I met a nice traveler, Jean Paul, and his dog while walking downtown today. He started off a conversation by showing me some of his art—a circle made of the words love, peace, and hope—and asking for a favor: one random fact. I told him I was really missing my cats today, but seeing a dog (or really any animal) made it a bit better. We got into a nice conversation, and he said that one of the best gifts people have to give, one they often forget about, is their own words and imagination.
I agreed; these gifts are some of the most readily available to us personally, but also those which we’re least inclined to share, despite the fact that they’re usually the most sought after by others. That being said, maybe it would be good for me to start sharing my words and thoughts more in real life. Maybe that’s something we should all try to do.
Alternate titles for this post included “How I tried to give myself pneumonia,” “I should compile a list of things I won’t do for food,” and “How I almost got murdered three times, but one of those times was by a puddle.”
But first, a bit of backstory:
I stepped out of class to see that another rainstorm had begun, and even though I considered grabbing my umbrella before class, I had decided against it, because what were the odds it was going to rain, anyways? So I had to sprint back to my dorm amongst raindrops so big and cold they were just a step below hail, praying my notes wouldn’t get completely ruined. You’d think that would’ve been enough for me, but I’d already made dinner for myself three nights in a row, and I was pretty sick of all of my meager options, so I decided to walk downtown to my favorite local restaurant.
You also would think that I would’ve realized this was a bad idea when I stepped outside onto my balcony, and immediately sank my foot in a three-inch puddle that I’m pretty sure wasn’t there twenty minutes earlier when I went inside. A puddle I could’ve easily avoided if the combination of rain and night hadn’t reduced my visibility down to about nothing. I then realized that given my immune system and the number of nasty illnesses floating around campus, this little trip was almost guaranteed to leave me bedridden for at least a day or two.
Then I thought to myself, very eloquently, YOLO.
And then I thought I should probably bring up my need to take pointless risks when I’m depressed to my therapist.
So I set off downtown, trying not to drown or step in any other massive puddles. There was construction on my normal route, so I ended up having to backtrack a block or two to avoid it, but finally I made it to the shop. I began making my way back home along the slightly sketchier route, past a few bars where, even in the pouring rain, people still hung around outside. I passed in front of a very tall, very buff man who was also out walking, before realizing that I now couldn’t keep an eye on him. He began following me (which, admittedly, wasn’t all that big of a surprise, seeing as we were both going in the same direction to begin with), and I figured it would be just my luck to get murdered because I put myself into a completely avoidable situation only after I’d paid for a meal I’d never get to eat. But then he turned into a bar and I turned the corner and I was free to throw myself into the next completely avoidable situation.
Instead of taking the same route I’d taken a dozen times before, I decided to take an early turn that I’d hoped would allow me to walk back through campus, rather than along the street. This, of course, was the completely wrong choice to make, and I ended up in a residential area even creepier than the street before, lit by exactly two streetlights. One of which went out as I walked under it.
Me: “Just kill me now.”
Then I thought maybe that wasn’t the best thing to say on a dimly-lit road at night, right next to a very convenient body-dumping location.
Me: “Just kidding. Please don’t kill me.”
I picked up the pace as the lights from the campus came in sight, and nearly had a heart attack when I finally noticed a) there was a car parked under the other street light, within spitting distance and b) there was a person in the car. I wish I could say whether or not they were watching me and/or judging me for talking out loud to seemingly no one, but at that point I was speed-walking and half-hiding behind my umbrella, trying to enact the “if I can’t see you, you can’t see me” rule commonly employed by three-year-olds.
I made it back on campus, only to slip and almost fall in a puddle, which was guaranteed to make me spill my food and probably break my face. But I survived, and finally, I made it home.
…and promptly discovered the fork I’d haphazardly stuffed in the to-go box had poked a hole in the top of my pot pie, and had bled it of all its sauce. I then concluded that the universe probably didn’t want me to eat the pie.
And then I ate it, anyways.
The moral of this story is that there’s quite a lot I will do for good food, including getting almost murdered. Also, that my definition of “almost murdered” is probably grossly different from everyone else’s, and so if this story was a letdown, I apologize. If it makes you feel better, this might help you avoid making my same mistakes. And by that I mean the true moral of this story is to not shove forks in to-go boxes if you don’t want holes in your food, because dry pot pie is a disappointment. It’s still good enough to be worthwhile, though. Either that, or I was hungry enough that just about anything would’ve tasted good.
Which meant that I could’ve just made myself pasta at home, anyways.
Touché, universe. Touché.
Secret time: shopping makes me feel better. I don’t actually like spending money (which may be news to my parents), but the act of going to a store and seeing what they have to offer is weirdly cathartic.
I was feeling really bad one day, and I needed a few odds and ends from the Dollar Store, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone, and indulge a little. After all, there are worse places to spend money than a shop where everything’s a dollar or less.
The store’s fabulous for little knickknacks and home goods, and also for lead-based paint. The most peculiar/surreal moments were when you find name-brand goods tucked up next to soup mix from Chef Swagger’s Kitchen. We found one warning sign repeated in several areas of the store saying that certain named products were known to cause, among other things, cancer. This warning was posted next to things like dishes, as well as several kinds of medicine, which really put a damper on the proceedings. It’s not like these things weren’t being sold, either; they were pretty picked over. It really speaks to the state of US medical coverage when people need medicine so badly that they’re willing to risk it giving them cancer. So that made me sadder, and also really grateful that I had the means to buy cancer-free medication. And cancer-free plates. And food that looked like food. And it made me want to work harder at helping others, so that they could have the opportunities to afford these things I have access to.
And then I found Jurassic World-themed Band-Aids, and my friend discovered the book section, which boasted classics such as: an Irish romance novel compilation, the literary version of a chick flick, and a book in the series about the Mayan Calendar heralding the end of the world. So our mood was lifted once more.
Sidenote: I started at least four sentences with the word “and,” which I’m pretty sure is some form of literary sin, but I also discovered a new philanthropic mission/life goal while emotional shopping, which might make it even out? Who knows? This is stressful. I need to go emotional shopping again.
While I’m away at college, I attend a sweet little church on a semi-regular basis. After the service, there’s a meal hour, where we can gather to eat and chat. During one of these meals, I’d just grabbed some food from the buffet and settled down at a mostly-empty table, not far from a man I hadn’t talked to before. There was something about his face that was naggingly familiar, but I knew he was the husband of the Reverend, so I figured that was it.
We made small talk for a few minutes, and I mentioned I was a student at the local college.
Me: “Where do you work?”
Him: “Up at the college.”
Me: “Oh, cool! What do you teach?”
Him, trying not to smile: “Your class.”
And I finally realized what it was about his face that I recognized. I’d been listening to him lecture three days a week for the past month.
Me: “Oh. Oh, my gosh, I am so sorry.”
Him, now trying not to laugh: “It’s fine.”
Me: “I—I really like your class.”
Although the statement was true, I think it made the situation worse, and I discovered there’s not a whole lot you can say to explain away the fact that you didn’t recognize someone you’d spent roughly twelve hours giving your supposedly undivided attention to.
Me, recounting this story to friends later: “…and so I can never talk to him again.”
My friend, not even trying to not laugh: “How did you not recognize him?! You’ve been in his class for a month!”
Me: “It was out of context! He looks really different outside of class! Or—not standing thirty feet away.”
My friend: “Uh-huh.”
Me: “It’s fine. You know, he was really nice about it, he’s a lovely person, and it’s over now.”
My friend: “But, what if you have a question about the class?”
Me: “I will suffer in silence. Confused, regretful silence.”
My friend: “Good luck with that.”
So I think I’ve come up with an idea for Gordon Ramsay’s next television venture. You know how he’s always going around to restaurants and hotels, telling them their food sucks and working with them to make it better? He’d make a killing going around to college cafeterias.
Seriously. When was the last time you had cafeteria food?
For those of you who haven’t tried it, consider yourself lucky. For those of you who have been subjected to it, allow me to refresh your memory.
I recently made a series of mistakes when it came to dining at the main cafeteria on campus. The first was that I decided to eat there in the first place. If I’m being honest, the only time the food’s consistently edible is at breakfast, but as it’s the cheapest place to eat for students, I’m usually stuck with it for most meals. My second mistake was seeing something I’d never had before and thinking, hey, they couldn’t possibly mess that up!
I was wrong.
I was so very, very wrong.
The dish was cheesy mashed potatoes, combining two of my great culinary loves. I’d never had it before (cafeteria version or otherwise), and I thought it would be a safe enough venture. Truth be told, I had been told beforehand there was regular mashed potatoes on the menu, and was craving it, which probably contributed to my decision to try it.
I pranced over to my friends’ table, sitting down to scoop up a bite of cheesy, potato-y goodness…
And the gates of Hell opened in my mouth.
It tasted like they combined instant mashed potatoes with nacho cheese powder. Eating this lukewarm, flavor-imbalanced monstrosity was like watching a cherub set fire to a garden filled with kittens. Something that should have been so wonderful was perverted beyond all recognition, and I’m pretty sure a small part of my soul died that night.
Gordon Ramsay, if you’re out there, I implore you to save the students of the world. Save them from being forced to choose between culinary abominations and eating Top Ramen for the fourth night this week. Save their stomachs, and you just might save their minds.
I’m begging you.
I recently attended a talk by Dr. Shatki Butler. Although her speech was filled with many thought-provoking ideas, one of the things that stuck with me most was what she said during a thought exercise. She invited us to mentally travel to a place where we felt calm and safe, and to take off our masks.
This struck me, because I realized in that moment that every last one of us has a mask we wear in front of others. Often, we have different masks for family, friends and strangers; masks intended to obscure the real us. I attended this talk with friends, people I knew well, or at least more than most, but I still found myself wondering who they were without the mask.
We get glimpses. Occasional views of the true person underneath.
Dr. Butler moved on, inviting us to search for the one idea that truly defines who we are. The one word that centers us, that we strive to live up to.
For me, that word was kindness. For two of my other friends, that word was love. For another, that word was optimism.
She told us that whatever we are, whatever word drives us, sometimes we are the antithesis of that idea. Sometimes the fear or the hate or the pessimism drags us away from who we are or who we strive to be. When that happens, we must go back to our peaceful place, look back to our driving word and allow it to center us.
We must take off our mask.
There’s an absolutely adorable little zoo in the neighboring town which I’ve been meaning to visit for years, and I finally got around to doing it. The Sequoia Park Zoo is most famous for its red pandas, particularly Masala, their resident “Houdini” (who unfortunately was shipped to Tennessee after her rescue).
While I couldn't get a decent picture of the remaining red pandas, I did get a pretty cute picture of the Patagonian Cavies, and a bloody magestic eagle.
We stayed for the river otter feedings, as well as the bush dogs. The otters were super excited for feeding time, and were racing around their enclosure for a good ten minutes beforehand.
No, seriously. Y’all thought I was joking when I said this zoo was adorable, but one of their employees is a cat.
Yeah, that's right. They have a zoo cat. It's like a farm cat, only better. His name is Oscar, and when he's on-duty, he even wears a little bib labeling him as an employee.
It doesn't get much better than that.
I recently visited Patrick’s Point with two of my closest friends. It’s a small, coastal state park offering acres of forest and gorgeous cliffside views of the ocean.
There’s something intrinsically relaxing about the ocean. I currently live in a part of the world where the beaches are cold, the waves constantly stormy, and the sky is almost always overcast. You wouldn’t think the beaches would be all that much fun to visit like this, but although it’s rarely comfortable enough for us to brave the water, it’s still stunning to sit and watch.
The beaches I visit aren’t ones that fall into most people’s ideas of beaches. There’s no warm waves or sun-drenched sand, but I’m glad to be able to experience them. I’m glad to have these examples of nature’s beauty so close to my doorstep. I’m glad I have the ability to leave my house to visit them. I’m glad to have friends to visit them with. I’m glad days like this exist.
Last weekend, I took a little trip with two of my closest friends to go see Fern Canyon. For those of you who don’t know, Fern Canyon is this absolutely stunning little pocket of natural wonder hidden away in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and was actually the film location of Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World.
Two of us had visited the canyon before, so it seemed like the ideal place to visit on a day when nothing much was going on (which, admittedly, is almost every day in a small town). The day was overcast but still warm enough to be comfortable without a coat, rather typical for this time of year. The hike is actually a loop, but the first part is the section actually in the canyon. The trail threads in, out, and often through a creek, so getting wet is unavoidable. During the summer months, they have little bridges over the deeper parts of the creek to keep you somewhat dry, but they take them away during the winter.
The trip was so much fun, and I’m so glad we decided to make the trek out. I’d been having some mental health troubles, and the trip was just what I needed to remember how to relax and smile again.
That being said, I learned a few lessons for my next trip out to the canyon. I figured somebody else might find them useful, too.
1. Four-wheel drive is your friend.
The road to Fern Canyon is unpaved, riddled with potholes to the point where there’s more holes than road, and more than once passes through a stream. While it brought back fond memories of driving to my worksite in Rosarito, scraping the bottom of the car isn’t good from a mechanic’s perspective. The car we took was built low to the ground and didn’t have four-wheel drive, and made the trip just fine (though there were a few tense moments), but if you do have access to a car built for this sort of thing, you’re gonna want to use it.
2. Waterproof everything you love.
You will get wet. You’ll try your hardest not to get wet, and then fall face-first into the stream. Then you’ll have a mini anxiety attack as you desperately search for your phone, questioning why you even brought it with you when it doesn’t even have service. Do yourself a favor and bring waterproof electronics, and only waterproof electronics. Wear shoes designed to go in water, and bring a second pair of shoes and socks to change into once you leave.
3. Don’t get cocky. Nature’s not into that.
I’ll be honest: I like exploring. Every trip we go on, I’m usually first in the group, prancing along the path, climbing half-fallen trees and exploring every splinter in the trail. And it’s usually this tendency to half-run along the trail that gets me into trouble. So while it should go without saying that you probably shouldn’t run over slippery logs half-submerged in water, if you’re anything like me, and get overexcited being in nature, maybe take a deep breath or two and save yourself from nearly spraining your ankle exactly five minutes into the hike.
4. I don’t really have a four, but I felt like I needed another point. So… I dunno, thank your friend for letting you drag him out to the middle of unpaved nowhere?
Recently, I was hanging out with my friends one fine evening when we decided to play Cards Against Humanity. For those of you not familiar with the game, it’s like a horribly fucked-up version of Apples-to-Apples. We chose to play the version where every time you won a round, you’d take a shot. Of Skittles. We also had a ghost hand; one person would randomly play a card from the deck, and if that was chosen, everyone had to take a shot.
As you might imagine, this progressively grew into a worse and worse punishment.
Shot 1: Actually rather good. The Skittles mingle together into a decent taste, although you do have to spend a good minute chewing.
Shot 2: Still tastes pretty good, but my jaw is beginning to hurt.
Shot 3: My jaw is aching.
Shot 4: The ghost keeps winning. I’ve downed about 80 Skittles.
Shot 5: I’m considering the possibility that I will vomit Skittles. I’m waiting longer and longer to take the next shot, and hoping that if I eat enough tortilla chips in between, it will wash away the flavor long enough to down another shot.
Shot 6: Why can’t I just swallow them all whole? This is how I will die.
Shot 7: Skittles were created solely to punish humanity. The US government will use this game as their next enhanced-interrogation technique. I welcome death.
By the next morning, I had brushed my teeth twice and eaten breakfast but I still tasted Skittles. I began seriously entertaining the notion that my mouth would just taste like Skittles for the rest of my life, and that everything I ate would taste like it was served with a side of candy.
Thankfully, somewhere in between my third teeth-brushing and second cup of tea, the flavor receded, but I vowed I would never eat Skittles again.
…At least not for another year or so.
I have no idea what I'm doing.