishly closing the book and repositioning my large handbag to cover it) “Oh, just a book.”
Larry: (brows furrowed)……..
Me: (toothlessly grinning)……..
Larry: “Well, what’s it called?”
Me: (pulling the book out from under my bag, acting perplexed and turning the book over to read the spine as if for the first time) “Uh, Eclipse? By Stephenie Meyer?”
Larry: (leaning over to read the spine for himself) “Eclipse. What’s it about?”
Me: (blowing air out of my mouth, nervously shrugging my shoulders): “Oh, nothing really.” 
Larry: …..???
Me: (more toothless grinning)…..
Larry: “Well something good must be happening! Your nose is in that book every morning!”
Me: (getting annoyed now) “Yeah. I mean, I guess.”
Larry: (clearly waiting for me to divulge more information)…..???
Me: (clearly unwilling to divulge more information)…..
Larry: “Okay, then. You enjoy your book now!”

As Larry walked away confused, it occurred to me that my sweet train conductor probably thinks I’m reading porn.

 

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