November 27, 2013

What Am I Thankful For This Year? (Hint: It might be you.)

Occasionally, I like to be reflective. Holidays often provide a good segue for this, since they’re usually based around some general moral imperative or reason for remembrance. And while Flag Day, Halloween, or Easter don’t really provide me with any particular joy over anything, days like Independence Day, International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and topically, Thanksgiving, are great for such indulgences. Thanksgiving, of all the days of the year, happens to be my actual favorite.

So, as is the custom in our country, I thought I would take a moment to recount some of the many things that I am particularly thankful to have in my life this year.

1) My family, as small as it may be. Unfortunately it got smaller by one this year, as I lost my 3rd grandparent. It reminded me how important family is though, because I had to be there as much as possible for my mom, as she was losing hers. I had to get this one out of the way first, because even now as I write it it's hard to type without swelling up. I do know how incredibly fortunate I am to have been born into the family I was given, and not in the more common sense of wealth or legacy, but in the never wavering love that they've always had for me.

2) Bacon. Ok, back on track to the fun things. You know how there are some things in life that always provide you with a smile, a pick-me-up, or just make you forget everything else, if at least temporarily? For me it's bacon. No matter what's wrong, bacon is the answer. Some people say it's a fad, that it's overused today, I say begone from my presence naysayers. There is a reason so many people use it, because it's magical. If you ever want to get on my good side, this is the easiest way possible.

3) Friends, near and far. Some of you I see all too often, some of you never enough. To have such a great range of people that I consider friends is rare for an age where social interactions are limited to whatever gets you what you want with the minimal amount of effort. It's not easy to make true friends, but it's easy to keep them once you've got them.

- My old high school buddies: If we're going to start at the beginning, I guess it should be here. From time to time I'm lucky enough to still run into these guys, despite our distance. It's such a treat to find out what's going on in the lives of the people you grew up with, and I'm incredibly proud of many of you. We all had relatively humble beginnings, but we've made quite a life for ourselves, haven't we?

- My ex-gamers: If there's one thing I was ever truly good at, it was blowing shit up in video games. While that might not be tombstone worthy, you've got to know your talents. It's actually rather remarkable the bonds you can form by spending 10 hours yelling at each other because someone moved in the wrong direction. It's nerdy, sure, but everyone's nerdy about something. At least mine resulted in some lifelong friends.

- My rugby mates: Damn, I miss you guys. If there was anything that would ever convince me to move back to North Carolina, it would be this bunch. I'll never forget the stuff we went through, the times we had, and how some of you helped me through some really absurdly stupid life choices. We also built a professional mud wrestling pit in my backyard, which to this day is the single greatest party I've ever attended. That alone is worth being thankful for.

- Former coworkers: There are so many of you! I admittedly have career ADD, I just get bored so easily. I'm glad that Facebook has allowed me to stay in touch with so many of you. The stories we recount, and how quickly we can get right back into getting along, is a true testament to a great work environment, wherever I've been in NC or DC.

- My DC folks: There are too many to name or count, but you've all been influential in some way in making my life better. I hope that if you've gotten to know me, it's always with a smile. I don't do grudges, and I don't do petty. I strive to make sure everyone around me is having a good time, if there's anything I can do to help it. This city is so transient, so it's pretty damn cool to be able to have such a collection of people to be close to.

- All of my pals in the food, beverage, and service industry: You all take such good care of me whenever I see you, and I try to return that in kind every chance I get. You can't know a city without knowing the people who play this vital role in creating its life, and I've been pretty fortunate to get to know so many of you for so long. I wish that I could come to all of your bars and restaurants every night of the week, but even when I don't see some of you for months it's like I've never left when I walk through that door. I'm actually a pretty excellent home cook, and I know my own way around a bar rather adeptly, but it's specifically because of you guys that I choose to come out and spend my money away from home.

- The random friends that I seem to meet all over: You are possibly the most fun of all, because our relationships are genuinely formed in the "organic" way that people romanticize over these days. One thing I learned from my now departed grandfather is that everyone has a story, and if you just talk to them they'll likely share it. I relish random encounters, because they come without pretense.

4) Travel. I've been so lucky to get to see the things I've seen in my short time thus far on Earth. I did not come from a family of travelers, aside from the yearly beach trip, so I had a lot of making up to do. If there's one thing I'm looking forward to more than anything as I get older it's seeing even more of the world.

5) DC. I truly do love the city I live in. We are blessed with a wealth of culture that many take for granted, myself included sometimes. The history here is incomparable within our nation, and the people you meet every day from all over the world only add to it with their own experiences. It may not have the best fish tacos, deep dish pizza, or Tex-Mex, but guess what? It's not San Diego, Chicago, or Austin, so it's not supposed to. I am thankful for what we DO have, which is representation of almost every global cuisine imaginable, if you know where to find it. I am thankful for free jazz in a renowned sculpture garden on beautiful summer days. I'm thankful for an arboretum filled with orchids. I'm thankful for a skyline that doesn't have to be garish to be impressive. I'm thankful for autumn, my favorite season, made wonderful by the brisk DC air. I'm thankful to live in a spectacular neighborhood that feels quiet and safe like suburbia but is a stroll away from the best ramen I've ever had and a pub with one of the most solid pints anywhere in the District. I would be more thankful if we actually got a real vote in Congress, but we're working on that.

6) Creative expression. Many people do not appreciate the luxury that is "free time". That we have the means to spend time doing other things than working, eating, and sleeping, and habitually repeating that cycle, is marvelous, in the true sense of the word. There are children who run 10 miles every day to get fresh water for their homes, men who spend every waking hour on a boat to feed their families, women who fight just to be considered first class citizens, let alone have time to paint, photograph, or blog. I crave the outlet that is writing, because it puts me back in touch with the other part of my brain that my job doesn't require. I love to capture images that help me remember all the wondrous things I've seen in life. The picture of a delicious dish can instantly remind me of the smells and flavors. To have such time available to do these things is something I do not take lightly, and why when I do them I do them with the spirit that someday I may never be able to again.

7) Lastly, I'm thankful that life provides more than just second chances. It provides you as many as you're willing to go out and earn. If you want to better yourself, and society isn't preventing you, then you can do it. You can do a 180 degree shift in your career path, or even get over life shattering break-ups, if you're willing to try. I don't know how many different chances I've had in life, but it's certainly more than I thought I would ever have needed by this point, and I'm beyond thankful that I took every opportunity to seize them when they came along. One of them graced me with a magnificent women who's as loyal to me as I am to her, a trait too often under-appreciated. 

She regularly wows me, and that's not an easy thing to do. I'm thankful that we have set ourselves up for a life of success, through her diligence and my intuition, and that together we allow our strong points to complement each other rather than combat. I did not foresee myself being this happy after a period where, frankly, I was not. But life goes on, and more importantly, it goes where you tell it to go.

So whether you find yourself gathered around a table of loved ones or friends this Thanksgiving, at a bar alone with a beer and a shot, or overseas somewhere wondering what the hell this "holiday" is even about, take some time out to appreciate the things that make your life special. Cheers to the good life, may it find you well.

November 6, 2013

House Hunting Part 2: Looking for Lenders

If the hunting stage of buying a home could be considered fun, then the lending process could be considered the exact opposite of that. The myriad options that exist are frustrating to say the least, compounded by the fact that the DC market is easily one of the most, if not the most, competitive in the country. What this means is that many of the loan options available in other markets simply are not available here, because sellers want to go with the offer that’s easiest to close, even if it’s not the most profitable for them.

We found this out pretty early on in our search, when the first house we put an offer in on we didn’t win. Later we found out that our escalation clause (a term I was unfamiliar with until we started shopping) max price was actually $30,000 higher than what the house sold for. We were perplexed, but we realized that it was probably due to the house being sold “As Is”, which is often a deterrent for FHA approval, which was the type of loan we would be using. FHA loans currently only require a 3.5% down payment, allowing you to save whatever cash you have left for closing costs (quite high in DC) or renovations.

DC, however, is a cash heavy market. This means that quite often, as was the case with us, you will lose a bid if you’re not putting up mostly cash to go with it. After losing our second property as well we decided to use the escalation clause even more to our advantage and made sure that the third property we bid on was a very convincing offer. We won, without even having to dip into the escalation clause pot. Whether we paid too much or not is something I’ll forever debate with myself, but ultimately will never know until it’s time to sell (although even that won’t be an accurate depiction given the amount of renovations we’re undertaking and the scope of the changes to the neighborhood itself).

Once we had an offer accepted it became time for the more arduous task of selecting a lender to back it. We already had pre-approval from 3 lenders: a credit union I belong to, another credit union I found shopping rates online, and a private lender recommended by our agent. They all offered the same ridiculously low rate of 3.25%, so it ultimately came down to who could offer the most attractive closing costs package. The “winner” for us was Emery Federal, the credit union I had found online. They’re a small shop, and we had to seriously push them along the way (with way more stories than I feel like writing out here), but in the end the bottom line was that our out of pocket costs were somewhere around $10-15K less than the next best offer. I would advise people who are patient to use them if closing on your property in a timely manner isn’t a huge factor and customer service isn’t something you really care about. Not a glowing recommendation, I know, but for me cash is king.

Even closing day was not without incident, as the lender had put in the wrong purchase price in his documentation, causing us to effectively buy the property for $5,000 more than agreed upon, and in turn receive a check back from the seller for that amount. Our agent was virtually useless in the process, spending more time cajoling with the other agent and title company than actually reviewing our documentation. At one point Suzy had to ask him nicely to shut the hell up so she could focus on what she was signing. I won’t call him out by name, because I wouldn’t want to negatively impact his business, but I would strongly advise anyone using an agent to get more than one recommendation before deciding who you go with. I’m quite confident that aside from getting access to properties outside of the open house hours I could have performed every function of his job on my own, and possibly gotten a commission credit on the sale as part of it.

But, in spite of all those headaches, we wound up with a place we really wanted, in a neighborhood that’s fantastic and moved in about 2 months later (details of that delay to come in future posts…). I thought after I sold my place in Charlotte that I would never own another home again, something about the commitment just scared me. But I’ve got to say I’m quite glad we bought when we did, as the market in DC certainly isn’t getting any easier to break into.

September 12, 2013

House Hunting Part 1: Let's Do This!

In what will be the first of (likely) several entries regarding our recent house purchase, our steps to renovate it, and all things related, I thought I would take a moment to rewind to that first initial spark that got us going in the direction of owning another home (the second for both of us). What started as a passing thought quickly escalated into “let’s do this”, and with a recommendation from a friend we found ourselves sitting in a biergarten chatting with our soon-to-be real estate agent.

Our criteria were pretty clear from the beginning: a max budget of $900K, minimum of 2 bedrooms, 1500 square feet, and preferably in the Northwest region of DC, ideally as close as possible to my beloved neighborhood of Logan Circle. What we wanted specifically in the house was narrowed down, naturally, by using Microsoft Excel. Being the inherent nerd that I am I created a document to track each category of likes and dislikes, wants, must-haves, dream features, etc., to try to align both of our visions for what the ultimate home would be, and to have a checklist to rank prospective homes with. Little did we know that ranking homes in DC really wouldn’t be an option during our shopping process.

The reality of the situation is that homes in DC, good homes especially, do not last long in the current market. The demand for housing far outweighs the supply, which leads to a multitude of obstacles for buyers including over-bidding, competition against all cash investors, settling simply to have something, and numerous other pitfalls that eager buyers may encounter. Luckily I don’t think any of them necessarily impacted our final purchase (with the exception of possibly paying about $50K more than necessary), however the conditions certainly created a frantic environment that made the process not nearly as enjoyable as what you watch on TV.

We wound up changing several of our criteria, adjusting our budget, and being more flexible to different neighborhoods. The website Redfin wound up being an infinitely more helpful tool for finding homes than our actual agent was (except for the fact he could get us into them prior to the open house), thanks to its custom filter options that filled my inbox with new home listings every day. For some odd reason it excluded a few neighborhoods from my query, one of which I now wish I had explored further (Brookland), but overall I found it to be an extremely useful tool.

My next post will delve more into the actual search process, houses we looked at, tried to buy, and how things went with our lender and agent. But for now it feels good to get back into the posting mood!

June 13, 2013

What To Do With An Abandoned Blog?

This must be what it feels like to be the kid whose mom didn’t show up to get him from soccer practice because she got too wrapped up in her Lifetime movie marathon. My poor blog, started with such great intentions, and then just left here to collect cobwebs. [Side note, it’s really funny to see what referring links find their way here…who knew I would be such a hit in Russia?]

I originally began this as a way to wean myself away from Yelp, for what I anticipated would be an eventual departure. I subsequently wound up falling in love with a girl who also happened to Yelp herself, which kind of caused us to fuel each other in a push to write more. Little did I expect to get screwed over by the staff who works for the site [see my review on my profile there], and it wound up expediting my departure, leaving me without a real writing outlet.

Honestly, operating a blog is hard, if you actually care about your content. Very few things are unique anymore, so you can basically toss that out. Do you write for other people or for yourself? That’s the tough one. I’ve always done a hybrid of both…entries written to recap my journeys, meals, and sites I’ve seen so that I can look back one day and remember things I might have forgotten, but also done in a way that anyone reading along might gain some knowledge or be inspired to try something they wouldn’t have otherwise.

So, what do I want to do with this site now? I would still like to emphasize the food and drink categories I love so much, but my partner and I have undergone a major life change recently, buying a house, that I want to share with others and hopefully enlighten them on some of the steps along the way, as well as documenting our own transformation of the place to share with family and friends. You might see some restaurant features here, or you might see a lengthy discussion on how to properly sand a ceiling. Either way, I can assure you that you will be seeing more content, more regularly, because without creative writing my brain begins to crave expression in other outlets that are honestly just not as fun.

May 8, 2012

And Now, A Movie Review of Lars von Trier's Melancholia By Someone Who Actually Has Melancholia

Let's say you have diabetes. It's not really front and center in your mind, but it affects your lifestyle. Sometimes you can't do all the stuff you want to do because hey, diabetes. And every now and then you wish you didn't have to deal with it. Now imagine you see ads for a new movie called Diabetes, filmed by some weird Nazi-loving misogynist and about diabetes as a metaphor. You'd want to see it, right? You have a personal stake in it so it matters to you. Naturally this wouldn't apply to a lot of diseases (nobody would line up to see Erectile Dysfunction and talk about the deeper meaning of floppy dicks) but you can see why I figured it was worth a night's rent from Redbox.

Melancholia is actually a very specific and rare form of depression that is whollydue to a chemical imbalance. Unlike other forms of depression, people with melancholia eat less, sleep less and usually degenerate into sea slugs. When left untreated people can become catatonic, sometimes unable to talk or even move. Melancholiacs are at an extremely high risk of suicide provided they have enough energy to pull the trigger. Because it's purely chemistry, it can't be treated with therapy or lifestyle changes, so they rely exclusively on medicine. The weird counter-evolutionary concept of innate depression is of great interest to brain docs, so if you're willing to skip meds and ruin your life for a few months you can make a handsome sum as a test subject at NIH.

In a conventional review the writer tends to give the bottom line up front, then loosely describe the plot and his opinions. I can't do that here. Melancholia is too weird to even rate. I recommend it while also acknowledging that as a movie it mostly sucks. You will want to throw shit at the screen while you watch it and yet it's kind of compelling. I don't even know. So bear with me as we wander around for a bit.

The first eight minutes of this movie are the only ones you need to see. No, really. They're stunning. It's a composite of scenes with motion so slow it looks like still frames, and some of the shots are just amazing. I don't even give a shit about cinematography and I was impressed. You also get a nice overview of the story: people runnin' around and doin' stuff while the world ends around them, all set to the love and death theme from Tristan and Isolde. This is basically the entire movie, only better, and if you are impatient you might as well quit. I wish I had.

So you've been pleased with the introduction and you're all settled in to watch a drama about the end of the world---but first, an hour of meaningless bullshit about Justine (Kirsten Dunst) getting married. It starts with some genuinely touching scenes of Justine's inexplicably British-accented sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourhgougrhgouh) trying to get Justine out of bed. Whatever sympathy you might have evaporates as the director forgets about the "melancholia" title and decides to make Justine a complete raging bitch. She stomps around, sulks, calls her boss an asshole, throws shit, gets drunk, and neglects her husband to rape a guy on the lawn. This isn't depression, it's sociopathy, and it's seriously half of the entire movie. You have spent one whole hour of your precious time on earth following the intricate shenanigans of total douchebags for no narrative purpose. If you tried to pull this shit in a book somebody would chop your hands off. Just to drive home the "total waste of time" thing, 90% of the characters are neither seen nor mentioned in the second half of the movie. You could be watching something else entirely except for the weird red star in the sky. Every time we see this star, it's accompanied by the music from Tristan and Isolde, which might be tolerable except that there is no other music in the entire goddamn movie. I think it lost its dramatic punch somewhere around the 235th time they played it.

The second half of the movie is about Claire and takes place at some undefined length of time after the first. There are only four characters left: Claire, her husband, her son, and Justine. By this point the red star, apparently dubbed Melancholia, has been discovered to be a planet destined to come perilously close to Earth. Claire's astronomer nut husband is thrilled to watch it but it creeps Claire out. Meanwhile, in addition to wife and mother she has also become a full-time nursemaid to Justine, who is too ill to do anything but sleep. There are a couple parts here that are so genuine I fucking hate to admit he got it right: Justine sobbing at the dinner table and not being able to take a bath is absolutely 100% accurate. Yes, in the middle of this train wreck of a movie he delivers something truly moving. Fuck you, Lars.

This is where the movie starts to get kind of good, or at least suck noticeably less. The depictions of Melancholia are inspired. There are a number of shots that are just lovely, like Justine stretching out naked by the creek and the double shadows on the bushes. Unlike the petty first half that's like a bad soap opera, the second half of the movie is obviously more open-ended and imaginative. At times it's beautiful to look at. It is decidedly less beautiful to hear---oh look, there's the love theme a-fucking-gain and holy Christ this dialogue is so stilted it's embarrassing---but it's somehow enjoyable. Claire is still bothered by Melancholia despite her husband's reassurances that the planet will fly by Earth. Eventually Claire conducts an ominous Internet search in the most hilariously literal sequence ever made. She types "Melancholia" like someone only minimally familiar with a keyboard and goes through two pages of Google results that, to the best of my knowledge, are the actual Google results for "melancholia". Don't you think that if a giant planet were to come dangerously close to earth, it might warrant a news article or two? But no, there's nothing on the first page of these Google results, so Claire searches more until she finds something about the planet Melancholia. The results come from what appears to be a Geocities site circa 1999, complete with 12-point Times New Roman and black and white MSPaint graphics. The page says Melancholia is going to spin close to earth, turn away and then come back for a collision. And this is another moronic thing about the movie: why the fuck was this sequence even necessary? If he had gone full-on artsy and metaphorical, I could buy the fantasy estate in the middle of nowhere. When people are symbols they don't need to be real. But he somehow feels the need to make it kind of real, if not wildly implausible (they have a computer but no TV or cell phones? radios? other humans?) and in doing so he ruins all of it. Whatever. 

The basis of all this is that as the planet comes closer, Claire basically freaks out and Justine gets better. She regains her sense of self and is actually pretty psyched about Melancholia wiping humans off the face of the earth because, in her words, "people are evil" and Claire's desire to be happy is "total bullshit". If you have a hard time buying the depressed act at this point rest assured you're not alone. Most depressed people are filled with self-loathing; melancholiacs in particular are distinguished by their extremely disproportionate feelings of guilt. Lars von Trier said that part of his point is that depressed people are better at dealing with crisis than normal people...but Justine isn't depressed. She's a psychopath who enjoys needling her increasingly fragile sister. If this is Lars von Trier's idea of depression, then he's probably a psychopath himself. Actually, that would explain a lot of this movie. If you really want to get simplistic then this movie is about two women who suffer horribly in their own way until they die horribly. It's like psychological torture/snuff porn. Anyway, Melancholia is indeed going to hit Earth, and we have some more gorgeous scenes for a while in between what little narrative elements remain. Claire's husband swallows a bottle of cyanide capsules and Justine ends up being the one to protect Claire's son as Claire sobs uncontrollably. The planet hits (another artsy thing; I guess everyone dying months before due to the effect of a new planet approaching Earth's orbit is a lot less romantic than fiery explosions) and everyone dies. The End.

I just don't know how to rate this movie. So much of it sucks! It totally fucking fails to say anything about depression in a remotely meaningful way. Anybody with any kind of depression, melancholic or not, is probably going to be offended or even more depressed at such a wack-ass portrayal. The violent end of life as we know it could be such an interesting exploration of people's attitudes and the director totally whiffs it. Having said that, it's still a really beautiful movie. At least some parts of this should be excerpted in amateur filmography classes. It doesn't hurt that the theme of the movie is so interesting that no amount of suckage could make it totally dull. I also thought it was neat to see how many people have gotten different things out of it. When I went through reviews I saw people focusing on the story, the (nonsensical, poorly defined) symbolism, the nature of relationships, and so forth. Watching this movie with a date or a group of friends would definitely lead to some good discussions. I wish I had a better way to sum it up or something even remotely witty to say but I'm just done. This movie is pretty and baffling and frustrating as hell. Watch it or something, I guess. Oh, and Kirsten Dunst's tits are fabulous.

April 9, 2012

The Black Arts of Solipsism, or “Why Do I Keep Bumping Into Shit and Getting Flipped Off by Joggers,” or “Why Can I Only Breathe Through My Mouth,” or “Why it’s My Fault that Brian B. Just Ran Me Over.”

sol·ip·sism, noun

1. Philosophy. The theory that only the self exists, or can be proved to exist.
2. Extreme preoccupation with and indulgence of one's feelings, desires, etc.; egoistic self-absorption.

DC drivers and pedestrians are apparently ardent followers of the black arts of solipsism. In fact, I don’t know who I hate more, and frankly, they can all go choke on a gigantic engorged diseased walrus cock for all I care. Solipsism is every bit as fundamentally narcissistic and vain as its local practitioners, the majority of whom lack self-awareness to the degree that they’d be startled by their own reflection were it not already their second favorite person in the whole world. I can honestly say that I’ve almost been run over by cars, tripped, tackled or forced to violently circumvent aimless brain-dead pedestrians (in some cases unsuccessfully) about 150 times in the past 18 months, and that’s a conservative figure. The bottom line is this: people just don’t think it’s necessary to pay attention to where they’re going or to be aware of the world around them even in the most basic sense. Apparently these folks believe that they’re the only souls walking this big blue marble we call Earth. It is therefore my distinct pleasure to de-program these dim-witted dolts. Where’s my megaphone? Ah, alright, there it is. “Calling all fucktards.” “Come in, fucktards.” Great! Now that you’re all here, put down those bags of paint chips you’ve been snacking on and listen up.

First of all, if you're stupid enough to go jogging while wearing headphones with your shitty Coldplay blasting, then you're too stupid to realize that it's your fault when I run you over because you weren't paying attention. Have you not seen the way people drive around here? Do you think that your fat ass is the fastest in DC which justifies you to run right down the center of the sidewalk with no expectation of being passed? If I yell at you to get out of the way and you can't hear me, and if I can't get around you, then you know what, buddy? I'm going over you, and it will be your fault when your face goes sliding across the asphalt. Speaking of which, Coldplay? Really??? They sucked the day before they became a band.

If you're stupid enough to walk shoulder to shoulder down the sidewalk while I'm out jogging, then you're stupid enough to make me reinforce my theory that you think that you and your friends are the only people alive. I mean, why would anyone be out jogging in DC? It's not like 600,000 residents plus 250,000 visitors are here at any given time or anything. I'm obviously not going to run into traffic on my left to pass you, you self-absorbed, undeserving, sense of entitlement having idiots, and there's a fence on my right, so I guess I'm just going to have to run you assholes over because you weren't paying attention.

If I see you painting your fingernails while driving one more time, I'm going to pull you out of your car by your ear lobe, strip you down, hog tie you and leave you in the street because you weren't paying attention. Then I'm going to snatch your fingernail polish because Zoya LA Pops with iridescent glitter and a slight green flash goes great with my skin tone and it's quite lovely, really. 

By the way, I know something you don’t: turn signals come standard on your piece of shit Kia. That means use 'em, you paste eaters! The next time I'm forced to wait at an intersection thinking you're going straight because your left turn signal isn't on, only to see you make a left turn anyway despite the fact that I could have gone 10 seconds ago had you not been so goddamn lazy, I'm going to track you down, rip out your epiglottis, urinate on your grandmother and bury you alive because you weren’t paying attention. And fuck you, I know that was a run-on sentence, douche nozzle!

Hey, do you see that stop sign in front of those two parallel white lines? It’s called a crosswalk, and they’re often found at intersections. Repeat after me: “in-ter-sec-tions.” I realize that it’s difficult for you to pronounce polysyllabic words, but even your dumb ass can conceptualize this simple concept. We’ve already established that you think there was some sort of cataclysmic event which wiped out all of mankind except for you, but please humor me and stop your car anyway. I weigh 160 lbs soaking wet after eating a four egg omelet at Waffle House, and your piece of junk, rusted out "I'm gonna die a virgin" Isuzu weighs two tons. Trust me, stopping will prevent you from killing innocent joggers at crosswalks, and let’s face it: your bony ass is way too delicate to survive any significant prison time. I don’t care if you’re too poor to pay attention! Get a toxic high interest attention loan and pay it!!

And folks, why are you still driving while talking on your phones, you jack-asses? Not only is it selfish, stupid, illegal and dangerous, there's nothing going on in your useless lives that is so important that it can't wait until you get back to the trailer park. I mean, it's fucking 2012 already! Find Doc Brown, install the flux capacitor, speed up to 88 mph and get the fuck out of 1985, you imbeciles! If I see you do this again I'm going to ram your piece of shit Camaro, burn all your Merle Haggard 8 track cassettes and take a piss on your Smokey and the Bandit posters, Jethro!

Too bad you weren’t paying attention, but at least there’s one less solipsist to worry about.

Chivalry: how do we roll?

Hi, I'm Julia. Justin is a good friend of mine and he recently invited me to do a little writing here, so I thought I'd freestyle for a bit. Rather than making a statement or arguing a point I'll just pose a question: what's the point of chivalry, and what does it say about us? Not that this is very original---I bet if you did a quick search you could find hundreds of results on a similar theme in just the past few days. But it's worth talking about for what it means for ourselves and our culture.

For the purposes of this discussion chivalry is a collection of behaviors that have historically been used to honor women. It's offering your jacket, pulling out chairs, walking closest to the street, and so on. Granted, chivalry isn't just about women either. The practice of chivalry began with the noble classes, and centuries later it's still something associated with the with the wealthy. Really, all manners are related to social status; even basic table manners signify some level of refinement. It probably never crosses our minds, but we were taught to practice these things because not doing them is rude (ignorant) and we want to be polite (well-bred). This is useful to remember but isn't directly related to our conversation.

So now that we know what chivalry is, why is it so controversial? What's the objection to a harmless gesture? The primary objection is that it's an insult to their own self-sufficiency. Women have spent the past hundred years trying to prove they can operate independently of men, and it's pretty aggravating to be be treated like a delicate flower who can't manage anything for herself. These women might not interpret chivalry as respect but rather an act of dominance. Certainly there are some men who see it this way; we've all been on a date with someone who assumed buying dinner entitles him to certain favors. In this case, chivalry becomes something decidedly less gallant and more akin to hostage-taking. It's another meaningless tradition that lingers from partriarchal, less enlightened times. And many women simply prefer to open their own damn door.

On the other hand are the women who prefer or even require their men to exhibit chivalrous behavior. They like feeling special when he opens the door. It can also suggest that this is some kind of actual courtship, not just a quick one-night stand or ambivalent companionship. I personally tend towards this camp: it's not like you have to open doors for me, but I'm a total sucker for little things like offering your arm when I'm wearing high heels on bad pavement. Personally it makes me feel respected on a more basic level, like I'm being appreciated as a lady and treated accordingly. It tends to make me feel more comfortable as well. If you're taking me seriously I'll take you seriously too. I would also like to offer the completely irrational, subjective and quantitatively worthless assessment that it's super charming.

Are these stances mutually exclusive? Does letting a guy pull out your chair out make you a Bad Feminist? Does chivalry or the lack thereof affect your relationships? My immediate answer is "no, of course not", because I don't feel my status depends on it. And yet I've consciously refused many chivalrous gestures from men who I disliked. What am I saying when I do this? Is it I don't need your help, or I don't want your affection? I'm not sure. It does seem like there's a level of trust involved, a trust I reserve for family, close friends and significant others. So as much as I want to say chivalry doesn't matter I need to acknowledge it does. Somehow.

There are women who choose to assert themselves by stubbornly ignoring chivalry, and that's their prerogative. There's no wrong answer to this question as it ultimately comes down to what makes you feel respected or not, which varies from person to person. I am sure there have been lots of contentious conversations between women who feel bad when he opens the door and men who feel bad when they don't.

Like I said, I don't have any stunning insights to offer here, just a few words to help clear our own heads. Where are you? How do you feel about this sort of thing in an age where no manners are more common than any manners at all? What does it mean to you to offer or accept it? Does it make you feel closer to people? I guess my stance on this isn't as clear as I thought, which tends to happen when writing. I am a capable, financially independent and self-sufficient woman who takes pride in paying for herself. It seems absurd to judge a man based on things like that. But I find it means something to me because I'm picky about when I want it and from whom. Yet I do like being cared for in that way, and makes me more likely to reciprocate said caring.* What are your own sentiments? Where did they come from? Are you chivalrous because you view all women a certain way or because Mom would scold you if you didn't?

(Closing note: Where do we stand on picking up the check? I think nowadays it's difficult to associate this with chivalry as people's financial circumstances are so variable. Now that women have jobs of their own there's no need for a man to pay all the time. Likewise, if I'm dating a guy in graduate school, I would never expect him to pay for me. A special occasion is different but otherwise who cares? If you're in similar positions you can skip the hassle of splitting checks and take turns each time...I'm not the only one who does this, right?)


* = if you know what I mean, GET IT?! oh god I'm going to die alone