The one in which Rachel does her laundry

It’s a Monday evening and I’m sitting at the laundromat. It’s like that episode of Friends where Ross helps Rachel with her laundry at a packed laundromat in the city. Only this Rachel is without a Ross. Without a laundry cart to race around in. And without a lively scene to hold her interest.

I should give my laundromat its due. If this were a mid-America suburb and not the mini Puerto Rico I call home, my laundromat would rival your neighborhood Walmart Supercenter. For one thing, it’s open 24/7. Cheap linoleum and unmonitored children line the floor. And enough fast food wrappers sift throughout -- like tumbleweed rolling across a western rerun -- to paper the bathroom floor of the McDonalds up the street. Oy.

Swap out the shopping carts piled high with frozen goods for a laundry cart misshapen by dirty laundry and you have one of the two aisles at my Laundromat. Currently, I’m planted on a Crayola blue plastic chair, legs squished up against the rim, warding off the oncoming caravan of laundry carts careening down the aisle. My self-pity reeks more than the smelly pile of socks lying next to me.

I used to get my laundry done over the weekend. I had myself on a strict bi-monthly laundry plan. I stuck to it like the layer of laundromat-generated lint now sticking to me. But then work intervened. Fifty hour weeks left me in sniveling form. Procrastination took me captive. Self-denial blinded me to the growing mound of clothing in my hamper. And so in the end, the wear and tear of living in New York left its victims. Mainly my socks and underwear.

Mondays have now become my day of penance to purge the dirt -- literally -- from my life. So here I sit: meditating on dirt and work.

To be continued (pending deep thoughts)...


It's like a Hitchcock movie...

They say nothing ever happens in Blaine...what a lie.

(Before I go on, I must clarify that because Blaine is such a small town...so small we don't have a stoplight...so small our library is smaller than my house...so small that we only have two bums who take turns sitting by the train tracks...I consider all the people of Blaine to be roommates of mine. And damn, we're all pretty miserable.)

Yesterday, I went to Cost Cutter to get some donuts. (Cost Cutter is the only grocery store in Blaine, unless you want to drive all the way down Peace Portal Drive to Birch Bay to visit The Market.) But let me tell you, those bakers at Cost Cutter make one hell of a cinnamon and sugar cake donut. I wish I would have bought more, actually, because I'm thinking about those donuts right now, and wishing I had another two or three to eat, but I only bought two yesterday. I also found some discounted yogurt, but that's beside the point. Actually, all this talk about donuts is beside the point as well. The point is, as I was leaving Cost Cutter, I witnessed something truly miserable.

The giant automatic sliding glass doors had shirked all grocery-store-door-loyalties and decided to close, rather than open, when someone walked across their threshold. A woman, who, miserably enough, didn't even Buy anything at Cost Cutter -- she must have come in, and not found what she needed, or decided that ice-cream was too expensive for a Tuesday, or realized she didn't have her wallet or something -- was trapped between the giant automatic sliding glass doors. They were squeezing in harder and harder, pressing her shoulder blades together and threatening to mess up her weekly short-hair perm. She had both hands pressed out, trying to fight against these truly awful doors, but to no avail. The hindu man behind her abandoned his cart full of milk (I'm sorry, I'm not trying to offend, this is an accurate, though unfortunately stereotypical description) to try to help her. He banged on the right door, and then on the left, and eventually jerked the doors apart. The three of us didn't say a word, we just looked at one another and chuckled, our eyes wide with a sick sort of glee.

The three of us loved that angry door for smashing that poor woman -- herself included -- because at least it was something out of the ordinary. Our usual misery comes from sitting at train tracks for five to twenty minutes waiting for cargo cars to crawl by as they go past inspection at the border. But yesterday was different. Yesterday was miraculously miserable.

As I drove away from Cost Cutter, excitedly reliving the angry door incident, I looked back at those giant glass doors, and watched a man cross the threshold. The doors slammed shut and he stuck his palms out, trying to stop them in their tracks. He pried himself free and looked back at the doors, motioning his hands as if to say: "Who can believe this?!" The doors continued to open, and then close, on every person who walked through them.

We all secretly loved it. We're all too miserable not to.


I'm Serious

First of all, that guy, the one I hate passionately, came into work yesterday, New Years Day. That is how my new year started. With him. Nothing really happened. He was with this lady who is also a great big nuisance whenever she comes in. I should have known they knew each other. They arrived an hour before I got there. My co-worker called me to warn me that they'd be there. They both of course tried to use the Internet and loiter around without buying anything. The lady said "Well I have Noble coffee." Noble coffee is the name of the coffee we brew. It is from a local roasting company / coffee shop here where I live. She eventually bought a tea. He didn't buy anything. They both stayed until we closed early. I didn't do anything. But I gave him as many evil glares as I could muster, which was really quite a few.

Secondly, and lastly, this other lady came in today, the first time I'd seen her, and ordered some tea. No big deal. It's just tea. "But don't put the tea bag in it. I don't want it in the water." I didn't at all understand what she meant by this. We use loose-leaf tea and put them in strainers in pots. I asked her what she meant and she poorly tried rephrasing her request. I just kind of said "okay" and proceeded to make the tea I always do. She saw me and stopped me, saying again, "No don't put the tea bag in it." I replied, "Well, we don't use bags. It's just a pot." She said, "I don't want the tea in it," and then something about the caffeine. I paused, trying to figure her out. You have to do this with (difficult) customers sometimes. You stop and try to think rationally about what they're trying to say. Most of the time, it's easy, and in seconds, you've got it. So I ask her, "Where do you want the tea?" She's getting fed up. Well, she was fed up from the start, I should say. She ends up just taking a cup of hot water and going over to use the computer.

But she totally paid for the tea.

Miserable New Years to all of you.


The one in which there is no room in the inn

My body temperature has dropped and I can feel the curling line of tension -- part exhaustion, part shiver -- pinching my spine as I sit at the lone white bar counter. This is not what I had in mind for a late night stint at the bar: artificial light glaring down and stale McDonald’s wafting in the air. Then again, neither did I think I would be sitting at the “Sea Food Bar: Caviar House & Prunier” kiosk all alone on Christmas Eve. At the JKF airport.

At this time (1:00 AM New York time), I am supposed to be somewhere over the Atlantic, hovering between sleep and some movie I‘ll never remember. I’m supposed to be halfway home to Madrid. Halfway to Christmas with the parents. And halfway to a decent night’s sleep in my bed.

But then this happened. I left my apartment on time, took the L, then the A, then the AirTran all the way out to JFK only to stand in line for two hours for a flight that got postponed till the next day. For no apparent reason.

They sprung the news on us rather surreptitiously. As she was handing me my board pass, the desk attendant slipped it in like the flimsy pass stuck in my passport. “Your flight has been postponed until 6:00 AM. Here’s your boarding pass. And if you take a left, then a quick right and look for the two Air Europa personnel standing by the door, they will direct you to the bus that will take you to the hotel….”

I tuned her out after “6:00 AM.” I scooped up my bags and then spent the next 15 minutes tracking down the elusive bus. After a bumpy ride in a bus that looked like it had been borrowed from NYC Transit, we arrived at a white block of cement called the JFK Hotel. Original name. I staggered through the doors to the back of another line. I was getting rather good at this.

Another hour dragged by. By now, the crowd of disgruntled passengers had become more animated. I say a bit, because the group -- by and large made up of Spaniards homeward bound -- were a patient, resigned bunch, biding their time in line. Spaniards are good at this. They wisely know not to expect much. Even after waiting three hours in line, energy was high -- as I could tell from the booming conversations pelting me on all sides. We were just 45, then 30, then 20 people away from starchy sheets and ugly carpeting.

Or so we thought. Gradually, rumblings of “over capacity” made their way down the line. The rumors, first just hinted at, became bitter truth when the front desk started turning people away. That’s when the herd mentality took over. We were still a step away from full on mob status, but that didn’t stop swarms of Spaniards from rushing for the hotel doors. To what, I don’t know.

A dazed look settled on my face, and after several false starts, I made my way out into the howling cold. The word in the parking lot was that another bus was on its way. Hotel #2 was a real possibility.

I was wrong again. Like my grounded flight, this bus sat in the parking lot of the infamous JFK Hotel for 20 minutes. By now a dark sense of humor had seeped into the bus. As the driver attempted to cram more and more people into the now gorged space, someone yelled out “Titanic!.” The bus puttered to life and crawled toward the next hotel, dutifully stopping for every red light and slowing down to a painful halt for every curve. We all laughed when one woman took over as “tour guide” on the bus. She handled us like a pro. Every line about a “parcela adosada” and “borough walkabout” set off another round of giggles. This was more of Far Rockaway than I ever expected or wanted to see.

Finally, we arrived. Hotel #2 was more grand than its predecessor. Cristal chandeliers and mirrored ceilings illuminated our under-eye circles and airplane hair (and this, before even getting on an airplane!). It was also smaller. Twenty minute into the wait, one self-appointed town crier announced that only 26 rooms remained. I did the mental math. No room for me.

That’s when my survival instinct kicked in to high gear. So far, I had remained rather amiable about the situation. I had stood placidly for two hours at the airport, taken the news of my flight’s delay with a saintly look, chuckled with the rest of my bus mates, and even scraped out a friendly comment here and there.

But now I’d had enough. I was jumping ship. I cornered a security guard and interrogated him over the arrival of the next airport-bound bus. I had given up on ever making it into an actual hotel room. When he feebly pointed to a white van sitting out front, I ran out the door and pushed my way into the ragtag crew of other homeless Air Europa victims already inside. As we sat there waiting for our now disappeared driver, another bus pulled up, dumping more confused travelers at the full hotel. Unlucky bastards. I hunkered down into my bench seat, frantically hoping they wouldn’t see us. “We don’t have room,” I thought. “Please, please, PLEASE, just get us back to the airport.”

Our driver, rather suspiciously clad in a military-patterned parka, returned. And just like that, we drove off. Back to JFK. Lil’ Wayne played on as our de facto holiday soundtrack.

So here I sit at JFK. Since starting to write this blog post, I have been kicked off my bar stool at the “Sea Food.” Apparently, they’re closed. I have taken up residency at a sticky table next door at Peet’s Coffee & Tea. The food court in which I sit is littered with the bodies of exhausted travelers. It’s like that scene in your stereotypical “end of the word” sci-fi film where everyone must flee to save their lives. Only in this case, the huddled bodies make the air stale and leave behind sticky tables piled with junk food debris.

I can see a line of drool slithering down the face of one oblivious sleeper. That you don’t see in the movies. Then again, neither do you see this: a couple lying in sleeping embrace on the cold marble floor. A boyfriend wistfully kissing his girlfriend goodbye and then pulling her close again in front of the TSA guard. Two veil-clad women saying their tearful goodbyes before setting off for homes, which I can only assume, are separated by thousands of miles.

From my perch at Peet’s, I can report that Christmas cheer is alive and well at the JFK airport. And if it changes, I will let you know. I’m not leaving anytime soon.

Merry Christmas!


Making a Big Deal Out Of It

There's a man that comes into where I work and I can't stand him.

Where I work now is great. I enjoy it a lot. It's a coffee shop and, while I don't like coffee, I enjoy the idea of it and learning more about it, etc. But that doesn't matter. Whether it's a great job or a bad one, there will always be horrible customers. Maybe this should go in another blog called Horrible Customers. ...nah.

Let's start from the beginning. When I first helped this man, I remember him saying something to me about how death and karma are optional. I believe his exact words were "Death and karma are optional." He bought a burrito (we serve 'lite fare' as well) but accused our oven of not being one (he thought it was a microwave) and told us to toast it. Which takes forever and, when you think about how burritos are usually cooked, toasting or baking it wouldn't work anyway. So if you don't happen to have a range and frying pan on hand, microwaving, as horrible as it sounds, is probably the best thing for your dumb tortilla stuffed with old food. But hey, that's not so bad. Someone saying weird stuff and griping about how they'd like their burrito cooked...no big deal. Happens all the time.

Well, this man soon becomes a regular. But not a regular customer. Oh, no. He's a regular freeloader, a real mooch, a rotten loiterer. We have free wireless fidelity (wi-fi) at the shop for those who have laptops and such, but we also supply a computer as well. Just one. And this man, I'm pretty sure he thinks it's his. He begins coming in nightly, staying until we close (which is late) and doing something on that computer the whole time. He's plugging in shit and whipping out his little laptop (turns out he's got one anyway) and he has all these bags. He's not a homeless guy if that's what you're thinking. A lot of stuff, in fact, looks quite expensive. He wears these expensive-looking outdoor jackets and clothes and has fancy name-brand luggage. Anyway, he's a regular guy basically. And while he's doing all this, he's not paying. He doesn't buy anything. He comes in at five and leaves at ten when we close without purchasing a thing.

I let this go for one night and of course us co-workers talk about this man and how he's a bother but we don't really ever say anything. The next nite this happens, he's been in for a good couple hours and hasn't bought anything yet so I go up to him and just tell him he needs to buy something.

Here's the thing. We kind of have lots of people that come in and never buy anything. But usually, they're with other people and they're just talking in the corner or something and it's not really a big deal or anything. We tell ourselves that if they were taking space from paying customers then yeah, we'd tell them to buy something, but we usually have enough room. So we just leave it. But this guy isn't like that, plus he's awkward and uncomfortable and just dumb. Let me tell you what I mean.

So tell I him he needs to buy something and he says he's fine with his water bottle. Idiot. I say, "No, you have to buy something." (I say more than this but you know what I mean) So nonchalantly, he says he might get some tea in while. Moron. Eventually he does. But so what? I still hate him. He's still all weird and everything.

Well, the next nite he comes in and does the same thing. I decide not to say anything because I know he knows. He knows he should buy something. I just told him last the nite before. But he never does. Minutes after we close and he's packing up his shit I tell him that we reserve our computer for paying customers. He looks at me and, well that's it. He just looks at me. I can't stand him. I don't care if I have a problem. This man flat out bothers me.

He doesn't show up for a while. But we soon figure out why. The coffee shop I work at is attached to a hotel. There's an entrance straight to the shop and also through the hotel. If you go into the hotel from the shop, a couple doors down there is a the breakfast room which has tables and a couple televisions and it's always open...for guests of the hotel. Clearly. It's in the hotel. Well, one nite, after we've closed, my co-worker and I pass by the breakfast room and see him in there hanging out. We tell the front desk that there's an idiot upstairs.

I soon find out that the owner of the hotel confronted the man (in the breakfast room with all the lights off) and told him everything and the man stammered on about...whatever. Anyway, that got taken care of. He now buys stuff.

Well time goes on and we don't seem for a little while. And then recently he shows up again. He still sets up camp around the computer for all hours of the evening, but he buys stuff. So that's great, right?

No, he's still a retard. He complains about everything. About how the bathroom smells, about the music being all wrong, about the food or our coffee or whatever. Shut up, already. One nite he complained about the music sounding too depressing so I changed it, like a saint. The very next nite he said it was too "drummy." Could we change it to something a little more mellow? he asked. I looked at him, and I had had it with this ____. I said no. He seemed confused and asked again, explaining why. I said no, I like this station. "Oh. Did you change it earlier? Or...?" Oh brother. "Yes. I changed it."And then I just tell him, "Nothing's ever really perfect for you is it?" I say this somewhat jokingly. Hell, nothing's ever perfect for me either. But I don't care. "How do you mean?" he asks. So I tell him. I tell him he's always whining about stuff and I give examples and I say that if I change it now, he'll just whine again later. By now, I don't care I'm telling him this stuff. He says something like that's not how he sees it; he's just asking a simple request. And then walks off. Then we get a complaint from him about the music. But no one cares. We all know who he is. Front desk knows he is. The owner knows he is. All of the coffee shop employees know who he is.

And no one cares. No one gives a shit about this moronic human being and I love it.


The one in which Rachel attempts to go viral

I’ve never been particularly web savvy. I didn’t get a Facebook account until college. I never did MySpace. And my Twitter account leaves few web crumbs in its path.

Nevertheless, like the millions of other fresh-faced unknowns spawned in the times of Paris and “Keeping up with the Kardashians,” I too have wondered what it would be like to become a viral sensation. To make YouTube’s “Most Popular.” To generate hundreds of response copy-cat videos. To be AutoTuned in slow motion. Blogged about. To become a trending topic on Twitter. Or better yet, a meme. To eventually amass enough of an online following to open an e-store selling branded merchandise. I’m partial to the idea of a “Rachel” bobble-head myself.

To saturate the web to such colossal proportions that highbrow publications, like “The New York Times,” have no choice but to reference you. Albeit two weeks too late.

And in the process, squeeze every possible dollar out of the “personal shame/embarrassment for public laughs” transaction until you fade into internet obscurity 48 hours later. Or are ushered into the Internet’s “Hall of Fame” among such greats as the “Dance Evolution” guy or the sobbing “Leave Britney alone” guy. Only with better makeup (and no sex tape :O).

I can’t lie. Internet stardom does carry a certain allure. It would be nice to Google my name and be the first result to come up. Or to stumble across a Wikipedia article of my life.

Instead, search for the name “Rachel Brown” and a woman running for Congress comes up. Or that woman on the “Hell’s Kitchen” TV show who committed suicide. So much for giving “Rachel Brown” a good spin.

So much for my Internet debut. But don’t think I’m shedding tears (or strategizing) over my online anonymity. At the ripe old age of 22, I’ve made peace with my obscurity. I can live without birthing an offspring of fake Rachel Brown Facebook pages all pretending to be me. I can survive without, gasp, a “Rachel Brown” bobble-head. To be entirely fair, it would have to feature a more cone-shaped head anyway.

And, if the The Register, is right, I don’t have skills for YouTube stardom anyway. I can’t “drink lots” or “corrupt innocent children’s' characters.” I’ve never won a video-game in my life and my clumsy lip synching is best left to the privacy of my home.

But I may still have the last laugh.

For the past several days, I’ve been plagued by a stuffy nose and hacking cough. Just a day ago, my work colleague started to develop symptoms of a cold. Symptoms that eerily resembled mine.

In the end, this Rachel Brown has indeed become a viral hit – of the germ kind.

And that’s got to count for something, right?


The one in which Rachel rambles on about elevators

I spend a lot of time in elevators. Enough time to realize I’m lucky. Enough time to Photoshop the latest M. Night Shyamalan movie poster to embody the descent into horrors that happens on a cursory elevator ride in my building (all images represent actual views of floors in my building from within the elevator).

You get in on the 9th, press the greasy cold button, and then, BAM! Someone on the 7th needs to get on and as the elevator doors swoosh open to reveal lumpy carpeting and wrinkled walls, you gasp in horror and think to yourself:

“I am lucky to not work on this floor. Very lucky indeed.”

You may actually say this out loud as well.

I have an interesting relationship with elevators. For one thing, it stretches pretty far back – all the way back to age 11 when my family moved from a first floor to a seventh.

You begin to appreciate elevators when you live on a seventh. You also begin to hate them.

Our 20+ year old building was like a dignified Englishman who daily smokes a pipe: stately on the outside, rotten on the inside. Unfortunately, in our case, the rotting extended to the elevator shafts. This led to multiple breakdowns and stalls (with and without people stuck inside). This also led to much huffing and puffing up seven flights of stairs. Even on grocery day.

Maybe my Mom had a hunch early on that she would live in a building with a moody elevator. Exploiting your four children as pack llamas certainly cuts down on the number of grocery runs up seven flights of stairs.

Besides the occasional breakdown, there was also the issue of moving. How do you fit a couch into an elevator? Or a bed? You don’t. That’s when you hope you have a lot of friends with the brute strength to lug a couch up seven flights. Because four whiny kids just don’t cut it.

Going for a bicycle ride in the potted courtyard below also presented a unique challenge. You learn at a tender age to hoist your bike onto its back wheel and imprison yourself behind it within the elevator (going against every instinct of survival in your body). Which makes for an awkward – albeit strangely intimate – ride down should any other apartment dweller climb into your elevator by chance.

This is when the art of “elevator talk” comes in handy. This ever-polite, pause-infused, head-nodding mode of speech becomes your sole defense mechanism as you feebly wave hello from behind the bike wheel. It’s that or pretend to deeply contemplate the grease on your chain. Like that fools anybody.

At least you can rely on an elevator for discretion.

On one particularly hot summer day in ’99, I decided to take “Oso,” the yellow lab we were dog-sitting, on a jaunt around the potted courtyard. I had the spent my morning lounging on the sofa with a book, oblivious to the heat waves flickering over the sidewalk outside. Oblivious to my body’s need for water.

After shuffling after Oso as he made his “rounds,” I sluggishly pulled him into the elevator to go back up. I remember leaning against the cool metallic panel of the elevator. And then I don’t remember anything else. Somewhere between floors 4 and 5 I fainted. When I woke up, I was on the floor. The elevator doors were opening. And Oso looked mournfully on.

At least, with a dog there is no need for “elevator talk.”