Monday, January 30, 2006

Tim Easton at the Belly Up

If you get the chance, stop by the Belly Up on Feb 26 and listen to Tim Easton perform. (He is opening for Lucinda Williams.)

He is an unbelieavably talented songwriter, singer and musician! His last CD got a great review in Rolling Stone. I've seen him several times in concert and have not been disappointed.

photo from

Speaking of Goals, Ambitions and Lofty Aspirations

You know how some people have a list of goals – long-term and short-term? Well, I’m not one of those. You know how some people have known what they wanted to do with their lives since they were young? Not one of those either. Nope, I’m the reason why there is a “Find Your Calling” section at Barnes & Nobles. I buy those books. I read those books. I hate those books.

Despite having spent thousands and thousands of dollars on higher education, I have single-handedly financed an entire publishing genre in search of an answer to the elusive question of what I should be doing with the rest of my life. Which is why I find it so surprising, now that I have started this blog, that many of you - and you know who you are - have offered me career advice in the form of “you should write a book.”

First, I’m not a writer. I’m not even an aspiring writer. I’m just a smart-ass with internet access and way too much time on my hands. Second, where were you people before I spent a small-fortune on self-help books?

Nevertheless, I promised Dan that I would look into whether anyone might be interested in publishing my ramblings. I sent an unsolicited email to a local literary agent (probably a mistake), who was kind enough to send me a response (probably a mistake), which I will now share with you (definitely a mistake), along with my interpretation of what she really meant, but was just too polite to say!

Agent: “It's actually well-known in publishing that agents will never go to a link they've been sent to, …”
Translation: You have just committed the most egregious faux pas possible in the publishing industry and there is no chance in hell that I would ever represent you …

Agent: “I think you're funny, but there are a few things to being an author that are lacking here.”
Translation: I don’t think you are funny, but there is no harm in throwing you this bone, especially since you are completely lacking in talent, the ability to write a paragraph without using parenthesis, a target audience, etc., etc., etc.

Agent: “Essay collections are bought from authors who are on NPR, writing in Playboy, etc., etc. They dominate that market, …”
Translation: David Sedaris you are not and the only bunny in your future involves reading Peter Cottontail to your nephews.

Agent: “The more straightforward answer you're looking for …”
Translation: Despite what you say, it is clear from your writings that you don’t understand sarcasm, so I won’t waste it on you. Instead, let me put it in little bitty words so that your can understand – you can’t write!”

Agent: “Hey, if you're not practicing law, you're already moving in the right direction :)”
Translation: I’m sure you sucked as an attorney too :)!
Agent: “Good Luck”
Translation: Don’t ever contact me again.

© 2006 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Goals, Ambitions and Other Lofty Aspirations

Just this week, I received an email from a friend, oh, let's call her Susie N., in which she indicated that she would "love" to make my blog. (Granted, the comment has been taken out of context, but since it is my blog, I am free to spin it however I want! Gotta love free speech!!)

Since I have no car and no job, I have what some may call an abundance of time on my hands, so I used a fair share of it pondering Susie's email. What would possess a perfectly normal individual to aspire to such a piss-poor goal? Has she read the blog?

Try as I might, I could not think of one single example of a less-inspired goal/ambition/aspiration than making this blog, but I’m open to suggestions. Is Susie too busy googling her exes and forwarding chain emails to realize that by “making the blog” she will be sharing post space with the likes of Stalker/Friend Joey, who couldn’t get a synapse to fire in his brain even if smoking while pumping gas, and San Diego’s dirtiest, stinkiest, one-footed homeless person?

How can someone like Susie, with seemingly so much going for her, including a strong support network of family and friends, stoop to such depths of despair? Is this what it has come to in the two shorts months I have been away? For those that profess to love and care about Susie, I have one little word for you -- intervention! In the meantime, Susie, be careful what you wish for!!!

© 2006 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Stalker vs. Friend

I have a stalker. I picked him up on one of my daily jaunts to the local Starbucks to check my email. His name is Joey. (I thought about giving him an alias, but decided against it when I realized that if my body was ever chopped up and mailed back to my parents in a black Hefty bag, the police would find their first clue here!).

Joey is about 5'8", 160 pounds, with dirty blond hair that is always buried in a Lucy cap. He has no distinctive markings or piercings, at least not that I have noticed. He looks a little like the kid from Home Improvement -- you, know the one with the three first names. (Again, this is for the benefit of the police artist.) I would guess that he is around 20. He says that he is from Detroit - I have my doubts.

No matter what time I drag myself out of bed and walk to Starbucks, Joey seems to appear within 5-10 minutes of my arrival. Having "conversed" -- and I do use this word lightly -- with Joey, I know that he does not have the place under surveillance, as that would take way more gray matter than he has available. Since no one else at Starbucks will talk to him, I have ruled out an accomplice on the inside. This leaves me pretty much with perpetually stoned, serial-Starbucks junkie turned stalker.

Joey is a self-professed heavy metal musician. I know this because he asked me to "critique his stuff". (I took this to mean his music, but after 4 "chance" meetings, perhaps I could be wrong.) To boot, Joey is a frustrated heavy metal musician (how's that for an oxymoron?) It seems that Joey works 90 hours a week (60 at Von's and 40 at Target -- his math, not mine) and he can rarely find the time to record in the studio. His main goal in life is to continue his "soul's love", but his various "non-careers" are sucking the creative juices out of him. I resist the urge to point out that many a musician has capitalized on a down-and-out situation, but really, what would be the point? I, for one, think Joey's more immediate concern should be that he is a pathological liar.

While Joey is ranting about "rolling a f-ing peanut up a mountain with my nose, dude", I can't help put to wonder how it is that Joey got to this place, and I not speaking figuratively. I'm actually wondering if he took the bus to Starbucks. If so, I am even more disgusted with myself that someone like Joey, whose few remaining living brain cells are locked in mortal combat over whether to breathe or speak, can figure out how to get off the bus, yet I can't. What the hell is wrong with me?

As the conversation turned to the "dental hymenist chick" who said she loved him but then left him when he lost his mechanic's job, another f-ing job that sucked the life out of him, or so I'm told, I'm shocked to realize that had I met this very same Joey in Brussels, he would make my "friend list"! Disturbing, isn't it?

© 2006 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Word or Two About Public Transportation

Having no car in Brussels (which may not be a bad thing, given that the few times that I have driven one in the 2 shorts months we have lived there, I have managed to hit a tram and bust through a NATO diplomatic processional), I have learned to rely on public transportation. In fact, I pride myself on the fact that I have navigated all over Europe using local subways, trains, trams and busses, including doing so in countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary, where there are letters in their alphabets that have never seen the inside of a Campbell's soup can.

Rather than take anyone up on the various offers to loan me their cars and/or provide rides, I decided to give San Diego's public transportation system a whirl, and take it from our home in Point Loma to the law library downtown. I thought to myself, I have done this all over Europe, how hard could it be in a town where I speak the language (natively), know the money system and am familiar with the area? Well, as it turns out, "hard" is a relative concept, with apparently, nothing to do with geography!

We have a friend that is house-sitting for us and she has some experience with traveling by public transportation. She told me to walk to the end of my street, take the 35 bus (which comes every 1/2 hour) to Old Town Trolley Station and then take either the red or blue trolley line to the downtown station. To come home, take the red or blue trolley line back to Old Town and pick up the 28 bus. Piece of cake.

I arrived at the bus stop at the end of my street at 10:25, which left me plenty of time to stand around looking like a high-school junior grounded from using the car and forced to take "Old Yeller" to school. If you thought waiting for the bus at 17 was uncool, try it at 36!

At 10:38, I started to panic, wondering if I missed the bus. Lucky for me, the bus stop sign had an information number on it. I called the number and when the operator, Amy, answered the line, I blurted out "I think I missed the bus." She responded in a tone that suggested that she thought perhaps I have missed more than one bus. Long pause and then, "Ma'am, what do you want me to do about it?" I quickly caught my snap and backtracked: "I'm sorry, Amy. Is there any way you can tell me if the 35 Bus has already past the stop at Freeman/Chatsworth? I don't know if you have a way to track these things. I've never ridden the bus before." "Really?", she says, and not in the "really - you have never ridden a bus" amazed sort of way, but in the "really - duh, I couldn't tell" way. Since I'm no stranger to sarcasm, I let Precious slide on this one. She then told me that the bus will be there at 10:31, and it was only 10:29:30. (Yes, she gave me the seconds).

The bus arrived, right on Amy's schedule, and I stepped on. To mitigate any potentially embarrassing situations, I immediately told the driver that I had never ridden the bus and that I didn't know what to do, but I wanted to go to the Old Town Trolley Station. He showed me how to use the ticket machine and pointed me to a seat behind and to the right of him. He said that the bus would make a couple of stops and then end at the Old Town Trolley Station. At this point, I'm good to go.

I get to Old Town and transfer over to the trolley (no problems here thanks to prior experience for Padres games and Street Scene), which I take to the front of the law library. Having reached my destination relatively problem-free, I mentally started calculating how much money I just saved by using public transit and was feeling pretty proud of myself.

After I finished at the library, I jumped back on the trolley and headed to Old Town. Once in Old Town, I got off and went in search of the 28 Bus. Unable to use the "I've never ridden the bus" line, I was forced to fall back on "Does this bus go anywhere near the Navy Training Center on Rosecrans?". The bus driver, who was still on break and apparently took his break time very, very seriously, responded: "Once I'm back in service." I took that to mean "yes" and planted myself in the seat behind and to the right of him. Reflecting back, perhaps I should have gotten off the bus, left him to his Zen time, and then jumped on when he gave me the "in service" signal. Oh, well.

Leaving Old Town, there were three of us on the bus. Me, a young military guy sitting near the back of the bus, and the freak beside me, and, by "freak", I mean F-R-E-A-K! By "beside me", I mean so close that the edge of his disgustingly dirty, disease-ridden, blanket cum jacket was practically touching my white blazer (don't raise that fashion eyebrow at me -- it's Southern California and, therefore, perfectly acceptable to wear white before Labor Day!) and his bare foot (yes, singular), with its layers of dirt, grime, and accumulated toe-cheese, was dangerously close to making contact with some part of my leather boots.

I would try to describe how he smelled, but some scents simply cannot be translated into words. Let's just say that his "odor" would have puked a buzzard. It was the type of smell that commits nose rape -- you know a smell so vile that it lingers with you long after the offending source is gone and taints every smell that comes after.

Concerned about my personal health and safety, not to mention my designer boots, I got up, crossed the aisle, and sat down behind the driver. Without fail, when the bus stopped to let someone new on, the new person always headed as far away from the FREAK as possible, leaving only me, FREAK and the driver in the front of the bus. I don't know what is more amazing -- the excruciatingly slow manner in which time passes when trapped in the blank-gaze of San Diego's dirtiest, stinkiest, one-footed, homeless person, or how hard it is to avoid making eye contact with someone who has no ability to control the movements of his left eye. Everywhere I looked, his left eye seemed to wander over. Not the right -- just the left, leaving me to wonder if there is some hidden neurological connection between the loss of a lower limb and involuntary movement of the corresponding orbital muscle.

As I am pondering this thought, I look up and realize that we have past the Navy Training Center (NTC). Now, the busdriver knew I wanted off at the NTC, but did he stop? No, he just kept going, passing various bus stops along the way. (I'm sure he was smiling on the inside, reveling in the fact that he had just achieved sweet revenge against me for interrupting the remaining 2 minutes of his break and that the carnival freakshow that he was witnessing in his rear-view mirror was just icing on the cake.)

Getting further and further from my street, I ask, out loud, "how do you know where the next stop is?" (In Europe, the stops are conveniently posted on the route map, which is prominently located on the wall of the bus.) FREAK, seeing this as an opportunity to engage me in conversation, says, "blyuh blugag bjlyeho noutts ghhoot", or something to that effect. I ignore him and look pleadingly at the crowd at the rear of the bus, because God knows Mr. Busdriver is not going to help me out!

The young military guy (God Bless the USA) told me that I had to pull the cord to get off the bus. At first, I thought he was joking. Then, I noticed that he was grabbing a yellow cord that was hanging from the sides of the bus. The busdriver then stopped at the next stop, which was about 1 mile from my street, and let me out.

As I am trudging the mile-plus back to my house in 2.5 inch heels, cramming eucalyptus/menthol cough drops down my throat in an attempt to numb the mucous membranes lining my nose, I can't help but to be amazed that I can spend an entire week using public transportation in a former Eastern-bloc country, but I can't figure out how to get off the damn bus around the corner from my house!

© 2006 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Meanwhile, Back in the USA

I've been back in the States for a week now and here are some of the things I find myself missing in Brussels:

  1. This great little family-run Italian restaurant called Scampis. (It is probably the best Italian food I have ever stuck a fork into.)
  2. Clean public restrooms.
  3. Fresh baked bread from our bakery.
  4. Strolling through the neighborhood and hearing all of the different languages.
  5. Shopping at the outdoor markets.
  6. The complete lack of interest with US celebrities, especially, Brad and Angelina.
  7. The wireless network at our apartment. (I'm having to trek to Starbucks to get online!)
  8. Choco chaud.

© 2006 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Two Months Down - 34 to Go!

After two months in Brussels, we are slowly assimilating into the European culture, but we know, from the following, that we have a long way to go:

  1. We are dreaming of Mexican food! Even Taco Bell (where Dan got his start) would be a culinary delight at this point.
  2. Dan's car was vandalized and he was pick-pocketed (although with a happy ending) on the same day -- in the very neighborhood we now call home!
  3. To launder a men's dress shirt, they charge $5.00 and it takes them one week to do it!
  4. To watch the college football bowl games, we had to go to a sports bar across town, which isn't that big of a deal, unless of course, you consider the start times of the games -- the Fiesta Bowl started at 10:30 pm and the Rose Bowl at 2:00 am. (Hook'm horns!)
  5. I still can't figure out how to open the front door to the apartment complex using the video-entry device.
  6. When Dan went to change the pin number on our new European credit card (the one that took over 2 months to get), the ATM machine ate it. Little did we know, the pin number can only be changed using the ATM machines outside of the branch. If you use the ATM machines inside the branch, it will confiscate your card.
  7. Still don't have curtains!

© 2006 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

The Fastest Blown New Year's Resolution Ever!

We celebrated New Year's Eve in the Grand Place, Brussel's version of Times Square. A couple of hours before midnight, we were camped inside this little Irish bar (which has a 12 hour happy hour!) and Dan tells me that his New Year's resolution is to quit cursing. A lofty goal, but I was going to support it, nonetheless!

As midnight neared, we put on our jackets, gloves, scarves and hats and headed outside for the countdown and fireworks show. (Coincidentally, several thousand other people had the same idea.) Knowing how much Dan hates crowds, I was able to strategically place us on the outside boundary of the masses - close enough to be part of the crowd and still have an unobstructed view of the fireworks show. As the countdown started, the crowd started pushing in from the right (Dan's side), trying to clear the building so that they, too, could have an unobstructed view of the fireworks.

And, now, I recap:
Crowd: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Happy New Year!
Dan: "If these !&*(%#%$ don't stop pushing me ...

And there you have it-- the shortest lived New Year's resolution ever!!

© 2006 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 02, 2006

When in Hungary, Do What the Hungarians Do!

To fully appreciate this posting, here's some background info:
  • I won’t swim in a hotel pool because I know every kid in the lower 48 has peed in it.
  • I don’t like buffets, because I can’t stand the “community” aspect of the food. There is always some item that has been dripped/dropped/dragged into the food item I want to eat.
  • I consider a hot tub to be one giant petri dish for the cultivation of some virulent strain of bacteria/virus/fungus (take your pick) for which no antibiotic will kill or cure, and which most assuredly, will attack the very parts of my body that I wouldn’t want a doctor to examine.
  • Dan and I live (some of the time) near the Pacific Ocean, but I refuse to so much as dip a toe into it, because I have seen what the homeless guys at the end of the OB Pier use it for.
  • I haven’t put on a swimsuit in over 3 years.
  • Dan is, quite possibly, one of the shyest people I have ever met. (For those of you struggling with this one, it is very much true!)
  • Dan hates to be in unfamiliar situations about as much as he hates to be in situations that he can’t control. (I doubt any of you are struggling with this one!)

Before we left for Budapest, I bought one of Rick Steves’ travel books and there was an article on the famed Hungarian Baths (which are basically centuries-old pools fed by thermal water piped from wells 3000 feet under ground). Dan and I kicked around the idea of going to the baths - which explains why he packed a swimsuit – and we decided that we would play it by ear. I no longer trust my ear.

Once in Budapest, we had some spare time and decided, at the very least, we would go to the Baths and give it the old look-see. For reasons I still can’t understand, much less articulate, we did not go to the Baths described in Rick Steves’ book as a “near spa-like” experience. No, we opted for the Szechenyi Baths – “where the locals go.” (Note for future reference: "spa" always trumps "locals".)

We stood outside the Bath Complex, in the freezing cold, for about 10 minutes debating whether we could actually go through with it. I don’t know if it was curiosity or the fear of frostbite, but we finally agreed to go in, so at the very least, we could say that we had been “inside” the Baths. We opened the doors and stepped into a huge foyer. No view of the “baths”. Still not knowing what to expect, we walked around reading signs - lots of time in front of the one listing the chemical components of the waters - and trying to talk the other into and/or out of going through with this whole crazy experience.

Twenty minutes later, we overcame, through delusion, denial, persuasion, or otherwise, the above-listed impediments and convinced each other that we could do it. Dammit, we were players in the game of life, not just spectators! After we paid our money and gained access into the inner doors, it hit me, I mean really hit me --- I didn’t have a swimsuit.

Fortunately, (or unfortunately as the case turned out) the Complex had swimsuits. We were directed to a little counter where I met Helga, the Hungarian swimsuit attendant. (I’m sure whatever visual image the name “Helga” conjured up for you, is close to being correct!)

Helga brought out 3 swimsuits – a small bright blue one, a medium blue one and a large black one. In the parallel universe in which Helga lived, I was clearly a “small.” In this real world of Belgian chocolates, waffles and fries, I was definitely a “large.” I quickly sized up the situation and snatched the black bathing suit off the counter. Helga, whose cat-like reflexes belied her big-bonedness, was able to grab just enough of the swimsuit to prevent me from making a clean escape. Although I had a death-grip on the suit, I knew I was no match for Helga, who probably held a world wrestling title (male or female) in a former life. Helga kept pushing the blue suit towards me; I kept pulling on the black.

I’m not a fighter, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I gave Helga my best “It’s-a-sheer-act-of-God-that-I’m-even-in-here-so-if-you-think-I’m-squeezing-my-big-fat-white-ass-into-that-teeny-weeny-bright-blue-swimsuit-you’ve-got-another-thing-comin’-sister-because-the-only-way-you-are-getting-this-black (i.e. slimming)-swimsuit-back-is-to-pry-it-from-my-cold-dead-hands” look. Helga, having stared into the eyes of a woman on the edge, let go. I turned around, feeling a little like Rocky at the top of the steps, and headed towards our changing cabin.

As I was savoring my victory, Dan looked at me and said, “You know, you can’t even return a swimsuit in the US and you just rented one!” The victory dance ended -- abruptly.

Trying to draw as much comfort as I could from the line in the travel book that said the water was green for “medicinal purposes”, I stepped into my first Hungarian Bath. Standing in algae green water with complete strangers, many of whose personal hygiene regime may very well have consisted of nothing more than a dip in the town bath (i.e, the very one I was chest-high in), I tried to distance myself from the fact that 2 million people a year visited these Baths - probably in their own swimsuits!

Having reached the proverbial point-of-no-return, Dan and I went from pool to pool, checking out the various waters and the crowd. (Although I should be ashamed to admit this, or, at the very least, embarrassed, I was relieved to see that most of the women in the Baths had at least 100 pounds on me, placing them firmly in the obese category.) We even went outside - barefoot, in wet swimsuits, in the freezing weather - to check out the outdoor thermal pools! At which point, Dan, always the engineer, looks at me and says, "This place needs a swim-up cocktail bar!"

We spent almost an hour with the locals. All-in-all, an interesting experience!

[For the record, perhaps there is something to be said for the "medicinal" properties of the water, as it has been 2 weeks and we have not caught anything communicable or come down with anything that needs IV antibiotic treatment!]

© 2006 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

Christmas in Budapest

We celebrated our first Christmas abroad in Budapest, Hungary. We had dinner at the home of a Scottish couple, with Dan's aunt and uncle and 2 cousins from Ohio and a girl from China. Truly an international experience!!

This photo was taken from our hotel window, looking towards the palace, which sits on the Buda side of the Danube River.