justin adler, blog, buenos aires, bahia blanca, university of arizona, brooklyn, basketball, travel, paul mcpherson

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Thursday Night Adventures With Old Christine

I'm still not sure what happened last night. Sarah and I went out to dinner with our neighbor Christine, a short and feisty woman I'd guess to be 65 years old. If you talk to Christine for at least three minutes (an easy task as she effortlessly turns small talk into a 10 minute conversation), you're guaranteed to hear, "Nowwa, Lissen heare," "Well i says," and "Boy, I oughta hit you upside the head!"

On top of the joy that comes with conversing with the human incarnate of Foghorn Leghorn, I love talking to Christine because I feel like I'm doing some good in the world by spending time with an old woman who lives by herself. The other day I suggested that Christine come over for dinner. 

"Hell, Justin your wife is too pretty to be cooking in the kitchen, let's go out to eat," was her way of saying, "Sure." After we agreed upon going out on Thursday, I received a call from her that afternoon, where she just kept repeating, "Are you sure you wanna go out with me? I'm nuts! I tell ya, I'm nuts."

Now would probably be as good a time as any to disclose the 5% ulterior motive, to the 95% of me just being a good guy who wants to provide some company to a lonely woman, who for all I know, isn't actually lonely at all.

At the end of the month Christine is moving back to her hometown of Greenville, Mississippi and I was hoping that she'd just give us a sweet deal on her apartment, which is much bigger and has a real bedroom, unlike ours which has a walk-in closet that happens to just fit a queen-size bed.

When game time rolled around and Sarah and I strolled the thirty feet from apt 203 to apt 207. Christine rumbled to the door, let us in and within 60 seconds, she was already saying she wanted us to have the apartment and that we need to move in. She repeats this over and over without revealing any numbers. 

As we walk the six blocks to a Thai restaurant that she had picked out, Christine is babbling about everything and anything. She often will stop mid-walk to tell a story, this was especially troublesome when she stopped in the middle of the six-lane avenue of Van Ness, forcing us to dangerously stand on the narrow median. The short commute that should have been eight minutes, ended up taking us well over 30 minutes.

The entire time she either gripped Sarah's arm, my arm, or both in an effort to maintain balance. As she kept leaning backward, I was very afraid that she was going to topple over. Fortunately, she never fell. Unfortunately, I couldn't stop feeling like I was in an episode of Seinfeld, woo-ing an old lady in an attempt to steal the apartment she's owned since 1975.

Once we arrived at the Thai restaurant T2J, Christine let her presence felt. She shouted out the staff's names -- names that I'm not sure were all that acurate since I have a hard time believing a Thai woman is named "Punky." After doling out a few kisses and hugs, she ordered up a delicious duck salad dish, followed by some crunchy egg rolls. Over a few glasses of wine she told us stories that ranged from wildly confusing, to utterly boring, to just-above-mediocre.

"You know what Bob's landscape is?!" was followed by a 10-minute rant that can be summed up by the fact that she once saw "Bob's landscape" painted on a tractor wheel in Spokane, Washington.

"Sarah you're gonna love riding the combine," she said, once we told her we'd like to visit her in Mississippi (although the odds of that actually happening are slim). "Justin, you can't ride the combine, you're stuck in the kitchen cooking rice with me."

"Don't fuck with Chinese men!" Christine repeated frequently in regards to the Chinese chef, who gave Christine her fifth glass of wine for free.

"You know Daddy was a scout for the Dodgers and Giants, on top of running the rice plantation." I really can't tell you how much I love how she refers to her late father as "Daddy," and the fact she actually grew up, and is returning to a rice plantation is just the cherry on top.

My own lunacy prompted the most awkward part of the night. I'm not sure what to call my faux-ADD other than faux-ADD, but at the end of a meal, I often doodle images into the sauce on a plate with the edge of my fork, or I'll rip my paper placemat into million pieces. Last night I was unconsciously shredding a piece of parsely until Christine asked, "What the hell are you doing?"

I tried to play it off. But just like a mother trying to teach her son a lesson, Christine wouldn't let it go. She kept yelling, “Make it right,” and no matter how I tried to reconfigure, or simply hide the dissected parsley leaves, she would put them in front of me and demand that I put it back together. This went on for a good 15 minutes.

After she brought up the fact that she wanted us to have her apartment for the 203rd time and after we subtly said we're relatively poor, and shyly inquired about the price for the 203rd time, we learned she's was willing to give us the apt for $3,500/month, which is cheaper than the $4,000 she knows she can get. This woman may have been tipsy and full of love, but she knew full well what she's sitting on and the SF real estate market. Our dreams of moving on up from an incredible apartment to an incredible-and-massive apartment were over, but like I said before, that was only 5% of the evening's goal.

Sarah and I picked up the bill and this moved Christine to cry tears of joy for a long two minutes. I'm pretty sure it's a good Thursday night when you get an old woman, or anyone, to cry tears of happiness, even if those tears of joy have been greased by fives glasses of wine. 

She tried to offer us money as she felt bad about us paying, but I got her to laugh when I told her that we'd deduct the check from the bill of sale when we buy her house in a few years.

We took a cab back to our place and walked Christine to her door. She gave Sarah a bunch of cookware and kitchen utensils, with the promise that we'd be scoring a lot more goods before she moves out. I'm OK with the fact that half of our kitchen has came from Christine or /r/randomactsofamazon, which Sarah has learned to master -- both have been a lot more fun than the wedding registry we both felt wrong about making since we didn't invite anyone to the wedding. 

At the end of the night, Sarah told me she couldn't believe how wasted Christine was from the start of the night. Somehow this went over my head as I thought she was just an very nice and very old lady. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Modest Proposal (With A Knife-Edge Pass)

I don't know much about franchising, the Air Force's budget, or Catalonia's ongoing independence efforts. But here's a sales pitch I wrote from the Blue Angels to the Catalan government. I think it's a win-win for all parties involved. 

Dear Arthur Mas or any high-ranking Catalan official who loves air shows:
I've noticed your autonomous region is on the brink of becoming an independent European state and I wanted to let you know how thrilled the US Navy is for your nearly successful secession. As an early gift, I’d like to present you with an attractive offer of your very own Blue Angels franchise – the aerobatic flight demonstration squadron that is essential to any military. More importantly, the Angels are capable of performing the Knife-Edge Pass: a stunt where two fighter jets fly directly toward one another on an apparent collision course of fiery death, until one flips upside down(!) at the last possible second to avoid the crash and leave onlookers in utter awe!!
Yes, I know it sounds – and is – absolutely incredible, but you’re probably thinking you have more pressing issues facing your soon-to-be-independent region. There are the headaches associated with fiscal sovereignty and a 22% unemployment rate, plus that whole applying-to-join-the-EU thing. However, coming from a freshly-minted-independent country (speaking in the overall history of western civilization context) myself, trust me when I say that those first two minor issues will take care of themselves.
As for gaining admission to the EU… Who wouldn't want a country that just scored itself six slickly-painted F/A-18 Hornets capable of doing a Double Farvel at 400 mph?! (That’s 643.738 kmh!!!)
Now that we've taken care of the boring stuff, let’s get to the fun part. If you make a tiny deposit today, we’ll throw in a 40-show supply of sky-writing smoke canisters inCatalan and FC Barcelona colors. Plus we’ll give you our highly-confidential, brand new technology for skywriting accent marks and that squiggly line on your “ç.”
Yet I know times are tough and I know that some sweet independència (just imagine that written in the sky, and really try to visualize that “è”) isn't going to erase your country’s debt of €43.95 billion and I know the Angels franchise annual operating cost of €145 million (special reduced-for-Catalonia price!) can seem a bit intimidating. But let me remind you that these jets can do that mind-blowing trick where they really look like they’re going to crash, but they don’t collide because one flips upside down at the last second and leaves an awesome colored-smoke trail. You can’t really put a price on that or the inspiration it will provide countless Catalans.

Remember this is a limited-time offer, so act now before this deal makes like a slot pilot in a Delta Break-Out and invert rolls away! (That’s Angel talk, don’t worry you’ll catch on quick.)
Captain Jim McKisson
Sales Representative to Potentially Independent Regions
P.S. If you think this whole Catalan-independence thing is over-hyped and not really going to happen, could you by chance give me the number of a high-ranking Scottish official who loves air shows.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Patting My Back

I'm still riding the high of scoring the winning point in a last night's pick-up game.

Sure, it was a sloppy in-traffic lay-up that barely rattled in. 

Sure, it was the end to a game that featured two tiny 15-year-old kids. Kids who had far superior dribbling and shooting skills than myself. Too-cool-for-school kids that shrugged me off post-game, after I tried to give them some praise and compliment their game. 

But dammit, I hit the winning shot while wearing a pair of Gil Zeros. And in that same rubbish game to 11, I swished a 12 foot fade-away along the baseline. The shot where in my head I can see myself floating majestically away from the hoop, as my picture-perfect form is just as stunningly beautiful as Kobe's. The shot that in reality is me awkwardly spinning while clearing the ground by all of three inches. 

Somewhere in heaven China, Gilbert is smiling. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Teaching English

This is something I wrote in March 2012 and just finally got around to polishing up now.

My only friend might be having an extra marital affair with a guy from Hong Kong who is 24 years his younger.

One month ago, Sarah and I went to a design fair that sold fancy, cool, mainly unnecessary pieces of furniture and home accessories. I couldn’t afford a single item there and on top of that I had even less a need for anything as I didn’t own a home or even rent an apartment I planned on being in for beyond 90 days.

None of that stopped me from becoming grossly fascinated with a modular shelf unit. It was composed of seven different sized wooden boxes that each hung in perfect chaos by seven brown leather cords connected to a central rod. The cherry on top was its ludicrous 
price point of 300 euros.

This boxy shelf thing led me to Sergio, the Catalan shelf-seller who would become my first Barcelona-based friend/employer. Two minutes into our conversation I learned that his brother lived in Scottsdale and that he himself had once lived in a Philadelphia suburb that’s next to Sarah’s hometown. The small-world connection helped me score a gig teaching his kids English.

I had been struggling with having entirely too much time on my hands, so I was elated about the prospect of having something to do and a few euros coming my way, even if that something to do was for only 2 hours a week, and those few euros were in the low double digits.

The morning of my first scheduled tutoring session, I realized I had zero clue how to teach the English language. I frantically emailed my friend and asked her to condense everything she learned from her TEFL course and year’s experience of teaching English in Costa Rica into a 250-word email for me. She tried her best.

Armed with that wisdom and a few ESL workbooks I’d found laying around my house, I headed to Barcelona’s wealthy Tres Torres neighborhood for session number one. 

The meticulously decorated house was similar to what I envisioned a modular-shelf-unit-seller to have. The entry way featured four large Andy Warhol prints. A 5'x5' iron working of a finger print hung on the family room wall just over a perfectly arranged orange sofa. 

At the retro-chic kitchen table I met Sergio’s 14-year-old son Andres. He was a brilliant kid who spoke fluent English in addition to speaking Catalan, Spanish, French and a fair amount of Russian. His English was way beyond anything I had planned to teach him and after 5 minutes of listening to him speak I was wondering what the hell I was doing there.

Fortunately, Andres was obsessed with New York City. He’d been there a few times, he knew all the boroughs, half the Manhattan streets, and as a result of his gadget obsession, he could tell you the location of Manhattan’s three Apple stores. However, he didn't know who Jay-Z was, so I taught him the basics. He's a rapper, who has been famous for almost 20 years and he is married to Beyonce. I didn't get into any of his songs because if Reasonable Doubt was just on the other side of his level of English comprehension.

After an hour with Andres, I tutored Sergio’s 11-year-old daughter Eva. Her English wasn’t nearly as good as her brother’s and she was understandably shy about speaking her fifth language to a stranger. I tried to keep things simple and break the ice by talking about the movie she had just came back from, Journey II the Center of the Earth, but I think I went off on a tangent about The Rock (the film's start) that really confused her.

I also taught Sergio himself. Sergio’s English was even better than his fluent son. During our sessions, I would often talk to him for 30 minutes without correcting him once. 

On the rare occasion that he made a mistake it went like this:

Sergio: This summer I'll have a girl internship.

Me: You mean, you'll have a girl intern, who will complete an internship.

Sergio: (sincerely grateful) Ah. Yes. Thank you. See this is why I need you to potentially come twice a week.

Each week I looked forward to the tutoring session, my only instructions were to work on their conversational skills and occasionally help them with school assignments. Truthfully, I would have gladly hung out with them for free as they helped me learn about Barcelona and they offered me tips on things to check out.

One day Sergio emailed me asking if I knew any cheap places for his friend from Hong Kong to stay.

After a few back-and-forths via email, and because I was selfishly hoping that Sergio would find me a full-time job, we decided his friend could stay with us.

I was told the Hong Kong traveler, Savant, was close to my age. At first I figured Savant must be the son of one of his business partners, but then I learned that Savant and Sergio met via Facebook and they'd never actually met one another.

I pretended this wasn't weird and as I often did, I chalked it up to a “European custom” that I didn't understand. Even though European friends I would meet later in life, have told me that welcoming a 20-years-younger stranger into your home is in fact weird.

Savant was supposed to stay with us for four nights. However the day before he was scheduled to stay with us, Sergio told me that his wife and kids were out of town and that Savant would spend his first two nights in Barcelona at his place in the now-empty space. I never understood why Sergio didn't just invite Savant to sleep on his couch, but I guess that is another "European custom" that alluded me. 

When it was time for Savant to stay with us, we met Sergio and Savant at a burger restaurant near our apartment. Then things got weird.

Savant barely spoke English and spoke zero Spanish (nor Catalan). Yet Sergio acted like Savant was his best friend. Sergio blushed every time he spoke of Savant, he always gazed into Savant's eyes, and he kept scratching the back of Savant's head as if he were a puppy.

I let the awkwardness of lunch pass because the burger was amazing and Savant picked up the bill.

When it was time for Sergio to say goodbye to Savant, the two embraced, let go, hugged again, and Sergio gave again gave him the back-of-the-head rub/scratch thing that's normally reserved for cute pets.

Sarah was instantly convinced that Sergio had been sleeping with Savant, while I was willing to give Sergio the benefit of the doubt.

Because I was a good host with bountiful amount of free time on my hands, I offered to show Savant around town. We hit up Parc Guell and on the way Savant showed me pictures of him riding on the back of Sergio's motorcycle. He also told me that Sergio took him to a FC Barcelona game and the two spent a night by themselves in Sergio's beach house, where they shared a bottle of wine.

I also quizzed Savant on his name asking him if he knew it meant “genius.” He told me he knows now, but didn't know it when he picked his English name in grade school, which he told me was the tradition in Hong Kong. He just liked the sound of the word. He also told me that his two brothers both picked the English name “Kevin.”

The two days of his stay dragged by, Savant was nice, but his broken English and vast cultural differences were just too much for Sarah and I.

After Savant left, Sergio was more distant towards me. When I first met him, we spoke frequently via email and I would tutor his children once a week. Post Savant, I would go 10 days without hearing from Sergio, only to have my tutoring session canceled at the last moment because of a “family emergency.”

Almost a month later, I went to Sergio's house to tutor his children. I'm pretty sure half the reason he had me over was because I had once brought him some cookies and he wanted to return the tupperware. 

I spoke with his son, then with Sergio and he didn't have a whole lot to say about Savant. He did tell me that my Spanish was horrible and that I needed classes.

After he'd returned my tupperware and shattered my Spanish-speaking confidence,  Sergio never responded to my emails and never talked to me again.

Sarah is 100% convinced it's because I didn't sleep with him. I think that could be it. Or it could be that his wife found out about his Hong Kong love affair, and his family needed time to work however you would work that situation out.

Then again it could also just be that I was a horrible English tutor.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Pakis and PBJ

In my most extreme case of having too much time on my hands, I tried to restore American-Pakistani relations... one peanut-butter and jelly sandwich at a time .

It began when I was buying a jar of peanut butter from my uber-local bodega (that's in the NYC vernacular, not a spanish vineyard). The cashier Abdul told me that he'd never tried peanut butter and he really didn't know what it was.

That was my cue to don my ambassador hat and show Abdul a classic American meal.

The next day I whipped up a delectable pb&j sandwich (in case you're wondering: smooth, strawberry, on wheat) and brought it down to Abdul accompanied by a cold glass of mediocre Spanish milk. I was hoping Abdul would take a bite and be overjoyed with the greatness of America.

But he simply put the sandwich aside. Maybe because he wasn't hungry, perhaps because he feared I was an American agent trying to kill Pakistani immigrants one poisoned sandwich at a time in retaliation for that whole hiding Bid Laden thing.

Either way our relationship was more beer-buyer/cashier than father/son, so I wasn't about to force him to take a bite.

The next day I asked Abdul what he thought of the sandwich. He told me it was OK. I'm not sure if he ever actually ate the sandwich, but either way I'm pretty sure that the USA and Pakistan are much closer as a result.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

El Ultima Dia

I spent my last morning in Barcelona sitting in the windowless upstairs cave of my of Quality Street, the art gallery/collective/hangout where I met most my BCN-based friends. I sunk into a well-worn brown leather chair and watched Corinthians play Chelsea in a cup that I didn't know about until the night before. As I sat there watching a grainy internet stream, while my friends chain smoked and ate Burger King, I realized I did it. I went to a completely foreign country with zero connections and found myself in the exact same place I'd be if I was back in the States. 

After giving my Brazilian friend Carlos some congratulatory handshakes for his club's win, I started to check off the few remaining items on my Barna bucket list. 

I rode up Passieg Sant Joan to visit Casa Macaya and snap a picture of the bike sculpted into the building's entry way. The bike respresents the buildings architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch, who rode his bike between projects. 

Then I headed over to the Christmas market in front of the cathedral to snap photos of the caganers, because that's the best poop-related Christmas tradition outside of Mr. Hanky. Brief back story: Since the late 18th century, Catalans have placed a pooping figuring aside their nativity scene. The "shitter" is fertilizing the earth, or any of the other explanations from wikipedia. Catalans also have the Caga tió aka Shitting Log aka Christmas log, which is far better than Santa, because you don't get to beat Santa with a stick until he shits out candy. While little Catalans do get to beat Caga tió with a stick while singing a song that translates to: "Shit log, shit nougats (turrón), hazelnuts and cottage cheese, if you don't shit well, I'll hit you with a stick, shit log!"

After I'd Catalan Christmas'd myself out, I bounced over to Raval to get one final haircut from my Pakistani barber who is the first person in the world to give me a haircut that I don’t hate. The fact that his prices range from 3 to 4 euros for a cut also make it a great stop. Inside the dingy shop, three fellow Pakistanis sat in the waiting area and watched a championship game of Kabaddi being broadcast on a 13-inch oldschool TV that was hung in the corner of the shop. 

I still have zero clue about how Kabaddi works. It’s one shirtless and shoeless guy against
four opposing equally disrobed athletes. After watching it for 10 minutes I could only gather that it
was a cross between Red Rover and wrestling.

Post Kabaddi/hair cut sesh, I passed through Ciutadella park one last time and tried to take in all its beauty as I have no clue when I’ll ever get back. It’s a shame that despite reading its wiki eight times over I never could remember its amazing history of being a jail or prison town or something properly. 

I did snap a picture of this kid though. 

When I showed Sarah the picture, she asked if the kid was alright. But at the time I never even thought to ask if he was OK. I just snapped and bopped. 

This is the same logic that I used when I didn't help a young woman in the grocery store who had tripped and fell. Sarah said I was rude, but my thinking was that she was too embarrassed
and I was doing the right thing by not drawing any more attention to her.

Back to Barcelona. Many of our friends came over for one final goodbye. We played Pictionary and I drew the word "Warsaw." Having little knowledge of Warsaw I sketched a picture of a war, which was quickly
guessed, then a picture of a saw, which everyone recognized but nobody knew the word of in
English, which ruined my turn. I joked that this is why I need to return to America, but it was actually better than any other moment in my short Pictionary career. 

After our friends left I was sad that I wouldn’t be seeing many of them for a long, long while and I'd probably never see all of them together again. I stared off my balcony into a plaza that I’d spent countless hours gazing into. Then I heard the bar below come alive after a Barca goal (somehow I watched a Corinthinians game and Kabaddi game, but I couldn’t bother to care about watching my local club one last time). It was a nice year. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Quick Munich Memories

I went to Munich last weekend, where I drank some beer, endured the frigid, frigid cold, saw some guys surfing in the same frigid, frigid cold. On my birthday I went to the BMW Museum, a fancy spot where I'm pretty sure I was the only person wearing grocery store plastic bags in my shoes. 

A real Bavarian