Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sunny Days ... You Hope

Today, my Granny took me around downtown Denver to celebrate my birthday, as we've done for years now. We ride the Light Rail (Denver's form of non-bus transportation that looks tiny after riding the F line), eat lunch at the Cheesecake Factory (at an outdoor table next to the street, under umbrellas that touch for maximum shade), and then do any number of things - shop, visit art galleries and boutiques, go to the art museum, eat more food, take pictures with painted cow sculptures, go to the Tattered Cover bookstore - and then get on the Light Rail and head home.

Though we used to always get the same thing at Cheesecake Factory (Chinese Chicken salad, lunch size, with White Chocolate Raspberry Truffle Cheesecake), we've branched out the last couple of years. This time we had pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and chicken, and the Chocolate Coconut Cream Cheesecake. YUM. We went to a shop in the Tabor Center that we found last year, and I put a shirt and necklace on hold.

Next we went to the art museum and saw the King Tut exhibit (my Granny is a member, and now that I go to school in NYC, I find museums to be normal ways to spend any day). Since the exhibit is new, it was very crowded, so during the second half, I gave her the "Reader's Digest" version of their information plaques above the various relics. After the museum, we visited the "cookie lady," which my uncle told us about - technically she was closed, but we still got three yummy cookies for $1 (and you know how I feel about bargains). We then went back to the store and got my shirt and necklace, got on the Light Rail, and headed home. A fun day!

Interspersed throughout our day, however, were tragic sights. Brightly painted pianos sat outside on street corners, waiting to be either played or rained upon. See, in a project that only people who work for the city government could have come up with, these pianos had been placed to help "promote community" and "revitalize the mall." Or, as my Granny said, "They're supposed to make us want to talk to each other. Apparently you see people on the bus and on the street every day, but you never talk to them. And if there was a piano, you'd talk to them."

So, all day long we passed pianos that were over one hundred years old, and were sitting in the sun, silently. Few had people sitting at them playing, and none were surrounded by former strangers chatting. In fact, the project seemed to be an expensive way to ruin pianos, rather than create the downtown version of "Kum Ba Yah." Some of them were cute, and similar projects have been tried in other cities around the world (including NYC), but it simply wasn't a good use of resources.

See, the pianos weren't free. Since they're only here for a limited time, after they're done rotting in the elements, the city will have to pay to have them re-painted and re-tuned. In return, they've had a few street-music wars between caucasian rastafarians playing harp-like instruments and whoever is on the piano, but there has been no instant community. I don't think people are baking each other cookies, or babysitting for free, or joining corporate softball leagues. I think people are going about life in downtown Denver as usual, with the occasional piano on the street.

The government can't see that this is a poor investment of our tax dollars - they're blinded by PBS-friendly words like "community," "neighborhood-feel," and "the letter A." The problem is, we don't live on Sesame Street, and we don't live in Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. In fact, most people are commuters or tourists - they work in their offices, and venture out during the lunch hour, or are there to see the sights, whatever they may be. If neither of these is the correct group, they're likely homeless, spending their days as they please.

While these people are living in reality, our tax dollars are paying for a wasteful (albeit whimsical) pet project designed to foster spontaneous friendship. The problem is, life isn't a children's book - people don't leave work to play the piano and quit chasing success and decide to go home and paint a picture with their kids. Pianos can't sit outside for months and not experience physical damage. People who have never spoken to each other don't start speaking when the scenery changes.

So, while they were fun to see, I think the city can find an art exhibit for its streets that is both less expensive and less destructive. However, I doubt they'll be swayed by these arguments. If someone could say that "the public display of music is offensive to me and my religious convictions," or point out that the "freedom of choice" was taken away from the poor pianos who were never asked to be put outside, or even "you know, George Bush LOVES painted pianos," we just might get those poor instruments back inside.

I had a fun day with my Granny in:
Khaki shorts, purple tunic top with beaded top, peacock feather earrings, sea green big daisy ring, and black platform flip-flops. (Not business casual, my apologies. It was around 100 degrees, and we were walking everywhere.)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Play the Game Theory

Today, I had a little bit of a "heart fart." This is like a brain fart, except it involves your emotions. In fact, this describes those awkward times where you think that you've just completely changed how you feel about something ... or someone. Usually, heart farts are short-lived and relatively minor, but I still prefer to avoid them. (Yes, I did coin the term "heart fart.")

Anyway, I had a heart fart where I thought I might like this guy I've liked on and off for awhile. (I know - it's impossible to say you "like" someone without sounding like you're a thirteen-year-old playing ZAP. It is significantly more difficult to invent cool terminology for pre-pubescent phenomena than to create a catchy, rhyming term like "heart fart." Sorry I can't do more.) Even in a heart fart, though, I'm notoriously logical and love charts. This led me to categorize all members of the opposite sex as fitting into one of four Categories. (I am going to use "like" in the giggling, pre-teen, crush-tastic sense.)

1. Men you don't like who don't like you.
This is a wonderful, uncomplicated group of the opposite sex. These are strangers, friends, eunuchs, waiters, grocery baggers, subway performers, and mildly attractive TV personalities. There's nothing between you but air, and you are both able to live your lives without having to sing melodramatic pop songs about the other one's existence. Next time you see someone in Category 1, give him a non-awkward high five.

2. Men you don't like who do like you.
This tends to be a small, odd group of guys for several reasons:
1. People who like you tend to gain a lot of brownie points in your book for having "such refined taste in women," perhaps creating a heart fart of your own.
2. Creeps and weirdos are irrepressible.
3. You probably actually do have refined taste in men.

This is an awkward group that's usually full of lab partners, exes, and overly friendly men on the street/in the grocery store/on the subway, etc. Despite the initial awkwardness, your only job is to let him down gently but firmly, and not lead him on. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but since you're not emotionally entangled, there's not a lot riding on Category 2 fellas for you.

3. Men you like who don't like you.
Oh, unrequited love! This category is the stuff of Taylor Swift songs, and for most of us, this category causes more problems than all the others put together. These are the more desirable lab partners, friends who don't see what they're missing, and really attractive strangers/tv personalities. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Category 3 is that they can become a Category 1 or 4 quite easily - or, in a painful twist of irony, even a Category 2! The problems come while you're waiting for them to switch affiliations ... but not like that.

4. Men you like who also like you.
Oh, glory! The joys of Category 4 men - those rare jewels of the earth who have the decency to time their feelings for you alongside your feelings for them. For some girls, every man is a category 4 man. We call these girls "women of the night." For most of us, Category 4 guys are more rare - and for some of us, they're extremely rare. However, something helpful to keep in mind when you think you've met a Category 4 guy is that you really only ever need one of them. If you find more than one, they have to become Category 1, 2, or 3 guys eventually (or you might have to change jobs). Category 4 guys are like shoes that are both adorable and comfortable. It's a rare combination, but oh, what a sweet one!

Now, we can actually make a diagram of Categories 1-4 that resembles the diagram used in game theory.

See, both 'You' and the 'Man' in question are on the chart. The numbers represent how much either of you wants the relationship to work out - your numbers are in the bottom right corner, his in the top left corner of each box. For example, if he likes you and you don't like him (Category 2), we'd look at the top right-hand box. He thinks the relationship would be an 8, you think it would be a 2. Clearly, you both benefit the most from the outcomes in the top left box, but you're more likely to get something "unmatched," like the results in the top right or bottom left box, where only one person thinks the relationship is a good idea. This is why relationships are difficult - even though there are only four categories, each one comes with its own set of problems.

In economics, this diagram is usually used to show why two companies will both charge a lower price, even though if they worked together they could charge a higher price. Neither one wants to end up in one of the "middle" boxes (top right, bottom left), so to avoid that risk, they both try to undercut the other, making less money than possible, but more than if they'd been caught in the middle.

In our example, though, this shows why so many people are afraid of relationships - they've been hurt in the past, and they'd rather end up in the lonely world full of Category 1 men than in the hurtful world of Category 2 or 3. Luckily, people can change categories, as well as attitudes. Heart farts can be good for that - but you have to act quickly, because you never know when sanity will reinstate itself.

I had a heart fart in:
Black pencil skirt, patterned bias-stitched sheer blouse, black cami, silver hoop earrings, yellow-green zipper cuff bracelet, and green leather platform stilettos with cork heels and platforms.

PS No, you don't know who I was heart farting over. Don't try to guess.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Wardrobe Staples for Life

Last night, two of my high school girlfriends spent the night. Even though one of them had to come late and leave early, we had an amazing time. We've been friends since middle school - and actually, one of them I've been friends with practically my whole life. We all go to different colleges now, and because of travel and work schedules, haven't been able to get together as often as we would have liked this summer. That said, we hung out and talked and laughed and dreamed and analyzed and caught up like the good old friends we are. I have been incredibly blessed with some amazing friends in my life - they're the classic kind, that you don't have to replace.

See, normally I am a huge bargain shopper, and while I don't buy trash, I also don't tend to "invest" in pieces that are going to last forever. I shop the clearance rack at juniors chain stores frequently - I'm addicted to $3 camis, and have found adjusting to "real" stores' price tags can be a little overwhelming. However, there are some things that are worth paying more for because they will work for years - timeless pieces, that can take a beating and make it through because they're well-made. They don't go out of style, you don't outgrow them, the buttons don't pop off and the seams don't rip. These are the pieces worth spending a little more on - and these are the kinds of people my friends are.

Though the two who just spent the night are prime examples, they aren't the only ones. I've found some classic, timeless pals who I can hang out with after not seeing for almost a year and feel like I never left. Best of all, they didn't cost me anything more - in fact, they've saved me so much over the years. They've saved me from lots of heartache, loneliness, boredom, and needless solemnity. On top of that, they've given me outfit advice, laughs, code names for boys, notes in class, inside jokes, and great memories. So, I'd just like to say thanks. Thanks to my friends - you all are the pencil skirts, button-ups, black pumps, suit jackets, pinstripe pants, and little black dresses of my life. No matter what else is there, I'd like to keep you in my closet for a long time.

I went to church with some of my favorite people in:
Brown, brightly-patterned empire-waisted cotton sundress, lime green cami, bright yellow bead necklace, silver hoop earrings with spring green crochet detail, brown headband, and multicolored striped open-toe stilettos with white heels and tops.

Monday, July 12, 2010

There's Plenty of Room at the Hotel Tegucigalpa

Today my dad and youngest sister left to go to Honduras on a missions trip. Among other necessities (like malaria pills), they had to make sure they had enough money to leave the country a week later. That's right. Leave.

See, Honduras has a classy, friendly thing called an "exit tax." This ensures that every visit is a little bit like The Eagles "Hotel California" - where you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. It's free to get into the country, but in a reverse-psychology "thank you, come again" moment, it costs around $35 to leave.

In order to make sure people have enough cash to leave the country, it seems like you have to broadcast it a little bit. Since you typically pay for the privilege of ENTERING cool places, and EXITING yicky ones, this leads the potential traveller to dissociate "theme park" "vacation" "nightclub" and "Honduras," and instead match it with things like "prison" "auto body shops" and "dentists." In other words, the exit tax usually belongs on unenjoyable things - so, because humans are great generalizers, we see that this probably doesn't make Honduras count as a "fun" place.

Now, granted, you might be saying that their political and economic structure, climate, or large bugs might not make it the prime place for a sweet vacation. That being said, if you want to get people into your country (people bring revenue, at least in theory), it's usually best to make it sound as appealing (not appalling) as possible. Or not punishing it would be a good start. Taxes of any kind work to reduce the taxed behavior - so exit taxes theoretically reduce exiting (but as a side effect might also reduce entering), inheritance taxes reduce your incentive to get along with your wealthy relatives, income taxes reduce earnings. Taxes are an instant wet blanket - smothering tourism, happy families, and good jobs in their wake.

All that being said, my dad and sister are in Honduras out of the goodness of their hearts, to spread the good news of Jesus Christ and provide medical care to Hondurans. Exit tax or no exit tax, they've gone. If it weren't for poorly-planned economic policies like the exit tax though, perhaps we'd see a Honduras less like Hotel California, and more like a hotel in California.

I learned about Honduran exit taxes while in:
Grayish-brown pencil skirt, brown ribbed tank, three-quarter-length-sleeved white and gray leopard-print sweater, black belt, black and blue bangles, abalone shell disk earrings, and brown peep-toe "almost-a-bootie-but-so-much-cuter" heels.