Monday, September 29, 2008

I Wanted a Cut and Color and All I Got Was This Lousy Story

This fifth time is the charm (or so I hope). Yes, I know that the saying really only refers to the third time, but since I will embark on my fifth attempt to get my hair done this week, I am banking on number 4.

When I was telling a friend about my third (or was it the fourth?) attempt she responded: It's funny how some people think the president has all the power. When it comes to black women it's the hairdressers. Truer words were never spoken.

Because I didn't want to part with my hard-earned money for lackluster service, I've had to roll out of several hairstyling establishments.

Sleeping Beauty
#1 was a salon that came recommended. I walked in and there was someone slumped over the reception desk, sleeping. After barely being acknowledged and spending 20 minutes listening to an in-depth analysis of P. Diddy's umpteenth installment of Making the Band, I left. When I went to introduce myself to my would-be stylist to tell her I was leaving she said, "You can't wait?"

Got the Message?
#2 was a salon that I didn't actually visit. I spent a week or so just trying to get the required initial consultation scheduled. I called and then had to wait for someone to call me back to get my info so they could leave a message for a stylist who would call me to schedule my this mandatory consultation. After consulting with them, I would then be given the privilege of making an actual appointment to get my hair done. The stylist took days to call me back, and since I wasn't home, left me a message. When I called her back and left her a message, she didn't return my call. When I called the salon, they said I should call the DC location. "But I did call the DC number," I countered. "Oh, well they have routed their calls here to Silver Spring."

I Can't Stand the Rain

#3 was a salon I'd been to before. The failure of this attempt was my fault. If I'd given myself enough driving time to make allowance for the fact that no one wants to drive above 30 mph when it rains in DC, I might have made it to my appointment. The extra 20 minutes I'd added wasn't enough to offset the rain and the wrong turn I made. When I called from the road, they said I might very far away and that I might was well not show up.

Color Me Gone

#4 was the salon where the stylist greeted me at the door by saying that her shop had recently been robbed. She handed me a box and told me to go to the beauty supply store next door to pick up hair color made by the same brand as the box she'd given me. It is common for people to buy bring hair with them for braids and weaves, but this was unusual. When we'd discussed the appointment over the phone, the stylist failed to mention that hair color was an a la carte item.

And so, my hair remains uncut and uncolored. For now...

Friday, September 26, 2008

National Singles Week: No Strings Attached

Apparently this past week (Sept. 21-27) was National Singles Week. It is also known as National Unmarried and Single Americans week, which would give it the acronym N.U.S.A. That abbreviation is a little to close to nuisance for my liking...

Here is a link to an article on the topic:

It's National Singles Week

The article is a bit defensive, but makes good points about how single people are sometimes unfairly discriminated against when it comes to time off and medical benefits.

So if you're single, get out there and celebrate! You've got no strings to hold you down.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land

It is always amazing to me how I can find an entirely different world when I travel just a few hours away from the metropolis I call home. I am a city girl, so anything that is not quite a city has a limited attraction. Still, it is good to be reminded that although everyone does not live as city-dwellers do, we all have plenty in common.

On my way to Shenandoah National Park to do research for a Washington Post story, I saw a hand-scrawled sign that read: NRA Supporter for Obama. The person who made that sign had a point to make. Later I saw one that declared Virginia to be McCain Country.

More and more I see people sporting all kinds of variations of the mohawk. But I didn't expect to see any mohawks once I got a little deep into Virgina. Sure enough, a man at a gas station had a mohawk that was accompanied by a rat tail in the back.

The Mohawk/Rat Tail man came into a convenience store as I was paying for my (cheap!) gas to announce/ask about getting some gas on store credit. He said he needed to gas for two hours because he was going to get some money and that he'd be back. This transaction (or lack therof) was surprising to me. I didn't think people still did things like that. But with the way things are going, everyone may be bartering and borrowing a lot more.

Recently, I was allowed to get items from a store on credit, so I can't say that it doesn't happen in big cities. However, it is a phenomenon I associate more with small town living.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"You're Such a Woman!"

That is what a colorful patron (and fellow woman) in the auto body shop said to me because I told the mechanic that I was only electing to get a new air filter because he showed me how filthy mine was.

I had joked that if they'd just mentioned it and not shown me the air filter, I'd probably have skipped the new one, saying, " I can breathe."

In any case, the woman had a point: we women are too long-suffering for our own good.

Monday, September 22, 2008

So Many Blogs...

If you are in the DC area (and even if you aren't) you can catch me blogging for I write about Cultural Events for the Communities section.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Meaning of Amistad

I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.

-from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

Everyone wants their moment in the sun, but sometimes one has to ask if it is really worth it. Especially if your shining moment means you have to step over someone else. Particularly if the time you’ve chosen to stand in the spotlight takes place on a replica of a slave ship when a fellow visitor has fallen ill.

I was aboard the Amistad at the National Harbor, where man's (continued) inhumanity to man played out in historical memory and contemporary lack of courtesy. Amistad, a replica of the slave ship La Amistad, is touring the world and docking and educating people as it goes. The word amistad is Spanish for friendship. The original Amistad was not intended to carry slaves as it did and was the site of a well-known 1839 slave revolt. This revolt was the subject of the 1997 movie, also called Amistad. The tour is sponsored by a non-profit that wants to promote cultural understanding.

The ship is small and only a certain number of visitors could be on it at once. Even fewer visitors were allowed to go below deck. It was down there that a woman started to sweat profusely and became ill. She ended up sitting on the floor and vomiting.

Meanwhile, another visitor was asking people to move out the way so she could get pictures of herself at various spots. Even when the women became ill and ship personnel came to her aid in those tiny below deck quarters, the photo shoot continued. She was oblivious to the woman’s plight and was solely concerned with getting a good shot. As they cleared people from below and made them return to the upper portions of the ship, the woman, seemingly unconcerned to all that went on around her, cajoled a crew member about how he was supposed to be in place to take pictures of her with her camera.

It’d be great if this was story where someone was overcome because the stench of slavery and the collective spiritual memory of how our ancestors suffered. But it’s not. I heard the woman diagnose her swooning as the combined result of waiting in a long line in the hot sun to get on the ship and the heat in the small, cramped quarters below deck.

Friday, September 19, 2008

They Say They're N Luv

Yesterday's entry about gentlemanly behavior is a great segway to talk about some rather un-gentlemanly and un-ladylike behavior.

I was reading an issue of Jet about a week ago and came across and article entitled "Exotic Dancers at the Forefront of Picking Hip-Hop Hits." (If you're wondering how I remember the title it's because I have a subscription to Jet. It was free, hey, what can I say.)

I know journalists just present the issues and they aren't supposed to judge...but I was surprised at the article and at the fact that it was so blasé about the whole thing. So-called "urban" radio appeals to young listeners and a lot of what they listen to glorifies stripper culture. Stripper culture is now mainstream. Often enough I have been listening to a song on the radio and a few minutes into it, I realize that the object of a male singers "affection" is in fact a stripper.

Hip Hop artists will test out a song in strip clubs and if the "girls" like to dance to it, then they've got a hit. One expert quoted in the article noted that the strength of the "alliance" between hip hop and strip clubs is increasing.

Once men sangs songs to women they wanted to date. This is not to say that they didn't want more than a date, but they were at least willing to attempt to woo a woman. Now women in general are reduced to being sex workers as men sing songs to women that they want to see on the pole.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

An Old-Fashioned Model

Walking down the stairs of my building, I ran into a neighbor who was balancing a garbage bag and her toddler. At about the same time, a man I hadn't seen before came into the stairwell inquiring if I had any black shoe polish. I don't think I've ever had any shoe polish.

He offered to take the trash out for my neighbor since she had her young son. He was another neighbor's father, here on a visit. That is the kind of thing my Dad would do. They really don't make them like that anymore.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Ratting People Out

The other day I was happily typing away and the radio was on as background noise, but I was barely listening. Then I heard a public service announcement that got my attention because its cheerful tone belied the distasteful subject matter.

It made me think about when I was studying abroad in Costa Rica, where there seemed to be a lot more PSAs. They were all so earnest. I remember one that aired frequently: a teenager comes to his dad to discuss a "friend's" problem and the father launches into a brief but serious lecture on the topic, and you can tell Pops is feeling all "Father Knows Best." At the end the teenager tells his dad that he is the friend in question. I'd walk around with his words echoing in my head (Papi, este yo.)

So I was jarred to hear a man telling me how we all need to work towards a rat-free DC as if he were recommending a movie I should watch. Speaking of which...I now see that I share my father's aversion to rats in pop culture. When he discovered that I had discovered the song Ben from the movie of the same name, my father said, disgusted, "He's singing...about a rat." I felt the same about that movie Ratatouille. Rats cooking in the kitchen? Ugh, no thanks.

And because I am nothing if not logical--I don't like real mice, but have no problem with their onscreen counterparts. Onscreen mice--cool; onscreen rats--no.

But back to the lecture at hand: yeah people, let's work on that whole rat-free DC thing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Just Like Romeo and Juliet

"Women may fall, when there's no strength in men."
-Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene III

When Jennifer over at Regal and Regular heard that I was going to see "Romeo and Juliet" at The Harman Center for the Arts, she asked me to blog about it. And since I would do anything for my regal readership, I am doing just that.

I've seen various versions from the West Side Story movie to Synetic Theater's stunning silent adaptation, but I hadn't seen the play performed on a stage. So you know not only did I have to go see it done the old-fashioned way, I ended up seeing it done old school for real: as in all the characters were portrayed by men, just as it would have been done in Willie Shakespeare's day. Both the ancient Greeks and the Elizabethans thought that the stage was no place for a woman, so men played men and prepubescent boys and men played women. One of my friends thought that Romeo was a better girl than Juliet. For years scholars have pointed to Romeo's weakness and Juliet's strength throughout the play, although both teenagers' dramatic tendencies get the tragedy going.

The intro in the program drew my attention to the lines that characterized women and it made me look at the play in a whole new way. They wanted to emphasize the male posturing that leads to violence. The violence on the streets of Verona could be the violence anywhere, but we see it differently because Shakespeare is viewed as classic.

It is funny that Shakespeare is thought of as a high school thing because anyone who has seen a performance will tell you that it is much bawdier than it seems. (And in a different way, this does make Shakespeare very much a high school thing.) Modern play companies tend to emphasize Shakespeare's innuendo and double entendres to remind us that his plays were much more grounded than we are led to believe.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

OK, My Digital Transition Wasn't That Easy...

Now I have to get my DVD player hooked into the equation as well. At the moment, it is out in the cold...stay tuned.

The Transition to Digital TV

The Transition to Digital Television

When I bought my analog tv set a few years ago, digital television was for me a hazy notion, but as the date for the conversion creeps up it is becoming more and more real. People with digital televisions and cable packages have little to worry about. But if you are like a cable-free, analog television set owner like me, you need to pay attention.

I've heard conspiracy theories that this digital transition is one more step in the government's plan for total mind control. Maybe. I've also heard rallying cries to abandon tv altogether. Good idea...I'm not a big fan of tv, but even I like to catch a few shows now and then. I got a coupon for a digital converter box...and then I let it sit in a drawer for months until my mother reminded me that it could expire.

So then I went out to get a digital converter box and then I let it sit for months...until I met Denice Rhodes, the Digital Dynamo, and she convinced me that I might want to set it up, rather than wait until the night before the conversion. There is no guarantee that your digital converter box will work.

Well, Denice, I am happy to report that my digital converter works just fine. And I could have been enjoying much clearer reception had I done so sooner. I do have extra channels, but where I once had three different local PBS stations, I now have three different channel extensions of one PBS station. I guess that evens out. And I saw a great commercial for a gadget that helps you make pancake puffs, which are apparently superior to regular pancakes, although you still have to flip them.

Unlike me, some people may not find their foray into digital television so simple. Denise works to help seniors, people in rural areas and others understand the transition for analog to digital. Many people are unaware and some who are aware and get the converter boxes still have trouble getting everything. set up. Plus, cable companies are poised to get new customers when consumer with no reception turn to them in confusion.

You can visit Denise's website,,to get info on outreach workshops to keep seniors and others from being left in the dark.

Go to to get a coupon toward the price of a digital converter box.

You can also read this list of FAQ's on the digital transition from the FCC.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mahna Mahna: An Autobiography in Two Words

I caught Jim Henson's Fantastic World at the Smithsonian's International Gallery. (The exhibit leaves on 10/5/08, so if you want to see it, go soon.) It made me nostalgic for The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock.

There, I learned that the Muppet sketch with the tune that still pops into my head from time to time was named for the main character. Who knew? Mahna was a jazzy/hippy character who showed up to say his own name and scat a little while his background singers cooed. I guess Henson and crew had more to say about the nature of music and artists than I imagined.

If you have no idea what this means, check out the video on YouTube:
Mahna Mahna

Even if you do remember it, it is fun to watch anyway.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Brief and Wondrous Book Signing with Junot Diaz

Author events usually don't get too interactive until the end when they open things up for Q&A, but Pulitzer Prize-winner Junot Diaz started out his talk last night at Politics & Prose by asking the audience for their thoughts on DC, the times we live in and living in DC in the times we live in, so that made for a much more shared experience. He was funny, even when he didn't intend to be, but also very insightful.

These aren't exact quotes, but more like my impressions of some of what was said:

On the upcoming election:
Diaz said that the fictional narratives of the political parties are so sloppy, he can't believe people are lapping it up and that even the worst genre writer couldn't write this way. And he encouraged people to keep journals of the next 50 days to have a record of what we're going through, though he added that what we're going through will help no one.

On anger:
When he started to read a second passage from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, someone asked for the page number. He said, "I refuse to reveal the page number on truculence alone." But then he did reveal it, admitting that he was a big wuss. Diaz said that ten years of failure had helped rid him of his anger and that part of growing up means you become a big wuss.

On being a writer and on expectations:
When someone asked for suggestions on how to teach parts of Oscar Wao, he said that as a writer your own work tends to elude you. This got laughs, but he meant it. Then after the questioner told how she'd teach it, he gave some other suggestions.

When someone asked why he was more "authentic" at this reading than at another at the Folger Shakespeare Library, where this person thought he had been more "polite," he said that he had gotten an 8 page letter lambasting him for cussing and being too much at that very same event. And he added that people expect writers to be the same every time, which they can't be.

On hope:
A Caucasian gentleman from Texas started talking and was eventually in tears as he relayed how his Dominican wife and children struggled at times, living in a part of the U.S. where they were not always appreciated. He said they all drew inspiration from Diaz's work, especially his 13-year old son. The tearful man asked Diaz if there was any hope for the future.

Diaz gave a wonderful impromptu speech about how people do the things they do like write books and raise children because they have hope. He said things will get better and worse. Then he talked about being of African descent and said that for hundreds of years his ancestors in the DR were bred to work, with no say in who to love and no real chance to benefit from the fruits of their labors. He said there is hope for the future, but that we are going to have to really fight for it.

And because this entry is getting long, I'll close by saying that Diaz, admitted nerd and Jersey/Dominican nationalist, answered a final question that referenced his worldview by saying that in his mind everyone on the spaceship in Star Trek is Dominican.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

It's All in the Presentation

So last week I took a meeting. (I just love phrases like "take a meeting.") But I digress (as I usually do)...So last week I took at meeting with the marketing/private dining manager at a local restaurant the is curiously categorized as "casual upscale."(Or was that "upscale casual"...?) OK, I'm digressing (again).

He told me this sad, yet intriguing story:

The restaurant serves these Belgian-style frites made with truffle oil. True to European custom, they are served wrapped in a newspaper cone. The man who does the wrapping is a Spanish-speaking gentleman. He does not read English.

A customer becomes inconsolable while eating some of said frites. Why?

Because the frites have been wrapped in the obituary section. The customer saw the picture of a friend/acquaintance/relative.

Can you imagine breaking bread with someone and getting the news of a death by way of an oil-stained newspaper cone? And did I mention that we were eating these very same frites as he told me this story? He told me that now all obituaries are removed before the newspaper is given to the man who wraps the fries.

Truth really is stranger than fiction.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

And the winner is...

Me! I'm not exactly The Prizewinner of Defiance, OH, but I did manage to win another great prize from Mary at StellarSelf. This time I got a cd. Yeah, I know it isn't that much fun for you, but you can always come over and listen to it. Last time I got a a free reiki session. If you haven't tried reiki, you should.
Seeing the Light

As last weekend's hurricane-inspired rains approached, my flashlight was nowhere to be found. Though I didn't anticipate being without light, I thought it was time I stopped playing around with hurricanes and such. For once I was going to be (somewhat) prepared. So I stopped to buy a flashlight and some non-perishables.

I was in the hardware store trying to be patient because the people in front of me were having a good ol'time chattin' with the cashier and whatnot. But as is always the case, my face gave me away. A woman who worked there, but who was not the cashier, saw me and told the cashier to speed it up a little. The discussion centered around a box of insect bait. A woman teased an older man, saying he wouldn't let her buy it. And they all talked about why that brand was the best.

When the woman who tried to help me in my quest to purchase the flashlight and get home out of the torrential rain that was already falling interrupted, I saw that the older man was Marion Barry.

Marion Barry is (again) running to re-claim his seat on the DC council, representing Ward 8. Today is the day Ward 8 decides if they want to give him another go 'round. If you are supposed to be voting in some election, get yourself to the polls.

As for me, I have been tricked into returning to the hardware store because they don't take credit cards and the helpful employee let me get the flashlight and batteries on her tab.

Monday, September 08, 2008

It's Not Easy Being Green

I am not one of those people who is intensely interested in being "green," but I do care and try to conserve in my own small ways. So the other day, I was quite annoyed when my efforts were thwarted.

I've seen the signs in Giant stating that if I bring in my own bags, I can save a nickel for each bag I bring, and I've ignored them. For some reason, I always bring my own bag into Trader Joe's because that store just kind of inspires cooperation and good works. But at Giant, why bother, right?

The other day I reconsidered my flawed logic and brought my reusable Trader Joe's bag into Giant...where it was blatantly ignored.

Although I mentioned it several times to the cashier, showing him the bag and stating the reason for its presence, he continued to place my groceries into double-bagged plastic cocoons. He halfway acknowledge me saying, "Oh, you know I just get used to doing things a certain way." But he didn't stop to putting things into plastic bags.

I told him that he needed to give my my nickel off anyway because I brought in the bag and it wasn't my fault that he ignored it.

"Oh, so you're saying it's my fault?" he challenged. At first, I backed down and said it wasn't his fault, but then I thought better of it. And I told him yes, it was his fault: I had pointed out the bag I'd brought and the sign directly across from his station that said customers got five cents off for each bag they bring in.

So I put all the plastic bags into the reusable bag so I'd only have one bag to carry (see it still came in handy). Then I told the store manager who seemed just as confused as the cashier.

When I got home, I read a review of Thomas Friedman's new book Hot, Flat and Crowded--Why We Need a Green Revolution and How it Can Renew America in which he says the U.S. can avoid utter ruin by changing our wasteful energy habits.

Nothing is impossible, but let me tell you Mr. Friedman, it ain't gonna be easy to change the wasteful mindset of the American people.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Swims with Dolphins

I heard an interesting exchange while I was at the National Aquarium in DC (yes, we have one), doing research for a Washington Post article I wrote: Aquatic Adventures and a Dolphin Birthday.

There was a man there with two little boys. I imagine they were his sons and he says to one of them, "I'll show you Patrick."

I'm wondering if he has come up with personal pet names for these creatures or if he knew something I didn't. Turns out it was the latter. It all became clear when one little boy said, "I want to find Sponge Bob! All they have to do is put a sponge in there."

So this man knew he needed to reference a tv character to get his kids to make the connection. (If you don't know, Patrick is a starfish.) I just hope he told them that there is no Sponge Bob...

The aquarium marketing rep told me that pop culture has had a huge influence on aquarium visits. After The Little Mermaid, everyone was looking for Sebastian and puffer fish. And for a while everyone was looking for Nemo as well.

Much safer than when people adopt dalmatians or chihuahuas after seeing them on tv or in a movie and dump them after the real ones are not as much fun as their on-screen counterparts.
Dirty Jersey

I saw a man in a van with NJ plates who was driving while operating a video camera...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The other day two older "gentleman" drove me straight into the arms of Commerce.

I was sitting on a bench, reading when "gentleman" #1 approached. (Ironically, the book was a coming-of-age story where the main character gets harassed by an old man. Her mother ends up shooting him, but that is another story.)

He was unhappy that I didn't greet him warmly. He told me I had an attitude (which is a common insult that a man will throw at a woman whenever she is not elated to see him or when she does not offer to sit on his lap). I told him to have a nice day and found another bench.

Sometimes when I sit outside I find that after swatting way one pest, another will immediately follow. But this does not usually happen with pests of the human variety.

I wasn't sitting on my new bench long, when "gentleman" #2 came by. Unlike, "gentleman" #1, #2 was not sober. His zig-zagging flight and slurred speech caused me to flee once again. But I wised up and did not find another bench.

I followed my own unsteady course into a clothing store, where lo and behold, I found what I had long been looking for: a pair of well-fitting, dark jeans at an amazing price. So thank you horrid and annoying old men for sending me on my way to a 70% off rack and $4.99 jeans. All's well that ends well, as they say.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Work/Life Balance

Yesterday I was in a store and I heard a little voice say, "Do you live here?" I looked down at there was a little boy looking up at me. He repeated the question. I was puzzled.

"It's 'Do you work here?'" his mother corrected him.

I'm glad she cleared that up. Her little boy was practicing his concerned consumer skills, learning early that you may have to question several people in a store before you can find one to help you. And while some people do live at work, I neither lived nor worked there, so I couldn't help him.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Take a Load Off

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
-Matthew 11:28