“Hey, can I ask you a question?”
(But you just did)
“Hey, can I ask you a question?”
(But you just did)
Ok, let me begin by saying I had a dentist appointment for 2pm.
I waited 2 months for my insurance company to get their act together, and today was finally the day I had approval. When they called to let me know, it was like I was Charlie and the woman on the phone was handing me the golden ticket in a Wonka Bar. Giddy up baby.
Given I was in the Bronx for an event, I had to speed bike through the rain to make it to my appointment. The winds were aggressively tugging against me, pulling me back two inches each time I gained one. It was a clever optical illusion — in the spirit of the ongoing presidential campaign — where my legs appeared to be pedaling forward, but my wheels were turning in the opposite direction. A delusional progression, you could say.
The appointment got changed to 3pm, so I grabbed some food and brushed my teeth (as if brushing my teeth right before I go in will make it seem like I have the best dental hygiene. Admittedly so, first impressions are everything).
I filled out the paperwork, and sat there organizing in my head the incredible amount of schoolwork and work-related work I had to complete by the end of the day. Needless to say, the task in itself kept me occupied for 20 minutes. At one point, the reception left the front desk unattended to speak with the dentist, so when a woman showed up for her appointment, she couldn’t get in. The door furiously rattled for a good… 6, 7 seconds before I stood up to unlock it for her. She then looked me up and down, glaring at me with a disgusted pout, muttering, “Fucking couldn’t even open the door, taking your fucking time, do I look like a fucking criminal to you? Who do you think you are?”
When the receptionist returned to the front desk, the woman’s eyes brightened as if nothing had happened. Night to day. Sometimes, I JUST DON’T UNDERSTAND PEOPLE.
She then starts trashing my attire to the front desk. Alright, lady, I’m a sleep deprived grad student and I just got back from painting an elementary school; you don’t have to knock me for my sweatpants swag. Immediately, I decide it’s not worth the time effort, so I sit down silently and take a nap. An hour and a half later, I am woken up by the dental assistant. “It’s your turn to come in,” she says.
The dentist introduced himself, with a huge grin on his face. I stood in the hallway as he talked about how 93% of women with breast cancer have deformities on the same 4 teeth because they are on the same meridian lines (oh wouldn’t you love to know how this argument went), about how a man with a 1st grade education can cure cancer by the mere act of slicing skin without anesthesia, and about how Alzheimer’s is supposedly curable in Switzerland. He then asked me about my undergraduate education and seemed to inquire about my dating history (yeah right, like I’m going to stand here in the waiting room and tell you about my Tinder life with HotHead breathing down my neck).
Okay, yes, he was really nice. But he didn’t even talk about anything medically relevant for 40 whole minutes.
When the assistant finally brought me into the room, he was still talking. It was as if his brain would not allow for multitasking, because every time he reached for a tool, his eyes would light up with another thought, and he had to stop what he was planning to do, entirely. He put on gloves, which he coughed into, and then put on a facemask, which he wore under his chin like a fashion accessory (what is the POINT, my man).
We didn’t get started until THREE AND A HALF HOURS after the appointment time, because the guy would not stop talking. When he realized I was using insurance, and not paying out of pocket, he put me into a different room and had me sign off on CPT codes (billing codes, for insurance) that stated I had 16 cavities. 16 cavities? Oh, are these the same cavities that didn’t exist 2 minutes ago, when you were under the impression that I was paying out of pocket?
I get that insurance reimbursements are shitty, but damn. Talk about milking the cow for what it’s worth.
And you wonder why the reimbursement rates are so low. If I worked for Aetna, I wouldn’t trust providers, either.
Anyway, he then asked (again) about the times I had broken my nose over the years. We talked about that for another 5 minutes, before I interjected, reminding him that I was way behind schedule and needed to get going soon. He, without ANY warning, injected me with FIVE local anesthetic needles, which not only numbed my teeth, but my nose as well. I’ve had this procedure done before, but never that high and that much. I just bit down and took it in stride.
And by stride, I mean whimpering for mercy, as quietly as possible.
For the duration, I had to wonder if he was doing work he didn’t need to do — I had seen 3-4 dentists/orthodontists very recently, and they all seemed to think otherwise. I got out of that chair after a grand total of 4.5 HOURS. Treatment time? 20 minutes.
On my way out, he points at his meridian chart and tells me what other health issues I can anticipate (“if X tooth is damaged, then X body part will be affected” wonky logic). I politely nod, but all I’m thinking at this point is CAN I LEAVE NOW.
He then goes, Oh by way. Your nose is fine. I checked that out for you.
He had numbed my nose on purpose. MY DENTIST. numbed my NOSE. To test how strong it is.
This man has forgotten what kind of doctor he is. Next time, if there is a next time, mind your own meridian and I’ll mind my own.
“JANE, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” he asked.
With a worried note to his call, his voice meekly carried over from a hundred paces away. “ARE YOU CRAZY?”
I had to assume it was not a question for me to answer.
Nick, along with two equally horrified passerby hikers, held their breaths as they watched me lower my body through a damaged gap in the tracks. We all stood on the burnt boards of an abandoned bridge that once supported the weight of a railroad train but has since deteriorated into a local attraction for daredevil hikers and photographers.
Fires, from repeated horseplay, and heavy Washington downpours have led this second largest railroad bridge to closure, but that has done little to deter travelers from walking across it anyway. While he and the two others from Florida cautiously crawled across the wooden planks, I skipped ahead recklessly, joyously, and a bit foolishly, one might say.
When I got to a gap big enough to fit my body, I stopped hopping. Many planks were gradually degrading; as my weight pressed down, pieces of wood would chip away like the cheap acrylic from a Chinatown nail salon. Keeping the bulk of my weight on my arms, I dipped one foot down at a time onto a small sheet of metal beneath where the tracks used to be. It feels sturdy enough, I thought to myself.
So, I did what all normal, sane, and practical people would do in that situation.
I let go.
Flirting with the devil at nearly 400ft above ground, I tried balancing one foot at a time. For some odd reason– my blood did not race in the slightest bit. My Fitbit confirmed: resting rate of 42, the usual pace at which my heart conducts its business (yes, I know, it’s weirdly slow. It’s always been that way).
I called out to the others, “Come here! It’s fine!”
But they shook their heads no and continued to watch me from afar.
I don’t blame them.
When I leaned forward, this is what I could see below my feet.
I leaned back against the broken wood resting on the small of my back and scanned the view around me. I inhaled the greens and blues with a voracious greed in my eyes, because I knew, once I returned to the City, I wouldn’t be able to consume this kind of sight.
I don’t normally advocate for gluttony, but in this case, I certainly do.
Nick and I crossed the entire length of the bridge, and then we decided to climb the trestles that make up the bridge. We skid down a hill and made it up a decent height before acknowledging it’d be stupid to keep going without any rope support.
Using our hands and knees, we made a nearly vertical descent down to ground level. There were logs, embedded rocks, loose roots, and one tattered rope that helped us steer our way down. I have to admit: this part, though tame in comparison to the bridge, had me extremely nervous the entire way down.
It wasn’t the height. It wasn’t the close snake encounter.
What scared me was the chance of injury. Nick and I are opposites in the sense. He can scale down these dangerous paths with no hesitation, because he knows he can survive the fall, whereas he cannot if he were to fall off Vance Creek bridge (where we started our hike). I, on the other hand, having had many close encounters with death, think nothing of dying other than “I hope my parents don’t waste money on a funeral” and “did I ever send that email reply?” but am riddled with intense anxiety when I run the risk of breaking a leg.
We develop our fears through exposure and maintain our fears through avoidance. What oddly balanced creatures we are.
At the end of our descent, Nick and I were welcomed by a stream of clear water flossing and weaving through a bed of rocks. We took off our hiking boots and long socks to dip our feet in painfully cold water. Why? Because pain becomes tolerable over time.
Just kidding. It was because we thought it’d be warmer than that.
At the bottom, we rested, occasionally dunking our feet in the icy cold (as tolerated). We refueled our heavy breaths with lush, fresh oxygen. It was then, with a clearer mind, that we could see how far we had come, but simultaneously could calculate the equivalent distance of how far we’d have to travel to get back to where we had started from.
Some metaphorical shit, I know.
In times of taxing, physical exertion –believe it or not– I tend to hurdle over elementary thoughts of “When’s lunch?” and “That looks amazing,” for grandiose symbolic ideas that can be applied to the phenomenons of life (or used at the conclusion of a blog article).
It’s an obnoxious habit, but a habit nonetheless.
I usually try to keep it to myself.
We hiked back uphill through an endless pile of thorny bushes. The dry foundation of dirt and sand would crumble away from our feet when we pulled our weight upward, so as we slid back down, we’d make an illusory progress — this is how I presume it would feel to try and run from quicksand.
Aaaaand good thing I wore shorts that were three inches long, because I really wanted to end the hike looking like a lotto scratch ticket.
We then jumped back in the truck and headed home to pick up Nick’s bike.
By bike, I mean a bike.
I’ve always wanted a motorcycle license, so spending the afternoon zooming around town was as close to perfection I could’ve gotten.
Speeding, even against still air, helps you understand the undeniable force of a bullet: so minute in relation to the rest of the world, but able to penetrate, without bias, a crisp sheet of steel that has yet to be touched. She growled, snuggling against my thighs, and it shot pulses of adrenaline through my veins in a fearsome way no man ever could.
Does this make me gay?
We pulled into Chambers Bay, which was the golf course in University Place, WA that once hosted the US Open. It housed a beautiful bridge and a small, sandy beach riddled with beachwood. I told him the hills reminded me of velvet, because they looked soft enough to touch.
We found a hut made entirely out of gorgeous, smooth branches.
On the bridge, there were clusters of locks with faded initials, hinting at lovers that had passed through the same grounds and wanted to leave their mark.
He said, “If your lock gets cut, it means you will break up.”
I said, “Let’s come back with lock cutters,” like the good Samaritan I am.
Love is forever (temporarily).
As the sun stretched towards the Pacific, we made another pit stop at his garage to exchange the bike for a kayak. In my bag, I found battery powered Christmas lights (intended for the upcoming camping trip *which I recently found out was canceled), so I tucked it across the kayak skin to keep us illuminated in the dark. I strapped a headlight across my forehead, and we set sail.
There is no beauty quite like the soft dance of yellow lights on blue waters.
Nick pedaled for about 40 minutes to get us away from the other speed boats and cargo ships. We then let ourselves float in the pitch black, inky waters, as fireworks began painting the sky from multiple directions. We had gotten there just in time for the show.
Directly ahead were lights sparkling along Tacoma’s Commencement Bay, to the right we could see Seattle’s show from a distance, and on higher ground were small clusters of fireworks coming from rich homes in the woods and along the shorefront.
I will post a couple video clips on Instagram, so you can see it live.
It was a nice day.
Happy fourth, everybody. I love you all.
Elbows in, I reminded myself, watching in the mirror the course of my knees tracing the length of my body. I squatted as low as I could, tucking the 70lb dumbbell into my chest, as the metronome of J. Cole and Kendrick kept pace with my steady heart.
I was simply putting some work in at the gym, isolated in a decent radius and minding my own (as per usual) when a neighboring beefhead got up from his bench to wave a pair of massive Russian banana hands into my field of view. I turned to him, removing a headphone from the right ear just in time to make out “–fucking space.”
“Excuse me?” I said, pulling the other plug from my left, “What was that? I couldn’t hear you.”
He tensed his eyebrows tightly together and repeated, “I SAID, you’re in my fucking space. I need my space.”
In the past decade of lifting, the only times I have ever been interrupted mid-set were when men wanted to ask for the number of sets I had left on the bar, or for the number they’d have to call to get me TO a bar. So, you can imagine why I, without processing his message, instinctively reacted to his hostility with a “My bad, I’m sorry,” and consequently shifted my belongings further away.
Only after he resumed pumping his weights into the air did it occur to me that I had been standing, at the very least, a good 3 feet away from his bench. I wanted to stomp about 6 large steps away, to sarcastically curtsy and say, I’m sorry, Nancy, is that enough space for you?
But I didn’t.
One, because I often find it difficult to be an outright dick, but mostly two, because I thought of the quip a tad too late and it would’ve been weird for me to say it after that much time had passed. Eh, you win some, you lose some. Half of wit is timing.
Every time I re-encountered a glimpse of his smug face in the wall reflection, I could feel myself growing a tiny bit angrier. I removed myself from the dumbbells to the power rack, so I could put the negative energy behind me.
I finished up, then I left the facility shortly after to hop on the green line. Little did I know, as luck would have it, he was trailing right behind me.
I caught the subway train as the doors were about to close, wedging my body into a pocket of commuters, and when I turned to face the other way, I saw him running to fill the last bit of space by my feet.
I couldn’t help but immediately think of Elaine with no toilet paper, when her stall neighbor does her dirty by saying she doesn’t have “a square to spare.” And how, at the end of the episode, Elaine steals all the TP from the bathroom before the chick walks in so that she can taunt the infamous line back to her.
Karma isn’t a bitch; people are.
Now, what I could’ve done in that moment is step forward a couple inches, and say as the doors closed on his face: “Nope, take the next train; I need my space.” How deliciously sweet would that have been — well, I’m not all that sure, because I didn’t do it.
If an eye for an eye makes the world blind, I don’t want to forget that I have another to spare. The unnecessarily rude can take out my eye, but at least I have sight, and that’ll do more for me in the long run than petty revenge.
Although that would have been pretty fucking fun, too.
Amidst the pristine reflections of glossy high rise buildings, I saw a man neatly fold up the bottom hem of his pants. This was after tucking his socks into the loafers he had set aside by the fountain steps. In wide, exaggerated steps, he trudged into the shallow depths of the cycling fountain, and for a second, I thought he was going for a business casual swim. Given the common absurdity of seemingly normal New Yorkers, I can’t say I would’ve been all that surprised. A few others around me pulled out their phones — a snap worthy moment, for sure.
But alas, I saw him bend over to scoop, in both hands, the coins and long lost wishes of foolish tourists that had collected in the sediments of ten, twenty years prior. He pooled them into a soggy plastic bag, and scrambled without any notice to others clicking their phones around him.
And all I could think to myself was– Somebody’s eating some grass-fed, organic, premium Whole Foods steak tonight!
You go, shameless man. I can’t even judge you. That’s ambition, baby.
“Excuse me, could you scoot in just a little?”
March 26, 2016 @ Caramel’s Apartment (Condado, PR)
THE SUNBURN IS FINALLY GONE. I’m more of a toasted cookie now.
In the morning, I tip-toed around the house, munching on a couple protein bars. I had packed loads of Clif Bars and Quest Bars back when I thought I was going to be camping in El Yunque. I figured that if I get lost and die eating dry rations, I might as well die happy. Come on, surrounded by chocolate chip Clif bars? I couldn’t think of a better way to die.
I walked around the front patio, juggling emotions that had been stirring all week. In just 10 days, I met a lot of amazing people and experienced things I’ll never forget (the greatest part about keeping a written record online). Considering I have a life that hasn’t paused for me back in NY, I was prepared to go back, but I couldn’t help but feel like I had unfinished business here. Mentally, I was plotting my next return trip, and I hadn’t even left yet.
I wasn’t supposed to meet up with Caramel until late afternoon, so Doel and I started binge watching the Walking Dead. It was simultaneously the greatest and worst idea, because it triggered the start of a show addiction. And now I hear there’s Fear the Walking Dead, too. What the hell did I get myself into?
In the middle of an episode, I randomly blurted out that I wanted a fruit smoothie, so Doel suddenly grabbed his car keys and headed out the door. An episode later, he came back with fruits! Bags filled with papayas, kiwis, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, raspberries — you name it, he got it. Doel came in clutch with the last minute smoothies. I felt like doing a dance. Wait, in fact, if I’m remembering correctly, I did. While he chopped, I danced. It was a damn good time.
He made me a list of my best traits and gave me a wonderful set of photographs to bring home with me.
PS- The onion is a Shrek reference.
PPS – Es necesario tener el corazon del hombre para vivir en este mundo. *flex*
Later, I returned to Condado, where it all began. Caramel and I took a quick dip in his condo community pool, then spent some quality time together while our suits dried. It’s hard to put into words, but I get a good feeling when I’m around him. It’s comfortable, but exciting at the same time. We have this tastefully witty, playful dynamic that keeps me interested in the banter. And I guess it doesn’t hurt that the man is, well, real fun to look at, too.
When the sky began to dim, we walked over to one of his favorite local joints. It was there I finally got to try a mofongo. Plantains are a big deal around here, and for good reason. Cut, fried, smashed — they are pretty delicious. The crab meat was a good addition, too.
After a lengthy conversation, we jumped in a cab and headed to La Placita de Santurce, a neighborhood social spot lined with music, food, and bars. The energy was fantastic and packed with life, but given the relatively early hour, it wasn’t overly crowded (which I most definitely prefer). We passed men and women of all ages who were out, having a good time on the open streets. I saw a couple people with canes, even. It was almost like people watching at Union Square but 1000 times better.
Caramel had called out his friends, so I ended up meeting someone I will refer to as Cranberry. He had a well-groomed beard, appealing features, and an athletic build, along with a spotlight personality that drew attention the same way a storyteller would. He, Caramel, and I shared a drink or two, chatted up a bartender, and briefly danced a little salsa until Cranberry left to go meet up with his lady.
So, the two of us headed back to Condado, where we laid side by side, staring at the ceiling (or maybe our eyes were closed, I’m not too sure at this point) until the hours passed through to single digits. I mentioned to him, at one point, that people tend to feel an obligation to fill gaps of silence, but it’s nice to be able to enjoy the presence of company without having to try. And I can honestly say, in that moment at least, there was no need to.
Even if 2 days isn’t long enough to get to “know” somebody.
At one point, he mentioned that when his friends back in NY come to visit, they bring their best selves. Cranberry had also brought up the concept of censorship — how he and Caramel are screening what they say because I am there to listen. On the airplane ride, the two comments sporadically clicked in my head, and I realized this: that’s what happens when you meet someone while traveling. His image will refresh every so often we meet, and it will always be the frame with the best lighting that gets taped inside my head. It’s fun and harmless to crush, but the question is: does the actual cake taste as good as it looks? I think it’d be interesting to find out, but whether the opportunity will arise is up in the air.
Doel picked me up at 2am and drove me to Ponce for my 5am flight. We made cat noises and talked of our experience together as if this were goodbye, but we both knew that I’ll be back.
If Katie, Caramel, Doel, Lilly, Ela, Martii, Lentävä, M, Jesse, Daniel, Demi, John, Max, Emily, Leo, Kevin, Joe, Frenchy, Erin, Nikki, Mario, Linda, Tommy, and Cranberry make up a fair reflection of the kind of people Puerto Rico invites and breeds, then I wouldn’t mind doing it all over again. A few treasures hang on my wall to remind me so.