Tuesday, July 31, 2007

An American rommate

Having an American roommate sucks. First of all, it’s annoying to have to share an apartment (or in my case, a house) with someone because you can’t afford the place by yourself at age 28. Then it’s annoying because American roommates don’t follow the standard common-sense rules of living.

A few years ago I had a roommate who didn’t eat anything with melted cheese and hated marshmallows. She didn’t know where anything was in our kitchen – after three years of living together – and when she emptied the dishwasher, she always put everything in the same cabinet. She used to heat up two table spoons of pasta sauce in a big pot on the stove, and she used to keep big piles of things in her room that she never had time to go through. But she was away most weekends to see her boyfriends, and she always took out the trash in the bathroom. We ended up being great friends, despite our differences.

Now, I come home to a disaster most of the time. Laundry everywhere, socks and underwear strewn around the living room (which also doubles as my roommate’s closet) and bras, gym clothes or ballet outfits hanging over doors, chairs or on every doorknob.

My new roommate is always on the way to somewhere else. She never slows down to actually finish anything she starts. She starts a load of laundry and then she leaves. She takes a shower, leaves her dirty clothes on the bathroom floor, and then leaves. She even makes her lunch and dinner to take with her before she leaves.

One day I sat down on the couch to watch TV. A big pile of clean, dry clothes (sort of like the one above) took up most of the couch, so I went to shove the items over to one side. A half-eaten apple was wedged in between a sock and a tank top, just like that.

While my first roommate liked to put everything in the same cabinet, this roommate seems to have a towel problem. I constantly find bathroom towels mixed with kitchen towels or cleaning rags in our kitchen drawer – if they make it that far. Sometimes they just end up in a pile on the living room table, and I have to put them away.

Some of the towels are ripped into two or four pieces, because my roommate apparently need rags for something. Perhaps she couldn’t find the rags that we keep with the cleaning stuff under the sink?

After a weekend away, I couldn’t for the life of me find my electric mixer to make whipped cream. I looked in every cabinet imaginable, high and low – nothing. A few days later, I went to grab a pot holder from our little drawer next to the stove, but it was stuck on something. Then I realized that the mixer had been squeezed into this tiny little space.

One concept that seems to be foreign to Americans is to keep track of their stuff. All roommates I’ve had constantly ask “Is this mine?” or “Is this yours?” How can you not know? I mean, I understand if you don’t know if a tomato is the one you picked up at the store, but don’t you know where the frying pan came from? If you didn’t buy it or get it as a gift, it’s not yours! I got into an argument the other day about a frying pan, where my roommate kept insisting the pan I’ve had since I first moved from my host father’s house in 1999 was hers. Boy, will she be surprised when I move out and take it with me.

While she believes some of my stuff to be hers, she doesn’t seem to know how much stuff she actually owns. Whenever I clear off a table or a shelf – especially in the bathroom – she just fills it with more stuff. It’s like she can’t stop spreading out. If I let her, she would take over the entire house. She has already taken over the kitchen table, and when I clean, I have to pack everything up and put it in her room. Her excuse, of course, is that her room is too small.

I finally bought her a shoe-pocket-thingy that you hang over the door because I was sick of constantly tripping over sneakers and flip flops in the kitchen and living room. The thing fits 24 pairs. My roommate was surprised and said “I don’t even own 24 pairs of shoes!” After she left, I picked up all of her shoes I could find around the house and started filling it up. When it was full, I kept counting. There weren’t 24 pairs of shoes, there were 37!!! And then some odd shoes all by themselves, in addition to that. How can anyone live like this?

But soon, there will be no more peanut butter mixed into my strawberry jelly (I HATE peanut butter!). There will be no more nights when I think I have the house to myself and my roommate strolls in with her boyfriend at midnight and they start ju-jitsuing each other all over the couch, making socks, underwear and sofa cushions fly all over the place…

Soon, I’ll have a place with my boyfriend, and he will be the only roommate I’ll ever need. I can’t wait. When that day comes, I will finally feel like a grownup.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Getting my hands on Harry Potter

My plan was to head over to Wal-Mart in Naugatuck, about 5 minutes from my house, on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. to pick up "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

The last book in the Harry Potter series was being released on the East Coast at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, but lines for bookstores are usually really long on the first night of the release, and you usually have to pre-order the book in order to even stand in the line.

I also knew from previous experience that I could get the book for about half the price at Wal-Mart, only $18, as opposed to the $35 retail price in the real bookstores. Briefly, I had considered ordering it online ahead of time, but even with a 30% discount, it would come to almost $35 with shipping - somewhat unreasonable, no matter how good this book is.

Friday morning I called the Naugatuck Wal-Mart to make sure they weren't going to have a midnight event. They were not. However, they were opening at 7 a.m. on Saturday - an hour earlier than I had first thought. If I wanted to get it a midnight, they said, I would have to go to the 24-hour Wal-Mart in Wallingford.

I decided that I would either stay up until 7 a.m. (I get home from work about 2 a.m. and usually don't go to sleep until 4 a.m.) or get three hours of sleep and then go get the book.

As I was driving home from work around midnight Friday, I began to see flaws in my plan. Would I REALLY drag myself out of bed at 7 a.m.? And would I REALLY be going to go back to sleep after I had the final chapters in my hand, or would I stay up all day reading, and then not being able to function for work the next day?
No, it would be much better to get the book now, I thought, at midnight, when I was wide awake and would have several hours available for reading before I passed out.
I called a co-worker and asked her to look up the address for Wallingford's Wal-Mart. It was on Route 5, she said, and I was vaguely familiar with the area.
Forty minutes later, I was driving north on Route 5, having passed through the center of Wallingford and going several miles north of town. There was no Wal-Mart in sight. I was doubting my direction skills, thinking that perhaps I should just turn around and go south on Route 5 instead. But I didn't want to give up so easily, so I called my boyfriend and asked him to look up the exact location. Perhaps he could tell me if I had gone too far.
While he was looking it up, I pulled over into a parking lot on my right, think I would just wait it out. I didn't want to go in either direction, in case it was the wrong one.
A few minutes later, my boyfriend said "it looks like it's north of Wallingford." I got back out on Route 5, and the first thing I see on my right is the big blue sign for Wal-Mart. "Good thing I didn't turn around!" I said and hung up the phone.
I quickly parked and walked inside the double doors. The store was huge, much bigger than any other Wal-Mart I have ever seen. I started wandering around, trying to figure out where they kept the books. It was almost 1 a.m. by then, and I was hoping they still had books left. My roommate needed a copy too, and I had promised to get her one if I could.
Finally giving up, I stopped a young attendant and asked him where to find books, THE book.
"See that line when you came in?" he said.
"Nope," I said, thinking "oh, shit. They will definitely be out of books before I get there."
The young man walked me past the registers and back to the entrance. He stopped and looked confused.
"Oh," he said. "Well, there WAS a line."
He then pointed toward Customer Service and I ran up to the first available cashier. There were stacks of books along the side, and about 15 cashiers working on just selling Harry Potter.
I got my two copies and rushed home. It's been hard to get anything else done since. The new book is fantastic. Although I've only read about 200 pages so far about the 749-page masterpiece (work got in the way), I am sure I will be done with it before the week is over.
My roommate has been plowing throught it at every waking moment, and she only has about 200 pages left. Luckily, we both have tomorrow off. Wanna guess what we'll be doing?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Reading Bill Bryson

One of my favorite authors is Bill Bryson, an American travel writer who lived in Great Britain for many years before he moved back to the U.S. with his wife.

I enjoy reading about Bryson’s adventures and mishaps. But the books are sometimes very frustrating. One book in particular: “I’m a Stranger Here Myself.”

In this book, Bryson writes about his return to America after 20 years abroad. Not only does he use every single one of my column ideas, but he does it so extremely well. He encounters 24-hour dental-floss hotlines and microwave pancakes, in addition to many other new, strange "improvements." (Unfortunately, I cannot quote directly from the book because I have misplaced my copy).

Perhaps the worst thing about it is that Bryson is allowed to complain. He is talking about his own country, and what he says is funny. When I try to comment on strange things or point things out, I am just a foreigner being rude.

However, as soon as I gather some more ideas there will be plenty of complaining here. Those who think I am being rude will just have to visit someone else’s blog.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Meeting celebrities

One really good thing about being in the United States is the chance to meet celebrities. Of course, I probably wouldn't know what most of them look like, but it's cool to know that I have to option to run into someone really famous.

Most recently, I met 'Jungle' Jack Hanna, who appears frequently on David Letterman and other TV shows with his animals. He used to work at a zoo but now travels most of the year to host lectures or make documentaries. This is me and Jack when he came to Torrington in February:

I had him auograph the front cover of the weekend section of our newspaper that I had designed. I had his picture on it!

I've also gotten the chance to talk to author Frank McCourt. He lives in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut - our coverage area at the newspaper - and he frequently makes appearances to talk about his books. I have three of his books. My boyfriend gave me "Teacher Man" for my birthday, which I am very eager to read.

Of course, I hadn't read any of his books - still haven't! - when I met McCourt in 2006, and I didn't know what to ask him. I had waited in line for quite some time to get my books autographed, and I just said "How do you like the food?" when I finally got up to him. A bit taken back, he looked up from signing my book and said "Oh, I don't have time for such trivialities."

Leonardo DiCaprio was recently filming in Thomaston, Connecticut, which is right in between where I live and where I work. Security was very tight, though, and I wasn't even going to attempt a glimpse. Harrison Ford was in New Haven, I read in the paper, to shoot the fourth installment of "Indiana Jones." Now that would have been something to see. Several hundred people lined up to apply as extras in the film. Perhaps I would have too if I had had the day off.

When I lived in New York, I sometimes tried to sneak into places in the city where they were filming movies. Sometimes the security was tight, sometimes you could walk right by the set.

I was rushing to my train once and ran right by Adam Sandler as he was filming "Little Nicky" at Grand Central Station. And once I stood in line for an hour at a music store to see Alice Cooper. I've also seen Philip Seymour Hoffman and Natalie Portman live in a play in Central Park, but it's not really the same thing as meeting celebrities on the street.

While it seems really exciting at first, it really isn't that big of a deal. I mean, what do you do if you do meet a celebrity? You just say something stupid and walk away, and that's that. They will never remember you - you were just one in the crowd. But you get to remember that embarrassing moment forever.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Finally getting the jokes

When I was in school at Virginska - post-high school but pre-university - we often got to do fun things in our English class. I was in a group of four people; it was me and my three best friends.

One time we put on a 15-minute skit made up of jokes or phrases from popular English, Australian or American sitcoms or movies. We worked on it for weeks. Back then, I was not watching a lot of television because I grew up without cable TV or a VCR, and I remember feeling a bit left out at times.

While I could laugh at the "I'll be back" reference from "The Terminator," I didn't quite get the "cereal killer" joke we included. It left me feeling embarrased - to embarrased to say anything.
(In case anyone else isn't getting it, "serial killer" is the real spelling, and "cereal" is what you eat for breakfast with milk)

I don't know exactly what made me think of this now - 11 years later. But spending nine years in the United States has definitely helped me catch up on the American English language and slang. I still don't watch a lot of TV, but at least I understand the jokes now when I do.

Protecting the stupid

I recently had a discussion with a co-worker about stupid laws and people filing law suits for no reason (just to make money). She said: "If people are stupid enough to get killed by a TV dinner, shouldn't we just let them die?"

She has a point. For example, requiring seat belts for drivers and helmets for bike riders is good for minors who are not yet ready or able to make their own decisions. But why should the state try to protect grownups who do not even want to protect themselves?

And if people do not understand that they shouldn't put scorching hot coffee in a plastic cup between their legs or put a poodle in a microwave, should they really have the right to sue McDonald's or General Electric?

I'd be interested to hear if anyone has any anecdotes related to this topic or any other comments.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Colorado takes a step in the right direction

Many new state laws take effect on July 1 in the U.S., also the first day of the new budget year.

Colorado on Sunday banned abstinence-only sexual education programs in all public schools (with the exception of one school, and it is unclear why). Now, all sex ed has to be taught based on scientific research and the schools MUST provide contraception information. Well, it's about time! I just wish all states could see the logic with this and follow suit.

For too long now, states have been trying to tell kids that you don't have sex until you're married. Sex leads to babies and sexually transmitted diseases, and the only way to avoid this is to avoid having sex.

Hello!!! Kids will be kids, and teenagers will always be teenagers. They will experiment with alcohol and they will have sex, whether you know about it or not. It is so much better to give them the education and the facts they need to know to protect themselves, instead of turning a blind eye and hope that their natural urges will just disappear. They will have sex. Sex is a natural part of life. Perhaps the conservative legislators have forgotten what it's like?

Sometimes this stupid, conservative country makes me want to puke.