Thursday, August 27, 2009


I'd like to tell you about my awesome opera trip to Seattle last week. I'm not quite as excited to write about my return to work now that the school year is starting, although that's the big news around here this week so I could be writing about that.

Instead, I'm writing because I just had a freaky experience and I feel the need to share it. I took the dog on a walk just now, and as I was walking through my apartment complex parking lot on my way home I noticed a white, windowless van sitting in the driveway preparing to turn out of the complex (yes, the cliche white van!). I noticed the van because the car waiting behind it eventually pulled up and went around it to get out of the lot since the van wasn't moving. That's when I realized the man in the van was watching me. At that point I had to pass beside the van to get to my apartment. It was either that or abrubtly double back the way I'd come and go around the back side of my building, but there's no entrance on the back side so I was screwed, basically. Anyway, I was already creeped out enough that I stayed many yards away from the door of the van as I passed by, and I wrapped my hound dog's leash tightly around my wrist several times, trying to silently communicate to the (probably useless in dangerous situations) dog that I might need him to protect me. In other words, I was getting a very, very bad vibe from the situation even before the man spoke to me.
And then he rolled down his car window and said, "Can I ask you a question?" I pretended I didn't hear him and kept walking and then he called after me, "I just want to talk to you." I said, "Sorry, I have to get the dog inside. He's overheated," (which was true, actually) and the guy said, "I just want to ask you one thing." I was really freaked out by that point because this clearly wasn't just an attempt to get directions. So I said, "What?" and kept walking and he said, "Can we be friends?" and I didn't answer and then he put the van in reverse and started following me up the hill. What the fuck?! I continued to ignore him, picking up the pace of my walk and thinking, "WhatdoIdo,whatdoIdo,whatdoIdo?" It was bright, sunny noon, but there were no other people around but me, the guy in the van, and a few cars driving by on the road that likely wouldn't have noticed if something happened. Then he shouted again, "I just want to be friends!" and I said, "I don't know you, sorry!" and he said, "Do you live around here?" and I didn't answer but at that point he was still following me up the hill. I knew I couldn't go into my own building because I don't want him to know where I live, but it felt too unsafe to just continue walking through the parking lot with him following me in the van. I briefly considered running for the pool, but the pool doesn't open until 2 so I knew no one would be there yet, and past the pool is just a few more apartment complexes and then a dead end very, very far from the main road.
So I did the only thing I could think to do: I walked briskly up the stairs into the building next door to mine. The two buildings are connected by an underground tunnel that runs between the basements. The tunnel and basements contain the storage units for each apartment and a shared laundry room. All I could think was THANK GOD Penn had discovered the connecting tunnel just a couple of months ago. I never knew I'd have to use it to escape from a creepy stranger in a white van, but I'm glad I knew about it. I ran downstairs to the basement as fast as I could. The door to the storage units/laundry room has a keypad on it so I typed in the code, ran inside, and slammed the door, hoping the guy wasn't following me. Then I ran through the tunnel to my apartment building and into the laundry room. One of my neighbors was down there doing laundry and I'm sure she was wondering why the hell her sweaty neighbor and a panting hound were bursting through the passageway from the building next door, but whatever. I ran all the way upstairs to my apartment and locked myself in and now here I am.
To add to the creepiness, I just remembered that yesterday when I was waiting for my bus to campus a man in a white van drove by and honked and waved at me. To be honest, the honking/waving/catcalling men in cars routine is not unusual. It happens at least once or twice every time I bike or walk the dog or stand at the bus stop. It's just something that happens to women who have the audacity to venture out in public solo (well, it happens to me, anyway, so I assume it happens to other women). I wasn't concerned about the guy in the white van yesterday, but now I'm paranoid that it's the same guy that creeped me out today, which means he lives in the neighborhood, likely even in this complex. Actually, that's a better thought than the alternative, which is that he doesn't even live here at all and is just stalking me. Ugh.

What should I do now? Anything? Maybe I'm being overly paranoid. Lord knows I am capable of making mountains out of molehills when it comes to finding things to worry about. [Case in point: I worked myself into tears the other night thinking that Penn had had a car wreck when he was twenty minutes late to pick me up at the airport. Turns out he was outside the airport all along, our phones just weren't connecting to each other for some reason so we both kept trying to call each other and failing.] Honestly, though, I did not get good vibes from the guy and I don't think it's innocent and normal to roll down your van window and ask a woman you've never met to be your friend. Should I get Penn to walk around the apartment complex with me later to try to find the van and write down its license plate number? The van is white with no windows and nothing written on it. The guy is thin, youngish (I'd guess mid-thirties or younger), black, no facial hair, from his accent I'd guess he's probably African (which makes me hopeful that there's a language and culture barrier and maybe he really does just want to be friends; he could just be confused about social norms and not malicious. Not that that's going to make me give the guy an actual chance at friendship if I see him again, because what if I try to be polite and it turns out I'm wrong?). Do you think I'm overreacting? Do I need to have my pepper spray handy when I stand at the bus stop now? Why does being a woman suck so much sometimes?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Taking Manhattan

I'm currently on the bus on my way home from New York City. The driver is quite a character. He keeps referring to all of us as "family" and he just informed the bus family that we may need to take our patience cards out of our pockets, swipe them, and use a little bit if we hit traffic on the turnpike. Um, okay. Will do. Usually the bus drivers don't chit chat at all, so it's a little strange to have one so outgoing and not surly.
I had a great four days in New York. I was there for a conference, presenting a paper on an "emerging scholars" panel. For the record, I think this will be the last time I can pull the debut scholar card since I now have eight or nine conferences on my resume, including this one, which is the biggest conference in my field. Anyway, my panel went well and I got good feedback on work that will ultimately be part of my dissertation. People seem interested in what I'm doing, and that's a good feeling. I rocked the networking this time. I'm getting better about just putting myself out there and introducing myself to people I know I need to talk to. This time I forced myself to go to a panel on publishing reviews and I introduced myself to various editors because I know that with so many conferences under my belt the next step is getting something small published. So I'm going to try. I don't think I'll get around to it until spring, but at least I have faces and personalities to go along with the editors' names now, so the process of submitting work seems a little less intimidating. I also reconnected with my old department chair from my undergrad department, and he seemed thrilled to hear that I'm working on a PhD and he promised me that if I stay in touch he'll help me however he can in the future. Sometimes reconnecting with old acquaintances is as important as cultivating new ones.
I also just met a ton of people at this conference. I think part of the reason why networking was easier is that some of my friends from my MA program were there, as was Anna from my current program. So they all introduced me to their friends and faculty in their current programs or, in Anna's case, introduced me to friends from her MA and undergrad departments. As a result, I now know approximately two dozen people I didn't know on Friday. That's pretty good! Sometimes it helps that this world is small and incestuous. It's easier to get a foot in the door. God, who would have imagined I'd become this networking, conferencing person? The sick thing is, I even sort of enjoyed it!
I did try to see a bit of the city. I was staying with Kiki in Astoria, which was nice and meant I got to spend a little time with her (not enough time, since we were on utterly different work and sleep schedules the whole time I was there, but we at least got to eat a couple of meals together). Maddi was also there for the conference and I got to meet her new boyfriend, which was fun.
It was great getting to see my two best girlfriends in one weekend. Next time I go to New York I just want to see shows and play, though. No more of this hanging out in hotel meeting rooms and working nonsense! The best ideas we had all weekend came out of boozy dinners, anyway. Isn't that always the case? I think conferences should forgo panels and awards receptions and just lock everyone in a ball room with an open bar for three days. That's when real innovation happens. Seriously.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

More from the Oddball Files

Today my friends who visited a couple of weeks ago sent me this picture from their trip:

Look closely. What's wrong with this picture?....Oh, I don't know, could it be the dog sitting at the dining table in the middle of a busy outdoor cafe?!
It's no secret that I love my dog. I love my dog to the point that some people might think I'm a bit obsessed. There is a wide range of dog people. There are the people that believe that dogs should live in the backyard and as long as they get a daily meal and a walk once in a while then they're fine. There are the people like me who like their dog to be indoors, who don't mind if the dog lies on the couch, who feed the dog high quality food and talk to it as if it might possibly understand English and maybe even take it to special dog-related events. To be honest, I think this isn't so bizarre in our current culture. People tease me sometimes for being so in love with my dog, but the fact that there are dog stores and community dog fairs and restaurants with "Yappy Hour" in the first place means that I must be pretty normal, right? Obviously plenty of people are patronizing these places to allow them to exist in the first place.
Still, I don't care how much of a dog lover you are, there is a place to draw the line. And this man is someone who has crossed the fine line between Dog Lover and INSANE. We were sitting down having a drink when we saw this man walk up to the cafe pushing his little dog in a stroller. A stroller! Now, even that I can sort of maybe kind of understand if you have an old dog who can't really walk anymore. But this dog was young-looking and seemed capable of moving just fine. So the stroller was just ridiculous. Then he ordered his food at the counter and pushed his dog over to the table, where he proceded to lay out the white towel you see in the picture and place his dog on it. What you can't see clearly is that he ordered four sandwiches: one for him, one for the woman he was with, one for the kid, and one for the dog. The dog had his own sandwich! The woman sat there and tore pieces off it and fed them to the dog that was sitting at the dining table.
Why?! Why does a dog need its own seat at the dining table? I should also note that the man had a second dog that he was carrying in a shoulder bag. For some reason the shoulder bag dog wasn't allowed to sit at the table, though.
I'm trying to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was just doing this to amuse the kid. Maybe it was the dog's birthday or something and the little boy suggested having a party for the dog so they pretended to treat him like a person for the day...Seriously, I'm a crazy dog person and I want to justify this, but I just can't. It was bizarre. And you should have seen how angry Penn was about it. I could practically see the veins bursting out of his forehead as he tried to control himself and not storm over to the table and confront the guy. He kept muttering, "It's. A. Dog." (P.S.-The other thing that enraged Penn that afternoon: Ultimate Frisbee. Apparently he has no patience for competitive frisbee throwing. Truth be told, that didn't surprise me. He barely tolerates baseball. In his mind it's not a real sport unless there is physical violence and preferably blood involved. This boyfriend of mine, he hasn't exactly evolved into a sensitive, 21st century guy.)

Speaking of oddballs, please explain this to me if you can:
We have a pool at our condo complex and I've been swimming laps a few times a week. Sometimes when I'm at the pool there's an older guy there, and this is what he swims in:
A purple t-shirt
Black shorts
A swim mask
A snorkel
First of all, even if he was just wearing swim trunks the whole flippers/mask/snorkel ensemble would be a bit much. It's not the ocean. It's not even a lake. It's not even an Olympic size pool, it's maybe a third the size of that. Why would anyone need a snorkel and flippers for the pool? The first time I saw him I assumed it was new gear and he was testing it out, but every time he's at the pool he has all the gear with him. He puts it all on and then does his version of lap swimming, which involves slowly (verrrrry slowly) swimming around the perimeter of the pool.
So that alone would be a bit strange, but the t-shirt and suspenders just puts it over the top. None of the clothes are waterproof, they're just regular clothes. Although he does wear the same outfit every time, so clearly that's his swimming ensemble.
Please enlighten me. Is there some sort of event that I'm not aware of that he could be practicing for? Or is he just...unique?