The never-ending upside of hideous awkward

When your old junior prom date comes to town for the weekend, awkward becomes the belle of the ball, for once. You bust out the memories, savoring the ridiculous, each story: a hat out of its hat box, to be held up, tried on, posed for a moment. Yes, we did that. We have the prom photo where you’re holding my waist and I am grimacing, with teased bangs. Yes — there’s that time you held up your yellow-sleeved arm on the streets of Dublin so I could reunite with our tour group, after I got lost while daydreaming. Yes, there’s that time I modeled for an ad in the local newspaper, and you clipped it out. Yes, when we broke up I took the half-dozen chocolate chip cookies that we’d made a few days earlier and hurled them into the backyard snow. These things leave us in stitches now, and I have never been so glad for a nerdy, anxiety-ridden teenager-hood, because otherwise nothing would seem so funny now.

Next-door pianos and pudding pops

Even though I saw Kabir in the coffee shop first, we started talking when we boarded the El later, same car. He’s a film student from Croatia making a movie about peoples’ first memories. So we started talking about first memories.

Turns out that my most vivid memories involve the next-door neighbors for some reason, maybe because the edge of their lawn marked the beginning of foreign territory and thus became thrilling enough to remember.

–I was three or four and the neighbors let me use their piano, so I would let myself in their side door and sit in the downstairs rec room alone, plunking out notes and making up stories to accompany the sounds.

–One afternoon my mom asked where the pudding pops were. I told her the truth, I’d given them all away to the big kids mowing the lawn next door. They kept saying how much they liked them.

Weird day

Sometimes things at the Neo office are calm. An unbroken glassy lake of pure productivity and we’re all canoes. Sometimes. Sometimes things go weird.

–Today the phones went crazy. Call on one line and the other line answers, too. And maybe you will receive a voicemail with a recording of your own phone conversation, after you hang up. It’s like: If you were spying on yourself, it would be the perfect thing.

–Our insurance auditor showed up to flip through all of our paperwork, ever. He cleared his throat every four minutes, was tall like Frankenstein, but kindly. Thick Chicago accent, a twitchy eyebrow. Our conversations were all numbers and money until he went to shut down his IBM laptop. He’d been asking us more about what we do at the theater. I thought it was for research purposes, until he began to muse about how as you get older, you stop experimenting, stop taking chances, start playing it safe… you start closing down, like this Windows computer, here. It was a super-existential moment in an otherwise spreadsheet-y encounter.

–Co-worker Ryan gave the antique wooden chair in the office a good talking-to. It had to be fired. It just couldn’t adapt.

My fall thus far: pedal, meet metal/mettle

I’ve spent the last four weeks in a fervor, praising the inventors of my Google calendar for keeping my time parsed into color-coded chunks.

1) I wrote a story for Gapers Block about people who roast coffee in their garages — a story that felt caffeinated. Not just because I drank coffee with each interview (which I did), but because when people feel passionately about what they do, it rubs off. My brain whirs. I want to know more and more. It’s stepping off an old train in a new city with a map and compass and finding your way.

2) At Healthy Schools Campaign, we just finished Cooking up Change, an annual cooking contest and gala where teams of high school students from around the city compete to make their ideal school lunch using the same ingredients list and cost restrictions (less than $1 per meal!) that schools must follow. Winners get the star treatment, cooking with the White House chef and serving their meal to Congress. The kids rocked, and I felt honored to be there, snapping photos, meeting students and generally pitching in.

3) My beloved Neos and I just threw a benefit/show/art auction that, quite literally, quickened my pulse. As the prices on each piece rose higher and higher during the live auction, the friend next to me kept shooting glances my way to see if I’d have a heart attack or, perhaps, die of joy. Here’s the winner of our contest, a portrait of #44 for our presidential gallery.

4) Writing and scheming for Write Club’s world domination, with comedic and organizational geniuses Whit and Ian. The show happens at The Hideout. We have fancy badass titles and everything. Ian’s the Overlord, Whit’s our Minister of Suspicion, and I am the Minister of Hysteria.

5) A quick DC weekend with Patrick, warm fall days, long drives, wine and ravioli. Crepes from a truck, dancing to loud cover bands, using all the coupons. Navigating old wounds, at first like obstacle courses and later without fear or urgency; healing new ones before they start.

Side note of coolness: When I moved to Chicago I desperately wanted to be involved with 1) The Neo-Futurists 2) Gapers Block and 3) The Hideout. Somehow I am doing things at all of these places.