Monday, January 25, 2010

Time-Wasters and Hamburgers

I recently caught author Raj Patel on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. He was discussing his book, The Value of Nothing, a title that comes from an Oscar Wilde observation in which he says “people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Patel talked about the hidden costs in a free market using a MacDonald’s hamburger as an example. He argues that if we factored in the environmental destruction behind getting that hamburger into our stomachs, the actual price would be more like $200! ( 

It was a good interview and when I heard Patel would be in Portland at Powell Books there was no question I’d be there. When I arrived, Patel was already talking to a crowded room and had the audience laughing. The more he spoke, the more I thought about the title of his book and how it could spread to other areas of life, like the value of one’s time - in other words, my time.  

Like others, my time is precious and whom I spend time with is important to me. Whether it’s on the phone talking or sitting around doing nothing, it’s still my valuable time.  

This week, I spent an afternoon canning applesauce with a friend. She took time out of her day to come over and teach me the canning process. It was a worthwhile day and we learned a little more about each other. I’d say time well spent.  

On the flip side, I look at other situations, some even recently, where I’ve given my time to someone only to realize soon after they were a time-waster. There’s the guy who after our first date stood in my kitchen, lifted his leg, passed gas, and then laughed  about his little stunt. I stayed with that dude for six months. Then there’s the guy who had no problem with me making him dinners but insisted on splitting every check at every meal, including the ones where he asked me out. That one lasted six weeks. And then there was the blind date. He sat next to me at Barnes & Noble and wondered aloud if my breasts were real. That one lasted an hour. Luckily, the older I get the quicker I am to throw on my Nikes and run from these types.  

Time-wasters and hamburgers from certain fast food chains can be toxic. Perhaps that’s why Patel’s comments left such an impression on me. If I were to add up the hidden costs of my valuable time I’m pretty sure I’d be a very rich girl. And no hamburger, including a $200 one, is worth that.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Viagrrra Falls

Something was definitely in the air this week. It was like the past was pouncing into my present. I don’t know if it was Facebook launching what it called Retro Week, or waking up from a disturbing dream where I was staring at the hairy and naked chest of David Lee Roth, or having more than one discussion with friends who are moms with daughters dealing with the “mean-girl syndrome”. 

The mean-girl issue probably stuck with me most. Not because I was a mean-girl myself, but rather the recipient of some mean-girl jokes. For a year in high school I was called the Purple Blob due to my adoration for my big purple coat. Though I hated that name, I’ll admit it was a huge puffy coat where you could barely see my head!

So when my cousin Janan invited me to see the Rose City Rollers, an all-girl roller derby and a show some might perceive as the ultimate mean-girl event, I couldn’t say no. I also saw it as an opportunity for us to hang out more. 

How retro to end the week watching scantily clad women in fishnets and roller skates shoving, bumping, and knocking each other down. These were women of all shapes and sizes. And with names like Viagrrra Falls, F-Bomb, and Butcher Block, you knew they were serious. So serious that at one point during a bout, a player was severely injured after being flipped. She was lying on the ground, unable to move. A medical crew quickly took her to the hospital.

I was rooting for team Heartless Heathers because Janan is friends with some of the girls. When I asked one of the players named Soul Train about strategy and size, she said the bigger the girls are the more frustrated they get and you just “ride them, ride them, like a little gnat.”  I couldn’t help but wonder if this type of aggression was perhaps healthier than heckling and teasing girls with name calling, as adolescents can do.

The Heartless Heathers ended up losing their game, but they played with heart and charisma. Afterwards, amongst the hootin’ and howlin’ of a revved up crowd, the bruised girls hugged and laughed with each other indicating these were some very nice girls after all. Still, I’m just glad I didn’t wear my big purple coat. 

Monday, January 11, 2010

Recalculating ... Recalculating.

When I drove across country last summer I started out the old fashioned way: with an Atlas and a cell phone. But as will be the case with the Lila Navigation System, I encountered hiccups and wrong turns along the way. Luckily, I knew I could always call up my buddy Andy in Cleveland and ask him to get me back on track. But after a few calls for help Andy indicated it really wasn’t his lifelong dream to be my human atlas. When I stopped during the trip to see him and his wife Mindy, they presented me with a gift: The Garmin GPS. Of course, I was very grateful for this thoughtful gift but thought, Why do I need a GPS? I think they secretly feared without it I’d drive myself to Afghanistan. I named my global positioning system Garmina and off we drove.

Garmina and I got along beautifully and saw some gorgeous parts of the country. She never led me astray, even in some desolate areas. Once we arrived in Portland, she continued to get me where I needed to go. But as the weeks passed I realized I was becoming too reliant on her. Like a co-dependant relationship, I needed her and she loved being needed. Andy encouraged me to put her away and navigate around town on my own. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.Then, things started to change. There was the time Garmina tried to send me into the Willamette River. I forgave her that. Then, there was the incident involving a moving train. I gave her a pass on that bit of a blunder as well. But, finally, this past week as I sat at a stop light at the corner of Burnside and Sandy - a corner I’m convinced city planners mapped out while drinking moonshine - Garmina tried to send me in a direction I knew was wrong. I ignored her… only to hear her repeatedly snap in her snotty voice RecalculatingRecalculating….Recalculating!  Finally, I thought: recalculate *this* Garmina! and communicated to her with a gesture of my own. I was beginning to despise her.

Ironically, the next day my friend Nat invited me over for a screening of a video short he and his father had produced. Titled His True Love, it’s a story of a man’s deep emotional love with his GPS. I told Nat I couldn’t wait to see it. Turns out, it was terrific! ( I couldn’t deny the opposite parallels between this video and recent events in my life. Here was a man whose day seemed complete just by the sound of a sexy British female voice telling him where to go while my cranky GPS female voice plotted to kill me!

I guess it all comes down to direction in life: when to rely on others and when to count on ourselves. Sure, it can be scary and we all get lost at times but it’s those times when we find our own way out, without help from others that can be the most gratifying. So I’ve decided to put Garmina away for now only to bring her out for roads trips to unfamiliar places. And I’ve learned there are voice options to these GPS devices. So soon SHE will be a HE. And how can a girl resist a sexy Australian male voice … even if he does try to send her into the Willamette River?

** For more videos from the producer of His True Love go to

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy Two Zero One Zero

Back in June 2008, I interviewed a 77-year-old woman named Barbara Hillary. She is a cancer survivor and the first African- American woman to reach the North Pole at the age of 75. Hillary is sharp, spunky, and made for a fascinating interview. Afterwards, as we packed up our equipment, she and I continued to chat. I asked her what kept her going. She said, “negative people.” She then told me how at the end of each year she would go through her address book and delete the numbers of the people she felt sucked the life juice out of her. Just like that. She erased them.  

Initially, I thought her comment was harsh and I couldn’t help but wonder how many people had perhaps ticked her off. But ever since that interview, I’ve often relayed this story of her ritual of entering a new year to others. For some reason, it’s really stuck with me, and others too based on the reaction I get. Why? I’m not sure. It’s certainly not something I would have ever thought to do…and not just because half my address book is in ink. 

This New Year, I actually added numbers to my book. Whether it was spending it with childhood friends discussing the proper way to say 2010 or with new friends watching college football and playing scrabble, in many ways, this New Year felt like new beginnings.

And while Barbara Hillary’s method of cleaning house may or may not ring right with everyone, perhaps her objective is less about hurting anyone and more about being true to herself. Maybe the more negativity she leaves behind the lighter she becomes, which allows her to take the big risks that pay off … like reaching the top of the world. It’s something I can learn from this year as I make my own goals and face the challenges of reaching my own top of the world.