From a Hotel Room in Chinatown

Having just tucked away takeout from House of Nanking restaurant, which I found just around the corner and next to a cozy looking Live Nude Show, I can finally relax on these pin-stipped sheets and write a little.

I am in San Francisco training for a new job as an editor for an OTA (Online Travel Agency- I’m just learning so much.)  I’m already loving it- Sweet perks, an international, multilingual company with coworkers from many walks of life, and, best of all, REAL writing and REAL editing.  This didn’t come easily, though.

It’s pretty difficult to juggle an international trip and then coming home to an onslaught of job interviews.  If I sound like a brat, I’m not sure how to respond to that.  It was amazing how much having a full-time job can make people realize you aren’t Loony Tunes, and it’s amazing how saving up a little money after school can open doors for you. So, after many mad dashes from my old office to late-afternoon interviews around the city, I finally landed a job in an industry I love and doing what I want.

To boot, I just moved into my new Chicago apartment, and had a nice interim week wherein I could, ya know, paint a bookshelf, join the library, and kick back on my Christmas light-bedazzled porch with a few Coronas.  In a way, I feel like I’m a freshman in college again.  That first night, when it was getting past 1 am and it hit me- Oh, my God, I can go back to my dorm whenever I want.  Now, it’s Oh, my God, my bed is fifteen minutes away from this bar.  It’s a great feeling, and I feel like, if I were Liz Lemon, and Alec Baldwin smelled by gym bag and asked if I am a human woman, I can grin widely and confirm that yes, I am finally a human woman. (As you can tell, I could not find this clip on Youtube.)

It’s interesting, how I had several weeks of chaos, and then a tranquil family vacation and a week to settle in my apartment.  Now, I’m back to the grind, throwing elbows in the morning to get past the fish market and protect my coif from gusts off the bay.


I’m a lucky gal.

Also, you should probably listen to this whole album, which came out today and is currently soothing me to sleep.

Hand-Written Letters from Strangers

These are six letters I received in the mail this week from strangers.  One wrote about radio shows she liked to listen to when she was a little girl.  One is a college professor.  One is a homosexual who wants my advice about coming out to his Catholic, marriage-counseling parents.

Around January, I came across The Rumpus, an online magazine, or whatever you want to call it, that just publishes good writing.  They happen to provide a mail service, where they send you personal, hand-written letters by famous writers once a week, for only $5 a month.

In April, I got two letters in the mail instead of my usual one.  They all come postmarked from Stephen Elliott at a random address in California. (My mother is probably so curious she’s bursting. He’s just the Editor-in-Chief of the Rumpus.) The second letter announced the beginning of “Letters to Each Other,” where we were invited to write a personal letter and send it to their HQ, along with a self-addressed envelope.  So, this week, I received six such letters from other subscribers who did the same.  Now, knowing that my letter was mailed to six others, I have essentially just gained 12 pen pals.

I’m now about to write back to six very different people, and this feels very scary and adult-y.  Especially because my hastily dashed-out letter was mostly about my STD concerns and the Robyn cd I was listening to at the time.  The only two other pen pals I’ve had are my cousin and an Irish girl from County Limerick.  The former and I wrote to each other while she was at her beach house in Indiana.  The latter played the tin whistle, and I stopped answering her because it took too long to get her letters.

I love that I don’t know what these people look like, and I can never text them a quick thought.  I need to sit down and really think of the right responses.  I can’t wait.

Interesting Things that Happen When You Google Map My New Apartment

I am the 99%, in the respect that I was too poor to move out of my mother’s house after graduating college.  I actually make enough money to be categorized as the 1%, which I find greatly amusing.  That aside, I signed a lease and am finally set to live in Chicago come June 1.

I learned a lot of things while apartment hunting in a city, mainly, not to trust a soul.  Realtors stood me up for appointments and realtors lied about the proximity to the El.  One particularly Roger Klotz-like man whisked my friend and I from neighborhood to neighborhood on a flat tire that eventually shredded while we were somewhere near the Gold Coast (and, needless to say, outside of the boundaries I gave him).  Once we settled on our non-negotiables (insert tip of the hat to Patti Stanger here), we settled on a cute two bedroom in Lincoln Park.

Sometimes, when I’m avoiding my aforementioned mother, I find solace in Google mapping my new apartment.  I like to see it at different angles, and I’ve found that when you come in from the east or west, the Google car was driving under some seriously cloudy conditions.  But, when you scroll south, where the back of the building is, the skies open and sunlight streams through the trees.

Here’s a nice shot of a welcome vehicle parked on my corner:

Yup. I live above a little bar and grill, which, as it would seem, is always fully stocked.  Excellent.

And, with a little extra Googling, I’ve learned that I live a block and a half away from the Family Matters house. Fuck. Yeah.

A Week in Istanbul and Central Turkey

With entry-level jobs comes money.  And with money, comes the ability to spend money.  I’ve never plunked down more cash on a vacation than I did for my week in Turkey with my college roommates, and I still spent less than $2000. It turns out Turkey is 1 of approximately 2 countries with a good exchange rate. Point, Americans.

The trip started shakily. With no cell phones between us, three gals had to meet at a hostel in Istanbul at nighttime. WIth one flying in from Spain, where she moved to teach English, that left us two Yankees to find each other in an international airport. After failing to find each other at our three checkpoints (visa booth, baggage claim, kind man named Onir holding up a sign with my name on it), I decided to hitch a ride with Onir and trust that my friend would find the hostel on her own.  When he turned around in the driver’s seat and said, “Welcome to Istanbul, Miss Cason,” I relaxed, knowing that we both have brains or, at least, addresses written down somewhere.  My friend did eventually get to the hostel, and when my Spanish friend rolled in at midnight, it was comparable to the joy I feel when my Geo’s chicken finger order is up.

I tossed and turned that night, waking up at dawn when I heard the first prayer erupt from the loudspeakers that are attached to every minaret of mosques in the city.  Though we were all still a little groggy, we hit up as many major landmarks as we could.  Most notably, the Hagia Sophia:

This beaut was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Istanbul.  Once the premiere church of Constantinople, it was converted to a mosque once the Ottomans put an end to Roman glory for good. Their solution to covering up that pesky iconography?

Why, slapping huge medallions with messages from Allah over all of the angels and stuff. Quite the quick fix.

This is the minbar, where the leader of prayer, or imam, stands at the halfway point to deliver a sermon. The top is reserved for Allah.

The dome (I’ll never understand how they built these things.)

Moving right along, we then visited the Topkapi palace, where sultans used to rule the school.  Fun fact, while harems were very real, sultans were only allowed up to four wives, most of whom were chosen by their mother! Gross. No pictures were allowed inside, but suffice to say we saw some tricked out old sultan outfits and lots and lots of bling.

Next up was the Blue Mosque, where we had to cover our heads and go shoeless.

But the mosque that I found to be the most beautiful was the New Mosque, which was closer to the Bosphorus strait, a channel that divides Istanbul in two and Europe from Asia.

See the reds and blues and greens? Again, because iconography was a no-no, the Turks resorted to tiles for decoration.  Also, these adorable old men.

Needless to say, the sights were amazing. One thing that confused me was prayer time. In my head, this 99% Muslim country paired with the fact that prayer is broadcast through the atmosphere five times a day meant that I would constantly be seeing people drop to their knees in worship.  Not so. The only time I saw people in prayer was inside of the mosques that I was touring. It doesn’t seem to be the integral part of life that I was expecting, and I think that may be a sign of the times. The most reverence I noticed from young people was when my hostel owner turned the radio off during one midday prayer.  Something to ponder.

The experiences probably trumped the sights in Turkey.  Just wandering the streets introduced us to new things and interesting people. Such as…

Fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice

Smoking apple hookah

Or traveling to Goreme, a tiny town in central Turkey.  It was like a space camp fairy castle wonderland, but with less English-speakers and lots more horse poop.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Hmm. That photo looks like it was taken from above. That’s peculiar,” then you are one smart cookie. Because I did take that photo from above. While inside a wicker basket. On a HOT AIR BALLOON RIDE.

This video consists of one of my friends gasping for air and me burrowing my head in her shoulder, sobbing. It was about that time that I realized I hadn’t signed any sort of waiver, and one of the men tending to my balloon was also the waiter from the restaurant we ate at the previous night. But I quickly got over it, once I saw the incredible vision of dozens of hot air balloons floating in the air.

Paired with the incredible rock formations resulting from volcanic eruptions that took place centuries ago, it was one heckuva experience. That I will probably never do again.

When we returned to Istanbul, we also went to a traditional Turkish bath, where we were treated with all of the warmth and gentleness you want from a topless, round-bellied old Turkish woman.  When we bought our tickets, we were given a package consisting of a towel, a hand mitt, and disposable bikini bottoms. No instructions included.  We went into a locker room and changed, all the while debating whether or not to embrace our inner Europeans and go topless.  In the end, we decided to do as the Turks do and throw modesty to the wind.  We went to the indicated room, opened the door, and were hit in the face with steam.  Once that cleared, we found that we were in a large, domed, 500-year-old room, filled with topless women being washed. Oh boy.

A nice old woman came up to me grabbed my towel that I was clutching to myself, and threw it onto this large marble slab in the middle of the room.  She instructed me to lie down next to the 15 or so other women waiting for attendants.  At this point, my friends and I realized that our friendship had reached a level before unknown to us.  I lied there for 20 minutes, letting my pores expand and feeling so relaxed I almost fell asleep. Before I knew it, the attendant returned to me, and began to pour hot water over me.  She used the handmitt to slough dead skin off my limbs, which felt very good after five days of walking.  She then lathered me up and let me lie there.  After a few minutes, she led me to one of the many fountains lining the periphery and washed my hair.  When that was through, we all met up again in a hot bath, where we tried to process what had just happened. Again, an experience that, while at first scared the crap out of me, ended up being one of my favorites.

We also enjoyed some delicious food, such as hummus, yogurt, lamb, nuts, and Turkish coffee and tea. Only once did my body react negatively, despite Rick Steves’s warning that 1 out of 4 travelers to Turkey get diarrhea. Point, Sarah.  We spent a lot of time in the open markets, where we tried different spices and haggled for souvenirs.

This friendly fellow gave us one Lira off our lowest price if we took a picture with him on his phone. Deal.

In all, Turkey was full of strange opposites.  One half is ancient and steeped in transition, the other half, stretching outward from Taksim Square, is bustling and new. Everyone was friendly, polite, and confused that we came all the way from Chicago.  The weather fluctuates, as do the social customs. For instance, until the 1920s, Turks were not required to have last names.  Almost every shop owner, waiter, tour guide, or person in general that we interacted with was male, and women seemed to only hold jobs that allowed them to be in the back of stores or restaurants. According to these men, my friends and I are Charlie’s Angels.

I’m glad I got to check another place off my list with two of my best friends.

And I’m very glad I met this mannequin.

In No Particular Order, 5 Amazing Song Moments in Film (And 5 Honorable Mentions)

If that isn’t the wishy-washiest title ever, then I’ll be damned.

Of the millions of songs we hear in our lifetime, a select few conjure strong memories and take us on a nostalgia trip. Consider for a moment the steel drum intro of Soulja Boy’s opus, “Tell ‘Em- Crank That,” which will forever take me back in time to the basement of a frat house where I danced on tables with people who are today engaged to be married, managers of things, and/or balding.

It recently dawned on me while watching a movie that it is somebody’s job, I mean their honest-to-goodness occupation, to select music that aligns with the changing of scenes to invoke some sort of reaction in the audience. Their job is to put our senses on the fast-track and make us remember that scene the way I remember sloppily making out with my beer pong partner because he had made the last beer pong shot, sweet!

Here is a collective of movie scenes that were brought to the next level by the song so perfectly chosen to accompany the mood by (and I cannot stress this enough!) a PERSON SPECIFICALLY HIRED TO DO SO.

Movie: The Virgin Suicides

Song: “Crazy on You” by Heart

I dare you to watch this and not feel a tingle somewhere. Featuring a saucy Kirsten Dunst and a then-still-relevant Josh Hartnett, she comes sprinting out of the house where they just endured a night of watching television with her parents in order to give him a goodnight kiss.  Check it- she leaves him a little present.

Movie: Happy Gilmore

Song: “Endless Love” by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross

Featuring the mom from Modern Family rocking a gravity-defying ‘do, this bit is made complete by the creepy janitor serenading Adam Sandler’s totally unbelievable hockey stud swag from the rafters.

Movie: Fight Club

Song: “Where Is My Mind?” by The Pixies

Sorry if you’ve never seen the flick, but Kim’s ethereal cooing and the ever-reserved chorus playing to the images of buildings collapsing is probably the most joltingly beautiful sequence ever thought up. Also a great use of a Pixies song is the use of “Hey” in Zack and Miri Make a Porno when Miri watchs Zack lead a gal other than her into the bedroom. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip of it on the world wide web.

Movie: Mean Streets

Song: “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” by The Rolling Stones

If you’ve seen any Scorsese movie at all, then you’ve seen a sick nasty combination of music and song. From the use of “Layla” during the whacking montage in Goodfellas, to Mickey and Sylvia’s “Love is Strange” when Sharon Stone is introduced in Casino (also used effectively in Dirty Dancing, duh). (You know what? Watch that scene from Casino here and don’t fall in lust with her) This one is my favorite matchup. Robert DeNiro was on the cusp of his incredible acting career and seems to be fully aware of his luck that Scorsese noticed his talent at such a young age.

Movie: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Song: “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles

 No explanation needed.

Honorable Mentions, omitted due to laziness: “Tiny Dancer” in Almost Famous, “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Wayne’s World, “In Your Eyes” in Say Anything, “And Then He Kissed Me” in Goodfellas, and “Tequila” in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure

5 Crucial Things Missing From My Life Right Now

First, this swimsuit in an affordable price range:

Second, this album to be made into a CD for my drive to work.

It’s got my tin whistles and my fiddles, and the beautiful vocals of Bon Iver.  I can’t think of a better way to wake up in the morning:

Third, to see something breathtaking again.

I used to have the privilege of being in awe of a miracle every day in Rome.  Luckily, in about four weeks (!!!) I will be standing inside of this beaut:

Fourth, to see my wonderful grandparents again.

Look at how adorable they are.  I just got off the phone with my grandmother, who told me that every condo in her Florida complex has a walker in it.  She, on the other hand, can tread water for four hours. I can’t tread water for four minutes.  She also managed to impart some wisdom on me, in the way only grandparents can.  When I complained about my job, she told me that no matter what, I need to have a good attitude.  She’s right:

And fifth, this guy, to approach me at a bar sometime soon.

A Paper I Wrote About How Awesome the Movie Clueless is During My Senior Year of College

Second semester senior year was a good one.  I had an independent study, a screenwriting class, a literature course called “Gender Benders”, and a film class.  I dabbled in a few film classes, but this one particularly stayed with me.  It was called “Girls in Film,” except it wasn’t a porn survey.  It was about how girls (from toddler Shirley temple to transgender Hilary Swank) have been depicted in film since, well, the beginning of film.  While I don’t know if I can necessarily apply this information to, say, my chosen career path, I did see and learn about jaw-dropping things on the reg.  If you’re still scoffing about the way in which I got my degree, go get a free month trial of Netflix and watch Pretty Baby to see a prepubescent Brooke Shields playing a 12-year-old prostitute and try NOT to write a paper about it.

Anyway, after recently spending a lazy Saturday watching Clueless, I remembered how fucking awesome Clueless is, and not just because of the outfits.  It’s because it’s actually good, it’s actually saying something, and it’s based off of Jane Austen’s Emma.  In the class I took, this was one of the options I had for watching once we reached the mid-90s, and after every film, we had to write a 2-page paper about it.  Here’s mine.

Clueless: Pandering to its Audience

Clueless is filled with predictable teenagers: bratty girls with full closets, stoner dudes with skateboards and macho hunks that believe sex is a right, not a choice. Cher, our protagonist, is from the first group, her likeability stemming from her generosity, although the extent of her philanthropic tendencies reaches only to the single and the unattractive. The film is not far from its teenage-based counterparts of earlier decades, but instead of reflecting what teenagers reasonably think and do, it satirizes the lack of intelligence that marketers lent to 1990s teenagers. By emphasizing the over-privileged and goalless, Clueless ensures the conflicts and resolutions are arrived at in a spoof-like manner, proving that stereotypes are marketed to rather than real people.

The mise-en-scène alone could distinctly alert the audience that we are dealing with wealthy young people who are concerned about their appearance and having fun. It is in the majority of the dialog, though, that the biting irony about the characters’ situation comes through. The film opens with images of attractive students enjoying a sunny day, with Cher’s voiceover saying, “Okay, so you’re probably going, ‘Is this like a Noxzema commercial or what?’ But seriously, I actually have a way normal life for a teenager.” In the first few moments, we know that she is privy to her age group and what their socioeconomic status translates to for the outsider looking in. There is no pretense of guilt involved with her self-recognition and, because of that, the character becomes a representation of the consumer 1990s teenager.

Moreover, Cher is an independent female, a trait recognized by marketers in the mid-90s. Motherless, she has managed to become popular and influential at the high school she attends without succumbing to the sexual pressures that often plague teenagers. She sets standards for herself, as when she says, “So okay, I don’t want to be a traitor to my generation and all but I don’t get how guys dress today. I mean, come on, it looks like they just fall out of bed and put on some baggy pants and take their greasy hair -and cover it up with a backwards cap and like, we’re expected to swoon?” Here, she is indicating that the “grunge” style popular at the time is a trend aimed at young men that she resists. By explicitly saying that she doesn’t want to be a traitor to her generation, she is expressing a loyalty to her age group that has been expressly defined by its purchasable goods while simultaneously avoiding succumbing to the seductions of the trend.

Because Clueless is over-the-top at times with its depictions of indulgent teenagers, it mocks the way in which marketers regard young people with disposable incomes. There are numerous instances of self-referencing their niche market and the various “necessities” needed in order to maintain the carefree lifestyle enjoyed by Cher and her cronies. With Cher’s sharp dialogue and autonomous outlook on life’s little problems, though, the film laughs at itself and the people who would sell it.

Yeah, I got an A on it, whatever.  But here’s where an A+ is deserved: