May 6, 2008

Tenth Face: The Final Face

As I reflect back on the things that I've been taught by Washington Avenue this year, I realize that just as much of my education came from the interactions and observations on a street as in a classroom. I've composed somewhat of a list that I feel encapsulates the most important bits of knowledge that I've gained:
1. Burger King is safe between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. To visit at any time before or after the designated hours is to put oneself in imminent danger.
2. The Harvard Market is safe between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. The aforementioned Burger King rules apply here as well.
3. ZLB Plasma Services is never safe. Ever. At no point should any person enter the doors or approach within five feet of the entrance.
4. Chipotle is quite possibly the most influential, inspirational, and important chain restaurant in existence. It provides hearty portions at affordable prices...all in a cozy and inviting atmosphere.
5. The Tea Garden is a hidden treasure. There is nothing like the specially packaged vegan cookies that cost more than two dollars. I recommend the peanut butter ones.
6. Noodles is overrated and unenjoyable. The portions are marginally satisfying. I would suggest Chipotle for roughly the same price.
7. The bald man in the barbershop is either always sweeping the floor, reading a magazine, or talking on the telephone. I have never in fact seen him cutting someone's hair.
8. Jamba Juice is an unnecessary addition to Washington Avenue. There is one no more than two blocks away, in Coffman Union. I think Jamba Juice should be removed from its Washington Avenue location and replaced with another Chipotle.
9. Traffic light regulations do not apply during school hours. By "traffic light regulations" I mean blinking orange hands.
10. There are far too many establishments that serve coffee and/or breakfast pastries. A simple solution would see at teast three of them eliminated and replaced by new restaurants.
11. The empty space across from Dairy Queen and Erbert and Gerbert's could be filled with a fresh set of eateries; like a new Chipotle perhaps.
12. There is something to be offered for everyone on Washington Avenue. Whether it be appetizers from Applebee's, a latte from Starbuck's, a checking account from TCF Bank, or a burrito from Chipotle, all forms of hunger can be satisfied.

Ninth Face: The Healthy Man

I may have once enjoyed exercising. A long time ago. Before I decided it was not only a waste of time but also a detriment to fine health. Here's my logic: I figure that a person who runs - conservatively - a mile every day loses between five and nine minutes of time that could be spent doing any number of activities not involving sweating, over-exertion, or eating. And doesn't intense exercise make a person that much hungrier afterward, and thus more likely to indulge in satisfying foods? I like to think that this is a probable argument to make when justifying why I do not exercise. It's especially appeasing when I'm consuming copious amounts of extremely unhealthy foods and thinking about exercising, but then realizing that one evening of biking or jogging is not going to make a difference in my weight levels. So perhaps foolishly, I have recently made it a point of interest to avoid all forms of exercise at all costs...and I've begun to eat more than I ever have. It is my separate quest to be the one who opposes exercise and advocates indulgence in food (normally unhealthy, at that).

The walk to class every day is met with at least a handful of walkers, runners, joggers, and/or bikers. It's difficult for me to comprehend the appeal of exercise to so many people. I can't fathom the enjoyment of streams of sweat running around every major orifice of the body or cramped and pulsing muscles for hours afterward. Why subject oneself to a grueling, several-mile run when there is a restaurant right on the corner that necessitates an easy, care-free walk? Why expose oneself to humid, summer temperatures simply for the pleasure of a 5-10 mile bike ride, when there is an air-conditioned fast food restaurant only a block away?

I cannot support an activity that I feel is adverse to a healthy body. It only makes sense to me that a person enduring an intense exercise regimen will not benefit in any way. There is an increased desire to eat food, which subsequently causes an increased weight gain. To be fair, there are those who can support such a schedule of daily exercise, but most indeed cannot. I cannot. I don't want to attempt it, even. Exercise doesn't even interest me to the point of making an effort. Chipotle's got a place for me on the benches...with my burrito.

April 20, 2008

Eighth Face: Tu Cara

Chipotle, that most beautiful of Americanized Mexican restaurants, sits snugly on a Washington Avenue corner, directly across from Bruegger's Bagels. To some, it represents nothing more than a suspiciously overpriced (the prices continue to rise), overtly modern, fast food eatery. To me, it represents the spirit of college eating, and eating in general. It gives new meaning to the word content. Each burrito so beautifully and carefully packaged in the trademark foil wrapping, weighing down the basket it's so delicately placed in. Chipotle delivers a quality, heart healthy (laugh) meal at a price that suits my wallet just fine. Each hefty portion massages my stomach, teases it, and I get a bit giddy.

Watching the construction of a Chipotle burrito is like listening to a renowned symphony performance. Just as every musical instrument must be tuned and played perfeectly in order to render a magical show, the portions of the practice of creating the burrito must be synchronized correctly in order to produce the final, wonderful product. The stewing and laying of the meat on the rapidly warmed tortilla; the covering of the meat with delightfully thick beans; and the addition of the key ingredients to any burrito: salsa and sour cream. There is a unique flick of the wrist that goes into the spooning of sour cream, and a similar method that accompanies the process of scooping salsa. Unlike a symphony, though, the manufacturing of a burrito is unfortunately quick. Eating it is of course enjoyable, but it pales in comparison to watching it made. As it usually goes, the rising actions are usually much more pleasurable than the climax - in any situation. I eat my burrito, but I know too that it's almost over; the entire experience is almost complete. At least while I watch the production of my burrito, I know that it is in its most pure form, not ravaged or stained by my mouth.

There can only be one burrito: the Chipotle burrito. It is symbolic of a new generation of eating: the combination of "fast" food and a noisy, upbeat atmosphere. The Chipotle burrito is the burrito.

April 6, 2008

Seventh Face: North Face

There must exist some set of statistics that shows how many college students own at least one item of North Face gear. 1 in 10, perhaps? Or - and here's an idea - 1 in 4? What if it extended even further to every 1 in 2? Think of it, half of all college students owning something from this prevalent apparel company. I'm probably exaggerating, but I would put my money on 1 in 3 at least. 50% to 33%. Yes, this seems more accurate. And we're therefore presented with a problem: how to decrease this percentage to below 5%. This is wishful thinking, of course, and nothing that I ever hope to accomplish, but the idea pacifies me - especially when I'm bombarded with the sight of backpacks and jackets and hats and sweatshirts. Now, I'm not jealous of these North Facers, because if I were ever given the opportunity to purchase a backpack with that semi-cirle insignia, I would. I guess its manifested in the senseless fact that I see too many people promoting North Face. Maybe if they all got together and created a schedule, where half of them would wear their gear on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and the others on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays (Sunday would be a day free of anything and everything North Face). This way, the sightings of North Face would decrease significantly and everyone would be happier, and by "everyone," I mean those who actually think that this is an issue. So probably just me. But I would be much happier knowing that my eyes weren't in danger of burning every time I left my apartment. Like most others, I have found a certain appeal to North Face. But unlike most others, I am turned off by this appeal, which may be a bit of a contradiction. I mean, does anyone really know what those ambiguous, African-like names on the bottoms of the backpacks really mean? Or do people just think they sound neat? Because I don't even think that. It's difficult for me to comprehend the magnificence of camping gear, and why college students - who certainly aren't camping - feel the need to walk around pretending that they're maybe a little semi-elite, because their backpacks cost $100 more than the nearest competitor's. And I guess I'm just as bad, because if I ever came across a North Face backpack that struck my fancy, and I happened to have an extra $100 bill in my pocket, I would be wearing it proudly every day of the week - maybe even on Sunday.

April 5, 2008

Sixth Face: Edward Norton Perhaps?

I guess I would consider myself notorious for making ironic subconscious decisions. Some would say it's a weakness, while others would disagree and say that because the decisions are subconscious, I can't be held accountable for the reciprocations. But maybe, in a way, they're not entirely subconscious. Maybe a shred of me does understand what I'm doing. And don't get me wrong, I do care about the decisions I make. The magnitude of what I've done just doesn't register until after I encounter the reactions of other people.

For instance - and the most notable example of subconscious revelry - was my physical transformation into a second-rate white supremacist. I say "second-rate" only because I haven't ascended to the next tier of tattooing swastikas to my forehead and wearing foreboding, mysteriously simple clothing. It was a progressive series of events that led me to what I now look like, so I like to think that it was all subconscious. It began with the growth of facial hair - something that I didn't mind, but couldn't necessarily handle all over my face, so I settled for leaving it on the chin. Never before had I been able to successfully grow facial hair (and perhaps I still can't, but I like to think it's a step up from before), so those first lengthy strands that popped out were welcomed. Next came the piercing of the ears a few weeks later. There's really no explanation for this, except perhaps to attract members of the opposite sex (still unsuccessful). Call me shallow, because in a way, it's probably true. Finally, and to no desire of my own, I was "forced" to shave my head. By "forced" I mean: I encountered perhaps the worst stylist in the world at a Regis Salon who proceeded to fashion my hair after an early '70s picture of a third grader. Long on top, short on the back and sides. I can't recall getting a more obnoxious haircut. So, I took advantage of the services of a friend who corrected the mishap by shaving the rest of it completely.

I suppose all of these occurrences combined suffice to form a better portrait of what I mean when I say that I took that first step into white supremacy. It was something that I realized only after being told by close friends that I looked like a skinhead. I recalled immediately Edward Norton, whom I had seen on the cover of American History X. While Edward Norton is a more attractive individual, has a more toned body, and is generally a much cooler person than I am, I saw some similarity. This is why I was afraid to exit my apartment for several days (which I did, but was still afraid), simply because I knew the type of people who would be surrounding the doors of ZLB Plasma Services in the early morning hours. And so, I tried at least to dress conservatively. Wearing a hat was not an option, because no one with a shaved head looks good with a hat, unless your name is Justin Timberlake - and mine most certainly is not. I couldn't get rid of my "beard" because it had taken me 18 long years to perfect, and this was more important than a potential sidewalk beat down. So, I kept the look, though I am in the process of at least trying to grow the hair back. I have realized that a near-bald head is not for me. In fact, I would be perfectly content with 8 to 9 inches of hair...just to be safe.

March 22, 2008

Fifth Face: Fast Food Replay

I realize that Burger King has become a staple in my blog entries, but for good reason: I pass it every day and chance to enter it on occasion. Afternoons, mornings, late nights (they turn off the lights at 3 a.m., so I suppose this may qualify as early morning); it ceases to get tiresome. Which is why, perhaps, it has been the site of more than one monumental event. The first involved a girl (an infatuation), and one that I don't wish to revive any time in the near future; therefore, I will state simply that Burger King became - for maybe 45 minutes (at that time) - the land of dreams (my apologies, Mr. Walt Disney, but you've been one-upped). The second event was not as personal, but it was far more influential. I had entered the side doors - passing two presumably homeless men while doing so - and was readying myself for the order. Standing next to me was a towering individual, dressed entirely in black. I recognized him from one of my classes, but as expected, we shared no interaction. He placed his order, paid the money, and took his paper bag from the cashier. I, on the other hand, was forced to wait for my food to be packaged and pushed, so even if I hoped to at least say a word to him, the opportunity never came (this turned out to be a blessing, because the absence of words made the proceeding event even more impressive). No more than 30 seconds later - while I was still standing at the counter - one of the two homeless mene entered the establishment, grinning, holding a paper bag. He passed me on his way to the restroom, muttering three words: "He's an angel." I said: "Who is?" And he responded back with: "Gabriel." An obvious allusion to the biblical figure, I was still at a loss for reply. He kept walking, and the thought of the paper bag in his hand (not there when I originally passed him) failed to register in my mind. As I left those same side doors, I found to my somewhat charitable delight that the individual dressed in black was conversing with the second homeless man. I found this oddly reassuring, in a way that is perhaps beyond extensive comment. No matter, what struck me as being of the greatest import was the absence of the paper bag that he had taken from the cashier about two minutes before. Things finally clicked, cogs began to turn, and I could not help but smile. I left, thinking only about this occurrence. I had never witnessed something so subtle before, so inwardly kind. But it made me happy. And I liked it.

March 7, 2008

Fourth Face: Story of Eyes

Time moves slowly on Washington Avenue. Unless, of course, class begins no later than fifteen minutes before I walk out the door, at which point, time races along at breakneck speeds, challenging me to keep up with it. And in my physical condition (that physical condition known only as being completely out of shape), time will always win…always. Therefore, it is my duty each morning to leave at least 25 minutes before class begins, so that Time can at least give me a head start.

Although time may occasionally move slowly on Washington Avenue, the people sure as hell do not. No matter where on the sidewalk I happen to be, a constant barrage of intent faces is always barreling toward me. Most times, I turn away, looking at the front of a restaurant or the passing cars on the street, but if someone’s eyes ever search for my own, I calmly return the stare. It is my way of reading people, understanding them, analyzing who they are.

The worst eyes to look into are those of the destitute, the same ones that search for pitying eyes of countless others each day, in order to gain a few dollars. Washington Avenue brings me to a low when I conclude that I can’t afford to give money to all who ask me. Even the ones who I do give to, I still feel as if I’m not giving enough, as if their eyes continue to probe me, begging me in a way that their mouths cannot. On those days when I’ve got no money to give, I feel like I’m inconveniencing them, embarrassing them for having me asked me for change in the first place. They put themselves out there, and I could not respond.

There is one man in particular who catches my attention when I see him. I have never given him any money; he has never asked for any, and I have never gotten close enough to offer it. He carries with him a walker, aiding his slow movements from sidewalk tile to sidewalk tile. His winter hat never changes, but his clothes always seem to. His beard is full and white; he looks like a much larger (and I suppose more contemporary) Walt Whitman. The most prominent features about him, though – and ones that most would not expect to be seen from such a distance – are his eyes. They are warm and kind, though they are no indication of his actual temperament. Whenever I chance to notice him, his eyes are the first things I notice, already looking deeply into me. Eyes tell stories, or they look to create them.

March 1, 2008

Third Face: Plasma

I understand that I previously set certain defined limits to write only about people I saw between Blegen Hall and the Washington Avenue Burger King, but I believe there has arisen a circumstance that allows me to go beyond those limits. ZLB Plasma Services, located no more than a block away from that beautiful burger paradise, is like a giant, malignant tumor on the side of neighboring Arby’s. If not for the company of people always surrounding the entrance of the building, it may have a better reputation than the one that’s been attributed to it.

ZLB is an infections disease (excuse the exaggerations, puns, etc., but they may be appropriate), a problem, an excuse for remedy. While I understand the benefits for such an establishment (i.e., the necessary donation and collection of plasma in order to save lives), there are also contributing factors that make it much less appealing to potential donors: basically, everything about it.

The tepid, uninviting duality of colors that adorn the building are suitable to the mood that exists within a 100-foot radius (this includes the Arby’s, unfairly affected by the somberness). Trash is littered all around the entrance and 20-25 feet before and after you pass the door. While this doesn’t and shouldn’t indicate the quality of the services provided - as trash is inevitably scattered everywhere within the city - it certainly doesn’t boost business.

Perhaps the biggest impediments to ZLB are the solicitors that solicit directly in front of the NO SOLICITING sign. Apparently, the rules were discarded long ago. Or maybe, the NO SOLICITING sign is a joke, a subtle insert of irony meant to make passersby laugh. It’s quite possibly one of the biggest paradoxes you’ll ever see, that hits you head on, as if to say: “WE’RE SOLICITING!? No, I know: the employees refrain from enforcing the rules because they’re afraid that the soliciting donors are packing more than healthy plasma.

If I could explain the situation any more thoroughly, I would surely be labeled racist or intolerant, but I find ZLB to be not only inconvenient, but also terrifying, which is why, for the first time, I chose to enter those NO SOLICITING doors and experience paradise for myself. It reminded me of a scene from a movie, in which nuclear missiles have devoured a small town, and the survivors are forced to relocate to a small school or hospital where they can be treated for radiation and incoherence. While none of these people were radiating nuclear waste from their skin (this would undoubtedly prevent you from donating anything from your body), they all wore on their faces the same bored, blank look. Why are we here? It was sad to witness, and the situation was made no better when I realized that playing on the ceiling televisions was Pirates of the Caribbean, the epitome of excellent “donating? film.

I left promptly with my hand locked firmly on my wallet, but I may return one day; if not for the money, then to see if Armageddon is playing.

February 25, 2008

Second Face: Barbeque/Mayonnaise

I live in the general vicinity of the Washington Avenue Burger King, so it isn’t completely out of the question for me to stop there quite frequently during the course of the week (though now, because of a lack of finances, I’ve been forced to limit myself). There is a certain sense of comfort in knowing that I can enter such a reputable establishment and satisfy my gullet, usually for the less than $5.00. The BK Value Menu is a sight to behold, filled with the most delectable menu items that rival even those of the McDonald’s Dollar Menu (I have since converted to BK Value Menu-naire status, so I no longer occupy a coveted space on that ever popular list of McDonald’s Dollar Menu-naires). French fries, burgers, salads, even chili (McDonald’s can’t say that) await me as I enter those clear “Push/Pull? doors. I generally opt for three Whopper Juniors and two Rodeo Cheeseburgers, though as of late I have crossed the occasional line to purchase three Rodeo Cheeseburgers and two Whopper Juniors. There comes a time when a change is in order, and I feel it necessary to replace barbeque sauce with mayonnaise.

There is, however, one resignation I have with frequenting Burger King, and that rests in the quality of customer service provided. The word whopper is the same in every language…I think. Spanish: whopper. English: whopper. Mandarin: whopper. Danish: probably whopper. Therefore, when I enter Burger King, and place my order, I expect the cashier to at least be familiar with the most popular menu item, but when I’m misunderstood, held up, or otherwise inconvenienced, it becomes a bit of a drag (Big Mac, anyone?). I would say that the ratio of Latino to White/African-American workers at the Washington Avenue Burger King is 10:1 (conservatively), the majority of whom cannot speak intelligible English. With that said, I feel as if I should be paying in pesos; maybe then my order would be better comprehended. But I’ll still go. And I’ll still get those delectable Whoppers. And I’ll probably even pay in dollars.

February 11, 2008

First Face: Cannabis

I don't possess marijuana; I've never smoked marijuana. So to suggest that I might resemble one of the several grungy dealers who undoubtedly populate lower Washington Avenue is an insult to my character, my wardrobe, and my general appearance.

He approached me very casually. I was looking at something behind him, and his eyes were locked securely on me. He put his hand out, motioning for me to stop, and I kindly obliged, believing him to be generally harmless. After placing one hand on my shoulder, and the other on the nape of my neck – as if to pull me in to kiss me – he whispered every so gently, “You got any weed?? I responded, “No? and began to walk away. I turned around and told him that I wasn’t into that, to which he replied only with a string of incoherent sentences laden with the word fuck and its eternal variants.

I don't know his name (I’ll call him Mike). In the haste to escape his presence, I didn't catch it. What I may have caught, though, is a dormant case of pneumonia. His face was so near mine that there must have been a transfer of fluids.

"Toss me a little saliva, Mike, because I'm not sick enough right now. Pop it right down the hatch. Wait, you haven't been tapping the hash pipe, have you? You have. Well steer clear then, my friend. Can't be catchin' none of that."

Do I project a severely drugged persona? I don't think so. My health is adequate enough. There are no purple bags dragging my lower eyelids nearly to my cheeks. My hair is thick (made possible by the incomparable formula created by the Aussie experts). I brush my teeth twice daily. I don't recognize a sallow tone to my skin. Yellow, grey, green perhaps? Is it just not apparent to me? Do I really look as if I possess drugs? And what if I did? How would he have reacted had I told him that I did?

“No, Mike, I'm sorry. Stock's all out. Try me again next week, though, on my way to my American Literature class. I should be in the area around 11:00. Big bills, Mike, big bills only. We ain't packin' no dime bags on this shift."

I’ve since replaced Descartes, Pynchon, Spinoza, Didion, and Freud in my backpack with rolling papers, roach clips, drain cleaner, ethyl ether, and Vicks. I’m sorry there’s no room for you, Hegel, but priority goes to the speed bottles. Engels? No, sir. I’ve got angel dust to take up the room.

What's that you ask again, Mike? I got any weed? No, not to my knowledge. But could I interest you in a blotter strip? I think the radical design on the paper complements the trip. Maybe some jimsonweed or oxycodone or morphine. No, those don't work either? You could take some of the Ativan, Valium, Xanax, or Demerol. Maybe the cocaine would better suit your tastes. Take it to the Village Wok and tell the waiter that you're freebasing powdered sugar. I don’t think he’ll mind.