Tuesday, April 18, 2006

leaving the house

I'm excited: I'm going to leave the house today.

Of course, that also makes me nervous. I don't leave the house very often any more; I just sit here at my laptop, gazing at the San Francisco skyline. At dusk, the SAFEWAY sign on Market lights up and the blue Metreon cube begins to glow. At sunup -- the current viewing configuration -- there's just a faint pink nimbus of smog shrouding the bay.

When you don't leave the house very often, you decline into wardrobe drift and schedule drift: all clothes, dirty or clean, sweats or little black cocktail dress, are the same; and all times are the same, except for the ever-changing vista at a safe distance out the living room window.

I'm going to New York City, a real city, abuzz with people whose wardrobes are not in a state of shabby decline and whose schedules don't preclude the possibility of 9 am meetings with other people. And that, remember, is 6 am PST. So in addition to being excited, I'm nervous. You'd think I'd never left the house before nor braved the gallery- and Zabar's-world of Manhattan.

And there're all the problems to solve and decisions to make before I leave for SFO. First, there's the damned briefcase. I'll pack light; I don't mind the people at the hotel check-in counter looking at my scant luggage and thinking to themselves: "I guess she doesn't plan to change clothes while she's here. Hope she at least brought a toothbrush." But the briefcase is never light. There's my computer and all the things it needs to keep it happy. Accessories. That weighty iGo gizmo that allows me to plug-in on the plane. A mouse because the touch pad on this computer is too twitchy to use for very long. Then there's the stuff I'm supposed to read (technical papers) and the stuff I will read (magazines). There's the stuff that never leaves the briefcase (change, OTC remedies, affinity cards for every single hotel and car rental chain in the US under every spelling variation of my name, and numerous other small but exceedingly heavy items), and there's a small stash of food.

I'm turning into my grandmother. I have a small stash of food in my briefcase. She always had leftovers from her last restaurant meal in her handbag -- a roll wrapped up in a napkin (woe be unto the eateries that offered place settings with linen napkins), a candy or ten from the bowl at the door (the technical term for this is "pocket mints"), perhaps some breadsticks, anything that didn't make it into the carryout doggie bag container.

There's a reason for to carry food: the snack box.

I almost always purchase the snack box, if just for the excitement of seeing what's in it. It's packaged in such a way that there'll invariably be a surprise: a tiny package of dried raisin surrogates or, if you're unlucky, actual raisins; a Slim Jim made of turkey processed in a patented manner that'll remind you of a midnight ramble through 7-11; a hermetically-sealed packet of savory floor sweepings from First Class (including a stray almond); packaged cheese spread that makes good on its promise to be spreadable if not entirely cheese-like; three highly breakable water crackers upon which to spread the cheese-surrogate; and a package of Oreos, the only cookie with mayonnaise in the center. Hmmm. Perhaps there aren't that many surprises in the snack box, but usually the price is a surprise, since it's apt to have gone up. No matter what I say here, I'll buy one. I always do.

Then I'll stuff the vast majority of its contents into my already-stuffed briefcase, because there's no telling when I'm going to be hungry. See. Like grandma. Never know when you'll need a nosh, even in the city that never sleeps. Who wants to go trolling the streets of midtown Manhattan at 3am for a snack when you can just pluck one (somewhat squished) from the belly of your briefcase?

The briefcase was one of those purchases where something looks perfectly reasonable at the shop when you bought it (in this case, I had the political savvy to frequent a locally-owned business) and then you bring it home and realize it looks much bigger than it did in the shop. This happens to me a lot. The cookware that looked fine at the restaurant supply store looks restaurant-scale when I put it on the stove. The faux-fur coat that appeared to be normal on the rack makes me look like a marmot or a badger on a bad fur day in my own mirror. Everything looks much more to scale in the shop.

The briefcase is enormous. Just enormous. It's made for a guy who's at least 6'4" and 200 lean pounds of gym-hardened muscle. When I carry it, it looks like it's in charge of me. And it's a Briggs and Riley, guaranteed to never wear out, so I'm burdened with this albatross of a bag forever. It just gets lumpier and lumpier as I cram more stuff into it. No wonder I never need a suitcase.

My friends and some bolder flight attendents have opined that what I really need is a backpack with wheels. You see a lot of them in US airports. A backpack on wheels. I know it'd send me squarely back to the days of early childhood when I insisted on bringing my little red wagon with me everywhere. A tiny person trailing a item on wheels: definitely evokes something I don't care to bring to mind. You can see why I can't have a backpack on wheels. Besides, I've been tripped by other travelers' inattention to their backpacks on wheels and luggage on wheels and duffel bags on wheels. I don't want to join that club.

What will I forget? I always forget something.

Better check my No-Doz stash. Mark Bernstein will tell you that I used to carry instant coffee crystals to eat in the morning because I don't want to rely on hotel coffee, but now I've switched to No-Doz, even though there's probably a Starbuck's in my tiny hotel room. I don't like having to place a complicated coffee order before I've had my coffee, forgodssakes. I suspect Starbuck's will start having miniStarbuck's so you can have a coffee while you're waiting in line for coffee, but I'm not going to be held hostage by them. It's not even real No-Doz I'm talking about here, but Walgreen's generic product AWAKE. If you keep the caplets by the bed, along with a glass of water, you're good to go in the morning. You're AWAKE. You're Wal-Awake.

And there's the cell phone. It probably won't work wherever I am. It never does. But woe be unto me if I forget it and have to find a payphone somewhere. There really aren't any, and when there are, they're in much worse shape than they used to be (what kind of loser doesn't have a cell phone with them at all times?), and they practically extort money from you to use them (30 minutes subtracted from your calling card just to connect).

Shit! I just checked. It's going to be 78 degrees tomorrow in New York. All of my clothes are geared to 50 and threatening to rain, since I spend most of my time here or in Seattle. At least they're all black or grey, so I don't have that problem. I once looked in the door of Manhattan boutique and all it had on the racks were an entirely countable number of t-shirts in colors ranging from medium-cool-grey to dark-warm-grey. Grey is safe. While I know brown is the new black, grey is the eternal black. But I'm not set up with good clothes for 78 degrees! I'd rather it be warm than cold, but it's easier to be dressed acceptable when it's 60. Crisis. I know: I'll do what I always do. I'll wear what I have and pretend I don't know that it's not quite right.

William S. Burroughs had it wired with the suit and fedora. There's a look.

At least I've located a pair of grey socks that more or less match and don't have holes in the toes (a consideration in these days of public shoe removal). And headphones with which to listen to the New York Dolls and the Ramones to get me in the mood.

Manhattan, here I come!


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