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How to write a Nicholas Sparks novel

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

First, set the scene: waterside.

Next, choose a random hobby – coin collecting, or stained glass windows, or composing music.  This hobby will help create a narrative arc that will act as a metaphor for deeper emotional storylines.

Now, take an unlikely couple.  At first, they don’t like each other, because they’re just too different.  In the beginning, she acts like she can’t stand him.  But his boyish persistence and charming wit eventually win her over.

Both individuals must be obscenely beautiful.  She has big eyes and long, flowing hair.  He has chiseled abs and a strong jaw.  They fall into a passionate chemistry, and yes, they have sex.  If it’s their first time, it’s usually on a wooden floor – and maybe during a rainstorm.

But wait!  There is trouble afoot – war, or someone is secretly dying, or their parents don’t approve.

They are torn apart – maybe during a rainstorm.

Time passes.

They get back together – maybe during a rainstorm.

The end.  Make millions of dollars.

Earning my freckles

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

I’m back in the office this morning.

And apparently, in the 7 weeks since I’ve sat at this desk, the sun has shifted.

Yet another Southwest thriller

Monday, December 20th, 2010

On Saturday, I flew back to Colorado.  I’ll be with my family through Christmas, and then fly back to Nashville for another week – because apparently, I enjoy being a geographical ping-pong ball.

I flew Southwest (like I always do), fell asleep the minute I boarded (like I always do), and slept for the first 60 minutes of the flight (like I always do).  When I woke up in my aisle seat, I noticed the middle aged couple sitting to my right.

They were well-dressed, albeit in a gaudy sort of way – he in fancy cowboy boots, she in a leopard-print shirt and a lot of gold jewelry.  Her hair was meticulously highlighted, which I noticed because she tossed it a lot.  They were loud and spirited and obnoxiously physically affectionate, drinking airline cocktails from plastic cups as they canoodled.  It didn’t take long before I couldn’t take it any more, so I pulled out my laptop, put on my headphones, and started watching a movie with scenes that I secretly hoped would make them uncomfortable: “Alive.”

When all else fails, subject your neighbors to true stories of flesh-eating survival.

Suddenly, the woman made a grand sweeping motion with her hand, and her open bottle of Finlandia cartwheeled off the seat tray and into her lap.

What happened next was immediate.

Her feet remained firmly planted on the floor, and her shoulders pressed to the back of her seat, but her hips?  It was as if some invisible cosmic god reached down, grabbed her by the belt loops, and yanked: the woman’s pelvis thrust straight into the air.

“I am soaking!  It’s everywhere!  It’s all over my seat!” she shrieked.  And then some choice expletives.

And because compassion for the crazy can be a challenge, I stared straight ahead, willing the corners of my mouth to stay still, stifling laughter.

From the corner of my eye, I watched the man use the little Southwest napkins to clean up the vodka from her seat.  This was easy because her pelvis remained skyward – one of the more gauche things I’ve ever witnessed.

But just when I thought things could not get more awkward, the man began to use the napkins to dab up the front of her jeans.

And as soon as I thought up the phrase “crotch blotter,” I knew I had to write this one down.

Not-so-guilty / non-pleasures

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

Not-so-guilty pleasure
I’ve had my eye-rolling moments in the past, but I have to admit: Taylor Swift is getting better and better.  On her latest record, “Speak Now,” her songwriting has exploded, without forsaking the catchy hooks she’s so known for.  Judge if you want, but I can’t stop listening.

The only thing that I don’t understand is her dating life.  From the songs that she writes, roughly 50% of her time is spent kissing boys on the sidewalk in the rain.  The other 50% of her time is spent locking eyes with boys across the room at parties with twinkling lights.  Is this what my life should look like?

I AM A MISERABLE FAILURE.

Guilty non-pleasure

Last weekend, I finished the “Twilight” series.  It took me over a year, because the entire process was so painful.  I don’t know why I kept reading – mostly because I just decided to, and once I decide to do something, it’s hard to convince me otherwise.

There are so many things that bother me about these books, the least of which being the “heroine” (can we call her that?), Bella Swan.  A vapid shell of a girl, she offers nothing good on her own – and Stephenie Meyer allows the hot, capable, super-powered Edward to be her only saving grace, literally.

It’s totally pathetic.

Then again, I contributed $10 for each of the 4 paperbacks to advance the vampirific cause, so I guess I should just shut my mouth.

And now, for a long story

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

When I was a senior in college, I stopped every morning on the way to class at a coffee shop called the Java Bean.  Every day, I ordered the same thing: a 16 oz. cup of coffee with room.  That’s all, nice and simple.  The baristas recognized me, and I always had exact change for my coffee – $1.89.

Until one day.

I walked into the Java Bean, ordered my coffee, and opened my wallet to find $1.39.  I was 50 cents short – but these people knew me.  They knew I would be back tomorrow.  They knew that I always ordered the same thing.  They would take $1.39 for my coffee today, knowing I would be back in the morning with the difference.  Right?

“I only have $1.39,” I explained to the man at the counter.  I waited for him to waive the extra 50 cents, to tell me that the Java Bean loves me, to say, “I’ve gotcha, girl,” and send me on my way with a wink.  I waited.  I waited.

But this man knew no compassion.  He just stared at me.

Finally, he said, “Well, do you have a credit card?”

I was slightly shocked, but cooperatively opened my wallet and handed over my debit card.  I couldn’t believe that he wasn’t going to let me slide on out of there, cup of joe in hand, but whatever.  I didn’t invent coffee.  I didn’t invent money.  I’m just here for the buzz.

“There’s a $10 minimum on credit card purchases,” he said.

Buzz kill.

But never fear!  This man had an idea.  “You’re here every morning – why don’t you get a pre-paid card for your coffee?  If you pay for 10 cups right now, we’ll give you this punch card.  I know you’ll make good use of it.”  Yes, of course you know I’ll make good use of it – I’m here EVERY MORNING and will bring an extra 50 cents tomorrow – why don’t you love me?

“Well, okay,” I found myself saying.  My card was about to be charged $19.15 – $18.90 for 10 cups of coffee, plus a 25 cent credit card fee – all because I used two quarters in a parking meter, but no big deal.

I watched this man swipe my card, and then swipe it again, and then again and again and again – but the machine wasn’t having it.

At this point, there was a line of about 6 people behind me, stomping the ground like horses.  Come to think of it, they were exhaling loudly like horses, too – that exasperated puff of impatience.  My card continued to be no good, and finally, desperate for caffeine and escape, I couldn’t take the pressure.

“I’ll write a check!” I exclaimed.  “My checkbook is in the car.  I’ll be right back.”  I dashed out of the Java Bean, and returned to scribble a check for $19.15.  I handed it over just to have the man remind me, “Since this isn’t a credit card purchase, it’s only $18.90.”

My turn to exhale like a horse.

I tore up the check, and wrote a new one for $18.90.  The moment that I gave it to the coffee man, his dim mental lightbulb flared as he realized that the credit card machine had not been plugged in.

His “Aha!” moment was my “GAH” moment.

He handed me my freshly punched punch card and a paper cup for my coffee.  I walked to the pump pot on the counter to fill my cup and get on with my life, but the coffee pot was empty.

The coffee pot was empty.  I had just paid $18.90 and wasted 9 minutes of my life to discover that the coffee pot was empty.

I lifted the pot and marched it to the man at the counter.  “I’m sorry, but could I get some COFFEE?” I practically bellowed.

Scene?  Officially made.

I found an arm chair in the corner to sit in and stew as a fresh pot of coffee was being brewed.  I watched the clock on the wall, every ticking second matching the time-bomb in my chest.  My face was scrunched.  I was late for class, I was desperate for caffeine, and I was down $18.90.

“Anne,” the man called.  “Anne, come here.”  He had seen my name on my credit card – Anne Parsons – and was now calling me by my given name that I never go by, because if there’s anything that Annie Parsons is not, it is Anne.

“I’m so sorry for the craziness.  Here’s a coupon for the next time you’re in.”

The coupon?  50 cents off my next purchase.

56 pounds

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

At the Denver airport last night, I heaved my suitcase onto the scale at the ticket counter, and cast a furtive glance at the damage: 56 pounds.

For the first time ever, I was going to incite an overweight charge.

But wait!  Could this be my lucky day?  The ticket man hasn’t seen the number yet.  He’s asking for my ID.  He’s handing me my boarding pass.  He turns his back for one moment, and…

I made a run for it.*

I was around the corner before he turned back around to discover my beast of burden.

I triumphantly called my mom from the security line, jubilant at my own stealth.  Ha-HAA, I outsmarted The Man!  Take THAT.

*moments like this make me wish I had my own personal cameraman to document my life.

- – - – - – - -

So here I am, sitting across from my little nymph Greta in a coffee shop, working away.  Seattle still has a way of wrapping me like a hug, and making me feel more at home than anywhere else.

Piles of style

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

I’ve been bouncing in and out of Denver this summer – it seems like I haven’t been home for more than 3-4 days at a time before I’m packing up and heading out to the next destination.  Admittedly, I am the world’s worst packer, and always wind up packing way too much or way too little or way too… wrong.  In Portland last week, I unzipped my suitcase to find one pair of jeans, my running shoes, and a cardboard box of food.  That was basically it – hence the circumstances of having to wear my black racerback tank with a rainbow graphic eagle on the front.  To work.

But at least I had my baby carrots!

Last night at 11pm, I started packing for tonight’s trip to Seattle.  I walked into my bedroom and stared at my suitcase, and suddenly felt my brains sucking out of my ears until my skull was completely devoid of any logic.

“What am I going to wear?” I despaired.  “I HAVE NO CLOTHES.”

Hopeless Annie was about to win.  She was about to slide open a dresser drawer and just dump whatever contents therein into her Samsonite, and call it a night.  She was going to show up in Seattle and realize, “I have no shoes.”  She was going to be content looking like a vagrant in front of some of her dearest friends.

All was nearly lost.

But then.

Hopeless Annie was bound and gagged, and had a pillowcase thrown over her head.  By whom, you ask?  Assertive Annie.  Assertive Annie came out of nowhere, took the reins (as she is wont to do), and formulated a plan.

I do so love a plan.

I spent the next hour – yes, 60 entire minutes – trying on clothes.  Outfit after outfit, drawn from my closet – and when something “worked,” it was put in a pile on the bed.  I concocted combinations of clothing for each day in Seattle, from the shoes to the belts to the earrings.  I even made sure I had the right underwear for each pair of pants (bikini or thong? bikini or thong?).  And in my “extra” pile, I put a few pieces of insurance – the t-shirt that never goes wrong, the flip-flops I can wear if all else fails, etc.

I am ready for this trip.

I am prepared.

I think.

If this plan works – if I am able to successfully marry style and practicality from the articles that show up with me in Seattle tonight – then mark my words, I will post pictures.  Because when it comes to clothing, I generally have about as much panache as Pat Robertson has tact.

This could be a turning point.

Up on the roof

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Guess who’s here?

GRETA!

Last night, we were walking around Wash Park, and looked to our right to see… a roof-top band!

They noticed us taking their picture, and yelled for us to come up.

Yes.  They yelled for us to let ourselves in through the front door, go down the hall to the staircase, climb to the attic, and then clamber out the window and up to the roof.

And thanks to my new-found Spiderman climbing skills discovered on Mt. Evans this weekend…

… well.  Needless to say, we bonded.

Yes, I played the trumpet.  No, I don’t know whose lips have been on that thing.  But how could I resist?  It was a real live HOOTENANNY.

Worth every tear

Monday, June 28th, 2010

When I first saw a copy of Jakob Dylan’s new album, “Women and Country,” I was immediately intrigued. I mean, come on – look at the cover.

Even better, check out the cover of his EP, the precursor to the full record.

Based on these two pictures, this is the coolest man alive. And this album confirms it… because holy mother of pearl, it is phenomenal. I’ve had it on repeat – it’s the soundtrack to my existence these days.

So on Friday afternoon, just before I left work, I checked his website to see if he was coming to Denver anytime soon. I pulled up the tour dates, and right there at the top of the list was my city. I couldn’t believe it – I checked the date, and… HE WAS PLAYING THAT VERY NIGHT, one mile from my house.

Serendipity? Me thinks YES.

I kicked it into gear, and ran down to the theater to buy a lone ticket. I couldn’t believe that there were still seats available with just an hour to spare, but $28 later, I was hurrying home to change and scoot back in time for the show.

Except.

Somewhere in the mile between my house and the theater, I lost the ticket. It was in my back pocket when I set off for the venue, but when I arrived at the door, it was gone. I panicked, telling the girl at the box office my situation, showing her my receipt – but no dice. No ticket, no admission.

The show was about to start, but I turned around and started to retrace my steps home. I bent down to check every scrap of paper I saw, but it was always a bus ticket, a receipt, a matchbook. My shoes started to give me blisters, so I took them off and walked barefoot in the dark. By the time I got halfway home, picking up every piece of trash I found, no sign of the ticket, shoes in hand, totally devastated – I just started to cry.

And I couldn’t stop.

In my own defense, I wasn’t just being dramatic.  The tears were the culmination of several incredibly difficult things happening in my life right now – things that are weighing around my neck heavier than a millstone. Losing my ticket put me over the edge; I was a hot mess.

So I did the only thing that I knew to do in times of distress, which was… you know, call my mom.

She encouraged me to go back and get another ticket, so I did. Except when I showed up at the box office (again – third time in two hours), I was STILL CRYING. It wasn’t that I was trying to make them feel sorry for me – I simply could not pull it together. I was sniffling and wiping black rivers of mascara from my cheeks – it was not pretty.

The manager took one look at me, and ushered me in without question.

And it was the greatest show.

Now, I’m not endorsing stuffing your emotions in until they erupt on a Denver street corner.  All I’m saying is… it might come in handy.

Up to my crotch

Monday, April 12th, 2010

“At least it will make a good blog,” I laughed.

“What will you title it?” he asked.

I thought for a second, but really, there was only one choice: “‘Up to my crotch,’ of course.”

- – - – - – - -

See, what happened is… I have a friend named Bennett.  He and I knew each other when we lived in Seattle, but in the last few years, had totally fallen out of touch – until I ran into him at a church here in Denver last month.  I didn’t know he lived here, he didn’t know I lived here – there was hugging and exclaiming.

Yesterday, Bennett and I went hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.  He is rugged and outdoorsy and works at REI, so he is a good person to follow into the wilderness.  The first two miles of the trail were snowy, but we only sunk in to our ankles or so.  It was promising to be a doable 8 miler.

But then.

“Look at that mountain,” Bennett said.  “We could climb it.”

I followed his stare to a 12,000 foot peak.  “THAT?” I asked.  “THAT is not on the path.”  A planner to the extreme, I have a hard time deviating from any original goal.  THAT mountain was not a part of my Sunday ambition.

“It wouldn’t take that long.  We could be at the top in an hour,” he said.  Bennett knows these things.  He cuts his own trails all the time.  He drives a 4-Runner and has a dog.  He owns, like, FIVE backpacks.  Plus, he is very tall.

And I, thirsty for adventure and a well-deserved beer at the end of the day, found myself saying, “Okay!”

We left the path, and began to cut our own across a snowy field.  Bennett went first, and I followed literally in his footsteps, stretching to place my foot where his had been by matching his very long stride.  “How tall are you?” I asked.  “6’3″,” he answered.  I grunted.

The snow got deeper and deeper, and suddenly, with one step, Bennett’s foot sunk and his entire leg was submerged.  The snow had to be at least 4 feet deep, and the sun had softened it just enough that it would no longer hold our weight.

Disaster?  Turn back now?  Not when you have a MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB.

I followed Bennett for two hours, one step at a time, across the snowy terrain and precisely in his footsteps – meaning that I was bending my knees up to hip-level, only to plunge my feet down into holes made by Bennett’s very long legs.  Sometimes, the holes were so deep that my foot would not reach the bottom, and I would be stuck, UP TO MY CROTCH, in snow.  And then, with both legs floating in holes so deep that I had no solid ground beneath my feet, immobile and helpless, I would call for Bennett – and he would come back and pluck me out of the ground.

Like a carrot.

We did not make it to the top of the mountain.  But our 4-hour adventure did result in me writing a blog featuring the ugliest word in the world – twice.

rmnp