And no, I was not a bellhop at the time.

Filed under: by: Chris

People tend to ask me questions wherever I go. I’ve tried for years to figure out what it is about me that makes me so approachable or makes people think I knowledgeable, all to no avail.

When I went to a convention last weekend, I was there literally only long enough for me to get out of line and stop out of the way before someone asked me where something was. I explained that I too had just gotten there and didn’t really know, thought about it, and then managed to give them correct directions anyway. Over the course of the weekend, this would happen every few hours, with Saturday being the highest point. I was asked questions several times in the convention about things, and several times on the street about things, and even once in my hotel about where a wedding was being held. Granted, for that last one, I was dressed up in chef’s jacket and probably looked like a bellhop, but still.

And I still managed to give them correct directions.

The other major place that people ask me questions is in DC, which I include the metro in. If I were to run statistics about this, I’d have to say at least 85% of the time I go out into the city, I’ll get asked a question by a stranger. How do these card machines work? How we do get to Dupont Circle? How do I get the Museum of American History? Do you know when the next train is coming? When does this museum close? Do we have to pay to get into the Newseum? Where’s the closest food vendor?

And odds are, I know the answer, as I do with all those questions I just wrote. Even when I don’t know, I give them good enough general help that they just figure it out from there, or in some cases, my guess will be correct.

But why do all these random people ask me things? I would say it must be the glasses, but I proved that point to not be a catch-all when I was asked a question last weekend with my glasses off. They certainly don’t hurt my case that I look outwardly smart about things, but it can’t be just that. I also would have said that my hair made me look not very threatening when it was longer, but now that it’s shorter, the number of questions have only increased. I guess I don’t dress particularly offensively, which might help.

Or do I just exude an air of “I know what the hell I’m doing” in public? Often times I don’t know what I'm doing, but I hate looking like a tourist, so I just try and go wherever I going (even if I have no idea where that is) with a decent amount of confidence and let my wandering sense lead me where I need to be.

I suppose there are worse things in the world than being unusually approachable and seemingly knowledgeable (like being unusually unattractive and seemingly unkempt), so I should be thankful. Then again, what if such a quality lands me in a horrible place? Like, “Oh, we were going to kidnap the intended target, but this other guy just seemed so damn approachable that we had to go for him, and that he might know something we wanted to know!” Now that would be a blog post.

Five Things

Filed under: by: Chris

I have a million topics running through my head right now for things I could post to this blog, but the majority of them won’t ever make the cut. Some are too short, while some are underdeveloped, and some are just too personal. I got about a paragraph in to one of those falling in the last category before I realized that it was not meant for the eyes of the public and should probably just be mentioned offhandedly to a friend. Which still leaves me with an entry I want to fill, and about four hours of time left at work to write it in. So I’ve decided to just post a collection of those fairly blah subjects and combine them into a Super Post.

1. I have been feeling the urge to create quite a lot lately. I want to cook, make art, write, build, and inform. I’ve been channeling this by cooking with friends, making postcards, updating journals, keeping my hands busy with little toys around my house, and talking with the kids I’m an Orientation Leader for. But it’s not enough, since I’ve pretty much gone into a lull from doing most of those. I want to keep doing them, but I’m not feeling the motivation to do them. I don’t know how to properly express how I can crave something and not be motivated to do it, but then you know how frustrating it is to feel something that doesn’t have a word. And no, it’s not lazy.

2. Speaking of writing, I used to think of myself as a decent fiction writer, for not being an English major. That, however, was way back in high school, and nothing really survived from that time. I guess people can still see it in the way I talk in person, but otherwise even my most recent attempt at fiction was just sort of a fizzle. I’ve got the world, characters, and background all played out in my head, just not the story.

In realizing that, I came to another conclusion. I’m a non fiction writer and I didn’t even realize it. I’ve been blogging and journaling for years, and I’ve probably written volumes online already about things and my opinion on them. My writing has a style (I’m not sure of what sort, but whatever it is seems distinctive enough) that obviously some people appreciate enough to read regularly. Oh, and I almost forgot my real work. I write legitimate news stories for my agency’s quarterly publication, and even won an award for my one of my feature articles, placing it over quite a few professional writers with journalism training. So yeah, I’m a non fiction writer, and I’ve come to terms with it.

3. I’m getting incredibly sick of people, yet I really need to be in social settings with people to keep me from feeling blah. This hasn’t broken my mind yet because I know that I only want to be around people I like, and pretty much need to do it regularly to keep me from becoming a completely unmotivated hermit. I’m just sick of most of the human race. I’ve been exposed to concentrated amounts of stupid since I’ve been back out in the real world for a couple months, and I want to go back to being surrounded by my peers in an environment with a relatively stable amount of sense. Or at least the kind of sense that we like.

4. I want another vacation. I’m not saying that the one with my mom didn’t count, because that was great, but I need to travel with friends again. I get so much more out of a place, and I feel like I need to explore something. Generally I can settle for having an adventure around town, or just going out and calling it an adventure, but now I need more. I think traveling with parents and such still feels too “safe,” and I need the danger of only having myself and my friends to rely on to get anything done.

5. I’m at the point of Wanting something again. This space has been left intentionally vague.

6. I’m not so sure about going to grad school right away anymore. It would be more beneficial for me to get lots of training certificates than to get my MBA. Plus, with my grades, I’m not entirely sure what grad school would find me appealing without a few years working experience to help cover that up a bit. This decision has been weighing heavily on me, and I really don’t like it when I have several viable options that could take me in radically different directions in life. I don’t want to guess what’s behind door number two, I don’t want to make a deal, and I don’t want to go double or nothing.

Taste the love

Filed under: by: Chris

There are very few places in my real hometown that I would consider myself a regular at. Maybe only one that would consider me a regular, and that’s my local Mama Mia’s. From the sound of it, you would expect it to be just Italian… and I suppose some of the food is, but it’s run by an eastern European man I’ve known almost all of my life who has managed to put together a menu that has the usual pizza/subs/sandwiches, but with a few surprises thrown in.

I’ve definitely grown up there. I started off as a tiny child of five or six getting their kids menu things, slowly but surely going more often, usually around once every two or so weeks. By the time I started my tae kwon do lessons in the middle of elementary school in the same shopping center, it became a weekly thing. I would go in uniform with my mom, get food, and bring it home to eat. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at the restaurant, just brought food home from it.

Throughout the years, my regular on the menu has changed, I used to stick with the kids menu spaghetti, shrimp/fries, or burger/fries meal, but as I got older and hungrier I branched out, though I was notoriously picky for the years when I was deviating from the kids menu. I went from a regular burger and fries to a meatball sub and fries to a cheeseburger sub and fries. Shocking change, I know. Now, however, I usually either get the steak and cheese or the white pizza. Every now and then I mix it up with the Tom Dooley, Mama Mia’s equivalent of Parthenon’s uncanny “Steak and Cheese, Egg” in Fredericksburg.

The food isn’t mindblowingly good or anything, though I will say that Mama Mia’s steak and cheese is the bar I set for all other greasy sandwiches. But you can tell that everything is made with care and, dare I say it, love. You can actually see everything being made from any given point in the restaurant, and you can tell they’ve been at it for years. Yet, even as I am addicted to their steak and cheese, I enjoy the ten to fifteen minutes I spend almost every week waiting for my food, because I get to witness small moments that endear me to the place.

- The main guy (I learned his name at one point, but have completely forgotten it) has a tendency to dance when making steak and cheeses. He’ll portion out the meat, and then rhythmically cut it up with the grill spatula while humming a few bars of something and improvise a little dance. See? Love in the food.

- I love sitting at the bar and watching the unique mix of regulars drinking beer steadily and the random community members who carry out food. I’ve run into so many people I know while just waiting for food there, and they’ve usually been mini reunions with people I hadn’t seen in years.

- The efficiency of work is surprising. I love to watch the kitchens of one of the only other places in my hometown that I dare call myself a regular in, the House of Dynasty, and they verge on precognition with the efficiency at which they work. But here is different. The only times I’m there I’ve only seen two people working, only one usually doing all the cooking. But the management of tasks, grill space, and timing is really interesting. It looks very haphazard, but after what’s probably two decades of practice, everything meshes almost flawlessly. It’s a sort of chaotic order that appeals to me in a different way than the almost mechanical efficiency of the Chinese restaurant kitchen.

- I learn such interesting things while I wait. Just last night I learned that The Guy’s drink of choice was a mix of gin, vodka, soda water, and lime juice. I’ve learned the difference between a Tom Dooley and a Billy Dooley (ham instead of beef). I learned how long to cook the strips of steak for steak and cheese, and how to properly pile it on to make it fit onto a roll. I’ve learned that every item on the menu is on there for a reason, because I’ve seen everything ordered at least once.

This is actually one of the places I miss the most when I'm down in Fredericksburg during the year. Parthenon usually covers my pizza/sub place needs when I actually want the cozy, neighborhood kind of place, but it isn't my place. I've worked most of my life to establish a place I can truly be a real regular in, and I'm not sure I have it in me to try and make that happen again until I know where I'm to end up in the next few years.

O King of Beasts

Filed under: by: Chris

Last night some friends and I decided to go out and catch fireflies. This is not because we suddenly turned into nine year olds, but because we really couldn’t think of anything else to do. But boredom at home is the subject of another post.

Our quest for fireflies was kind of doomed from the start. Our first issue was not having the standard storage device: An empty jar with holes poked in the lid. Instead, we improvised with a colored water bottle with a screw-off lid that had a nozzle that acted like an air hole. You’d think that would be better, but for some reason it wasn’t and it made it hard to capture anything.

Additionally, we didn’t have any nets. This wasn’t a problem when we were nine, because, well, we were nine and things were magical and different and special back then. Fireflies were drawn to our hands as if we had coated them honey. In retrospect, I’m pretty sure the average child’s hands are covered in something sticky and sweet at least 60% of the time, so that may have worked in our favor back then.

The environment also had a hand in our lack of success. We went on the move to catch our fireflies, preferring to not stand still and let the mosquitoes devour us. We could have put on bug spray, but think people… had we put on bug spray, would we have caught any fireflies? No. And, as if they were hobbits carrying a ring, the fireflies tried their best to stay off the road. The yards around us were swarming with fireflies (and bats!), but we didn’t dare wander off onto other people’s property.

In order to get to the fireflies over a grassy area that wouldn’t be someone’s yard, we decided to venture over to the park. We actually made it over there with no problem, but there were sketchy people playing basketball there after dark, and we didn’t want to intrude upon their sketchtasticness.

In all, we claimed about seven fireflies for a half hour’s trip. We were pathetic, but then again, maybe we weren’t meant to achieve greatness in the hunt. Perhaps the graceful firefly is meant to prowl the suburbs of Alexandria freely, with its piercing gaze not to be muddled through a glass jar. I salute you, O King of Beasts: Firefly, for humoring me by allowing me to catch a few of the obviously weaker members of your pack without being mauled by your numerous fangs.

Fun Fact: I never used to call them fireflies, I used to call them lightning bugs. But after watching Firefly, I’ve since been much more likely to say “firefly” than “lightning bug.”

The tie is not dead.

Filed under: by: Chris

While on the metro yesterday, Alyssa asked me if heels were too formal to wear to work in an office setting (lets say, for example, in a government office). My answer was a resounding “NO,” since even as I’ve only typed less than a paragraph, my view of the hallway from my desk has allowed me to see at least five sets of heels go by, all of varying height and style.

Apparently Alyssa’s mom is under the impression heels are inappropriate in an office setting. I’ve been in this and other offices enough to know that is definitely not the case. There are a plethora of reasons that women wear heels at work: It makes them taller/more powerful looking, they just like looking nice, or they enjoy the sound they make while walking. All perfectly valid reasons to not listen to Alyssa’s mother.

This got me started on a tangent about men’s workplace attire. Monday through Thursday I come in with a fairly set wardrobe. I have about five light (usually some kind of a subtle stripe involved) dress shirts, dress pants (khaki, grey, and dark blue), about six ties (with clean, modern designs and colors that compliment my shirts), two pairs of brown shoes, and a belt. These get mixed and matched in a way where I make sure to never wear the same combo of shirt/pants/tie two weeks in a row, and I try for no repeats in three weeks. Friday I’m “casual” and allow myself to wear a nice, dark polo shirt.

I’m well dressed for my office. Some people wear suits, but most of them are higher level supervisors or having to do a presentation that day. I know that I’m highly visible, not just because of where I sit (up front) or what I do (public affairs and secretarial things), but because I’m 21 and have to dress to impress. And since no one can keep their mouths shut around here, I know that people take notice of “the young man up front with the nice tie on.”

I’ve actually succeeded in raising the standard around here. When I first arrived, people were wearing untucked polo shirts and sometimes jeans around all week. Last year, most of the guys switched to button down shirts and slacks most of the time. This year, they went from passing around one tie between them when they forgot they had a meeting that day (I wish I was joking), to actually having wearing ties of their own more days than not.

Why does this matter? Well, to me, I know that I end up judging a person almost immediately when I see them. The guy I had to work with over winter that showed up to a meeting with Important People wearing a dirty, oversized white tee shirt and jeans? I thought that he was a new seasonal hire, not an actual professional that’s been there for three years.

That’s a bit of an extreme case, but even when people meet with me in just a polo shirt, I’ll automatically be less formal with them than if they were in a suit. It’s just a natural reaction. It’s one of the reasons why I found it so much easier to work with my supervisor two levels up on casual Friday, so he would be less intimidating without the suit. And it works both ways, too. I get a lot more respect (and probably more credit than I’m due) on a regular basis than other people in my position that choose to dress in jeans.

And I just like to think that the days of the tie aren’t over quite yet. I like the look of the young professional (which is one of the reasons that I found London so interesting around the time everyone was breaking for lunch or going home for the day) and feel like it’s a dying art here in the US. Or at the very least, here in the US government.

A short sleeved button down shirt does not equal a long sleeved button down shirt. Some styles should be left to the younger generations. Casual Friday doesn’t mean that you can walk around in PJ bottoms. Backpacks look silly when used by someone in a suit. And the tie is not dead.

Things I learned in the last 16 hours

Filed under: by: Chris

Even when not in school, I learn a lot, though I very rarely quantify it. So without any further ado, the things I learned in the last 16 hours:

1. When the weather is bad, people show up to work earlier just so they can take the close up spots in the parking lot, making you have to park in the back lot.

2. In order to avoid staring, people will pass by you up to (and including) three times in one day without recognizing you. Then they will suddenly realize who you are and blame their lack of being observant on a haircut they've been exposed to for a full week already.

3. When the internet goes down, people have no idea what to do with their lives. They will ultimately resort to doing things primitively. Instead of sending out emails to try and schedule something that will take a half a day to organize, people will *gasp* walk to the person they need to talk to and get it done in a matter of minutes.

4. When you call and I explain that the number was just forwarded to me in case of emergency contact, and that I couldn't help you, and that the person who could help you would be back if you called back in a half hour... it does NOT mean that if you call me back in a minute and a half I'll magically be a different person or be able to help you. Nor it it the case after three minutes or five minutes. Damn right I stopped picking up the phone when I saw your number.

5. When caught dropping off into sleep at 2:00 PM, the correct greeting is not "Good morning!" That is, in fact, a Very Bad Greeting.

6. Even if you are actively working on something for hours on end, your supervisor will choose to walk through whenever you choose to take a break to let your eyes refocus or brain resolidify.

7. Beating the computer not once, but twice in chess is incredibly satisfying.

8. A pack of socks does not cost $80. It costs significantly less. Always check to make sure your transaction goes smoothly and nothing is amiss, and if it does, address the problem immediately and with patience.

9. Wal-Mart employees with expect the worst from you when mistakes arise. If you show patience and understanding, they will be flabbergasted.

10. As you play the Sims 3 more and experience real life less, the two slowly become one. This isn't good and I need to get out this week.

Back at home

Filed under: by: Chris

Being back from school for reals this week has taught me a few things in just a short amount of time.

1. However nice or accommodating my parents are, I will go insane if I spend too much quality time at home. I just have to wall myself up in my room or leave the house most of the time, just because I've grown so accustomed to be elsewhere and with different company. Am I a bad son? Probably, but I feel like this isn't very uncommon around 21 year old age range.

2. I think I'm going though running withdraw. I need that kind of activity in my life, and I'm getting kind of restless. I need to find people around me to run with so I'm not out by my lonesome in big, bad Northern Virginia.

3. Speaking of withdraw, I'm craving me so Current TV. However, I don't have Direct TV and it's not offered with my cable provider. So I've been having to make due with watching everything I love on the website, but going without the hours and hours of educational and enriching clips on TV.

4. I've been driving quite a lot to spend time with friends, doing the exact same things I was doing a month ago at school without all the travel time. I need to be around friends to keep me from doing absolutely nothing (like I've been doing today).

5. I have no burning desire to cook when I'm at home. This feels like a problem to me, though on the plus side, I'm not spending a ton of time, money, and effort on food. The downside is that I feel like I'm giving up a little. It probably has something to do with the fact that at school, I was cooking with friends and for friends, and here I'd just be cooking for me (or at most, me and one parent). Not as much fun.

Also: New post at Weekly Delicious, my Beef and Caramelized Onion Pasties.